recycling


In a recent research project, scientists at DOE (US Dept of Energy) identified an enzyme responsible for the formation of suberin, which is the woody, waxy, cell wall substance that makes up cork. Suberin controls water and nutrient transportation in plants and keeps pathogens out. The idea is to adjust the permeability of plant tissues by genetic manipulation, leading to easier production of crops that could be used for biofuels. Suberin is mostly found in the cell walls of seed and root systems qne moderates substances that pass into the organisms, acting as a barrier to harmful substances while encouraging the intake of water and other nutrients. It also aids in the storage of fluids.

What this boils down to is that suberin can be used to encourage the growth of plants for biofuels, including plants that have been hard to cultivate. It could be used to modify plants so that their production is greater and easier. Many plants that have been isolated for use as biofuels are agriculturally demanding and land amassing.

In this experiment, the scientists analyzed a strain of Arabidopsis that had been genetically modified to disrupt the expression of a gene that codes for an enzyme known as hydroxyacid
hydroxycinnamoyltransferase (HHT).  Chemical analysis showed that “knocking out” the HHT gene led to a deficiency of suberin phenolics, indicating that HHT is the enzyme responsible for biosynthesis of the polymer. The scientists then isolated the gene and expressed it in bacteria to further characterize its function.

It was also demonstrated that the HHT-deficient plants were much more permeable to salt in solution than their wild-type counterparts. This finding, together with the constant presence of suberin in plant root tissues that control water and salt uptake, suggests that suberin plays an important role in the adaptation of plants to their terrestrial habitats. Translation: Suberin, found in cork, makes plants more adaptable and easier to cultivate.

If they get a handle on the mechanism responsible for suberin production they might be able to create crops tailored to thrive in specific environments. This means harsh environments, which have been a roadblock to growing plants that can produce economically efficient biofuels. If certain breeds can be created that are more adept at absorbing and storing water and nutrients, then crops could be grown in dry or arid climates, perhaps even in the desert. If they could make use out of the currently unusable vast landscapes that comprise our deserts, then the aerable land used for more delicate food crops could be spared. As well, the current finding that modifications in suberin phenolic production can alter plants’ tolerance to salt suggests that this might also help create crops that can grow in salty conditions. This means agricultural use for currently useless land on our coasts.

This is a fantastic step forward in the science of creating plants for biofuels. It makes use of currently unviable lands, frees up aerable land for food crops and promises the proliferation of genetically modified, non food, crops for use as sustainable biofuels. Looks like a win-win to me!

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Energy Conversion Devices and Enfinity are going to collaborate on a 10MW portfolio of rooftop solar installations in Ontario, Canada. They made the announcement in February and they are currently developing the plan. ECD (Energy Conversion Devices) will provide it’s new PowerTilt product and will combine this with UNI-SOLAR photovoltaic laminates. They will present this through United Solar Ovonic, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of ECD. On it’s part, Enfinity will lead the rooftop acquisition and will arrange construction debt and take-out equity financing for the projects. Enfinity is based in Ottawa. After completion of the project and it is in commercial operation, the projects portfolio will be sold to the permanent equity owners. This might be a sweet deal.

ECD’s PowerTilt product can be installed on any roof type, is very light weight and has higher energy production. This project will be on many different roofing materials so this makes the PowerTilt product the best choice. On the business end, ECD will also provide development equity during the construction phase of the projects.

This project is being done under Ontarios’ new feed-in-tariff program. The companies expect to complete construction of approximately 10MW of projects during calendar 2010.

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As you know from my previous writings on the subject, BPA or Bisphenol A is an organic compound used in a huge number of retail products, including plastic food and beverage containers, kitchen appliances, electronics (casings) and packaging of all kinds. It is even included in the resins used to line soda, soup and vegetable cans. It is currently known to be an “endocrine disrupter” or a synthetic chemical known to mimic the behavior of estrogen. It has been found to disrupt normal heart muscle function and prompt arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. BPA has come under increasing scrutiny by medical researchers for this endocrine-hormone-disrupting potential and has gotten a lot of media attention for this. This new information proves that it can interfere with reproductive, egg and fat cell development, as well as with thyroid hormone and neurological functions. The chemical has also been labled an “obesegen”, meaning it is linked to conditions that can prompt obesity and diabetes.

Suspected of being hazardous to humans since as early as the 1930s, current concerns about the use of bisphenol A in consumer products began in 2008. At that time several governments and their agencies issued reports questioning its’ safety. The news media grabbed the story and many retailers quietly removed products containing BPA from store shelves. Up until now, the main concern have been regarding the exposure of fetuses, infants and young children to products loaded with the compound.

But there is new, disheartening (excuse the pun), news. A study released this week by researchers at the University of Cincinnati says that exposure to bisphenol A may increase heart disease in women. And guess what? New research proves that these effects can occur at very low levels of exposure. In other words, you don’t have to drink more than a couple sodas a day or use more than 1 or 2 plastic food storage containers.

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The concept behind biochar is a bit complicated but very interesting. Based on an ancient Amazonian practice of burying carbon in the soil, the industry plans to sequester vast quantities of carbon in the soil and sell the latent emissions as credits on the worldwide carbon market. The theory is that if terra preta (charcoal enriched soil) is created on a global scale as much as 6 billion tons of CO2 would be prevented from entering the atmosphere every year. Although this is only about half of the 8 to 10 billion tons of carbon emitted yearly by human activity it is still substantial enough to be investigated. In fact, scientists around the world are saying that burying biochar would not only slow the rate of global warming it would also enhance the soil and make a side dish of sustainable biofuels as well.

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This is one of the coolest green initiatives I’ve seen so far. And I do a lot of looking. Anyways, this is an affordable housing project in Oakland, California located at Central Station. It is called Ironhorse and it provides 99 apartments for families earning up to 50 percent of area median income. This means low income families or people who are just earning less because of this economic mess we’re living with. This project is an exciting reintegration of about 29 acres of unused industrial land into the surrounding residential neighborhood. So here it is not only good for the economy, it is also conserving wasted land! Already it has 2 stars.

But there are other “green” elements in this project as well. The construction of the units incorporated many “green” or sustainable materials and techniques, such as photoelectric energy generation and a vegetated green roof. This means practically no electric expense and a carbon footprint close to the smallest possible today. I love the vegetated green roof concept and wish I could do it where I am but I rent and the landlord wouldn’t let me. This lovely complex at Ironhorse has been given a GreenPoint Showcase Award for Achievement in Multi-Family Housing by Build it GREEN. All of this great stuff brings it up to 3 stars in my book.

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In October of 2009, Dow Chemical unveiled its line of Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles, revolutionary photovoltaic solar panels in the form of solar shingles. These shingles can be integrated into rooftops with standard asphalt shingle materials. The innovative product design reduces installation costs because the conventional roofing shingles and solar generating shingles are installed simultaneously by roofing contractors. This is the biggest forward leap that anyone has made in producing solar roofing materials that can be utilized easily. This will ultimately hold down labor and time related costs as well as the cost of materials.

These solar shingle systems are going to be available in limited quantities sometime this year and are projected to be more widely available as soon as 2011. This new products puts the power of solar electricity generation into the hands of homeowners at a reasonable cost and without a lot of specialized labor. This product is the result of groundbreaking technology from Dow Solar and integrates low-cost, thin-film CIGS photovoltaic cells into a proprietary roofing shingle design, making it useable by standard current roofing companies. This integrated shingle is, literally, a multi-functional solar energy generating roofing product.

The way this innovative product design reduces installation costs is through the integration of the standard shingles and the solar panels. This allows conventional roofing shingles and solar generating shingles to be installed simultaneously by roofing contractors. Dow Solar (DSS) expects an enthusiastic response from roofing contractors since no specialized skills or knowledge of solar array installations are required. As I already said, this is a huge step forward in making solar panels accessible as they have always required specialized knowledge, informed installation and intensive labor and time invested, which drove the cost up over the average homeowners budget.

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Everywhere you look these days you see someone going “green”. Car makers are developing solar powered cars, people are practicing water conservation and recycling services are common place in many states. Everyone seems eager to do their part. But it is true that some cities are moving faster than others and there are areas where recycling is still not offered and people everywhere who haven’t even thought about it. But the cities and peoples who have gone above and beyond in “going green” deserve some recognition.

In my search online to discover which cities rate highest, I saw that everyone from Treehugger to MSN, from Mother Nature Network to Move have done a rating of their own, based on available data. What I did was obtain data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Green Building Council and the National Geographic Society’s “Green Guide” to compile my own. These findings are varied in some ways but overall pretty consistant. You will see each of these cities somewhere on everyone’s list. My list is based on everyone’s research of each cities’ resource conservation, waste emissions, public transportation use, recycling habits, number of eco friendly buildings and overall green space offered to determine which one goes where on the scale of 1 to 10. However, you could not go wrong by moving to any one of these lovely places, as they are definitely way ahead of the rest of us.

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