December 16th, 2002

Sun Power For the Rest of Us Business 2.0

Solar panels are still a rarity in most communities in the United States. You might ask, why are there so few? But given the true economics of solar power today, it makes more sense to ask, why are there so many? These economics might be changing. While traditional solar technology keeps getting more efficient, the cost of the silicon semiconductor technology that underpins traditional systems keeps costs high. But silicon is not the only semiconductor that can transform sunshine into electric current. A startup, Konarka, uses titanium dioxide powder (more commonly used as white pigment) instead. TiO2 is photovoltaic — it turns photons (light) into electrons (electricity). Konarka dyes the TiO2 dark, so it will absorb more light, and melds the powder into a uniform substance that conducts electricity. (The powder by itself does not.)

October 27th, 2002

Did Newton Get It Wrong? Business 2.0

Evgeny Podkletnov’s antigravity technology may sound far-fetched, but it’s attracting serious interest from the likes of NASA and Boeing. Russian scientist Evgeny Podkletnov is challenging one of the most sacred tenets of physics — the law of gravity. Podkletnov claims that when objects are placed above a high-temperature, superconducting ceramic disk rotating within an electromagnetic field, the objects lose as much as 2 percent of their original weight. He calls the effect “gravity shielding,” and when word of his research reached the public in 1996, a brief media circus ensued. Many in the physics community dismissed his effort as wishful thinking.

January 5th, 2002

The Test Tube Forest Business 2.0

Scientists are rapidly developing technology for genetically engineering fast-growing supertrees. The economic advantages for timber companies seem clear. The environmental repercussions are less certain. Forest biotechnology, scientits predict, will ultimately transform such disparate industries as housing and fuel; some even suggest that this technology may help humankind colonize Mars. “Genetically engineered trees could produce gasoline or alcohol or almost any other chemical from sunlight,” says Freeman Dyson, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. “Think of tapping trees for chemicals the way you tap them for maple syrup — the possibilities are marvelous.”

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