Stories tagged emissions

Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile Prototype
Carl J.E. Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin Standing Next to His Snowmobile PrototypeCourtesy Carl Eliason Family
84 years ago from today, on November 22, 1927, the first U.S. patent for a snowmobile (No. 1,650,334) was awarded to Carl Eliason of Saynor, Wisconsin. Carl was an auto mechanic, blacksmith and general store owner, and he loved the outdoors. However, he struggled with a foot deformity that made it difficult to use skis or snowshoes. So he built a lightweight personal machine that could follow the narrow ski and snowshoe trails made by his friends. His "motor toboggan" had ski-like front runners controlled by a rope, a rear drive track fashioned with bicycle sprockets and chains, wooden cleats, and was powered by a 2.5-horsepower outboard motor.

Today, snowmobiling provides a winter recreational activity enjoyed by many worldwide. For years, snowmobiles had a history of noise pollution, high emissions, and poor fuel economy. However, with the implementation of the U.S. EPA's reduced emissions program phases scheduled for completion in 2012, and rising cost in fuel prices, snowmobile enthusiasts and manufacturers are now seeking ways to make snowmobiles more eco-friendly and fuel efficient. Two-stroke engines used in motorcycles, snowmobiles, chainsaws, and marine outboard motors are not as efficient as their four-stroke counterparts, but they are lighter, less complex, and easier to manufacture. Many groups are manufacturing exhaust trapping systems that dramatically reduce EPA-regulated emissions such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and NOx.

Peter Britanyak of the University of Idaho's Department of Mechanical Engineering prototyped the idea of Synchronous Charge Trapping (SCT) on a two-stroke snowmobile engine as part of his thesis for a masters degree. A second generation prototype was created by Team SHORT CIRCUIT of the University of Idaho, and a preliminary patent has been issued.

Other designs have been manufactured through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Clean Snowmobile Challenge. In 2010, Minnesota-based manufacturer Polaris Industries teamed with University of Wisconsin-Madison to win the 2010 Clean Snowmobile Challenge. Next year, a record number of teams are expected to participate in the SAE 2012 Snowmobile Challenge, scheduled for March 5-10, 2012 at the Keweenaw Research Center of Michigan Technological University.

And research from snowmobiles and off-road vehicles is being applied to space exploration as well. Earlier this year, Quebec-based manufacturer Bombardier Recreational Products Inc. (BRP) announced that they are contributing to Canadian exploration programs of the moon and Mars. BRP will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover, from contracts awarded by the Canadian Space Agency.


Agriculture is widely understood to be one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which is unfortunate for two reasons: 1) greenhouse gases are a driving force of climate change, and 2) last time I checked, people still need to eat.

Literally Green Skyscrapers: In a near-future world with 9 billion people, land will be even more valuable than it is today.  Researchers have been asking themselves how we are going to feed all those new people...  What if we built high rise greenhouses?
Literally Green Skyscrapers: In a near-future world with 9 billion people, land will be even more valuable than it is today. Researchers have been asking themselves how we are going to feed all those new people... What if we built high rise greenhouses?Courtesy Curbed SF

Specifically, farming is one of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – all greenhouse gases – in our atmosphere. The four major sources of these emissions include fossil fuel consumption, fertilizer usage, animal farts and poop (no kidding!), as well as land use change (mainly, deforestation). As serious a problem as climate change is, one of the most important truths for environmentalists to remember is that people have needs that necessarily affect the health of the environment. For example, the world’s population is currently well over six billion people who need roughly 2,000 calories from food each day. That’s a lot of food that we depend upon farmers to raise and grow for us every day! And with predictions of nine billion people occupying the Earth in a mere forty years, our global population’s appetite is growing.

However, a June 2010 study published in Scientific American says that farming’s bad rap is undeserved, and actually modern high-yield crop farming has a net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Say what??

Here’s how it works: What sustainability-minded scientists from many disciplines strive to do is find ways to limit (better!) or eliminate (best!!) peoples’ negative impact on the environment.

In the 1960s, farmers and researchers began to develop new methods of farming to feed the rapidly expanding population. This has been called the “Green Revolution.” The results of their studies produced modern high-yield farming, which has allowed farmers to produce more food in less space. According to the Stanford researchers, though high-yield farming is possible largely because of fertilizer use – one of the four major sources of greenhouse gas emissions on farms – it prevents land use change in the form of deforestation – another one of the four major sources of greenhouse gas emissions on farms. The key point is that the greenhouse gas emissions caused by fertilizer use is less than the greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation, which yields a net reduction. That is, if we had continued with pre-Green Revolution farming techniques, in order to feed today’s population, we’d be using less fertilizer, deforesting more land, and emitting considerably more greenhouse gases than we currently are.

Today, at the Institute on the Environment, the Global Landscapes Initiative continues to focus on seeking ways to secure a healthy land use future for both people and the environment. This includes researching innovative agricultural practices.

Hydroponics: Hydoponics is a method of growing plants without soil.  Weird, but true!  Instead, plants are raised in a mineral water bath.  Could this be the future of farming?
Hydroponics: Hydoponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Weird, but true! Instead, plants are raised in a mineral water bath. Could this be the future of farming?Courtesy pchic

Another Scientific American article has it’s own ideas about how to provide food to our growing population: build vertical farms. These futuristic, skyscraping greenhouses are based upon existing hydroponic greenhouses and could reduce fossil-fuel use while simultaneously recycling city wastewater. Hydroponic greenhouses grow plants without soil! Instead, they use mineral nutrients dissolved in water, allowing plants to be grown just about anywhere… including on the 34th floor. According to the article,

“A one-square-block farm 30 stories high could yield as much food as 2,400 outdoor acres…”

That’s a lot of food. A lot. Really? Is it possible? The paper’s author claims it is and that architects, engineers, designers, and “mainstream organizations” are taking note of his vertical farm concept.


Pacaya-Samiria NR, Amazon
Pacaya-Samiria NR, AmazonCourtesy Mark Goble
Scientists know that the Amazon rainforest can help to slow down climate change. The trees not only take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, but they also are made of carbon. All living things are made of carbon, and when these things die that carbon is released.

There was an unusually severe drought in 2005, which gave scientists a preview of the Amazon's future climate. Scientists think the rainforest will see hotter and more intense dry seasons with climate change. When Oliver Phillips a professor at the University of Leeds, looked at the effects of the drought, he found that it caused carbon losses in the rainforest. This is bad for us, because we rely on the Amazon to take in carbon dioxide, not release it!

In most years the Amazon absorbs almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In 2005, the trees did not absorb that much carbon dioxide, but the forest lost more than 3 billion tons. The losses were caused by all the trees that died in the drought. The impact of the drought, 5 billion extra tons of carbon dioxide is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan put together.

A study in Norway shows that an adult moose emits about as much greenhouse gas in a year as a car. Cows are even worse.


To good to be true? Maybe not. India’s largest car company is planning to start production on a car that runs on compressed air. An on-board tank would store over 3,000 cubic feet of compressed air. Released in small, controlled bursts, the air would push pistons to make the car go. Nothing burns, so there is no pollution, no greenhouse gas emissions, no use of gasoline.

The car has a range of 120-180 miles, about double what the best electrics now offer. Drivers will fill up at special compressors installed at filling stations. (The car also comes equipped with a compressor that can refill the tank if plugged in overnight.) Thus, “fuel” costs will come down to about 2.2 cents per mile.

The car saves energy in other ways:

  • Because there is no internal combustion – no gasoline burns in the engine, and it stays relatively cool -- you only need to change the oil every 31,000 miles or so. (In fact, you can use vegetable oil.)
  • As air expands, its temperature drops – in this case, to somewhere between 0 and 15 below. This cool air could be recaptured for the air conditioning system, saving even more energy.

The car does have some drawbacks. The top speed is 68 mph -- fine for tooling around town, but pretty weak for the highway. Also, to save weight, the car is made entirely of fiberglass and is glued together, rather than bolted. This kind of construction is not considered safe enough in the US. But if the air car is successful, it’s a good bet that car companies will look for ways to adapt this technology to the American market.


Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke.   licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0
Farming the Wind: photo by Dirk Ingo Franke. licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 1.0

Want to make a difference?

Did you know that you can insist that the amount of electricity you use be produced without generating carbon dioxide emissions or other forms of pollution (mercury, sulfer). Windsource electricity is produced without air emissions, such as carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, both considered to contribute to greenhouse gases. Wind-generated electricity also uses no water and therefore requires no water treatment during production. I am doing this by joining the Windsource program.

Xcel Energy will be held accountable for using Windsource funds appropriately: it must file annual reports with the Minnesota Department of Commerce and Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, accounting for program revenues and expenses and wind generation and sales. In addition, all wind facilities supplying the Windsource program will be certified by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Sierraclub

What does it cost?

I have agreed to pay $2 per 100 kWh extra on my electric bill. This month I used 304 kWh so I was billed an extra $6.08. Since my electricity is pollution free I was rebated the Fuel Cost Adjustment that I otherwise would have paid ($2.76). So I paid an extra $3.32 last month know that I am helping rather than hurting our future environment. When fuel cost rise enough the rebate can become greater than what you pay for Windsource. You can sign up for Windsource here or call 1-800-895-4999 anytime.


California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia
California's 25/20 vision: photo from Wikimedia

A 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020

California seeks to again lead the world toward a better future. After last weeks "one million solar roofs" legislation, this week California politicians are working out details that will reduce their green house emissions 25 per cent by the year 2020.

The legislation will require all businesses, from automakers to cement manufacturers, to reduce emissions beginning as early as 2012 to meet the 2020 cap. The state's 11-member Air Resources Board, which is appointed by the governor, will be charged with developing targets for each industry and for seeing that those targets are met. The board now will embark on a years-long process to fully develop regulations. The board could impose fees on some industries to pay for new programs that could do everything from requiring truckers to use biodiesel fuels to forcing farmers to handle animal waste differently.San Francisco Chronicle

California is the world's 12th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 10 percent of the carbon dioxide produced nationally and 2.5 percent globally. Global scientists agree that to prevent catastrophic temperature increases in this century, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have to be 70 to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels.

Cap emissions; buy and sell emissions credits

Last week Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the state's senior Democratic legislator, pledged at the Commonwealth Club to introduce legislation in January that would place mandatory caps on industrial emissions. She also supports a federal cap-and-trade bill, a market-based approach for lowering emissions.(see Buzz Blog post about buying and selling pollution) For example, it would allow farmers and landowners who plant trees or convert crops into bio-fuels to earn emission credits that could be sold to companies that exceed emission limits.

What will it cost and who will pay

Some predict that because "green" energy is more expensive, many companies will move out of California. Others insist that investment capital and "clean-tech" jobs will result, similar to when California led the way with Silicon Valley. California would become more efficient and self reliant. This could give them a head start in a future that will certainly need to do something about global warming and rising energy costs.