How to plant a victory garden

victory-garden-sunfell-fl
Photo courtesy of Sunfell at Flickr.com.

Everything old is new again. This is doubly true for trends that never went completely out of fashion, like vinyl records and Victory Gardens. Originally conceived during World War I as a way to ensure food supplies for troops, these community gardens took off in a big way during the second World War. By 1944, up to 40% of the vegetables on American tables came from a Victory Garden.

Now, with the rising price of staple foods, increasing awareness of the environmental cost of industrial farming, and increased interest in self sufficiency and independence, Victory Gardens are making a serious comeback. The Smithsonian Institute has a new exhibit on Victory Gardens, and vegetable rows are replacing ornamental bushes nationwide.

Modern-day Victory Gardens look a little different – gardeners are now blogging about their successes and even using Twitter to send gardening updates!

Success with Victory Gardens is snowballing into more awareness of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Urban food pantries are stocking up with fresh fruit gleaned from “ornamental” trees. Believe it or not, some HOA’s are embracing community gardens. There’s even a campaign to start a Victory Garden on the White House lawn:

Benefits of a victory garden:

  • Cut grocery bills
  • Gain access to fresher food
  • Boost vitamins in your diet
  • Increase the health of your soil
  • Insure against food shortages
  • Reduce exposure to pesticides and other chemicals
  • Avoid disease (or ensure access to your favorite veggies if an outbreak occurs)
  • Preserve oil supplies / reduce dependence on foreign oil
  • Grow produce for sale or gifts

So, let’s say that you’ve been bitten by the Victory Gardening bug. Where to begin?

It can be a bit daunting to start your first Victory Garden. There’s a lot to learn about soil, planting seasons, and local weather conditions. Hit the books! The library is a good place to start – a little bit of research can go a long way in getting the best results. As the old saying goes, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of perspiration. Your state’s Extension Office can also be a good source of information and expert advice.

Try looking for help from your neighbors – local gardening clubs often know the best times to plant and which species do best in your area. Find a local Gardening MeetUp, and you’ll find a pool of knowledge and maybe even people willing to lend you seeds or cuttings from their favorite plants. No matter which plants you choose, PBS is a great resource for beginner gardeners.

In the past, Victory Gardens were all laid out from a universal template. That didn’t work out very well for people who tried to grow the same plants in California as they did in Maine and Florida. Instead of a cookie cutter layout, you should tailor your garden to local conditions. Work with your climate to choose the best plants. For example, even if you love rice, it may not make sense to grow rice if you live in the middle of the desert.

We’ve learned a lot in the last 50 years, and it’s easier to start a vegetable garden in your yard than ever before. Incorporate this knowledge in the layout and composition of your victory garden, and you can achieve amazing results. Our grandparents didn’t have much practical experience on designing to minimize erosion or using cover crops that naturally fertilize the soil, but there’s a wealth of useful information on these techniques. Here are some other research topics that you might want to consider:

Even if you have limited space or no yard, Victory Gardens can be grown in containers and indoor planters. Hanging planters can turn any patio or balcony into a vertical garden.

If you don’t have a patio, many plants will thrive in window planters or grow boxes. There are also light boxes and grow lights that can turn the deepest, darkest basement into an oasis of life. Indoor plants not only make rooms beautiful – they also can help reduce sick building syndrome by providing fresh air and absorbing indoor pollutants.

Not a gardener? No problem. There are entrepreneurs eager to turn other people’s yards into gardens. Also, there are other steps you can take to promote food safety and sustainability.

victory-garden-mentalmasala-fl
Photo courtesy of mental.masala at Flickr.com.

The most fuel efficient 2009 cars on the road: automobiles with the best gas mileage


Photo courtesy of cshontz at Flickr.com.

The price of gas is down sharply from it’s peak around $4 a gallon, but the spike in gas prices has left a lasting impact on the way that many consumers feel about fuel efficiency. Manufacturers are responding to this increased demand for fuel efficient vehicles with several new gas-sipping cars.

Here’s a quick rundown on what’s available today: (the first number is the estimated mileage on city streets, the second is the estimated highway mpg)

2009 Toyota Prius: 48/45
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid: 40/45
2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid: 35/33
2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid: 34/32
2009 Ford Escape Hybrid: 34/30
2009 Mazda Tribute 2WD Hybrid: 34/30
2009 Mercury Mariner 2WD Hybrid: 34/30
2009 Smart Fortwo Coupe: 33/41
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Hatchback: 30/41
2009 Toyota Yaris: 29/36
2009 MINI Cooper Clubman: 28/37
2009 Honda Fit: 28/34
2009 Toyota Corolla: 27/35
2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 27/25
2009 Lexus RX 400h: 27/24
2009 Honda Civic: 26/34
2009 Nissan Versa: 26/31
2009 Saturn Vue Greenline: 25/32
2009 Ford Focus: 24/35
2009 Chevrolet Aveo: 24/34
2009 Chevy Malibu Hybrid: 24/32
2009 Saturn Aura Green Line: 24/32
2009 MercedesBenz E320 Bluetec: 23/32
2009 Audi TT: 23/31
2009 Audi A4: 23/30
2009 Chevy Malibu: 22/30
2009 Nissan Rogue: 22/27
2009 Lexus GS 450h: 22/25
2009 Subaru Impreza: 20/27
2009 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid 2WD: 20/22

Trading in a car with terrible gas mileage can make a much bigger difference than upgrading a fuel efficient car for a super-efficient car. The most efficient car on this list (the 2009 Prius) will emit approximately 4.0 tons of Carbon Dioxide in a typical year. That’s less than half as much as the Hybrid Chevy Tahoe, which emits about 8.7 tons of CO2 every year.

There are a lot of hybrids on this list, so here are the top 10 models traded in for a hybrid. Many of those cars have better fuel efficiency than other vehicles on the road, and may be available for cheap at a used car lot.


Photo courtesy of marshalltownpublic library at Flickr.com.

Overview of 2009 model hybrid cars

Unless you have been living on Pluto for the past five years, you will know that hybrid cars are the biggest innovation in mainstream automotive development in the United States since the Model T Ford. A “hybrid” is a vehicle that has both an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors that operate (in unison and/or independently) to propel the vehicle.

Americans are migrating to hybrids in impressive numbers. In light of the economic slowdown, it is expected that purchases of 2009 hybrid cars will be brisk, even more so than in 2008. That’s good for commuters, the planet and the automakers that have gone the hybrid route.

Hybrids are the first mainstream move by the automotive companies to lessen the reliance of auto consumers on the old gas-driven varieties, which are high in harmful emissions and also represent a heavy reliance by the United States on foreign oil.

As the term suggests, a hybrid is a combination, a compromise. Hybrid cars seek to significantly increase the mileage potential and reduce the emissions of a gas-powered car while overcoming the shortcomings of an electric car.  To be useful to a significant proportion of users, cars must meet certain minimum requirements.
•    Go at least 300 miles before re-fueling
•    Be refueled quickly and easily
•    Keep up with the other traffic on the road
Sure, a gasoline car meets all these requirements but, as we all know, they produce a relatively large amount of pollution and get rather poor gas mileage. Electric cars are practically pollution-free, but they get only 50 to 100 miles between charges. Recharging (refueling) an electric car is a notoriously slow overnight process.

Enter the hybrid car. Automakers have succeeded in combining gas and electric elements in the same drivetrain to combine the benefits of both, and reduce the negatives of each type of locomotion.

Here is a round-up (in alphabetical order) of the 2009 model hybrid cars available in the United States. Take your pick!

Taking a look at these vehicles, it’s pretty clear why the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry and Honda Civic hybrids are the most popular hybrid automobiles by far. It’s the gas mileage, stupid!

Many of the other hybrid manufacturers don’t seem to get it, and keep cranking out hybrid after hybrid with mediocre gas mileage. Is it any wonder that no one wants to buy a car that is more expensive and more technologically complex when it doesn’t even provide a substantial increase in gas mileage?

One last point. You’ll probably notice what seems like very low numbers for hybrids like the Chevy Tahoe. Increases from a very low number to something reasonable actually end up saving large amounts of gasoline overall though. Read why here.

CADILLAC

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid SUV

Some say the sheer size, features and options connected to the 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid somewhat negates its gas/2 electric motor hybrid benefits. But that’s probably nit-picking. This is the only hybrid option on the market in the large luxury-SUV segment, so it definitely meets a need. 2008 sales proved it. This vehicle brings limited carbon footprint and fuel economy to the world of large Sports Utilities. It brags everything that opens and shuts, from Bluetooth to cup holder, and a lot of (pricey) optional extras too. The cabin is gorgeous, the ride dreamy, and it accommodates eight passengers easily. The 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is available in 2WD and 4WD.

Gas mileage: 2WD: 20 mpg City / 21 mpg Hwy, 4WD: Untested

Emissions: No data. You be the judge. This is a 5,900-pound SUV……

Cadillac webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

CHEVROLET

2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Here is GM’s answer to the Toyota Prius, which leads the way in mid-size hybrid sedans.  Power in the Chevy Malibu hybrid is generated by the GM Hybrid Propulsion Electric System, combined with the ECOTEC 2.4L 4-cylinder hybrid engine. Critics say the mileage it gets is not much more than the gasoline version but auto buyers really like its styling and the fact that low emission reduce the carbon footprint. It’s affordable and at least now there is a hybrid Chevy sedan out there….even if Bluetooth doesn’t come as standard! GM has done a lot to make an attractive family/commuter car, and this translated into brisk sales in 2007/8, with further refinements in the 2009 edition. The 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid is an automatic, 4-speed FWD family car with with overdrive.

Gas mileage: 26 mpg City / 34 mpg Hwy

Emissions: PZEV

GM webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

This is a no-frills hybrid SUV (the frills come as optional extras and for those you will have to pay dearly). It’s a nicely styled 4-door vehicle with a comfortable interior seating eight. The Chevy Tahoe hybrid  powered by a 6.0L 8 cylinder gas/electric drivetrain, offering solid capability and efficiency. It’s a basic automatic 4 Speed with overdrive. You can get it in 4WD or 2WD. Chevy’s hybrid SUV has not exactly taken the market by storm, but at least Chev now has a hybrid SUV option.

Gas mileage: 21 mpg / 22 mpg
Emissions: No data

GM webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

CHRYSLER

2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid SUV

Fans are saying this Hemi-powered vehicle 5.7 liter SUV is an incredible vehicle with bundles of built-in features. Definitely a huge improvement on the 2008 model, they say. The new hybrid offers Hemi V8 power with V6-like fuel efficency. Unfortunately, all that hybrid hardware pushes the Aspen’s price up by $3,000 over the similarly equipped non-hybrid model. But the naysayers are saying that this is a rough diamond, that there are better, quicker HEV (hybrid electric vehicle) SUV’s out there with more for less……unless you need to tow a boat, in which case this is the perfect workhorse.

Mileage: 19 mpg / 20 mpg

Emissions: No data

Chrysler webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds


DODGE

2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid SUV

The 2009 Durango Hybrid is anything an SUV-lover wants it to be. It’s big on comfort and features,and delivered on the HEV promise. The two-mode system integrates a hybrid-electric drive system – which reduces fuel consumption dramatically when town driving – with the brute power of a 5.7L Hemi V8 for towing and highway driving. It’s a pretty-to-look-at, comfortable 4 door,  and fun to drive,  with the vehicle switching between electric motor and Hemi mode seamlessly. When you need the power (pulling a trailer, driving steep gradients, passing other cars) it’s there, and when you need to cruise and save fuel it switches over to the electric motor undetected. It gives a whole new meaning to “automatic”.

Mileage: 19 mpg / 20 mpg

Emissions:
No data

Dodge webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

FORD

2009 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV

Ford was the first to combine SUV flexibility with outstanding fuel economy and limited carbon footprint of a full hybrid. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV meets the strick Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV II) and Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV is a 4 cylinder, 2.5 Liter automatic, CVT, available in 2WD and 4WD. It has a highly competitively-priced Base option (no frills) or a Limited option (with frills). There is terrific range of optional features available, ranging from Sirius Satellite radio to a voice-activated navigation system. Ford has really put itself out to set the benchmark against which toerh hybrid SUV makers should aspire.

Mileage: 34 mpg city / 31 mpg highway

Emissions:
No data

Ford webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

GMC

2009 GMC Yukon Hybrid SUV

An earthy-looki V8, 6.0 Liter Hybrid from GMC, available in RWD and 4WD. The GMC Yukon Hybrid SUV is not going to win any beauty competitions and it comes with quite a hefty price sticker too. But this is a powerful, no-nonsense machine without pretentions. It seats eight passengers and combines considerable fuel economy with the towing capacity of a traditional SUV. Please note thought that critics are saying folks would be better served by any of GM’s full-size crossovers that are nearly as efficient and much less pricey.

Mileage: 21 mpg City / 22 mpg Hwy

Emissions: No data

GMC webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

HONDA

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan

Here is Honda’s answer to the Toyota Prius, the leading commuter sedan on the US market today. It does not offer the lowest price in the range (far from it)  but the features are good and it really is an effective 1.3 Liter, 4 cylinder, FWD hybrid. The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid employs a small gasoline engine assisted by an electric motor that can, under certain low-speed situations, become the car’s sole powerplant. It certainly delivers extremely frugal city and highway fuel economy compared to its gasoline counterpart, while producing minimal greenhouse emissions. Unlike the Toyota Prius, which assumes a functional but futuristic appearance, the Civic Hybrid closely mirrors the popular Civic Sedan, with only a couple of minor exterior and interior variations that differentiate the two cars.

Mileage: 40 mpg city / 45 mpg highway

Emissions: No data

Honda webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

LEXUS

2009 Lexus GS 450h
Lexus has done everything its power to bring luxury to the midsize hybrid sedan market. Motorists rave about the 2009 Lexus GS 450h, because they can forget they are in a hybrid. This model offers power, comfort and the knowledge that it is helping the environment to drive it. One minor anomaly is that it takes premium gas, but the positives evidently outweigh the negatives here. It’s a 4 door, RWD vehicle powered by a V6 motor (3.5 L). The hybrid delivers 292 HP. It is manufactured and assembled in Japan.

Mileage: 22 mpg city, 25 mpg hwy

Emissions: No data

Lexus webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

2009 Lexus LS 600h

Japan has done it with the 2009 Lexus LS 600h – produced a luxury hybrid that rides as well as the best comparable Beemers and Mercs. This is a step up on the other 2009 Lexus hybrid, namely the GS 450h, because it offers masses more power and an 8 speed gearbox with overdrive. Power is the watchword here, with V8, 5.0 L engine coming and standard. It costs a pretty penny, but then the value is extraordinary. This is my choice for a large car test drive in the hybrid market.

Mileage: 20 mpg city / 22 mpg highway

Emissions: No data

Lexus webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

MAZDA

2009 Mazda Tribute Hybrid SUV

Mazda has put all its hybrid eggs into this neat SUV with four variations: Touring AWD and FWD, and Grand Touring AWD and FWD. In true Mazda style this appears to be reliable, decent vehicle with all the important specs. very practical and bound to make many folk happy. It has a competitive price tag and neutral good looks. It boasts a 2.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid drivetrain and great color options in organic green, blue, gray and silver. Technically speaking, hybrid-wise, it is simple and innovative: The Tribute HEV, with the modified MZR gasoline engine, has been optimized to run on the Atkinson combustion cycle. The Atkinson cycle modifies the timing of the closing of the valves,  letting the engine realize more efficiency. At the time of writing the 2009 Mazda Tribute Hybrid SUV had just had a limited launch in California — just 300 off the production line. Kelley Blue Book had not even listed it yet. The jury is still out on performance and impact, but this hybrid vehicle is undoubtedly long on great looks, specs and pedigree.

Mileage: 31 mpg city, 34 mpg hwy

Emissions: No Data

Mazda webpage

Edmunds

MERCURY

2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV
Mercury has made its mark with this vehicle in the crowded hybrid SUV market and has introduced a number of new features in 2009.  With an additional 24 hp, the 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid does an excellent impression of a lively conventionally powered compact SUV with superb gas mileage. The new braking system gets mixed reviews, as does the relatively ponderous handling capabilities. And it’s also a pricey hybrid SUV option. But no one can argue with Mercury fans who would not dream of getting any other hybrid SUV. The 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV is available in 4WD and 2WD.

Mileage: 34 mpg city, 31 mpg hwy

Emissions: No data

Mercury webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

NISSAN

2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid Sedan

Nissan has leapt into the market for midsize hybrid cars with this neat, well-priced vehicle that is short on frills but high on performance. The huge drawback of this car is that it is available in only eight states — those that have adopted California’s stringent emission standards.  The Nissan Altima hybrid is bound to sell well where it can be bought.  It’s not the most exquisite car around, but this 4WD car is perfect if you are a commuter who is serious about saving the planet, not spending a fortune on a runabout and yet you want spaciousness and power. The 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid Sedan features the 2.5L 4cyl gas/electric
hybrid CVT common to several vehicles in this hybrid class. Nissan opted to use Toyota’s hybrid technology for the Altima.

Mileage: 35 mpg city, 33 mpg hway

Emissions: No data

Nissan webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

SATURN

2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid Sedan

This is Saturn’s great-looking midsize hybrid car model, yielding good mileage from a optimal 4 cylinder, 2.4 Liter drivetrain. Saturn was late to enter the hybrid sedan market. At the time of writing Edmunds did not yet have specs available on the Aura, let alone a review, and availability was limited. The power plant is a  pretty standard GM type, with a 4 cylinder, 2.4 Liter power plant delivering 164 HP. But the attention to detail and Saturn’s distinctive emphasis on driver comfort and convenience makes this a real contender.The 2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid Sedan, with its reasonable price tag, is set to give popular midsize hybrids from Toyota, Chev, Honda  and Lexus a run for their money.

Mileage: 26 mpg City / 34 mpg Hwy

Emissions: No data

Saturn webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

2009 Saturn VUE Hybrid SUV
As is usual for the Saturn marque, GM includes nearly all options on the hybrid model including sunroof and leather seats. This is a super-looking car and a comfortable ride. It plugs right into the American SUV psyche and delivers on its promises. Power from the 2.4L 4 cylinder engine is fine for everyday driving and results in excellent gas mileage you would expect of a successful hybrid SUV. The agressive styling including 17″ chrome alloy rims and great lines. The styling inside is sharp too. It’s too soon to say (it was first launched in 2008) whether this model is going to capture a significant share of the hybrid SUV market.

Mileage: 25 mpg / 32 mpg

Emissions: No data

Saturn webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

TOYOTA

2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid Sedan

The 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s compelling duo of superior fuel economy and comfortable sedan attributes makes it a top choice for a midsize hybrid car.  This is arguably the most fuel-efficient family sedan available, with a roomy interior and stronger acceleration than most regular four-cylinder sedans. This is a successful hybrid configuration: FWD, 4 cylinder, 2.4 Liter, Automatic, CVT. The 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid sees no major changes from 2008 model. Beyond its powertrain and the eerie quiet that goes with its electric operation, the hybrid is virtually indistinguishable from a regular Camry. Actually the eerie quiet referred to here some drivers actually find disturbing. One does not expect a car to be dead silent at the traffic lights! But never fear, when quick acceleration is needed the Camry Hybrid delivers.

Mileage: 33 mpg city, 34 mpg hwy

Emissions: No data

Toyota webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

2009 Toyota Prius Hybrid

This is the hybrid that really put midsize hybrid sedans on the map. It’s new age, simple and fun to drive. Drivers just love the button start, called the Smart Key System. No fumbling for keys. Just walk up, get in, and drive off! It’s powered by a 110 HP motor, 4 cylinders, 1.5 Liters. The gas savings are incredible and the emission levels are low, low, low. There are Standard, Base (hatchbacks) and Touring versions for every pocket and persuasion. Toyota is planning to launch the “third generation” of Prius Hybrids soon. This is definitely my choice of midsize hybrids for a test drive.

Mileage: 48 mpg city, 45 mpg hwy

Emissions: No data

Toyota Prius webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV

Just as Toyota defined the midsize hybrid sedan with the Prius, Toyota has pretty much sewn up the SUV hybrid market with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. There are two version: Hybrid and Limited Hybrid versions depending on your power preferences. The 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid SUV offers comfort (some are calling it a Camry in an SUV) and terrific mileage for a vehicle this size. Fans are also saying GM and Ford are light years behind Toyota Hybrid SUV technology. Powered by a   V6 engine, 3.3 Liter with automatic transmission and CVT, this is a 4W SUV that makes your mouth water. Like the Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry hybrids, this ride is quiet on the highway, handles flawlessly and has all the gadgets you could want. This is my top choice for a hybrid SUV test drive. I’ll have to hurry. These beauties are in demand….

Mileage: 27 mpg city / 25 mpg hwy

Emissions: No data

Toyota webpage

Kelley Blue Book

Edmunds

Some of our readers are critical of hybrids and prefer high mileage diesel cars instead. If that’s you, then don’t miss our 2009 Diesel Car Roundup.

Overview of 2009 diesel cars


America's #1 Trusted Source to Gov't Car Auctions

Don’t miss our updated 2010 diesel cars overview or 2011 diesel cars post!

While the rest of the world is crazy about diesel technology for its fuel efficiency, the US’s stringent emission regulations introduced in 2008 are preventing several otherwise great diesel cars from being marketed in this country.

Diesel cars typically have higher exhaust levels of nitrogen oxide than gasoline cars. Automakers cite the high cost of developing an engine clean enough to meet the US standards. Understandably, this has made a lot of them lukewarm about diesel engines as a solution for boosting fuel economy. That, along with the fact that diesel cars have never really been a mainstream choice here in the United States.

The fact is that you have to be a brave automaker even to consider manufacturing a diesel passenger car for marketing in the US. Until technology rises to meet the challenge, or until the regulations are relaxed (an unlikely scenario) in the US diesel engines are destined to power mainly pickups, buses and trucks.

Automakers also perceive the US market as being unfriendly to diesel for passenger cars – but that is largely based on diesels from the 1970s. The brave few automakers who have been selling diesel SUVs in the US have good reason to argue to the contrary. But 2009 sees some genuine diesel pioneering. Read on.

The following is a line-up of the few diesel-powered passenger cars that will be available in the US in the 2009 model year, and a few that aren’t available.

VOLKSWAGEN

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Hands-down winner for courage and innovation is Volkswagen, set to be the only major automaker, and the first, to launch a genuine clean diesel passenger car in all 50 states in the US in 2009. This is the first diesel-powered passenger vehicle to meet the world’s most stringent emission control standards, California’s Tier II, Bin 5.

Clean diesel Jetta TDIs are powered by 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines that produce 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque.

If you are in any doubt that this is a regular passenger car, rest assured it is as far removed from the old-style diesel cars (stinky, slow and loud) as it is possible for a car to be. The Jetta TDI’s clean diesel engine is the strong, silent type . Clean diesel engines get better mileage than their gasoline equivalents.

The Jetta TDI comes as a sedan or a wagon, both with 4-cylinder, 2.0 L engines. Estimated miles per gallon for both are 29 to 30 in the city and 40 to 41 on the highway, although buyers are reporting much higher real world mileage with better highway mileage than a Prius in some cases. More details here at Edmunds., or at the Volkswagen site.

Watch a Wall Street Journal video review of the Jetta TDI, or read the article. Popular Mechanics also has a great review.

And guess what! You can also get a $1,300 Federal Alternative Motor Vehicle tax credit for this car.

MERCEDES-BENZ

2009 – ML320 (5 passenger), GL320 (7 passenger), R320 (7 passenger)

Small diesel cars are outside the Mercedes-Benz realm it seems, with diesels of this marque still aimed at the SUV market. After a late release in 2008 of three diesel-powered SUVs, Mercedes-Benz has not gone much further with its diesel offering for 2009. However, they have made sure all these models are now emission-compliant in all 50 states – unlike 2008 when some key states, including California, were excluded. A urea injection known as AdBlue has made the difference.

The 2009 model SUVs, powered by BlueTEC (developed in conjunction with VW and Audi) clean diesel V6 engines (among the world’s most environmentally friendly) look elegant and fulfill the promise of Mercedes-Benz class and reliability.

With 23 MPG and a 600 mile range on a single tank of diesel, and advanced Mercedes-Benz diesel technology (remember, Mercedes- Benz has been involved in diesels since time immemorial) the BlueTec range could gain some traction high fuel price times. Here is the Edmunds take on the range. Watch a video about Mercedes diesel technology at the Wall Street Journal site.

Prefer to drive a Mercedes diesel car? Consider the highly refined and quite expensive 2009 Diesel E Class sedan. The BlueTec clean diesel design gets a respectable 23 MPG in the city, and 32 MPG on the highway and has a quick 0 to 60 time of just 6.6 seconds. Pretty impressive for a large, luxury sedan.

Read more at Edmunds, or on the Mercedes USA site.

AUDI

2009 Audi 3.0 liter V6 Q7 (7 passenger)

Without much fanfare, Audi has announced it will place a less powerful version of the powerful V12 Q7 SUV on the US market in the first quarter of the 2009. The Q7 3.0 liter V6 Q7 is the only Audi TDI that meets the stringent US emission guidelines set in 2008.

Although this particular model is about half the V12 version it still packs quite a punch. The 3.0-litre V6 TDI turbodiesel engine pumps out an estimable 224 horsepower and a stout 406 pound-feet of torque, starting at 1,750 rpm.

Audi is claiming 30 percent fuel savings against comparable gasoline-powered models, and also 25 mpg, and over 600 miles per tank. The Audi V6 Q7 has a cozy, well-appointed cabin where the engine’s drone is barely audible. It’s a big car, but the V6 is adequate to make quite nimble. Go to Edmunds for further details, though when I looked only the gasoline version was featured there.

BMW

BMW 118d (winner 2008 World Green Car award – not available in US)

BMW is taking the all-or-nothing approach to marketing diesel-powered passenger cars in the US. Apparently if it can’t make all models optional for gasoline or diesel, and if it can’t make its diesel models emission-compliant in all 50 states then, well, it won’t market any diesel passenger cars here at all.

BMW made noises about launching 3 and 5 series diesel models here in 2008, but nothing came of it and nothing is officially on the cards for 2009 either. That’s a real pity, because the BMW 118d shows that the US motorist is missing out on some great value. In the 118d, the engine makes 141 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, sending the car to 60 mph in about 8.8 seconds, returning 59 mpg on the highway and spewing only 118 grams of CO2 per kilometer into the atmosphere. (All stats from Europe.) Not bad at all. And it goes 700 miles on a single tank of diesel!

CADILLAC

2008 Cadillac CTS – GM’s Diesel V6 (marketed in Europe only – not available in the US)

The 2008 CTS turbodiesel was Cadillac’s 406-lb-ft guinea pig, marketed in Europe only. Despite announcements about making a diesel-powered CTS available in the US in 2009, no further announcements have been forthcoming from GM.

CHEVROLET, PONTIAC, BUICK

GM has never gotten over its belief that diesel engines are for trucks. A new technology mindset is needed to take their brands forward in the diesel market. Their experience with Cadillac (see above – they teamed up with Italy’s VM Motori for that) seems not to have inspired their confidence in passenger diesel car technology. So nothing new in the US diesel passenger car pipeline for these brands either.

CHRYSLER

While they offer diesel options in several of their trucks and SUV’s (notably the Grand Cherokee) they have no diesel cars in the 2009 lineup. It appears that Chrysler jumped onto the electric bandwagon instead. Let’s see if they really deliver by 2010!

2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee

This Jeep diesel-powered SUV was first launched in 2008 in the US with a Mercedes 3-liter V6, which provides the best gas mileage of any current Grand Cherokee engine, complete with lots of torque. Expected in 2009 is a Cummins V6 turbodiesel, whose factory is still being built; this powerplant should be less expensive but just as durable as the Bosch/Mercedes version to be used until Cummins is ready. However, Jeep is saying very little about the 2009 model year diesel Grand Cherokee so don’t expect many advances from the 2008 version.

FORD


2009 Ford Fiesta ECOnetic

(sold in Europe only – not available in the US)

Yet another unattainable beauty!

As in 2008, not offering any diesel powered vehicles, other than trucks, in the US in 2009. Ironically, US auto giant Ford is marketing the super-efficient diesel Ford Fiesta ECOnetic — in Europe only.

It’s the 65 MPG Ford that Americans can’t buy.

HONDA / ACURA

There she goes — the new clean diesel Honda Accord that was never manufactured and never launched on the US market.

Honda is yet another automaker having trouble building a diesel engine that meets the high US emission regulations introduced in 2008. In 2006, at a press event held at its Tochigi technical center north of Tokyo, Honda announced plans to launch a diesel car in the US market by 2009. “The car, probably a Honda Accord, will be Tier 2 Bin 5 emission compliant, thus qualifying for sale in all 50 states,” said Honda. But it was not to be.

There were reports in 2007 of a diesel powered Honda being tested on US soil, and then nothing. Now there are rumors that Honda is planning to launch a diesel-powered Acura in the US in 2010.

Honda did show off its i-DTEC clean diesel engine technology at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show, if you want to see what’s coming eventually.

Will they launch in 2010? And if so, will it be a Honda or an Acura model? Only Honda knows for sure.

TOYOTA

Toyota Avensis (not for sale in the US)

There has been speculation for at least three years that Toyota would launch a diesel passenger car in the US market — perhaps a version of the diesel powered Toyota Avensis that has delighted Europe.

No such luck.

There’s a rumor of a Toyota hybrid diesel subcompact car coming as soon as 2010, but it is doubtful that would make it to the US market the first year. The first Toyota diesel in the US will probably be a Tacoma or Tundra pickup.

NISSAN

Nissan Maxima Diesel V6 3.0 – not in 2009 but maybe in 2010?

Nissan is an automaker that is plainly uneasy about launching a diesel car on the US market. As early as 2007 it was making plans to launch the diesel Nissan Maxima in all 50 states in the US. Then it was going to be 2009, and now it’s planned for 2010. It has been touted around auto shows in the US to much oohing and aahing — but still no launch. Word has it that compliance issues have caused the delays. A familiar clean diesel refrain we hear from many automakers.


VOLVO

Volvo DRIVe diesels

Volvo has no plans to sell a diesel-powered passenger vehicle in the US anytime soon.

It’s the same old story: while Volvo expects to sell 20,000 units of the 2009 Volve DRIVe diesels in Europe in 2009, they are not compliant with our strict US emission regulations and so will not reach the United States.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it: a few pioneers, a few automakers stuck to diesel SUVs, a lot of promises and a lot of fence-sitting.

Maybe the 2009 VW Jetta TDI will finally persuade the US public and automakers that diesel-powered passenger vehicles can be an efficient, eco-friendly option that Americans will buy and drive.

Don’t forget that you can also find good background information with some of our previous posts like an Introduction to Biodiesel and our overview of 2008 diesel cars.

There’s also a great Diesel Center over at Edmunds.com.

Did we miss anything? What’s your favorite diesel?

Leave a comment and let us know.

Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008

H.R. 6049 (warning, PDF) was passed today: Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008 which gives us tax incentives to the tune of 18 billion dollars for

“investment in renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects, energy efficiency and conservation”.

It also provides for extensions on expiring tax breaks, 37 billion worth, that have absolutely nothing to do with Renewable energy. I support most of them, but come on…It’s hard enough to get these things passed as it is.

The bill grants an extension on the “placed in service date” for a number of types of renewable and alternative energy services receiving a tax break in the previous bill that were set to expire and extends the tax credits available to solar, fuel and micro-turbines and extends this credit to public utilities.

In addition, the bill extends the credit for residential solar till the end of 2014

On the transportation front (I’m a car guy, so this is where it matters to me) we get an expansion of benefits for cellulosic alcohol, biodiesel production including a greater credit for B100 over blends.

We get a new plug in electric vehicle credit, some incentives on improvements on big trucks, fringe benefits for bicycle commuters, and tax breaks for alternative refueling stations until 2010.

All in all it’s a good bill, and it passed but a surprising number of our representatives voted against it. In fact, here you can find out if your congresscritter voted for it, and here for your senator. If you disagree with their vote, let them know.

The first auction of US carbon credits

Photo courtesy of Karen Eliot at Flickr.com.

Last week, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative held the first auction for US Carbon credits. This was an important milestone because the auction may set the pattern for a federal carbon tax. Funds raised at the RGGI auction will benefit six northeast states: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. The states plan to spend this money (slightly more than $38 Million) to invest in energy efficiency, developing new technology, and other “programs to benefit electrical consumers”.

Hopefully, most of the money will be spent on the first two uses. If carbon taxes are used to subsidize the price of electricity, then that could actually accelerate climate change. In countries where the price of electricity is artificially reduced, demand is rising faster than production. This is causing some extremely dirty power plants to be built to meet short term need. Power outages and brownouts are also common.

Some people argue that revenue from carbon taxes is best used to implement programs that reduce the use of fossil fuel generated power. Possibilities include offering rebates on high-efficiency air conditioners, providing low cost loans for businesses that eliminate wasteful machinery, and building alternative power sources such as wind farms, geothermal generators, and solar arrays. When used in this way, carbon taxes can stimulate local businesses and encourage green consumption. In the long term, the economy will also benefit from energy self sufficiency.

Other states in the RGGI include New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. These states didn’t participate in the first auction, but they may participate in the next auction, on December 17, 2008. Registration begins in October.

So, who bought these carbon credits? Mostly, the buyers were power utilities that operate in New England. Several environmental groups also participated, bidding on credits with the intent of retiring them from circulation. Brokers and individuals were also allowed to participate, but the RGGI hasn’t released a list of buyers yet.

Bidders had the option of concealing their identity during the sign up process. This anonymous bidding is a bit troubling, since most companies would be happy to garner free publicity from buying carbon credits. It leaves the door open for companies to make false claims and makes it hard to independently verify which utilities are responsible stewards of the environment. Hopefully, the lack of disclosure is only a temporary situation, and future carbon auctions will be more transparent than the emissions they offset.

Photo courtesy of _Krystian PHOTOSynthesis (wild-thriving) _ at Flickr.com.

Save on heating with alternative energy


Photo courtesy of Channel Myrt at Flickr.com.

Keeping warm is hard work. When the days get shorter and cold weather creeps up on us, there are many different ways to keep winter at bay. The most common sources of heat are natural gas, heating oil, coal, electric furnaces, and wood fueled fireplaces. As the costs of these heat sources skyrocket, many people are looking for alternatives.

Natural gas is one of the most widely used energy sources inside homes – about half of all American houses use natural gas to stay warm, and that number is increasing as natural gas systems dominate in newly built homes. Natural gas is available in many parts of the country, it burns relatively clean, and natural gas systems don’t require much maintenance. The price of natural gas has stayed low for several years, although lately the market price has been volatile. In the last six months, natural gas has traded between $6 and $14 per million British Thermal Units (BTUs). A typical home will use about 111 million BTUs during the winter, so heating a home for the winter would cost between $700 and $1,500, plus monthly service charges.

Heating oil is very popular in the Northeast. For instance, 80 percent of the homes in Maine rely on heating oil to keep warm, and the average home uses more than 800 gallons per winter. Heating oil is not a very clean burning fuel, and it releases plenty of CO2 and particulates. With the price of heating oil going up sharply in the last several months, price is a major concern. As I write this, heating oil is selling in the range of $3.40 – $3.70 per gallon. That adds up to a heating oil bill of about $2,500 to $3,000 for the winter, plus delivery costs. Delivery costs can be substantial, and typical customers will need 2-4 deliveries.

Coal furnaces are also widespread. Coal is cheap and it’s a domestic energy source, but there are some serious downsides. Coal furnaces cost more than other heating equipment (three times the cost of natural gas heaters), they require constant supervision, they’re messy, and they create obscene amounts of pollution. As the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, “From mining to processing to transportation to burning to disposal, coal has more environmental impacts than any other energy source.” The price of coal is also up sharply this year, with the price of the cleanest burning types of coal rising the most. The average cost for a ton of heating coal has tripled – a ton of coal with 25 million BTUs of energy costs between $140 and $180 as I write this and is expected to go up further. Heating an average house at these prices will cost $600-$900 this winter, plus delivery.

Electric furnaces are commonly found in areas with mild winters, and they are built onto many air conditioning systems as a backup. These central heaters are very expensive to operate – they generally have very poor efficiency, and the price of electricity has been rising along with the price of natural gas and coal (these are the primary fuels that electric power stations use). A typical electric heater can convert 1 kilowatt of electricity into about 3,300 BTU. Assuming electric costs of 12-20 cents per kilowatt, heating a home with electricity over the winter would cost $4,000 to $6,600, plus service fees. (To estimate the cost based on your utility rate, multiply your cost per kWh by 33,000).

Firewood is still used to hold off Old Man Winter (especially in parts of the country where trees outnumber people). The carbon produced by burning wood is the same amount that’s stored within trees as they grow, so sustainably harvested firewood is carbon neutral. It’s often possible to find “free” firewood – many industries have to pay to dispose of their wood scraps and will appreciate your help transporting their waste away. Try checking in with landscapers, tree surgeons, carpenters, and local recycling centers – but make sure to choose wood without varnish or paint. Treated wood can release toxic fumes when it’s burned. Dried (aka ‘cured’) cords of firewood have the highest energy content per pound. Green wood has less than 6 million BTU per ton, while cured firewood has approximately 13.5 million BTU per ton. Cords of firewood cost from $150-$250, so heating a home with cured firewood can cost $750 to $1,300, plus substantial transportation costs.

For the most part, these heat sources come from non-renewable sources. Using lumber from deforested areas and fossil fuels from the ground contributes to climate change while also damaging air quality. The US supply of oil and natural gas is inadequate for current demand – huge amounts of these fuels are imported every year. Heating oil depends primarily on foreign sources – more than 60% of all heating oil comes from imports. About 85% of all natural gas is produced in the US, and most of the remainder is imported from Canada.

Consumers and scientists are experimenting with various ways to reduce the cost of heating a house. There are plans to produce natural gas from landfills, and pilot projects are testing to see how biodiesel performs as an additive to heating oil. There are also long-term projects to clean up coal and produce electricity from green sources. Those developments are years or even decades away, so here are some alternative heating options that you can try out today:

1) Consider a pellet stove.

If pellets are available in your area, you may want to consider this unconventional stove to cut down on your bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Pellet stoves burn waste material that’s been processed into convenient pellets – the compressed sawdust and wood chips look a bit like animal feed. Pellet stoves are designed for particular fuels, and there are even some pellet stoves that burn pellets made from corn husks, cherry pits, and other agricultural waste. By matching a pellet stove with a cheap fuel source in your area, you can cut costs and intercept trash before it makes it to the landfill. Ash from a pellet stove also makes an excellent fertilizer. A pellet stove burning premium (low ash) wood pellets currently costs about $1,000 to $1,600 plus transport fees to heat a home through winter.

A pellet stove burning Biomass pellets can cost even less. Compressed corn straw pellets (where available) cost about a third as much as premium sawdust pellets. A pellet stove running on biomass can cost $300 to $1,000 to fuel. Many pellet stoves come with self-feeding hoppers that can go a day or so without supervision, but storage of the pellets takes a lot of space and can add to the cost. Pellet stoves are in short supply though, so you may want to check non-conventional sources to pick up a used one.


Photo courtesy of lisatomt at Flickr.com.

2) Apply dark paint to your roof and outside walls.

Dark colors do a great job of soaking up the sun’s energy, and paint is a low cost way to heat up your home. Many town recycling centers have partially used buckets of paint available for free. Blending these paints will usually produce a heat absorbing brown paint.


Photo courtesy of lolla_sig at Flickr.com.

3) If you use electric heaters, ask your utility company about a time of day meter.

Electric heaters run most often during the night, when demand for electricity is low. Some utility companies offer discounted rates during these off-peak hours and you can cut your bill simply by installing the right kind of meter.


Photo courtesy of Fragments of Eternity at Flickr.com.

4) Install a geothermal loop.

The temperature 50 feet underground stays fairly constant year round. Even when it’s snowing, you can tap the warmth of the ground to heat your house. Geothermal loops work by running water through underground pipes and up to heat exchange units. Not only can they cut heating bills by 30-70%, but they can also be used to cool your house in the summer.


Photo courtesy of tomm12723 at Flickr.com.

5) Add insulation.

Honestly, this should be the first item on the list. Insulation is cheap, easy to apply, and it cuts costs by reducing the need for heat. For the best results, use a thermal imager to identify “hot spots” – the places of your home that are leaking the worst and focus on insulating them.


Photo courtesy of abrunglinghaus at Flickr.com.

Willie Run-coast to coast on one tank of biodiesel

willie logoThe red headed stranger has always been a major supporter of bio-fuels.  Start a conversation anywhere in Texas and Willie Nelson will invariably wind up with at least a casual mention.  So Nik Bristow and Brian Pierce, a couple of copywriters for Fitzgerald, have launched an attempt today to make a coast to coast drive from New York to California running entirely on BioWillie brand Biodiesel.  From the trips website:

“Some of the biodiesel we’ll be using is is derived from Beef Tallow.  The rest will be from waste vegetable oil.  biodiesel is a very diverse fuel and can be made from a variety of sources.  We think it’s one of the biodiesels greatest strengths”

The vehicle in question will be a Diesel powered Volkswagen Jetta with a modified gas tank.  The trip will be made entirely without stopping for fuel or food.  They will stop only to switch out drivers every few hours for safety reasons.

The journey starts in midtown Manhattan, and will continue on across the country passing through over 400 cities on the way to the final destination in Santa Monica. As for the math, the Jetta has been modified to hold 75 gallons of BioWillie brand biodiesel. The Jetta gets 40 MPG which gives us a theoretical range of 3000 miles. A quick check of Google maps gives us a distance of 2,809 miles, so they have a small margin of error.

From PR.com

“We’ve had a lot of people asking why we’re doing this. Well, not only are Nik and I are longtime biodiesel supporters, but

we are also communicators by trade. We’re lucky to be affiliated with Fitzgerald+CO, where we’re connected with a large group of enlightened, innovative folks who have made this run a reality. It’s good to be able to put your skills to work for something you personally believe in,” said Pierce.”

The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, known in popular culture as the cannonball run, was an illegal race that followed this same route Back in the 70’s. The best time was achieved in a Jaguar XJS in 1979 of just under 33 hours. That averages out to 87 mph average. While there is obviously a connection here, ascertions that they will be following the exact same route are incorrect. The original  ended up in Redondo beach and there was NO set route specified. And the most obvious difference is that instead of trying to set record speeds they will try to make the journey on the least amount of fuel possible.

At willierun.com you can monitor the progress of the team and even see video feeds from the car.

Pollution makes you fat?

Photo courtesy of Joe_13 at Flickr.com.

Pollution has been blamed for a wide variety of health ailments, including heart disease, asthma, various forms of cancer, and toxic shock. New evidence suggests that pollution may also be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic. The research focused on a particular pesticide (Hexachlorobenze) and monitored babies from birth until the age of 6 and a half years old. It found a sharp increase in obesity rates for children with the highest exposure to HCB.

This study suggests very strongly that exposure to HCB in the womb causes an increased risk of obesity. The mechanism is unknown, but exposure to chemicals can trigger the expression of certain genes, and chemical exposure can also alter the blood chemistry of women who are pregnant. This study is worrisome because even though HCB has been banned, there are many similar chemicals that we’re exposed to every day in our cosmetics, drinking water, and food supply.

Experiments have shown that many chemicals fed to pregnant animals cause their offspring to grow up obese. These include organotins, long employed in antifouling paints on ships and now widely found in fish; bisphenol A (BPA), used in baby bottles and to line cans of food, among countless other applications; and phthalates, found in cosmetics, shampoos, plastics to wrap food, and in a host of other everyday products.

These pollutants – dubbed “obesogens” as a result of these findings – are so ubiquitous that almost everyone now has them in their bodies. Ninety-five per cent of Americans excrete BPA in their urine; 90 per cent of babies have been found to be exposed to phthalates in the womb; and every umbilical cord analysed in the new Spanish study was found to contain organchlorine pesticides such as HCB.

It’s important to remember that correlation doesn’t guarantee causation. For example, ice cream sales and deaths from drowning both increase during the summer, but it would be ridiculous to say that reducing ice cream sales would save people from drowning. More study is clearly needed.

In the meantime, there are some fruits and vegetables that are much more likely to contain pesticides. You may want to cut down your consumption of peaches, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, apples, and other heavily contaminated foods, and instead substitute foods with lower pesticide exposure, such as sweet corn, avocados, onions, mangoes, and pineapples. If you can’t live without your peaches, organic produce is available for many of the highest risk items.

Photo courtesy of fwickafwee at Flickr.com.

Link roundup. Interesting eco news stories.


Photo courtesy of
Anthony L. Solis at Flickr.com.

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 here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

The cost of airfare has gotten a lot of newsprint. Even though oil prices seem to have stabilized, ticket prices are still going up. When air travel gets so expensive that even P Diddy scales back his private jet flights, well, we’ve officially reached the tipping point. Cheap airfare is history, and soon we may all be flying like it’s 1955.

Sailing is a green alternative to air travel, but it can be awfully slow. A group raising awareness of plastic pollution decided to sail across the Pacific in a boat made from plastic junk? Believe it or not, they survived the trip and made it to Honolulu. Things got a bit dicey along the way, because they ran low on food. When they tried to catch some fish to supplement their provisions, they were (ironically) foiled by plastic pollution:

One day, said Paschal, they caught a fish after watching it grow for five weeks. They were going to eat it, but when they cut it open they found its stomach was full of plastic confetti.

Monitoring pollution in the ocean may become easier in the next couple of years. Scientists have found a new way to measure water pollution using algae. The method is a bit bizarre – just shine a special light on the algae and ‘listen’ to the sounds of the light striking the water. Healthy algae will absorb more of the light, and unhealthy algae will be unable to absorb certain wavelengths that due to the pollutants in the water. Algae reacts strongly to even small amounts of water contamination, and algae is widely available. As this method is developed further, the hope is that tests using algae will cost a fraction of what conventional tests cost.

Wind energy continues to make the news too. Wind turbines are going up at a phenomenal rate, and the production capacity of wind power doubled between 2006 and 2008. Even though wind power still makes up a tiny portion of total power, wind turbines accounted for more than a third of all new electrical production built last year.

The U.S. Department of Energy in May forecast that wind power could reach 20 percent of the nation’s power supply by 2030.

Make eco friendly choices at the cafeteria


Photo courtesy of Drunken Monkey at Flickr.com.

When you visit the buffet line, how often do you think of the planet? If you visit the cafeteria on a regular basis, the choices you make can really add up.

At the soda fountain, are styrofoam cups the only option? Each cup weighs about 10 grams – that means a cup a day adds up to about 5 and a half pounds of styrofoam per year. You can keep that styrofoam out of landfills by bringing in your own cup, or suggesting that your cafeteria offer re-usable cups (you might even be able to get a promotion – just point out how much the company can save on materials and waste disposal costs).

The way that you fill your plate can also make a difference. If you fill your plate halfway and then go back for seconds on a fresh plate, that doubles the amount of water needed to wash your dishes. It’s best to make just a single trip and give your stomach time to settle. That way, you wont be in the middle of eating a second plate when your hunger runs out. Wasting food can have a huge impact on the environment too – for example, a quarter pound burger can take 100-1,300 gallons of water to produce.

Some college cafeterias are even getting rid of lunch trays. By eliminating trays, they expect to save megawatts of power and millions of gallons of water that are normally used to wash the trays. There’s also a hope that diners will be encouraged to take smaller servings from the cafeteria line, reducing waste, overall food costs, and health issues related to weight gain.


Photo courtesy of Tkrecu at Flickr.com.

The right power cords save power and money



Photo courtesy of abrunglinghaus at Flickr.com.

Many of us have a blind spot for extension cords. We tend to treat these power cables as interchangeable parts, but not all extension cords are the same.

Length is important. The longer the extension cord you use, the more energy is lost in transmission. If you only need to add 5 feet, it doesn’t make any sense to use a 100′ cord!

The thickness of the wire is also important. Thin cords lose power faster, and they can also heat up dangerously with heavy power loads. When using extension cords, it’s important to make sure that the wire is thick enough to safely and efficiently conduct electricity. Wire thickness is often referred to as “gauge”.

Gauge numbers are rather tricky. Even though it seems counter-intuitive, thicker wires have a low gauge, and thin wires have a high gauge. Many power cords are available in 18, 16, 14, and 12 gauge sizes. Of these choices, 18 is the thinnest and 12 is the thickest. Thicker wires are generally more expensive, but they can save substantial amounts of electricity. Thick electric wire can also handle higher amperages than thin wires without bursting into flames. That’s good to know if you want to avoid burning your house down or melting your tools.

So, know your cords! Pay attention to cord gauge and length, and they’ll pay you back with a reduced electric bill.



Photo courtesy of ClintJCL at Flickr.com.

The Sahara desert is reaching north into Spain



Photo courtesy of DanielKHC at Flickr.com.

Droughts are a worldwide problem, with water in short supply in many different countries. Australia and Spain are both suffering through record breaking droughts right now. It hasn’t gotten much attention in the US, but rainfall in Spain is at its lowest level in 40 years. This comes at a time when population is booming and per capita water use is rising.

Water use is a very emotional issue in Spain, and tensions are running high between neighboring cities and regions. Opinions are divided largely along geographic lines; many people living in the southern provinces favor redirecting water from the north (where the drought is less severe). No one in the North wants to sacrifice their water rights to support wasteful behavior though, and water redirection projects face strong opposition. To break this logjam,

…the government is building more desalination plants, adding to the more than 900 already in Spain – the largest number in any one country outside the Middle East.

There is some concern that these energy intensive desalination plants will drive up the price of water while also creating even more climate change. It’s a no-win situation, like trying to prevent an avalanche by running a snow maker.

Leaders in Spain are looking for a better solution. The country is currently hosting the 2008 World’s Fair in Zaragosa, and the theme of Expo 2008 is “Water and Sustainable Development”. New technologies are on display, including water saving fixtures for the home and agricultural techniques that conserve water. Government programs are encouraging people to adopt these innovations with tax rebates and grants, and if the Spanish are successful in conserving their water, they may be able to stop the desertification of their country. Otherwise, climate change will devastate the environment, with lasting effects on the economy.

If you get a chance to visit Zaragosa, you’ll see an alternative vision of the future, with clean technology offering jobs and climate security. The best vantage point to view the fairgrounds is atop the 250 foot tall Water Tower building.



Photo courtesy of Paulo Brandão at Flickr.com.

Tax laws are causing a solar installation frenzy, trying to beat end of 2008 tax credit expiration


Photo courtesy of
M.Barkley at Flickr.com.

At the end of this year, an elevated tax credit for for alternative energy projects is set to expire. These federal tax credits will decline from 30% of the total construction cost to just 10%, and several alternative energy groups have been lobbying Congress to extend the benefit. Even though some states and local power companies offer additional incentives to invest in alternative energy, the reduced Federal tax credits will have wide ranging effects. Industry experts and analysts expect companies who sell solar, wind, biogas, microturbine, and fuel cell technologies could be wiped out by reduced tax credits:

Without the credits, “I’ll essentially be out of business,” Tamas said. “Solar will be dead, other than for a little bit of residential.”

Congress was expected to renew these popular tax credits, but the Senate and House have gone into recess without doing so. Since many of these projects require months and months of construction time, there could be a lag in construction even if the credits are renewed in September. In the near term, the uncertainty is creating a solar building boom.

Many big retailers are attempting to complete green energy projects before the tax credits expire on December 31st. Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, REI, and BJ’s Wholesale club are just a few major companies that are accelerating their solar installation plans to beat the deadline. This means that solar workers are pulling overtime and likely to see big bonuses this year, but they may be getting pink slips in the spring.


Photo courtesy of
EGL Energy at Flickr.com.

In the news: reducing your AC bill, earn cash through recycling and more


Photo courtesy of
Mayank Austen Soofi at Flickr.com.

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 here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

The news is full of stories about practical ways to save money. One easy way is to save energy and cut your air conditioning bill.

Here are 4 websites that help you earn money from recycling everything from old cell phones and digital cameras to glass bottles and old cars. Recycling e-waste is a double win – with commodity prices sky high, the copper and gold in old electronics are worth some serious cash, and keeping heavy metals out of the landfill is key to protecting the environment.

“We generally see about a 100 percent increase in recycling in mid- to affluent neighborhoods,” says [RecycleBank CEO Ron] Gonen. “In lower-income neighborhoods, it can be up to 1,000 percent, because the recycling rates are so low there.

Also, the shipping industry is taking huge steps to reduce their fuel bills. Surcharges are running out of control, and the profit margins of commercial transport companies are under pressure. In addition to driving slower, truckers are saving fuel with an Auxiliary Power Unit. APUs are widely used in airplanes to provide electricity without running the engines, but their high price has kept other industries from adopting APUs. With high oil prices, and new pollution controls that outlaw idling engines in residential neighborhoods, that could change quickly.

Due to climate change, farmers are now using sunblock to protect certain produce. Presumably, sun ripened tomatoes aren’t on that list.

Could you live a month without buying any plastic? A British Blogger is trying to do just that, and its tougher than you might think.

Is the future going to be human powered? Clubs and fitness centers from Portland to London are adding devices that harvest kinetic energy to power the lights, sound systems, and HVAC. There are even plans for a floating gym that will travel back and forth on the Hudson river under human propulsion.

Coffee Break For Your Plants

Coffee Roaster Americans drink a lot of coffee.  It’s the second largest commodity traded; right after oil.  And the bulk of those coffee grounds go right into the land fill.

That’s a shame because coffee makes a great fertilizer and composting agent.  It’s high in nitrogen and also contains potassium and phosphorous.  You can simply sprinkle it around existing plants and water it in or add it to compost.  Paper coffee filters break down quickly during composting so you can just toss them in the compost whole.

If you’re not a coffee drinker; or just need a lot more coffee grounds than you generally produce through your own consumption a visit to your local coffee shop is in order.  According to Fort Worth, Texas based Panther City Coffee Co, most coffee shops are willing to hang on to their grounds (and a busy coffee shop can produce hundreds of pounds a week) as long as you are polite and considerate.  Keep in mind it is a bit of a hassle for the employees to keep and package; it helps if you supply a container, and be sure you pick up the grounds regularly so they don’t sit in the way for weeks at a time. 

PZEV vehicles, and why you probably can’t get one in your state

Flickr photo courtesy of juancnuno.

I’ve been reading up on PZEV vehicles, ever since I saw a local advertisement for one here in Dallas.

What I didn’t realize until now is that you can’t buy PZEV cars in most states!

From the Green Car Advisor at Edmunds.com:

Vehicles with PZEV equipment are specially certified under California rules, which only six states now use. The total will jump to eleven in the next few years as Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maryland join the green team.

The EPA doesn’t have a PZEV classification. And it  won’t simply recognize the California certification and let the cars be sold wherever there’s a market for them.

Nope, the Feds insist that if a carmaker wants to sell a vehicle all decked out in PZEV accoutrements, it must re-certify it under federal standards. That’s despite the fact, well worth repeating, that by attaining the California PZEV rating, a manufacturer already has demonstrated that the car is cleaner than anything required by EPA standards.

The Feds do provide one break, though.  Recognizing that a lot of people who live in one state might cross the border to buy in another, the EPA allows car dealers in states that share boundary lines with the “California Rule” states to sell PZEVs if the manufacturers will provide them. That brings to 15 the number of states in which PZEVs can be sold.

It also casts a shadow over the EPA’s insistence that it has to certify the cars itself.

“We try to be practical,” said EPA spokesman John Millett.

So, if you live in Nevada, Arizona or Idaho, for instance, your local Ford dealer can sell you a PZEV-rated Ford Focus, if he has one in stock or can get one from a California dealer.

Volvo spokesman Geno Effler said his company, which markets two PZEV models, even honors the 10-year emissions warranty in the nine states that share borders with the official PZEV states.

But if a dealership in  Kansas, gets its hands on a PZEV, heaven forfend!

There’s that fine of up to $27,000 for selling a California-certified PZEV car in any state that doesn’t use the California rules or doesn’t share borders with those that do.

But that didn’t explain why Subaru is selling one in Texas, until I found this article from the Dallas Morning News.

So why aren’t PZEVs in every showroom? The main reason, as you might guess, is cost. Although Subaru charges $200 for the option, some estimate that it costs as much as $1,500. If Subaru passed on the entire expense, it could hinder sales and slow the automaker’s compliance with ultra-low-emission laws.

Most PZEV builders don’t even offer them outside the hot-air – er, clean-air – states because they don’t want to multiply their losses. Subaru says it’s one of the few manufacturers that make PZEVs available everywhere.

Still, PZEV is one-tenth as expensive as hybrid hardware and technology. And if the cost were spread among a larger number of vehicles, it would probably drop further.

“That’s why test markets like Texas are important to us to see how much demand there is for PZEVs,” said Subaru spokeswoman Lisa Fleming.

So why are they only available in certain states? A columnist from MSN Autos spells it out.

Not only can’t you buy one, but the government says it’s currently illegal for automakers to sell these green cars outside of the special states. Under terms of the Clean Air Act—in the kind of delicious irony only our government can pull off—anyone (dealer, consumer, automaker) involved in an out-of-bounds PZEV sale could be subject to civil fines of up to $27,500. Volvo sent its dealers a memo alerting them to this fact, noting that its greenest S40 and V50 models were only for the special states.

So, just how green is a PZEV machine? Well, if you just cut your lawn with a gas mower, congratulations, you just put out more pollution in one hour than these cars do in 2,000 miles of driving. Grill a single juicy burger, and you’ve cooked up the same hydrocarbon emissions as a three-hour drive in a Ford Focus PZEV. As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities.

That’s amazing stuff. But what’s more amazing is how few people have a clue that the gas-powered, internal combustion engine could ever be this clean.

Naturally, no company wants to bring too much attention to a car that most people can’t buy, unless it’s Ferrari. And there’s the catch. PZEV models are already available from Toyota, Ford, Honda, GM, Subaru, Volvo and VW. They’re scrubbed-up versions of familiar models, from the VW Jettato the Subaru Outback. But chances are, you’ve never heard of them.

So now I’m looking to see if there is a list of PZEV vehicles that are nationally available. Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nationally available PZEV car, and which makes and models they might be?

Texans Create Super Tomato Cage!

Check out these excellent Texas Tomato Cages which come in a variety of sizes and will “last a lifetime” as they say on their website. They’re made of galvanized wire and fold up for quick storage. Pretty cool that these folks are running a successful small business with this simple product. Good for them! From the looks of it, this tomato cage is extremely well built. An excellent gift for the vegetable gardener. Your friend or relative may even thank you with a reciprocal gift of big fat home grown tomatoes!