SUN SKIFFS: China has developed a five-passenger, solar-powered boat — reported to make no more noise than an electric mixer — that ferries tourists across West Lake near Shanghai. The roofs of the conveyances contain 3,100 silicon chips, which convert the sun's rays into electricity and store it in a bank of 300-watt batteries. The crafts are fumeless, and can be started by flipping a switch ... and they are capable of traveling for up to three hours on accumulated energy, if the day turns cloudy.
THE ALL-HYDROGEN HOME: Billings Energy Corporation is seeking a $20 million federal grant, part of which will be used to construct 25 hydrogen-fueled homes in Independence, Missouri. The houses will use hydrogen — rather than natural gas or propane — as their primary cooking and heating fuel. If awarded, the government funds would also be applied to hydrogen vehicle development and the building of coal gasification plants.
PEAT POWER PLANT: Chicago's Institute of Gas Technology has begun operating a plant that converts peat into methane (which is the major component of natural gas). The U.S. has the world's second largest reserve of the decomposed plant product, a supply that's estimated to be equivalent to 240 billion barrels of oil or about 10 times the proven American oil reserves.
WIND POWERED IRRIGATION? Wind energy could easily replace more than half of the fossil fuels currently used to power irrigation systems on the Great Plains. A USDA study estimates that wind turbines would be capable of supplying between 60 and 70 percent of the energy used in the farm belt for surface irrigation purposes, and replacing 30 to 45 percent of the nonrenewable resources used for sprinkler irrigation ... accounting, as it did so, for an annual energy saving of 18 billion kilowatt-hours.
A TRAVELING 2 X 4? An Indiana firm has manufactured a kit to convert 1/2-, 3/4-, and 1-ton Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge "full-time" four-wheel-drive pickups to optional two-wheel drive. The kit is said to improve gas mileage by as much as 30%, extend tire life, and eliminate vibration at cruising speed. The 12-pound package retails for $139.50, postpaid.
BOWSERING FOR OIL: Dogs at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas are being trained to sniff out oil leaks in the insulative jackets that surround underground power cables. The shepherds and retrievers are taught to discriminate between the oil's odor and other environmental smells ... and the animals communicate the location of a potential leak by sitting down atop the spot.
THE FARMERS HOME ADMINISTRATION has approved plans for a 1,055-square-foot, passive solar home that can be financed under FmHA, HUD, FHA, Cal Vet, and VA construction programs. The three-bedroom house — which incorporates a Trombe wall — can be erected for about $45,000 ... $4,000 of which goes into building its solar features. Plans are available for $6.00, postpaid, from the Office of Appropriate Technology.
GRASSOHOL? The U.S. Customs Service in Port Everglades has agreed to turn over its 600 tons per year in marijuana seizures to the Florida Power and Light Company so that the utility can use the confiscated plant — instead of oil — to fuel electricity-generating facilities. Disposal of marijuana often poses problems, since the plant burns bot enough to char the interiors of most commercial incinerators.
WE'RE FLATTERED. WE THINK. Employees at Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant in New York have constructed a solar heater, based on MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Heat Grabber. The workers have installed it in a quality-control trailer at the nuclear site ... where the little BTU-bagger is warming the office, even on bone-chilling 12°F days.
GO AT THE FIRST GOOD GUST: The California Department of Transportation has installed the nation's first wind-powered traffic-sign lighting system at a remote intersection north of Bishop, California. The setup consists of a 12-volt generator and four 12-volt heavy-duty batteries.
A SETBACK IN ELECTRIC VEHICLES: The federal Department of Energy — which has invested nearly $15 million in Gulf and Western Industries Inc.'s zinc-chloride battery program — says that the unit achieves less than 65% of its expected power and is so difficult to service that it can be recharged only by highly trained personnel.
HEAVY CONCENTRATIONS OF RADIOACTIVE TRITIUM have been analyzed in soil samples obtained near the crippled Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor .... The Tennessee Valley Authority is using WASTE HEAT GENERATED BY WATER discharged from its nuclear plants to grow tomatoes in greenhouses in Alabama, and to raise catfish at an aquaculture site in Tennessee .... General Telephone of Florida is testing 28 MINI-ELECTRIC VANS which can travel 50 miles — at 50- to 60-MPH speeds — on a single charge .... A Reno, Nevada high school student has developed a program to CONVERT GUMWEED INTO OIL. The teenager estimates that five barrels of high grade oil can be extracted from an acre's growth of the desert plant .... A group of Canadian scientists have designed an organic solar cell that duplicates plant photosynthesis and could MATCH THE EFFICIENCY OF SILICON CELLS AT LESS THAN ONE-TENTH THEIR COST.