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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apple event: A few extra details you didn't get

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: September 09, 2008 - 02:08PM CT

By now, you've already heard about what was announced during this morning's Apple Event: Let's Rock. New iPod nanos, new iPod touches, price drops, iPhone/iPod touch 2.1, iTunes 8, oh my! And, if you've been paying attention to Infinite Loop, you've seen our hands-on photos of the new nanos and iPod touches too.

Unfortunately, there was no "One more thing..." at this event, but we did score a couple tidbits of info that weren't talked about during the press event. For one, the new iPod nanos now have a feature that speaks every menu and song info, which is especially nice for those who are hard of sight. The Apple rep who spoke to me said that it will tell you everything you need to know over the headphones, and if you have speakable items set up on your computer, the nano will inherit the voice you chose to use. It's unclear whether this feature will also be part of iPod touches and iPhones.

Additionally, the iPod shuffle line got a quiet update today as well. Nothing of substance is different; the storage sizes are still the same and pricing is as it was before, but the shuffles are now available in all the same colors as the iPod nano. Silver, black, indigo/purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and magenta.

Finally, we inquired about the new $79 headphones that will be available for the iPod nano and iPod touch. The headphones, which let you skip/pause/play with a click just like the iPhone headphones, also let you adjust volume up or down. I asked whether they would work with the iPhone, and the Apple rep said the company doesn't claim that they're supported. "It will work with skipping, pausing, etc. but I don't think the volume will change. That's not supported on the iPhone." He pointed out that iPhone headphones will work with the iPod touch and iPod nano, however. 

Discuss Print

"Funnest" iPod ever: photos of the new iPod touch

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: September 09, 2008 - 01:39PM CT

You've seen the nano pictures, so here are the new iPod touch photos. The device is indeed more iPhone-like with a more curved back. The volume controls are in the same place as the iPhone and work well, and the speakers sound about what you would expect for external iPod speakers: not exactly for audiophiles, but decent for a short listen. Here are the photos, although without an old iPod touch to compare them to, it's hard to spot some of the differences.

Indeed, the "funnest"

Mmmm, fingerprints

Nike + iPod interface

That's all we've got for you for now! Be sure to check back on Infinite Loop for any and all over-analysis of today's event!

Discuss Print

Nano-chromatic: photos of the new 4th-gen iPod nanos (Updated with orange)

By Jacqui Cheng | Published: September 09, 2008 - 01:32PM CT

The Apple special event is over, and we have some product photos of the new iPod nanos. Photos of the new iPod touch are coming in the next post, but here's what I have for you so far!

Feels good in the hand, just like the second-gen nano

Yep, it's oval-shaped

This is what pops up when you press & hold the center button when listening to a song

Lime green and blue next to each other

Stay tuned for a few more photos!

Update: Some orange-lovers requested that I get some pics of the orange nano, so here they are:

Discuss Print

Strap your iPod nano to your handlebars with iBikeConsole

By Justin Berka | Published: September 09, 2008 - 10:15AM CT

Running with an iPod isn't too difficult, since you'll usually have a hand free to switch songs or pump up the volume, but things get a bit more difficult when you're cycling. Sure, you'll be able to operate the device fine most of the time, but steering one-handed while going down a hill may not be the best of ideas. If you've just got to have tunes while you're riding, Macworld has pointed out a device called the iBikeConsole, which will let you mount an iPod on your bike, use your iPod as a cycling computer, and even control your iPod wirelessly while riding.

According to the website, the system comes with a shock-absorbing mount for your iPod nano, although you don't exactly have to worry about the hard drive getting jostled around. All three generations of iPod nano are supported, and by the looks of the device the new iPod nanos should work as well. The mounting system requires no tools, and is also "weatherproof." The wireless remotes are probably the cooler part of the system, and allow cyclists to easily change songs and control the volume. Last but not least, the device lets your iPod double as a cycling computer, and can even store data after your ride is over.

As you might guess, a system like this probably isn't recommended for folks who ride their bikes in heavy traffic, since having your music thumping doesn't exactly make it easy to hear cars and other pain-inducing motorized contraptions that may be coming up behind you. In fact, several Macworld commenters point out that cycling with earplugs in both ears may be illegal in some states, so you might want to check out your local laws before you buy the iBikeConsole. If you're still sold on it, the system is currently retailing for $76, and you can just head on over to the site and pick one up. 

Meet the Real 'Bionic Woman'

Claudia Mitchell lost her arm in a motorcycle accident, but is enjoying the freedom that comes with her

Claudia Mitchell lost her arm in a motorcycle accident, but is enjoying the freedom that comes with her "bionic" arm.


Sept. 8, 2008—

Claudia Mitchell may look like your average 20-something college student. She is anything but.

As a result of an experimental surgery, Mitchell has become the first real "Bionic Woman": part human, part computer.

Mitchell's bionic life began in 2004 with a ride on a friend's motorcycle. The bike suddenly spun out of control, and Mitchell's left arm was severed by a highway divider. After her doctor's attempts to reattach the arm proved unsuccessful, she was outfitted with a standard prosthetic arm.

Watch "Medical Mysteries" Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, and go to during the show for your chance to be the doctor and diagnose a disease.

Mitchell thought that her new prosthesis would make her life return to normal. But it didn't work. Her amputation was almost at her shoulder, which made the prosthetic arm all but impossible for her to control.

"It just sat on the shelf. It didn't do anything," Mitchell said.

Ready to Try Anything

She grew depressed, thinking she would have to spend the rest of her life with one arm, unable to perform even the most basic tasks. What saved her was a tiny article about an experimental nerve surgery.

The "targeted reinnervation" surgery was developed by Dr. Todd Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. It was a radical idea: a robotic arm controlled not by a patient's stump or shoulder, but by a patient's thoughts.

Mitchell, a U.S. Marine, was ready to try anything to have a second functioning arm. She volunteered for the surgery.

During the six-hour procedure in 2006, doctors took the severed and dormant nerves in Mitchell's shoulder, nerves that are used to control the movement of her arm, and put them under the muscle in her chest.

They wanted the nerves to reawaken and work her chest muscle. The doctors eventually used the electrical nerve signals from that chest muscle to power a new bionic arm.

'We Have Rewired Her'

Now, when Mitchell wants to move her arm, she thinks "move." The signal travels from her brain to the muscle in her chest. According to Kuiken, Mitchell's chest muscle then contracts and "lets tiny bits of electricity out."

There are tiny antennas built into the robotic arm, which pick up these electrical signals. The signals then go to an internal computer that decodes them and tells the artificial arm what to do. It's almost instantaneous.

"We have rewired her," Kuiken said.

For Mitchell, living with her new arm has meant constant discovery.

"I have what I call my 'eureka moments,'" Mitchell said. "My stunned 'I can't believe I just did that' moments."

Now she can do the simple things that most people take for granted, like folding a shirt, slicing vegetables or even opening a wine bottle.

"There are a lot of daily tasks that people don't even think about being able to do that I can [do] now," she said.

Familiar Sensations

But four months after Mitchell's surgery, things started to get a bit bizarre. While Mitchell was in the shower, hot water hit her chest -- and she could suddenly feel hot water on her left hand, the one that was missing.

It got even more strange: When she touched her chest, she could feel all sorts of other sensations in her missing hand. She could suddenly feel hot and cold, pressure and touch. All of this, just from touching particular spots on her chest.

It turns out that during Mitchell's surgery her doctors had moved not only Mitchell's motor nerves, the nerves that control movement, but her severed sensation nerves as well.

"Claudia was the first person that we did this on. We purposely directed her hand sensation nerves onto some chest skin, and it worked," said Kuiken of the Rehabilitation Institute.

Now when somebody touches Mitchell's chest, she feels the sensations in her missing hand.

"Claudia's brain doesn't know where her hand is living right now," Kuiken said.

Paul Marasco, a touch specialist and research scientist with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, was brought in to study the hand sensations that Mitchell feels in her chest. He put together a detailed map, connecting what Mitchell's missing hand feels with the corresponding locations on her chest.

Depending on where you touch her chest, "she has the distinct sense of her joints being bent back in particular ways, and she has feelings of her skin being stretched," Marasco said.

And Mitchell feels the exact same sensation in the exact same spot, every single time.

"She is like clockwork," Marasco said. "Her sensations are very well established."

The Next Frontier

Doctors hope that Mitchell's new sensations will give them greater insight into how the brain deals with injury, and they also hope that it will help pave the way for future prosthetic technology. The next frontier is designing a prosthetic arm that will not only be able to touch but also to feel.

"When you touch something with this prosthetic hand, it will feel like your hand. When you touch your hot cup of coffee, you'll know it's warm," Kuiken said. Mitchell is committed to the research, even spending most of her vacations at Kuiken's lab, test-driving the latest prosthetic equipment. Mitchell said that although she knows that she is a patient, she now feels that she is also part of the research team.

As for being called the "real life Bionic Woman," Mitchell finds it funny. She said she has never seen the 1970s show that starred Lindsay Wagner, but she is asked by children if she can do cool things with her bionic arm, like lift cars.

Mitchell doesn't want to be superhuman. She just wants what she has now -- a second chance at a normal life.

For more information about targeted reinnvervation surgery, click here.

Coney Island Closes Its Doors Forever

Seth Wenig / AP

(NEW YORK) — When reports circulated over the weekend of a last-minute deal to keep Coney Island's historic Astroland amusement park open for another year, owner Carol Hill Albert was not amused. 

 Indeed, her tone was bitter as she described plans to close the park Sunday night in lieu of an agreement with the city or with private developer Thor Equities, which have competing plans for the 3-acre Brooklyn site.

"Despite rumors to the contrary, there are absolutely no negotiations going on, and there never were," said Albert, whose family has owned Astroland for more than four decades.

The park would close permanently, she said. Late Sunday night, visitors were herded out of the park and the lights were shut off for the last time.

The Cyclone, the famous Coney Island roller coaster, and the 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel, are separately owned and landmarked by the city so they are unaffected by the closing.

News that Sunday would be the last gasp for Dante's Inferno fun house, 22 other rides and three arcades drew hundreds of nostalgia-minded visitors, including elderly residents of the beach area and families with children who had never ridden on the Tilt-A-Whirl or the Water Flume.

Bobby Salony said bringing his wife and their daughters from Greenwich, Conn., was a kind of "unfinished business."

"We had to come in and have one more time (at Astroland)," Salony said. "Twenty years from now, they can say they were here on the last day."

On a nearby sidewalk, Amos Wengler strummed a guitar and sang a tune he wrote for the occasion: "Save Coney Island, don't let them take it away, and the whole world wants it to stay."

Wengler was one of a few who said they felt there was "still hope" that Astroland would not disappear. Even if a developer takes over, "you can always make it the same again," he said.

Last fall, Astroland and Thor Equities, which owns 11 acres of seaside property that includes the amusement park, agreed to a one-year lease extension that expires Jan. 31, 2009.

Albert said Sunday that she had sought since June to negotiate an extension with Thor through 2010 but was repeatedly told the company had "no answer." Her spokesman, Joe Carella, said Albert decided to close Astroland when it was clear that Thor had no intention of negotiating with her.

Thor spokesman Stefan Friedman said the firm was "extremely disappointed" that Albert had "decided to give up on the future of Coney Island" with several months remaining on her lease.

The Daily News reported that Astroland's rides were already being offered for sale on the Internet, with prices ranging from $95,000 for the merry-go-round to $199,000 for the bumper cars. 

Michael Caine Says Johnny Depp Is The Riddler, Philip Seymour Hoffman Is The Penguin

Published by Casey Seijas

Johnny DeppIt’s one of the biggest — and most hotly debated — questions in fandom…which actors (and characters) will director Christopher Nolan enlist as a villain for his third “Batman” film? Rumors have abounded since the release of “The Dark Knight,” and Nolan has remained fiercely tight-lipped. But now, has one of his main players revealed some of the biggest casting news of the decade?

In an interview with MTV News conducted just hours ago at the Toronto Film Festival, Michael Caine — there to promote “Is There Anybody There?” — seemed to confirm rumors that the next installment of the “Batman” film franchise will feature two very well-known names playing the roles of The Riddler and the Bumbershoot Bandit, The Penguin. “They’ve already got them in mind,” said Caine, when asked who he’d like to see take up arms against the Caped Crusader. “It’s Johnny Depp as The Riddler. And The Penguin is Philip Seymour Hoffman. I read it in the paper.”

So Caine is like the rest of us, reading gossip in the tabloids, right? Except for one thing…according to the actor, he confirmed the news through the studio itself.

“When Christopher [Nolan] said we were going to do ‘The Dark Knight’ next, I didn’t what that meant in Batman terms,” related Caine, who plays Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth. “I said, ‘What’s the story?’ and he said The Joker. I said, ‘Oh, s–t! How are you going to top Jack [Nicholson]?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve cast Heath Ledger. And I went ‘Ha! I couldn’t top Jack, but if anyone could, maybe Heath could.’ And he did.

“I was with [a Warner Bros.] executive and I said, ‘Are we going to make another one?’ They said yeah. I said, ‘How the hell are we going to top Heath? And he says ‘I’ll tell you how you top Heath — Johnny Depp as The Riddler and Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Penguin.’ I said, ‘S–t, they’ve done it again!’” [Laughs]

Chicken Manure to power 90,000 Homes in the Netherlands!

by Mike Chino

Chicken poo, Chicken manure, chickens, Dutch harvesting chicken poo, Gerda Vergurb, biomass power plant, Dutch biomass, chicken poo power

Here at Inhabitat we love to see innovative reuses for organic waste, and so we’re perpetually fascinated by the potential of poo to be used as a renewable source of energy. Last week Dutch agriculture minister Gerda Verburg announced a groundbreaking development for the field as she unveiled the world’s largest biomass power plant to run exclusively on poultry manure. The plant will convert a third of the nation’s chicken waste into energy while running at a capacity of 36.5 megawatts - enough to power 90,000 homes!

Chicken poo, Chicken manure, chickens, Dutch harvesting chicken poo, Gerda Vergurb, biomass power plant, Dutch biomass, chicken poo power

Part of the promise of biomass energy lies in its two-for-one benefit: it generates energy while disposing of waste. We’ve covered poo power schemes in the past, but never on such a massive scale!

Situated in Moerdijk, the 150 million euro plant was constructed by the Dutch multi-utility company Delta. It will convert roughly 440,000 tons of chicken manure into energy annually, generating more than 270 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The plant also addresses a key environmental problem in the Netherlands: “managing the vast excess stream of chicken manure, which, until today, had to be processed at a high cost”.

Delta’s biomass plant has even been described as being carbon neutral, since it will prevent the manure from sitting in fields and seething greenhouse gases into the air. Once methane from the poultry waste has been extracted and ignited, the left over ash will be used to make fertilizers and other agricultural products.

Chicken poo, Chicken manure, chickens, Dutch harvesting chicken poo, Gerda Vergurb, biomass power plant, Dutch biomass, chicken poo power

Peter Boerma, the CEO of Delta states:
The biomass power plant is one of the strategic components of our energy mix, which includes a wide range of renewable sources, as well as nuclear power. This diverse energy mix is needed to meet the ever increasing demand for electricity, but for us, building a smart and clean fuel sourcing strategy is more than meeting the consumer’s demand, it is a matter of meeting our social obligations.
Photo credit:Paul de Lhama

+ Delta

Via Metaefficient and Checkbiotech

Chicken poo, Chicken manure, chickens, Dutch harvesting chicken poo, Gerda Vergurb, biomass power plant, Dutch biomass, chicken poo power

Stripper Accused of Going Too Far; Rapes Best Man (For Real)

Best man, Ms Naggs, and an unspeakable act

By Mex Cooper

A best man, allegedly raped by a stripper with a sex toy, had stepped in for the groom who "wasn't interested" in his bucks' party's strip show, a court has heard.

A  witness told the Melbourne Magistrates Court the alleged victim had been egged on by a cheering crowd of up to 30 men to perform with the hired stripper, Linda Maree Naggs, after the groom sat down after spending less than a minute with her.

"All the boys were there wanting a show," he said.

Naggs, 39, has been charged with raping the best man who told police he was sexually penetrated with a vibrator during the party on the Mornington Peninsula last September.

The alleged victim, who cannot be identified, had his pants pulled down to his knees and his top off when Naggs was passed a vibrator by a female assistant, the court heard.

One witness said the best man had looked uncomfortable throughout the performance and was forced on to all fours by Naggs who was naked and wearing a  sex toy.

"She went behind him and pulsated to push him to the ground," he said.

The witness said he heard the man scream and get to his feet.

"'Why did you do that for ... you didn't have to do that,'" he said the man yelled.

The court heard the man then pushed Naggs in the chest who retaliated with a right-hook punch but missed and threatened to "come back with my bikie mates".

"She was a little bit hysterical ... she thought she was a boxer," the best man's brother told the court.

He said Naggs had been riding his "very conservative" brother like a dog or a horse before the alleged rape.

"I don't think he could see what was going on. I don't think he knew what was going to happen," the witness said.

The brother denied seeing drugs at the party where two strippers performed and topless waitresses served drinks.

He said the men had been loudly cheering in a "mature way" during Naggs's act that began with her whipping the man next to him in the groin.

The witness said he could not remember Naggs saying she would call the police or being struck in the head in an upstairs bedroom.

The court heard the best man told his brother in the toilet that he was bleeding after the alleged rape.

The court was closed to the media and public while the alleged victim gave evidence for just under two hours.

Biswaden Mitra, from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, said the alleged victim had  injuries the day after the bucks' party.

But when shown photographs of the sex toy, Dr Mitra said he could not say if it had caused the minor injury.

The committal hearing before magistrate Elizabeth Lambden to determine whether Naggs, of Rosebud West, should stand trial continues.

Apple unveils new IPods

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Apple, the consumer electronics giant, on Tuesday announced new versions of its popular iPod music player.

The announcement was made by CEO Steve Jobs at a press event in San Francisco, which Apple dubbed "Let's Rock."

The iPod Nano, which comes with a video player, is thinner than previous models and slightly curved. Among other features, the display screen changes orientation from horizontal to vertical depending on how the user holds the device. An 8-gigabyte model costs $150, the same price as the original 1-gigabyte model from two years ago.

The Nano also features a new service called Genius, which recommends songs or movies based on a user's interests and creates playlists based on songs the user has chosen. The device will also shuffle the playlist if a user shakes it.

Jobs also unveiled cheaper models of its Touch music player, a touchscreen-only device. An 8-gigabyte version now costs $229, down from $299. A 32-gigabyte model costs $399, down from $499.

The announcement of a new line of iPods was widely expected. This time last year Apple announced the Touch and the Nano the year before that. The new devices are timed for the holiday shopping season.

The move is considered critical to the future of the music devices as the iPhone, which comes with its own built-in MP3 player, threatens to make them obsolete.

As of July, Apple has sold more than 184 million iPods since their debut in 2001. Sales of the iPod, which once accounted for nearly 50% of Apple's annual revenue, were nearly flat last Christmas. Apple says the iPod has 73.4% of the portable music device market, according to NPD data.

All eyes Tuesday were also on Jobs' health. Jobs was treated for pancreatic cancer several years ago and has been looking surprisingly thin in recent sightings, unnerving investors. He looked as thin Tuesday as he did at his last appearance in June.

Oh the VMA's

Time Heals Wounds

NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -- He's only 34, but Darin Knight admits he's already losing sleep over his retirement. He would like to stop working at age 55, but watching $18,000 in his 401(k) disappear over the past 12 months has left him uncertain and disillusioned.

"I just lost an entire year's worth of savings in equities, and it keeps going down," he says. "Yeah, it scares me to death."

Darin, who earns $110,000 a year as a marketing manager, and his wife Keri, 32, who just re-entered the work force as a part-time teacher, wonder if they've taken too many risks with their retirement portfolio (currently $218,000).

Darin always considered himself an aggressive investor. In his twenties he tried, unsuccessfully, to day-trade a few tech stocks. But he's starting to wonder whether betting so heavily on equities could be jeopardizing the future of his family (which includes daughters Julia, 5, and Lauren, 2).

What they should do now

Because they have so much time on their side, the Knights needn't be so worried, says Fred King, a financial planner with the H Group in Portland, Ore.

"You're not really touching this money for 20 years, so you can withstand the ups and downs of the market," he tells them. In fact, they could withstand an additional 25% drop and still be on track to meet their goals, he says.

What's more, Darin and Keri are doing a terrific job of saving, socking away 12% of their income toward retirement.

Keri's parttime job pays just $12,000 a year - but once Lauren starts school, Keri will go full time, raising her earnings to around $50,000.

Even if the Knights leave their saving rate as is, that raise will boost the amount they stash away, putting them on track for a comfortable retirement.

And if because of some unforeseen market mayhem they turn 55 and still don't have enough to retire? They can always push off their retirement date by a few years, King says.

As for stocks, King is adamant: It's too risky for this young couple to give up on them entirely. So he recommends they reduce their equity stake from 93% to 75% of their portfolio - for now. But as they regain some comfort with stocks, they should consider boosting that back up.

"We feel better having this analysis in hand," says Darin, adding that over time, he thinks he and Keri would be comfortable keeping around 80% of their money in stocks. That's still conservative for a couple in their early thirties. But maybe it will help Darin get some shut-eye.

US is $407 Billion in the Hole

NEW YORK ( -- The budget deficit will jump by $246 billion to $407 billion this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates in a report released Tuesday.

Last year, the budget deficit was $161 billion. The government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The agency attributes the jump to "a substantial increase in spending and a halt in the growth of tax revenues."

That drop in revenue is driven largely by the rebates provided to tax filers from the economic stimulus law Congress passed earlier this year. The spending hike is partly due to efforts by the government "to cover the insured deposits of insolvent financial institutions," the agency said.

To date, 11 banks have been seized by the FDIC this year - not a high number historically, but higher than it's been in recent years - and that number is expected to grow in the coming months.

The CBO said it expected the deficit to exceed $400 billion - or 3% of gross domestic product - for each of the next two years if current policies remain in place. It also forecast several more months of "very slow" economic growth.

"The nation is experiencing a significant period of economic weakness," said Peter Orszag, director of the CBO.

The agency's latest estimates do not reflect the Treasury announcement this weekend that the government would temporarily takeover Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored enterprises that form the backbone of the mortgage market.

Going, going gone: JetBlue auctions more than 300 flights on eBay starting at 5 to 10 cents


AP Business Writer

The flights are to more than 20 destinations, including four "mystery" JetBlue Getaways Vacation packages to undisclosed locations.

The three-, five- and seven-day auctions include one- and two-person roundtrip, weekend flights in September from cities including Boston, Chicago, New York, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Fort Lauderdale and Southern California.

Harlan Platt, a finance professor at Northeastern University who follows the airline industry, thinks the auctions will provide some valuable "word-of-mouth" advertising for the discount carrier.

"I think it's a great idea. In this day and age, people are inundated with ads as they are sitting on airplanes, or at airports," he said. "A subtle advertisement such as this could be very effective."

Platt said the auctions will likely produce final bids between 85 percent and 90 percent of the flight or package's total value.

"It's all about the cost of getting someone to notice you," he said. "And this (method) provides a lot of bang for the buck."

Each auction will have a specific range of dates in which customers can travel. The travel dates, times and flight numbers will be posted when the customers bid.

The vacation packages include airfare and a four-night hotel stay for two at Marriott hotels in locations including Las Vegas and Nassau, Bahamas. The four mystery packages include two locations where passports are needed and two that don't require passports.

Taxes and fees are additional and will vary according to the particular route, but they will be disclosed in each listing, according to JetBlue spokeswoman Alison Eshelman. Bidders will need to have a PayPal account.

Flights leave on Thursdays or Fridays and return on Sundays or Mondays. All travel must be completed by October 6.

Customers can access the auctions through

NEW YORK (AP) _ JetBlue Airways Corp. is auctioning off more than 300 roundtrip flights and six vacation packages this week on eBay, with opening bids set between 5 and 10 cents.

Human Genetics is Now a Viable Hobby

By Aaron Rowe Email


Personalized genomics just got a lot more accessible. Until tonight, the cheapest whole genome scan was available for just under a thousand dollars. Thanks to improvements in microarray technology, 23andMe has been able to cut that cost by more than half -- to $399 -- well within the reach of cash-strapped grad students, frugal genealogy buffs, and other not-so-early adopters.

“By taking advantage of continuing innovation we are able to introduce a new chip that will give people more relevant data at a lower price,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe. ”We are excited that we are opening doors for more people to learn about their health and ancestry and for more people to be able to participate in advancing research. It is important to democratize personal genetics and make it more accessible."

On The Spittoon blog, Wojcicki mentioned that her company has also implemented a major technology upgrade. Among other things, their new chip can check people for a condition that makes taking some drugs extremely dangerous. If you are G6PD deficient, and unwittingly take the malaria drug primaquine, you'll have a horrible reaction that may include hemolytic anemia and death.

By checking your genetic makeup before taking a new medication, you might be able to avoid that sort of nasty situation. In other words, the new test could give you a lifesaving warning.

Predicting how someone will respond to a drug before they ever take it, just by looking at their genes, is called pharmacogenetics. It is a rather new field, and not ready for prime time yet, but I have a feeling that services like the one offered by 23andMe will greatly accelerate its development.

At some point 23andMe will start asking its clients how well they respond to particular drugs. By relating that information to their customer's genetic data, the small company's researchers may be able to identify new pharmacogenetic markers -- genes that indicate how someone will react to a medication.

A New Bacteria could make Cellulosic Ethanol Cheaper

Biofuel bugs: Engineered bacterial strains undergo laboratory testing for fermenting sugars into ethanol at Mascoma, in Cambridge, MA. Researchers at the company are working with cofounder and Dartmouth College professor Lee Lynd to create strains that produce high yields of ethanol from cellulosic biomass, with the hope of reducing the fuel’s cost.
Credit: Mascoma

New genetically modified bacteria could slash the costs of producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass, such as corn cobs and leaves, switchgrass, and paper pulp. The microbes produce ethanol at higher temperatures than those used to produce yeast, which is currently employed to ferment sugar into the biofuel. The higher temperature more than halves the quantity of the costly enzymes needed to split cellulose into the sugars that the microbes can ferment. What's more, while yeast can only ferment glucose, "this microorganism is good at using all the different sugars in biomass and can use them simultaneously and rapidly," says Lee Lynd, an engineering professor at Dartmouth College, who led the microbe's development.

Most of the ethanol produced in the United States is made from corn. But making the biofuel from corn takes a lot of energy and competes with agricultural uses of the crop. Making fuel from cellulosic plant matter has the potential to be much more sustainable. However, cellulosic-ethanol production is still too expensive to be commercially competitive with corn ethanol.

Turning cellulose into ethanol involves two steps: using enzymes to break complex cellulose into simple sugars such as glucose, and then using yeast to ferment the sugar into ethanol. Both steps add to the price of ethanol. Enzymes can add about 50 cents to a gallon of ethanol. And the second step is relatively expensive because conventional yeast ferments only glucose, although biomass contains five different sugars, linked to form cellulose and hemicellulose in plant cell walls. (Cellulose is a long chain of glucose molecules, while hemicellulose contains all five sugars.) "You really need to be able to convert [all] these sugars into ethanol in order to make it economical, to get a good enough yield," says Bruce Dien, a biochemical engineer doing ethanol research at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

Lynd wants to create microbes that would do it all: efficiently break down the cellulose and hemicellulose, and then ferment all the resulting sugars. Lynd, a cofounder of Mascoma, is working with colleagues at the startup, based in Cambridge, MA, to develop a simple one-step process for making cellulosic ethanol. In the combined process, a mixture of biomass and the microbes would go into a tank, and ethanol would come out.

The new microbe, presented in this week's PNAS, is a crucial step toward such a combined process. The bacteria can break down hemicellulose into its five constituent sugars, which they ferment efficiently. To increase the bacteria's ethanol yield, Lynd and his colleagues knocked out the gene that results in organic acid formation.

However, the genetically engineered bacteria cannot break down cellulose. In their laboratory experiments, Lynd and his coworkers needed to add enzymes to free the glucose from crystals of cellulose. Still, the bacteria offer an advantage because they are thermophilic--that is, they naturally grow at temperatures of 50 to 60 ºC. This is much higher than the 37 degrees at which yeast ferments sugars, and thus the bacteria require less fewer enzymes. "Because enzymes are more active at higher temperatures, using these bacteria would mean you have to add less enzyme," Lynd says.

In the experiments, the bacteria fermented sugar mixtures at 50 ºC to give 4 percent ethanol concentration. "It's the highest concentration of ethanol that's been produced by thermophilic bacteria," Lynd says.

Conventional yeast can give higher ethanol concentrations of 10 to 12 percent, says Harvey Blanch, a chemical-engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Nevertheless, he says that the new work is a "nice proof of concept" for a combined approach to make cellulosic ethanol. While the researchers use cellulose crystals in their lab experiment, the challenge will be to see if the microbes can produce similar results with cellulosic biomass such as wood chips and switchgrass, says Blanch. "If this can be successfully accomplished, it will be a significant advance," he says.

Lynd's team is also trying to increase ethanol yield in a thermophilic bacteria that breaks down cellulose. The group wants to team it with the bacteria that are good at breaking down hemicellulose and using all sugars. That would give an all-in-one microbe system that breaks down biomass and converts all of its sugars into ethanol.

"Using one microbe or community of microbes for essentially the whole conversion process would be a major cost breakthrough," says Anna Palmisano, associate director of science at the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research. "It's one of the ways really fundamental biology could transform the equation and help pave the way to commercially viable cellulosic biofuels."

Cells Disclose their Ailments

MIT researchers gauge the progress of malaria using a novel imaging technique.

Vibrant cells: MIT’s Michael Feld and Subra Suresh, with the aid of a technique developed in Feld’s lab, were able to image the vibrations of the membrane of a blood cell infected with the malaria parasite (top). Feld’s technique also provided images of the interior of the cells (bottom), allowing the researchers to correlate the cells’ vibrational frequencies with the progress of the disease.
Credit: Michael Feld and Subra Suresh

Bridging physics, engineering, and microbiology, researchers at MIT have measured the frequency at which red blood cells vibrate and have shown that those frequencies reflect the health of the cells. The research could lead to better medical diagnostics.

The work was performed in collaboration between MIT physicist Michael Feld and Subra Suresh, dean of MIT's school of engineering and a materials scientist. Feld heads MIT's Laser Biomedical Research Center, which has developed an imaging technique that can create three-dimensional images of living cells. Suresh's laboratory has conducted experiments to measure things like the stiffness of red blood cells infected by malaria parasites.

A red blood cell has electrical, chemical, and biological activity taking place inside it, which causes nanoscale vibrations at its surface. To measure the cells' vibrational frequencies, the researchers combined Feld's imaging technique with diffraction phase microscopy, in which a laser beam that passes through a cell rejoins a reference beam that does not, creating a distinctive interference pattern. To establish the connection between the cells' vibration and their health, the researchers used Feld's technique to create three-dimensional images of a malarial parasite inside a red blood cell. They also measured the levels of hemoglobin inside the cells during various stages of a malarial infection.

"This thing has never been done before," says Ares Rosakis, professor of aeronautics and mechanical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. "Scaling down optical techniques to [the nanoscale] level is extremely challenging." (Rosakis was not involved in the work, although one of his former graduate students was.)

Rosakis sees two uses for the new techniques. One is to improve computer models of cells, because Feld and Suresh's measurements are so much more accurate than previous measurements. The other is better diagnostics. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) note that the main test for malaria currently does not work for acute malaria: it can recognize the disease only after the fact. Eventually, a technique like Feld and Suresh's could provide a way to detect malaria as it's happening. "Think of the future of a doctor or even an untrained technician having [the technology] built inside a commercial microscope and . . . instantaneously getting a reading on the state of the disease," Rosakis says.

Suresh notes that it was rare for mechanical engineers to work on cell biology, and rarer still to do it with physicists. But he and Feld "don't need to leave the building" to collaborate, he says.

The two began working together about two and a half years ago, after Feld invited Suresh to give a talk about the work his lab was doing on malaria cells. After Suresh's talk, the two decided to combine forces--and instruments--to measure the speed at which healthy and diseased red blood cells vibrate.

They chose malarial cells because of Suresh's experience working with them, but it meant that Feld's lab had to be refitted to meet the CDC's Level 2 biosafety standards. That project was led by one of the researchers on Suresh's team, Monica Diez-Silva, the only microbiologist in either group.

It takes 48 hours for a malarial invader to run through its life cycle, developing, reproducing, and being expelled from the cell. The researchers thus had to evaluate infected cells from each stage of that 48-hour process, at temperatures that simulated the fever and cooling that the human body experiences during a malarial infection.

Vibrating cell membranes move mere nanometers at a time, and those movements take place in microseconds--millionths of a second. To capture the data from the laser beam passing through the cells, the researchers used Feld's imaging technique, which stitches multiple images together into a composite. The technique is a species of tomography, the principle that underlies computed-tomography (CT) scans.

Rosakis says that imaging with interference patterns is particularly challenging when looking at red blood cells, which are doughnut-shaped and fluid, constantly changing shape in all directions.

Suresh and Feld's first set of experiments took almost eight months, including "weeks and weeks" to assemble the 3-D images of the parasites inside the cells. Then they decided to look at hemoglobin levels, which also took months. They spent almost six months writing up the results, which will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

Suresh says that the research should apply to any other type of living cells. He and Feld want to look at red blood cells with sickle anemia, and possibly cancer cells, although it will be more difficult to study cells that have a nucleus.

Suresh's and Feld's techniques can't yet be used for diagnosing illnesses, but Suresh says that their work "makes the scientific foundation that you can measure" disease at the cellular level.

Summer losses for Canadian Ice Shelves

Ice Shelf: Photo by lin padgham (CC Licensed)

Scientists say Arctic ice shelves located along the northern coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island have undergone massive changes during the summer of 2008. In July, a large section of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf -- the largest in the Canadian Arctic -- broke off from Ellesmere Island. The entire Markham Ice Shelf broke away in early August and is now adrift in the Arctic Ocean. And two large sections of ice detached from the Serson Ice Shelf, reducing its size by 60 percent.

More than 90 percent of Canada's ice shelves have been lost during the last 100 years. Although much of the loss occurred during a warm period in the 1930s and 1940s, Arctic temperatures are now even higher than they were then, and a period of renewed ice shelf breakup began in 2002. In April 2000, satellite images indicated that a large crack had developed in the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf; by 2002 the shelf had completely split in two.

"These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic," said polar scientist Derek Mueller of Trent University. "These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for thousands of years are no longer present."

All told, this summer's ice shelf loss totals about 83 square miles -- more than three times the area of Manhattan Island. Because ice helps cool the Earth by reflecting the sun's energy back into space, loss of Arctic ice could contribute to a faster warming of the global climate. In addition, scientists say unique ecosystems that depend on the ice are on the brink of extinction.

[Via Trent University]

Duplicating Meat

Pigs: Photo by Getty Images

Dear EarthTalk: What's the story with animal cloning? Is the meat industry really cloning animals now to "beef up" production? -- Frank DeFazio, Sudbury, MA

Cloning has been controversial ever since Scottish scientists announced in 1996 that they had cloned their first mammal, a sheep they named Dolly. While Dolly lived a painful, arthritic life and died prematurely, possibly due to the imperfections of cloning, industry nonetheless began seeking out ways to capitalize on the new technology. Meanwhile, critics bemoan cloning as immoral, and eating cloned meat a potential health and safety risk, given the as-yet-unknown consequences of eating foods generated in this way.

In January 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of cloned animals and their offspring for food, despite fierce opposition from animal welfare and consumer advocacy groups, environmental organizations, some members of Congress, and many consumers.

"Our evaluation is that the food from cloned animals is as safe as the food we eat every day," said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief of veterinary medicine. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has asked that producers withhold cloned animals, but not their offspring, from the food supply while farmers, processors, grocery stores and restaurants decide how they will respond to the FDA's landmark decision.

Unsurprisingly, industry groups also argue that beef and milk from cloned animals is safe to consume. They cite a 2005 University of Connecticut study, which concluded that beef and milk from cloned cows did not pose any health or safety threats to people consuming it. But critics say that the oft-cited single study was far too limited to yield any meaningful conclusions: Milk and beef were taken from just six cloned animals, and the study did not take into account whether clones were more susceptible to infection or other microbial problems, as many scientists suspect. Other researchers have noted severe deformities in many cloned animals, as well as a higher incidence of reproductive, immune and other health problems.

The Washington, DC-based Center for Food Safety, in a petition it filed in late 2006, declared: "The available science shows that cloning presents serious food safety risks, animal welfare concerns, and unresolved ethical issues that require strict oversight." The group announced on September 2, 2008, that 20 leading U.S. food producers—including Kraft Foods, General Mills, Gerber/Nestle, Campbell's Soup and Ben and Jerry's—had agreed not to use cloned animals in their products. "The move by these companies represents a growing industry trend of responding to consumer demand for better food safety, environmental and animal welfare standards," the group said in making the announcement.

Given the FDA's green light, consumers' only hope of avoiding cloned animal products may be to appeal to businesses directly not to peddle such items. The Pennsylvania-based American Anti-Vivisection Society, which opposes all forms of animal research and testing, has mounted a campaign to urge McDonald's to forgo cloned animals in its 30,000 restaurants worldwide.

HKS Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show starts November 4 in Las Vegas, and the folks at Hyundai have given us a sneak peek at one of the company's Genesis Coupes that will be on display. Built by noted turbo tuner HKS, this dramatic-looking rear-drive Genesis Coupe is fitted with the company's GT Turbo upgrade kit, which teams with upgraded engine internals and a revised exhaust to make the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine produce excellent power, perhaps as much as 300 bhp.

Do you like the look of the car? We do too. The functional ground-effect body was designed by Ken Style, and the aggressive low attitude is made possible by HKS Hipermax III fully adjustable suspension.

That's about all Hyundai will tell us for now; we'll learn more at the SEMA show in November. The production Genesis Coupe arrives at dealers in the spring of 2009, as a 2010 model. Why do we have to wait for so long?

Wave the Flag- The American version of Iron Fist with a Velvet Glove

Chismillionaire loves this rig- while I prefer the more elegant front end of the normal CTS, I suppose I need to yield to the engineers cooling needs explanation.

Usually the new American model meets the specs of outgoing models but here they have clearly met and exceeded the the current crop of competitors offerings. Styling that is unique and handsome, performance that is above or equal to six figure cars, and interior that is every bit as nice as the European offerings. 560HP, a Piano Black interior treatment with excellent Recaros and double stitched leather dash for $60,000 or so!!! It's a steal- a perfect Q Ship.

While the Turbo AMG cars are coming and Twin Turbo V10's for the new 5 and 6 series BMW M cars, for a few years this car is right there at every level including materials quality for much much less outlay. A tip of the cap to GM here.

words: Bryan Joslin

History will likely record 2009 as an exceptional year to be an American. Barring any unexpected events, we should be swearing in either the first black man or the first woman (sorry, Hillary's two terms alongside Bill don't count) into the White House in January. Changes in leadership may not be limited to just Washington, though. The all-new 2009 CTS-V campaigns hard against the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, fusing luxury and performance like no American car has ever done before.


On paper, the CTS-V certainly has the right credentials for the job — a 556-horse supercharged V-8, a six-speed manual 'box sending 551 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels, six-piston Brembo brakes underneath nineteen-inch forged wheels, active dampers, and even Recaro seats. But an impressive resume doesn't necessarily guarantee a job well done. A world leader, after all, needs the ability to inspire. In the spirit of this season, let's examine the American candidate on the real issues.

Energy Policy

While some candidates are talking about wind and solar, the CTS-V is busy making colossal horsepower. Motivation comes from a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 known internally as the LSA. It is a variation on the 638-horse LS9 found in the new ZR1 Corvette, but the Caddy's 82-horsepower deficit is largely the result of its smaller supercharger, which displaces 1.9 liters instead of 2.3. Like the Vette, the CTS-V uses a brick-type intercooler mounted on top of the engine to condense the intake charge.


The blower, a Roots-type Eaton Gen 6, uses four lobes instead of the typical three and they're coated with a unique film that improves the surface contact as it wears. The result is a much quieter engine without the typical supercharger whine, delivering instead the more traditional small-block bark. We were skeptical when Cadillac's spinsters told us the new charger was so quiet that it went unnoticed at the proving grounds, but after witnessing several fly-bys at full throttle on the virgin tarmac at Monticello Motor Club, we walked away impressed with the civility of this engine.

Power delivery, as one might expect from a large-displacement, blown V-8, is decidedly unreal. Sixty miles per hour comes up as quickly as 3.9 seconds, and the quarter-mile drops in twelve seconds, by which time it's moving at 118 mph. At most drag strips, that would require a roll cage. And the CTS-V isn't just a hole-shot performer; it's got mid-range to rival the best Autobahners.

Right to Choose

The issue of choice is a very personal one, but the CTS-V has you covered either way. The standard transmission is a six-speed Tremec TR6060 manual, with a six-speed HydraMatic available as an option. The Tremec is a stout box, built to handle the LSA's torque. Shifting action is firm and very mechanical; you can practically feel the synchros slipping over the cogs through the shift lever. The clutch is firm, too, but not nearly as stiff as it could be. A dual-disc clutch setup not only lightens the pedal effort, it also reduces the rotational mass for better performance.

If you lean a bit more conservatively, you'll probably find the six-speed automatic a more fitting — and highly capable — option for a luxury sedan. In regular mode, it shifts so smoothly that you may no even notice it. In sport mode, it's almost clairvoyant, anticipating downshifts at the first twitch of the throttle. In fact, GM speedmeister John Heinricy set a blazing lap time of 7:59.32 at the Nordschleife in an automatic-equipped CTS-V, and he let the tranny do the shifting for him.

Race Relations

Race is still a serious matter, and while it's unlikely you'll ever race against a CTS-V in full livery, it is possible you might share a session with one at a local track day — and with good reason. The CTS-V wears some serious hardware for the track. Backing up its monster powertrain is a standard limited-slip differential splitting power to the two rear wheels (all-wheel-drive is not an option as it is with the base CTS). To abate wheel-hop on launches, the rear halfshafts are of different diameters. In testing, GM found that axle hop was mostly caused by a spring effect building up across the halfshafts. By differing their diameters, GM neutralized the wind-up. Caddy upgraded the driveshaft and wheel bearings as well to deal with the added torque and power.


The suspension architecture is essentially the same as a garden-variety CTS — independent short/long arm at both ends — but with larger sway bars, stiffer springs, and the addition of Magnetic Ride Control, which employs electro-magnetically controlled shocks. In Touring mode, the suspension is firm for a Cadillac, but not out of place for a Benz or BMW. With the ride control switched to Sport, the control is more aggressive. On the track, the chassis responds quickly to pitch and camber changes, but the fact that the car weighs in at 4300 pounds plays into fast transitions. The steering is quick and light, but the ultra-serious Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires fight hard to keep the big sedan on the sticky side. With 255/40ZR19s in front and 285/35ZR19s in back, the otherwise neutral chassis leans toward understeer at the limit.

Braking hardware comes straight from the track by way of Brembo. Silver, six-piston calipers grip slotted and vented 380-mm iron/aluminum co-cast rotors in front, while a pair of four-pot stompers grab the vented 373-mm cast-iron rear discs. Red calipers indicate the optional sport brakes, which replace the co-cast front rotors with actual two-piece units with improved internal cooling and no slotting on the surfaces. The standard setup is ideal for the street, if somewhat noisy at low speeds, but track junkies will definitely want the upgraded hardware, which is more effective at shedding heat lap after lap.

The one feature that's not quite race-ready is the stability control. In addition to the usual traction control defeat that lets you impress your friends with smoky burnouts, Cadillac thoughtfully planned a performance mode for the track. In theory, it allows for a capable driver to explore the limits of the chassis without intruding unless it senses eminent catastrophe. In reality, it steps in and cuts the throttle after just a few degrees — perhaps 15 degrees by seat of the pants — of oversteer is detected, reining the car back just as you start to feel like a hero. It is remarkably quick to re-apply power once the trajectory has been corrected, but by then your adrenaline has already been dumped.

Foreign and Domestic Policy

Cadillac may have aimed its missiles at Europe with the CTS-V, but when it comes to styling, it is as unabashedly American as a flag lapel pin. There is no fake Hofmeister kink, no pseudo-AMG body kit. The lines are Cadillac's alone, and the only body enhancements — a hood bulge, a larger front airdam, and a center brake light-cum-trunk-spoiler — are functional. It wears plenty of chrome, including those ubiquitous fender vents of dubious employ. The forged aluminum wheels, while light and strong, lack the emotional appeal of the rollers from Germany.


Despite its fairly restrained styling, the CTS-V is all-American; no one will ever mistake it for a European. Conversely, it has plenty of experience overseas — that sub-eight-minute time at the 'Ring is evidence of its intentions to play on the world stage.


The interior of the CTS-V sends mixed messages about the importance of a healthy driving environment. On the one hand, it is a clean overall design that works well for the entire CTS range. The problem is that the V gets no particular distinction in its standard form. The hand-stitched dashboard, which is a standout feature in the base models, is still wrapped in vinyl for the flagship instead of proper hide. The standard dash and console trim is black plastic that Cadillac passes off as Obsidian, accented by faux carbon fiber film. All of this would be tits in a Cobalt SS, but it drags the CTS-V down a bit. That said, it helps keep costs down, and you can add richer materials.

ctsv6_center.jpg But there are several highpoints as well. For instance, the positively ginormous glass sunroof adds a sophisticated ambiance to the otherwise business-like cabin, albeit at the expense of head and helmet room. A full-length mesh roller shade helps reduce the greenhouse effect on warmer days, even if the rear windows lack sunshades of their own.

The one must-have option is the sport interior package. Not only does it ditch the faux carbon trim for black-stained wood, it also replaces the standard sport seats with 14-way Recaros. Trimmed in black leather and Alcantara, the seats include thigh extensions and pneumatic side bolsters for optimum road or track settings. Alcantara trim extends to the shifter and steering wheel as well, aiding grip when the going gets fast.


At this time, no pricing has been released on the CTS-V, but it is expected to be very fiscally conservative. Rumors are it will start around $60,000. If that pans out, Cadillac will have delivered M5-beating performance at an M3 price.

The field of top contenders in the super-sedan race just gained another highly qualified candidate. Cadillac may be the unproven newcomer when compared with the business-as-usual types from the other side of the aisle, but it comes along at a time when change is all the rage. The CTS-V makes no qualms about being a proud American, and should inspire even the elitists among us to wave the flag again.

Purdue University Develops Mr.Fusion, Finally

Scientists develop portable generator that turns trash into electricity

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A group of scientists have created a portable refinery that efficiently converts food, paper and plastic trash into electricity. The machine, designed for the U.S. military, would allow soldiers in the field to convert waste into power and could have widespread civilian applications in the future.

"This is a very promising technology," said Michael Ladisch, the professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University who leads the project. "In a very short time it should be ready for use in the military, and I think it could be used outside the military shortly thereafter."

The "tactical biorefinery" processes several kinds of waste at once, which it converts into fuel via two parallel processes. The system then burns the different fuels in a diesel engine to power a generator. Ladisch said the machine's ability to burn multiple fuels at once, along with its mobility, make it unique.

Roughly the size a small moving van, the biorefinery could alleviate the expense and potential danger associated with transporting waste and fuel. Also, by eliminating garbage remnants - known in the military as a unit's "signature" - it could protect the unit's security by destroying clues that such refuse could provide to enemies.

Researchers tested the first tactical biorefinery prototype in November and found that it produced approximately 90 percent more energy than it consumed, said Jerry Warner, founder of Defense Life Sciences LLC, a private company working with Purdue researchers on the project. He said the results were better than expected.

The U.S. Army subsequently commissioned the biorefinery upon completion of a functional prototype, and the machine is being considered for future Army development.

The tactical biorefinery first separates organic food material from residual trash, such as paper, plastic, Styrofoam and cardboard. The food waste goes to a bioreactor where industrial yeast ferments it into ethanol, a "green" fuel. Residual materials go to a gasifier where they are heated under low-oxygen conditions and eventually become low-grade propane gas and methane. The gas and ethanol are then combusted in a modified diesel engine that powers a generator to produce electricity.

Ladisch and Warner said the machine eventually could be deployed in disaster situations, similar to Hurricane Katrina, or at any crisis location where people are stranded without power. Emergency crews could then use the machine to turn debris such as woodchips into much-needed electricity, Warner said.

The refinery also could provide supplementary power for factories, restaurants or stores, Ladisch said.

"At any place with a fair amount of food and scrap waste the biorefinery could help reduce electricity costs, and you might even be able to produce some surplus energy to put back on the electrical grid," he said.

Much of the fuel the system combusts is carbon-neutral, said Nathan Mosier, a Purdue professor of agricultural and biological engineering involved in the project. Carbon-neutral fuels like ethanol do not cause an appreciable net increase in atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. This is because the fuel releases carbon that has only recently been taken up by plants during photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and sugars. The same is not true for petroleum, in which the carbon contents were removed from the atmosphere millions of years ago.

The biorefinery generator initially runs on diesel oil for several hours until the gasifier and the bioreactor begin to produce fuel, Warner said. In the initial commissioning test, researchers measured the amount of diesel oil burned and electricity produced to calculate its efficiency.

The machine produces a very small amount of its own waste, Warner said, mostly in the form of ash that the Environmental Protection Agency has designated as "benign," or non-hazardous. Any leftover materials from the bioreactor are put into the gasifier, which has to be emptied every two to three days.

"It's about enough to fill a regular sized trash bag, and it represents about a 30-to-1 volume reduction," Warner said.

Other companies collaborated in this project, including Bowen Engineering of Indianapolis, Huston Electric of Lafayette, Ind., and Community Power Corp. of Littleton, Colo.

Writer: Douglas M Main, (765)496-2050,

Sources: Michael Ladisch, (765)494-7022,

Jerry Warner, (703)448-0440,

Nathan Mosier, (765)496-2044,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Purdue professor Nathan Mosier works with the tactical biorefinery, which is designed to convert waste into electricity. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

A publication-quality photo is available at