Chair and CEO
Calpine Corporation, San Jose, Calif.
Committed his company to energy sources that reduce carbon emissions.
In May, Peter Cartwright announced that his company, the electric utility Calpine, would invest only in plants that emit no more carbon per unit of generated electricity than is characteristic of plants fired with natural gas, the low-carbon fossil fuel par excellence. Calpine's policy requires it to reduce future plants' carbon dioxide emissions to 850 pounds per megawatt-hour, down from its already record-low level of about 900 pounds. The average fossil-fuel plant in the U.S. emits about 1,900 pounds.
The company's commitment sets a precedent not only for other utilities but also for policymakers. The Bush administration has favored the development of coal-fired plants, which produce much more carbon per watt than other energy sources.
Cartwright, 74, was trained as an engineer and worked in the energy industry for some 30 years before founding Calpine in 1984 with $1 million in seed money. Since then, he has built it into a leading energy firm, with 3,000 employees and 22,000 megawatts of generating capacity. In the process, it has earned one of the best environmental records in the business, in part through a reliance on natural gas and geothermal steam, in which it has a bigger stake than any other company. In recent years, it has carried out a $187-million project to use treated wastewater to recharge the gradually diminishing reservoirs of geysers feeding its plant near San Francisco, making it apparently the largest geothermal generating plant in the world.
Calpine wrings every last erg of energy from gas by combining several cycles of generation. Gas burns in a turbine that drives a generator; exhaust gases then heat water into steam, which drives a second turbine and generator; remaining heat is then vented in cooling towers. The company has even investigated salvaging something from that waste heat, by using the carbon-rich exhaust to warm and fertilize greenhouses. Cartwright recommends that the U.S. replace many coal-fired plants and all single-cycle gas-fired plants with the combined-cycle system.
Identified the best mates for cattle breeding by using genomic information.
Genetic engineering of animals still elicits shrill reactions from many consumers. But MetaMorphix has sought to bypass this controversy by using genetics to identify the ordinary cattle that produce the best meat. Breeding then proceeds the traditional way. Having acquired the livestock genotyping business from Celera, a company that sequenced the human genome, MetaMorphix created a test that examines DNA to identify differences between animals. Since 2002 Cargill, the partner of MetaMorphix, has tested 4,000 cattle to determine which genetic markers are associated with traits such as the marbling and tenderness of meat and the animals' growth rate. A prototype for a commercial test kit is being prepared, and the first meat produced using this genetic analysis is expected to arrive at grocery stores by next summer. Monsanto recently struck a similar arrangement with MetaMorphix to improve the quality of pork.
Nissan North America
Deployed a driver-alert sensor system to keep vehicles safely inside traffic lanes.
Nissan's luxury division, Infiniti, has adopted for some of its models an innovative electronic system that warns a driver when a car veers out of a lane. Studies indicate that 55 percent of fatal accidents in the U.S. involve unintentional straying from lane to lane, which is typically caused by driver distraction, inattention or drowsiness. Developed by engineers at Valeo, a component supplier based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Iteris, an Anaheim, Calif., maker of auto sensors, the new traffic-lane monitoring device alerts a driver when a vehicle wanders outside lane boundaries, a condition that is detected when he or she fails to engage the direction indicators. The motorist can then take corrective action in a timely fashion. The driver's aid uses a miniature video camera backed by software that recognizes lane markings. It will be offered this fall in North America on Infiniti's 2005 FX crossover sport utility vehicle.
Developed a retinal implant microchip to treat macular degeneration.
Thirty million people worldwide are afflicted with age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, two potentially debilitating eye diseases for which there is no cure. By crippling the retina's ability to sense and process light, the conditions can make a patient's world go from blurry to black. Clinical trial results published this past April confirmed that a microchip developed by Optobionics that is implanted under the retina resulted in significant visual improvement with virtually no adverse side effects. Designed by brothers Vincent and Alan Chow, the chip emits electrochemical impulses to stimulate the remaining healthy retinal cells. It derives its power from light entering the eye and reaching 5,000 microphotodiodes, which allows the chip to function free of wires or batteries. It is thinner than a human hair and can be implanted during a two-hour operation.
CHEMICALS AND MATERIALS
Research fellow, Xerox Research Center of Canada, Mississauga, Ontario
Created materials for electronics that can be printed like a newspaper.
Plastic electronics should not only be superinexpensive but far more flexible than silicon versions, which would make them great for applications like roll-up computer displays. Ideally, circuitry could be printed onto plastics much as ink is printed on a page. Most ingredients for such devices that are printable as inks degrade rapidly in the presence of oxygen. At an April technical meeting, Beng Ong and his colleagues unveiled air-stable, printable substances that can be semiconductors, conductors and insulators--the three elements needed to print transistors. The semiconductor and insulator are organic polymers, whereas the conductor is an organic-inorganic hybrid. Xerox is working with Motorola to demonstrate circuit printing.
British Telecom Wholesale
Committed to transfer its voice network to an Internet Protocol-based system.
In addition to rapid data transfer, broadband Internet connections allow for fast, inexpensive telephone service. Transmitting calls over the Internet can decrease a business's maintenance, support and hardware costs by combining voice and data, but reliability concerns have deterred many consumers from making the switch. One way to harness the benefits of voice over Internet Protocol without compromising quality is to use a dedicated, high-capacity IP network instead of the Internet itself. In June, British Telecom pledged to switch its entire phone system to this type of specialized network, an unprecedented move that requires creating a new infrastructure and developing technology to supply special Internet-capable telephones. Implementation is set to begin in 2006, giving customers access to service options such as multimedia calling and better phone directories.
New York City
Released a cryptography system that exploits quantum mechanics.
The mathematical "keys" of data-encryption algorithms have long prevented hackers from decoding messages. But recent leaps in computer power and code breaking are making it possible to intercept keys as they are sent. In the 1980s theorists proposed that a stream of photons could create unbreakable keys. According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, if an eavesdropper attempted to observe the photons, that act would alter the key, making it impossible to steal. Furthermore, a receiver would know a breach was attempted. But it took computer scientists until last year to devise a practical system; it was then that MagiQ began selling its Navajo Secure Gateway, calling it the first commercial quantum-key distribution system. This past July, MagiQ unveiled an update, QPN 5505; id Quantique SA and NEC are also offering quantum encryption.
Rising Data Solutions
Set up Africa's first telemarketing call center.
In Africa, corruption and high tariffs plague the government-controlled telephone services. Calls are costly, busy signals and dropped lines are frequent, and patrons attempting to use voice over Internet technology are jailed for infringing on the monopoly. Until now, those obstacles had excluded Africa from the lucrative call-center business, but Rising Data Solutions met the challenge. Led by Karim Morsli and Sambou Makalou, the company set up a telemarketing center in Ghana in 2003. They chose Ghana for its political stability and educated workforce, and they persuaded the government to allow the operation. Employees of the Rising Data Solutions call center earn solid income by selling T-Mobile wireless service to Americans, an example that paves the way for new entrepreneurial opportunities in Africa.
MTI Micro Fuel Cells and Toshiba
Albany, N.Y., and Tokyo
Will introduce the first commercial micro fuel-cell power units.
By the end of this year, both MTI Micro Fuel Cells and Toshiba will bring to market micro fuel cells, a new class of miniaturized power supply for portable electronic devices. Unlike a traditional electrochemical battery that generates electricity from an internal chemical reaction, a fuel cell produces juice by decomposing a fuel--in this case, methanol, a kind of alcohol. Once the fuel is exhausted, it can be replenished by replacing a cartridge or refilling a reservoir, an operation that can take just seconds rather than the hours often needed to recharge a battery. Thus, users of mobile electronics will no longer be at the mercy of dead batteries. The micro fuel cell from MTI Micro will provide electricity for a handheld radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag reader for use in stores and warehouses. Toshiba plans to introduce a laptop computer powered by a micro fuel cell that will operate for about 10 hours before it needs refueling.
Commercialized an environmentally benign industrial compound.
Surfactants consist of compounds that reduce the surface tension of water. They are deployed in soaps, detergents, emulsifiers and lubricants, among other uses. Most existing surfactants are derived from petroleum and create a risk to the environment because in water or soil they degrade insufficiently. Jeneil Biosurfactant has licensed a surfactant patented by the University of Arizona based on a rhamnolipid, a natural glycolipid encountered in soil or on plants. Though causing mild irritation to the eyes, rhamnolipid biosurfactants have lower toxicity than surfactants from petroleum. The compounds can be used in agricultural fungicides, in contact-lens cleaning solutions and in consumer cleaning products. They can also help remove heavy metals from soil and clean up sludge. In May the Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of Jeneil's fungicide, called Zonix. The company also received a Green Chemistry award in May from the EPA.
Has peered through walls using advanced radar.
In comics, Superman uses his x-ray vision to catch evildoers in their hideouts. In June, Camero announced that it is developing a portable radar system to generate three-dimensional images in real time of objects concealed behind walls from a distance of up to 20 meters. The system is seen as having both rescue and military applications. It uses FCC-compliant ultrawideband radar, which emits extra-short radio-signal pulses across a broad range of frequencies to penetrate solid barriers, such as the debris from a collapsed building after an earthquake. The relatively high resolution images it produces are reportedly comparable to those from ultrasound. The company, whose founders include one-time IBM research senior manager Aharon Aharon and former Israeli intelligence officer Amir Beeri, is initially targeting its proprietary technology to fire, rescue, law enforcement and others.
Designed a better industrial platform for making protein drugs.
The sugar coatings that often decorate proteins are more than ornamental frosting--the particular sugars and their mode of attachment ensure that proteins fold properly and are stable. Building on research first conducted at Dartmouth College, GlycoFi is producing sugar-coated human proteins in yeast. This accomplishment could provide much higher yields than the current standard method of manufacturing proteins in Chinese hamster ovary cells, which takes up to three weeks to produce relatively small amounts. Yeast could do it in three days. Because yeast does not ordinarily have chemical pathways to put the right sugars on proteins, GlycoFi is engineering assembly lines of enzymes from a variety of species. Joint studies were announced with biotechnology leaders Biogen in November 2003 and Eli Lilly in April 2004. The payoff may be better yields, lower production costs and longer-lasting, more potent drugs.
Intelligent Medical Devices
Out of tragedy came a commitment to make devices that improve health care.
In her third year at Harvard Medical School, Alice Jacobs lost her first patient to a hospital-acquired infection. In the face of what she believed was an unnecessary death, Jacobs co-founded Intelligent Medical Devices months afterward to replace hospital technologies that she felt were slow and often inadequate. One machine in development images the blood vessels under the tongue to noninvasively gauge hemoglobin levels within seconds, thereby serving as a possible indicator of acute blood loss. Another device scans for respiratory distress by analyzing patient saliva, phlegm or blood and by testing for sources of illness so that the best treatment can be recommended in a matter of hours. The respiratory tester, which can perform many exams more quickly and cheaply than all the individual tests combined, was awarded a small business grant in July 2003 to help begin commercialization.
Entered a clinical trial for a potentially better treatment against hepatitis C.
Antiviral treatments exist for hepatitis C, a disease that affects 185 million people worldwide. They are not as effective as they could be, however, because they do not target specific proteins used by the virus to do its dirty work. Several companies have now devised a more effective weapon against hepatitis C, protease inhibitors. The company that appears to have taken a drug candidate the furthest is Vertex Pharmaceuticals. It entered a clinical trial in June with an oral drug that blocks a protease, a protein essential for the virus to reproduce. In a laboratory test, the compound reduced the amount of the virus's RNA by 10,000-fold. Current broad-spectrum antivirals get a response only from 40 to 50 percent of the patients for the most difficult strain of the virus to treat. Hepatitis C induces inflammation of the liver, which can lead to liver failure and other ailments.
Institute for OneWorld Health
First nonprofit U.S. drug firm is developing affordable new medicines for the developing world.
Starting in mid-2003 and through this year, the Institute for OneWorld Health carried out clinical trials in India to treat visceral leishmaniasis with the antibiotic paromomycin. Visceral leishmaniasis, a deadly illness transmitted by the bite of an infected sand fly, kills 200,000 people every year. An estimated 1.5 million people have the infection, and some 500,000 new cases arise annually, primarily in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sudan and Brazil. On another of its many fronts, the company received a $1.4-million grant in July from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support development of vaccines for the prevention of the scourge of malaria.
Began production of nonvolatile memory chips that use carbon nanotubes.
The start-up Nantero has joined forces with LSI Logic Corporation to produce memory chips based on a design invented by Nantero's chief scientific officer, Thomas Rueckes. The chips, dubbed NRAMs for nanotube-nonvolatile random-access memories, retain their data when the power is turned off, like SRAMs and flash memories. The NRAM chips contain groups of carbon nanotubes suspended like bridges 13 nanometers above an electrode. To store a "1" bit, the tubes and the electrode are charged oppositely, causing the nanotubes to bend down and form a junction with the electrode. Van der Waals forces keep the junction in place until like charges are applied to tube and electrode, forcing them apart to the "0" configuration. The devices could be used in "instant-on" computers, as well as cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players and so on. The NRAMs are touted as cheaper and more compact than SRAMs and faster and less power hungry than flash memories.