Archive for June 2008

Genepax Hoax? Rush to Judgement?

June 15, 2008

Genepax Doubts?

Genepax’s announcement of a fuel system powered by water has been generating some buzz (see my previous post on the announcement).

To over simplify things for the layman (and I am one of them, so if there are errors, please educate me) the use of water as an energy source requires another source to force the separation of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.  Genepax claims that their system uses a membrane electrode assembly (MEA), which contains a material that allows the necessary chemical reaction to convert water into an energy source.

Some people have slammed Genepax’s invention as impossible since it defies the principles of physics, or as Mark Chu-Carroll calls it, “Perpetual Motion via Fuel Cell.”  They say that there must be a hidden energy source operating Genepax’s system, such as batteries, and Genepax is orchestrating a complete fraud to lure gullible, science-illiterate venture capitalists to invest.

But should we be so quick to dismiss whatever Genepax has to say?  Science has long had a history of disagreeing what is possible or not.  It was only fifty years ago did most physicists dismiss Hugh Everett’s PhD dissertation on parallel worlds.  Today, many physicists have come to reexamine Everett’s work and the idea of parallel worlds is now part of modern astrophysics.

Does it cost us anything to keep an open mind?  Genepax is schedule to hold an English press conference soon where they will demonstrate their system to foreign media.  During that demonstration, I think it would be fair for Genepax to allow someone to closely securitize and examine their prototype car and system to make sure there is not a hidden power source.  If Genepax allows that, would this cause the naysayers to reexamine things?


The Big Bad Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

June 14, 2008

GM Wolf Logo

When I think about a green car, the first thing that comes to mind is a Toyota Prius.  When I think about a car designed to destroy the environment, the first thing I think of is GM’s Hummer.  So when I heard about a GM presentation, being held at Columbia University, titled, “What Does Sustainability Mean to General Motors?” I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me and somehow misread the word sustainability for profitability.

Lawrence D. Burns, vice-president of GM’s R&D and Strategic Planning Division, gave the presentation.  Burns comes off very friendly and personable (I’ll call him Larry from now), not the stereotypical image of an inefficient Detroit auto executive salivating at slashing factory jobs.  In fact, Larry seems like he could actually care about the environment and wears Birkenstocks.

Though not an idealist, Larry immediately ties GM’s sustainability to profitability (I guess I didn’t misread things after all).  He cites how 900 million cars occupy roads worldwide today and how the market is poised to have strong growth.  But he accepts that global warming is real and the environment simply cannot sustain billions of petroleum-based autos on the road.  Thus, it is his responsibility to lead GM in developing engines that shy away from petroleum so GM can continue to sell cars in 2100 and beyond.

So what are these Jetsons-like technologies Larry is talking about?  One is being able to derive ethanol from garbage using bacteria (Alright, that one sounds more Flintstones-like).  Apparently, GM has been on a shopping spree buying biotech companies such as Mascoma and Coskata that are developing organisms to sequester ethanol from non-food sources and being able to do it for as cheap as $1 a gallon.

Other technologies GM is working on are improving electric vehicles (both hybrid and stand alone), and hydrogen.  GM is set to introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a long range, plug-in all-electric car, in 2010.  This is a significant upgrade to the first all-electric car, the EV1; popularized in the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?” (Hint: The killer, a corporation, is mentioned several times in this blog post).  Like Honda and BMW, GM is also testing hydrogen-running cars on the streets of LA.  But the challenge remains making it affordable with mass production.  What is sadly missing is just trying to use plan old water to run cars (see my previous post about Genepax and their prototype car that is fueled by water).

Larry’s presentation was refreshing and gives hope to the environmental challenges our generation faces.  It makes GM almost seem like a green company and in the future that may very well be the case.  Besides all the technological hoopla about their cars, GM has won several awards on energy efficiency at their plants and recycles nearly 88% of their waste.  But is GM really a happy, do-gooder company now and no longer the big bad wolf?  Obviously not, GM just has the foresight to realize that their company will only be sustainable if it moves away from petroleum-fueled vehicles.  In fact, I believe that when we look back at today in the future, the current run up in high gas prices, however painful, will have been considered a catalyst in forcing automobile companies to speed up the development of energy-efficient cars.  Hopefully, along the way, GM and other automobile companies will transform from being seen as big bad wolves for the environment to doing something that changes things for the better.


Stop the presses! Car runs on water! For reals!

June 13, 2008

In an age where we hear about how global warming is going to potentially extinguish our species, I would have imagined that an emission-free car running purely on any type of water (sea water, rain water, toilet water, & even tea) would be front page news everywhere.  After all, automobiles are responsible for a big chunk of carbon dioxide emissions in America and elsewhere.  Japanese company, Genepax, has done such a feat.  It introduced a new fuel cell system, running only on water and air, in a working prototype car that can travel up to 50 miles per hour.  Since any water will do, refueling is no problem anywhere.  In an age where a hydrogen Honda still costs a cool $1 million to produce, Genepax’s fuel cell system only costs $18,500 and is likely to fall below $5,000 with mass production.  In addition to cars, Genepax envisions a future where homes can also be powered using water from their fuel cell systems.

So where is the news coverage?  There is no mention of this in the LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, BBC, or CBC.  I picked up the article from Tech-On, an English technology news website based out of Japan.  Why isn’t this news in any of the major news outlets in the States and elsewhere?  Should I just sit here and scratch my head baffled or start running around yelling conspiracy?!!??

A car that runs only on regular water is bad news for a lot of powerful folks, namely the oil companies.  Even when petroleum runs out, Exxon Mobil and friends would love for you to continue to stop by their happy stations to pump in some nice hydrogen (and I’m sure they will come up with some reason to charge an exorbitant amount for it).  But if your car ran purely on water from the faucet in your kitchen, a public bathroom (yes, gross), or even Evian if you are feeling extra snooty, what are the likes of Exxon Mobil and friends going to do?  That gives you some food for thought on how companies like Shell are already building hydrogen refueling stations in California and how the automobile manufacturers are also pushing hydrogen cars as the end-all-be-all solution.  My gut always told me that oil executives and auto executives play golf and drink scotch together at the same country club, but where do the news people fall in?  Once again, why isn’t stuff like a car that runs on water big news when the Olsen twins makes news by eating an entire sandwich?

(Edit: Please read my followup post in response to many people’s comments that Genepax’s car is just a hoax).

Genepax Prototype Car










Genepax’s prototype car (photo courtesy Tech-On)

Inaugural World Science Festival wraps up

June 2, 2008

It was an exciting weekend for me as I was privileged enough to be able to attend three wonderful events at the inaugural World Science Festival in New York City.  The World Science Festival, a melody of all-star speaker workshops, is trying to do for the curious minded public, what Coachella tries to do for music goers.

The festival was especially appealing to me because it dealt with two areas that I am interested in; finding the reality that surrounds us from a physics perspective and being able to live long enough to see the solution.

The first workshop, “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives: With Mark Oliver Everett,” played a BBC documentary of the same title.  Mark Everett is the mathematically-challenged lead musician of the Eels, while his late father, Hugh Everett, was a world renowned physicist credited with the theory of parallel worlds.  The documentary, both emotional and entertaining, trails Mark’s journey as he tries to make layman sense of parallel worlds and understand his father on a personal level.  “Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives” is set to premiere on PBS’ Nova in October.

But I felt the best event was “90 is the New 50: The Science of Longevity.”  It had more of a late-night talk show feel than a bunch of academics at science conference.  I thought the moderator, Faith Salie, did an especially good job.  The general consensus from the panelists was that in the near future (<20 years), scientific technology will advance to the point where quality life extension will happen.  Harvard Medical School professor, David Sinclair, believes resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, is the key to unlocking the fountain of youth and a commerical version in the form of a pill will be available in the coming years.  Sounds like good news to me!

I really hope the people behind the World Science Festival would consider bring it to different cities.  Most of the events were sold out and the standby lines were incredibly long.  I think this was a great way to get the general public more engaged in interesting scientific issues.

My Journey in Life, Coming soon to you in cyberspace…

June 1, 2008

Hello World!  Welcome to my corner in cyberspace, where you can find (or stalk) me as I make sense of life and wander around the streets of Manhattan.  Hang on, it’s going to be a wild ride or two.