Dec 15, 2009

Sustainable Air Travel

I was listening to CNBC the other day as they were talking about the new Boeing Dreamliner, more fuel efficient planes, and the direction of the airline industry. Curious, I decided to search for "Green Airlines" to see which airlines are making strides to implement more sustainable and eco-friendly practices.

There were 3 airlines that had very interesting and innovative sustainability strategies: Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue.

Continental Airlines was featured on Fortune Magazine as one of 10 "Green Giants," large corporations that are putting sustainability at the forefront of their operations. They've spent more than $16 billion to make their fleet more fuel efficient, and even employ environmentalists to work alongside engine manufacturers to increase aircraft fuel efficiency, to design green terminals, and to employ recycling practices. Continental was also the first commercial carrier to demonstrate the use of biofuels as aircraft fuel in early 2009.

Similar to Continental, Southwest Airlines has implemented recycling practices to recycle anything from waste to batteries to used oil. They have also installed winglets on their fleet of aircraft and installed avionics systems to plan more fuel efficient flight routes. However, what is most impressive is that Southwest has marked one of their planes as a "Green Plane." The Boeing 737-700 Southwest flight WN222 is an in-service aircraft running commercial routes with the latest innovations in eco-friendly and sustainable materials including carpeting, seat covers, etc. to test the durability of these products and their effect on the customer experience.

JetBlue Airlines has started a new program, Jetting to Green, with initiatives to reduce their environmental impact. JetBlue has made strides to install energy efficient lighting and lighter seats on aircraft, eliminated disposable headphones on flights, recycling jet fuel, etc. They also invite their customers to volunteer through the "One Thing That's Green" program, holding different events (like planting trees) for customers to sign-up for, and to offset their carbon by donating to CarbonFund. JetBlue also partners with Honeywell, Airbus, and International Aero Engines to further the research of biofuels as alternative jetfuel.

The airline industry accounts for 3% of total global emissions and is expected to grow by 5% each year. Recent reports have also shown that airlines spew more CO2 that previously estimated, potentially releasing 1.5 billion tons per year by 2025 (the European Union, consisting of 27 countries and 457 million people, emits 3.1 billion tons per year currently). It is nice to know that there are some airlines pushing the way towards more sustainable air travel by implementing initiatives and practices that reduce their carbon footprint any way they can.

My hope is that these initiatives continue and that the future of the airline industry becomes a collaboration of airports, airplane makers (like Boeing and Airbus), and airlines themselves to work together to develop a more sustainable approach to air travel.

Nov 2, 2009


My compact fluorescent bulb finally died, and I had no idea what to do next. My building does recycle, but CFLs were not in the list of items to recycle.

Luckily, a quick google search for compact fluorescent bulb recycling brought me to earth911

It's a pretty cool website, that lets you know where to recycle different things. I just typed in "Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs," typed in my zip code, and found out the nearest Ace Hardware to recycle the bulb.

Next time I need to recycle something, I'm definitely going to use earth911 again, it's a pretty cool website. They even have an iPhone app called iRecycle, so you can use the phone to find out where to recycle different things.

Oct 12, 2009

Smart Grid + Hawaii = Eco Paradise

General Electric has been getting into Smart Grids lately, even releasing an amazing new website to inform consumers of the benefits of smart grid technology for their homes and their lives.

I'm going to digress for a second here, because this particular website is one of the best websites I've come across. Particularly for this one page where the website asks you to print out a piece of paper (use recycled paper, please), and show it in front of your webcam...the result is something like this.

What GE envisions with this consumer-focused Smart Grid campaign is to have homes that look like this:

Image from: CNet

A energy management system powered by smart meters would efficiently allocate energy during peak and off-peak hours in the home with solar arrays or a wind turbines providing renewable sources of energy. Moreover, the energy management system and the smart meters would track energy usage of all the appliances in the home and efficiently route power to the appliances that need it the most, while simultaneously reducing the power usage of appliances that aren't currently in use.

This combined with energy storage systems, efficient lighting systems, etc. would provide GE with one of the most amazing home smart grid solutions ever.

Now if all of this sounds good, it gets even better. GE is running a trial of its smart grid technology at a luxury resort in Hawaii. Hawaii is the most fossil-fuel dependent state in the U.S., with 92 percent of its energy coming from fossil fuels. If this $14 million test-run, funded in part by federal grants from the Department of Energy, General Electric, and Hawaiian Electric, works in Hawaii, it has the potential to introduce increased use of smart grids on the island.

And if Hawaii expects to reach their target of 70% of their power needs met by renewable energy by 2030, they'll definitely need to consider smart grid technology.

Sep 3, 2009

The Stimulus Package, Hybrid Buses, and State Incompetence

Finally, things have eased up a little at work, and I have some time for life!

I still am in the process of writing the post about the Green Festival in May. Though it was 3 months ago, there were still a lot of interesting things to see there.

On to the point of my post title...

I was riding the bus this morning, and it was the third time I'd managed to get on one of the new hybrid buses that the Chicago Transit Authority recently bought through the stimulus package.

Though you wouldn't peg Chicago as a "green" city right off the bat, the CTA has had hybrid buses running since 2006 starting with the 800-series New Flyer bus. In 2007, the CTA introduced the 900-series New Flyer models with a different hybrid drive system made by ISE-Siemens (as opposed to the GM/Allison drive system used in the 800-series). 2008 brought the 4000-series New Flyer, with LED lighting and the superior GM/Allison hybrid drive system used in the 800-series.

These new buses bought with the stimulus package are updated versions of the 4000-series, with a new seat design. And let me tell you, these seats are AMAZING! They're 10-times more comfortable than the old InSight seats used in the old 4000-series buses.

Now, the reason for all this set-up is to inform you that the CTA has been buying up these buses and providing New Flyer with some solid business. However, recently, the CTA has faced delays in state funding for the purchase of an additional 140 hybrid buses set to be delivered by the end of this year.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, given all the hoopla and "doomsday" scenarios between the CTA and the state, when the CTA threatened to shut down key bus routes in an effort to secure funding.

However, this has had a huge impact on New Flyer's business. Since transit buses are built on an "engineer-to-order" basis, there are production schedules set up for the production and delivery of bus orders. With the deferred CTA order, there is now a sizeable gap in New Flyer's production schedule, meaning they will have to find ways to re-allocate their labor and resources.

And one way they are doing that is by laying off 270 of their unionized workforce and 50 people in their salaried workforce. Given that New Flyer has 2500 employees, this comes to about 13% of their workforce, all because the CTA can't get state funding in time to pay for the buses.

To the workers of New Flyer who will be layed off, please excuse the state of Illinois...we're a little incompetent when it comes to things that matter...

May 14, 2009

Chicago Green Festival

I'm going to be volunteering at the Chicago Green Festival this weekend on both Saturday and Sunday, and I'm really excited!

I looked through the speakers list, and I noticed that John Perkins is going to be there. I'm reading his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, right now, and it is a great read. He'll be doing a session on "Transforming Turmoil into a New Economy," so I'm looking forward to that.

Also, Michelle Kaufmann is also going to be speaking on Saturday. I volunteer at the Museum of Science and Industry, and they have an exhibit there called Green Home: Smart+Wired, an example of a pre-fab home that has all the latest green technologies. Kaufmann's company, Michelle Kaufmann Designs, helped create the Green Home exhibit, so she'll be talking about that at the Festival.

It's going to be an exciting weekend!

May 11, 2009

The Story of Stuff

I was reading the NY Times this morning, and I came across this article. It's about this woman named Annie Leonard, who created this video with support from different NGOs. The 20-minute video essentially goes through the human consumption cycle, following the creation of stuff from the extracting raw materials from the planet to the point where we dispose of these items.

Due to a lack of educational materials revolving around environmental impact and sustainability and a lack of clarity on how to teach the subject, the video has become extremely popular among educators across the world, who have started using it to segue into a discussion on the environment.

After reading the Times article, I decided to go to the Story of Stuff website and check out the video. 

According to the Times article, one of the parents who viewed this video claimed that the video was very anti-capitalistic and extremely one-sided. While I agree with this statement (after all, corporations are viewed as fat cats with top hats scheming with the government to set up an intricate system for US consumerism), I do believe that this video is an excellent tool to engage people to start thinking about things that are normally taken for granted and start questioning the way we currently do things.

There was a lot of talk in the video about the impact we have on developing nations, particularly how we tend to steal their resources and deprive their people of their future by forcing them into working in factories and providing us with resources. The video also mentioned that we throw away over 90% of the goods we buy, all of it driven by new models, new trends, etc., trapping us in a never-ending cycle of work, tv, and shopping. 

To rectify all of this, the video suggests at the end to start doing things in a sustainable way, using alternatives that involve clean energy and greener technologies with closed loop production processes that produce zero waste. There doesn't necessarily need to be a massive rehaul of the entire system as it stands now. A few adjustments here and there to rectify the outstanding issues and transform the system into a sustainable cycle will go a long way towards improving everyone's way of life.

I don't believe that mass production, mass consumerism, and globalism are necessarily bad like the video makes it out to be. After all, it allows a lot of people to get what they need quickly and cheaply, and it supports the economies of these developing countries as well as our own. But, I do agree that there is severe apathy and lack of understanding about how our products and goods are made and how they got to our store shelves.

What I think will especially help is educating consumers and making them more aware. Not only will this help alleviate the negative impacts of our current production cycle, it will help people gain a greater appreciation of the things they have, since they'll know how it was made, who it was made by, and where it will eventually end up if they throw it away. I also believe that greater awareness will increase support of greentech and cleantech companies and greater adoption of their products and technologies. 

I was happy to hear that students who watched the video have already taken it to heart, as the article mentioned a 9-year-old, who was considering the environmental impact of him buying a box of Legos, or an 18-year-old, who bought a water filter for her household and converted her family from bottled water drinkers to filtered water drinkers. There have also been other stories of kids becoming more environmentally conscious, so it's promising that the new generation of kids are taking these matters into consideration and are starting to influence their families.

May 2, 2009

Amazing Website

I have recently started getting emails from the Union of Concerned Scientists. I'm not quite sure how I signed up for their email lists, but I decided to check out their website and found that they have an amazing section on Clean Energy.

The site gives excellent descriptions of different clean energy technologies and how they work - photovoltaic solar, geothermal systems, biomass as replacements for fossil fuels, etc. It's more of a technical explanation of how the technologies work, but its written in a way that is easy to read and understand.

They also have a section on clean energy solutions, where I discovered that there is a proposal to build an offshore wind farm off of Cape Cod, which could be a big source of power for the New England region.

Check out the Union of Concerned Scientists website. It is pretty awesome.

Apr 30, 2009

Solar Energy from Space

One of my friends, Alex Moore, sent me this article on solar energy.

A company called SolarEn is looking to develop technology to send solar panels into space, then transmit the energy gathered by the space panels back to the Earth through radio signals. The amount of energy captured without atmospheric filtration could potentially be 10x higher than what can be captured by panels on land.

While the concept itself is not new - NASA performed cost-benefit analyses on such energy sources in the 1960s and 1970s and determined that it would cost around $1 trillion, a great deal more than countries were willing to pay at the time - it could potentially revolutionize the future of solar power. However, the problem of cost still exists unless more funding is poured into making solar cells and space travel cheaper and easier.

Reading this article reminded me of a documentary I watched long ago about solar power. The documentary had mentioned something about solar energy potential in the Sahara Desert, saying a tiny area of land in the Sahara fitted with solar panels has the potential to power half the world's energy needs.

I googled this topic, and found this article. Europe is starting to look at North Africa as a potential source of energy, as costs of solar technology drop and the costs of transporting the energy over longer distances go down.

Space solar energy may not be viable in the immediate future, but I definitely believe that certain areas of the world like the Sahara have an untapped potential to be huge sources of power for the world. It is also potentially a development opportunity for these nations by selling the captured energy to other countries and furthering their economy and infrastructure.

Apr 23, 2009

Busy with work...

I've been extremely busy over the past few weeks with work, so I haven't had much time to update the blog. I have a few ideas for articles, so I hope to get some written this weekend...

Apr 3, 2009

When Clean Technology and Environmentalism Clash...

I came across an interesting article on Green Inc. today. Two environmental organizations, the Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have developed a map of 13 states in the Western United States which highlights areas where potential alternative energy development could adversely affect the environment.

If wind farms or massive solar plants were built in the areas highlighted in these maps, it could pose a threat to endangered or threatened species. This may be a challenge for companies that require large areas of land in order to develop wind farms, solar farms, geothermal plants, etc. On the one hand, they want to developing alternative energy, reduce greenhouse gases and protect the environment. On the other hand, the very act of creating their plants or wind farms could potentially be disastrous for endangered species.

The article led me to the question of the distinction between environmentalists and individuals who support clean technology. At what level is it okay to support alternative technology, though it may disrupt the habitats of many species?

Mar 22, 2009

Offshore Wind Farms

I was watching Planet Green the other day, and I saw a special on the first wind farm in the Netherlands, the Offshore Wind Farm near Egmond aan Zee.

The farm is a 36 turbine, 200 million Euro project built on the initiative of the Dutch government and managed by NoordzeeWind, a joint venture between Nuon and Shell Oil.

The Planet Green documentary explained how these turbines were set up. They were built in pieces and transported by truck to the coast. From there, they shipped them on giant cargo ships to the sea, where they had to take great care in making sure all the pieces fit perfectly. One wrong move, and the entire turbine would have to be sent back to shore to get fixed.

According to its Wikipedia article, the farm produces a total of 108MW of power, enough to provide 100,000 households with energy.

Since the Offshore Wind Farm near Egmond aan Zee, many other North Sea windfarms have been constructed near the Netherlands, most recently the Princess Amalia Wind Farm (also near Egmond aan Zee) built by Enoco energy, a Dutch energy company, and Econcern, a European company that provides sustainable energy solutions.

After a little more digging (or rather, more link-clicking on Wikipedia), I learned that the United Kingdom is actually the world's leading generator of offshore wind power - makes sense, since space is generally an issue for small island countries. One of the offshore wind farms in the UK, the Lynn and Inner Dowsing Wind Farm, is the world's largest, generating 194MW, enough to power 130,000 homes.

It's great to see energy companies in European countries invest in offshore wind farms. While it may make sea transport a little more difficult, it's an excellent solution to the problem of space, size, and noise issues that wind power is sometimes associated with, and they may be options to consider for many other coastal countries.

Source of images: Flickr Creative Commons

Mar 21, 2009

Why Pirates Like Being Green...

I've put together a short list of why pirates (in the romantic, Pirates of the Caribbean sense...not the literal take-over-Ukranian-tankers-with-tanks-and-weapons-and-hold-it-for-ransom sense...) like environmental sustainability and clean technology:

1) Pirate ships run on one of the cleanest sources of energy available: Wind.

(The above picture shows you how Pirate ships are case you were wondering)

It's no surprise then, that companies these days are looking again at wind to power the world's fleet. Not only does it reduce costs for shipping companies, it makes ships emission free. A German company called SkySails is bringing that one step closer to that ideal, making giant parachute looking sails for cargo ships. The company's website claims that ships can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 35% and in optimal cases as much as 50%.

2) Pirates like recycling.

Recycling instead of dumping stuff into landfills and dumps means there are more places to bury your booty. Pirates like to bury stuff: gold doubloons, chalices, precious stones, etc. They particularly like to bury stuff in remote areas where no one will find it.

Unfortunately, people like to build landfills in remote areas, since no one will be affected. If people keep dumping trash in landfills, then how are pirates going to bury stuff and keep it safe?!

Thankfully, some people are taking this pirate's woes into consideration. A company called RecycleBank is offering some incentives for individuals who recycle - drugstore discounts, grocery coupons, etc. According to this Newsweek article, communities with RecycleBank programs have seen 10-fold increases in recycling rates.

3) Pirates like clean air.

Pirates need to be able to actually see land if they want to know where they are going, and they can't do that if the coast is covered in smog and haze from pollution.

One company in Lima, Peru called Tierra Nuestra has developed an Urban Air Cleaner to hopefully fix this vexing problem. It uses a liquid filtration system that runs on the electricity of a vacuum cleaner, but has the air cleaning power of 1200 trees. The machines cost $100,000 to produce and the mud and wastewater by-products from the machine are deposited in the city sewage system.

You can check out a video about the UAC by National Geographic here.

4) Desalination projects are a pirate's best friend.

Pirates are constantly surrounded by water as they sail, but they can't drink a single drop ("Water, water everywhere, not a drop to spare," anyone?). However, desalination technology which allows salt water to be converted to drinkable fresh water is one of the best things ever, allowing us to tap into the vast resources of the ocean.

(The future of water on Pirate ships...)

While water desalination presents other problems (like what do to with all the salty junk taken out of the salt water and how to make desalination cheaper), there are companies like NanoH2O which has developed nanotube membranes that can process salt water much faster than the traditional reverse osmosis process.

So there you have it, with all these clean technologies being developed to make the world a cleaner place, the future of pirates (and probably everyone else in the world...) is looking pretty bright.

Source for pictures: Flickr Creative Commons

Mar 19, 2009

Name Change

While on my computer, trying to combat insomnia, I came up with an amazing idea.

I like Pirates.

And I'm interested in Clean Technology.

So why not combine the two?!

Now, I haven't exactly thought this through, but I imagine that I'll come up with something in my next post that will find some way to link Pirates and Cleantech.

Mar 8, 2009

TerraCycle Inc

I was watching a show on Planet Green TV - a very good channel recently started by the Discovery Company- called Eco Tech. This particular episode was about how scientists are devising ways to ultimately reach zero waste by converting garbage into useful energy and products

One of the companies they were showcasing is a company called TerraCycle Inc. This company was started by Princeton students for a business plan competition, and as they won more and more business plan competitions and as retailers like Home Depot and Whole Foods started stocking their products, the company grew. The basic idea is to take garbage, feed it to worms, collect their poop, liquefy the poop, and sell the poop as fertilizer.

What is most unique about this company is that every aspect of the operations use recycled products. They collect used soda bottles from schools and other sources, strip the old packaging, put their liquefied worm poop into the used bottles and slap on their own packaging. The squirt heads for these bottles are extras from other companies, and the boxes used to ship their products are misprinted boxes that other companies would have thrown away.

They also make household cleaners from water, oils, and minerals, drain cleaners using microorganisms, and fire logs made from cardboard boxes, which are made of wax cardboard and are not degradable, taking up space in landfills.

According to the founder, Tom Szaky's blog, the company has recently started making office and school products, partnering with Office Max to sell these products: corn plastic pens, pencils made from old newspapers and paper made from coffee leaves and banana peels, among others.

Mar 5, 2009

Artificial Trees that Generate Energy

I ran across this company while I was searching the web called Solar Botanic

They essentially have this concept to develop artificial trees which would act like solar panels to capture sunlight and generate electricity. Plus, the trees would also utilize the wind through the swaying motion of its leaves and branches whenever the wind blows.

The most important concept of this artificial tree is a technology they call the Nanoleaf. This leaf not only uses photovoltaic elements to covert sunlight into energy, but the wind would sway the leaf, which would move a mechanism in the joint of the leaf and the branch, converting kinetic wind energy into electrical energy. One leaf by itself may not generate enough power, but if you have thousands of leaves in a tree-like structure, then it has the potential to generate quite a bit of energy, enough to power an average household. Now if we had groves of these trees, then the effect could be very high, so it's a concept with a lot of potential.

Not only that, the tree will apparently act as some sort of air filter, using an agent on the membrane of the artificial tree that mimics the processes of the human lung in converting unwanted air molecules.

Right now, the company seems to still in the research and development stages and is looking for partners to fund its research, but I think if they are able to develop this idea further and eventually manage to create an aesthetically pleasing prototype that is relatively cost-effective, then they have the potential to change the face of alternative energy sources.

Mar 4, 2009

Good News for Solar Power

In my last post, I'd talked about how First Solar made a breakthrough with their photovoltaic cell fabrication process to reduce the cost of solar to under $1 per watt. 

My roommate, Zach, forwarded me an article about First Solar, which relates to my last post. The article, from CNet Green Tech, is about how First Solar acquired the rights to complete projects that a rival solar company called OptiSolar could no longer complete due to the economic recession. More details on the deal can be found here.

What's more interesting than the deal itself is the implications of these types of consolidations for the solar industry. There's a recent trend going on with solar power that brings both good news and bad news, but I think the positives for the industry outweight the negatives.

As this Economist article points out, the costs of manufacturing solar panels have been declining partly lately due to an excess supply of silicon. Since silicon producers catered less to the solar industry because of the uncertainty of the industry, the costs of acquiring silicon for solar panels was much higher. However, as solar power started becoming more popular, more and more sources of silicon opened up, leading to lower prices for silicon and lower costs for solar companies. These costs were further reduced due to better manufacturing techniques and increased solar cell power efficiency.

Since First Solar hit the $1 per watt mark manufacturing cost of their solar modules, other solar companies have been scrambling to reach that target. As these costs go down, more and more solar companies are able to offer their solar panels at lower prices, which is great news for consumers. The price of panels was probably one of the biggest hurdles for the adoption of the technology (that and the low energy efficiency of solar cells). However with cheaper prices, people can more easily adopt solar power as an alternative energy source, benefiting from its clean, virtually emission-free energy generation.

This does, however, pose problems for some solar companies. With decreasing costs, and with solar companies pushing to deliver panels at lower prices, companies unable to keep pace will either have to sell to rival companies or go out of business. These companies also face the additional challenge of increasing difficulty in funding from venture capital firms, who will most likely start to look to invest in companies that are in a stronger and better position to manufacture solar modules.

On the bright side, companies who are in a strong position, such as First Solar and Sharp among others, now have the opportunity to expand their business and grow by acquiring a greater share of the solar market. As the industry consolidates, these key players will be in a better position to manufacture solar power modules in large scales and potentially combine research from acquired rivals to discover new ways to make solar power cheaper and more efficient.

Feb 26, 2009

Economic Recession hits Solar Power, but there's hope...

Following up on my article on Sharp Corp. and it's solar power focus, I was reading a few articles in the NY Times about solar power. The recession has taken quite a toll on solar companies, which were growing very rapidly over the past few years - according to this article on the Green Inc. NY Times blog, Cleantech investments jumped from $270 million to over $4 billion from 2003 to 2008.

A lot of it is due to the credit freeze, which is drying up the necessary capital that wind and solar power companies relied on in the past to keep going. While Obama's plans for a green America are in the works, and while he's dedicated $83 billion in tax credits and cleantech spending in his stimulus bill, the effects of those actions won't be felt until much later. At present, these companies are starting to cut back and layoff workers in order to stay afloat.

Some solar companies like Ausra, had big plans like creating thousands of solar power plants that would supply the United States with clean power, but now they're turning more towards steam generation to supply existing power plants and industries with steam.

Luckily, there is still some progress being made. I was reading this article about how another solar company called FirstSolar made a breakthrough in their development process of its solar modules from $3 per watt to $1 per watt, which could be huge once this recession blows over and people start getting back on track in finding ways to more efficiently use solar power.

There has also been speculation that Obama is considering using solar panels in the White House.

By the way, I had no idea that the Carter installed solar panels when he was president, or that the panels were later taken down by Reagan - which makes sense...Reagan was no friend to alternative energy or the environment. But what was most surprising was that there were additional solar panels added in 2003 under George W. Bush.

Sharp Corporation is awesome

I realized that my last two posts were about cars. I have to admit that I really know nothing about them, though I do find alternative energy vehicles fascinating. So, I've decided to step away from cars and turn to solar power.

During one of my phases when I started investing some of my savings in the stock market, I started looking for companies that were researching and developing innovative alternative energy sources, particularly solar power. After all the sun puts out so much energy, so if we find a way to efficiently harness and capture that energy, it would mean nearly limitless power that has minimal impact on the environment.

One of my research binges led me to Sharp Corp. Sharp has been involved with photovoltaic cell production for years, and their corporate vision for a green future is amazing - they are essentially trying to balance out their emissions through the carbon reduction through the development and sales of their photovoltaic cells by 2010. Not only that, but the long-term objectives they've set for themselves in order to become a greener company are extremely impressive, especially their target of making green devices account for 90% of their sales by 2010, converting all their production sites to be grade B green factories or higher, and using 1,400 tons of recycled plastic in their products by 2010.

I'm not sure how far they can expect to go given the state of the economy around the world, but the very fact that they have set such goals is amazing. The cool thing is, they publish lots of data on their progress towards achieving their goals: CO2 emissions, number of green products, amount of water used, amount of waste created, etc.

What's more, Sharp has started outfitting production facilities with solar cells and other clean technologies (molten-carbonate fuel cells and co-generation systems that use city gas to generate electricity and waste heat, which is used to power the air conditioning and hot water), and they've started recycling programs for used electrical products in a lot of countries.

You can check out the entire eco section of their website here

Feb 23, 2009

Ford Motor Company

The major American automobile manufacturers are not doing to well...Wikipedia has a pretty decent summary of what happened with the "Big Three" automakers.

If you don't want to read that summary, essentially the "Big Three" suffered from a multitude of problems that their Japanese and Asian competitors don't have to deal with and they were hit hard with the credit crisis in 2008:

1) Unionized Workers - union workers come with higher labor costs, and it is much harder to deal with unions and fire workers who don't perform to the standards of the company. Moreover, the companies also made a lot of pension and health-care commitments for its retirees, which it is finding harder and harder to satisfy (the New York Times had a pretty good article about this).

2) Declining image - the "Big Three" more than other automobile manufacturers have had to tackle with the issue of declining image. Since the Japanese automakers started producing high quality cars at cheap costs, the "Big Three" have found it harder and harder to keep pace, resulting in a decline in consumer confidence in their vehicles. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that declining consumer confidence leads to lower sales, which makes it even harder for the American automakers to be able to produce high quality cars that are able to compete in the market.

3) SUV Craze - back in late 1990's, SUVs became a huge hit and started becoming the backbone of the automotive industry. The price of gas was low enough to sustain the craze, so naturally all the automakers got into the SUV craze sweeping America. However, once gas prices began to spike SUV sales plummeted, and the automakers took a big hit. To be fair to the "Big Three," while they could have been more eco-conscious, as this Time article points out, while SUVs were more dangerous and more expensive to fuel, Americans loved them and there was high demand for them. Even up until the summer of 2007, SUV sales were pretty strong. . And it isn't until recently that Americans have become more eco-conscious and more concerned with fuel economy. In the early 2000's, hybrid cars and alternative-energy cars were a small percentage of the market, and came with such a high price premium, that they were impractical for the average consumer.

4) The 2008 Oil and Credit Crisis - the crisis was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back. High gas prices hit the sales of the "Big Three" automakers pretty hard, and since they relied on SUVs so heavily, it forced them to start massive promotional incentives, which didn't do nearly enough to alleviate the damage. The credit crisis also had the added effect of tightening loans, which reduced the ability of people to buy cars, further hurting automotive sales.

But my main point with this article is that of the "Big Three," Ford stands to be in the best position to make a comeback. They started venturing into hybrid vehicles with the Ford Escape and the Mariner. They've received Michigan tax credits for their research in electric vehicles and their plan to bring 4 electric vehicles by 2012.

From their latest 4th Quarter financial results, they are planning to create 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids, and are planning to continue to produce hybrid vehicles over the next 4 years. They have also formed plans with the U.S. Department of Energy to invest $14 billion over the next 7 years to create more fuel efficient vehicles

And while their latest vehicle, the Ford Fiesta won't be available in its more eco-friendly form in the U.S., the car is still a compact car, which is much more friendly to the environment. If Ford keeps up this pace of release more eco-friendly, smaller, and more compact cars, I'm sure they will be able to turn their business around, especially since the market for compact cars is continuing to grow (also here).

Feb 22, 2009

Vegetable Oil Powered Cars

When I was in high school, I didn't really have a car. I relied mainly on the school bus as my mode of transportation - even in my senior year. In fact, I didn't even get a learner's permit or a license when I turned 16. Why get a license or learn to drive when there is a perfectly good way to get to and from school? Besides, it was more efficient and cleaner for the environment. And even throughout college, I didn't own a car. It was easy enough to walk around Northwestern, and Evanston, IL isn't exactly a sprawling metropolis.

That said, there was one thing that really made me want to get a car, just so I could try it. It was this simple modification that you can perform on your car to turn it into a vegetable oil powered "greasecar":
The one catch, though, is that your vehicle needs to be a diesel powered car or truck.

Through the website, you can essentially purchase a conversion kit, which essentially comes with a heated oil tank and all the necessary hoses and wires to make your car stop running from your normal diesel tank and start running using vegetable oil in your heated oil tank.  From what I understand, once you install the kit on your car, you'll only need regular diesel to turn on the car. Once the car is on, the heat from engine gets transferred to the heated oil tank, so that the vegetable oil gets heated up enough to have a similar consistency to diesel. The vegetable oil is then injected into the engine similar to diesel and the car runs using the vegetable oil.

The major benefits from using this vegetable oil system are that it is carbon neutral, it doesn't wear away the engine very much, has similar fuel economy to traditional diesel engines (diesel engines have better fuel economy than gasoline engines anyway, so it is certainly a benefit over traditional gasoline powered cars), and you can probably get vegetable oil for free from restaurants which would have to throw away their oil normally - just make sure that there is no water or potential bacterial contamination in the oil, which could mean bad news for the emissions and the vegetable oil system.

You can find out more about the Greasecar Fuel System here:, and if you're interested in converting your car into a Vegetable-Oil powered car, you can purchase kits here:

First Post

I was fairly environmentally aware through high school and college. I tried to recycle, I tried to use environmentally sustainable products. But ever since I worked on a project involving consumer water filtration systems at my job as a strategy consultant this past year, I have become obsessed with environmental sustainability. My research for that project involved researching the environmental impacts of the plastic in water bottles, the troubles of water conservation (especially in cities in the Western United States), and the problems of greenhouse gases. It got to a point where I decided to stop drinking bottled water at work and switched to drinking filtered water from a glass, so that I wouldn't contribute to the thousands of plastic bottles that are wasted each year due to the production of bottled water.

After the project was over, my interest turned to environmental technology, and I started looking into different types of cleantech. I'm already a big tech geek, so I was really excited to learn more about companies that were involved with cleantech, particularly with solar power. I think solar power has such tremendous potential. The sun puts out nearly a thousand watts of power per square meter, but there just isn't a very efficient way of harnessing that power. 

I soon discovered that I eventually want to merge my interest in green technology and environmental sustainability with my professional career, particularly with assisting and providing funding to companies who research and develop new clean technology. I'm hoping that through this blog, I can learn more about the greentech and cleantech industry and find emerging startups and companies that come up with innovative, efficient, and practical ways to implement green technology, so that one day we can achieve a world that is completely carbon neutral and emission free.

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