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January 1, 2007
Volume 85, Number 01
p. 48

Green Car

Green: GM car would make oxygen with algae.

Cars are recognized as one of the major reasons for environmental problems around the world, and designing LESS-POLLUTING AUTOMOBILES is a major challenge. On that note, at the recent Los Angeles auto show, General Motors won the Design Challenge for a most innovative and environmentally correct concept called the Hummer O2.

The most interesting technical feature of this futuristic vehicle would be a "phototropic body" shell with algae-filled panels, shown raised at right, that could convert carbon dioxide in the air to oxygen via photosynthesis and would then release the oxygen outside. A sophisticated two-way valve system in the corner of each panel would somehow control and monitor the amount of carbon dioxide and the other nutritional sources needed for the algae cultivation.

The car's designers noted that most cars in Los Angeles sit outside in the sun 95% of the time anyway, so why shouldn't they give a little O2 back? GM noted too that the algae in the panels could be recycled as biomass for the production of additional energy.

The whole vehicle would actually be recyclable. The GM design team specified the use of 100% postconsumer materials, including an aluminum frame, seats finished with material free from volatile organic compound emissions, and windows made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate. The vehicle would operate with four modular and self-contained hydrogen-fuel-cell motors, one in each wheel. It would also have a life expectancy of five years.

Although the car is just a theoretical project and there is no actual vehicle built like this, it does give one pause to think about driving around in a car that is filled with floating green stuff.

D'Vinci Forgiato
Wheels: Polycarbonate adds extra clarity.

See-Through Wheels

If your automobile tastes run more to the high-performance and exhibition end of the scale, we have something else for you. On exhibit at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas last year were TRANSPARENT PLASTIC WHEELS.

These D'Vinci Forgiato Radurra wheels are made from 1.5- to 2-inch-thick, clear polycarbonate with a chemical coating that gives it a hard, glasslike finish on both sides. The outside of the wheel and the hub center are forged aluminum. The company says the 20-inch wheel weighs 27 lb and the larger, 22-inch wheel weighs 38 lb. They supposedly have been tested by the Society of Automotive Engineers and have been certified on impact, cornering, and radial tests.

The see-through wheels will let you show off the high-performance brakes and fancy suspension on your high-end car or motorcycle, the company advertises. The company offers a range of color and finish options, and it is all available for a suggested retail price of $5,000 per wheel.

Congressional Chemist

Finally, we received a note from reader William A. Myers of the chemical engineering department at the University of Arkansas gently chiding us for omitting another member of Congress with a CHEMISTRY DEGREE in a Dec. 4 Newscripts item on the election of chemist Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.). Myers points out that Rep. Robert E. Filner (D-Calif.) obtained a B.A. in chemistry at Cornell University before getting a Ph.D. in the history of technology, also from Cornell.

One would think keeping track of chemists in Congress would be easy-there are so few of them. But the fact is most chemist members do not make much of these credentials. In Filner's case, for example, his online biography says he has a science degree, but no mention is made of chemistry. Still, we are pleased there is at least one more person in Washington who knows the difference between an organic compound and an organic tomato.

This week's column was written by David Hanson. Please send comments and suggestions to