New electric bike can haul 100 pounds of cargo
September 4th, 2013
10:12 AM ET

New electric bike can haul 100 pounds of cargo

By Heather Kelly, CNN

There's only so much you can fit inside one of those cute woven baskets found on the common bicycle: a small bag of groceries, fresh-cut flowers and a baguette, maybe a puppy.

But the new 2X4 cargo bike from NTS Works is built to haul up to 100 pounds of goods and, with the help of its electrical-assist engine, go as fast as 20 miles an hour.

The bike, a cross between a bicycle, motorcycle and beast of burden, is the brainchild of California bike designer Neal Saiki. He hopes the $4,800 2X4 will catch on with regular people running errands, as well as companies that deliver packages, fruit boxes, pizzas and other goods in urban areas.

Enterprising riders around the world have used the humble bicycle to haul freight for more than 100 years. They creatively balance large loads or small families on two wheels, often modifying a bike's design to accommodate specific hefty cargo.

These "cargo" or "freight" bikes are still in use in many places where cars and gas remain too expensive, or where the roads are so small or congested that a bike is a more efficient way to get around. They're especially popular in Europe, where some manufacturers have added electrical engines to boost the bikes' hauling power and assist riders up hills. FULL POST


Filed under: entrepreneurs • Environment • Innovation • Tech • The Next List
August 13th, 2013
10:22 AM ET

Helping the humpback's comeback

By Rebecca Bluitt, Special to CNN

Off the Hawaiian coast, the humpback whale is thrilling spectators and scientists alike with its acrobatic jumps, complex songs – and its spectacular recovery.

“When we started there was talk of whales in the hundreds out here,” says Jim Darling, renowned whale researcher and co-founder of Whale Trust Maui, a nonprofit devoted to studying whales in the waters of the Hawaiian island. “Now in the North Pacific the best estimates are about 20,000 whales.”

“They become part of the local culture a little bit. And that’s sort of seeping into the national culture,” says Darling, referring to the booming whale-watching industry. Whale tourism added an estimated $2 billion to the global economy last year, a number that is expected to increase by 10% each year.

About the size of a school bus and weighing an average of 45 tons, the humpback whale is an impressive creature. But they weren't always such a visible part of the Hawaiian seascape.  Their recent comeback from near extinction at the hand of whale hunters is as remarkable as the animals themselves, and has wildlife experts in awe of their recovery capabilities.

“The fact that they’ve been able to come back like this proves that it is possible, if we give them half a chance,” Darling says.

Strict international restrictions on whaling, implemented in 1966, gave the humpback population its chance to rebound. But is 20,000 humpbacks in the entire North Pacific really that many?

“When you think about it, it’s not,” Darling says. “I mean, think about how many people attend a football game, you know? It’s a little chunk of a stadium. But ... it’s so many more than were here."

It’s enough of a recovery, some argue, that the North Pacific humpback whale should be taken off of the federal list of endangered species altogether. The Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition recently petitioned for removing the North Pacific humpback from the list, claiming that the whales' population increase warrants a reexamination of the current restrictions on fishing practices.

And Japan, the largest whaling country in the world, is already utilizing a loophole in anti-whaling laws to kill some species of whales. Hunters claim the carcasses are used for scientific research – gathering information on the animals’ age, diet, and birthing rate – before the meat is packaged and sold.

In 2007, Japanese whalers insisted that the humpback’s comeback justified adding the whales to their list of prospective prey. But outcry from the international community has forced them to back down, at least for now.

Darling believes this long-term conflict between humans and humpbacks is the greatest threat to the whales' future.

“As far as entanglements and vessel collisions, we can slow boats down, or we can warn vessels when there are whales in the area, or we can come up with different kinds of fishing gear which maybe reduces the entanglements. There are ways to sort of tackle those issues," he says.

"The bigger ones of how we’re all going to survive in the long run are going to be a little more challenging.”

It's a challenge, Darling says, that Whale Trust Maui is ready to tackle.


Filed under: Environment • Science • The Next List • Thinkers
Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers 'thousands'
July 31st, 2013
12:06 PM ET

Study: At-home 3-D printing could save consumers 'thousands'

By Heather Kelly, CNN

Personal 3-D printers may sound like a pricey luxury or a niche product for geeks, but soon they could become a household appliance that saves people thousands of dollars a year.

Researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a family might save by printing common objects, such as simple replacement parts or toys, at home instead of buying them in stores or online.

"It was relatively shocking what the return on investment was," said associate professor Joshua Pearce, who led the study. "Realistically, it's in the thousands."

Much of the recent 3-D printer hype has focused on how the technology is going to revolutionize the manufacturing industry or what cool things it can create - human organs, duck feet, see-through hermit crab shells shaped like cities. But it's the small, mundane objects that could have the most immediate impact on wallets. (Especially if you print your own wallet.) FULL POST

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Filed under: Crowdsourcing • Design • Environment • Innovation • Tech
Less stuff, happier life: The philosophy of Graham Hill
June 11th, 2013
05:14 PM ET

Less stuff, happier life: The philosophy of Graham Hill

Editor's Note: Tune in to CNN Saturday, June 15th, at 2:30 pm ET to see "The Next List's" 30-minute profile of Graham Hill.

Graham Hill is an entrepreneur, designer and environmentalist who started a website called LifeEdited.com. He evangelizes the idea that living a pared down life can make you happier, healthier and wealthier. And that editing down all the unnecessary and gratuitous stuff in your life will give you a smaller carbon footprint and a cleaner conscience.

“Every less cubic foot of air means less to clean, heat, cool, insure and move," says Hill. “The more space, the more complex your life gets.”

Hill says that over last 50 years, average housing size has increased nearly three times while families have gotten smaller, but people are not any happier.

“Living within our means is financially and environmentally good. Having an unorganized life full of crap is not a recipe for happiness,” he says.

To help illustrate his idea, Hill purchased two apartments in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood. He launched a competition, crowd-sourcing the design to renovate the first one, which was only 420 square feet. Required for the winning bid: room for a couple, space for a sit-down dinner for 10-12 people, room for overnight guests and a workspace among other amenities. The second apartment is currently under construction.

The result is a design marvel. Sanjay Gupta paid a visit to check out all the bells and whistles, including a movable wall that makes space for two drop-down bunk beds. You have to see it to believe it.

Hill isn’t advocating a monastic existence. Rather, he believes that good design and a system of shared amenities (he calls it a Product Library) will allow for all the creature comforts with a minimum of hastle.

Imagine the Product Library as a way to borrow big, bulky items when you need them, such as coolers, folding chairs, a standup paddleboard, a karaoke machine, a sewing machine. His idea is to design a cost-effective system to access them and reserve them on line.

There is something of a movement to build and design smaller apartments commensurate with demographic trends. San Francisco, Hong Kong, London and most recently New York City have all taken high-profile forays into the micro-unit space.

In fact, in NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a competition in July to design a rental building on East 27th Street that would be 75 percent comprised of micro units, 275-300 square feet.

Hill is involved in a similar project in Las Vegas with Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. Hsieh is moving Zappos headquarters to Las Vegas and investing $350 million of his own money to remake a section of downtown into a hub for high tech and creativity. Hsieh saw Hill's Tedtalk on an Edited Life and solicited ideas to build micro housing for his employees.

Graham Hill is, above all, an environmentalist. His concern for the environment and human impact on it informs everything he does. (He was the founder of TreeHugger.com which he later sold to Discovery.)

Hill was a crew member on the 2010 voyage of the Plastiki, a 60-foot catamaran made out of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles and other plastic waste products. The crew traveled more than 8,000 nautical miles from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia to raise awareness about plastic waste and its affect on marine life. And to show how waste can be used as a valuable resource.

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May 10th, 2013
12:28 PM ET

Green power for all

By Yosef Abramowitz, Special to CNN

The world, especially the developing world, has an acute need for food, water and energy. Israel happens to have terrific innovators in agriculture and in water technology, which, if exported, could provide food and water security to the over billion people who are vulnerable.

I’m a solar energy guy. Actually, I’m a trouble-maker, former anti-apartheid and human rights activist who stumbled into the solar world the second my family and I arrived to a remote desert kibbutz to begin a two-year escape-from-suburbia sabbatical.

Sometimes you get lucky, which is what I consider myself for having met at Kibbutz Ketura Ed Hofland and from New Jersey, David Rosenblatt. Together we formed the Arava Power Company and fought the good fight and eventually won the battle to bring commercial-scale solar power to the Jewish state. We also pioneered in Israel, thankfully with success, the concept of Impact Investing—doing good while doing well.

There are 1.6 billion people on the planet who do not have any electric power, despite the fact that the sun shines on them all. We learned some valuable lessons along the way in Israel that, with some luck and hard work, could be brought to Africa and elsewhere.

The UN Secretary General has launched a new initiative called “Sustainable Energy for All,” to provide green power to everyone by 2030. While we support this idea, I believe that we can supply green power to everyone by 2020. The 2030 goal is ambitious with a
world-view focused on raising non-profit, non-governmental funds, which are limited. I think the 2020 goal is ambitious and do-able, since we have developed a way to mobilize nearly unlimited for-profit funds to accomplish a similar goal but faster.

While solar energy is also a business I see it as a human rights campaign. The UN Declaration of Human Rights guarantees lots of things that poor people don’t have: education, health care, and jobs. None of this is really possible in a world without electricity. In the best of scenarios, however, when a poor country begins to provide power to its people, they are hooking up polluting and dirty diesel generators. So some of the poorest people are the planet, as they try to work their way out of poverty, end up becoming part of the climate change problem rather than part of the solution.

I want us all to be part of the solution to climate change and global warming, while also accelerating developing of poor countries. So we started a second company, Energiya Global Capital, to do just that.

While we can’t do it alone, we do want to supply green power to 50 million people by 2020, which is about 10,000 megawatts—about the size of Israel’s energy market. And to give investors the opportunity to invest according to their values while creating value in the developing world.

Time is against us.

For the planet to be in balance, we need carbon dioxide levels to be at 350 parts per million. Today, we are at 392 parts, and accelerating quickly. According to some estimates, by 2017 the planet must level off any growth in greenhouse gas emissions in order for radical climate change to not be irreversible.

Since 9 percent of the planet’s electricity is produced from burning diesel oil, we can do something historic by zeroing it out. Not only taking out the carbon footprint of that energy, but also cutting the cost of power in those markets. The price of solar panels has dropped so drastically in the nearly seven years that we have been working to bring solar power to Israel that our costs are sometimes about half the cost of diesel. And solar power has none of the volatility, pollution or money going to autocratic regimes that produce most of the world’s oil.

I think what we have learned in our struggle to bring solar power to Israel can now be applied worldwide. And not to do so would be selfish. Just like with agriculture and water, Israel, through our efforts, has something to contribute in the realm of green power for the people. When President Obama was in Jerusalem last month, he singled out Israeli innovation in the field of solar energy, with its potential to help the world.

This is our journey. We have succeeded in Israel to begin our solar revolution. We cannot afford to fail to spark a solar revolution in Africa and elsewhere.

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April 15th, 2013
04:14 PM ET

Bringing solar power to Israel, and the world

Editor's NoteYosef Abramowitz is a solar-power pioneer, an entrepreneur, an activist, an environmentalist and co-founder of the Arava Power Company. Abramowitz, a three -time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been instrumental in helping Israel become one of the world’s major players in alternative energy.  A 30-minute profile of Abramowitz will air on CNN's "The Next List" coming soon!

As we approach Earth Day we will hear a lot about the threat of global warming and how solar power could be part of a solution to save the environment.

Israeli innovator Yosef Abramowitz is so convinced renewable energy is the answer he’s made it his mission to install solar fields all over the world. The activist, dubbed “Captain Sunshine” because of his superhuman efforts to save the planet, pioneered the concept of “impact investing” to make his solar dream work.

“I went in completely naïve about how hard it was going to be. We have to do something very proactive, very immediate,” says Abramowitz. “The need to replace burning fossil fuels is a clear and imminent danger to survival of our species. We’ve innovated an idea by bringing together technology, finance and regulation to save the world through solar power.”

His idea stemmed from what he calls a serendipitous trip to the desert. In 2006, looking for a more laid-back lifestyle, Yosef and his wife, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of the comedian Sarah Silverman), moved with their five kids — including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel. Abramowitz was raised in Boston but had fond memories of volunteering at the kibbutz after high school.

Yosef says their plan for a quiet family sabbatical changed as soon as they arrived.

“The sun, even though it was setting, was just burning our skin. I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.' ”

But it didn’t, because solar power was non-existent in Israel. Abramowitz began taking classes in renewable energy and talking to people at the kibbutz about forming a company. He found partners with businessmen Ed Hofland, who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, based in New Jersey, and together they started Arava Power, the first company to sign a deal with the Israeli government for production of solar power.
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February 26th, 2013
06:18 PM ET

Saul Griffith and his 'wouldn't it be cool if?' inventions

Hardly a day goes by that we don’t hear about the perils of global warming and the toll that fossil fuels take on the environment.  Most of us, though, are too consumed with managing the daily blitz of life to do much about it.  

Apart from the rising cost of gasoline, it’s easy to forget.

But Saul Griffith is making it his mission to focus on the nuts and bolts of changing the energy equation. His goal is to transform the way America generates and uses power and make alternative energy the fuel of the future once and for all.

Griffith is an inventor, engineer, scientist and recipient of a coveted MacArthur “genius” award.  He also is co-founder of Otherlab, a hothouse of ideas and inventions where he and his team are developing technologies that could dramatically cut the cost of solar power, make it possible for cars to run on natural gas and change everything you think you know about robots.

Wouldn’t it be cool if…?  That’s the philosophy that guides all the work that Griffith and his colleagues do at Otherlab.

“We try to skip a few generations in the things we’re working on,” says Griffith.

For example: Wouldn’t it be cool if robots were made of cloth? One of Griffith’s most intriguing ideas is making ‘soft’ machines.

“We proposed to DARPA, here is a way that we could really transform the cost of robots.  We’ll eliminate all the servo motors. We will eliminate the pins and bearing and joints.  And we will sew you a robot out of fabric and use pressurized fluids to make it work," he says. "And it will reduce the cost of robots 100 fold.  And it will make them 10 or 100 times more powerful."

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February 8th, 2013
10:44 AM ET

How biotechnology can solve the energy crisis

Editor's Note: The Next List will air a full 30min profile of synthetic biologist Jay Keasling this Sunday, Feb. 10th, at 2:30PM ET (all-new time!) only on CNN.

It's a great time to be working in biotechnology. We are developing powerful new approaches to find cures to diseases, curb climate change and reduce reliance on foreign oil.

Synthetic biology promises to change the world by making biology easier to engineer and enabling solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.

At the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), I work with a motivated team of people that is at the forefront of the emerging field of advanced biofuels production. Our mission is to develop scientific breakthroughs to help solve the energy crisis.

Inside our Emeryville laboratories, JBEI researchers use the latest techniques in plant science, molecular biology and chemical engineering to produce affordable, sustainable, carbon-neutral fuels identical to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Traditionally, most of the chemicals we use are produced using chemical synthesis, which is the combination of simple chemicals to form more complex ones. For complicated chemicals like drugs, it might take many chemical steps to produce the final molecule. Some chemicals are too difficult or impractical to produce using chemical synthesis. Due to the difficulty in producing these chemicals, many drugs and other products that could make our lives better are not available.

Since 1992, I’ve been redesigning microbes (like yeast) to be miniature chemical reactors that transform sugars into fuels.

Enzymes can do in one step what might take many steps using synthetic organic chemistry. To engineer a microbe to be a chemical factory, we graft genes from plants and other naturally occurring life forms into the microbe. Once inside the cells, the genes produce enzymes that do the chemistry to transform sugars into chemicals.

One of our first products was a yeast that we engineered to produce the life-saving anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Later this year, anti-malarial drugs bearing the microbially produced artemisinin will begin saving the lives of malaria sufferers throughout the world.

At JBEI, we are focused on making biofuels out of sugars. We have engineered microbes to transform sugars into energy-rich fuels that can directly replace petroleum-derived gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Because we produce biofuels that have identical properties to petroleum-based fuels, there is no need to replace our cars, trucks or planes to use the fuels.

We are also exploring ways to extract sugar from cellulosic biomass, such as paper waste, trees that have fallen down in the forest, the residue of crops such as corn husks and stalks - everything but the kernel of corn - and non-food plants such as switchgrass.

Because plants grow by fixing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, burning a fuel made from cellulosic biomass does not add extra carbon to the atmosphere, unlike the burning of fossil fuels, which produces carbon emissions. In fact, our diesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 percent over petroleum-derived diesel. And because we produce the fuels from non-edible cellulosic biomass, production of the fuels does not directly compete with food.

There are many advantages to advanced biofuels. That’s why we're focused on converting biomass to biofuels. I’m passionate about advancing basic science for public benefit. That’s my motivation.

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February 5th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Jay Keasling: Using microbes to create the next generation of fuel

Editor's Note: The Next List will air a full 30min profile of synthetic biologist Jay Keasling this Sunday, Feb. 10th, at 2:30PM ET (all-new time!) only on CNN.

Quotable Jay Keasling: “The carpets, the paint on the walls, the ceiling tiles, we have the potential to produce all of these products from sugar.”

Who is he: Jay Keasling, a pioneer in the burgeoning field of synthetic biology, is engineering microbes – single cell organisms like yeast and E. coli – to produce biofuels, medicines, even cosmetic compounds from simple ingredients like sugar cane and grass.

In addition to teaching bioengineering at UC Berkeley, Jay is CEO of the U.S. Dept of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville, California.

Why you might know him: Keasling’s biggest breakthrough came in 2003 when he and his students reprogrammed yeast to produce a synthetic version of an expensive anti-malarial drug known as artemisinin. Armed with a $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they’ve since perfected this inexpensive and effective replacement drug, providing a royalty-free license for mass production to pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventi. Sanofi will bring it to market in 2013, producing 100 million treatments annually. Malaria kills roughly 1 million people a year, many of them children.

Why he matters: Today Keasling is focusing his efforts on creating a new generation of biofuels. Overseeing a team of 200 researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, his goal is to “engineer microbes to produce fuels that behave exactly the same as petroleum-based fuels.” Ultimately, he believes all petroleum-based products – everything from hard plastics and paints to soda bottles – can be produced from these sugar-fed microbes.

Keasling’s philosophy: “Energy is our biggest industry on the planet. But unless we stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, sea levels are going to continue to rise and it's going to create huge problems."

Something you might not know about him: Keasling's a small town boy made good. He grew up on a fifth generation pig farm in Harvard, Nebraska (pop. 1000) where hard work and family were his focus. He jokes he spent the first 18 years of his life shoveling manure. Today, he may spend his day in a lab coat, but as a single father of two adopted boys, ages nine and 15, family continues to keep him grounded.

Why biofuels matter: Keasling doesn’t think we’ll ever see a day when biofuels cost less than petroleum-based fuels, but they will be cleaner. “We won’t be extracting oil from a foreign country, then hauling it to the U.S., and putting that excess carbon into the atmosphere,” he said. Instead, by producing high performance fuels from sugars, he says we can limit the carbons released into the atmosphere and, as a result, help slow global warming.

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November 17th, 2012
03:23 PM ET

Scientist aims to connect the public with nature's 'last biotic frontier'

Editor’s Note: Nalini Nadkarni is a professor, a pioneer in tree canopy research and co-founder of the Sustainability in Prisons Project. Watch a 30-minute profile of her on CNN's "The Next List," Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

By Nalini Nadkarni, Special to CNN

“Trees are the earth’s endless efforts to speak to the listening sky.”
- Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet

Hanging by a rope no thicker than my pinkie finger in a giant spruce tree 150 feet above the ground, I survey the view of the temperate rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula below me. Although perching in this treetop may seem more like a dream for a combination rock-climber and wilderness adventurer, the forest canopy has been my arena for a lifetime of scientific research.

The forest canopy – the part of the forest high above the forest floor – has been an area of burgeoning scientific interest for the last three decades. I was among the first forest canopy pioneers who thought that climbing vertically to explore the treetops would yield scientific paydirt. The thrill of the climb drew us to develop methods of canopy access - modified mountain-climbing techniques, construction cranes, hot-air balloons.

Those early experiences were exploratory forays into an unknown scientific world, termed “the last biotic frontier." We observed new interactions. Arboreal mice pollinate flowers in the nocturnal canopy. Roots grow from the branches of trees to draw nutrients from canopy-held soils. Canopy-dwelling mosses sieve nutrients from rain that passes through canopies. Once, when I spent the night in a Costa Rican forest canopy, a nocturnal anteater walked right by my suspended cot, searching out columns of arboreal leaf-cutting ants. The ants carried leaf bits they had harvested to their subterranean nests, connecting treetops to root tips. FULL POST

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