Mercury Rising 鳯女

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Archive for the ‘sustainability’ Category

Good News From The Biomass Front

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 6, 2010

The Kreidermachers show how it’s done.

From the Sustainability page on their website:

Everything grown onsite – our family grows everything on the farm starting from seeds or small cuttings of plants, so there is no trucking of finished plants before you purchase them in our retail greenhouse. We have a special production greenhouse with open roof vents (below), so we don’t need to run fans to cool the greenhouse and plants get direct sun making them adapt faster when you take them home.

Water conservation – for several decades we’ve watered all the plants thru “ebb and flow” benching (below), which means we pump water into the bench, let the plants soak up the water and then drain the remainder back into a tub at the end of the bench to save for the next watering. Besides saving a lot of water, the plants stay healthier since the foliage isn’t getting wet (and susceptible to disease). For nearly the past decade, we’ve taken the next step by collecting rain water onsite and using it to water the plants. We also have rain collection barrels for customers to use at home.

Heating thru renewable energy sources – as everyone is concerned about the increasing cost of gas for their cars/trucks, we’ve been seeing even sharper increases in natural gas prices for heating the greenhouses over the past decade. Eric and Paul have changed the greenhouse heating to bio-mass boilers (above) and currently working on making our own pellets from native prairie grasses, corn stover, etc., which are better renewable energy sources. See Alternative Energy Solutions, LLC for more.

Natural liquid Daniels Fertilizer – everyone comments on how healthy our plants look. We credit some of that to the fact that for more than ten years we have used a liquid fertilizer that is much “friendlier” to plants. It’s a natural fertilizer, made from soybean extract, and thereby doesn’t burn the plant’s roots if it’s stressed. We also sell the Daniels Fertilizer in the retail for use at home.

Soil Mix made with renewable resources – we’ve been working for years to get the right mix of components to grow in, and in the past few years we’ve been primarily looking at alternatives to peat moss. Our soil mix (pictured below) is now primarily made with Coir (Coconut fiber) and Rice hulls. We also make a soil mix especially formulated for container gardening that can be purchased in our retail.

Organic pest & disease control – We don’t like having to spray chemicals anymore than our customers, so we’ve been experimenting with beneficial bugs and compost teas. We still need to do more work to understand how it all works, but so far it seems to be looking very promising. Customers are always asking for “safer” means of treating bugs and fungus on their plants at home. We have the best organic products on the market.

Bio-degradable pots & baskets – for a number of years we’ve used fiber hanging baskets and perennial pots, as well as Rice hull pots for the annuals. Both the fiber and rice hull pots will break down in a compost pile or landfill within 2-3 years, but unfortunately they don’t break down fast enough to leave the plants in them when you plant in the ground. Our goal, beyond getting rid of the use of plastics, is to find a pot that you can just put in the ground with your plant still in it and the roots will go right thru the pot. We’re getting closer this year with a new pot (pictured below) for the vegetables that has slits for the roots to grow right thru.

We’re never done searching for ways to improve the way we grow or “greener” ways to do it. We’ll be sure to keep updating on what we’re doing.

Posted in energy, environment, family values, farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, global warming, Good Causes, Good Things, Minnesota, sustainability | 3 Comments »

More Like This, Please

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 3, 2010

Just think if the money we spent on the Forever Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were spent on this (h/t twolf1):

In this week’s address, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Energy is awarding nearly $2 billion in conditional commitments from the Recovery Act to two solar companies. Abengoa Solar has agreed to build one of the largest solar plants in the world in Arizona, which will create about 1,600 construction jobs with over 70 percent of the construction components and products manufactured here in the USA. When completed, this plant will provide enough clean energy to power 70,000 homes. And, Abound Solar Manufacturing is building two new plants, one in Colorado and one in Indiana. These projects will create more than 2,000 construction jobs, and over 1,500 permanent jobs as the plants produce millions of state of the art solar panels each year.

The cost of silicon, a prime component in solar panels, has plummeted recently as more of it hits the market. There is actually a chance that energy generated from conventional solar panels could achieve cost parity with coal in the next five years.

Posted in energy, environment, solar, sustainability | 3 Comments »

US CO2 Emissions Dropped In 2008 And 2009

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 7, 2010

The good news: US CO2 emissions dropped for two years in a row, and the second year’s drop was steeper than the first.

The better news: Only about a third of that drop was due to the world economic downturn.

The other causes: The rise in clean energy production, low natural gas prices encouraging use of that cleaner-burning fuel over oil or coal, improvements in energy efficiency, state renewable standards, and encouragement of clean energy in President Obama’s stimulus package.

The more we use clean energy and improve energy efficiency, the easier it will be to save humanity.

Posted in energy, environment, global warming, Good Things, saving the earth, sustainability | Comments Off on US CO2 Emissions Dropped In 2008 And 2009

Solar Power In Haiti

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 15, 2010

One silver lining of the earthquake is that it may be what gets Haitians to move away from burning increasingly-expensive wood and coal for power and cooking fuel:

Solar setups are quick to install, mobile, and relatively inexpensive compared to the price of rebuilding a damaged electricity grid. They can also be incredibly robust. Alan Doyle, a science editor at MSNBC, recently wrote that a single solar water purification system, recovered from the rubble by the Red Cross, is now purifying 30,000 gallons (over 110,000 liters) of water a day.

Sol Inc, a US-based solar street lighting company, has sent a first shipment of lights for roadways, food distribution, and triage sites. This may sound mundane, until you imagine trying to perform street-side surgery or find family members in the dark. The LED lights can also withstand hurricane force winds – no small thing in a country that has also recently been hit by tropical cyclones. Sol Inc has promised to match donations for people wanting to contribute to the program.

Communications are another crucial need being met by solar. China’s ZTE corporation has donated 1,500 solar cellphones and 300 digital trunking base stations. The same technology was used in China when an earthquake hit the Sichuan Province in May of 2008. A similar project is being set up by a group from Holland.

My favorite among all these groups is the Sun Ovens company, if for no other reason than it provides a cheap and low-tech way for poor Haitians to cook their food. Sun Ovens are llittle more than cleverly-folded shiny pieces of metal.

Posted in Good Things, Haiti, saving the earth, solar, sustainability | 4 Comments »

Solar Roadways: Paving The Way To Energy Freedom?

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 27, 2009

Remember when I mentioned the Solar Roadways concept? Imagine — instead of giving up giant sections of our countryside to solar arrays, we could make solar arrays out of already-paved land, namely roads.

It’s getting closer to reality:

Solar Roadways today announced that it has been awarded a DOT contract that will enable them to prototype the first ever Solar Road Panel.

The Solar Roadways will collect solar energy to power businesses and homes via structurally-engineered solar panels that are driven upon, to be placed in parking lots and roadways in lieu of petroleum-based asphalt surfaces.

The Solar Road Panels will contain embedded LEDs which “paint” the road lines from beneath to provide safer nighttime driving, as well as to give up to the minute instructions (via the road) to drivers (i.e. “detour ahead”). The road will be able to sense wildlife on the road and can warn drivers to “slow down”. There will also be embedded heating elements in the surface to prevent snow and ice buildup, providing for safer winter driving. This feature packed system will become an intelligent highway that will double as a secure, intelligent, decentralized, self-healing power grid which will enable a gradual weaning from fossil fuels.

Replacing asphalt roads and parking lots with Solar Roadway panels will be a major step toward halting climate change. Fully electric vehicles will be able to recharge along the roadway and in parking lots, finally making electric cars practical for long trips.

It is estimated that is will take roughly five billion (a stimulus package in itself) 12′ by 12′ Solar Road Panels to cover the asphalt surfaces in the U.S. alone, allowing us to produce three times more power than we’ve ever used as a nation – almost enough to power the entire world.

This is just so fabulous I can hardly wrap my mind around it.

Posted in economy, energy, environment, solar, sustainability, transportation | 8 Comments »

The Most Important Stimulus Money?

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 29, 2009

There’s a very good case to be made for the stimulus dough the Department of Energy is about to dish out:

One of the hottest cleantech funding programs created as part of the stimulus package is close to producing some of its first winners. When we spoke with the Department of Energy back in May about the $2.4 billion in grants for advanced battery manufacturing for plug-in vehicles, we learned that the agency planned to notify awardees sometime in July — as in by the end of this week — and dole out the grants by September. While DOE Deputy Secretary Jen Stutsman told us at the time that delays were a possibility, depending on the number and completeness of applications, she confirmed with us this week that the agency “will be making all of the announcements soon.”

More than 100 companies have lined up for the so-called Electric Drive Battery and Component Manufacturing Initiative’s $2.4 billion, which is set to be divided into just 32 to 35 or so grants in seven different categories. The bulk of the money — $1.2 billion — will go toward manufacturing facilities for battery cells and packs, with grants of $100 million to $150 million supporting seven to eight projects.

This is the big bottleneck for realistic (and affordable) electric cars with a range beyond that of a typical daily commute.  Furthermore, improved battery storage is a way to take some strain off the grid.

Posted in automobiles, economy, energy, environment, industry, infrastructure, sustainability | Comments Off on The Most Important Stimulus Money?

“Don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised.”

Posted by Charles II on May 14, 2009

Michael Pollan did an interesting segment on food on DemocracyNow. It dispensed some excellent advice, and I even found something very interesting on the way to trying to (and failing to) debunk one of his claims.

It was a wide-ranging discussion covering Chinese purchases of land in Africa (and their domestic agricultural problems) to the role of food in illness. He related how the pesticide industry was wroth over Michelle Obama’s announcement that she was planting an organic garden, treating it as disparagement and encouraging her to use their “crop protective products.”

Pollan said that he had discovered that the food industry had taken to running their marketing campaigns based on the health warnings he issued. So, for example, his admonition to avoid high-fructose corn syrup because it’s a marker of highly processed foods was twisted into health claims for soft drinks using sugar! I admit to admiring any marketing person audacious enough to develop verbal jujitsu that subtle, but what is brilliant can also be against our national interest.

Pollan’s simple advice was to avoid processed foods, don’t eat too much, and eat mostly plants, which is probably as close to ideal dietary advice as one can achieve in 25 words or less. He also made an interesting claim linking sugar with type II diabetes. While that’s an old hypothesis, in the course of trying to show that this is more of a correlation-causation thing, I discovered fascinating evidence that it’s not, sugar itself is a real, primary risk factor:

Novel findings suggest that “what makes a beta-cell a beta-cell”, i.e., its enormous capacity to synthesize and secrete insulin, is also its Achilles heel, rendering it vulnerable to chronic high glucose and fatty acid exposure, agents that contribute to beta-cell failure in type 2 diabetes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in health issues, sustainability | 4 Comments »

Purrrrrr…

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 12, 2009

Because this beastie doesn’t vrooooom.

Posted in saving the earth, sustainability, transportation, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

UPS Does It By Bike (In Oregon And Hawaii, Anyway)

Posted by Phoenix Woman on March 28, 2009


UPS Delivery By Bike! Salem, Oregon from nwduffer on Vimeo.

UPS trucks typically deliver between one hundred and one hundred fifty packages per day. When the United Parcel Service started its holiday-season bike-delivery program in New Hampshire, Maine, California, Washington, Oregon, and Tennessee a few months ago (after a pilot run in New Hampshire and Maine in 2007), they expected that each rider would deliver between twenty-five and fifty packages. However, at least one rider in the Salem, Oregon area, Tina Brubaker, got nearly sixty packages delivered on her first day and can do nearly a hundred on a good day. A UPS truck drops off packages at her garage, which serves as a mini-hub where she goes to pick up more packages (and to change into dry clothes if it’s been raining, as it tends to do in Portland in the winter). Seems to be a pretty efficient system!

UPS also tried it in Hawaii, using bikes to deliver packages to three military bases on Oahu. UPS delivery person Tyrone Bellamy finds he can make seventy-five stops a day, which approaches the number of stops a truck can make at a fraction of the cost. (He’s also lost several pants sizes in the bargain, becoming quite trim and fit.)

I suspect that deliveries by bike would work well in high-density downtown areas, where truck parking is often problematic. My main concern is that the bike trailer should have a topper that can be locked down so as to make its contents less tempting to thieves.

Posted in bicycling, environment, Good Things, sustainability | 4 Comments »

Solar Energy Gets A Break

Posted by Phoenix Woman on February 21, 2009

Your good news tidbit for today: The price of silicon is dropping thanks to a growing number of factories making it – which means that the people making conventional solar photovoltaic cells have been given a tremendous break just when they really need it.

Posted in energy, environment, Good Things, solar, sustainability | 2 Comments »