Tag Archives: Environment

A molecular approach to solar power (MIT News)

This is another example of excellent innovation from MIT and Harvard. This one is for energy storage and it is quite similar to one I just recently posted on the “bionic leaf”. With better solar energy conversion and more efficient energy storage the idea of moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power begins to look possible.

Open Matters

Diagram of molecules going through solar-induced charge-discharge cycle, with heat released. The working cycle of a solar thermal fuel, using azobenzene as an example. (Courtesy of Jeff Grossman.)

A molecular approach to solar power
Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
April 13, 2014

It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine.

Now a team at MIT and Harvard University has come up with an ingenious workaround — a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand.

This solution is no solar-energy panacea: While it could produce electricity, it would be inefficient at doing so. But for applications where heat is the desired output — whether for heating buildings, cooking, or powering heat-based industrial processes — this could…

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Max Finkelstein Wows them at Rideau Roundtable event

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About 60 paddlers and environmentalists got together yesterday to see renowned paddler, raconteur, and author Max Finkelstein speak about his latest adventure paddling the Big Muddy (Mississippi) with the American adventurers that rowed across the Atlantic.

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Max was at his casual best, evoking

Continue reading Max Finkelstein Wows them at Rideau Roundtable event

Making investment practices more sustainable – Another great TED talk

I have thought a lot about the vocabulary we use when we speak about issues.  Much of the language we use comes to us courtesy of Economists.  We speak of consumers or clients rather than citizens.  We speak of economic debt and deficit to the exclusion of the discussion of social, cultural, environmental or infrastructure debt and deficits.  We speak of healthy economies rather than healthy people, or healthy environments.  And we rarely ever focus on important issues like fun or happiness.

This vocabulary poses a number of real problems for us. One very real problem is that if we use economic terms to describe our problems, the solutions we find will be limited to those that offer economic value.  This is the old problem where having only a hammer in your tool belt tends to make every problem look like a nail.  In the long-term, if we are to really deal with important issues in a constructive way, we have to change the way we speak to reflect our real values.  This type of culture change takes time, and, if science is to be believed, we don’t have a lot of time before the chaos starts.

In the meantime, we can at least frame our economic arguments in terms that demonstrate that sustainability is at the heart of long-term economic success, and that is done brilliantly in a TED talk (embedded below) by Chris McKnett from 2013.

Being green can sometimes be as simple as following the frog

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be an advertising pitch, but there is some truth to it.  The Rainforest Alliance has put together a cute pitch that TED.COM has nominated as one of the 10 best ads of the year.  The ad shows you what you don’t want to do to be green, and then goes on to show you one thing that you can do to make a difference.  The advertisement is to “Follow the frog” which refers to purchasing goods that bear the Rainforest Alliance’s frog logo which indicates that the product was made in a way that meets the certification standards set out by the group.

Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit with the mission to “… works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.”

Now, you may note that this approach runs counter to the approach promoted by the “Story of change” people but I think the green movement is probably large enough to embrace more than one strategy for saving this beautiful world.

Why not visit their site or just watch the ad here:

A better way to recycle plastics? Mike Biddle replies to questions and comments about his 2011 TEDTalk

Plastic recycle logo Other
Plastic recycle logo Other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is a follow-on article to Mike Biddle’s excellent video on new ways of dealing with plastics recycling. In this article (originally published on the TED.COM website, Mike responds to a number of questions that arose from his original TED talk. He deals with the thorny issue of getting the waste to one of the “mining” facilities.

Here is my a link to my post on the original TED Video

TED Blog

Last October, we posted this TEDTalk given at TEDGlobal 2011 by plastic engineer Mike Biddle, Founder and President of MBA Polymers, which has developed an incredibly energy and economically efficient method to recycle plastics — by turning it into the raw material  again.

The TEDtalk elicited over 1000 comments and questions on TED.com, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere, including direct emails to Biddle and to the TED staff. Faced with the impossibility to answer them individually, Mike has grouped them together and addressed them below.

And now over to Biddle…

 I want to thank the TED community for all of the heartfelt comments and great questions. Although many of the comments were directed to me as I am the one that gave the TEDtalk, I’m replying here on behalf of the whole MBA Polymers team.  Much like the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, it…

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What’s with the wind every recycling day!

English: Blue household recycling bins/crates ...
Image via Wikipedia

Have you every noticed, that it is almost always windy on the nights when you have to put out your paper or your plastic for recycling?

My house is at the end of a long street that parallels the direction of the prevailing winds and you should see my front yard on recycling mornings. What a mess.  This week, for example, was a plastic recycling week, and after the recycling was picked up by the city I collected two full bins of plastics and cans.

Now, I hate to complain about people who are doing their civic duty by recycling, because I really believe in recycling programs, but seriously! can’t you secure your recycling a bit better than that? When you put your plastics out on a blustery day and the box is overflowing with lightweight plastics, do you really think that they will ever make it into the truck?

At my house, our plastics go into a large rolling blue box with an attached cover so they never blow anywhere. Now this works for plastics because they are so lightweight, but it won’t work for paper because the folks that pick it up would herniate themselves if you packed paper in a large bin. So what can you do about paper products. I suggest that you either pack one of the boxes you are throwing out with paper and put it on top of the filled black box. This way, the paper in the box is protected from the wind and the box itself weighs down the paper in the black box. Another alternative is to put a large rock or a piece of firewood on top of the paper in the black box. The garbage-men will dump these weights back onto your driveway before they dump the contents of the box into the truck, so you can use them over and over again. If you secure your recycling, more of it will actually get to the recycling depot and you will be maximizing your reduction in waste footprint.

But best of all, if you secure your lightweight recyclables, they won’t end up in my front yard. And as Martha Stewart would say, “that is a good thing”.

Metroland.com – Trash Troubles

Polski: Wysypisko odpadów w Łubnej
Image via Wikipedia

The other day at work, one of my colleagues passed a link on to me because she knew that I am interested in waste management.  I really have to thank her because the link she provided was to an excellent 3 part article entitled “Trash Troubles – grappling with our garbage” (Metroland.com – Trash Troubles) published in MetroLand.com and authored by Don Campbell and Thana Dharmarajah.  These two journalists have done a really good job describing the problems with our solid waste management in many communities in Southern and Eastern Ontario.  It is really worth a read.

In the article, they describe the escalating cost of landfill, the ridiculous practice of shipping our garbage out of our jurisdictions, the patchwork of recycling programs across the province and they provide a few ideas about what citizens can do to minimize their impact on the environment.  They discuss where the responsibility lies for cleaning up our act.

The most important thing that I took away from their article was a feeling that the province needs to step up to the plate and play a bigger role, establishing policies and standards for managing solid waste across all communities, identifying best practices, building markets for recycled materials, and helping to fund waste management programs in a way that provides the best bang for the buck.

Electronic waste accumulates at an alarming rate

Another thing that they bring up that I have been advocating for years is for extended producer responsibility for waste management.  I blogged about this earlier in my open letter to the plastics industry. It is high time that we start holding producers partly responsible for managing the waste that flows from our consumption of their products.  Yes, this will increase the costs of products, but we are paying anyway…this will only bring the payment front and centre and not hiding it in the line items of municipal taxes.  If you want to read more about plastic recycling read my blog entry at https://gourken.wordpress.com/2011/10/08/an-open-letter-to-the-plastics-industry/

Anyway, the article by Campbell and Dharmarajah is an excellent overview of the issues that we need to face if we are to manage our solid wastes responsibly.  While the picture they paint isn’t too hopeful, they do present a few things that will help us see that the future isn’t too bleak either. 

On a final note, I am still very intrigued with Mike Biddle’s idea of using of mining technologies to mine waste streams to allow the extraction and reuse of plastic polymers and metals.  If it works, this is a paradigm shift worthy of the word.  It seems to me that you could use this technology to go back into landfills and mine for valuable resources (like the plastic polymers and the metal ores buried there).  If you want to read more about this technology (and see a video of how it works), visit Mr. Biddle’s web site at http://www.mbapolymers.com/home/.

Who’s making money on bio-fuels and are they a good alternative to oil?

MIT c1901 LOC cph 3g09599
Image via Wikipedia

I just read an interesting paper from the MIT Centre for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and it had some interesting things to say about bio-fuels and politics.  The paper Some Inconvenient Truths About Climate Change Policy: The Distributional Impacts of Transportation Policies (August 2011), by Stephen P. Holland, Jonathan E. Hughes Christopher R. Knittel and Nathan C. Parker is a technical paper where they reflect on the relationship that exists between various forms of carbon emission reductions that rely on subsidised biofuels and voting patterns in the United States. 

The paper compares the costs to reduce greenhouse gasses of three different policy choices against the Cap and Trade (CAT) option, which does not subsidize the production of biofuels.  They show CAT as the lowest cost alternative in terms of dollars per unit of carbon reduction but find that the higher cost options are frequently adopted.  They go on to show that the subsidized options, though more expensive, produce the highest potential for private gain, while CAT produces the highest potential for carbon emission reduction per dollar spent. 

While the article does not answer the question posed in the title, it does seem to conclude that if private interests were taken out of the equation, we could get better carbon reduction bang for our bucks if we adopted a cap and trade system rather than any of the subsidized bio-fuel alternatives.

The article is a bit technical, but it is still written in such a way that most informed readers can take something away from it.  It is also nice to see that these issues are being discussed by institutions such as MIT.

An open letter to the plastics industry

Self made from PNG.
Image via Wikipedia

First, I am not rabidly anti-plastic. I think that plastic has made many parts of our life better, but I am against plastic waste (plastic for which there is no after market recycling program) and I am against over packaging, and your industry is implicated in both.

From an energy perspective, I am aware that lightweight plastic packaging is cheaper to transport than many other materials. From an energy perspective, the problem is that plastics consume oil products that could be used to heat homes, to fuel automobiles, etc. If you cannot reuse a plastic product that is recycled, it means that you will be consuming new oil for every product you produce.

From a waste perspective, you need look no further than the Eastern Pacific to see a Texas sized “island” of plastic waste that will last for tens of thousands of years. If your industry does not come to grips with this problem, we will be doing it for you by banning the use of plastic products. This is not in your best interests and it isn’t good for consumers either. Get your act together and:

1. Make certain that every type of plastic is well-marked for recycling and don’t allow unmarked plastics into the market place.

2. Help local governments fund plastic recycling programs

3. Help create markets for recycled plastic and ways to use them that is environmentally friendly and energy-efficient

4. Don’t produce anything that you cannot re-use in manufacturing and set targets and deadlines for recycling 80% of the product you produce.

5. Ensure that products that contain recycled plastic are marked, advertising that they have helped keep plastic out of landfills.

6. Talk to the packaging industry and retail stores to get them to reduce “over packaging” and to ensure that all packaging can be easily separated into non-plastic and plastic products and that the individual plastic components are all marked for recycling

7. Fund “bring it back collection sites” for large plastic components that it is not possible for the recycling programs to handle.

Many of the same recommendations should be addressed to municipal and provincial governments to ensure that if industry doesn’t step up to the plate that the regulators do, so if you don’t want to get regulated out of business, I suggest you consider cleaning up your act.

Gourken

 

What are we doing to the planet? Watch the film “Home” to find out!

Director Yann Arthus-Bertrand (left) and Co-Pr...
Image from Wikipedia (fair use)

This is a bit of a departure from my past two posts, but I just saw this film and wanted to share the experience…

Ever wondered what makes the planet tick?  Ever wonder whether humanity is really having an effect on the planet and how it works?  Do you have children or grand children?  Want to see some amazing photography and hear some thoughtful commentary on these subjects?  Got a spare 90 minute? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, treat yourself to a breathtaking, if at times depressing experience and watch the film “Home (the movie)“.  Continue reading What are we doing to the planet? Watch the film “Home” to find out!