Professor drives 2,582 miles on just over two gallons of gas

The sources of renewable energy that are available for everyday use are extremely limited, so sometimes finding ways to reduce reliance on fossil fuels can be very difficult. There have been advances in electric vehicle technology, but typically, these automobiles can't travel too far without needing to be charged or relying on a back-up fuel source.

Despite these limitations, Middle Tennessee State University professor Cliff Ricketts had the creativity and the resourcefulness to do the unheard-of – drive 2,582 miles across the country using less than 10 gallons of gasoline.

But, Ricketts and eight others did far better than he would have ever dreamed of. Their trip from Tybee Island, Georgia to Long Beach, California not only took less time than they projected, they also only used 2.15 gallons of gasoline to get there.

"I feel like I climbed Mount Everest," Ricketts told the Murfreesboro, Tennessee-based Daily News Journal. "This has significance in life and it has significance for mankind."

The trip was broken up into three segments using three different vehicles and an array of different energy sources. During the first 900 miles of Ricketts' excursion, he and his team completely avoided using gasoline driving a 2005 Toyota Prius and a 1994 Toyota Tercel that were powered by only solar energy and water-derived hydrogen. They completed the final 1,682 miles in a 2007 Toyota Prius that ran mostly on battery power and trace amounts of ethanol.

When Ricketts finally reached his destination, he took off his shoes and socks and celebrated with his feet in the Pacific Ocean.

According to the news source, Ricketts announced that he expects to travel cross country again in 2012 on powered generated only by the sun and water.

Turning non-recyclable industrial scraps into fuel

Companies have been making initiatives to reduce the negative impact they have on the environment for quite some time now, but the ways they are doing it have become more and more innovative as going green becomes increasingly popular.

Factories are notorious for wasting enormous amounts of material each day, and while recycling is an obvious solution, some materials simply can't be broken down and reused. That was the problem that Weber Packaging Solutions faced with the scraps produced by its label-making machines.

The paper the company uses to make its pressure-sensitive labels couldn't be reprocessed by traditional methods. Since the business's Illinois facility creates more than 1,500 tons of paper and synthetic waste each year, its leadership wanted to find a better solution for disposing these scraps than piling it into a landfill, according to Packaging Digest.

"Like a lot of companies, we're looking at ways to become a better corporate citizen by reducing our carbon footprint," John O'Leary, Weber's vice president of manufacturing told the source. "With all the new waste-handling options that are available today, it's often possible to repurpose scrap and save on disposal costs at the same time."

In order to make that vision a reality, Weber facilities manager Matt Zoost found Pellet America, a Wisconsin-based company that takes non-disposable industrial scraps and turns them in fuel pellets. Zoost told the website that Weber is expected to avoid wasting 99 percent of its annual scraps by sending them to Pellet America.

Since the recycling organization is so far away, Weber found a transport company that can tightly compact large amounts of paper waste into its trucks so that the shipments are infrequent and efficient.

While all of this is environmentally friendly, Zoost added that his company also expects to reduce its waste disposal costs by almost 20 percent.

Clean Energy Standard another step towards a greener America

President Barack Obama has called for increased reliance on clean energy in his last two State of the Union Addresses. One of the primary goals the president said he wanted to achieve during his term was to double the share of American electricity generated by clean energy sources like wind, hydropower and solar.

According to a White House press release, the Obama administration has nearly achieved the president's objective, but last week, it announced a measure that should push the country far past Obama's target.

The new legislation, called the Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (CES), was introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) on March 1. The new approach calls for the government to make annual renewable energy source goals, but at the same time, gives organizations the freedom to find the means they believe are best to reach those targets, according to the release.

"This legislation will help us make sure that we employ continued diversity in our energy sources, and allow every region to deploy clean energy using its own resources," Bingaman said in a statement. "It also will make sure that we do all of this in a way that supports home-grown innovation and manufacturing and keeps us competitive in the global clean energy economy."

Fellow New Mexican Democrat and CES co-sponsor Senator Tom Udall added that the bill will not only reduce the amount of toxic gases that are emitted into our atmosphere, it will also create jobs as new clean energy organizations open up across the country.

In a column for The Huffington Post, Phyllis Cuttino rang her praises for Bingaman's CES. She explained that if industries adhere to the act, there may be a spike in private investments in businesses that are leading the way in renewable energy technology, and of course, companies nationwide will save money on energy costs by relying less on fossil fuels.

Green gadgets to look for from CES 2012

The annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas attracts audiences from all over that want to see the latest technology and gadget innovations that will be hitting the market in the near future.

Entrepreneur Magazine was there to cover the most recent convention and highlighted the following economically and environmentally friendly products that consumers should be on the lookout for in 2012.

60-watt World Bulb – Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs produce very small amounts of heat, and can reduce energy costs from lighting by 50 to 90 percent, according to Green Lighting Solutions. Because of that, they've become an essential alternative to incandescent bulbs for those that practice green living. The problem is that their upfront costs can be a bit intimidating. Florida-based Lighting Science Group developed an LED bulb that not only cuts costs in the long-term, but is also one of the cheapest bulbs of its kind, using 85 percent less electricity than standard lighting options.

Bracketron Stone GreenZero Charger – An increasing number of electronics, especially mobile devices, have USB chargers that come with an adapter for traditional outlet charging. The GreenZero Charger is an alternative to those adapters that shuts off automatically when a device is at full charge.

Nest Learning Thermostat – Programmable thermostats prevent heating systems from wasting energy. But, they require owners to take the initiative to predetermine their patterns. The Nest Learning Thermostat lowers heat when it senses that no one is in a room and can even be adjusted over the internet.

SolarKindle Lighted Cover – This innovative cover for the Amazon Kindle does exactly what its name suggests – uses solar energy to charge the e-reader. The cover can bring a Kindle to full power after being in direct sunlight for eight hours, and even has a pop-up LED light for easy reading in the dark.

Upcycling opening doors for new green businesses

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We've all heard it a million times, but is there a better option? Traditionally, materials that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill have been mostly recycled as a less significant part of something else. There's a new eco-friendly trend in town though, and with it, old products are turned into new and improved goods by what's come to be known as "upcycling."

While recycling is a great way to reuse a material, the process of breaking it down requires a lot of energy. On the other hand, upcycling is the process of converting an item into something much nicer with far less energy consumption, and it's opening the doors for a lot of new businesses.

One of these start-ups is the Portland, Oregon-based Looptworks, which was founded in 2009 by Gary Peck, Jim Stutts and CEO Scott Hamlin, whose email signature reads, "Did you know that it requires more than 400 gallons of water to make one organic cotton T-shirt? Upcycle," according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

And because of that, he and his partners found a way to make eco-friendly apparel and accessories using what they call "pre-consumer excess," or extra textile material from other manufacturers that would have been thrown out. With these scraps, they've made environmentally friendly products that range from laptop cases to hoodies and skirts.

"Our goal is to influence consumer awareness and figure out a way to promote this non-mass-produced approach on a large scale," Hamlin told the magazine.

Looptworks' CEO added that his business has avoided using some 16 million gallons of water that would have been needed to produce the clothing and gear in tradition factories.

UPitt student develops electric-powered bike

There's no question that the popularity and availability of electric vehicles has been on the rise, but automakers have had serious problems making a model of battery-powered transportation that's affordable, efficient and practical. The Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi -MiEV have made a significant splash in the electric car market, but one senior from the University of Pittsburgh has developed a vehicle that could set the standard for efficiency.

In 2011, mechanical engineering student Micah Toll founded Pulse Motors to develop two-wheeled Personal Electric Vehicles (PEVs). The company's goal was to find a environmentally friendly alternative to traditional urban commuting.

With the help of two fellow students, Toll concocted the Personal Electric Vehicle Zero, or the PEV0, which looks very similar to conventional bicycles, but is powered primarily by lithium battery technology. According to Inc.com, the PEV0 can drive more than 100 miles for just 25 cents worth of electricity, which is 30 times more than a Toyota Prius.

Riders have the option to pedal the bike as well, which only increases the bike's efficiency. The PEV0 can travel as fast as 20 miles per hour on just electric power, but can go even quicker with pedaling. The Pulse Motors website says that the PEV0 is equipped with extra torque for going up hills, and has special brakes that actually charge the battery while the vehicle is decelerating. With a complete charge, the bike can travel 30 to 45 miles.

"By taking technology that is normally considered too expensive or limiting and using our own innovations and business model to make it affordable and convenient, we think we can open the door for everybody and make mass electric vehicle adoption a reality," Toll told Inc.com.

According to the website, the PEV0 doesn't require registration or license, and is street-legal in all 50 states.

Two coal-fire power plants in Chicago ordered to shut down

Coal fire plants are notorious for emitting harmful gases into the atmosphere. In the past decade, as the world has begun to stray away from fossil fuel energy sources, two power plants in Chicago have received a lot of heat from their local communities, particularly thanks to the efforts of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition. 

Last May, eight Greenpeace activists climbed 450 feet to the top of the smokestack Chicago's Fisk coal-fired power plant to protest its operation around the same time that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a hearing to review new mercury and pollutant limitations at coal plants, according to the Environmental News Service. After residents filed lawsuits against the two plants, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders began to negotiate with Midwest Generation, the company that operates both the Fisk and Crawford coal plants.

Last week, Emanuel warned Midwest Generation that they need to either find a solution to cut pollutant emissions or he would order that both plants be shut down. Since no solution was presented, Emanuel stuck to his word, and both plants will close in the next two years – the first of which, Fisk, by December 31.

"This is a major victory for the people of Chicago," Pam Richart of the Eco Justice Collaborative said. "With the closure of the Fisk and Crawford coal plants, our city takes a bold step away from dirty energy and the harm it brings to human health, while at the same time opening the way for a clean energy future. We look forward to working with community groups and the city to ensure that these sites are cleaned up and restored for safe, productive uses."

Kelly Mitchell, a Greenpeace activist, said that she and her organization hope that other cities and towns will see that Chicago is going green and follow its lead.