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November 2008

November 30, 2008

Paper: CO2 Helped Prevent Snowball Earth

Carbon dioxide may have played a vital role in helping ancient Earth to escape from complete glaciation, according to scientists in a paper to be published in the journal Nature Geoscience. The authors from Imperial College London claim that the Earth never froze over completely during the Cryogenian Period, about 840 to 635 million years ago.

This is contrary to the Snowball Earth hypothesis, which envisages a fully frozen Earth that was locked in ice for many millions of years as a result of a runaway chain reaction that caused the planet to cool.

What enabled the Earth to escape from a complete freeze is not certain, but the UK scientists in their review point to recent research carried out at the University of Toronto. This speculates that the advancing ice was stalled by the interaction of the physical climate system and the carbon cycle of the ocean, with carbon dioxide playing a key role in insulating the planet.

The Toronto scientists say that as Earth’s temperatures cooled, oxygen was drawn into the ocean, where it oxidized organic matter, releasing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The review’s lead author, Professor Phillip Allen, from Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, says that something must have kept the planet’s equatorial oceans from freezing over.

In the climate change game, carbon dioxide can be both saint and sinner. These days we are so concerned about global warming and the harm that carbon dioxide is doing to our planet. However, approximately 600 million years ago, this greenhouse gas probably saved ancient Earth and its basic life forms from an icy extinction.

—Phillip Allen

Professor Allen, whose previous research has found evidence demonstrating hot and cold cycles in the Cryogenian period, says a plethora of papers has been published and much debate has been devoted to the Snowball Earth theory since it was originally proposed.

Sedimentary rocks deposited during these cold intervals indicate that dynamic glaciers and ice streams continued to deliver large amounts of sediment to open oceans. This evidence contradicts the Snowball Earth theory, which suggests the oceans were frozen over. Yet, many scientists still believe Snowball Earth to be correct.

There is so much about Earth’s ancient past that we don’t know enough about. So it is really important that climate modellers get their targets right. They need to build into their calculations a warmer planet, with open oceans, despite lower levels of solar radiation at this time. Otherwise, climate models about the Earth’s distant past are aiming for a target that never existed.

—Phillip Allen

November 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

BNSF Completes Third Rail Line through Cajon Pass

BNSF Railway recently completed construction of a third main rail line through Cajon Pass in Southern California that will increase capacity on BNSF’s Chicago to Los Angeles Transcontinental (Transcon) route from 100 to 150 trains a day. The $90 million project adds almost 16 miles of third main track to BNSF’s route into the Los Angeles Basin.

BNSF operated its first train on the third and final segment of the Cajon Pass triple-tracking project on 3 November. Click to enlarge.

Cajon Pass is located between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, just north of the City of San Bernardino. Approximately 75 to 100 freight and passenger trains currently traverse this route on a daily basis. Each intermodal train on these tracks can take more than 250 long-haul trucks off of the region’s local highways. Additionally, freight trains are more fuel-efficient than trucks and can move one ton of freight more than 400 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel.

Over the last four years, more than 300 BNSF employees and contractors worked on the Cajon Pass project. In that time, crews moved more than 1 million tons of earth, placed approximately 42,000 concrete railroad ties, and laid more than 30 miles of steel rail. The construction of this track represents the first additional BNSF main track through Cajon Pass since the second line was constructed in 1913, nearly 100 years ago.

BNSF and UP railroads each have major rail corridors into the Los Angeles Basin. Forecasted combined daily traffic volume for the east/west rail corridors is 390 trains by 2025.

November 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Suzuki Launches New Minivehicle in Japan; To Use CVTs Across Minivehicle Lineup

Suzuki Motor Corporation introduced the new Alto Lapin minivehicle for the Japan domestic market. The redesigned vehicle with 2WD and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) offers 24.5 km/L fuel economy (57.6 mpg US, 4.1 L/100km) on the 10-15 cycle.

Additionally, the company plans to apply CVTs throughout its minivehicle lineup, according to the Nikkei. CVTs can improve fuel economy by 10-25%.

Until now, the automaker has used CVTs only in its Cervo and Wagon R. But with consumer interest high, it has decided to install them in other models as they undergo full or partial redesigns.

Considering that Suzuki does not make CVTs in-house, it will increase procurement from Jatco Ltd., in which it took a 10% equity stake in March 2007.

November 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New Global Survey Finds Consumers Want Government Action on Climate Change; Decreasing Willingness to Take Personal Action

Percentage of respondents ranking climate change higher than global economy. Click to enlarge.

The results of a new global survey released by the HSBC Climate Partnership show that consumers want governments to stop haggling on carbon concessions and act. The Climate Confidence Monitor 2008 surveyed 12,000 people across 12 markets and found that 43% of those surveyed chose climate change ahead of global economic stability when asked about their top three concerns, despite the survey taking place in the midst of the financial market turmoil in September-October 2008.

In a clear call for resolution to the debate on emission targets, 77% of people surveyed worldwide want to see their government cutting carbon by their national “fair share” or more to allow less developed economies to grow.

However, the findings come against a global backdrop of consumer reluctance to take more personal responsibility to tackle the problem. Individuals’ willingness to make further changes to purchasing decisions or lifestyles is falling (figures dropped by 29% and 19% respectively compared with 2007).

Activities people believe their government is currently, and should be, doing. Click to enlarge.

As representatives around the world prepare to gather in Poland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, consumers believe governments should focus more on direct action. Twice as many people say that governments should invest in renewable energy (55%) than participate in international negotiations on climate change (27%).

...people believe governments are focusing too much attention on indirect actions that pass responsibility for climate change onto others, such as increasing taxes on fossil fuels, encouraging individual environmentally friendly activities and participating in international negotiations such as the Kyoto Protocol.

Whatever their ultimate potential, people do not see the impact of these approaches. Government involvement in carbon trading, in particular, is neither visible nor seen as a priority.

—Climate Confidence Monitor 2008

Even in the countries emitting the most carbon dioxide, the majority of people want their country to make a fair contribution. In China, 62% of people said their country should reduce emissions by at least as much as other countries and only 4% said their country’s emissions should be allowed to increase. In the USA, 72%t of people said their country should reduce emissions by at least as much as other countries.

In emerging markets, people want their governments to be generous with emission cuts. Only 4% of people in the emerging markets believe their country’s emissions should be allowed to increase to enable their economies to grow. In Mexico and Brazil, more than 80% of people want to cut emissions by their fair share or more—as high a level as in developed markets.

This research demonstrates the need for decisive action on climate change. The urgent challenge is to build a framework for a global deal so that consensus can be reached in Copenhagen next year and the discussions in Poznan are a critical stepping stone to achieving this. Now is the time to lay the foundations of a new form of growth that can transform our economies and societies.

—Lord Nicholas Stern, adviser to HSBC on economic development and climate change

The HSBC Climate Partnership is a five-year partnership from 2007-2012 between HSBC and The Climate Group, Earthwatch Institute, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and WWF.

The research was carried out for the second year by Lightspeed and was based on a twenty-minute Internet survey. One thousand respondents were surveyed in each of the 12 markets: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Mexico, UK and the USA. Research consultancy Lippincott was responsible for the analysis. The survey was conducted between mid September and early October 2008.

With assets of some US$2,547 billion at 30 June 2008, HSBC is one of the world’s largest banking and financial services organizations.


November 30, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Mitsubishi Chemical Group To Boost Li-ion Anode Material Output Capacity 70%, Enter Separators Market

Nikkei. Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. will spend ¥ 1 billion (US$10.5 million) to raise production capacity of lithium-ion anode materials by roughly 70% by next fall.

Although battery sales are struggling amid the slumping cellular phone market, the Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corp. unit expects demand to recover in 2010 or later. It also anticipates growth in the automotive lithium ion battery business.

A third production line at its plant in Kagawa Prefecture will increase annual capacity from 3,000 tons to 5,000 tons. The company says it will consider boosting capacity there to 6,000 tons in fiscal 2010.

Mitsubishi Chemical controls 15% of the global market for this material and is among firms trying to catch world leader Hitachi Chemical Co. Mitsubishi Chemical controls 30% of the global market for electrolytes, and plans to make a full-scale entry into the positive-electrode material business from next fall. With Mitsubishi Plastics Inc. entering the market for separators next summer, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings will become the first firm to manufacture the four key materials for lithium-ion batteries.

Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation comprises three core companies: Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation; Mitsubishi Plastics, Inc.; and Mitsubishi Tanaba Pharma Corporation. Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation (MCHC) was jointly established by Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation and Mitsubishi Pharma Corporation in October 2005. Then, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Corporation formed by the merger between Mitsubishi Pharma Corporation and Tanabe Seiyaku Co., Ltd. The functional products businesses of the MCHC Group were restructured and consolidated as a new company, Mitsubishi Plastics, Inc. on 1 April 2008.

In 2007, Mitsubishi Corporation, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation and GS Yuasa formed the joint venture Lithium Energy Japan to develop, manufacture and sell of large formate lithium-ion batteries. (Earlier post.)

November 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Europe Closing in on 6% Lower Carbon Road Fuel Standard by 2020

Europe is moving closer to finalizing a new fuel quality law which will require fuel suppliers to cut full life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from road fuels by 6% between 2010 and 2020.

ENDS (Environmental Data Services) reports that the cuts are expected to come from production efficiency improvements and a switch to biofuels and other cleaner fuels. Biofuel sustainability criteria will be added to the new law once they have been agreed in separate negotiations relating to the new Renewable Energy Directive.

The deal will require oil companies and other fuel suppliers (obligated parties) to cut road fuel life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 6% from 2010 to 2020. The European Commission had proposed earlier that there should be a mandatory 10% cut. The Commission says that it will review progress in 2012 and may then propose an extra 2% cut requirement.

In response to the news the European oil industry trade body, EUROPIA, said the 6% emission cut made the new law more aligned with a target to boost biofuels expected in the Renewables Directive. The Association repeated that the reduction target should not apply to fossil fuels and that it would not improve refinery efficiency beyond the level already being encouraged by the EU’s emission trading system.

This coming week in Brussels, Members of the European parliament will debate the state of the ongoing negotiations between Parliament, Council and Commission on the climate change package. The package lays down the legislative measures needed to achieve the EU’s climate targets agreed by the March 2007 European Council for the year 2020: to cut the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, to increase the share of renewable energies in the energy consumption to 20% and the share of biofuels to 10%.

This debate will include targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for new cars (130g/km to be reached by improvements in vehicle motor technology, with a further 10g/km reduction to reach a 120g/km target, to be obtained by using other technical improvements such as better tires or the use of biofuels.

In line with Parliament’s resolution of 24 October 2007, MEPs agreed to set a long-term target of average emissions of no more than 95g CO2 per km from 1 January 2020, by means of improvement in vehicle motor technology.

November 30, 2008 in Climate Change, Emissions, Europe, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 29, 2008

T3 Motion Contracts for 4,000 Low Speed EVs from Korea for Sale to US Law Enforcement

T3 Motion, the provider of a three-wheel electric vehicle to the public safety and private security markets, has contracted for 4,000 e-ZONE low-speed electric vehicles from Korea-based CT&T for sale to police departments in the US for use in applications such as parking enforcement. The contract is worth around US$50 million.

The parking enforcement EV at the 115th Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Exposition in San Diego. Click to enlarge.

CT&T and T3 Motion jointly participated in 115th Annual Conference & Exposition of International Association of Chiefs of Police, 8-12 November in San Diego, California. The partners said they received orders for more than 100 units, including 25 from the Santa Monica Police Department, at the show.

The e-ZONE features a 72V, 140Ah Li-polymer battery and has a top speed of 35 mph (56 kph). To supply the vehicles to the North American market, CT&T says it is building an assembly line with a capacity of 15,000 units per year in Toronto, Canada, targeting mass production in March 2009.

November 29, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Evaluation of Shared Low-Speed Link to Public Transit Finds Demand Higher Among Day Users Than Commuters

Researchers from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis have published an evaluation of the results of the 16-month EasyConnect field test in the San Francisco Bay area. EasyConnect was launched in August 2005 to test and evaluate the potential for a shared-use low-speed mode vehicle service at bridging the “last mile” from a public transit station to the workplace. The program used electric bicycles, non-motorized bicycles, and Segway Human Transporters (HTs). (Earlier post.)

Although in concept the program was more focused on commuters, the results of the analysis found higher demand among day users (e.g., for lunch, errands, and business meetings) than among commuters (i.e., getting from the public transit station to work and back). The electric bicycle had the highest low-speed mode share (68%) relative to the conventional bicycle or the Segway HT for commute travel; for day use, however, the Segway had the highest share (52%).

The evaluation includes analysis of initial questionnaires and travel diaries to gain insight into participants’ socio-economic attributes and travel patterns; analysis of participant service use logs; and intercept surveys. Key attributes of the participants included:

  • Most participants were men aged 30 to 39 who reported relatively high general health levels and exercised frequently by walking, gym work-outs, and biking.

  • Participants’ transportation-related attitudes indicated they were concerned about air pollution from vehicle travel, willing to change their own travel behavior to improve air quality, and were dissatisfied with their current commute mode.

  • Participants primarily commuted by driving alone (67%) prior to joining the program; however, a number also sometimes commuted by bicycle or motorcycle (47%).

  • Workplace parking availability and cost did not appear to be a significant problem for the majority of participants.

  • Many participants made personal trips relatively frequently on weekdays, but fewer made business trips; most of the personal and business trips were made by a private vehicle with an average distance of 2.5 miles, which is within the range of the low-speed modes.

  • Most participants joined the program to try new transportation modes and avoid driving during lunch or to run errands.

  • Only six of the participants from one company planned to regularly use the program for commuting; the remaining participants worked very close to the Pleasant Hill BART station at the Contra Costa Centre and thus planned to use the program largely for Day Use (e.g., lunch, business meetings, errands).

For commute travel, participants’ use patterns showed:

  • The electric bicycle had the highest low-speed mode share (68%) relative to the bicycle (20%) and Segway HT (12%) modes.

  • Most participants used the program weekly; had a one-way commute trip distance of one-half to five miles; and would have commuted by car or bicycle if the EasyConnect low-speed modes were not available to them, indicating a likely net reduction in vehicle travel and increase in health benefits among participants.

  • The electric bicycle’s speed and range are greater than that of the bicycle and Segway HT and thus appear to be used more frequently for longer commute trips.

For Day Use travel, participants’ use patterns showed:

  • The Segway HT had the highest low-speed mode share (52%) relative to the electric bicycle (36%) and bicycle (12%) modes.

  • For shorter average distance Day Use trips, the Segway HTs had the highest use.

  • Lunch was the most frequent purpose of travel (42%), followed by personal business, then by work-related business (17%), and finally for exercise and fun (6%).

  • 70% used the program with some regularity (at least once a month and at most four days a week), and 30% did not (less than once a month).

  • 63% percent of these trips would have been made by car, 19% by walking, 17% would not have made the trip, and 1% would have made the trip by bicycle.

  • The mean trip distance for those trips that would have been made by car was 2.6 miles and by walking/biking was 1.4 miles, indicating a likely net reduction in vehicle travel among participants.

  • 12% of trips resulted in an increase in bicycle travel, and 36% resulted in an increase in electric bicycle travel, indicating an overall health benefit for participants.

A survey of pedestrians in the area found that about 70% said that common use of electric bikes or the Segway on pedestrian trails would not effect their use of the trail, while about 20% said they would stop using the trail or use it less.

Although the EasyConnect program was initially designed to bridge the barriers to access from public transit stations to employment locations, the results of the field test indicated higher participation demand by Day Users (e.g., lunch, business meetings, errands) rather than by commuters. This may have been a function of the institutional support available for the program in the area. The Contra Costa Centre, which is walking distance from the Pleasant Hill BART station, was able to provide significantly more support to the program relative to employers and business centers further away from the station.

The availability of the low-speed modes for Day Use at the Contra Costa Centre, however, may have allowed for a higher level of public transit use and carpool commuting. Even without accounting for such mode shifts, the evaluation results indicate net benefits for both commute and Day Use program participants from reduced vehicle travel and increased physical activity. In the future, shared-use low speed mode programs, like EasyConnect, should continue to examine pedestrian concerns about the use of these modes on trails and sidewalks.

—Rodier and Shaheen (2008)


November 29, 2008 in Electric (Battery), Personal Transit | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Report: Climate Change Puts Forests and People At Risk; Adaptation Required to Avert Crisis

Examples of measures for forest adaptation. Click to enlarge.

Unless immediate action is taken, climate change could have a devastating effect on the world’s forests and the nearly 1 billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods, according to a team of scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

In their report—Facing an Uncertain Future: How Forests and People can Adapt to Climate Change—released in conjunction with the UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting in Poznán, Poland, the CIFOR researchers call for the implementation of adaptation measures to reduce the vulnerability of the forests and forest-dependent communities that will experience an unprecedented combination of climate change-associated disturbances like flooding, drought, wildfire, and other environmental challenges in the next 100 years.

The imperative to assist forests and forest communities to adapt to climate change has been poorly addressed in national policies and international negotiations. The adaptation challenge is being treated as secondary to mitigation, and yet the two are inextricably linked.

—Frances Seymour, Director General of CIFOR

If managed properly, forests can greatly assist vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, yet if they are not managed sustainably, forests will exacerbate these impacts. Similarly, because of their ability to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, forests have the potential to be a big part of the solution to climate change. However, if forests are destroyed, the increasing amount of carbon in the atmosphere could lead to the destruction of what remains. It is a self-perpetuating cycle, according to the report.

“For many forest communities, adapting to climate change is already a matter of survival. We need to act now to ensure a better future.”
—Frances Seymour

Forests provide millions of people with income, food, medicines and building materials and deliver many vital ecosystem services like flood or drought regulation and water purification, according to CIFOR’s report. They are, therefore, critical to the ability of human societies to adapt to climate change.

The report identifies two related but distinctive adaptation responses. One of these would aim to adapt forest management and conservation to reduce the impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems.

We have identified two broad categories of adaptation measures for forest ecosystems. The first is to buffer ecosystems against climate-related disturbances like improving fire management to reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfires or the control of invasive species. In plantations, we can select species that are better suited to coping with the predicted changes in climate. The second would help forests to evolve towards new states better suited to the altered climate. In this way we evolve with the changing climate rather than resist it.

—Bruno Locatelli, CIFOR scientist and lead author

A second adaptive response is to help the people who are managing, living in or conserving forests to adapt to future changes.

The report reviews the scientific literature on the effects of climate change on forests. Among the findings are:

  • By the end of the 21st century, tropical regions in Africa, South Asia, and Central America are likely or very likely to be warming at a faster rate than the global annual mean warming.

  • Rainfall in East Africa and during the summer monsoon of South and Southeast Asia is likely to increase.

  • Annual precipitation in most of Central America is likely to decrease; this region is the most prominent tropical hotspot of climate change. It is unclear how rainfall in the African Sahel and the Amazon will change.

  • Peak wind intensities of tropical cyclones are likely to increase, in particular in tropical Southeast Asia and South Asia, bringing extreme rainfall.

  • Droughts and floods are expected to increase globally, making water management more difficult.

In many forests, relatively minor changes in climate can have devastating consequences, increasing their vulnerability to drought, insect attack and fire. Burning or dying forests emit large quantities of greenhouse gases, so there is a chance that an initially small change in climate could lead to much bigger changes.

—Markku Kanninen, co-author

Mountain forests might be the first to disappear. Mangrove forests in coastal parts of West Africa, which help mitigate storms and underpin many commercial fisheries, are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, according to the report. Some mangroves are expected to dry out almost completely—droughts in Senegal and The Gambia have already had devastating effects on mangrove communities.

Scientists have already found examples of biodiversity loss due to climate change. In the highland cloud forests of Costa Rica, the lifting of the cloud base associated with increased ocean temperatures has been linked to the disappearance of 20 species of frogs. Several studies have predicted that decreased rainfall in the biodiversity-rich Amazon would cause massive dieback of the forest and its large-scale substitution by savannah.

Tropical dry forests are also highly vulnerable. Only slight decreases in rainfall, predicted in many regions, will make them more susceptible to fire and to long-term ecological shifts that potentially could cause the extinction of thousands of species.

—Markku Kanninen

According to the report, adaptation policy must be multi-sectoral. For example, ministries of transportation have an interest in conserving healthy forests. Haze from forest fires in Indonesia is often thick enough to close airports, while landslides often close roads. Drinking water or hydroenergy companies in South America are starting to consider upstream ecosystem management, including forests, in order to reduce their vulnerability and ensure the quality and quantity of their water supply.

Headquartered in Indonesia, the Center for International Forestry Research is an international forestry research organization established in response to global concerns about the social, environmental, and economic consequences of forest loss and degradation. CIFOR is one of 15 research centers within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).


November 29, 2008 in Climate Change, Climate Change Adaptation | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Beijing Won’t Restrict Private Car Purchases to Ease Traffic, Pollution

Beijing will not restrict the purchase of private cars as proposed by some residents to help ease traffic jams and stem pollution, according to Wang Haiping, deputy head of the Beijing Municipal Commission of Development and Reform. He said it would be an irresponsible move while China is trying to boost domestic consumption to offset impacts from the global financial crisis.

It’s inappropriate to restrict car purchases or license plate issuing to control the total number of vehicles. We need to take into account the overall situation of boosting domestic demand and maintaining steady, rapid economic growth. We need to maintain long-term development of the country’s auto industry and citizens’ expectations to improve their livelihoods after becoming more wealthy.

—Wang Haiping

Instead, city authorities will rely on boosting construction of the urban mass transit system and other forms of public transport to solve Beijing's traffic issues. Currently, Beijing has eight subway lines with 200 km of track. The city government plans to spend 90 billion yuan (US$13.2 billion) on the construction of more lines within the next two years, increasing the total length to 300 km by 2010, Wang said.

The latest government statistics show that Beijing, a city of 16 million residents, has about 3.5 million vehicles. In addition, about 1,200 new vehicles take to the roads everyday.

Some residents wanted to keep an alternating car ban imposed during the Olympics and Paralympics which took nearly 2 million cars of the roads for two months. It helped eliminate 120,000 tons of pollutants emitted by vehicles, or about 63% of total vehicular pollutant emissions before the ban.

Wang said a new traffic restriction, which went into effect in the Chinese capital on 11 Oct., should satisfy residents concerns. Under the new ban, 70% of government vehicles, as well as all corporate and private cars, take turns staying off the roads one day during the five day work week. It takes some 800,000 cars off the road everyday, according to the Beijing Municipal Committee of Communications.

China has been studying a fuel tax reform to replace the current road tolls imposed upon vehicles, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The introduction of a fuel tax in China was first proposed in 1994 but has been delayed amid concerns that it would impose too great a burden on those who consumed more oil.

The government has instead collected road maintenance fees from automobile users regardless of how much gasoline or diesel oil they use. Analysts said the on-going oil price drop presented a good opportunity for China to resume its fuel tax reform.

China’s State Council issued a statement saying it planned to publish details of proposed fuel pricing and tax reforms to solicit public opinion.

November 29, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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