Fuel cell technology is an emerging form of clean energy that is now within reach for consumers.
By Debra Atlas
May 3, 2012
It is no exaggeration to say that stoves save lives.
2.5 billion people around the world use open fires fueled by coal, wood, and charcoal to cook their meals. Each year, 1.6 million women and children die from upper respiratory disease related to indoor cooking smoke. That is over 4,000 people per day, and over half of them (approximately 2,500) are women in poor rural communities.
As you may have heard, women in communities that rely on wood-burning stoves often walk over 10 miles and spend more than 30 hours per week collecting wood. This can be incredibly hazardous. In Kenya, for example, women walk to a nearby game preserve searching for wood. The forest authorities are known to demand payment from the women they catch, and to violently rape those who cannot pay.
Over 90 percent of total energy consumption in the rural developing world is wood or other biomass fuel. Because of this, families can spend over 35 percent of their annual income on wood or charcoal.
While all of this may seem like a tragic but distant problem, wood and charcoal cooking actually affects all of us through its contribution to global warming. Approximately one quarter of global co2 emissions are generated by the rural poor, more than all transportation-related emissions worldwide combined.
When a family adopts the use of a fuel-efficient cookstove, hundreds of thousands of trees are saved from destruction over the lifetime of the stove. Women and children’s lives improve, and global warming is slowed as well.
Peter Scott, CEO of BURN Design Lab, has a vision to create viable alternatives to open fire cooking. Scott’s company brings together designers, engineers, and manufacturers to tackle the issue region by region. BURN currently has cookstove projects in Kenya, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
BURN customizes their cookstove to fit the needs of the community. Their new cookstove for Central America has a large, heavy cement body with a metal plate on top for cooking tortillas and meat. Their stove for the Sahara region is small and portable. For places like Nairobi, Kenya, where people use charcoal, BURN designed a cookstove that uses charcoal. In other places, the company is developing agricultural waste pellets and building a stove that burns this fuel. They also make larger, industrial-size cookstoves for prisons and hospitals.
“It’s not the ‘one size fits all’ approach,” says Scott.
Although BURN Design Lab is a nonprofit, it also has a for-profit arm that raises money to build factories and cookstoves in the countries they are working with. BURN is in the process of raising $4 million to build a factory in Kenya right now. They are partnering with a number of investment companies and overseas corporations to reach their fundraising goal.
Scott proclaims that charity is dead, and only smart solutions will break Africa out of poverty. To that end, his company is working to create commercial viability.
“We can build a factory, make the cookstoves, then sell them at a relatively low price (around $25),” Scott explains.
He adds that many people in the countries they work with are spending half of their income on fuel. Investing in a rocket cookstove can save $150 a year in reduced fuel costs, according to Scott.
“We have an exciting opportunity for millions of people,” he says.
The project aims to produce three million cookstoves at their factory in Africa over the next decade.
“That will save 100 million trees and $600 million in reduced fuel costs!” says Scott.
Success So Far
The project has gotten a lot of attention and attracted some influential backers.
Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have become are big advocates of fuel-efficient stoves like those produced by BURN Design Lab. They helped establish The UN Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which has the goal of getting fuel-efficient cookstoves to 100 million households by 2020.
With the help of Secretary Clinton, the US State Department has contributed over $50 million in support of the project. What’s more, Julia Roberts has come onboard as the project spokeswoman.
While big things are in the plans, the cookstove project is currently run on a shoestring: the annual budget is around $75,000!
“Because we’re a bunch of people that are trying to save the world, we’re always looking for people to donate anything from a bicycle to money to airline tickets so we can get to these countries,” says Scott.
Scott has people around the country contribute their skills to the cook stove project, whether they offer business skills, design skills, engineering skills, or something else. You can become a foreign ambassador, help promote the idea, help the organization raise awareness, or become part of their design network. If you are interested in getting involved, submit a volunteer or intern form online.
Sierra Club Green Home recognizes the large commitment Scott and his colleagues at BURN have taken on, and we invite readers to contribute. Cook stoves alleviate global warming while improving people’s lives.
© 2012 SCGH, LLC.
Tickell advocates biofuels as the answer. His message is “Change your fuel, change your world.” Over the course of two hours, Tickell takes a meandering route, weaving personal perspective with at least 50 insightful interviews recorded during the 11 years it took to make the film.
Ultimately, FUEL works, coming full circle to deliver the substance behind Tickell’s message of change. He is a passionate believer in sustainably-made biofuels. Watching the documentary might make Sierra Club Green Home readers believe too.
FUEL is delivered as a sort of stream of consciousness from Tickell. The film begins by depicting how oil reserves were originally formed and how oil is now the lifeblood of our society.
“It heats us, cools us, feeds us, takes us where we need to go,” Tickell says, then describes the numerous problems of our oil dependence, effectively poking a hole in the tank.
To explain why he’s spent his life searching for solutions, FUEL takes an autobiographical tangent. Tickell describes his youth in Australia and the stark differences, like oil refineries and toxic waterways, he found when his family moved to Louisiana.
Later, while pursuing his college degree, Tickell worked on an organic farm in Germany where he witnessed a farmer pouring vegetable oil into his tractor. The idea of alternative fuel ignited, and Tickell became obsessed with bringing biofuels to America.
One of the results of this fixation was a two-year Veggie Van USA Tour to promote biofuels. Tickell filled the van with cooking oil “harvested” from fast food restaurants. He gave lectures and appeared on talk shows. But no big culture change occurred.
Then 9/11 happened. In the film, Tickell asks the question: “Did our choice of fuel lead to this?”
Picking up the pace
To answer, FUEL ventures into the educational arena. The film describes the process oil companies use to create gasoline and explores what led the auto industry to rely on gas engines instead of ethanol. He also poignantly notes that diesel engines can run on vegetable oil without any modifications. So why aren’t we switching? And what will we do when our oil reserves run out?
FUEL gains speed to respond. The film reviews America’s reaction to the 1973 oil shortage and the Carter administration’s ambitious program to reduce oil dependence. This progress was followed by the about-face policies of the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations.
Tickell also notes that America isn’t the only country that suffers from an oil addiction. He looks at how people in other countries demanded energy from renewable materials, and their governments responded by investing in solar, wind, and biofuel.
Coming to a sudden stop
But even the government cannot control natural disasters. During the making of FUEL, Hurricane Katrina hit Tickell’s home state, spilling nine million gallons of oil. The film takes another detour as he talks to climate scientists about the effects of global warming.
Compelled to help, Tickell joined a relief mission for Katrina victims. Although he started the trip angry that government and industry refused to take responsibility for the oil spill, he was transformed by the experience of aiding hurricane victims, saying “It’s going to take everyone to fix this.” Tickell’s epiphany led to coordinated action through partnerships, including interviews with celebrities and politicians who appear in the film.
Then, in another unexpected turn, Tickell encountered a media-made disaster. Science Magazine published an article on the potential dangers of biodiesel, which essentially slammed the brakes on the biofuels movement. Tickell now asks: “Was everything he’d done harming the environment?”
Tickell answers this food versus fuel debate by describing how ethanol is created from corn for gas engines and biofuel from soy for diesel engines. He agrees that biofuel from monocrop corn and soy fields, which require fertilizers and pesticides, is not the answer.
Returning to the road
The remainder of the documentary takes a positive turn by covering how to make biofuels sustainable by producing them with waste, camelina, or even the original source of our oil reserves: algae. According to experts in the film, algae can double its cell mass in a few hours. When burned, algae-based biofuel doesn’t add additional CO2 to the atmosphere.
As FUEL rolls to a stop, Tickell acknowledges that biofuels are a critical part of solution, but not the whole solution. The film takes quick side trips to look at biomass, wind, solar, hybrid and electric vehicles, and energy conservation.
Tickell sums his filmmaking trip with: “We have an infinite abundance of resources that can sustain every living human being. The choice is ours. The rest of the journey is up to you.”
For a review of Fuel‘s sequel, Freedom:
Will Oil Alternatives Free Us?
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series looking at Panasonic and its ecological strategies and technological developments.
By E.Q. Lam
Japan is known for being high tech, and thanks to companies such as Panasonic, its high tech is going green. Take a look at Panasonic’s eco innovations for appliances and electronics, both those currently on the market as well as those the company hopes to introduce in the near future. The company’s various divisions have public venues which showcase the products for complete energy solutions for the home. In addition, Panasonic is spearheading entire smart town projects in Japan and other parts of Asia.
The Eco Ideas House, located at Panasonic Center Tokyo, welcomes tour groups such as students and on weekends is open to the public without an appointment. The House models products and appliances for daily living for the home of the future—one with zero carbon emissions. Panasonic is focusing on three areas for a sustainable lifestyle: ways to save energy, create energy, and store energy. Check out the quick tour below:
Among the features at the Eco Ideas House are the following:
Also, in 2008 Panasonic began to create eco home products under the product group ECO NAVI: to help you navigate energy management. Check out the Osaka-area ECO NAVI House, a showcase of the latest technology developed by Panasonic to help consumers navigate their home’s use of resources. The company also encourages do-it-yourself methods to reduce energy use. Find out the famous Japanese home product that inspired nearly 30 more products:
Besides providing technology solutions for smart homes and businesses, Panasonic is collaborating with the local city government to develop a sustainable smart city in Fujisawa, east of Tokyo, on land that formerly held a Panasonic factory. The project is expected to provide 1,000 homes as well as small businesses, medical centers, community centers, and mobility services such as shared electric vehicles. The town will have a community grid and equipment and systems for optimal energy, security, and information. The smart town is set to open in 2013 and has a target of 70 percent CO2 emissions reductions.
Panasonic also is involved in smart city projects elsewhere, including Tianjin Eco-City and Dalian Best-City (both in China) and a pilot project for total energy solutions for residential buildings in Singapore. For these projects in Japan and Asia, Panasonic is addressing two concerns: lack of raw materials and a growing population in urban areas—particularly in China, Japan, Europe, and the United States.
“We need many, many resources to maintain our living,” says Haruyuki Ishio, Panasonic’s director for the Corporate Division for Promoting Energy Solutions Business. “The ordinary or old cities cannot serve the concentration of populations. We believe the smart cities can be an answer to this global picture.”
For related articles, see:
Novel Japanese Recycling Plant
Double Energy Savings With DIY Tips and Technology
Panasonic Makes Eco Innovation Central Focus
Exclusive Interview With Panasonic Vice President
Green Energy Park May Be Answer to Power Supply
Travel and accommodations provided by Panasonic Corporation.
Check out more articles by E.Q. Lam.
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
As we scramble to get flights with low fares this season, we also can choose airlines based on their environmental impact. About 2.8 billion people will fly this year, according to the International Air Transport Association’s predictions. That means supporting airlines that make less of an environmental impact can make a big impact.
Many airlines use carbon offsets to reduce their carbon footprint. A carbon offset is defined by Wikipedia as a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases that is meant to compensate for an emission made elsewhere. The idea is to create balance for the planet by doing something good to compensate for generating something bad, i.e. pollution.
So which airlines are eco-friendly? The first clue is to use search terms such as green, sustainability, and carbon offset when researching your airline. If you have to search too hard to find their environmental policies on their Web site, then maybe it is not very important to them. Ask yourself, “Does this airline offer specific and substantial information and examples of their green initiatives?”
Here are some options with well-defined green initiatives:
Flying with airlines that are greener benefits YOU. You are investing in companies that share similar values to you, saying YES to flights with less environmental impact, and promoting recycling, fuel efficiency, carbon offsets, and green initiatives.
This holiday season may you pay low, fly high, and be green. Happy travels from SCGH!
© 2011 SCGH, LLC.
Clean energy, a thing of the present…and future
Fuel cells provide an alternative to solar, wind and other types of renewable energy. They can power your home and take you “off grid.” They can also work in concert with solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to power a home or commercial structure. Fuel cells were once considered the technology of the future, but have quickly become a clean energy solution for today.
Unlike petroleum-based fossil fuels, fuel cells are a clean energy source creating virtually no toxins or pollutants. The main byproducts are water, heat, and carbon dioxide, The CO2 emissions are substantially less than those produced by conventional power systems.
High-Tech Sustainable Solutions
The latest and greatest in green gadgets are those powered by fuel cells. As our need for clean energy grows, technologies including fuel cells have spawned some very intriguing gadgets. Portable fuel cells can be incorporated into items like laptops, cell phones, and sound systems.
Take a look at the unique fuel cell gadgets below and start planning your wish list:
This is a small-scale home hydrogen station that provides power for portable electronics using fuel cell technology. HydroFILL can be attached to any solar panel or renewable energy source, or a wall-socket. Once the HydroFILL charges, its portable HydroSTIKs mini fuel cells can be unplugged to power via a USB port to almost any portable electronic device via USB port plug-in.
Sony fuel cell powered speakers
Sony has created a USB charging station for devices like MP3 players, cell phones, cameras, and anything else compatible. The system is a Direct Methanol Fuel Cell Battery. This device can charge your music device and make sound via these unique fuel cell speakers. These Sony speakers are portable and light to handle, which makes them a perfect addition to any gadget geek’s arsenal.
It’s the age of technology, and we demand clean energy
Fuel cells are a much cleaner energy source since they rely on electrochemistry, instead of combustion. This process of electrochemistry is what makes fuel cells more environmentally-friendly, efficient, and cleaner. The main by-products from varying fuel cells include: heat, and a minimized release of carbon dioxide. It is important to note that this small release of CO2 is much smaller than that which is released by combustion driven sources. When used adequately, fuel cell technology proves to be 60 – 90% efficient!
Fuel cell technology is being used for a variety of processes already, and has a promising potential for a variety of future applications. The three main markets of fuel cell technology includes: stationary power, portable power and transportation. The future of fuel cells is looking bright and clean!
The main reason for incorporating stationary power of fuel cell technology onto your property as a main source of power is to save money and to reduce your carbon footprint. Also, some models can serve as a backup power for critical, required loads. Fuel cells may even be used as a supplement to your current power, thereby by offsetting high rate tariffs associated with your energy consumption.
Fuel cells are an excellent way to green a residential property because they can save you up to 50% on your utility expenses, and during 24/7 operation they work tirelessly creating the power you need. In addition, homeowners can significantly benefit from the thermal energy produced by fuel cells. This energy can be used to heat residential water, pools or spas, and indoor living areas.
This clean technology may also be easily used for commercial or industrial properties. Fuel cells are capable of supplying your property with the necessary amount of energy to run a variety of office electronics, hospital equipment, or even the energy necessary within universities and schools. Fuel cells may truly be the solution for high traffic areas during storms since they do not experience surges or blackouts. In addition, various types of fuel cells can run off biomass, which makes them a great additional to areas like landfills which generate anaerobic gases and could use the produced electricity.
Reduced air pollution to energy independence
The environmental impact of fuel cells depends on the type of cell and the fuel being used. Fuel cells can run on a variety of sources, from natural gas to hydrogen to ethanol to biogas. Those that run on hydrogen can sometimes produce a by-product of water or heat, though hydrogen fuel cells are considered more difficult to work with because of transportation and storage. More user friendly fuel cells which use natural gas with emissions that are much lower than those produced by conventional engines or energy sources and can reduce your carbon footprint by around 40%. Additionally, there are only negligible levels of NOx, SOx, Volatile organic compounds and particulates, which is a drastic improvement over traditional means of grid power production.
Besides the decreased CO2 emissions and high efficiency rates, fuel cells offer plenty of positive environmental impacts that should be considered by investors and consumers as solutions for cleaner energy are being further researched.
1. Fuel Conservation
The use of fuel cells can significantly diminish our dependency on foreign oil. Since fuel cells make energy electrochemically and do not burn fuel like conventional combustion systems, they are much more efficient. Admittedly, some fuel cells need fossil fuels to start their functions; most residential systems run partially off of natural gas.
If just 20% of the cars in America used fuel cells, we could cut oil imports by 1.5 million barrels per day. This is $44 billion per year that could remain in the country!
2. Combined Heat and Power
The greatest benefit from high powered, well designed fuel cells is the heat and power produced. This means that a property can reduce additional investments to heat their indoor areas or water. In this case, less is more. Since the heat can be redirected to heat water, the environmental benefit from this is the ability to heat the hot water supply without a need for a separate system as is the case with home solar.
Who doesn’t want to save money, the planet, and be energy independent?
Electric rates are going nowhere but up. Although we can make changes to conserve energy, we often don’t have the luxury of turning off every electronic device, lamp and power strip.
Perhaps the way to solve this dilemma is to look at the source of your home’s power supply. Renewable energy options are increasingly available these days – from solar panels to backyard wind turbines to fuel cell technology. If you’re specifically looking for a quick return on your investment (average 5 years) and prefer a compact and quiet energy source, on-site fuel cells provide a very viable alternative.
Fuel cells come in different shapes, sizes, and power capabilities. And like solar power, fuel cells can be used for heating water and require no combustion. In general, the payback on residential fuel cell technology can be faster than solar.
Read on to learn more about all the great benefits fuel cells have to offer.
Come Wind or High Water
Fuel cells can be used year round because their efficiency is not directly impacted by weather. Solar panels require lots of sunshine, and wind turbines need steady, fairly strong winds. Imagine 24/7 heat and power, all coming from a clean energy source!
The main by-products of fuel cell chemistry can be heat and a small amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). Despite the CO2 emissions, they are tremendously less than those produced by burning fossil fuels. Fuel cells are clearly part of the answer to a creating a more sustainable atmosphere and limiting global warming concerns.
Emergence of a quiet, efficient, and clean fuel
Fuel cell technology is an emerging form of clean energy that is now within reach for residential and commercial property owners. Historically, the main concern for fuel cell use was the safety and expense associated with the units. Now with newly evolved fuel cells which run on natural gas versus hydrogen, the tide is turning. Fuel cells for the residential market are now a reality, saving both energy costs and carbon emissions, in comparison to conventional grid-based power systems. Some fuel cell systems have been proven to produce 11 times more energy than solar and with little to no pollution, unlike their ‘dirty fuel’ counterparts. In 2003, President Bush announced a program called the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative (HFI) which aimed to develop hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies. The initiative is supported by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 , the US Fuel Cell Council and the Advanced Energy Initiative of 2006, all organizations hope to make mobile fuel cell technology practical in vehicles, to make stationary fuel cells practical for buildings and cost-effective for the average citizen.
Typically the by-products from fuel cell technologies are heat and a small release of CO2. When compared to conventional power generation, this cleaner alternative sounds too good to be true with reductions of carbon emissions at about 40% less. As the use of fuel cell technologies continues to grow, companies will continue to strive to develop newer versions of fuel cells that meet the needs of the commercial and residential market.
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