Portland, Oregon set to install novel hydroelectric production

A new type of energy-producing technology is going to be unveiled during 2013 in Portland, Oregon. According to various news sources, a hydroelectric gravitational turbine will be installed in a piece of piping in that community and will provide power to an estimated 150 households once its fully operational.

Portland-based Lucid Energy, the company behind the project, bills the system as a "vertical-axis spherical turbine" on its official website. In layman's terms, it's a power-generating framework that relies on the downward flow of water to push a turbine mechanism. With liquid rushing through the turbine, the rotation speed is high enough to create electricity.

Lucid developed the technology over a number of years. The last initiative was conducted in January, representing the fourth round of prototypes that utilized real-world scenarios to test efficiency and production levels. Local leaders and officials were reportedly impressed by the results during demonstrations. Speaking with Sustainable Life, an Oregon green living publication, Portland Water Bureau chief engineer Michael Stuhr praised the project.

"Where we can employ them, it makes sense to do so," Stuhr told the source. "From an engineering point of view, they are an elegant piece of machinery, and I think pretty trustworthy."

According to Sustainable Life, Lucid has been investigating deals in other cities, though there is some resistance to this particular form of hydroelectric power. An official from the Oregon Global Warming Commission, a state investigative body, was quoted by the source as saying that this "niche" technology has not fully proven its worth in terms of economic results.

For now, green energy advocates will have to wait to see if Lucid's gravitational water turbine will exceed expectations. With luck, this device will one day be installed in communities throughout America and abroad to help those towns and cities find savings wherever possible.

Cincinnati approves new green construction tax credit initiative

Hoping to spur the development of green infrastructure in its community, local leaders of Cincinnati, Ohio, have put in motion a series of initiatives aimed at lowering tax burdens on individuals and companies that develop eco-friendly buildings within the city limits. According to Cincinnati News, the City Council approved the tax measures during a meeting on December 26, just one day after Christmas.

At the heart of the program is a 15-year "tax abatement" policy that will allow those who qualify a long grace period, during which time they will be free from a variety of local levies. Cincinnati, the source stated, has used this type of inventive in the past to spur local growth.

However, one local leader told the News that a LEED certification, which is issued by the U.S. Green Building Council, is not as hard to come by as it once was. The point of the abatement plan, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan stated, is to push organizations that participate to build state-of-the-art buildings that go above the standards.

"It's getting so easy to achieve LEED there’s nothing to incentivize people to do the best they can," Quinlivan, who reportedly spearheaded the new idea, was quoted as saying.

Whether these improvements will have an impact on Cincinnati's construction sector remains to be seen. One developer, who spoke with Cincinnati News, stated that he believes it is a good idea but remains skeptical about the number of homes that will be built under the new framework. Regardless of the outcome, however, it's an encouraging sign that communities are taking a more active role in deciding how renewable energy is utilized in their daily lives.

U.S. Department of Energy teams up with private company to foster clean energy access

Recent announcements from the U.S. Department of Energy have focused not only on funding, creating and implementing next-generation energy resources but also increasing access to these technologies. Earlier this week, federal officials announced that it is entering into a partnership with a private company, Johnson Matthey, to develop a new kind of biofuel that does not rely on expensive and time-consuming catalysts to make them viable in modern-day vehicles.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), which is spearheading the project, the five-year initiative will see approximately $7 million invested in the venture. Instead of restricting itself to one type of fuel – jet fuel, for example – the joint teams will be exploring a wide variety of applications, including automobile gasoline and mechanical-grade diesel.

Additionally, the NREL-Johnson Matthey initiative is focusing on the use of "non-food biomass feedstock." This substance consists of number of components, including grasses, unusable trees and human wastes.

"We're delighted to be collaborating with NREL in this exciting field," Andrew Heavers, a senior official for Johnson Matthey, said in a statement. "Combining Johnson Matthey’s understanding of catalysis with NREL's biomass processing capabilities will help accelerate the development of more economic routes to biofuels."

In its press release, the NREL projected that this venture will help the government agency move toward its goal of a commercial-scale biofuel creation process by 2017. The hope, officials say, is that this new energy source will cost roughly $3 when it enters the public market. While this date isn't certain, it's quite possible that everyday drivers will see the benefits of this technology at the pump sometime before the end of the decade.

Fund-seeking start-up proposes to turn compost into energy

Re-Nuble is one of those companies that seeks to bring big changes to the energy industry by starting out small. With just a simple website, an Indiegogo crowdfunding page and a few informational videos, this group is seeking to upend the idea that you must have large financial backing to make a difference. According to green tech news source EarthTechling, this firm has a few novel ideas about the way that communities can approach local energy production.

In a bid to reduce operational costs, Re-Nuble, which is still in the fundraising stage, is hoping to use transportable anaerobic digesters to process biological waste of many different kinds. This technology, to put it simply, is a machine that contains a large supply of bacteria that are capable of breaking down materials and producing a potentially useful source of energy. In most cases, methane or hydrogen is the primary by-product.

"Re-Nuble is introducing a business model that combines corporate and community interests to create localized activism that achieves three core goals: healthier food production, prosperous and cleaner communities and lessened reliance on fossil fuels," Tinia Pina, the CEO of the company, was quoted as saying by Sustainablog, a green news source.

Unfortunately, Re-Nuble has experienced some challenges that have made it tougher to enter a commercial-scale style of operation. According to Indiegogo, the company has only raised about $3,000 of its $25,000 goal.

There is still time remaining in its pledge drive, so if you want to give to a noble cause, Re-Nuble would gladly put your money to work. It is offering a number of incentives for donations, including a VIP invitation to its expected opening and the honor of naming one of its anaerobic digesters. By doing so, you might contribute to a future when towns and cities can spend less time on waste management and more on building a better community.

Colorado engineers creating ball-sized robots to clean up future toxic spills

While science fiction is chock full of robot swarms imperiling the human race, it seems that a team from the University of Colorado (UC) has sought to both dispel that myth and provide an effective means for future natural disaster clean up efforts. According to a press release from the university, a new type of robot has been developed that, if fully realized, could change the way humans perform a wide variety of tasks.

Known colloquially by the team as the "droplets", these ping pong ball-sized machines are capable of working together to solve whichever task they are instructed to do. Currently, the research group is developing ways to orchestrate the robots as a team. Eventually, sources say, they could be programmed to self-regulate and complete instructions with relative independence.

"Our robots aren't really designed for one particular problem," Nicholas Farrow, a research assistant involved with the initiative, told PopSci, a technology news source. "When our robots are completed, we’ll be able to apply them to problems we haven't even thought of right now."

This "distributed intelligence system" could later be implemented in other robotic systems, including machines capable of scooping up nuclear waste or extracting minerals from hard-to-reach areas. Nikolaus Correll, an assistant professor who is helping to lead the project, stated that the sky is quite literally the limit for this kind of innovation.

"Every living organism is made from a swarm of collaborating cells," he was quoted as saying. "Perhaps some day, our swarms will colonize space where they will assemble habitats and lush gardens for future space explorers."

With an ample amount of federal funding for the project, these robots will continue to be developed by the UC team. It's tough to say when and how they'll be used, unfortunately. But hopefully, someday, when you spill a drink at a restaurant, a team of plucky robots could pop out and clean it up before you know it.

U.S. Department of Energy to make big investments in offshore power

In a bid to diversify the nation's energy production resources, the U.S. Department of Energy is investing in a series of offshore wind power initiatives. The federal program is structured as a public-private partnership, awarding subsidy contracts to companies that submit cost-effective and promising design proposals.

According to an official press release from the Obama administration, projects in Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, Ohio, Texas and Oregon received government start-up funds to help move them from the drawing board to the construction site. While some projects are more shovel-ready than others, the DoE expects these efforts to enter the commercial-scale production phase sometime in late 2016 or early 2017.

In its release, the government agency stressed that untapped coastal resources could bring billions of dollars in both power savings and economic benefits per year, thanks to the estimated 4,000 gigawatts of potential clean energy.

"The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources, and it is important for us to develop technologies that will allow us to utilize those resources in ways that are economically viable," Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, was quoted as saying. "Today's announcement of awards to the first offshore wind projects in the U.S. paves the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diverse domestic energy portfolio that develops every source of American energy."

There are some troubling signs for the Obama administration's green tech drive, including the upcoming expiration of the Production Tax Credit, which helps manufacturers of clean technology to cut costs and increase output. However, eco-friendly advocates are pushing for legislation that would renew these incentives and continue to drive investment in these emerging technologies.

In the coming years, keep an eye out on U.S. coastal areas. With continued investment and a little bit of luck, you might see a revolution in America's energy sector getting started.

Check out these green home efficiency tax credits expiring soon

Financially savvy Americans hoping to take advantage of eco-friendly home benefits might want to act before the year is out, as several federally subsidized tax credits will be expiring at the end of 2012. According to the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), a nonprofit green advocacy group, there are a plethora of options available to U.S. homeowners.

These tax advantages include:

Electric vehicle benefits – If you're the proud owner of a recently purchased electric vehicle, you stand to benefit significantly thanks to bonuses provided by the government. Cars that utilize at least 5 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy can earn their drivers an initial $2,500, with this number going all the way up to $7,500 for each additional kWh.

Geothermal heat pump reimbursements – This utility bill-reducing technology utilizes the natural heat from the earth to generate energy. Government subsidies provide up to 30 percent of the purchase price back to homeowners if they qualify.

Residential fuel cell credits – Homes that have been equipped with special fuel cell-based HVAC systems – which utilize a novel chemical process that creates electricity through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen – can reap significant financial rewards. With no expense limits set by the government, consumers may qualify for up to 30 percent of the original installation costs.

In its report, the ASE noted that there are a number of other state and regional-based tax credits that homeowners could further benefit from. By contacting your local energy officials, you can determine whether or not you are taking full advantage of these economic advantages. That way, you can enjoy a green lifestyle without breaking the bank.

Goodyear announces self-regulating tire system for 2013

In a move that will certainly please drivers who are tired of constantly checking their tires for leaks and pressure, American tiremaker Goodyear debuted its Air Maintenance Technology (AMT) earlier this year. The new system will enable automobile computers to keep their owners up to date on air and pressure levels, as well as any other problems that may arise on the road.

According to the company's press release, nearly 50 percent of all breakdowns have something to do with a malfunctioning tire. Therefore, Goodyear sought ways to reduce these issues and give its customers a safer driving experience. With this "smart" system in place, drivers can now be better informed about potential hazards related to their tires.

Additionally, the AMT initiative will save users money in the short term, as partially inflated tires are much less fuel efficient than those that are optimally maintained. With appropriate pressure, tires are also less susceptible to damage, meaning that AMT-equipped wheels will last longer than conventional ones.

Goodyear officials lauded the developments as their own contribution to the next generation of automobiles.

"We believe the Air Maintenance Technology application for commercial vehicle tires will not only enhance the performance of the tire, but will also provide cost savings to fleet owners and operators through the extension of tire tread life and increased fuel economy," Goodyear Chief Technical Officer, Jean-Claude Kihn, was quoted as saying in the release. "The progress we continue to make with this technology is very encouraging. We look forward to further testing of this concept."

With green energy organizations and the Obama administration advocating for higher fuel efficiency standards, these tires will be well-suited for achieving those goals. While this technology is still relatively new, don't be surprised if you see more of these "smart wheels" on the road in the near future.

As electric cars hit American roadways, researchers look at future impact on national power grid

In a bid to understand how the growing use of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) will affect the U.S. power grid, a team of researchers from the University of Notre Dame have announced a study that will focus on both the short- and long-term ramifications of increased usage. In an official press release, the group, led by Notre Dame professor Vijay Gupta, expressed the hope that these results, when complete, will assist urban planners and government officials as they brace for a larger amount of energy consumption in the coming years.

The project specifically focuses on the development of mathematical algorithms. These calculation models will then be used to pinpoint exactly how much electricity will be utilized in a given area, based on the projected amount of PEVs in operation. As this type of electric vehicle is designed to use a household's energy supply to recharge, it's assumed that some of this power will be processed in domestic settings.

Speaking about the initiative, Gupta noted in the release that one of the primary challenges is determining the environmental impact of using residential-based charging stations as well as community-based commercial operations. At this time, it isn't known which system is more cost-effective, but the research group intends to explore either option as a viable method.

"Electrification of the transportation market offers revenue growth for utility companies and automobile manufacturers, lower operational costs for consumers and benefits to the environment," Gupta was quoted as saying. "By addressing problems that will arise as PEVs impose extra load on the grid, and by solving challenges that currently impede the use of PEVs as distributed storage resources, this research will directly impact society."

The research effort, which is expected to begin within the next few months, could provide crucial insights into some of the biggest challenges facing the United States in the 21st century.

Charlotte fire station is honored by green building organization, cites its money-saving tech

In a sign that communities are tackling the problem of rising utility bills head-on, a fire station in Charlotte recently undertook a series of renovations and upgrades that enabled it to cut down on power consumption and actually produce a little bit of its own energy as well. In honor of the achievement, the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group that advocates for eco-friendly construction measures, awarded it with a Gold-level LEED status.

According to the Charlotte Business Journal, a regional news source, a number of initiatives were utilized in making the firehouse worthy of the prestigious recognition. During the actual reworking phase, over 40 percent of the materials reportedly came from nearby sources, which reduced the amount of fossil fuels used during that process. Approximately 20 percent of these items were recycled, and 75 percent of the accumulated waste at the end of the project was sent to be used elsewhere.

"The decision to make Fire Station 42 LEED Gold demonstrates community leadership, intelligent consideration for efficient ongoing operations and maintenance and a respect for conservative government budgets," says Emily Scofield, director of the USGBC's chapter in the Charlotte region. "LEED makes all of this possible, not impossible."

Additionally, a rooftop solar thermal system was installed that uses the sun's energy to create hot water, which enables the station to achieve savings in its operating budget. Skylights built into the roof allow natural light to illuminate the indoor sections, reducing the need for costly around-the-clock systems.

During a time when local government budgets are being squeezed by falling tax revenue and increasing costs, finding ways to reduce energy expenditure in important institutions like fire departments is a viable path forward. Hopefully, in time, other communities will follow in Charlotte's proverbial footsteps.