Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Megabus - MegaEfficient Transportation


Last weekend I had a chance to catch the Megabus from Chicago to Ann Arbor. The Megabus is a new intercity express bus line that provides fast, safe and inexpensive travel between select cities in the Midwest and the Northeast.

Mass transit options are increasing to keep pace with the price of fuel. The bus I rode is a double decker that holds 79 passengers in comfort. It gets about 6 - 7 miles per gallon so that works out to 474 - 553 passenger miles per gallon. You would have to pack 10 passengers Clown-Car style in your Prius before you reached passenger fuel economy equivalent to the Megabus.

Costs are low and Megabus overhead is kept to a minimum by ticketing only online. There are no Megabus Stations. For my trip I caught the bus near the Chicago Union (train) Station. The pick up is a public bus stop with no shelter. At Union Station there is a sign on the door stating:

You have chosen a carrier that has not provided an indoor passenger waiting area for you. Amtrak and Chicago Union Station have no business relationship with 'Megabus' and cannot provide assistance unless patronizing Chicago Union Station establishments. Please wait outdoors for your bus.

More at: Sustainable Design Update

Monday, August 25, 2008

Living Like Ed

Ed Begley Jr.

I met Ed Begley Jr. this weekend at the Great Lakes Green Conference. Ed was speaking on how to make your home energy efficient and incorporate renewable energy without going broke. He also has a new book, "Living Like Ed". I got a chance to review a copy and it is the ideal place to begin if you want to make your house more energy efficient.

We had a chance to talk a bit after his presentation. Ed comes across as a down to earth, no nonsense kind of guy. His sincere nature and desire to save the earth makes a great contrast with his wife Rachelle, who goes along with many of Ed's ideas on how to live sustainably, but has her own ideas of what living comfortably is. The Begleys are filming their third season of "Living With Ed".

If you get a chance you should ask Ed about his rather cut-throat competition with Bill Nye - The Science Guy.

Ed has been a committed environmentalist ever since the first Earth Day He has always tried to “live simply so others may simply live.” Now, as more and more of us are looking for ways to reduce our impact on the planet and live a better, greener life, Ed shares his experiences on what works, what doesn't–and what will save you money!

From Random House:

These are tips for environmentally friendly living that anyone–whether you own or rent, live in a private home or a condo–can try to make a positive change for the environment. From quick fixes to bigger commitments and long-term strategies, Ed will help you make changes in every part of your life.

And if you think living green has to mean compromising on aesthetics or comfort, fear not; Ed's wife, Rachelle, insists on style–with a conscience. In Living Like Ed, his environmentalism and her design savvy combine to create a guide to going green that keeps the chic in eco-chic.

From recycling more materials than you ever thought possible to composting without raising a stink to buying an electric car, Living Like Ed is packed with ideas–from obvious to ingenious–that will help you live green, live responsibly, live well. Like Ed.

Check Out:
Living Like Ed: A Guide to the Eco-Friendly Life

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Efficient Ethanol

Corn - Photo Credit: MarS via Flickr

We at SDU are big fans of ethanol - if it is made from cellulosic materials. Corn ethanol is problematic. Making ethanol from corn consumes a lot of energy so the pay-off, or the net increase in energy, is small compared with other biofuels. To make corn based ethanol more energy efficient, researchers at Washington University are demonstrating a process used in breweries and wastewater treatment facilities: oxygen-less vats of bacteria that naturally feed on organic waste produced from the fermentation process.

This "new" process is one we have covered many times. (Link) The WU team is using a simple biodigester after the fermentation process. The biodigester uses bacteria in the absence of oxygen to produce methane.

As the bacteria break down waste, methane is released, which can be used to power the distillation process. The methane generated can offset much of the energy required to make ethanol.

From Technology Review:

Largus Angenent, a professor of chemical engineering, and his team at Washington University have tested anaerobic digestion on waste from ethanol plants and found that the process could cut down an ethanol facility's use of natural gas by 50 percent. The team has published the results in the recent issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Angenent says that the process would serve as a short-term solution until more-efficient biofuel, such as cellulosic ethanol, is commercially viable. "Rather than have hope for new technology that comes to fruition in 10 or 20 years, we need technology we can implement now," says Angenent, who recently became an assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University. "This is an interim process, and it's off the shelf."

Nearly all ethanol biofuel in the United States is made from corn. Typically, the ethanol production yields organic waste that is then consolidated into two parts: a dry, cake-like substance and a syrupy solution, called thin stillage, that's layered on top. The concoction is used as animal feed. Angenent says that a large portion of this feed, particularly thin stillage, which is laden with salts, provides low nutritional value but may have high energy potential for powering a plant when broken down via anaerobic digestion.

To test this theory, the researchers cultivated thermophilic bacteria from a wastewater treatment plant in two small, five-liter anaerobic digesters. Angenent and his colleagues then slowly began feeding waste samples into the digesters, which were kept at 55 °C to maximize the bacteria's activity. As the digesters ran, the team measured the amount of methane released.

Via: Technology Review

Check: Sustainable Design Update

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vertical Farming - Will It Work?

Vertical Farm

Vertical Farm

I have been asked several times lately what I think of vertical farming - the proposed practice where crops are grown in skyscrapers. The idea is being pushed by academics and enthusiasts.

My big doubt about vertical farming is based on the economics of building a superstructure with sufficient structural capacity to hold crops, water, soil (in the non-hydroponic proposals) humans and machines. Plus the live loads associated with rain, snow and wind. The structure would have to be at least as robust as what we currently build for offices and the infrastructure would be just about as expensive as any other building. So, based on current costs for construction, the cost of a vertical farm could be about $100.00 per square foot.

The cost of Georgia farm land is $2,074 per acre, average (University of Georgia Study), which is about 5 cents per square foot. This gives the Georgia farm a serious advantage. The rent on a $100.00 per square foot structure is about $21.00 per square foot per year, so space on a vertical farm might go for $10.00 = $21.00 per square foot. Corn brings in about $259.00 per acre ( www.profitablefarming.com) or about 7/10 of one cent per square foot. And corn is considered a profitable crop!

I can't see the economics of vertical farming working out.

Check out: Sustainable Design Update

Check out this very cool video of an advocate for vertical farming on the Colbert Report.

Via: AIDG Blog

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shark Skin Design - Reduce Drag - Improve Energy Efficiency

Dr. Amy Lang

Dr. Amy Lang Tests Sharkskin Inspired Surface

Sharkskin inspired swimsuits are helping swimmers at the 2008 Olympics set new records. Can this biomimetic design help airliners reduce drag? That is what Dr. Amy Lang is going to find out. Backed by a grant from the Lindbergh Foundation, Dr. Lang is researching “Reducing the Drag Over Aircraft by Mimicking the Surface Geometry of Bristled Shark Skin Scales”.

If this technology works for sharks, swimmers and airliners, it should also work for cars, boats and anything that moves through a viscous fluid.

From the Lindbergh Foundation Website:

With her Lindbergh Grant, Dr. Lang will determine whether the surface texture on the skin of fast-swimming sharks, potentially capable of bristling their scales when in pursuit of prey, could be mimicked and used to reduce the drag on aircraft. She will perform water tunnel experiments to measure the flow over and within a bristled sharkskin model (2 cm size scales), which achieves similarity with real sharkskin (0.2 mm size scales) Lang Labby a corresponding scale down in velocity of the experiments. She will also obtain drag measurements over a sharkskin model in a Couette flow facility containing high viscosity oil. Her objective is to reveal the boundary layer control mechanisms of the bristled sharkskin to deduce the means by which sharks minimize their drag. Dr. Lang’s project has the potential to reduce aircraft drag by 30%, once the technology is refined and implemented, greatly reducing the nation’s dependency on fossil fuels, reducing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, and costs.

Check Out the Lindbergh Flyer

Check Out: Sustainable Design Update

Friday, August 08, 2008

New Solar Tower for Namibia

Solar Updraft Tower - Wikipedia

Solar Updraft Tower

A new proposal for the construction of a solar tower capable of generating 400 MW of electricity has been approved by the Namibian government.

The solar tower, aptly named the "Greentower" will be 1.5 km (about 5,000 feet!) high and 280 m (918 feet) in diameter. The tower functions like a chimney. Air heated in an apron around the tower becomes relatively buoyant and wants to rise. The only path is up the chimney. Turbines on the ground or near the bottom of the tower convert the updraft into electricity.

In 1982, a small-scale experimental model of a solar chimney power plant was built under the direction of German engineer Jörg Schlaich in Manzanares, Ciudad Real, 150 km south of Madrid, Spain; the project was funded by the German government. The tower ran trouble-free for eight years, producing 50 kW of electricity, until it was decommissioned.

In recent years there has been renewed interest in the solar tower concept, a 1 km-high solar tower, capable of producing 200 MW is scheduled to be constructed by 2010 in Australia. (Project Link)

Turbines can be installed in a ring around the base of the tower, with a horizontal axis, as planned for the Australian project, or, as in the prototype in Spain, a single vertical axis turbine can be installed inside the chimney.

He adds that the Australian tower, as well as its Namibian counterpart, will be built out of reinforced concrete, using technology developed for building high-rise buildings.

"Several thermodynamics, structural, wind loading and power generation experts have developed an executive summary for a prefeasibility study for the Namibian project," says intellectual property company Hahn & Hahn MD representative Alan Dunlop.

More at: Sustainable Design Update

Photo: Wikipedia

Via: Engineering News