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Plastic Made from Fish Scales

Erik de Laurens, a student from the Royal College of Art has come up with an alternative to petroleum for making plastic: fish scales. Through a process that involves nothing but heat, high pressure and natural dyes, Laurens developed a sturdy plastic that can be used in cups, eyewear and even decorative tiles.

Much like using the keratin from waste chicken feathers to make plastics, Laurens’ process makes use of waste fish scales from the fishing industry, giving new life to something that would otherwise end up in the garbage. And while the thought of waste fish scales is kind of gross, the resulting products are actually really good looking.

Titled Fish Feast, his project will be on exhibit during the London Design Festival. It has been shortlisted for the 2011 Sustain RCA Award, which honors graduate student work in sustainable design.

via Crisp Green

New Fuel Economy Standards Announced for Cars

The White House, EPA, and NHTSA have announced new CAFE standards for cars and light trucks. CAFE is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard which governs the efficiency of new vehicles. The new standards begin to take effect in the 2017 model year, when the fleet average should be 35.5 MPG (from the previous standard, which covers the 2012-2016 model years). The new rule extends to 2025, when average fuel economy for cars and light-duty trucks is to be 54.5 miles per gallon.

The new guidelines will almost double automotive fuel efficiency standards from where they were when the administration began to press for higher efficiency. “EPA currently intends to propose standards that would be projected to achieve, on an average industry fleet wide basis, 163 grams/mile of CO2 in model year 2025 (this would be equivalent, on a mpg-equivalent basis, to 54.5 mpg if all of the CO2 emissions reductions were achieved with fuel economy technology.)”

Under these new guidelines, consumers should save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, and average fuel savings are expected to be worth $8,000 pre vehicle by 2025. Furthermore, emissions should be cut by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program, which is “more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year.”

image: U.S. National Archives

Sony Cuts Emissions by 31% Since 2000

Sony made the announcement today that it has reduced its global CO2 emissions by 31 percent since 2000.  The company also achieved a 54 percent reduction in waste generation and a 41 percent reduction in water use, both of which far exceeded its goals.

The company improved the efficiency of its offices and manufacturing sites and upped the efficiency of many of its products too. Its Bravia LCD TV now requires 30 percent less power than it did in 2008 and its Blu-ray disc recorder models require 50 percent less power.

The waste reduction was mainly achieved through an increase in recycling practices.  The one target that Sony failed to meet was for volatile organic compound emissions — it was shy by 5 percent.

These improvements were all made under the tech giant’s Green Management 2010 plan.  Now going forward, Sony has a more ambitious plan.  The company announced its Road to Zero plan last year that includes a pledge to be zero carbon by 2050.  The next phase in the plan sees the company making the following reductions by 2015 compared to 2008 levels.

  • a 30 percent reduction in annual energy consumption
  • a 10 percent reduction in product mass
  • a 16 percent reduction in packaging waste
  • a 14 percent reduction in transport CO2 emissions

Let’s hope Sony can exceed these targets as well.

via Treehugger

Energy Density Improvements in Lightweight Lithium-Air Batteries

MIT scientists have made new discoveries that could significantly increase the energy density of batteries several times beyond the current level of lithium-ion batteries. The advances are in lithium-air storage, which uses a porous carbon electrode in place of a heavy solid electrode in the battery. Oxygen from the air reacts with the lithium metal in the battery to store and discharge energy. The very open structure makes it possible to obtain such high levels of performance.

One of the biggest issues in battery development is the weight of the batteries. Whether for portable electronic devices or for hybrid and electric vehicles, the weight of the batteries is a factor that must be considered. Replacing the solid electrode with the lightweight carbon matrix has led to some of the highest levels of energy stored per pound of battery.

New methods of producing the carbon matrix for the battery creates a “carpet-like” material that is more than 90 percent open, which makes for a very lightweight battery. “These carpet-like arrays provide a highly conductive, low-density scaffold for energy storage,” according to one of the researchers.

As an additional benefit, the researchers have found that the very open and regular nature of the battery allows scrutiny of its internal workings with a scanning electron microscope. Not only does this allow more research on the particulars of this battery, but it may also help with general research and understanding of why batteries have limited numbers of charge-discharge cycles before they cease being useful.

via: MIT press release

Improved Cooling for Computers

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratory have developed a new method for cooling microprocessors that is more effective and requires less energy than present air cooling methods. The Air Bearing Heat Exchanger technology, which has been dubbed the “Sandia Cooler,” offers a solution to the “thermal brick wall” which has been limiting microprocessor speed.

Cooling is usually limited by the heat exchange taking place through the stationary air film that is found on all materials. The Sandia Cooler improves works by rotating the cooling fins to achieve a ten-fold reduction in the boundary layer of motionless air on the surface of the heat sink which increases heat transfer. Instead of having stationary heat sink fans with air being blown across them with a fan, the heat sink itself spins, which leads to increased heat transfer efficiency.

While the Sandia Cooler is initially being investigated for computer cooling, if it is possible to effectively scale the technology, it could also have applications for building cooling and air conditioning. “If Air Bearing Heat Exchanger technology proves amenable to size scaling, it has the potential to decrease overall electrical power consumption in the U.S. by more than seven percent,” according to the inventor, Jeff Koplow.

link: A Fundamentally New Approach to Air-cooled Heat Exchangers (pdf)

via: EERE News and Solar Thermal Magazine

Are Airships Efficient Enough for EcoGeeks?

At EcoGeek, we are big fans of airships. A recent article at Txchnologist asks whether airships are poised to make a comeback in the commercial sector, but other recent articles question whether they truly make sense. Are airships a realistic possibility?

Writing a commentary about his own article, author John Rennie asks if airships really offer the benefits we like to think they do. Another recent Scientific American blog post is even more critical of the idea of airships for transport.

One of the eternal tradeoffs in transportation is the time versus energy cost consideration. On one hand, there is the cost of energy to move goods from point A to point B. Faster takes more energy, and is therefore more expensive. On the other hand, the time for a pilot or driver or other person to convey the goods has to be paid for, and a longer trip means more expense. The trick is to find the balance point between the two. This is, at least to some extent, what has driven the avaition industry away from propeller aircraft to the use of jets.

Trains are very efficient for moving heavy cargo, but train tracks don’t go everywhere. A hybrid train and airship network might be useful to extend the reach of the current rail network without the expensive and difficult process of laying lots of new track. Trucks serve as the spokes for these networks right now. They are more expensive at moving freight than trains, but also more flexible. Is there room for that in the current transportation network? That seems to be one of the crucial questions. And, for now, the premium for trucks is not so high that other options are being sought.

The Scientific American article particularly focuses on speed versus cost as a tradeoff, but those are not the only factors that are relevant in considering airship, so the many current military developments are overlooked. Most present military uses under development are for long duration missions, where the simple lift of the airship makes it far more economical to operate than having conventional fixed-wing aircraft.

It may be many years before old, used military airships begin to be adapted for civilian uses, but we remain optimistic that airships will become a useful contributor to part of the transportation infrastructure of the future.

Renewable Energy Now Accounts for 25% of Global Energy Capacity

The newly released REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report shows that renewable energy hit a major milestone in 2010 by making up 25 percent of global energy capacity by the end of that year.  Renewable sources supplied 20 percent of the energy consumed in 2010.

So far in 2011, renewable energy sources (solar, wind, water, biomass, biofuels, geothermal) have supplied 11.73 percent of energy consumed in the U.S., which is 5.65 percent more than nuclear power and not far away from the energy supplied from domestic crude oil.

The report states that 50 percent of renewable energy capacity is now in developing countries.  The top five countries (in order) for non-hydro renewable energy capacity are the U.S., China, Germany, Spain and India. China ended 2010 with renewables accounting for 26 percent of installed energy capacity and 18 percent of the energy consumed.

In other encouraging news, the EU exceeded all of its targets for wind, solar PV, solar thermal and heating/heat pumps.  In 2010, renewables made up 41 percent of new electricity capacity in the EU.

For more on the state of renewable energy in the world, including more country rankings by sector, you can check out the full report here (PDF).

via Sustainable Business

White Roofs Could Save a Year’s Worth of Global CO2 Emissions

An infographic created by the White Roof Project, an initiative that wants to help cover the world’s black roofs with white paint, illustrates some impressive statistics about the power of white roofs, including the fact that the transition from black to white roofs could prevent the emission of 24 billion metric tons of CO2, the same amount of CO2 emitted globally in 2010.

The project says that if we covered just 5 percent of roofs with white paint per year, we’d be done by 2030. White roofs can reflect 85 percent of sunlight compare to 20 percent for black roofs and buildings with white roofs stay up to 35 degrees cooler, which means less electricity required for cooling the buildings.  In large cities, white roofs also curb the heat island effect, cooling the city as a whole.

In addition to the emissions savings, white roofs could save 14 power plants’ worth of energy in 11 large cities, save $5 billion in energy costs in the U.S., reduce smog, blackout risk and heart-related deaths and Bill Clinton has said it’s the quickest, cheapest thing we can do.  So, what are we waiting for?

If you live in NYC, you can volunteer for the White Roof Project or adopt a building.  The project plans to cover the roofs of an entire East Village block in white paint this August.  You can view the entire infographic here.

via GOOD

Fukushima cleanup going well, according to UN atomic watchdog

Cleanup work at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant is proceeding smoothly and the prospects are good for bringing it under control, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said Monday after a visit to the crisis-hit plant.

Japan said last week that it was on track with efforts to take control of the Fukushima nuclear plant, more than four months after it was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami that triggered meltdowns and radiation leaks, but cautioned that a final clean-up of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl would take many years.

“Looking at the site, work is moving very smoothly,” said Yukiya Amano, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Energy Star Now Labeling "Most Efficient"

The Energy Star program has been working on making its qualifications stricter, but across all the appliances there are still many bearing the label that aren’t really that much of an improvement over other models.  To make it clearer which appliances are really the best of the best, Energy Star will now identify the top tier appliances with a “Most Efficient” label.

The new label will apply to just 5 percent of Energy Star washing machines, heating and cooling equipment, televisions and refrigerators/freezers.  The EPA may add more categories of appliances later this year.

To give you an idea of what the new label means, for refrigerators/freezers to earn the “Most Efficient” title, they have to be 30 percent more efficient than standard models, while TVs will have to be about 80 percent more efficient that standard models.  Out of the existing 1,800 refrigerators and freezers that are Energy Star certified, only 15 qualify for the new label, while only 18 out of the 1,400 Energy Star TVs qualify.

While the Energy Star label should carry more weight than it does, it’s still a good that the most efficient appliances are being properly identified and hopefully the new label will inspire more competition from companies to create even more efficient products.

via Greenbiz