The Weekly: UPS Hates Styrofoam, Prius Plans a Minivan

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Hear Ye, O Haters of Styrofoam:
United Parcel Service now gives businesses a little credit for shunning the dreaded packing peanut. Shippers who demonstrate that they regularly send packages in a thoughtful way — avoiding packing peanuts, using snug boxes and padding items so they don’t arrive damaged — can get a special label affixed to the box.

Us vs. the Volcano: Boxes and people lurched back into the troposphere this week as the Eyjafjoell volcano stopped spewing and gave planes the chance to fly again from European airports. Eyjafjoell issued 150,000 to 30,000 tons of CO2 per day — as much as a small European country — but its carbon footprint was offset by all those canceled flights. Anxious eyes remained on the skies for another eruption, or perhaps an interruption of another kind. After all, the U.S. military fears massive oil shortages by 2015.

Solar on the Go: Seiko unveiled a series of wristwatches powered by photovoltaic panels built into the face. After getting a full suntan the timepiece will keep on ticking for about six months, at a price of $215 to $283. This summer, Samsonite will roll out a line of luggage embedded with solar panels that transmit enough juice to power mobile devices.

This Time We Mean It: Energy Star, the international standard for energy-efficient appliances, has been stung suckered of late by manufacturers that lied about their specs. As of 2011, makers of fridges, washers and water heaters will need to submit to independent testing in order to win the coveted EnergyStar label.

Hypermiling with the Kids:
Meld a hybrid with a minivan, and you get sippy-cup stains that no baking soda will remove. No, wait! You get the Toyota Prius minivan, which reports say will go on sale in Japan in 2011 (no word yet on offerings in the U.S.) . Chevy might not be too far behind, with rumors that it will announce a hybrid Volt minivan in Beijing next week.

In Other Car News: On Tuesday, Nissan began taking reservations for the all-electric Leaf, which goes on sale in December.

In a survey, 78 percent of people said they expect that cars of the future will be plug-ins or hybrids. Over half said they expect to own one in their lifetimes.  That’s good news for Smart, the teeny-tiny little child of Daimler, which said that it will roll out diesel, hybrid and electric versions in the next few years.

Ford announced plans for a driver interface that gives real-time fuel-economy coaching and opened a developer network, a la the iPhone. Fisker assigned itself the role of ambassador to the heartland, arranging a tour of its $87,000 plug-in Karma sportster to places that rarely think outside the gas tank, like Neena, Wisconsin and Plano, Texas.

The Moneymaking Roof: Recurrent Energy of San Francisco and partner BlueWatt will install 50 megawatts of rooftop solar on commercial and industrial roofs all over France. Meanwhile, SunPower Corp and Empire Power Systems are collaborating to make the largest rooftop solar system ever in Arizona, an 850,000-square-foot building in Phoenix that houses vast refrigerators and freezers.

In other news, Molycorp Minerals filed for a $350,000 IPO to fund the reopening of a California mine and a restart for the U.S. rare-earth mining industry. Underneath Mountain Pass, Calif., are elements like neodymium that are crucial to wind turbines and electric-car batteries, supplies of which are dominated by China.

Gadget Watch: An Italian designer creates a 3-D printer that could make buildings out of sand; the Navy crafts a microbe that would enable a submersible powered by mud; and while we’re at it, the military wants an all-terrain hybrid flying car.

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