Regulars and Shorts

Green Bits: November 2011

By Pax Rasmussen

Anti-idling ordinance; global warming and peanuts; hot air electricity; fish-friendly hydro; solar air travel; solar stills.

Turn your key, be idle free—or else

Idling your car longer than two minutes is now illegal in SLC! Late last month, the City Council unanimously voted to approve an anti-idling ordinance that’s been in the works for nearly a year. First-time offenders will receive a warning, but after that the fine jumps to $50-$210, depending on the number of further citations. There will be an initial six-month grace period and a public awareness campaign before the ordinance takes effect. Idlers at banks, fast food restaurants and other drive-through based businesses will be exempt, as long as the business has a posted “No Idling” sign (which will act as the deterrent rather than a threat of a fine). Also, motorists will be allowed to idle vehicles so they can use heaters and air conditioning when the temperature is below 32 or above 90 degrees —because, after all, we are Americans and we avoid discomfort at all costs. Parking enforcement officers will be in charge of citing offenders.

Say goodbye to theP in your PB&J

According to the Wall Street Journal, climate change is wreaking havoc on the peanut industry—record heat this year brought on droughts that have devastated peanut crop yields, radically driving up prices. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the price of a ton of peanuts at around $1,150—it was $450 per ton last year. And next year is expected to be just as dry.

Just watch—Skippy’s will remake itself as a hipper, pricier product, to  be served with a good wine.

Nothing but hot air

Arizona has plans to create what could be one of the greenest energy power plants the world has ever seen—using nothing but hot air. Oh, and what will be the second tallest structure ever built. The plan, a 2,600-foot-tall solar updraft tower, will generate 200 megawatts of electricity and should last at least 90 years. The idea is fairly simple: A huge greenhouse-like translucent canopy will surround the tower, and the sun’s rays penetrate the canopy and heat the air, which rises through the tower. And unlike solar, it even works at night (the earth soaks up a lot of heat during the day, and keeps the air warm all night). The tower would be made of concrete and is expected to pay back its construction ($750 million) and carbon debt in 2.5 years. Con­struction is estimated to provide about 1,500 jobs.

Won’t somebody please think of the fishes?

One of the main criticisms of hydroelectric power (think dams) is the heavy toll the turbines take on the fish: They get shredded up as they go through if the turbines are allowed to spin at 100%. The problem may soon be a thing of the past, though. Scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute and Alden Labortories have come up with a new fish-friendly turbine that boasts a 100% survival rate for fishes passing though, even when they’re turned up to the max. Hydropower currently provides about 7% of the nation’s electricity, and the ability to use these new turbines at full capacity is estimate to produce 8,500 more megawatts of power.

Worried about toxins in your air? Check your poop!

Seriously. Seven Cambridge University undergraduate students spent the summer of ’09 messing with the genes of the bacteria E. coli, and have managed to get the bacteria to secrete several different- colored pigments based on toxins they come in contact with. Since E. coli is present in everyone’s gut, these specially designed versions could be used to alert you (by the color of your poo) if you’re consuming particular toxins (among other things).

Solar-powered air travel

Getting a conventional airplane up into the air for any realistic amount of time using solar panels is probably a long way off—but how about a solar-powered helium blimp? Well, that’s already here. Toronto-based startup company SolarShip has recently unveiled a hybrid airship/airplane: the large triangle-shaped craft is filled with helium (just a bit less than what would be required to lift it off the ground) and lithium-ion batteries (powered by solar panels) power turbines that provide thrust. The combination of static lift (blimp) and aerodynamic lift (airplane) get it off the ground. The craft can carry about 2,205 pounds and can travel more than 600 miles.

Clean water from the sun

There’s been all sorts of third-world water purification innovations lately—the small-scale ultraviolet purification stations in India, for example. The Eliodomestico, though, is one of the neatest things I’ve seen in a long time: a small still made of terracotta and a zinc-plated sheet. You just pour water into the spout at the top and wait. Heat from the sun turns the water to steam which condenses and collects in the bowl at the bottom—safe and drinkable. The inventor, Gabriele Diamanti, released the design under a Creative Commons license and would like to see it built by local workers.

This article was originally published on October 31, 2011.