Wind Power Technology Always Developing

Wind turbine technology is one of the most promising renewable energy sources available, but it's not without controversy. Although turbines provide innumerable benefits for the environment and humanity by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, there are some concerns about the effect wind farms have on local ecosystems, particularly avian culture, and residents who live nearby.

These considerations are not without some merit, and the good news is that engineers are constantly researching and developing new ways to harvest energy from the wind without having detrimental impact on the environment.

A recent feature in WebEcoist.com, an environmental news site, provided a list of some alternative designs to wind turbine technology that are currently being developed by scientists around the world. We wanted to list a few that we though were particularly interesting:

  • There have been proposals for quiet, bird-safe turbines being installed on skyscrapers, where there is no shortage of wind gusts. These designs can be integrated into the architecture of the building so that they don't create eyesores for residents.
  • Mecanoo, an Dutch architectural firm, has been working with the Delft University of Technology in Delft, Netherlands, to develop a blade-less windmill that uses charged droplets of water moving through a series of steel tubes to generate power. The design is silent and poses no threat to wildlife.
  • One proposal involves attaching solar panels to turbine blades. University of Liverpool scientists have come up with a turbine model that would generate energy both from wind and solar simultaneously, saving space and increasing efficiency.

Hopefully, these designs won't simply be filed away in the "too expensive to implement" category, as sometimes happens with promising new technologies. Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com as we continue to track progress in the renewable energy sector.

Ag-gag Laws Threaten Environmental And Animal Rights Movements

In the last few years there have been many notable examples of environmental and animal rights advocates exposing the abuses of factory farms. One of the most common practices is to take cameras into livestock facilities and film the abhorrent treatment of animals by employees. These videos are often the only source of information we have for what actually takes place inside the industry, but new legislative proposals in several states are threatening the legality of such reporting.

The New York Times published a piece two weeks ago about the agriculture industry's latest efforts to silence critics and stymie freedom of speech. They're called "ag-gag" bills by critics, and they make it much more difficult for advocates to conduct undercover investigations to document harsh treatment of animals.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group that often works on behalf of the agriculture industry, has published several "model bills" that are drafted by lobbyists and then promoted in state houses across the country.

The model bills are given titles like "The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act", and prohibit any filming on the premises of livestock facilities with the intent to "defame the facility or its owner". One bill would require any violators to be placed on a "terrorist registry".

Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, an animal rights advocacy organization, told the source that the new proposals could significantly limit their ability to expose criminal actions by factory farms. "It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct undercover investigations," Bala said.

The abuses don't just stem from agriculture facilities. In 2011, the Humane Society, another animal rights organization, produced video showing severe abuses of horses at a training facility, where workers dropped caustic chemicals on horses' ankles to force them to walk with a high-stepped gait favored by breeders.

If these bills are passed, they could significantly limit our ability to judge which companies are using humane practices to raise animals. Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com as we continue to monitor this issue.

Nitrogen Fertilizer May Pose Grave Environmental Risk

The tragic explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, which killed 15 people and injured 200, has raised questions about the agriculture industry's reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. Some have speculated that the explosion was exacerbated by the massive amounts of ammonium nitrate, a compound used to make explosives, that the company which owns the plant had stored at the facility without reporting it to the Department of Homeland Security.

The incident has brought to light larger concerns about the widespread use of the chemical fertilizers plant produced and how these substances can be detrimental to the country's water supply, soil and wildlife.

According to a recent article in Grist.org, an environmental news site, nitrogen fertilizers have been popular since the early 20th century. But farmers have been using so much of them that plants cannot absorb it all, so much of it is washed away in runoff, creating "dead zones" in local ponds that can no longer be inhabited by aquatic life.

Nitrogen fertilizers can also evaporate once dissolved in water, creating nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

The article points out that one of the biggest obstacles to reducing use of nitrogen fertilizers is the massive amount of corn produced in the U.S., much of which is devoted to feeding livestock. In order for the country to cut back on production of this substance, we'll need to grow less corn, which will be difficult given the institutional and economic pressures that make corn such an enormous part of U.S. agriculture.

Consumers can play a part by purchasing products that are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and other environmentally harmful substances. LifeIsGreen.com will keep you updated on this important issue as more details surface.

Electric Vehicle Sales Roar Back In 2012

One of the most exciting areas of green technology innovation is in the electric drive sector, where hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle sales, which had been limited by the recession, are accelerating.

According to data from the Electronic Drive Transportation Association, an organization that promotes electric vehicles, Hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV) sales in 2012 totaled 434,645, a 63 percent increase over 2011. Extended range (EREV) and battery-powered (BEV) vehicle sales ticked up to 52,835, a 425 percent increase year-over-year.

For 2013, it looks like this pace will continue. Monthly sales numbers have climbed over last year, and electric vehicles now have a 3.77 percent market share, compared with a 3.38 share of the market in 2012 and a 2.23 percent share in 2011.

The massive jump in sales of plug-in electric vehicles is probably attributable to the increasing availability of these models. Manufacturers like Chevy, Nissan and smart have been able to promote their newest electric fleets, and buyers can't get enough of them.

A recent report published by Navigant Research, a clean technology research group based in Boulder, Colorado, predicted that 22 million electric vehicles would be sold by 2020. Dave Hurst, the firm's principal research analyst with Navigant Research, cited the rising cost of fossil fuels as a significant contributor to the increase in sales.

It remains to be seen how successful other manufacturers will be in rolling out new electric vehicles, particularly plug-in models like the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf. One of the biggest obstacles to further growth in this industry is the relative paucity of charging stations throughout the country, particularly in rural and suburban areas. Currently, there are about 15,000 non-residential chargers across the United States. For electric vehicles to catch on with a broader audience, we may need many more.

LifeIsGreen.com will keep you posted on the latest developments in green energy efficient products.

Earth Day celebrated across the U.S.

We wrote in a recent post about Earth Day celebrations happening around the United States. Cities across the country are holding events for citizens who want to reiterate their commitment to living green, sustainable lives and taking responsibility for the health of the planet. That post contained a short list of events in Massachusetts, Texas and California, and we wanted to share information about other events that took place over the weekend or are happening today.

  • Earth Day San Francisco was held at the Civic Center Plaza on Saturday April 20 and featured a host of exhibits, vendors and speakers who shared information and held discussions about all sorts of topics relating to sustainability and environmentally conscious lifestyles. Among those exhibits was the Permaculture and Clean Energy Zone, which offered details about how to develop agriculture systems that mimic natural ecosystems.
  • Earth Day Denver 2013 took place on Monday April 22 at the Wellington Webb Municipal Building Atrium, 201 W. Colfax Ave. The fair featured booths from local businesses and organizations that produce environmentally friendly products and engage in sustainable practices. Additionally, the event was powered by renewable energy from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory located in Golden, Co.

There are still a handful of events that will occur over the next few days, all of which are free to attend:

  • Washington, D.C. celebrates Earth Month, with events held at Union Station and on the National Mall throughout April. Citizens can attend a variety of exhibitions, including the Verizon Wireless Earth Fair, which takes place until April 23 in the East Hall of Union Station.
  • Phoenix College in Phoenix, Arizona, will be hosting Earth Day celebrations on Wednesday April 24 at the Bullpitt Auditorium, Sophomore Square and Pastor Plaza. The event will include presentations by student groups and vendors promoting green living tips and lifestyles.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to update you on Earth Day events around the nation.

Earth Day Events Across The U.S. Celebrate Green Lifestyles

Earth Day, which occurs on Monday April 22 this year, isn't just about throwing an extra soda can into the recycling bin. In many areas of the country, it's an annual renewal of our commitment to maintaining sustainable, environmentally-conscious lives, and a reminder of how so many aspects of life, including technology, business, food, culture, politics and science can intersect with the goal of making Earth a cleaner, healthier place to live.

With that in mind, we've compiled a short list of major Earth Day events taking place all over the country. Over the next few days we'll be giving you information about the many ways you can participate, whether you reside in one of these metropolitan areas or not. Earth Day isn't just for urban dwellers and hippies. As you'll see, everyone has something to gain from going green.

  • Boston, Mass. will be hosting the 14th Annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup on April 22 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., sponsored by the Charles River Watershed Association, which takes place along the entire length of the Charles River. The Association estimates that 50 tons of trash were removed from last year's cleanup. Over 100 different neighborhood, school, religious, and corporate groups participate each year.
  • Dallas, Texas, is presenting its annual Earth Day Dallas (EDD) festival over a two day period from April 20-21 at Fair Park. Last year, over 58,000 people and 520 exhibitors participated in EDD. The event will feature exhibits from hundreds of organizations, businesses and public institutions offering information on how their products and services contribute to a cleaner environment.
  • Newport Beach, Calif., approximately an hour south of Los Angeles, is home to the Newport Bay Conservancy Center, which will be hosting an family-oriented Earth Day event on Sunday April 21 at 10 a.m. featuring scavenger hunts, craft booths, live music and opportunity drawings. Over 1,000 people attended in 2012.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com over the next few days as we detail more Earth Day events happening near you.

The Environmental Case For Vegetarianism

Coverage of greenhouse gas emissions tends to focus on the utilities and transportation sectors. These are the two sectors that require the most adjustment if we are to meet lower emissions targets, producing 33 percent and 28 percent, respectively, of all greenhouse gases in the United States

While LifeIsGreen.com encourages consumers to explore renewable energy alternatives in both of those areas, there is another source of greenhouse gas emissions that receives less attention, but over which people arguably can have more of an impact.

Agriculture produces 8 percent of all greenhouse gases in the U.S., and a third of that comes from livestock. In addition to consuming vast water, soil and plant resources, cattle and pigs produce copious amounts of methane (CH4) as part of their digestive process. This is a problem because although carbon dioxide (CO2), as a byproduct of fossil fuel consumption, is a much more common greenhouse gas, methane is a more potent gas that accelerates the greenhouse effect to a greater degree than CO2.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is 20 times greater than CO2 over the same time frame.

The production of methane isn't the only problem created by livestock farms. The construction of these farms requires vast quantities of land, which must be cleared to make room for new cattle ranches. This further contributes to climate change, as deforestation removes a resource that can reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

However, the solution to this problem is relatively simple. If humans ate less meat, especially pork and beef, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be considerable. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a vegan diet will result in 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere than a meat-eater every year.

Check back in the future for more information on the simple steps you can take to adopt a more green lifestyle.

Boeing Says 787 Dreamliner Close To Flying Again

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a revolutionary aircraft that had been grounded since January 16 because of issues with its battery system, is close to flying again, said Boeing CEO Jim McNerney on March 27.

The FAA had banned the aircraft from flying after two separates incidents in which its lithium ion batteries overheated and caught fire. The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reports that the Dreamliner has completed a successful two-hour test flight using a new casing design that provides better venting and insulation for the batteries.

The 787 Dreamliner has had a difficult road toward its integration into airline fleets. The aircraft's delivery was delayed by several years, despite high demand from carriers looking to take advantage of its improved fuel economy.

Passenger jets are typically made using an aluminum body with composite material in the wings, but the fuselage of the Dreamliner is made primarily from composite. This makes it a much lighter aircraft, allowing it to use 20 percent less jet fuel than its competitors.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, commercial aircraft are responsible for seven percent of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. While this is less than passenger cars (34 percent), light-duty trucks (28 percent) and medium-to-heavy duty trucks (20 percent), it is still a considerable amount of pollution.

The rising cost of fossil fuels has lead airlines to search for more efficient options in their fleets. In response to the high demand for the 787, French aircraft manufacturer Airbus has developed the A350, another efficient jet that will begin test flights this year.

The rise in fuel costs also affects passengers, as it typically equates with higher airfare. More efficient planes can help improve air quality.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on how companies are developing environmentally friendly products and services.

Smart Coming To A City Near You

Smart, makers of the famous compact cars with low carbon footprints and numerous customization options, is taking its newest electric vehicle on tour to urban areas across the United States. The eleven-city tour, called funtestdrive tour, kicks off in Santa Monica with an event featuring music performances and complimentary food prepared by celebrity chefs Chris Jacobsen and Lee Ann Wong, according to a news release by the company. Attendees at each event will have the chance to test the smart electric drive, smart's plug-in, full-electric model with an estimated mileage of 122 miles per gallon equivalent (mpge).

After the initial gathering in Southern California, the tour will move on to Portland, Ore., (May 2-3), San Francisco, Calif., (May 11-12), San Diego, Calif., (May 18-19), Dallas, Texas, (May 25-26), Atlanta, Ga., (June 1-2), Miami, Fla., (June 8-9), Washington, D.C., (June 15-16), Hoboken, N.J., (June 22-23), Brooklyn, N.Y.,(June 29-30) and Chicago, Ill. (July 6-7).

The smart electric drive is the firm's entry into the full-electric market, which includes the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. In addition to its considerable mileage benefits, the smart electric drive features the company's signature compact, two-seater design and the patented tridion safety cell, a system that acts similarly to the roll cages found in racing vehicles. In a collision, the tridion safety cell will distribute energy throughout the entire frame of the vehicle, protecting the passengers inside.

Smart is also famous for its customization options, particularly when it comes to paint jobs.

The smart electric drive retails for $25,000 before factoring in local, state and federal tax credits. This makes it the most inexpensive plug-in electric vehicle currently available. For more information on the funtestdrive tour, visit www.smartcarfundrive.com. LifeIsGreen.com will continue to bring you the latest news on the electric vehicle industry and environmentally friendly products.

Scientists Announce Major Advances In Algae-Grown Nanocellulose

A group of U.S. scientists announced this week that they have made substantial progress in developing an inexpensive method for the production of nanocellulose, a material with the potential to create durable and environmentally friendly products. Nanocellulose is a strong, lightweight material with many applications from body armor to automobiles.

"If we can complete the final steps, we will have accomplished one of the most important potential agricultural transformations ever," said R. Malcolm Brown, Jr., Ph.D, speaking at the First International Symposium on Nanocellulose, held during the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. "We will have plants that produce nanocellulose abundantly and inexpensively."

The new process uses genetically engineered algae that produce the material using only sunlight and water while also consuming carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. Until recently, the only method of producing nanocellulose involved feeding nutrients to bacteria in large fermentation tanks, which was expensive and resource-intensive. Researchers were able to engineer the genes from the bacteria that produces the material into blue-green algae, which use only sunlight and water to create their own food.

Nanocellulose is similar to cellulose, the material that makes up tree bark and dietary fiber. It is the primary substance in paper, cardboard and cotton. However, nanocellulose is much stronger, with a strength-to-weight ratio eight times greater than steel.

If scientists are able to scale the production of this material, it could revolutionize the world of environmentally friendly, sustainable consumer products because:

  • It is so light, it could be used in the manufacturing of ultra-lightweight cars with superb fuel economy
  • Its fibrous structure would lend itself well to filtration systems and desalination products
  • Its strength and lightness would make it useful as a material for body armor
  • Its thin and crystalline structure could make it a replacement for the glass and plastic in video screens and monitors.

Nanocellulose has the additional benefit of being produced using renewable energy and not having been derived from fossil fuels