Microchips Provide Heat For Nearby Homes

At IBM’s Zurich lab in Switzerland, engineers are working out a new cooling system to harness all of the wasted heat energy produced by the millions of microchips in data centers to heat nearby homes. In most cases, microchips and processors are cooled by either blowing air across the chip itself or attaching a heatsink to the chip and blowing air across the heatsink. Some computer enthusiast (like me) use water cooling techniques where a continuous flow of water is run though a water block which is attached to the microprocessor. The turbulence inside the water block keeps it cool enough to see increased speeds in the actual microprocessor, however the excess heat that is transfered to the water is dissipated into the air via a radiator and fans.

Swedish scientist saw this heat byproduct as an opportunity to provide useful energy to help neighboring residences. By creating a special “microfluidic” heat sink, IBM can harness enough heat from one small data center to heat over 70 homes. The microfluidic heat sink creates a layer of constantly flowing water very close to the electronic microprocessor by using a network of increasingly fine holes through which water flows. IBM calls this a vascular microfluidic architecture; see image. The new heatsink is schedules to be announced at the CeBIT exhibition in Germany this week.

Via: New Scientist

Bottled Water: Bad Investment And Bad For The Environment

I saw a wonderful little editorial cartoon sketch by Steve Greenberg over at http://www.greenberg-art.com about how silly bottled water really is. I have posted before about bottled water and how “not pure” it really is, but people continue to buy and defend it.
I cant stress enough how terrible bottled water is for the environment. They are made using oil and most of them do not get recycled, and those that do get recycled, only get turned into secondary products that are then thrown away. I urge you to quit buying bottled water and instead, take the same money that you would have spent on bottled water and invest in a good water filtration system. If you check out our Eco Store, you will see that I have added a special section just for water products in hopes that we can help to curb peoples addiction to plastic bottled water.

Renewable Energy And Energy Efficiency Tax Credits Are Back On The Table

If you have not been keeping up with congress and whats been going on with our current energy bills and tax incentives, here is a little refresher course:
Back in 2006 a fantastic bill was passed that authorized many different tax incentives which rewarded individuals and businesses for using energy efficient products, renewable energy and hybrid vehicles. These tax incentives have been responsible for huge decreases in the price of solar and wind technologies, bringing us closer and closer to grid parity. But, in January of 2008, in the most recent energy bill, all of these major tax incentives were stripped out of the bill and left to expire in December of 2008. The main reason that these provisions were stripped out of the last energy bill is because the bill was attempting to drastically cut current tax breaks available to major oil and gas companies. This was the fail point for the entire bill which caused it to be reconfigured (subtracting all of the good stuff) and then passed through as an energy bill (with total disregard for alternative energy).

Now, there is a new bill (H.R. 5351, the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008) on the table which would not only extend all of the “set to expire” tax credits, but would improve almost all of them. Some of the major provisions included are extensions and increases to, the residential energy-efficient property credit, the solar energy and fuel cell investment tax credit, renewable energy production tax credit and many more.

This bill, unlike the last one is not proposing to “cut” tax breaks for major oil producers, instead it is proposing a freeze on the current law section 199 benefits, at 6% for oil and natural gas production income. Section 199 which would otherwise increase to 9% by 2010, would simply stop at its current rate and save approximately $13.57 million over a ten year period. The bill also proposes a clarification to an existing tax code which would eliminate the potential for major oil and gas companies to manipulate their extraction income in order to achieve beneficial results under U.S. foreign tax credit rules. This small clarification would raise approximately $4.08 billion over ten years, and would more than cover the proposed renewable energy and energy efficiency tax incentives.

The incentives in this bill will help architects, engineers, developers, home builders and home owners make their properties more energy efficient. They will help lower energy costs, and they help improve the environment. However, unless Congress acts now to extend them, we may loose them. So, we urge you to take a few minutes and write, call or email your local congressmen and ask them to support the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, H.R. 5351.

World’s Most Efficient Rotary Air Engine

The Di Pietro rotary air engine is, according to researchers, the most efficient air engine on earth. This rotary piston design from Engineair Pty Ltd out of Australia, has managed to reduce the friction inside this motor to zero. Yep thats right I said zero as in zero,  zilch, nada. Now in order to achieve this zero friction, it takes 1 PSI of air pressure to form the air pocket that is needed to create a thin air cushion which stops the friction.

Beyond that 1 PSI, the motor speed and torque is governed by the amount of pressure of air that goes into the motor. This allows instant torque at zero rotations per minute (RPMs), which can be precisely controlled to either give the motor an instant start or soft start.

This revolutionary motor was first envisioned in 1997 by Mr Angelo Di Pietro and the company, Engineair Pty Ltd, first opened its doors in September of 2000. Engineair spent its first 2 years prototyping and testing and gradually increasing the efficiency of their motor to what it is today. Currently Engineair is in the process of commercializing its technology and developing joint ventures to see this technology used in a variety of different applications.

Burning Coal Is Even Worse Than We Thought

After reading a very interesting article over at Scientific American, I quickly realized that the coal fired process to produce electricity for over 50% of the US is even worse for the environment than I thought.

Coal combustion is the biggest polluter in the US and is responsible for the largest amounts of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. The coal industries’ toxic emissions are responsible for over 30,000 deaths due to health related problems. You thought that was bad, now it has been discovered that fly ash, the waste product of the coal industry, is more radioactive than the waste from a nuclear facility.

Scientist discovered that coal has small trace amounts of radioactive materials, which in its natural form, is not a big deal. However, when the coal is burned, all of those radioactive elements are not burned, but concentrated into the fly ash. The scientist believe that the amount of radioactivity is nothing to get alarmed about, except for the people who live close to the coal facilities. Unfortunately, these are the individuals who are truly affected by the fly ash as it makes its way into the water and food sources for those neighboring cities.

I believe that this recent development should make us push even harder for alternative forms of electricity. The Scientific American article was obviously pushing for nuclear energy although I am not totally sold on nuclear as the costs (material and capital) are way to high making it not very feasible. I still believe that solar is the answer to our energy problems in America, with the most recent price drops, solar is now cheaper than coal, so what are we waiting for?

Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment? Part 2: Plastics

This is part 2 of our “Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment” series and today we are going to talk about recycling Plastics.

Plastic molding is one of the most commonly used processes in product production. As a former industrial designer, I know plastics pretty well and because of the availability, cost and price per unit, plastics have dominated the product and packaging world. Unfortunately, plastics are terrible for the environment and recycling, although better than tossing in the garbage, does very little as applied to the plastic industry.

Unlike paper recycling, plastic recycling does not increase source reduction, in fact studies show that plastic use and plastic trash increases in areas that push plastic recycling. This is a little counter intuitive I know, but if you think abut it, the reason for the increase is because of the increased positive perception of plastics as “eco friendly” because of the recycling programs. The danger of this type of thinking is that people buy and use more plastics, thinking that plastic is eco friendly because it can be recycled.

The simple fact is that most of the plastic that is placed in your recycling bin is used to make secondary products that are not recyclable, like plastic lumber, textiles and containers. Even though this is better than going to the landfill right away, it still does very little to reduce the need for virgin plastics, and the fact that the secondary products are not recyclable, the plastics end up in the landfills anyway, but just at a later time.

Unfortunately the virgin plastic manufacturers know all of this and realize that the increase in positive perception of plastics through public service ads focused on plastic recycling increases plastic sales. This why the majority of all plastic recycling advertisements are bought and paid for by the virgin plastic manufacturers. Not only that, but plastic producers use the recycling logo (chasing arrows in a triangle) on every plastic item that is made, but the logo does not mean anything, the only important thing about that logo is the number in the middle which classifies the type of resin used in that item. The district attorney in several different states are actually going after the plastic manufacturers for this false advertising and are trying to pass legislation to have the logo removed from non recycled plastic items.

With all f this being said, I still believe that it is better to throw that plastic item in the recycle bin rather than the trash bin, however the main point of this article is to let you know the truth about plastics. The only way to truly help the environment where plastics are concerned is source reduction and the only way to to that is to be a environmentally conscious consumer. Here are a few things you can do to reduce your plastic usage:
Do not buy items packaged in plastic. Instead buy items packaged in cardboard or paper.
Only buy food items that are in glass containers. Instead of buying squeeze bottles of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, but the glass containers.
Do not buy bottled water. Instead, invest in a good water filter, the result will be cleaner water and a better environment.
Reuse plastic containers. Plastic containers can be reused over 20 times before they need to be tossed in the recycling bin.
Use eco tableware for parties instead of plastic tableware.

Most of all, educate others about the woes of plastic usage and what they can do to help the environment. If you would like to learn more about plastics and plastic recycling, have a look at the Ecology Center’s “Plastic Task Force.”

Now checkout Part 3: Aluminum.

New Carbon Capture Breakthrough Makes Baking Soda

As mentioned in a recent article from Michael Kanellos on Cnet News, there is a new revolutionary carbon scrubbing technique which is turning the pollution from smoke stacks into food grade baking soda. A company called Skyonic is responsible for this new process referred to as Skymining, in which sodium hydroxide is added to the carbon dioxide emissions from the smoke stacks to form sodium bicarbonate, otherwise known as baking soda.

This baking soda is cleaner than food grade backing soda, according to Skyonic’s owner and considering that baking soda is currently mined, this new process can virtually eliminate all mining related to backing soda because we have enough smoke stacks in the US alone to produce the world’s supply of baking soda. Not only that, but this process also removes 97% of other heavy metals, sulfur and nitrogen compounds.

The Skymine process does create a few other byproducts such as hydrogen and chlorine which can be resold with the backing soda to bring in additional profits to the company. The entire process is also energy negative because it uses the excess heat from the smoke stacks to run the entire process.

This process in my opinion is one of the most significant breakthroughs which could ultimately make the most significant difference in the fight to curb toxic emissions. The fact is big industry is all about profits and unless it is profitable, you can bet that big industry will not use carbon sequestration technologies unless required to do so by law.Skyonic has addressed this issue by making their process of carbon sequestration a profitable green addition to a dirty industrial process. Everybody wins, big industry profits, the environment benefits and environmentalists are happy.

Please see the original article for more detailed information.

No More Solar or Wind Tax Breaks. Thanks Congress

Our efforts failed… A new “scaled down” energy bill was passed through the senate last night and three of the most important items in the bill were taken out to appease oil funded republicans. Unfortunately our senators, democrats and republicans alike, failed our country and environment yet again by bowing to big oil and removing the most influential provisions and tax incentives this country has ever seen.

The tax incentives now set to expire in 2008 will end all federal tax credits on solar, wind and other alternative energy installations. No other tax incentive or provision has brought the solar industry closer to grid parity than this one and now it is gone. Grid parity is the point in which it will actually be cheaper to generate your own electricity on your roof than to buy from your local utility company. Now this idea is great for us, but bad for big business, (oil and coal) so of course, the lobbyist went to work on our republican senators and were apparently very affective at getting that tax break completely removed from the energy bill.

Second major blow to the renewable energy industry was the removal of the $22 billion dollar tax package designed to cut tax breaks for big oil companies and funnel the money towards the renewable energy industry. Of course this is bad for Big Oil considering how poor their finances are currently, (sarcasm: Big Oil showed record highs this year) so yet again the lobbyist went to work on our senators and “poof” the tax package is gone. Not only that, but Bush himself threatened to veto the entire bill if this tax package was not removed, showing yet again, a clear alliance with Big Oil and an unwillingness to do what is right.

Another major blow, was the removal of the alternative energy mandate which would have required all investor owned utility companies to get at least 15% of their electricity from alternative energy sources. Many utility companies complained that this would increase cost and again, “poof” another very influential and beneficial provision was removed from the energy bill.

Now many environmentalist (not me) are praising this bill because of the increase in the average MPG standard for automakers. However this small push for a 35 MPG standard by 2020 is nothing compared to the three provisions mentioned above. Not only that, but the bulk of this energy bill was aimed at increasing domestic biofuel production (like ethanol) by 36 billion gallons by 2022. Some people may think this is a good thing, but if you read some of my previous posts, you will find that ethanol and most other commercial biofuels are actually worse for the environment than gasoline. And although the 35 MPG is good, it is like putting a band aid on a gaping wound.

On a positive note, the senate did increase energy efficiency standards for government buildings and consumer products and appliances. This provision will help to reduce phantom loads of typical electronics which are responsible for about two thirds of household energy usage. This efficiency provisions could potentially save about 40,000 megawatts of electricity and is in my opinion the most significant provision in the entire bill.

In the end, the original bill, prior to the removal of the truly beneficial tax packages and mandates, was one vote short of being passed. I believe senator Richard Durbin summed up the evening best when he said:“The future just failed by one vote, the past was preserved the oil companies are now celebrating in their boardrooms. Not only do they have the highest profits in history, they continue to have a death grip on this Senate.”

Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment? Part 1: Paper

This is the first part of our “Is Recycling Really Better For The Environment” series and today we are going to talk about recycling paper and answer the question of weather or not recycling paper is better for the environment or not. With that said, et me first start by saying YES, YES and Absolutely YES! I am not sure where people are getting these ideas that recycling is worse for the environment, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, of course I can't just make that claim without presenting some sort of evidence to back up my claim, so let me just say that this next blog post is going to be a pretty long. In fact, I will be splitting this post into several different sections each dealing with a different material.

Part 1: Recycling Paper Is Better For The Environment!

When talking about recycling any type of material, a key term that will always show that recycling is better is Source Reduction. Source reduction is a direct result of recycling and affect the entire life cycle of the product. As it relates to paper, when you reduce the use of new paper, you are also reducing the negative environmental effects of producing that new paper.

When a forest is cut down to produce paper, not only is pollution produced form the use of diesel machinery, but when the wood is turned into pulp, it releases all of the CO2 that it has spent its entire life storing. Although trees are considered carbon neutral because they are only releasing the carbon that they have absorbed, the CO2 released from the erosion of the top soil is not carbon neutral because that topsoil loss would not have happened otherwise.

Now, lets first take a look at new paper production vs. recycled paper production using simple logic before we get into numbers and empirical data.

As you can see, recycled paper has a much more environmentally friendly life cycle than new virgin paper. Now lets take a look at some actual CO2 numbers:

Type Of Paper
CO2 per lb.

Virgin paper 0% post-consumer recycled
7.14

33% post-consumer recycled
6.06

50% post-consumer recycled
5.50

66% post-consumer recycled
5.20

100% post-consumer recycled
3.90

The figures above have been taken from an extensive study done by the Environmental Defense, on paper production and publishing. If you wish to read the entire report please follow this link to the Paper Task Force Report at the Environmental Defense website.

As you can see 100% recycled paper is almost twice as efficient as virgin paper and releases almost half of the CO2 emissions as well. Now this is not even taking into consideration the loss of forests due to clear cutting and all of the environmental effects which happen as a result.

So, whats the moral of this story? Recycle, Recycle, Recycle… Its not hard, just put a recycle bin next your trash can and throw recyclables in that bin instead of the trash bin.

Now checkout Part 2: Plastics

The Future of Compact Florescent Lights

I think everyone knows by now that compact florescent bulbs are the future of main stream lighting (until LED’s come down in price) because they are more cost efficient, energy efficient and longer lasting (less waste) than traditional incandescent light bulbs. However, up until now there has been a real lack of any type of diversity in design of these compact fluorescent lights (CFL).

With CFL bulbs quickly becoming the norm for home lighting, there are many different manufacturers, but only three basic designs. As you can see from the image above, these three basic designs have not been elaborated on since the conception of CFL bulbs.

Until now…

A company called Hulger has recently begun designing a new line of CFL’s under the name Plumen.  These new designs challenge everything we think we know about light bulbs and have actually brought the light bulb into an entire new category. Before, the light fixture was the ornament of design that would hold and hide the light bulb, but now, the light bulb is not only the light giving element, but it is the design element as well.