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Making Diesels Stingier Than Ever

Trucks, boats, buses, and generators--you name it, diesel powers it. While diesel engines are already as much as 60% more efficient than gas engines, there are tens of millions of diesels, so any small increase in fuel economy means huge savings in the big picture.

Enter the Rotating Liner Engine (RLE), a new application of an old technology that could increase overall fuel efficiency by about 5% and engine longevity tenfold. Taking a cue from World War II-era plane engines, University of Texas (Aus-tin) graduate student Dimitrios Dardalis found that the friction between the piston and the cylinder in which it rises and falls dimin- ishes by about 100 times when a thin sleeve between the two is rotated at several hundred rpm. The sleeve distributes oil more evenly and keeps wear and tear from grinding down a single spot.

Dardalis expects his technology to add about 20% to the cost of a diesel engine, but in an industry where lifetime fuel costs far outstrip the price of the engine, that's a good trade-off. A 500 horsepower diesel generator might cost $17,000, but if it works 24/7, calculates Dardalis, the 5% of fuel saved by the RLE adds up to more than $7,500 a year. And those savings rise to 27% when the engine is idling. That's significant in the transportation sector, where napping truckers often leave their engines running overnight. Petti Fong Windmill farms take up space. They're also noisy, and can be an eyesore. So Bryan J. Roberts, a researcher at Australia's University of Western Sydney, came up with an alternative ideA: a flying windmill called a gyromill that looks like a king-size kite stripped of fabric and outfitted with helicopter rotors. An electric motor would drive the rotors as the gyromill climbs up into the jet stream. There, the motor would be switched off. The jet stream would turn the blades, keeping the craft aloft and also generate electricity, which would be piped down to the ground via a copper-cable tether. Roberts envisions flotillas of gyromills, each producing 20 megawatts of electricity.

To prove the concept, Roberts has asked the Australian government to cough up nearly $1 million to test a small 50-kilowatt prototype. Australia's aviation agency must approve the project, since planes would have to be banned from the area because of the dangling tethers. Roberts says a remote section of New South Wales would be ideal, and he is optimistic about getting the go-ahead later this year. On-board navigation systems help pilots spot developing storms. Now Mercury Interactive (MERQ), a Sunnyvale (Calif.) supplier of testing software, is providing a similar service to e-businesses--except that its system tracks digital storms. The Topaz WeatherMap, a visualization program, lets companies monitor digital traffic jams as soon as they take shape. Today, businesses are at the mercy of traffic flows on Internet "backbones," and of Internet service providers that promise a certain quality of service, then blame congestion when things slows to a crawl. "Our clients who use the WeatherMap can reroute their traffic on the spot," says Mercury Chief Operating Officer Kenneth R. Klein. In effect, Mercury is issuing its own little weather alert to ISPs: high visibility ahead. -- Alzheimer's disease has long been associated with the buildup of a brain protein called amyloid-beta. That's why many companies pursuing Alzheimer's drugs have sought to block enzymes--called secretases--that cause the protein to accumulate. In the May 25 issue of Science, researchers at the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan and Harvard University describe an different approach. They're studying an enzyme, called neprilysin, that breaks down amyloid-beta as well as the gene that controls its production in the brain. By observing abnormalities in that gene, doctors may someday get an early alert that certain individuals are prone to Alzheimers. Likewise, drugs that amplify the effects of neprilysin may one day yield a treatment.

-- For every 10 gallons of gas we pump, 1.3 oz. of vapor floats into the atmosphere, contributing to the destruction of the ozone layer. So concerned scientists at GKSS Research Center near Hamburg created a machine that sucks the vapor from the air. With each gallon of gas pumped, one and a half times as much air is pulled into the station's holding tanks, where a series of silicone-treated filters reclaim the hydrocarbons and redeposit them into the station's tanks. The air that's released is 95% clean.

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