The new year is upon us, and at Inhabitat we're looking forward to a year filled with green design innovations. Christmas is already in the rearview mirror, but you might not want to kick the tree out to the curb just yet; new research finds that Douglas firs could actually be used to sterilize medical devices. And in another bizarre but totally awesome story, we checked in on a couple of enterprising DIYers who turned their Christmas tree into a rocket and launched it skyward. 2013 took off on the right foot as Congress came together to pass a fiscal cliff deal at the 11th hour which included a one-year extension of the wind energy tax credit. In New England, the town of Concord, Mass., rang in the new year by becoming the first US city to ban single-use plastic water bottles. And looking back at the past year, according to the current data, wind power capacity in the US might surpass that of both coal and natural gas in 2012.
In one of the biggest green transportation stories of the new year, rental car company Avis acquired car-sharing service Zipcar for $500 million. And in another intriguing bit of car-sharing news, the folding Hiriko EV is set to join Berlin's car-sharing network. Also in Germany, transportation officials are testing a locomotive regenerative-braking system that could one day turn all trains into hybrids. And finally, we took a look at Vincent Chan's Citi.Transmitter, which is a futuristic modular vehicle system concept.
In renewable energy news, Warren Buffet purchased the world's largest solar plant in California for just over $2 billion. In the desert of Southern California, state and federal officials are looking into developing large-scale solar, wind and geothermal plants. Amy Prieto, an associate chemistry professor at Colorado State University, is developing batteries that contain two times more energy than current standards and charge in five minutes flat. In another research project that could help make solar power more efficient, scientists are exploring how the use of nanomaterials that split sunlight into separate colors could double solar efficiency. And Dutch designer Emmy van Roosmalen created an Energy Belt that reportedly turns excess body fat into energy.
In green gadget news, the year kicked off with the launch of a promising new 3D printer: the Portabee is a portable, powerful, 3D printer that will sell for just under $500. LG released the world's first super-thin, energy-efficient OLED television, while Boston-based wristwatch company Neumitra released the Bandu, a watch that monitors your vital signs and alerts you when you're stressed out. And Gabriel Dishaw created a nerdy-chic Darth Vader mask that's made from antique typewriter parts.
In green building news, city officials in Rotterdam have launched a pilot project that consists of three floating domes that will serve as a test for climate-proof development. We also looked at the incredible story of how all the waste from the toilets in the Burj Khalifa -- the tallest building in the world -- is trucked out of town. And in a design feature that's sure to take the edge off for kids visiting the hospital, UK-based Jason Bruges Studio created an LED wallpaper installation designed to calm children on their way to surgery.