Day: May 23, 2006

[Schools] Students learn to conserve, preserve

With a twist on the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” elementary students have been learning how to conserve energy, recycle and reuse what others throw away. [Source: Salem (OR) Statesman Journal]

[Environmental awards] 2006 White House Closing the Circle Award winners announced

Source: Office of the Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE), 5/19/06.
The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2006 White House Closing the Circle (CTC) Awards. The CTC Awards recognize outstanding achievements of Federal employees and their facilities for efforts that resulted in significant contributions to, or have made a significant positive impact regarding to environmental stewardship. The awards focus on waste prevention, recycling, and green purchasing activities under Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, environmental management under E.O. 13148, green/sustainable buildings under several executive orders, and reduced fuel usage under E.O. 13149. This year the program also recognizes four (4) Gold level partners of the Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC). [Great Lakes Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) Environmental News]

[Environmental health] Household Cleaners May Not Be Good To Breathe

Don’t bank on the advertised “clean scent” of household cleaners smelling like lemon, pine, and orange. New research suggests they can be hazardous to health when used carelessly or too much in small, unventilated rooms. Julie Sevrens Lyons reports in the San Jose Mercury News 5/23/06. [SEJ Environmental Journalism Today]

[Renewable energy] Kleiner Perkins Announces GreenTech Prize

Clearly, it’s all about the competition and awards this weekend. Via WorldChanging and TriplePundit, mega-venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has announced an annual $100,000 prize “…to promote technology or policy innovation in green technology.”

“This award will encourage innovation in sustainable, green growth,” said KPCB partner Brook Byers.”We will bring worldwide recognition to entrepreneurs who achieve breakthroughs in green energy generation, storage, conservation or policies, whether from an individual or a team, whether public or private, anywhere in the world.”

KPCB today inaugurates the Greentech Innovation Network with 50 of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, scientists and policymakers. They are gathering from the United States, Asia, Europe and South America to build a strategic map for evaluating needs and encouraging innovation, and to forge new partnerships. Insights from Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a ‘geo-green’, will keynote the networking event. ..

“We have been quietly investing in Greentech for several years,” added Ray Lane, KPCB partner. “We’ve backed four new ventures since announcing our Greentech initiative in February of this year. These, together with five previous ventures, are innovating for green and sustainable growth. We’re seeing more and more entrepreneurs address critical environmental needs. This workshop is not a conference, it is a networking event to “help solve the problem” by collaborating in five Greentech areas. They are electricity generation and storage, electricity efficiency, alternative fuels, transportation efficiency and carbon reduction policies.”

KPCB has previously announced investments in Lilliputian Systems, which produces micro fuel cells for portable and wireless devices, and Miasole (www.miasole.com), which makes a flexible, low-cost photovoltaic cell for large-scale solar energy. Six other Greentech ventures are in stealth mode.

As I’ve noted before, it’s great to see a VC firm of this prominence moving so aggressively into green tech — perhaps it’s more evidence that we’ve reached a tipping point. What will be even more interesting, though, is that major investors like this will ultimately determine what green technology is, as least as far as what makes it into the commercial market. While everything I’ve seen shows me the KP is funding really innovative technology, those of us out here will have to keep a close eye on developments and make our voices heard about the investments made by the money folks. For instance, another portion of this same press release noted that KP is backing Altra, Inc., which looks like a big player in the corn-based ethanol industry. More and more, I find myself on the fence about corn ethanol — it’s a place to start, it’s cleaner than standard gasoline, and it will give farmers a boost, but it’s definitely not something we want to view as the solution to our energy predicament. [sustainablog]

[Schools] GM, DOE Team Up to Sponsor 'Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility'

Via sustainablog:

I’ve got a feeling that you’ll be seeing “via Hugg” on a lot more of my posts, as its quickly developing into a goldmine of information. If you haven’t visited or contributed to the green take on Digg, do…

While I bookmarked several items today, I was particularly intrigued by this post (which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen elsewhere, but whatever…): GM, the US Department of Industry, and other government and corporate leaders have teamed up to create Challenge X:Crossover to Sustainable Mobility. A three-year competition for engineering students, Challenge X challenges participants to “…re-engineer a GM Equinox, a crossover sport utility vehicle to minimize energy consumption, emissions, and greenhouse gases while maintaining or exceeding the vehicle’s utility and performance.”

Year 1 will focus on modeling, simulation, and testing of the vehicle powertrain and vehicle subsystems selected by each school. In June 2005, teams will come together to undergo extensive judging and evaluation. Teams will receive scores for five reports, a Pre-Competition Hardware Evaluation, an Oral Presentation, a Live Simulation Event, a Trade-Show Booth Event, a Control Strategy Oral Presentation, and K-12 Education Outreach Program. The teams that demonstrate a mastery of the key aspects of modeling their powertrain choice and constructing and controlling the powertrain will receive a donated GM Equinox after the June 2005 competition. Years 2 and 3 will require teams to develop and integrate their advanced powertrain and subsystems into a donated GM Equinox. At the conclusion of each of these competition years, teams will come together to undergo extensive judging and evaluation. Events will encompass energy use and emissions goals, vehicle utility and performance, engineering, and K-12 Education Outreach.

Additionally, each team will be provided with seed money, as well as mentoring and technical support. I like the idea of a competition, as, theoretically anyway, it will spur these teams to greater innovation in their designs. I don’t, however, know what the prize is… can’t seem to find that anywhere. Regardless, year one has passed, and the teams are into the second year of competition — Canada’s the University of Waterloo won first-year honors. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what kinds of developments come from this contest, and watching to see if other businesses, governmental bodies and non-profit organizations host similar competitions — I seem to remember reading about one coming out of Congress, but don’t have the details in front of me. [sustainablog]

[Biofuels] Turning Grass into Gas

Via sustainablog:

After searching, I found that Treehugger had touched on Canadian company Iogen last summer, but this article from National Geographic News was the first I’d heard of them, and I think they’re onto something. Iogen is in the ethanol business, but not the corn-based kind that only US politicians and corn farmers seem to love unconditionally. Rather, they’ve developed a process that “brews” wastes from plant farming into ethanol:

“Essentially we start with a bale of wheat straw, add enzymes to convert the straw into sugar, and then let fermentation and distillation make the sugar into ethanol.”

What’s more, producing ethanol with this process creates a byproduct called lignin, a mix of polymers found naturally in woody plants that binds plant fibers together.

The lignin extracted from farm waste can be burned like coal to power the ethanol production facility, according to Iogen.

“Almost a quarter of plant fiber is lignin, which can be extracted to run the boiler,” Easterly, the energy consultant, said.

Hosein Shapouri of the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that such factories wouldn’t need energy from fossil fuels to run the plant.

“[They] can even produce extra electricity that can be sent to the public power grid,” Shapouri said. “These plants will be self-sufficient.”

And farmers operating near the plants will be offered a new source of income for their previously discarded agricultural waste.

Now that’s the way to produce ethanol. We’d still provide a benefit to farmers, and wouldn’t have to limit that benefit to one kind of farmer. And the waste itself provides the source of the fuel as well as the source of energy to create that fuel — I’m also guessing the carbon emissions from burning lignin would be much lower than fossil fuels. The only problem Iogen has had is investor reluctance to fund the first commercial-scale plant (everyone wants to fund the second plant, after they work out the bugs in the first one). That’s changed now, as Goldman Sachs has thrown $30 million into the pot. Somebody please tell our Midwestern politicians about this so we can avoid the pitfalls of corn-based ethanol — this looks like a true win-win.

By the way, if you’re interested in more details of the crop wastes to fuel industry, make sure to check out C. Scott Miller’s Bioconversion Blog — that’s his thing, and he’s definitely got his finger on the pulse… [sustainablog]

[Corporate environmental responsibility] New York Times Publishes Special Green Business Section

Via sustainablog:

I’m certainly not the first one to see this today, and have just had the opportunity to read through some of the articles in today’s special section in the New York Times. Titled “The Business of Green,” the paper features articles on a wide range of topics, including emissions trading, the profitability of adopting green practices, and even a special center established for making restaurant equipment more energy efficient (I had no idea that the restaurant industry was the biggest energy waster in the US).

I had thought I’d choose one article for close examination, but as I read through a number of them, I found myself a little disappointed. The articles I read all focused on the activities of big corporations: GE, PG&E, Ford, GM,… you get the idea. Many of these companies are making positives steps (though we can debate sincerity and/or effectiveness of individual efforts), but it seems to me that the companies doing some of the most innovative work or engaging in truly green business are missing from these articles. I covered many of them here, as have other green bloggers — I wonder how they escaped the NYT. While the large corporations have the money to go green on a large scale, they’re also going mainly after the low-hanging fruit, or making adaptations to existing product and service lines. The real innovation is coming from farther down the corporate food chain, and had the Times looked there, they could’ve given a major push to companies that live or die by green products and services.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh… What did you think? [sustainablog]

[Green tourism] Green Trend Taking Hold in Tourism Industry

Earth-friendly hotels and resorts have joined eco-tourism as a major emerging trend in the travel industry. Hotels try to lure guests with recycling, organic food, and gentler cleaning chemicals. Michelle Keller reports in the Los Angeles Times 5/19/06. [SEJ Environmental Journalism Today]

[Hospitals] Hospitals Challenge: Do No Harm

A Kaiser Permanente facility in Modesto, CA, exemplifies how hospitals are rethinking nearly every aspect of their design, construction, and operations. Mercury blood-pressure cuffs are becoming a thing of the past. Shia Levitt reports for American Public Media’s “Marketplace” 5/17/06. [SEJ Environmental Journalism Today]

[Environmental health] Climate Change and Human Health Impacts in the United States: An Update on the Results of the U.S. National Assessment

Ebi KL, Mills DM, Smith JB, and Grambsch A. 2006. Environ Health Perspect: doi:10.1289/ehp.8880. [Online 18 May 2006] [EHP-in-Press]

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