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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According to OPEC’s 2009 World Outlook, world demand for middle distillate fuel, chiefly diesel, will grow faster than any other refined oil product, up to as much as 34.2 million barrels per day by 2030. The U.S. currently consumes around 19 million barrels of fuel per day, with diesel accounting for 3 million or around 16% of that amount.

Joule Biotechnologies, Inc, a producer of alternative energy technologies based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced in 2009 that it had made a major step forward in its’ development of renewable fuels. This step forward involves the direct microbial conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) into hydrocarbons via engineered organisms, powered by solar energy. I know it sounds convoluted but the creation of renewable energy requires working around.. and I mean a long way around.. current technologies.

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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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A project that begins early this year in Kansas will attempt to use cow manure to create fuel that would help produce electricity. Grant County economic development director Gene Pflughoft said the plan to turn cow manure into electricity is a perfect fit for Kansas given the state has two cows for every person.  Cattle country.

The thing about this that is interesting is that manure is renewable. I mean, cows keep pooping, don’t they? As long as people eat meat there will be cows to create manure. In fact, the manure produced by a single cow during a year is the equivalent to 140 gallons of gasoline in terms of energy, according to the Kansas Star.

A report by the Bipartisan Policy Conference in Washington suggested by mixing cow manure with coal as many as 24,000 homes could be powered by the manure produced by 50,000 cows. Personally, I don’t like the coal thing thrown in there because coal is so destructive to the environment. I wish they would find something else that would work.

This project is a demonstration that will involve a mix of 90% coal & 10% manure that will be used to generate electricity at a Kansas power plant. Why is it going to be 90% coal? They just can’t stop raping the Appalachia trail, I guess. Too much at stake for the local business community. But the truth is they have ruined the environmental value of their experiment with this and it is really only an experiment in reducing costs so more money can be made.  Sad and short sighted.

Unfortunately, Plughoft told the Star if the project is successful, expansion would be a likely future step. That is horrible for the local communities because it is unlikely their fuel costs will go down and at the same time, they will keep blowing the lids off of mountains and putting coal dust in the water supplies.

“Our goal is to put one in every feedlot and hook it up to the grid,” the official said.

Oh, goody.

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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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The big news on the climate front is the bill released by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) last month. It is disappointing to many environmentalists and activists but they are now saying it may be as ambitious as we can hope for given the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on Congress. I am really not happy with it because it just won’t make a significant impact on our increasingly unstable climate. I consider that a disaster.

I guess this bill is a bit better, though, than the 1427 pages of garbage that Waxman and Markey pushed through the House in June. This is known as the American Clean Air and Security Act and both Waxman and Markey are Democrats. It was a complex bill that was hard to read and understand but it essentially had the fingerprints of agribusiness and oil industry lobbyists all over it. This bill by Kerry and Box is a leaner, cleaner bill with a few less fingerprints but it still doesn’t get past environmentalists and climate scientists who actually care.

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In Florida, 12 waste-to-energy facilities from Miami to Panama City process nearly 20,000 tons of municipal solid waste each day while continuously producing over 500 megawatts of clean, renewable power. This amount of waste is enough to fill a football stadium, imagine that! The Tampa Bay area is home to four waste-to-energy facilities, located in the City of Tampa and in the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco. Without these facilities, local governments would be faced with the daunting task of siting large landfills near rapidly growing residential communities. The issue of this development is another problem to be addressed in a different forum but there is no doubt that this landfill to energy idea is a good one.

I first heard about this idea several years ago when a small county northwest of where I reside started pumping landfill gas through pipes and converting it to energy. In fact, I later heard a follow up that claimed the entire city was running on this power alone. Amazing. Not only is this greenie meanie but it’s cheap, too. These waste-to-energy projects eliminate 90% of the waste that might have ended up in a landfill. But it isn’t nearly enough, as you can imagine, because landfills throughout the state are reaching capacity faster than anticipated. It is becoming increasingly difficult to expand landfills or open new ones as residential development encroaches on once-remote landfill sites. People are already living in homes where they can smell garbage 24/7 in various lower income areas around the state. Florida’s current population of over 17 million is expected to reach almost 23 million by the year 2020, bringing even more challenges to managing municipal solid waste.

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A company called “LiveFuels” has announced the start of pilot operations at the company’s test facility in Brownsville, TX. The facility consists of 45 acres of open saltwater ponds and will be used for research on optimizing algal productivity and increasing the rates of conversion of biomass into renewable oils. LiveFuels grows a robust mix of native algae species in low-cost, open-water systems. This is in stark contrast to may other companies who grow singular cultures of algae and often genetically modified strains. As a natural, environmentally friendly business, LiveFuels harvests the algae by using “algae grazers,” which includes such natural harvesters as filter-feeding fish and a variety of other aquatic herbivores. This in place of expensive and energy-intensive mechanical equipment. As a result, these species can easily be processed into renewable oils and many other valuable co-products.

To date, LiveFuels has filed ten U.S. patents for its proprietary approach to growing and harvesting algal biomass. At the Brownsville facility, the company will conduct research on optimizing the productivity of natural aquatic ecosystems through biological and environmental conditions. The results will be used for an expansion to full-scale commercial operations along the coast of Louisiana. And all of this is being done in this revolutionary, environmentally friendly fashion. Kudos. to LiveFuels.

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Many of us have experienced the frustration of having a cell phone or MP3 player go dead and being away from a power outlet to charge the batteries. Actually, this isn’t a solely current problem, either, as I recall listening to “dragging” cassette players and static hazed radios many years ago, when I used battery chargers and rechargeable batteries. Being caught on a 10 mile hike with a dead radio is a big drag. This is where portable solar is making big inroads and offering relief. Even if you’re not a big techno nerd with a boombox on your shoulder or an MP3 plug in your ear, you may have concerns about getting off the grid or just saving money on batteries in general. Even you should consider portable solar. Thanks to technology improvements and lower production costs for photovoltaic (PV) cells, you can now harness sunlight at home or on the road to power a variety of products while reducing your environmental impact at the same time.

PV cells generate varying amounts of electricity based on their size and composition, and on the amount of incoming sunlight. Even so there are a lot of products for which sunlight provides a viable and affordable alternative power source and these are already available on the market. If you haven’t purchased one yet or maybe even haven’t even shopped these items, here is a brief list of what I found available today:

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Better Place, an electric car company just starting to really expand, is developing a $200-250 million network in Hawaii, with 50,000 to 100,000 electric-car recharging stations to be in place by 2012. The $100 million project comes as a three-part effort to radically overhaul the state’s energy diet. Hawaii has an “extreme oil addiction,” according to Gov. Linda Lingle. Ninety percent of her state’s energy comes from imported oil, costing about $7 billion a year. A third of that oil makes its way into automobile tanks as gasoline. With gas on the islands still hovering around $2.65, Hawaiians spend more money on their cars (taxes, insurance, and fuel) than Americans on average in any other state.

Shai Agassi, founder and chief executive of privately owned Better Place, said the cost is an estimated “ballpark” range and that investors have yet to be lined up for the all-island project. Better Place has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hawaiian Electric Companies. Power spots will be first to pop up all over the island, including parking lot locations and stations in the downtown areas.

According to the Wall Street Journal: “Under the plan, consumers would buy or lease electric cars, and Better Place would supply recharging services and batteries. Consumers would have a choice of buying mileage plans — which would include recharging services and battery swaps — or being guests on the network and paying for each battery charge”.

The company will continue to work with automakers to design electric cars that fit Hawaii’s driving and traffic patterns. They are saying that Nissan-Renault has already signed on to make vehicles compatible with the proposed network. The other automakers may soon join in. The clever upstart plans to offer electric transportation as a service with drivers paying to access a network of charging stations, much in the same way they pay for access to mobile phone service. Better Place has been selected as one of the “Fifty Best Tech Startups” by Business Week.

Nissan-Renault has said they will build the electric cars, and mass market availability in Hawaii is expected in 2012. According the map on their website, the company is now operating in the United States, Israel, Denmark, Australia and Japan. Find out more about Better Place here.

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