Four Cutting-Edge Technologies that Could Change the Face of Cleantech

Steve Puma | Monday February 22nd, 2010 | 7 Comments

http://www.flickr.com/photos/argonne/3987628520/KurzwielAI.net is a very interesting blog maintained by Ray Kurzwiel, artificial intelligence expert and inventor of the electronic synthesizer. The blog highlights cutting-edge technologies that are information-based, such as medical and computing advances, and recently featured four neat scientific breakthroughs that could potentially change the face of cleantech.

Many people dispute the ability of high technology to provide substantive replacements for our oil-intensive lifestyles. Kurzweil has proposed a compelling reason why technology will, in fact, make a huge difference: the accelerating nature of information-based technologies. The logic goes something like this: any science or technology that is built upon information and information technologies will grow at an exponential pace (detailed analysis here). The following are a few examples of just how fast the pace of science and technology is currently advancing.

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Seriously. Where Does Our Food Come From?

3p Contributor | Monday February 22nd, 2010 | 3 Comments

This is a post in a series on the business of sustainable agriculture by the folks at Bon Appétit Management Company, a company that provides café and catering services to corporations, colleges and universities. We invited Bon Appetit to lead this conversation because they want to focus on difficult questions to which they don’t have answers. We think it’s a bold step when a company puts itself on a line to seek answers to tough questions. We may not solve them all, but we hope we’ll make a start. To read the earlier posts, click here.

By Bon Appétit East Coast Fellow Carolina Fojo

Thanks to leaders like Michelle Obama and Michael Pollan, the U.S. public is beginning to realize that a large number of today’s social, environmental and health problems exist because of the modern system we like to call the food industry. And what people are learning to ask is: Where exactly does my food come from?

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What Does Yvo De Boer’s Resignation Mean for Climate Change Negotiations?

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday February 22nd, 2010 | 8 Comments

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, dropped a bomb shell when he announced his resignation last week. His last day will be July 1. He will join the consultancy group KPMG as global adviser on climate change. This leaves the UN with just a little over four months to find de Boer’s successor.

About his plans to join KPMG, de Boer said, “I have always maintained that, while governments provide the necessary policy framework, the real solutions must come from business. I now have the chance to make this happen.”

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Alliance Federated Energy’s Plans To Build A Waste To Gas Power Plant

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
| Monday February 22nd, 2010 | 0 Comments

Alliance Federated Energy recently announced plans to develop a $225 million renewable energy plant in Milwaukee, dubbed the Project Apollo. The plant would use technology developed by Westinghouse Plasma Corp. of Madison, Pennsylvania, to convert waste at high heat into a synthetic gas, or syngas which would be used as fuel to generate power. The plant would create 250 construction jobs and 45 full time jobs.

The first phase of the project is expected to be running by 2013 and process about 1,200 tons of municipal and industrial waste, per day. It would generate 25 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power about 20,000 homes. The second phase would generate another 25 MW of power. Several plasma gasification facilities operating around world, but there are no commercial plants operating in the U.S. Project Apollo will be the first.

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New SunChips Bag: 90% Plant-based, 100% Compostable

Kathryn Siranosian | Monday February 22nd, 2010 | 21 Comments

Frito Lay Canada (a division of PepsiCo) will roll out the world’s first 100% compostable chip bag in Canadian retail outlets beginning in March.

The new SunChips packaging will be made from more than 90% renewable, plant-based materials, and as a result, the bag will completely break down into compost in a hot, active compost pile in approximately 14 weeks.

“In order to continue to reduce our environmental impact as a company, finding sustainable packaging solutions was a must,” says Marc Guay, President, Frito Lay Canada, in a press release. “We know that environmentally-friendly packaging is a priority for Canadians. Using plant-based renewable materials to make packaging that will interact differently with the environment, represents the next small step in Frito Lay Canada’s environmental sustainability journey.”

The SunChips 100% compostable chip bag will start appearing on shelves in Canada this March in the 225g & 425g size bags. The remaining SunChips packages will transition into the compostable packaging in August 2010.

Here in the U.S., a prototype SunChips bag (made from one-third plant-based materials) is widely available. Frito Lay is planning to launch its new 90% plant-based, 100% compostable bag in the U.S. to coincide with Earth Day 2010.

Bag marketed as “the new sound of green”

The renewable material used to produce the SunChips 100% compostable bag is made from a plant-based material called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is a versatile and compostable polymer made from starch.

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Is Bloom Energy’s Fuel Cell Miracle For Real?

| Saturday February 20th, 2010 | 158 Comments

UPDATE 3: click here to read our thoughts on the hype – even if Bloom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, they’ve set something good in motion

UPDATE 2: click here to read our breaking report from Wednesday’s standing room only press briefing on the Bloom Box

UPDATE: We’re still short on the real details (stay tuned till Wednesday to find those out), but scroll down to the bottom to watch the 60 minutes clip which gives a decent introduction. Leave a comment if there’s something specific you want asked.

The interwebs are aflutter with excitement over Bloom Energy’s top secret “Bloom Box” fuel cell system finally revealing itself. For those who haven’t already checked it out (the website is still just a marquee), the company boasts that their systems could literally replace the electricity grid with dispersed, clean, and easy to maintain fuel cell boxes running on a variety of fuels, water, and oxygen, with no combustion at all. Sound like hype? Their PR team has certainly been working in overdrive…

The scoop has been leaking for a day now on the CBS website, and on others including Fortune and GreenTechMedia. However, Sunday night will be your first chance to hear real details about the Bloom Box when 60 Minutes airs a segment that with either knock your socks off, raise a lot of eyebrows, or both.

Bloom has already listed almost two dozen large companies who have been stealth testers of the mysterious device including eBay, who claim to have already saved $100,000 and such perennial sustainability favorites as Google and WalMart.

Exactly how it works is among the surprises we’re supposed to get on Sunday. (edit – looks like we’re waiting till Wednesday) Hank Green suggests that the device could be installed in homes, generating both electricity and heat, which would result in big efficiency gains. Commenters on Reddit point out that the real savings may lie in avoiding transmission and maintenance costs with a machine that’s much simpler to handle than a full fledged power plant. Although the boxes cost a lot (up to $800K), the amount of power they allegedly put out more than makes up for it.

Why is this a big deal? How do they differ from existing fuel cell backup systems already in place? Has the internet been duped by one of the more successful publicity campaigns in recent memory? It’s all TBA in the next few days…

Check out 60 Minutes on Sunday night for the sneak preview, then leave your questions here. On Wednesday morning, 3p’s Jim Witkin will attend the official unveiling in San Jose along with General Colin Powell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, big shots from Kleiner Perkins and more. We’ll be able to ask some key questions and will publish the juicy details as soon as we’ve got ‘em.



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Making Money by Giving Your Product Away

Steve Puma | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 5 Comments

cory-doctorow-cc.jpgI was reading Cory Vanderpool’s article, prompted by an article in The Atlantic about how the Grateful Dead discovered innovative marketing secrets almost 40 years before they became mainstream, and I wanted to add some of my own thoughts about one marketing method that is hotly contested today: giving away content and making money off of ancillary items.

While some large organizations, such as the mainstream music and publishing industries, continue to sue their most loyal customers, the Dead were one of the first to realize that huge sums of money could be made if you simply cater to your core audience and give them what they want.

From The Atlantic article: They famously permitted fans to tape their shows, ceding a major revenue source in potential record sales. According to Barnes, the decision was not entirely selfless: it reflected a shrewd assessment that tape sharing would widen their audience, a ban would be unenforceable, and anyone inclined to tape a show would probably spend money elsewhere, such as on merchandise or tickets. The Dead became one of the most profitable bands of all time.

The story also points to something that John Perry Barlow, Dead lyricist and founding member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote for Wired magazine in 1994.  The concept, which goes directly against traditional business models, is based on the notion that it is not scarcity that creates value: “in the information economy, the best way to raise demand for your product is to give it away. What people today are beginning to realize is what became obvious to us back thenthe important correlation is the one between familiarity and value, not scarcity and value.”

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The Next Urban Development Frontier: On the Water?

| Friday February 19th, 2010 | 3 Comments

ban-startup-friday
In our increasingly crowded world, there are many schools of thought as to how and where to fit all those people. Where do they live? Where is their food grown? And particularly vexing, where do they work? Smart urban design is fast becoming a must, around the world.

You could just keep building upward, sprawling outward, or even building underground, but what about on the water?

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A Greener Olympics: Coke’s Green 2010 Winter Olympic Games Efforts

Jace Shoemaker-Galloway | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

Numerous organizations and companies have committed to making the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games more environmentally friendly. Whether it is the Olympic medals comprised partly of electronic waste or the Olympia electric ice-resurfacing machine, next to gold, green is the color of choice when it comes to the 2010 Winter Games.

Coca-Cola is taking part in a variety of sustainable efforts that are the largest and most comprehensive in the history of the company. The soft drink giant, an Olympic Games partner since 1928, is committing to be carbon neutral by reducing the company’s Olympic carbon emissions by 100 percent.

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The Wind Beneath a Greener Ferry’s Wings

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday February 19th, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-friday

A small San Francisco startup, Wind+Wing Technologies, wants to take us back to the future with its concept for ferries equipped with carbon composite wings as sails, an idea that is also taking hold in a different form for ocean cargo vessels.
Ferries with sails are a natural for the Bay Area because of the strong prevailing winds. Wind+Wing, based in Napa, has come up with the nation’s first “winged and wind-assisted ferry vessel” for public use in the Bay Area.
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Detroit’s Schools Offer New Class: Working at Walmart

| Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 12 Comments

“When I grow up, I want to work at Walmart.” A phrase I would expect to be uncommon coming from high school students. However, in a city with a 50% unemployment rate and public schools struggling to stay open, the education system has joined with Walmart to help our country’s future generations learn to, well, work at Walmart.

Four inner-city Detroit high schools have teamed up with the world’s largest retailer to offer classes in “job-readiness training.” This program, launched last week, is during school hours and gives students high school credits toward graduation in addition to entry-level afterschool jobs. Sean Vann, principal at Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, explained that 30 students at his school will get jobs at Walmart.

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What Corporate America Can Learn from the Grateful Dead

| Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Copyright the Grateful Dead

Editor’s Note: In its original form, this article used many phrases pulled (but not quoted) from Joshua Green’s article in the March issue of The Atlantic, which served as its inspiration. We’ve therefore revised the post. Our apologies to Mr. Green.

Though I wasn’t born until 1978, I was a follower of the Grateful Dead. People of all ages have different reasons for becoming fans of the Dead, but for me, I just really liked their music. I was fascinated by the movement that followed them, one which they had no intention of creating, but found themselves inadvertently surrounded by legions of fans that looked to them as Gods.I was lucky enough to attend a Dead concert at RFK stadium in D.C. back in the mid 90s and it was an unexplainable experience. Less than a year later, Jerry Garcia, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, died of a heart attack.

Now, as an adult, I am still captivated by the Dead’s enduring legacy. The way they created customer value, promoted social networking. Making their mark on music and business, all while giving counterculture a home. Last year the remaining band members announced that the Grateful Dead Archive – recordings, press clippings, props, letters, etc. – was scheduled to open at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This news is great for the musicologists, historians, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and business theorists who study the Grateful Dead.

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Crate & Barrel Warehouse Robots Cut Carbon Footprint of Retail

Kathryn Siranosian | Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 9 Comments

Can robots from MA-based Kiva Systems turn warehouses green?

Crate and Barrel thinks so.

So far, most companies have installed Kiva warehouse automation systems because they want to improve efficiencies and cut costs.

But, Crate and Barrel is betting that there’s even greater potential. The company recently purchased a Kiva system for its Tracy, Calif. Distribution Complex (DC), and it’s especially keen to see how these innovative robots can help drive carbon footprint reductions.

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Beyond Olympic Glory: Athletes Blast Canada’s Tar Sands Industry

Bill DiBenedetto | Thursday February 18th, 2010 | 0 Comments

The Winter Olympics this year in Vancouver, BC, is a little more than the usual venue for endless corporate advertising and big money sponsorship of “amateur” athletes, thanks to the Sierra Club and its campaign against Canada’s tar oil sands extraction industry.

A few prominent winter athletes are joining with various international environmental groups in calling on Canada to “save the Winter Olympics” and end oil sands destruction.

It’s a combination of athletic self-interest and environmental activism, with the world watching.

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Breaking News: Three Tesla Employees Killed in Palo Alto Plane Crash

Steve Puma | Wednesday February 17th, 2010 | 0 Comments

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