Recycled Energy Development - Turning Waste Factory Heat into Useable Energy

RED - Recycled Energy Development, has proven methods for converting the heat that normally goes out factory smokestacks into useful energy.  Here's how it works:

We basically use the heat to boil water and make steam, we use the steam to drive a turbine, ... and the turbine drives an electric generator.

The energy can power the factory itself or be fed into the energy grid to power homes. RED estimates that if all the waste heat from US factories and plants were captured it could make up 20% of US energy use, which is roughly the same as 120 coal-fired power plants.  That could mean that the US wouldn't need any new coal fired plants, and some existing plants could be taken offline, creating a huge reduction in CO2 emissions as well as other pollutants.  If factories can reduce their energy costs, or even make a profit by selling their energy back into the grid, overall manufacturing costs could go down dramatically.  That could mean more manufacturing jobs could stay in the US.  This is one of those ideas that's so good it's almost frustrating.  I strongly recommend downloading the Living On Earth interview with RED chairman, Thomas R. Casten.  He discusses some of the challenges with electric congeneration efficiency in the U.S.   One of my favorites Quotes in the interview:

CASTEN: I'm an environmentalist who tries to make my living as a capitalist. I want to have those rules be as cost effective and as environmentally effective as possible. My larger comment is that global warming is such a huge problem; it's hard to believe we're going to solve it if our only answer is that people must make sacrifices. We're offering an approach that profitably reduces greenhouse gases and that's much easier to persuade people to do - to go improve their own economic lot and do good. We just need to be a little smarter about how we're doing these things.

RED - Recycled Energy Development via Living On Earth (Download the entire Podcast or just the RED segment)

Digital Music and the Environment

Cnet News has a great article on the environmental benefits of transitioning music from CDs to digital files, something I wrote about here.  So far, it seems things are getting worse before getting better.  From the article:

there's no noticeable decline in the number of physical CDs found in landfills. While music fans are buying fewer CDs at record stores, they are buying more blank recordable CDs to burn their own discs from music acquired digitally.

Also it seems as though a fair number of MP3 players are ending up in landfills as well, where they can release some pretty nasty chemicals.  As much as I sometimes feel toolish for babying my iPod, this sort of makes it seem worth it.  I still think the transition to digital music will benefit the environment in the long run, even though it may take longer than expected. 

Digital music no environmental cure

Wal-Mart Embraces Solar Power


It's official Wal-Mart will install solar panel systems on 22 sites in California and Hawaii.  The solar panels will be provided by BP Solar, SunEdison LLC, and PowerLight, a subsidiary of SunPower Corporation.  Here are some highlights from the press release:

The solar power pilot project is a major step toward Wal-Mart’s goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.  Each solar power generating system installed can provide up to 30 percent of the power for the store on which it is installed.  By Wal-Mart’s estimates, installing the solar power systems will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6,500-10,000 metric tons per year.

Also, as the recent CNET article points out:

Because of Wal-Mart's size, its investments in solar power could have a significant financial impact for solar providers.

So if Wal-Mart eventually goes all out with solar installations across all their stores, they could drive the price of solar panels way down.  Gotta love those economies of scale...

Nevada Solar One


In undergrad I had a professor that thought that all of Nevada should be covered with photo-voltaic panels. Well, this 64 megawatt solar powerplant in Nevada doesn't use photo-voltaics but it will harness enough solar energy to power 15,000 homes. The project called Nevada Solar One uses parabolic mirrors aimed at a tube full of oil which heats the oil to make steam, which turns a turbine.

Full steam ahead for Nevada solar project (via

Shopping Greener, Buying Used and Refurbished

So this entry isn’t really a “They should do that” as it is a “You should do that.” Like most people, I love getting new stuff. But it’s crossed my mind a few too many times that buying stuff has an environmental cost. After all, everything has to be manufactured, consuming raw materials and energy, and then shipped, consuming more energy. However, there’s a simple way to make shopping a little greener that also saves you money: buy used or refurbished. In particular buying used or refurbished electronics, books, CDs, and DVDs, is a great option. Apple and Dell sell refurbished products directly to customers. And buying used stuff on Amazon couldn’t be easier. Read on for tips about buying refurbished stuff.

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Rumor: EMI to license music DRM-Free!
Plus EMI's Environmental Policy


Rumors have started circulating that EMI will license music DRM-free.  Recent articles in the Chicago Sun-Times and New York Times have all the details.  Also, EMI is the only "big four" music company with an environmental policy, at least that I was able to find.  According to their own figures they've reduced CO2 emissions from factories by about two thirds in 10 years.  However, they haven't made much of a dent in CO2 emissions from shipping.  One can only imagine what they could do if they were able to boost online music sales enough to actually manufacture and ship fewer CDs. EMI has also made significant reductions in hazardous waste, water use, and HCFCs (ozone depleting chemicals). One can only hope these numbers are as good as they seem.

License Music without DRM Restrictions, refocus on the environment

First of all the big four music companies should totally license music to online music stores without the DRM restriction. Jobs's points in Thoughts on Music are well made that the DRM requirement is stifling a huge potential for sales. While they're at it, they should make album artwork available in PDF format and make digital music available in a variety of audio qualities which can carry a modest price difference. In short they should do everything they can to make digital music truly competitive with CDs. However, more than anything I'd like to see the debate about digital music shift away from DRM and technological compatibility issues, and toward the environment. Read on to see what I'm thinking about.

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Environmental Impact of NASCAR


Several months ago I heard an interesting piece on NPR about a new study concluding that Hollywood was among biggest polluters in LA. Which makes sense, as building elaborate sets and shooting in remote locations is going to consume a lot of materials and energy. However, after listening to the story I couldn't help but wonder about the environmental impact of another form of popular American entertainment: NASCAR. While I feel as though I'm doing my part by minimizing my driving, it all seems trivial when NASCAR runs about 35 races a season, each with about 50 cars, getting about 5 miles per gallon, for 500 or so miles. That's about 1 million miles at 5 mpg, not even counting practices. This probably won't happen anytime soon, but NASCAR teams should be able to earn points by increasing their fuel efficiency. Such a move would be a great thing not only for the environment but for the progress and perception of fuel efficient vehicles.

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Cow powered farm, it's like win, win, win, win.


Ok! I admit it, I don't know the first thing about farming but this recent story about Anaerobic Digesters on "Living on Earth" was absolutely fascinating. The story focused on Blue Spruce Farm, a 2,000 cow farm, which uses anaerobic digesters to convert the cows' urine and manure into electricity. Previously, the farm was paying about $8,000 a month in electricity bills , but now the electric company pays the farm $2,000 a month for the extra energy they pump into the grid (win #1). This means that less energy is coming from sources like coal, which is bad for the atmosphere and dangerous to mine (win #2). Also, collecting and processing all the cow waste on site keeps area water cleaner (win #3). Lastly the byproduct of the process is a light and fluffy material which is used for bedding for the cows, which saves the farm another $7,500 a month (win #4). The Sierra Club is basically favorable about the use of anaerobic digesters on small farms, but against them on large farms (but that seems because they're against large farms in general).

Read the Transcript
Download the MP3

Certified U.S. Oil


People have finally figured out that our dependence on foreign oil is not such a good thing (go fig…). While this won't make everyone go out and buy a hybrid, or make such a difficult lifestyle change as driving the speed limit, there is something people could do to reduce consumption of foreign oil: buy American. The US does have oil wells, so why not market and sell domestic oil to Americans? They should have label at the gas pump that certifies the fuel as American Oil. We already have labels for things like organic food, fair trade coffee, Angus Beef why not gasoline? This would even help reduce emissions because the oil would have to travel less from the well to the consumer.

Wind Powered Google Server Farm

I've often wondered how much it costs to send an e-mail. Of course it's not so easy to measure, sure given a specific company or institution you can add up annual equipment costs and salaries, and divide that by the number of e-mails sent in a year and get a rough estimate. But at what point does energy and rent factor in to the equation? If you live in a major city such as New York, square footage isn't cheap. I've often thought that some enterprising company could offer huge cost savings on hosted e-mail by locating e-mail servers in a remote area and powering the server farm with wind turbines. Now that Google is slowly venturing into hosted e-mail, there's finally a pretty good candidate to try something like this.

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