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Inhabitat's Week in Green: Passat BlueMotion, jellyfish drones and a pig-cloning factory


Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

The North American International Auto Show kicked off last week in Detroit, and Team Inhabitat went to the Motor City for an early look at the industry's eco-friendly offerings. Topping the list at this year's show is Ford's C-MAX Solar Energi, a hybrid electric car with a set of high-efficiency SunPower photovoltaic panels installed on its roof. Also in Detroit, Audi unveiled its Allroad Shooting Brake Concept, a compact plug-in hybrid that's designed to handle "light off-road conditions." And Volkswagen showed off its new Passat BlueMotion concept, which boasts the highest highway fuel economy rating of any non-hybrid mid-size sedan. Auto companies have good reason to be bullish on eco-friendly cars -- just ask Tesla. The electric automaker recorded its highest sales figures in history in the fourth quarter of 2013. But despite recent advances in fuel efficiency, a new University of Michigan study makes a case for ditching personal cars altogether, proving that cars are the most inefficient form of transportation.

Wind farms are great and all, but they're big and expensive to operate. Wouldn't it be great if we could use a shrink ray like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and scale windmills down to a tiny size without losing much efficiency? Researchers at the University of Texas are working on producing teeny-tiny windmills that are just 1.88mm wide and could be used to charge mobile devices. Meanwhile, Spain is embracing wind energy on a large scale. Last year, the country generated 21.1 percent of its energy from turbines, making wind Spain's top energy source for 2013. In California, an enormous 579MW solar power plant just went online. The plant will ultimately provide enough electricity to power 255,000 homes. And in Las Vegas, a new grove of solar trees is providing the energy to light the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.

The big news out of Silicon Valley last week was that Google had acquired Nest, the maker of energy-saving thermostats for $3.2 billion. The acquisition is a big validation for green tech, and it instantly made Nest a household name. Google's experimental X Lab also made headlines by unveiling a smart contact lens that can monitor the glucose levels of diabetics. In other science and tech news, a South Korean designer unveiled a conceptual scuba mask that turns divers into human fish, and researchers at NYU created a tiny drone that mimics the movement of a jellyfish. Also in the "biomimicry" file, the company Bioglow has taken a cue from fireflies to create the world's first light-producing plant, and our resident biomimicry expert Dr. Tamsin Woolley-Barker explained what the humble water flea can teach us about innovation. In a particularly disturbing development, the world's first cloning factory is now open for business in China -- and it clones 500 pigs a year. The company's cafeteria serves as a testing ground for "genetically enhanced" meats, vegetables and even yogurt. In an attempt to learn more about the mysterious colony collapse disorder affecting bees, scientists are planning to fit 5,000 honeybees in Australia with tiny sensors to study how environmental changes impact the behavior of bee colonies. Japan is getting creative in its effort to remove the manmade debris that is cluttering up outer space -- the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is preparing to launch a satellite equipped with a 300-meter magnetic net that will sweep up space junk. Boeri Studio shared with Inhabitat new photos of its vertical forest skyscraper nearing completion in Milan, and in anticipation of summer, the company Netatmo recently produced "June," a smart bracelet that monitors UV exposure, letting its wearer know when they've soaked in too many rays.

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