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May 21, 2007
Volume 85, Number 21
p. 48

Sake Power

The national beverage of Japan may not be just for drinking anymore. Reuters reports that drivers in that country could soon be filling their cars' tanks with a fuel version of the fermented rice wine known as SAKE. A government-funded pilot project will produce rice-based ethanol for automobile, rather than human, consumption. The project will be undertaken in Shinanomachi, a town about 125 miles northwest of Tokyo, with the help of local farmers, who will donate rice hulls and other farm waste, which will be converted to ethanol.

Japan is the world's second-largest consumer of gasoline behind the U.S., and it is completely dependent on crude oil imports. The country has been hit hard by the recent rise in crude prices and is looking into locally produced biofuels to decrease those costs and meet stringent carbon emissions reductions imposed by the Kyoto protocol.

Producing rice-based ethanol that has a price tag comparable with that of gasoline in Japan could be a problem, however. It takes a whopping 17 lb of rice to produce 1 gal of ethanol. Crunching the numbers on this one might make you want to reach for that bottle of sake.

Speak 'N Print

Most of us are not graphic designers. But most of us, from time to time, have had to put together a presentation or report, where knowledge of design elements can come in handy. Lucky for us, scientists at Xerox have invented a new PRINTER TECHNOLOGY to address our lack of design know-how.

Ever print a document and wish the yellow background could be a bit more canary? Or the ocean in your family vacation photo a deeper blue? With this technology, you could just tell your printer. By typing or even speaking a color description, the printer would make the necessary adjustments.

According to Geoffrey Woolfe, principal scientist in the Xerox Innovation Group, "The innovative part of this is the mapping language." On the basis of a 3-D map in which specified regions correspond to the colors a printer can print, Woolfe and his team developed a list of the common words people use to describe different shades of color and then associated these terms with corresponding coordinates in the volumetric color map. A keyboard interface now is the way to make color requests, but voice recognition should make it possible to direct the printer with voice commands.

Although this technology would be useful for the design-impaired among us, Xerox says it would also be a great timesaver for graphic artists, photographers, and anyone who spends a great deal of time manipulating color. Xerox has filed patent applications for the technology, which is still in the developmental stage.

Floating Science

Here's some news that fans of the 1996 Pauly Shore film "Bio-Dome" may appreciate. Anyone? Oh. Well then, here's some interesting news nonetheless. On May 4, the SCIENCE BARGE, a so-called sustainable urban farm, was launched in the Hudson River in New York. The barge was developed by New York Sun Works, a nonprofit organization that promotes ecological sustainability through engineering research, demonstration, and education programs.

"The Science Barge demonstrates how to produce power, manage water, and grow fresh vegetables with no net carbon emissions or other pollutants in an urban environment," says Ted Caplow, executive director of New York Sun Works and designer of the Science Barge.

The barge is powered by solar panels, wind turbines, and a biofuel generator. It includes a greenhouse that produces vegetables by a method known as recirculating hydroponics. For the next six weeks, while the barge is moored at Hudson River Park, school groups and the public can board the vessel for educational programs.

This week's column was written by Kimberly R. Dunham. Please send comments and suggestions to