Highlights from the 2014 LA Auto Show

Methane

The Firefly Alpha uses methane fuel and a plug-aerospike engine

The signs of a healthy industry isn't just growth or innovation, but a tendency to reach out and fill niche markets. A case in point is the small satellite launch company Firefly Space Systems, which recently unveiled its planned Alpha launcher. Aimed at the small satellite launch market, it's designed to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) at very low cost with an unconventional aerospike engine. It is also the first orbital launcher to use methane as fuel.  Read More

Methanogens prepared to be exposed to Martian conditions

Since the first Mariner probes reached the Red Planet in the 1960s, it’s become clear just how very alien Mars is and how hard it is to find parallel examples of possible Martian life on Earth. However, it’s not impossible. Rebecca Mickol, a doctoral student in space and planetary sciences at the University of Arkansas, has discovered that two species of methane-producing bacteria can live in the harsh conditions on Mars, and may aid in the search for life there.  Read More

MIT professor of geophysics Daniel Rothman stands next to part of the Xiakou formation in ...

A team of researchers from MIT may have found new evidence to shed light on the cause of the most devastating mass extinction in the history of our planet. The event, estimated to have taken place around 252 million years ago, was responsible for the extinction of roughly 90 percent of all life on Earth.  Read More

Harvard's soft-bodied robot jumps up to 30 times its own height using internal gas explosi...

Most robots are built out of rigid materials, but a DARPA initiative to build soft-bodied robots that can squeeze into hard-to-reach places has led to the development of new types of the mechanical marvels. Harvard's Whitesides Research Group is working on a soft-bodied solution and has produced a squishy three-legged bot that can jump 30 times its height using the power of internal explosions.  Read More

Artist's concept of SpaceX Mars landing (Image: SpaceX)

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, says that the missions to Mars by his company will use rockets powered by methane, which can be manufactured on the Red Planet. The announcement came last as the South-African born entrepreneur was giving a lecture in November to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, where he was presented with the Gold Medal – the society’s highest award.  Read More

The pilot plant in Stuttgart that makes biogas out of waste from wholesale markets (Photo:...

Some readers might remember the Mr. Fusion unit in Back to the Future that Doc Brown fills with household garbage, including a banana peel and some beer, to power the iconic time-traveling DeLorean. While we're still some way from such direct means of running our cars on table scraps, researchers at Fraunhofer have developed a pilot plant that ferments the waste from wholesale fruit and veg markets, cafeterias and canteens to make methane, which can be used to power vehicles.  Read More

The Philips bio-light is 'powered' by glowing bioluminescent bacteria

The search for greener, more power-efficient lighting systems won't stop with compact fluorescents and LED systems if Dutch electronics giant Philips has anything to say about it. In an effort to embrace a truly natural approach to lighting, the company took a cue from fireflies and deep-sea creatures to create a (literally) green light powered not by electricity or sunlight, but by glowing bioluminescent bacteria.  Read More

In many parts of the world the absence of sanitary waste disposal is not just inconvenient...

Whatever you call it - lavatory, privy, latrine, crapper, loo or dunny - most of us take the humble toilet for granted. But in many parts of the world the absence of sanitary waste disposal is not just inconvenient, it can cause deadly diseases such as hepatitis, dysentery, trachoma, typhoid and cholera. Enter Marc Deshusses, a Duke University environmental engineer who has envisioned an innovative yet simple waste disposal system designed specifically for Third World countries that can be constructed from everyday items. Now, as part of a broad ranging project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Deshusses has received $100,000 to perfect and test the system in the laboratory before producing a prototype to field-test in 18 months time.  Read More

A recent study suggests that the methane gas generated by biodegrading alternatives to tra...

As tons of plastic items continue to take up space in landfills, and the floating Great Pacific Garbage Patch continues to grow, environmentally-conscious consumers are understandably becoming more interested in biodegradable alternatives to traditional plastic. Whether it's because they share these concerns, or are just trying to cash in on an "eco-fad," many companies have responded by producing biodegradable versions of formerly near-eternal plastic products. While biodegradable products are designed to reduce the amount of trash clogging up our waterways and spoiling our parks, at least one scientist believes they may ultimately be doing more harm than good.  Read More

The new biogas plant, sited next to the Didcot sewage works in Oxfordshire, has been offic...

The biomethane project that turns human waste into green gas that we featured in May has now gone live. The project is now converting the treated sewage of 14 million Thames Water customers into clean, green gas and is pumping that gas into people's homes.  Read More

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