Archive for the ‘Renewable Energy’ Category
The 2015 Central Coast Sustainability Festival takes place this Saturday, May 2, at Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo. The festival, hosted by the Cal Poly Future Fuels Club, will feature bands, companies, alternative fuel and electric vehicles, and other projects all with one goal: making the world we live in more sustainable. Up to 30 businesses will be exhibiting their sustainable tech and cars, 2 bands (including San Luis Obispo’s own Louder Space, and Attic Empire), and several food vendors will be there!
Here at Bambu Batu, the House of Bamboo, we’re pretty much suckers for anything panda bear related, and we’ve got a really good gut feeling about this one. In an age of economic uncertainty and unsustainable fossil fuel dependency, the idea of relying on Panda Poop Fuel for your energy needs has to make you smile.
Ok, so when we say Panda Poop Fuel, we’re not exactly talking about running your car on panda poop. Actually, it’s the little enzymes that live in the gut of the giant panda bear that we are really interested in. These microbes that populate the G.I. tract of the beloved panda have some powerful properties that could make them very useful in the realm of biofuels.
The average giant panda bear eats about 20 or 30 pounds of bamboo every day, which is a pretty amazing feat if you stop to think about it. For one thing, that means they have to spend almost all of their time foraging and consuming bamboo just to keep up. That’s because bamboo is actually not very nutritious, and since it constitutes 99% of the panda’s intake, they have to ingest some pretty ridiculous quantities of the grass just to meet their dietary needs.
But secondly, and what makes them interesting to the biofuel developers, is that bamboo is incredibly difficult to digest. Have you ever tried to break a bamboo pole over your knee? Now think about trying to break some of that stuff down in you belly. No, it’s not going to happen. Not unless your gut is loaded with the kind of bacteria found in the unusually short intestines of the panda bear. Capable of breaking the obstreperous lignocellulose down into something accessible to the panda bear, these microbes could also have a very useful application in breaking down the difficult-to-process cellulose of corn byproducts and other discarded fibrous plant matter that could potentially be a rich source of biomass for fuel.
And this could all be great news for the endangered panda bears, because in today’s economy they may have just found the perfect niche to make themselves a hot commodity, something that even a heartless Koch Brother might realize is worth protecting.
CFLs and LEDs not quite green enough for you? Solar panels too rigid and unforgiving? How about illuminating your living space with living creatures? Algae has long been used to produce biofuel and clean water, and now it is finding a brand new application as a light and power source. Far from your average pond scum, these tiny organisms are being harnessed for their ability to bioluminesce and sequester carbon. Welcome to the algae-powered age!
Gyula Bodonyi has created an algae-powered light bulb that looks like the verdant version of a standard Christmas fixture. The tear-shaped bulb works by harnessing the natural biology of algae to power and LED bulb with the aid of a tiny air pump and hydrophobic container. Carbon dioxide and water is taken in near the E27 screw-top, and as the air passes through the bulb, it helps to nourish Chlorella pyrenoidosa microalgae. The oxygen the algae generates in turn operates the LED. When not turned on, the bulb appears green due to the hue of the organisms inside.
The Latro Lamp is another great example of algae’s ability to shed a little light on the subject of indoor illumination. Designed by Mike Thompson, the conical light only needs a little CO2, sunlight, algae, and water to function. The has to be set outside during the day, and a battery stores the energy created by the algae for later in the evening. A light sensor modulates the lamp’s intensity and prevents the algae from becoming malnourished. Acting as a bio-battery, the technology was made possible through research done by Stanford and Yansei universities.
Scientists at Cambridge University are laboring towards creating biovoltaic panels (BPVs) that use algae to power electronics much in the same manner as photovoltaics. Alex Driver and Carlos Peralta understand that such a novel concept could be a little difficult for consumers to imagine, and have created several renderings of products that could possibly hit the market once the technology becomes viable. The researchers believe that their innovations could be stiff competition for solar panels in the next 5-10 years.
Are you ready for the algae-powered revolution?
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
In the effort to combat climate change, we carpool, scale back our utility use, purchase carbon credits, and do our best to source our power from clean technologies. Yet, if we pay tuition, donate to non-profits, or have a stock portfolio, we may still be contributing to dirty energy. Many universities, local governments, and religious institutions have endowments or investments that benefit financially from fossil fuels. Seeing the support of coal companies, oil giants, and mining projects as antithetical to their moral and political proclivities, organizations across the nation are divesting from these markets.
The Fossil Free campaign helps to organize and support those who wish to give non-renewable resources the boot. Over 300 colleges have already started their own campaigns, including Brown University who is slated to vote on axing 15 coal and mining companies from their endowment this month. Major cities, such as San Francisco have decided that exacerbating climate change was not in the best interest of the planet or the Bay. Those interested can visit the website and either begin a petition or join an already existing call to action. In addition to hosting a platform to collect signatures, Fossil Free also provides relevant articles, charts, and studies to help make a strong and well-informed case.
As a strategy, taking away a source of revenue may be one of the quickest and most effective ways to halt fossil fuel infrastructure. Seeing as much of the industry has bought influence in Congress and around the world, pulling money away from conglomerates is one of the most powerful means of stopping a number of pipelines and mountaintop removals at one time. While it is true that companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal make billions of dollars and that the dissent of only a few small institutions may not at first make a huge dent, it is important to back up beliefs with concrete action. Not only igniting discussion and creating a PR nightmare, large endowments are responsible for billions of dollars themselves, and can make their voices heard if they decided to gather together to send a message and hit polluters where it hurts. Money could then be apportioned to back renewable energy and bolster a healthier, greener economy that would not only ease the burden of climate change, but give birth to a vibrant new market that benefits more small businesses and communities.
The time has come to tell the fossil fuel giants that carbon is so very last century.
I will admit that most days, I am powered by little other than a bad sense of humor and a very strong cup of coffee. Who knew that there were mechanical contraptions that rely on caffeine to operate as much as I do? They say that a good cup of java increases creativity, and it looks as though there are a couple of inventors and engineers out there who have been hitting the percolator pretty hard.
Lean, mean, bean machine- Surprisingly, there are a number of coffee-powered vehicles out there in the world, and some of the best of them were built by Martin Bacon and his team out of Manchester, England. In February, their Bean Machine set a Guinness World land-speed record for a coffee-powered vehicle. Commissioned by the Co-Operative Food to commemorate their 10th anniversary to switching to fair trade joe, the converted Ford F100 burns waste coffee chaff pellets in a process called “gasification” to run. Clocking in at 65mph, the truck not only publicized the non-profit’s commitment to ethical beans, but also gave two trembling thumbs up to the gasified automobile as a viable form of green transportation.
Espresso on the go- I’m not going to lie, there have been times when I have been on a bike and thought to myself, “This commute would be a heck of a lot easier with a shot of espresso or two.” Clearly, I am not alone. The Velopresso is a pedal-powered mobile coffee shop designed by two Royal College of Art students, Amos Field Reid and Lasse Oiva. Constructed on top of an old tricycle frame, the gears have been re-engineered to either push the cart forward, or power the coffee grinder. Hot water is provided through an on-board boiler fueled by a gas canister. The team is currently considering using recycled coffee grinds in ethanol production to make an even more eco-friendly configuration.
Forget the need for the Keystone XL pipeline or Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors. San Luis Obispo’s very own Cal Poly is paving the way for a green energy future thanks to some hearty microorganisms and the contents of a toilet bowl. A research team dubbed the Algae Technology Group (ATG) has recently been awarded a $1.3 million grant by the Department of Energy to develop biofuels made from municipal wastewater and algae. The tiny plants not only help to clean water efficiently and inexpensively, but also produce energy and sequester carbon. Local governments will soon have a new method to purify water and can even sell to algae feedstock to refineries for a little extra revenue.
The ATG began back in 2006 and has since been working with faculty and students to research water reclamation and energy production. Their current project will use nine large “raceway” style ponds that cover about half an acre at the San Luis Obispo Water Reclamation Facility on Prado Road. Algae will grow in the ponds, using little inputs other than wastewater and sunlight. Some electricity is needed to circulate the water and run related equipment, but engineers believe that much of that energy could come from renewable sources in the future.
While still an emerging technology, the ATG estimates that with only ten percent of the market share in California, algae biofuel could reduce rate payers’ bills by an accumulated $240 million a year. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that the nation could produce 21 billion gallons of algae biofuel annually. So, between dirty and expensive fossil fuels or cheap energy made from microscopic plants, which alternative would you choose?
Curbing global climate change is going to be a massive undertaking for the human race, and we are going to need all of the tools at our disposal. One mighty weapon in capturing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere is (you guessed it) bamboo. It turns out planting bamboo is one of the easies and most enjoyable ways to capture carbon and replenish the oxygen in the atmosphere.
Earlier this month, a delegation from EcoPlanet Bamboo was asked to speak at the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar. They presented their platform on the sixth day of the conference, dubbed “Forest Day”. The special designation was meant to ensure that the health of the world’s plant life was high in the list of topics for the world’s politicians. This year’s theme was “Living Landscapes: Solutions for a Sustainable World”, which was intended to bring together experts in the field to discuss the impacts of forests on agriculture and society.
Scientists have found that a full quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to deforestation. Through reforestation and and rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems, EcoPlanet Bamboo aims to create living carbon sinks. One of their Central American Guadua bamboo plantations alone will sequester 816,000 tons over the next 20 years. In addition to clearing clearing the air, their FSC certified bamboo will provide alternatives to old growth timber and traditional textiles, helping to slow the rate of clear-cutting and negative land use.
If you’re interested in planting bamboo here on the Central Coast, please check out Paso Bamboo Nursery for the best selection of drought tolerant bamboo species, ideal for growing on the Central Coast.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So it goes for antiques, and now so too for human waste. Why let a good source of energy go literally down the toilet? Aside from recycling possible sources of electricity, new technology saves sewage from contaminating waterways and breeding illness and helps conserve water. With 860 billion gallons of of sewage and contaminated rainwater making its way into our waterways every year, the innovations from these forward-thinking engineers, green-builders, and scientists, are becoming more and more valuable contributions to issues of global health and infrastructure.
Poop and Paddle- Adam Katzman, a former New Jersey suburban dweller, now calls a houseboat home. The off-the-grid floating residence sails down the Gowanus Canal in New York. Located in Brooklyn, the canal is known one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. Thankfully, Katzman can sail true knowing that his waste processing system makes sure that he is not sullying his watery neighborhood. By creating a “constructed wetlands” aboard a separate structure, his floating toilet uses bioremediation to clean the water that runs through the contraption. It uses rainwater catchments to flush,a holding tank that utilizes anaerobic digestion , wetland plants and gravel to filter urine and fecal matter. Water eventually irrigates a group of planter boxes and is evaporated back into the clouds as clean H20, ready to fall again onto the roof of the “Poo and Paddle” as precipitation. Each flush makes its way through the whole setup every 30 days.
Reinvent the Toilet- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has long been interested in making a positive difference in the developing world. Among major concern is the lack of access for adequate sanitation that nearly 2.6 billion of the world’s population cannot afford to install. In an effort to encourage collaboration, the Foundation awarded eight universities with grants to design toilets that use minimal amounts of water, use waste as a form of potential energy, and could be distributed within the next 2-4 years. The top prize of $100,000 was awarded to a team from Caltech for their solar-powered apparatus. Electrical power is produced from solar cells atop an outdoor stall and from the hydrogen gas produced by decomposing waste collected in an electrochemical reactor. Hydrogen can be stored in fuel cells and saved for low light conditions. Recovered water is treated through the operation of the toilet, and is used to flush.
Do you own a composting toilet? How do you let your poo work for you?
When doing a load of laundry, make sure your conscience is as clean as your duds. In order to save water and energy, some enterprising companies are manufacturing electricity-free washers. Intended for developing nations, environmentally concerned citizens, and off-the-grid living, these simple machines are efficient and inexpensive ways to care for clothing and the planet.
GiraDora Washer- At only $40, the GiraDora washer is a pedal-powered, portable machine that cleans and spin dries clothing. Water and clothing are added to the plastic tub, and the lid doubles as a seat while the user sits and operates the spring-loaded foot pedal. Currently in the prototype phase, the GiraDora is being field-tested in South America as a means of alleviating physical and economic stress among the lower income citizens.
The Laundry Pod- Using only 5 gallons of water and needing no electricity, the Laundry Pod is stylish enough for an apartment, but convenient enough for outdoor use. Costing around $100, the machine uses a hand crank to agitate clothing and spin away excess moisture after draining. The whole process takes less than ten minutes. Instead of spending up to several dollars a load at a laundromat or compromising limited living space with a bulky contraption, the Laundry Pod can be moved and easily stored away.
The Wonder Wash- Capable of handling up to 5lbs at a time, the Wonder Wash costs about $45. By using the pressure built up by the expansion of the hot water added the drum, detergent is forced through the fabric at high speed, cleaning laundry in minutes. Small and portable, the machine actually works faster than its bulky, electric counterparts.