Daily TIPs: New Bugs for Ethanol, Satellite Internet, Cloud-Spewing Ships, & More

9/9/08

Debate Continues on Biofuels Versus Food

Some critics of biofuels contend that the growing demand for ethanol made from corn is helping to drive up food prices and could divert farmland from growing food to growing fuel. Others argue that much of the recent spike in food prices was caused by soaring oil costs and drought. Policy Innovations says that, if production costs come down enough, ethanol could eventually be a winning fuel source.

New Bacteria Could Ease Cellulosic Ethanol Production

One complaint about making ethanol from corn kernels is that it’s inefficient; all that effort (and water and fertilizer) goes into growing corn, and then most of the biomass—the leaves and the stalks—gets thrown away. Adding enzymes to break down the cellulose allows all the biomass to be used, but drives up costs. Now Technology Review tells us that researchers at Dartmouth say they’ve developed a microbe that can digest the cellulose and turn it into ethanol with less need for enzymes.

Google, Others, Invest in Satellite Internet

Google is one of a group of investors pouring $60 million into a startup company that hopes to use satellites to deliver Internet access to developing countries. O3b Networks, based in the U.K.’s Channel Islands, plans to launch up to 16 satellites by the end of 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal. The satellites could provide service to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Latin America.

High-Bandwidth Access Coming, But Not to America

In the Netherlands, Internet service providers are on the verge of providing customers with download and upload speeds of 1 gigabyte per second. In the U.S., meanwhile, service providers are talking about caps on how much data users can download. GigaOm argues that high-bandwidth fiber-optic access to the home is coming around the world, and that American service providers will make their money back sooner if they bite the bullet and invest in fiber-to-the-home connections.

Making Clouds Could Fight Global Warming

How’s this for an innovative way to counter global warming? Build a fleet of 1,500 automated ships that travel the world sucking up seawater and spewing it into the atmosphere to create denser clouds that reflect more sunlight and cool down the planet. Scientific American says atmospheric physicist John Latham, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO, is floating the proposal, which could cost upwards of $2.6 billion.

America Catches Up on Wireless Innovation

Time was when the U.S. lagged well behind Europe and Asia in the use of cell phones and the kinds of wireless applications that were available. But now, according to BusinessWeek, the U.S. is catching up, thanks in part to its strength in software development. Just this past year, the magazine reports, the U.S. surpassed Western Europe in the number of subscribers to high-speed 3G networks.

Company Claims Unclonable RFID Chips

Radio frequency identification tags, implanted in everything from products to pets promise a way to digitally keep track of the physical world, but there’s been concern that hackers could mess with the system by cloning chips, copying their data to other chips. Now a Palo Alto, CA, company, Verayo, says it has made chips that can’t be cloned, reports Daily Tech. The technology, developed at MIT, uses the physical features of a chip to create a unique code that must be input for the chip to work.

Bank Hopes to Make a Splash with Tidal Energy

Investment bank Morgan Stanley has increased its investment in the development of tidal energy systems. The bank says its tidal project developer, Current Resources, has been acquired by Singapore-based Atlantis Resources, a maker of tidal turbines, Earth2Tech reports. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but it makes Morgan Stanley the largest shareholder in Atlantis.

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