Discovered: Brewing renewable fuels from simple sugar; New Zealand-administered islands powered only by the sun; engineers study butterfly textures; sardines dying off in the Caribbean.
Sweet, sweet renewable gas. Israel's first president Chaim Weizman also happened to be a chemist, and he invented a fermentation process nearly 100 years ago to turn starch into explosives. His method hasn't been in use much, until now, with UC Berkeley scientists reviving the process to turn simple sugars into diesel fuel. "What I am really excited about is that this is a fundamentally different way of taking feedstocks—sugar or starch—and making all sorts of renewable things, from fuels to commodity chemicals like plastics," says Berkeley professor and co-author Dean Toste. The researchers' new fuel packs more energy per gallon than much-touted ethanol, and they hope it can be commercialized within five to 10 years. [UC Berkeley]
Tokelau islands powered by the sun alone. With only 1,500 inhabitants who mostly make a living off subsistance farming, the South Pacific island territory Tokelau is a small but significant step toward a completely renewable future. Officials on the New Zealand territory say that they're now able to meet all of the island's electricity needs through the energy captured by an array of solar grids. This is a big change for the island, which previously relied on dirty diesel fuel for all of its energy needs. The switch to solar only cost New Zealand around $7m to fund. "The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project is a world first, says New Zealand foreign affairs minister Murray McCully. "Tokelau's three main atolls now have enough solar capacity, on average, to meet electricity needs." [BBC]