June 2012 Archives
June 08, 2012 |
by Chris Keenan
In today’s economy, businesses and individuals alike are trying to reduce their costs. Although many small businesses are definitely not changing their prices, buildings’ electric bills may suddenly be on the downslope thanks to new technology.
According to The Green Optimistic, the CUNY Energy Institute recently announced that it has built an operating prototype zinc anode battery system. In the past, the CUNY Energy Institute has specialized in providing low cost, safe, non-toxic batteries that offer not only fast discharge rates but high energy densities as well. This new announcement however brings innovation to a whole new level.
Benefits are plentiful when it comes to the revolutionary zinc anode battery. Zinc anode batteries offer an environmentally friendlier option. Furthermore, these batteries are also significantly less expensive than their nickel cadmium counterparts. Eventually, they could even replace the lead-acid batteries at the lower cost end of the market.
There is however one major challenge. Essentially, the dendrite formation associated with zinc should needs to be addressed. Dendrites are crystalline structures that cause batteries to short. CUNY researchers are actively handling this issue. They have developed a flow-assisted zinc anode battery with a sophisticated advanced battery management system (BMS) that actually controls the charge/discharge protocol.
The CUNY Institute has assembled a 36 kilowatt-hour rechargeable battery system in order to best demonstrate this cutting-edge technology. The system, located in the basement of Steinman Hall on the City College of New York campus home, is made up of 36 individual one kWh nickel-zinc flow-assisted cells attached together and operated solely by the BMS.
During low usage periods such as overnight, these batteries charge. On the contrary they discharge during peak-demand periods when surcharges for power usage are very high.
“This is affordable, rechargeable electricity storage made from cheap, non-toxic materials that are inherently safe,” said Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee, director of the CUNY Energy Institute and distinguished professor of engineering in CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering. “The entire Energy Institute has worked on these batteries — stacking electrodes, mounting terminals, connecting to the inverters — and they are going to be a game changer for the electric grid.”
These incredible batteries are created for more than 5,000-10,000 charge cycles. That equals a lifespan of over ten years! Thus far, the demonstration system has been so successful that plans are underway for expanding it to 100 kWh and later an additional 200 kWh yet this year. Once the expansion is complete, this demonstration model will hold the power of more than 30 percent of Steinman Hall’s peak demand power needs. Thereby yielding a whopping savings of over $6,000 per month.
At this point, researchers are currently working towards having an operational company by fall 2012 in order to commercialize these valuable batteries. Dr. Banerjee is hopeful for a thriving future for the zinc anode batteries potentially involving industrial facilities, commercial properties, backup power for server farms and even grid support.
This story is a shining example of how new innovations in existing technology can lead to major advancements in energy efficiency. As the Thomas Edison quote goes “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Photo Credit: Cuny.edu
Reprinted with permission from Green Building Elements
Across a large area of western Siberia, shrubs are rapidly growing into trees more than six feet tall, a process that is expected to further increase temperatures in this rapidly warming part of the Arctic, according to a new study. Relying on satellite images and fieldwork, scientists from Oxford University and Finland found that in 8 to 15 percent of a 36,000-square-mile region in western Siberia, willow and alder shrubs had turned into trees over the last 30 to 40 years as temperatures have climbed. Oxford scientists said their research showed that the growth of shrubs could be an even more important factor in the greening of the tundra than the migration of trees northward from the boreal forest. The rapid growth of trees is expected to further warm the Arctic for two reasons. In the Arctic spring and autumn, shrubs are often buried under snow, but trees grow above the snow, their dark surfaces absorbing sunlight. In addition, trees create a microclimate that traps heat. “The speed and magnitude of the observed change is far greater than we expected,” said Bruce Forbes of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland and a co-author of the paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Veronica French
Mexico’s largest PV panel manufacturer, Solartec, has invested nearly $7 million USD in the construction of “Enercity-Alfa”; the first solar park in Mexico produced solely by Mexican manufacturers.
Solartec has already commenced the construction of “Enercity-Alfa”, located in the Apolo Industrial Park in Irapuato, Guanajuato. On the 4.9-acre plot of land, the solar park will feature 5,824 solar panels produced by Solartec that will generate a total of 1.4 MW of electricity.
The Bajio area in Guanajuato is the hub for many auto manufacturers in Mexico, and already nine supplying companies for the automotive industry have agreed to use Enercity-Alfa’s renewable energy supply.
According to Solartec, Enercity-Alfa’s operations will prevent the emission of at least 22,800 tons of CO2.
Solartec has supported solar projects in Mexico for companies like Wal-Mart and Banorte.Reprinted with permission from Ecopreneurist
by Gavin Hudson
Some data centers use natural underground reservoirs to cool their servers and cut their power usage effectiveness (PUE), or the relationship between energy used for the computing and energy used by the building.
This week, Green data center announced another potential solution to save energy: the world’s most powerful direct current (DC) data center. Since transforming energy between alternating current and direct current creates heat, Green has opted to run a portion of their servers purely on DC, reducing the transformation steps from around five to just two.
With DC-capable servers from HP and DC technology from ABB, Green data center hopes to save 10-20 percent on energy costs. For a 10 MW fully DC data center, that’s equivalent to saving the energy generated by this wind turbine.
“To many people, the cloud is in a way a very esoteric concept. People think that because they’re carrying these little objects around that it doesn’t affect the environment,” said Dr. Anne Wiggins of EcoCloud. "The fact that all this information is streaming down to me personally and to hundreds of millions of people around the world… It uses a lot of energy."
People will likely never carry signs reading “Use paper! Save an electron!” but greening data centers with natural reservoirs, renewable energy and DC technology saves energy. Whether more data centers will follow suite with DC servers remains to be seen.Reprinted with permission from Earth & Industry
Nanosolar, which uses nanotechnology to print thin film solar, closed another $50 million equity round after raising $20 million in March, bringing its total raised to about $500 million since its start in 2002.
Based in California, Nanosolar prints solar cells based on CIGS technology and nanoparticle inks. It prints on low-cost aluminum foil and uses roll-to-roll printable semiconductor technology to deliver the lowest cost thin film solar products.
This approach minimizes the use of expensive, high vacuum manufacturing equipment, and enables Nanosolar's solar cells and panels to reach efficiencies competitive with crystalline silicon panels, they say.
Its first product, the Nanosolar Utility Panel, enables competitively priced peak power and installed system economics at utility-scale.
The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab(NREL) certified Nanosolar's cell efficiency at 17.1 percent.
The new funds will enable further expansion, support research and development designed to deliver greater efficiency, and drive faster commercialization of its solar technology.
Nanosolar shipped 10 MW in 2011, less than other start-up CIGS solar manufacturers like MiaSole, which shipped 60 MW, and nowhere near the largest CIGS manufacturer Solar Frontier, which has a new 900 MW factory and a deal for 150 MW.
Investors in this latest round include OnPoint Technologies, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Ohana Holdings, and Family Offices.
Solar start-ups have been re-tooling to compete with low priced Chinese manufacturers, which hasn't been easy.
Photo by Nanosolar
Reprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
1. A solid communications strategy starts with a brand promise and a solid operational commitment to that promise. Can you explain the evolution of Chipotle’s ‘Food with Integrity’ brand promise, and give us a few examples of how you’re delivering on this promise?
‘Food with Integrity’ isn’t so much a brand promise as it is an operating philosophy. At Chipotle, we are guided by the notion of ‘Food with Integrity’—always looking for better, sustainable sources for all of our ingredients and better cooking methods for all of our foods. For example, all of our meat is naturally raised and no hormones or chemicals are ever used. We are making significant progress with sourcing cream (used in our sour cream) solely from free-range dairy cows. Only more recently has this philosophy become the primary basis for our communications. We didn’t do these things to give ourselves a marketing platform. We do it because we believe that it is the right thing to do and results in better tasting food. Recently, we’ve seen that more and more consumers are receptive to learning about where their food comes from, so we’ve begun to align or communications around this.
2. Once you established your brand promise and planned how you would execute on it, I’m sure you struggled with what to communicate to whom about your efforts. Can you tell us who you see as your key business stakeholders and broadly how you have staged or prioritized your communications efforts with them?
The primary problem with communications is that by moving in the direction we are moving, we are trying to solve a problem that many people don’t know exist. Although people in the Sustainable Brands community have an above average knowledge of these issues, mainstream consumers often don’t understand the differences in how food is raised. This makes our communications challenges two-fold: telling people what Chipotle is doing and why it matters and also building awareness/educating people about the issues, why they matter and demonstrating what Chipotle is doing to make improvements.
3. Many customers likely enjoy Chipotle’s food without giving much thought to where it comes from. Assuming your customers aren’t coming to you first because of your commitment to Food with Integrity, how has Chipotle engaged your customers to create broader awareness of the importance of sustainable sourcing practices?
A lot of people come to Chipotle simply because they love the food. Traditionally, we were not too aggressive about engaging customers about our food choice, but as more and more customers show interest in the subject, we have made more information available to those who want to learn. Sometimes it’s tough to communicate sustainable practices through traditional advertising mediums and so have begun seeking alternatives mediums. For instance, we’ve created a signature event in Chicago called “Cultivate”, a day-long celebration of food, music and ideas. The aim is to bring people to an event that is fun and where’s there good music, food and activities for children, but sends people away having learned about Chipotle and sustainability issues they didn’t know about before. We produced the 2 minute short film “Back to the Start”, which goes beyond the confines of traditional advertising to raise awareness of food.
4. Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” video caused quite the sensation, putting Chipotle suddenly on the map as a sustainable brand leader, raising cheers from some sectors, and probably discomfort or criticism from others. Can you tell us what you’ve experienced in the way of the response to the video? Do you feel it’s been a net positive thing for Chipotle in addition to having undoubtedly had the impact of making hundred’s of thousands of people question where their food comes from?
I think it’s more of a win for politics than for commerce. I don’t know if the film has made more people go to Chipotle, but it has definitely sparked conversation about the issues, which is what it was always intended to do, anyway. The response has been largely positive –people in the sustainability food movement are big fans and many of our customers have responded very favorably. It’s also been tremendously well-received in advertising and marketing circles. Where it has mostly ruffled feathers is in the industrial agriculture sector where they tend to be sensitive to criticism of any kind. It was not our intention to criticize, but show there are different ways to do things.
5. After it’s initial TV debut, the film received extensive social medial play. What do you think the secret is here? How can sustainable brands best leverage social media to ‘stand out of the crowd’?
Social media is a difficult thing to leverage because having things go viral are to a large measure beyond your control. I think what made “Back to the Start” so compelling was the concept of the film—it dealt with very serious issues in a way that was much lighter and accessible. It leveraged the talents of Willie Nelson, who did a great cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”, which was well received as a song in its own right. People make these videos with the hopes of them going viral, but ultimately it’s people who determine this, not the brands. I think a lot of its success can be attributed to the concept and production quality of the piece and telling a story in an entertaining way that really resonated with people. It was not intended to be an advertisement in the beginning, but a brand narrative film. After seeing its success, we extended its use in a very organic way, putting it online, where it received significant viewership, and it even ran on 10,000 movie screens nationwide.
6. How is sustainability key to business success and what do you see as the cost/benefit of choosing to be a sustainability leader?
Sustainability per se was never really Chipotle’s goal or vision. In some ways, Chipotle is different because we don’t really have a sustainability strategy or initiative. Our aim has always been to strive for better food and food that we could feel good about from sources that weren’t part of an exploitative system. We started doing this before sustainability was even a major topic in the business world. The cost-benefit of our policies is not something we have tried to quantify. However, as a percentage of revenue, we have the highest food costs because of our commitment to high quality ingredients. Even though it costs us more to serve food made with better ingredients, our customers demonstrate willingness to pay a bit more for food that is better. We have, for a decade or more, been one of the fastest growing fast food companies in the country and one of the most successful—we have the one of the highest profit margins in the industry.
7. What role do brands play in the shift to a sustainable economy?
I think there are certainly a lot of things that a lot of the big players are doing to make even small improvements to food sustainability. Looking at any aspect of business and there’s the products you make or sell – for us this is food and developing more sustainable ways to provide it. For Chipotle, at his largely been about educating consumers as we have been trying to solve a problem many don’t even know exists. Especially our younger consumers seem to be more interested in companies and brands doing things in more sustainable ways—letting people know there are better ways of doing things. Granted, the natural competitiveness of the fast food industry often makes it hard to acknowledge that others are doing also doing good things to drive the industry forward.
8. How can the food service community come together to make significant, positive change? What are the risks or advantages for those who decide to collaborate with competitors to help drive change rather than try to go it alone?
We have been on this journey for a long time and what we have maintained is that we can’t change the way people think about fast food by ourselves. The more brands that move in this direction, the more the industry moves forward. We are really encouraged when competitors like McDonalds and Wendy’s take steps in the direction of sustainability. We are in a category where there are a lot of brands position themselves as the “Chipotle of Burgers” or whatnot. But this is not what makes sustainability work. What works is a commitment to serving great food with good ingredients and classic cooking techniques. We are starting to see some smaller regional operations doing more things that are similar to what we are doing. In the South East of the U.S., there is a pizza concept called Pizza Fusion that uses natural ingredients, which we are encouraged to see. I think it’s easier to build a sustainable brand from the ground up than to change a very well established business. However, when an established brand like McDonalds makes changes in the direction of sustainability, it can turn the industry much quicker than a smaller one can do on its own. It’s great to see others getting in on the game.
9. What do you think is the greatest challenge facing companies who aspire to be truly sustainable brands?
I think the greatest challenge is incorporating sustainability into the business ethos and not just window dressing. A lot of companies do things that are little more than add-ons done more for PR purposes than to really serve as the ethos of the business. For example, one of the big oil companies in one year spent $10 million on developing renewable energy sources and $100 million on advertising. In my opinion, it would have been better to have reversed those expenditures. The challenge is incorporating sustainability into the core of the business rather than using it simply as a marketing tool. When it is, this leads to perceptions of ‘greenwashing’ and makes consumers skeptical. Doing things in small ways and taking big credit is not good. It’s better to do more and talk less about it and let people find out for themselves.
The Sustainable Brands 2012 conference is underway until June 7 in San Diego, California.
Spraying aerosols into the atmosphere, one of the so-called geoengineering schemes often proposed as a way to counteract global warming, would also make the daytime sky significantly brighter and whiter, according to a new study. Using sophisticated models, researchers estimated that a 2-percent reduction in the sun’s light — which would be approximately enough to offset warming in the case of a doubling of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide — would have the side-effect of making the sky three to five times brighter. Depending on the size of the sulfate-based aerosol particles, the sky would become whiter during the day and trigger the types of vivid sunsets often seen following large volcanic eruptions. While the sky would still be blue, the researchers say, it would be a lighter shade than most people are used to — and more similar to the sky colors seen over urban areas. “These results give people one more thing to consider before deciding whether we really want to go down that road,” said Ben Kravitz, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science and co-author of the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Photo by Horia Varlan/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Heather Carr
Researchers have found radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant in bluefin tuna found in the Eastern Pacific.
The tuna contained levels of cesium-134 nearly ten times higher than in previous years. Judging by the age of the fish at capture, the tuna had left the waters around Fukushima about one month after the tsunami and ensuing nuclear plant disaster of March 2011.
The big surprise is that the levels are still so high. Tuna and other large fish metabolize and excrete cesium as they go about their lives. The concentration in a fish’s body also reduces as they grow larger.
More study is needed to determine how the radiation is affecting other sea life.
Bluefin Tuna Carry Radiation From Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
Low-level radiation has been found in populations of bluefin tuna off the coast of California, a new study has found, noting that the fish are carrying radioactive material from Japanese waters more than 6,000 miles away.
Researchers have found “modestly elevated levels” of two radioactive isotopes in bluefin tuna caught off the coast of San Diego in August 2011. They said the tuna picked up the radiation by swimming and feeding in the waters off the coast of Japan where the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster occurred in March 2011.
They were quick to point out, however, that the elevated levels of radiation found in the fish posed no health risk to public health, saying the observed levels were much lower than the Japanese safety limit recommends. They also noted that the radioactive material found would likely decrease over time as the material dilutes in the ocean.
In the study, published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the researchers analyzed 15 bluefin tuna and found radioactive levels of cesium-134 nearly 10 times higher than in fish caught in previous years. Lower levels of cesium-137 were also found in bluefin tuna. However, unlike human-produced cesium-134, cesium-137 occurs naturally in the eastern Pacific.
The team also found no traces of cesium-134 in yellowfin tuna, which are only found in the eastern Pacific.
The analysis provides “unequivocal evidence” that the radiation stems from Fukushima, said study authors Daniel Madigan of California’s Stanford University, and Zofia Baumann and Nicholas Fisher, both of Stony Brook University in New York.
“These findings indicate that Pacific bluefin tuna can rapidly transport radionuclides from a point source in Japan to distant ecoregions and demonstrate the importance of migratory animals as transport vectors,” the authors told the AFP news agency.
Radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant leaked into the air, soil and sea after the March 11, 2011 disaster. The tuna picked up the radiation in the seawater and carried it much faster across the Pacific than wind and water currents were able to carry debris to waters around the Pacific Northwest.
Bluefin tuna spawn only in the western Pacific, typically off the coast of Japan and the Philippines. Some populations of young bluefin migrate east to the California coast, where upwelling ocean water brings lots of food for them and their prey. They arrive as juveniles and spend their lives there.
Judging by their size, the researchers knew they were juveniles and had left Japanese coastal waters about a month after the Fukushima disaster. Still, the finding was puzzling.
“We were frankly kind of startled,” Fisher told The Telegraph. Nuclear fallout typically does not linger in huge fish that sail the world because they have the ability to metabolize and shed radioactive substances, he noted. Bluefin tuna excrete cesium-134 on a daily basis and it also gets diluted in their bodies as they grow.
The authors said the real test will begin this summer when they complete more analysis of bluefin tuna. They will examine tuna that have experienced longer periods in radioactive waters to see if they have been affected by contamination.
“Much will depend on the concentration in the prey fish, which in turn is ultimately dependent on the water concentration,” Fisher told Bloomberg reporter Stuart Biggs. “If concentrations in water will eventually decline, as we would expect, due to dilution and dispersion, then concentrations in living organisms will eventually decline as well.”
Now that they know bluefin tuna can transport radiation, they also want to track other marine life such as turtles, sharks and seabirds to see if they play similar roles in radioactive transportation.
“It is unlikely” that the level will rise in tuna, Madigan told Bloomberg. “However, certain small fish around Japan showed very high levels after the accident. If certain larger predators happen to feed on these prey, higher levels than we observed may be possible.”
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters that international monitoring of marine life is probably needed. He added that officials in Japan are studying different ways they can collect information on the issue.Reprinted with permission from Blue Living Ideas
Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Charis Michelsen
Okay, Gas2 readers, it’s rhetorical question time: Do you remember Nissan’s electric van? The one where it looked like they chopped off the front end of the Leaf and stuck it onto a metal box? (Because that’s more or less what they did.) It seems to be more or less done testing and actually slated for production!
The e-NV200 – Almost Cute, Totally Practical
Nissan has announced that the 100 percent electric compact van (which is not the same thing as a minivan) will go into production in the Barcelona plant in FY2013. It’s Nissan’s second all-electric vehicle (the first one being (of course) the Leaf, for which Nissan has done absolutely shameless amounts of promoting). Nissan itself says that this underlines its long-term commitment to zero emission mobility, and they definitely get major points for that.
As Nissan guessed a few months ago, the van has a range comparable to that of the Leaf and also delivers what Nissan calls similar performance. I personally suspect it will handle much like a Leaf with a large heavy thing strapped to the roof, but the zero emissions are well worth the potentially less fun drive. Besides, it’s a cargo van. They’re not supposed to be fun to drive. They’re supposed to go from point A to point B, and the e-NV200 should do that less expensively in terms of both monies pumped into maintenance and carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.
Inside the van will, of course, be super spacious and in theory work well to haul around both goods and people.
Only in Barcelona
The e-NV200 will not only start production in Barcelona next year, but it will only be produced in Barcelona. Nissan is investing an initial 41million euros (about $51 million USD), which is a major product investment even for a massive company like Nissan. Nissan also claims this highlights the competitiveness of its Spanish industrial operations, pointing out that it has also allocated a new medium duty truck to its Avila plant (central Spain).
The e-NV200 is also supposed to help Nissan become the world’s largest LCV manufacturer by 2016 – it’s current NV200 line up is already fairly popular (it’s the current New York City Taxi of Tomorrow, for example). If the e-NV200 works as well as its ICE counterpart, it should help Nissan quite a bit. Rigorous testing continues, of course, prior to production.
Andy Palmer, Nissan’s Executive Vice President says of the e-NV200:
“e-NV200 represents a genuine breakthrough in commercial vehicles and further underlines Nissan’s leadership within the electric vehicle segment. The new model will offer all the spaciousness, versatility and practicality of a traditionally powered compact van, but with zero CO2 emission at the point of use and provides outstanding driving experience that is unique to EV’s.
“Crucially, it will also offer class-leading running and maintenance costs which makes it an exceptionally attractive proposition to both businesses and families.
“e-NV200 represents a bold and innovative addition to our commercial vehicle range, which is already one of the broadest of any manufacturer. I would like to thank the Spanish and Catalonian Government for their continued support of Nissan in Spain, and congratulate the Barcelona workforce for earning the right to produce what will be an extremely important model for Nissan globally.”
Questions or comments? Let us know below.
Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0