Wizard Gadgetry Tree Hugging for Greener Driving

Platooning Drive

Tech innovation that looks like pipe dreams at the moment may one day help lower your carbon footprint — not to mention save you some money. Welcome to the age of tree hugging through technology.

Learning From NASCAR

Electric vehicles (EVs) that charge wirelessly, remote-controlled commuter convoys, and other tantalizing technical concepts down the road bring fresh ideas to taming the second-largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions on the planet — transportation.

Racing fans should think of NASCAR drivers “drafting” bumper-to-bumper at hundreds of miles an hour around a track. They’re cutting turbulence and save precious fuel, sure, but they’re also shrinking their carbon footprint. The European Union (EU) is testing a computer-controlled highway convoy that wirelessly links up to seven vehicles in tight formation behind a professional driver, according to CNet. The phenomenon called “platooning” works like this:

  1. You enter the highway, signaling a convoy headed your way.
  2. You relinquish control of your vehicle to a professional driver at the head of the convoy, who…
  3. …guides your vehicle into line, and then operates it remotely.

You then sit back, phoning, texting, or simply relaxing until you see your exit. According to the brains behind the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) concept, this approach could save 20 percent on fuel, cutting commute time and congestion.

We’ll have to wait for their results to see how such a thing might be applied in the U.S. The reason you can’t just try it yourself, of course, is that it’s illegal. To be ready for the change when it comes you could always get yourself a 2014 Mercedes-Benz S class luxo-cruiser. Just take a glimpse into Car and Driver website, and you’ll see how it’s all wired up for the future.

Charge Your EV Wirelessly

Electric cars are our automotive future, they keep telling us, but all that charging hassle keeps prospective buyers from trying them out. It turns out magnetic induction — the same technology used in electric toothbrushes, pacemakers, and other consumer devices — can charge EV batteries wirelessly, too. Nissan, maker of the fully-electric car, the Leaf, has demonstrated a system that charges a parked car that way. The Japanese automaker wants to implant induction charging strips right into the road surface so cars can get their juice on the go.

To try this wireless EV charging for yourself, AutoGuide.com suggests putting a deposit down on a 2015 Toyota Prius which will offer the new technology.

High Tech Curbs Urban Carbon Footprint

The high-tech ideas for reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the city just keep coming. Consider the following:

  • Stackable CityCar — The CityCar is a proposal from the Smart Cities program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a 2-passenger EV available as-needed. Micro cars parked tip-to-tail in special racks, they’d have a jointed driveshaft for scrunching up even more.
  • All Meshed Up — GoLoco is a high-tech mashup of social networking and carpooling from the co-founder of Zipcar. This distributed mesh network will enable America’s millions of cars to share up-to-the-second information making them “radically more efficient.”

These two urban concepts could show up anywhere from Sacramento to your hometown, where you can take part. Meanwhile, to go green when driving in Indianapolis while saving gas, you can browse through used cars with the SmartWay leaf signature on them at a nearby DriveTime location. It may be tempting to give in to your emotions when shopping for a car, and just start drooling over your favorite brands, leather interior options or car stereo hookups. However, doing your part to stay green is not only good karma, but will make you look hip in the process.

The Case For Linoleum

In the past we've talked about how cork flooring presents one of the best alternatives to conventional flooring materials for homeowners devoted to green living. Another option that may provide more flexibility in terms of color and style is linoleum.

Yes, that linoleum. You may remember it as the ugly material that you stepped on when roaming your high school hallways, or perhaps you used it for craft projects in art classes. While linoleum isn't exactly new technology, it remains one of the most sustainably produced, practical and aesthetically tasteful flooring options.

For starters, linoleum is made from linseed oil, which is derived from the linseed plant. As Living Green Magazine notes, the other materials used to make up linoleum, including the pine rosin and wood flour that give it its structure, are derived from renewable sources, typically sustainably-raised pine trees.

Like cork flooring, its also water resistant and easy to clean. Not only does this keep it from rotting, but it also makes it less susceptible to bacterial growth, which can affect your family's health.

But most importantly for the stylish homeowner, linoleum is no longer the ugly, dull material that you remember from your childhood. Manufacturers such as Forbo Flooring, who produce their own trademarked formula known as Marmoleum, have created linoleum flooring systems in hundreds of colors and styles, and one of the benefits of this material is that it doesn't lose its color over time. The pigments penetrate beneath the surface, so even as you continue to walk on it, it will retain its vibrancy.

If you're planning to redo your floors any time soon, consider linoleum for an environmentally friendly option.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide you with news and information on eco friendly products.

Green Ideas For College Students

Something that unites most college students is the fact that they don't have a lot of money. Being in school means you either need to work part-time, or in the case of some students, not at all. And tuition payments, along with buying books, living expenses and football game tickets, can be pretty high these days. As a result, most students are looking for ways to save money. Although green living is often associated with wealthier people who can afford special energy-efficient products, in fact there are many ways to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle without having to spend much.

Here are some tips for going green affordably, courtesy of environmental news site GreenFudge.org:

  • Get a bike: College campuses can be enormous, and sometimes you need to get across campus quickly to make your next class. Riding a bike in between your courses will give you some daily exercise, which is sometimes hard to accomplish with a busy college schedule. And it will allow you to travel much more quickly and efficiently than you would with a car or campus shuttle.
  • Grow your own food: It's really not very difficult to grow your own fruits and vegetables, even indoors. If you have some space, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to build your own hydroponics or aquaponics garden.
  • Take showers instead of baths: A long soak in a bath tub may feel nice at the end of a long day of tests, but showers are cleaner and use a lot less water.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more green living ideas.

What Can Groningen Teach Us About Creating Bike-Friendly Cities?

In recent years, U.S. cities have made great strides in creating bike-friendly infrastructure that encourages residents to leave their car at home and travel everywhere by bike, one of the best ways to save energy. But in many areas, transportation policy still focuses on automobiles, which means that adding bike lanes and storage areas becomes an afterthought for city planning officials, rather than something that is integral to the urban lifestyle.

The same cannot be said about Groningen, a city in the Netherlands, where a combination of happenstance and innovative urban planning have produced a thriving bike culture unlike any in the United States. Nearly 50 percent of trips in Groningen are made using bicycles, and in the city's compact center, hardly any cars can be seen. Instead, commuters use their bikes to go to work and run errands.

What led Groningen to become so bike-centric?

The city used to be a fortress town that controlled the flow of traffic into Germany, and it was constructed within the walls of that fortress. This meant that rather than building out and creating sprawl, the city built inward and up, making it denser and more compact. Then, in the 1970's, Groningen was divided into four quadrants, and cars were forbidden from traveling directly from one quadrant to another. Instead, auto traffic was diverted to a circular road around the city, which made such commutes take significantly longer than traveling by bike.

Additionally, the city created numerous bike lanes and parking areas for those bicycles, providing further incentives for residents to travel on two wheels rather than four.

What can American cities learn from Groningen's experience?

One of the main reasons that similar policies aren't enacted in this country is intense political opposition to anything that would limit car traffic. For example, when New York recently implemented its Citi Bikes bicycle sharing program, shopkeepers all over Manhattan and Brooklyn protested that the creation of more bike lanes and the removal of parking spots would scare away customers and cause businesses to lose money. Similar political controversy in other communities has created a situation in which bike advocates are fighting an uphill battle for even the most basic accommodations such as dedicated lanes and parking areas.

But Groningen's urban planners dealt with the same controversy when the quadrant system was first developed, and stuck to their plan anyway. The Atlantic Cities, an urban lifestyle website, points out that the same interest groups, mostly businesses, opposed the policy, claiming that they would lose out on revenue. Some threatened to leave entirely.

"Wonder of wonders, the world didn't collapse," Greg Ashworth, a professor at the University of Groningen, tells the source. "The shops didn't leave the city. The police found, yes, people could learn how to handle this plan. People adapted to it."

What policies would create a better biking experience in U.S. communities?

American urban planners can do more to incentivize denser development and up-zoning, relieving building height limits and parking minimums that contribute to sprawl. Areas such as Los Angeles and Silicon Valley are fairly expansive, so the key is to create localized communities with better bike infrastructure, taller buildings and more toll roads that encourage residents to abandon cars in favor of walking and bicycles.

Unfortunately, European lifestyles are sometimes stigmatized in the U.S. as being less robust and more minimalist, but if Americans want to enjoy cleaner air, green living and healthier lifestyles, there's a lot we can learn from countries like The Netherlands and Denmark that have done a good job of incorporating these features into their urban environments.

College Professor Teaches Class in a Dumpster to Inspire Green Living

Jeffrey Wilson, an environmental scientist at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, is taking green living to the extreme. According to FastCoExist, the professor will live in a 33 square-foot metal box, similar to a garbage dumpster, for the next 12 months. His plan is part of a larger movement to raise awareness of eco-friendly lifestyles and environmental consciousness.

The tiny residence will be transformed into a place of learning. Both Wilson and his students will help add features to the small space, including energy efficient light bulbs, nano-insulation and even an energy producing toilet. So where will Wilson sleep, you ask? Since the dumpster doesn't boast enough room for a full-sized bed, the scientist plans on curling up in a sleeping bag on the floor of the trash bin, a method he calls "dumpster camping."

"What we are talking about right now is to start a green movement within historically black colleges and universities [of which Huston-Tillotson is one], and become the flagship school of that, under an initiative called 'Green is the New Black," Wilson said.

The students will use their knowledge about green living to develop eco-friendly features for their dorm rooms. In the future, Wilson may also travel to elementary schools to educate children about the importance of helping protect the environment.

Even if you aren't as extreme as Wilson, taking small steps to living green, including recycling and carpooling, can help contribute to the preservation of the environment. What are you waiting for? Start going green today by checking out LifeIsGreen.com!

Number of Energy Patents Increase

The prominence of "green living" has risen in recent years and we have evidence to prove it. According to a peer-reviewed publication in plosone.org which takes a look at the factors that contribute to energy advancement; innovation in energy technology is on the rise. Today, inventors are filing more energy-related patents than in previous years.

"Patents reveal early stages of technology development, as they tell of the nature of innovative activity, and who's doing what where," Jessika Trancik, SFI external professor at MIT and co-author of the report, said in a statement. She worked with graduate student Jasleen Kaur of the University of Indiana Bloomington to write and research the paper.

The study attributes the boom in innovation to investment in research and development, as well as market growth for green products. Researchers studied data from delphion,com, which included more than 73,000 energy-related patents filed from 1970 to 2009. The patents were issued in over 100 countries across the time period. 

Key findings include:

• Energy patents have increased significantly in the past 30 years.
• Emphasis has been placed on solar and wind technology.
• China has recently surpassed Europe in annual energy patents. It files the most coal patents in the world.
• Research and market growth work together to help promote innovation.

This analysis provides important insight onto the world of energy-efficient products. Most importantly, it shows us that our commitment to a green world is a crucial investment that can effect succeeding generations. Check out LifeIsGreen.com for more pertinent information about energy efficiency and green technology.

Concentrated Solar Power Can Provide Electricity After The Sun Goes Down

A new solar plant in Arizona will significantly increase that state's alternative energy portfolio. The Solana Generating Station. operated by the Arizona Public Service, is the first solar power plant able to produce electricity at night using heat storage technology.

With a 280 megawatt (MW) capacity, Solana is one of the largest solar installations in the country. It uses solar thermal technology rather than the photovoltaic panels that are normally associated with the term "solar power." What this means is that Solana generates electricity by using the sun's heat to create steam and spin turbines connected to an electrical generator.

"Solana is a monumental step forward in solar energy production," Don Brandt, APS president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "Solana delivers important value to APS customers by generating power when the sun isn't shining. It also increases our solar energy portfolio by nearly 50 percent."

The Solana plant uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat up a synthetic oil, which is sent to a steam boiler, where it heats up water to create the aforementioned steam. The plant will generate enough electricity to power 70,000 homes and prevent 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.

Although this project is a major step forward for renewable energy, more states need to invest in similar efforts if the country is to make a significant dent in its greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully the success of the Solana plant will convince residents of Arizona and other states of the viability of solar power.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on green technology.

Enerplex Solar-Powered Phone Cases Now Available On E-Commerce Sites

Enerplex Solar Phone Charging Case

One of the ways that consumers can integrate renewable energy solutions into their lives is by purchasing consumer products and accessories that can divert some of the electricity needs away from the grid and toward the sun, particularly as photovoltaic thin-film solar cells become more affordable.

Ascent Solar, a company that makes consumer-level solar products, will now be selling its line of solar-powered charger smartphone cases on many popular e-commerce sites, including Amazon. Customers who own the Samsung Galaxy SIII and Apple iPhone 4 and 4s models will be able to purchase cases specifically tailored to the designs of those phones. In addition, they’ll also be able to buy solar chargers that can plug into any smartphone with a USB connection.

“The growth of ecommerce as the preferred method of shopping by most American consumers is a trend which EnerPlex is perfectly positioned to take advantage of.”Victor Lee, President & CEO of Ascent Solar, said in a news release.

Ascent also makes thin film solar modules that can be used in other applications, such as construction and industrial processes. The goal of the company is to create off-grid solar products that are easily adaptable into a variety of situations. These products would be particularly useful to customers who are camping or operating in remote areas and need electricity to charge their handheld appliances, or in industrial applications when a wireless charging device would be needed.

One iPhone case by itself isn’t going to offset carbon emissions drastically. But if millions of consumer goods are fueled with sunlight rather than conventional grid power, the effect on emissions and electricity use wouldn’t be trivial.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on environmentally friendly products.

Palo Alto To Require Electric Car Charging Station On New Homes

Palo Alto, California, will now require new homes be built with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the city council unanimously voted to pass a new ordinance that makes 240 volt level 2 charging stations mandatory for new home construction, due to the reduced costs associated with incorporating this feature at the time of building rather than after a home is finished.

Palo Alto has been a leader in the state when it comes to adopting green ideas as a matter of public policy. The city has a very friendly climate for solar power and other renewable energy technologies, and this latest ordinance is a continuation of that progressive approach.

"Let's figure out as a council what we can do to remove the obstacles to owning electric vehicles in Palo Alto," Mayor Greg Scharff told the source. "I think what we really need to do is make it convenient, easy and economical… The thing that caught me is how simple and easy and fairly inexpensive it is to rough-in the wiring."

The price of adding a charging station during construction can be as little as $200, which is about 25 percent of what it would cost to add once the home is completed. The challenge for the city going forward is to reduce the permitting fee for adding charging stations. One church had to pay $459 for their EV charging station permit.

This policy is a great way to encourage more consumers to purchase green vehicles, as one of the obstacles to wider integration of these products into the marketplace is that charging station infrastructure is still in a nascent stage in most areas of the country. Hopefully, more communities will follow Palo Alto's example.

Keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com for more information on environmentally friendly products.

Old CDs Can Be Used For Water Purification

Scientists at the National Taiwan University, National Applied Research Laboratories in Taiwan, and the Research Center for Applied Sciences in Taiwan have developed a system that uses old optical discs, such as CDs and DVDs, to clean contaminants from water. If successful, the process could provide impoverished communities with access to potable drinking water where none had previously been available.

The system, which will be presented at the Optical Society's Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, this week, uses the flat side of discs to grow zinc oxide nanorods, thin structures that resemble hairs. Afterward, the scientists ran water from a hose over the surface and placed them discs under UV light. They found that the nanorods broke down 95 percent of the contaminants in the water, making it consumable again.

"Optical disks are cheap, readily available, and very commonly used," Din Ping Tsai, a physicist at National Taiwan University, said in a news release.

According to the researchers involved in the project, about 20 billion CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays are produced every year, and 100,000 tons of these end up in landfills. When optical discs compose, the produce chemicals that can lead to brain damage and other harmful effects. Therefore, developing a system that recycles these discs not only helps those areas lacking safe drinking water, it also removes dangerous compounds from dumps that could eventually leak underground and contaminate water supplies. 

The optical disc water filtration system will also be cheap to produce and distribute, which is especially important given how difficult it often is for residents of impoverished countries to purchase life saving equipment and technologies.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide news and information about green living.