Monday, September 27, 2010

`Ōhelo berries going mainstream

Ōhelo berries are among the great treasures of Hawai'i, and they may soon be more available than ever.

Rich and red when ripe, they're great for munching off the bush while hiking in the uplands, or for making jam for breakfast.

(Image: `Ōhelo bush full of berries. Credit: Francis T.P. Zee, ARS.)

These relatives of cranberries, Vaccinium reticulatum, can be sweet, or sour, or bland. There are multiple varieties that grow in the uplands of most of the islands.

They are also attractive compact shrubs with foliage that ranges from red and orange to green.

Researchers have now done the work to select tasty, attractive cultivars for both fruit collecting and ornamental uses.

In a press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is the first cultivar of its kind to be released, and that one of the key reasons is to provide a viable stock that will help reduce pressure on wild native environments.

As people scour the landscape to harvest this delectable berry for use in jam, jelly and pie filling, they unfortunately disrupt the fragile habitats where this plant grows,” the release said. (The release says the plant is limited to Maui and Hawai'i uplands, but it's also found on other islands.)

Horticulturist Francis T.P. Zee, of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, led the work, in collaboration with other ARS folks, including Amy Strauss, and Claire Arakawa, and interested individuals at the University of Hawaii, Big Island Candies, and the Big Island Association of Nurserymen.

They used wild-collected seed to grow many plants, then collected the one best suited for fruit production. They named that cultivar “Kilauea. They also used tissue culture and cuttings to develop potted plants suitable for such uses as bonsai.

For an extensive discussion of the procedures and progress, see this University of Hawai'i Cooperative Extension Service report.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Automotive X-Prize under-delivers

You have to wonder what the folks at the Progressive Automotive X-Prize were thinking.

These are the folks that were offering a $10 million prize for the company that could develop a four seat car that can get 100 miles to the gallon, with a design people would buy.
(Image: Is this the new family car? A couple of models presented by X-Prize victor Edison2. Credit: Progressive Automotive X-Prize)

We have given their project a fair amount of coverage at RaisingIslands. You can search our archives for those stories. Here is our piece on the finalists.

They did a lots of testing and calculating. They decided, unfortunately, to split the prize--only half would go to the four seater, and the other half would be so split between two-seaters with side-by-side seating and tandem seating.

They gave one of the latter to a teardrop-shaped thing that is very aerodynamic and unlikely to go mainstream, the Li-ion Motors “Wave II.” And the other went to a covered motorcycle with training wheels that deploy at slow speed, the Peraves X-Tracer “E-Tracer.”

Sigh. Both are electric, which is cool. Both got in the neighborhood of the equivalent of 200 miles to the gallon, which is way cool. But these things are not going to move us into the brave new energy future. Neither will be the family car.

Which was the point, we thought, of the X-Prize competition.

Finally, we have the $5 million main class winner. This would be the one that would rock the world, right?


The prize went to Edison2's Very Light Car, which has detached wheels, like a go-cart with cowlings. It got 102 miles to the gallon with a quarter-liter, 40-horse engine running 85 percent ethanol and the rest gasoline.

Chances are, you are not going to drive this thing to the supermarket, or use it to carpool the kids to school.

Progressive Insurance is to be congratulated for the effort, which brought a lot of attention to the field of energy efficient vehicles, and did credit to the company.

We kind of wish they’d stuck with the original plan, which we understood to be a goal of providing the world with a vision of an automobile that was hyper-efficient, and wouldn’t look so much like a kit car in someone’s garage.

The efficiency of the electric models is tantalizing, and one wonders whether an electric four seater with traditional styling might have actually met the requirements of the X-Prize.

Ó Jan TenBruggencate

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

China's #1, or #2, but regardless, Hawai'i's energy use is way higher.

There may be some public comment, and even some national anxiety on China's having surpassed the United States as the world's chief energy consumer.

(Image: The US in blue and China in red. The bars show total national energy use, but check out the dotted lines. On a per-capita basis US use has dropped slightly and China's has risen in the past decade, but we still use more than three times the energy per capita. Credit: International Energy Agency.)

China actually disputes that it's the new leader, but it concedes that it's close.

The International Energy Agency puts China's consumption at an oil equivalent of 2.25 billion tons of oil for 2009, compared to the U.S. figure of 2.17 billion tons. China insists it's only at 2.13 billion tons and growing. (Okay, so they'll pass the U.S. this year.)

But let's be clear. China has many times the United States population, and its per capita use is not only dramatically lower than America's, but lower than that of most of the world's industrialized nations. It's also significantly lower than Hawai'i's per capital use, as we'll see later.

China has on the order of 1.3 billion people, while the U.S. has a little more than 300 million. A billion makes a difference. (Hawai'i is at 1.3 million)

What's scary is that China's economy is growing rapidly, and that the International Energy Agency figures that its growth could even have been higher:

“China’s demand today would be even higher still if the government had not made such progress in reducing the energy intensity (the energy input per dollar of output) of its economy. It has also very quickly become one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy, particularly wind power and solar energy, and paved the way for a big expansion of nuclear power,” the agency said.

On a per capita basis, China's residents use 1,484 kilograms of oil, while in the U.S. we use 7,766. That's right. We use more than five times as much per capita. These data come from the World Bank's World Development Indicators.

How are we doing in Hawai'i? Well, we live in one of the highest energy-use nations in the world, but Hawai'i ranks 49th among the states and the District of Columbia in per capita energy use.

The U.S. average, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is 326 million Btu (British thermal units). The residents of the highest-consuming state, Wyoming, use 1 billion Btu, with Alaska running a close second at 945 million.

Hawai'i is down with 220 million, about two-thirds the national average.

Here is the Energy Information Administration page on Hawai'i energy use.

Where do we use all this energy. A lot of it is flying to and from the Mainland, and flying inter-island.

“Due in large part to heavy jet-fuel use by military installations and commercial airlines, the transportation sector is the leading energy-consuming sector, accounting for over one-half of the State's total energy consumption,” the EIA says.

How does that compare with China's use? Using the conversion rate of 41,800 Btu per kilogram to obtain the oil equivalent, our 220 million Btu works out to 5,263 kilograms of oil.

Hawai'i residents thus use 3.5 times the amount of energy used by China residents.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

That creaking sound? It's just the electric car revolution, busting its shackles.

That creaking sound you hear may be the Hawai'i electric car revolution about to bust its shackles.

There are now three major international players ready to begin feeding ecars onto Hawaiian roads. The three are Israel's Project Better Place, Korean CT&T cars and Japan's Nissan.

(Image: Nissan's Leaf, for which you can now start placing orders. Credit: Nissan USA.)

And that's not counting the domestic cars, like Chevy's upcoming Volt, the state's small fleet of golf-carty GEM cars, and of course, the Tesla Roadster, of which a half dozen are already silently cruising our byways.

Yesterday, Nissan unveiled an agreement with the state of Hawai'i to develop a charging infrastructure for electric cars, including its Leaf electric car. Nissan in May announced that Hawai'i would be one of its roll-out states for the Leaf, which could be selling in the Islands as early January 2011. (But, yeah, those dates do tend to slide.)

You can reserve a Leaf effective today (9/1/10) at this site.

Also in May, the South Korean auto manufacturer CT&T announced it would build a manufacturing plant in Honolulu to produce its ecar. One model is a small pickup truck, which shows that CT&T has an understanding of the Hawai'i market.

Here's what they look like.

Project Better Place has a unique approach, which includes a charging grid powered by renewables. You'd own the car, and Better Place would manage the batteries. It has been working with the state since 2008.

Is there a demand for all this interest? Forbes just ran an article about Maui entrepreneur David Noon, who does electric car conversions—switching perfectly good automobiles from gas to electric power for the folks who just can't wait for the revolution.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2010