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Turn Off the Tap

By Carl Boyd
December 3, 2008
File under: Waste Reduction


In the mid-nineties, I watched a recycling debacle play out in Pittsburgh.

The city had a clever program where grocery stores put your purchases into blue plastic bags, which you then put your sorted recycling into. A cartage company sent recycling trucks to pick up the bags, and workers at a plant sorted the bags by their contents.

Most folks seemed happy about it, until someone spilled the beans on a dilemma – for several months, the newspaper had been going straight to the landfill. The market value for recycled newsprint had dropped below the cost of handling it, so the cartage company had been discretely dumping it. Public outrage ensued, and needless to say, the company and the city got a lot of heat for it, and their contract was renegotiated.

In Chicago, the blue bag system was different. You had to …read more of Turn Off the Tap here

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Microscopic Crops, Astronomical Yields

By Carl Boyd
November 6, 2008
File under: Alternative Sources


Several years ago, I heard about the concept of growing algae as a crop for biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel.  I was intriqued, but like many, I was skeptical of how much fuel could be derived from such a diminutive source. I felt sure that this was fresh-0ut-of-the-Petri-dish discovery, and would take decades to reach practical applications.

Well, as it turns out, the idea is already in beta.  Several companies have already developed prototype systems for raising and processing algae into biofuels.

You might now be saying, ‘That’s nice, but what’s so great about algae?’ Let’s start with what’s not so great about current biofuel sources.  Anyone who’s read the book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, is aware that modern corn and soybean crops require an exorbitant amount of petroleum-based fertilzer and pesticides, plus lakefuls of clean water to raise these hungry crops.  And of course, they need prime farmland, so crops grown for fuel are now competing with cropland producing food.  In some places, new farmland for fuelcrops is being created by burning down rainforests (aka the Earth’s lungs).  This may lead the European Union to step back from a sweeping commitment to biodiesel.

These problems are greatly reduced for several new systems which raise algae vertically in greenhouses with a closed-loop process that reuses its water, requires less energy, no fertilizers or pesticides, and is in season year-round. The systems can be located in desert regions, where food crop farming isn’t viable.

So algae has the game advantage of lower impact production, but its real trump card is the potential yield.  Vertically grown algae can yield 20 times the oil per acre of any current crop.  Half of the mass in an algae cell is lipid oil.  Most fuelcrops involve growing a plant just to harvest its seeds (corn kernels, soy beans, palm nuts). Raising algae skips that step, and still yields more oil than any seed.

There’s no algae-derived fuel on the market yet, but the science is sound enough that serious investors like Bill Gates are expecting a quick return on their investment in these little green wonders.

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The Politics of Two Wheels

By Carl Boyd
October 20, 2008
File under: Alternative Sources

Sure, you’ve been keeping up with the presidential candidate’s plans for foreign policy, health care, climate policy, and energy policy, but what about their bicycle policy?

Yes, McCain wants to keep America rolling, but what if you prefer to roll on two wheels?
We’ve all heard Obama is your new bicycle, but what’s he going to do about it?

Any citizen worth their voting card knows that bicycling has a role to play in all of those other issues. Energy, climate, health – pretty obvious. But foreign policy? You betcha! Remember, we depend increasingly more on foreign resources and foreign-made goods, and drilling more holes in Alaska will only make a dent in it. All that fresh produce flown from South America and boatloads of electronics from Asia involve consumption of oil that won’t come from us. And your hybrid car might guzzle less at the pump, but requires a great deal of energy just to manufacture it. We cyclists are the vanguard of America’s energy independence, so we need to know who’s got our back.

As GOOD magazine pointed out in their “Why Vote?” article (reason #19 of 1,565), the candidate’s plans for improving cycling as transport in America differ greatly: Obama has a plan, and McCain doesn’t.

Obama met with representatives of cycling advocacy and the bike industry, and explained he will do more to make streets bike and pedestrian friendly, promising funds to improve infrastructure and make it safer for children to bike to school.

He’s also been famously spotted cruising around on his bike, sparking lots of chatter (mostly about what kind of bike he’s on).

One blogger – the Cycling Dude – states he’s a Republican and plans to vote for McCain, despite saying “bicycle issues are extremely important”. The Dude did a search for any proof that McCain has a bike plan, and yielded….zilch.

Did he say extremely important?

Now I’m the last person to advocate voting based on only one issue, but if you feel strongly about your right to pedal your way to car freedom, health and energy independence, either vote Obama, or get on the horn to the McCain folks to find out their ideas for alternative energy.

Click here to learn more about your Carbon Footprint.

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