Day: July 27, 2011

SDSU+ Wins Grant for NASA Biofuels Research

Read the full story at Algae Industry Magazine.

A new research project teaming South Dakota State University, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and Oglala Lakota College, funded by a $750,000 NASA grant, will study ways to use cyanobacteria to make energy-dense fuels and high-value chemicals, oxygen, and cleansed water directly from carbon dioxide, sunlight, and wastewater.

Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved

Yang CZ, Yaniger SI, Jordan VC, Klein DJ, Bittner GD 2011. “Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved”. Environmental Health Perspectives 119, 989-996. doi:10.1289/ehp.1003220


Background: Chemicals having estrogenic activity (EA) reportedly cause many adverse health effects, especially at low (picomolar to nanomolar) doses in fetal and juvenile mammals.

Objectives: We sought to determine whether commercially available plastic resins and products, including baby bottles and other products advertised as bisphenol A (BPA) free, release chemicals having EA.

Methods: We used a roboticized MCF-7 cell proliferation assay, which is very sensitive, accurate, and repeatable, to quantify the EA of chemicals leached into saline or ethanol extracts of many types of commercially available plastic materials, some exposed to common-use stresses (microwaving, ultraviolet radiation, and/or autoclaving).

Results: Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable EA, including those advertised as BPA free. In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more EA than did BPA-containing products.

Conclusions: Many plastic products are mischaracterized as being EA free if extracted with only one solvent and not exposed to common-use stresses. However, we can identify existing compounds, or have developed, monomers, additives, or processing agents that have no detectable EA and have similar costs. Hence, our data suggest that EA-free plastic products exposed to common-use stresses and extracted by saline and ethanol solvents could be cost-effectively made on a commercial scale and thereby eliminate a potential health risk posed by most currently available plastic products that leach chemicals having EA into food products.

EPA Announces Top Contenders in Energy Star National Building Competition

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program announced the top contenders at the midpoint of the 2011 National Building Competition: Battle of the Buildings. The list of top contenders identifies the leaders with the greatest percent reduction of energy use in each of the twelve building categories in the competition. EPA also provided an update on the progress of all participants as they continue to go head-to-head to save energy, reduce costs and protect Americans’ health and their environment.

“Competitors in the second year of the Energy Star Battle of the Buildings are already achieving energy-savings that really pack a punch,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy. “The stories behind these energy-savings speak to the dedication of American businesses and organizations to protecting the environment and public health, and to economic common sense.”

In the first six months of the competition alone, teams representing 245 buildings around the country have saved more than $3.7 million on utility bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to the electricity used by 2,300 homes annually. Competitors measure and track their building’s monthly energy consumption using EPA’s Energy Star online energy tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. The building with the largest percentage reduction in energy use, adjusted for weather and the size of the building, will be recognized as the winner in November.

The top contenders in each building category/percent energy reduction at the midpoint of the competition:
University of Central Florida Garage C (Other): Orlando, Fla.                                31%
Scientific Instruments (Office): West Palm Beach, Fla.                                       30%
Jackson Creek Middle School (K-12 school): Bloomington, Ind.                           26%
USE Credit Union (Bank): San Diego, Calif.                                                       20%
North Suburban Medical Office Building (Medical Office): Thornton, Colo.             18%
Office Depot (Retail Store): Plano, Texas                                                          17%
Hammond U.S. Courthouse (Courthouse): Hammond, Ind.                                  14%
First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis (House of Worship): Minneapolis, Minn.     14%
St Mark’s Medical Center (Hospital): La Grange, Texas                                      10%
Norandex (Warehouse): Rochester, N.Y.                                                           8%
Kenan Residence Hall at UNC (Dorm): Chapel Hill, N.C.                                     3%
The Colonnade Hotel (Hotel): Boston, Mass.                                                      2%

Competitors from 26 different types of commercial buildings across 33 states and the District of Columbia are utilizing social media applications, including a live Twitter feed and a Facebook forum to exchange ideas and strategies. Consumers can also go online to view details on the competitors in their region and find information about saving energy where they work, play, and learn.

Energy Star was started by EPA in 1992 as a market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, the Energy Star label can be found on more than 60 different kinds of products as well as new homes and commercial and industrial buildings that meet strict energy-efficiency specifications set by EPA. Last year alone, Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved about $18 billion on their energy bills while preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 33 million vehicles.


Explore, Share And Soon Build Beautiful Data Visualizations With

Read the full post at 10,000 Words. Check out’s Environment category.

Infographics and interactive features are quickly becoming one of the most innovative ways to share and display datasets. Data visualizations are the perfect complement to text-heavy articles, and can make great explainers for readers hoping to learn quickly about a complicated issue or story. By translating complicated datasets into beautiful graphics, complex ideas can be communicated in a clear, easy to understand way. A new start-up is helping to aggregate these visualizations into one place, creating a one stop shop for interesting infographics. lets you explore and share compelling data visualizations built by designers across the web. The site, started by Stewart Langille and Lee Sherman, originally from’s content and marketing team, culls the best visualizations by the best designers and lays them out neatly for users to reference, share and explore. Aside from helping interested readers understand complex issues, the site also helps designers promote their own data projects. Designers can create their own profiles on which serve as portfolios for their work.

Water Wednesday: Smarter home irrigation technologies

Read the full post at SmartPlanet.

Contributor’s Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

My husband and I are perfectly sympatico when it comes to the perennials and annuals we cultivate on our near-acre of New Jersey property for nine months out of the year. He picks them and plants them, I make sure they stay alive. Most of the time.

We actually only water new shrubs or plants that haven’t established and stop short of sprinkling the lawn except on very rare occasions. As you might imagine, the latter isn’t as green as it used to be, given all the hot, dry weather that wormed its way into the Northeast during July. Truth be told, though, we lose at least some plants every summer to the opposite problem: over watering.

Naturally, I read with interest some information I received in the past week from two companies seeking to provide smarter home irrigation technologies. These companies, Cyber-Rain and ET Water, have both recently released cloud services that provide guidance about when you should water — and how much.

Study finds algae growth, harvesting are root of energy ROI

Read the full story in Biodiesel Magazine.

A study recently published by researchers at the University of Texas, Austin asserts that the crux of algae’s case as an economically feasible oil feedstock and energy source rests not in its processing but in the ability to affordably grow and harvest it. The study, titled “Energy Return on Energy Investment for Algal Biocrude: Results for a Research Production Facility,” was funded by algae process technology developer OpenAlgae LLC and published in the scientific journal BioEnergy Research.

Not just Creating Little Treehuggers: Environmental Education as a Learning System

Read the full post at Sustainablog.

What’s going on in Washington these days? Duh, debt ceiling negotiations, right? Fortunately, that’s not all… there is still legislation in the works that addresses other issues beyond government spending. One bill that’s back: the No Child Left Inside Act, which would provide a funding mechanism for state environmental education initiatives.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that members of Congress (from both parties) have tried to get this law passed… its history goes back to 2007. The argument surrounding it has generally focused on a perceived ideological agenda by supporters: essentially, we treehugging types want to brainwash the young into thinking as we do.

I could try to fire back directly against this argument, but I doubt I’d change any minds of people already wedded to it. Rather, I’d like to point out some of the educational benefits I see coming from studying the natural world and efforts to protect it. Could it create kids more concerned about our use of natural resources? Sure… but I think environmental education offers some real benefits to students that have nothing to do with treehugging… and much to do with how kids learn best.

Toxics: The Long Term, Low Dose Question

Read the full post at Sustainablog.

Each year, the USDA generates an extensive set of data which demonstrates that modern American consumers face no real threat from toxic pesticide residues on their food.  This is particularly true in terms of “acute toxicity,” or short-term poisoning.  Someone would have to eat thousands to millions times their own body weight to kill themselves with produce.

To many people, that still leaves a troubling question:  “what about long term exposure to low doses of toxic chemicals and combinations of those chemicals?” This question is more difficult to answer.

‘Green’ image seen as key to future business success

Read the full story at EurActiv.

Customers are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of their lifestyles and the most successful companies will be those who best respond to shoppers’ desire to ‘buy green’, business representatives argued at a conference this week.

DOE, Defense Department to Install Fuel Cells on Eight Military Bases

DOE announced on July 19 that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will install and operate 18 fuel cell backup power systems at eight military installations across the country as part of an interagency partnership with DOE. The eight installations include the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms in California; Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado; Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey; the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; the Ohio National Guard in Columbus, Ohio; and Fort Hood in Texas. The projects will test how the fuel cells perform in real world operations, identify technical improvements manufacturers could make to enhance performance, and highlight the benefits of fuel cells for emergency backup power applications.

A fuel cell works like a battery that is constantly kept charged by feeding a fuel such as natural gas or hydrogen into its anode, or negative terminal. Compared with diesel generators, which are often used for backup power, fuel cells use no petroleum, are quieter, and produce fewer pollutants and emissions. Fuel cells also typically require less maintenance than either generators or batteries do, and they can easily be monitored remotely to reduce maintenance time. The primary challenge facing currently available fuel cells is the higher first cost for the units, compared with the first costs of conventional technologies they replace. Targeted fuel cell demonstrations such as this one may increase the scale of deployment and help improve the economics of the technology, which could lead to more widespread adoption and use.

The projects will be conducted under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by the two departments in July 2010. LOGANEnergy will manage the project, using fuel cells from ReliOn, Inc.; Altergy Systems; Idatech, LLC; and Hydrogenics Corporation. The $6.6 million project is a joint effort of DOD’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. DOD will manage the project, and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will collect performance data for the first two years of the five-year demonstration. The NREL data will be available to fuel cell developers and commercial and government leaders interested in adopting this technology. See the DOE press release, the MOU, and DOE’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program website, which includes a basic description of how a fuel cell works.

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