GM, SAIC to Pursue Joint Development of Clean Vehicles in China

Joint Development and Commercialization of Hybrid, Fuel-Cell Vehicles Planned

SHANGHAI, China – General Motors Corp. and Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. Group signed an agreement today to jointly pursue the development and commercialization of hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles in China. The agreement is the first of its kind between a global and Chinese automaker.

The partners intend to:
Develop local engineering capability for clean-energy vehicles.
Promote the development of a Chinese hydrogen infrastructure.
Contribute to the formulation of relevant regulations and policies by the Chinese government.
Promote general awareness of the future of advanced vehicle technology in China.

Link GM Media Online
via Mike Millikin

Plastic Made from Corn

Reprinted by Permission of Dow Jones WebReprint Service?, 1-800-843-0008

One Word of Advice: Now It’s Corn
Plastics Manufactured From the Plant Grow More Appealing Amid Soaring Oil Prices

When Dow Chemical Co. and agriculture giant Cargill Inc. began a major push two years ago to market a plastic made from corn instead of oil, they thought they were tapping into consumers’ growing worries about the environment.

As it turns out, makers of the alternative plastic may get their biggest boost from soaring oil prices and fears of global energy shortages.

"It’s a heck of a lot easier to grow a bushel of corn than to find a barrel of oil," says Kathleen Bader, chief executive of Cargill Dow, the Minnetonka, Minn., joint venture that makes the corn-based plastic. With more corn grown in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, Ms. Bader is pitching the plastic as one way to relieve U.S. dependence on foreign energy. She says it’s a simple choice: "Iowa or Iraq? Nebraska or Nigeria?"

So-called bio-based plastic has its own environmental downside, however. Corn farmers rely heavily on fossil-fuel based fertilizers and pesticides to grow their crops, for example. Still, environmentalists say bio-based polymers are more earth-friendly than their petroleum-based competition. More importantly, perhaps, crops such as corn will be around for years to come.

This year, Wild Oats Markets Inc. of Boulder, Colo., switched to food containers made from Cargill Dow’s Nature Works corn-based plastic in all of its 80 Wild Oats Natural Marketplace stores in the U.S. and Canada after deeming that the compostable containers were responsible for increasing deli sales by 12%. Pacific Coast Feather Co., a Seattle maker of comforters and pillows, has more than tripled the number of stores in which it sells its Natural Living brand, made with Dow Cargill’s Ingeo brand corn fiber, including retailers such as Linen ‘n Things and Marshall Field’s. McDonald’s Corp. of Oak Brook, Ill., has used the plastic for to-go cups in Europe, and Sony Corp. of Tokyo put it in some models of its Walkman.

via Jeremy Faludi

Yellowstone Microbe Cleans Up Wastewater

Scientists have discovered a microbe in Yellowstone National Park that could be used to clean up wastewater, providing an economical and natural way for paper and clothes manufacturers to treat water before releasing it back into rivers and streams.

The microbe itself would not be used in the cleanup. Instead, scientists extract a protein from the microbe and add it directly to industrial wastewater. The protein breaks down hydrogen peroxide, which is often used to bleach clothes and paper before they’re dyed or to sterilize paper food packages such as juice boxes.

The Yellowstone protein is impressive. It works 80,000 times longer than what’s currently used to clean up hydrogen peroxide, although the researchers point out that it has only been tested in the laboratory and not on a large-scale. They are in talks with commercial manufacturers about scaling up the process, but it’s unclear when this might happen.

Thomspon, V.S. et al. Purification and characterization of novel thermo-alkali-stable catalase from Thermus brockianus. Biotechnology Progress 19, 1292-1299 (July/August 2003).

GNN – Yellowstone Microbe Cleans Up Wastewater

via Jamais Cascio

Making Carpet Green

Ten years ago, Ray Anderson, CEO of carpet company Interface, Inc., had what may well have been "The Spear Heard ‘Round the World" — the "spear in the chest" he says he felt in 1994, when he recognized that his company was a "plunderer of the Earth," as he later put it. Since then, Anderson — in his mid-60s, a man who should be thinking more about cashing in his chips than tranforming commerce — has traversed the globe, preaching the gospel of sustainability, while pursuing an ambitious effort to transform Interface’s products, processes, and business models to reflect his newfound commitment.

Interface is by no means the only carpet company to embrace a strong environmental ethic. Its competitors — Collins & Aikman and Shaw Industries, for example — also have innovated around the sustainability theme, creating new products and takeback systems designed to “close the loop” by turning old carpet into new. But Anderson’s company, more than the others, has put itself in the limelight — and subjected itself to scrutiny.

An interview with Ray — which covers both Interface’s successes and failures over the past decade — is published in the October issue of The Green Business Letter.

via Joel Makower: Two Steps Forward: A Talk with Ray Anderson

Coffee-Based Log Burns Cleaner — But No Starbucks Smell

Coffee-Based Log Burns Cleaner — But No Starbucks Smell

Cleaner Burning

The Java-Log weighs 5 pounds (2.3 kilograms), and it’s a little smaller than a sawdust log. It comes in a wrapper, which is used to light the log. It burns for two to three hours, the same as a regular log, but it produces three times the flame capacity of wood.

"That’s because coffee has more oil than wood, while wood has a lot more char and carbon in it," Sprules said.

The smell is not what most people would expect, Sprules says. "It’s not like a roastery. It doesn’t smell that much. But it has a slight aroma, and most people seem to like it."

According to OMNI, an independent testing company in Beaverton, Oregon, the Java-Log burns seven times cleaner than firewood and emits 96 percent less residue. It produces 54 percent less carbon dioxide than sawdust fire logs.

The Java-Log also reduces waste headed for landfills. Each year the bulk of spent coffee grounds are sent directly to landfills. From there the rotting coffee grounds release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Sprules estimates that 6,000 tons (5,440 metric tons) of coffee grounds are wasted each year in Ottawa alone. "I really want to collect all coffee grounds from North America," he said.

But coffee grounds are valuable not only to make fire logs. They can also serve as a beneficial additive to gardens and compost piles.

The Starbucks chain runs a Grounds for Your Garden program, in which stores offer complimentary bags of spent coffee grounds to customers, parks, schools, and nurseries.

"The program began as a grassroots initiative nine years ago by a team of store partners who received numerous requests for the organic waste from their regular customers," said Ben Packard, the Starbucks environmental-affairs director.

Market Share

Sprules doesn’t see himself as a typical environmentalist. "I’m not the type of person who is going to drive a stake in a tree [to stop timber cutting]," he said. "I’m a bit more of a realist than that."

"There’s a notion that environmental products cost more and perform less," he added. "I wanted to change that. What we wanted to do was design a product that was at least equivalent or better than what was out there."

It seems to be working. This year the Java-Log, which sells for about U.S. $3.49, is going into several major retail chains across the United States. Its share of the 400-million-U.S.-dollar North American fire-log market is still tiny, however.

via Jamais Cascio 

Playing Drums for Ray Charles by John Bryant

Note: I went to elementary and high school with John. We’ve stayed in contact over the years.

My ride pulls up to the hotel in Denver and I notice a young African-American man standing next to his drums. He waits for a cab, ready to leave. I get out, carry my drums toward the entrance behind him. We eye each other, knowing what’s happened though neither of us speaks. I walk closer and he gives me a thin smile that telegraphs gloom, frustration, and defeat.

“Good luck, man” he says. I hope you come out better than I did.”

This was my introduction, 30 years ago, to working for Ray Charles. The musician I was about to replace had been chewed up and spat out by a music legend whose taste for perfection thrilled the world but challenged his musicians to his last days. Ray Charles was a genius who knew exactly what he wanted and demanded it from everyone around him. RayCharlesAndJohnBryant

I played drums for Ray in 1974 and ’75, doing recording sessions, TV. I was sometimes summoned to fill in for his regular drummer, in addition to hiring the orchestras for some of his symphony concerts. I’m not really sure why Ray and I seemed to hit it off so well. I think it may have something to do with his left foot.

My perspective on Ray Charles comes from the best seat in the house – the drum throne. From there I saw it all: the glare of the lights, the band all around, the eager audience, and the backside of the Raelets. But most important of all, I had to see Ray’s left foot. “I don’t change !” sayeth Brother Ray. The declaration applies to both his musical idiosyncrasies and his lifestyle. And it’s the first commandment you learn on the job. For the drummer, it means Ray always expected you to watch his feet. When that leather soul hit the floor, you’re talking ground zero. The downbeat and the right beat. The tempo and the dynamics. The beginning, middle, and end of RC’s musical expectations were conducted by his left foot. And for drummers, that’s where the trouble starts.

From day one, all drummers learn that tempo is their responsibility. All musicians are expected to play with good rhythm, but an experienced drummer’s inner clock has been honed to a fine degree of precision, and instead of worrying about melody and harmony, his game is all about the time keeping – every millisecond of fast to slow. Even though all musicians must watch the conductor, any drummer worth his salt knows that the band will have one eye on the conductor, one on the music, and at least one ear for him. And Ray Charles knew that better than anybody.

“Look man, you go with me and the band will follow,” he once said to me. “As long as you and I are playin’ together, that’s what matters – they have to go with us ! “

And so we’re back to that left foot. When he set up, the drummer had to make sure he could see Ray’s feet. Ray couldn’t watch a conductor, and he wasn’t able to look into the eyes of his musicians to send a message. Instead, Ray’s feet were his stomp of approval. His left foot effectively served as his conducting baton. He knew that if the drummer is dancing right along with those feet, all is right with the world. And drummers knew if they were not precisely with his feet, especially the “downbeat” left foot, they were entering a musicians’ hell.

Ray Charles came from the real “old school”, where you show what you’re made of on the bandstand. There, your experience and knowledge, your art, comes out for all to judge, and you could count on veteran musicians like Ray to write a report card as soon as you handed in your lessons. Who have you studied ? How well do you know the music of Charlie Parker, Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Big Boy Crudup, Billie Holiday, Hank Snow, Bach and Beethoven ? Ray knew this music intimately, and he didn’t waste any time. With Ray’s generation of jazz musicians, every time you got on a stage it was a contest to see who could cut it and who couldn’t. There was no forgiving or forgetting. Ray’s Rules demanded that a musician had to play with his tempo and dynamics, plus be able to read music and improvise. You had to be comfortable with rock, pop, blues, country, and most importantly, jazz.

And so, there was a price to pay if you hit a wrong note, played too loudly, or,if you’re the drummer, failed to attach your mind and soul to his feet.The punishment was immediate, usually delivered with a quick upper body turn in a burst of fury. He combined hot directives with a look that burned a hole through you and made you freeze at the same time. If the drummer listened to his own clock instead of watching those Size 10’s… Look out! That’s why drumming for Ray was considered to be a hazardous endeavor. And since Ray had to know whether you were watching him, he was known to speed up or slow down, just to make sure you were with him.

On Ray’s stage, it had to be played his way. During a concert one spring night in Germany in 1975, I was feeling a bit cocky and decided to change the beat on one of Ray’s best known hits,”What’d I Say”. Not a good idea. This drum beat is very important in the history of R&B and rock ‘n roll. Its New Orleans funkiness and distinct Latin cymbal technique can make a Baptist dance on the tables. So when I attempted to leave my mark on this Rock of Gibralter, Ray recoiled like he had been shot in the back, immediately firing some well-worn words in my direction that everyone heard. I jumped back on track, but it was too late. The song ended the set, and also, I feared, my career with Ray. The road manager came over and said RC wanted me in his dressing room right now. When I walked in, Ray was hot.

“How could you do that, son ? Don’t you know that beat is written in stone?” It can’t be played any other way! You ever do that again, and you’ll be on the side of the road! “

Officially on probation, I had to earn back his trust. There came a testing point in France. We were rehearsing a new piece of music that Ray had never heard before, and that’s when you could appreciate his musical genius, and subsequently, his memory. After the band played the arrangement a couple of times, RC started to put his signature on it.

“John, when we get to the chorus, I want you to play, ‘Boom, bop – bop, boom,” he said to me.

In drummers’ terminology, this translates to bass drum, snare drum, snare drum, bass drum. In Ray’s terms, it becomes left foot stomp, knee slap, knee slap, left foot stomp.

Okay, I’ve got it. I play it, and Ray grins out, “That’s it, honey, just like that, every time! “

That night I fully expected Ray to put this new piece of music in the concert while it was fresh in the mind, but it didn’t happen. Not the next night, or the next. Anyone who knew Ray will tell you that he was an excellent chess player, and so about two weeks later, Ray made his move and called up the song. As the band cautiously dipped its big toe into these unfamiliar waters, Ray was doing back flips off the high board. Just before we got to the chorus, Ray interrupted his physical undulations, held perfectly still, and cocked his left ear towards me.

“Boom, bop – bop, boom,” shout the drums.

Ray returned to his swaying and playing, satisfied that I was paying attention. No name calling, no expressions of disgust, no expletives. Back to business as usual, lesson learned.

I loved nearly every moment of my time with Ray. If you played by his rules, you were allowed to take part in his genius, a gift beyond words that I will always treasure. But in 1975, I realized the only way I could regain my control as a drummer was to leave Ray. I simply had to get back to my inner clock and find my own path. I knew he could understand.

Fast forward to 1996. I was called to come back into his world to play a concert in Hartford, Connecticut, and I was anxious about how it was going to go. The last time I had played with Ray he was 44. He, already a legend. Me, fresh out of the highly respected jazz department of North Texas State University, learning the difference between school and “Ray’s School”.

This time around, I was a little smarter, a bit more confident. A whole lot more appreciative of the talents of Ray Charles. He had a head of gray hair, the high notes were a little tougher to hit, but I was sure that everything else was exactly the same.I decided to let RC know that I knew this as soon as I could.

In the hour just before the concert, Ray sent word for me to come to his dressing room. He received me with that famous, broad smile mixed with laughter and lots of handshaking, touching, and nudging. We quickly rekindled our memories of the past that made us laugh and appreciate how long it had been since we had played together, and then I saw an opportunity.

“Well Ray, you know, some things never change.”

“Amen,” intoned Brother Ray, with an expression that told me he knew that I knew: Watch his left foot. Play his music the way it has always been played.

My name was announced, I walked out to center stage and bowed to the audience, then took my place in the midst of a sixty piece orchestra, behind the drums, behind where RC would be seated. As I sat down on my drum throne, I looked in front of me to the spot where Ray’s left foot would be dancing. My heart skipped a beat. There perched an alto saxophone on its stand, innocently interrupting my view of Ray’s exclamation point. Ray occasionally played sax on a number, but I didn’t expect it to be there of all places. Twenty-one years previous, I would have panicked and called for a stagehand to move it. This time I stopped to think about it.

I realized that it’s not really about seeing that foot hit the floor. It has more to do with knowing where it’s coming from. This time around, I was willing to gamble that I was a better musician. That I could play with Ray rather than react like a heat seeking missile. One thing was for sure, it wouldn’t take long to find out – one song would do it.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Raaaaay Charles ! “

The band hits the intro, the crowd goes wild, and as soon as Brother Ray is seated behind the piano, he absorbs every bit of attention that this concert hall can offer. The first song goes by without a hitch. We settle into the second one and my anxiousness begins to fade. By the time we get to “Georgia…”, the only thing on my mind is the beauty of the moment; how wonderful it is to be able to go back, and be in the present, all at the same time.

Ray’s way was uncompromising, maybe because he loved the music more than anything. His blindness brought focus to his control: first, he listened to his inner voice; then, he sang out for himself, played piano for all, and talked to the drummer by foot.

During his last few months I heard that he was very ill, and the news of his death made me think Ray had put his foot down for the last time. I was wrong.

In his final interview, with David Ritz in Rolling Stone, Ray addressed his own mortality by removing his suit of armor and acknowledging the price of his purpose.

“…I hurt some musicians. ….Looking for everything to be perfect. …You know me, man. I’m always [expletive] with the drummers. If they don’t get my time, I pitch a bitch. Treat them bad…I know I hurt people. …Tell them I have feelings, too. I can feel their feelings, man. Tell them I appreciate them. …..just tell them Brother Ray loves them.”

He started crying.

Ray never played encores. He would never pretend at the end. Yet for me, his apology to the drummers, with whom he constantly jousted, served as the encore that he reserved only for those who saw and heard everything he did – his musicians. But had he recovered, his apology doesn’t mean that he would have done anything differently. The same heart that couldn’t lie about the music, would have always beat at a tempo that would challenge and inspire us all. My time with Ray, from fast to slow, will always be with me.

Some things do not change, and Ray Charles’ left foot would never let you forget it.

John Bryant is a music producer, drummer, and co-owner of a music production company, Bryant-Hames Music in Dallas, Texas. He is also a member of D’Drum, a world music percussion group.

Link (registration required) Dallas News, Oct 24, 2004.

Top 5 Plants For Improving Indoor Air Quality

Though chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide are anathema to human health, plants can thrive on them, while also removing them from the air.

Plants that top the clean-air list include peace lily, bamboo palm, English ivy, mums, and gerbera daisies, all of which are both easy to find and easy to care for, so even if you don’t have a green thumb, you can still have a green home or office.

via Treehugger: Top 5 Plants For Improving Indoor Air Quality

Congress Rewards Corporate Donors

Bill Moyers highlights the way things work in Washington. It’s a bummer, dude.

A Little Patriotic Sacrifice by Bill Moyers

There are moments when you see suddenly crystallized in a particular event, a threat to democracy as ominous as the smoke rising from Mt. St. Helens. This week it was that enormous payoff to big corporations by their subjects in Congress. I say payoffs advisedly. Business elites provide politicians with the money they need to run for office. The politicians pay them back with a return on their investment so generous it boggles the mind. That legislation enacted this week is worth $137 billion in tax cuts for corporations. One company alone — General Electric — will receive over $8 billion, despite earnings last year of over $15 billion. Many companies — Microsoft, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Eli Lilly, among others — have been parking profits overseas rather than bring them back to America where they are taxed. So Congress has now blessed them with a one-time “tax holiday” during which they can bring home the bacon at about one-seventh of the normal tax rates.

These plums are usually couched in such language they would defy a Delphic oracle to interpret them — all the more to hoodwink us. What’s behind those hieroglyphics in Section 713, Subsection A and B, Page 385? Why, a multimillion dollar windfall to Home Depot for importing ceiling fans made by serfs in China. And that little clause written in Sanskrit so tiny it would take a Mount Palomar telescope to read? Nothing less than a $27 million tax present to foreigners who bet at American horse and dog tracks. On and on it goes, the pillaging and plundering by suits with Guccis.

In a time of war, terror, and soaring deficits, you would think the governing class would be asking these corporate aristocrats to make a little patriotic sacrifice like that asked of single mothers or our men and women in Iraq. Instead they’re allowed to pass their share of the burden to workers and children not yet born. At the least they ought to be required to remove the flag from their lapels and replace it with the icon they most revere — the dollar sign.

Link A Little Patriotic Sacrifice

via Dave Pollard

Chrysler and GM Are Living in the Past

Business Week magazine says Ford is the only American auto manufacturer that is facing the reality of higher gas prices. Toyota and Honda are leading the move to fuel-efficient cars, as usual.

The Stalling Of Motor City

Where is Detroit? The last time energy prices shot up unexpectedly, in the 1970s, it was Japan that led the way with profitable, fuel-efficient small cars. Detroit never did figure out how to make them and chose, instead, to make big profits off low-mileage, gas-guzzling SUVs. Now, oil futures are predicting high-priced gas for years to come, and Japan is again out front with innovative vehicles — fuel-efficient, electric-gas hybrids. Advertisement

When will Detroit learn? Certainly Ford gets it. It has a hybrid on sale right now, the crossover Escape SUV (based partly on Toyota Motor Corp.’s (TM ) hybrid engine technology), and plans to sell about 45,000 over this year. But neither General Motors Corp. (GM ) nor DaimlerChrysler Corp. (DCX ) will introduce a single hybrid any time soon and their offerings will be slim for years to come. In the meantime, Toyota and Honda Motor Co. (HMC ) are starting to flood the zone with tens of thousands of different hybrids. The Prius is hot, and Toyota will soon bring out a hybrid version of its Lexus RX and Highlander SUVs. Honda will launch a hybrid version of its popular Accord in December. Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. estimates that hybrids could make up 20% of the entire U.S. market by 2010. Detroit argues that you can’t have mileage efficiency without giving up performance and luxury. Japan is proving just the opposite. Toyota’s Lexus RX will have 270-plus horsepower and better than 27.6 mpg — the current average of a compact sedan.

Detroit is way behind because it hasn’t invested. True, it has enormous legacy costs from retired workers and huge benefit costs from current employees. But managerial shortsightedness is what’s hurting the industry most. The Japanese are on their third generation of hybrid-powered cars. Detroit is barely on its first. As production is ramped up, costs will fall and profits will rise. Hybrids are a technological breakthrough for the Japanese. Unless Detroit invests in innovation, it risks falling behind once again. How sad.

Link The Stalling Of Motor City

Eaton and Peterbilt to Produce Hydraulic Hybrids

Peterbilt and Eaton Corporation are jointly developing refuse trucks using Eaton’s parallel hydraulic hybrid system—Hydraulic Launch Assist (HLA). Peterbilt plans to build and evaluate a production version of the vehicle during the next year.

The hydraulic launch assist system uses regenerative braking to capture the energy otherwise lost in braking. Unlike its electric cousins which use regenerative braking to generate electricity to store in a battery for use with an electric motor, the hydraulic hybrid system recovers the energy in the form of pressurized hydraulic fluid.

The HLA system uses a reversible hydraulic pump/motor coupled to the drive shaft through a clutch and two accumulators. When a driver steps on the brake, the pump/motor forces hydraulic fluid out of a low-pressure accumulator into a high-pressure accumulator, increasing the pressure of nitrogen gas stored there to 5,000 psi.

During acceleration, the HLA system switches from pump mode to motor mode. The nitrogen gas forces the hydraulic fluid back into the low-pressure accumulator, and the pump/motor applies torque to the driveshaft through the clutch.

The hydraulic hybrid truck uses the hydraulic power for the intimal acceleration boost, then blends in the engine. This results in a significant reduction in fuel consumption and improved acceleration due to the high power density of hydraulics.

Eaton estimates that the HLA can provide a 25–35% percent improvement in fuel efficiency, with 25–35% reductions in emissions and some 50% reduction in brake wear.

With a version of HLA Eaton developed with Ford, the engineers found that approximately 80% of the initial kinetic energy was returned to the vehicle.

Link Green Car Congress: Eaton and Peterbilt to Produce Hydraulic Hybrids