Friday, November 14, 2008

Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great time to go green. The season of Thanksgiving is about celebrating the earth and what it has to offer us, so respecting the environment is a great way to send the planet an eco-friendly thank-you.

Using eco-friendly products, reducing, reusing and recycling during Thanksgiving can help diminish waste to the environment. An eco conscious Thanksgiving will enrich your family’s holiday experience, because you’ll know you have helped reduce the impact on the environment, something we all should be thankful for. Here are a few tips for having a green Thanksgiving.

When running around picking up all your necessities for the big day, make sure you bring along reusable bags. See if you can reduce the amount of waste you produce by buying only as much as you need and choosing products that come in packaging that can be recycled.
Reusable Shopping Bags

Buy locally grown food. It’s a great way to have a green Thanksgiving. Locally grown is generally organic and therefore good for your health and the environment. It requires less fuel to reach local store shelves which saves on fuel. It also contributes more to your local economy by supporting the local farmers and merchants. Foodroutes can help you find local merchants in your area.
Buy organic fruits, vegetable, (apples and potatoes are very high on the pesticide hit list, and retain huge amounts of the chemicals sprayed on them), and grains grown without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic farming also increases soil fertility, prevents erosion, and is more cost-effective for farmers.
If you’re having Turkey as part of your dinner, search the Eat Well Guide. You can find types of meat by production methods, and locations where you can purchase an organic turkey. The “production methods” section allows you to select items labeled 100% vegetarian fed, grass fed, free-range, non-confined, no antibiotics, organic, etc. You can also contact your local grocery store and ask if they carry turkeys labeled “American Humane Certified,” or “USDA Certified Organic.”
Lift a glass of organic or biodynamic wine, (in recycled glasses of course), and give thanks to sustainability. Serve organic wine with “real” corks not plastic or twist off tops. Your eco-friendly Thanksgiving party can help preserve the cork industry.


Protect Our Earth Glasses

If you have to fly for the holidays, purchase carbon credits at Carbon Planet to offset your portion of the carbon dioxide emissions generated by your flight. A typical long-haul flight produces nearly four tons of carbon dioxide.
Plant a Tree as part of the family affair. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming. By planting one tree, in one year, that tree will absorb roughly 26 pounds of carbon dioxide and return enough oxygen to supply a family of four. The Plant-A-Tree-Today (PATT) Foundation was formed with its mission to react to problems caused by the massive and increasing levels of deforestation worldwide. Help raise awareness of environmental issues and the role forests play, take action against climate change, educate children on these issues and to Plant a tree this Thanksgiving.
Keep your thermostat at an acceptable setting, and start a fire in your fireplace to keep warm. If you normally keep your temperature at 74 degrees Fahrenheit, try lowering it two degrees on Thanksgiving. This will conserve extra energy.
Nature always decorates best, especially this time of year as the trees shed their brightly colored leaves. Take a nature walk and gather signs of the season from your local environment to create a simple, beautiful harvest centerpiece. With a little imagination, you can make great eco-friendly Thanksgiving decorations and have a lot of fun in the process. Gather found items such as pinecones, colored leaves, seedpods, branches and colorful berries and leaves. Place your treasures in recycled vases or bowls for a naturally green centerpiece.
Decorate your table with beeswax candles rather than petroleum-derived paraffin candles. The beeswax is not only healthier for you and the planet, but it smells better too! For an extra touch, fill a recycled glass bowl with seasonal grains, (such as corn), and place a pillar, (soy or beeswax), candle in the center.


Early Bird Candle

All flowers remind us of nature’s bounty, but not all flower companies are eco-friendly. Most spray their crops with heavy amounts of pesticides. Order a gorgeous Thanksgiving centerpiece from Organic Bouquet. They’ll give ten percent of your purchase to The Nature Conservancy, and send your flowers in biodegradable, corn-based flower sleeves. Head to your pantry for empty containers such as seltzer bottles, spice jars, wine bottles, cans, etc. to use as vases for your flower arrangements.
Purchase recycled paper products, if you need to have disposable plates and cups. Otherwise, use regular plates and cups that can be washed so you don’t produce any waste.
Try and cook just the right amount of food for your family and friends because nothing is worse than wasted food. However, if you have too much food, send your guests home with a doggie bag. You can also donate leftover food to a local shelter or food bank. Mahalo can help you with this.



Sustainable Agriculture Chardonnay 2006
Whatever else you do on Thanksgiving, make it a time to say thank you to the people in your life who matter most. Many of the best moments in life are those spent with friends and family. As part of your eco-friendly Thanksgiving, give thanks to the many ways the environment sustains and enriches our lives.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How to: Recycle Your Computer

Computers sure are handy when they are working (TreeHugger would have a tough time making it without them) but once they've chewed their last byte, things can get a little messy. Toxic chemicals, carcinogens and heavy metals are all part of what makes their clocks tick, and improper disposal can bring them all a little too close for human comfort. Computer recycling is nothing new, but getting your old electronics to the great motherboard in the sky can be tricky to do responsibly. For years, developed countries have been exporting tons of electronic waste for inexpensive, labor-intensive recycling and disposal, mostly to China. It's been illegal to import e-waste into China for dirty recycling and dumping since 2000, but smuggling, corruption and China's appetite for scrap keep it coming. An article over at Salon has some good tips to prevent your old electronics from being melted down over a rudimentary stove or being tossed into a landfill.

One of the best ways to get clean recycling is simple: just ask questions. A reputable recycler should be able to tell you where hardware is sent, and if the company exports or uses prison labor. The recycler should also be able to tell you how it handles data destruction; you'll want the recycler or reuse organization to wipe the hard drive for you so any personal information doesn't end up where it doesn't belong. If you are donating your equipment to a reuse organization, ask if equipment is tested before it is passed on for donation and if the company only ships working equipment. Ask who their recipient organizations are. If the answer to any of these questions is, "We don't know," or, "We can't tell you," it may be time to send your equipment elsewhere.

One of the easiest options is to use your computer manufacturer's recycling program, though most major manufacturers charge fees and require you to do the packing and shipping. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a good guide to responsible recycling, finds many of the manufacture take-back programs wanting and publishes a report card on the environmental effectiveness of most of them.

The Rethink Program, hosted by eBay has a good computer recycling FAQ section and many useful links to recyclers, as do CompuMentor's Tech Soup site and the EPA's eCycling website. Be aware, though, that the recyclers listed on these sites have not been vetted or approved by these organizations in any way. The Basel Action Network also carries a list of electronics recyclers that have signed their stewardship pledge, under which recyclers agree not to export e-waste or add it to landfill, or use prison labor, and to document where equipment, parts and materials go.

If your machine still functions (and not just as a paperweight), then seeing that it is reused is perhaps the best option. Companies like RetroBox and FreeGeek build computers out of salvaged parts; the latter has a list of like-minded organizations that can be a good starting place for recycling or reusing your machine. For a more complete list of NGOs, government agencies and manufacturers who recycle, check out the article at ::Salon.

Three Quarters of Americans Support Investment in Clean Energy

Written by Timothy B. Hurst

Throughout his campaign, though more fervently towards the end of it, Barack Obama made it clear that investing in renewable energy and focusing on building a new energy economy would be a centerpiece of his agenda should he have won. And now that he has, the results of a new Zogby poll suggest he’s got the public mandate to do it.

According to the post-election survey, 78% believe investing in clean energy is important to revitalizing America’s economy. Of those, 50% said they strongly agree clean energy investment is vital to the nation’s economic future.

Support for clean energy investment is particularly strong among younger voters - 87% of those age 18-24 and 80% of those age 18-29 believe this type of investment is necessary to help improve the U.S. economy. While the vast majority of Democrats (96%) and independent voters (77%) view clean energy investment as a key means to boost the U.S. economy, more than half of Republican voters (58%) also said the same.

The results also indicate that most voters want their elected officials to focus on global warming - 61% said they agree their elected officials should make combating global warming a high priority, an increase from 58% of voters who said the same in 2006.

Some of the most striking findings were that the desire for a greater political emphasis on global warming has increased 10% among African American voters from 78% in 2006 and to 73% among Hispanic voters from 64% two years ago.

The results of this poll suggest the political calculus has changed somewhat. Pollster John Zogby says that clean energy has emerged as part of voter expectations for getting the economy back on track. “Support for action on global warming, already strong in the 2006 election, was even stronger in 2008, particularly among young voters that are the future electorate,” he said.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

7 Executive Orders President Obama Should Sign to Protect the Environment

At the time of this writing, Barack Obama has been president-elect for less than a week and no one is wasting any time in making suggestions for actions he should take once he’s President Obama. The Center for Progressive Reform passed on their suggestions for 7 Executive Orders for the President’s First 100 Days and so I pass them on to you to debate, discuss and otherwise armchair analyze.

They cover a range of perennial issues familiar to TreeHugger readers—Climate change, chemicals in products intended for children, pollution, preserving ecosystems on public lands. Here they are:

1. Reduce the Federal Carbon Footprint


The new President should issue an Executive Order requiring each federal agency to measure, report, and reduce its carbon footprint. Not only would the Executive Order have a meaningful impact on the federal government's carbon emissions, it could also lead to the creation of uniform, practical standards for measuring such footprints, standards that could be applied government-wide and beyond. Each of the provisions of this proposed Order is consistent with the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act.

2. Consider Climate Change in All Decisions


The next President should issue a new Executive Order clarifying that all federal agencies are obligated to consider the global climate change-related implications of their actions. This proposed Order is consistent with the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act.

3. Protect Children from Chemicals


The next President should amend Executive Order 13045 (issued initially by President
Clinton and then amended by President Bush) to mandate that agencies establish an affirmative agenda for protecting children from lead, mercury, perchlorate, phthalates, fine particulate matter, ozone, and pesticides; require the reform of risk assessment policy so that children are accounted for as a vulnerable group; and end the use of discounting the value of children's lives in cost-benefit analysis. As is the case with the provisions of the existing Order on Protecting Children, each of these recommendations is consistent with the goals of the various environmental, safety, and public health statutes.

4. Environmental Justice


The next President should amend or replace the original Executive Order [12898] on Environmental Justice. The new Order should require a meaningful analysis of the environmental justice impacts and implications of all major new rules; impose on agencies a substantive obligation to take affirmative steps to ameliorate environmental injustice; launch an affirmative Environmental Justice agenda; hold agencies accountable for carrying out their environmental justice obligations; and clarify key terms from the current Order, including “environmental justice communities” and “subsistence,” to avoid the kind of narrow interpretation of the terms applied by the Bush Administration. As is the case with the existing Executive Order on Environmental Justice, these recommendations are consistent with the goals of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

5. Transparent Regulatory Review


The new President should issue an Executive Order restoring open government in three areas where unwarranted secrecy has developed. The Order should restore the presumption of disclosure concerning exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) so that political appointees and career government employees cannot operate free of scrutiny; forbid agencies from taking advantage of loopholes that limit the transparency provisions of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) so that the public can be assured that special interests do not have undue influence on agency decision making; and improve the transparency of regulatory review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
(OIRA) so that efforts by political appointees in the White House to override the judgment of scientists and other experts in regulatory agencies can at least be transparent to the public. All of the proposed Order's provisions are consistent with the goals of FOIA and FACA.

6. Protect Stronger State Laws from Weaker Federal Ones
CPR points out that the Bush Administration often preempted stronger state laws on environmental regulation with weaker federal ones,


The next President should [...] should amend the existing Executive Order on Federalism to strengthen provisions setting forth a presumption against preemption; require agencies to provide a written justification for preemption; and require that, when a federal statute allows states to adopt more stringent standards or seek a waiver of statutory preemption (as in EPA's denial of California's Clean Air Act waiver), agencies must provide a written justification to the White House before denying the state's regulatory authority or waiver request. As is the case with the existing Executive Order on Federalism, these recommendations are consistent with the goals of the various statutes under which the environmental, safety, and public health agencies operate, including the National Environmental Policy Act.

7. Promoting Ecological Integrity


The next President should issue a new Executive Order declaring a national policy of
promoting ecological integrity as a baseline requirement for sustainable public land use. The President should also revoke two Bush Administration Executive Orders issued in 2005 (Executive Orders 13211 and 13212) that made it easier to develop energy resources on public lands, even at the risk of causing long-term degradation of natural resource values. In addition, the President should amend a third Bush Order (Executive Order 13443) by providing equal opportunities for public participation in federal land use decision making to a wide variety of constituencies, in addition to those promoting hunting. All of these measures are consistent with the goals of the various public lands statutes.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'60 Minutes' examines the business of e-waste recycling

In Sunday's 60 Minutes, the CBS TV news magazine examines the lucrative but shadowy business of mining e-waste--junked computers, televisions, and other old electronic products--for valuable components, including gold. However, often illegal and hazardous activity creates toxic pollution, which in turn leads to brain damage, kidney disease, cancers, and mutations. In the segment, correspondent Scott Pelley examines the ethics of the recycling industry. (For the full 60 Minutes segment, see "The Electronic Wasteland.")



In the first clip, Pelley takes a tour of Denver electronic waste recycling company GRX, a member of "E-Stewards." The stringent program is run by the Basel Action Network, a watchdog group that certifies ethical recyclers that do not ship their toxic materials overseas.



In the second clip, the 60 Minutes crew chronicles piles of electronics blanketing the Chinese countryside waiting to be recycled. E-waste workers in Guiyu, China, where Pelley's team videotaped, put up with the dangerous conditions for the $8 a day the job pays.



In the third clip, scientists discuss e-waste, the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide, and the impact it has on those whose lives depend on it. The toxic pollution from black market recycling leads to brain damage, kidney disease, cancers, and mutations.



In the fourth clip, Pelley and his crew are attacked and threatened with violence by area gangsters overseeing the e-waste operations who tried to take the CBS team's cameras. The smugglers were trying to protect the lucrative business of mining e-wasted. However, Pelley's crew managed to escape and bring back footage of the hazardous activities.

Children become latest source of renewable energy

Have you ever watched little kids playing on a playground and thought: “If only I could harness their energy?” That’s precisely what a group of green-minded U.S. inventors have done by transforming playground equipment into systems that generate electricity.

According to Karen Cavanagh, CEO of Saber Technical, the New York-based designer and manufacturer of the electrical generating playground systems, the equipment is fitted with alternators and gears which, when activated, are able to generate an electrical charge.

If the children are spinning a merry-go-round that’s intended to pump well water, the spinning motion of the machine will send power into an alternator which then transfers an electric current directly to a sump pump. From there the sump pump pushes the water through underground pipes into a holding tank, which is mounted on top of a tower. The clean water can then be used for drinking, for sanitation purposes or for irrigating arid land.

The “kid made” electricity can also be stored in cells and backed up by solar powered generators which can then be tapped for interior and exterior lighting.

But how are the children taking to the high tech equipment?

“It’s kids,” says John Mason, one of Saber Tech’s founders. “They run fast enough they get the (generator) lights to flash. It gives them a visual reward.”

While several private schools in the U.S. are currently utilizing the Saber Tech donated “kid power playgrounds” to energize their facilities, sister projects are planned for India, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and possibly Afghanistan.

One project that’s slated for a school in Tanzania will literally change the lives of the 600-plus children who attend it. Presently the students of the Sinai School in Babati are forced to walk two miles everyday to access clean drinking water. They also conduct their studies in powerless classrooms that double as storerooms. After their new playground system is constructed, the children will not only enjoy pumped in clean drinking water, they’ll have enough stored electricity to power up their classrooms.

“They haven’t got running water at the school,” explains Clive Shiret of the Livingstone Tanzania Trust, a relief organization. “They haven’t got any sanitary facilities. So this will enable us to do some great work with making the whole place more hygienic and basically extending the kids’ lives.”

According to one teacher from the Woodland Hills Montessori School in upstate New York, where an electrical generating playground is already in operation, it’s all about the basics: “We’re trying to get the children involved in the project, and where do you start but with the fundamental needs. You start with water because it’s a basic component of life.”

But should the Parent Teacher Association start looking at the world's kids like caged hamsters running inside a power-generating hamster wheel?

“It’s all about bottling their energy,” says a cautious Cavanagh. “But most of all I want these kids to know that it is their energy that will solve problems. The system they play on every single day is the same system that the same type of kids use across the globe.”

Parents seem to be in agreement, says Kris Gernert-Dott, mother of 5th and 7th grade students at the Montessori School: “Through this water and energy project ... my daughters have been moved to think of ways they can help make the world a better place.”

Of course, like any benign energy producing project there always remains the risk of free-market exploitation. But in the case of supervised kid-generated playgrounds, such a possibility seems highly unlikely. One New York building contractor, David Canfield, who worked on assembling the Montessori playground, said: “This is an opportunity for kids all over the globe to share something in common. The playground works on many levels including scientific, ecological and cultural. Of course if somebody starts using kids and playgrounds to mine diamonds that would be all wrong.”

But what’s good about kid-powered playgrounds is that they not only provide access to human basics like water and electric light, they are able to bridge the world’s cultural gap.

Children become latest source of renewable energy

Have you ever watched little kids playing on a playground and thought: “If only I could harness their energy?” That’s precisely what a group of green-minded U.S. inventors have done by transforming playground equipment into systems that generate electricity.

According to Karen Cavanagh, CEO of Saber Technical, the New York-based designer and manufacturer of the electrical generating playground systems, the equipment is fitted with alternators and gears which, when activated, are able to generate an electrical charge.

If the children are spinning a merry-go-round that’s intended to pump well water, the spinning motion of the machine will send power into an alternator which then transfers an electric current directly to a sump pump. From there the sump pump pushes the water through underground pipes into a holding tank, which is mounted on top of a tower. The clean water can then be used for drinking, for sanitation purposes or for irrigating arid land.

The “kid made” electricity can also be stored in cells and backed up by solar powered generators which can then be tapped for interior and exterior lighting.

But how are the children taking to the high tech equipment?

“It’s kids,” says John Mason, one of Saber Tech’s founders. “They run fast enough they get the (generator) lights to flash. It gives them a visual reward.”

While several private schools in the U.S. are currently utilizing the Saber Tech donated “kid power playgrounds” to energize their facilities, sister projects are planned for India, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and possibly Afghanistan.

One project that’s slated for a school in Tanzania will literally change the lives of the 600-plus children who attend it. Presently the students of the Sinai School in Babati are forced to walk two miles everyday to access clean drinking water. They also conduct their studies in powerless classrooms that double as storerooms. After their new playground system is constructed, the children will not only enjoy pumped in clean drinking water, they’ll have enough stored electricity to power up their classrooms.

“They haven’t got running water at the school,” explains Clive Shiret of the Livingstone Tanzania Trust, a relief organization. “They haven’t got any sanitary facilities. So this will enable us to do some great work with making the whole place more hygienic and basically extending the kids’ lives.”

According to one teacher from the Woodland Hills Montessori School in upstate New York, where an electrical generating playground is already in operation, it’s all about the basics: “We’re trying to get the children involved in the project, and where do you start but with the fundamental needs. You start with water because it’s a basic component of life.”

But should the Parent Teacher Association start looking at the world's kids like caged hamsters running inside a power-generating hamster wheel?

“It’s all about bottling their energy,” says a cautious Cavanagh. “But most of all I want these kids to know that it is their energy that will solve problems. The system they play on every single day is the same system that the same type of kids use across the globe.”

Parents seem to be in agreement, says Kris Gernert-Dott, mother of 5th and 7th grade students at the Montessori School: “Through this water and energy project ... my daughters have been moved to think of ways they can help make the world a better place.”

Of course, like any benign energy producing project there always remains the risk of free-market exploitation. But in the case of supervised kid-generated playgrounds, such a possibility seems highly unlikely. One New York building contractor, David Canfield, who worked on assembling the Montessori playground, said: “This is an opportunity for kids all over the globe to share something in common. The playground works on many levels including scientific, ecological and cultural. Of course if somebody starts using kids and playgrounds to mine diamonds that would be all wrong.”

But what’s good about kid-powered playgrounds is that they not only provide access to human basics like water and electric light, they are able to bridge the world’s cultural gap.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recycling Myths: PM Debunks 5 Half Truths about Recycling

Is chucking a soda can in the trash an unforgivable sin? That depends who you ask: You'll find plenty of people on both sides of the great recycling debate, each equally convinced the other side is ill-informed. The truth is that opponents and proponents alike often rely on facts that are outdated, oversimplified or simply untrue. We tackle five of the biggest myths about recycling. For more, check out the December issue of Popular Mechanics.

By Alex Hutchinson


1. We have to recycle because we're running out of landfill space.
That was the rallying cry for recycling advocates back in the 1980s, when the Mobro 4000 garbage barge wandered up and down the East Coast searching for a place to dump its moldering load. It's a bit of a red herring, though. After all, we have pretty much unlimited space to dump garbage—if we're willing. In practice, for every town that refuses permission to build a landfill, there's often another town eager for the revenues that a landfill site can bring.

According to the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), the United States has about 20 years of disposal capacity left in existing landfills. There are, however, places where space is getting tight: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all have less than five years capacity, and the northeastern part of the country in general has the least available landfill space.

These regional variations point to a different motivation for the "recycle to save landfill space" argument. The average tipping fee at landfills in the Northeast region, according to the most recent NSWMA figures, is over $70 a ton, compared to a national average of just $34. In other words, even if the scarcity of landfill space turns out not to be a strong environmental argument for recycling, there can be powerful economic incentives to reduce landfill intake.


2. The trucks that collect recycling burn more energy and produce more pollution than recycling saves.
Collecting recyclables isn't cheap—it eats up about 50 to 60 percent of the budget of a typical curbside recycling program, according to Lori Scozzafava of the Solid Waste Association of North America. And the trucks burn gas and emit pollution as they go. That said, "You're going to collect waste one way or another," points out Jeff Morris, a Washington-based environmental consultant. A recycling program should allow garbage collection to become less frequent (or to use fewer trucks), offsetting the cost and energy involved. Plus, new truck designs can collect both recycling and garbage (at different times), avoiding the huge capital expense of an extra fleet. They can also self-dump specially designed bins, saving time and manpower.

But all that turns out to be pretty much irrelevant to the question of whether recycling makes environmental sense. Scientists have conducted hundreds of "life-cycle analyses" to compare recycling with other options like landfill and incineration, following the entire chain of events from the manufacture of a product (using either virgin or recycled materials) to its disposal. The dominant factor in virtually every case is the enormous amount of energy required to turn raw materials into metals and plastics compared to the energy needed to reprocess products that already exist.

A study by Morris found that it takes 10.4 million Btu to manufacture products from a ton of recyclables, compared to 23.3 million Btu for virgin materials. In contrast, the total energy for collecting, hauling and processing a ton of recyclables adds up to just 0.9 million Btu. The bottom line: We don't need to worry that recycling trucks are doing more harm than good.


3. Thanks to the sky-high prices of raw materials, cities are getting rich by selling recyclables.
In the past year, prices for almost every kind of recyclable have hit record highs, sparking a frenzy of activity in the recycling industry. "If you're wondering where all the used-car salesmen have gone, they're rushing into recycling," says Jerry Powell, an industry veteran who edits Resource Recycling magazine. That translates to profits for many players—in fact, Powell says, "if you can't make money in recycling right now, you should get out of the business."

Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily mean that your local city council is getting a cut of the action. "Some cities are still locked in unfavorable long-term contracts and paying tipping fees," says Ed Skernolis of the National Recycling Council. That means that these cities have to pay to collect and sort their curbside recycling—and then pay someone to take away these now-valuable materials instead of being paid for them.

Given how much the price of recyclables has fluctuated in the past, these contracts made sense for cities when they were signed: Locking in costs allows municipalities to budget properly. But now, global contracts ensure a large fraction of U.S. recycling ships to China, so the recycling market has less volatility as well as higher prices. As municipal recycling contracts come up for renewal, cities like Chicago are finally able to turn their piles of cans, bottles and newspapers into a stable revenue stream.

CONTINUED: Is Your Recycling Sorted by Hand? >>>

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mini nuclear plants

....... to power 20,000 homes£13m shed-size reactors will be delivered by lorryJohn Vidal and Nick Rosen guardian.co.uk, Sunday November 9 2008 00.01 GMT The Observer, Sunday November 9 2008 Article historyNuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. 'Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,' said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. 'They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.'

Deal claims to have more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries, but says the company is also targeting developing countries and isolated communities. 'It's leapfrog technology,' he said.

The company plans to set up three factories to produce 4,000 plants between 2013 and 2023. 'We already have a pipeline for 100 reactors, and we are taking our time to tool up to mass-produce this reactor.'

The first confirmed order came from TES, a Czech infrastructure company specialising in water plants and power plants. 'They ordered six units and optioned a further 12. We are very sure of their capability to purchase,' said Deal. The first one, he said, would be installed in Romania. 'We now have a six-year waiting list. We are in talks with developers in the Cayman Islands, Panama and the Bahamas.'

The reactors, only a few metres in diameter, will be delivered on the back of a lorry to be buried underground. They must be refuelled every 7 to 10 years. Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.

'You could never have a Chernobyl-type event - there are no moving parts,' said Deal. 'You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it's too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.'

Other companies are known to be designing micro-reactors. Toshiba has been testing 200KW reactors measuring roughly six metres by two metres. Designed to fuel smaller numbers of homes for longer, they could power a single building for up to 40 years.
A new fiber-optic laser system can measure wind speed and direction up to 1000 meters in front of a wind turbine, giving the massive machines enough precious seconds to proactively adapt to gusts and sudden changes in wind direction. The device, developed by Catch the Wind, a startup based in Manassas, VA, could improve the efficiency of wind turbines and keep them from breaking down.

The device could help lower the cost of renewable electricity from wind. Wind turbines lose roughly 1 percent of their operating efficiency for every degree their blades are out of alignment with the oncoming wind. Catch the Wind claims that its laser system can boost turbine power output by 10 percent by improving orientation accuracy. The pitch of the blades can also be adjusted in advance of the wind to reduce wear and tear on turbine gearbox components and blades, lowering repair and maintenance costs by up to 10 percent and extending the operating life of a wind farm, the company says.

John Kourtoff, chief executive officer of offshore wind developer Trillium Power, calls Catch the Wind's approach "conceptually intriguing" if it can both reduce wind-farm costs and increase revenues. "On the face of it, it makes sense. It would be advantageous for us," he says. "But I'd have to see real field data."

Current wind-energy measurement systems--both mechanical anemometers and more advanced LIDAR (light detecting and ranging) devices--are used primarily to determine if a location is suitable for a wind farm. The systems are also kept as part of on-site weather stations used for longer-term wind forecasting. Real-time data can also be gathered by mounting a small anemometer on the back of a turbine's nacelle, Kourtoff says. The problem with this setup is that the air is so disturbed after passing by the turbine blades that measurements are often skewed and unreliable. Also, the turbine can only respond to wind changes after its blades have been hit, leaving them vulnerable for a few seconds to a range of punishing forces caused by wind shear, gusts, and turbulence.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles

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