energy efficiency, sustainability, green buildings, solar, hybrid cars and alternate fuels.

"A society built on green design, sustainable energy and closed loop systems, a civilization afloat on a cloud of efficient, non-toxic, recyclable technology." ~~Alex Nikolai Steffan


Zero Carbon House

Since we're spending the day locally at the solar homes tour, I thought I'd look at another part of the world, for a zero carbon house project in Sweden, a low energy demonstration project to show how renewable energy can create a unique living experience on a remote island in a severe climate the island of Unst*--see below). This approach proposes to also eliminate household carbon emissions that would normally result from heating and powering the home, running the family car and growing and transporting food. There's a great detailed diagram of the entire facility on the web site as well as pictures showing what looks like a pretty conventional house under construction.

There's a doubly-insulated greenhouse
to provide suitable growing conditions for a range of fruit and vegetables grown in a hydroponics system. The availability of fresh affordable food is a major concern on Unst* and other remote islands in Scotland. I'm not sure about the need for the car on this remote island, but they've included one and a way to power it.

OK, geography lovers, I couldn't leave without finding out about *Unst.
According to Wikipedia, it's
the northernmost of the inhabited British Isle and the third largest island of what makes up Scotland. It is about 46 square miles, has a tiny population, its own castle and was supposed to be the island used in the map drawing for Robert Louis Stevenson's book Treasure Island. Best of all, is the picture of what must be the world's most comfortable bus shelter, including a sofa, TV and a computer. (I guess one spends a lot of time waiting for the bus? Maybe that's why the zero carbon house project included a car!)


Biodiesel, Solar and the French Fry

Yes, yes, we have all read about the $2.4 billion Florida Power and Light (the FPL Group) is investing in major solar energy projects. Announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, the gigantic utility company will be investing in solar thermal, a smart network to monitor energy management and to launch a new consumer education program, along with products that consumers can buy with their own money to reduce energy usage.

FPL is working with a California startup called Ausra Inc., to build a 300 megawatt generating solar thermal facility. It will begin as only a 10 megawatt project and then may expand the project later. (interesting note from the Ausra web site, a 92 x 92 mile solar thermal panel--probably a panel is a tad incorrect—could provide 100% of the electricity needed by United States. Hmm. . .that’s 8,464 square miles? Let’s see, the sun generates 1387 W on a square meter of area on Earth, a square meter = 1/16092 square miles, factor in 33% efficiency, that’s ummm, well you do the math. . .or check out Wikipedia’s article on solar luminosity.)

In the meantime, there are local governments here in Florida that are not waiting for their utility company to sell them energy. In Largo, Florida, just north of St. Petersburg, the City wants to launch a program to recycle cooking oil and grease into biodiesel fuel.

It’s an environmental strategy that makes sense since the City hopes to provide an incentive for folks not to pour grease down their drains, which, according to Irvin Kety, the city’s environmental services director, will decrease the City’s expense to clean out all those lines. It seems that the City spends considerable time cleaning up grease cleaning grease from sewer lines. An entire grease abatement industry has emerged to deal with used deep fat fryer oils generated from all that fried food we eat. This grease is a major contributor to clogging our sewer systems as well as our arteries. (an aside – pouring hot water into the drain along with the grease does not prevent clogging.)

The City of Largo proposal, reported in the St. Petersburg Times, will establish a drop off point where residents could turn in their cooking grease and the City would contract with a private provider(s) to convert the used oil into fuel for cars or trucks.

Just imagine, if Tallahassee adopted this, heavy traffic on Tennessee Street could smell like McDonald’s french fries. Oh, wait, it already does!


Solar Powered Pond Scum?

Single-celled pond scum may be the answer. Although “there is no magic-bullet fuel crop that can solve our energy woes without harming the environment, says virtually every scientist studying the issue,” National Geographic Magazine reports this month in its cover story on biofuels that algae may be the closest answer, since it’s growing everywhere.

We’d be glad to contribute lots from our local Tallahassee ponds and lakes.

Evidently a dozen companies are doing research including GreenFuel Technologies Corp. of Massachusetts, founded by a MIT chemist who is doing the research. Previous programs that shut down in the 1990’s due to lack of funding are starting back. Algae not only reduce a plant's global warming gases, but can also devour other pollutants.

The “farm” at Green Fuel is filled with tubes of green stuff—algae, the fastest growing plant in the world, rapidly converting sunlight into energy. According to the Green Fuel website:

“energy is stored inside the cell as lipids and carbohydrates, and can be converted into fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol. Proteins produced by algae make them valuable ingredients for animal feed. Algae can be converted to transportation fuels and feed ingredients or recycled back to a combustion source as biomass for power generation.”

This means industrial facilities could host their own algae farm with systems that require no fertile land or potable water and harvest their crop every day instead of once a year.

Of course, it will come down to numbers. Can algae production costs come in below that of traditional fuel and that of other types of bio-diesel?

“We can't wait generations to screw around with this. We have to do it now.” Ray Hobbs, a senior engineer for the Green Fuel company, is quoted in the magazine article.

The possibilities of biofuels has even reached the United Arab Emirates where, it’s reported that country has launched a 250-million-dollar renewable energy initiative that includes biofuels. Although with all that desert, it’s going to be difficult for them to monopolize the world market on pond scum.


Energy and the Economic of Power Generation

I'm looking forward to my first dinner at the Village Square. Next month's dinner discussion topic is "The Economics of Power Generation 101:
Mother Nature, Common Sense and Turning a Supertanker."

Tickets are still available at
the Village Square, where civil discourse is the manner of speaking.


Environmentally Friendly Home Building Part Two

In a previous post, I mentioned some technologies that had been listed in the Top 10 for 2007, by the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH). These technologies were rated based upon their durability, efficiency, affordability and environmental performance in residential homes.

As we may have guessed, solar water heating was listed.

What I didn't expect was the statement that said solar water heaters have been commercially available since the 1800's! Is this correct?

A little amateur research lead me to learn that first commercial solar water heater, named Climax, was introduced by Clarence Kemp in the
1890's! According to "A Brief History of the American Solar Water Heating Industry," the unit was available in California for a $25 investment that would save approximately $9 a year in coal costs. There was no word on its cost benefits or its success. However, solar water heating seemed to be available only in California and Florida for a number of years because the thermosyphon system couldn't withstand a freeze.

The drawing is from a patent application filed in 1919 for a "solar heat collecting apparatus."

Supposedly, the California patent was sold to a gentleman in Florida in exchange for an Oldsmobile. The business grew between from the 1930's exporting thousands of units to the Caribbean from Florida. When World War II started, the copper tubing became redirected to the war effort.

After the war, the units became popular again and half of Miami homes had solar water heaters with over 80% of the new homes having them installed. Oh, where did we go wrong?

Unfortunately, in the early 1950's when electricity became cheap in Florida, utility companies gave away electric water heaters.

By 1973, there were only two full-time solar water heating companies left in the United States both operating out of Miami.

What's that saying about being doomed to repeat history?


Solar Church

Several months ago, the Unitarian Universalist Church on North Meridian Road unveiled its solar panels. A part of its Green Sanctuary program, the UU church is the first in Tallahassee to go solar.


Green University

Grist magazine came out with its top 15 green colleges and universities, with a couple of "honorable mentions. (FSU was not one of either)


Solar Homes Tour

I'm registered for the tour of solar homes on Sunday, September 30th, sponsored by Simpler Solar Systems. Here's some info on them (support our local business):
Simpler Solar Systems Inc.

* Business type: manufacturer, wholesale supplier, exporter, engineering, retail distributor
* Product types: custom batteries, solar electric power systems, energy efficient lighting, solar water pumping systems, energy efficient appliances, portable power systems, solar refrigeration,aquaculture solar pond aeration.
* 3118 W. Tharpe St., Tallahassee, Florida USA 32303
* 850-576-5271

Green Living Center Update

As mentioned in the post below, Tallahassee's Green Living Center is moving, literally, toward reality.

Yesterday, the moving party began setting up in its new location
1020 N. Monroe Street, next to Decent Pizza.

Thanks to the vision
of Allen Joseph, Pam Portwood, Michele Adamski and a host of others, the Center is now a reality! Activities at the Center will include:
  • Green Living Center
  • Regional Green Marketplace
  • Local Food Network
  • Green Living and Energy Expo
  • Community Resource Library
  • Green Home Certification
  • Community Calendar of Green Events
  • Trading Post and Service Exchange
Donations for the support of this ambitious undertaking are graciously being accepted on-line at the Sustainable Big Bend site.

Getting to Green - Sustainable Conference

Florida State University's Sustainable Campus program and the Council for Sustainable Florida are hosting the second Campus and Community Sustainability Conference October 13 - 16 2007.

FSU is a recent convert to campus recycling, working over the past couple of years to recycle containers at games and the tons of paper used
daily. The conference itself is aiming its green efforts toward putting conference information on-line rather than in paper format, encouraging carpooling, and providing free rides on the notoriously fuel efficient Star Metro buses.

They are proposing to replace the standard conference water bottles with beverage stations, providing Tallahassee's own clean water, and are using real china and silverware instead of disposables. They are proposing to partner with a local farmer to compost food waste and encouraging participants to bring their own coffee cup.

The conference is targeted to folks from campus, government, business and the community. Presenters will discuss opportunities and challenges of creating a green, sustainable community, including "enhancing sustainability for the well-being of all people."

Saturday's (10/13/07) activities include a drive-in movie out at Cross Creek where Mahan Drive intersects with I-10, so it'll take some gas to get out there.

Sunday (10/14) will highlight the opening of the

Sustainable Big Bend Green Living Store
1020 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee

Monday and Tuesday (10/15 and 10/16) sessions will be held at the Oglesby Union. Lunch on Monday will feature Tom Kimmerer, Director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Wednesday and Thursday (10/17 and 10/18) will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) training, offering CEU's , focusing on new construction. A detailed outline of the training is on-line.

More information: LEED and the US Green Building Council

See greening the university post


Bio-energy Projects

Applications are available for Florida’s Farm to Fuel Grants Program. The 2007 Florida Legislature appropriated $25 million for the grants program to provide matching grants for demonstration and commercial projects, as well as research and development relating to bio-energy projects in Florida.

The Farm to Fuel Grants Program centers on the production and distribution of renewable energy from Florida-grown crops, agricultural wastes and residues, and other biomass. It will award $3 million for research, development and demonstration projects, and the remaining $22 million for commercial bio-energy projects.

Click here for a copy of the grant guidelines, application and other relevant information.


Environmentally Friendly Cosmetic Founder

Sorry to hear of the passing of Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick, who started an environmentally friendly cosmetic line long before green became fashionable.


Hybrid Car Service

A sign of the times?

Environmentally Friendly Home Building

Recently the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) released its 2007 list of the top technologies for the year. These are technologies that are on the market right now that can improve the durability, efficiency, affordability and environmental performance of the homes we build.

Number 8 was
Permeable Pavers and Pavement. It's amazing that it is now being listed as a technology of 2007. I saw these over ten years ago while touring the Florida House in Sarasota and I thought then, of course,
everyone will want to build with these, they make so much sense. Rainwater seeps through the permeable pavement systems and filters through the soil instead of flowing off the driveway or parking lot, reducing the need for stormwater drainage and expensive retention ponds.

The Florida House was built by the Institute for Sustainable Development about 13 years ago as a demonstration of sustainability practices such as recycling and green building.

More on the other nine technologies in a later post.

Gas from Air

When my son was in first or second grade, he became aware of the fact that gas cost money. After pondering this for a while, he decided that cars should run on air because air was free. His wish has come true, here's the sign I saw yesterday in Tallahassee:


Global Warming and the Future of Florida's Coast

Sea-Level Rise, Coastal Erosion, and the Future of the Florida Coast

Thursday, September 13 at 7pm
FSU Marine Laboratory
3618 Highway 98, St. Theresa

Workshop presented by:
Joseph Donoghue,Coastal Geologist, Florida State University
"Sea level in the Gulf of Mexico has been rising steadily since the peak of the last glacial age, about 20,000 years ago. At that time sea level in the Gulf stood about 130 meters (400 feet) lower than today. The Gulf shoreline at that time was near the outer edge of the continental shelf. The modern coastal features, including the barrier islands, estuaries, wetlands and deltas, are the result of a recent slowdown of sea level rise.

"The majority of shorelines of north Florida are considered to be critically eroding."

This lecture is part of a series presented by the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

Tele-commuting by Robot

What's better than telecommuting? Sending a robot to work in your place. This story mentioned in Ecogeek and other places on the web came from reporter, Matt Walcoff, at The Record in Waterloo. The robot, called "Ivan Anywhere," can write software, attend meetings and chat with co-workers. It's really primitive, just a "coat rack on wheels with speakers, camera and touch-screen computer," but consider the possibilities!

Just going to meetings would be worth it! Imagine how much America could get done! He can be reprogrammed if you find he's spending too much time hanging out in the breakroom, chatting it up with his other robot friends.

In real world situations, this may be an avenue for persons with disabilities to work from home, yet interact with co-workers.


Climate Change Workshop

It could be disappointing that on about 30 people showed up at today's workshop on Achieving a Sustainable Florida in the Face of Climate Change.

The folks at the University of Florida's Agricultural Extension office here in Tallahassee had a series of speakers. And while there may not have been anything really new presented, it's always good to be reminded that the choices we make all have an effect on our environment.

A guest on a repeat this week of the Daily Show, author Alan Weisman, spoke about his book The World Without Us. In his book, he confirms what we have been suspecting for as long as humans have considered these things: the planet
earth would be just fine, maybe even better off without us.

"Let us try a creative experiment," the author proposes: "If humans disappeared from earth, what would happen? To your home, for example. To our cities, farms, and oceans. To the animals that remain. Or to the billion tons of plastic we'd leave behind."

Jon Stewart and Alan Weisman had a great time speculating about the fate of all that plastic we have created. Maybe, they pondered, a virus would adapt and would have the greatest feast in the universe.


Recycled Bottle Caps?

Was it urban legend or did I see it on TV? Somewhere I heard that if the caps were left on bottles and put into the recycling that the entire bottle would get thrown out. Immediately, my co-workers and I removed every cap from our bottles in the recycling bin. Who's been drinking all these bottled waters? I asked, looking up from the water cooler that's attached to our very good Tallahassee water, keeping it cool and ready to drink whenever.

In the meantime, I needed to get the real answer,
so I contacted the recycling folks at our City utilities. This is what they said:

Dear Utility Customer,
Customers are encouraged to remove the caps and tops from glass and plastic bottles. These items have a tendency of getting caught in conveyor equipment causing breakdowns at the recyling center or when pressure is applied to the bottles this caused the tops to pop causing hazardous conditions. Any glass or plastic bottles, jars or soda bottles are recyclable.
Thanks for this prompt to my question, City staff. Now, if I can just find out who is consuming all that bottled water. Didn't they read my blog post?


Go Green with Manual Rather Than Electric

I was doing some reading today and came across an article that suggested what they considered an innovative idea for going green: use a hand can opener instead of an electric! I am not exaggerating when I say I know no one who uses an electric can opener. No one. It's so 1950's--OK, maybe 1960's.

A good manual can opener, not a little flimsy metal handle one, is quick and efficient. When I had an electric can opener that someone gave me as a wedding gift, I used it to call the cat when I couldn't find her.

Now that I think about it, I rarely have to dig my can opener from the back of the kitchen drawer. When you're eating summer fresh, who wants to open a can?

Greening the University Photos

Here's a couple of snapshots I took this afternoon of the developing intramural fields mentioned in the post below. This is as close as I could get since the fencing all around was locked.


Greening the University

When Mark Bertolami talks about ball fields and traffic, he's talking about the big plans Florida State University has for land it owns outside the perimeters of its main campus. As Director of Facilities Planning, Mr. Bertolami rolled out drawings from the campus master plan at a recent neighborhood meeting. Plans for installation of a competition diving pool, ball fields and other recreational amenities west of the Seminole Golf Course and north of Lake Bradford Road will create what is being termed the "southwest campus."

This facility will create additional traffic to an already stressed artery, Levy Avenue, which leads into Innovation Park. Neighborhood children walking to Pineview Elementary School must now cross the busy Levy Avenue. Mr. Bertolami indicated that students would "be encouraged" not to cut through the neighborhood, but asked to drive along Lake Bradford Road to West Orange Avenue. No neighborhood investments or improvements were included in the plan, despite the recommendations of the Urban Land Institutes's expensive study from a number of years back.

When asked about the once planned bike/pedestrian paths from the main campus to the planned intramural fields, planners indicated that no infrastructure for this was included in the present.

Note to Tallahassee's Star Metro:

In a recent speech to the Commission on the Future, Mr. Bertolami quoted a very smart student:

We need to begin rethinking the layout and operation of our intracampus transit service, the Garnet and Gold bus system, to better serve our evolving campus. As one frustrated student once asked me, "If Disney can park and move 100,000 people a day, why can't we handle a fraction of that?" An unfair question perhaps but one that we should not be afraid to discuss. Also, those of us who use campus transportation and parking systems must be willing to pay for any increases in costs necessary to put these improvements in place.

Green Florida is a Sustainable Florida

The Workshop is called "Achieving a Sustainable Florida in the Face of Climate Change."
Thursday, September 6, 2007 from 8:30 am until 4:00 pm at the Leon County Extension Center Auditorium on Paul Russell Road near the Fairgrounds. Registration is $15.00 and includes lunch.

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