People Making a Difference: Bob Hetherington of Earthtoys.com

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Today I’m very pleased to present an interview with the founder of Earthtoys.com, Bob Hetherington.

Earthtoys.com is a website devoted to the alternative energy industry. It features an e-magazine and web library, and also includes a news service updated hourly and an events calendar.

Bob founded the website in 2002. Since that time, it has served as a very popular resource for all those interested in alternative energy technologies. They have over 60,000 visits each month.

Bob says about the website,

“We provide an open and unbiased platform where new ideas, systems and solutions can be expressed, shared and cataloged for use by our readers.”

Enjoy the interview and make sure to visit Earthtoys.com! Thanks again to Bob Hetherington for taking the time out of his busy week to do this interview.

Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in the world of alternative energy.

I’m a mechanical engineer by profession and was in university in the early 70’s when the first gas crisis hit hard. Our faculty entered the Urban Car Competition at that time and we built the winning entry (beating out the likes of MIT and the US Army). It was a LNG (liquid natural gas) powered small sedan with many innovative features that made it not only energy efficient but safer, not polluting and very economical to operate.

I guess that’s when I got interested in alternative energy and I went on to do other projects at school such as studying the feasibility of using a flywheel to store energy in a car etc.

Unfortunately, I got busy paying mortgages and having kids after that. Reality sets in and some of our dreams must be delayed for a while. Unfortunately the alternative energy industry seemed to go into limbo too. The world went from economical small cars and practical living spaces to Hummers, SUV’s and monster homes while politicians and professors kept talking about how nice it would be to save energy and stop polluting the environment.

Too much talk and posturing … no practical products built and marketed.

How was the idea for the EarthToys website born?

In 1996 I started a website about Home Technology called HomeToys.com. Home Automation and Networking was really getting started and I’m a gadget minded guy. With the birth of the internet I saw an opportunity to put some of my hobbies to work so I bought 3 domain names … hometoys.com, earthtoys.com and gardentoys.com. I started with hometoys because I felt that I could make it pay … because there were real products out there that needed to be promoted.

6 years later in 2002, Hometoys was a success and supporting myself, my spouse and one of my 3 sons (graphic designer) part time. The model of selling advertising in the eMagazine and News pages while building a library of articles, links and tools was working. So, I started earthtoys.com with the same model knowing it would take a few years to build content before it would start to make sense for advertisers to come aboard.

What were your goals for the site when you started EarthToys? How have those goals changed if at all since 2002?

The goal for EarthToys has always been to build an unbiased knowledge base of articles, news stories, links and tools for our readers to refer to and use for research. Of course I would like it to pay the bills and I am confident that we are well on the way to do that.

My goals have not changed since 2002 but the world has. Finally, people are paying attention to alternative energy and green building. Hopefully we can be a part of the process of introducing internet readers to the concepts and products that they can use in their own lives to become responsible earth dwellers.

I think your work is so valuable because it focuses on solutions, not problems. It seems like we’re just around the corner from moving away from a fossil fuel based society. The will is emerging and the innovations are there. What do you see as the most viable technologies that will beat out other contenders are become the true, mainstream “alternatives” to fossil fuels?

I’m glad you mention solutions here and I hope you are correct however I still see and hear way too much talk and not enough action. It is my belief that engineers, not politicians and bureaucrats, will solve the problems we face. And believe it or not … marketers will play an extremely important role as well. Economies of scale will be necessary to bring affordable products to market. Mass marketing is required to make that happen. Positive messages about good products and services will make it fun to save energy.

OK, off the soap box, and on to your question. As with the home technology industry, there is no one solution to fit all. So let’s break it down like this:

Personal Transportation
– Electric hybrid cars in the near term. Full electric
– E-85 and biofuels
– Fuel cell cars in the future

Mass Transportation
– Fuel cell buses and light rail systems using various drive strategies
– E-85 and biofuels

Residential Shelters
– Grid tied Photovoltaic systems
– Solar hot water systems
– Geothermal heat pumps
– Low voltage LED lighting systems
– Smart Home technologies
– Fuel cells (future)

Commercial and Industrial Buildings
– Co-generation systems
– Smart Building technologies
– Many other task specific systems.

Electrical Grid Power Generation
– Nuclear power plants
– Hydro plants
– Wind systems
– Solar power plants

A related question. What are the technological innovations you’re most excited about in terms of alternative energy, even if they won’t necessarily move into the mainstream?

There are a bunch of things that are out there and you really never know when or if a technology will make it in the real world. It’s best not to discount any of them as far as I’m concerned. This is why I like to stay open to publishing all sorts of articles. You never know when company A might find a solution to their earth shattering technology by reading an article from company B or professor C or just inquisitive citizen D.

Some that I like can be found in some of our articles over the last year or so:

HYDROGEN PRODUCTION TECHNOLOGY

BACK TO THE FUTURE WITH PLANKTON POWER

MICROBIAL FUEL CELLS

WASTE TODAY, GREEN ENERGY TOMORROW

SUPERGREEN BUILDINGS TECHNOLOGY

IS AMERICA READY FOR WIND HYDROGEN?

MICRO THERMOELECTRIC GENERATOR

WIND ENERGY AND WATER STORAGE TECHNOLOGY

Tell us about your future plans for EarthToys and any other projects that you’re working on currently.

EarthToys is growing at a steady rate and building content and credibility in the industry. We are sponsoring and supporting a growing number of trade shows that promote product awareness and innovation. And, to be honest … a current goal is to make it profitable so we can continue to help spread the word and educate our readers. There are many features that I would like to add.

For example, we have just introduced and new discussion forum (www.forums.earthtoys.com) where I hope to get more involvement and cross pollination from readers and the industry.

Part of the forum encourages discussions about an autonomous house (An autonomous building is a building designed to be operated independently from infrastructural support services such as the electric power grid, municipal water systems, sewage treatment systems, storm drains, communication services, and in some cases public roads.)

I hope one day to build an autonomous home as a reference for earthtoys.com so that I can share the process and lessons and provide a basic design template for others. By discussing all the options in the open forum we can all learn at the same time.

Thanks for this opportunity to spout.

Bob Hetherington

You’re welcome!

About EarthToys.com
EarthToys is an eMagazine and Web Library focused on Alternative Solutions for Energy and Transportation – Hundreds of Articles, News Stories, Companies, Products, Services, Links and more. www.earthtoys.com

Once again, thanks to Bob for these great insights into the world of alternative energy and green building!


1 Comment

  1. Eco-gadgets are a joy to have! Appreciating the earth more through these gadgets is truly a great idea!

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