About Emily Folk

Emily Folk is freelance writer and blogger on topics of renewable energy, environment and conservation. You may read more of her work on http://www.conservationfolks.com. Follow her on Twitter @EmilySFolk

How Renewable Energy Can Solve Smog Problem in China

China is currently facing serious environmental problems, with potentially few solutions. Currently, this is mostly taking the form of serious smog issues plaguing North China, with more than 24 cities on red alert. However, with airports being shut down due to lacking visibility and the economy of China being heavily disrupted, action needs to be taken to solve this serious smog problem. While limited action has been taken, perhaps renewable energy is the key to cutting down China’s smog.

smog-china

How Bad Is the Problem?

The smog problem in China has become increasing worse from 2015 to 2017, with more than 90 micrograms of pollution per meter squared. These levels of air pollution are similar to the levels recorded previous to 2014, when the Chinese premier declared a war on pollution due to the health dangers posed by rising air pollution levels.

However, since 2015, levels of air pollution have risen once again. This pollution has had hard hitting effects on urban areas, especially the Chinese capital Beijing, and has caused widespread disruption to the lives of Chinese citizens and economy of the country.

The air pollution leads to the cities becoming hotter than ever. Urban Heat Island effect, which refers to buildings absorbing the sun’s heat well, is exacerbated by the smog. In fact, a car in the heat can reach temperatures of 114 degrees Fahrenheit after just 20 minutes, making travelling on hot days nearly unbearable for any living creature. In order to decrease the heated condition of China, it is essential to decrease the amount of smog covering the cities.

What Has the Chinese Government Done?

The Chinese government has taken limited action in an attempt to minimize the air pollution being created in the country. This includes the Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Plan, which acknowledged the danger posed by air pollution levels and aimed to reduce coal usage in urban areas like Beijing.

However, this is not representative of the main action the government has taken. Primarily, the Chinese government has focused on individual areas and attempting to reduce local pollution levels through efficient coal burning and banning the burning of waste materials, especially on farms. These solutions, while effective on a short-term basis, are not all that is needed, though.

Investment in renewables can reduce China's dependence on coal for power generation

Investment in renewables can reduce China’s dependence on coal for power generation

China needs to reduce its overall usage of coal produced energy, which currently stands at 64 percent of total energy consumption. While this has already been happening in China, the further introduction of renewable energy could be of great help to China’s pollution levels.

How Could Renewable Energy Help?

Many people believe renewable energy to be a small affair, something undertaken by the Western world in a vain attempt to reduce our collective guilt concerning climate change and wastage levels. This is simply not the case. Renewable energy is a $120 billion industry that receives investment and application across the world. This includes solar energy, waste-to-energy technology, wind energy, hydroelectric energy and many more attempts to reduce overall energy usage.

Through investment in renewable energy, China could reduce its dependence on coal and increase the efficiency of its energy production and economy. Smog is directly created by China’s use of coal for its energy production, and by investing in other renewable means, China can simultaneously improve its health situation.

In fact, the obviously positive nature of investment in renewable energy can be clearly seen through the Chinese government’s already existing plans to further incorporate it into the economy. In the five-year plan announced in 2016, the Chinese government explicitly stated it would decrease air pollution levels through investment in wind, solar and biomass energy production technologies.

While the plans additionally included investment in making the coal industry more efficient and reducing emissions on an industrial and commercial level, clearly renewable energy is believed to be a valid alternative energy source.

Overall, it is clear that renewable energy can certainly help with China’s serious smog problem. Whether this should be in tangent with further investment in the coal industry or necessitate the end of widespread coal usage in China is still a question for debate.

About the Author

Emily Folk is freelance writer and blogger on topics of renewable energy and conservation. To get her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter.

Renewable Energy and its Applications

Renewable energy. Clean energy. Green energy. Sustainable energy. Alternative Energy. Renewal Energy. No matter what you call it, energy such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric is having an impact on your life and could have an even bigger impact in the future. Renewable energy, in the most basic terms, is precisely what it sounds like. It’s power that comes from sources that regenerate, unlike fossil fuels, which only exist in a limited amount.

The cost of alternative energy systems has dropped sharply in recent years

From 2000 to 2016, the use of renewables in the United States more than doubled and is expected to continue to grow. In 2016, they made up about 10 percent of total energy consumption and 15 percent of electricity generation. During the last 5 years, green energy patents filing worldwide has increased by 50 percent. Consumption of renewable energy has grown worldwide due to government incentives and requirements for renewable energy and the desire to switch to cleaner fuel in order to protect the environment.

There are a number of different sources of renewable energy in use today. Here are some of the most common renewable energy resources and their applications:

Solar Energy

The U.S. solar industry has grown at an average annual rate of 68 percent over the last decade in the form of rooftop solar panels for individual buildings, solar farms built by utility companies and community solar projects, which produce solar for energy users in a certain area through a collection of solar panels.

In Australia the solar industry is also increasing with a record breaking 3.5 million panels installed last year. Queensland was the leader in solar panels that were installed.

Solar photovoltaic panels capture sunlight and convert it directly into electricity, which can power a small device such as a watch or sent into the grid to be distributed to a utility’s customers.

Wind Energy

People have been using windmills to utilize the wind’s energy for a long time, but today wind turbines are used to capture that energy and turn it into electricity. There are approximately 53,000 wind turbines operating in the United States today.

Wind turbines consist of a large tower, which is often around 100 feet tall, and several blades that use the power of the wind to spin. The blades are connected to a shaft that spins a generator in order to create electricity.

Like solar energy, power generated with wind can either be used for a specific application such as pumping water or powering a farm, or transferred into the electrical grid to meet other energy needs.

Biomass Energy

Biomass is another common form of renewable energy. Biomass is any natural substance such as wood, plant matter, gas from landfills and even municipal solid waste that contains stored energy from the sun.

When those substances are burned, they release that energy, which can be used as heat or fuel. Biomass can also be made into a liquid or gas that can be used as fuel.

Bioliquids, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are frequently used to power vehicles. Around 40 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. today is used for biofuels. Researchers are currently exploring new ways biomass can be used and additional substances that could be used for biomass energy.

Hydro Energy

Hydropower, energy generated with water, is one of the oldest and the most common renewable energy resource in the U.S., making up 6.5 percent of utility-scale electricity generation and 44 percent of generated renewable energy.

When water flows, it produces energy. We capture this energy by allowing moving water in rivers, waterfalls or elsewhere to turn generators that produce electricity. Hydroelectric plants can also be man-made, as is the case with dams. Man-made reservoirs hold water through the use of dams. That water is then released to flow through a turbine and create electricity.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

The main benefit of renewable energy sources is the fact that they release very little greenhouse gases and so are better for the environment. Because electricity makes up the largest share of our greenhouse gas emissions, changing how we get our energy is crucial in the fight against global warming.

Biofuels are increasingly being used to power vehicles

Biofuels are increasingly being used to power vehicles

Another key advantage is the fact that they are renewable, which means we won’t ever run out of them. This stability could make access to energy more stable in the future. It can also keep energy prices more predictable, because the markets are subject to changes in supply.

Renewable energy is also flexible and can power large areas or single homes. Additionally, renewable energy projects create a number of well-paying jobs and tend to have a significant economic impact.

Key Drawbacks of Clean Energy

Just like with fossil fuels, there are some disadvantages as well. Renewable energy plants are subject to fluctuations in wind, sunlight and other natural resources, meaning some days or in some particular months, a facility might produce more electricity than others. Today, in areas where renewables are common, fossil fuels are often used to make up any shortcoming in renewable energy production.

Due to their reliance on natural occurrences, renewables may fare better in some areas than others. An area with lots of direct sun all day long will be more suitable for a solar plant than somewhere that’s often dark and cloudy. Renewable energy projects also often require large areas of land, and while renewable energy tends to be cheap, initial construction and development costs can be quite high.

Despite these disadvantages, renewables are proving an important part of the energy mix of today and of the future, especially in the face of environmental concerns and worry about the availability of fossil fuels. Chances are we won’t see the end of the growing renewable energy industry any time soon.

Solutions to Reduce Maritime Industry Emissions

Until 2018, the maritime industry did not have a climate plan. While this may seem surprising, shipping tends to stay quiet about the environmental impacts of a global economy. Additionally, unlike other carbon-intensive sectors, it tends to quietly sail along unnoticed by consumers. It was not included in the Paris Agreement in 2016 and was not held accountable for its contribution to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Maritime Organization laid out plans to cut emissions in half by 2050, an ambitious goal by one of the world’s main polluters. One of the main strategies to reduce CO2 emissions is to transition to more efficient fuel types. Most large shipping vessels operate with heavy fuel oil, which is rich in sulfur and extremely polluting. The International Maritime Organization is seeking to replace heavy fuel oil in 60,000 shipping vessels.

emissions-shipping-sector

However, consumer awareness surrounding the environmental cost of international shipping, coupled with innovative technology, may reduce the amount of pollution produced. The most likely solutions to reduce emissions from the maritime industry include transitioning to a more low-carbon fuel source, changing transport speeds, adopting sustainable shipping waste disposal strategies, transitioning to renewable energy and optimizing travel routes.

The Price of International Shipping

Shipping emissions are expected to grow exponentially between now and 2050. International shipping accounts for the majority of industrial pollution. Maritime regulations are significantly behind those for other carbon-intensive industries. It can be legally complicated to assign accountability to certain countries, especially in international waters. A handful of mega-ships can have the same level of greenhouse gas emissions as millions of cars, accounting for an incalculable portion of air and water pollution.

Our economy is global. When you look at the tags on your furniture, appliances, clothes and electronics, you may see dozens of countries around the world. Even our food, including perishable items like avocados and lettuce, are shipped internationally. Fresh produce can be shipped thousands of miles without spoiling using different refrigeration systems, such as air compressor technology. While these technologies make it easier to transport food, they come with a high-carbon impact. However, there are energy-efficient solutions to reduce carbon emissions in the shipping industry.

Energy-Efficient Solutions

Low-carbon technology is available in the shipping industry, but how it works in practice may be a different story. For example, switching from a high sulfur fuel oil to a low carbon option may have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Lowering sulfur oxide emissions is key to reducing the effects of international shipping.

However, switching oils will require the industry to identify pollution from the whole lifecycle, meaning that the use of fuel is only one part of its environmental impact. Accounting for this will be crucial in finding a sustainable solution for maritime industry emissions.

Another solution that is easier to implement than changing fuels is a practice called slow steaming. Slow steaming simply refers to slowing boats down, sometimes only by a few degrees. While it may not sound like much, changing a ship’s speed by a couple of kilometers can result in an 18% increase in fuel savings, which could be a gamechanger. However, industry leaders are worried that simply slowing down ships is not the answer, since it will result in a need for more vessels to keep the global economy moving.

Other energy-efficient solutions to reduce maritime industry emissions include route optimization, renewable energy such as wind-assist technology and transitioning to all-electric ships. Norway, a main exporter in the petroleum and fish industries, has already tested an all-electric vessel and is actively working to optimize this technology to transition more ships away from fuel oil.

Time for Maritime Industry to Go Green

The effort by the maritime industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is significant. Effective solutions to help curb climate change include transitioning to low sulfur fuel oils, changing ship speeds and investing in new technology such as renewable energy. However, consumer awareness will also play a vital role in the future of international shipping. The cost of a global economy is significant. Finding more sustainable methods of transporting goods across the ocean is imperative.

How to Reduce the Ecological Footprint of Wind Turbines

Wind power is the second most widely used renewable energy source in the U.S., just behind hydropower. Unlike solar, wind power creates little to no pollution and requires very little maintenance. However, it has one significant problem — a detrimental effect on wildlife and the local ecosystem.

Industrial wind farms wreak havoc on bird and bat populations, plus they pose an ecological disturbance to the land. While the energy generation is incredibly sustainable, the influence turbines have on local wildlife populations adds controversy to the success of this energy source.

wind-farm-Lake-Turkana-Kenya

The future implementation of wind as a leading source of energy will depend on our ability to reduce its ecological footprint. Employing best practices that work to minimize adverse effects on local habitats will play an integral role in the construction of new farms.

Analyze Data

Determining the exact impact of wind turbines on wildlife is hard to discern. The number of birds and bats killed from direct contact is only one variable. The long-term effects on food chain supplies, population and habitats are hard to quantify. The first step in reducing the environmental impact is determining where the influence is greatest.

Research estimates that in North America alone, wind turbines kill an estimated 140,000 to 328,000 birds each year. This statistic does include other flying creatures, like bats, whose populations have been significantly affected by wind farms.

Bats are essential to the function of our ecosystem and food system. In 2015, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) added guidelines about the voluntary process of halting turbines at lower speeds during periods of the night when these animals are most active. These efforts may reduce deaths by up to 30%, though research demonstrates an extra delay could potentially increase that number to 90%.

Land Use Planning

Close attention to site selection and preparation may curtail the consequences of wind farms on the surrounding environment. Construction is a major ecosystem disruptor, as installing transmission lines and removing soil can hurt plants and animals in the vicinity. Experts encourage many wind companies to engage in erosion control practices, which includes re-establishing native vegetation and other restoration techniques.

Wind farms are generally criticized by their inflexibility when it comes to site location. Compared to solar panels, which can be installed on buildings and utilized across a diverse array of environments, wind farms are more limited. One benefit, however, is that people can establish these turbines on abandoned industrial land. The ability to re-purpose previously degraded land with a renewable energy source is a victory for wildlife and humans alike.

downned-pylons-windfarm

If the wind is too strong, wind turbines can’t operate safely and must shut down.

A final consideration when it comes to reducing ecological impact includes preventative measures, such as monitoring a habitat before construction. By tracking the environment before breaking ground, builders can better determine the best location for the farm.

Innovative Technology

As wind power becomes a cost-effective and energy-efficient option, advanced technology will lessen the impact of turbines on wildlife. According to U.S Energy Information Administration, the wind industry is collaborating with the U.S government to find optimization solutions.

Several ways exist in which wind farms can reduce their impact on local habitats and take preventative steps affecting animal and bird populations. One example includes Ultrasonic Acoustic Deterrents (UADs), which emit a loud noise that deters bats but is incomprehensible to the human ear.

Other solutions include painting wind turbines purple or shining ultraviolet lights on the structures to alert migratory species. Some manufacturing companies plan to make innovations in how to construct these structures. Changes include alterations to the blade surfaces and more sound-absorbent materials.

A Comprehensive Approach

The cost of wind power has dropped almost 50% in the last four years. With an increased incentive to invest in renewables, experts predict the number of wind farms around the world to grow rapidly in the next decade.

Wind power has many benefits, one of which being that, unlike solar, return on investment for the production and installation of turbines is five to eight months, with each structure designed to produce for at least twenty years. With an increase in implementation, the ecological impact is unavoidable. As a result, the focus will be on reducing the environmental impact of wind turbines, rather than decreasing their utilization as an energy source.

Zero Waste Trends to Watch

Most people have heard about concepts such as single-stream recycling, but there’s another approach known as zero waste. People who support the concept of zero waste agree that, in a broader sense, it means reducing dependence on landfills and increasing reliance on material recovery facilities. But, after that, the definition varies primarily based on industries, manufacturers and even entire countries.

Even so, there are inspiring trends that show how people and companies are working hard to reduce the amount of waste produced, thereby getting ever closer to that desirable zero benchmark. Below are some of the major trends taking place across the world in the field of zero waste:

Circular-Economy

More Reusable Packaging

We live in a world where it’s possible to order almost anything online and have it quickly arrive on a doorstep — sometimes the same day a person placed the order. And, society loves the convenience, but the dependence on delivered products causes an increase in packaging materials.

It is often astounding how many packing peanuts, layers of bubble wrap and cardboard cartons come with the things we buy. And, the manufacturers and shipping companies consistently bring up how boxes get dropped or otherwise mishandled during transit, making the extraordinary amounts of protective packaging products necessary.

packaging-LCA

Packaging that adorns your product can have serious environmental impact.

On a positive note, a company called Limeloop makes a shipping envelope designed from recycled billboard wrapping people can reuse thousands of times. Another company called Returnity communicates with distributors to urge them to use the establishment’s boxes and envelopes, both of which people can rely on dozens of times instead of throwing them away after single uses.

If you are a business looking to adopt eco-friendly practices, you should read this article on green packaging methods.

Ceramic Mugs in British Coffee Shops

In some regions of the world, customers who visit coffee shops don’t get asked whether they’ll be drinking their coffee on site or taking it with them to go. However, many leading coffee shops in the United Kingdom find out that detail from customers who order drinks, then serve the beverages in non-disposable mugs to people who’ll enjoy their purchases on the spot.

Also, all 950 Starbucks locations in Great Britain recently began charging customers five cents for getting their drinks in disposable cups. Conversely, it rewards them by taking 25 cents off the costs of their orders when they bring reusable cups into the stores.

Creative Ways to Cut Down on Farm Waste

Manure (or fertilizer) is a reality on farms around the world. And, the commercially bought versions of it contribute to excessive waste and inflated costs. Some even harm future growth when farmers apply manure too heavily and negatively affect the soil’s balance.

But, besides avoiding commercially-sold manure and not applying it excessively if used, what else can people in the agriculture sector do to make farm waste more manageable? They can look for unique outlets that may want to buy it.

Agriculture_Waste_Biogas

One startup uses a detailed manure-refining process to extract the cellulose from cow dung. Business representatives then use the cellulose — a byproduct from the grass and corn cows eat — for a new kind of fabric.

What about using animal waste for energy? A forward-thinking farmer did that with his manure lagoons, making them produce biogas that powers homes.

These unusual solutions highlight unconventional use cases for animal droppings, such as poultry litter, that support zero-waste goals, provided farmers want to explore them.

An Uptick in Reusable Food Containers

People often pack their lunches in plastic containers before heading off to work, but when they get food delivered or pick it up from a provider to eat at home later, the associated containers usually fill up garbage cans after people chow down.

Some facilities are trying to change that. At The University of California Merced campus, a pilot program occurred where students who stopped by dining halls for meals to take away brought reusable containers with them. After people ate the food from them, they could return them to get washed and ready for future meals.

Moreover, a pizza restaurant in Wales provides an aluminum box for people to use again and again when taking their pies home. One of the problems with cardboard pizza containers is they can’t be recycled when contaminated with grease. However, people can buy the metal ones for a small, one-time fee.

Opt for reusable containers for food and beverages

Then, by using them, they get 50-cent discounts on their pizza. The restaurant also backs the boxes with a lifetime guarantee and will replace them for no charge if necessary due to breakage or damage. Also, because metal conducts heat, the material helps pizza stay hotter for longer than it would in cardboard boxes.

Innovations to Complement Commitment

Adhering to a zero waste lifestyle undoubtedly requires dedication and a willingness to look beyond old habits. However, for people who show those characteristics, numerous inventions and improvements make it easier to do away with the throw-away culture.

Why Passive Homes Will Be the Future of Home Building

As individuals and companies alike begin to consider more sustainable building options, Passive Homes are an excellent solution. Referred to as “Passivhaus” in German, this construction concept focuses on airtight insulation to create a living space that does not require additional heating or cooling.

Developed in the 1970s, developers have incorporated the PassivHaus design in homes all over the world and in a variety of climates. As an affordable, eco-friendly and versatile construction solution, these homes will play an essential role in the future of homebuilding.

Affordable

Professionals often regard eco-friendly building solutions as too expensive. While construction costs for passive homes can cost 5 to 10% more upfront than a traditional build, these fees are negligible compared to future savings. As sustainable options become standard, these costs may drop. Passive Homes rely on design principles that promote peak energy efficiency without external systems.

With a focus on proper insulation and minimizing air leakage, homeowners can save on conventional heating costs without needing to invest in expensive forms of renewable energy. While solar panels or other types of eco-friendly power are popular, because of the efficiency of the Passive House, their usage is minimal.

Adaptable

People build Passive Houses all over the globe in a variety of climates. The five main principles of passive homebuilding are versatile and can be altered depending on the environment. The airtight construction utilizes proper heat balance, ensuring that warm air remains inside in cooler climates, and properly ventilates in warmer ones.

Another nice feature of Passive Home construction is the ability to modify each project aesthetically. Unlike other forms of sustainable building, such as straw bale homes or shipping containers, professionals can construct Passive Homes using a variety of eco-friendly building materials. This style does not limit builders to certain architectural styles. Because supplies can vary, many homeowners choose to add to the overall sustainability of their homes by using post-consumer building materials.

Eco-Friendly

Passive Homes are eco-friendly by design. In Europe, it’s the standard building practice of the future. According to The Resolution of the European Parliament, its implementation will be mandatory in new home construction by all member states in 2021.

The elements of Passive Homes are sustainable by default and do not require relying on alternative energy systems for primary energy. The standard principles are the result of research at the Passive House Institute, and include:

  • Airtight structures
  • Double and triple-insulated windows
  • Continuous insulation
  • Thermal sealing
  • Air quality management

Passive Home design principles do not rely on renewables as a primary source of energy, focusing instead on insulation and passive solar to maximize heat efficiency. They’re also the most affordable way to achieve zero-carbon, resulting in energy savings of up to 90% compared to conventional energy systems.

Passive Building for the Future

Passive Home design incorporates efficient ventilation, heat recovery and super insulation to create a high-quality structure that is not only efficient but also extremely comfortable. A contractor can adapt these buildings to any climate or design preference. While Passive Homes are already a standard — and future mandated — construction in Europe, they’re also becoming more popular in the United States.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Energy “Building America” Grant, the PassivHaus Institute established new building standards that take into account market and climate variables throughout North America, including comfort and performance.

Any architect or contractor can easily utilize the Passive Home style, and the building standards are available via online distribution. As consumers and developers look towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly future, this style of building should be at the forefront of construction.

Zero Waste Trends in the United States

Most people don’t see what happens to their trash. They throw it in a black plastic bag, toss the bag into a dumpster and the trash man collects it once a week and makes it disappear. Magic, right?

Wrong.

Most of our trash ends up in a landfill where it is buried and mixed in with decades-worth of junk. Certain items will break down over time while others are essentially just stored there, in a graveyard of forgotten items and a mountain of garbage.

In the year since China banned the import of other countries’ plastic recyclables, the global recycling industry has been in flux, resulting in plastics ending up in landfills, incinerators and littering the environment. This is causing countries and citizens across the globe to reexamine their recycling systems and highlights the need for zero waste practices.

Zero waste is the concept of eliminating the amount of trash thrown away by only purchasing reusable items. That’s a significant shift from the 4.4 pounds of trash that the average American tosses every day. But certain trends are helping make the idea of zero waste a reality in the United States. Let us have a look:

Replace Single-Use Packaging With Reusable Materials

Way too many plastic items that we use every day are meant to be used only once. And the amount of packaging that goes into shipping one box, that will simply get tossed in the garbage after the parcel is unwrapped, is astounding. In fact, 40 percent of plastic produced is packaging, which is thrown away after it arrives at your doorstep.

Plastic bag and straw bans are on the rise across the globe. Consumers are becoming more conscious of how their use of these items contributes to the trash crisis. Recent data shows that customers are more likely to buy products from brands that promote sustainable business practices.

biodegradeable-packaging

Reduce Energy Waste By Choosing Renewable Options

Many industries are opting to reduce energy waste by pursuing renewable energy sources. U.S. manufacturers account for 30 percent of the nation’s energy consumption, which means manufacturers must take the lead in reducing fossil fuel consumption and energy waste.

The U.S. is the leader in energy waste. Americans spend $350 billion on energy costs each year, yet three-quarters of that energy goes to waste. One way to reduce the burden on our power grid — and our wallets — from all that lost energy is by switching to renewable energy sources.

Air compressors are vital to the upkeep of a successful farm, and many producers in the agricultural sector are also reducing waste by switching to high-powered air compressors that, when properly maintained, can reduce energy usage and cut costs.

Eliminate Food Waste

About 94 percent of food waste ends up in landfills, which contribute to methane gas emissions. Reducing food waste not only helps the environment, but it also decreases the amount you have to spend at the grocery store. It also helps to conserve energy, as less power is needed to grow and produce food if less is wasted.

Individual consumers can help eliminate food waste by freezing leftovers to preserve them and composting uneaten food, as opposed to tossing in the trash.

Restaurants can use these tactics and others to cut down on food waste, such as donating leftovers and properly training staff to get on board with waste reduction. They can also hire auditors to help them identify ways to reduce waste and streamline business practices.

Never Too Late to Make a Change

Though the statistics may seem disheartening, the reality is that it’s never too late to make a change in your individual or business habits to help cut down on waste and work toward the goal of accomplishing zero waste. Following these trends and implementing others is just one way to do your part to eliminate waste and protect the environment.

Biomethane from Food Waste: A Window of Opportunity

For most of the world, reusing our food waste is limited to a compost pile and a home garden. While this isn’t a bad thing – it can be a great way to provide natural fertilizer for our home-grown produce and flower beds – it is fairly limited in its execution. Biomethane from food waste is an interesting idea which can be implemented in communities notorious for generating food wastes on a massive scale. Infact, the European Union is looking for a new way to reuse the millions of tons of food waste that are produced ever year in its member countries – and biomethane could be the way to go.

food-waste-behavior

Bin2Grid

The Bin2Grid project is designed to make use of the 88 million tons of food waste that are produced in the European Union every year. For the past two years, the program has focused on collecting the food waste and unwanted or unsold produce, and converting it, first to biogas and then later to biomethane. This biomethane was used to supply fueling stations in the program’s pilot cities – Paris, Malaga, Zagreb and Skopje.

Biomethane could potentially replace fossil fuels, but how viable is it when so many people still have cars that run on gasoline?

The Benefits of Biomethane

Harvesting fossil fuels is naturally detrimental to the environment. The crude oil needs to be pulled from the earth, transported and processed before it can be used.  It is a finite resource and experts estimate that we will exhaust all of our oil, gas and coal deposits by 2088.

Biomethane, on the other hand, is a sustainable and renewable resource – there is a nearly endless supply of food waste across the globe and by converting it to biomethane, we could potentially eliminate our dependence on our ever-shrinking supply of fossil fuels. Some companies, like ABP Food Group, even have anaerobic digestion facilities to convert waste into heat, power and biomethane.

Neutral Waste

While it is true that biomethane still releases CO2 into the atmosphere while burned, it is a neutral kind of waste. Just hear us out. The biggest difference between burning fossil fuels and burning biomethane is that the CO2 that was trapped in fossil fuels was trapped there millions of years ago.  The CO2 in biomethane is just the CO2 that was trapped while the plants that make up the fuel were alive.

Biofuel in all its forms has a bit of a negative reputation – namely, farmers deforesting areas and removing trees that store and convert CO2 in favor of planting crops specifically for conversion into biofuel or biomethane. This is one way that anti-biofuel and pro-fossil fuel lobbyists argue against the implementation of these sort of biomethane projects – but they couldn’t be more wrong, especially with the use of food waste for conversion into useful and clean energy.

Using biogas is a great way to reduce your fuel costs as well as reuse materials that would otherwise be wasted or introduced into the environment. Upgrading biogas into biomethane isn’t possible at home at this point, but it could be in the future.

If the test cities in the European Union prove successful, biomethane made from food wastes could potentially change the way we think of fuel sources.  It could also provide alternative fuel sources for areas where fossil fuels are too expensive or unavailable. We’ve got our fingers crossed that it works out well – if for no other reason that it could help us get away from our dependence on finite fossil fuel resources.

5 Benefits of Biodegradable Packaging for Businesses

Consumers want companies to reflect their values. They’re far more likely to purchase from a business with an identity, whether it manifests in charitable efforts or eco-friendly practices. As a greater number of people show interest in green living, biodegradable packaging presents an opportunity for growth.

That said, the virtues of biodegradable packaging extend beyond an improved public image. While business owners enjoy the superficial advantages of this transition, they often find it’s only a fraction of what the shift entails. Through switching to biodegradable plastics, they see considerable changes elsewhere.

bioplastics

In this article, we’ll detail five of those changes, exploring the subject to lend business owners a better understanding of biodegradable packaging within their operation. As we touch on the benefits, it’ll become clear that eco-friendly materials aren’t only better for the environment, but better for a company’s bottom line.

1. Free of Toxins & Allergens

Biodegradable packaging options are still somewhat limited, but most of the available materials are non-toxic and allergy-free. This is an essential consideration to consumers who care about the products they’re purchasing and the composition of their packaging. If either is potentially harmful, it hurts a business.

As often as businesses must send packages, forms, and other important information through the mail, packaging with the planet in mind and protecting your items is key. For example, your car accident lawyer in Queens may need to send you important documents through the mail. Getting your mail in safe, low-waste packaging can protect your health from harmful chemicals, aid the planet, and provide their clients with all they need to know.

An informed consumer will almost invariably choose products packaged with bioplastic over traditional alternatives, aware of the implications of their purchase. Considering the negative health effects of phthalates — a common chemical in plastic packaging — business owners should be aware of the implications as well.

2. Require Fewer Resources

Biodegradable packaging has the potential to reduce water usage, solid waste, electricity and emissions. This is beneficial for the environment, of course, but it also lowers expenses associated with the packaging process. Over time, the accumulated savings prove well worth the cost of the transition.

If a company were to replace their standard packaging materials with bioplastic, they would enjoy weight savings on par with regular plastic. Research shows plastic packaging enables weight savings of over 78 percent compared to alternative materials, a notable statistic for business owners looking to convert.

3. Lower Production Costs

Most biodegradable materials follow the three basic R’s of sustainability.

  1. A business can reduce them, using fewer resources to create thinner and tougher materials which do the same job.
  2. A business can reuse them, taking advantage of materials with special coating which improves their durability.
  3. A business can recycle them, diverting refuse from landfills as they minimize the costs of new materials.

A business owner who invests in biodegradable packaging can cut costs by a significant margin, using fewer resources, reusing their inventory and purchasing inexpensive recycled materials. In doing so, they’ll see reduced packaging expenses over time, and more freely allocate their money elsewhere.

biodegradeable-packaging

Reusing packaging is proving to be not only environmentally friendly, but an excellent marketing advantage. From Pinterest to Instagram, users are finding a way to re-purpose packaging. Business owners who are vocal in encouraging their customers to prioritize environmentally friendly choices can earn more goodwill and local business as a result. ToolTally is a good example of a blog that focuses on helping DIYers reuse products, and is growing an organic following as a result.

4. Reduced Footprint

A business owner has financial goals they have to meet, but they have environmental goals as well. Every professional in an upper-management position has a responsibility to ensure their company meets high standards of environmental compliance, and biodegradable packaging can help — outside a legal context.

To reinforce an earlier point, 70 percent of consumers between the ages of 15 and 20 want to buy goods from companies committed to sustainability, and biodegradable plastics affect the appeal of businesses which would otherwise see less attention. To reduce emissions and increase interest, change is necessary.

5. Convenient Disposal

Recyclable, compostable and biodegradable packaging simplifies disposal for the consumer. It affords them more options in discarding these materials, and companies should always seek to make their products convenient, from start to finish. Biodegradable materials exemplify this mindset.

For example, consumers who prefer to compost their refuse won’t have to make exceptions for packaging. They can add biodegradable packaging to their compost in much the same way they would with any other compost-friendly material, contributing to the product’s value beyond its primary utility.

Looking Toward the Future

When reviewing the benefits listed above, business owners should feel confident in their decision to adopt biodegradable packaging. More than superficial benefits, they’ll enjoy reduced costs and carbon emissions while increasing consumer convenience and reducing plastic pollution. The advantages are clear.

Looking toward the future, it’s safe to speculate more companies will transition toward eco-friendly practices. With this in mind, taking action now is the best option, and though biodegradable packaging is a small step, it’s an important one.

The Impact of Machine Learning on Renewable Energy

Machine learning, as well as its endgame, artificial intelligence, is proving its value in a wide variety of industries. Renewable energy is yet another sector that can benefit from machine learning’s smart data analysis, pattern recognition and other abilities. Here’s a look at why the two are a perfect match.

Predicting and Fine-Tuning Energy Production

One of the biggest misconceptions about solar power is that it’s only realistic in parts of the world known for year-round heat and intense sunshine. According to Google, around 80% of rooftops they’ve analyzed through their Sunroof mapping system “are technically viable for solar.” They define “viable” as having “enough unshaded area for solar panels.”

Even with this widespread viability, it’s useful to be able to predict and model the energy yield of a renewable energy project before work begins. This is where machine learning enters the equation.

Based on the season and time of day, machine learning can produce realistic and useful predictions for when a residence or building will be able to generate power and when it will have to draw power from the grid. This may prove even more useful over time as a budgeting tool as accuracy improves further. IBM says their forecasting system, powered by deep learning, can predict solar and wind yield up to 30 days in advance.

Machine learning also helps in the creation of solar installations with physical tracking systems, which intelligently follow the sun and angle the solar panels in order to maximize the amount of power they generate throughout the day.

Balancing the Smart Energy Grid

Predicting production is the first step in realizing other advantages of machine learning in clean energy. Next comes the construction of smart grids. A smart grid is a power delivery network that:

  • Is fully automated and requires little human intervention over time
  • Monitors the energy generation of every node and the flow of power to each client
  • Provides two-way energy and data mobility between energy producers and clients

A smart grid isn’t a “nice to have” — it’s necessary. The “traditional” approach to building energy grids doesn’t take into account the diversification of modern energy generation sources, including geothermal, wind, solar and hydroelectric. Tomorrow’s electric grid will feature thousands and millions of individual energy-generating nodes like solar-equipped homes and buildings. It will also, at least for a while, contain coal and natural gas power plants and homes powered by heating oil.

Machine learning provides an “intelligence” to sit at the heart of this diversified energy grid to balance supply and demand. In a smart grid, each energy producer and client is a node in the network, and each one produces a wealth of data that can help the entire system work together more harmoniously.

Together with energy yield predictions, machine learning can determine:

  • Where energy is needed most and where it is not
  • Where supply is booming and where it’s likely to fall short
  • Where blackouts are happening and where they are likely
  • When to supplement supplies by activating additional energy-generating infrastructure

Putting machine learning in the mix can also yield insights and actionable takeaways based on a client’s energy usage. Advanced metering tools help pinpoint which processes or appliances are drawing more power than they should. This helps energy clients make equipment upgrades and other changes to improve their own energy efficiency and further balance demand across the grid.

Automating Commercial and Residential Systems

The ability to re-balance the energy grid and respond more quickly to blackouts cannot be undersold. But machine learning is an ideal companion to renewable energy on the individual level as well. Machine learning is the underlying technology behind smart thermostats and automated climate control and lighting systems.

Achieving a sustainable future means we have to electrify everything and cut the fossil fuels cord once and for all. Electrifying everything means we need to make renewable energy products more accessible. More accessible renewable energy products means we need to make commercial and residential locations more energy-efficient than ever.

Machine learning gives us thermostats, lighting, and other products that learn from user preferences and patterns and fine-tune their own operation automatically. Smart home and automation products like these might seem like gimmicks at first, but they’re actually an incredibly important part of our renewable future. They help ensure we’re not burning through our generated power, renewable or otherwise, when we don’t need to be.

Bottom Line

To summarize all this, machine learning offers a way to analyze and draw actionable conclusions from energy sector data. It brings other gifts, too. Inspections powered by machine learning are substantially more accurate than inspections performed by hand, which is critical for timely maintenance and avoiding downtime at power-generating facilities.

Machine learning also helps us predict and identify factors that could result in blackouts and respond more quickly (and with pinpoint accuracy) to storm damage.

Given that the demand for energy is only expected to rise across the globe in the coming years, now is an ideal time to use every tool at our disposal to make our energy grids more resilient, productive and cost-effective. Machine learning provides the means to do it.