Australian pilot set for trans-ocean flight using plastic-derived fuel source

According to Ecomagination, the green energy media arm of General Electric, one Australian pilot is set to make history with a 12,000-mile journey from Sydney to London. While this alone may not sound exciting, his power source – a synthetic fuel made in Ireland and derived from melted-down plastics – could change the course of modern aviation.

Jeremy Roswell is set to pilot a modified Cessna 172 roughly 1,000 miles per day on the trip. At that pace, he could complete his quest in less than two weeks with stops for refueling and rest. Speaking with Ecomagination, Roswell admitted that he wasn't exactly sure which route he would take, though it may involve a few layovers in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Central Europe.

The fuel, made by Irish firm Cynar plc, is derived from a process known as pyrolysis. On its website, the manufacturing company reports that its machinery removes oxygen from plastic products by heating them at specific temperatures, capturing the vapors and condensing them into a usable energy source.

During the interview, Roswell conceded that the dangers of long-range flying were worrisome, especially considering that he had lost several family members to similar fates. However, he discussed training in simulated survival scenarios, including one course that involved escaping from a submerged airplane. Another training session had him left abandoned in the Australian desert, where he had to survive on rabbits and eventually paddle a canoe through shark-infested waters.

Roswell's flight represents a real-world test of a fuel technology that could lead to a new way for renewable energy sources to power our world. With cheaper-to-make fuel, airlines using similar products could conceivably lower their prices and make it easier for consumers to fly longer distances. At the very least, his journey will be a big step forward for the green fuel movement.

Solar panels caught in trade dispute between United States and China

Much has been said in the U.S. media about the deluge of cheap solar power products in global energy markets sold by businesses in China. Less expensive products have made it nearly impossible for American firms to sell their own renewable energy panels. Until recently, the Obama administration has hesitated to react in a substantial way.

Today, however, the U.S. Department of Commerce said that it was imposing duties on a range of Chinese-made solar products in a bid to maintain the competitiveness of American manufacturing companies. According to the New York Times, tariffs ranging between 24 percent and 36 percent are being levied on panels, conductors and other mechanical equipment that is imported into the United States.

Known collectively as "anti-dumping tariffs", these charges are expected to bring prices on Chinese goods more in line with those produced in the U.S. Unlike American companies, Chinese solar equipment producers enjoy a number of subsidies and government support programs that encourage them to produce large quantities of machinery.

However, economists and industry experts fear that this action could spark a wider trade war, which neither country would want during a period of sustained economic fragility. Yet some of the organizations that could be impacted by the tariffs have already moved to avoid them altogether. Forbes Magazine reported today that several Chinese companies, including firms such as Suntech and Trina Solar, have moved to their manufacturing facilities to other countries in order to avoid paying the required levies.

The action taken by the Obama administration could impact the affordability and deployability of solar panel technology in the United States. LifeIsGreen.com will continue to report on the situation as it develops.

Engineers design way to recycle shower water into washing machines

A new design from a team of Turkish engineers may prove to be a boon for both environmental advocates and procrastinators around the world. The concept appliance, known as the Washit, is a device that incorporates a shower stall and a washer-and-dryer system, with the former providing water for usage in the latter. Simply put, your clothes get washed while you wash yourself.

According to technology news website Gizmag, the Washit team recently received the 2012 Hansgrohe Prize for Efficient Water Design, which was awarded by the iF Concept Design Awards, an international program that celebrates and honors green-friendly creations.

The Washit utilizes a closed-water plumbing system that takes water from its internal drain and feeds it into a separate water tank. Three different filtration systems sluice the water through in order to remove any contaminants before it is sent to the laundry portion of the machine. UV radiation is employed during this process to kill off any bacteria or germs before the cleaning process begins.

But the Washit doesn't just wash the clothes – it dries them. In a bid to save energy consumption, the engineering team designed it so that the machine doubles as a dryer. That way, users could theoretically change back into their clothes once their shower is done. According to Gizmag, this means that the Washit could potentially be deployed in gyms, clubs and apartments that lack a washing appliance.

As of now, there are no official plans from the creators of the Washit to produce a commercial-scale version or even to market the current design. However, given the publicity surrounding the project, it's all but certain this idea will be a favorite for those who try to live a low-impact lifestyle.

The Zumaround: The next generation of scootering

Remember the Razor scooter? This child-sized mode of transportation sparked a cultural phenomenon that, if anyone who was paying attention in the early 2000s remembers, was gone as quickly as it arrived. However, the inspiration behind that product – the classic two-wheeled scooter – remained, and has led to several interesting inventions.

One of the most notable creations is a recent product that comes from Kickstart Scooters, a company based in Toronto, Canada. Known as the Zumaround, this electric-powered vehicle is based on the frame of an old-school kick scooter. Capable of speeds up to 20 miles per hour, this vehicle is great for getting around town without wasting gasoline while sitting in traffic. It's powered by a lithium-manganese battery that feeds its energy into a 250 watt hub DC motor.

According to the Zumaround website, the creators sought to make a product that would appeal to two demographics: those who include pushing themselves around on an ergonomically-designed scooter and those who want a little bit of extra oomph as they cruise around town.

"Whether you’re kicking a scooter or pedaling a bike, many riders are challenged when going up hills or riding into strong winds," Gideon Tomaschoff, Kickstart Scooters' president, said in a press statement. "I wanted to improve my riding experience and arrive at my destination without being out of breath or sweaty, which is how the idea of an electric-assist system came to be."

Pricing for the Zumaround starts at $1,250, and comes in red, blue, yellow and green varieties. While this price tag may seem steep for some, this vehicle enables riders to avoid having to use their car or truck if they are heading to the post office or a nearby friend's house. With its catchy name and low-energy mode of transport, you may soon see more of these scooting around your neighborhood.

The power of oceans: Hydrokinetic energy and how it works

As the debate about the future of U.S. green energy rages around the country and in the halls of Congress, it's important for everyday Americans to learn more about the different types of renewable energy sources that are available to us.

Today, we're going to look at a power source that has been instituted in some areas and may become more widespread as technology develops: hydrokinetic energy.

This type of electricity generation relies on the ebb and flow of ocean water. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are three major types of equipment used in current hydrokinetic systems:

Submerged turbines – These instruments utilize river or ocean currents to drive large propeller systems and thus generate electricity. They come in a variety of sizes for different deployments, ranging from those that can be placed in large streams to ones installed at the edges of harbors to capture the wakes created by passing ships.

Tidal generators – A specialized type of hydrokinetic technology, these machines create power by capturing the rise and fall of the tides. However, this form of energy production can only be used in areas with a substantial difference between low tide and high tide elevations. Otherwise, it would cost more electricity than it brings in.

Wave power buoys – If you've ever been on a harbor cruise or walked along the beach, you've seen those big orange buoys with bells or light fixtures attached to them. In the past several years, designers have been equipping these bobbers with power generators that feed into a long cable. This cable traces back to the shore, where it's connected to the local power grid.

The DoE says on its website that many companies are pursuing hydrokinetic energy solutions to take the pressure off local power grids and reduce reliance on fossil fuel power. While this market is still in its infancy, it's probable that Americans will see more and more water-based electrical sources in the future.

Fisker Automotive: Drivers experiencing fuel efficiency of 150 MPG or greater

Electric car manufacturer Fisker Automotive recently announced in a press release that its line of Karma hybrid sedans have been achieving the company's most ambitious targets for fuel economy and technology development. Not only has the company already reached the 2025 target efficiency level as mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), but some of its drivers responded in a recent survey that they have seen fuel-saving levels of up to 200 miles per gallon (MPG).

In August, the NHSTA approved rules that require cars to emit lower levels of greenhouse gases. To reach this goal, the government agency mandates that manufacturers implement higher fuel economies beginning in 2017. According to the press release, Fisker Automotive's Karma must be capable of 45.6 MPG by 2025.

"Regulators must make assumptions about how a car is driven on average, but the appeal of the Karma is that the driver can decide when to drive on electricity and when to drive on gas," Fisker said. "The car’s performance in the real world is what matters most – and customer feedback so far suggests Karma owners are outperforming the assumptions behind the regulations."

The survey, which sampled 30 Fisker drivers, showed that hybrid car motorists were experiencing 150 MPG on average. Several respondents said that when taking trips in excess of several thousand miles, they reached levels of up to 200 MPG.

These developments highlight the economic and environmental benefits of hybrid vehicles, but the fact remains that cars like the Karma are still prohibitively expensive. As fuel efficiency standards are raised over the next decade, the market could see more affordable models available to everyday consumers.