The Cutting Edge

Trees self-power a wildfire alert network

Photo courtesy of Zachstern/Flick

This spring, a company called Voltree Power plans to test a wireless sensor network that taps into electricity generated naturally by trees in order to provide an early warning system against wildfires. The humidity and temperature sensors will be distributed over a 100-acre plot of land provided by the Forest Service. Based on the readings relayed by each sensor, the network can continually monitor forest conditions to predict fire hazard. 

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First U.S. greenhouse gas auction takes place this week

Ten northeast and mid-Atlantic states are participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to its web site. The initiative will begin selling carbon credits this Thursday in the first of its planned quarterly auctions, and the proceeds are intended to support renewable-energy technologies, such as solar and wind. 

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Algae genes make hydrogen and ethanol

Scientists searching for the best hydrogen-producing bacteria to become a new energy source have sequenced the genome of one particularly promising type of blue-green algae. This organism performs two operations at once – it produces both hydrogen and ethanol, and one particular chromosome identified in it could turn out to be extremely important for producing biofuels. But to harness its hydrogen and ethanol-producing capabilities requires knowing lots more about this organism’s biology.

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Lawnmower-style underwater turbines

Image by Adam Vaughan

A new design for underwater turbines promises to make tidal energy harvesting cheaper and more efficient, according to a team of engineers at Oxford University. In essence, this design is more horizontal than today’s tidal energy-harvesting devices, which resemble small wind turbines installed underwater. The Oxford design looks like it uses the blades of an old-fashioned lawnmower.They’ve built and tested a prototype, and now they’re scaling it up to the size they hope will one day become commercial.

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Synchrotron peers into worms for toxic clean-up

With the Large Hadron Collider dominating technology news headlines this week, perhaps it’s time for a glance at a much pokier particle accelerator, the synchrotron.

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