Are bioenergy facilities the solution to the growing garbage problem?

March 20, 2019 by  
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Have you ever heard of bioenergy? Or, have you ever wondered where your garbage goes once you throw it out? For many people — especially Americans — once their trash leaves the house, there is no more thought about where it goes or what happens to it. As soon as a sanitation worker picks up your garbage , there is no reason to think about the serious problems that massive amounts of waste can cause. Every year, Americans discard about 250 million tons of resources, making them the largest generator of waste on Earth. Approximately 136 million tons are buried, 89 million tons are composted or recycled  and 33 million tons are burned. Yet, have you ever thought about how those methods of trash disposal impact communities and the environment ? In an effort to dispose of trash in a more eco-friendly way, many countries have started increasing the disposal method of waste-to-energy, or bioenergy , because when the garbage is burned, it generates energy. Some countries have even switched to bioenergy completely, like Sweden, who has actually run out of its own trash and imports 700,000 tons annually to meet the capacity of their waste-to-energy plants. In Norway, they are experimenting with fueling their public transportation system with biogas. According to Energy Central, one kilogram of food waste produces a half liter of fuel . The city of Oslo powers 135 buses with their organic waste. It may seem like a good idea to turn trash into energy, but is the process really as environmentally-friendly as it sounds? Related: Scientists invent a solar panel that produces hydrogen The Controversy When waste is burned to produce energy and heat, the process produces an enormous amount of smoke. Nearly all of that smoke is carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, and there is nothing clean about that. Could this really be better than recycling or even burying trash in a landfill ? Waste-to-energy is not a “renewable” process because unlike solar or wind, once the waste is burned, that’s it. There is no more energy production from that specific resource. Gayle Sloan, chief executive of the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia, says that the goal is to create energy from burning materials that recycling programs leave behind. This means the waste hierarchy is prevention and recycling before bioenergy and landfills. But, according to Jane Bremmer, coordinator of the campaign group Zero Waste Oz, waste-to-energy incinerators are actually a threat to recycling. “We appear to have this system where waste-to-energy incinerations are being allowed to remove material recovery facilities (recycling centers) from their planned projects,” says Bremmer. “They are doing that because it assures their waste stream.” Not only is waste-to-energy emitting greenhouse gasses and threatening recycling, but it can also be polluting the air. Wheelabrator, an incinerator located in Peekskill, New York, burns 2,250 tons of waste every day and provides “clean, renewable electricity.” But, is that an honest claim? The plant emits toxins into the air that can be deadly — 577 million pounds of carbon dioxide and 131,000 pounds of carbon monoxide every year, according to the Emissions Containment Totals Report . Then there is the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen, which means the citizens around that plant are breathing in a plethora of dirty pollutants . Related: Verizon pledges $1 billion for programs that help the environment In Australia, there is also a problem when it comes to funding. Not only are their waste-to-energy plants polluting the air and damaging their recycling programs, but they are also gobbling up cash from government grant and loan programs. “It’s consuming, in a large degree, a petroleum product into an energy stream which produces CO2 equivalent,” says Robin Chapple, Greens Western Australian MP. “We managed to control the emissions, like dioxins, but we are still turning the plastics into a greenhouse gas . If you have a good recycling program which deals well with waste, the feedstock for incineration disappears.” Smart Solutions Inventors from the Center for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) program at the University of New South Wales are attempting to take recycling to the next level . Instead of burning materials to create energy, they have developed a microfactory that can be placed at waste sites that can turn discarded items into molecules which can then be transformed into something new. “If you are using something and then, after a single life, saying, ‘I’m done with it, and I’m going to burn away the fundamental molecules and elements and everything else to release a bit of energy’, then that’s not good,” says UNSW engineering professor Veena Sahajwalla, the head of the SMaRT project. She says that if we simply burn our waste, then we aren’t trying hard enough to find ways to repurpose materials and resources. For Sahajwalla, bioenergy is not the solution to our environmental problems. Via The Guardian Images via Shutterstock

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Are bioenergy facilities the solution to the growing garbage problem?

Energy-efficient ‘tiny tower’ home is organized like a full-scale skyscraper

March 11, 2019 by  
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Philadelphia-based firm ISA Architects has unveiled a stunning, 1,250-square-foot home that spans over a six-level steel tower. Located in the booming neighborhood of Brewerytown, the tiny tower, which is built to EnergyStar performance standards, is just 38 feet high but designed to operate like a full-scale skyscraper. The innovative, energy-efficient home was designed to demonstrate that going vertical could be the solution to the many urban design issues that are plaguing growing cities around the world. According to the architects, the tiny tower is a concept that could serve as a prototype for flexible-use buildings on underused urban lots with minimal building space. Built on a very compact 12’ by 29’ lot, the six-floor structure is a wooden frame covered in recycled steel paneling. Related: This staggered, residential tower is draped with greenery in Quito Going vertical enables each floor to define its own use. The interior living spaces are linked by a vertical circulation, the staircase, providing the design with optimal flexibility. Although the tower design could be used as retail or office space, this layout also works perfectly for any family  home . The lower levels of the tiny tower are dedicated to social areas, such as a window garden and open-air terrace, while the remaining upper levels are free to be used for individual purposes according to the family’s lifestyle. Connected to the main living volume is the staircase, which was strategically designed to be an integral part of the home. It provides a light-filled center that offers views of the exterior from every floor. According to the architects, the tower home could just be the next new thing for modern couples looking to live in urban areas. “Urban dwellers are increasingly willing to trade quantity of space for quality,” the firm said. “Living in a small unit in a vibrant, walkable neighborhood is more desirable than a larger home in a far-flung location. Tiny Tower demonstrates how small in scale can feel large in amenity and experience.” In addition to its potential to provide a viable solution for affordable urban housing, the home was also designed to be incredibly energy-efficient . Built to EnergyStar performance standards, the tiny tower uses a number of passive and active techniques to insulate the home. For starters, the white roof membrane significantly reduces summer heat gain. Ductless mini-split units on each level create individually controlled micro-zones throughout the interior; this also reduces energy use. + ISA Architects Via World Architecture Photography by Sam Oberter Photography via ISA Architects

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Energy-efficient ‘tiny tower’ home is organized like a full-scale skyscraper

China hopes to bring solar power to space

March 6, 2019 by  
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China is looking to be the first country in the world to install a solar power outlet in space . Scientists at the China Academy of Space Technology are working on new technology to make solar power in space a reality, and they hope to have something in place by the year 2050. The story of China’s ambitious solar power initiative was first published by a newspaper ran by the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The scientists working on the project believe that installing solar power in space will provide them with “inexhaustible clean energy,” though details of the plan are still being ironed out. Related: China plans to launch the world’s first ‘artificial moon’ The scientists, led by Pang Zhihao, are targeting space as a potential landing spot for solar power, because the equipment will not be exposed to overcast skies or night conditions. According to Dezeen , Zhihao is optimistic that the solar power will provide as much as six times the energy of solar farms based within the Earth’s atmosphere. Zhihao and his team are currently building prototypes in Chongqing and plan to continue testing different models over the next decade. Once they work out all of the details, they plan to start construction of the solar power space station as early as 2030. Governments around the globe are looking into ways to use clean energy on a larger scale. Businesses are also researching ways to lessen their carbon footprint, and solar power could be a means to that end. For example, Apple recently promised to use 100 percent clean energy in all of its stores and facilities. The company is installing solar panels on rooftops to help reach its renewable energy goals.  NASA has also looked into installing solar power in space over the past 20 years. Japan is looking to put a solar power farm in orbit and has developed technology for it. One of the main issues with solar power in space is getting the energy back to Earth, something China hopes to accomplish via lasers or microwaves. Via Dezeen Image via NASA / GSFC / SDO

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How to Plan Home Energy Upgrades Based on an Energy Audit

March 4, 2019 by  
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8 sustainable innovations in construction materials

February 26, 2019 by  
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The construction industry is responsible for a large percentage of carbon emissions . From sourcing to design to material manufacturing to building construction, the carbon dioxide output from projects around the world has a significant environmental impact. This has led to sustainable construction innovations that not only reduce the production of carbon dioxide, but also improve a building’s longevity, reduce  energy  bills and increase the use of natural light. Here is a list of some innovative construction materials and ideas that could revolutionize the industry and help us build a more sustainable future. Transparent wood Swedish researchers have turned wood into a material that is 85 percent transparent by compressing strips of wood veneer and replacing lignin with polymer. This product is light but just as strong as natural wood. It can be an eco-friendly alternative to glass and plastic. When used to build homes, transparent wood will reduce the need for artificial lighting, plus it is biodegradable. Related: Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials Bamboo-reinforced concrete As a natural replacement of steel for reinforcing concrete, bamboo is gentler on the planet without compromising on durability. Bamboo-reinforced concrete also allows for better earthquake resistance. Because bamboo grows so quickly, it can easily be regenerated while simultaneously absorbing CO2. Cigarette butt bricks Smoking cigarettes is still a big part of cultures around the world, despite the negative effects on personal health . The butts also make up a significant percentage of waste. But researchers at RMIT University in Australia have discovered that adding cigarette butts to bricks reduces the amount of time and energy needed to bake them compared to traditional methods, plus the cigarette butt bricks are better insulators. Using cigarette butts in the brick-making process reduces waste and lessens the number of heavy metals that make their way into water and soil. Hydrogel The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona is leading the way in reducing the use of air conditioning by using hydrogel to create walls that can cool themselves. The architects are placing hydrogel bubbles in between ceramic panels that can be installed into existing walls. Inspired by the human body’s ability to cool itself, the hydrogel can absorb water when the air around it gets hot and starts to evaporate. This can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Celsius, so you don’t have to keep the A/C cranking non-stop during the summer. Super-hydrophobic cement Recently, scientists have found a way to alter cement’s microstructure in a way that makes it absorb and reflect light. This finding has led to the creation of super-hydrophobic cement, or luminescent cement, which could replace traditional street lights and the energy they consume. Related: Green foods could clean up the construction industry Plus, this form of cement is more durable than conventional cement and could last up to 100 years compared to just 30 to 50 years. Synthetic spider silk With spider silk being one of the toughest natural materials on Earth, scientists all over the world have been trying to duplicate it. 3D printing has changed the game in the world of synthetic spider silk, and it could create a product made from water , silica and cellulose that is “stronger than steel and tougher than Kevlar” according to Smithsonian Magazine . This could change multiple industries like textiles, construction, automobiles and medical devices. Breathe Bricks A few years ago, architect Carmen Trudell started researching the air quality problems in Cairo, and that resulted in the creation of the Breathe Brick. Inspired by the treatment her brother received for kidney failure, Trudell started wondering if she could produce a building component that filters toxins. Trudell and her team “came up with the idea of putting a cyclone inside of the exterior wall” by developing the Breathe Brick . When using Breathe Bricks to build a wall, the faceted surface of the bricks pulls outside air into ports, then the cyclone filter spins the air and gets rid of particulate matter that causes pollution. LED and OLED lighting Lighting a commercial or residential building takes a lot of energy. So, over the past decade, LED (light emitting diode) and OLED (organic light emitting diode) have entered the marketplace to drastically reduce the amount of energy used to light up structures. Not only do LEDs use just 10 percent of the energy used by incandescent lighting and 50 percent of fluorescent lights, but they also last 40 times longer. The advantages of OLEDs are the slim size and the transparent material, allowing for natural lighting during the day before they light up at night. As technology continues to advance and materials change, the cost of LED and OLED should fall, making them both affordable and energy-efficient. Via Protection Supplies Images via Shutterstock,  Abigail Gina and Michael Laut

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Former concrete factory is reborn as a unique music-inspired high school in Denmark

February 26, 2019 by  
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Dutch architecture firm MVRDV and Denmark-based COBE Architects have just finished construction on the Roskilde Festival Folk High School, an unconventional school built inside a former concrete factory in Roskilde’s Musicon creative district just outside Copenhagen. Created to further the “lifelong learning” values of the world-famous Roskilde Music Festival that takes place every year in the small town, the high school follows an immersive and “non-formal adult education” championed by the Danish system of folk high schools and is the first purpose-built school of its kind in Denmark in 50 years. The Roskilde Festival Folk High School marks the final phase of the 11,000-square-meter ROCKmagneten masterplan, also designed by MVRDV and COBE, and includes the school — set inside a former concrete factory — two new modular blocks of student housing, a building for staff housing and a series of adaptable shipping container-based structures that will host an ever-changing group of innovative startups, many related to the music and youth culture. To complement Musicon’s creative character, the buildings are fitted with playful geometric shapes and vibrant colors along with different materials inspired by the music festival. “Our design, just like the school itself, was inspired by the spirit of the Roskilde Festival . It is all about music, art, activism — but most of all, freedom,” says Jacob van Rijs, principal and co-founder of MVRDV. “The Roskilde festival combines ‘having a good time’ with innovation in an informal way, giving a special vibe that we wanted to capture in the design of the interior of the school.” Related: COBE Architects to transform Copenhagen’s Paper Island into a bustling cultural hub For the school, the architects used a “box-within-a-box” concept to divide the factory’s large industrial space into smaller usable spaces. The colorful modules can be used for a variety of programming including a 150-seat auditorium  — named the Orange Stage after the main stage of the Festival — a music studio, a workshop, and classrooms for dance, art and architecture. The recently completed school and housing joins the rock museum Ragnarock, completed in 2016, that’s wrapped in a striking facade of gold-colored aluminum in an expression of youth culture. + MVRDV + COBE Architects Images by Rasmus Hjortshøj – COAST and Ossip van Duivenbode

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Former concrete factory is reborn as a unique music-inspired high school in Denmark

Essential eco-friendly fixtures to incorporate into your home

February 20, 2019 by  
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Being a steward of the environment means evaluating how many resources you and your family consume and consistently looking for ways to reduce your carbon footprint. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to make small eco-friendly fixtures to your home that can have a huge impact towards those goals. Water costs WaterSense, a federal program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency provides information about the most water-efficient fixtures for your home. Look for a label that indicates the device has met the strict restrictions certified by an independent testing facility for the best water conservation and lowest water costs. Related: 10 money-saving tips for a green home Faucets The bathroom and kitchen faucets provide a convenience water source for washing hands, brushing teeth and cleaning dishes. With the ability to crank out significant amounts of water, most of the water you pay for heads right down the drain. Instead of free-flowing the cash out of your wallet, look into aerating faucet heads. They work by forcing air through the system, which provides good water pressure while using significantly less water. Look for a model with WaterSense certification and replace each faucet as they begin to leak or as your budget allows. Toilets Standard toilets are a culprit for much of the water usage in the average home. By replacing standard toilets with low flow models, you will see the savings add up. Basically these devices work by providing two flush options: one for solid waste  and one for liquid waste that uses about ? the amount of water. Doing the math, that will save you 25-33% on your toilet flushes alone. With a standard flush requiring around three gallons, that’s some big savings. Showerheads Low flow showerheads work in the same way as other water fixtures. In addition to the aforementioned aerating design, there are other options for slowing the flow in your morning shower. Shower heads equipped with a laminar-flow shower head that feeds individual beads of water through the holes, allows less water flow over all. Other shower heads use a flow restrictor, which allow more or less water through depending on your water pressure preference. Whichever style you choose, look for a shower head with less than 2.5 gpm (gallons per minute) flow rate and a WaterSense certification. Bathtubs Bathtubs are notorious for requiring copious amount of water. After all, submersion in a hot bath averages a consumption of around 30-50 gallons. Showers with a standard shower head, by comparison, use about 10 gallons every four minutes so calculating your shower time will help you evaluate the best water savings. If you’re a disciplined sort, keeping it under ten minutes, than a shower is probably the way to go, especially if you invest in a water-conserving shower head. If you just can’t seem to shut it down in less than 20 minutes, than a bath won’t cost you any more. Lighting One of the best conveniences in a modern home is the ability to flip a switch and bring light to nearly any room in the house. But each flip of the switch costs you at the meter. One option to lower those costs is to replace the type of switch you use. For example, dimmer switches allow you to set the bulb at a lower output level. Lower output means lower consumption and therefore, a lower bill. Timers are another useful option if your family tends to leave lights on frequently. A device that tells your lights to turn off at a specified time will keep the meter from running all day when they are not needed. Motion sensored lights also save money by automatically turning lights on when you enter the room and turning them off behind you when they sense inactivity. Of course, the bulbs you use also make a huge difference in the amount of energy you’re consuming. Traditional incandescent bulbs suck up significantly more energy than the more modern halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) that not only require less energy, but also last 3-25 times longer. Look for the Energy Star rating on the bulbs you select and be sure to responsibly recycle old bulbs that contain mercury. Electrical costs Your day to day activities are reflected in your electrical bill, whether your house is powered by electricity alone or a combination of sources such as natural gas. The costs of heating, cooling and providing power to the outlets in your home add up quickly, so any changes you can make to reduce your usage will pay you back in the wallet and environmentally. Related: A renovated Toronto home boasts energy savings of over 50% Heating and cooling Heating and cooling costs make-up the lion’s share of every home’s electrical bill. Air conditioners and furnaces should be maintained for the best performance and replaced when they fail or when convenient to you. As your budget allows, swap out old systems for new ones that are more efficient and, of course, Energy Star certified. Although the unit is an investment up front, the savings long term are worth it. In addition, there are often local, state and federal tax credits that help offset the cost. Insulated windows and doors are another investment that can add up to huge savings. Energy Star models are much more energy efficient than those made even ten years ago, keeping warm air in and cold air out, which also equates to lower heating and cooling costs. Another relatively inexpensive fixture that can save you on your heating and cooling bills is an automatic thermostat. These smart devices are easy to find and install. By programming your thermostat to keep the temperature of the home lower during the night and when nobody is home, you avoid paying unnecessary heating and cooling costs automatically. Water heaters Another mainstream fixture that uses both water and electricity for heating is the water heater. By switching over to tankless water heaters, the average homeowner can save up to $100 per year. You can either install a central unit that provides on-demand water for your entire house, or you can use individual units, installed in each bathroom , kitchen, laundry, and other areas that require a water heater. These units work by only heating water as the faucet requests it, rather than keeping a huge tank of water heated and at the ready constantly. Images via Skitterphoto , 955169 , Karishea , TBIT

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Topas ecolodge aims to be a model of sustainability

February 19, 2019 by  
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From conception, the goal of the Topas Ecolodge in Vietnam has been to encapsulate sustainable practices at every turn. They also carry a heavy burden of social responsibility by focusing on providing local jobs and sourcing materials from the surrounding areas whenever possible. Nestled into a mountainous region in North Vietnam, they aim to assist the five local hill-tribes that remain largely untouched by the modern world. The vast majority of the 100 employees live in surrounding villages or are housed on campus with the supplies to grow and cook their own food . Investing in their employees, Topas offers educational and occupational training, opportunities for advancement and full medical benefits. Related: Bolivia’s Ecolodge del Lago takes inspiration from traditional Lak’a Uta architecture As stewards of the land, Topas Ecolodge also incorporates practices that help the local community as well as the environment . For example, food scraps are sent to local farms for pig feed and aluminum cans are reused by women in a local village. Thinking locally, the food served at Topas is sourced from local farmers, alongside property-raised chickens and a vegetable and herb garden behind the restaurant. Providing adequate energy in a sustainable way has been a challenge for the remote resort. Originally attempting solar energy, they found that inconsistent supply was not accommodating their needs so they switched to hydroelectricity and request that guests conserve wherever possible. Overcoming the struggles of sustainability in a remote mountain resort, Topas has implemented some innovative processes. As a solution for glass recycling , they invested in a glass-crushing machine that breaks it into sand that they then recycle into concrete for construction and maintenance. With no reliable recycling options and an understanding of the problems associated with single use plastic , they have a near zero single-use plastic policy and work to educate staff and guests about the reasons behind it. Inasmuch, they’ve become a member of National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World and help promote their “Planet or Plastic?” campaign. For water filtration, the property has a man-made wetland that treats wastewater from kitchen and bath facilities before releasing it into the rice fields. The Topas Ecolodge first opened in 2005 and offers 33 chalet-style stone bungalows built using local white granite from the Hoang Lien Mountains. They’ve since opened a second, more rustic accommodation named Topas Riverside Lodge, a short distance away. + Topas Ecolodge Images via Topas Ecolodge

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Rwanda hopes to increase energy efficiency with new cooling initiative

February 14, 2019 by  
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Rwanda has big plans for a more sustainable future and is launching a new cooling initiative that will increase energy efficiency within the country’s booming electricity sector. As part of the new plan, Rwanda hopes to provide a cooling solution for food storage and indoor spaces without adding to the world’s greenhouse gas problems. The new initiative, called Rwanda’s National Cooling Strategy, assessed the current need for cooling products as well as the future market. Although countries traditionally meet cooling needs with the use of modern refrigeration, Rwanda is looking towards more sustainable methods that do not use as much electricity . “Through the Rwanda Cooling Initiative, we have conducted a cooling market assessment, developed a national cooling strategy and minimum energy efficiency standards, and created financial tools to support businesses investing in clean cooling,” Rwanda’s Minister of Environment, Dr. Vincent Biruta, explained. Rwanda is currently witnessing some of the fastest growth in the electricity sector in all of Africa. With 12 million people to serve, the East African Country is already looking for energy efficient options to meets those needs. Related: Top 10 states for LEED green buildings in 2018  Fortunately, Rwanda has been a leader in adopting sustainable practices. In fact, the country was one of the first to ban the use of plastic bags. A few years ago, Rwanda hosted a global treaty that agreed to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The initiative decreased the use of certain chemicals that are popularly used in air conditioners and refrigerators. But combating the use of harmful chemicals is only half the battle. As part of the National Cooling Strategy, Rwanda hopes to boost energy efficiency by regulating how much electricity can be used by modern air conditioners and refrigerators. The country also plans to raise awareness about other cooling techniques, including natural ventilation and shading. The new plan is the first phase of Rwanda’s larger cooling initiative. If other countries follow Rwanda’s lead, a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions could be cut over the next decade. Some experts predict that we can curb global warming by as much as 0.4C if countries increase their energy efficiency. Via United Nations Environment Image via Tumisu

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Recycling Mystery: LED Bulbs

February 13, 2019 by  
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With limited sunlight during the winter months, increased lighting is … The post Recycling Mystery: LED Bulbs appeared first on Earth911.com.

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