Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Clean Energy Legislation Decoded

Hello Green Biz Community!

So here we are, beginning of April, 2010, and we are closer than ever before to passing legislation that will guarantee a stable future for renewable energy, global climate, and green businesses. Right now there are two different Bills being debated in Congress that represent our last hope to advance this cause. Most experts believe that the Democrats will loose their majority in the elections this upcoming November. Thus, we may be facing our last chance in the near future to pass a legislative act that will ensure a clean energy and sustainable future for the United States of America.

Our goal as the Green Business community is to educate ourselves about the details of these bills and how it will impact our industry; BEFORE all the details get skewed by the media and the opposition. If you are interested in learning more about The Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman) and The Clean Energy Act (Graham), I have posted this article on my personal blog for just that purpose. I have provided the full text versions of both bills for you to download, and a short summary and comparison of each one. Feel free to leave any questions or comments so we can start a discussion on this issue.

House and Senate Clean Energy Bill: A Comparison

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Guaranteed market for renewables in China

What could it do for renewables if our governments mandated a market like China is doing?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Go GREEN this year for the Holidays!

You can still decorate with other festive Holiday colors such as red, white, silver, and gold if you’d like. I don’t mean you should surround yourself in only a green hue nor do I mean you should spend excessive amounts of green. Instead, I’m hoping all of us holiday enthusiasts can think of creative ways to be less wasteful and more environmentally conscious this year.

I’ve come up with a few relatively easy and creative ways to rethink our traditional holiday habits. It’s just a start, but I hope it encourages us all to remember Mother Nature as we celebrate the Season of Giving.

· Purchase a recyclable reusable mug for the coffee or tea lover in your family, especially for the one who frequently purchases their caffeinated beverages on the go.
· Stuff the student’s stocking with eco-friendly school supplies such as pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, folders, and binders made from recycled and recyclable materials.
· Dress the fashion queen with some hip and trendy clothing made from all natural fibers that are made at shops that respect the environment and its employees.
· Treat someone’s feet to a new pair of shoes or slippers made from either all natural and/or recycled materials.
· Buy the book worms you know a “like new” slightly used copy of their favorite readings from a local bookstore. Better yet, unless you are personally attached, give away your books to those you feel will most enjoy them.
· Restock the beauty queen’s supply of makeup and other cosmetics or toiletries with environmentally friendly products.
· Purchase (or make) the pooches you know and love a new bed, blanket, toys, or treats using all natural materials or ingredients.

· Instead of wrapping paper, use a decorative or personalized (monogrammed) blanket or towel to wrap a gift. Tie it up with a pretty ribbon that can be saved and reused for another gift or purpose.
· Instead of paper or plastic gift bags, put someone’s present in a reusable bag of some sort: tote bag, grocery bag, duffel bag, etc.
· Pack the school supplies in an eco-friendly backpack.
· Place the books in a personalized book tote bag.
· Put the cosmetics in a travel makeup bag.
· Pack clothing items in a piece of luggage or duffel bag.
· Choose a decorative basket or bowl to load up someone’s gifts and goodies.
· Place a new set of towels, sheets, etc inside a nice laundry hamper.
· Use a large mixing bowl or popcorn bowl as the basis for a gift
· Pick out an oversized tub made from recycled plastic to fill with toys or pet gifts. The tub can then be used to store the toys in the future.
· Use a trash can or mop bucket to fill with house or car cleaning needs. Buy environmentally cleaning products as well as a recycled can or bucket if possible.
· Choose decorative storage containers such as canisters for coffee or tea or jars for cookies or dog treats.
· And if you prefer regular wrapping paper, choose a recycled paper product. And try to use string, bows, and tags that can saved and reused.

And just because you rethink your gifts and wrapping this year doesn’t mean those giving you gifts will. Try to be an example this year, by saving or recycling what excess holiday trash you can. Save trashed wrapping paper to insulate the next fragile gift you wrap. Save what bows and ribbons you can. Take the time to separate recyclables from trash and be sure to encourage your friends and families to do the same. The Holidays can still be merry and fun without so much excess waste. As an eco supporter, do your part to be conscious and creative during the holidays and then use the festive get togethers as times to be the example of what being green really means. Happy Holidays to all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ethical Consumerism as Opportunity

Ethical consumerism is the practice of consumers deliberately purchasing goods or products produced “responsibly” so they eliminate or reduce environmental and/or social harm. Each time someone purchases a product, he or she is not only supporting the proliferation of that product, but all that goes into the creation of that product. Each product is considered a vote – for inhumane working conditions or fair trade, for further environmental degradation or conservation. Ethical consumerism appears to be on the rise; one can find evidence at any grocery store. A wider availability of organic produce, fair-trade coffee, and free range eggs are some obvious examples. Many products tout their eco-friendly characteristics – how they were made, ingredients, packaging, and so on. Providing information to the consumer is a great opportunity for businesses to market their product. Of course, many companies disingenously market their products to look like something they're not, as with “greenwashing.” This can make it difficult for preferences to be shown for genuine products. Seeking certification is one way for genuine progressive companies to stand above the rest. Fairtrade, the Organic Trade Association, the Forest Stewardship Council, and Cradle to Cradle certification are just a small sampling of different certification programs various companies can apply to that may boost their marketability and image. The standards and benefits of various programs are debatable, but in the days of information overload, they seem a step in the right direction.

For more information on ethical consumerism, see Ethical Consumer, a U.K. - based magazine that provides free buyers' guides and information.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Solar Heated Hot Tubs!

Looking for a hot tub? Consider a solar tub!

Using the sun to create hot water for pools and hot tubs is now a reality. “With the increased efficiency of solar vacuum tubes, heating hot tubs has become more and more popular using solar. The basic principle of a solar hot tub is to use the solar collectors during the day to heat the tub." Solar powered hot tubs use tube pressurized collector panels. In these panels, water is heated by the sun and then transferred to the hot tub by a 12-volt water pump, which also runs on solar power.

Traditional water heaters and especially pool heaters are bulky, require regular maintenance, and are quite expensive to operate and service. Modern solar water heaters are better than traditional hot water heaters, because they are smaller in size and more efficient to operate. Ultimately, solar water heating offers more efficiency and long term savings.

From an environmental standpoint, many are interested in solar water heaters simply to utilize the sun’s energy. There is a large movement of consumers looking to take advantage of money saving solar technology. And for many green consumers, solar water heating is a major step to reduce your carbon footprint.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Geothermal Heating

Many people spend hundreds of dollars a year on heating and air conditioning for their homes. Especially people that live in places where temperatures get below freezing. Traditional heating methods include gas furnaces, oil furnaces, electric furnaces, and hot water heating systems. All of these methods use a lot of energy and cost a lot of money. In today's world there is a trend toward "going green" and conserving energy. Can this ideology be applied to heating our homes? Yes it can!! Geothermal energy provides people with a cheaper, more energy efficient alternative. Geothermal energy comes from the heat of our planet which has been there since its formation. A geothermal heat pump allows us to capture heat even from cold ground. Since there is no energy conversion necesarry, thermal efficiency is high. I got to witness this great idea when my family rented a mountain house in PA over Thanksgiving. The house was architecturally beautiful and I never would have guessed that there was an alternative energy heating system. It felt as warm and comfortable as any home with modern technology. Hopefully, geothermal energy will become more popular in the near future.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Liquid Wood

With the growing price of crude oil and concerns over the safety of everyday products it is no surprise that new alternatives are being explored in the world of plastics. Plastics are petroleum based and are linked to  heavy metals and softeners known as phthalates which is cause for concern when it is being used for everything from food containers to baby toys. Plastics are also non-renewable and some are not recyclable leading to greater amounts of trash that remain in a landfill forever. When burned, plastics release toxic fumes into the atmosphere. A growing alternative to petroleum based plastics is a bio-plastic called Arboform.

Arboform is a non-toxic bio-plastic composed of wood pulp based lignin, which can be mixed with other natural fibers along with wax to make a strong waterproof plastic alternative. Lignin, is an idyllic raw material because tens of millions of tons are often discarded as a byproduct of the papermaking process. Most commonly, lignin is separated from the cellulose and hemicellulose used to make high quality paper, by means of a sulfite or sulfate pulping process. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany have found a way to was to use high-pressure hydrolysis (with nothing more than water, high temperature and high pressure) to yield water insoluble lignin that does not need to be separated out by chemical means. With scares about the safety of children's toys Arboform seems like a perfect alternative being lower in chemicals and able to retain its stability even against saliva. When under high pressure conditions, Arboform can be injected into molds and behave just like plastic. Its versatility and renewability makes Arboform a very attractive prospect to manufacturers. When the life of the product is over it can be broken down and recycled as filler or can be burned just like wood without any additional toxic fumes.
This technology is relatively new in the United States but Arboform could be a real solution to reducing dependence on oil. Since the raw materials are renewable and can be grown in the country, the security of the resource is exponentially greater than that of crude oil. Paper manufacturing companies could easily incorporate the production of Arboform along with their products making them more efficient and allowing them to earn greater profits from their raw materials. Arboform is attractive to health conscious consumers that demand non-toxic products for themselves and their families. Even though it is more popular in Europe manufacturers hope that with the green movement Arboform will gain popularity in the U.S. More testing is needed for the safety of the product but overall the outlook is very positive.

By: Stephanie Berry
MSNBC "A greener alternative to plastics: liquid wood" By: Bryn Nelson

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Will Hydrogen be the Fuel of the Future?

For decades byproducts of petroleum have fueled our industries and vehicles. Though the burning of these fuels has been the backbone of our economy they have had an adverse effect on our environment. As the fear of global warming rises; governments, entrepreneurs, and industries are spending millions to find what will replace oil byproducts. Hydrogen, one of the most abundant elements on earth, has become one of the fuels to challenge oil’s supremacy, but will it be the fuel to power the green revolution?
There are many pros to hydrogen fuel cells. In the fuel cells hydrogen is mixed with oxygen to create electricity to power a vehicle. Fuel cell vehicles emit no noxious gases; the byproducts of a fuel cell are water vapor and heat. The abundance of hydrogen makes it a perfect substitute from oil, which is a finite resource. Hydrogen can also be produced in large quantities domestically by using water from the great lakes, lessening our dependence on foreign sources of energy and creating jobs that cannot be outsourced. Currently hydrogen fuel is also being used in a variety of prototype vehicles from cars, buses, airplanes, rockets, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Even with all of hydrogen’s benefits there are some major problems with hydrogen.
A major problem with hydrogen is that it does not occur naturally by itself in nature. Hydrogen is usually bonded to other elements due to the fact that it only has one electron that orbits its atomic structure. Hydrogen can be separated from water by using electrolysis, but this method is very expensive and power intensive. Most hydrogen now is processed from natural gas because of the high cost of the separation process. Another problem is the cost of the fuel cell within the car. Even though fuel cells have been in use for over fifteen years engineers have not found an innovative way to make fuel cells cheaper. These high cost make the hydrogen powered car to expensive for most consumers and not cost effective for companies to mass produce. At the present time there are only a few hydrogen fueling stations scattered around the country and for hydrogen to overtake gasoline a distribution system has to be built which would cost billions and would take decades to build and get running efficiently to satisfy the consumer s fuel needs.
Besides the problems that hydrogen has the industry has fierce competitors like electric cars and plug in hybrids that seemed poised to knock hydrogen down the list for alternatives. In 2009 US energy secretary Steven Chu eliminated public funding for hydrogen fuel cell research, but Congress rejected the idea and approved 300 million to continue research on hydrogen fuel cells. There are some in Congress that think that hydrogen will be the vital to repowering how America will travel in the future. As for an entrepreneur wanting to get in the hydrogen fuel cell industry it seems that without drastic innovation to bring down cost and the political will to start building distribution infrastructure, hydrogen fuel will not be the fuel to replace oil.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Green Patent Acceleration

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced it will be starting a program to accelerate the review of clean technology patents. Under the current system, patents going through the USPTO can take over 40 months to be passed. This places a great burden on the spread of new technology throughout our country because people do not want to release their technology to the market until it is protected by patents. By accelerating the patent process, this gives America the potential to have an increased spread of clean technologys which have the ability to aid green ventures in all realms of the economy. In addition, compared to economic stimulus, this is a relatively low cost way of moving towards making America more competitive in the clean tech race.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Green Energy in South Carolina

Last week, I was reading Clean Tech Revolution and discovered that Austin Energy is the nation's leader in selling green power. Curious to see how they pulled this off, I logged on to Austin Energy's website, and found that they offer a Greenchoice energy program in which their customers pay an additional 2.05 cents per kilowatt hour to be supplied with local, clean energy. This made me wonder, does South Carolina have a program like this set up? The answer is yes they have a program, but not an identical one. As of April 2008, SCE&G, Duke Energy Corp., and Progress Energy Inc. are all offering to sell green energy to their 1.3 million South Carolina customers.

So why have South Carolina’s programs not been as successful as Austin Energy, who’s Greenchoice program often has a waiting list? The answer may lie in the fact that South Carolina’s energy companies charge a 4 cent premium for green energy while Austin Energy only charges a 2 cent premium. Also, Austin Energy offers a 5 year green energy contract. This binding agreement is popular because many customers believe that it will save them money in the long run, as regular energy prices continue to rise. If South Carolina energy companies enacted similar programs, demand for green energy would rise, as would local green energy production. Currently, South Carolina’s energy companies are supplied with green energy from several landfill methane projects and one solar project. If demand for green energy rises as much as it has in Austin (up 400million kwh since 2007), South Carolina would see a large amount of growth in the green energy industry, especially wind and solar. This would create more jobs in South Carolina, and put this state on the map as a mecca for green energy production.