Green Tech: The Future Is Now

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2008 will likely be remembered as the year that the green movement “made it” in mainstream America. While the reasons for the recent change in American attitudes are many and varied, skyrocketing fuel costs – and a brief glimpse of that future– no doubt played a part.

Yet, whether your sustainable approach to life is based on long-term concerns about the environment or immediate concern for your family’s well-being, you will be heartened to know that technology is moving quickly to help provide solutions to both short and long term issues. A look back at some of 2008’s big steps provides us with a clearer picture of where green tech is likely to take us in 2009.

Reduce

Computers Lead the Way


Much of the greenhouse gas emissions that we produce comes from wasting energy. Industries could eliminate tons of CO2 waste from their operations simply by operating more efficient, streamlined businesses. Toward that end, companies are using new software to guide them to greener pastures. From software that helps companies shorten their supply chains and track shipments, to consultants who provide logistical support and management advice to firms looking to shift to a telecommuting culture, to software that helps predict the environmental impact of products before they enter the design phase, computers are providing the keys to reducing unnecessary waste and increasing
profitability.

Moss Landing's Smokestacks

Smokestacks at Moss Landing power plant on the California coast, a new company can make cement from CO2 pollution - Image from Sciam.com

Carbon Capturing Concrete

Wired.com listed Calera’s development of a new kind of cement, which has the added benefit of carbon sequestration, as the top green achievement of 2008. Instead of the usual ton of CO2 emissions required to produce a ton of cement, Calera cement actually absorbs a half a ton of CO2. Given the amount of cement used annually, we’re talking about a net reduction of billions of tons.

Reuse

Renewed Investment in Renewable Energy

The public’s interest in renewable energy research may have been sparked by the spike in oil prices, but researchers and companies have been at this problem for a while. Some of the latest advances in renewables include:

  • Solar

    Two major advances in the size and scale of solar power have brought the possibility of its widespread use and affordability closer to a reality. First, Nanosolar created a 1gW production facility, a critical step toward making solar affordable and widespread. Second, solar thermal energy seems to be gaining popularity again. Rather than using photovoltaic cells, solar thermal uses mirrors to channel the sun’s heat on a source in order to generate steam, which, in turn, powers a turbine. Investment in both kinds of solar power is likely to continue in 2009 despite the recession.

  • Hydro

    Hydro Green Energy recently dropped their first water powered windmill into the Mississippi. The turbine, which looks and functions like a miniature windmill, is powered by the flow of the river’s water, and can be placed downstream from existing dams. While the power generated from a single unit is relatively modest, large scale implementation would make an excellent supplement to existing hydroelectric power generation.

Recycle

Big in Japan

Japan is host to some of the premiere research and development in the green tech field. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have found a use for silicon sludge waste, a byproduct of the production of silicon (a key ingredient in electronics, and also solar cells). The team was able to convert the sludge to a material that transforms wasted heat energy into electricity. Since automobiles only use about 30 percent of the heat they generate, such a material might prove useful in the next generation of cars and trucks.


In Western Japan, researchers at Tokai University looked to a local steel mill and their wasted heat energy to create an innovative and economical refrigeration process. By using the heat from the mill and plentiful cool groundwater, they were able to create a refrigeration process that does not use CFCs or ammonia, and is 30 percent more efficient than conventional freezers. This model of industrial and environmental synergy points to even more promising breakthroughs in the year ahead.

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