Ahead of L.A. Auto Show, finalists for Green Car of the Year are announced

Automotive aficionados are gearing up for this year's Los Angeles Auto Show, preparing to whet their appetites for the industry's latest and upcoming offerings. Eco-friendly fans have their own cause to celebrate, as this year's eighth annual Green Car of the Year Award will definitely set the stage for future developments in the hybrid and electric-car markets.

This year's list of finalists features the Dodge Dart Aero, Toyota Prius, Ford C-MAX, Mazda CX-5 and Ford Fusion lines of cars. According to the Los Angeles Times, each selection was based on that model's efforts related to power conservation and low emissions output systems.

Interestingly, the Mazda and Dodge automobiles are not hybrid-style vehicles. Yet their updated engines and energy delivery networks enable them to improve gas mileage while still relying on a more traditional powertrain layout. The two Fords and the Toyota come in regular hybrid and plug-in hybrid varieties, the latter of which means that those cars have the capacity to be recharged at home or on the go.

In a press statement, Ron Cogan, editor of the industry news source Green Car Journal, highlighted the fact that this year's list suggests that consumers have a greater selection of eco-friendly cars to choose from. The publication's list of top green cars for 2013 mirrors the L.A. Auto Show finalist docket, and the panel of judges for the competition will feature some of its staff.

It's tough to say which model will win – readers will have to wait until late November for the auto show's grand opening. However, the level of competition at this year's event could be a signal that more consumer-friendly autos will be hitting car showroom floors in the near future.

Happy birthday, LED! America’s green bulb turns 50

In October 1962, a General Electric (GE) engineer named Nick Holonyak made the first push in a decades-long effort to turn the United States into a nation of energy efficiency. His creation was the light-emitting diode (LED), which resulted from semiconductor experimentations taking place at GE. Fifty years later, the LED is used in a wide range of products and technologies in just about every industry.

An LED is powered by an electron laser that illuminates a piece of material, providing the well-known light we know today {kind of odd wording, also I added "today" in the next sentence for clarity. reword}. While they come in many colors today, according to a piece by Wired Magazine, back in 1962 there was only one shade available: red. This is because the original compound used to make the device, gallium arsenide phosphide – takes on a reddish tint when exposed to air.

The biggest advantage of the LED is that it consumes a drastically smaller amount of energy than its incandescent cousin: roughly 85 percent less in some cases. Additionally, they can last for a much longer duration of continuous use. This innovation enabled deployment to skyrocket, and according to an article by Green Tech Media, the LED market is expected to reach revenues of $1 billion in 2014.

In an interview, Holonyak cited an atmosphere of competition during the 1960s, when multiple engineers were hunting for the Next Big Thing that would transform American technology – and make them rich.

"If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them because I've made this alloy that is in the red – visible," he recounted thinking at the time during the GE-sponsored recap. "And I'm going to be able to see what's going on. And they're stuck in the infrared."

Next time you see an LED this month, stop and wish it a happy birthday. If you don't get a chance, there's no reason to worry – these energy-efficient wonders will surely be around for many birthdays to come.

Building-integrated vegetation market set to reach $7.7 billion in value by 2017

A new report from eco-friendly market research group Lux Research stated that the total industry value for building-integrated vegetation projects – installations for roofs or walls designed to absorb heat and moisture – is growing substantially each year. In fact, by 2017, it is expected to hit $7.7 billion, a number that highlights the growing importance of carbon offsetting initiatives in 21st century building design.

According to the study, major cities around the globe are beginning to adopt the practice of mandating certain levels of architectural vegetation in order to reduce carbon dioxide output in those areas. The organization cites Tokyo, London and New York City as major metropolitan regions that have taken a shine to these advantages.

Additionally, Lux Research noted that a small yet growing market of companies that specifically service this industry are starting to take hold. Products such as roof-specific gardening systems and waterproofing materials are being sold in greater numbers.

"The environmental benefits of building-integrated vegetation remain hard to monetize, and many wonder if it's just a green curiosity," Aditya Ranade, the lead author of the report, said in a statement. "But with key cities around the world putting incentives in place, a significant market opportunity is emerging."

The second part of Ranade's statement might refer to tax policies put in place in recent years that entice home and commercial property owners to boost the energy efficiency of their buildings. While it remains to be seen if they will be viable in a long-term sense, these developments suggest that people are taking green habitability more seriously. In time, big cities could become the leading examples of how to approach the dream of sustainable living.

It’s actually easy bein’ green: Ways to make your home more eco-friendly

Turning your home into a model of green living has several benefits. Not only are you helping the environment by producing less carbon dioxide, but you're also lowering your utility bills as you aren't utilizing as much electricity. Additionally, an eco-friendly renovation is a long-term investment of sustainability.

Today, we'll look at a couple of ways you can improve your home to make it a truly green residence.

To become an eco-friendly property owner, you'll need to:

Dump your old appliances – Outdated refrigerators, microwaves and other kitchen necessities consume more energy than you think. Older models actually use tiny bits of power even when you aren't using them. EnergyStar-rated products feature safeguards against this micro-consumption, ensuring that you aren't paying extra each month. Similarly, they are designed to perform just as well as other brands but at a fraction of the electricity expenditure.

Rethink your lighting setup – Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the undisputed future of residential lighting, but currently many homeowners still rely on old-fashioned bulbs that don't last very long and consume an inordinate amount of power. You can shave 25 percent off your monthly electricity bills by switching over to this new technology.

Waste nothing – Did you buy a new TV but plan to toss the box in the trash? Give the environment a helping hand by reusing that box for storage. At the very least, recycle anything you can that you would otherwise chuck in the trash. That way, you will cut down on household waste while also giving Mother Nature a helping hand.

Hopefully these tips will help set you on the path to a greener lifestyle. However, to do it right, you'll need to be committed to making your home a truly low-impact residence. Good luck!

Scrap paper could one day save hospitals on medical testing costs

Work conducted by a University of Washington scientist could one day yield an enormous cost-cutting benefit to hospitals that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on expensive medical tests. According to a press release from the university, Daniel Ratner, an assistant professor of bioengineering, has created a process that allows certain molecules to stick to normal, everyday paper.

The sequence developed by Ratner involves a common solvent known as divinyl sulfone, long used by industrial companies as an adhesive. It involves mixing the chemical with water, allowing it to settle and then soaking paper with the solution before letting it dry for several hours. An inkjet printer is utilized to coat the resulting paper with enzymes that can be used to reveal different types of biological markers, including DNA. The result, Ratner was quoted as saying, could be applied in a wide variety of hospital settings for any number of medical tests and screenings.

"We wanted to go for the simplest, cheapest starting material, and give it more capability," Ratner told the source. "We also wanted to make the system as independent of the end applications as possible, something any researcher could plug into."

The bioengineer is set to publish his initial findings in a paper in the American Chemical Society publication Langmuir. Other teams, including one from a private firm and another from Harvard University, are currently testing other preparation methods and different types of solvents that could make the procedure even more cost-effective.

These developments are an example of the medical field trying to find their own unique methods of low impact living. Less energy is spent developing medical tests under this new process, and could one day make it more affordable for people to receive the results they need to improve their health.

“Pump to shore” technology could provide power to American seaside towns

A report from a local New Jersey newspaper highlighted the fact that town leaders in Point Pleasant Beach are exploring ways to deploy renewable energy technology to power their community.

The Asbury Park Press, in an article published October 21, stated that one of the options under consideration was a device known as a "pump to shore" generator, which utilizes the natural flow of water on beaches to create electricity. A wire connected to the machine feeds into the local grid, which would then be used to provide power to local homes and businesses. Point Pleasant Beach is currently weighing a bid from Clean Wave Energy (CWE), a company based in Surf City, North Carolina.

According to the firm's website, the average tidal flow of an American beach, which features four-foot swells in a roughly six second-long cycle, could provide up to 65 megawatts per mile of shoreline. CWE's method is a two part system. First, water is fed through a series of tubes into a facility that is situated next to the ocean. An anchored pump provides the momentum for the seawater, which travels through a traditional hydroelectric generator. Finally, the same force that pushes the water onshore is used to pull the water through another set of piping back into the ocean. This way, the firm states, minimal energy is spent creating electricity.

Point Pleasant Beach officials told the source that their concerns with the project relate primarily to construction costs. Additionally, the necessary permits and waivers from the state could put the initiative on hold for at least two or three years.

Even though the CWE design may not be deployed in this New Jersey town, it's possible that other communities along the coast could adopt this system. On its website, the firm reiterates that one megawatt of electricity is enough to power 500 nearby homes. With numbers like that, it's easy to see how other areas may want to adopt this unique form of clean energy.

British engineers create “gas from air” in groundbreaking energy development

English engineering firm Air Fuel Synthesis' (AFS) name sums up their goal perfectly: to create a viable energy source that utilizes the very air we breathe. Now, according to recent reports, they are beginning to do just that.

The organization, which won the Cleantech Investor Future Transport Challenge award this August, could be on the cusp of changing the way that human civilization derives its energy.

British news source The Independent reported in an article from October 19 that the company is planning to put together a commercial-sized operation. For now, however, they are concentrating on streamlining their production process.

"We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol," AFS CEO Peter Harrison told the source. "We don't have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines."

According to The Independent, AFS plans to create a consumer product that can be mixed with conventional fuels, thus cutting down its environmental impact and boosting gas mileage. However, within the next five years, they hope to have a facility that is pumping out a gasoline alternative.

Beyond that, the British organization intends to experiment with ways to produce the "air fuel" without relying on fossil fuel-derived electricity. Harrison told The Independent that he envisioned production plants that produce their own power from wind and sea-based generators. Furthermore, he said the company was working on ways to improve carbon capture technology, which gathers CO2 from the air to be used in energy production. Current practices, industry experts say, are too costly to provide any real value.

The next several years could see more groundbreaking results like this one which dramatically alter the global energy economy. Look to LifeIsGreen.com for more information about green technology and renewable energy breakthroughs as they occur.

Experimental wave power buoy achieves power production in offshore tests

Those who accuse the green movement of failing to provide tangible results should look no further than energy technology developer Neptune Wave Power's Wave Energy Conversion (WEC) system. This machine was recently tested off the coast of New Hampshire at a Center for Ocean Renewable Energy site and, according to an announcement published on October 18, has cleared the objectives in two separate testing exercises.

The WEC device utilizes what is known in the clean power community as a "point absorber." This means that the buoy is chained to the ocean floor, and as the ocean rises and falls during wave activity, the kinetic energy that is created is captured and then transferred to the shore.

There is another component that makes the buoy unique among water-based renewable energy sources, however. Installed inside is a horizontal pendulum that is activated by the sea's motion. Unlike wind mills or similar systems, the pendulum does not require movement in a certain direction in order to generate electricity.

So far, two models have been tested by Neptune Wave Power. The latest one incorporated several improvements, including remote weight adjustments, wireless programming maintenance and a hull designed with mass production in mind.

"Our goal is to deliver energy by creating the most robust, maintainable, and economic system possible," Steve Hench, a principal researcher for Neptune Wave Power, said in a statement. "We are optimizing energy extraction from ocean waves through a tunable system that reacts to a wide range of sea states. The tests have been very positive."

The testing of the WEC could be the start of a movement that leads to seaside towns and cities being able to power their homes and buildings with renewable energy sources. Until then, keep an eye out on the coast for one of these up-and-coming clean power devices.

The solar-powered houseboat: Coming to a marina near you

You don't hear too much in the news these days about houseboats, let alone ones that incorporate renewable energy sources to provide them with electricity.

Yet London-based green design firm Sanitov Studios has taken a big step forward in the aquatic residential market with The Ark, a fully functioning houseboat that includes solar panels and other state-of-the-art technologies.

The Ark is equipped with a solar panel arrangement capable of producing 2 kilowatts of clean energy, and its designers hope that, with power-saving measures built into the ship, it will stay below 1,000 kilowatts per year in terms of usage. Additionally, in order to capture as much sunlight as possible but compensate for the fact that the houseboat moves, Sanitov opted for a specially-designed array of panels that are capable of producing more energy during periods of lower-than-average light.

Another feature, according to the designer's website, is the Lutron processing system. This power conduit network automatically cuts lighting output by 20 percent. The Ark also includes an air-based heat pump, a "green wall" to consume carbon dioxide and capture panels on the roof to collect rain water.

According to the British clean energy news source Solar Power Portal, Sanitov has an operational prototype already floating on the Thames. It recently saw action during the London 2012 Olympic Games, when several Danish athletes stayed aboard during their visit.

While the Ark is only a prototype, the exciting developments behind it make it seem all but certain that Londoners and other waterside city dwellers could see houseboats like it plying along the coast. At the very least, it's certainly a big step forward for renewable energy designers who are looking to revolutionize how we live.

Proposed Pittsburgh skyscraper to feature revolutionary “natural ventilation” system

Cities across America are seeking their own solutions for reducing pollution and energy consumption. In some cases, including one particular development project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, local leaders are allowing members of the private sector to take on much of the innovative pushes needed to make cities more green.

The group financing the construction of the Tower at PNC Plaza, PNC Financial Services Group, has spared no expense in creating a truly unique eco-friendly skyscraper. According to industry news source Architectural Record, the company currently owns 160 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designed (LEED)-certified buildings around the world. Furthermore, it hopes for the Pittsburgh office to be its flagship by earning its own approval from the U.S. Green Building Council (GBC) a nonprofit advocacy group that awards this recognition to energy-efficient construction projects.

At the heart of the proposed building is a "solar chimney" composed of two shafts that extends the height of the tower. A 5,000-square foot chamber of glass and concrete at the top captures the heat from the sun and cooks the air inside. After this process begins, the source says, the difference in pressure should pull cooler air up the tunnels and feed into vents throughout the building.

"A headquarters facility is the cornerstone building of any company's portfolio, embodying company values and business ethics. PNC is making a strong statement by building their forthcoming headquarters to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards," Richard Fedrizzi, head of the GBC, said in a statement when the Tower at PNC Plaza initiative was announced.

This project could be the start of a widespread movement to make energy-efficient skyscrapers the norm in American cities. Thanks to the efforts of the GBC, more buildings are becoming LEED-certified every year. With luck, local and state governments will continue to reduce the carbon footprint of metropolitan areas.