The City of Austin, Texas may enact one of the toughest bag bans in the country come 2016. The city council is set to vote on the ban next month that would require retailers to only offer reusable bags.
The ban would include a three-year adjustment period starting in 2013 for retailers and consumers to get prepared where single-use bags could still be purchased at 25 cents each. Once 2016 hits though, only reusable bags would be allowed and that would include City of Austin facilities and all city events.
Some single-use bags would be exempt from the ban, including: restaurant carryout bags, bags for wine and beer, dry cleaning bags, newspaper delivery bags and bags that hold meat, fish, produce, bulk foods or pharmaceuticals.
Reusable bags would be defined as bags that are made of fabric or durable materials or thick paper or plastic with some recycled content. The city would pay for an aggressive marketing campaign to get the word out about the ban with proceeds from the 25 cent fee.
A team of engineers at the University of Illinois have figured out how to create self-healing circuits in electronics and batteries, a discovery that could lead to longer equipment life and make a nice dent in the piles of e-waste plaguing the planet.
As electronics have become more complex, one small circuit failure can render a device useless, especially since it is hard or often impossible to diagnose where that failure occurred to fix it. Nancy Sottos, an engineer working on the project said:
"In general there's not much avenue for manual repair. Sometimes you just can't get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there's no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It's true for a battery too. You can't pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure."
The solution her team came up with was an army of microcapsules about 10 microns in diameter dispersed along a circuit. When a crack occurs in the circuit, the microcapsules break open and release a liquid metal that fills in the crack and restores the electrical flow. The time between a failure and the microcapsules filling the crack is only a few microseconds.
In tests, 90 percent of the samples were healed to 99 percent of their original conductivity. It also require zero human intervention. Only the microcapsules intercepted by a crack opened while the others remained intact.
The engineers see this breakthrough as especially useful for air and spacecraft where miles of conductive wire would have to be gone through to diagnose a failure. The team, which originally used microcapsules to create self-healing polymers, want to see what other applications they may have.
Now, in time to make us feel all warm and fuzzy during the holiday season, the tech giant has announced that they're investing $94 million in a group of four solar projects by Recurrent Energy. This latest investment brings the total of the company's renewable energy investments to almost $1 billion.
The four solar photovoltaic projects will have a combined capacity of 88 MW and will be located near Sacramento, California. The projects will provide enough power for 13,000 homes. A power purchase agreement has already been signed by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for 20 years.
In 2011, Germany finally saw their renewable energy production top that of almost all other sources of energy, including nuclear, hard-coal and gas-fired power plants. The only other energy generation source greater than the renewable energy mix was lignite-fired power.
According to a report from German utility BDEW, renewable energy accounted for 20 percent of the country's total energy output, up from 16.4 percent last year. Lignite-fired output produced 24.6 percent of the electricity.
Nuclear power is dropping off in the country since Chancellor Merkel closed the eight oldest reactors this past year after the Fukushima catastrophe. Nuclear represented 17.4 percent of the country's electricity load, down from 22.4 percent last year and the country plans to step away from the energy source completely by 2022.
A Congressional spending deal made late last night includes a provision that prevents the Department of Energy from enforcing the incandescent light bulb ban set to go in effect in January for another nine months.
The first phase of the ban, which still remains on the books but just can't be enforced, includes higher efficiency standards for 100-watt bulbs. By the end 2014, all incandescents will be phased out. According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, many American light bulb makers had already started investing money on making the change from incandescents to more efficient bulbs like halogen, CFLs and LEDs and this delay may now cause them to lose money to foreign competitors still selling the cheaper bulbs.
The delay in enforcement will end on September 30, 2012 at the end of the government's fiscal year when hopefully the legislation will be able to go into effect.
Bamboo is considered a green building material, but it is most often found as an adjunct within larger construction using other materials. Recently, however, an entire chocolate factory has been built in Indonesia as the world's largest commercial bamboo structure. The 26,500 square foot (2,460 square meter) facility handles the entire range of operations, from initial processing the beans to final production of chocolate, what they call "beans to bars."
The Big Tree Farms factory, located in Sibang, Bali, not only has the exterior built from bamboo, but bamboo was also used for interior walls, which were made from woven bamboo strips, and stairs which used bamboo plywood for treads. The bamboo was treated with borax for fire-prevention and boric acid to resist insects, and a food-grade coating was applied to interior walls.
What makes bamboo an especially green building material is that it is fast-growing, making it a rapidly renewable resource that doesn't devastate the landscape when it is harvested. Bamboo is strong enough to compare with mild steel in some applications. It is regularly used for construction scaffolding throughout southeast Asia.
Wood is a versatile construction material. It has been used for thousands of years. It has low embodied energy compared to many other building materials, and it serves to sequester carbon. But, compared with steel, it is relatively weak, and that, combined with its inherent combustability, has meant that wood is not used for structures more than a few stories tall. Now, a new development in wood construction called cross-laminated timber (CLT) is making new possibilities available in wood construction.
Cross-laminated timber panels are like massive plywood boards. Instead of shaving a log into a veneer and then gluing it together to make a board a few eighths of an inch thick, a CLT panel is made from pieces of sawn wood and is several inches thick. Like plywood, alternating layers are laid perpendicular to one another, so that the finished panel is stronger and more dimensionally stable than plain wood would be.
Because the panels are many inches thick, there is an inherent fire resistance to the material, which, in the event of a fire, will char on the outside but will not burn through quickly. Construction with CLT is also faster and requires fewer workers and lighter equipment, which can make construction more affordable.
The Stadhaus is a 9-story residential building in London which was built using CLT and is the tallest modern building constructed with wood. At present, CLT is primarily a European development, but fabrication plants are under construction in the US, and CLT panels should start to be available within a couple of years.
When we think of all the businesses and institutions that we'd like to see embrace renewable energy, prisons don't immediately pop to mind, but huge correctional facilities require a lot of electricity to run and the large flat spaces they most often occupy make them perfect for solar power.
Most recently, two Illinois correctional facilities in Merced County have announced that they'll be running on solar power. Two arrays consisting of 6,272 solar panels located on land adjacent to the two facilities have a capacity of 1.4 MW and will be able to provide 70 percent of the facilities' peak electricity consumption and all of the power during off-peak times.
The arrays plus new energy-efficient lighting systems being installed will reduce CO2 emissions by 999.85 tons. The cost savings will be substantial too. The county expects to save $300,000 a year on energy costs creating a positive cash flow that could total $9 million in 25 years.
Four California correctional facilities announced in October that they'd be installing solar arrays as well. All put together the four arrays will have a capacity of 25 MW and save taxpayers $57 million over 20 years.
We all know that batteries and CFL light bulbs don't belong in the trash, but recycling locations are not always convenient. What if your local retail stores just had a vending machine where you could drop these items? Well, that convenient option could be coming to us soon.
A company called reVend Recycling Ltd. has begun installing recycling vending machines for light bulbs and batteries in the U.K. that not only sort the items, but offer immediate rewards.
The first pilot machine was installed at an IKEA in London with great success. At that location, recyclers were offered store credit to IKEA based on the amount they were recycling or the choice to donate to one of four charities -- the World Wildlife Fund, Woodland Trust, UNICEF and Save the Children.
The machines accept incandescents, CFLs and LEDs as well as any domestic batteries. The machines are able to track the bulbs and batteries by type, manufacturer and volume so that each can end up in the appropriate recycling facilities.
The company has signed an agreement with IKEA to install their machines throughout the U.K., Germany and Denmark. They plan to expand their reach to more parts of Europe as well as into the U.S. very soon.
The Danish people ride on average 2.6 km per day. If all of the EU hit that mark, it would reduce emissions by 55 million to 120 million tons a year. By 2020, that would represent five to 11 percent of the emissions target of a 20 percent reduction below 1990 levels. If that level of ridership continued, by 2050 it would represent a slash of 63 to 142 million tons or 12 to 26 percent of the transportation sector targets.
Meanwhile in New York City, the transportation department is proving that adding bike lanes and making a city more bike-friendly will in fact increase ridership. Since making major bike lane improvements in 2007, ridership in the Big Apple has doubled. With a huge bike sharing program on its way, those numbers should continue to go up. See a breakdown of the increases in bike ridership here.
Pebble Bed Reactor The pebble-bed reactor was supposed to be another intrinsically safe, and "melt-down proof" design. "Pebble bed reactors are helium-cooled, graphite-moderated reactors in which the fuel is in the form of tennis ball-sized spherical "pebbles" encased in a graphite moderator. New fuel pebbles are continuously added at the top of a cylindrical reactor vessel and travel slowly down the column by gravity, until they reach the bottom and are removed." Cooling uses an inert gas such as helium, rather than a liquid, which simplifies many of the reactor systems.
"The use of helium and graphite allows the reactor to burn the fuel efficiently and to operate at much higher temperatures than conventional light water reactors." Since the pebble bed reactor was already designed to operate at very high temperatures, and since its cooling medium was a gas, rather than a liquid, the control systems for a pebble bed reactor could be much simpler. The largest problems that need to be dealt with for a boiling water reactor - overheating and coolant boiling away - are not concerns for a pebble bed reactor. The pebble bed also produces less power as the temperature rises, so the design is effectively self-limiting.