Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Refrigerants and the Challenge of Lessening Their Impact to the Environment

Refrigerants and the Challenge of Lessening Their Impact to the Environment
Refrigerants are a necessity of modern life.  Refrigerants allow us to keep our food fresh in our home refrigerators and keep our cars & homes cool on hot days.  Unlike commercial or industrial applications, which use ammonia cooling and large heat exchange towers, residential applications usually utilize chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydro- fluorocarbons (HFCs) as a refrigerant.  These are preferred in residential cooling systems because they require a relatively small heat exchange system, are non-flammable, and are safe in low concentrations.  Evaporative cooling, which is an effective air conditioning method in dry climates, is not effective in cooling homes in humid climates.

Unfortunately, CFCs are very effective at breaking down the Ozone (O3) Layer which prevents ultraviolet light from reaching the earth’s surface.  The Montreal Protocol, which was initiated in 1987, limits the use of CFCs to limit the damage to the Ozone Layer.  Also, HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.  The Kyoto Protocol, which was initiated in 1997, limits the use of HFCs in order to reduce global warming.  These two protocols show that there is an international desire to reduce damage to the ozone layer and global warming.  Nevertheless, creating treaties and other superficial public demonstrations of concern are not going to create enduring change on the health of the environment.  Plus, people don’t seem to want to deal with extremely hot temperatures without some form of refrigerant.

Creating new, and safer, refrigerants are a priority for everyone because we all need refrigeration, in some form or another, in our daily lives.  There are some organizations that are funding research into creating refrigerants that are better for the environment.  For instance, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is currently funding research into a new substance that will not harm the ozone layer and will have a minimal impact on the environment.  However, this new product has only been applied to commercial uses and has not been tested in residential home appliances.  Hopefully, with further research this project may be able to create products for home and automotive use.  Currently, a profitable, and environmentally friendly, method of refrigeration to the public remains challenging.

No doubt, there are many issues facing the average consumer in today’s world.  Those consumers are, more often than not, focused on caring for their families and getting every ounce of value for their hard earned money.  Therefore, there is little or no reason for companies and private funding to invest in researching this important issue.  The first question is how can companies can deliver this safer option and maintain their earnings for their investors.  The other question is whether the public would be willing to pay a price premium for this environmental option, whatever it may be, in order for companies to remain viable during the product’s introduction.  The fact remains, further public awareness on this issue will create more charitable funding, corporate research, and effective environmental policies.

Smog and the Dangers of Temperature Inversion

Smog and the Dangers of Temperature Inversion

Smog can come from a number of air pollution sources.  Many of these air pollution sources include automobiles, locomotives, airplanes, and factory emissions.  Some of this pollution is also created during the process of power generation.  Combined, these sources can create a significant amount of smog that can drown out the sun, cause adverse effects on the health of the environment, and can negatively impact the health of the residents in the affected area.  If you have recently visited an industrial area, or spent time in a large metropolitan area, then you have seen smog first hand.
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
 Fortunately, due to natural air currents, most people do not have to worry about smog rapidly returning to ground level after it is expelled from an industrial smoke stake.  In the event of a temperature inversion the normal flow of air that allows smog to properly disperse into the atmosphere is halted.  This usually occurs when air in the upper atmosphere becomes significantly warmer than air at ground level.  When this occurs the ground level air, which is now heavier and denser than the upper atmosphere, does not rise and dilute the pollution created by smoke stakes.  Instead, the cooler less turbulent air causes the pollution to settle on the citizens below.

Photo by Aaron Logan
Environmental regulations, especially in North America, have strictly enforced clean air standards that reduce the amount of pollutants that can be placed into the atmosphere.  These standard reduce the destructive potential of a temperature inversion should it occur.  In countries such as China, where there are more lax air quality standards, the effects of a temperature inversion can be catastrophic.  In China, the economic incentive to produce products quickly and cheaply has made pushing for better regulations extremely difficult.
Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri
 Few would dare to contend with the fact that the health and safety of the environment and the residents of any region are more important than any economic incentive.  Technological advances have made it possible for all counties to compete in a more environmentally sound manner.  For most struggling industrialized countries, the economic cost associated with the implementation of these technologies may be too great.  Creatively motivating these countries to invest in clean technologies will continue to be a challenge.

4 Environmentally Conscience Celebrities to Watch in 2014

4 Environmentally Conscience Celebrities to Watch in 2014

Many wealthy individuals participate in philanthropy to make a difference in their community or to support causes that matter to them.  When a celebrity endorses and donates to a cause it has the potential to increase that cause’s ability to raise capital.  These celebrities influence their fans to donate and bring much needed media attention.  Environmental causes are no exception to this phenomenon.  Here are five celebrities that are currently promoting environmental causes.
 Matt Damon 
photo by Nicolas Genin
Back Ground:  Achieved notoriety from his role in the movie “Good Will Hunting”.  Mr. Damon (pictured wearing dark suit jacket) is slated to star in two movies for release in 2014 “Interstellar” and “The Monuments Men”.
Activity:  Mr. Damon currently donates to 30+ Charities and is the founder of H2O Africa.
“In 2009, H2O Africa and WaterPartners International merged to become Water.org. The combined organization delivers sustainable programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America including Haiti.” –h2oafrica.org
 Cate Blanchett


Back Ground:  Achieved notoriety from her role in the movie “Elizabeth”.  Cate Blanchett is slated to star in: 2014 - The Monuments Men, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and 2015 - Cinderella

Activity:  Cate Blanchett currently donates to 5+ Charities and has helped to promote the SolarAid campaign.

“Our goal is to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020.” – http://solar-aid.org

Leonardo DiCaprio 

photo reference link
 Back Ground: After a brief stint on the situational comedy (Sitcom) Growing Pains, and a few small movie roles, Mr. DiCaprio’s Back had his breakout role in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  Mr. DiCaprio is slated to produce the movie Live By Night which is to be released in 2015

Activity:  His foundation the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has workined to protect tigers from extinction, save the rainforest, protecting the oceans, saving the sharks, protecting Antarctica, and providing access to clean water.

“Dedicated to protecting Earth’s last wild places and fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world” – Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

Daryl Hannah
 Background:  Daryl Hannah (pictured wearing white dress) is mainly known for her roles in “Blade Runner” and “Kill Bill”.  Last film was the movie “Hot Flashes”.

Activity:  She is the cofounder of The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance.  In 2013 The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance created the sustainable biodiesel certification.

“The primary mission of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance is the completion of an independent sustainability certification system for U.S. Biodiesel Feedstock, Production, Distribution and end use fuel” – The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance

3 Ways to Incentivize People to Recycle & Re-Use

3 Ways to Incentivize People to Recycle & Re-Use
There is no doubt that incentives drive people into action.  The most effective incentive is monetary.  For example, people are more likely to follow rules and regulations if they know they will be fined for violating them.  Also, when financial rewards are offered in connection to the capture of a criminal people are more likely to assist the authorities.  Both of those examples work because the financial incentives associated with them motivate people to act.  Similar principles can be associated with recycling and reducing waste.  
The first method is exactly the same method that has been used with metals in the past.  Each person who is participating starts an account with a recycling company.  That company then reimburses the participating individuals based on the total weight of plastic, glass, or other material.  This transaction would be tabulated at the location where participant drops off the materials.  The money earned would go directly to the persons account. 
The second incentive is public recognition.  It should not be a surprise that people would like to be public recognized when they do something that is beneficial to the community.  At the end of the year, the person who was able to reduce their waste and/or recycle the most would be given a cash prize.  Not only would they receive recognition throughout the year but they could be financially rewarded as well. 
J. Smith
The third incentive is to support the manufacture of repurposed products for sale.  Repurposed plastic items, unlike recycled plastic, do not require melting or any significant processing.  The plastic is simply used for a different purpose or integrated into a different product.  Grand Imperial, a clothing and draw cord bag manufacturer, integrates plastic bottle caps into the construction of their bags.  Organizations like the Advertising Council (AdCouncil) could promote these products with donations from environmentally friendly groups.  This would increase public awareness and create and environment for companies who repurpose plastic to flourish. 
These simple ideas can have a lasting positive impact on the environment and the economy.  With a little effort and hard work the correct incentive can be put into place.

Clean Energy: Why It Is Not Catching On As Fast As It Could and What We Can Do About It

Clean Energy: Why It Is Not Catching On As Fast As It Could and What We Can Do About It

Necessity remains the catalyst of all invention.  The need for clean energy has become greater and greater each passing day.  This need has brought rise to an increase in the use of solar panels, wind turbines, and fuel cells.  All of these technologies allow the user to obtain energy at a fraction of the cost of conventional energy costs.  More importantly, these energy sources are renewable and reduce, or prevent, further damage to the environment.  Surprisingly, these technologies have not become ubiquitous in modern everyday life.
Usually, the individuals and business that can afford the initial investment of these technologies are the ones who are able to benefit from them.  Conversely, the ones who need the cost savings from such technology, the financially dependent people and the struggling small businesses, are the ones who cannot afford the initial technological investment.  When credit is tight it can be especially difficult to obtain the financing to purchase these technologies.  The willingness to invest in a piece of equipment instead of having a financial safety net can be tough even when an individual, or business, has saved the required capital to purchase these technologies.

After purchase, the cost of maintenance can also be a challenge.  Also, finding the correct parts and services can be difficult due to the rarity of these products in normal residential and commercial settings.  Though being kind to the environment is appealing the lack of financial attractiveness can derail any plans of utilizing renewable energy.  The cost of insuring these pieces of equipment from natural, and man-made, hazards is rarely mentioned in product literature.  No government entity, or private organization, has been able to implement a comprehensive plan to increase the use of these technologies even with the understanding that there needs to be something done to protect the environment.

Solving the dearth of renewable energy use will require the proper mix of tools to be affective.  First, power companies need to get into the business of selling this equipment to the public and then making their revenue through maintenance.  Second, when a business or an individual purchases this equipment they should be able to claim that on their tax return.  Finally, when an individual or person has excess energy that is placed on to the grid they should be able to earn tax free income from its use.  Utilizing all three of these concepts together will drive the market into a more environmentally friendly direction.

Urban Vegetable Farming: A Healthy Environment Leads to Healthy People

Urban Vegetable Farming: A Healthy Environment Leads to Healthy People

Every day there are people heading to the local farmers market to get the freshest vegetables for their snacks and meals.  For these people eating food that has not been frozen or processed is important.  However, for the rest of us, obtaining this level of fresh food is far too expensive and often located in areas that are difficult to reach within a reasonable amount of time.  Also, having the land and time to cultivate a huge farm would be tremendously burdensome for people who work long hours.  Finding the right solution that allows everyone to have access to fresh food is challenging task.
Source Link
 Obtaining fresh food locally is also very important for the environment.  The amount of energy that is consumed transporting and refrigerating fresh food can be significantly reduced if most people had local access to these items.  A reduction of energy usage will reduce the carbon foot print that is associated with global warming.  The low transportation costs translate into people eating better for less money.  Moving from our current situation, where few urban gardens exist, to our future situation, where everyone has urban garden access, is a daunting undertaking.
New Crops
 To take this concept a step further we need to encourage people and businesses to begin using their roof top space for gardening.  Organizations such as UrbanHarvest STL are already going in the direction of bringing urban garden access to their communities.  This farming activity not only improves the health of the community but brings the community around a common cause.  There is a vast amount of root top space, especially in commercial business centers, that could be used to make a number of easy to grow vegetables and herbs.
Lufa Farms
 To reach this goal you would have to make the idea of placing a garden on the roof of a building compelling.  For starters, negotiating a deal with the property owner where they either receive a portion of the crop or they are compensated monetarily.  Then, insure that the farming operations do not inhibit the property owner’s ability to conduct business.  Finally, allow for the cross marketing of products where applicable so that both businesses benefit from the relationship in a complementary fashion.  Successful implementation of this strategy will allow for the expansion of operations to other locations throughout the urban area.

Electric Cars: Why They Are Not Moving Customers

Electric Cars: Why They Are Not Moving Customers

On its surface, purchasing an electric car should be an easy and sensible decision for any car buyer.  Not surprisingly, you do not see truck and SUV drivers going out to purchase an electric car.  Most utility vehicles, gasoline or diesel, have the horse power and towing capacity required to attract their customer base.  However, when it comes to cars most car, you do not see large numbers of people driving 100% electric cars.  When you do see an eco-friendly model car, it is almost always a hybrid model.  From a purely business standpoint, unless the customer is intrinsically motivated to protect the environment, there is little reason for a traditional car owner to purchase one of these new electric vehicles.
Tony Hisgett
 The first reason the average car customer is not purchasing an electric vehicle is the styling.  All customers want to drive cars that are aesthetically appealing.  This is not to say that electric cars are completely unattractive.  However, almost all 100% electric cars are far too abstract or futuristic in design to appeal to the average car driver.  To attract more customers the automobile industry should introduce 100% electric versions of their already top selling models.  By selling popular models the car companies can leverage their existing infrastructure to convert traditional car drivers into electric car drivers.  This would be more effective and less expensive than designing, marketing, and testing a whole new electric car model.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining an electric car is another deterrent.  With more and more customers going through difficult time financially it is little wonder that they are choosing their pocketbooks before the environment.  This may seem cruel and short sighted, but for those who are in tough financial straits keeping food on the table is much more appealing than a new car.  The cost of maintenance on an electric vehicle is also more expensive in comparison to a traditional gasoline model.  Until the price of purchasing and maintaining an electric car goes down, customers will continue to choose traditional models in large numbers.

Ludovic Hirlimann
The greatest obstacle to the proliferation of the electric car, especially in remote locations, is the dearth of charging stations.  Current owners of 100% electric cars are aware of the fact that finding charging stations can be a significant and daunting challenge.  Finding a charging station on some stretches of highway is completely out of the question.  Without numerous charging stations there is little reason for car customers to purchase electric cars.  Ironically, there is little reason for gasoline station owners to purchase a charging station with so few electric cars on the road.  However, retro-fitting or redesigning an existing model so that it is equipped with a solar panel roof may help to give these vehicles more range.