Eco-news you can use for September, 2009

PE - Green News 9-2009 - FL Steve Rhodes newspapers curbside
Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes at

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture. A lot of exciting things are going on right now, with greentech leading the way.

A company in Salt Lake City is developing a new type of deep storage battery. When used along with solar panels, backyard wind turbines, or biofuel microturbines, these could be a key component in a decentralized power grid.

There’s a pilot project in Boulder Colorado that could be the shape of things to come. It combines smart meters with some other neat tricks. The result is a power grid that gets more usefulness with less emissions. This type of system may be deployed nationwide in the near future:

The stimulus package includes $11 billion toward modernizing the electric grid, including the development of renewable energy.

While scientists and entrepreneurs are working on building a more efficient and green power grid, other research is showing surprising side effects from pollution. A small study in New York found a solid link between exposure to prenatal pollution and child development. This study is likely to strengthen the voices of people living in communities downwind of smokestacks or downriver of factories.

Advocates for environmental justice are also raising concerns about emissions from shipping. When cargo ships operate in international waters, they often burn some of the dirtiest fuels available. Many ships currently burn bunker oil; a low-grade fuel that is more like tar than the gasoline found at a corner gas station.

If these emissions are covered by an international carbon tax, there will be a huge incentive for shipping companies to use cleaner fuels. Already, many countries regulate emissions around their port cities, and the shipping lines switch to cleaner, more expensive fuels near shore. Because of this, most ships already have the capability to burn cleaner fuels, yet they choose to use cheap fuels that have dangerous emissions.

In the near future, the ocean may be the source of clean burning fuels. Exxon has made its first big investment in algae derived fuels, and the potential market for these 2nd generation biofuels is huge. Of course, that market could collapse if the oceans boil away first.

There are several major engineering proposals on how to combat climate change. These so-called “geo-engineering” projects include some pretty crazy ideas, such as putting mirrors in orbit to deflect sunlight or covering glaciers with insulation. A recently proposed idea is to stimulate algae growth in the North Sea. Transforming the North Sea into a huge carbon sink would have about as much effect as replanting all of the rainforest in Brazil, with the added benefit of stimulating devastated fish hatcheries. The side effects of massive engineering projects like this are largely unknown though, and that’s a major cause for concern.

Finally – here’s an interesting article about clam shell packages. It includes tips for safely opening these tricky containers (try a can opener) and a discussion about the environmental impact of heavy plastic packaging. By 2012, it’s estimated that roughly 1.1 billion pounds of resin will be trashed from these clamshells alone. As a result, there’s increasing interest in biodegradeable packaging that can also provide security for its contents.

Photo courtesy of Derek K. Miller, at