Monday, December 31, 2007

Windbelt, cheap generator alternative, set to power Third World


Working in Haiti, Shawn Frayne, a 28-year-old inventor based in Mountain View, Calif., saw the need for small-scale wind power to juice LED lamps and radios in the homes of the poor. Conventional wind turbines don’t scale down well—there’s too much friction in the gearbox and other components. “With rotary power, there’s nothing out there that generates under 50 watts,” Frayne says. So he took a new tack, studying the way vibrations caused by the wind led to the collapse in 1940 of Washington’s Tacoma Narrows Bridge (aka Galloping Gertie).

Frayne’s device, which he calls a Windbelt, is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets that oscillate between metal coils. Prototypes have generated 40 milliwatts in 10-mph slivers of wind, making his device 10 to 30 times as efficient as the best microturbines. Frayne envisions the Windbelt costing a few dollars and replacing kerosene lamps in Haitian homes. “Kerosene is smoky and it’s a fire hazard,” says Peter Haas, founder of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which helps people in developing countries to get environmentally sound access to clean water, sanitation and energy. “If Shawn’s innovation breaks, locals can fix it. If a solar panel breaks, the family is out a panel.”

Frayne hopes to help fund third-world distribution of his Windbelt with revenue from first-world applications—such as replacing the batteries used to power temperature and humidity sensors in buildings. “There’s not a huge amount of innovation being done for people making $2 to $4 per day,” Haas says. “Shawn’s work is definitely needed.”
In a conventional wind generator, gears help transfer the motion of the spinning blades to a turbine where an electric current is induced. The Windbelt is simpler and more efficient in light breezes—a magnet mounted on a vibrating membrane simply oscillates between wire coils.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Toledo OH Solar


Thin Film Flexible Solar Panels From Toledo OH

From the Toledo Free Press:

The Lucas County Board of Commissioners and County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz announced a $2 million investment in Xunlight Corporation, a thin-film solar cell manufacturer founded in Toledo.

Through the treasurer’s linked deposit program, the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Dec. 18 allowing a move to raise the cap for the incentive program from $150,000 to $2 million for the loan to Xunlight.

“The linked deposit program is designed to create jobs, and the business alone will create almost 800 jobs in the next five years. This is a public-private partnership that works,” Kapszukiewicz said.

Kapszukiewicz reported 12 other businesses have taken advantage of the linked deposit program, but none will have the transformative impact of Xunlight to Lucas County’s economy. The county’s program has a $5 million fund for making such loans.

The linked deposit program allows the county to assist developing companies to secure private bank loans with lower interest rates, which in this case were three points below the prime rate. The county purchases certificates of deposit with the bank to support those loans.

Xunlight is taking the linked deposit incentive from the county to banks and seeking to obtain an actual loan to fund its local manufacturing operations, said Bob Savage Jr., senior business adviser for Xunlight.

“We are building a high-speed manufacturing plant to produce flexible and lightweight thin photovoltaic film modules using our advanced technology,” said Xunming Deng, P.hD., president and CEO of Xunlight.

Xunlight recently purchased a 120,000-square-foot facility on Nebraska Avenue to establish its corporate offices and a manufacturing plant in Toledo. Company leaders expect to begin production in the second quarter of 2008.

The company began operations as MWOE Solar Inc. in the technology incubator program at UT, where its founder, Deng, is a professor of physics.

“It’s one of the fastest growing industries in the world and the amount of incentives offered to companies is significant, but they wanted to stay in Toledo,” Savage said.

The new company is preparing to produce a low-cost, efficient product in an emerging market, and the county wanted to keep it in the area, Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said.

“Partnerships between the public and private sectors like this help keep a homegrown business to stay home. We want to brand our area as an alternative energy corridor,” he said.

Gerken said Deng came to the county with a commitment to stay in Toledo without depending upon venture capitalists for start-up funds in order to retain control of his company. Xunlight is funded by Emerald Technology Venture, NGP Energy Technology Partners, angel investors, and various government and research grants.

Xunlight received a $1.9 million award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September under the agency’s Advanced Technology Program. That award will allow the company to accelerate the development of the next generation of manufacturing technologies, Deng said.

“We have a chance to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy, and Xunlight will be at the front of that charge,” Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop said.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

The World’s First Biodegradable Umbrella


The Brelli is said to be world’s first biodegradable umbrella. Inspired by asian parasols, the Brelli’s handle and frame are crafted from bamboo (sustainably-harvested), and the canopy is made out of an innovative bioplastic. The canopy can be composted in conventional landfills – it has passed stringent tests certifying that it will fully biodegrade in one to two year.

The Brelli is available in two sizes: a 37″ diameter version ($28) and a 52″ diameter version ($38). It’s currently available at Fred Siegel, Zero Minus Plus and Jussara Lee in New York.


Web site: Brelli


Thursday, November 29, 2007

8 Watt Computer for Rural Africa


Aleutia Computer - 8 Watts of Linux Power

(This is a reposting with minor editing from the Aleutia Website)

Aleutia Works in places other computers don’t.

  • During peak performance, the Aluetia E1 consumes just 8W of power, 4% of what a typical (200W) desktop uses. Runs off a car battery or a cheap solar panel.
  • Keep Working During Power Cuts! A UPS that will keep a standard desktop running for 15 minutes will power an E1 for 6.5 hours!
  • Everything is stored on a CF card, which can be instantly removed to ensure security of your information.
  • Efficient web browser for slow Internet connections. (should be blazing fast w/ broadband)
  • Discounted 5-Pack for rural schools available, with low-power displays, solar panel, and battery.

Every application you need and as fast as XP

Puppy Linux is pre-installed. Completely Stable and Fast!

  • Practically identical interface to Windows, no learning curve required!
  • Office-compatible - create/modify/save Excel and Word files, or even PDFs.
  • Spreadsheet program opens in 3 seconds.

Works Off-the-Grid, Available with LCD, Solar Panel

For aid workers, meteorologists, field engineers, and people on the move.

  • Ultra-portable version: E1 with 8″ Display, foldable solar panel, and lightweight battery.
  • Fits in laptop bag, takes 5 minutes to set up.
  • Display and E1 run for 3.5 hours on a charge. Can recharge by car.

Or buy a kit with roof-mounted solar panel and 9kgs battery for less!

  • Ideal for healthcare clinics, remote offices, or just individuals without power.
  • 30 minute set up.
  • Will power E1 and display for 13 hours on a charge.

Linux seems to be so efficient, requiring smaller hard drives and ram.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

High-Tech Solutions to Oil Spills: Human Hair


As long as we're stuck in this fossil-fueled economy, there will be a need for tools that can clean up oil spills. And while there are a lot of high-tech solutions out there, the citizens of San Francisco have been using, of all things, mats made of human hair.

Lisa Gautier gathered the hair from local salons and had them fashioned into mats for use for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. The hair naturally separates the oil from the water, leaving behind big tar-filled glob of hairy toxicity and happy, fresh ocean water. Mushrooms are then seeded on the tar globs, they grow, digesting the oil into non-toxic organics, which can then be composted into soil...y' grow your veggies.

All I can say...I wouldn't believe it if it weren't San Francisco...

Via Inhabitat


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BMW Palace of Auto Sales


BMW Welt
BMW Welt - Solar and So Much More

It’s hard not to be a bit snarky reviewing this new homage to consumption.

BMW Welt is a $275 million dollar German Uber Dealership. If a typical BMW dealership can be considered a church then BMW Welt is Saint Peter’s Cathedral, according to one BMW exec. Other BMW personnel have been heard comparing their new showroom to the Acropolis, a Museum and other well liked objects. The building’s steel and glass façade reminds me of a physics textbook sketch showing the curvature of space-time. From some views it looks a bit like the TWA terminal at Kennedy Airport.

The 16,500 m2 (177,500 ft2) expanse of roof has an impressive roof-integrated photovoltaic system made up of 3,660 solar modules with a total capacity of 824kW (peak).

The facility includes the premium lounge where soon to be new car owners can await delivery, a public gallery, a conference suite and children’s center. The Space Time Cone will act as a media pavillion for exhibitions and events accommodating up to 450 people. BMW anticipates over 800,000 visitors per year.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Santa Monica LEED Parking Structure


Santa Monica LEED Parking Structure

On the heels of my Mumbai rant, I present a parking deck that the City of Santa Monica hopes to become the first LEED certified parking Structure.

From a Santa Monica press release:

The six-story, 882-space structure at the Civic Center features photovoltaic roof panels, a storm drain water treatment system, recycled construction materials and energy efficient mechanical systems.

The $29 million structure â€" which sits near the entrance and exit ramps at the end of the 10 Freeway â€" also features ground-floor retail, art works on every floor and sweeping city and ocean views.

City officials hope the 290,000-square-foot-garage will become the nation’s first parking structure certified by the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

The structure’s photovoltaic panels â€" which cost $1.5 million â€" will pay for themselves in 17 years by generating $90,000 a year in electricity,” said Craig Perkins, director of Environmental and Public Works Management for the City.

This structure is busy looking, and it has a lot in common with the Mumbai building. But it has a clear portfolio of green features including a very large photovoltaic array. While this is edgy, and unusual looking, it looks playful and appropriate for its function.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

REC to Build World's Largest Solar Manufacturing Complex in Singapore

REC Group announced that it will build a new worldscale solar manufacturing complex in Singapore with total investments possibly exceeding US$4.3 billion (EUR 3 billion) within the next 5 years. It has simultaneously signed an agreement with the Singaporean government agency Economic Development Board (EDB) that defines the terms and conditions related to the development of a new production site, the process of establishing a manufacturing complex, as well as operational and commercial conditions.

In addition to wafer, cell and module production, the manufacturing complex will incorporate infrastructure and support facilities, as well as an on-site supplier park. Sufficient space has also been reserved for future R&D activities and possible manufacturing facilities based on potential new technologies.

The green field site can hold a capacity of up to 1.5 GW within each product area, although it is not likely that the production capacity for wafer, cells and modules will be fully balanced. Depending on the final capacity and site development, total investments in the Singapore site may exceed EUR 3 billion within the next 5 years and the total number of employees could be around 3 000 people.

The development of this site will enable us to continue expanding in a cost efficient manner and will support REC's ambitious cost target. Our future cost position will determine our ability to deliver solar products that can compete with traditional energy sources in the sunny areas of the world without government incentives", said Erik Thosen, the President & CEO of REC.

REC is positioned in the solar energy industry as the only company with a presence across the entire value chain. REC Silicon and REC Wafer are the world's largest producers of polysilicon and wafers for solar applications. REC Solar produces solar cells and solar modules. REC Group had revenues in 2006 of US$810 million (NOK 4 334 million) and an operating profit of US$294 million (NOK 1 574 million).


Monday, October 22, 2007

Gadget Recycling Boosts Dioxins in Mothers' Milk


People who live near electronics recycling sites in China have higher levels of harmful chemical compounds in their bodies, a study finds.

Toxic chemicals including dioxins and furans were found to be elevated in women's breast milk, meaning they could pose a special risk to breast-fed infants.

Electronic waste is rapidly becoming a major recycling problem as the lifetime of computers shrinks and as more people worldwide acquire devices such as cellphones.

According to a report by China's State Environmental Protection Administration, about 70% of the world's e-waste is exported to China. Experts say this is because labor is cheap and regulations are poorly enforced.

In China "recycling is often done by rudimentary methods," according to the new study, led by Ming Wong of Hong Kong Baptist University.

Wong says current recycling methods include "burning wire piles to recover metals, melting circuit boards over coal grills � and extracting metals in acid baths." Most workers also lack any kind of safety equipment, such as respirators, to protect them from the fumes.

Record levels

Burning wires and other material releases dioxins and furans, which, according to the World Health Organization, can cause cancer and disrupt endocrine and reproductive systems. However, so far there have been few studies of the health of people living near e-waste recycling sites.

Wong and colleague studied 20 women in their mid-20s at two different sites: a major e-waste recycling site in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, and Hangzhou � a city in the same province that does not carry out such recycling.

Residents of the control town had levels of dioxins that similar to those of people in Ireland and Sweden. At the e-waste site, however, dioxin levels were among the highest recorded anywhere in the world � women's breast milk had more than twice the concentration of dioxins found in the control site and their placentas had nearly three times the concentration of the chemical.

The study also found that women who had lived near the e-waste site for longer periods had relatively higher dioxin levels, as well as a higher chance of suffering a spontaneous abortion. Wong says, though, that more research is needed to tell whether the elevated levels of dioxins are related to health problems.

"It's a bit circumstantial because there's no proof that the recycling causes the high levels of dioxins, but it's likely," says environmental chemist Gareth Thomas of Lancaster University, UK.

Illegal disposal?

Thomas argues that countries have a responsibility to make sure their electronic waste is disposed of properly. "We should only export [e-wastes] if they're going to be treated with the same standards that we would expect them to be treated here," he says.

"The results indicate that there's a real problem," adds Sarah Westervelt of the Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based watchdog group. Richer countries that have ratified the Basel Convention � an international agreement concerning import and export of hazardous materials � are not supposed to export these materials to developing countries, including China, Westervelt points out.

The United States is the only developed country not to have ratified the convention. Even so, while all European Union members are bound by it, "we found plenty of [e-waste] from the UK both in Nigeria and China," Westervelt says.

Meanwhile, Wong worries that the problem of electronic waste may simply be shifted from China to other developing countries. "The Chinese government has imposed tighter control, so the amount of electronic waste entering into mainland China has been decreased," he says. "However, the wastes are finding their way to other developing countries and we worry that the same mistake may be repeated."

Journal reference: Environmental Science and Technology (vol 41, p 7185)


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Hydrogen Economy Could Dry Our Rivers


Written by Jozef Winter

Michael Webber, the Associate Director Centre for International Energy and Environmental Policy, has completed an analysis of the water requirements for a burgeoning hydrogen economy slated to arrive near 2040.Around this time, it is predicted that the annual production of hydrogen would top 60 billion kg. The hydrogen, of course, will be coming from water, and he estimates that 19-69 trillion gallons of water will be needed for electrolysis and for coolant of power plants. Considering that means somewhere between 50-200 billion gallons of water per day, water is looking more and more not to be the inexhaustable resource as it was once touted, not to mention that this needs to be fresh, distilled water... so much for the oceans without energy-intense desalination plants.

To add fuel to the fire, electrolysis is only currently at about 60-70% efficiency. At 100% efficiency, a rate we will never achieve, it takes 40kWh to produce a kilogram of hydrogen. This means between 1134-2754 billion kWh at an efficiency of 75% will be needed to produce the amounts they are predicting.

With local water resources being depleted, water prices skyrocketing and the question of where these billions of kWh will come from, Michael makes a sobering statement in his report:

Each of the energy choices we can make, in terms of fuels and technologies, has its own tradeoffs associated with it. Hydrogen, just like ethanol, wind, solar, or other alternative choices, has many merits, but also has some important impacts to keep in mind, as this paper tries to suggest. I would encourage the continuation of research into hydrogen production as part of a comprehensive basket of approaches that are considered for managing the transition into the green energy era. But, because of some of the unexpected impacts—for example on water resources—it seems premature to determine that hydrogen is the answer we should pursue at the exclusion of other options.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Aptera Electric Hybrid Car - Revisited


Aptera Electric Hybrid Car - Revisited

Aptera 2

The Aptera as a Concept Car

Aptera 1

Production Apteras Look Like This

The Aptera, previously covered here, is about to go into production. Aptera is taking $500.00 refundable deposits on either their all electric car or their diesel-electric hybrid. Both models are under $30k.

Aptera reports their prototype hybrid car gets 320 miles per gallon while driving at 55 mph. (!!!) When I previously posted about the Aptera I was skeptical of their claim of 330 mpg. now with their prototype getting 320 mpg I admit I am very impressed. I am also impressed at how closely the production model matches the prototype. Changes from concept to working prototype often sacrifice the original vision of a design, but in this case I think the engineers at Aptera have stuck with and improved upon a pretty radical design. One example is the windows which are now larger and more like standard automobile windows.

Well, the question for us all is - do we want to drive a really different looking car that gets incredible mileage?

Via: Gizmodo


Friday, September 21, 2007

Carbon Negative Fuel


Carbon Negative Fuel


This may sound like another of my “Free Energy” posts, but it isn’t.

Liquid fuel, similar to Diesel fuel, and other hydrocarbons can be made by heating up biomass without oxygen. The process, known as pyrolysis, is similar to how charcoal is made. Take a sealed container, fill it with wood (or other biomass), heat it up to 300 - 500 C and condense the gasses that are emitted by the heating biomass. The result is a “BioCrude” oil distilate and charcoal.

Biocrude can be processed just like crude oil is processed to make some lighter distillates and diesel fuel. The remaining charcoal can be burned - in which case this process is not carbon negative but slightly carbon emitting. Or better yet, the charcoal can be buried or used as a soil amendment, in which case the process is carbon negative.

This process is currently being commercialized by a number of companies, Dynamotive looks to be at the head of the pack with a plant in Guelph, Ontario now online processing 200 tonnes of biomass per day.

Link to Scientific American on Biochar (they call it agrichar)


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Vertical Farm Project Update


Written by A Siegel

EcoGeek's recent coverage of An Off-Grid Vertical Farm for Downtown Seattle garnered some attention and generated discussion. But we should recognize that it is far from the first or only really interesting concept for going vertical in growing food in urban areas.

A Columbia University microbiologist, Dickson Despommier, advocates 30-story skyscrapers that would, each, be able to grow food for 50,000 people, taking up roughly one city block. From Plenty Magazine, The Farmer in the High-Rise

"It's not just a way of generating food," says Despommier. "It's a way of dealing with municipal waste, recycling water, and using methane digestion to help a city be sustainable."

While it is not happening, to me this concept is not "science fiction," but more an innovative concept waiting for the confluence of events that will make it into reality.

In 2001, the Dutch agriculture minister supported building a vertical farm in Rotterdam called Deltapark, in response to flooding farmland, livestock diseases such as swine fever, and growing agricultural pollution. Though the park hasn't been built, the idea of linking several industries together to reduce the environmental burden of agriculture has become increasingly popular, says Jan Broeze, the Wageningen University scientist who dreamed up Deltapark. "If you cluster various activities, like greenhouses, fish farming, and manure processing, then you create a sufficient scale for more sustainable food production," says Broeze, who is working with a group of farmers in Holland to link a chicken farm, a manure processing system, and greenhouses. "The idea is to use wastes from one industry to sustain another.

"What this discussion suggests, however, is potentially one of the serious obstacles before this project would go forward: stove-piping of costs and benefits need to be broken, with a holistic understanding (and accounting) so that payoffs can be fully understood and valued. Producing more food closer to consumers would help the nation reduce oil usage in the face of peak oil. Is there a financial valuing of this additional security that could go to the builder/operator? This type of production potentially would reduce traffic on streets and highways (fewer food delivery trucks from out-of-state). Could the builder/operator be credited with some of the savings on highway maintenance and reduced congestion on the roads? Being able to monetize these "external" costs and benefits would enhance the value of pursuing such projects. Some countries and societies are prepared, it seems, to pursue this system-of-system calculation, with not just the Dutch in active conversation with Despommier.

The Vertical Farm Project has received considerable press attention recently, with articles in Popular Science, US News and World Report, and a great piece in New York Magazine which begins:

Urban farming has always been a slightly quixotic endeavor. From the small animal farm that was perched on the roof of the Upper West Side's Ansonia apartment building in the early 1900s (fresh eggs delivered by bellhop!) to community gardens threatened by real-estate development, the dream of preserving a little of the country in the city is a utopian one. But nobody has ever dreamed as big as Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, who believes that "vertical farm" skyscrapers could help fight global warming.

Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers on Governors Island or in Hudson Yards producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying wastewater. Roughly 150 such buildings, Despommier estimates, could feed the entire city of New York for a year. Using current green building systems, a vertical farm could be self-sustaining and even produce a net output of clean water and energy.

150 buildings? Feed all of New York City? Perhaps, it is time to consider this seriously. Consider the physical footprint for this. And, well, consider the 3 billion additional people to be living on the planet by 2050.

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

Could the Vertical Farm Project offer a real window on how not just to feed 9.2 billion people, but to feed them well while reducing everyone's "footprint" on the Earth?

The Vertical Farm Project is the home site for this concept and offers a very robust and sophisticated look at the opportunities and options for going vertical with food production. There is a lot of tremendously interesting material there, with serious looks at challenges and benefits.
If you are at all tempted by the discussion, the Vertical Farm Project site is recommended for a look.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New Lasers Make Radioactive Waste Safe


Radioactive waste is only a problem when it remains radioactive for vast amounts of time. Unfortunately, many of the byproducts of nuclear fission have half-lives of millions of years. Right now, we have no idea what to do with this stuff. It's hard to imagine next century, let alone 15 million years from now. Do we really want to leave this stuff lying around? It will almost certainly escape from anywhere we put it.

Luckily, scientists are working on ways to avoid these long-term problems. British scientists have "transmuted" iodine-129 into iodine-128 with a high-powered laser. Now, dropping one neutron might not seem like a big deal, but the half-life of iodine-129 is 15 million years while the half-life of iodine 128 is 25 minutes.

They've done it by focusing a high-powered laser on a pellet of gold for an extremely brief amount of time. The gold ionizes, becomes plasma, and emits gamma rays. The gamma rays then smash into the iodine, forcing out a neutron and making the material safe.

Now, scientists just have to figure out how to scale the process up to levels necessary in disposing of nuclear wastes, while keeping costs lower than the planned facility at Yucca Mountain. I wish them luck.



More Free Energy!!


More Free Energy!!

Paul Calver of Ecowatts Holds Free Energy Device

Just days after posting Free Energy!, another free energy machine has been discovered. This time it is a water heater that is 150 - 200% efficient. Just plug it in and a “secret catalyst” adds energy to the flow of water. According to Ecowatts, the company promoting this wonder, a professor at the University of York has measured the output and determined that it was indeed producing more energy than was put into it. Please check out our previous post on Free Energy! and how to spot an energy hoax.

I’m afraid even professors at universities can be deceived or they can deceive themselves, remember Cold Fusion?

From The Mail:

The system - developed by scientists at a firm called Ecowatts in a nondescript laboratory on an industrial estate at Lancing, West Sussex - involves passing an electrical current through a mixture of water, potassium carbonate (otherwise known as potash) and a secret liquid catalyst, based on chrome.

This creates a reaction that releases an incredible amount of energy compared to that put in. If the reaction takes place in a unit surrounded by water, the liquid heats up, which could form the basis for a household heating system.

If the technology can be developed on a domestic scale, it means consumers will need much less energy for heating and hot water - creating smaller bills and fewer greenhouse gases.

Jim Lyons, of the University of York, independently evaluated the system. He said: ‘Let’s be honest, people are generally pretty sceptical about this kind of thing. Our team was happy to take on the evaluation, even if to prove it didn’t work.

‘But this is a very efficient replacement for the traditional immersion heater. We have examined this interesting technology and when we got the rig operating, we were getting 150 to 200 per cent more energy out than we put in, without trying too hard.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hey There: Here Comes the Solar Fish


IBM has teamed up with a non-profit organization that studies the health of estuaries and rivers to create several solar-powered, high-tech, autonomous vehicles for keeping tabs on the health of the Hudson River.

A 315 mile stretch of the river would be constantly monitored by solar-powered submersibles that would then beam data back to a central location for processing by IBM's special software. It's the first system of it's kind, but I've long expected to see this kind of monitoring in all our waterways.

Solar power allows the vehicles to be completely autonomous (as long as their programming is good enough) and they will basically be able to operate on their own for the life of their batteries. The submersible craft was actually built by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Don't be surprised if, in the next fifty years, you start running accross these things in rivers, estuaries, reservoirs, lakes and oceans near you.

Via TreeHugger


Monday, August 27, 2007

Energy Orb - Hacking Your Perception


Energy Orb - Hacking Your Perception

Energy Orb - Nabeel H, Flickr

The energy orb is a simple globular light that changes color depending on how much energy you are using, or how much energy is available.

On NPR Bob Garfield had an interview with Clive Thompson of Wired Magazine.

Here is a transcript of On the Media:

BOB GARFIELD: Environmental responsibility is an issue on everybody’s radar these days, and this month in Wired Magazine, Clive Thompson describes a new way for energy consumers to be aware of their consumption. It is an orb. It is awesome. Clive [LAUGHS], welcome back.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Good to be here.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, this is about ambient technology. Tell me what that means.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Well, ambient technology is a way of delivering information in a more calming way. The idea arose about 10 years ago in response to the fact that computers, particularly computers, were becoming much more stressful because they had so many sources of information that they’re forcing you to stare at. There’s email and there’s browsers, and now there’s YouTube and all this stuff. And so people were getting sort of drowned in all the information that they had to stare at.

And the idea was, well, maybe we should try and take some information and just sort of put it in the periphery of your eye span, as it were, you know, so that something you sort of glance at every once in a while, you don’t have to stare at it.

BOB GARFIELD: Like a wall clock or a thermometer?

CLIVE THOMPSON: Precisely. A wall clock is a classic piece of ambient information, because even though you’re not really aware of ever looking at it, you always generally know what time it is. And so it’s a non-stressful source of information.

And it turns out that when they do studies, they find that ambient information, people actually retain it, sometimes even better than they do the stuff that they’re staring at.

BOB GARFIELD: Now comes the orb, which is a new medium. Tell me about the history of the orb and then we can talk about this current application.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Well, the orb is the invention of a guy named David Rose. He’s got a company called Ambient Devices. And his idea was okay, let’s try taking the important information off the computer screen and into the periphery of your attention. And he wanted a little, beautiful thing that would be sort of pleasant to have sitting in the corner of your desk. And so he thought of a glowing orb.

And his first application, and everyone loved this, was that you would set it to monitor [LAUGHING] your stock portfolio so that it would glow green or whatever if â€" and you could pick the color - it would glow green if things were going well and sort of it would slowly darken to purple or whatever if your stock portfolio was going down, and so the idea being that you would sort of generally know whether or not your financial health was being taken care of without having to go to E*Trade, you know, five times a day or whatever and look at your portfolio.

And it really worked. It turned out when they did studies they found that people were about - like I’m sketchy on the exact amount - but it was around like 30 or 40 percent more likely to do active trading, you know, once every month or so, if they had an orb because they could see, wait a minute, something’s wrong with my portfolio.

BOB GARFIELD: It’s a way to synthesize a lot of information just with a color spectrum.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Yeah, exactly.

BOB GARFIELD: So how did the orb come to be embraced for energy consumption?

CLIVE THOMPSON: What happened was that an engineer at a Californian energy firm decided to see if he could hack people’s perceptions to make them a little more aware of their energy usage by using orbs. And what he did was he basically bought about a thousand of these orbs and put them in people’s houses and configured them so that they would glow different colors based on whether or not the grid was being really stressed.

If it was really being overused, at total capacity, you know, it would glow red or whatever, and if the grid was actually not being used, it would glow green or whatever, and the idea being that people would sort of have a sense of what the energy environment around them is like and they would react accordingly. They would turn things off when energy was getting overstressed and too expensive, and they would save themselves money, and they would save, you know, their energy usage for when it was, you know, glowing green and things were less stressed.

And sure enough, the same thing happened. People actually very effortlessly started changing their energy usage habits and they actually, they conserved a lot more energy because they had - suddenly they had information on what was going on around them.

BOB GARFIELD: Now, in your piece in Wired, you actually wrote about a second stage of awareness, and that is when your awareness isn’t a closely-held secret but your own energy consumption is made available to a larger audience. Tell me how that works.

CLIVE THOMPSON: It’s called the sentinel effect. If you let other people know what you’re doing, their scrutiny will sort of freak out you out and you’ll try and do better, as it were.

So if everyone were able to - imagine like a word where, like, I’ve got my energy orb or whatever, and it broadcasts, you know, through my blog or my website to all my friends, Clive’s energy usage over the last week was, you know, up 20 percent or down 10 percent. You can sort of imagine this would very quickly take on, like, almost like a social virus type of effect where people would be almost actively reducing even more of their energy usage so they won’t look like a complete energy glutton in front of their friends. You know, it would have a really wonderful social effect.

There’s already a little experiment like this happening. Over in Britain there’s this cool company that have created this thing called the Watson, and it’s sort of like a little glowing brick. It does the same thing as the orb. It glows different colors based on your energy usage.

But the really cool thing is it’s networked to the Internet, so it feeds that information online, if you want it to, and you can go online and you can see, you can compare yourself with other Watson users and see who’s reduced the most energy.

And the other cool thing is you can see sort of how much in total all the Watson users have saved. That to me is really interesting, because one of the problems with personal conservation is that it feels like it’s just a drop in the bucket. Like why am I bothering to turn off this light? It’s not going to do anything.

Whereas, if you could go online and see that a million people had all turned off a light and you just saved [LAUGHING] 100 megawatts or the equivalent of 24 hours functioning of one coal-fired plant, that would really start to feel much more exciting and you’d be more likely to turn off that light.

BOB GARFIELD: Way cool. Clive, thank you so much for joining us.

CLIVE THOMPSON: Glad to be here.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Green Chemistry: Changing an Industry


You can't do green design without green materials, and material innovations tend to come from chemists. Chemists also produce many products in their own right: paints, adhesives, cleaning products, whole industries. So what are chemists doing to save the world?

There's currently one famous green chemist in the world: Michael Braungart (founder of EPEA, co-founder of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry and co-author of Cradle to Cradle). The world needs about a hundred more.

World Changing has written before about legislation (mostly in the EU) tightening standards for toxics, and about the huge strides needed to close today's three critical gaps: knowledge (not only in the general public and governments, but in the chemical industry itself), safety (prioritizing hazards and enacting limits), and technology (developing safer, greener alternatives). But legislation can be slow and fickle, and the industry has a huge amount of inertia; many well-funded groups such as the American Chemistry Council lobby for the status-quo. What are chemists doing to lead?

They're doing a lot of things, as it turns out. Some researchers are developing alternative plastics that don't use petrochemicals, some associations are prioritizing green within their members, whole green-chem institutes are being founded, and groups are trying to teach chemists to green their processes. Sustainable chemistry is a baby, born thirty years ago but just now starting to crawl; let's help it get up on its feet.

Greener Plastics

What if that "new car smell" were the smell of fresh-baked potatoes or toasted corn? In the last five years, several bio-plastics manufacturers have come to market, and more are in the lab. Rodenburg Biopolymers in the Netherlands makes potato-starch plastic for disposable cutlery and packaging, and several companies in China sell corn-starch or potato-starch cutlery; enough that it has a buzzword, "spudware". NatureWorks PLA has a solid enough toe-hold in the market to be old news to many. A less-well-known competitor is PHA by Mechabolix. PHA has much better engineering properties than PLA (you can't make a cell phone case out of pure PLA, but you could make it out of PHA); however, it has two serious downsides. According to this excellent year 2000 Scientific American article (re-posted on, manufacturing PHA "would consume even more fossil resources than most petrochemical manufacturing routes." The second downside is that manufacturing it cheaply requires genetic modification of the corn crops.

Last year, Richard Wool at the University of Delaware created chicken feather and soy composite circuit boards. Not only do they replace the non-recyclable, energy-intensive fiberglass and epoxy materials, they are "a lighter, stronger, cheaper product with high-speed electronic properties." This is especially relevant because the circuit board often has the highest ecological impact of any part in a computer or other consumer electronics device--more than the plastic case, and sometimes more than the electronic components on the board. The chicken feather / soy composite could also be used as a structural material for other applications. For years, the university's ACRES team (Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources) has been researching different chemical pathways and feedstocks to determine the highest-performance and lowest-cost ways of making plastic out of soy.

Perhaps the most exciting is making plastic that sequesters CO2. Two years ago, Geoff Coates's lab at Cornell University developed a polystyrene-like plastic made out of CO2 and orange peels. Now he has a small startup company, Novomer, to commercialize it. As his Cornell group website says, "Although it is estimated that Nature uses CO2 to make over 200 billion tons of glucose by photosynthesis each year, synthetic chemists have had embarrassing little success in developing efficient catalytic processes that exploit this attractive raw material." The pages go on to describe the catalysts they found, which allowed them to achieve their breakthroughs. Keep an eye out in the next couple years for PLC (Polylimonene Carbonate), as well as the other polymers and catalysts that Novomer is making.

Associations and Institutions

Some big-name organizations are starting to push green chemistry. There are green chemistry institutions and networks in over 20 countries around the world; the ACS Green Chemistry Institute in the US has a decent list of them. The British government's Chemistry Innovation Network has a strong sustainability initiative called the "Crystal Faraday partnership". They make the importance of their mission clear:

"In the developed world, it is recognised that only 7% of production materials used in a process end up in the final product and that 80% of products are discarded after a single use. It is essential, therefore, that we seek to reduce material resources and ensure that any materials released to the environment are not toxic, harmful or persistent."
One of the largest and most respected groups of chemists, the UK's Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), is celebrating its 50th year, and its 2007 Jubilee report "is not merely a report of past successes. It is much more a call to arms". The IchemE's chief executive said, "Over the next decade, chemical engineers' work will be crucial as we tackle global issues such as climate change, waste reduction and access to clean water." The report is all about the progress being made in environmental safety, energy, water, and other sustainability issues. Aimed at laypeople, it's sprinkled with success stories and challenges. For instance, produce bags that allow the fruits or vegetables to 'breathe', increasing shelf life; this doesn't sound exciting until they point out that "Longer life means produce can be transported by sea rather than road transport (which produces 228 times more CO2 emissions) and air freight (which produces 90 times more)." Another nugget: "Cafeteria food waste has a biogas production potential nearly ten times that of animal manure, making it an interesting potential source of renewable energy." And even some biomimicry: they mentioned a new, safer method of industrial bleaching, based on an enzyme from a microbe discovered in Yellowstone National Park.

Training and Guidance

Currently there is little more than a trickle-down of green chemistry knowledge between companies, governments, NGOs, and universities. Companies' chemical information is proprietary, and many environmental impacts have never been measured, much less publicized. Some universities and government agencies have data on a few specific chemicals, but lack a centralized clearinghouse of information. MBDC may have the best database of chemical environmental data, but it is private and expensive information. Opening up the faucets of these knowledge flows, and getting them all in one tub big enough to splash in, may be the most important step for the industry right now. Several groups are trying to crank the taps.

Britain's Chemistry Innovation Network has a roadmap for sustainable technologies, including trends and drivers, specific needs of the industry, the business case, a review of technologies, and case studies. These are aimed at everyone in the chemical industry. UC Berkeley's Framework for California Leadership in Green Chemistry Policy recommends policy directions for lawmakers. For consumers, the Ecology Center put together a consumer guide to toxic chemicals in cars, The site ranks over 200 vehicles in terms of indoor air quality, as well as rating child car seats for brominated flame retardants, and explaining what chemicals to be concerned with and why.

Chemists looking to learn should check out the EPA's 2002 textbook, Green Engineering: Environmentally Conscious Design of Chemical Processes. There's also a newer EPA tool, the downloadable Green Chemistry Expert System. It's a piece of software that "allows users to build a green chemical process, design a green chemical, or survey the field of green chemistry." For a less technical introduction, they have a web page listing their Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry:
1. Prevent waste
2. Design safer chemicals and products
3. Design less hazardous chemical syntheses
4. Use renewable feedstocks
5. Use catalysts, not stoichiometric reagents
6. Avoid chemical derivatives
7. Maximize atom economy
8. Use safer solvents and reaction conditions:
9. Increase energy efficiency
10. Design chemicals and products to degrade after use
11. Analyze in real time to prevent pollution
12. Minimize the potential for accidents
Most of these principles are aimed at being less bad. Michael Braungart argues convincingly that we need to shoot higher than that, we need to aim to be good. Zero is not a positive outcome. But some of them are positive goals, and for those that aren't, even if less-bad is as good as we can do for now, we need to keep a longer-term positive goal in mind.

Some awards are even being given for green chemistry: Britain's Green Chemistry Network has had awards for seven years under various names with the IchemE. The US EPA has a Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. The Royal Australian Chemical Institute also has a Green Chemistry Challenge Award.

The Future of Chemistry

Will the chemical market start to go green by itself, as a few industries are starting to do? Not yet. Michael Wilson, a researcher at UC Berkeley, told me that "green chemistry entrepreneurs have a difficult time breaking into the market because there are fundamental data gaps in chemical toxicity that prevent buyers from choosing safer chemicals... The market is therefore operating very inefficiently and will require corrections through public policy." He said "by requiring that producers generate and distribute standardized, robust information on chemical toxicity (for use by downstream industry, business, consumers, workers) we will open new markets for green chemistry entrepreneurs." This is the knowledge gap mentioned at the beginning, which the groups described above are working to close.

Wilson was hopeful about green chemistry entrepreneurs he knows, which "have some brilliant products supported by solid data - that reduce costs significantly and also make a substantial environmental contribution." (For instance, Advanced Biocatalytics, and Novozyme.)

But before the market will steer itself towards green, we need to also close the safety gap: "regulations (such as RoHS, WEEE and the REACH) [need] to force clean technology change (that won't happen any other way)." And finally, he argues "state investment in green chemistry research, education, technical assistance, and training will be essential." Such a combination -- new regulations, targeted research and bold commitments to innovation -- will close the technology gap, giving us alternatives and kick-starting new industries on the right path to a bright green future.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Making Gasoline from Bacteria


The biofuel of the future could well be gasoline. That's the hope of one biotech startup that on Monday described for the first time how it is coaxing bacteria into producing hydrocarbons that could be processed into fuels like those made from petroleum.

LS9, a company based in San Carlos, CA, and founded by geneticist George Church, of Harvard Medical School, and plant biologist Chris Somerville, of Stanford University, had previously said that it was working on what it calls "renewable petroleum." But at a Society for Industrial Microbiology conference on Monday, the company began speaking more openly about what it has accomplished: it has genetically engineered various bacteria, including E. coli, to custom-produce hydrocarbon chains.

To do this, the company is employing tools from the field of synthetic biology to modify the genetic pathways that bacteria, plants, and animals use to make fatty acids, one of the main ways that organisms store energy. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms strung together in a particular arrangement, with a carboxylic acid group made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen attached at one end. Take away the acid, and you're left with a hydrocarbon that can be made into fuel.

"I am very impressed with what they're doing," says James Collins, codirector of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology at Boston University. He calls the company's use of synthetic biology and systems biology to engineer hydrocarbon-producing bacteria "cutting edge."

In some cases, LS9's researchers used standard recombinant DNA techniques to insert genes into the microbes. In other cases, they redesigned known genes with a computer and synthesized them. The resulting modified bacteria make and excrete hydrocarbon molecules that are the length and molecular structure the company desires.

Stephen del Cardayre, a biochemist and LS9's vice president for research and development, says the company can make hundreds of different hydrocarbon molecules. The process can yield crude oil without the contaminating sulfur that much petroleum out of the ground contains. The crude, in turn, would go to a standard refinery to be processed into automotive fuel, jet fuel, diesel fuel, or any other petroleum product that someone wanted to make.

Next year LS9 will build a pilot plant in California to test and perfect the process, and the company hopes to be selling improved biodiesel and providing synthetic biocrudes to refineries for further processing within three to five years. (See "Building Better Biofuels.")

But LS9 isn't the only company in this game. Amyris Biotechnologies, of Emeryville, CA, is also using genes from plants and animals to make microbes produce designer fuels. Neil Renninger, senior vice president of development and one of the company's cofounders, says that Amyris has also created bacteria capable of supplying renewable hydrocarbon-based fuels. The main difference between the companies, Renninger says, is that while LS9 is working on a biocrude that would be processed in a refinery, Amyris is working on directly producing fuels that would need little or no further processing.

Amyris is also working on a pilot production plant that it expects to complete by the end of next year, and it also hopes to have commercial products available within three or four years. (See "A Better Biofuel.") Both companies say they want to further engineer their bacteria to be more efficient, and they're working to optimize the overall production process. "The potential for biofuels is huge, and I think theirs [LS9's] is one possible solution," Renninger says.

Indeed, many technology approaches are needed, says Craig Venter, cofounder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics, of Rockland, MD, which is also applying biotechnology to fuel production. "We need a hundred, a thousand solutions, not just one," he says. "I know at least a dozen groups and labs trying to make biofuels from bacteria with sugar."

Venter's company is also working on engineering microbes to produce fuel. The company recently received a large investment from the oil giant BP to study the microbes that live on underground oil supplies; the idea is to see if the microbes can be engineered to provide cleaner fuel. Another project aims to tinker with the genome of palm trees--the most productive source of oil for biodiesel--to make them a less environmentally damaging crop.

LS9's current work uses sugar derived from corn kernels as the food source for the bacteria--the same source used by ethanol-producing yeast. To produce greater volumes of fuel, and to not have energy competing with food, both approaches will need to use cellulosic biomass, such as switchgrass, as the feedstock. Del Cardayre estimates that cellulosic biomass could produce about 2,000 gallons of renewable petroleum per acre.

Producing hydrocarbon fuels is more efficient than producing ethanol, del Cardayre adds, because the former packs about 30 percent more energy per gallon. And it takes less energy to produce, too. The ethanol produced by yeast needs to be distilled to remove the water, so ethanol production requires 65 percent more energy than hydrocarbon production does.

The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of replacing 30 percent of current petroleum use with fuels from renewable biological sources by 2030, and del Cardayre says he feels that's easily achievable.


Friday, July 27, 2007

CO2 LED Project

Public art addresses environmental concerns and leads the way to the annual Planet Arlington World Music Festival

Arlington, Virginia, June 2007

A trio of environmentally-friendly artists, Jack Sanders, Robert Gay, and Butch Anthony have created a temporary public artwork in Rosslyn

Through Sept 1, 2007. The project, titled CO2LED, is erected in a the traffic island at near the Iwo Jima memorial. On display through Labor Day, CO2LED celebrates environmental stewardship and beckons the way to the second annual Planet Arlington World Music Festival.

552 solar-powered LEDs (light-emitting diodes) secured to rods of varying heights, each topped with a reused plastic drink bottle, illuminate the traffic island in an unmistakably beautiful way. The poles’ slight flexibility, combined with the LEDs’ nebulous glow underneath the ridged surfaces of the plastic drink bottles, create a soft, undulating cloud of light. A native American prairie grass, little bluestem, is planted beneath the poles and stands in contrast to the grid upon which the poles are installed.

At the end of the exhibit I hope someone finds a way to preserve this inspiring use of solar energy.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Paint With Clay

This non-toxic alternative to paint may not be what comes to mind when you think of wall coverings, but compare it to wall paper, a material most often now made of vinyl.

From Building Green TV:

If you’ve been thinking about slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls in your living room, or your bathroom, or your bedroom, or anyplace inside your home, you might want to stop and reconsider. Unless you’re buying zero-VOC paint, the fumes can be harmful to your health.

You could skip the paint altogether and, instead, cover your walls in clay. Sounds a little odd; however, once you see the photo gallery at American Clay, you might be sold on the idea.

American Clay’s line of natural earth plasters are non-toxic, non-dusting mold resistant, repairable—and the stuff creates essentially zero waste, as leftovers can be saved for patching or even spread around in soil outside.

Interested? You can attend a hands-on workshop near you and give the stuff a try.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Innovation: Biodegradeable Coffee Cups!

Today, there is no way to compost or recycle the billions of disposable coffee cups used in the U.S. each year. It’s all due to a simple fact: the cups are lined with a petroleum-based plastic (polyethylene) to prevent leaking. But, finally, someone has invented a biodegradable coffee cup. The innovators are International Paper and Green Mountain Coffee. They’ve created a 100% biodegradable cup called the “Ecotainer”. The cup has a liner made from corn instead of petrochemicals. In a blind trial test of more than 5 million cups, not one customer noticed anything “different” about the corn-based cups from the regular variety.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Super Efficient TurboProp

The Piaggio Avanti is a turboprop business jet. The radical design has propellers facing backwards and a small wing in the front. The Avanti is 40% more fuel efficient than the latest crop of business jets. Better yet, its faster too!

Piaggio designed the Avanti after the first oil embargo when it seemed fuel prices would dictate the future of aviation.

Oven on MSN website, and soon on Ecogeek is a new proposed commercial jet, the EcoJet which is a schematic design for a jet that has 50% fewer emissions than the best jets of today.

The Ecojet has much in common with the Avanti, including rear facing engines and propellers instead of turbofans.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Thermoacoustic Energy

A few weeks ago I reported here on a thermoacoustic stove that also provides cooling and electric power. The device that makes the thermoacoutsti stove work is a closed pipe that when heated creates high volume sound waves. Now a Prof. at the University of Utah has taken that idea on a slightly different tangent. Prof. Orest Symko uses the thermoacoustic effect to create pressure waves in a tube that vibrates a piezoelectric material that converts the sound energy directly into electricity.

“We are converting waste heat to electricity in an efficient, simple way by using sound,” said Symko in a Science Daily interview, “It is a new source of renewable energy from waste heat.”

Piezo electric devices create electricity when subject to mechanical stress. Most piexo electric materials are crystals.

Here are summaries of the studies by Symko’s doctoral students:

– Student Bonnie McLaughlin showed it was possible to double the efficiency of converting heat into sound by optimizing the geometry and insulation of the acoustic resonator and by injecting heat directly into the hot heat exchanger.

She built cylindrical devices 1.5 inches long and a half-inch wide, and worked to improve how much heat was converted to sound rather than escaping. As little as a 90-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference between hot and cold heat exchangers produced sound. Some devices produced sound at 135 decibels — as loud as a jackhammer.

– Student Nick Webb showed that by pressurizing the air in a similar-sized resonator, it was able to produce more sound, and thus more electricity.

He also showed that by increasing air pressure, a smaller temperature difference between heat exchangers is needed for heat to begin converting into sound. That makes it practical to use the acoustic devices to cool laptop computers and other electronics that emit relatively small amounts of waste heat, Symko says.

Student Brenna Gillman learned how to get the devices — mounted together to form an array — to work together.

Gillman used various metals to build supports to hold five of the devices at once. She found the devices could be synchronized if a support was made of a less dense metal such as aluminum.

– Student Ivan Rodriguez used a different approach in building an acoustic device to convert heat to electricity. Instead of a cylinder, he built a resonator from a quarter-inch-diameter hollow steel tube bent to form a ring about 1.3 inches across.

In cylinder-shaped resonators, sound waves bounce against the ends of the cylinder. But when heat is applied to Rodriguez’s ring-shaped resonator, sound waves keep circling through the device with nothing to reflect them.

– Student Myra Flitcroft designed a cylinder-shaped heat engine one-third the size of the other devices. It is less than half as wide as a penny, producing a much higher pitch than the other resonators. When heated, the device generated sound at 120 decibels — the level produced by a siren or a rock concert.

“It’s an extremely small thermoacoustic device — one of the smallest built — and it opens the way for producing them in an array,” Symko says.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Utah.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

OrganiTech: Vertical Robotic Farms


Written by Hank Green

I'm not sure if I can really support this. It seems like there's something evil about completely removing agriculture from the environment. I mean, agriculture is already extremely unnatural, especially the way industrialized countries do it, but this is just nuts!

The people at Organitech have been creating systems to create leafy vegetables in fairly sterile hydroponic greenhouses for some time. The plants grow extremely quickly, are entirely free from pests (and dirt) and almost all of the harvesting is done by robots, so there are no labor costs.

But now Organitech is looking to remove that last vestiage of nature...the sun. They're thinking of turning the hundreds of thousands of discarded shipping containers that are too cheap to ship back to China into organic farms. The shipping containers could be filled with racks of hydroponically grown, pesticide-free, disease-free, low-water-using plants all controlled robotically for optimal yield.

The containers could then be stacked creating, in essence, vertical farms that would have a per acre yield of thousands of times more than conventional farms.

The container farms could be distributed throughout the world, and would produce food from Siberia to the Sahara as long as they were plugged in. This would signficantly reduce transportation consts, and make communities much less susceptible to global markets and climate change.

So I think I'm coming down on the side of good, though I will admit that I don't want my species to be any more separate from the natural environment than we already are.

For more on Organitech, check out this awesome video (turn down the voice track and you could totally rave to it.)

Via Wired