This week at TreeHugger: Hymotion introduced plug-in hybrid kits for the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner models, giving them extra juice so they'll use even less gas. Scientists at Oregon State University and local farmers are using microtechnology to home-brew their own biodiesel. Earthrace, a bid to use only renewable fuels to break the world record for speed in circumnavigating the globe in a powerboat, splashed down in New Zealand. Plus, plans to develop the "world's largest solar photovoltaic project" are underway in the Nevada desert.
Canadian company Hymotion has developed a plug-in hybrid system (they call it PHEV) for the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner models. The kits are made up of a lithium-ion battery system that can be recharged by plugging it into a regular household electrical outlet; when the car is being driven, the supplemental system gets recharged from the engine and regenerative braking. While the addition of the battery pack does not change the basic operation of the vehicles — all electric-operation is still limited to low speeds — it does significantly increase the power and range in which the battery can help the gas engine sip on down the road.
Farmers are working with scientists from Oregon State University to make biodiesel from their own soybean, canola, rape and mustard seed crops. Using microtechnology, the scientists have developed a new, faster way to create biodiesel. The lead investigator in the research, Goran Jovanovic, keeps a design prototype in a sandwich bag in his office. It's a plastic plate with 30 microreactor channels running parallel to each other, each about the width of a human hair. The entire plate can easily fit in the palm of a hand, and the process produces biodiesel about 100 times faster than the "classical" method.
Earthrace is a bid to break the world record for circumnavigating the globe in a powerboat, and they'll try it using only renewable fuels. The program includes the 24,000 nautical-mile race, which the team plans to accomplish in 65 days (the current record is 75), and an accompanying 18-month tour at 60 ports around the world. They just put the boat in the water last week, in Auckland, New Zealand. The specially-designed trimaran will run primarily on 100% biodiesel at a top speed of 45 knots/hour; the skipper even had lyposuction (?!?) so they could break down his fat and use it for fuel. These guys are serious...
Finally, we report on a new project that may (or may not) be the world's largest solar project; the project developers say it is, our readers say it's not, and round and round we go like the sun around the earth. Anyway, it is designed to produce 18 megawatts and power a Nevada military base. As a sidenote, there is also talk of Nevada's plans to be energy independent by 2020; it's going to take a lot more of these puppies to be able to keep all the lights in Vegas on all night, so we suggest they get started now.
TreeHugger's EcoModo column appears every Tuesday on Gizmodo.