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Sunday, February 10, 2008

This knee brace could charge batteries

Scientists have developed a knee brace that captures energy from a moving knee, much like regenerative braking charges a battery in a Toyota Prius.

The device, jointly (hah!)developed by scientists at three universities, uses kinetic energy to generate electricity.

When the leg extends, energy spins gears on the device, which in turn power a built-in generator. Software determines at which point in each stride the generator should engage, and resistance from the engaged generator aids the wearer in slowing down the leg. See video of the knee in action.

Data on metabolic power supplied by the University of Michigan highlight the device's efficiency:

Brace yourself for the latest in battery-charging technology for gadgets. Researchers from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia have developed a device worn much like a knee brace that generates electricity from the natural motion of walking.

Here, Max Donelan, assistant professor of kinesiology, watches a demonstration of the Biomechanical Energy Harvester he developed with a team of researchers. The device harvests energy from the end of a walker's step, when the muscles are working to slow the movement of the leg, "in much the same way that hybrid electric cars recycle power from braking," according to a release from the university.

Wearing a device on each leg, an individual can generate up to 5 watts of electricity with little additional physical effort, according to the release. Walking quickly, however, generates as much as 13 watts. At that rate, when the energy is stored in a battery, one minute of walking time could provide enough electricity to sustain 30 minutes of talk-time on a mobile phone.

"People are an excellent source of portable power--an average-sized person stores as much energy in fat as a 1,000 kg battery," Donelan said. "People recharge their 'body batteries' with food and, lucky for us, there is about as much useful energy in a 35-gram granola bar as in a 3.5 kg lithium-ion battery."

Yahoo to find out the diffrent option of collabration with Microsoft

Technology lovers are waiting to see the war result or smartly can be said as the compitition strategy of yahoo and The offer by Microsoft .
Yahoo! Inc., the Internet company that has failed to crack Google Inc.'s dominance of Web search, plans to reject a $44.6 billion takeover bid from Microsoft Corp., a person familiar with the situation said.

The board spent a week reviewing the $31-per-share unsolicited offer before deciding it was too low, and directors are likely to reject it tomorrow, said the person, who declined to be identified because the discussions aren't public. Yahoo wants at least $40, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.

The decision steps up pressure on co-founder Jerry Yang to present investors with a strategy to revive a stock that lost half its value in the two years before the offer. He may look to outsource its search efforts to Google or find another buyer, though analysts said it is unlikely that any other options will emerge and Microsoft may make a higher offer to win.

``A lot of this is gamesmanship on the part of Yahoo,'' said Scott Kessler, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York who recommends holding Yahoo and buying Microsoft. ``Microsoft is well aware that Yahoo doesn't have any other options. What this is about is how much Microsoft wants Yahoo and how much time they're willing to wait to get this deal done.''

Microsoft, the biggest software maker, could pay $40 for No. 2 Internet search company Yahoo, Kessler said. It is more likely the companies reach a deal for less, he said. UBS AG's Heather Bellini, the top-ranked software analyst by Institutional Investor, said last week Microsoft may have to bid $34 to $37.

Yahoo spokeswoman Diana Wong said yesterday the company doesn't comment on rumors or speculation. Microsoft spokesmen Frank Shaw and Bill Cox didn't return calls yesterday.

Yang Resists

Yahoo, based in Sunnyvale, California, has posted eight straight quarters of profit declines and spent years trying and failing to catch up with Google in Web queries and the lucrative market for ads linked to search results.

Together, Microsoft and Yahoo would control more than a quarter of the market for animated ads and colorful display banners at the top of Web pages. Google hasn't made much progress there, giving the combined company a way to challenge Google and start going after emerging markets such as mobile-phone ads.

Still, Yang, 39, has resisted letting go of the company he co-founded in 1995 as a graduate student at Stanford University. He replaced Terry Semel as chief executive officer in June and intended to craft a strategy to revitalize Yahoo.

Hostile Measures

Yahoo is betting Microsoft won't take hostile measures to win the bid, the Journal said, even though the software maker has indicated that is a possibility. A person familiar with the matter said last week that Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft may seek to oust Yahoo directors should they reject its offer.

``Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!'s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal,'' Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a letter to Yahoo's board that was made public when the offer was announced Feb. 1.

Yahoo rose 16 cents to $29.20 Feb. 8 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading and Microsoft added 44 cents to $28.56.

The offer is 62 percent more than Yahoo's stock price before the bid. The shares have climbed above the value of the cash-and- stock bid, showing shareholders expect a higher price. Microsoft plans to let investors choose cash or stock, at a ratio that will end up being about 50-50.

Microsoft shares have declined since the bid, lowering the value of the stock portion and pushing the total value of the deal to about $29.08 a share.

Yahoo is getting financial advice from Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Moelis & Co., according to two people familiar with the matter. Morgan Stanley and Blackstone Group LP are counseling Microsoft.

Google Possibility

Yahoo might seek help from rivals, soliciting other bids or seeking partnerships with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. or Google to thwart Microsoft, according to analysts including Stanford Group Co.'s Clayton Moran.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt contacted Yang to suggest a partnership, the New York Times reported Feb. 4. A partnership with Mountain View, California-based Google may allow Yahoo to outsource its search service, shedding the costs of running its own search engine and sharing ad revenue with its larger rival.

Google spokesman Matt Furman declined to comment.

While a Google partnership is an option, it would face stiff regulatory scrutiny, Moran said. News Corp. isn't interested in bidding for Yahoo, Murdoch said on a Feb. 4 conference call. That means Yang's options probably won't pan out, said Andrew Frank, a New York-based analyst at researcher Gartner Inc.

The U.S. Justice Department is ``interested'' in reviewing the antitrust implications of a Yahoo-Microsoft transaction, spokeswoman Gina Talamona said after the bid was announced. Neelie Kroes, commissioner of competition for the European Commission, said her agency also would scrutinize a deal.

Bill Gates worried that something like Google would come along before it even existed.

This time, Microsoft may meet its match in Google

The firm is back to its aggressive ways in its Yahoo bid. But the real fight is with Google, and it's the underdog.
Bill Gates worried that something like Google would come along before it even existed.

In 1995, the Microsoft leader recognized how a powerful Internet player could topple his company from the high-tech pyramid and launched an attack on all potential threats. Netscape, Sun Microsystems and other competitors paid the price.

So did Microsoft. Its tactics triggered a landmark antitrust case that handcuffed the software giant for a decade, hampering its ability to respond when the real Web boogeyman appeared: Google Inc.

But today the shackles are off. Largely unconstrained by the antitrust problems that have dogged it since the late 1990s, Microsoft is the aggressor again.

Its surprise $44.6-billion offer for Yahoo Inc. capped off a year in which Microsoft proved that it was serious about the Internet and willing to throw around its cash hoard.

Yahoo's board of directors has decided to reject the offer, a person familiar with the matter said Saturday. The person, who is close to Yahoo management, said the company planned to tell Microsoft in a letter Monday that the deal undervalues the Internet company and fails to offset its risk if regulators were to overturn the merger.

Although Yahoo doesn't want to sell to Microsoft, it has few alternatives. Many analysts expect Microsoft to sweeten its offer, and Yahoo to accept it.

If it wins Yahoo, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will have pulled off by far the largest acquisition in its 33-year history to try to keep Google from getting further ahead.

"Microsoft tends to be a reactive company," said Mark Anderson, an entrepreneur and author of an industry newsletter that counts Gates and Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer among its subscribers. "They also tend to always be focused on their competition, even down to the individuals that run divisions on both sides."

Google is lobbying against a potential Yahoo deal, saying Microsoft can't be trusted. Microsoft counters that it isn't the dominant player in Web advertising as it is in operating systems and office productivity software.

Pulling for former foe

Fearful of the new giant on the block, some of Microsoft's old enemies are rooting for it.

For years, Chris Tolles had a front-row seat to the brutal side of the so-called Beast from Redmond. The software developer worked at companies that went head-to-head with Microsoft, including Sun and Netscape.

But now he's running Topix, a Silicon Valley company that offers local news and other information online. Google launched a competing product last week.

"Creating a valid competitor for Google would be very helpful to the industry," Tolles said. "That's the irritating part: I'm rooting for Microsoft."

Microsoft, which declined to comment, doesn't enjoy the underdog role.

After its previous attempts to acquire Yahoo or strike a partnership were rebuffed, Microsoft made an unsolicited bid for the company Jan. 31 and announced it the next day. The half-cash, half-stock bid valued the struggling Internet company at $31 a share -- 62% more than its stock's closing price Jan. 31. But with the slump in Microsoft's share price since then, the offer's value has declined to $29.08 a share. Investors expect Microsoft to offer more.

"We keep at things," Ballmer told employees when the bid was announced. "We don't start and stop."

It's been a long, eventful struggle since Microsoft began its online push.

In a lengthy memo sent to Microsoft executives May 26, 1995, Gates warned that the young World Wide Web could spawn a competitor to threaten the software giant's computing dominance. He assigned the Internet "the highest level of importance."
The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules," he wrote. "It is an incredible opportunity as well as [an] incredible challenge."

On Dec. 7 of that year, he unveiled a new Internet strategy. Among several initiatives, Gates announced that the company would give away Internet Explorer with its Windows software, a direct attack on Netscape's pioneering Web browser.
Gates then noted that it was Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. The most intelligent comment after Japan's attacks, he said, was made by a Japanese admiral who said he feared his side had awakened a sleeping giant.

The message was unmistakable: Microsoft no longer was slumbering.

The aggressive and ultimately successful strategy to crush Netscape and other Internet rivals brought major legal troubles. The Justice Department, several states and the European Union filed antitrust claims, contending that Microsoft abused its operating system dominance. Competitors such as Sun also sued.

The court cases forced Microsoft to bank huge amounts of cash for settlements. Microsoft began resolving those cases in 2002 and has spent about $6 billion in cash and consumer software vouchers to end the litigation.

Tangled on Web

Through it all, the company's Web initiatives struggled. Despite hundreds of millions of Web users, its online business has lost about $2 billion since 2003, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at research firm Directions on Microsoft.

"Microsoft has yet to show much aptitude for management of online stuff," said Timothy Bresnahan, chairman of Stanford University's economics department and a former antitrust official. "All of that effort alienating everyone that works with them to win the browser war . . . and what do they do with the browser? Zip."

Meanwhile, Google's profit has skyrocketed thanks to its Web search advertising business. Google conducted 56.3% of all U.S. search queries in December, compared with 17.7% for Yahoo and 13.8% for Microsoft, according to research company Nielsen Online.

Google also is encroaching on Microsoft's turf, offering free word processing, spreadsheet and other office programs over the Web.

Microsoft has taken the rivalry personally. In 2004, Mark Lucovsky, a senior engineer at Microsoft, told Ballmer he was joining Google. Ballmer threw a chair and began spewing expletives, according to court documents in a lawsuit Microsoft filed over another employee who left for Google.

"I'm going to . . . bury that guy. I have done it before, and I will do it again," Lucovsky recalled Ballmer saying about Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who had been an executive at Microsoft rivals Sun Microsystems and Novell Inc. "I'm going to . . . kill Google."

Ballmer later said the description was exaggerated. The suit was settled in 2005.

But in Silicon Valley the reported exchange came to symbolize Microsoft's growing frustration. As the company began to settle its antitrust lawsuits, it started using its saved money to buy its way back into contention on the Web.

Fighting with cash

Microsoft has done 89 sizable acquisitions since 1994, but most have been for less than $1 billion. It preferred to buy small companies and use their technology to grow instead of bigger companies with large market shares or high sales.

That changed after Google outgunned Microsoft for online ad firm DoubleClick Inc. in April with a $3.1-billion offer.

"That injected a sense of urgency," said Scott Kessler, an equity analyst for Standard & Poor's.

A month later, Microsoft made its largest purchase to that point, buying online ad firm AQuantive Inc. for $6 billion. It was a bid no other company could match, Kessler said.
In October, Microsoft outmaneuvered Google for a small piece of the booming social networking company Facebook Inc., paying $240 million for a 1.6% stake. Microsoft reveled in the victory, announcing the deal while Google was holding its annual analyst meeting.

Because Microsoft is playing catch-up in online advertising, regulators have given it more leeway to make big Web acquisitions. Google's deal with DoubleClick was closely reviewed by U.S. regulators before they approved in December (the European Commission is still considering the deal). Though twice the size, Microsoft's AQuantive deal sailed through.
Google is preparing to argue in Washington that regulators should consider Microsoft's prior offenses if Yahoo agrees to a deal.

"We are dealing with a unique competitor here," said a person familiar with Google's thinking. "Nobody else has the operating system monopoly. Nobody else has the browser monopoly. Nobody else has been found by the regulators and the courts to have abused those monopolies."

But times have changed, said Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University. Google's dominance in online advertising might help Microsoft executives if they have to defend the Yahoo deal to antitrust regulators.

"They get to make all the arguments that have been made against them for so long," he said.


Yahoo! continues to lead Japanese online search market

Yahoo! continued to lead the search market in Japan in December, new research suggests.

According to figures produced by comScore, the US-based search engine experienced 42.1 million visitors during the month.

Meanwhile, rival Google came in second position, securing visits from 32.3 million Japanese internet users, while Microsoft - in third place - saw 29.1 million people access its sites.

Analysis of Japanese web rankings in October revealed a similar pattern, with Yahoo! sites attracting 41.3 million visitors, while Google and Microsoft had 31.7 million and 29.4 million respectively.

Commenting on the success of Yahoo! in the country, managing director of comScore Japan Maru Sato stated: "Yahoo! maintains its hold on the Japanese internet market. [Its] sites reach nearly 77 per cent of the total internet audience in Japan."

Also performing well over the festive season, Rakuten was the fourth most popular internet property, with just over 29 million visitors.

Founded in February 1997, the company operates one of the biggest online shopping services in Japan.

Additionally, it was revealed that, as a result of the December celebrations, visits to e-card sites rose by 171 per cent, making it the top-gaining category over the month. Such sites attracted 5.5 million visitors over the 31-day period.

Also, retail sites experienced strong growth, including the jewellery, luxury goods and accessories category, which jumped 25 per cent and was accessed by 2.1 million internet users.

Microhoo At One Week 1: Decision Nears? Yahoo Brand To Survive?
Has it only been a week since Microsoft thought it was a nice day for a Yahoo wedding? Indeed, so. And what's happened since? Rumors that Yahoo is nearing a decision, while Microsoft's Steve Ballmer seems to want to encourage his potential new employees that a Yahoo brand will survive. Let's do the news.

from TechCrunch suggest today is the day that Yahoo will make a decision:

Sources have indicated to us that Yahoo has scheduled a special board of directors meeting on Friday to determine, effectively, the fate of the company.

There's been much speculation over the last week if anyone could save Yahoo from Microsoft. Could Google jump in to buy Yahoo? Probably not because of competition laws, but it does seem like a partnership with the company might be the only real alternative. Below, stories over the past week on the idea of Google as Yahoo's savior, plus Google's concerns that Microsoft might win Yahoo's hand:

How about others? Today's big news in that department seems to be that Softbank -- which owns a big chunk of Yahoo Japan -- which is a money making powerhouse -- doesn't plan to sell its stake to Microsoft but rather is playing wait-and-see.
One biggest challenge to the deal may be if Microsoft's shares drop. Since the deal is tied to the share price, Microsoft Bid for Yahoo Drops To $29.50 a Share from Silicon Alley Insider noted that the initial value of the deal has already gone down. That could put shareholders on both sides off.

Another challenge is that Yahoo employees are a proud lot with execs that TechCrunch says will do anything to thwart a deal. I can certainly agree with that. So it's interesting to hear this in Will Yahoo! Feel the Love? from BusinessWeek:

Ballmer says: "Yahoo, the brand, will live."

In reality, Ballmer can't say that at all. Microsoft was at pains to tell us that no specific decisions have been made -- that they cannot be made until executives from both companies meet (if the deal goes ahead) and mutually decide what makes sense. Yahoo the brand might very well NOT live. Or it might live but certainly not be a flagship brand -- though if Microsoft were wise, they'd certainly keep it a strong one.

Microsoft offer:Yahoo board to discuss about

Silicon Valley,(24hoursnews) February 9: Yahoo's board of directors were to meet to discuss Microsoft's USD 44.6 billion buyout offer, a media report said.
The world's second-most popular search engine seems to be open to the Microsoft acquisition as company board members are scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss options, according to technology website NewsOXY.

Yahoo did not confirm the meeting, citing policy.

Outside advisers have urged Yahoo to accept the Microsoft deal, but some senior executives want to keep options open for a possible alternative tie-up with Web search leader Google.

However, analysts believe that Yahoo's board will say yes to the offer, but not without trying to get a higher price.

Yahoo is exploring a "wide range" of options in weighing the Microsoft bid, Chief Executive Officer Jerry Yang said in an e-mail to staff this week.

Microsoft is pursuing Yahoo to take on Google Inc, the world's most popular Internet search engine.

Google has criticised the proposed Microsoft offer, labeling it as anti-competitive and has reportedly engaged in talks with Yahoo on a possible alliance.

Modu Launches Modular Mobile Phone

Modu is a new modular phone that can be dressed in different 'jackets' and connected to other consumer electronics devices for a richer experience.
Mobile users can use different Modu jackets, or phone enclosures, and Modu mates, which are Modu-enabled consumer electronics devices.
Startup Modu thinks it has what it takes to revolutionize the mobile industry with a new modular phone that can be dressed in different "jackets" and connected to other consumer electronics devices for a richer experience.
The concept behind the phone, also called Modu, is to give users the freedom to create a new phone as often as they like based on personal preferences and style. Think of it as a Swiss army knife device that can take on different forms and functions. Mobile users get to choose from different Modu jackets, or phone enclosures, and Modu mates, which are Modu-enabled consumer electronics devices, to dress up their slimmed down standalone phones.

These Modu mates include media players, digital photo frames, cameras, and digitally enhanced cordless telephones. Modu said it has created an ecosystem of partners that will develop Modu mates. One of these partners is Blaupunkt, a car multimedia and navigation provider.

The customized Modu jackets will be designed by lifestyle, entertainment, and fashion companies, including Universal Music Group, which on Thursday disclosed plans to develop a range of Modu jackets featuring UMG's most popular artists.

"There are hundreds of handset models on the market; the trouble is that as a consumer you can only have one at a time and you're usually tied to a long and expensive contract. Modu is challenging that with a solution that offers freedom, boundless possibilities, and the opportunity to change your phone without it costing a fortune," said Dov Moran, Modu's founder and CEO, in a statement.

Several mobile network operators around the world have signed agreements to introduce Modu products in the fourth quarter of this year, according to Modu. They include Telecom Italia's mobile division TIM, Russia's VimpelCom (which operates under the BeeLine brand), and Israel's Cellcom.

Other large companies backing Modu in its efforts are SanDisk and Texas Instruments.

Modu will be on display at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona next week.

Google Introduces New Edition of Its Hosted Applications Suite

Google is releasing a new edition of its hosted applications suite that end-users can bring into the workplace without the involvement of their IT department.

It means that IT managers who fret about employees using unauthorized software at work will have another tool to worry about, especially in industries where information management is heavily regulated, like health care and finance.

The new release, called Google Apps Team Edition, is due to be available Thursday for free. It is aimed at employees who are interested in using Google Apps but whose employers haven't signed up for it, said Rajen Sheth, Google Apps senior product manager.

Team Edition contains the core communication and collaboration services and applications from other editions, like the word processor, spreadsheet, Start page, Talk instant messaging and calendar, but not Gmail, which requires IT participation to re-route the company's e-mail flow.

So far, more than 500,000 mostly small organizations have signed up for Google Apps, but the other versions Standard, Education, Partner and Premier require IT to implement the suite because its services are linked to an organization's Internet domain.

That changes with the Team Edition, which will let employees set up Google Apps workgroups as long as they have valid e-mail addresses with their organizations' domains, Sheth said.

"Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement," Sheth said.

Once signed up with Team Edition, people can see who else in their organization's Internet domain is also a user, and invite those who aren't, Sheth said.

"It provides a quick way for workgroups to start collaborating," he said.

IT departments shouldn't get angry about Team Edition, according to Sheth, because, unlike other software that employees use without IT approval, it provides an upgrade path to IT-manageable versions.

"The IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this," Sheth said. "This is a solid, happy medium."

Team Edition can also be upgraded to the other editions, like Education, which is free, and Premier, which costs US$50 per user per year. Although Gmail isn't part of Team Edition, Google is exploring ways to make it a part, Sheth said.

By its very nature as a Web-hosted software suite, an unmanaged Google Apps deployment can represent a concern for IT departments, since the applications and the data generated are stored outside organizations' firewalls in Google data centers.

However, Team Edition will be far from alone among the hosted software that employees use in their organizations without getting approval from the IT department, said Erica Driver, a Forrester Research analyst.

The IT department reactions to Team Edition will depend on the organization's culture, which range from those in "lockdown mode" to those more tolerant and aware that Web 2.0 technologies are seeping in from the consumer world to the workplace, Driver said.

Team Edition, with its bottom-up, end-user-driven focus, fits in with Google's traditional strategy of appealing to individuals, grown out of its consumer services, and will likely boost the adoption of Google Apps in companies, government agencies, educational institutions and other organizations that don't currently use the suite, said Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst.

"The Google model is to prime the well at the end-user level and assist IT somewhere along the way, but the demand generation for the suite will definitely be at the rank-and-file level, not at the IT level," Cain said.

Google needs to make sure it strikes a balance between rallying end-users and giving IT managers a way to enter the picture and exert control, he said. "Google will encourage end-user adoption but it can't disintermediate the IT staff, which will have to ultimately clean up any mess that's created," Cain said.
Google claims that the purpose of Team Edition is to allow users to "share documents and calendars securely without burdening IT for support," are more likely to be greeted by raised eyebrows from the IT department. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, the unapproved presence and use of Google Apps Team Edition could, in fact, increase the burden on IT support staff. Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there's no guarantee corporations will be as flexible.

Biofuels raising Greenhouse Threat

Biofuel (also called agrofuel) can be broadly defined as solid, liquid, or gas fuel consisting of, or derived from biomass. This article, however, is principally about biofuel used as transportation fuel. Most transportation vehicles require high power density provided by internal combustion engines. These engines require clean burning fuels, which are generally in liquid form, and to a lesser extent, compressed gaseous phase. Liquids are more portable because they have high energy density, and they can be pumped, which makes handling easier. This is why most transportation fuels are liquids.

Non-transportation applications can usually tolerate the low power-density of external combustion engines, that can run directly on less-expensive solid biomass fuel, for combined heat and power. One type of biomass is wood, which has been used for millennia in varying quantities, and more recently is finding increased use. Two billion people currently cook every day, and heat their homes in the winter by burning biomass, which is a minor contributor to man-made climate change global warming. The black soot that is being carried from Asia to polar ice caps is causing them to melt faster in the summer. In the 19th century, wood-fired steam engines were common, contributing significantly to industrial revolution unhealthy air pollution. Coal is a form of biomass that has been compressed over millennia to produce a non-renewable, highly-polluting fossil fuel.

Wood and its byproducts can now be converted into biofuels such as woodgas, methanol or ethanol fuel.

Biofuel is considered by some as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing energy security by providing an alternative to fossil fuels.[1] However, In October 2007, Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen published findings that the release of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) from rapeseed oil, and corn (maize), contribute more to global warming than the fossil fuels they displace. However, the Crutzen paper goes on to say that crops with less nitrogen demand, such as grasses and woody coppicing will have positive but lower climate impacts.[2]. In February 2008 [3] two articles were published in Science concluding that clearing land for biofuel production produce twice as much greenhouse gas than the U.N. IPPCC had previously estimated.

Biofuels are used globally. Biofuel industries are expanding in Europe, Asia and the Americas. The most common use for biofuels is automotive transport (for example E10 fuel). Biofuel can be theoretically produced from any (biological) carbon source. The most common by far is photosynthetic plants that capture solar energy. Many different plants and plant-derived materials are used for biofuel manufacture.

The greatest technical challenge is to develop ways to convert biomass energy specifically to liquid fuels. To achieve this, the two most common strategies are:

To grow sugar crops (sugar cane, and sugar beet), or starch (corn/maize), and then use yeast fermentation to produce ethanol (ethyl alcohol).
To grow plants that (naturally) produce oils, such as algae, or jatropha. When these oils are heated, their viscosity is reduced, and they can be burned directly in a diesel engine. The oils can also be chemically processed to produce biodiesel.

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.

“When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses substantially,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton University. “Previously there’s been an accounting error: land use change has been left out of prior analysis.”

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels causes its own emissions — for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the Nature Conservancy. “So for the next 93 years you’re making climate change worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions.”

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert disastrous environment consequences.

In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States’s most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, urging a reform of biofuels policies. “We write to call your attention to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will actually exacerbate global warming,” the letter said.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger’s study shows, the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels, while new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

Increasingly, that elsewhere, Dr. Fargione said, is Brazil, on land that was previously forest or savanna. “Brazilian farmers are planting more of the world’s soybeans — and they’re deforesting the Amazon to do it,” he said.

International environmental groups, including the United Nations, responded cautiously to the studies, saying that biofuels could still be useful. “We don’t want a total public backlash that would prevent us from getting the potential benefits,” said Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, who said the United Nations had recently created a new panel to study the evidence,
“There was an unfortunate effort to dress up biofuels as the silver bullet of climate change,” he said. “We fully believe that if biofuels are to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, there urgently needs to be better sustainability criterion.”

The European Union has set a target that countries use 5.75 percent biofuel for transport by the end of 2008. Proposals in the United States energy package would require that 15 percent of all transport fuels be made from biofuel by 2022. To reach these goals, biofuels production is heavily subsidized at many levels on both continents, supporting a burgeoning global industry.

Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural giant, announced Thursday that its annual profits had risen 75 percent in the last year, in part because of rising demand for biofuels.

Industry groups, like the Renewable Fuels Association, immediately attacked the new studies as “simplistic,” failing “to put the issue into context.”

“While it is important to analyze the climate change consequences of differing energy strategies, we must all remember where we are today, how world demand for liquid fuels is growing, and what the realistic alternatives are to meet those growing demands,” said Bob Dineen, the group’s director, in a statement following the Science reports’ release.

“Biofuels like ethanol are the only tool readily available that can begin to address the challenges of energy security and environmental protection,” he said.

The European Biodiesel Board says that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gasses by 50 to 95 percent compared to conventional fuel, and has other advantages as well, like providing new income for farmers and energy security for Europe in the face of rising global oil prices and shrinking supply.

But the papers published Thursday suggested that, if land use is taken into account, biofuels may not provide all the benefits once anticipated.

Dr. Searchinger said the only possible exception he could see for now was sugar cane grown in Brazil, which take relatively little energy to grow and is readily refined into fuel. He added that governments should quickly turn their attention to developing biofuels that did not require cropping, such as those from agricultural waste products.

“This land use problem is not just a secondary effect — it was often just a footnote in prior papers,”. “It is major. The comparison with fossil fuels is going to be adverse for virtually all biofuels on cropland.”

Is it like Polaroid film? Better start hoarding

Polaroid, famed for photographic prints that develop within moments, is getting out of the film business.

The company is shutting down two plants in Massachusetts used to make film for professionals and artists this quarter, The Boston Globe reported Friday. A similar plant in Mexico and one in the Netherlands for making consumer film packages will close by the end the year, and the company already has stopped making instant-film cameras, Polaroid said.

The Massachusetts-based company is interested in licensing its film technology to others, but if it doesn't happen, its film will likely run out in 2009. Meanwhile, Polaroid is making a go of selling flat-panel TVs and digital photography.

When Polaroid users pulled a picture out of their cameras, an image would slowly appear before their eyes. Now, like the process in reverse, the image of the Polaroid instant camera -- dimming for years -- has finally gone black.

Polaroid, based in Waltham, Mass., is shutting down factories in the United States and abroad as the company abandons the technology that made the instant photo possible, the Boston Globe reported yesterday. The company will cease production of its film by next year.

The artsy, instantly gratifying Polaroid images, reeking of processing chemicals, have finally been done in by endless Flickr Web pages full of digital images, flawlessly produced by cameras that do not require film, emulsion or anything bigger than a shirt pocket to carry them around.

Polaroid introduced its instant camera in 1948, perfect timing to catch the mad tricycle rides of the first baby boomers, zipping around the new American suburbia. With its finely machined stainless steel body and black bellows, the Polaroid Land Camera looked anything but modern. Its instant film came in roll.

Polaroid moved to cartridge film in 1963 with its 100-series camera, which became a staple of professional photographers. They used the rugged Polaroid to take test photos, instantly checking lighting and composition before committing an image to negative.

But the company's boom and the Polaroid's place in the culture came with the SX-70, introduced in 1972. This groovy camera, with its aluminum and faux-leather body, was perfect for a hedonistic decade that couldn't take enough pictures of itself. They were good times for Polaroid; the company's employment peaked in 1978. A generation later, the Polaroid became a hipster must-have.

Now, it becomes little more than an image in history's digital scrapbook.

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