Monday, October 26, 2009

Blue Sky Biofuels

Location: Oakland, CA
Year: 2006-Present
Owner and President: Patrick McIntyre

Blue Sky Biofuels is a recently formed corporation, developing a biodiesel production facility located conveniently close to an urban center, turning used grease from commercial food production, restaurants, and public utility sewers into combustible fuel. In addition to serving a number of restaurants in the Bay Area, Blue Sky Biofuels also partners with the University of California at Berkeley and the McAfee Coliseum to collect grease. This grease, once converted to fuel, is used to power the trucking fleets of other Blue Sky customers.

In addition to selling this biodiesel to trucking fleets, Blue Sky is working on a campaign to introduce biodiesel to school bus fleets. Biodiesel can be integrated into normal diesel fuel at any ratio from 1 percent to 99 percent, and in addition to being more environmentally friendly, improves the air quality for students riding those buses. The US Dept of Agriculture and the US Dept of Energy have estimated that biodiesel also has a positive energy balance of 220 percent, dispelling the myth of biodiesel as net energy loser.

RUAF Foundation

Location: Global reach with projects in partner cities in Africa, Asia, and South America. A network of regional resource centers, with the overarching global center housed in the Netherlands.
Year: 1996-Present

The mission of the RUAF Foundation is “to contribute to urban poverty reduction, employment generation and food security and to stimulate participatory city governance and improved urban environmental management, by creating enabling conditions for empowerment of male and female urban and peri-urban farmers, capacity development of local authorities and other stakeholders and by facilitating the integration of urban agriculture in gender-sensitive policies and action programmes of local governments, civic society organisations and private enterprises with active involvement of the urban farmers, livestock keepers and other relevant stakeholders”

The format of the Foundation is a global resource center, and seven regional centers, monitoring and providing resources to urban farming initiatives in 18 partner cities, in East and West Africa, South America, China, and the Indian Subcontinent. The Foundation is funded primarily by the EU, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Canadian International Development Research Centre. The Foundation’s main programs “Cities Farming for the Future” and “From Seed to Table” seek to develop urban agriculture socially, economically, and sustainably through education, information sharing, and publications like Urban Agriculture Magazine.

Cow Power (Anaerobic Digesters)

Location: Vermont

Years: 2008-present

Organization: Central Vermont Public Service

WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, p.64

One cow can produce over 30 gallons of manure a day. Instead of letting cow manure run into waterways and seep into the ground, the Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) has created a Cow Power Program, which turns cow manure into energy. An anaerobic digester is installed on a farm and, over a period of about twenty days, breaks down some of the collected poop’s solids into acids, which feed bacteria, which in turn digest the manure and produce biogas. The gas is then pushed through a pipe into a modified natural gas engine, and electricity generated by burning the gas is fed into the CVPS system. One cow’s waste can produce enough electricity to power two 100-watt light bulbs 24 hours a day. The digester also produces a low-odor slurry that makes a fertilizer that is safer than raw manure. Participating dairy farmers get an additional source of income.

Cow Power farms are located all across Vermont. There are currently six farms online and producing electricity in Bakersfield, Bridport, Richford, Sheldon, St. Albans and Newport. All the farms have well over 500 cows, and produce or are expected to produce between 0.78 and 3.5 million killowatt-hours of electricity a year.

Preserve Products

Location: Cortland, New York
Years: 1996-Present
Founder: Eric Hudson
Partner: Stonyfield Farm
Preserve Products sells items only made from recycled materials and further recyclable. Most of the products are not all that radical as stainless steel utensils or ceramic and glass plates are not thrown away often. Perhaps the most viable use of the inexpensive items is the possibility of replacing unrecyclable disposable items (paper plates and cups) instead of replacing a set of dishes. However, recyclable toothbrushes, razers, toothpicks, Brita filters, storage containers seem to be a new niche market that presents the possibility of recycling in common items that are not normally thought of as recyclable.

The most important structure of the company is the emphasis on using more environmentally friendly produced plastics that are able to be recycled. At present the materials need to be shipped to New York for recycling creating additional transportation energy. However, the new gimme 5 program allows consumers to drop off items for recycling wherever Preserve Products are sold (typically Whole Foods locations) for Preserve to pick-up and ship while delivering new products to the store.

Zero Waste Zone (ZWZ)

Pilot City: Atlanta, GA

Year: 2009

Organization: Green Foodservice Alliance

Atlanta has recently pledged to become a Zero Waste Zone. Gradually, participants in Atlanta are joining the pledge to eliminate practically all of the waste currently going to landfills. More than 10 participants, including the Georgia World Congress Center, the Hyatt Regency and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse have already pledged to recycle their common recyclables (cardboard, plastic, etc.), reuse spent grease for the local production of biofuel and donate or compost food residuals to drastically decrease the amount of waste going to landfills.

Algae Farming

Years: 1978-present

WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, p.111

Algae have the ability to consume CO2 and turn it into biodiesel. A single acre of algae ponds can produce 15,000 gallons of biodiesel. GreenFuel has a full-scale algae fuel plant underway. Algae farming can offer many benefits, and one of these is that microalgae grow significantly faster than land crops used to make biodiesel. One acre of algae will produce between 5,000 and 20,000 gallons of oil that can be turned into biodiesel. The US Energy Department is reviving a massive project it abandoned in 1996 to produce algae gasoline on a large scale. The DoE abandoned the project because of the low oil price at the time, but it has recently teamed up with National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Chevron. Some insiders say that it will take ten years before commercially viable products will hit the market. Others say this is going to materialize in as little as two years from now. The reason for this massive difference in prediction time is due to the political climate. In one year’s time that landscape will be a lot clearer.

Algae, just like any other plant life, use carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This means that large-scale algae farming would not only create a biofuel that is environmentally friendly, but also, while the algae is growing, it would be cleaning the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing fresh oxygen.

Algae also contain nutrients that can provide a fertilizer that is environmentally friendly and rich in phosphorous and nitrogen. These nutrients can be extracted from the algae and make farming land crops much cleaner and less harmful to the earth.

Dow Chemmicals and Algenol Biofuels are building a demonstration plant that will use algae to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol. Or, the oxygen produced by the algae would be used to burn coal cleanly. The carbon dioxide exhaust released by the coal burning would be reused to feed algae.

Algenol grows algae in bioreactors, which are troughs covered with flexible plastic and filled with saltwater. The water is saturated with carbon dioxide, to encourage growth of the algae. The company has 40 bioreactors in Florida, and as part of the demonstration project plans 3,100 of them on a 24-acre site at Dow’s Freeport, Tex., site. Algenol and its partners are planning a demonstration plant that could produce 100,000 gallons a year.

PetroSun Biofuel’s 1,100 acre algae farms in Harlingen, Texas

Portable Farms

Location: Escondido, CA
Inventor/Founder: Colle Davis

Portable Farms is a business that has a designed aquaponic system for sale to the public. Colle Davis invented the aquaponic system after studying at UC Davis, and has spent the last 37 years perfecting the design, with the goal of fully automating the process to allow for universal usage. Portable Farms claims that a unit of theirs (patent pending) measuring only 6’x 8’ can produce 400 vegetables and 100 pounds of fish, all while using an estimated 90 percent less water than a traditional arrangement. Colle Davis’s own farm uses three of his company’s units, one 6’ x 8’, one 10’ x 20’ and one 20’ x 30’, meaning on two acres, he is able to produce 4800 vegetables and 1900 pounds of fish in a year.

In addition to the three previously mentioned sizes, Portable Farms also sells a 90’ x 120’ unit, for larger institutional applications. Portable Farms is marketing these units to large institutions like prisons and schools, where footprint might be an issue, as well as to individuals and families, where time and ease of maintenance might be an issue. The modularity and exportability of Portable Farms suggests that the company may have more success as locavorism catches on.

Ecological Dry Toilet

Location: Mexico

Years: 1980-present

Organization: Centro de Innovacion en Tecnolgia Alternativa

Designer: Cesar Anorve

Manufacturer: Tecnologias y Sistemas Ecologicos (TESEC)

Cost: $27-54 (stand alone toilet), $150-550 (complete system)

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, p.296

The Ecological Dry Toilet was created by Centro de Innovacion en Tecnolgia Alternativa, in Mexico, where nearly half the water used in a Mexican home goes down the toilet. The toilet both conserves water and creates fertilizer.

The Ecological Dry Toilet mounts a conventional toilet seat cover over two chambers—one active, where waste is collected, the other passive, where waste composts while the other chamber is in use. The toilet diverts urine to a tank where it settles before being used as fertilizer. Solid waste passes to the active chamber, which is “flushed” with ash or lime rather than water to speed composting and neutralize odors. When the active chamber is full, it is sealed off and the waste is left to compost for 18 months or more. Meanwhile, composted waste is emptied from the second chamber, which them becomes active again.


Location: Trenton, New Jersey
Years: 2001-Present
Founder: Tom Szaky, Princeton University Student

TerraCycle wants to be a part of an eco-revolution through its closed-loop, upcycled products. Having started in 2001 making fertilizers from worms, it has grown to have 7 million people recycling and producing 102 items.

TerraCycle sells its products in major retailers nation-wide. Some products are more eye-catching and gimmicky than revolutionary recycling ideas (ie. Vinyl Wall Clock) but the founding idea of using worms to digest organic waste to create a natural fertilizer is noted for its potential to reduce the need for both nitrogen and phosphorus based fertilizers. A media-success story founder Szaky was featured on the cover of Inc. in 2006. Proof of the effectiveness and growth of the new fertilizer was Scott’s Miracle Gro sued TerraCycle for claims of effectiveness. The company’s community based focus extends to its location in abandoned buildings in Trenton, purchasing program for recycled wrappers in schools, and use of local artists in designing and hand-decorating. A marketing campaign with Newsweek where the magazine cover folded into an envelope and 47,000 readers responded by mailing in plastic shopping bags, which were made into reTote messenger bags. The rate of growth of the company proves promising as its scale increases.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF)

Location: global

Sue Coppard

What started off in 1971 as an experiment by Londoner Sue Coppard in weekend farming volunteering, has morphed into a loose network of national organizations that link volunteers with organic farmers, changing names from Working Weekends on Organic Farms to Willing Workers on Organic Farms, and subsequently to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms in 2000. Its stated goals are to provide volunteers first-hand experience with organic growing methods and rural life, as well as to further the organic movement. In exchange for volunteering typically 4 to 6 hours a day, the host farmers provide food, accommodation and farming education to their guests.

The farms may range from private gardens and co-operatively operated ventures to commercial farms. The program is popular amongst students looking for an inexpensive way to visit different countries, as well as with those interested in starting their own organic farming or gardening practices. Stays may be arranged for as little as a week to as long as an entire growing season or more. Each of the 40 participating countries has its own network with a list of farms that may be accessed only after paying a (somewhat nominal) membership fee. The lack of free access to the number of farms participating in each country combined with the lack of data recollection on the number of volunteers participating in the movement renders it difficult to assess WOOFF’s overall impact. However, one of my friends who WOOFFed this summer in France said there were over 200 participating farms in that country alone.

Solar Watercones

Years: 1999-present

Developer: Stephan Augustin

Manufacturer: Wisser Verpackungen and Mage-Watermanagement, Germany

Funding: Hans Sauer Stiftung

Cost: $60-100

Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises, p.285

WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, p.193

The Solar Watercone uses the sun’s heat to evaporate seawater, which then condenses on the inside of the cone. When the cone is flipped, the water can be poured out into a container. The Watercone can purify about 1.6 quarts of water per day (enough to meet a child’s daily needs), killing waterborne pathogens, removing particulates, chemicals, and heavy metals.

The Watercone is a conical, self-supporting and stackable Unit made from transparent, thermo-formable polycarbonate (same as water dispensers) outfitted with a screw cap spout at the tip and an inward circular collecting trough at the base. The polycarbonate Watercone is UV-resistant and can be used up to 5 years daily. The material is non-toxic, non-flammable and 100% recyclable. The black pan for the saltwater is already made out of 100% recycled PC.

The manufacturers of the Watercone argue that “many peripheral, de-centralized small units will ensure a better supply of freshwater than one central big generator. If the big one fails, there is no water generation for anyone. If a small one fails, the other ones still keep on working.”

5 reasons for the global distribution of the Watercone:

1. Much cheaper than bottled water. Average Price of 1 liter of bottled water in developing countries: $US 0.50. One liter of water from the Watercone costs just between two and five cents calculated over a lifetime.

2. Easy to use. As opposed to other types of solar stills which feature electronics, photo-voltaic cells, tubes, filters, many parts, etc. the Watercone concept is understood with absolutely no need for academic background.

3. Perfect for coastal dwellers. Hundreds of millions of people live in nearest proximity to water but cannot drink it or use it for agriculture, because it is saltwater.

4. Perfect for medical purposes. There are thousands of hospitals in developing countries, field and mobile hospitals, first aid and emergency medical units around the world that are located in sunny climates and lack condensed water. Outfitted with just a dozen Watercones, a little field hospital could harvest 15 liters of condensed water per day.

5. Creates jobs. Based in the vicinity of salt or brackish water and outfitted with a minor credit line, vendors could invest in a dozen Watercones and sell 15 liters of water a day and have their investment returned in no more than half a year.

Pour salty / brackish Water into pan. Then float the Watercone on top. The black pan absorbs the sunlight and heats up the water to support evaporation.

The evaporated Water condensates in the form of droplets on the inner wall of the cone. These droplets trickle down the inner wall into a circular trough at the inner base of the cone.

By unscrewing the cap at the tip of the cone and turning the cone upside down, one can empty the potable Water gathered in the trough directly into a drinking device.

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation

Location: India
Year: 1970s- present
Founder: Bindeshwar Pathak

In an effort to elevate the social status of the ‘untouchables’ -those scavengers who clean pit latrines- sociologist Bindeshwar Pathak founded the non-governmental organization Sulabh International and created a latrine that is practically maintenance-free. The “eco-friendly, technically appropriate, socio-culturally acceptable and economically affordable” Sulabh Flush Compost Toilet requires only very little water (2 liters) to flush and creates sludge that after 2 years of sitting in an underground pit is turned into manure which can be used as an agricultural fertilizer. Up to date, more than 1,2 million Sulabh toilets have been installed in India.

Sulabh International also prides itself on being the “pioneering organization in the field of biogas generation from public toilet complexes,” treating effluents on site and converting human excreta into biogas that can be used for cooking and lighting. It has constructed 190 biogas plants, whose accompanying community toilets service 250,000 people per day, creating practically 9 million daily square feet of biogas.

The most notable strengths of Sulabh International’s sanitary actions (the organization has since diversified its realms of social involvement) are the large scale at which they have been and continue to be undertaken -primordially in India but recently also in countries such as Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal- as well as the multiple advantages they confer. Not only have they helped liberate 120,000 scavengers from cleaning 13 million latrines throughout India, as well as improved the sanitary conditions of those who use the new toilets, but they provide an important example of sustainable human waste management in developing countries. Dr. Pathak’s technologies and actions have received international recognition, earning him a number of awards including the 2007 Energy Globe Award, the Indira Gandhi Award for Environment, and the Global 500 Roll of Honour Award by UNEP.