Wednesday
Sep112013

pollution 9-11

 

One of my lingering (malingering?) memories of NYC on 9-11 and the months after is the smell of burning plastic, wire and, of course, bodies. The smell that weighted the already dust-heavy air. It flowed into our apartment on West 20th street seemingly forever until, one day, it was gone.  We all remember the smoke, as in the image above. But there were also other environmental effects. Curiously, according to scientists at the University of Windsor and the University of Ontario, both in Canada, 9-11 led to respiratory illnesses just across the bridge from Detroit. Due to closed border crossings, and long-term restrictions, the number of trucks idling at the border increased dramatically post 9-11. The scientists suspect that increased exhaust pollutants led to the increase in respiratory ailments treated in local hospitals 1 month and six months following 9-11.  An interesting curiosity on this 12th anniversary of 9-11. But also a window into how we need to look at commerce and the environment. The ripples of our behavior (and the behavior of others!) are wide and deep, leading to unexpected effects. The costs of destruction and pollution sometimes carry much further into our world than we would like to think.

Friday
Sep062013

power to the pothole

 

GenShock is a suspension system that recharges itself on rough roads. Each time your car or truck hits a bump, fluid in the shock absorber is forced through a pump that generates elecricity which can be reused by the vehicle. Harnessing the power of movement is what windmills, hydroelctric dams, and self-powered bike lights are all about. And harnessing the suspension system and braking power of each vehicle on the road is a great idea, if it is actually practical.  Two MIT students have designed a "crowd farm"  for Torino, Italy from which they can harvest electricity. It's essentailly a plaza/shopping area that harvests energy from the movements of people -- walking, jumping, biking -- on the platform and converts that energy into electricity. Brilliant! If it works. You can also collect energy from an individual's movements with devices like this:  

 There are so many other potential sources of kinetic energy to harvest, ranging from dance moves to opening and closing doors. These various sources of electricity could be unified in clusters to form microgrids, which are definitely increasing in importance in the world as our traditional massive grids become more and more difficult to maintain and operate.

Thursday
Sep052013

clean crowd

Mosaic is a heartening example of how capitalism and green energy can benefit each other -- and us. Alternative energy boosters who are interested in putting their money where their mouth is can now turn to Mosaic, an online market for investing in solar energy. Investors may put in small sums, like $25, or huge amounts, in the venture of their choice. Target your money locally, or send it far away. Recent projects include a 322kW array of solar panels on farmland in Gerber, California, which raised nearly $300,000, and a 102 kW solar array on an affordable housing complex in San Bruno, California, which raised nearly $100,000. Mosaic projects are intended to repay their investors, with interest, as the solar power starts earning revenue. Ideally, you profit from your investment, the solar owner profits from the sale of electricity, Mosaic earns 1% on all the loans, and the earth benefits from the use of clean power.  I'm all for this kind of partnership between profit and improvement.

 

Wednesday
Aug212013

that beneficial glow

Even with the news that Fukushima has been leaking contaminated water into the ocean since 2011, nuclear energy is assuming a new radiance. The promise of wind and solar reveals itself to be more elusive than many people have thought -- mainly due to problems with storage and transmission, but also due to NIMBY sentiments even from avowed environmentalists (note the wind farm that was rejected for the ocean off of Cape Cod and the islands).  And coal remains coal, with all it's problems. Yesterday, The New York Times made the case for nuclear power. After all, it is the most practical carbon-free method for generating electricity. That is, until it comes to nuclear accidents (who would have thought they'd build nuclear plants that could be flooded, or ruined by earthquakes?). Or to waste disposal. We just can't seem to solve that dilemna (a lot of NIMBY, once again). But clearly, the public's mind (at least in America -- surely, the Japanese have a different view) seems ready to embrace nuclear again. Perfect timing for "plug-and-play" micro nuclear plants. Fantastic idea, right? Until it goes wrong.

 

Tuesday
Aug202013

sustainable supersector

Is it a superhero in a comic book? No, the sustainable supersector refers to a list of the most successfully sustainable businesses around the globe, as determined by Dow Jones. In the category of cars, for instance, BMW leads the pack. The full report for BNW is available here along with detailed reports for the categories of retail (Lotte Shopping Co LTD of South Korea) and travel (Air France), among many other sectors. I like this shift in the perspective on what a business is worth.