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Energy Efficiency

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Chinese farmer builds AMAZING solar- and wind-powered car

Electric vehicles are great and all, but they’re not exactly practical for everyone. Like, how’s a farmer in rural China going to a) afford a pricey green car and b) get enough access to electrical outlets and vehicle charging stations?

Well, if he’s Tang Zhengping from Beijing’s Tangzhou Wanji Yongle Town, he’ll build his own -- and it’ll be AWESOME.

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In India, solar-powered ATMs use as much energy as a lightbulb

In urban America, getting money out of the bank means walking a block to the ATM. In rural India, the nearest bank branch might be a day's journey away. But now a company called Vortex Engineering is using solar power to bring convenient banking to out-of-the-way villages.

The key: The company's ATMs are energy efficient. Vortex calls them the "world's lowest power consuming ATMs," and they use just 10 percent of the energy of other banking machines, according to Yale e360. It adds up to about the same amount of energy as a lightbulb. That low energy overheads means that solar panels can provide back-up power and keeping on running even in areas where electricity service is spotty. 

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Earth Day revisited: An environmental patriarch on keeping the dream alive

Photo by Greg Hanscom.

Denis Hayes is about the last person on the planet you’d expect to find walking around a construction site in a hardhat, chatting up engineers and contractors. Hayes is best known as the guy who coordinated the first Earth Day, back in 1970, when he was 25. Since that time, he has earned a reputation as a fierce defender of the environment, raking in every imaginable green accolade. Today, he is honorary chair of the Earth Day Network by night and by day,  president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, a major force in conservation in the Northwest.

But Hayes is full of surprises. He directed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory under the Carter administration and has taught engineering at Stanford. He can talk BTUs-per-square-foot-per-year with the best of them. Which is handy, because at the moment, Hayes is orchestrating the construction of a new, uber green headquarters building for Bullitt. The building sets out to meet the Living Building Challenge, which means, among other things, that it will generate all of its own water and electricity. The latter is no small feat, when you consider that the building is in infamously gray Seattle – not exactly a Mecca for solar power.

With Earth Day 2012 looming (it's Sunday, people!), I caught up with Hayes to talk about the big day, green building, and his prognosis for the planet.

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Scientists build energy-efficient computer out of crabs

Here is an amazing example of humans piggybacking on a natural phenomenon to create an incredibly clever system: crab-based computing.

A crab-based computer starts with swarms of crabs. These swarms include hundreds of thousands of crabs that, individually, run every which way but that, as a group, progress in one direction. Even more incredible -- when two swarms collide, they merge and start moving along the vector of their combined velocity (hellloooo, high school physics!).

So what does this have to do with computing? A team of researchers set up a system where crab behavior would provide the basic logic on which computers work. For instance, a computer might need to take inputs X and Y, and output the result “X or Y” -- a 1 if either X or Y is 1, and a 0 otherwise. Crabs can do that:

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Millennials love cities because they provide the one thing their boomer parents couldn’t give them

Why is Gen Y migrating to the cities? Because millennials are craving the things they didn’t get in their suburban upbringings, like connectedness and adventure. Basically, they’re throwing off their cul-de-sac childhoods and seeking out authenticity.

Nathan Norris, urban infrastructure planner, lays it all out at the PlaceShakers blog:

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Swedish fast food chain makes bank by becoming ‘Klimatsmart!’

Sweden's No. 1 burger chain got rid of its kids'-meal boxes and, contrary to expectations, sales of the meals rose. Apparently parents who are facing the prospect of their children scrabbling for survival on this wrecked cinder of a planet don’t like creating needless trash? At least in Sweden, anyway.

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Scorcese doc ‘Surviving Progress,’ featuring Margaret Atwood, is now in theaters

Here's the trailer for the new documentary Surviving Progress, which hit theaters in New York on Monday and comes to the rest of the country on April 20.

I think it's important to make a distinction between progress and good progress. Things progress in the sense that they change. But when they reach a certain scale, they turn out to be dead ends.

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If everyone used as much energy as Americans, we’d run out of oil in 9 years

Unlike gluttonous American industry, Europe's most profitable companies plan to make even more money by getting ahead of this whole peak oil trend, reports Der Spiegel. And it’s a damn good thing, because if everybody guzzled oil like Americans, we’d be even more screwed than we are now.

Case in point:

If every person on Earth used as much energy as the average person in the United States, today's known oil reserves would be exhausted within nine years.

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Terrified by peak oil, FedEx turns to biofuels, efficiency

FedEx owns 700 planes and tens of thousands of trucks, which is why CEO Fred Smith is crazy for energy efficiency, reports NPR.

Shortly after Smith founded Federal Express, the 1973 Arab oil embargo almost killed it. The experience imprinted Smith with a keen interest in the price and availability of oil.

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Half-bike, half-car Velomobile goes 80 miles on 6 cents of electricity

Photo by Watson House.

Velomobiles are reclining bicycles with fiberglass shells on top, to make you super aerodynamic, weatherproof, and sort of whimsical.