Happy Halloween! It’s an orange and black carnival of the green this week brought to you by Groovy Green.
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This week I am looking into the theoretical maximum efficiency of a heat engine. Then I will focus on a technology that harnesses ocean water to generate electricity.
The ideal engine runs on the Carnot cycle. According to our friends at Wikipedia “it is the most efficient cycle possible for converting a given amount of thermal energy into work.” In a Carnot cycle there is a heat source (flame, sunlight) and a cooling source (water, cold air). The definition of Carnot efficiency is 1 – Temp.Cold /Temp.Hot, where temperature is in Kelvin.
The economic costs of doing nothing about climate change are expected to be deep, long term recession – according to UK report due out soon. According to The Guardian the Treasury-commisioned report fears economic collapse on a level similar to that of the great depression. While it’s a report that will most certainly be worth reading, I take it as an invitation to immense opportunity. If, as the report says, $15 Trillion is going to be needed to invest in new energy sources alone worldwide, think of the business that represents.
No one disputes that deforestation, particularily in tropical locations such as Brazil, is a major problem for the health of the planet and of humanity. However, one also cannot blame tropical countries for engaging in deforestation when they are in desparate need of economic growth for an impoverished populace. A carbon trading solution suggests that an acre of forest left intact might actually yeild more money for a country’s coffers if the carbon sequestering value of that acre could be sold on an open exchange. Critics, however, point out that some degree of carbon trading may help, but it has the potential nagative side effect of discouraging industrial nations for changing their habits by simply letting them pay to pollute. Read more on WBCSD.
The Recycline Razor looks by all accounts to be a very good idea and it probably is. It’s made of 65% Stonyfield Yogurt containers and the rest is “100% Recycled“. It’s also fully recycleable provided one’s community offers #5 plastics recycling, as are the company’s other products such as toothbrushes.
However, this got me thinking about a report I read once on the website of this Radius Toothbrush company which had a very articulate calculation of why it was, in fact, not worth it to recycle their products. The website is offline now, but see this space for it in the future. The gist was – the amount of fossil fuel used to send the toothbrish back to the plant to be melted down and made into a new toothbrush was actually greater than the amount used to simply make a new toothbrush and send it one way. Radius advises customers to re-use their old toothbrushes for other household purposes instead of trying to recycle them.
It’s a very interesting little puzzle! My guess is that at some point economy of scale kicks in and by using, for example, Stonyfield Yogurt containers recycled in bulk for the original manufacturing of the toothbrushes, Recycline saves considerably on fossil fuel use, but we’d need many more details to be sure!
Ed Note, Oct 30 – John Lively from Recycline got in touch with me (see comment below) to say that the reason the Radius calculation is no longer on the website is that it incorrectly stated that old toothbrushes from recycline would be manufactured into new toothbrushes. This is not the case and Radius agreed to remove the calculation pending something more accurate in the future. Please see John’s full note below!
Despite government incentives and a known payback period, many companies still find the startup costs associated with going solar to be prohibitive. A group called “Developing Energy Efficient Roof Systems” has emerged to challenge that concept. Starting with a major General Motors facility in southern California, they have assumed all the financing, risks, and installation costs for a huge solar array to be placed on the roof of the GM factory. In return, GM signs a contract to buy electricity and a certain rate from the company (DEERS). It’s a pretty brilliant idea. Read more in the NYtimes.
There were people fearing that Jeffrey Skilling was going to get off easy, but the ex-Enron CEO was sentanced today to 24 years in prison. Ouch. You’d almost feel bad for the guy until you see the (literally) thousands of people he hurt or crushed financially, not to mention the immense cost to business in both reputation and added costs associated with Sarbanes Oxley. Hopefully this sends the message that needs to be sent regarding breaches of ethics and the outright greed that has come to pollute the business world in the past decades.
Monday, monday monday… carnival of the green time! Pop over to “how to save the world” for this week’s reading.
Not only is China’s richest person a woman, but she made her fortune by recycling paper. The Financial Times has an inspiring profile of Zhang Yin who’s company, Nine Dragons Paper, thrives by collecing scrap paper in the United States, recycling it, and selling it in China. Talk about trash to cash – her empire is now worth an estimated $3.4 Billion dollars.
(Also Reported on Treehugger)
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This week on AskPablo I address the question: “Why does burning one kg of gasoline in my car’s engine result in more than 1 kg of tailpipe emissions?” Well, you could dust off your college chemistry textbook and figure it out yourself, or you could leave the headache to me.
If you only read the Financial Times once in a blue moon, tommorow might be a good day to pick it up. There’s a special “Energy Report” coming out which lays out the ‘pros and cons’ of alternative energy. Knowing the FT’s influence, this is going to be an interesting issue – one we may either love or criticize to death. Grab a copy tommorow and let us know what you think!
Yes, Seventh Generation has a director of corporate consciousness, and his name is Gregor Barnum – one of the most interesting and articulate business leaders I’ve ever met. Jacob at TreeHugger has conducted an outstanding interview with Gregor which I highly suggest you drop over and check out. Link Here. Seventh Generation is in the enviable position of having a truly inspired group of folks behind the scenes who are really trying to revolutionize the way a business can be run and function in a new, sustainable economy and ecology. It sound’s cheesy. It’s not, check out the interview.
Sustain Lane, the emerging portal on sustainability recently let me know about an exciting new project – Sustainlane.us, a growing database of best practices for local goverments interested in sustainable development.
Having made a name for themselves with interesting “top ten” lists like the “top ten most sustainable cities”, Sustainlane seems to be begining to reveal their full plan – a massive user generated review system. The website has recently changed to reflect this. Will they be able to compete with the likes of Yelp, who have no “green tendencies” of course, or Alonovo the green amazon filter? Either way, they’re moving gung ho in that direction and it’ll be very interesting to see what happens.
The government portal will become a huge database on best practices for anyone in local office – the only price to join is to submit a best practice of your own. So far this seems like the most useful thing on the SustainLane site, but we’re bound to see more in the near future.
In an article worthy of Pablo, the New York Times today brings our attention to a fascinating study by University of Palermo researches into the environmental cost of wine. The research team spent most of a year at a particular Sicilian vineyard measuring every imaginable facet of the winemaking process from pesticide use to labeling of bottles. The findings:
The production of a bottle of Terre della Baronia created more than a pound of waste and put 16 grams of sulfur dioxide into the air. Producing the 2004 vintage of 100,000 bottles generated 22,000 pounds of plastic waste, 11,000 pounds of paper and oceans of wastewater.
The findings also show that, despite large companies being labeled cuprits, 60% of commercial waste comes from smaller businesses. As a result, this particular winemaker has already made changes in several areas of the process to be less wasteful, and more profitable. But more importantly, the process that was used on the winery can be duplicated in many operations, agricultural and not. Plans are underway for a database of findings. Full article here.
We’ve been familiar with market based trading schemes for emissions such as sulpher dioxide and CO2, but here’s something I hadn’t head of before – Water Quality Trading. The concept, like airborne emissions trading, is to find an efficient and cheap way to improve water quality in a given watershed. If a company faces high costs to reduce their pollutants, they can pay a more efficient company to reduce their pollutants instead, resulting in essentially the same thing. Like a CO2 emissions cap, a given watershed can have a goal established that all polluters in the watershed must achieve together. For more information check out this 120 page handbook put out by the EPA.
This was brought to my attention by a nifty new green blog – the Green Wombat.