Monday, May 24, 2010

Inhabitat's Week in Green: surfing renewable energy, hexagonal LEDs, and ultra-efficient aerodynamics

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/23/inhabitats-week-in-green-surfing-renewable-energy-hexagonal-l/


The Week in Green is a new item from our friends at Inhabitat, recapping the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us.

This week Inhabitat reported live from the scene of New York Design Week, where we sifted through thousands of new home furnishings and interiors products to bring you the state-of-the-art in green design. Fresh from the floor of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair is this stunning hexagonal crystal LED light, which is composed of glowing geometric blocks that snap together to form a myriad of shapes. We were also impressed by this beautifully finished wood calculator that multiplies its green factor with sustainably-sourced materials.

The past week was also surging with developments from the field of renewable energy - first we were excited to see the unveiling of the Oyster 2, an offshore wave-harvesting energy plant that improves upon its predecessor with a simpler design, fewer moving parts, and a 250% increase in energy generation. Google, HP, and Microsoft are also getting into the green energy game with plans to tap an unexpected energy source to run their data centers - cow dung! Google also led the charge towards cleaner energy this week by funding a new type of jet engine-inspired geothermal drill that uses superheated streams of water to bore through previously impenetrable surfaces.

Speaking of jets, MIT has just unveiled several ultra-efficient airplane designs that are capable of cutting fuel use by a whopping 70%. The auto industry also received a jolt of energy as Toyota announced a partnership with Tesla that will boost California's flagging economy and likely lead to more affordable iconic electric vehicles.

The field of wearable technology saw several innovative advancements this week as well - safe cyclists rejoice, because a group of Indian students have designed a $22 Solar and Wind Powered Bike Helmet. Meanwhile, a group of Colorado State University seniors have designed a medical incubator backpack unit that they believe can reduce baby deaths in medical emergencies.

Finally, we shined light on several brilliant advancements from the field of solar technology, starting with China's plans to build the "biggest solar energy production base" in the world. We also looked at the HYDRA, a solar-powered hydrogen fuel cell system that can reportedly generate 20,000 gallons of pure water a day, and green energy got literal with the unveiling of the first leaf-shaped crystalline silicon solar panels.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: surfing renewable energy, hexagonal LEDs, and ultra-efficient aerodynamics originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 23 May 2010 20:36:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In New System, Algae Cleans Water, Then Transforms into Organic Fertilizer

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-05/algae-cleans-manure-runoff-transforming-organic-fertilizer

The algae systems can capture most of the phosphorus and nitrogen in runoff

Algal blooms that feed on nutrient-rich manure and fertilizer runoff can deplete oxygen in the water when they die, creating inhospitable dead zones -- but the same green scum might also serve as a preventive solution upstream. A microbiologist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service used algae to recover almost 100 percent of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from manure, and suggested that the dried-out algae can then act as slow-release fertilizer for farms.

The solution offers better management of the cycle of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients which plants depend on. Experiments have shown that algae can capture 60 to 90 percent of nitrogen and 70 to 100 percent of phosphorus from a mixture of manure and fresh water, as proved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on four dairy farms.

The system is practicable now. Farmers would have to set up algal turf scrubber (ATS) raceways covered with nylon netting to serve as a platform for algae to grow upon. The capture costs of around $5 to $6 per pound of nitrogen and $25 per pound of phosphorus is about the same as other manure-management practices.

But Walter Mulbry, the USDA microbiologist, also showed that corn and cucumber seedlings could thrive on an organic fertilizer made from the dried-out algae. That might allow farmers to recoup even more of the costs from the ATS system, or perhaps turn a profit if the price is right.

Mulbry has already begun another study to see whether fertilizer made from chicken and poultry litter can also benefit from the algae cleanup system. And he has also begun studying whether the ATS systems can remove nitrogen and phosphorus from estuaries that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, so that they could clean up runoff that has already made it into the water system.

Algae's versatility has already won over scientists who see it as the biofuel of the future, and the tiny plant organisms have also been proving their worth in scrubbing carbon dioxide and nitrous gas from industrial smokestacks! . A comp any called Algenol has even looked to using algae-derived plastic as a replacement for petroleum-derived plastic.

Even the U.S. Department of Energy and various branches of the U.S. military have begun seriously exploring algae-derived solutions. If that doesn't entirely ensure a clean future, it at least suggests a future with a scummy color palette ranging from pale to bright green.

[USDA]

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Bio-Manufactured Bricks Are Made at Room Temperature, From Bacteria, Sand and Urine [Brick]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5540994/bio+manufactured-bricks-are-made-at-room-temperature-from-bacteria-sand-and-urine

Bio-Manufactured Bricks Are Made at Room Temperature, From Bacteria, Sand and UrineAn American architecture professor in Abu Dhabi has come up with a new generation of sustainable bricks — grown by bacteria using sand, calcium chloride, and pee.

Rather than being fired in a kiln, the bricks are formed at room temperature, according to Metropolis Magazine, which honored the invention with a Next Generation Design award.

There's still some work to be done, because the bricks can be poisonous to groundwater. But the concept is simple enough.

The bricks are made in a process called microbial-induced calcite precipitation, or MICP. In a chain of chemical reactions, the microbes on sand are joined together like glue. The resulting brick looks like sandstone, but is as strong as clay-fired brick or even marble, Metropolis Mag says. The ingredients include common bacteria and urea, a principal ingredient of human urine.

Ginger Krieg Dosier, an assistant architecture professor at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, came up with the recipe. After several periods of trial and error, she found a formula that assembled into a "baby brick." The key was letting the bacteria sit for a long enough period.

For now, the bricks are tiny — about Lego-sized — but the concept could translate to a larger scale. They take about a week to grow, Metropolis Mag says.

The downside is that microbial-induced calcite precipitation produces vast amounts of ammonia. Microbes convert the ammonia to nitrates, which poisons groundwater. To solve that problem, Dosier plans to design a system that would capture emissions and recycle them back into the brick-production cycle.

Despite the challenges, the bacteria-bricks are a promising solution to a lasting architectural problem, Metropolis Mag says. More than 1.3 trillion bricks are manufactured worldwide every year, and many are hand-made in coal-fired ovens. Brick-baking is a major source of carbon dioxide emissions.

But they're sturdy and cheap, meaning environmentally sustainable ones are harder to come by.

One of the first "green" bricks, honored with a PopSci Invention Award, is made from fly ash, the byproducts of coal-fired power plants.

Others include bricks made out of recycled plastic bottles and old tires, but they're being used for things like fences and skylights, not building foundations.

The traditional brick industry is catching on, highlighting its own green practices in an industry blog. Last year, the Brick Industry Association used funds from the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the possibility of using methane from landfills in brick production.

[Metropolis Magazine, Dexigner]

Bio-Manufactured Bricks Are Made at Room Temperature, From Bacteria, Sand and UrinePopular Science is your wormhole to the future. Reporting on what's new and what's next in science and technology, we deliver the future now.

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In New System, Algae Cleans Water, Then Transforms into Organic Fertilizer

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-05/algae-cleans-manure-runoff-transforming-organic-fertilizer

Nature's Green Cleaner Air-dried algae (shown above) from an algal turf scrubber captured most of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the manure. USDA/Edwin Remsburg
The algae systems can capture most of the phosphorus and nitrogen in runoff

Algal blooms that feed on nutrient-rich manure and fertilizer runoff can deplete oxygen in the water when they die, creating inhospitable dead zones -- but the same green scum might also serve as a preventive solution upstream. A microbiologist with the U.S. Agricultural Research Service used algae to recover almost 100 percent of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients from manure, and suggested that the dried-out algae can then act as slow-release fertilizer for farms.

The solution offers better management of the cycle of nitrogen and phosphorus nutrients which plants depend on. Experiments have shown that algae can capture 60 to 90 percent of nitrogen and 70 to 100 percent of phosphorus from a mixture of manure and fresh water, as proved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on four dairy farms.

The system is practicable now. Farmers would have to set up algal turf scrubber (ATS) raceways covered with nylon netting to serve as a platform for algae to grow upon. The capture costs of around $5 to $6 per pound of nitrogen and $25 per pound of phosphorus is about the same as other manure-management practices.

But Walter Mulbry, the USDA microbiologist, also showed that corn and cucumber seedlings could thrive on an organic fertilizer made from the dried-out algae. That might allow farmers to recoup even more of the costs from the ATS system, or perhaps turn a profit if the price is right.

Mulbry has already begun another study to see whether fertilizer made from chicken and poultry litter can also benefit from the algae cleanup system. And he has also begun studying whether the ATS systems can remove nitrogen and phosphorus from estuaries that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, so that they could clean up runoff that has already made it into the water system.

Algae's versatility has already won over scientists who see it as the biofuel of the future, and the tiny plant organisms have also been proving their worth in scrubbing carbon dioxide and nitrous gas from industrial smokestacks. A company called Algenol has even looked to using algae-derived plastic as a replacement for petroleum-derived plastic.

Even the U.S. Department of Energy and various branches of the U.S. military have begun seriously exploring algae-derived solutions. If that doesn't entirely ensure a clean future, it at least suggests a future with a scummy color palette ranging from pale to bright green.

[USDA]

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Philips' new LED light bulbs are brighter, more efficient, not cheap

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/13/philips-new-led-light-bulbs-are-brighter-more-efficient-not-c/

Philips' Master LED bulbs may well have been forgotten in the US -- as far as we can tell, they never showed up for that hot date last July -- but it's hard to be miffed when the company's new bulbs, dubbed EnduraLED, are four times as bright. Due in the fourth quarter of the year, the 60W equivalent at left sucks down only 12 watts of electricity but emits a reported 806 lumens of soft white light -- a ratio green enough to save the world, Philips claims, if only you'll buy in. Problem is, people's generosity typically depends on price, and a company rep told us we'll shell out around $60 per bulb when the shiny silver socketables ship. Mind you, that's just an initial figure, but until we hear different we'll be going to Home Depot for our lighting needs, thank you very much. Press release after the break.

Continue reading Philips' new LED light bulbs are brighter, more efficient, not cheap

Philips' new LED light bulbs are brighter, more efficient, not cheap originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 13 May 2010 06:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Sunday, May 9, 2010

This Transparent Piece Of Glass Can Detect 3,000 Viruses In Under 24 Hours [Medical Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5533494/this-transparent-piece-of-glass-can-detect-3000-viruses-in-under-24-hours

This Transparent Piece Of Glass Can Detect 3,000 Viruses In Under 24 HoursMeasuring just three-inches, that strange plastic doohickey the woman is holding there can detect 3,000 different viruses in under a day. This bio-detector could end up saving your life, in other words.

388,000 individually-sequenced probes are contained in the glass slide, and are capable of analyzing and detecting over 2,00 viruses and 900 different forms of bacteria. It's being worked on by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with the Lawrence Livermore Microbial Detection Array (or LLMDA) placed under exactly 107.6 Fahrenheit degrees of heat, after a sample of DNA or RNA has been mixed with fluorescent dye and smeared onto the device. Then, a fluorescent scanner can reveal the nasties (or goodies) that lurks within the DNA sample, with the dye becoming visible when strains are present.

The obvious use for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's work is in the medical region, but Science Daily is reporting that it could also be used for hygiene checks with food production. I suggest that all fast food outlets be outfitted with one LLMDA per fryer immediately. [Science Daily via PopSci]

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Underwater Turbines Attached To Kites Could Save A Few Climate Problems [Energy]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5533384/underwater-turbines-attached-to-kites-could-save-a-few-climate-problems

Underwater Turbines Attached To Kites Could Save A Few Climate ProblemsWhile underwater kites might sound like another one of those crazy concepts we like so much here at Gizmodo, the company behind the design has already attracted €2 million in investors, with testing beginning next year for the next-gen turbines.

Underwater turbines is such a great idea I'm surprised it's taken this long to kick off. As they're hidden in the depths of the ocean, the land isn't dotted with unsightly creatures—a fact that Senator Dianne Feinstein would appreciate, after she blocked the Mojave Desert solar farm project last year.

Each turbine measures 12m in wingspan width, and is attached to 100m of cable, with a rudder tethered to the sea floor, generating 500 kilowatts of power. The first tests begin next year in Northern Ireland, but the company behind the project, Minesto, is hopeful that they'll be widely used within the next four years. [CNN via DVICE]

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

This Piece Of Paper Is a Solar Panel [Solar Power]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5531805/this-piece-of-paper-is-a-solar-panel

This Piece Of Paper Is a Solar PanelResearchers at MIT have figured out how to create solar cells thin enough to be pasted onto sheets of paper, with an applicator that works sort of like an inkjet printer. (Note: We are apparently stuck with inkjet printers, forever.)

In their current state, the cells are just under 2% efficient at converting sunlight into usable electricity, as compared to typical rooftop solar cells—you know, panel panels—which can exceed 20%. But you can't staple a solar panel to your roof! No, seriously, that's what the researchers are suggesting is possible here:

If you could use a staple gun to install a solar panel, there could be a lot of value.

True! Instead of hiring a team of laborers to install your home's new solar power system, you could send your kid up to the roof with a helmet and staple gun. Kids love staple guns.

As is always the case with stories like this, there's a sobering caveat. Vladimir Bulovic, director of the project, told CNET:

I'm giving you a whole bunch of hype. It usually takes 10 years from the time between when you invent something and you commercialize it.

This does raise some interesting possibilities, though. The above demo is pasted to paper, but if solar cells are this thin, and can eventually be manufactured at a low price, why not just stick them on everything? A car covered in photovoltaic film converting sunlight at 10% efficiency might not run entirely off of solar energy, but it could stay on the road a little longer. [CNET via InhabitatPhoto credit: Martin LaMonica/CNET]

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

After Years of Herbicide Use, Roundup-Resistant Superweeds Are Evolving to Invade U.S. Fields

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-05/roundup-resistant-superweeds-invade-us-fields

Roundup Resistance Fields invaded by poison-resistant weeds will require additional - and in some cases more environmentally harmful - herbicides.

U.S. farmers are dealing with a superweed epidemic, and it's not as groovy as it sounds on first read. Ubiquitous use of the weed killer Roundup over time has spawned herbicide-resistant superweeds , much as heavy use of antibiotics over past decades has bred drug-resistant germs and bacteria.

Roundup -- which was created by Monsanto but is now sold generically under the common name glyphosate -- has been a boon for agriculture over the last 20 years. Genetically modified crops are immune to its poison, meaning farmers can spray down their entire fields with the stuff, killing off invasive weeds while leaving their harvests in perfect order. It degrades quickly, and cuts down on erosion, agricultural fuel cost, and carbon emissions because farmers don't have to plow their fields under each season.

At least, they didn't have to until now. The first glyphosate-resistant species was identified a decade ago, but that resistance is now shared by at least 10 species in 22 states, affecting between 7 million and 10 million acres of land predominantly hosting soybeans, cotton and corn. Farmers battling with resistant strains of horseweed, pigweed and ragweed are having to turn to stronger herbicides, plowing and pulling weeds by hand, methods that could lead to increased environmental harm, lower yields, and rising prices. Andrew Wargo III, president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, told the Times, "It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen."

The situation closely mirrors the overuse of anti-malarial drugs in the middle of the last century; such overuse caused the strongest, drug-resistant strains to proliferate through a sped-up version of natural selection, rendering the drugs ineffective. A similar case is the epidemic of wheat stem rust that researchers around the world are battling to contain now that the genetic safeguards crop engineers embedded in the wheat genome decades ago are failing against a newer, hardier strain of the devastating disease.

Roundup Ready crops account for some 90 percent of soybeans in the U.S., as well as 70 percent of the corn and cotton. Such overwhelming use of a single safeguard creates a ripe situation for evolution to get the upper hand, and that appears to be exactly what's happening.

In the long run, Roundup resistance could lead to reduced interest in genetically modified crops; if the weed killer no longer kills the weeds, there's little point in paying a premium for poison-resistant crops. But hopefully we'll also learn something from it as well: Life on this planet is predisposed toward diversity, and when we institute widespread uniformity on diverse systems we tend to find that nature wins out in the end.

[New York Times]

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

B-Cycle: the GPS-Equipped Bike Sharing System I Want Right Now [Bikes]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5530730/b+cycle-the-gps+equipped-bike-sharing-system-i-want-right-now

B-Cycle: the GPS-Equipped Bike Sharing System I Want Right NowDenver is the first city to be hope to B-cycle, a Trek-developed bike sharing system equipped with awesome goodies like GPS route tracking.

How does it work? Well, there are B-cycle stations all around Denver. Once you have an account, you can grab a bike from any of them. When you're done, you can then drop it off at any other station. The GPS unit inside the bike (there's no nav screen, it's hidden inside the bike itself) tracks your route and lets you check it out online when you're signed in.

It's a pretty awesome idea, with custom bikes made just for the system by Trek. It's pretty reasonably priced, too, with a single day costing $5 and a year costing $65, plus daily hourly usage fees.

They're currently finishing the details on the next batch of cities, although they're mum on what those cities will be. You can vote for your city on their site if you want to try to get it near you.

(I was told that in order to bring the system to NYC, they need a whole lot of grassroots support and people asking the city for this. Selfishly, I want that to happen. So start harassing Bloomberg about it! Let's make this happen!) [B-cycle]

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Cheap New Metal Catalyst Can Split Hydrogen Gas From Water at a Fraction of the Cost

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-05/cheap-metal-catalyst-can-split-hydrogen-gas-water-fraction-cost

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it can be difficult and costly to get at the raw gaseous stuff, at least in the kind of commercial volumes that could sustainably fuel a hydrogen economy. But researchers at the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have made a substantial leap toward a hydrogen-based future by devising a cheap, metal catalyst that can split hydrogen gas from water.

The ability to pull apart H2O molecules into their constituent atoms is, of course, the key to creating a hydrogen-based energy economy. If we can do so in a cheap and energy efficient manner, we could potentially turn Earth's vast supply of water into our own vast supply of cheap, clean power.

But most hydrogen gas on earth comes packaged as natural gas -- a carbon-based fuel -- or packed into water, which can be split into oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis. Electrolysis requires a good deal of electricity, but if renewable fuels generate that power the process can be carbon neutral. What it can't be is cheap; electrolysis requires a catalyst to split water into oxygen and hydrogen gas, the most common of which is platinum, which retails at some $2,000 per ounce.

Seeking to drive the cost of electrolysis down to more reasonable levels, the Berkeley Lab team devised a high-valence metal they're calling Mo-oxo for molybdenum-oxo (PY5Me2, for you chem. geeks out there). The catalyst requires no additional organic additives or solvents, can operate in neutral water (even if it's dirty) and works with sea water -- meaning we could literally be looking at oceans of cheap energy. Best of all: Mo-oxo is about 70 times cheaper than platinum.

Don't expect to see Mo-oxo splitting seawater into large volumes of hydrogen gas right away. The research is still preliminary and the Berkeley team is just getting into some of the more exciting chemistry. They're looking for additional similar metals that might generate hydrogen gas at even higher efficiency, so by the time this kind of tech is commercialized we may have found an even better catalyst. In the meantime, Mo-oxo marks a sort of corner-turning for water electrolysis. Any great shift to non-carbon fuels is ultimately going to be driven by economics, and finding less expensive ways to generate hydrogen gas is integral to kicking off that sea change.

[Science Daily]

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U.S. Approves Its First Offshore Wind Farm (Finally)

Source: http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-04/us-approves-first-offshore-wind-farm-cape-cod

Barrow Offshore Wind project off Walney Island in the Irish Sea The UK has been exploiting offshore wind for years now; America is poised to begin catching up. Andy Dingley

America may have taken her first steps in what is sure to be a long, incremental, and sometimes painful shift toward a large-scale clean energy future. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finally approved the Cape Wind project today, allowing for the construction of 130 turbines at Horseshoe Shoal south of Cape Cod.

The project will be the first major offshore wind project backed by the federal government, and if successful it might not be the last. Salazar said today that Cape Wind is only the first of many wind projects that will dot the Atlantic coast, piping carbon-free electricity back to shore for use in public power grids.

Cape Wind has been mired in red tape for nine years, mostly facing opposition from local Native American tribes, environmental groups, and property owners along the sound fearful that the turbines would mar their (quite expensive) oceanside views. But geographic factors -- water depth, natural shelter from the open sea, and distance from dry land -- make it an ideal spot to flip wind into electricity.

Cape Wind's turbines should churn out power equivalent to a medium-sized coal plant. That's enough to power three-quarters of the homes and businesses on the cape and nearby islands. Salazar said the environmental impact would be that of pulling 175,000 cars off the road.

But the greater impact is yet to be seen. If Cape Wind can manage to dodge the lawsuits that are surely coming, demonstrate a reasonable level of courtesy toward native ecosystems, and start producing renewable energy in the next few years, America will have her first proving ground for large-scale offshore wind energy. A success at Cape Wind could lead to a smattering of offshore wind projects all along the East Coast by decade's end.

If you're a real optimist, today's approval of Cape Wind could signal the beginning of the American government's tangible commitment to finding and exploiting renewable energy resources within -- and along -- our own shores. We're not popping the champagne just yet, but if Cape Wind succeeds the political fallout could be a boon for green tech proponents.

If opponents don't tie the project up too badly with litigation, construction on Cape Wind could begin within the year.

[Boston Globe]

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Nissan books 8,000 Leaf orders in nine days, gets turned on with that electric feel

Source: http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/02/nissan-books-8-000-leaf-orders-in-nine-days-gets-turned-on-with/

Who says people aren't willing to pay upwards of $30k for a car that can only go 100 miles before needing to be tethered to a wall outlet? Evidently Nissan has struck a chord with the US populace, as the automaker just announced that 8,000 orders for the all-electric Leaf were booked in a mere nine days after orders went live. According to Mark Perry, the company's North American director of product planning and strategy, Nissan is "on its way to have 25,000 firm orders by December," and considering that it'll only ship initially in California, Arizona, Washington, Tennessee and Oregon, that's a pretty bold assumption. Better still, Nissan plans to "make money at the price that it announced," though we've no doubt that the $7,500 Federal tax credit has urged fence-sitters to jump in the pre-order line. Still, it's good to see consumers putting their money into unconventional automobiles, but we can't say we're eager to see a special run of Parking Wars dedicated to brawls over what motorist gets the last charging socket on Main Street. Or maybe we are, in a sick and sadistic sort of way.

Nissan books 8,000 Leaf orders in nine days, gets turned on with that electric feel originally appeared on Engadget on Sun, 02 May 2010 17:11:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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