Green Inventions

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Green | Posted on 30-07-2010

With the environment projected to stay in the media and political spotlight for years to come, a lot of new eco-conscious products have hit the market.

  • An engineer from Duke University has developed a construction safety hat that recognized potentially hazardous machinery nearby which runs on radio waves instead of a battery.
  • Green roofs increase heat insulation, reduce the amount of rainwater runoff, and can even provide fresh produce and better air quality in congested cities.
  • Wind turbines that function with magnets instead of traditional ball bearing have a much lower static friction, meaning they could harvest energy in low-wind-speed areas like small islands.
  • Solar-powered cell phone chargers are available for a variety of models, and even solar-powered cell phones are being developed so that direct sunlight on the battery itself can provide energy.
  • The “eco-kettle” measures out the specific amount of water you need to boil and avoids the unnecessary heating of a traditional kettle’s body and handle, reducing the energy required by up to 30%.
  • In rural areas of developing countries, the introduction of solar-powered LED lights – which are much more efficient than traditional bulbs – have the ability to light entire villages.
  • And a little more “out there” is the Poweriser, a self-propelled mode of transportation that is a mix of an in-line skate and a pogo stick, but faster.

These inventions, and the ones of the future, can help citizens of developed countries keep their relatively lavish ways of life while reducing carbon emissions per capita.

Food’s Carbon Footprint

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Footprint | Posted on 29-07-2010

People have said countless times that a way to reduce your carbon footprint is to change your eating habits, mainly by eating less red meat.  But new findings show that the environmental impact of what you eat is not as straightforward as that. Dr. Frank Mitloehner reported to the American Chemical Society in March that we don’t need to eat less meat, but smarter meat.  In the US, cattle and pigs only account for 3% of our GHG emissions, according to the EPA, whereas transportation makes up 26% of our emissions. The key, therefore, is to decrease the transportation of red meat, not necessarily limiting it.  Actually, Dr. Mitloehner argues that limiting the dairy and red meat consumption in developed countries would decrease the availability of these nutrient-rich foods in developing countries, whose populations really need them.
But switching to locally grown food shouldn’t rule out anything tasty or convenient. Eco-conscious fast food places are popping up all over and are trying to create healthy and sustainable meals on the go (did you know a typical fast-food cheeseburger has 11 pounds CO2e to go along with its 11 grams of fat?). Places like Elevation Burgers and Amanda’s feature red meat entrees and locally grown options that have a better sustainability track record than your favorite drive-thru.

Alternative Ways to Encourage GHG Reductions

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Footprint, Climate Change | Posted on 28-07-2010

As Congress struggles to pass a bill that can comprehensively address climate change, the federal government is already taking steps to have the main contributors to GHG emissions become conscious of this fact and start reducing.
The government itself is one of the largest CO2e emitters in our country, and with our looming national debt, any effort to reduce energy consumption – and therefore cost – is worthwhile.  Recently, Energy Secretary Steven Chu mandated the installation of light-colored roofs on all Department of Energy offices, a decision that can reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 70% per building. In line with President Obama’s pledge to reduce the government’s direct GHG emissions by 28% by 2020, federal agencies are looking to reduce company vehicle travel distances and locate new buildings near public transit centers.
Companies that work with the government are also facing incentives to cut back on emissions.  The General Services Administration will begin giving preference to corporations that monitor and try to reduce their CO2e emissions when granting federal contracts. This is similar to Walmart’s new policy of vetting companies in their supply chain based on emissions tracking.
If enough key players in our economy decide that the environment should be a consideration before they sign a contract, the pressure will be off Congress to decide on a feasible carbon monitoring system.

Carbon Markets to Thrive after Kyoto Expires, Despite Setbacks

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Offsets, Economy | Posted on 27-07-2010

In the last year, the value of carbon credits and volume of trading has decreased.  This has mostly been due to the internationally-felt recession; as profits drop, most corporations would rather spend on traditional investments than become carbon neutral. European-based companies, such as CantorCO2e and Carbon Capital Markets, have had to lay off carbon brokers or shut down their carbon trading entirely because of low demand in the voluntary market.
However, the World Bank reports that despite these setbacks, the carbon market is maturing.  With the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012, many have said that carbon credit markets could dissolve then unless governments implement new trading systems.  But increases in corporate interest in the environment internationally, coupled with the popularity of Clean Development mechanisms, have experts saying that the markets will exist and even expand in the coming years. Many companies, faced with European laws limiting GHG emissions, have found offsetting to be a cheaper alternative than curbing emissions in-house. And with the price of carbon remaining consistent, the cost of offsetting will remain a clear and viable option. Hopefully the US, China and India – three of the largest CO2e emitters – will soon be able to set up limits on emissions through a mandatory and economically feasible system like carbon trading.

Cutting Aviation’s GHG Emissions, Noise Pollution

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Footprint, Green | Posted on 26-07-2010

At the second “Green Air Show” at an airfield just north of France, there was both hope and skepticism over potential “green” improvements in aviation, an industry renowned for pollution. Major developments in reducing noise pollution were introduced, particularly for helicopters. More interesting were previews of energy-efficient technology.  The Solar Impulse, a solar-powered airplane, completed its first overnight flight this month, and special “airships” have been created for low-energy trans-ocean transport. However, both these options have their hang-ups; the Solar Impulse has a 200-foot wingspan and can carry only one person, while airships could take days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Biofuels have been hailed as the new solution to greening airplanes, but there is skepticism towards the safety of using solely biofuels for every engine of an aircraft.
The answer must be in the middle ground, at least for now.  Perhaps the future holds the key to flights that run on zero-carbon energy sources like the sun, but there are compromises available now for the most energy-intensive mode of transportation.  Also, biofuel mixes can be used in part in larger aircrafts, and large-scale recycling programs have been introduced to most airlines.  About $100,000 per gate could be saved by airlines by installing solar panels to power electrical operations when an airplane is grounded, and that adds up to a reduction of thousands of metric tons of CO2e. As we blogged in May, airlines and airports are both doing their part to reduce their impact on the environment, and hopefully these efforts continue to grow with available technology.

China is Largest Energy Consumer

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, Economy | Posted on 23-07-2010

China, whose 1.34 billion population is over four times that of the United States’, recently passed the US as the country with the highest energy demand. A portion of this is due to the economic recession hitting the US harder than most other countries. As American CO2e emissions have experienced the largest drop since recording started in the 1950’s, demand for energy on a whole has decreased with economic hardship.
But even if US emissions and energy use begin to increase once the economy gets better, China is likely to hold onto its lead. This is because China’s average standard of living has improved by leaps and bounds.  Even though per capita energy demand and emissions are significantly less than other developed countries, the sheer magnitude of population increases – and growing percentage of the population who can access electricity and own cars – means that China will continue to have a huge impact on the energy market.
Luckily, the country is also one of the largest investors in alternative energy; China has some of the strictest regulations on technology standards and leads the world in wind turbine production.  Although China and almost every other country put economic stability before environmental protection, maybe China’s dedication to regulating GHG emissions as they improve technology can mitigate global warming, despite their climbing consumption of fossil fuels.

A Scaled-Back Climate Bill

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, News | Posted on 22-07-2010

When the America Power Act was first introduced in mid-May by Senators Kerry and Lieberman, it was a serious bill.  It tackled offshore drilling, clean coal technology, voluntary carbon markets, nuclear energy, and a comprehensive cap and trade system for CO2e emissions. But with support of anything climate change related waning in Congress, Kerry and Lieberman have issued a new draft of the bill.

The main focus is placing regulations on utility companies.  Since electricity generation is responsible for over 30% of America’s emissions, and the US is one of the top GHG emitters in the world, it is logical to create a cap and trade system for this industry over any other. But even with the shock of the BP oil spill still reverberating in our public conscious and economy and the potential promise of thousands of “green-collar jobs” that could appear from domestic investment in alternative energy, there is doubt as to whether even this scaled-back bill may pass. If the re-tooled bill does pass, carbon credit permitting would make utility companies reduce emissions by 17% by 2020, with the possibility for companies to invest in carbon sequestration project to further offset emissions. With previous promises from President Obama to make climate change a priority, as well as the tension-filled climate talks to take place in Mexico in November, the US needs to take some sort of legislative action to mitigate global warming, and fast.

The End of the Oil Spill?

Posted by akeenan | Posted in News | Posted on 21-07-2010

Last Thursday, BP placed a cap over the leak despite the risk that bottling up the oil could cause cracks in the ocean floor and more complicated leaks further away. However, surveillance shows minimal oil detected anywhere else, meaning that the cap may be the solution.
If this really the beginning of the end of the 3-month disaster, what has America learned? Hopefully, our country can reconcile the current moratorium on offshore drilling with the economic impacts, both on domestic workers and on oil prices. Perhaps the oil spill will be able to shock us out of the “business as usual” mentality on multiple fronts: fossil fuel dependence, GHG emissions, general pollution. An optimist may even believe that the spill has spurred our government into enforcing laws more consistently, and even forced domestic corporations into considering the repercussions of cost-cutting actions.
There is some hope; on Monday, the White House announced the future formation of the National Ocean Council, a new body that will help clarify the many different laws applying to our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. There will be representatives on the Council from a variety of different federal agencies who will be burdened with the task of measuring the different demands our country puts on its marine resources, without the power to pass any legislation.  People  hope that the task force will bring more science-based decision making to the government, which has the stereotype of passing laws with only the bottom line in mind.

Small-Scale Wind Farms

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Economy, Green | Posted on 20-07-2010

Wind turbines are popping up in some unlikely places. There has been a battle over the pros and cons of offshore wind farms for years; are they an eyesore interfering with whale and fish migration or a smart alternative energy source with minimal impacts? But some people are putting turbines in their backyards, literally.  A couple in Crisfield, Maryland has installed a wind turbine on their farm for $18,000.  The system is expected to eliminate electricity bills for the property with the possibility of selling energy back to the grid.  The local government of Crisfield is also considering investing in a wind farm to supply power to everyone.  The town spends $20,000 a month at the current electricity plant; a $4.18 million grant from the state of Maryland could allow Crisfield to build two or three large wind turbines.  If implemented, the turbines could become a tourist attraction (as they have in Atlantic City) and the money previously dedicated to electricity generation could be spend elsewhere, stimulating the economy.
Crisfield is one of many sites around the nation with aspirations for building small-scale wind systems.  No matter the reason behind the surge in demand for turbines – the shock of the oil spill in the Gulf, new availability of grant money for alternative energy, hopes of stimulating local economy – the mentalities of these small towns are helping to turn our nation away from the “business as usual” mentality towards energy consumption.

EU Firms to Benefit from Stricter Carbon Caps

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Offsets, Economy | Posted on 19-07-2010

A recent report from Sandbag, a non-profit climate change organization, uncovered misconceptions among industry leaders in the EU, particularly in the cement, steel and iron industries.
Companies have argued against stricter caps on CO2e emissions because these regulations would act as a tax, forcing businesses to operate in cheaper developing countries. However, the current structure of the EU carbon market allows companies that buy extra certified emissions reductions (CERs) from abroad and stockpile assigned credits to make a profit.  This strategy in effect subsidizes the EU company’s competitors; the majority of CERs are created by emissions-reducing technology used by steel, iron and cement corporations in China and India. In reality, EU companies are avoiding emissions reductions strategies that are “low-hanging fruit” in favor of short-term profits that sacrifice long-term competitiveness.
So what is the solution? Sandbag reports that if the government implements stricter Carbon emissions standards on these industries, companies will make necessary reductions in-house, which allows domestic operations to be a long-term option. Also, these changes would prevent “carbon leakage,” or the possibility of CO2e emissions rising in one country because of reduced emissions in another.