Science & Technology

By on January 2nd, 2009

pouring-concrete1When my mind wanders, which is fairly often, I sometimes wonder about ways to green-ify the world.  But I must admit I have never given any particular thought to building materials, much less one of the most basic: cement.

But a British company has embarked on a government-sponsored, 1.5 million pound experiment to construct a plant to produce what is supposedly carbon-negative cement.  Carbon-negative, you say?  You read me right.  We’ve all been conditioned, myself included, to think of “carbon-neutral” as the apotheosis of ecological manufacture.  But now we have a new goal — carbon negative!

Standard cement, also known as Portland Cement, uses limestone as its basic element.  As part of the production process, it is heated to 1500 degrees centigrade (which of course uses lots of carbon-producing energy).  Then, once water is added for its use in buildings, it absorbs some carbon as it dries and hardens — but not nearly enough to compensate for the energy used in its manufacture.

The new carbon-hungry cement, which uses magnesium silicates instead of limestone, need only be heated to 650 degrees centigrade — consuming less than half the energy of regular cement.  Then, when drying and hardening, it absorbs more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide.  Making it significantly carbon-negative!  Jackpot!

Many questions remain, of course.  Are there enough raw materials for lots of this new type of cement to be manufactured?  (Advocates say yes.)  Can a new type of cement prove itself just as reliable and strong as the old standby, Portland?  (Hard to say.)  Will this potentially paradigm-shifting product ever see the light of day, unlike so many other good environmental ideas.  (Experience says no, but let’s hope for the best.)

–from the Guardian UK

By on December 8th, 2008

After much too long a hiatus, I have again begun scouring the web for the latest in weird and wonderful green tech gadgets.  All for you, the talkgreen reader.

The above is not a still from an X-rated remake of “The Sound of Music.”  It’s actually a promotional pic for a wood-fired hot tub.  Of course your backyard scenery may not be as spectacular, but the darned thing supposedly will get the water up to 100 degrees in two short hours, depending on the outside temperature.  And all without using anything but renewable energy.  And it’s lightweight and portable too!

Still — a few questions.  I wonder what the carbon footprint of this thing is?  And, does it come in any colors besides nuclear orange?

By on October 24th, 2008

The BMW Hydrogen 7 is the world’s first production-ready hydrogen vehicle. Yes it can fully work on hydrogen which I believe make it the world most eco-friendly car.

If the Hydrogen is created from renewable energy, it makes it 100% clean. Than you may ask why can’t you find it in showrooms? Like they say in this video there is no infrastructure to support hydrogen refuelling. If oil producers turned themselves to ward’s making hydrogen instead of digging for oil and causing environmental disasters, we could truly be heading into a greener more sustainable world. But that’s just IF.

In this video learn more about this car the BMW Hydrogen 7. For more information click Here.

By on October 9th, 2008

The University of Ottawa was hosting “career in engineering day” this week and what caught my eye during this event was this little green laptop Nortel Networks had on their presentation table. It was the “one laptop per child” XO laptop. Although this is not a super computer it’s still a great learning

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The purpose of this green wonder was to help under developed countries so that children could get a better education.

Most of the nearly two–billion children in the developing world are inadequately educated, or receive no education at all. One in three does not complete the fifth grade.

How did they manage to pay for this? Well we were the donors. The way this worked was if you paid 200$ for the laptop which was listed at 100$, “one laptop per child” would send one laptop to a developing country.

I also got the chance to play with the laptop. Since it was meant to be sent to many different countries, the designers decided to use symbols instead of words so that they could spare the disk space for the applications. I thought this was a great idea. Even if the screen is quite small it’s still very easy to see the display. You can easily navigate the web and even puts up links to encyclopedia for quick info.

The softwares on this laptop are great for children too. They can draw, learn how to read and write and even learn new animals and objects. On the side of the screen you can find video game controler buttons similar to the ones you can find on a playstation controler.

For more information on the XO laptop visit www.laptop.org

By on October 6th, 2008

This is my second post about eco-friendly ways to deal with, ah, shall we say, solid human waste products. Some of you might think that I’m obsessed — stuck in some pseudo-Freudian childhood phase.  But really, I just tend to focus on the unusual “green” topics, on the arcane, rather than the mundane “how to get more miles per gallon” type of stuff.

Anyway, several years ago I travelled to Sydney Australia, a lovely trip full of delightful restaurant meals and beautiful garden tours.  But one thing always stuck in my mind — their toilets.  Down under, each toilet has two buttons — half-flush, for exclusively liquid flushes, and full-flush for more substiantial matters. Or, to put it another way, one for number one, one for number two.  Even that many years ago, I loved this idea and the resulting water savings.  It only added to my enjoyment of Oz.

And now, for quite awhile, these toilets have been available in the good ol’ USA.  For instance, the Toto Aquia Dual-Flush:

At only .9 gallons per 1/2 flush (as opposed to 1.6 gallons for normal, man-sized flush), apparently this baby can save one household up to 7000 gallons of (otherwise clean drinkable) water a year.  How great is that!

If I ever remodel my bathrooms, this will be my commode of choice.

By on September 15th, 2008

Here’s an invention that manages to be environmentally conscious and ridiculous at the same time.

Figure 1, above, may look like a lovely work of art meant to evoke little wavelets formed by raindrops on a serene body of water.  But actually it’s the Eco-Drop shower floor.  You turn on the shower and step in, the concentric circles gently massaging your feet and helping make the surface non-slip.

But the floor is made of a special expanding material, and the longer you stay in the shower, the more pronounced the droplet designs get.  It’s not too long before, as you can see in Figure 4, they become downright uncomfortable on your feet and you have to get out!  Voila — no one takes very long showers!

Still, there must be a better way.  I’m picturing a bunch of angry people with sore feet and sudsy hair returning this thing to their local hardware store.

By on August 13th, 2008

Reactor construction at Olkiluoto 3

Reactor construction at Olkiluoto 3
(© Greenpeace/Nick Cobbing)

From Greenpeace:

Documents seen by Greenpeace show that French company Areva is failing to implement vital safety procedures in the troubled construction of its prototype European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) in Olkiluoto, Finland. As well as being 2-3 years behind schedule, 70 per cent over budget, and experiencing 1,500 construction defects along with a damaging fire, the reactor’s safety cannot be guaranteed.

The documents show that, during the construction of the steel framework in the base of the the world’s largest nuclear reactor, welders had no specifications as to how the welding should be properly performed for an entire year and, furthermore, tests to ensure the quality of the welding have not been carried out.

Bouygues, an Areva sub-contractor, has had no qualified welding supervisors at the site for over a year and still does not have any. Staff are given a mere two weeks’ training instead of having the international standard university degree. The company also listed people who had not worked in the role as welding supervisors.

Areva, the Finnish nuclear safety authority STUK, and the country’s electricity generator TVO have all been aware of these problems and yet the necessary vital safeguards have not been implemented. Poor welding could cause or exacerbate a nuclear accident – both the reactor cooling system and the reactor itself are mounted on the steel framework. If this is how the construction has proceeded so far, what can we expect when it comes to the installation of reactor components or electronic safety systems?

Nuclear safety expert Dr Helmut Hirsch states that there is a ‘bad safety culture’ at the Olkiluoto 3 site, calling into question the durability of the steel structure and its ability to withstand electrochemical corrosion.

Parts of Olkiluoto 3 affected by the violations

Parts of Olkiluoto 3 affected by the violations

To make matters worse, this is history repeating itself. Lessons have not been learned. Inspections on the construction of the other EPR at Flamanville in France found that a quarter of the welding in the reactor’s steel lining was substandard. Cracks were also found in the reactor’s concrete base. When the problem was discovered, it was sub-contractor Bouygues again at the root of the shortcomings and construction was halted by French nuclear watchdog ASN.

How has all this happened? It looks as if these potentially catastrophic shortcomings in Finland have arisen from the parties seeking to cut corners on rocketing construction costs. Quality standards agreed in contracts between Areva and TVO are poor. Contractual requirements for the competence of welding staff look to have been breached. STUK and TVO have failed to deal with safety violations. TVO has also failed to use sanctions such as stopping construction so that failures could be addressed. It all adds up to a recipe for disaster.

It is clear that there can be little public confidence in the construction of the Olkiluoto 3 nuclear reactor. How and why are we to believe assurances on matters of safety from the likes of Areva now and in the future? This is yet another blow to the public relations distortion that nuclear energy is safe. The industry has shown itself – again – to be anything but open and honest in its dealings with the public.

None of us would dream of flying in a plane, driving a car, or living in a house which we knew to be built to such shockingly poor standards of construction, supervision and safety. So why should we tolerate or allow such attitudes, incompetence and deception in the construction of a nuclear facility which, in the event of an accident, could cause massive, unquantifiable damage to our health and the environment? The answer is simple: we can not and we should not.

Areva and its sub-contractors should be reminded whose interests they truly serve. Public safety should always be put before profit and poor procedures. Those responsible for this misconduct should be held to account. The construction of Olkiluoto 3 must be halted.

By on July 31st, 2008


Founded in October 2007 on $200 million of venture capital, Better Place, in its first six months, announced cooperative agreements with Israel and Denmark to transform their transportation infrastructure from oil-based to renewable energy and significantly reduce harmful emissions. Doing so they have committed to deploying the world’s first electric car networks.
Realized by Shai Agassi, a social entrepreneur formally working for SAP, Project Better Place was created after Shai left SAP in 2007 to follow his vision to end our world’s dependence on oil. Thomas Friedman quoted Agassi this past Sunday in the New York Times writing,

“His goal is to make his electric car so cheap, so trivial, that you won’t even think of buying a gasoline car. ”

Partnering with Better Place, the Renault-Nissan Alliance is building zero-emission electric cars for its recharge grids. The car will be 100% electric and powered by a battery developed by Automotive Energy Supply Corp.

Better Place hopes to continue to be a leader in alternative forms of energy and to sustain the conversation about lessening the worldwide dependence on oil. In this spirit, Better Place has launched a “10 Words” Campaign, where individuals can submit 10 words explaining for what reasons they believe ending the world’s addiction to oil is important. Contributors to the campaign have included those leaders who have made alternative energy a priority, including, Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, who wrote,

Oil is the past. Our future is green and renewable

and US Congressman (D-MA) Ed Markey,

Four dollar gas, climate change forecast, and Middle East morass.

Please feel free to check out the campaign at 10words.betterplace.com and make your own “minifesto.”

– Thank you very much Sydney for telling me about this.