Solar powered boat completes round the world journey

I have mixed feelings about this one.  PlanetSolar is less than one day from completing a circumnavigation using a boat powered only by the sun; it’s taken them about 600 days to do this.  I’m not quite sure what they’re trying to prove here.  If you want to go ‘green’ on your trip around the world, solar just can’t compete with wind.  Sailboats are a proven ‘green’ technology that are faster and can go more places in the world’s oceans (PlanetSolar is limited more to the equatorial regions where the sun’s more direct rays result in more powered gathered by the solar panels).  Likewise, storms pose little challenge for sailboats but the cloud cover hurts the performance of PlanetSolar.  Yes, solar is useful even on sailboats for powering shipboard electronics, but when it comes to propulsion, the abundant wind on the oceans is a fantastic, proven resource.

A solar boat?  I don’t get it.  Hoist the mainsail, matey.

How differentials work

I’ve always loved this video…it explains how automotive differentials work (and why they’re needed).  It’s a seldom appreciated, little understood, but extremely critical part that you’ll find in any modern car or truck.  Good video for kids too!

The cost of oil

With the political season in full swing and our annual uptick in gas prices, there’s a lot of talk about how to lower the price of gas and oil.  The reality is really nicely summed up in this article at smartplanet.  The fact is, we’ve already tapped all the ‘cheap’, easily accessible oil.  While there are vast quantities of hydrocarbons still available to be extracted, the cost of doing so is quite high, and as a result, we’ll never have ‘cheap’ oil ever again.  Those new sources are also more difficult to get to (meaning more expensive).  This means that around 2014-2015, we’re expected to hit a point where global oil supply (production) decreases on a year to year basis.  Naturally, this is not going to be fun for those driving inefficient cars.  If you’re shopping for a new car, you’d be wise to consider the most fuel efficient model that you can for whatever type of vehicle you need!

It’s a really good article and worth the read, check it out here.

Electric vehicles, and global warming

Sure, electric cars don’t burn gas, but their electricity has to come from somewhere and in many parts of the country, that means coal.  Surprisingly though, even accounting for that, an electric car still produces less global warming emissions than a gasoline powered car getting 27mpg, according to a new study.  Of course, 100% coal-sourced electricity is a truly worst case scenario, as natural gas, nuclear, and renewable sources also come into play.  Taking that into account, it turns out that about 45% of Americans live in places where the electric car emissions are equivalent to a 50mpg automobile!  37% have the equivalent of a 41-50mpg car, and 18% have a 31-40mpg equivalent.

The bottom line is, yes, electric cars still result in air pollution and global warming gas emissions, but they’re still far better than almost any car on the road today (the one exception I can think of being VW’s fantastic TDI diesel engine).  More importantly, as more renewable energy is plugged in to the grid, electric cars will continue to improve, and quickly outpace even VW’s best diesel efforts.

Read more at SmartPlanet or the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Volpe – miniature ‘car’

I use the word ‘car’ loosely here.  This four wheeled contraption, the Volpe, is like no other car you’ve seen (well, apart from the Peel P50 with which is shares more than a passing resemblance!).  It’s a two seat four wheeled car, powered by an electric motor with a natural gas or gasoline generator providing extended range capability.

The seating is tandem style, and if you look at the image you can see how this would be a great setup for a rear passenger that has no legs.  So, let’s be realistic here and call it a single seat car.

Why would you want one?  Well, efficiency for starters…being so small, electricity usage is small as well.  Parking is a cinch.  It’s even small enough to find some creative parking places, like inside (it’ll fit inside an elevator).  It could actually make for a decent commute vehicle in large cities, as long as you can avoid freeways and other faster roads.

As mentioned previously, the Peel P50 was actually first with this ‘mini car’ idea, and my favorite TV show, Top Gear, had a great review that shows this car in real life, check it out below.  I expect driving a Volpe around town would have similar advantages…and drawbacks (the Peel P50 is smaller, though).

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