A Sweet Ride in Brazil
Alcohol consumption in Brazil is on the rise, but not because people are drinking more. Instead, drivers are filling their gas tanks with ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, which is one of two fuel options used in a new generation of Brazilian cars called Flex. The cars work like traditional vehicles but can run on either gasoline or ethanol derived from sugar cane--a commodity in abundance in Brazil. Volkswagen, Ford, Fiat and GM all produce Flex lines. In May sales of Flex vehicles overtook gasoline models for the first time. By August, Flex sales had risen 61.7%. "I am hard pressed to think of any other technology that has been such a success so quickly," says Barry Engle, president of Ford Brasil.
Brazil is a leader in this technology by virtue of its extensive expertise at every stage of the supply chain: growing sugar cane efficiently, refining it, converting it to ethanol and manufacturing the cars. Brazil is building ethanol plants and is in a great position to capitalize on its vast experience by selling its knowledge to other countries that decide to adopt this new technology or buy its cars.
In the U.S., where ethanol is usually made from corn, it has had a rockier road partly because government subsidies are seen as benefiting big producers. Brazil's ethanol industry has created nearly 1 million jobs and helped cut oil imports. Says Alfred Szwarc, an expert with São Paulo's sugar-cane association: "People see Flex cars as the car of the future."
Wi-Fi in the Sky
As the afternoon light sparkles off the Colorado Rockies, office workers spill out of buildings in downtown Boulder and alight at outdoor-café tables, laptops in hand. With a click, they tap into a bold new energy future: a wireless network powered by the sun. The $10,000 project, which covers a six-block area, allows anyone to connect to the Internet through wi-fi transmitters powered by solar panels on nearby rooftops. The panels collect the sun's rays even on cloudy days and hook up to batteries that store 72 hours' worth of power, ensuring a steady supply. "It was a snap to hook up--no wires, no drilling," says Gerard Cote, spokesman for Downtown Boulder Inc., the business group that footed the bill. The cost was half the competing bid for a conventional wireless system.
Solar wi-fi is ideal for regions where electricity is scarce--from archaeological digs to disaster scenes, says Sally Lyon, co-founder of Boulder-based Lumin Innovative Products, which invented the system. Fellow founder and former Air Force engineer Ben Adams, who hatched the idea three years ago as he lugged a generator through the Nevada desert to hook up a communications system, is negotiating this month with U.S. and Australian forces to market solar wi-fi in Iraq. Each solar-paneled access point can relay wireless signals as far as 25 miles to other stations and can connect to a series of other nodes, extending the signal from the cities to rural areas. A model linking solar panels with satellites is in the works. Ever since Boulder inaugurated its system last July, inquiries have flooded in. Last month the company won a contract to transmit air-pollution data in California's Death Valley. "We're getting e-mails from Afghanistan to Thailand," says Lyon. "They're asking, 'How soon can we get this?'"
March of the Solar Soldier