Friday, May 28, 2010

Rem Koolhaas Has Grand Alternative Energy Plans for Europe

How exactly will Europe reduce its emissions 20% in ten years, as the EU Covenenant of Mayors wants to do? Renowned architect Rem Koolhaas has a few ideas up his sleeve.

While architects typically are not known for their grand policy proposals on climate change (sticking rather to the energy efficiency of single buildings), Koolhaas has proposed a series of sweeping, regionally-tailored alternative energy developments that will put the EU on the path towards sustainable energy and lower carbon emissions.

Koolhaas' plan aims to reduce overall European emissions 80% by 2050, an even more aggressive target than the Covenant of Mayors signed onto. The current political crisis of the EU, however, puts this plan that is contingent upon supranational cooperation into question.

Check out these graphics!

Before and after in Barcelona....

EU Mayors Pledge to Cut CO2 20% by 2020 - A Step Towards Carbon Neutrality?

While European countries have typically been perceived as more environmentally progressive and more in favor of climate change legislation, the recent breakdown of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen left much to be desired in political commitments to emissions reduction.

In a move that mirrors the earlier pledges of Seattle, Vancouver, Sweden and Denmark to become carbon neutral, the Covenant of Mayors (Europe's corollary to the American Mayors Climate Protection Center) has pledged to reduce overall carbon emissions 20% by 2020. Such a reduction in ten years is substantial, not least because the Covenant of Mayors represents over 500 European cities and over 120 million people in 36 countries, according to the Edie Legal Resource Center. One disticntion of the Covenant of Mayors is that rather than acting against official policy of the federal government, as the Mayors CPC was forced to do during the Bush Administration, the Covenenta of Mayors its itself an initiative of the European Commission and as such has the full range of EU expertise and funding at its disposal.

Like the United States, the EU has reconized the disproportionate role of cities in contributing to climate change. As over 80% of all energy is consumed in cities, this is where any efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions much start. Hopefully, this renewed committment by the EU to reduce carbon emissions will help spur greater investment in the green fleet technologies to create a large number of green jobs.

Via: Worldchanging

Toyota's New Prius Hybrid Minivan Adds Green Cachet to the Soccer Mom Demographic

Capitalizing on the wild popularity of its Prius model in the US, Toyota has announced its latest model: the Prius minivan.

Using a lithium-ion battery and capable of seating up to 7 people, this model will likely solidify Toyota's dominance in the American green vehicle market. According to Autoblog and Inhabitat, Toyota has plans over the next several years to develop up to 8 new hybrid models, include a coupe, of which several will likely carry the Prius name.

Via: Inhabitat

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Making Headway in Europe

Yet another great development in building a solid infrastructure of electric vehicle charging stations! Dutch high-tech firm Epyon has developed a series of very commercially viable charging station for electric vehicles. While this is hardly the first such network of charging stations in Europe, it is one of the fastest and most user-friendly models we have seen.

According to Green Car Advisor, Epyon's stations are capable of fully charging the 9-person taxi-vans of Taxi Kijlstra, one of the largest taxi companies in the Netherlands, in only 30 minutes. Thereafter, the taxis can drive up to 100 miles before having to recharge again. A single Epyon EV charger can charge multiple vehicles at once, unique among the EV charging stations we have seen so far. Only further investment in electric vehicle charging networks (funding more stations) will create an environment in which the 100-mile limit of the electric charges is not such a hurdle for fleets and their drivers.


Solar-Powered Airplane Hangars Can Recharge Planes Emissions-Free!

Bio-fuel powered airplanes are a promising new wave of technology that can cut the emissions of airplanes and helicopters by up to 70% compared with conventional aircraft. However, German engineers PC-Aero have developed a solar-powered airplane hangar capable of charging aircraft for up to three-hour flights - all with ZERO carbon emissions!

According to Inhabitat, there's no word yet on how long it would take to charge the aircraft. The prototype developed was a single-seater. Hopefully, with successful development of solar-powered hangar technology and similar investment to what we've seen for electric car charging stations, this technology can be developed for two-and four-seater private jets, and perhaps even one day for commercial airliners.

Promising New Research on Cellulosic Ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol is one of the most promising developments in the bio-fuel arena that large fleets have the potential to cultivate. Unlike other bio-fuels, such as corn or soy-based ethanol, which according to a recent EPA report may in fact create larger carbon footprints than conventional petroleum gasoline, cellulosic ethanol has the potential to yield up to 200% more biodiesel oil than soy-based alternatives. One of the least-developed bio-fuels, cellulosic ethanol is derived from algae in a process that extracts biodiesel from the fats in the algae material. See the diagram below for a more detailed explanation of the extraction process:

This makes cellulosic ethanol one of the most carbon-efficient fuel options on the market apart from the more unlikely hydrogen fuel-cell options. According to Evergreen Fleets, cellulosic ethanol represents an 85% reduction in net carbon emissions per gallon than conventional petroleum gasoline. Unfortunately, the algae-growing operations necessary to produce commercially viable quantities of cellulosic ethanol have not been established to a sufficient scale for fleets to purchase large amounts of this new fuel.

Current research at Sandia National Laboraties (begun in 2007) has focused on breeding the optimal strains of algae that have the highest fat ratios. According to Ali Kriscenski at Inhabitat, "the biggest challenge is to make algae biocrude within a fraction of the time that nature’s biomass decomposition occurs and to do it economically, for less than $60 a barrel."

Most university research has focused on creating apparatuses that will do exactly that: create a pressure-cooker environment to extract fats from the algae and convert it to biodiesel in an economical timeframe.

One such project at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, titled "BioGrow", uses old computer parts to create such a vessel for algae production. Using an Apple G4 CPU tower, PVC pipes, acrylic panels, an Apple iMac CRT, and high density foam for insulation, graduate students modified the old computer to allow the iMac CRT to turn on different light spectrums and to adjust the temperature. The makeshift tank contains a water pump that aerates the algae for a faster energy conversion process. The byproducts can be used for feedstock, fertilizer and high-end pharmaceuticals because algae is so rich in protein and nutrients. In addition, this method helps alleviate the problem of electronic waste, which often leach toxic heavy metals into the soil and groundwater when they end up in landfills.

Another group of scientists at Stanford University attempted a slightly different method by inserting electrodes directly into algae pools, attempting to intercept the electron flow that occurs during the natural process of photosynthesis. This method is a type of photosynthetic electrolysis that produces no emissions other than oxygen, distinguishing it from the more mainstream production method of cellulosic ethanol. However, this experiment was not able to produce enough energy per algae cell to be commercially viable for mass production.

At the University of Michigan, researchers have also been experimenting with a pressure-cooker apparatus that will reduce the time and money needed to convert algae into biodiesel. According to Sarah Parsons (also of Inhabitat),

"The pressure cooker works by heating microalgae up to about 300 degrees, forming an algae soup. The high temperatures combined with the pressure breaks the plants down, releasing the native oil and causing proteins and carbohydrates to decompose, adding to the fuel yield. Cooking the “soup” for 30 minutes to an hour yields a crude bio-oil, which can then be converted to fuel."
This process has the advantage of eliminating the need for high-oil content strains of algae, allowing microscopic and less-oily species of algae to be used and removing the need for drying out the algae outdoors. An indoor production mechanism of cellulosic ethanol, rather than drying out algae in vast outdoor pools, has the potential to be widely cultivated, assuming reasonable installation costs, even by individual fleets themselves.

So what does the future look like for cellulosic ethanol? Sapphire Energy, a San Diego-based energy startup, has pioneered the first cellulosic ethanol-powered vehicle, the aptly-named Algaeus.

Claiming to reach fuel efficiencies of 150 miles per gallon on a fuel blend of 5% cellulosic ethanol, the company outfitted a plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius to run across the country on 25 gallons alone! The possible fuel economies of future cellulosic ethanol vehicles is staggering if you imagine how efficient the models would be if, instead of a 5% blend, an E85 or B40 blend were produced, as has already been manufactured for corn and soy-based biodiesel.

Via: Inhabitat, Discovery News

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Aircraft as Fleet Components - Bio-diesel Capable Helicopter Launched in Australia

Helicopters and other aircraft have not yet been incorporated into green fleet modernization schemes, simply because most public agencies that have participated in programs like Evergreen Fleets do not have aircraft as a fleet component.

However, many large institutions such as port authorities, airports, major corporations (hello, Boeing!) and hospitals do have to take the fuel expenses of their aircraft into account when attempting to reduce their emissions. I had not even considered the impact of aircraft on overall greenhouse gas emissions earlier during this project, simply because of the magnitude of the private car fleet on the equation.

According to Tree Hugger, many passenger airlines have experimented with bio-fuel capable aircraft, although helicopters have not experienced similar attention.

"Australia-based Delta Helicopters is developing what it says is the first biofuel-capable diesel helicopter in the world. Dubbed the D2, Delta claims that the helicopter will use significantly less fuel while getting 30-40% more range per gallon than standard engines." (Inhabitat)

The D2 helicopter would also burn about 70% less fuel per hour than turbine aviation engines. There's just one catch: you have to build the helicopter yourself!

Delta plans to sell the D2 as a DIY kit for farmers in remote areas who already have diesel for use in farm machinery. When fully constructed, the helicopter is worth approximately $200,000.

Whether these helicopters can be re-tooled so that they can be manufactured en masse (or at least constructed in urban industrial settings) remains to be seen. Regardless, this is an important indication that we need to look at the big picture - all forms of transportation by air, land, and sea - when diving into green fleet modernization.

Plastic Waste Output as a Component of Sustainable Purchasing

One of the major shortcomings with current green fleet modernization is its lack of focus on the total environmental impacts (or "carbon footprint" if we wanna get really technical) of its operations from a lifecycle analysis standpoint.

In other words, how can we calculate the energy savings or emissions reductions that take place apart from the emissions created by vehicles themselves? After all, vehicles not only produce emissions from the fuel they burn, but require a series of maintenance products that consume a variety of plastics and hazardous wastes with significant environmental impacts of their own. Even recycling plastic or paper products creates harmful emissions that are seldom included in lifecycle analysis. This recognition has led to the development of "Sustainable Purchasing" policies in many cities including Seattle, which attempt to procure maintenance and supply products from the most environmentally-friendly source. However, green fleet modernization schemes like Evergreen Fleets have yet to incorporate sustainable purchasing into their official Best Practices.

This story from Inhabitat examined an interesting project recently completed by students at Northeastern University, under guidance of Professor Yiannis Levendis. Their plastic waste compactor converts plastic into electric energy without harmful emissions of traditional recycling. Over 20 years in development, this type of compactor could be very useful as a new Best Practice to incorporate in green fleet modernization.

Photo Credit: Mary Knox Merrill

Via: Physorg

New Partnership between Toyota and Tesla Motors to Catalyze the Electric Car Market in the US

According to a recent report from Reuters, Toyota has purchased a $50 million share in Tesla Motors, a move that not only will help Toyota improve its damaged reputation following a series of product recalls in late 2009 but will also help to catalyze the development of the American electric car market. The $50 million share is estimated to be 2.5% of Tesla's net worth, although this figure cannot be confirmed until Tesla goes public later this year.

As I have described earlier, some enormous barrier to the development of electric car market-share have been the lack of supporting infrastructure in the built environment, as well as a lack of government and major corporate support for green car development.

Toyota's partnership with Tesla dovetails with important developments in electric car innovation. One of the most significant has been the venture capital investment of Shai Agassi's Better Place in a network of electric vehicle charging stations in California and Hawaii. A second has been the "Electric Highway" already developed for Tesla vehicles along California's Highway 101.

In addition, President Obama's recent executive order to improve the fuel efficiency of America's car fleet by raising the CAFE standards to a combined 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, according to a New York Times article published 5/21/10, will provide a legislative impetus for green car infrastructure that can meet the new federal standards.

Specifically, this exciting new partnership between Toyota and Tesla Motors will take place at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc’ (aka Nummi) in Fremont, CA — a recently shuttered GM/Toyota auto plant which will re-open under the Tesla/Toyota partnership to produce the Model S sedans, according to Inhabitat.  The Model S sedans have received federal tax exemptions, as the Department of Energy has encouraged green car development as part of the 2009 stimulus package (ARRA). The Model S is slated to have a range of 300 miles (after a 45 minute charge) and cost $49,900 after tax rebates when they are released in 2012. Tesla has the added benefit of a $465 million federal loan to build this lower-cost electric model.

This partnership will allow for a creative synergy between the two companies - with the major market share and production capacity of Toyota and the innovative expertise of Tesla - that could eventually lead Toyota to outpace Chevrolet and Nissan, whose electric models, the Volt and Leaf, respectively, are slated for release in Fall 2010. In addition, the re-opening of the Nummi plant in California will greatly contribute to the regional economy and produce an estimated 1,000 jobs.

Via: Inhabitat

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Green Fleet Modernization as a Strategy to Fight Climate Change

This paper was the final for Community, Environment, and Planning 302 - Environmental Response, a class that focused on climate change and corresponding policy responses. Areas of study included climatology, restoration ecology, environmental and social justice, food security, urban agriculture, economics, marketing, and environmental policy. My final paper frames green fleet modernization as a policy response to climate change.

URBDP 422 - Final Project with Daniel Rowe, December 2009

This was the Final Project for Urban Planning 422: Urban and Regional Geo-spatial Analysis. If that title doesn't sound intimidating enough for you, I was the only undergraduate in a room full of grad students. The requirements for the class? Ten labs (about two hours each), a midterm, a final exam, about 200 pages of reading that were never discussed in class, and a quarter-long project itself with two outside interviews and three other intermittent deadlines. No big deal, right? :) Well, here's the result of this painful SOB that made me realize at least one reason I may hold off on grad school for a while - to avoid going completely fucking nuts!

Special thanks to Daniel Rowe (UW Masters of Urban Planning Program), Colette Flanagan (King County DOT GIS Support), and Chad Lynch (City of Seattle GIS Supervisor).

Green My Fleet: Final Report to City of Issaquah

Green My Fleet: An analysis of a collaborative effort between Evergreen Fleets and the City of Issaquah.

By David Perlmutter and Julia Wilson

Please read the final report that we submitted to the City of Issaquah in December 2009.

CEP Senior Project Presentation

Please check out the presentation I made at the Community, Environment, and Planning Senior Project Night on May 6th, 2010. Special thanks to David Fujimoto of the City of Issaquah for reviewing this final presentation!

CEP 460 Presentation

This is the presentation I gave to the City of Issaquah in December 2009 to MaryJoe deBeck (Resource Conservation Coordinator), David Fujimoto (Resource Conservation Manager), Kelly Kussman (Fleets Supervisor), Brad Liljequist (Engineering Project Manager), and Ava Freisinger (Mayor). This project evaluated the Evergreen Fleets program using both quantitative and qualitative methods using the City of Issaquah as a case study.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pay Phones as EV Charging Stations...What???

Think back to the last time you personally used a pay phone. Was it five years ago? Ten? In modern American society where cellphones and blackberries are ubiquitous, pay phones are as anachronistic as coal-fired furnaces and "ice boxes." The only people we associate with using pay phones regularly are those on the margins of society - sex workers, drug dealers, and the homeless who have no other option.

So one question arises: what do we do with all of those phone booths (that used to be in every public space) that we suddenly no longer need?

Luckily, one telecommunications firm in Austria, Telekom Austria, has successfully developed an innovative prototype that can transform old pay phone booths into functional electric vehicle charging stations for cars, bikes, and scooters. Telekom Austria hopes to convert 29 phone booths  (out of that country's 13,500 booths) into EV charging stations by the end of 2010. It takes about 6.5 hours to recharge an electric car, 80 minutes to juice a scooter and only 20 minutes to charge an electric bicycle. Though today the company says there will be no fees for using its phone booth EV charging stations, Telekom Austria eventually hopes to charge a small user fee, payable by credit card or mobile phone, as it becomes more established.

Today Austria only has 223 registered electric vehicles, along with some 3,500 hybrids on its records. However, the Austrian motor vehicle association, VOeC, says that it expects the country to contain about 405,000 electric vehicles by the year 2020, which is when Telekom Austria’s innovation will be ideally poised to take off and become an established part of our infrastructure.

Via Inhabitat  and Physorg

New Innovations on Electric Bikes Promise to Increase their Market Share

The first promising new electric bike model comes from German industrial designer Christian Vollmer. This bike uses a "pedelec system", meaning it has no need for a chain. Instead, it has a toothed belt which transfers clean power from the engine to the rear wheel. Read all about it on the green design blog Inhabitat

The second model has been released by Volkswagen at the Auto China Show. Dubbed the bik.e (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), the sleek portable cycle is capable of folding down to the size of a spare tire and has range of 12.5 miles and a top speed of 12.5 mph (the fastest speed allowed by electric vehicles for passengers to go without helmets in Germany). Volkswagen has announced plans to actually roll out the bike as a “mobility enhancer” option on their autos, as the bike can be replenished by a vehicle’s DC current.

Volkswagen's electric bikes are most likely to be first commercialized in China, where they were released at the Auto China Show, and Germany, where there is already a sizable consumer market for electric bikes. No word yet on when this new VW model will be available in the United States. 

Check out the video from the Auto China Show 2010 - just be sure not to miss the undersea dancers straight of Zoolander!