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Sunshine fuels a greener Apple Add to ...

Apple has applied for a patent on a combination LCD-solar cell screen for its mobile devices - laptops, iPods and iPhones - according to a recent posting on macrumour.com.

Engineers have buzzed for years about integrating solar panels into cellphones, computers and MP3 players - ideally making them as self-

sufficient as solar-powered calculators - but have faced two major hurdles. Solar cells placed on the outside of a device that gets handled so much could be easily damaged. And the small gadgets don't afford much surface space for the solar cells to operate.

But sandwiching solar cells between the LCD screen and the circuit board could solve both problems at once.

The electronics industry, already a major producer of heavy metal and toxic chemical pollution, has come under fire recently. But Apple is praised by some environmental groups for implementing measures such as phasing out toxic flame retardants and PVC plastic and minimizing the energy needs of its laptops. If the solar-cell technology is successful, it will further improve its green reputation.

PALM OIL PROTEST

A lab analysis of Nutella obtained by Greenpeace reveals that it is 31 per cent vegetable oil, most of which is palm oil (the exact recipe is a trade secret). Rain forests are felled and peat swamps are drained to grow oil palm in Indonesia, which releases greenhouse gases (4 per cent of global emissions come from draining and burning Indonesian peat) and destroys pristine rain forest in its portion of Borneo, the last home of endangered orangutans.

"We have been writing to Ferrero [Nutella's parent company] asking where they source their palm oil, but they have never answered our questions," says Chiara Campione, forest campaigner for Greenpeace Italy.

Greenpeace has campaigned about palm oil for the past year, including a recent protest against Italy's national soccer team, which is sponsored by Nutella. Dressed up as orangutans and posing as "Borneo's soccer team," they demonstrated outside the squad's training centre.

Last month, the organization succeeded in pressuring Unilever - the world's largest consumer of palm oil - to join them in their call for a moratorium on deforestation for palm oil. But the result of Unilever's announcement remains to be seen. Unilever and Ferrero are both members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, but since its inception in 2002, the RSPO has done nothing, Ms. Campione says. "Many members of the RSPO are still destroying rain forest and peat," she says.

'LEGACY OF LEAD'

We know that lead can lower IQ and is linked to attention deficit and hyperactivity and violent behaviour in children. Now, for the first time, researchers have shown a direct link between early exposure to lead and criminal arrests decades later.

Research from the University of Cincinnati, published in the journal PLoS Medicine, found that in a group of 250 people born from 1979 to 1984 (and monitored since birth), for every five micrograms of lead in their blood at the age of 6, they were 50 per cent more likely to be arrested for criminal offences as adults.

Blood-lead levels in the general population have fallen since widespread bans on leaded gasoline have been imposed in Canada and the U.S. over recent years.

But children in low-income, run-down housing are still at risk - Statistics Canada estimates that one in five Canadian children live in pre-1960s homes and may be exposed to old paint.

Most at risk are those who grow up in poor neighbourhoods close to old highways - common in the Cincinnati area. "There are places in this city where you can just walk through and wind up with lead on your clothing," says John Wright, one of the authors of the study. "It's pretty nasty."

Cleaning up this "legacy of lead" can be done, Prof. Wright says. "It would just be extremely expensive - so governments and industry are

reluctant to accept the evidence."

SEX DRIVES

After 17 years as the top-selling vehicle in the U.S., the Ford F-150 (an SUV) fell to fifth place in sales in May, while the Hummer suffered the biggest decline: 62 per cent. The Mini, meanwhile, had the biggest rise: 47 per cent.

The goal may be to save on fuel, but trading in their gas guzzlers for more eco-friendly cars may benefit some men's social lives as well. A survey published by Challenge X (a university engineering contest sponsored by GM and the Department of Energy) last month found that 88 per cent of women would rather flirt with the owner of a fuel-efficient car than a sports car and 80 per cent of car buyers would rather talk to the owner of an eco-friendly car than the owner of a sports car at a cocktail party.

Zoe Cormier is a science writer based in London. Her column on environmental news and trends appears every other week in Focus.

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