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Made in America: The world's fastest electric car

Some of you who've been with us from the beginning might recall Mangesh's post a couple years back about Tesla's high-end electric sports car, made in Silicon Valley. In the post, Mango wrote mental_floss' favorite inventor Nikola Tesla, who famously dreamed up AC current amongst a million other things, and inspired the names for the rock bands Tesla and AC/DC (or at least the first-half of the name AC/DC), now has a ridiculously cool electric car named for him"¦[Tesla] even plans on releasing a family sedan by 2008.

And while the sedan is still a couple years off, the Roadster, which Mangesh referred to, is not only selling pretty well (for a vehicle with a base sticker price that's more than $100K), but showrooms are slowly starting to open outside Silicon Valley. One opened in L.A. not too long ago and I had the privilege of interviewing the guy who runs it, Jeremy Snyder. So if you're into really fast cars, really expensive cars, or just environmentally friendly cars, read on for the lowdown on Tesla, right from the manager's mouth.

DI: So where exactly is Tesla based?

JS: San Carlos, California, though the cars are assembled in Menlo Park.

DI: The parts are made here too?

JS: The final assembly is here in California. We're an American car company. While the parts are from all over the world, the battery pack, which is a big part of the car, is made here in California.

DI: And how many different models are there at the moment?

JS: Just the Roadster right now, which is our flagship model. But we've got a four-door, five-passenger sedan coming out called Model S, which will be available in a couple years.

DI: So let's talk about the Roadster. What's all the hubbub?

JS: It's a very important car because it's 100% electric. We wanted to enter the market place and shatter any preconceived notions. Efficiency and performance need not be mutually exclusive. The car was designed with three principles in mind: Great design, ultra-high performance, while being the most efficient car in the world. It does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, has a range of 244 miles per charge, charges in 3-4 hours, and costs about two cents per mile to operate.

DI: Fantastic. And all that will cost us how much?

JS: $109,000 base price, fully loaded is about $125K.

DI: What kind of extras are we talking about?

JS: Premium leather interior, carbon-fiber hard top, and a high-powered connector, which is installed in your home, which allows you to charge in 3-4 hours.

DI: How would people charge it otherwise?

JS: There's an extension cord that you can plug into any standard 110 outlet.

DI: How long does it take to charge with the cord?

JS: At half-charge, it will take overnight to recharge. If you're totally empty, it could take a lot longer than that.

DI: So how many of these babies have you sold to date?

JS: More than 1,300.

DI: Let's talk about the motor. Is it as silent as my little hybrid when I cruise to a stop?

JS: Well the electric motor is a helluva lot bigger than in a Prius, so you hear a very pleasant turbine-type sound when you're accelerating hard. But when you're accelerating at a slow pace, it's completely silent.

DI: Who's the engineer behind it?

JS: J.B. Strobel. He's our chief technology officer. He invented the battery pack, which is liquid-cooled, which allows the car to exist as it does. The power-electronics, the battery technology and the motor work in harmony, and that's what gives the car it's high-performance and range.

DI: What do you drive?

JS: A Tesla.

DI: Really? To and from work?

JS: Yeah. Either my Tesla or my bicycle.

DI: Do you get a lot of people stopping you in supermarket parking lots with questions?

JS: Of course. Yeah.

DI: You must be sick of that by now.

JS: Not at all. It's a very special car, and a very important one.
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DI: Let's talk about maintenance. What are we talking?

JS: Well, there are no oil changes because there's no oil in the car. So it's essentially firmware updates, suspension, brakes, tires, the cooling system that cools the batteries, which is very important and that's about it. All in all it's about a six-hour service. We're opening service centers in New York City, Miami, Chicago, D.C., and Seattle over the next 12 months. It's only a once-a-year maintenance program, but this way they won't have to ship the car back to us here.

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science
Scientists Accidentally Make Plastic-Eating Bacteria Even More Efficient
iStock
iStock

In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered a type of bacteria that eats non-biodegradable plastic. The organism, named Ideonella sakaiensis, can break down a thumbnail-sized flake of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the type of plastic used for beverage bottles, in just six weeks. Now, The Guardian reports that an international team of scientists has engineered a mutant version of the plastic-munching bacteria that's 20 percent more efficient.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Portsmouth in the UK didn't originally set out to produce a super-powered version of the bacteria. Rather, they just wanted a better understanding of how it evolved. PET started appearing in landfills only within the last 80 years, which means that I. sakaiensis must have evolved very recently.

The microbe uses an enzyme called PETase to break down the plastic it consumes. The structure of the enzyme is similar to the one used by some bacteria to digest cutin, a natural protective coating that grows on plants. As the scientists write in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they hoped to get a clearer picture of how the new mechanism evolved by tweaking the enzyme in the lab.

What they got instead was a mutant enzyme that degrades plastic even faster than the naturally occurring one. The improvement isn't especially dramatic—the enzyme still takes a few days to start the digestion process—but it shows that I. sakaiensis holds even more potential than previously expected.

"What we've learned is that PETase is not yet fully optimized to degrade PET—and now that we've shown this, it's time to apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it," study coauthor Gregg Beckham said in a press statement.

The planet's plastic problem is only growing worse. According to a study published in 2017, humans have produced a total of 9 billion tons of plastic in less than a century. Of that number, only 9 percent of it is recycled, 12 percent is incinerated, and 79 percent is sent to landfills. By 2050, scientists predict that we'll have created 13 billion tons of plastic waste.

When left alone, PET takes centuries to break down, but the plastic-eating microbes could be the key to ridding it from the environment in a quick and safe way. The researchers believe that PETase could be turned into super-fast enzymes that thrives in extreme temperatures where plastic softens and become easier to break down. They've already filed a patent for the first mutant version of the enzyme.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Design
Coin-Operated Lamp Drives Home the Cost of Energy Consumption
Moak Studio
Moak Studio

You consume energy every time you switch on a light, and that ends up costing you, your power company, and the planet. This cost is easy to ignore when just a few minutes of light adds only cents to your electric bill, but over time, all that usage adds up. A new conceptual product spotted by Co.Design visualizes our energy consumption in a creative way.

Moak Studio presented their coin-operated Dina lamp at the Promote Design DIN Exhibition for Milan Design Week. To turn it on, users must first insert a medium-sized coin into a slot on the shade, whether it's a nickel, a quarter, or a euro. The coin fills in a gap in the lamp's circuitry, providing the conductive metal needed to light it. After switching the lamp off, users can flip a knob on the base to retrieve their coin.

The Dina lamp isn't meant to solve our global energy problems singlehandedly; rather, it's designed to get people to pause and think about the impact of their daily choices before they make them. But other strategies, like paying people to conserve energy rather than making them pay to use it, may be more effective when it comes to spurring real change.

Dina Lamp from MOAK Studio on Vimeo.

[h/t Co.Design]

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