Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Apparently, this gizmo has been under closely-guarded, super secret development for nearly a decade. And it's supposed to function as a "zero-emissions" mini-power plant.
A zero-emissions mini-power plant in boxes small enough to hold in one hand? How the heck does that work?
The explanation provided went sailing right over my head, since I'm apparently as scientifically savvy as Leslie Stahl (i.e., not very).
But the article says CNN provides what may be the best explanation of how the dingus actually works:
"Hydrocarbons such as natural gas or biofuel (stored in an adjacent tank) are pumped into the Bloom Box—ceramic plates stacked atop each other to form modules that can be assembled into a unit of any size—and out comes abundant, reliable, cleaner electricity."
One thing about this invention is that it's--ahem--kind of pricey. According to venture capital blog, VentureBeat:
"Right now, [the Bloom Box is] available on a large scale, with each box costing as much as $800,000 [ouch!]. In the next five to ten years, Bloom says it will release smaller boxes for individual households costing less than $3,000 [oh, that's much better]. If this happens, there is a chance that Bloom Boxes could [supplant] utilities and long-distance transmission lines—not to mention capital intensive wind farms and solar arrays."
The article notes that while the Bloom Box might replace expensive high-voltage transmission lines, it probably won't set the utilities world on fire if it replaces the clean energy sources it would require for fuel.
Ashley Braun, who wrote the article, says: "Here's the best analogy I've come up with for the potential of the Bloom Box: It isn't the internet; that would be the fuel, which may or may not be renewable. The Bloom Box is more akin to the wireless router—rather than the dial-up modem—that gets the internet to your laptop (aka your house). But right now it's one heck of a pricey router."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
According to the LA Times, at least 40 annual shows across the country claim some sort of "green" focus, with many more local variations. Despite current economic hardships, it appears that many of these shows are thriving, aided by investments, government incentives and publicity.
The article goes on to state:
"Over two weeks in November, at least five green conferences were held in the West, including green business events at UCLA and in San Francisco as well as a green building expo in Phoenix.
"In October, Solar Power International sold out its Anaheim exhibit floor with more than 900 exhibitors -- double the number the year before."
"Some events are so similar they cause deja vu, attendees said. An evergreen [ha ha, funny] squad of experts and speakers, such as actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. and former Vice President Al Gore, are regulars on the green conference circuit."
Some of these events are more successful than others. A few have had to be canceled or downsized due to low attendance, bad word of mouth or lack of publicity. I'm glad to see that one which got scrapped ended up being rescheduled as a "virtual conference." Holding conferences online saves a lot of money, time, fossil fuels and other resources. I can't swear to how the carbon footprint for a virtual conference compares to that of a face-to-face conference requiring transportation use, hotel stays, meal provision and other accommodations, but you'd think the former would come out better.
Even so, how many of these "green" trade shows and conferences do we need? Is 40 of them a bit, er, redundant? And are these "green" conferences simply like the environmentalist version of "Hollywood Squares"? Just a venue for famous eco-activists to preach to those who claim they'd like to join the choir?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The first (and, hopefully, most obvious) step would be to set a good example at home. Recycle your plastics, bottles and cans. Conserve water. Be energy efficient. Etc., etc.
But you realize, of course, that kids spend a lot of time at school. So teachers can also be major role models. Which brings me round to the subject of this post called "30 Go Green Tips for Teachers to Introduce to the Classroom."
Take a look at the list. It's just awesome (and so simple).
Doing things like buying eco-friendly supplies and taking short, easy field trips outdoors just make sense.
Growing plants, raising butterflies or adopting endangered species are all really cool ideas.
It's really a heck of a good list.
And what could be more sustainable than teaching our kids good eco-habits?
Saturday, February 13, 2010
According to Discovery News, the certified-organic cotton clothing H&M (and two other retailers, which may or not may not be connected to H&M) sold was contaminated with genetically modified cotton seed from India.
This led to closer examination of the data H&M used to certify its inventory as completely organic and raised questions about the data's accuracy. Being a member of Organic Exchange, a group that promotes the use of organic cotton, H&M responded to criticism by claiming (to quote the article) "that it believed Control Union [a third-party certifier that worked with H&M] had tightened its certification process -- and done pop inspections of all its Indian organic cotton farms -- over the past year, after criticism from the cotton-regulating authority of India."
The question remains: how sure can anyone be that organic cotton isn't tainted with genetically modified material? Genetically modified plant material has this annoying tendency to just get into things--like natural plants. As the article states, "the retailer . . . must be able to certify its own end-product, if it's to avoid charges of greenwashing. That's because buying clothing made from organic cotton is a mostly conscience-driven purchase (more akin to buying Fair Trade coffee than an organically grown peach). If consumers lose confidence in the product's certification standards (even if the GM cotton seeds have no affect on the fabric's softness or the pesticide-free environment in which it was grown), they'll feel they've been hoodwinked by their own hoodies."
The second item concerns the FTC's claim that 78 retailers have been passing off rayon as bamboo. These retailers include major players, like Wal-mart, Target, Amazon.com, The Gap, and Zappos.com. The agency has issued a warning to them about doing this.
The FTC's warning comes hot on the heels of four enforcement actions its brought against companies allegedly selling rayon products that were misleadingly labeled and advertised as being made with bamboo.
The FTC has even issued an alert, "Have You Been Bamboozled By Bamboo Fabrics?" that might bear reading.
Great. As if it weren't already hard enough to develop a decent wardrobe.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
According to the article, "Engineers at the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Center (WIMRC) at Warwick University in England built the car [known as WorldFirst] as part of a larger project to develop new materials for use in the automotive and health care sectors that meet the goals of sustainable development."
Along with being made entirely of recycled plastics, fabric and vegetable-derived polymers, the tires are made with rubber lacking a certain highly toxic chemical (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) that's usually used to help soften them.
The car also runs on biofuels derived from (of all things) chocolate fat, a food industry waste product.
The only hitch that gets mentioned are the matters of strength and durability. According to James Meredith, a WIMRC biomaterials engineer and WorldFirst project manager, "In terms of their durability—we are still working on this. All the parts we have made to date are still going strong. Natural fibers will most likely have a lower resistance to weather effects as the fibers will absorb moisture if exposed and then degrade. Recycled carbon fiber and glass fiber with recycled resins should have equal durability to standard materials."
Meredith, however, thinks WorldFirst should last as long as any other race car, saying, "The natural fiber parts have lasted well although their weather resistance does not appear to be as good as existing materials."
And after all is said and done, Meredith notes that "ideally all the natural fiber products can be shredded and composted, carbon parts can be recycled again—albeit with a small amount of degradation."
Mmm. That nasty D-word again. Well, it's a start, anyway.
Monday, February 8, 2010
The company's Web site is supposed to be part of a larger initiative to "increase its transparency and decrease the environmental impact of its products." This included launching a "plant based" GreenWorks product line in January 2008.
This article, however, calls into question the completeness of the Web site's ingredients lists.
For one thing, the article claims that if you click the links that show product ingredients, they come up looking "oversimplified and incomplete; telling you what the ingredients DO, but not what they can DO TO YOU."
Then, if you compare the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for a product with the listed ingredients from the site, it's strange how many hazardous materials from the MSDS seem to have just been left out.
The article poses the question, "Is this really living up to Clorox's self-proclaimed mission to 'focus on integrity and quality, guided by our core value of doing the right thing every single day'?"
And, BTW, "for those who think they can avoid the whole issue of label transparency by choosing the GreenWorks line of products instead, a word of caution: Critics argue that since no industry standard definitions currently exist for natural cleaners, GreenWorks is simply deeming itself green against its own standards--a dangerous trend to set."
Friday, February 5, 2010
Some think this is great stuff, others are less enthusiastic or downright opposed.
According to the article:
"In December, Senators John McCain of Arizona and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, both Republicans, criticized the cost of the project and ranked it second on a list of what they called the 100 worst stimulus-financed projects. The G.S.A. has said that report relied on incomplete data, but the project's cost has also raised eyebrows here.
"Joe Vaughan, a longtime commercial real estate broker here, said that the building's office space would ultimately cost more per square foot than some other environmentally-conscious projects that are built new.
"'As a taxpayer, I think it's a horrible waste of money that no private developer would undertake,' Mr. Vaughan said."
On top of that, the federal government apparently didn't get this memo.
Now admittedly, this research was on lawns in Southern California. Still, I assume they'll be using some fertilizer on those vegetated fins. And has fossil fuel consumption from maintenance been considered?
Monday, February 1, 2010
The blog The Skeptical Market Observer quotes at length from an article in the Globe and Mail called "The Electric Car: Turn Out the Lights."
The bottom line is this: even if electric cars save millions of barrels of oil each year, the electricity to power these cars must be generated somehow and at levels that require the use of oil, coal or natural gas--all of which create carbon dioxide emissions.
Nuclear power is still too explosive (no pun intended) an issue to make it a viable option. In addition, alternative energy sources (such as solar, wind and hydro) simply aren't able to generate nearly enough energy to meet the needs of so many electric cars.
Besides, what part of our power grid is all this energy coming from?
As the article states: "Certainly not the part where I live. Only a few summers ago, one too many air conditioners running during a summer heat wave sent me walking down the 18 flights of stairs in my former office building, as the grid collapsed between Ohio, upstate New York and Ontario.
"Try charging 250 million lithium-ion car batteries and see what happens. . . .
"So by all means, leapfrog the constraints of our rapidly depleting world oil supply and trade your gas-guzzler in for an electric model. Just remember to turn out the lights."
*sigh* Always a catch.