Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Senior Thesis - The Real Deal!

Broadway Bombing

Is this the reason why so many drivers hate bicyclists? Quite possibly. Especially, check out what the guy does at 1:34. He's lucky he didn't get shot!

Broadway Bombing 2010 from crihs on Vimeo.


Monday, November 29, 2010

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - Part Deux

As the world becomes ever more integrated via the Internet, a huge potential source of political mobilization can come from a new version of a familiar campaign tool: the political icon.

Whereas newspapers used to have a monopoly on this medium with editorial cartoonists on staff, today this powerful art form has been crowdsourced to the masses. 

The infographic is something I touched on several weeks ago as a rising trend that can distill complex political issues into easy-to-understand graphics. While we once had Uncle Sam and Smoky the Bear, we now have a new crop of graphic designers coming into the fray of the climate change talks in Cancun.

How do you explain the phenomenon of climate change to someone who is uneducated in science? To a person who is illiterate, even? Graphics like these may hold the answer. They have just enough punch to be provocative, without the vitriol and one-sidedness of a campaign speech or an idiotic soundbite. 

Check it out!

Isn't everything recyclable?

Kind of like "mi casa es su casa", no?
Follow the rest of the progress of the Cancun talks here on their official media website.

Via:  Inhabitat

Saturday, November 27, 2010

New Electric Bike Models to Make Waves in California Bike Share System

Last week I described a bike-sharing pilot project that will put 10,000 bikes on the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area by 2012. An unintended consequence of bike-sharing systems, both in California and elsewhere, is that they may well end up being a boon for an electric bike industry surging across North America.

San Francisco's green neighbor to the north, Sacramento, is now experimenting with a four-week trial of a bike sharing system using the innovative BionX electric bike as a featured model. The bike features a battery, electric motor and handlebar control panel, all connected with sophisticated energy-management software. The electric motor system can even be custom-installed on non-electric Trek and Diamant bikes.

Forgive me, but this picture of a corporate doucher should have been a headline for Stuff White People Like

The testing period of Sacramento's bike sharing program will be among employees at the California division of the EPA, hardly a tepid audience for bike sharing. Adding to Sacramento's unsung appeal as a bicycling capital is its rate of bicycle commuting that is among the highest in the country.

If this Sacramento bike sharing project goes smoothly, it could easily lay the groundwork for other smaller and medium-sized cities to get their bike sharing systems up and running. I'm talking to you, Portland :). The ability to step onto a bike and pedal (or not) around the city for pocket change is all the more enticing with electric bikes thrown into the fray.

Another model that will hopefully join the bike-sharing menu is this badass piece of machinery right here, the M55 Beast Hybrid. This powerhouse of a bike can reach speeds of 40 mph, as good as any vespa or scooter, and can go for 75 miles on a single charge. Upon further investigation, the bike is made of carbon-fiber and titanium alloys, which probably means that like the Tesla Roadster, it is a beautiful unicorn of a machine that mere mortals will never get their hands on. Sadness....

Friday, November 26, 2010

An Interview with the Woman Behind New York City Bike-Sharing

A few days ago I wrote about New York City's plans to create one of the largest bike-sharing programs in the United States, with up to 10,000 bikes available 24 hours a day by 2012. The program is just the latest of a string of revolutionary projects from the NYC Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan
After creating a miraculous transformation in Times Square by converting major stretches of Broadway into pedestrian plazas, installing hundreds of miles of bike lanes throughout the five boroughs, and enrolling tens of thousands of city workers into car-sharing programs, she has been called the most influential New York bureaucrat since Robert Moses

A parklet on San Francisco's Castro Street, inspired by similar open space projects in New York

As press coverage from Esquire to The New York Times has attested, if Sadik-Khan's sustainability projects on as grand a scale as New York succeed, they can be replicated anywhere and everywhere. 
Transportation Nation posted an interview with the ground-breaking New Yorker herself, with more details about the bike-sharing program in the city. I'm posting the full interview below:

NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in the now car-free plaza at Times Square

NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan spoke with WNYC’s Richard Hake this morning about the city’s plans to operate a bike share program. (The RFP can be found here.) You can listen to the interview here; the transcript is below.
Richard Hake: New York City today takes the first step toward launching the largest bike-share program in the country.  New Yorkers will be able to rent bikes one-way for short term rides all over Manhattan.  The idea is that the program will  be entirely privately run, but the city will share the revenues.  Joining us now is the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan.
Tell me how this program would work. If I get off work today, I’m here on Varick Street and I want to take a bike up to Union Square, would that be possible?
Janette Sadik-Khan: The system would be similar to the bike share format we’ve seen in Paris and London and Washington where heavy-duty bikes would be located at docking stations every few blocks throughout the system, and they can be ridden and dropped off at any other docking station in the system. So we’re asking for companies to come in and give us their ideas where the best place would be to site a bike share system.
RH: So where would these docking stations be? Would they be in major sections like Union Square? Would there be one in Times Square? Have you investigated how that would work?
JSK: Well, the RFP does not specify the number of bicycles or the precise geographic area to be covered. But we do have preliminary research that says south of 60th Street in Manhattan in the central business district would be an ideal match for New York’s geography because we’ve got high density and a growing bike infrastructure there.
RH: Now are you looking at this more for tourists, for people who just want to leisurely go around the city or could this be done for people who want to go to work and get some errands done?
JSK: We expect it to serve bothgroups. Bike share would give New Yorkers many more transportation choices as the city’s population continues to grow and as traffic congestion increases. And it would be privately funded, so taxpayers will not be on the hook for coming up with dollars to support this, but they would share in any profits. And we think this is really the best deal in town for on-demand travel and a nice complement to our transit system.
RH: So when you say privately run, does that mean, there would be different companies or maybe one large company would actually purchase the bikes, maintain those bikes and actually rent the bikes out to people that want them?
JSK: Yes, the RFP specifies that a private company would bear all the costs and responsibilities with the system during the initial five-year period while sharing revenues with the city. No taxpayer funds would be used for the system’s implementation or for the upkeep or for the maintenance of it. And in fact, we expect significant revenues from user fees and sponsorship and we will negotiate a city share of that revenue.
RH: One of the big problems of riding a bike in New York City is actually where to put it and the risk of theft. Now I know you’ve investigated the other programs going on in Europe and the other cities in the U.S. What have they been doing with the risk of theft of the bicycles?
JSK: Modern systems are much more sophisticated than they used to be. And security and technology on bike systems has really improved significantly. Theft and vandalism hasn’t occurred in places like London. I think something like five bikes have been stolen because the contractor failed to lock them properly. Even judging Paris as it applies to New York, in 2008, Paris’ larceny and theft rate was more than four times that of New York and more than double that of Boston and Washington, D.C.  And overall property crime such as theft and vandalism is much more frequent in France than in the United States.
RH: I know since you’ve become the Transportation Commissioner, we’ve seen lots and lots of new bike lanes all over New York City. Are there enough bike lanes now for this program to be actually safe?
JSK: We’ve built on an extensive system in line with Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. The idea is we’re not going to be able to battle traffic congestion and continue to grow and thrive unless we provide New Yorkers with some more options. What we’re looking to do is build on the safety record we’ve got here. New York city cycling is getting safer as more people are riding bikes and the network expands. Cycling has more than doubled from 2006 to 2010. But at the same time, cycling injuries and injuries to all users, where we’ve put down bike lanes, has gone down from 40 to 50 percent.
RH: Janette Sadik-Khan is the city’s transportation commissioner.  Commissioner, thanks so much for joining us.
JSK: Thanks, Richard.

Via: Transportation Nation 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bike-Sharing Hits New York, San Francisco, and Everywhere In Between!

Back in March of this year, when this blog was a wee babe, I wrote about bike sharing programs that have become wildly popular in Paris, London, Barcelona, Boston, and Washington DC.

Bicycles are one of our oldest and most enduring forms of carbon-neutral transportation, but it is only within the last five years or so that they have been re-evaluated as key pieces of our urban transit infrastructure, rather than fun recreational toys.

Bike-sharing programs embrace the budding concept of "collaborative consumption," in which traditional capitalism is replaced by networks of consumers who band together via the Internet to provide shared needs.

Examples of collaborative consumption abound, especially in more progressive and tech-savvy cities. On Craigslist, people shop for used furniture, job postings, and even casual sex! The free, minimalist, and communal nature of Craiglist and other online classifieds has spelled death for the local news businessZipCar provides a shared, publicly available fleet of cars for short trips in urban centers, so regular people can avoid the expense and hassles of car ownership. Travelers increasingly use Couchsurfing instead of booking hostel rooms, creating a stable network of peer-reviewed, intimate accommodations, and even lifelong friendships along the way. Urban gardeners aching to get a plot of land and frustrated by the lack of public garden space have taken to "garden-sharing", where homeowners advertise their open space via iPhone applications.

A full history of the collaborative consumption movement is available here, via GOOD

Let's go around the horn and take a look at some of the big developments taking off in American bike-sharing sytems:


A $7.9 million pilot project is set to provide bikes in San Francisco and along the Caltrain corridor in San Jose, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City for use by registered subscribers. Over 1,000 bikes are scheduled to be available in late 2011. 

The system is aiming to replicate the success of European bike-sharing, with automated charging stations and annual, daily, or monthly subscription fees for users, along with hourly rates. Like many of the most famous systems, the first 30 minutes would be free of charge, to encourage riders to use the system for short trips close to home. 

The pilot program would begin with about 500 bikes and 50 stations in the San Francisco city center, focusing on the City Center, Tenderloin, Market Street, and Transbay Terminal areas. An additional 400 bikes would go into the urban centers of CalTrain corridor south of the city.

After the program is fully operational by 2013, the bike-sharing system in the Bay Area is planned to expand to over 13,000 bikes! 2,750 of the bikes would be in San Francisco and another 10,000 in Santa Clara County. This is on the scale of the famous Velib system in Paris, which boasts 20,000 bikes.


New York is taking steps to create the largest bike-sharing system in the United States, one that eventually will turn a profit through advertising with a public-private partnership. According to Transportation Nation, the system will have 10,000 bikes available 24 hours a day by 2012. 

“New York is made for bike share,” said Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives,” so this announcement is very exciting. The characteristics that make bicycling an everyday form of transportation, New York has in spades: density, flat terrain, temperate climate, lots of short trips and an on the go lifestyle. This nimble and inexpensive way to get around will fit easily into New Yorkers’ constantly shifting errands and schedules.”

By using wireless technology, including a searchable map of solar-powered bike stations using GPS, New York believes it can replicate the success of the London system and quickly turn a profit.


In our nation's capital, an earlier bike-sharing system run by SmartBike DC will be replaced by a newer expanded system, offering 1,100 bikes and 114 stations in the District and Arlington County. This is a dramatic increase from the current 120 SmartBike stations. 

Treehugger has more details on the upgrade:
"The new system will allow a wider range of membership opportunities. Annual memberships will cost $80, double the current SmartBike rate of $40, though for a much better service. People can also purchase monthly memberships for $30 or daily ones for $5. All memberships allow unlimited bike rentals, free for the first 30 minutes with usage fees (levels not yet specified) after 30 minutes."

Minneapolis has just launched Nice Ride, the largest bike-sharing system in the US to date. It debuted in June 2010 with 700 bikes and 65 stations, where riders swipe a credit card, take out a bike, and go. As with other popular programs, long-term subscriptions can be purchased online for the low price of $60 per year. That's lower the cost of Netflix, people!


Denver's program launched in April 2010, with 400 bikes and 42 stations. Already, it has logged 8,000 registered users and 800 annual members. 

One important byproduct of the rise of privately-funded bike-sharing systems is that they help point to the overwhelming lack of bike infrastructure in most US cities. Simply by creating a critical mass (no pun intended) of everyday cyclists, cities are quickly made aware of where the street networks need the greatest improvements to accommodate them. 


Miami, or as I like to refer to it, the "whitest city in Latin America," has started its "Deco Bike" system in posh Miami Beach. The program boasts 100 solar-powered stations and over 1,000 bikes. It claims that a single station can meet the needs of up to 200 commuters who would otherwise travel by Lambourghini. Not bad, Miami! You just might redeem yourself after your stint as Jersey Shore South. 


Seattle is predictably falling behind in the race to provide public transit alternatives. We are good at one thing, though: Feasibility Studies! The City of Seattle commissioned a feasibility study through the UW Department of Urban Design & Planning. The study identifies possible corridors and phases where stations could be installed, potential ridership, and limitations. Any chance we could expedite this process we are so infamous for, Seattle?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Absolutely "Mapnificent"

You know you're a geek when you go gaga for something like this.

Mapnificent  is a Google maps interface that plots the areas of a city that are accessible by biking, walking, and public transit within the point of reference you select.

It visually frames the city in a more relevant way for sustainable development. Instead of merely *hoping* that people ditch their cars for bikes and public transit, this could be a tool to assess potential alternatives just by entering your address, not unlike the site Walkscore already famous in the real estate industry.

Here's a couple cool examples from right here in the busiest neighborhoods of Seattle.


Capitol Hill:

University District:

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Via: JibJab

Monday, November 22, 2010

Voting Is So Hot Right Now...

This is how they get people to vote in Spain. Rock the Vote seems so 1992 in comparison. Enjoy!


Five Reasons Electric Cars Could Fail in the US

With the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf set to take over very soon a small chunk of the new car market, it's worth asking whether we can expect this to be a brief fad (a la Delorean) or a lasting consumer trend. The Ford Focus electric is slated to be released next year, and the very same question could be asked of that model as well.

Clearly, many key stakeholders are heavily invested in making sure that electric vehicles are successfully launched as a mainstay of the US car market. General Electric has announced it will buy 25,000 EV's for its company fleet in 2015 as part of its long-term corporate strategy. A number that large can hardly be written off as mere environmental lip service. Nearly half of these vehicles are expected to be the Chevy Volt, due to its dual electric-hybrid engine that is not fully dependent on an electric charge.

The City of Houston, Texas, long a bastion of the oil industry and its defenders, will be the first city in the US to have a privately-funded electric vehicle charging network. By the end of next year, Houston is expected to have between 50 and 150 charging stations throughout the city, operated by NRG Energy. The chargers will be Level 2 and 3, meaning that vehicles can be fully charged in as little as a half-hour, surpassing a major stumbling block of Level 1 "electric highway" efforts we have seen in California and Washington. Talks are underway to even expand the network into San Antonio and Austin. It may be the most ironic development yet if Texas, and not liberal California or New York, were to be the most EV-prepared state in the country.

Despite these positive developments, there are several reasons to question whether EVs really are here to stay or are just a passing trend.

Here's five reasons from The Infrastructurist for why EV's are not ready to take off in America:

1. Money
The Leaf has a sticker price of $32,780, and the Volt starts even higher, at $41,000. Of course those numbers go down $7,500 with a federal subsidy (or, as George Will puts it, “bribe”) on EV purchases. But that’s still a lot to ask for cars whose similarly sized competitors ask less than twenty grand. Complicating the picture is that gas prices are (somewhat) stable at the moment—and it sure doesn’t look like the gas tax will go up either.

2. Time
For most people, buying a plug-in also means buying a new plug. That’s because achieving a full charge with standard 120-volt sockets found in most homes will take 20 hours — clearly too long to make the morning commute. Upgrading to a 240-volt charger will cut that time to roughly 8 hours, or a typical night at home. But that can run you another two grand. There’s currently a federal subsidy for these, too, but it’s set to expire December 31, and Congress may not renew it. (And, if we did all buy EVs and charge them at once, apparently the power grid would totally fail.)

3. Range Anxiety
Far and away the biggest concern of potential electric buyers is range anxiety, or the fear of running out of power far from home. Public charging stations are few and far between at present. While people commute less than 40 miles to work on average—well within the range of most electrics—the distance one can travel in a fully charged EV varies based on factors like speed, road conditions, and air conditioning or heat use. In three typical scenarios, Popular Mechanics recently found that the Volt goes only on an average of 33 miles on its electricity (before switching over to an auxiliary gasoline engine).

4. Misinformation
Part of the fear of range anxiety stems from misinformation: A recent survey by the Electric Power Research Institutefound that 38% of people believe the maximum range of battery electrics to be 50 miles, when in fact it’s often double. The same survey found that 35% of people consider electrics “less reliable” and 20%  consider them less safe than gasoline cars — “misperceptions,” says environmental writer Jim Motavalli, that “are definitely going to color your attitude toward EVs.”

5. Man’s Inexorable Reluctance to Change
One leading authority, when asked about the future of automobiles, said that the limitations of battery power simply make gasoline motors “more promising.” That was Thomas Edison, speaking to the New York World in 1895. Although electric cars have been discussed since Edison’s day (some early American car manufacturers even preferred them), the gasoline engine won out, and its position has only grown stronger over time. Today EVs must fight not only battery power but also a deeply ingrained national habit. As the manger of electrics for BMW North America recently told USA Today, when it comes to electric cars, people “need a little more convincing.”

 Via: The Infrastructurist, Inhabitat

Sunday, November 21, 2010

EV Charging Stations Go Wireless!

One of the biggest developments to come out of the world of electric vehicle charging station technology is a new crop of wireless charging systems soon to hit the market.

If a new partnership between Delphi Automotive and WiTricity works out, electric vehicle owners may soon be able to charge their cars simply by pulling up to a parking spot.

Whereas most EV charging stations to date have involved plug-in technology, this new system involves no cables or cords; it’s embedded in a parking lot or placed on a parking garage floor, and after drivers park over the system it transmits energy wirelessly to their vehicle to charge it.

According to the designers at WiTricity, the wireless charging stations can transfer 3,000 watts through to the parked vehicles above them, about the same as a plug-in charging station. 

A startup in London, HaloIPT, has already launched successfully in the UK a similar wireless charging station that is suitable for all vehicles - including scooters, electric cars, and electric bikes

Known as the Inductive Power Transfer System, allows a car fitted with a simple integrated receiver pad to be charged automatically when parked or driven on roads with HaloIPT’s special charging pads beneath their surface. This IPT method could give new meaning to the phrase "electric highway" by enabling charging technology to be directly embedded into the roads we drive on.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Facebook Says You'll Break Up Before Spring Break

Who knew that Facebook was more than just an epic drug for college procrastinators? Or a godsend to the socially isolated (*cough*Marc Zuckerberg *cough*).

It turns out that Facebook and other social media technologies are collectively becoming an important tool for understanding our culture at large - why people behave the way they do, in real time.

Which brings me to the question Facebook was designed to answer....when will Sally and Bobby (or insert tumultuous couple you know here) break up? Will they leave tons of evidence all over the Internet for their friends to see? Insert awkward breakup status update here....

Two researchers from Oxford have mined over 10,000 status updates - all publicly available without hacking - to search for key phrases like "heartbreak", "breakup", or "broken up". Do people really post these very private things on their status for the world to see? It appears they do, and often. The result is this graph, which confirms many of our suspicions about the timing of breakups:

*People like to start Spring Break and, to a lesser degree, their summer vacations, single
*Most breakups are announced on a Monday, perhaps after one of those last straw weekends
*There are fewest splits on Christmas Day, but there's a peak just before Christmas, maybe so people don't have to buy their ex-to-be a gift.
On the other hand, a study from the Scientific American suggests that the very people who would be likely to post about their hideous breakups, or their nosejobs, or how glamorous their weekend just was, are those people who trend toward narcissism and low self-esteem. Hmmm....who'd a thunk.

Source: Time Healthland (via GOOD)

Taking Public Transportation Can Save You Up to $15,000

This report by the American Public Transportation Assocation, Washington DC-based nonprofit advocacy group, ranks cities in the US by the potential savings a household could have annually in taking public transit versus driving.

Seattle is not exactly known for its stellar record on public transportation effectiveness, but surprise! We are in the top 5! Now if they could only bring the light rail to the UW someday during our lifetime, that would be nice.

If you are a public transportation rider in the city of Seattle, you save an average of $11,350 per year or $946 per month. That's like having a second apartment!

The economy being the way it is, it surprises me that so much of our urban development is still dependent on and dominated by the need to drive absolutely everywhere. Public transit is an expensive investment, to be sure, but it's one that pays back in the end by freeing up consumer incomes for more valuable investments than pumping gas (from third-world tyrants).

Check it out, and see where your city lands on the list!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Centuries in Five Minutes

I about fell out of my chair when I saw this video. It provides a visual play by play of the geographic changes of European history since 1000 AD, covering the full scope of wars, invasions, and the rise and fall of empires.

All I can say is I wish I had seen something like this when I was stuyding for the AP European History exam!

Source: The Map Room (via GOOD)

New USDA Map Allows You to Find a Farmer's Market Anywhere

The USDA revamped its National Farmers Market Directory with a mappable, searchable database. It's hardly going to be a signature of the Obama Administration, but it's still useful to know where the closest farmer's market is no matter where you are.

Interesting how this was rolled out just in time for...winter?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Beer - Not Just a Wonderful Drink, but the Origin of Civilization

Beer might not be the answer for the ultimate question, of life, the universe, and everything (sorry, I'm a geek!). But many anthropologists believe it may be responsible for the origins of agriculture and civilization itself.
Their argument is that Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads, by turning the grains into beer. That has been their take for more than 50 years, and now one archaeologist says the evidence is getting stronger.
Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible, plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings, support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer, said archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
Archaeological evidence suggests that until the Neolithic, cereals such as barley and rice constituted only a minor element of diets, most likely because they require so much labor to get anything edible from them — one typically has to gather, winnow, husk and grind them, all very time-consuming tasks.
However, sites in Syria suggest that people nevertheless went to unusual lengths at times just to procure cereal grains — up to 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 km). One might speculate, Hayden said, that the labor associated with grains could have made them attractive in feasts in which guests would be offered foods that were difficult or expensive to prepare, and beer could have been a key reason to procure the grains used to make them.
"It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies," Hayden said.
"In traditional feasts throughout the world, there are three ingredients that are almost universally present," he said. "One is meat. The second is some kind of cereal grain, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, in the form of breads or porridge or the like. The third is alcohol, and because you need surplus grain to put into it, as well as time and effort, it's produced almost only in traditional societies for special occasions to impress guests, make them happy, and alter their attitudes favorably toward hosts."

Via: Live Science

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Porn for the Eyes - Set to Classical Music!

A timelapse of New York City - from Swiss video company Stimul. Simply beautiful, there are no other words.

New York City - Timelapse from stimul on Vimeo.

That's Why It's 30

A funny PSA just released by the New York City DOT. In addition to making fun of New York sensibilities, it makes its point of sticking to the speed limit short and sweet.

Via: Seattle Transit Blog

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Special Shout-out to Plug-In Olympia

I just wanted to reach out to Plug-In Olympia and thank them for posting the I-5 electric highway article on their blog list. It's great to see that my blog is helping others in Washington State spread the word about electric vehicles and sustainability in general.

A quick bit about Plug-In Olympia:
Plug-In Olympia’s Mission:
To educate individuals and businesses, within the State of Washington and especially Thurston County, regarding the need to encourage usage of electric vehicles and thereby promote sustainability;
To encourage installation of electric vehicle plug-in outlets by businesses, cities, State and public agencies for their customers and employees;
To maintain a reference list of these plug-in locations.
Essentially, a ground-level beacon of information source on and advocate for EV infrastructure in Washington, Plug-In Olympia, I salute you!

I took a quick spin through their blog roll and found this gem that ranks EV preparedness among 50 cities in the US - unfortunately subscription is required to see the full article:

Cities counted among the Leaders include: Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and SEATTLE.

Click here to view the full report's methodology of ranking the cities.

Biodiesel from Sewage Sludge Costs Just 10 Cents More than Regular Diesel!

The key difference between biofuels that are truly green (say, cellulosic ethanol) and those that aren't, like corn-based ethanol, is the biofuel's source: is it a valuable food product - like most blends of ethanol - or is it genuinely a waste product?

I think we can all agree that there is no doubt that sewage sludge is the very definition of a waste product. According to a new EPA report, biodiesel generated from the sewage sludge leftover after wastewater treatment costs just 10 cents more per gallon than conventional diesel.

The secret ingredient is the addition of oil-producing bacteria that create the biofuels as a waste product during photosynthesis. Research at Arizona State University showed that genetic engineering of these photosynthetic bacteria can help to maximize the biodiesel output they release. Potentially, this type of sewage-generated biodiesel could be on the market for as little as $3.11 per gallon (less than regular gas in Seattle, thank you very much!)

There are a few potential stumbling blocks here, though. According to Inhabitat

The best practices for getting biodiesel this way have hardly been worked out yet, according to the study by EPA scientist David Kargbo. Among the biggest problems is finding a way to collect sludge that is high in lipids — the material the reaction uses — ensuring that traces of pharmaceutical chemicals don’t make it into the fuel. Finally, regulators haven’t even begun to assess what it would mean to transfer large amounts of sewage sludge to private companies for processing into biodiesel.
Operationally, it seems like retrofitting all of our sewage-treatment plants to create large amounts of commercially-viable biodiesel could be very challenging. But compared to other biodiesel alternatives like waste vegetable oil from restaurants or soy-based biodiesel from the Amazon rainforest, the idea is looking more attractive every day.

Via: Inhabitat

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Thought Ford Was Dead...Now they're in the Algae Business, Too?

Ford may not have willingly accepted federal bailouts to save itself from its catastrophic management policies, its bloated unions, and its shoddy models that doomed it to dinosaur status by 2009. A quick visit to Detroit will confirm just how desperate times are for the American auto industry.

But increasingly, Ford is looking more and more relevant by the day. I think they were about the last major player you would expect to get involved in something as innovative as cellulosic ethanol.

According to Inhabitat, Ford has hired a team of scientists to investigate algae-based biodiesel as a major source of new energy for future models.

One of the scientists described the basis for this research program:
“Algae have some very desirable characteristics as a potential biofuel feedstock and Ford wants to show its support for any efforts that could lead to a viable, commercial-scale application of this technology. At this point, algae researchers are still challenged to find economical and sustainable ways for commercial-scale controlled production and culturing of high oil-producing algae.”

I never thought I would live to see the day that: 1) Ford has sustainability-focused scientific research rather than just churning out the latest SUV; 2) they could possibly be ahead of the curve in one day releasing a mass market vehicle that runs on algae biofuel.

Though I'm half cringing when I say this, you go Ford!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Who lives in the pyramid at the Top of the Smith Tower? These lucky bitches...

When I was a freshman at UW, I was looking for a part-time job. I came this close to landing a job working as an elevator operator and tour guide for the Smith Tower, the iconic 1914 skyscraper where this incredibly lucky family lives in the pyramid at the very top.

This has to be one of the most sought-after, out-of-this-world penthouse apartments in the entire city of Seattle. It's like being a 21st century pharaoh in your very own terra-cotta pyramid.

According to the NYTimes article linked above, one of the residents is an energy and recycling executive, and his wife is childhood friends with Dale Chihuly. It's good to have a dream, right? Especially one that involves having a giant glass ball in your attic and living at the top of a 35-story urban legend.

Via: NYTimes

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

One more reason to see the Amazon before it's all gone

The Amazon rainforest is the world's hotspot for biodiversity, more so than any other ecosystem. This is almost a cliche, thanks to Planet Earth. But just how much of a hotspot? How many potentially revolutionary plant and animal discoveries are we missing out on each day we burn it to the ground?

According to the World Wildlife Fund, scientists have discovered over 1,200 species in the past 10 years in the Amazon. That equates to a new species to science every three days for a decade. 

This includes included 637 new plant species, 257 fish species, 216 amphibian species, and 39 mammal species. Click here for the full report.

Many of these species have proven to be the missing ingredients to life-saving pharmaceuticals, or the key source of new components for industrial applications. Some of our most everyday products, from rubber to chocolate to bananas to anti-malarial drugs originated in the Amazon.

Rio acari marmoset, one of the new species discovered since 1999

Unfortunately, our own foresight as a species is lacking. Since 1960, about 17% of the Amazon has been destroyed and paved over to make room for new cities, cattle ranches, and soybean plantations (even those used to make Brazil's famously "green" biodiesel). This equals an area twice the size of Spain.

This is one more reason we need to refocus our efforts to protect what many scientists call the "Earth's lungs" for their incredible absorbing powers of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Without this crucial carbon sponge (not to mention the biodiversity within), we are shooting ourselves in the foot in the battle against climate change.