Grow Your Own

Paraphrasing Mickey Goldmill, 'It eats poison and craps oxygen.'
Paraphrasing Mickey Goldmill, 'It eats poison and craps oxygen.'
Well, here we are again, another pleasant Sunday, staring at our toes while pondering about the nature of the cosmos. Maybe you’re wondering how best to save the planet. Maybe you’re discussing, with your significant other, the best way to reduce your carbon foot print while still being able to enjoy a double caramel soy latte. Maybe you’re sharing your spiritual beliefs with others in a communal setting and preparing to go forth into the world and do good unto others. Maybe you’re volunteering in your neighborhood bringing joy and stability to those less fortunate. Or you’re surfing for porn.

Whatever it is you’re doing, I can guarantee it’s not as cool as what the people at Emergent are doing. They’re growing shark cars.

Nic Halverson at Discovery News has the whole story.

Forget manufacturing cars. That’s so 20th century. Growing cars — now that’s what we denizens of the new millennium have come to expect in the age of technology.

Designed by the Los Angeles based architecture and design firm Emergent, the Semi-Rigid Concept Car is built with a 3D printing technique that creates an outer body similar in both texture and form to cartilage.

Constructed of polymers, resins, rubbers and silicone at the molecular level, the cartilage-like material would be placed on the car’s frame in varying degrees of thickness, resulting in a body that is rigid in places needed to protect drivers and flexible in places where impacts occur. Unlike conventional cars, which upon impact crumple in the front and back, the Semi-Rigid Concept Car bounces back, absorbing the impact, while the cabin’s structured frame keeps drivers safe.

The Semi-Rigid Concept Car would also use a blended construction process with materials that meld, rather than fasten to each other — doing away with separate glass, machined steel and sheet metal attachment points.

Adding to the organic feel of this car in a shark’s body concept, is Emergent’s effort to power the vehicle with colonies of photosensitive algae located in reservoirs deep within the car’s anatomy. LED lights embedded within the algae reservoirs would allow for round-the-clock fuel production, producing biofuel as the car needs it, even without sunlight.

According to Emergent, “This car not only has the smooth exterior and aesthetic of the fastest sports cars around, but allows you the freedom of driving independently of gas pumps, or even of electric vehicle charging stations.”

It’s called a “shark car” because of the body’s resemblance to shark cartilage. That pic you saw on the front page before you clicked the link to get here is the real car. It’s not on a drawing board somewhere, it’s in some cool dude’s driveway. Can you imagine being that guy? You could be covered in boils and still bang supermodels. You doubt me? Try this line on a woman, “I grow organic shark cars that look like something from a sci-fi movie and can save the planet. Wanna go for a ride?”

That’s better than owning a Porsche.

But what if you’re one of those wimps who’s afraid of sharks but still wants to save the planet? Not a problem. Alyssa Danigelis tells us about a fun new car (pictured above) that sucks in carbon dioxide and spews oxygen.

One reason treehuggers like myself love trees is that the leaves scrub CO2 from the atmosphere, use it for energy and emit life-giving oxygen, the process of photosynthesis. Wouldn’t it be great if cars — notorious for CO2 emissions — could do the same?

Chinese automaker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation is doing just that. They recently unveiled designs for a photosynthesizing concept car that could take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Details are still sketchy, which is understandable since it would basically be a leaf on wheels.

SAIC, which has a partnership wtih General Motors in China, showed designs for the YeZ Concept Car recently at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. YeZ (pronounced “yea-zi”) is Mandarin Chinese for “leaf,” and it’s clear why: the open buggy-like vehicle has a roof shaped like one. The overall design makes me think of a Strawberry Shortcake doll for some reason, maybe because it looks like something she would ride.

The technical details haven’t been articulated, but according to a Xinhua article, YeZ designer Ma Zhengkun says that the roof “absorbs solar energy and transforms it into electricity while spinning rotors on the four wheels generate power from the wind.” CNET Asia blogger Juniper Foo reports that the two-seater would have a “metal-organic framework,” which would work to absorb CO2 and water, turning them into electricity that would get stored in a lithium-ion battery.

This artificial photosynthesis concepts reminds me of the research going on MIT in Dan Nocera’s lab. He and Matthew Kanan developed a process that uses sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gets used in a fuel cell and the oxygen goes into the air.

And when writing about the YeZ, Gizmag’s Mike Hanlon cites the researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands who got halfway towards creating an artificial leaf last year.

These efforts mean that the artificial photosynthesis process could very well become a commercial reality by 2030.

My only concern is that the intense technical advancements it would require to make YeZ a reality could end up using far more resources for production than it ultimately saves. As far as concept cars go, I’m still partial to Yves Behar’s idea for a hackable one. Beyond that, between golf carts and bicycles, I think we’ve got several workable options right now. Sorry, Shortcake.

Okay, so there’s a couple of hurdles to be cleared before this thing hits the street. Even so, unlike Ms. Danigelis, I think this is certainly a concept worth pursuing. Well not as designed, since the leaf car looks silly as heck, but the idea of a car that can get humans from point “A” to point “Z” while increasing the quality of the surrounding air should not be discounted quickly.

After all, all those kids who loved Cars 2 are going to grow up expecting eco friendly super cars that can fly while speaking with a southern accent. And those suckers aren’t going to grow themselves.


Drive – The Cars by martin1976

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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