Senator Proposes $5 Billion Green Jobs Bill

Hoping to spur job growth in the U.S. green energy sector, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet submitted a piece of legislation earlier this month which would direct federal dollars toward initiatives that offer education and career opportunities to qualified Americans. The bill, known as the Clean Energy Race To The Top Act, establishes a $5 billion grant program that would be used to extend incentives to private sector organizations, local governments and state agencies that take steps to the grow the green economy.

The proposed law, which Bennet said in a statement would be fully funded by existing government dollars, would reward communities that institute renewable energy benchmarks for towns and cities, construct power-saving buildings and participate in efforts to lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Federal grants would also be extended to participants that develop so-called climate action plans, which establish protocols for dealing with global warming and a changing environment.

"The United States is primed to lead the way toward a clean energy economy that will create jobs right here at home," Bennet said in a statement. "This bill encourages leadership and innovation by relying on the creativity and ingenuity of our local energy businesses and state and local governments. It incentivizes states to take advantage of the clean energy technologies being developed in our backyards and to put together dynamic plans to create a clean and diverse energy portfolio in this country. Best of all, it will create jobs in the U.S. and help end our dependence on foreign oil." 

Bennet's proposed law, which was also submitted during the last Congressional session, is not guaranteed passage. However, this development highlights the fact that there remains serious interest in a large-scale investment in America's green economy. Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com blog for more details on this topic as they develop. 

Congressional Democrats Release Carbon Tax Draft Law

During the first term of his presidency, President Barack Obama and his allies in Congress attempted to push forward a carbon tax bill that would have been the first real attempt by the U.S. government to place financial curbs on pollution. That proposal failed to gain traction among conservative Democrats and Republicans and was soon pushed to the wayside.

Now, according to an announcement from several left-leaning members of Congress, a drive for a carbon tax may be beginning once again. The draft law, published through a press release from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, contains a number of initiatives that would impose penalties on American companies that produce substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. 

Essentially, the legislation would impose a per-ton tax on businesses that would be collected in a collaboration between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Treasury Department. The EPA would calculate how much carbon dioxide is produced by a given company while the Treasury would actually conduct the transaction. 

The group, composed of Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), stressed that much of the institutional knowledge required to set the carbon tax in place has already been developed by government officials. 

Ultimately, the goal is to urge more companies to invest in renewable energy options through economic incentives.

"Let's send a signal to big polluters that it's past time to start putting a price on carbon pollution," Blumenauer said in the announcement.  "This proposal has a great deal of potential to help protect the environment, reduce the deficit, create jobs, and support the transition to clean energy sources and low carbon transportation options."

Included in the proposal is a list of questions meant to promote debate, both among American stakeholders and the general public, which can be found here. While it's uncertain how far the renewed idea of a carbon tax will go in a divided Congress, it's encouraging to see some politicians attempting to tackle the ever-growing problem of carbon pollution. 

American Researchers Suggest A Limit To Wind Power

A pair of American renewable energy researchers published a controversial study in Environmental Research Letters last month, suggesting that there may be a fine line between beneficial wind power generation and an overuse of the technology. The two scientists contend that some wind farms may be too large and inefficient to justify millions of dollars in investment. 

According to a press release published by Harvard University, David Keith and Amanda Adams have been developing their thesis for over a year. By their calculations, once a wind power-generating facility becomes too big, it creates what the team dubbed a "wind shadow." This dead space can detract from the total amount of electricity that the array of turbines is capable of producing.

At the heart of the group's argument is the idea that wind power might not be the energy panacea that some believe it might be. However, in a press statement, Keith stressed that his and Adams' research is meant to foster a conversation about diversified energy solutions as opposed to ones focused on a particular technology. 

"Our findings don't mean that we shouldn't pursue wind power – wind is much better for the environment than conventional coal – but these geophysical limits may be meaningful if we really want to scale wind power up to supply a third, let's say, of our primary energy," Keith said.

At this time, it's tough to say what impact this research will have on the wind energy industry, which, according to U.S. News, is expected to build up to 4 million new turbines by 2030. However, the study suggests that renewable power sources need to be thoroughly examined before a serious level of investment is made in them, either by the private sector or the U.S. government.

For more news on this and other topics, stay with LifeIsGreen.com.

Californians Loving Prius Cars, New Report Finds

Toyota announced late last month that Californian car-buyers are favoring its line of Prius vehicles. According to data from the state government, there were more registrations for the environmentally-friendly Priuses in 2012 than any other model.

A total of 61,893 were officially registered last year, a press release from Toyota read, and included the standard Prius, the Prius Plug-in, and both the "v" and "C" varieties. 

Bill Fay, a group vice president of sales for the company, speculated in a press statement that the superior miles-per-gallon (mpg) ratio of the Prius was driving sales. Included in the release was a revelation that during test drives, the hybrid car achieved 40.8 mpg, which was 1.9 percent higher than its mandated level. During one excursion, a journalist reported 90 mpg during a 25-mile tour.

"Consumers are drawn to the Prius vehicles because of the brand's focus on efficiency," Fay was quoted as saying.  "All four distinct Prius models offer outstanding fuel economy."

Cleantechnica, a green news source, reported on March 9 that Toyota is making a significant push to improve Prius sales in the United States. As part of this initiative, the company will be offering discounts in a number of markets, including California and New York. For example, Toyota is marking down the Prius Plug-in by approximately $6,500.

At this time, it's tough to predict how the automaker's plan will influence sales. However, with elevated gas prices expected to continue through the summer and into the foreseeable future, it makes sense that American consumers are turning to energy-efficient and eco-friendly cars as an alternative to more gas-guzzling models. 

For the latest updates on the green car industry and other important topics, keep reading the LifeIsGreen.com blog. 

Green Cleaning: Do-It-Yourself Washing Solutions

The unfortunate truth about spring cleaning is that it can be as costly as it is environmentally unfriendly. Many name-brand cleaning fluids contain chemicals that are harmful to the soil – not to mention the plastic containers they're stored in, which can take countless years to break down. By opting to make your own washing solutions out of easy-to-find household products, you'll be doing both your home and the planet a favor.

Today, we'll look at some quick-to-mix options for when you have to wash windows, clean floors or even scrub the bathroom. These tips can also save you money during this occasionally expensive house-wide project.

One of the easiest solutions to make is composed primarily of vinegar. Take three tablespoons of vinegar and mix it with two cups of water. A jumbo-sized version requires one-half of a cup of vinegar for a gallon of water. Shake it up well and you're ready to go — this mixture is perfect for cleaning glass without creating streaks, as well as getting gunk out of bathroom or kitchen floor tiles. If you're working on a rather nasty cleaning project that needs an extra bit of force, add lemon juice to this mixture. The extra acidity helps dissolve hardened dirt or grime. 

To make a disinfectant, start with two cups of water. Add several drops of natural soap as well as a dozen drops each of lavender and tea tree organic oils. This solution can be used on almost any surface. According to Inhabitot.com, a green-friendly family information site, you should avoid washing glass with this mixture as it may lead to streaks.

By opting for these environmentally friendly products as opposed to the name-brand ones you can find in the store, you can rest assured that your spring cleaning is as eco-healthy as it is efficient.

New App Allows Zero Motorcycle Owners To Monitor Their Carbon Footprints

On February 19, Zero Motorcycles announced the release of a brand new application, available on both the iPhone and Android platforms, that will let owners of their electric vehicles get a glimpse into how they are using power and saving the planet.

Zero Motorcycles is the leading manufacturer of electric motorcycles in the world, offering models both for everyday citizens looking for an eco-friendly thrill and for police forces in cities that are making a concerted effort to go green, like London.

The application the company has created allows owners of Zero bikes to monitor their vehicle's every move, including the remaining charge, the engine temperature and torque. However, its most interesting feature shows the user a side-by-side comparison of how much gasoline they would have used during their trips were they riding a traditional hog.

And with the company's latest models, that comparison should prove to be shocking – Zero Motorcycles' 2013 lineup improved upon the previous year's power and maximum travel distance by nearly double, according to green industry news source EarthTechling.

Though this is clearly the most important aspect of the app, the vice president of Zero Motorcycles, Scot Harden, added that its customizable display and revolutionary concept will be the true draw for consumers.

"The Zero Motorcycles app marks the first time in history that a production motorcycle's top speed, torque and regenerative braking can be easily adjusted by an owner in seconds. Not only is it fun, it also results in a riding experience that is truly customized to meet the unique needs of every individual," Harden said in a press release.

For more updates on how you can convert to a green lifestyle with ease, stay tuned to the LifeIsGreen.com blog.

Ferrari Unveils Its New Hybrid LaFerrari Model

Ferrari, the celebrated maker of ultra-luxury cars, has officially entered the hybrid market with its LaFerrari. This limited-edition vehicle, which according to the company will only feature 499 cars, truly exists at the cutting edge of green-friendly automobiles.

A press release from Ferrari, published on March 5, outlined the various specifications of the car. It will feature the automaker's official HY-KERS power train system, which includes a 6262 cc V-12 engine and a 13.5:1 compression ratio. The LaFerrari also sports a 120 Kw electric motor, bringing its total power output to a whopping 963 CV. 

According to Ferrari officials, the LaFerrari went through extensive trials to make sure that it is as fast as it is energy-efficient. Diffusers and guide vanes were added to the body of the car to ensure that a little bit of wind doesn't slow the driver down. 

"We chose to call this model LaFerrari because it is the maximum expression of what defines our company – excellence. Excellence in terms of technological innovation, performance, visionary styling and the sheer thrill of driving," Ferrari's President, Luca di Montezemolo, said in a statement. "Aimed at our collectors, this is a truly extraordinary car which encompasses advanced solutions that, in the future, will find their way onto the rest of the range, and it represents the benchmark for the entire automotive industry."

With an expected price tag exceeding $1 million, it's unlikely that the average person will get a chance to drive this supercar. However, the development is noteworthy because it shows that automakers of all shapes and sizes are looking at different ways to achieve energy efficiency. As this becomes the norm, you might notice a few more green-friendly vehicles on the roadways.

California Company Creates Biomass Fuel Cells

A new way of generating electricity has been sold to a Native American tribe in Humboldt County, California, according to a press release from Ballard Power Systems. This company, which specializes in clean power energy systems, announced the deal on February 27.

The technology, known as a biomass-to-fuel cell system, operates by turning biodegradable substances into a hydrogen synthetic gas using a pyrolysis gasification machine. This vapor is then purified, producing a so-called "hydrogen stream" which powers the state-of-the-art fuel system. During operation, the device will be capable of producing 175 kilowatts.

A statement from Ballard suggests that this is the first biomass generator of its kind, and could be the first of a series of machines that delivers low-cost electricity without consuming environmentally harmful fossil fuels. This sentiment was echoed by Arla Ramsey, a senior official of the Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe, which purchased the technology. 

"The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe is committed to renewable power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the energy efficiency of our facilities," Ramsey said. "Biomass-to-fuel cell power is an excellent match for our community and our region, and we see tremendous potential for deployments beyond our own facilities."

The initiative is part of an effort being conducted by the Schatz Energy Research Center, which is affiliated with Humboldt State University. The project aims to develop and produce commercial-scale renewable energy solutions that are as effective as they are affordable. According to the research organization, the Ballard system fulfills one goal included in a 20-year development plan designed to bring clean power to Humboldt County in a comprehensive way.

Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on this and other green developments happening around the United States. 

Could Graphene Change The Face Of Solar Panels?

A new paper published in Nature Physics hints at a potentially groundbreaking development: Graphene, one of the most commonly used materials in nano-sized infrastructure, might one day be used to build solar panel transistors. Not only would they be much easier and less environmentally destructive than the silicon and gallium arsenide utilized to manufacture current solar systems, but graphene panels might also deliver up to 60 percent more electricity than current technologies.

According to the MIT Technology Review, the study, produced by the Institute of Photo Sciences in Spain, identifies concrete evidence that graphene solar conductors are far more efficient than those available on the market. However, the uses of graphene could go beyond electrical generation networks. Because of the high level of conductivity this material possesses, next-generation medical devices and cameras may also benefit from the use of graphene. 

The experiment involved using a sheet of graphene, which the researchers then passed a series of charges through to see how quickly they would travel. Those involved with the project say that the results were so promising that the Spanish team is already working on a prototype to demonstrate the process further.

Andrea Ferrari, a professor from the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the project, spoke with the Technology Review in an interview and said that there are a limitless number of applications for graphene once scientists work out simple ways to produce the material. 

"There is no other material in the world with this behavior," she said simply, adding that graphene "can work with every possible wavelength you can think of." 

While it may be some time before you see a graphene-based solar panel, these developments suggest that the renewable energy industry will experience huge leaps and bounds in the near future. 

Will Tomorrow’s Tablet Computers Feature Super-Thin Solar Panels?

Research being conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and abroad suggests that, if the designers are successful, tablet computers will one day feature translucent solar panels capable of absorbing ambient light and generating small amounts of electricity.

According to the MIT Review, a graduate project-turned-startup named Ubiquitous Energy is making a serious play at this yet-untapped market, which some say could be extremely lucrative owing to the relatively short battery lives that many tablets in use today currently provide. Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineering professor at Stanford University, told the source that tablet-based solar systems are "an interesting approach," but cautioned that cost and durability might scuttle any serious attempts to create pint-sized renewable energy networks.

This doesn't seem to be impeding Miles Barr, the chief technology officer and president of Ubiquitous. In an interview, he said that improvements in solar panel efficiency were opening up avenues for novel uses of this useful technology. 

"We're getting a catalog of device structures and ingredients for higher-efficiency devices that can power more power-hungry devices or offset energy for buildings," Barr stated. "Once you hit 10 percent efficiency, a lot of applications open up."

Part of the problem, he added, is that the nature of the panels have to match the surface they are attached to. For example, in order to create a panel fitted to a window or touch screen, manufacturers would need to be able to make conductors with the right kind of transparency. However, he suggested that Ubiquitous was tackling this project head-on and hoped to have a solution within the next few years.

While it might be some time before we see an iPad that recharges itself, these developments are encouraging because it shows clean energy being utilized in almost every facet of our lives. You can follow these and other topics by keeping with the LifeIsGreen.com blog.