Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From Solar Panels to Sarah Palins: The Top 10 Green Politics Stories of 2008

Written by Timothy B. Hurst

Campaign politics dominated the headlines in 2008, making it a banner year for the armchair pundit and the politically uninitiated alike. 2008 was also a year that issues like energy use, climate change and carbon footprints came to the forefront of popular culture and political reality. And that’s where we came in.

votesBuzz up!In the tradition of more credible media outlets, we’ve compiled our most popular stories of the year into an easily digestible top 10 list. As it is based purely on pageviews, we realize that our list of the top ten environmental politics stories of the year is by no means scientific - and we’re okay with that.

10. U.S. Could Get Ten Million Solar Roofs in Ten Years
In July, Andrew Williams reported on a piece of legislation introduced into Congress called The 10 Million Solar Roofs Act of 2008 which would have offered rebates for up to half the cost of installing solar photovoltaic systems, and run for ten years. The bill didn’t make it too far on its own, but some of the same renewable energy development mechanisms are still being considered as part of an economic stimulus plan. This story did well at StumbleUpon.*

9. Senator Ensign Attacks Solar Energy Industry
Nevada’s Republican senator John Ensign launched an offensive against solar energy lobbyists, ahead of a crucial vote on extending the renewable energy tax credits. In a post that drew a lot of attention at digg, Andrew Williams wrote:

“Breaking ranks with the the state’s increasingly important solar industry, Ensign said that efforts by the Solar Energy Industry Association to force his hand on tax breaks had in fact had the opposite effect of ‘personally alienating’ him and other senators.”

8. Palin Changes Position on Global Warming - Then Denies It

The emergence of Sarah Palin from a place of relative obscurity to the center stage of American politics provided us with more than enough fodder just learning who she was. A cursory count of our coverage at RG&B turned up more than fifty posts between August and December about Palin. Palin’s position on global warming was one of many green themes picked up by observers. After first denying human-caused warming, she later said the causes of global warming didn’t matter. Tim Hurst described it:

“This is not a nuanced-shift in the technical specifics of some obscure policy. This is a drastic change in a major policy question that is apparent to even the most casual political observer.”

7. Palin Ignored Chance to Promote US Energy Independence
This post by Alex Felsinger delved into the energy cred of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and explored the difference between the theory of energy independence and the application of it. This post got heavy traffic thanks to both Yahoo! buzz and StumbleUpon. Felsinger wrote:

“An agreement was reached in January this year, and never once did Palin suggest that the natural gas should instead be used in the lower 48 states. Instead, 100 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas will be exported from Alaska’s Cook Inlet to Japan and other Asian countries, where the fuel sells for double what it does in America.”

6. Schwarzenegger Gets on the Obama ‘Tire Inflation’ Bandwagon
Although we had several posts about what is arguably the biggest story in politics this year—Barack Obama—the only post in our top 10 with Obama’s name in the title was tangentially related to the president-elect. In the wake of Republicans mocking Obama’s suggestion that proper tire inflation was the cornerstone of his energy policy, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped launch a new website essentially endorsing Obama’s claims. Written by Timothy Hurst, this one got a bunch of traffic from digg.


5. Imagining a $700 Billion Bailout for the Environment

Stemming from the fall of mortgage-backed securities, spiking oil prices, and a host of other variables, the economic crisis came to a head in September and October when the federal government began looking at corporate bailouts of unprecedented proportions. In a piece that did particularly well at StumbleUpon, Jennifer Lance considered what investments of this size could do for the environment:

“What if the US government had responded to the twenty years of dire warnings by James Hansen in the same manner as the current economic crisis? Such an aggressive response may have stopped climate change and saved our economy through green jobs and technology.”

4. New York City to Get LED Street Lighting
This is the story responsible for a major re-arrangement in this year’s best of. Just last week, Jerry James stone reported on big news out of New York City that city officials would be testing energy efficient LED street lights. If successful, all of the city’s 300,000 street lamps could potentially be replaced with the LED models. This post did well at digg, reddit, and StumbleUpon.

3. Did McCain’s Colorado River Gaffe Cost Him in the West?


While campaigning in Colorado, Sen. John McCain told the Pueblo Chieftan that, as president, he would consider renegotiating the Colorado River Compact: a virtual no-no in headwater states like Colorado where Democrats and Republicans alike think downstream states already get more than their fair share of water. In a post that did well at digg, Timothy Hurst wrote:

“John McCain has again said something to cause his fellow western-state Republicans to wince at his political inexpedience and apparent naivete for the issue at hand. And even though the Senator has now recanted and begun damage control, Democrats are hoping that this one will cost him. Some even argue that the gaffe was so severe, he may have just lost Colorado.”

2. European Union Bans the Incandescent Light Bulb
EU energy ministers meeting in Luxembourg gave final approval to an EU-wide ban on incandescent light bulbs that would begin in 2010. The new light bulb scheme will initially apply to bulbs of 75 watts and higher. The phasing out of the traditional bulbs set to begin on March 1, 2009, is part of a larger EU strategy to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This story got a good bit of attention at reddit and digg.

1. How 1900’s Environmental Predictions Fared
Admittedly, the most viewed post in 2008 at Red, Green, & Blue is not about environmental politics, per se, and it didn’t really happen in 2008, but using our simple metric of popularity, it was the ‘biggest.’

In 1900, John Elfreth Watkins put together a collection of predictions in the Ladies Home Journal about the future of the U.S. and the world by the end of the 20th century. Timothy Hurst cherry-picked 14 enviro-related predictions and looked at what actually happened one hundred years later. Some of the predictions are uncannily accurate, yet others were more than a little wide of the mark. This post had good traffic from digg and reddit, and especially Yahoo! buzz.

*We’ve included links to some of the social media networks where individual posts have performed well. For brevity’s sake we kept the number of those links to one or two per post. That notwithstanding, we are exceedingly grateful to ALL of you for the support you have shown on ALL of the social media and web 2.0 spaces in 2008. We would be nowhere without your help.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Place for Solar Energy: Highway Right of Way

http://cleantechnica.com/ full story link;


Editor’s Note : This is a guest post from William Ellard, an economist specializing in energy and renewable energy markets. He is currently working with national solar energy firms to bring distributed solar power to municipalities in the American Southwest.

During a recent work meeting with the Western Renewable Energy Zones Initiative, it became clear that the recent push for renewable energy in the western US has major wildlife and environmental implications. As an alternative energy economist, my contribution in the meeting was to present some of the new solar energy technologies and explain how distributed solar could be deployed without disturbing wildlife ecosystems.

US Becomes Largest Wind Power Producer in the World

Written by Andrew Williams

The United States has overtaken Germany to become the largest producer of wind energy in the world, generating enough capacity to eliminate the burning of 91 million barrels of oil per year.

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), US wind producers enjoyed another record year of growth in 2008—the third in a row. The country now has an installed wind power capacity well in excess of 21,000 megawatts (MW), enough to supply electricity to over 5.5 million American homes.

Tags: alternative energy, America, american wind energy association, awea, biggest, capacity, electric, electricity, Energy, generator, germany, largest, megawatts, MW, overtake, overtakes, power, producer, renewable energy, renewables, supplier, supply, United States, US, Wind, wind energy, wind power, world
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First Commercial Hydrokinetic Turbine Installed in US


The United States’ first hydrokinetic turbine was recently installed in the Mississippi River. The turbine, which harnesses power from moving water, is downstream from a hydroelectric-plant dam.

Tags: dam, free flow power, hydro green, hydrokinetic, turbine, Wind, wind turbine
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Build Your Own Plastic Bottle Greenhouse


Do you have tons of plastic bottles lying around your house and excess backyard space? If so, you might want to look into building a plastic bottle greenhouse. The greenhouse idea was devised and brought to life by Blue Rock Station. For $5 (the electronic version is $4), you can buy instructions to build one yourself.

Tags: blue rock station, greenhouse, plastic bottles, rain barrel, straw bale
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New Bigger, Flashier Times Square Ball is Powered by LEDs

There’s no amount of money that could convince me to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square, but even I have to admit that this year’s Ball is innovative. The new Ball, which weighs 11,875 pounds and is double the size of previous Balls, will light up with help from 32,256 Philips Luxeon Rebel LEDs.

Tags: ball, energy efficiency, led, new year, new years, times square
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LG Releasing Sunlight-Illuminated LCD Display



Next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is shaping up to be an interesting event. A few days ago, we reported that Energizer plans on debuting its solar-powered battery charger at the show. Now LG has announced the CES debut of its sunlight-illuminated 14.1 inch LCD notebook panel.

Apple vs. Dell: Which is Actually Greener?

Written by Nick Douglas

Published on December 22nd, 20083 CommentsPosted in consumer technology
If Dell’s VP of Communications is so critical of Apple’s green policies, a month after Apple bragged about their new recyclable, energy-efficient MacBooks, why didn’t he just say that Dell is greener? Is it because he’s humble, or becaus his job is to confuse people? Ha, sorry, that’s too mean. A PR man’s job is to lie. But sometimes he accidentally tells the truth.

While Dell still beats Apple in Greenpeace’s annual electronics report, Apple will catch up if they meet their targets over the next few years. Here’s how the two computer makers compare (according to Greenpeace) on energy efficiency, packaging, materials, and recycling.


Tags: Apple, dell, e-waste, Greenpeace
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Global Clean Tech Investments Reach Record High

Published on December 22nd, 2008Posted in alternative energy, business, solar energy
It is hard to boot up the computer or turn on the television without hearing about the recession, credit crisis, budget deficits, and unemployment rates. Amazingly, venture capital investment in the clean tech sector reached new levels over the first three quarters of 2008.


The safety of nuclear plants is often debated, but we rarely hear about another potential issue for nuclear energy: peak uranium. That’s the point in time when when the maximum global uranium production is reached and begins to enter a permanent decline. And while we’ve known for some time that high-quality uranium supplies have been declining for the past 50 years, nuclear operators are finally getting nervous.

Tags: nuclear energy, nuclear power, peak oil, peak uranium, uranium
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Energizer to Release Portable Solar Battery Charger

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Will Green Funding Be Harder to Come By?

As the year wraps up on a gloomy economic forecast, people are wondering what will become of the green initiatives set forth by hundreds of organizations and governments as cash becomes harder to come by.

Despite the negative outlook on the market, many expect green initiatives (and the funding for them) to continue to grow, according to a survey released by SunTrust Bank Private Wealth Management. The study surveyed more than 200 business owners, with at least $10 million in annual revenue, about their outlook on "green" giving and investing.

Of those surveyed:

69 percent responded positively to the statement, "Even if there is an economic downturn that moderately affects my business, I plan to maintain my current level of giving to environmental causes in the coming year."
Most survey respondents believe it is a "good" or "average" time to invest in mutual funds or other financial instruments that are specifically marketed as "green" or environmentally responsible.
40 percent of respondents believe it is a "good time" for all businesses to adhere to the highest possible environmental standards.
59 percent believe that a "green" investment would generate a rate of return similar to any other fund.
Nearly half said their company had an official "green" policy that included recycling, energy saving plans and other measures.
Almost half of the business owners donated personal money to organizations devoted to helping the environment.
"The survey shows that business owners recognize that environmental stewardship can have genuine bottom-line results," says Dave Johnston, senior vice president, 45 percent of business owners surveyed believe that the earth's environment is slowly deteriorating.

47 percent characterized the health of the earth's environment as "fair."
30 percent cited it as "good."
18 percent called the environment's health "poor."
Only 5 percent deemed it "excellent."
"In the surveys we have conducted over the past year, we have found business owners give altruistically and abundantly," added Johnston. "This survey indicates that business owners consider it a priority to take action based on their personal concerns about changes in the world around them."

Other concerns motivating executives to invest in the earth included pollution and energy policy, a personal desire to make positive changes in the world and past performance of a particular investment fund.

Friday, December 26, 2008

3 Tons of Ewaste from Santa Monica Hi Band!

 
 
 
 
Posted by Picasa

Full of powerful wind? Bury it in the ground for later

By Glenn Fleishman

A not-so-new notion is gaining traction for storing power generated at nonpeak times: compress regular air into underground chambers, then retrieve it later to spin turbines.

Wind power can be generated any time the wind is blowing at the same cost day and night. Because there's no efficient way to store power when it's generated but not needed, utilities and wind-power farms around the world are already having to slough off power as wind-based generation scales to something beyond scattered projects.

The New York Times blogs about a variety of efforts focused on using the excess electricity from some wind systems to compress air into sealed underground chambers, such as those left behind from various kinds of pumping and mining operations. The compressed air has potential energy that can be released later.

The current generation of compressed air energy storage (CAES) systems have to burn natural gas to heat the compressed air before the air can be used to turn turbines and recapture a good fraction of the energy used in compression. Future CAES plants are planned that skip the natural-gas input, shunting waste head from compression into the decompression process.

Certain parts of the world are better suited to using CAES for energy storage. In Ontario, the Toronto Star reported a few days ago that there are 50,000 wells in the province of which just 2,000 are still in use. Some of these wells are used for a different kind of stored energy: compressed natural gas, pumped and held until demand requires its release. Others could be used to store compressed air.

The comments on the Times blog entry are particularly interesting, with the author of a significant paper on the technology chiming in, along with a wind industry representative named Michael Goggin. Goggin wrote that storage is unnecessary because other types of generation can be shut down on demand in favor of wind—water can be held behind a dam for later release or natural gas held in pipes for later burning.

But that's surprisingly idealistic. In the real world, the cheapest power is used first. If wind power is generated during nonpeak times, less money is paid for it, even with the subsidies in effect in many countries to encourage wind generation. Goggin's scenario works only if the costs are the same among different forms of generation, or a single utility owns the various forms of generation and chooses a more-expensive method to obtain carbon credits or meet greenhouse gas emission goals.

This view also requires that transmission systems are capable of moving wind power at nonpeak times precisely to where it's best needed. As Sandia National Laboratories researcher Georgianne Peek said (in a press release about an Iowa CAES project) in June 2008, "The wind blows in some areas when electricity is not needed or where the transmission system can't accept all of the energy."

If wind power can be offset from nonpeak to peak times, then it becomes more viable, and thus sees greater use. This could balance green-power principles (more wind generation) with market motivations (lowest cost).

While batteries can also be used to store energy, they are expensive to make, use hazardous and toxic metals and compounds, and can't hold energy for very long. They're useful in specific situations, like home storage and backup with solar systems. Peak shifting, in which power generation is used during off hours to be reclaimed in some form during more expensive daytime uses, involves everything from next-generation flywheels to making ice power air conditioning during the day to providing incentives and for future electric-car owners to charge their cars primarily overnight

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bada Boom!!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_largest_artificial_non-nuclear_explosions

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Schwarzenegger to Push ‘Green’ Policy

Despite Economic Woes

The former action-hero in an interview on the CBS program 60 Minutes discussed ‘green’ policy, emission limits, climate change, and renewable energy. He also was unafraid to criticize the Bush administration for their lack of ‘interest’ in cutting tailpipe emissions.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes tonight, vowed to push on with his tough environmental laws despite last month’s announcement that his state faced a whopping $40 billion deficit.

“The more difficult it gets, the more joy I find in it. Because it’s just great to figure out all of the ways of bringing people together and shaping policy. But to get it done, to get there is always a long process. But when you get it done, it’s very satisfying,” Gov. Schwarzenegger told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.


The governor was unafraid to criticize the Bush administration for what he termed their lack of 'interest' in cutting tailpipe emissions.
When put on the spot and asked if the current economic crisis currently makes it a bad time to change America’s energy habits, Schwarzenegger quickly dismissed that notion.

“I think that there’s never the wrong time. There’s always the right time. I will argue the opposite. Because we have seen that the industries that are performing well in California, even right now in this economic decline, is green technology. It’s really spectacular to see those manufacturers coming up to me and saying, ‘Our business is booming,’ while there’s an economic decline. So, green technology’s where it’s at,” the governor retorted.

The former actor also addressed his concern that the American automakers were not doing enough to assist in the energy changeover.

“I have been in Detroit in 2000 and have talked to the car manufacturers then to put hydrogen engines in the cars and start experimenting. And they said to me then, ‘Well, this would take five to ten years to do something like that.’ Well, that time has come now. Where are the cars?” Schwarzenegger questioned.

When Pelley noted the hatred that the city of Detroit had for him after he came out with his ultra-strict emission laws, even going as far as displaying a billboard which read ‘Arnold to Detroit: drop dead’, the governor pretty much joked it off.

That was the best free publicity I could get. But actually I was not saying, ‘Arnold to Detroit: drop dead,’ I was just saying, ‘Get off your butt,’” Schwarzenegger said.

Mr. Schwarzenegger also spoke about the Hummer he owns, which he spent $100,000 to convert from a military vehicle to a legal civilian one. In fact, he is the inventor of the civilian Hummer, the infamous gas-guzzler, when he invested the astounding sum after being told by the military manufacturer that it couldn’t be done.

His Hummer has been modified and can now run on bio-fuel.

“You can literally go up to a restaurant and get cooking oil,” he said. “it runs, basically, on anything. Anything natural.”

He also knocked environmentalists who tried to hold up a proposed solar project in the Mojave desert for what they said can endanger some animals.

“The environmentalists are the first ones to say, ‘Yes, we need renewable energy. We should get rid of, you know, using our energy from coal and from natural gas,’ and all those kind of things. But then when you say, ‘Okay, let’s do renewable, let’s go that,’ ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up, not so fast,’” reasoned Schwarzenegger.

He also said that when trying to cut tailpipe emissions, he was thwarted by an uninterested Bush administration.

“I could tell in his eyes (President Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson) that he did not believe in it, that we would never get it, that he will create every obstacle. And the administration just had no interest in it.”

Monday, December 22, 2008

Scientists discover new forest

with undiscovered species on Google Earth
Conservationists have found a host of new species after discovering uncharted new territory on the internet map Google Earth.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent


Mount Mabu itself is under threat as Mozambique's economy grows and people use the wood for fuel Photo: Julian Bayliss/RBG Kew

The mountainous area of northern Mozambique in southern Africa had been overlooked by science due to inhospitable terrain and decades of civil war in the country.

However, while scrolling around on Google Earth, an internet map that allows the viewer to look at satellite images of anywhere on the globe, scientists discovered an unexpected patch of green.

A British-led expedition was sent to see what was on the ground and found 7,000 hectares of forest, rich in biodiversity, known as Mount Mabu.

In just three weeks, scientists led by a team from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew found hundreds of different plant species, birds, butterflies, monkeys and a new species of giant snake.

The samples which the team took are now back in Britain for analysis.

So far three new butterflies and one new species of snake have been discovered but it is believed there are at least two more new species of plants and perhaps more new insects to discover.

Julian Bayliss, a scientist for Kew based in the region, discovered Mount Mabu while searching on Google Earth for a possible conservation project. He was looking at areas of land 5,400ft (1,600m) above sea level where more rainfall means there is likely to be forest.

To his surprise he found the patches of green that denote wooded areas, in places that had not previously been explored. After taking a closer look on more detailed satellite maps, he went to have a look.

An expedition was organised for this autumn with 28 scientists from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Switzerland. The group was able to stay at an abandoned tea estate but had to hack through difficult terrain and use 70 porters in order to carry out their investigations.

Within weeks they had discovered three new species of Lepidoptera butterfly and a new member of the Gaboon viper family of snakes that can kill a human in a single bite. There were also blue duiker antelope, samango monkeys, elephant shrews, almost 200 different types of butterflies and thousands of tropical plants.

Jonathan Timberlake, expedition leader, said digital imagery has helped scientists to discover more about the world. He believes there may be other small pockets of biodiversity around the world that are yet to be discovered that could be stumbled upon by searching on Google Earth, especially in areas like Mozambique or Papua New Guinea which have not been fully explored yet.

Mr Timberlake said discovering new species is not only important to science but helps to highlight conservation efforts in parts of the world threatened by logging and development.

Mount Mabu itself is under threat as Mozambique's economy grows and people use the wood for fuel or clear the land to grow crops.

"We cannot say we have discovered all the biodiversity areas in the world, there are still ones to discover and it helps to find new species to make people realise what is out there," he said.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Charlie Brown Christmas

It happens every year. Right on the heels of the most gluttonous Thursday of my life, it strikes: Christmas season.

In fact, it seems like even before Thanksgiving is over, the makeshift pumpkin patches of Halloween have magically transformed into Christmas tree lots. Rooftops are trimmed with various blinking colorful lights. And front lawns are now covered with inflatable or mechanical woodland creatures–or both.

It all walks a thin line between festive and seizure inducing.

And just as would be shoppers have claimed another Wal-Mart employee, I am stuck there with my annual Frosted Mini-Wheats dilemma: The kid in me really wants a fresh Christmas tree, but the adult in me cannot justify it.

I know what you are probably thinking. Why not an artificial tree? All I can say is that it’s just not the same.

As a kid, my father and I went to tree farms where we would chop one down in its prime. Not one of those “lots” people go to these days. I have very fond memories of being covered in tree sap, and impaled with pine needles. All of which I cherish to this day.

Do you know how hard it is for an environmentalist to reconcile memories of chopping down a tree? It sucks.

I have tried other options. My favorite is the Christmas rosemary bush. It comes all Christmas-tree-shaped. And it isn't like the smell of rosemary is a horrible thing.

But in the end, it’s not the same. I come back to this point because I think this is the same dilemma we all face everyday. As we work towards a greener lifestyle, how do we balance habits that we cherish with “what is right?”

I’d like to say I know, but I really don’t. Do you?

As for the Christmas tree, well, most years I just don’t get one. Instead I cruise the lots like a meth addict, taking in that pine fresh smell and reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But some years I do break down and buy one.

Don’t even get me started on whether or not I should get it flocked

Monday, December 15, 2008

E-waste certification program launched

• Commits to no dumping in landfills or developing countries

• ‘Our planet’s glut of e-waste is no longer a problem we can sweep under the rug’


The Basel Action Network and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition have joined with Electronic Recyclers International of Fresno to create the “e-Stewards Initiative” — a certification program for North America’s most responsible e-waste recyclers.

The e-Steward Initiative is described as the first independently audited and accredited electronic waste recycler certification program forbidding the dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries, local landfills and incinerators; the use of prison labor; and the unauthorized release of private data.


“Unfortunately today, most companies calling themselves electronics recyclers are scammers,” says Sarah Westervelt, e-Stewards project coordinator at the Basel Action Network (BAN) in Seattle. “They simply load up containers of old computers and ship them off to China or Africa.”


The e-Stewards announcement follows Sunday’s report on CBS’ 60 Minutes exposing fraudulent electronic recycling and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s recently aired Electronic Dumping Ground. These programs reveal that computers given to many recyclers in the United States and Canada are likely to be dumped in China or Africa, where e-waste is causing environmental and health problems.


“The genuinely responsible recyclers in North America face unfair competition from thousands of unethical, so-called ‘waste recyclers’ that would more accurately be called ‘waste shippers,’” says John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of ERI. “We strongly support a certified, audited program to separate the legitimate recyclers from the low-road operators.”


“Our planet’s glut of e-waste is no longer a problem we can sweep under the rug,” Mr. Shegerian says.


Funding to create the certification program was provided by 14 recycling companies.

Crash in trash creates mountains of unwanted recyclables

American towns are being forced to abandon recycling their household waste after the global economic downturn has crashed the once profitable market for "trash".

By Philip Sherwell in New York

Financial crisis is rubbish for trash

Mountains of used plastics, paper, metals and cardboard are piling up in the warehouses and yards of recycling companies across the US. Some contractors are negotiating to rent old military hangars and abandoned railway depots because they have run out of storage space for the glut of suddenly unwanted rubbish.

The collapse in the recycling market is a direct by-product of the financial crisis, as demand has slumped for material to be converted into everything from boxes for electronics to car parts and house fittings.

Householders have long been able to feel virtuous about their impact on the environment by sorting out their rubbish each week. But now the great trash market crash has even raised the environmentally alarming spectre that some waste intended for recycling may end up in landfills.

"The crash is all the more dramatic because as recently as mid-October the prices for recyclables stood at record highs," said Bruce Parker, president of the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

Newsprint is now fetching less than $60 (£40) a ton, down from $160; corrugated boxing has slumped from $50 a ton to $10; while tin fetches $5 a pound compared to about $25.

Other materials are performing even worse, Mr Parker said. His members are now having to pay for the removal of low-grade mixed paper that two months ago was bringing in $120 a ton. "And plastics, you cannot even give them away," he added with a sigh.

The previous surge in prices had largely been driven by soaring demand from China and India. The emerging economic powerhouses were swallowing up rubbish as soon Americans were discarding it - often to turn into goods and packing that were then sold back to the US.

But the demand from Asia has now collapsed as the economic crisis has spread around the globe. "We truly live in a global economy where what happens at one end of the earth directly affects business at the other end," said Mr Parker.

The impact is devastating commercially - and not just for recycling businesses. Already confronting crippling budget shortfalls, local and state authorities have now seen a lucrative source of income dry up as recycling centres are no longer paying for their rubbish.

Some towns have even suspended their recycling operations, although in much of the country those programmes are required by law.

Residents in West Virginia's Kanawha county, which includes the state capital Charleston, have been told to stockpile plastics and metals, the materials worst hit by the crash, as they will no longer be collected. Small towns with tight budgets are particularly badly affected – Frackville in Pennsylvania has recently suspended its recycling programme.

The collapse has even hit the nation's most prestigious academic institutions. Harvard University used to receive $10 a ton for mixed recyclables from a nearby centre, but last month was told that it would have to start paying $20 a ton to send students' discarded newspapers and empty bottles there.

"I have been in the recycling business for 30 years and never seen a time as bad as this," said Johnny Gold, senior vice-president of the Newark Group, one of America's biggest recycling companies.

"It's a combination of the economic collapse and Chinese over-capacity.

"Our industry is a textbook case of supply and demand. We sell our product to paper mills that make boxes to supply companies making goods and if those goods are not selling, then they don't need the boxes and they don't buy our product."

Mr Parker believes that the market may not bounce back until late 2010 - and by then the mountains of unwanted rubbish would have turned into major mountain ranges. The NSWMA argues that to handle the crisis, the US will have to step up investment in its own recycling mills to fill the gap left by Asia and that contractors may have to impose recycling surcharges.

"It may cost communities more in the meantime but from an environmental point of views, the savings in terms of reducing greenhouse emissions and other benefits are still much greater," he said.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Enviro Economics, green bubble burst?

Among the hardest hit is T. Boone Pickens and his alternative energy hedge fund BP Capital, which has reportedly lost some $2 billion. The Oklahoma oil tycoon who leased hundreds of thousands of acres in West Texas for a giant wind farm, has put that project on hold, saying he'll have to wait for fossil-fuel prices to rise again in order to make the project economically viable. Oil was at $48 a barrel this week, down from a peak of $147 in July. Another canary in the coal mine: the once soaring market for carbon credits in Europe has tanked, as manufacturing firms worldwide slow production. Even the once promising sector of corn ethanol has gone bust, with the American company VeraSun declaring bankruptcy in October and other publicly held ethanol companies reduced to penny stocks.

Some sectors are brighter than others. Rick Hanna, an equity analyst at Morningstar, remains bullish on solar companies. "The United States promises to be one of the largest ultimate markets for solar power," he says. The sector has suffered in the short term from lower fossil-fuel prices, but Hanna's counting on the new Obama administration to put through a cap-and-trade program to help bridge the cost difference. "It's early on in solar's technological revolution," he says. "The cost will come down, and the cost of fossil fuel will rise, not just because of supply and demand, but also with the carbon-tax regimes, which may make it more expensive for traditional power to operate." And, regardless of what is happening in the United States, Germany, Japan and Spain continue to be major markets for solar energy (Germany is the world's largest, followed by the United States and Spain), aided by generous helpings of government investment.

The road for green mutual funds has been decidedly bumpier. Just one year ago, these funds, which tend to invest in more volatile small-cap stocks, were riding a wave of popularity. The Winslow Green Growth Fund, launched in 2001, was seeing 5-year average returns of 25 percent. The New Alternatives Fund was seeing a 20 percent average annual rate of return. In 2008, the Winslow fund, which invests in such companies as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Green Mountain Coffee and First Solar, hit a low of $16 (down from $30 a year ago) before rising into the low $20s this week. "I think we're seeing now that the market has found a bottom," says Matthew Patsky, manager of Winslow's Green Growth Fund. "We are seeing more money coming back into the market looking for attractive values, and it seems they are seeking out green companies in a big way." Environmentally friendly companies have high growth potential, especially with the incoming administration in Washington, he says.

Perhaps, but that possibility is little comfort to companies like Covanta Energy, a New Jersey-based company that converts waste into electricity and recycles metal. The company has relatively lucrative long-term contracts with municipalities around the country that pay Covanta a fixed price for collecting their trash while also receiving revenue from utilities that buy the electricity the company produces. Covanta gets even more revenue from additional electricity that it sells on the open market. "It's a very stable business model, and yet the stock has been slammed," says Patsky. Covanta stock hit a low of $15 in October, down from a 52-week high of $30, before rebounding to $21 on Friday.

Stock market volatility isn't likely to settle any time soon. According to Michael Herbst, a Morningstar equity analyst who follows mutual funds, weaker green companies will probably get weeded out before the crisis comes to an end—much the way weaker dotcoms failed after the first tech bubble burst, though he hesitates to draw too much of a parallel between the two economic periods. "During the tech bubble you saw people investing like mad in companies with no products and no revenues, nothing other than allure," he says. "That certainly is the case for some companies related to alternative energy, especially the very early stage companies. But you're also including in this bucket, well established, international companies like Vestas [one of the world's largest wind turbine manufacturers]." Over the next 10 to 15 years, says Herbst, the outlook for green funds is good, because "the need for alternative energy and clean technology is going to remain important." But the next two years look cloudy. "It's a very tough time for earlier stage companies," he says. You bet your bubble.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Five Ways to Fix the Future of Water

Rather than trying to solve the water shortage through conservation, some radical entrepreneurs are doing something ingenious -- making more of it.

By Doug Cantor

Please read; http://www.esquire.com/features/best-and-brightest-2008/how-to-solve-world-water-shortage-1208

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can you recommend a space heater?

I am looking to purchase two new electric heaters, to be used with timers, for my children's preschool. Do you have any suggestions where I can find information on electric heaters?

Thank you,
Jennifer Straw

The Green Guide replies:

Thanks for sending in your request for information, Jennifer.

As you probably know, safety is of utmost concern when choosing space heaters for any room that houses children. Some of these appliances pose a fire hazard if they can be tipped over, placed in proximity to flammable objects, or are otherwise operated in an unsafe manner. Indeed, according to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are a leading cause of home fires during the winter months, with kerosene models posing the greatest hazard. Gas heaters pose a similar risk of death from unvented carbon monoxide. Overall, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 25,000 residential fires and 300 deaths caused by space heaters each year.

Your first step, given these risks: confirm that the preschool's administrators have verified that any space heater -- that is, a freestanding appliance that does not connect with the building's heating and cooling ducts -- is allowable. If yes, check if restrictions, including the building's fire insurance policy, exist that stipulate the type of space heater permissable. For example, "vented" heaters may be mandated, requiring direct access to outside air in order to reduce fire hazards.

And before you get started in researching specific units, Jennifer, you'd be well advised to review a couple of key governmental documents on space heaters. Please see the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) brochure, by searching for "space heaters" on the cpsc.gov web site (or to receive this free brochure by mail, call the CPSC at 800-638-2772). Please also see the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse brief on space heaters at www.eren.doe.gov/consumerinfo/refbriefs/eb1.html or call 800-DOE-EREC (363-3732).

Since you asked about electric space heaters, we will start by providing manufacturers of this kind of appliance. Precisely which company has the most efficient model depends on your building's needs. We'll simply supply contact information for reliable manufacturers, with whom you can discuss the room's (or rooms') specifications, including size, ceiling height, and number of windows, etc. Once you've obtained product info from individual manufacturers, Jennifer, you will be able to make your own analysis, weighing the purchase price of the units against their cost of operation -- along with any drawbacks they might pose. (Please note our final section on safety tips, which should be passed along to the adult who will operate the appliance.)

Electric radiant heaters are a safe and energy-efficient choice. Because no fuel is involved, they offgas no fumes, and are often chosen by consumers with chemical sensitivities, according to the Radiant Electric Heat, Inc., manfacturers of a portable radiant heater on wheels. Radiant heaters work in the same way that the sun does: instead of heating the air -- which, when hot, rises, thus reducing energy efficiency -- radiant heat is absorbed by objects in its path, which, in turn, radiate back the heat. A drawback: some of the units cost several hundred dollars (depending on size). Go to www.radiantheat.com or call 800-774-4450 to discuss your needs.

Vornado also manufactures a line of electric heaters that use fans to help warmed air circulate -- which can be noiser than fanless models. Go to www.vornado.com (click on products) or call 800-234-0604. DeLonghi is another reliable manufacturer, although phone reps for this Italian company are difficult to access. To view the DeLonghi MG15E Magnum Oil-Filled Radiator, at about $100, go to www.appliances.com (and note that this model is electric -- the oil it uses is sealed off and isn't combusted in any way, but is instead used to transfer heat).

Many space heaters on the market are powered by fuel as well as electricity; propane, natural gas, and kerosene are all common. These models are sold as "vented" -- requiring access to outside air -- and ventless (sometimes "vent-free"). According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, "most building scientists and indoor air quality professionals do not recommended ventless heaters...where small children and elderly persons live or where the heater is likely to be operated for more than two hours per day." The concern: "ventless" heaters often introduce carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) into a room. While new models are subject to codes that reduce risks of tipping over and toxic emissions, we feel hazards still exist. We recommend that you either go to the trouble of venting your heater or go with the more expensive, electric models.

Safety Tips:

Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.


Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater. Keep portable heaters more than three feet (one meter) away from any furniture, drapes, decorations, and walls.


DO NOT leave a portable heater running unattended or while you sleep. Do not use a portable heater in a bedroom.


Use only the approved fuel for your heater. Never use gasoline! Follow the manufacturer's fueling instructions. Fill portable heaters outdoors, wipe up spills, and do not use old or contaminated fuel. Never fill a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater; you must allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers clearly marked for that particular fuel, and store them outdoors.


Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can enter the home causing sickness and death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.


Whenever using an unvented heater, always open a window about a half inch (1.3 cm) to let in fresh air.


If dizziness, drowsiness, chest pain, fainting, or respiratory irritation occurs while using an unvented heater, shut off the heater immediately and move the affected person to where he/she can breathe fresh air.


Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater has the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label attached to it.


Only use portable heaters that have a tip-over safety shut-off device which will automatically extinguish the flame if the heater is knocked over.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

5 Ways To Green Your Christmas Tree

For millions of people, the Christmas tree is an iconic image of the holidays. The smell of pine, the sight of twinkling lights and the colorful packages which lie at its base all conjure up images of warm memories from Christmases past. But unlike the days of yore, today's generations have many options to consider for their holiday tree. This year, make your Christmas tree eco-friendly with five simple tips from the elves at Earth911:

1. Replant or Donate

Want to enjoy the smell and look of a real pine tree without the guilt? This year, purchase a potted living tree from your local nursery that can be replanted after the holidays (climate allowing). A single tree can absorb more than one ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Imagine how much CO2 could be absorbed if we all replanted our trees!

Live in an apartment or don't have a yard to replant a tree? Consider donating your potted tree to your local parks department, church, school or friend.

For years, many considered the purchase of an artificial tree to be the environmentally friendly choice. After all, it meant you wouldn't be responsible for cutting down a tree and you can reuse it year after year. In reality, artificial trees are made from mainly non-renewable plastics, often containing PVC, a petroleum derived plastic. They are non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, meaning their eventual disposal has a significant negative impact to the environment.

Want to upgrade to a living Christmas tree? Donate your old artificial tree to Goodwill or to a local community group.

2. Let There Be LED Light

Make the switch from regular incandescent lights to LED (light emitting diode) lights this season and watch your energy bill and carbon footprint drop. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ten incandescent Christmas light strands, running all night, produce 300 pounds of CO2, versus 30 pounds with LED lights.

If every American home were to switch to LED holiday lights, we could save $160 million in energy costs this season alone. Some famous Christmas trees have already made the switch like the Christmas trees displayed at Rockefeller Plaza and on Capitol Hill, using 90 percent less energy than they had previously.

Convinced you'll make the switch? Don't throw away those old incandescent light strands — recycle them! Holidayleds.com will recycle your incandescent lights for you. Mail them in and the company recycles the lights and the box they were shipped in, and they will send you a coupon for 15 percent off LED light purchases through their site. You can save even more and use those new LED lights on a timer!

3. Make or Buy Recycled Ornaments

Until the mid-19th century, Christmas ornaments were entirely handmade. Families would get together and make ornaments from pine cones, pieces of cloth, wood carvings, fruit and berries. Today, most ornaments are made of plastic or glass and purchased from a retailer.

Try reconnecting with the holiday spirit of Christmases past and make ornaments out of recycled materials. Pine cones, gingerbread cookies cut into shapes, paper chains made of used paper or junk mail, painted old light bulbs or ribbons made from wrapping material all make great recycled Christmas ornaments.

Not the creative type? Many online retailers offer ornaments made of recycled materials for sale.

4. Alternative Christmas Tree

There are some fun alternative options out there for celebrating the holidays with a Christmas tree this year. One of our favorite options is renting a Christmas tree. The Living Christmas Tree Company in Portland, Ore., will deliver you a living Christmas tree, then return and pick up the tree after Christmas and deliver them to local parks, schools and other groups who pay $10 to have the trees planted on their property. It is a great way to enjoy the look and pine scent of a real tree, at the same time ensuring it is replanted after use. And the hard work is done for you!

Or, try adopting a Christmas tree this year. Adopt a Christmas Tree in San Diego, Calif., will deliver a potted living tree to you via singing elves! They set up the tree for you, then pick it up and replant the tree in areas devastated by California fires.

5. Recycle Your Tree With Earth911

Real Christmas trees can be recycled in a variety of ways. They can be turned into mulch and used in gardening and landscaping or chipped and used on hiking trails, paths and walkways. Christmas trees have also been used for erosion control, soil stabilization and shoreline maintenance. When used in this manner, the trees not only stabilize the soil, but also provide habitats for fish, birds, amphibians and mammals.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bottom drops out of recycling industry

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Norm Steenstra's budgeting worries mount with each new load of cardboard, aluminum cans and plastics jugs dumped at West Virginia's largest county recycling center.

Faced with a dramatic slump in the recycling market, the director of the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority has cut 20 of his 24 employees' work week to four days from five, shuttered six of the authority's drop-off stations and is urging residents to hoard their recyclables after informing municipalities with curbside recycling programs that the center will accept only paper until further notice.

"The market is just not there anymore," Steenstra said.

Just months after riding an incredible high, the recycling market has tanked almost in lockstep with the global economic meltdown. As consumer demand for autos, appliances and new homes dropped, so did the steel and pulp mills' demand for scrap, paper and other recyclables.

Cardboard that sold for about $135 a ton in September is now going for $35 a ton. Plastic bottles have fallen from 25 cents to 2 cents a pound. Aluminum cans dropped nearly half to about 40 cents a pound, and scrap metal tumbled from $525 a gross ton to about $100.

It's getting more difficult to find buyers in some markets, Streenstra said.

While few across the country appear to be taking such drastic measures as Streenstra, the recycling market has gotten so bad that haulers in Oregon and Nevada who were once paid for recyclables are now getting nothing or in some cases are having to pay to unload their wares.

In Washington state, what was once a multimillion-dollar revenue source for the city of Seattle may become a liability next year as the city may have to start paying companies to take their materials.

Some in the business are describing the downturn as the worst and fastest ever.

"It's never gone from so good to so bad so fast," said Marty Davis, president of Midland Davis Corp. in Pekin, Ill., who has been in the recycling business since 1975.

The turnaround caught everyone off guard, said Steven Kowalsky, president of Empire Recycling in Utica, N.Y.

"Nobody saw it coming. Absolutely nobody," Kowalsky said. "Even the biggest players didn't see it coming."

At the height of the market just months ago, customers lined the street outside Kowalsky's business, hoping to hawk scrap to pay rising food and fuel costs.

"That's not happening anymore," he said.

The Kanawha County authority, which sells donated recyclables from residents and municipalities, sells about 7,500 tons of paper, plastic and aluminum a year, Steenstra said.

Ted Armbrecht III, managing partner of The Wine Shop at Capital Market in Charleston, says it won't be a problem piling up his recyclables at home, but he doesn't have that luxury with his wine business, which uses a lot of cardboard boxes.

"We'll hold onto it as long as we can, but once it reaches a tipping point, the only other place it's going to go is the dumpster," he said.

Trey Granger, spokesman for Earth911, a national environmental resource group, said the public's interest in recycling should be able to weather the downturn in an industry that has been growing for more than 30 years and has always been cyclical.

"Obviously times are tough," Granger said. "I wouldn't worry more about this more than any other aspect of the economic downturn we're facing."

Last year, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They recycled about 150 million tons of material — roughly 80 million of that in iron and steel — supporting an industry that employs about 85,000 with $70 billion in sales, said Bob Garino, director of commodities at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents more than 1,600 companies worldwide.

Most recyclables are shipped to Asian countries that use the material to make products that are shipped backed to the United States to be sold.

But the market shift is now jeopardizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of long-term contracts for scrap metal as some companies that signed when prices were high are trying to cancel or postpone deliveries to take advantage of the cheaper spot market, Garino said.

Davis, of Midland Davis Corp. in Illinois, said he hopes to wait out the market and may rent warehouse space to store his more perishable recyclables, like paper, until he can find buyers. He has some room to stockpile cans and plastics because in July, when prices were high, he unloaded more material than during any month in the past 10 years.

"It's going to be bleak for a while," he said. "We can just make our piles taller, and hopefully by spring, things will be a little better."

Whether that will come as early as spring is debatable.

"I don't know if we are at the bottom yet, bouncing along the bottom or we have new lows to achieve," Garino said.

The market's not likely to bounce back until the economy improves. Kowalsky estimates it could be several years.

"It's just time to pull in your horns and maintain what you have and try to survive until 2010," he said.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Most Important Barack Obama Appointee: EPA Administrator Short List

Written by Jennifer Lance


President-Elect Barack Obama will inherit a host of problems from outgoing President Bush. From an economy in recession to the Iraq War, cleaning up from eight years of the worst US president is a immense task. Obama has already selected many former rivals, such as Hilary Clinton, for his cabinet, but the most important appointee he will make is the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although the EPA administrator is not a cabinet level position, this may change as Obama faces the crisis of climate change.


Under the Bush administration, the EPA has loss all credibility as an agency that protects Americans from air and water pollution.
According to the Washington Post,

“…over the past eight years, many career employees and rank-and-file scientists have clashed with Bush appointees over a number of those of issues, including whether the federal government should allow California to regulate tailpipe emissions from automobiles…”

Obama has vowed to bring integrity back to the agency by reversing Bush’s executive orders:

“I think the slow chipping away against clean air and clean water has been deeply disturbing. Much of it hasn’t gone through Congress. It was done by fiat. That is something that can be changed by an administration, in part by reinvigorating the EPA, which has been demoralized.”

The importance of who is selected to lead the EPA is so profound, Obama is considering elevating the position to cabinet-level status. In fact, Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, believes,

“The most important challenge facing the new administration is making serious progress on global warming pollution. That includes specific steps such as regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.”
Who will Obama chose for this formidable task? The following is a shortlist of possible EPA candidates being discussed in the mainstream media:

Kathleen McGinty-Former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Head: McGinty served as a top environmental official under President Clinton, and she has promoted renewable energy legislation in Pennsylvania while working with utility companies.
Mary Nichols-California Air Resources Board Leader: Another former Clinton official, Nichols is working on the development of rules to limit heat-trapping emissions from power plants in California. Nichols is Senator Boxer’s top pick for the job.
Ian Bowles-Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Leader: Bowles worked with officials from other Northeast U.S. states to open the first American market for trading greenhouse gas permits.
Kathleen Sibelius-Kansas Governor: Sebelius vetoed the Kansas legislature’s attempt to overrule the denial of a permit to expand a coal-fired power plant.
Lisa Jackson-New Jersey Environmental Commissioner: Jackson is the current co-chair of Barack Obama’s environmental transition team. She has worked at the EPA for 15 years and has focused on hazardous waste clean up and enforcement in New Jersey.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.-Environmental Lawyer: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is probably the most well-known candidate on the shortlist:

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s reputation as a resolute defender of the environment stems from a litany of successful legal actions. Mr. Kennedy was named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his success helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River.

According to Stop Global Warming, Lisa Jackson is the leading candidate to head Obama’s EPA, but no matter who gets the job, the task of curbing the effects of climate change immediately is monumental. Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, explained, “During the last eight years, we have made precious little progress against air pollution and we’ve missed some opportunities.” We can’t afford to miss any more opportunities.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why electric cars have stalled

Facing technical challenges and a weak market, many of Silicon Valley's electric-car startups are changing direction.

1 of 4Wrightspeed's 180-degree turn

Full story: Why electric cars have stalled

The Wrightspeed X1, a sports car whose three-second acceleration from 0 to 60 makes it one of the fastest autos in the world, is also super-clean: It's powered by an electric motor and gets about 170 mpg. Ian Wright, the Burlingame, Calif., entrepreneur who created the X1 several years ago, had planned on ramping up production on a line of similar electric cars in 2009. But over the summer, he changed his mind.
"It's one thing to build electric cars, but it's another to go out and get some kind of respectable market size and funding," Wright says. "At this stage of the game, when oil is cheap and batteries still expensive, spending two to three -times the price on an electric car doesn't really make sense."

In a 180-degree turn from where his company, Wrightspeed, was a year ago, Wright has completely abandoned the concept of bringing an electric car to market. Instead, while he waits for the electric vehicle market to mature, Wright is focusing on a more lucrative venture: Wrightspeed will make and sell electric powertrains - the battery pack, software, and other components that generate power to a vehicle - to existing car and truck manufacturer.

"We're not looking at GM or Tesla Motors," Wright says. "Electric vehicles for the mass-market - that's at least 20 years away."

By Maggie Overfelt

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama Likely to Boost Water Quality Rules After Years of Lax Regulation

By Kent Garber

The Obama administration and the next Congress are being urged, by a growing number of academics, environmentalists, and lawmakers, to address the country's water problems, including its dwindling supplies, inadequate environmental protections, and stalled cleanup efforts.

the past decade, a potent combination of Supreme Court decisions, Bush administration regulatory actions, and congressional inaction—coupled with recent droughts and the specter of more pronounced problems from climate change—has helped breed crises of both water quality and water availability, they say.

At the top of their priority list: reviving federal laws—particularly the Clean Water Act—that have been weakened or narrowly interpreted in recent years; boosting funding for the nation's faltering and aging water infrastructure; and strengthening the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of water pollution from industry and power plants.

Many of these priorities appear to align with those of Barack Obama. In his remarks about a stimulus package last week, Obama stressed the need for infrastructure improvement. During the campaign, he touted his support for water protection in battleground states like Florida, pledging to help protect and restore the Florida Everglades. His campaign advisers, meantime, say he will support legislation to restore the full scope of environmental laws that were weakened under the current administration.

Environmentalists want him to start by rejuvenating the Clean Water Act—the main water-pollution control act in the United States. Passed in 1972, the law was interpreted by both Congress and the courts for nearly 30 years as protecting virtually all federal waters. But in 2001, and again in 2006, the Supreme Court handed down rulings that served, in effect, to limit the law's reach.

Now, more than 20 million acres of wetlands, along with more than half of the country's steams and rivers, are more vulnerable to pollution as a result of the court's decisions and EPA rules that have followed. "Clean water enforcement is essentially broken at this point," says Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm that has prosecuted many of the most high-profile environmental cases of the past decade. Moreover, because of uncertainty resulting from the court's 2006 decision, the EPA has delayed processing hundreds of environmental violations.

To return the Clean Water Act to its original standing, environmentalists are asking Congress to pass legislation clarifying that the law applies not just to main waterways or waterways closely linked to main waterways, as some justices on the Supreme Court have argued, but to all types of federal waters. Such a bill already has been proposed by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer and has been endorsed in principle by Obama. "I would not be surprised if that actually got passed within the first few years of the Obama administration," says Florida State law Prof. Robin Craig, one of the nation's top experts on water law.

Another concern is the condition of the nation's sewage systems and water treatment facilities. There is bipartisan consensus that the nation's water infrastructure is in urgent need of repair. "The nation's sewage infrastructure for the 21st century is in abominable shape," says Mulhern.

In June, presaging an argument he made last week supporting a second stimulus package, Obama told a crowd in Flint, Mich., "If we want to keep up with China or Europe, we can't settle for crumbling roads and bridges, aging water and sewer pipes. It's gotten so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our national infrastructure a D. " Environmentalists are hopeful that any stimulus package Obama assembles will include at least $10 billion for water treatment systems and water-related projects. They note that the Clean Water Act at one point provided $1.35 billion a year for infrastructure improvements. Because of recent budget strains, that amount has been cut by more than half.

And as Craig and others point out, water quality is only half the battle. Water supply is the other half. "We are running out of water, and I do not say that facetiously," she says. Large parts of the United States depend on aquifers—such as the Ogallala aquifer under Texas and Oklahoma—that contain what Craig calls "fossil water" and are unlikely to refill.

Climate change is exacerbating water problems in many regions and water shortages are, in turn, making water quality issues more extreme. "These are not unrelated issues," says Craig. "If you don't have enough water in a river, you make whatever pollutants are there worse because they're more concentrated."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Studies find laser printers emit lung-damaging particles on the order of cigarette smoking

By Rick C. Hodgin
!
Berlin (Germany) - Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, a German research company that just completed a study on laser printer emissions, reports that volatile organic-chemical emissions (ozone), silicon oil, paraffin and ultra-fine particles are emitted during laser printing. Though they don't go into significant detail on the health-related issues. However, several previous Australian research studies show that the particle emissions are comparable to cigarette smoking. The Australian study also suggests that printer companies should be regulated by the government as their products are often a major source of inter-office air pollution.

There is a particular smell emitted when laser printers are in use. It's ozone, the "volatile organic-chemical" identified in these studies. In relatively high concentrations above 1 ppm, it can cause irritation to eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Most people can smell it in much lower concentrations though, even down to 0.01 ppm. It is interesting to note that ozone is responsible for the cracking found in old car tires. Modern tires have additives which prevent damage from ozone.

Because of the ozone smell, many consumers were concerned the redolent emissions were either toxic, carcinogenic or both. The studies so far indicate that, while they aren't 100% sure, all of the mechanisms are in place to effectively deliver toxic or carcinogenic particles.


Innocuous paraffins and silicon oils

The studies found that even printers which do not use toner, but rather some form of high heat printing mechanisms (like FAX machines), also emit certain types of chemicals. These gather and collate in the air and form ultra-fine particles of both silicon oil and paraffins.

Silicon oil is innocuous. It is comprised of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen and is one of the two main ingredients in Silly Putty (with boric acid being the other) which children often eat. It has countless electrical and medical uses as a non-conducting, nontoxic lubricant. Sometimes it is added to cooking oils to reduce foaming at high temperatures. It's also non-flammable.

Paraffin is equally innocuous: It is the name for any of a series of hydrocarbons in the form CnH(2n+2), such as C20H42, which is paraffin wax. Or, the simplest form of paraffin, which is methane (CH4). Other forms include octane, kerosene and mineral oil. The name paraffin comes from the Latin parum and affinis, which means "lacking affinity" or, more specifically, "lacking reactivity." Various paraffin forms are found in all kinds of edible applications, including candies, chewing gums, waxy cheese packages, canning topping, and are used because of their low health danger.


Possibly dangerous toner particles

The Fraunhofer study, which was paid for by "the printer and copier manufacturers in a German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, called BITKOM," found that the laser printers emit almost no particles of toner. However, several previous studies found many toner particle emissions.

The previously identified trends indicate also that when toner cartridges are new, they emit more particles than when they are old. Also, when printing heavy graphics or when large amounts of toner are used on the print surface, particle emissions grow.

These toner particles are of particular interest in the medical field, because they are comprised of both extremely tiny and very large particles.

According to a mid-August, 2007 article in the American Chemical Society's semi-monthly Environment Science and Technology journal, the smallest particles can find their way into the deepest lung crevices. The larger particles, on the other hand, are capable of gathering and carrying a multitude of toxins into the body.


Regulations proposed

The 2007 Australian findings were incidental. The researchers were originally looking at alternate sources of pollution. However, during the course of their study, they realized that office laser printers were increasing indoor air pollution by about 500%. These studies found the dangers high enough to prompt a call for governmental regulation.

According to Lidia Morawska, a PhD working with the American Chemical Society, "It wasn't an area that we consciously decided to study. We came across it by chance. Initially we were studying the efficiency of ventilation systems to protect office settings from outdoor air pollutants. We soon realized that we were seeing air pollution originating indoors, from laser printers."

The study indicated the 500% increase from laser printer operations alone. She goes on to say, "By all means, this is an important indoor source of pollution. There should be regulations."


These earlier, reports of the dangers of air pollution from laser printers came out in 2007. The Fraunhofer report was released today. And whereas Fraunhofer indicates the same kind of particles found in the atmosphere as the previous reports, they do not go into details relating to health side-effects.

Since "technical and financial support was provided by the printer and copier manufacturers in the German Association (BITCOM)," we cannot help but wonder why they did not disclose the full health ramifications or to fully describe the particle emissions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

10 Big Energy Myths

#1
In reality, today's bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun's energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun's light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.

Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun's energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.

Myth 2: wind power is too unreliable

Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK's electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today's fossil fuel prices.

The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.

We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by
pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing "smart grids" that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world's electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.

Myth 3: marine energy is a dead-end

The thin channel of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and Orkney contains some of the most concentrated tidal power in the world. The energy from the peak flows may well be greater than the electricity needs of London. Similarly, the waves off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal are strong, consistent and able to provide a substantial fraction of the region's power. Designing and building machines that can survive the harsh conditions of fast-flowing ocean waters has been challenging and the past decades have seen repeated disappointments here and abroad. This year we have seen the installation of the first tidal turbine to be successfully connected to the UK electricity grid in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, and the first group of large-scale wave power generators 5km off the coast of Portugal, constructed by a Scottish company.

But even though the UK shares with Canada, South Africa and parts of South America some of the best marine energy resources in the world, financial support has been trifling. The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years. Danish support for wind power helped that country establish worldwide leadership in the building of turbines; the UK could do the same with wave and tidal power.

Myth 4: nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity

If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.

The new nuclear power station on the island of Olkiluoto in western Finland is a clear example. Electricity production was originally supposed to start this year, but the latest news is that the power station will not start generating until 2012. The impact on the cost of the project has been dramatic. When the contracts were signed, the plant was supposed to cost €3bn (£2.5bn). The final cost is likely to be more than twice this figure and the construction process is fast turning into a nightmare. A second new plant in Normandy appears to be experiencing similar problems. In the US, power companies are backing away from nuclear because of fears over uncontrollable costs.

Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity. A sustained research effort around the world might also mean that cost-effective carbon capture is available before the next generation of nuclear plants is ready, and that it will be possible to fit carbon-capture equipment on existing coal-fired power stations. Finding a way to roll out CO2 capture is the single most important research challenge the world faces today. The current leader, the Swedish power company Vattenfall, is using an innovative technology that burns the coal in pure oxygen rather than air, producing pure carbon dioxide from its chimneys, rather than expensively separating the CO2 from other exhaust gases. It hopes to be operating huge coal-fired power stations with minimal CO2 emissions by 2020.

Myth 5: electric cars are slow and ugly

We tend to think that electric cars are all like the G Wiz vehicle, with a limited range, poor acceleration and an unprepossessing appearance. Actually, we are already very close to developing electric cars that match the performance of petrol vehicles. The Tesla electric sports car, sold in America but designed by Lotus in Norfolk, amazes all those who experience its awesome acceleration. With a price tag of more than $100,000, late 2008 probably wasn't a good time to launch a luxury electric car, but the Tesla has demonstrated to everybody that electric cars can be exciting and desirable. The crucial advance in electric car technology has been in batteries: the latest lithium batteries - similar to the ones in your laptop - can provide large amounts of power for acceleration and a long enough range for almost all journeys.

Batteries still need to become cheaper and quicker to charge, but the UK's largest manufacturer of electric vehicles says that advances are happening faster than ever before. Its urban delivery van has a range of over 100 miles, accelerates to 70mph and has running costs of just over 1p per mile. The cost of the diesel equivalent is probably 20 times as much. Denmark and Israel have committed to develop the full infrastructure for a switch to an all-electric car fleet. Danish cars will be powered by the spare electricity from the copious resources of wind power; the Israelis will provide solar power harvested from the desert.

Myth 6: biofuels are always destructive to the environment

Making some of our motor fuel from food has been an almost unmitigated disaster. It has caused hunger and increased the rate of forest loss, as farmers have sought extra land on which to grow their crops. However the failure of the first generation of biofuels should not mean that we should reject the use of biological materials forever. Within a few years we will be able to turn agricultural wastes into liquid fuels by splitting cellulose, the most abundant molecule in plants and trees, into simple hydrocarbons. Chemists have struggled to find a way of breaking down this tough compound cheaply, but huge amounts of new capital have flowed into US companies that are working on making a petrol substitute from low-value agricultural wastes. In the lead is Range Fuels, a business funded by the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which is now building its first commercial cellulose cracking plant in Georgia using waste wood from managed forests as its feedstock.

We shouldn't be under any illusion that making petrol from cellulose is a solution to all the problems of the first generation of biofuels. Although cellulose is abundant, our voracious needs for liquid fuel mean we will have to devote a significant fraction of the world's land to growing the grasses and wood we need for cellulose refineries. Managing cellulose production so that it doesn't reduce the amount of food produced is one of the most important issues we face.

Myth 7: climate change means we need more organic agriculture

The uncomfortable reality is that we already struggle to feed six billion people. Population numbers will rise to more than nine billion by 2050. Although food production is increasing slowly, the growth rate in agricultural productivity is likely to decline below population increases within a few years. The richer half of the world's population will also be eating more meat. Since animals need large amounts of land for every unit of meat they produce, this further threatens food production for the poor. So we need to ensure that as much food as possible is produced on the limited resources of good farmland. Most studies show that yields under organic cultivation are little more than half what can be achieved elsewhere. Unless this figure can be hugely improved, the implication is clear: the world cannot feed its people and produce huge amounts of cellulose for fuels if large acreages are converted to organic cultivation.

Myth 8: zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings

Buildings are responsible for about half the world's emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK's insistence that all new homes are "zero carbon" by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.

Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.

Myth 9: the most efficient power stations are big

Large, modern gas-fired power stations can turn about 60% of the energy in fuel into electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat.

Even though 5-10% of the electricity will be lost in transmission to the user, efficiency has still been far better than small-scale local generation of power. This is changing fast.

New types of tiny combined heat and power plants are able to turn about half the energy in fuel into electricity, almost matching the efficiency of huge generators. These are now small enough to be easily installed in ordinary homes. Not only will they generate electricity but the surplus heat can be used to heat the house, meaning that all the energy in gas is productively used. Some types of air conditioning can even use the heat to power their chillers in summer.

We think that microgeneration means wind turbines or solar panels on the roof, but efficient combined heat and power plants are a far better prospect for the UK and elsewhere. Within a few years, we will see these small power plants, perhaps using cellulose-based renewable fuels and not just gas, in many buildings. Korea is leading the way by heavily subsidising the early installation of fuel cells at office buildings and other large electricity users.

Myth 10: all proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech

The advanced economies are obsessed with finding hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world's poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.

Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years. The original agricultural wastes had captured CO2 from the air through the photosynthesis process; biochar is a low-tech way of sequestering carbon, effectively for ever. As importantly, biochar improves fertility in a wide variety of tropical soils. Beneficial micro-organisms seem to crowd into the pores of the small pieces of crushed charcoal. A network of practical engineers around the tropical world is developing the simple stoves needed to make the charcoal. A few million dollars of support would allow their research to benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers at the same time as extracting large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ocean currents can power the world

A revolutionary device that can harness energy from slow-moving rivers and ocean currents could provide enough power for the entire world, scientists claim.

By Jasper Copping

Existing technologies require an average current of five or six knots to operate efficiently, while most of the earth's currents are slower than three knots The technology can generate electricity in water flowing at a rate of less than one knot - about one mile an hour - meaning it could operate on most waterways and sea beds around the globe.

Existing technologies which use water power, relying on the action of waves, tides or faster currents created by dams, are far more limited in where they can be used, and also cause greater obstructions when they are built in rivers or the sea. Turbines and water mills need an average current of five or six knots to operate efficiently, while most of the earth's currents are slower than three knots.

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

Cylinders arranged over a cubic metre of the sea or river bed in a flow of three knots can produce 51 watts. This is more efficient than similar-sized turbines or wave generators, and the amount of power produced can increase sharply if the flow is faster or if more cylinders are added.

A "field" of cylinders built on the sea bed over a 1km by 1.5km area, and the height of a two-storey house, with a flow of just three knots, could generate enough power for around 100,000 homes. Just a few of the cylinders, stacked in a short ladder, could power an anchored ship or a lighthouse.

Systems could be sited on river beds or suspended in the ocean. The scientists behind the technology, which has been developed in research funded by the US government, say that generating power in this way would potentially cost only around 3.5p per kilowatt hour, compared to about 4.5p for wind energy and between 10p and 31p for solar power. They say the technology would require up to 50 times less ocean acreage than wave power generation.

The system, conceived by scientists at the University of Michigan, is called Vivace, or "vortex-induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy".

Michael Bernitsas, a professor of naval architecture at the university, said it was based on the changes in water speed that are caused when a current flows past an obstruction. Eddies or vortices, formed in the water flow, can move objects up and down or left and right.

"This is a totally new method of extracting energy from water flow," said Mr Bernitsas. "Fish curve their bodies to glide between the vortices shed by the bodies of the fish in front of them. Their muscle power alone could not propel them through the water at the speed they go, so they ride in each other's wake."

Such vibrations, which were first observed 500 years ago by Leonardo DaVinci in the form of "Aeolian Tones", can cause damage to structures built in water, like docks and oil rigs. But Mr Bernitsas added: "We enhance the vibrations and harness this powerful and destructive force in nature.

"If we could harness 0.1 per cent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people. In the English Channel, for example, there is a very strong current, so you produce a lot of power."

Because the parts only oscillate slowly, the technology is likely to be less harmful to aquatic wildlife than dams or water turbines. And as the installations can be positioned far below the surface of the sea, there would be less interference with shipping, recreational boat users, fishing and tourism.

The engineers are now deploying a prototype device in the Detroit River, which has a flow of less than two knots. Their work, funded by the US Department of Energy and the US Office of Naval Research, is published in the current issue of the quarterly Journal of Offshore Mechanics and Arctic Engineering.

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Geothermal Heat Pumps Could Power the Future

By Michael Schirber, Special to LiveScience

A schematic of a typical geothermal heat pump with an additional hot water heater. Credit: Geo-Heat Center Editor's Note: Each Wednesday LiveScience examines the viability of emerging energy technologies — the power of the future.

The term "geothermal energy" might bring to mind hot springs and billows of steam rising from the soil, but you can get energy from the ground without moving to Iceland or Yellowstone. You just need a geothermal heat pump.

"We call anything below the ground geothermal," said John Lund, director of the Geo-Heat Center at the Oregon Institute of Technology.

This includes geothermal heating, in which hot underground water is used to heat a building, and geothermal power, in which steam from very hot underground rock (more than 300 degrees Fahrenheit) is used to drive an electric generator.

However, these hydrothermal resources are only available in select areas. A geothermal heat pump (sometimes called a ground source heat pump) can work anywhere.

"They are the fastest growing geothermal use in the world," Lund told LiveScience, with about 20 percent annual growth.

Refrigerate the outdoors

If you've ever touched the tubes on the back of a working refrigerator, you know that it is pulling heat from the inside and radiating it to the rest of the kitchen.

A heat pump is like a refrigerator run backwards. It pulls heat from outdoors (as if it were trying to cool the outside) and releases it indoors.

In both a fridge and a heat pump, a system of tubes circulates a refrigerant fluid that becomes hot when compressed and cold when expanded.

To heat a home, the hot compressed fluid is typically passed through a heat exchanger that warms the air that feeds into a duct system. This "spent" fluid is then cooled through expansion and brought into contact with a ground source, so it can "recharge" with heat.

Although pumping the fluid requires electricity, a geothermal heat pump is more efficient than any alternative heating system. In fact, current models can produce as much as 4 kilowatts of heat for every 1 kilowatt of electricity. This is because they are not generating heat, but rather moving it from the outside.

And some heat pumps can cool as well as heat a home. A valve controls the direction of the fluid, so that heat can flow in both directions.

Down to earth

Some people are familiar with heat pumps that exchange heat with the air outside. These sometimes get lukewarm reviews because they do not work well when the temperature drops below freezing — just when you need them the most.

Geothermal heat pumps overcome this problem by exchanging heat with the ground, which maintains a constant temperature between 45 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the location.

"You wouldn't notice the difference between a home with a geothermal heat pump and one with a gas furnace," Lund said.

There are a number of ways to pull heat from the ground.

The most popular is a vertical geothermal heat pump, in which holes are drilled 150 to 200 feet below the surface. Pipes installed in these holes circulate water (with a dash of anti-freeze) that brings up heat to warm the refrigerant fluid.

An alternative is the horizontal heat pump, where the water-filled pipes are laid about 6 feet deep over a wide area. Although less expensive, these systems require a lot of land to heat a moderate-size building.

For those who live near a body of water or who have their own water well, it is possible to use that water directly as the outside heat source.

Ground swell

The biggest drawback for geothermal heat pumps is that their initial cost can be several times that of traditional heating and cooling systems. The installation for a typical house can run from $6,000 to $13,000, according to ToolBase Services, a housing industry resource.

However, geothermal heat pumps can pay for themselves over time with reduced energy bills. A homeowner can save 30 to 70 percent on heating and 20 to 50 percent on cooling costs over conventional systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

This may be why their popularity is growing. The United States leads the way with close to a million geothermal heat pumps, mostly in the Midwest and East Coast. Another million units can be found throughout Europe and Canada.

"Maybe in Antarctica it wouldn't work, but everywhere else it does," Lund said.

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