Green Engineering, What Is It?

July 31, 2009

by Jody Singleton

Clean Energy Act, RoHS & WEEE

WEEE As of August 13, 2005, producers have been required to finance the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of all Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment

RoHS As of July 1 2006 Electrical & Electronic Equipment may no longer be sold in the European Union if it contains any of six banned substance Restriction of Hazardous Substances On March 1 2007 the first phase of Administration on the Control of Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products came into effect.

The Climate Control Bill introduced by Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.) & Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in May of 2009 introduced the most recent version of the American Clean Energy & Security Act and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by the year 2020. It would distribute up to 85 percent of pollution permits in a proposed cap-and-trade program.

The Carrot & Stick

Cash & Energy Savings Using Wireless Sensor Networks

Industries everywhere are finding ways to save not only on energy and it’s costs but through the use of wireless networks, in numerous other ways too.

According to Oak Ridge National Laboratories, through the use of wireless sensor networks, savings on energy for motors used in industrial processes could improve efficiency by 20%, resulting in significant cost savings. Wayne Manges said: “With electric motor-driven systems accounting for nearly one-fourth of all electricity consumption in the United States, the potential for savings is huge.”

The Department of Energy’s Industrial Technologies Program works with US industry to improve environmental performance and energy efficiency. The ITP is distributing 15 million to support R&D specifically to improve energy efficiency in industrial processes. Already a number of new wireless sensor products are being developed together with the Department of Energy.

Cost savings with wireless systems are recognized in multiple areas including materials and labor where the cost of running wire in plants ranges between $155 and $3,700 per foot. The typical payback for wired systems is 24 months and less than a quarter of that for a wireless equivalent, only six months. Add in the on-going energy savings and the return on investment decision is very clear.

In a large number of industries, companies are recasting their product lines to implement wireless technologies. “We can’t think of any segment of the industry that isn’t going to be impacted by this,” states Honeywell’s CTO Dan Shiflin.

Wireless sensor networks of all varieties are exploding into our world. There is a massive amount of research & development, from academia to start-ups, pushing to create proverbial “better-faster-cheaper” products. A growing number of products are based on an emerging specification “ZigBee”. A majority of utility companies that have settled on a standard have identified ZigBee as their preference due in main to its inherent security capabilities. Real-time data from wireless sensors networks will enable companies to achieve greater productivity and efficiency by continually improving their processes.

Named BP International’s first Director of Technology & Sensory Networks, for the oil company’s Technology Office, Ken Douglas said “You don’t ask people ‘How would you use ZigBee?’ Because they don’t know, but if you ask them: ‘How would you use information that you can now access for the first time?’ They have to think about it for a bit, but then the ideas just starting pouring out.”

In addition to the benefits of ZigBee’s security layers, the mesh network is highly reliable, flexible and can connect a variety of sensors simultaneously including protocols such as OPC, Modbus and HART.

Companies whose product objectives include reducing costs or waste, more reliable equipment management; improved physical asset control or greater situational awareness should investigate the variety of capabilities wireless sensor systems can provide. In addition to the potential savings in energy, there are likely many additional cash benefits to be found.

The technologies for green engineering are not only cost effective, if done right, they are cash positive. When it comes to the design and development of products that are energy efficient and eco-friendly, as well as cost effective, wireless sensor networks make “better faster cheaper” energy saving products. Electronic designs using Zigbee products are making home sensors and energy saving devices a reality. It is less expensive when you get smarter, simpler products with better resource utilization while conserving precious resources.

Engineering…great profession…

Engineering … it is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy. Then it brings jobs and homes to men. Then it elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege.

– Herbert Hoover, Civil Engineer, 1929. 31st President

Back To Basics — Low-Tech Energy Savings

July 30, 2009

As going Green becomes more and more popular, it seems that the media is desperate to continue to appear concerned and informative — so much so that the NY Times put up an article about white roofs saving energy?  First reaction?  ”Gee, ya THINK?”  But let’s not be too hasty.  There are a great many very simple uses of basic physics that we forget about all the time.   After all, it’s a no-brainer to turn off lights and other appliances when we’re not using them, too… and yet rooms and homes and TVs and printers sit idle, burning electricity for days at a time all around us… and in our own homes as well.

White reflects more heat.   That’s easy enough to figure out.  In warm climates, that’s a good thing.  Some may say “But what about the winter months in cold places?  Then a dark roof would absorb the heat, amounting to passive solar gain, right?”  I certainly hope not.  Why?  Because, quite simply put, if your household temperature is that affected by sun on the rooftop, your home is nowhere near well enough insulated.

Back to basics means:

  • Turning off lights when you’re not using them
  • Shutting down computers that you’re not going to use for more than half an hour
  • Turning off printers when they’re not likely to be used for more than half an hour
  • Setting your freezer so it freezes, but isn’t a deep-freeze
  • Insulative blankets on water heaters
  • Insulate garage freezers with a silver mylar/bubble-wrap cover
  • Use that same silver mylar/bubble-wrap on unused windows, to reflect the sun out and climatization in.
  • Plastic over windows in the winter
  • Insulating door jams and threshholds summer and winter
  • Upgrading roof insulation — a MAJOR saver
  • Insulate floors in crawl spaces.  Heat leaks out and cold gets in from there too.
  • Driving moderately; flooring the gas pedal uses exponentially more gas than a gradual acceleration.
  • Brake moderately as well.  Don’t ride up on people’s back ends.  Instead, let off the gas before you get to a stop or bumper.

If you take an objective look around you and think on it, you’re sure to find many more ways that you can save without spending money to do so.  Even the cost of insulation pays for itself VERY quickly, by lowering your heating bills.  Going Green doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  Just go back to basics.  These low-tech solutions add up to high-dollar energy savings!

Biofuel Bilking, Old Adages & New Technologies

July 17, 2009

It was only a matter of time.  In many ways, the charlatans have been coming out of the woodwork for a while already, selling snake oil to the Alternative Energy movement and industry.   What makes this one so surprising is that it wasn’t a false claim about the products’ ability — no water-burning car, this.  Far more typical, in ways, a former state ethics committee chairman, Jack Boykin (of Alabama) was selling the vapors — an investment in fuel that never was.  What?  A politician perpetrating a lie, a sham, a scam?  Say it isn’t so!

Yet none other than Vinod Khosla, the Silicon valley mogul who has been involved with and supportive of alternative energy vehicles) was one of the victims.  How much was he played for?  How about more than $12 MILLION dollars.  That’s two million dollars more than the judgement against Cello.  You don’t have to have invented the abacus to wonder where the other $2 million is going to.

Testimony given during the hearings stated that Boykin talked  Khosla into investing without “due dilligence.”  One would think someone with $10 million to invest would know better.  Let’s just say that Khosla’s sincere interest in moving alternative energy forward got the best of him and leave it at that.

Should this give us all cause to be concerned?  To be sure, there will be other cons perpetrated, and products and technologies that don’t pass muster.  We’ve heard about a guy who wants to build a mag-lev train system in an evacuated tube (think Artificial Space) and run it east to west across Florida.  My hand never even twitched in the direction of my wallet on that one.

As we move into a new age, we’re doing to need open minds and new ways of thinking.  But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Let’ s just hold on to some good old fashioned common sense, too.  That and the old adage “The proof is in the pudding” should serve us well as we make our way in this new Going Green century.

Removing Dams — Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater

July 5, 2009

As a New York Times editorial recently pointed out, in the past 10 years some 430 dams have been removed.  A good number of them were in states of disrepair, but many, (the majority?) were removed because dams create problems for spawning salmon and other fish. This may seem like a good thing for wildlife and the Environment, but it’s also a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

There’s no doubt that dams, which are part of a traditional hydro-electric plant, are bad for the spawning fish.  They’re probably not the best idea for those humans living near them either.  But we don’t necessarily need to choose between closing off a river entirely and harnessing that flowing water’s power to generate electricity.  There are several designs and concepts, at least one of which has been featured here, which would act like the old fashion water-powered mills.  The flow of the water that pushes a mechanism with force enough to grind grain can certainly manage to generate some electricity — without stopping fish from pursuing their breeding cycle.

As we work towards environmentally friendly solutions to our energy wants and needs, let’s not go throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  There’s nothing wrong with harnessing energy which would otherwise go to waste, so long as we’re keeping the Bigger Picture in mind.  (No, that doesn’t mean a zillion studies and environmental impact opinions.  A bit of forethought, consideration, and good intention to make as little impact as possible, these will serve just fine.)  When these hydro-electric systems were taken down, did anyone consider harnessing energy along the river, instead of across it?

Dams are just one of the places where we may want to think and rethink how we’re solving the energy crisis and working towards indendence from fossil fuels.   We don’t want to trash the environment or be indifferent to other species in the process, but there are very few things in the world which are truly mutually exclusive.  Let’s just think things out a little better, look a bit further ahead, as we move into an era that allows us the energy we want and need without running roughshod over the planet in the process.

America Bringing Up the Rear — Alternative Energy Thoughts for the 4th of July

July 3, 2009

As the U.S. Congress hashes out Green Energy legislation at the prompting of the Obama administration, Americans may feel a certain sense of pride and accomplishment.  Don’t be too quick to pat yourselves on the back.  It happens that the U.S. is behind the curve on this one, has been for years.  The sort of legislation that might come out of this session of Congress might equal the sort of rules, incentives and investments that China has had in place for over two years now.  If we’re really lucky, it might even begin to look something like what smaller European countries have been doing for years, now.  There’s no question, though, that the U.S. is bringing up the rear when it comes to alternative energy.

You may balk at this notion, citing that China is just now becoming a larger buyer of wind turbines than the U.S.  But China has been doubling their wind power capacity each of the past four years, and is already heavily invested in solar farms and burning waste to generate electricity.   Moreover, they’ve got six huge projects under way in their deserts — each with a greater capacity than 16 coal-powered plants.  Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Energy is blocking the building of more coal-burning energy plants.  Coal may still be their primary fuel for electricity, but that still puts them heads and shoulders above us.

Perhaps more telling is this:  Across the U.S., the “not in my back yard” complaint arises any time a wind farm is suggested.  “It just won’t look the same,” life-long residents complain, if they hear of a wind farm being  proposed for a ridgeline.    We here in the States still haven’t quite figured out what the European Union (EU), which is also dependant upon other nations for their oil and gas, has long understood.  Last winter’s gas outage while Russia squabbled with the Ukraine was not the first time they have been without heating fuel during Europe’s harsh winters. This quote sums it up well:

“‘The Europeans see offshore wind turbines as sentinels,’ Mandelstam told me, ‘protecting them from energy domination by foreign powers. When you put that against a few winter days of seeing turbines on the beach as you walk your dog, I think that’s a very easy trade-off.’”

Another adage suggests that if we can’t change something then we should change the way we look at it.

Perhaps it’s time we got serious about alternative energy and started adopting that perspective, seeing wind turbines as sentinels guarding our independence, instead of seeking out more oil and gas so we won’t have to look at those “ugly” wind turbines.

Powered by Wordpress