Monthly Archives: November 2009

First Net-Zero Neighborhood in the US Being Built in Boulder

A new development in the north of Boulder, CO stands to be the first completely net-zero neighborhood in the US. Dubbed SpringLeaf Boulder, the project aims to bring net-zero homes “to the masses” by streamlining green technologies and driving down costs. The twelve homes are designed for LEED Platinum certification, will be fully powered by photovoltaic systems, and are very close to shops and restaurants, creating a little eco-community within Boulder.

With the SpringLeaf model home already completed and construction the other homes started, this exciting project looks like it will serve as a great example for future communities and neighborhoods. Built according to LEED standards in hopes of achieving Platinum certification, the interior is outfitted with non-toxic paints and furnishings, like recycled countertops and bamboo cabinets. A strong focus was placed on insulation to make the home more efficient, and smart design allowed builders to conserve resources by using less lumber. A geothermal heat pump system works to provide efficient heating and cooling and the entire home is electric, which is powered by the pv system, so there is no natural gas used whatsoever.
Located on Broadway and Poplar Ave in Northern Boulder, the 1.5 acre neighborhood is conveniently located across from a market, shops and restaurants and with easy access via bus to the rest of the city. Six townhomes border Broadway, while six single-family homes sit back behind around a communal park. All the homes will be orientated to the south and photovoltaic systems can installed on the roof, which will completely provide the homes with all the energy they need.
The townhomes will be about 2,800 sq ft, while the largest single family home will be about 4,000 sq ft. The model home was built at a cost of about $300 per square foot, but the developers estimate the rest of the homes will cost $200 per square foot. SpringLeaf Homes was designed by architect, George Watt and is being built by Silver Lining Builders

+ SpringLeaf Homes
Via Boulder Daily Camera

by Bridgette Meinhold, 11/30/09


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Who Says Greens Are Ignoring the Chinese Drywall Problem?

For once I agree with Trevor Butterworth of Stats, who asks “where is the outrage?” when it comes to the question of why people are not getting worked up about the issue of Chinese drywall emitting hydrogen sulfide gas. But then he quotes another “eco-logic” blogger who writes:

As to the usual fear entrepreneurial “green” groups such as NRDC, EWG, and US-PIRG, since there is no evil American corporation to blame this on–thus not fitting their Marxist tendencies–they are silent, even though real health effects are being experienced by real people. Here lie exposed the true colors of the Greens, along with their usually supportive chemophobic federal agencies.

Of course that isn’t true at all, Knauf is one of the world’s largest building materials manufacturers and is eminently sue-able in America and Europe. And we know from the asbestos and urea-formaldehyde days that these things get fixed without bailouts.

And we certainly haven’t been ignoring it, having been covering it since January. Trevor might want to read:
Toxic Drywall Rotting Houses, Sickening Occupants in Florida
Update: Toxic Drywall Could Be All Over The Place
Chinese Drywall Update: Mainstream Media Takes Notice
Thousands of Homeowners Sick from Toxic Chinese Drywall

In November the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report stating:

there was a strong association between the problem drywall, the hydrogen sulfide levels in homes with that drywall, and corrosion in those homes; (2) while hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde concentrations were associated with corrosion, hydrogen sulfide was an essential component.

Hydrogen sulfide is corrosive, and according to Wikipedia “is considered a broad-spectrum poison, meaning that it can poison several different systems in the body, although the nervous system is most affected.” In lower concentrations it “can result in eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, nausea, shortness of breath, and fluid in the lungs. These symptoms usually go away in a few weeks. Long-term, low-level exposure may result in fatigue, loss of appetite, headaches, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness.”

The CDC report concludes:

Based on the scientific findings of the studies completed to date, particularly the fifty-one home report released today, the Interagency Task Force can begin a new phase by developing (1) a protocol to identify homes with corrosive drywall and (2) a process to address the corrosive drywall and its effects. The Task Force’s work will serve as a foundation upon which informed decisions can be based by homeowners and local, state and federal authorities
Sounds like a plan. Sounds like a complicated issue at the early stages. Sounds like if we were jumping up and down more, Trevor would be complaining that we are letting our emotions get ahead of the science, before there is any real scientific data.

But for him for his blogger buddy to complain that we are not jumping up and down enough because we are Marxists is a bit silly.

By Lloyd Alter, Treehugger, November 30, 2009.

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LED Bulbs Save Substantial Energy, a Study Finds

Does the latest generation of energy-saving light bulbs save energy? A comprehensive study conducted by Osram, the German lighting company, provides evidence that they do.

While that may seem self-evident, until the release of the report on Monday the answer remained unclear.

That is because no one knew if the production of LED lamps required more energy than needed for standard incandescent bulbs. While it is indisputable that LEDs use a fraction of the electricity of a regular bulb to create the same amount of light, if more energy were used in the manufacturing and distribution process, then the lighting industry could be traveling down a technological dead end.

The study results show that over the entire life of the bulb — from manufacturing to disposal — the energy used for incandescent bulbs is almost five times that used for compact fluorescents and LED lamps.

The energy used during the manufacturing phase of all lamps is insignificant — less than 2 percent of the total. Given that both compact fluorescents and LEDs use about 20 percent of the electricity needed to create the same amount of light as a standard incandescent, both lighting technologies put incandescents to shame.

“We welcome these kinds of studies,” said Kaj den Daas, chief executive of Philips Lighting North America. The Osram study “provides facts where we often have only emotional evidence.” Philips recently became the first entrant in the Energy Department’s L Prize, a race to develop the first practical 60-watt LED equivalent to a standard light bulb.

To calculate what is know as a Life Cycle Assessment of LED lamps, Osram compared nearly every aspect of the manufacturing process, including the energy used in manufacturing the lamps in Asia and Europe, packaging them, and transporting them to Germany where they would be sold. It also looked at the emissions created in each stage, and calculated the effect of six different global warming indexes.

Those included the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by each process, the acid rain potential, eutrophication (excessive algae), photochemical ozone creation, the release of harmful chemical compounds, and the resultant scarcity of gas, coal, and oil.

Compact fluorescents also contain harmful mercury, which can pollute the soil when discarded.

In addition to the amount of electricity needed for each process, the energy used and the emissions created as a result, were also calculated. In China and Malaysia, where part of the LED production took place, that meant coal and natural gas respectively. In Germany, where the lamps would be sold, electricity is created from a mix of coal, nuclear and renewable sources.

The methodology followed the procedures set down in ISO 14040/44, an industry standard. The results were certified by three university professors in Denmark and Germany as adhering to the standard.

“The difference in energy use between incandescents, compact fluorescents and LEDs is definitely significant,” said Dr. Matthias Finkbeiner of Berlin’s Technical University and chairman of the study’s review committee. “The results are very stable.”

While 60-watt lamps are more popular light sources, they were not used in the study as Osram does not yet have a commercial version. The amount of energy used to illuminate 60-watt-type lamps would increase, but the increase would effect all types of lamps and therefore not change the relative results, according to Dr. Berit Wessler, head of innovations management at Osram Opto Semiconductors in Regensburg, Germany.

Dr. Wessler expects the results to shift even more in favor of LEDs, as newer generations of that technology become even more efficient, requiring less energy to produce the same amount of light.

“Everything I’ve seen strengthens the assumption that LED efficiency will increase,” she said. “There has not been much improvement in incandescent efficiency in the last 10 years.”

By Eric A. Taub, The New York Times, November 29, 2009.

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Distributed Hydropower for Military Use

Renewable energy has many benefits, but usually saving lives isn’t one of them. However, Hydrovolts turbines have the potential to do just that for the United States military.

Marine Corps Major General Richard Zilmer is based in Fallujah, Iraq, and has responsibility for dangerous Anbar province. He and his 30,000 troops generate electricity from diesel generators for cooking, refrigeration, communications, charging batteries and especially for cooling their tents in the 135-degree weather.

The fuel for these generators comes over land in long, snaking convoys of slow-moving and vulnerable tanker trucks. These convoys have been a repeated target of attack and, even with considerable security measures, are extremely vulnerable and very risky for all personnel involved. In an urgent 2006 memo to commanders at the Pentagon, Zilmer warned that US forces “will remain unnecessarily exposed” and will “continue to accrue preventable … serious and grave casualties” unless they were provided with “a self-sustainable energy solution.”

The problem is not new, and dates back at least to the US military effort to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990. A 2004 study by the Rocky Mountain Institute outlined how, “before the recent rise in oil prices, the U.S. Army spent some $200 million annually on fuel and paid personnel an estimated $3.2 billion to transport it. The Defense Energy Support Center reports that in 2005, the U.S. military spent around $8 billion on some 128 million barrels of fuel; in 2004, it spent $7 billion on 145 million barrels.” The cost of fuel is higher now than in 2004, and will almost certainly continue to climb.

In response, the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF) may soon solicit proposals from companies to supplement front line diesel generators with renewable-energy power stations using a mix of solar and wind power. Such an approach continues a growing interest in alternative energy sources by the Pentagon.

Projected costs for a hybrid solar/wind solution are high, as much as $100,000 compared to about $20,000 for a comparable Hydrovolts turbine. Wind and solar are also inherently variable and intermittent, and so still require a ready supply of diesel fuel and the risks that entails.

Notes Zilmer: “Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success.” A Hydrovolts turbine solution could provide electrical power in deployments near moving water without an expensive and dangerous supply chain and the mortal risk to soldiers and civilians it entails.Adds Al Shaffer, the executive director of the Pentagon’s Energy Security Task Force about efficiency from renewable energy: “We save money; we simplify our logistics supply line, which makes us a more effective fighting force; we free ourselves from dependence on oil controlled by our adversaries; and above all we save lives.” Weaning the military, however partially, from oil dependence also has strategic value long term.
November 27, 2009.

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First Fuel Cell Helicopter Completes F

The latest step in fuel cell flight has taken to the skies with the world’s first hydrogen helicopter flew for more than 20 minutes. The technology demonstrator developed by United Technologies Corp. features a proton exchange membrane fuel cell.

There’s one small catch — the helicopter has a rotor diameter of two meters. The remote control copter was designed to run on batteries. UTC modified it to use a fuel cell, and the flight was made entirely with hydrogen. Despite the diminutive size of the helo, Dr. David Parekh of UTC called it a significant step forward because of the unique challenges of helicopter flight.

“Achieving vertical flight represents a key milestone in fuel cell-powered flight as the power density requirements are much greater than for fixed wing aircraft,” he said.

We’ve seen several fuel cell-powered flights with full size, piloted aircraft, including one funded by Boeing. But as Parekh notes, power requirements for vertical flight are much than for fixed-wing craft. The fuel cell powered aircraft flown to date have more glider like wings, adding to their efficiency advantage.

A video on UTC’s website shows the small remote-controlled helicopter during its first flight last month (UTC didn’t announce the flight until this week). The company says the maximum power was 1.75 kilowatts. For comparison, the Antares fuel cell aircraft only requires 10kW and is piloted by a person. Energy density from the power system exceeded 500 W/kg, exceeding the energy density of a typical lithium ion battery setup.

The company plans longer flights in the near future, but there are no plans yet for a manned hydrogen fuel cell helicopter.

By Jason haur,, November 25, 2009.

Photo: United Technologies Corporation

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Measuring Environmental Performance of Green Buildings

Selecting building products based on minimum life cycle economic impacts is relatively straightforward. Products have been bought and sold in the marketplace, which has established their first cost, and sound analytical procedures to quantify life cycle cost have been developed and employed for over 20 years. In addition to initial cost, future costs that contribute to life cycle cost include the cost of energy, operation and maintenance, labor and supplies, replacement parts, and eventually the cost of decommissioning or recycling the system.

Environmental performance can be quantified using the evolving, multi-disciplinary approach known as environmental life cycle assessment (LCA). Environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) is a “cradle-to-grave” systems approach for measuring environmental performance. It is based on the belief that all stages in the life of a product generate environmental impacts and must therefore be analyzed. The stages include:

Raw materials acquisition
Product manufacture
Operation and maintenance
Recycling and waste management

An analysis that excludes any of these stages is limited because it ignores the full range of upstream and downstream impacts of stage-specific processes.

The strength of environmental life cycle assessment is its comprehensive, multi-dimensional scope. Many sustainable building claims and strategies are now based on a single life cycle stage or a single environmental impact. A product is claimed to be “green” simply because it has recycled content, or accused of not being green because it emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during its installation and use. These single-attribute claims may be misleading because they ignore the possibility that other life cycle stages, or other environmental impacts, may yield offsetting effects.

For example, the recycled content product may have a high embodied energy content, leading to resource depletion, global warming, and acid rain impacts during the raw materials acquisition, manufacturing, and transportation life cycle stages. LCA thus broadens the environmental discussion by accounting for shifts of environmental problems from one life cycle stage to another, or one environmental medium (land, air, or water) to another. The benefit of the LCA approach is in implementing a trade-off analysis to achieve a genuine reduction in overall environmental impact, rather than a simple shift of impact.

Excerpted from Green Building: Project Planning & Cost Estimating, 2nd Ed. The new 2nd edition has been completely updated with the latest in green building technologies, design concepts, standards, and costs. Includes Means’ Green Building CostWorks CD at no additional cost. A Unique Cost Reference for Architects, Engineers, Contractors, & Building Owners/Managers.

RS Means, November 25, 2009.

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Top 10 Green Tourist Destinations

In need of somewhere to travel for New Years? Want to start planning your summer vacation? Now in it’s fifth year, National Geographic Traveler magazine has choosing the top green destinations in the world to a science. Many of the locations were chosen for their relative isolation (and thus minimal human impact), while others were major metropolitan areas that have managed to implement a successful environmental protection and preservation plan for their city, despite a growing population and pollution.

Without further delay, here are the top 10 tourists destinations chosen by National Geographic Traveler. Time to pack your passport and your boots, or is it your bikini? Read on to find out which.

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