Stories tagged green

Mar
31
2009

The new I-35W bridge: now bigger, stronger, and greener.
The new I-35W bridge: now bigger, stronger, and greener.Courtesy anjouwu
Ever stand on a sidewalk and wonder about the concrete beneath your feet? Where did it come from, and how did this hard grey material get to be pretty much everywhere? Though you may not think about it at all, concrete is used more than any other building material in the world. In fact, concrete is so ubiquitous that the production of concrete contributes 5% of the world's human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

Add it all up and it starts to look like concrete is more than just the stuff of sidewalks and building blocks. Concrete is a V.I.P. (which is how I like to refer to Very Important Polluters).

While concrete is a huge contributor of CO2, it also has loads of potential to be an innovative and important "green" material that helps us to build stronger and more environmentally friendly roads, bridges and buildings. This really great article from the New York Times science section explains the basics of concrete chemistry, and how new concrete mixes are being developed that are not just stronger and better for buildings, but that also can scrub carbon from the air.

Here in the Twin Cities we have our own example of cutting-edge concrete in the I-35W bridge, which was built to replace the bridge that collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people. You might not realize it as you pass over this bridge, but it's made of many different mixes of concrete, each developed to do a particular job.

Some of the concrete in the I-35W bridge was mixed and cured (that's what they call the hardening process) to be strong and stable, others to resist the road salts and other effects of weather and climate in Minnesota. The wavy concrete sculptures on the bridge even scrub pollutants from the air, In fact, they stay white because of a chemical process that uses the sun to help break down staining pollutants. Who knew concrete could be so fascinating?!

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Concrete

Science Buzz Posts on the I-35W Bridge Collapse

(Disclaimer: I stole the title of this post from the original article. Hey, if imitation is a sincere form of flattery...) Anyway, the Italian town of Torraca (population 1,200) is the first place on Earth to be entirely illuminated with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) instead of incandescent lighting. Lots of other cities around the world are following suit.

Though they're more expensive to buy up front, LEDs are much more energy efficient than old-school light bulbs, and they last a LOT longer.

"Potential energy savings, however, appear to hold more sway with cities and building owners than cost. After all, some 22 percent of all electricity use in the U.S. is devoted to lighting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy—and switching to LEDs could save $280 billion by 2028. In fact, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., estimate that replacing incandescents with LEDs could save $1.83 trillion in energy costs globally over the next decade and eliminate the need for 280 1,000-megawatt power plants."

Mar
16
2009

Sustainability is one of those words that seems to have appeared overnight and is suddenly everywhere in our popular conscience, from car commercials to advertisements for laundry soap to political promises and mantras for personal wellness. How can so many different people use the same word to describe all sorts of things? What does sustainability mean anyway?

Scientific American has just published a really great list of their Top 10 Myths About Sustainability to help us all sort these questions out. Here, for Science Buzz readers, is a quick summary:

Myth 1: Nobody knows what sustainability really means

Scientific American points out that the 1987 Brundtland commission report gave a definition for sustainable development that still works today. It amounts to what every second grade teacher already told you, "Don't take more than your share." Despite lots of different specific uses for the term "sustainability," most people mean pretty much this same thing.

Myth 2: Sustainability is all about the environment

Actually, the conversation about sustainability really began with an effort to find ways to raise the standard of living in poor nations to something comparable to what we experience in most parts of the US and other wealthier countries. Because that standard of living is tied directly to the environment, it makes sense that the sustainability movement would grow out of these interwoven conversations.

Myth 3: “Sustainable” is a synonym for “green.”

When people use the term "green" they often mean it as the opposite of "artificial" - a position that has served environmental activists well in the past. But sustainability as a concept requires that we consider technologies that may fall outside of the traditional dichotomies of natural / artificial, for example, nuclear energy or electric cars.

Myth 4: It’s all about recycling

The article reminds us that while recycling is important, it is just one piece of the puzzle.

Myth 5: Sustainability is too expensive

This myth is the one I've heard the most, and according to Scientific American, it contains at least a grain of truth. It costs money up front to retrofit existing buildings and systems, but in the long run, sustainability will save money.

Myth 6: Sustainability means lowering our standard of living

We will need to learn to do more with less, but in terms of resources, not innovation.

Myth 7: Consumer choices and grassroots activism, not government intervention, offer the fastest, most efficient routes to sustainability

The most efficient route to sustainability will most likely involve a mix of these different strategies. Scientific American points to some recent developments in the auto industry as evidence of what happens when we get this wrong.

Myth 8: New technology is always the answer

During his political campaign, President Obama mentioned the energy savings that could be gained by properly inflating car tires. For this he was ridiculed by his opponents in the Republican Party. But he was actually right. There are solutions that do not require fancy new technologies. Conservation and more efficient use of existing technologies can go a long way toward sustainability goals.

Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem

While all environmental problems are in some way a "population problem" the solution is more complex than this myth suggests. According to the article, it makes the most sense to focus on using resources wisely.

Myth 10: Once you understand the concept, living sustainably is a breeze to figure out

Even if we know what it means, sustainable practices require a complete analysis of costs and benefits over time. The article points to the example of corn-based ethanol, which at first might seem like the answer to our oil addiction, but upon closer examination has plenty of environmental and social impacts of its own.

The lesson here seems to be that while sustainability is simple in concept ("don't take more than your share") it isn't easy to enact the changes needed to be sustainable, as individuals or as a collective society. BUT, I would add one last myth to the list,

Myth 11: Sustainability is too difficult to understand, and will be even harder to realize

Nothing is too difficult to understand, but lots of things are hard to realize, especially if you sit around complaining about how hard and difficult it is instead of trying to understand and act. History shows us that we can meet HUGE challenges if we put our individual and collective efforts behind making changes. There was a time when something as far-fetched as flying to the moon may have seemed too difficult and hard (so why bother?). But people put their heads together and eventually figured it out.

Now it's our turn.

Mar
06
2009

Zipingpu Dam: Upriver from the town of Dujiangyan, Sichuan, China.
Zipingpu Dam: Upriver from the town of Dujiangyan, Sichuan, China.Courtesy TaylorMiles
Scientists suspect that last year’s devastating earthquake in China may not have been a natural disaster. A nearby dam may have weakened fault lines and spurred the magnitude-7.9 quake.

The Zipingpu Dam is only 3.4 miles from the epicenter of the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province. This quake killed 80,000 people and left 5 million homeless. Although the area exhibits a lot of seismic activity, an earthquake of this magnitude is unusual.

Water in the Zipingpu Dam

The Zipingpu Dam is one of nearly 400 hydroelectric dams in the area. It rises 511 feet high and holds 315 million tons of water. US and Chinese scientists believe that the weight of the water increased the direct pressure on the fault line below. This volume of water would exert 25 times more pressure annually than is natural. Additionally, water seeping into the rock acted as a lubricant and relaxed the tension between the two sides of the fault line. Since the reservoir was filled in 2004, the water caused a chain of ruptures culminating in this massive earthquake.

Worldwide impact on green energy

Sichuan province is the epicenter for more than just a powerful earthquake. It is here that most of China’s hydroelectric power is generated, an integral component of its renewable power plans. The area also produces much of the world’s wind turbine equipment. The infrastructure will take months or years to repair.

Before the quake, China admitted to major flaws in the country’s 87,000 dams. The earthquake damaged other dams and power stations and several major reservoirs were drained to prevent their dams from failing.

Making what is believed to be its first pass through our solar system, Comet Lulin will be passing by Earth tonight at its closest point to us on its celestial voyage. Full details are here from National Geographic. Despite its close tracking tonight to our planet, about 38 million miles, you'll still need to use a telescope or binoculars to see it. As a new comet, Lulin has just started to burn the frozen chemicals that make up its composition on this pass around the sun, giving astronomers a rare chance to see what happens with a brand-new comet

Windpower leader
Windpower leaderCourtesy ecstaticist

The United States overtook Germany as the biggest producer of wind power last year, new figures showed, and will likely take the lead in solar power this year, analysts said on Monday. Wind accounted for 42% of all new electricity generation installed last year in the U.S.
Another interesting change:
The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States. (click links in red to learn more).

Some of Liza's RSS feeds
Some of Liza's RSS feedsCourtesy Liza Pryor

"Stanford creates 100 million dollar energy research center"
"Stanford University is creating a 100-million-dollar research institute that will focus on energy issues, including the search for ways to reduce global warming, officials said."

"Home turbines fail to deliver as promised, warns British study"
"Home wind turbines are only generating a fraction of electricity promised by the manufacturers while some even fail to yield enough energy to run the turbine's electronics, a British study warned on Tuesday."

"'V-wing' turbine gets study cash"
"An unusual design of wind turbine with a pair of giant vertical wings could one day be generating electricity for the UK Grid."

"China's BYD to bring plug-in hybrid, electric cars to US in 2011"
"China's BYD Auto announced plans Monday to enter the US market in 2011 with a range of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. It would likely be the first Chinese automaker to enter the highly-competitive US market and beat many established automakers in offering an extended-range electric vehicle to US consumers."

"A bicycle evangelist with the wind now at his back"
"For years, Earl Blumenauer has been on a mission, and now his work is paying off. He can tell by the way some things are deteriorating around here."

Can the good old White House be converted into a greener living space? Top designers were given the challenge to draw up creative plans to make the White House an environmentally better place for the Obamas. Click here to see what they've whipped up. Be sure to click on the photo gallery that's to the right of the main story to see conceptual drawings.

Solar car circles the globe

by Anonymous on Dec. 04th, 2008

A Swiss teacher just completed a 17-month trip around the world in a solar-powered car. Louis Palmer made the 32,000 mile trip towing a trailer load of batteries charged by the sun. His journey took him through 38 countries and ended in Poznan, Poland where the United Nation talks on climate change are taking place. the vehicle has a top speed of 55 mph and can travel 180 miles on a single charge. The Solar Taxi's official website has information, updates, photos, and a blog.

Nov
13
2008

It's a new day in America: Where should our energy come from now?
It's a new day in America: Where should our energy come from now?Courtesy timsamoff
On January 21, 2009, there’s going to be a brand new administration in the White house. Defining the energy policy of the United States is going to be a big issue, and one that’s likely to get tackled early on.

The members of the Obama Administration are going to have their own ideas about how our country should get its energy, but what do you think?

Is green energy your one and only? Are you a coal man? A nuclear gal? Or do you fall asleep murmuring “drill, baby, drill”?

Some options are going to be more expensive than others, each will affect the environment differently, and some are going to take more time before they’re ready. So what’s it going to be?

Voice your opinion in Science Buzz’s new poll: Energy and the Obama Administration.

You might not have been able to vote on November 4, but you can vote now, and you can let everyone know why you think what you think.