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Thursday, September 3, 2015

SolarWindow Technologies May Change How We Build Forever

Lots of great stories hitting our site this week along with our news report from Green Fest, Boston.  This one keeps with our theme this week on focusing on innovation as part of a sustainable shift.  Anything that permanently changes how we build is great--we've been stuck doing the same old things for too many decades.  Shame on us.

SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. is getting closer to bringing the company’s proprietary electricity-generating windows to market – and is making some pretty big claims as to the impact it might have.

The technology behind SolarWindow involves applying ultra-thin layers of liquid coatings on to glass and flexible plastics that turn these surfaces into solar cells. The coatings are primarily made of hydrogen and carbon and a color wheel of tints has been achieved.

I’ve never seen a technology with the kind of potential that I see with SolarWindow™ where you have the very real prospect of turning entire skyscrapers into electricity power generators,” said Curtis Watkins, Project Manager, Emerging Technologies, Duke Energy, and a SolarWindow Advisor.

Utilities need to address renewables in a couple of different ways. Our customers say renewables are important to them and we have to find solutions for them so we’ve developed a Distributed Generation Group and SolarWindow presents a fantastic opportunity for that,” said Watkins.

The company says the technology is suited to high speed roll-to-roll and sheet-to-sheet manufacturing and its methods do not require expensive high-temperature or high-vacuum production techniques.  Developed for direct integration with existing fabrication and glass manufacturing processes, the coatings can be also be applied at the glass plant after the glass is manufactured.

Our technology works. We are on track to bring the world’s first-of-its-kind electricity-generating window to market,” said John A. Conklin, President and CEO of SolarWindow.

The tinkering is over. All of us are witnessing one of the biggest breakthroughs in clean energy and we are focused on commercialization over the next 28 months – a very short home stretch, and the steps I have outlined in the webcast will get us there.

The company claims SolarWindow technology can generate 50 times more electricity than rooftop solar power when modeled for an installation on a single 50-story building; and can achieve more than 12 times the environmental benefits. Electricity can be generated using natural, shaded, and even artificial light.

An estimated 35 percent of  electricity is consumed by commercial buildings in the USA, the target market for SolarWindow. The company says financial payback can be achieved in one year with its product.

Installed on a single 50-story tower, SolarWindow says its product can avoid the carbon emissions produced by vehicles driving over 2.2 million miles each year, compared to  rooftop solar systems at 180,000 miles.

SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. was first incorporated as Octillion Corp. in 1998 and the company name was changed to New Energy Technologies, Inc. in 2009. It was again changed earlier this year to SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. to align the corporate brand with the core product.
- See more at:

Bill Gates wants to turn

As crazy as this sounds, the conversion of waste to electricity and drinking water is a stunning accomplishment.  We give Gates and his Foundation enormous credit for getting us on the front line of producing this conversion on a large-scale basis.  

What a tremendous focus on turning our inability, at times, to process waste into a source of energy and water.  This can be a powerful driver of transformation.  Improving sanitation and health standards while driving innovation and new products is the very essence of our prism.

Bill Gates wants to turn poop into drinking water

Melinda Gates on Ebola: 'Vast inequities'
Melinda Gates on Ebola: 'Vast inequities'

Bill Gates says a new plant that can turn human feces into electricity and clean drinking water can save a huge number of lives.

The plant, called the Omniprocessor, was designed and built by Janicki Bioenergy and backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The facility would try to prevent diseases caused by contaminated water supplies.

A test plant is up and working at Janicki's headquarters north of Seattle, according to a blog post by Gates. The first operational plant is planned for Senegal.

"The next-generation processor, more advanced than the one I saw, will handle waste from 100,000 people, producing up to 86,000 liters of potable water a day and a net 250 kw of electricity," he wrote. "If we get it right, it will be a good example of how philanthropy can provide seed money that draws bright people to work on big problems, eventually creating a self-supporting industry."

gates feces drinking water
"It's delicious!"
Included is a video of him drinking a glass of the water produced by the plant, which he describes as "delicious" and "as good as any I've had out of the bottle."
"Having studied the engineering behind it, I would happily drink it every day. It's that safe," he writes on the post.

Related: Melinda Gates - Education gap 'terrible for our democracy'
The feces is heated to 1000 degrees Celsius, or 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit to draw off the water, which is then further treated to make sure it is safe. But the dried out feces can then be burned, producing enough heat to generate electricity needed to extract the water. Excess electricity can be sold to outside users, as can the water.

Gates says diseases caused by poor sanitation kill some 700,000 children every year. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is making an effort to improve sanitation in the developing world.

"Today, in many places without modern sewage systems, truckers take the waste from latrines and dump it into the nearest river or the ocean—or at a treatment facility that doesn't actually treat the sewage," he wrote. "Either way, it often ends up in the water supply."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Thanks to one of our show host, Mrs. Green, for this excellent alert

Smart buyers of consumer products can lead the way in building a cleaner, brighter future.  Here's a great example.

We'd love to hear from you on how you react and if you will change your products.

Microbeads, the Tiny Orbs Threatening Our Water
& Mrs. Green's Three Calls To Action

Note from Mrs. Green. The article below appeared in the opinion section of the New York Times on Saturday, August 22. I literally received phone calls from friends who were on their way to their bathrooms to check their toothpaste for microbeads and asking me if I had seen the article. I had not. I now have several copies and have read the article numerous times - to myself and to other friends (in the form of ranting one might say.) So instead of my paraphrasing and trying to top the New York Times Editorial Board, here is the disturbing, uncut, unedited version for your reading pleasure and continuing education. I admit to have "bolded" some of the comments I find to be most disturbing.

"Plastic is believed to be the main contaminant in the huge garbage gyres that pollute the oceans. Now researchers, led by Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, have found a stunning amount of plastic in the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth, the Great Lakes. And an increasing amount of it consists of the tiny plastic orbs used as abrasives in products like toothpaste and anti-acne lotions.

The particles are called microbeads, and consumers can avoid them by checking to see if plastic - maybe polyethylene or polypropylene - is on the product's ingredient list. Once these virtually indestructible beads enter the water, they attract toxic substances, like PCBs. They become part of the aquatic food chain, soon eaten by fish and then, too often, by humans.

When Great Lakes fish are dissected, "they are festooned with microbeads," said Henry Henderson, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Midwest office, in Chicago. Besides carrying toxins, the beads can cause internal abrasions and can stunt growth of the fish.

The studies done at Fredonia in 2012 and 2013 estimated that in Lakes Superior and Huron there were about 7,000 plastic particles per square kilometer. Lake Michigan had 17,000, Lake Erie had 46,000 and Lake Ontario had a whopping 248,000. Asked what amount of plastic pollution would be acceptable in the lakes, Dr. Mason said, "There shouldn't be any plastic in our water, period."

Microbeads are tricky, because most wastewater plants are not equipped to filter out such fine particles. Of the 610 wastewater plants in New York State, for example, more than 400 cannot do so, according to a report in 2014 by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. Nearly 19 tons of microbeads go down the drain in New York State every year, according to the report.

Wastewater plants could be retrofitted, but it would be costly. Some states have taken the more efficient approach of restricting the use of microbeads. Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey and Wisconsin have enacted bans, and California and a few others are considering them. New York's Assembly approved a ban this year, but the Republican Senate has refused to go along.

Some major companies have stopped using microbeads or are phasing them out. The European Union is expected to consider prohibiting their use in cosmetics. Canada announced plans this summer to regulate microbeads and add them to its list of toxic substances.

Those bans could push companies to stop making products with microbeads, but the fastest solution is for consumers to simply stop using them." 

Three Calls to Action
  1. PLEASE don't wait for a ban. Stop using toothpaste and skincare products with beads in them.
  2. Spread the word to those you love and forward this article to them. It may be lifesaving.
  3. If you are really inspired, write to the manufacturers of the products indicating that you are boycotting their product until microbeads are removed.
At the end of the day, the power to bring out long term, systemic changes lies in the hands of consumer. We've got the power. Let's use it!

Hotel-in-a-Garden Wins 2015 Green Design Award

Congratulations to the designers who created a massive garden around this hotel.  What a simple change, in an urban setting, that would add to the quality of life in that city in so many ways.  Adding large-scale vegetation to a hotel or commercial building naturally cools the building, gives shade to passerby's, habitat to birds, bees, butterflies, (see prior post) and allows for urban gardens.  It gives an oasis of calm in a sea of city noise and congestion.

Now they can add some Ecocapsules for guest to sleep in.

Hotel-in-a-Garden Wins 2015 Green Design Award

Christine Erickson

The green movement is more than just a DIY trend. Big brands are becoming more environmentally responsible. Gardens are growing to give back to the community. Celebrities are using their social status to raise awareness.
So it should come to no surprise that architects are in on the eco-friendly trend.
Every year, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat recognizes projects that have made significant impact to urban environments and tall buildings, specifically ones that meet an impressive level of sustainability.

The 2015 winner of the Urban Habitat Award makes a massive garden out of a hotel. In Singapore, the PARKROYAL on Pickering is a 12-story hotel that is overflowing with green space – over 161,000 square feet to be exact. In total, the landscaped gardens cover an area more than twice the size of the footprint of the site, according to the CTBUH.
Looks aren’t everything for the PARKROYAL on Pickering. The hotel incorporates sustainable features, such as rainwater harvesting, automatic sensors that regulate energy and water usage and solar cells that power landscape lighting.
Before it even opened in 2013, the hotel had industry experts’ attention. Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority gave it a Green Mark Platinum certification, the highest in its category.
PARKROYAL on Pickering has also won a Solar Pioneer Award and several accolades on Tripadvisor.

Butterflies on the brink due to climate change, say scientists

Bees are not the only species under assault and duress.  Our shows on planting vegetation at your house and business that is a kind host to pollinators, and others, are more germane than ever.

Butterflies are a beautiful part of our eco-system.  Let's not lose them

Butterflies on the brink due to climate change, say scientists

Occasional bouts of drought at least as devastating to some species as gradually rising temperatures, say researchers
Scientists say widespread, drought-sensitive butterfly population extinction could occur as early as 2050. Photo: AFP/ Nature Press Service / Jim Asher

Scientists say widespread, drought-sensitive butterfly population extinction could occur as early as 2050. Photo: AFP/ Nature Press Service / Jim Asher

Paris: Only aggressive efforts to rein in global warming coupled with a rethinking of the British countryside will save many native species of butterfly, according to a study published on Monday.

“Widespread, drought-sensitive butterfly population extinction could occur as early as 2050,” scientists reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Under a business-as-usual scenario of continued greenhouse gas emissions, the odds that certain British Isles species will make it beyond mid-century are “around zero,” the study concludes.

Protecting wilderness areas — and especially reducing the fragmentation of natural habitats — would give some of these gossamer creatures at least a slim chance of survival.

Such measures combined with a two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) cap on global warming would boost their odds to about 50%, the researchers said.

The two-degree target, benchmarked to pre-industrial times, has been embraced by the 195-nation UN forum tasked with delivering a climate-saving pact in Paris in December.

Nowhere, perhaps, have butterflies been more intensely scrutinised over the last century than in Britain.
Scientists led by Tom Oliver of the NERC Centre of Ecology and Hydrology in Britain examined some of the resulting data from 129 sites to see how 28 species responded to a severe drought in 1995.

The researches suspected that occasional bouts of drought were at least as devastating to some species as gradually rising temperatures.

While 1995 was the worst on record, such hot-and-dry spells are predicted to become more common as global warming sets in.

More than a fifth of the species, they found, experienced major population collapses during that period.

Among those hit hardest were the Ringlet, the Speckled Wood and the Large Skipper.
As critical, the researchers discovered a direct link between landscape and recovery: the more fragmented the habitat, the longer it took for populations to revive.

“Conservationists increasingly recognise the importance of reducing fragmentation of natural habitats rather than simply managing protected ‘islands’ in a hostile landscape of intensive farming,” Oliver told AFP by email.

Butterflies in other countries with a high degree of industrial farming that face similar climate change scenarios may also be in danger. 
In areas “that are already hotter and drier, the impacts of drought may be much more severe,” said Oliver.
The significance of the findings goes beyond the intrinsic beauty of butterflies and their value as part of Earth’s natural heritage.

Butterflies are frequently used as a “canary-in-the-coal-mine” indicator for other types of insects.
If warming-enhanced drought has a similar impact on other species such as bees, dragonflies and beetles, Oliver said, a significant slice of our biodiversity could be under threat.

“Many of these other species provide essential functions for humans such as pollinating crops, eating pests, and decomposing waste.”

The three other butterfly species that experienced population collapse in 1995 were the Small and Large Cabbage Whites, along with the Green-veined White.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Will the residents of Kivalina, Alaska be the first climate change refugees in the US?

This puts a whole different perspective on what many times feels like a political or philosophical argument...watching people get displaced from their homes for what some call climate change others cyclical weather patterns.

Hard to imagine each day you wake up to a different landscape and more threats to your survival.  Kids have no stability, future.  Regardless of the cause, you are forced to flee your home land.

The complications of the shifting sea and legal fights unfolding are too numerous to calculate and they open up a new frontier of law.  Certainly you can see fossil fuel companies in the forefront of the legal assault, but every business, every home contributes to carbon levels (if that is what they decide drives the coastal changes).  Without doubt there will be a long line of liability suspects including governments that failed to take action to step the use of fossil fuel.

Many coastal communities have an ability to move inland.  Should they?  If they don't, do they have recourse if storm surge destroys their homes and businesses.  Then, who pays?

Will the residents of Kivalina, Alaska be the first climate change refugees in the US?


© Re-locate KivalinaScientists estimate that due to climate change, the village of Kivalina, in northwestern Alaska, will be underwater by the year 2025.
In 2008, the Inupiat village sued 24 of the world's biggest fossil fuel companies for damages. In 2013, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case and the village has declared it will not file a new claim in state court.
Meanwhile, nature, heedless of humankind’s eternal squabbles, goes about its business: the sea around Kivalina continues to rise, the storms get stronger, the ice gets thinner — and Kivalina's 400 residents must grapple with how to relocate in the decade they're estimated to have left. Kivalina is on a very thin barrier reef island between the Chukchi Sea and the Kivalina Lagoon, in the northwest of Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. It takes three plane flights to get there: one to Anchorage; another to a town called Kotzebue; and a third, aboard a tiny cargo plane, to Kivalina.
Kivalina City Council member Colleen Swan says the people of the village rely for food mostly on what the environment, especially the ocean, provides for them. “It’s been our way to make a living for hundreds of years,” she says. “During the winter months the ice is part of our landscape, because we go out there and we set up camps and hunt, and it's all seasonal. We were able to see the changes years ago.”
In May, June and July, the men of the village go out on the ice hunting bearded seals. They cut up the seals, dry them and store them for the winter. “That provides the winter supply,” Swan says. “That’s what keeps us warm in the Arctic.”
About 15 years ago, the villagers noticed the season started two weeks early and the ice began to thin sooner than before. “We didn't notice at first the gradual change until it became two weeks early consistently from year to year,” Swan says. Now, she says, the hunters must remain vigilant, keeping a close eye on the ice, the seals and the sea. If they don't, they could miss the hunting season. “The hardest one to swallow was the fact that our ice wasn't safe any more for us to set up whaling camps,” Swan says.
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average, so sea ice is forming on the Kivalina coastline later in the year and melting faster in the spring and summer. The lack of sea ice makes the island vulnerable to erosion from storms that occur regularly in the fall. Lack of sea ice also means warmer waters, which increase the severity of storms that hit the island.
The 2008 case against the fossil fuel companies was a 'public nuisance' claim that accused them of inflicting 'unreasonable harm' upon the villagers because they are among the world's largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate science is nearly unanimous on the point that increased greenhouse gases emissions are leading to sea level rise around the world.
The village originally voted to relocate as far back as 1992, but it is massively expensive. Their court case against the fossil fuel companies sought damages to help pay for the residents’ relocation. Now, with the case dismissed on the basis that its claims comes under rules of the Clean Air Act and not federal tort law, the villagers have nowhere to turn except the government. They did get a $500,000 grant last month from an arts organization to study relocation, but in general, no dice.
“Whenever we bring up relocation or climate change and ask, ‘Where do we go to talk about this with the government,’ the reply is always, ‘There's no agency set up to address those questions,’” Swan says.
Christine Shearer, who wrote about Kivalina's legal case in her book, Kivalina: A Climate Change Story, agrees. Disaster management policies are designed to deal with the aftermath of a disaster, she says. A disaster declaration releases funding aimed at helping a community rebuild or relocate within the place the disaster occurred. But there are no policies in place to relocate an entire community, like Kivalina, prior to an actual disaster.
“We don't have a federal agency in charge of that, and so it's really fallen on the people of Kivalina and other Alaskan natives in a similar situation to try to put that together themselves, and that's quite a task,” Shearer says.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Kivalina earlier this year and Colleen Swan sees some hope in that. Jewell’s visit was intended to raise awareness of Kivalina’s plight and to highlight that in the coming decades numerous other towns along US coastlines may face the same problem.

“More communities, more cities, more states, more tribes are going to have to deal with trying to help people who are being affected by climate change,” Christine Shearer says. “I think more lawsuits will be filed, and I think it might get to a point where fossil fuel companies might find it's less costly to settle than to keep fighting these lawsuits.”
Swan says she is exhausted by the stress of watching her community wash away and wondering whether they will need to evacuate. “We just had a minor storm last fall and I'm one of the first responders if anything goes wrong, so I keep an eye on things,” she says. “When we got that storm last fall, I decided I'm just going to go to sleep. I'm tired of worrying, I want to get some rest.”
“The next morning when I woke up, I saw the impacts from a minor storm and how quickly the water rose, and I realized that was a very dangerous thing for me to do, to sleep, to not face the reality of that night,” she continues.
“I realized this is what climate deniers do — not us. Not us, who face the reality every day. We wake up to it. There was never a debate for the people of Kivalina. We just wake up to it every morning.”

Can't we just remove carbon dioxide

We get this question a lot and it is a good one.  Makes sense--why can't we just pull carbon out of the air and store it or reuse it (recently, we did a radio show on a possible new manufacturing facility that will pull carbon out and recycle it into gas for cars and trucks)?

Well, as seen below, we can't do it, right now, affordably--which is always key--and on a large scale.  Of course, if we cut down on what we produce, the task of pulling it back out will not be as daunting.

Optimistically, we are not that far removed from making this viable.  All science and technology around this possibility is getting much better.  Storage of carbon is on the edge, but we are not sure if solutions to how to use the carbon after are as ready.  The concept of cycling it back into fuel is, in our opinion, a true triple win for the environment and economy.

Stay tuned.  Send us your ideas and suggestions.

Can't we just remove carbon dioxide from the air to fix climate change? Not yet

                  by John Shepherd

Can’t we just remove carbon dioxide from the air to fix climate change? Not yet
Trees remove carbon dioxide naturally: can we do better? Credit: Coconino National Forest, CC BY-SA
If we have put too much CO2 into the air, wouldn't it make sense to find ways to remove it again?

Well, yes: it would. But sadly it isn't likely to be easy or cheap and, according to new research, it isn't an adequate "solution" to the problems of climate change.
The possible "carbon removal" techniques are very diverse. They include growing trees on land or algae in the sea and capturing and burying some of the carbon they have taken from the atmosphere.

There are also engineered solutions that "scrub" CO2 directly from the air, using chemical absorbents, and then recover, purify, compress and liquefy it, so that it can be buried deep underground. That sounds difficult and expensive, and at the moment, it is.

Both the UK Royal Society and the US National Research Council point out that doing it on a large enough scale to make a real difference would be hard. Nevertheless, a joint communiqué from UK learned societies recently argued that to limit global warming to 2℃ we are likely to need CO2 removal (CDR) rates in the latter part of this century that will exceed emissions at that time ("net negative emissions"). That will only be possible if we can deploy CDR technologies.

A new paper in Nature Communications shows just how big the required rates of removal actually are. Even under the IPCC's most optimistic scenario of future CO2 emission levels (RCP2.6), in order to keep temperature rises below 2℃ we would have to remove from the atmosphere at least a few billion tons of carbon per year and maybe ten billion or more – depending on how well conventional mitigation goes.

We currently emit around eight billion tonnes of carbon per year, so the scale of the enterprise is massive: it's comparable to the present global scale of mining and burning fossil fuels.

Carbon removal could potentially help to reduce problems such as ocean acidification. So a second paper in Nature Climate Change is also discouraging because it shows that even massive and sustained carbon removal at rates of five billion tonnes a year or more would not be enough to restore anything like pre-industrial conditions in the oceans, if mitigation efforts were to be relaxed.
Can’t we just remove carbon dioxide from the air to fix climate change? Not yet
‘Negative emission’ technology comes in many forms. Credit: Caldecott et al / SSEE
Don't give up
Does all this mean that carbon removal is a blind alley, and that further research is a waste of time (and money)? Well, no. But it is nothing like a magic bullet: this latest research should serve to prevent any unrealistic expectations that we could find a "solution" to climate change, or that carbon removal is any sort of alternative to reducing emissions.

Maintaining and increasing our efforts to reduce emissions is still the crucial top priority. But if we can develop removal methods that are safe and affordable, and that can be scaled up to remove a few billion tonnes per year, that would be useful even now, as it could augment those efforts to reduce CO2 emissions (which is not proving to be easy either).

In the longer term, once we have eliminated all the "easily" fixed sources of CO2 emissions, by generating more electricity from renewable sources and capturing carbon from power plants, we shall still be left with several intractable sources, including aviation and agriculture, that are exceedingly hard to abate.

It is then that we shall really need CO2 removal, to take from the air what cannot easily be prevented from reaching it. And beyond that, should we eventually decide that the level of CO2 in the air at which we have stabilised is too high for comfort, and should be reduced, carbon removal will be the only way to achieve that.

Massive scientific challenge

The low-tech biologically based removal methods are all going to be limited in their scale, not least by potential side-effects in the oceans and conflicts over alternative uses for any land required.
Can’t we just remove carbon dioxide from the air to fix climate change? Not yet
Is this the future? This US firm plans to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Credit: Carbon Engineering
However several groups are working on promising methods for direct (physical and/or chemical) capture from the air, trying to reduce the energy, water and materials demands – and of course the costs – to acceptable levels.

In the longer term someone may find a suitable catalyst to accelerate the natural geochemical weathering processes that already remove CO2 from the air (but much too slowly to cope with man-made emissions). That would solve the CO2 disposal problem too, especially if we can avoid mining billions of tons of minerals to use as absorbent. But it's likely to take several decades to get from the lab to industrial-scale deployment – and none of these technologies will be deployed in practice until we have established a price on carbon emissions that makes them commercially worthwhile.

Carbon removal is not a magic bullet, but it is still a vitally important technology that we shall almost certainly need eventually. We should be researching it steadily and seriously, because it is going to take time and a lot of effort to develop methods that are safe and affordable and can be deployed on a massive scale.

So we should continue to research removal, not as a possible quick fix, but as a vital tool for the end game. It's a massive scientific and engineering challenge that really needs the sort of concerted effort that was devoted to going to the moon or building the Large Hadron Collider. And in my opinion it would be far more worthwhile.