Swedish water purifier wins solar industry leader’s award for innovative design

Finding a solution to the issue of accessing clean water in impoverished nations has been a challenge to world leaders and advocates for decades. Most purification technologies are cumbersome and difficult to deploy in remote areas. However, the efforts of Swedish engineers to solve this problem have resulted in the creation of the Solvatten, a water treatment machine that is portable and simple to use.

According to the Solvatten AB website, the technology runs entirely on solar energy. When exposed to direct sunlight, the unit requires between two and six hours to fully purify the water put inside of it. Afterwards, through a combination of filters, heat dischargers that warm the water up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and low-level UV radiation to kill life-threatening bacteria, the liquid is safe to drink. Built inside the device are five-liter liquid compartments which enable communities to efficiently produce clean fluids. The company estimates that the system can produce up to 30 liters of drinkable water per day.

This unique product caught the attention of Soluxe Solar, a multinational producer of solar panels that awards a weekly "Solar Flare" award that honors inventions and initiatives that encourage low-impact living and renewable energy sources.

"The Solvatten purifier is a perfect example of the power of solar to improve, and in this case, potentially save lives," Soluxe Solar's CEO, Jeffrey Mayer, said in a press release.  "This is exactly the kind of exciting innovation we want to recognize and help promote through our Solar Flare award."

The Solvatten's creator, Petra Wadstrom, began working on the technology in the late 1990s. After several attempts to manufacture the product, the design team finally completed a working prototype and formed Solvatten AB in 2006. In recent years, the organization has begun producing the device on a commercial scale, a development that could one day bring much-needed water to millions of poverty-stricken individuals and families.

University of Albany residential hall employs geothermal heat pumps to provide power

While much has been said about renewable energy technologies like wind farms and solar panels, one means – ground or geothermal heat pump – is now beginning to emerge as a viable source of power for American buildings. The University of Albany announced that it will be employing this unique electricity source to provide electricity to its new Liberty Terrace residential hall.

The building, which was partially funded thanks to a grant from the U.S. Energy Department (DoE) that totalled $2.7 million, is built to house 500 students. According to the DoE, the geothermal heat pump built into the foundation of the residence is expected to provide enough energy to cut power consumption by roughly 50 percent compared to other residential halls at the university. These measures, school officials estimate, will save the school approximately $300,000 per year.

"Liberty Terrace is one of the many structural enhancements occurring across campus to help us prepare for the next generation of UAlbany students," the school's president, George Phillip, said in a statement published by the DoE. "The facility supports student success while advancing the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability."

Other design elements, such as water-permeable pavement and LED lighting systems, are expected to reduce the environmental impact of the residence. The designers incorporated recycled building materials and installed a green roof, the latter of which utilizes special types of plants to absorb rainwater and sunlight and reduce building erosion.

This new living facility may become a trendsetter for other schools trying to reduce costs following a reduction in state and federal operations aid. In addition to the economic benefits, green residential halls provide a level of prestige that could, in time, lead to more examples of this kind of low-impact living.

New Bedford, Massachusetts, hopes to become leader in wind turbine assembly industry

As east coast states prepare to implement wind power initiatives, including Massachusetts' drive to place turbines off the coast of Nantucket, some towns are setting the groundwork to become major providers of wind farm technology.

New Bedford harbor is the site of a planned manufacturing hub that, if fully realized, could lead to thousands of well-paying jobs and be a huge boon to the local economy.

"We want to establish ourselves as the go-to port for wind energy assembly," New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell told the Boston Globe.

The plan, paid for by $35 million of Massachusetts taxpayer funds, will serve as the stepping stone for the Cape Wind project that recently passed regulatory muster from federal and state environmental officials. The New Bedford government envisions a factory that will initially build the turbines that will power the wind farms and an expanded port that will allow ships to transport components from the harbor to the offshore site.

When speaking with the Boston-based news source, Mitchell compared New Bedford's hopes to those of cities in Germany that are participating in that country's drive for a larger renewable energy policy. According to the mayor, approximately 2,000 jobs were created thanks to the German wind farm initiative.

According to local news source Cape Cod Today, officials from the Cape Wind project have given the New Bedford government assurances that they will place a large order once the facility is fully operational. If all goes to plan, workers in New Bedford should start building turbines during the spring of 2013.

In addition to providing the Massachusetts Bay region with much needed jobs and electricity, it may also set the standard for future projects that could bring green energy to other coastal regions.

Hong Kong-based biorefinery takes Starbucks refuse and creates usable chemicals

Thanks to a new process created by engineers at the City University of Hong Kong, coffee grounds and old pastries – which are normally tossed into the nearest landfill – may find a second life as a cleaning product.

The scientists, known at the university as the Climate Group, working together with Starbucks' Hong Kong-based affiliate, built on previous technology that took biowaste and transformed it into ingredients for renewable energy projects.

The group took the refuse and exposed it to a population of fungi that utilizes natural enzymes and chemicals to break down the matter into glucose and sucrose. After this step, the product is place in a fermentor where bacteria convert the sugars into a chemical known as succinic acid. This substance can then serve as a primary ingredient in plastics, detergents and certain medicines.

"Our new process addresses the food waste problem by turning Starbucks' trash into treasure – detergent ingredients and bio-plastics that can be incorporated into other useful products," Dr. Carol Lin, Ph.D., said before a recent convention held by the American Chemical Association. "The strategy reduces the environmental burden of food waste, produces a potential income from this waste and is a sustainable solution."

Lin went on to say that while the technology is still in its infancy, it could one day help alleviate pollution issues experienced by industry-heavy areas in China or around the world. Theoretically, materials that were previously placed in landfills could be recycled in biorefineries, which in turn would free land currently devoted to waste management for other projects.

The support of a major company like Starbucks, which donated proceeds from a recent green awareness drive to the Climate Group, suggests that biorefineries will remain a focus of the low-impact movement.

New Mexico biomass facility fully operational, set to produce 1.5 million units of “green crude”

On August 27, Sapphire Energy, a leading company in the burgeoning biomass industry, announced that it had completed the first major construction and operations phase at its Columbus, New Mexico-based "Green Crude Farm." This facility, the building of which began during June 2011, contains 300 acres of algae capable of creating what the company calls "Green Crude," a biochemical alternative to ethanol or biofuel.

Sapphire Energy's initiative was funded partially by the U.S. government's green energy stimulus programs, which provided approximately $50 million in grants and guarantees to supplement $85 million in private backing that the company has received.

The plant consists of two algae ponds, which are 1.1 acre and 2.2 acres wide and roughly one-eighth of a mile long. They were seeded in March following completion of the two reservoirs and have yielded 21 million gallons, or roughly 81 tons after processing, of biomass.

The energy company's leadership, including CEO Cynthia Warner, heralded the company's achievements in a press release, saying that today's announcement marks "a critical step toward a viable alternative energy future."

"What was once a concept is now becoming a reality and model for growing algae to make a renewable crude oil for energy. We look forward to sharing our progress as the Green Crude Farm moves to its next stage," Warner added in the statement.

Over the next 18 months, Sapphire Energy will continue to improve upon its current machinery while introducing more efficient methods. The ultimate goal is to produce 100 barrels of usable fuel per day, which will serve as an example for proposed commercial-scale plants that could pump out thousands of units in the same amount of time.

London-based designers creates unique, reusable water bottle

According to the Clean Air Council, a U.S.-based advocacy group dedicated to ecologically friendly awareness, Americans are experts at wasting water bottles. In 2006, 1.3 million tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles were made, and approximately 77 percent of these beverages were, ultimately, thrown away in the nation's landfills. Due to the slow decomposition process caused by their synthetic design, it's clear this system is unsustainable.

To counter the growing amount of disposable plastic water containers, a group of engineers from London, England, have created a product that incorporates an organic filtering process with an ergonomic design that allows users to get their water on the go.

Known as the "eau good," this drink bottle, created by design firm Black + Blum, utilizes a stick of Binchotan active charcoal, which according to the company's website, has been used as a natural filtering system since the 17th century. Tiny pores in the charcoal's surface allow water to pass through but captures potentially unhealthy chemicals that can occasionally be found in public aquifers.

The piece of Binchotan also releases trace minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that can make any drink tasty as well as healthy. On average, the charcoal piece is effective for roughly six months, after which this biodegradable filter can be composted. Additionally, the eau good bottle is made utilizing Tritan plastic that is BPA-free, further increasing its health and ecological benefits.

Experts estimate that it takes up to 2,000 times the amount of energy to make a bottle of water and ship it to a store than it does to produce a glass of tap water. Because of the significant amount of power usage, it stands to reason that the eau good water bottle represents a huge step toward sustainable living.

Tens of thousands of jobs created in wind, solar industries, says clean energy advocacy group

According to green technology lobbying group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the renewable energy industry is experiencing a modest boom in terms of hiring. The group estimated in a recent report entitled "Clean Energy Jobs Roundup" that nearly 35,000 jobs could be created in the second quarter of this year alone thanks to accommodative tax credits and a greater awareness of the benefits of clean electricity.

In the report, E2 researchers broke their results down by state. California, which is known to have a more aggressive renewable energy policy than other states, has 16 projects slated to begin in the next year that could yield 20,879 jobs. Florida, which reported three initiatives that are shovel-ready, could create as many as 8,000 energy-related jobs in the state.

"The good news is that despite the challenging economic and political environment, the clean energy industry is still creating badly needed American jobs all across the country," Judith Albert, E2's executive director, said in a press release.

However, the organization cautioned that shifting political winds could derail the improvements in the renewable energy sector. The Production Tax Credit program, a key component of the Obama administration's stimulus package that included similar initiatives to boost production, is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. While there is bipartisan support behind a reauthorization bill, Congress' failure to pass it could send many projects back to the drawing board.

Despite the potential setbacks, it seems that many states are pushing ahead on pursuing clean energy resources without comprehensive federal support. While the final outcome is uncertain, it's clear that wind and solar power sources are here to stay.

Renewable gasoline: Coming to a station near you

When one hears the words "gasoline" and "diesel," people typically think about pollution and grimy industrial plants rather than clean energy and sustainability. However, the efforts of scientists working at the Gas Technology Institute (GTI) are, according to a press release from the American Chemical Society (ACS), slowly moving toward a goal of renewable fossil fuels.

Through a process called Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion (IHH), which involves utilizing recycled plant material and biowaste to create a base compound that is later converted into a combustible fuel, GTI engineers have produced chemicals that are usable in machines, cars and aircraft.

Martin Linck, a researcher and scientist for GTI, spoke before a recent ACS conference about the benefits of the new technology, stating that commercial-scale industrial plants are not outside the realm of possibility.

"We are moving steadily toward having multiple demonstration-scale facilities in operation by 2014, with each facility producing a range of 3,500-17,500 gallons of fuel a day from non-food plant material. We will be designing commercial-scale facilities that could produce as much as 300,000 gallons per day from the same kinds of feedstocks," Linck told the attendees.

He went on to describe the benefits of the new technology, including the fact that rather than creating an intermediary substance that produces potentially hazardous byproducts, such as those made in the bioethanol process, IHH results in ready-to-use power sources. The renewable gasoline, if fully realized, could produce 90 percent less carbon dioxide than comparable fossil fuels.

While these energy-creation techniques are still in their infancy, they could dramatically alter the U.S. fossil fuel market and promote the evolution of a truly low-impact society.

Energy Secretary Chu lauds increasing presence of wind power in U.S economy

The winds of change appear to be benefitting the U.S. energy sector, according to a report released August 14 by the U.S. Department of Energy. Secretary Steven Chu, in announcing the study entitled "2011 Wind Technologies Market Report," applauded the efforts of both government agencies and private sector entrepreneurs that led to the United States becoming the largest source of wind-derived power.

"This report shows that America can lead the world in the global race to manufacture and deploy clean energy technologies," Chu said in a press release. "The wind industry employs tens of thousands of American workers and has played a key role in helping to more than double wind power over the last four years."

The government data showed that the national wind-based power capacity increased by approximately 6,800 megawatts (MW) during 2011. This growth brought total production potential to a 47,000 MW, creating enough electricity, according to the Energy Department press release, to power roughly 12 million homes per year. The industry supports 75,000 jobs, ranging from maintenance personnel to operations managers.

Further boosting the U.S. renewable power markets is a surge in domestic manufacturing, which the Energy Department says accounts for roughly 70 percent of turbines, rotors and storage units used in wind farm construction.

However, Chu warned that government tax credits, which currently provide much-needed subsidies to growing power companies, are to set expire in 2013. He advocated long-term extensions to guarantee stability in the renewable energy industry, which would allow businesses in the field to grow without fear of funding losses. By doing so, Chu and other government officials have argued, more Americans can enjoy electricity produced from clean and homegrown sources.

Creators of world’s first solar-powered toilet win Bill Gates’ $100,000 prize

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic enterprise created by Microsoft guru Bill Gates, issued a challenge last summer that called for engineers to, in Gates' words, "reinvent the toilet." One year later, a team of designers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has received the $100,000 prize for creating a solar-powered toilet.

The major stipulation of the contest, according to various news sources, was that the winning device be able to create energy as opposed to wasting it. To this end, the Caltech toilet is part of a larger machine that takes fecal matter, breaks it down into hydrogen using an electrochemical reactor and stores the latent energy in fuel cells for later use.

The process also cleans the material of any disease-causing bacteria, which contributes to the Gates Foundation's goal of providing clean, low-impact toileting to impoverished countries with high levels of illness caused by unclean water.

"Imagine what's possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead," Gates said on August 14, speaking from the foundation's headquarters in Seattle. "Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations."

Other teams from around the world sought the top prize, including one from the United Kingdom's Loughborough University, which designed a toilet that creates biological charcoal and water clean enough to drink. A University of Toronto design group invented a system that processes fecal matter to isolate useful minerals as well as purified water.

During the press conference, Gates also announced a $3.4 million grant for more toilet development to be awarded to universities and research organizations around the world. These philanthropic efforts, if fully realized, may one day bring renewable resources to the areas that need it the most.