Archive for January, 2013
Recently the Seattle Times ran an article with a seemingly paradoxical headline: “Rise in renewable energy will require more use of fossil fuels.”
Wasn’t renewable energy supposed to take the place of fossil fuels? Isn’t that the whole point?
Let’s be clear: We love the idea of renewable energy. Why, if we had a magic wand, all the earth’s energy needs would be met through renewable sources. The No. 1 Saudi export would be pistachios. Unfortunately, we do not have such a wand. We do have a choice: We can either ratchet down our energy consumption to match the levels that can be provided by renewable energy sources, or we can continue to use fossil fuels to maintain the lifestyles we demand. We don’t get both. Read the rest of this entry »
Hydroelectric power is one of the oldest green energy technologies in the world, dating as far back as the early 1800s. But it is far from the ideal. Hydroelectric dams have been known to cause degradation in water quality from increased temperatures, loss of oxygen content, siltation, and gains in phosphorus and nitrogen content. They can also disrupt wildlife. Even the more modern tidal power systems can have negative ecological effects.
But what if you could generate hydroelectric power simply by turning on your sink or shower? For some cities, this is no longer a “what if” but “when” scenario.
Based in Portland, Ore., Lucid Energy Inc. developed a new technology using wind energy principles. By installing large turbines inside water utility pipes, the company generates electricity using the water flow. The turbines will produce power as long as water is moving through the pipes — which is nearly always. Read the rest of this entry »
Doing things at the last minute, especially around the holidays, never seems to go very well.
And I’m not talking about the ugly tie your uncle got you for Christmas because he only remembered to go shopping on Dec. 24.
No, I’m talking about the U.S. Congress here, which occasionally seems to let slip until the last possible minute issues and bills that matter to millions of people, and when they finally act on them, it may just be too late.
On Jan. 1, literally hours after it had been set to expire, Congress renewed the Wind Production Tax Credit, keeping alive incentives for wind energy manufacturers who employ thousands of workers, including factory workers who help build turbines, truck drivers who deliver parts and equipment, and a host of other skilled labor jobs. Read the rest of this entry »
In an effort to maintain corporate sustainability goals, many companies are examining their entire product lifecycles to find places to “go green”: from materials procurement to the manufacturing process and facility infrastructure to shipping and transportation to waste disposal, it’s all under review. Is it because companies are becoming more concerned with the environment?
For some, that may be the case, but for most, it’s simply too expensive to be wasteful today. Arbitrarily using and discarding resources may be a viable (though irresponsible) option when resources are plentiful and cheap, but increasingly, this is no longer true. Read the rest of this entry »
After spending several weeks examining the applications and markets for plant-based polymers and related materials, I think it’s safe to say that this broad category of materials has potential environmental benefits. In spite of that, though, bioplastics, biopolymers and other plant-based materials still have to compete on the key criteria of performance and price. (See my recent articles on bio-based materials in the markets for intermediates, coatings, disposables, automotive materials and packaging.)
Markets for plastics and polymers and adjacent segments are attractive targets for innovators in chemical products. Research firm IBISWorld estimates that plastic products were worth $779.8 billion in 2012 and will grow to $941.4 billion in 2017. Global Industry Analysts says the global coatings market should reach $107 billion by 2017. Pike Research predicts that the global packaging market will be worth $530 billion by 2014, with sustainable packaging representing $170 billion of that. And the Center for Automotive Research estimates that the U.S. automotive industry alone reached $370 billion in 2011, with “the majority of this value is in the automotive parts sector.” Read the rest of this entry »
Fisker always was a snake oil car company. Fisker came to the American public’s consciousness in 2009 as part of the Obama administration’s plans to promote green manufacturing, and to “put Americans back to work.”
Fisker Automotive, backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a veteran Silicon Valley venture-capital firm of which former Vice President Al Gore was a partner, got a $529 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy to build the Karma, a luxury sports car which would sell for about $90,000. In September 2009 The Wall Street Journal reported that Fisker officials said the car would be “powered by a lithium-ion battery, will be able to run solely on electric power for 50 miles, and will achieve an average fuel economy of 100 mpg over the span of a year.”
Then things started to go sideways. Read the rest of this entry »
There are few things as impactful to the modern world as concrete. Usage of different types of cement and concrete predates the Roman Empire. Roads, buildings, bridges and more would not be possible as we know it without concrete. Modern civilization as we know cannot exist without it.
However, there are few things in the world with as much negative environmental impact. For starters, nearly all applications of concrete deliberately disrupt the environment — namely, in roads and buildings that require the destruction of trees, grass and natural habitats. Even if we disregarded this fact, the production of cement is still one of the single highest sources of CO2 in the world. It is often estimated that 5 percent of the global CO2 production comes from the manufacture of cement. Read the rest of this entry »
Hydraulic fracturing, or as it’s more commonly known, fracking, might be the hottest environmental debate brewing right now.
Just in the last few weeks, major media outlets like CBS News and Esquire magazine have taken in-depth looks at fracking, and it seems like every day brings new developments as more and more states embrace drilling for oil vertically and horizontally, and allowing major oil companies like Chesapeake Energy to drill into the land.
Hollywood has taken notice as well; the new Matt Damon movie, “Promised Land” takes a look at fracking, and has already been criticized by energy companies for being too biased against them. Read the rest of this entry »
Air quality is an important part of OSHA and sustainability requirements. No matter what type of manufacturing facility you work in, proper ventilation and air quality controls must be maintained. To help industrial businesses develop both basic and advanced skills related to industrial ventilation, ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists) recently announced the return of its popular continuing education course, Fundamentals in Industrial Ventilation & Practical Applications of Useful Equations on April 22-26 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The week-long certification course has been a well-regarded event for ACGIH for more than 10 years, according to Ryan Peltier, the association’s science and education manager.
Intermediates are materials, supplies or components that are supplied by one entity as an input to another entity’s manufacturing process. It’s a diverse and diffuse market that can include basic commodities like chemicals, resins, films, sheets or other kinds of relatively undifferentiated processed materials — or it can include more refined and differentiated components such as plastic parts.
The concept of intermediates is not limited to the field of plastics; it can encompass materials such as lumber, metals, leather, paper, textiles, paints, dyes, fertilizers or even energy products such as petroleum, gas or electricity. An intermediate component can be complex in itself and can incorporate many parts and many different materials. For example, a car seat is a fairly complex assembly made up of a frame, foam padding, upholstery material, parts for controlling seat position and possibly even a heating element and electronic controls. The seat is made up of a number of intermediate components, but in reality the seat itself can be seen as an intermediate component that will eventually make up part of an automobile. Read the rest of this entry »