Frog Tunnels

Monday, January 10, 2011 Posted by
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In the game Frogger, the player has to guide a frog across a dangerous freeway, avoiding various types of cars so that the frog can escape safely. Traffic is a problem for frogs in the real world, so frog tunnels were created. One of the most famous frog and toad tunnels is the Toad Tunnel in the city of Davis, California, famous for its university and its bike trails.

Toad Tunnel includes its own decorations. According to Widget Works, the Davis post office donated some swampland on the other side of the toad tunnel. Volunteers built some structures for the toads, probably inspired by the Mr. Toad stories, including a bar, a hotel, and even an outhouse.

The toads don’t seem to like the tunnel. The California Planning and Development Report states that Davis city officials never saw a toad actually use the tunnel. Heat and lack of humidity can be an issue because toads may not want to enter a metal tunnel, especially when temperatures are high. Heat wasn’t a problem in Frogger, but it can kill toads in a long tunnel. Plastic tunnels are more friendly to frogs and toads, and a tunnel with a dirt or mud floor is more attractive.

The Davis toad tunnel was built in 1996. An 1988 project, in Amherst, Massachusetts, that helped salamanders cross a road was more successful. The Amherst project includes drift fences to orient the salamanders toward the tunnels, which might be helpful on the Davis project, although it increases costs. Vents on the tunnels allow some rainwater to fall inside them, but redirect strong floods, keeping the salamanders hydrated and cool.

There are frog tunnels in many countries. RIA Novosti reports that Belarus has built frog tunnels in two locations, the Berinsky Biosphere Reserve and the Belovezhskaya Pushka Natural Park, to prevent frogs from being killed by highway traffic. A frog tunnel in New Zealand creates a safe passage for the frogs of West Auckland.

Making Hybrid Cars Louder

Friday, January 7, 2011 Posted by
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Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion, are capable of using electric power instead of burning gasoline to operate. While a hybrid is using electric power, it is a lot quieter. This can create a safety hazard for pedestrians, bike riders, and skateboarders, who may not hear that a car is driving along the road. The federal government passed a law to make hybrid cars louder as part of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010.

The main focus of the law is on helping blind pedestrians. A blind pedestrian can’t see a car coming and is used to hearing vehicles from some distance away. To test the safe distance, scientists measured the distance that a blindfolded pedestrian needed to hear a car coming. According to the National Institutes of Health, an experiment showed that the distance before the person could hear a regular gasoline powered car was 36 feet, and the distance before the person could hear the hybrid running on electricity was 11 feet.

The regulation does not specify the type or volume of noise that the hybrid car should make, other than that blind people should be able to hear it at a distance. A speaker could produce the sound of a normal car engine, which could be as loud as a regular vehicle. The sound system could also make a unique noise, because loud car engines already bother the residents of some areas and the driver might want another car effect for vanity purposes.

Some vehicle buyers purchase hybrid vehicles for their quietness, in addition to their reduced emissions and fuel efficiency. The National Park Service uses hybrid buses to carry tourists around Yosemite. The loud noise of a vehicle engine would upset the birds and other wildlife, and disrupt the vacations of other visitors. The sound volume in a remote area of Yosemite may be as much as 16 times less than the volume in a city.

A national park is much more quiet than a city because of natural selection, according to Carleton University. Animals use up energy by making noise. An animal usually makes noise only to send a message to another animal, such as showing off during a mating ritual or scaring away a predator, and is quiet the rest of the time.

The International Climate REDI Project

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 Posted by
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The Climate Renewables and Efficiency Development Initiative is an international agreement, led by the Department of Energy, that helps residents of low income countries switch to more energy efficient appliances. According to the Department of Energy, the United States will be paying $85 billion of the project costs from 2011-2015, and other developed countries will cover the remaining $265 billion in costs.

This project includes several new programs. One program is the Solar and LED energy program. LED bulbs are much more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, and they are even more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs. The purpose of this project is to provide the bulbs, along with solar generators, to rural residents and other people who don’t have access to the electric grid.

The Super Efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment program is also a new program that Climate REDI establishes. The program focuses on market incentives. California and other states periodically offer tax credits for energy efficient appliances, immediate purchase rebates, and provide subsidies so that sources of clean energy can compete with other power sources such as coal and oil. According to Humboldt State University, California advisers are already familiar with establishing standards for these incentive programs because of the previous and current initiatives in the state.

The third new Climate REDI program is the Clean Energy Information Platform. This is a database that allows scientists in developing countries to easily exchange information with advisers in the developed countries that are funding the project. Each technologically advanced country picks different areas of expertise, so Australia and Britain consult on carbon capture and Germany and Spain give advice about solar power.

Another program is the Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program. $250 billion out of the total $350 billion of project funds will support this program, which is an existing program that the World Bank manages, according to Although Climate REDI offers $250 million to finance this project, the World Bank also uses funds from other sources to support renewable energy projects in developing countries.

Algae Harvesting

Sunday, December 19, 2010 Posted by
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Algae is an alternative to petroleum based fuel. There are many companies that grow algae in large ponds, dry it out, and burn it, providing a source of renewable energy. Algae also grows in streams and rivers. If farms use a large amount of fertilizer, the runoff can make algae grow very rapidly, and the out of control algae growth can become a major problem that kills other wildlife and makes it difficult for ships to travel.

A Seattle based company, Blue Marble Energy, takes a different approach to algae harvesting than many of its competitors. Other firms only grow their own algae, Blue Marble Energy extracts algae from rivers in Washington. According to Seattle University, Blue Marble Energy harvested more than 4000 pounds of algae from Puget Sound. The state of Washington did not have to pay to store the algae in a landfill, and Blue Marble gained a large amount of material to make higher value petrochemicals.

Harvesting invasive algae avoids some of the major problems with biofuels. When energy producers use corn or another crop to produce ethanol, this uses up part of the food crop, which can lead to higher food costs. Growing biofuels can use up petroleum, because of the fertilizers and other products which are necessary to grow the crops.

The federal Recovery Act funds algae fuel research. According to the Recovery Act website, the Institute of Gas Technology received a $3.4 million grant to research the conversion of algae into several types of fuel, including diesel fuel and gasoline. Blue Marble Energy is providing some of the algae it harvests from Washington rivers as a sample to use in these experiments.

The main advantage of algae as a biofuel is that it does not compete for resources with any other crops. A water treatment plant normally has to add other chemicals to the water to kill off the algae, and may have to mechanically filter it out. When invasive algae grows in a waterway, this does not reduce the land area that farmers can use to grow corn, soybeans, or other crops that can be used as fuel.

Algae is much more efficient at producing biomass that can be used as fuel than other crops are. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, corn only produces 18 gallons of fuel per acre, and soybeans produce 48 gallons per acre. In the two scenarios for algae production, algae produces 1200 gallons per acre and 10,000 gallons per acre. This is possible because algae grows much faster than most vegetable crops.

Vegetable Oil Ink

Saturday, December 18, 2010 Posted by
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The printing process is a major source of environmental damage. The ink itself is not the main culprit, although it does produce some pollution. A bigger problem is the use of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are necessary to clean off the printing equipment.

Soy based inks are less damaging than inks that are based mainly on petroleum products. The problem with soy based inks is that many of them still contain some petroleum compounds, and according to the University of Michigan, volatile organic compound based solvents are still required to clean up the printing machinery.

Inks that contain a higher percentage of vegetable material than the soy based inks in the market may not require these damaging solvents. Some vegetable based inks can be cleaned up with water alone, or with water and a small amount of other cleaning agents. Tests of inks that contained only soy or only vegetable matter showed that these inks took too long to dry to be useful in printing. According to the University of Missouri, two inks that contain more vegetable material than other inks are INX Promark and Kohl and Madden Freedom, and the second ink can contain as much as 35 percent vegetable matter.

An printer who uses soy based ink receives the right to place the Soyseal logo on magazines, newspapers, and brochures. According to Harvard University, the ink must contain more than 20 percent soybean material before the American Soybean Association grants this right to the printer.

The use of vegetable based ink is important so that a printer or ink manufacturer can avoid federal penalties. The original reason that the Deluxe Corporation created its new vegetable ink was because of Clean Air Act regulations. The solvents that this check printing company used to clean off its lithographic plates led federal regulators to classify the company as a major emitter of volatile organic compounds.

Cryogenic Carbon Capture

Saturday, December 4, 2010 Posted by
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Coal plants release a lot of carbon when they burn coal, along with sulfur and other contaminants. The ashes and particles can travel long distances after their release, and can create a breathing hazard, as well as causing other problems such as acid rain and creating a dark layer on ice that melts the ice. One of the main methods of getting rid of this carbon is using a scrubber, but a method known as cryogenic carbon capture provides some advantages.

The idea behind cryogenic carbon capture is that equipment can blast the air leaving the plant with a stream of freezing nitrogen gas. According to Sustainable Energy Solutions, the freezing nitrogen will solidify other contaminants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, as well as carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds.

Cryogenic carbon capture has another advantage over traditional filtration methods such as scrubbers. The freezing blast of nitrogen gas cools down the air leaving the plant, making the ventilation system more efficient and allowing the coal plant to burn coal more efficiently. The coal plant will not need to spend as much money on a water based coolant system. Since the air coming out of the plant is cooler, cryogenic carbon capture also reduces the effects of releasing hot air into the nearby environment, which can be harmful.

Cryogenic carbon capture is very effective at removing almost all of the carbon from the air. According to Purdue University, the cooling system reduces the temperature of the air leaving the plant to -135 Celsius, or -211 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature all of the carbon dioxide freezes into dry ice and drops out of the air in solid form. Sulfur dioxide, with a -73 Celsius freezing point, and nitrous oxide, with a -88 Celsius freezing point, are even easier to freeze and remove from the air. Carbon dioxide has a much lower freezing point than most airborne pollutants.

The cryogenic filtration system includes several devices which attach to the flue that vents the gas as it comes out of the plant. A Brigham Young University presentation explains how this equipment works. A condensing heat exchanger first removes excess water vapor from the gas. This helps conserve energy because water takes more energy than most compounds to freeze. A compressor compacts the gas and sends it to the heat exchanger, which freezes it. The gas is sent through one separator, uncompressed, and then sent through a second separator, removing the frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice. The contaminants have different melting points so the machinery can use this property to separate compounds such as sulfur oxides from carbon dioxide.

Flying Wind Turbines

Friday, December 3, 2010 Posted by
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Wind farms already provide power in many locations across the United States, but most of these turbines are attached to ground based structures. Stronger winds high above the earth have the potential to provide much more energy for a wind turbine to capture. The main problem is getting a wind turbine off the ground and keeping it in the air without using too much additional power.

Kites are one way to get the wind turbines up in the air. The wind turbines are only useful when the wind is blowing strongly, which means that there will also be enough wind to keep a kite aloft. According to Unity College, a wind turbine attached to a kite can operate at five times the maximum altitude of a ground based turbine, which provides twice as much power to the power plant on the ground.

Another method of getting the wind turbine in the air without using up additional power is attaching it to a blimp. The blimp is filled with helium, so it is lighter than air and does not need to have the wind blowing to stay up in the sky. Another advantage of a blimp is that it can hold a heavier turbine than a kite can.

There are several reasons why an airborne wind turbine is more effective than a ground based turbine. The wind flow on the ground is not consistent, and wind often comes in from a direction that does not allow a fixed turbine to easily capture it. According to Worchester Polytechnic Institute, at higher altitudes, the wind blows in the same direction for long periods of time, and it keeps blowing at a high speed. A mobile platform, such as a kite or a blimp, can also change its orientation in the air so that it can collect the maximum amount of wind energy. It is possible to use computer software to automatically launch or control the kite or blimp as well.

Another major advantage of an airborne turbine is its reduced cost. A ground based turbine may be several hundred feet tall. This means that the wind farm owner must build a support structure out of metal to prop up each turbine. The support structure does not produce any energy itself, but it does require a lot of energy to mine the metal and build the structure. A blimp or a kite is made out of thin cloth, so the main cost of the project is the turbine itself. Airborne turbines can produce much more power than ground based turbines with the same amount of cash investment.

Pros & Cons of Wine Taps

Friday, December 3, 2010 Posted by
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A newer method of serving wine at bars is serving it directly from the tap. This method is popular with environmentalists because when a bar serves wine from the tap, there is no need to use glass, plastic, metal, or other resources to make a bottle or a cap, which reduces waste. There are still some disadvantages with wine on tap because of issues related to the cork industry.

The main advantage of the wine tap is that the reservoir can hold a large amount of wine. Michigan State University
mentions that one bar uses a 1000 liter tank to store wine for the tap. A standard bottle of wine that holds four glasses is 750 milliliters, and even the larger bottles of wine only hold 1.5 liters, so the tank is holding the equivalent of 1333 standard bottles of wine.

One disadvantage of the wine tank is that wine can become contaminated. Fungus that grows on the cork is a significant problem with corked wine. If fungus gets into the 1000 liter tank, it can spoil all of the wine, which is very wasteful. It is much easier to discard an individual bottle of wine if fungus grows in the bottle.

Another advantage of the wine tap is that it is easier to make sure that each glass is the same size and receives the same mixing. Other types of restaurant taps can release a standard amount of a drink, and even automatically shut off to prevent overfilling a glass. The wine tap prevents overfills or underfills of each glass, and can automatically record how many glasses are served.

A disadvantage of the wine tap is that the bar no longer needs to purchase bottles that contain cork. The cork industry is important in Portugal and Spain because cork trees grow in wilderness reserve areas. If wine buyers no longer need to purchase cork, the extra income from this wilderness goes away. The local governments will not receive tax revenue from the cork trees and will have an incentive to chop them down and allow developers to build apartments and condominiums.

Financing Home Renewable Energy with PACE

Sunday, November 21, 2010 Posted by
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Several states provide rebates, subsidies, or tax credits for a homeowner who installs solar panels, wind turbines, or another source of clean power. Although these programs reduce the cost of the generator, the homeowner may still need to pay several hundred, or even several thousand dollars to purchase and install the clean energy system.

The property assisted clean energy program is a type of loan that allows the homeowner to buy solar panels or other equipment. What makes this loan unique is that it involves a partnership with the city or county government. The homeowner borrows money and pays it back using a special property tax assessment, which the homeowner pays to the local government.

Since the homeowner has agreed to a tax assessment, the loan payments are legally property tax payments. This is very significant if the homeowner later declares bankruptcy. Tax assessments have a higher priority in bankruptcy or loan restructuring than other types of loans, including a first or second mortgage with a bank.

The property assisted clean energy program gives the local tax collector priority over the bank that offers the mortgage, but many banks offer mortgages subsidized by Freddie Mae or Fannie Mac. The city or county will have the right to place a lien on the home, and will have the right to receive tax payment before these federal government sponsored entities.

Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac are not happy with the property assisted clean energy program because it prevents them from collecting money from a homeowner who is delinquent on a mortgage. These government sponsored agencies have been preventing homeowners from signing up with PACE as a condition to receive a mortgage backed by one of these organizations. Many homeowners with average or smaller value homes have Freddie Mae or Fannie Mac guaranteed mortgages, since the bank will charge a much higher interest rate if these agencies do not guarantee the loan.

The Smart Meter Controversy

Sunday, November 21, 2010 Posted by
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Smart meters are devices that can report on a household’s power usage, and in some cases they can control newer appliances. A smart meter is more complex than the traditional power meter. The power company has to purchase and install the smart meter, which adds a cost to each customer’s bill.

Power meters in Northern California caused a lot of controversy. After the installation of these meters in households in the San Francisco Bay Area, around Fresno, and near Eureka, many residents saw their power bills increase. This was not because of the smart meter installation costs alone. The traditional power meter is not as effective at recording all of the energy a household uses, so the smart meters often provide a higher power usage reading.

Since the smart meter can record detailed information about the appliances in a consumer’s home, many power company customers are concerned about privacy. Harvard University states that Texas established a state law which says that the usage information that the smart meter collects is the property of the customer, not the power company.

It is possible to use the smart meter data to find out whether residents are home, or which appliances the residents are using. A paper from the University of Massachusetts states that a traditional power meter only shows how much power a household uses in one month, but the smart meter can provide a precise reading of power usage at any time. A spike at a certain time can show whether a resident is preparing lunch or dinner, or is heating up hot water to take a bath. The smart meter does transmit information to and from the power company, so it is possible for a hacker to intercept the data. A good smart meter system design should include encryption, especially if the smart meter uses wireless networks to transmit information.

One of the main benefits of the smart meter is that it is connected to the power company remotely. Power companies in the past had to hire a meter reader, who would drive around the neighborhood and read the information off each meter. Sometimes the meter reader had to make another trip because the household had junk blocking the meter so the reader couldn’t see it, which could lead to an additional fine for the household. The power company does not need to have the meter reader drive through the neighborhood anymore once it installs smart meters, which reduces fuel costs and auto maintenance costs.

It will take many years to pay off the cost of the smart meters. From the Harvard University study, one project had an installation cost of around $700 million, operating cost of $200 million, and savings of $200 million. The power company will pay off this $700 million by charging each customer $3 a month, or $36 a year.