Thursday, October 30, 2008

7 Bad Habits of Eco-Design Driven Consumers

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by Rebecca Silver

Inhabitat is proud to present our readers with the world’s most exciting developments in future-forward design. Still, the stunning array of beautiful green furnishings and stylish products available today presents certain questions about the responsible consumption of green goods. The time has come address these challenges and take an in-depth look at our collective green habits. Read on for a list of seven bad habits of Eco-Design driven consumers, and the first steps that begin the road to recovery.

First let’s take a step back, to a time when consumers were more concerned with style and less so with sustainability. As design-savvy consumers, we are lovers of stuff – sleek gadgets, ironic and iconic furniture pieces, cleverly presented graphic information, and chic well-adorned abodes. We consume this stuff in accordance with what our pocketbooks allow, dictated by trend cycles, product availability, and spurts of technological innovation.
As eco-conscious design consumers, we opt for green alternatives to get our buying fix. We purchase energy-star rated and water efficient appliances, carefully research the best sustainable seats before procurement, and go out of our way to buy ethical organic threads. Yet what we buy is often less important than how we choose use an object - a concept that is often ignored.
As drivers of trends in architecture, interiors, furniture, fashion, transportation, and gadgets, Inhabitat advocates careful consumption by educating our readers about the sustainable aspects of these subjects. Lets turn this up a notch by exploring the bad habits of design junkies and the good habits of truly green consumers in more detail.
Flow: Antidotes for Overconsumption
Step 1: Recognize you have a Problem
Being a design junky is not unlike other addictions (when taken to extremes of course). As constant consumers, we abuse our credit cards, over-consume our fair share of the resources and materials used to create and to operate these products, willingly dispose of and neglect out-of-date fashions, and encourage others to follow our lead as ‘trend setters,’ creating ‘hotbeds’ of design. Let’s start down the road to recovery, becoming conscious users rather than greedy over-consumers.

Start by Calculating your Ecological Footprint
By using this footprint calculator, or a similar assessment tool you can find a rough estimate of the amount of resources you consume in relation to the biological capacity of the planet. You’ll notice that a huge number of the impacts represented deal with the products we consume: electronics, clothing, furniture, food, our behaviors surrounding these products, and the spaces we inhabit. By retaking the test, and inserting adjustments for improved consumer behavior, you will be able to drastically reduce your impact.
Addressing Bad Consumption Habits with Salient Solutions

1. Bad Habit: Being a Slave to Fashion Trends
Oftentimes design consumption is dictated by the whims of Industry-determined trend cycles and flashy fashion-forward products . Yet keeping up with trends in practice means revamping your wardrobe and home on the cycles of the industry: 6+ times a year for fashion and between 1-5 years for home redesign.
Good Habit: Consume on a Replacement Cycle
Purchase a new item to replace an old, rather than continuously increasing your possessions and decreasing your closet space. Choose new or new to you products wisely as those that allow you the versatility to outlast fads, with the durability to survive beyond the expected use of the average designer shirt.
Reclaimed and repaired furniture by Jamie Ward
2. Bad Habit: Wearing Through your Shoes
Another unfortunate consequence of industry product cycles is their tendency to limit the lifecycles of the items we consume. Whereas once products such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, and home furnishings were expected to last for decades, they are now commonly seen as replaceable items to be worn out and cast aside.
Good Habit: Letting your Shoes Wear You
As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or in this case a dumpster full of worn-out goods that could have been salvaged with a little bit of TLC. Taking the time to fix and maintain your possessions is always more efficient than consuming an entirely new product, so wash your clothes with cold water, repair run down appliances, and treat interior furnishings so that they will last.

3. Bad Habit: Hardwiring your Ego to your Electronics
We live in a digital age of constant connection where we are constantly being bombarded with information. While we’re busy surfing the web, listening to our ipods on the stereo, and twittering away on our cellphones, it’s all too easy to lose track of the massive energy load that these devices consume.
Good Habit: Sometimes You need to Unplug – And we mean this in a ‘Matrix’ sort of way
The best way to cut down on unnecessary energy use is to simply pull the plug on any piece of gear that you are not currently using. Computer adapters, household appliances, and even cell phone chargers constantly suck up energy so long as they remain plugged in. By wisely choosing the devices you are use at any given moment and unplugging the rest, you can kill vampire power sinks while saving money on your bill.

4. Bad Habit: Using too much Energy to run your Energy Efficient Products
Although your appliances tote the Energy Star and Water Sense logos, this doesn’t make you immune to over-consuming energy and water. Your energy efficient appliances will not scold you for running the dishwasher or washing machine when only half full, or for taking 30 minute long showers. Your LEED certified home will not prevent you from keeping your thermostat set at 80 degrees in the winter and 55 in the summer, and your low-flush toilet and faucet aerator certainly won’t fix themselves when they spring a leak or drip continuously. You have to do these things yourself.
Good Habit: Properly Use your Appliances to Maximize Efficiency
Maintaining efficient appliances has as much to do with behavior as it does with the machine itself. In our greener appliances series we showed you how to maximize the efficiency of your refrigerator, washer, dryer, and dishwasher. But these tips only represent the tip of the iceberg in curbing your utility consumption. Visit organizations such as the NRDC to learn more about reducing your household energy and water use.
Jet Trails by Chris Jordan
5. Bad Habit: Jet Setting Around
With the rise in the cost of gas (and pretty much everything else in the US these days) you may have temporarily curbed your jet-setting lifestyle by carpooling to work and taking vacations closer to home. The reality is that the need to conserve these resources is not a temporary situation and therefore demands lasting changes in how you choose to travel for work as well as for personal trips. It’s time to address how to fulfill these needs in the long run, while permanently curbing your personal dependence on energy, resource, and space-intensive forms of transportation.
Good Habit: Engaging with your Local Surrounds
Reevaluate how you live and work. In the long run, you may cut down on commute time by choosing to move closer to your employer, or to instead telecommute to work. Seek out teleconferences rather than attending in person. Downsize your vehicle by driving an efficient scooter rather than a car and consider using car sharing programs such as ZipCar, or renting vehicles when you need to rather than owning your own car. For vacations, budget your travel time, by making long plane and car trips the exception rather than the norm, and use mass forms of transit, such as trains whenever possible. And don’t forget to bike, walk, and use human power to propel you where you need to go.

6. Bad Habit: Keeping Up with the Jones’
Your new ‘green home’ resembles a McMansion, complete with an energy efficient swimming pool and LED lighting illuminating the walkway and circle drive. Despite your best attempts to green your dwelling, your home still has a massive footprint, housing your family, possessions, and sustainable lifestyle. Since the 1970s’ the average American home has grown by more than 500sq ft, while the average family size has decreased (says the New York Times Almanac). This incongruity should signal that our want for space has surpassed our needs, incurring higher costs (environmentally and monetarily) to heat and cool, to build and maintain your home, and to fill up that space with the furnishings that make a house a home.
Good Habit: Live Well by Living Small
We’re not saying you have to emulate Ghandi by giving away all your worldly possessions, but consider how well you can live by living small. Design spaces to be multifunctional, de-clutter your home and tear down walls to let in natural light, creating the impression of space. Inhabitat’s archives are rich with suggestions and sources of inspiration for comfortable, functional, and beautiful small spaces.

7. Bad Habit: Do as I say not as I do
You believe in recycling, but throw away your used appliances and electronics. You buy organic produce but let food go to waste when you don’t eat leftovers. You’re passionate about saving resources, but don’t cut down your driving in lieu of public transportation. You carry a cloth bag to the grocery store, but fill it with disposable, overly packaged products. You’re motto is ‘do as I say, but not as I do’ when making these decisions.
Good Habit: Lead by Example
Make a commitment to practice what you preach and encourage your cohorts to do the same, be they your work colleagues, or little inhabitots who look to you to shape their developing values. Share these environmental values further by emphasizing the importance of these personal actions to those who look to you for guidance, or as green expert or role model. Beyond sharing your expertise, work with your family and community to help more people adopt the sustainable practices you have embraced in your own life, volunteer your time, and network with like-minded people through groups such as Green Drinks or the o2 Sustainable Design Network.

About BOSCH
“Bosch is committed to preserving the environment through innovative approaches to the products we manufacture, as well as the partnerships we form with key leaders in sustainable construction and design. Sustainability, responsibility and continuous improvement are the tenets of our company and are shared by our partners across the United States.
Bosch practices low-impact manufacturing processes while designing the most efficient machines on the market. In fact, we introduced a global integrated management system for environmental issues that makes certain we maintain our high standards for environmental responsibility wherever our operations take us.
Bosch regards innovation as something more than exceptional product quality, functionality and design. Not only our technical developments, but also our commitment to society has an effect on the world of tomorrow.”

+ Bosch Green Thinking Resource Center
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

50% Better Fuel Economy and 40% Lower Emissions

UPS is First in Delivery Industry to Test Hydraulic Hybrid Vehicles
Written by Nick Chambers


In partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency, UPS will begin testing a small fleet of hydraulic hybrid delivery trucks in the United States. The new vehicles can achieve 50-70% better fuel economy, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and pay for their extra expense in less than 3 years.


UPS will field two hydraulic hybrids in Minneapolis, MN, in early 2009 and an additional five hydraulic hybrid trucks will be deployed later in 2009 and early 2010. Although this sounds like a tiny fleet, keep in mind that this is the largest scale commercial test of hydraulic hybrids ever conducted.

The UPS hybrid hydraulic truck is a standard-looking 24,000 pound package car, with an EPA-patented diesel series hydraulic hybrid drive attached to the rear axle.


In a series hydraulic hybrid, the conventional drivetrain is replaced with a hydraulic system that stores energy by compressing gas in a chamber using hydraulic fluid. It works in much the same way that a hybrid electric car does — a small, efficient motor generates power which gets stored for later use — only, the way energy is stored in a hydraulic hybrid is in a pressurized chamber rather than in a battery.

The hydraulic hybrid drivetrain eliminates the need for a conventional transmission and increases fuel economy in three ways:

A large amount of the energy that is otherwise wasted in braking can be recovered to pressurize the hydraulic fluid.
The engine operates much more efficiently — similar to a hybrid electric car, only without the bulky batteries
The engine can easily be shut off and instantaneously restarted during regular driving — such as when the vehicle is slowing down or stopped at a light.
UPS has been developing what it calls its “green fleet” over the last several years and currently has more than 1,600 low carbon emissions vehicles including electric, hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, and propane trucks.

Although this is a small step, I applaud UPS for testing the waters. Hopefully others will join in quickly.

50% Better Fuel Economy and 40% Lower Emissions

UPS is First in Delivery Industry to Test Hydraulic Hybrid Vehicles
Written by Nick Chambers


In partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency, UPS will begin testing a small fleet of hydraulic hybrid delivery trucks in the United States. The new vehicles can achieve 50-70% better fuel economy, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and pay for their extra expense in less than 3 years.


UPS will field two hydraulic hybrids in Minneapolis, MN, in early 2009 and an additional five hydraulic hybrid trucks will be deployed later in 2009 and early 2010. Although this sounds like a tiny fleet, keep in mind that this is the largest scale commercial test of hydraulic hybrids ever conducted.

The UPS hybrid hydraulic truck is a standard-looking 24,000 pound package car, with an EPA-patented diesel series hydraulic hybrid drive attached to the rear axle.


In a series hydraulic hybrid, the conventional drivetrain is replaced with a hydraulic system that stores energy by compressing gas in a chamber using hydraulic fluid. It works in much the same way that a hybrid electric car does — a small, efficient motor generates power which gets stored for later use — only, the way energy is stored in a hydraulic hybrid is in a pressurized chamber rather than in a battery.

The hydraulic hybrid drivetrain eliminates the need for a conventional transmission and increases fuel economy in three ways:

A large amount of the energy that is otherwise wasted in braking can be recovered to pressurize the hydraulic fluid.
The engine operates much more efficiently — similar to a hybrid electric car, only without the bulky batteries
The engine can easily be shut off and instantaneously restarted during regular driving — such as when the vehicle is slowing down or stopped at a light.
UPS has been developing what it calls its “green fleet” over the last several years and currently has more than 1,600 low carbon emissions vehicles including electric, hybrid-electric, compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, and propane trucks.

Although this is a small step, I applaud UPS for testing the waters. Hopefully others will join in quickly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Solar Thermal Power May Make Sun-Powered Grid a Reality

It's solar's new dawn. For five decades solar technologies have delivered more promises than power. Now, new Breakthrough Award–winning innovations are exiting the lab and plugging into the grid—turning sunlight into serious energy.

By Alex Hutchinson


Solar Stirling Engine: Each Stirling Energy SunCatcher dish can produce 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year—enough to power a dozen U.S. homes. (Photograph by Jamey Stillings)

Planted in the New Mexico desert near Albuquerque, the six solar dish engines of the Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia National Laboratories look a bit like giant, highly reflective satellite dishes. Each one is a mosaic of 82 mirrors that fit together to form a 38-ft-wide parabola. The mirrors’ precise curvature focuses light onto a 7-in. area. At its most intense spot, the heat is equivalent to a blistering 13,000 suns, producing a flux 13 times greater than the space shuttle experiences during re-entry. “That’ll melt almost anything known to man,” says Sandia engineer Chuck Andraka. “It’s incredibly hot.”

The heat is used to run a Stirling engine, an elegant 192-year-old technology that creates mechanical energy from an external heat source, as opposed to the internal fuel combustion that powers most auto­mobile engines. Hydrogen gas in a Stirling engine’s four 95 cc cylinders expands and contracts as it is heated and cooled, driving pistons to turn a small electric generator. The configuration of the dish and engine represent the fruit of more than a decade of steady improvements, developed in collaboration with Arizona-based Stirling Energy Systems.

On a crisp morning this past January, Andraka and his colleagues fired up Dish No. 3. The temperature was around freezing, and the sky was 8 percent brighter than average—the contrast between the cold air and the hot sun helps the engine run more efficiently. When power began to flow from the 25-kilowatt system, it did so with the highest conversion efficiency ever recorded in a commercial solar device: 31.25 percent of the energy shining onto the giant dish flowed into the grid.

To Bruce Osborn, president and CEO of Stirling Energy, this merely confirmed something that he already knew: The system, which his company calls the SunCatcher, was ready to exit the laboratory. “The rocket science is already done,” he says. The challenge remaining is to turn the prototypes into a low-cost, mass-producible design—“just a question of good, old-fashioned engineering,” according to Osborn. To that end, Stirling Energy signed the two largest solar energy contracts in history with two Southern California utilities, promising to build up to 70,000 SunCatchers and provide power for a million homes. Construction starts next year.

Big promises from solar power companies are nothing new. “It is stern work to thrust your hand into the sun and pull out a spark of immortal flame to warm the hearts of men,” an AT&T publicity film crowed after the invention of the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell in 1954. “Yet in this modern age, men have at last harnessed the sun.”

Well, sort of. The Bell Solar Battery, as it was called, had some successes—powering the first communications satellite, in 1962, for instance—but hopes of cheap, plentiful energy have remained elusive.

PV cells and concentrating solar thermal (CST), the two basic methods for harnessing the sun’s power, have made great strides since those early days. But inflation in the cost of raw materials, such as silicon, combined with decades of cheap fossil fuels has kept overall solar energy consumption in the U.S. at 0.08 percent. And a series of new technologies that looked promising in the lab have proved impractical on the open market, leaving many observers to conclude that the age of solar energy will always remain just around the corner.

Meanwhile, though, almost under the radar, a few solar technologies have reached maturity. A type of silicon-free solar panel, half as expensive as silicon cells, has rapidly turned Arizona-based First Solar into the biggest solar-panel maker in the country. And along with Stirling Energy’s SunCatcher, new CST designs promise to provide a steady flow of solar electricity—even at night.


Solar Thermal

How It Works: Solar Stirling Engine(Illustration by Dogo)
Big power utilities love CST for two reasons, says Reese Tisdale, a senior analyst at Emerging Energy Research, based in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s large-scale and it’s [usually] steam-powered, so it’s not so different from the gas- and coal-fired plants they’re familiar with.” The idea is not new—in fact, nine CST plants with a combined capacity of 354 megawatts have been operating in the Mojave Desert since their construction between 1984 and 1991, powering the homes of 500,000 Californians and proving the design’s reliability. (An average coal plant produces about 670 Mw.) The plants use a “parabolic trough” design, with more than 900,000 mirrors, shaped like a skateboarder’s half-pipe in vast arrays over 1500 acres of desert. The mirrors adjust to track the sun across the sky, reflecting and concentrating its rays onto liquid-filled pipes. The hot liquid, in this case oil, then boils water, which produces steam to spin a turbine.

Progress on CST plants ground to a halt after natural gas prices plummeted in the 1990s. It wasn’t until last year that the next major plant in the United States opened: a 64-Mw parabolic trough system in Boulder City, Nev., called Nevada Solar One, built by the Spanish company Acciona. Now there are 13 other plants, totaling 5100 Mw, in advanced planning stages in ­Flor­ida, Arizona and California; most will use parabolic troughs. Stirling Energy pursued a different kind of system, one that offers more flexibility and better efficiency.

Bruce Osborn started his research career at Ford Motor Co., and the key advantage of his solar dish is one his former employers would understand. “Henry Ford used to say you can have your car in any color as long as it’s black,” Osborn says, “and that’s our approach, too.” The planned 900-Mw Stirling Solar Two plant near San Diego will eventually have as many as 36,000 identical dishes, and the 82 mirror panels that make up each dish come in only two shapes. That design choice causes a slight decrease in power output, in exchange for the advantages of low-cost mass production.

Monday, October 27, 2008

solar cells

Scientists at the University of New South Wales have set a new world record by creating the first silicon solar cell to achieve 25% efficiency.

Team leader, Prof. Martin Green of the university’s ARC Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence, says their world-beating solar cell is now a massive six percent more efficient than the next best technology. The record edges the current generation of solar cell technology closer to the theoretical limit of 29% efficiency.


The rise in efficiency is due to new knowledge about the composition of sunlight, leading to an improvement in the solar cell’s ability to capture more energy at the extremes of the solar light spectrum. According to Green, “These light-trapping features make our cells act as if they were much thicker than they are. This already has had an important spin-off in allowing us to work with CSG Solar to develop commercial ‘thin-film’ silicon-on-glass solar cells that are over 100 times thinner than conventional silicon cells.”

Negotiations for commercial production of the latest advancement are already underway, and could soon lead to a new generation of low cost, high energy output solar cells.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In a Van down by the River

Add to My Stories A Polish white van man who was too sure of his sat-nav ended up neck-deep in a lake after ignoring road signs warning of a dead-end ahead, Polish police said today.
The road hasn't been used for a year after it was flooded out when an artificial lake was created.
It was dark and the un-named driver had been drinking, but he still managed to miss three signs warning him there was a lake ahead.
Enlarge Firemen standing in an artificial lake near the partly submerged van of a Polish driver who drove the vehicle into the water after following the instructions of his GPS
Police said the driver had 'The man took a road that was closed a year ago when the area was flooded to make an artificial lake serving as a water reservoir -- he ignored three road signs warning of a dead-end,' said Piotr Smolen, police spokesman in Glubczyce, southern Poland.

'It was still night time and he didn't notice the road led into the lake. His GPS told him to drive straight ahead and he did.'
Mr Smolen added that the driver had been under the influence of alcohol.

Whoops: The road has been closed for over one year since being flooded by the creation of the lake
The road ran straight downhill into the lake. The Mercedes mini-van was nearly entirely submerged and was unable to back out on its own after being inundated with water.

The driver and two passengers escaped unharmed from the submerged vehicle and waited on its roof for police and fire rescue crews.

The driver placed the first call to emergency services while still inside the sinking van.

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