environment and sustainability

Are the days of ICE numbered?

Today, one of the biggest automakers on the planet and the company accredited with developing the mass production assembly line has announced they will be aggressively moving to electrifying their vehicles. This is significant because Ford Motors reiterated that they were going to halt production of most cars in the US – in favor of trucks and light duty vehicles.  Why electrify?

First, electric motors are superior to internal combustion engines in many ways.  Especially torque, when a lot of it is needed for pulling heavy loads uphill.  Second, consumer demand.  Electric motors are by far the most prevalent motive drivers in the world and automotive consumers are now widely recognizing how superior they are at moving vehicles.  Third, they have no air (and noise) pollution.  So, fuel economy standards become essentially irrelevant.  Replaced only by customer demands for adequate range and ready access to charging (refueling) stations.  With electrical outlets being nearly ubiquitous and solutions like Project FreeCharge filling in all the gaps sustainably, it’s easy to see how the days of the internal combustion engine are truly numbered.

As an engineer, I am honored to know that my profession has done great things and is responsible for many achievements in society – like mass production and automation.  I truly believe that engineers are the unsung heroes of civilization’s advances.  Always keen to solve a problem.  Always ethical and honorable – unlike lawyers, doctors and even accountants.  Engineers are very humble and rarely in the limelight – unlike actors, vloggers and politicians.  One might even say that is the engineer’s downfall.  But, that is another story for another time.

In looking back at history, I also know that without mechanical engineers, fossil fueled engines would have never reached the penetration they have today.  Mass production, automation and even the engines themselves would have never been so reliable as they are now.  So it is with mixed emotions, I am toasting the demise of the internal combustion engine!  It’s got some incredible engineering behind it.  But it is, at best, 30% efficient (vs 90% for electric motors) and the device primarily responsible for all air pollution and climate change on the planet.   Ugh.

Thankfully there is a growing organization of engineers committed to sustainable energy and energy efficiency.  The Association of Energy Engineers (AEE) is active in over 100 countries and always on the lookout to making man kind’s energy systems more efficient and sustainable.  So, a toast to my fellow energy engineers quietly and humbly dedicated to making the world a better place.  More efficient.  More productive.  And soon, a lot more sustainable!

I would challenge all drivers to demand change and buy only electric vehicles.  That will drive further competition to make better cars, better batteries and more ubiquitous charging outlets.  The end result – clean air and a slowing or halting of the pending disaster called climate change!

Rising Seas from Melting Ice Caps

OK carbon emitters and deniers, you’ve ignored the warnings and now you are getting the results.  Cities like Norfolk and Miami as well as the military are planning on building sea walls, raising buildings and fortifying themselves, but they’re in a long race with a relentless rising tide that is picking up speed.  If you’re in naval facilities,  that means billions in repairs.  Great news for infrastructure contractors and really bad news for taxpayers.  NPR published this advanced NOAA report here.

How does a lotus leaf protect your car?

Something everyone on the planet has first hand experience with is cars.  With harsh weather, sunshine, road salts and other chemicals being thrown at your vehicle, literally at breakneck speeds, protecting the paint and underlying metal is a big challenge.  Once the clear coat or paint starts eroding, your expensive vehicle starts looking bad.  Or worse, the metal starts corroding…  So how does a lotus leaf protect the paint?  Is it some new kind of vegan wrap?  No, not exactly.

The surface of a lotus leaf actually repels water.  It’s how the giant leaf stays afloat and shields the fish underneath from the sun and other predators. By studying and learning from nature, biologists and chemists have been able develop amazing new nano-coatings that repel water, oils and other undesirable elements to better protect surfaces, create new capabilities and make life better.

New nano-coatings can give painted metals, plastics and other materials super hydrophobic, oleophobic and even antistatic properties.   Imagine a car exterior or interior that repels water and oils making cleanup faster and easier.  That means it stays cleaner longer, uses less soap or detergents and requires less scrubbing or washing.  What if this “miracle coating” was permanent or lasted for years?   That would save a lot of time and money and be a whole lot better for the environment!

With billions of cars on the road, this is a BIG deal and the industry is taking off.  Nano-coatings when applied properly, put a very thin, typically clear or invisible layer that molecularly bonds to the substrate, e.g. painted metals, plastic, fabric, etc.  For car exteriors, silicone dioxide and ceramic blends are becoming popular due to the hardness and heat resistance.  The value of the hardness can tend to be overstated though.  Any material can scratch when scraped against a similarly hard material or hit with enough impact.  Clear coatings are mostly silicone dioxide or some type of clear substance with other “hardeners” added.  They are not 100% ceramic or even diamond for that matter, else they would be opaque (not clear). So, a small rock can certainly scratch the coating or dent the underlying paint and metal.  BUT, it will certainly reduce the scratches, depending on the materials and concentrations in the coating.  Where the hardness will be most beneficial is protecting against everyday use like fingernail scratches at the door handles and cloth scratches from washing or drying.  Even soft sponges trap dirt.  Unlike waxes, swirl marks should be a thing of the past as buffing is no longer necessary.

The biggest benefit comes from the hydrophobic properties of the nano-coating.  The ability to repel water or oils or other dirt elements keeps the surface cleaner, longer.  And when cleanup is needed, it’s a lot easier as the water droplets have less surface area in contact with the surface meaning less hard calcium buildup and less dirt to clean.  That means, fewer chemicals, milder, more sustainable soaps, less scrubbing and fewer scratches wearing down the paint.  Essentially and a much longer lasting beautiful shine without the hassles.  Best of all, nano-coatings are inexpensive.  Some even last for years as opposed to weeks or months like waxes and sealers.  At the low cost, there’s really no reason not to add nano-coatings to protect your investments.

PermaClean Auto 9H is a unique silicone/ceramic hybrid polymer nano-technology that is hard, but provides added elasticity.  It does not require special applicators as it can be sprayed or wiped on in minutes by any consumer.  It dries in 5 minutes and cures in 24 hours (faster under heat lamps).  It has a special benefit of adding temperature resistance up to 500C (932F) and UV protection to save your investment from baking in the sun.  It’s highly durable and has been tested to last for 5-6 years.  Of course, treating a new car or having the paint re-conditioned by a pro before hand is ideal.  3fficient recently launched an entire line of specialty nano-coatings that add amazing properties to everyday surfaces like windows that reject solar heat, kitchens that reject bacteria, fabrics that reject spills and cars that stay cleaner longer.

Important note.  When comparing products, remember to compare features and durability first.  When comparing price, always calculate the cost per coverage area ($/SF) and how long it will last – not the cost per ounce or bottle.  Some cheaper products don’t last very long and many are very expensive for the limited area they cover.

GAO: Climate change now costing U.S. billions

Webster’s defines addiction as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance”.  “Persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful“.  Americans, strike that, Humans are easily addicted.  We know deep down that our addiction is very costly. Yet we keep at it.  Often hoping someone else will deal with our problem and just make it go away.  But, the problem is, it usually doesn’t.  In fact, it typically gets worse.  Much worse.  According to addiction.com, it starts with denial, then anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In the United States and much of the developed world, we have many addictions, but one that is now showing great harm to all of humanity is our addiction to fossil fuels.  While nearly every climate scientist in the world and most natural scientists are in firm agreement, it really doesn’t take a science degree to observe what is happening over time and deduce the root cause.  Our natural world is drastically changing before our eyes.  As a species on top of the food chain, we are in clear denial.  Most business and regulatory decisions are still being made on short term economic impacts without regard to long term economics and jobs or for that matter, resources.

With the Trump administration in firm denial of our fossil folly, the implications of our addictions are swelling rapidly.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature is doing her thing and seems to be ignoring social media.  Disasters from man made global warming are continuing to worsen and become more frequent.  But finally, the major re-insurers and even the GAO are assigning economic impacts to these disasters and THAT will change business decisions in capital markets. No doubt the addicts will try to squelch the scientists and doctors trying to fix the addiction (to fossil fuels), but in the end we all have to own up to our own addictions and take actions.

We can cost effectively make our buildings incredibly efficient and smarter, especially the existing ones.  We can choose renewable energy on our buildings.  We can adding storage to eliminate “the middle man” (utilities).  We can choose to buy electric vehicles and easily charge them at home, work or on the go like we do our cell phones. Above all, we MUST defend our right to choose to end the fossil folly that is driving our planet to extinction like the dinosaurs.  In the end, actions speak louder than words.  Do more with less!  Be 3fficient.

How to cut $21 Billion a year in healthcare costs

When I was a kid, a lot more people smoked.  But they usually knew that it was bad for you and smelly.  When they asked my parents if they would mind if they smoked, My dad would simply say, “go right ahead – but don’t exhale”.  It seems a lot of city dwellers are getting fed up with cars and trucks that exhale a whole lot more smoke.  Several European Countries are moving towards banning all new sales of internal combustion engines.  Parisians may be among the first to breathe a collective sigh of relief from air and noise pollution as the city is considering an outright ban of all diesel engines.

As a society, our continued failure is the right to clean air.  Something I learned at a young age when I worked in nuclear power, “for every failure, there is a root cause”.  While I don’t think that health care is a “right”, I do agree that the costs are out of control.  In the United States, per capita health care costs are among the highest on the planet.  It turns out, the majority of health care costs are directly related to pollution.  According to the latest report by the American Lung Association (ALA), air pollution directly accounts for: 220,000 days of missed work, 109,000 asthma-related attacks and 2,580 premature deaths per annum.  Putting a price tag on all that adds up to $21 billion a year – in just 10 states.  The primary source is burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants.

While the ALA report promotes a more complex and gradual policy shift, I firmly believe the easier solution is to put that cost directly on the source – right at the gas pumps or the utility meter.  Then, a special health fund would go directly to, and only to, asthma and lung-related costs for consumers in the communities where the energy was purchased.  In some cases, such as near ports, special toll road fees could be deployed.  Consumers would quickly shift from fossil fueled cars and homes to zero emission counterparts.   The fund would decline over time, but so would demand – to the benefit of us all.  While I’m not a “policy wonk”, I can’t think of anything more democratic and straight forward than that.

On a personal note: we replaced our two family vehicles with an all electric for local commuting and a hybrid for the long hauls.  The all electric is by far the vehicle of choice – fast, quiet, comfortable, no smog checks, oil changes or trips to the gas station – ever!

How US coastline would change when the ice melts

According to estimates of the worst-case scenario, global sea levels will rise by up to 10 feet in the next century.  That may not seem like much, but it threatens millions of citizens in coastal communities and will result in billions of dollars in construction costs.  Then again, maybe that’s what big infrastructure companies and unions want.  The bigger problem is the global temperature changes causing all this melting is destroying natural resources and the food chain we all depend on…  How US coastline would change when all ice melts – Business Insider

Feds: Drought kills 66 million trees in California’s Sierra

The number of trees in California’s Sierra Nevada forests killed by drought, a bark beetle epidemic and warmer temperatures has dramatically increased since last year, raising fears they will fuel catastrophic wildfires and endanger people’s lives, officials said Wednesday.

The root cause – man made climate change.  The more fossil fuels we burn, the more pollution causing the greenhouse effect on this fragile planet.  The result is higher average temperatures, extended droughts and then come the bugs and infestations.  All we have to do is say yes to more efficiency, yes to renewables and no to fossil fuels.  It’s that simple.

Details: Feds: Drought kills 66 million trees in California’s Sierra | SanDiegoUnionTribune.com

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah – seriously…

When it comes to comedy, Jimmy Kimmel is right up there.  Now my new favorites are climate scientists.   As Jimmy says, ” they are people just like you and I but smarter”.  I just wish they were truly joking.   You have to watch this excerpt all the way to the end….  Then check out what you can do to help.

‘I don’t give a f— if we agree’

While most media thrives on conflict and polarizing discussions, US politicians often follow their “leadership”.  Climate change really isn’t a debate, but for those who think it is, the “Govenator” offer these words.  Arnold Schwarzenegger has long been a passionate advocate for alternative energy.

‘I don’t give a f— if we agree’

 Arnold Schwarzenegger just gave a climate change speech that will give you chills

Man or Planet?

As we all “celebrate”  #EarthDay here are some questions to ponder:

  • Oil or sun?
  • Gas or electric?
  • Surf or turf?
  • Polarize or attract?
  • Man made or natural?

And now, the perspective…

Oil or Sun?  Will big oil and natural gas continue to be the fuel of choice?  Probably for awhile if only for the pure inertia over the last 100 years.  If we were to level the playing field by adding a national carbon, air pollution or asthma tax to fossil fuels, the free market would immediately choose renewables over fossil fuels.  In the interim, eliminating tax incentives for mature industries (e.g. oil, coal and gas) and leaving them in for renewables (e.g. solar and wind) would ease the unfair advantage of polluting fuels.

Gas or Electric?  Will gas vehicles or electric vehicles dominate transportation?  In most cities, mass transit and electric vehicles are already becoming the de facto winner for cost and convenience.  Since most people commute less than 35 miles a day and 90% commute under 80 miles a day, EVs are the clear winner already.  My wife and I each had our own car, then opted to change to a pool car mentality when we got our first EV.  Now, the second (gas car) is rarely used, we have virtually eliminated visits to the pump, the smog station and the mechanic.  We plug in every night and our electric bill has only gone up a few bucks a month while the gas and maintenance bills have been virtually eliminated.

Surf or Turf?  With prolonged #droughts and many communities literally running out of drinking water, will we ignore lakes, streams and agriculture or stick with turf as the battles over “water rights” heat up?  I live in a HOA, like many others, so there’s a lot of pressure to keep consistency and curb appeal.  But, we simply couldn’t ignore our responsibilities (and rising water bills) any longer.  Last year, my wife and I replaced our front lawn with beautiful flowering native plants.  Our water bill instantly dropped 40%.  In San Diego County, where we live, 66% of all water goes to single family dwellings like ours.  In California, we are tasked with cutting water use by 25%.  Cutting 40% from 66% of all water use yields 26.4% water savings immediately.  The county water authority, like many others in the US, is considering billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades for water recycling plants.  So, before increasing taxes, wouldn’t it be more prudent to incentivize homeowners to replace their water hungry lawns with natives first?  This would instantly eliminate 40 – 70% of domestic water waste, create local jobs and create beautiful natural habitats.

Polarize or Attract?  Will big media and big government (e.g. U.S. Congress) continue to polarize all politics as either far left or far right, or will Americans realize we have far more in common than we do different?  Perhaps we can instead focus on the “greater good” and delay or set aside our self interests.  It’s easier to be wasteful, but far less expensive to conserve.  It’s easier to focus on our own needs, but far more rewarding to think about our brother’s needs.

Man Made or Natural?  Is #climate change “man made” or naturally occurring?  I think it’s an irrelevant question. Why?  Because if all these changes are not “man made”, we are “screwed” because then there’s nothing we can do about it.  Since we rely on this planet for – well – everything, perhaps we had better treat it a little better and stop laying waste to it so rapidly?  FWIW, with roughly 7 billion people now on the planet, driving internal combustion engines and using fossil power, wouldn’t it be impossible not to have a major impact?

Personally, I choose to be an optimist and keep doing my best to reduce my environmental impact.  I hope you will too!  Every Day.

It’s time to cut loose!

Spring is here and along with it come all the amazing colors and festivities.  Enjoying the warm weather and the upcoming Earth Day celebrations reminds us of the fragile shrinking planet we all share.  Nobody is more keenly aware of that than our students.

Today’s students are highly social and engaged in environmental, social and fiscal sustainability.  In fact, most universities have student run sustainability councils and their own budgets for capital improvements.  Students today, demand that their schools, colleges and universities have environmental sustainability on top of their priority list.  As a result, some of the most progressive universities and colleges differentiate themselves by their assault on reducing carbon and waste.

This same enthusiasm has grown into the corporate world and city-scape.  Those same grads live an increasingly mobile lifestyle and are migrating to engaging, energized communities.  They know that climate change is not their children’s responsibility, it is theirs.  As city leaders and planners look for options to keep their cities relevant and digitally connected, they are seeking to energize there cities and metro centers.  Fortunately the word is getting out and universities and cities alike are integrating our growing portfolio of smart city and campus solutions into their plans.

The iconic Strawberry Trees are being designed into several new developments and park enhancements.  The cool Evodia tables are making their way into many campus budgets and dining areas.  Our newest product, the Arc locker-style charging station is already in several colleges and events.  The newest version starts coming off the production line next week.  All of these were designed and developed by college grads looking to make the world a better place.

Last year, we adopted Strawberry energy and SolGreen.  And this week, we announced adding WrightGrid as a partner.  We are rapidly developing an amazing portfolio of free solar-powered charging stations and beautiful urban furniture, available in one place – 3fficient.com.  We have more awesome stuff incubating and more great news coming as we shape an entirely new industry of resilient, smart charging for the masses that is truly zero carbon (not to be confused with net-zero energy). So, next time you’re outdoors on a campus, a park, a bike trail, an event or just about any venue, ask yourself, would this be a good place for a lot of people to charge their devices for free with zero carbon?

The sun is free.  Shouldn’t solar energy be free too?

Doug Poffinbarger, CEO 3fficient.

Scientists: Will humanity survive our bad habits?

At our current pace of pollution, the Earth may cease to be a “safe operating space” for humans in the coming decades.  Unfortunately, that is the conclusion of a new paper published in the journal of science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.  As a race, we have shown that we can respond to urgent environmental crises, but the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.

The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

“What the science has shown is that human activities – economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds joint appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center, and is the lead author of the paper.

These are not future problems, but rather urgent matters, according to Steffen, who said that the economic boom since 1950 and the globalized economy have accelerated the transgression of the boundaries. No one knows exactly when push will come to shove, but he said the possible destabilization of the “Earth System” as a whole could occur in a time frame of “decades out to a century.”

The researchers focused on nine separate planetary boundaries first identified by scientists in a 2009 paper. These boundaries set theoretical limits on changes to the environment, and include ozone depletion, freshwater use, ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol pollution and the introduction of exotic chemicals and modified organisms.

Beyond each planetary boundary is a “zone of uncertainty.” This zone is meant to acknowledge the inherent uncertainties in the calculations, and to offer decision-makers a bit of a buffer, so that they can potentially take action before it’s too late to make a difference. Beyond that zone of uncertainty is the unknown — planetary conditions unfamiliar to us.

“The boundary is not like the edge of the cliff,” said Ray Pierrehumbert, an expert on Earth systems at the University of Chicago. “They’re a little bit more like danger warnings, like high temperature gauges on your car.”

Pierrehumbert, who was not involved in the paper published in Science, added that a planetary boundary “is like an avalanche warning tape on a ski slope.”

The scientists say there is no certainty that catastrophe will follow the transgression of these boundaries. Rather, the scientists cite the precautionary principle: We know that human civilization has risen and flourished in the past 10,000 years — an epoch known as the Holocene — under relatively stable environmental conditions.

No one knows what will happen to civilization if planetary conditions continue to change. But the authors of the Science paper write that the planet “is likely to be much less hospitable to the development of human societies.”

The authors make clear that their goal is not to offer solutions, but simply to provide information. This is a kind of report card, exploiting new data from the past five years.

It’s not just a list of Fs. The ozone boundary is the best example of world leaders responding swiftly to a looming environmental disaster. After the discovery of an expanding ozone hole caused by man-made chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, the nations of the world banned CFCs in the 1980s.

This young field of research draws from such disciplines as ecology, geology, chemistry, atmospheric science, marine biology and economics. It’s known generally as Earth Systems Science. The researchers acknowledge the uncertainties inherent in what they’re doing. Some planetary boundaries, such as “introduction of novel entities” — CFCs would be an example of such things — remain enigmatic and not easily quantified.

Better understood is the role of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The safe-operating-zone boundary for CO2 had previously been estimated at levels up to 350 parts per million. That’s the boundary — and we’re already past that, with the current levels close to 400 ppm, according to the paper. That puts the planet in the CO2 zone of uncertainty that the authors say extends from 350 to 450 ppm.

At the rate CO2 is rising — about 1 or 2 ppm per year — we will surpass 450 ppm in just a couple of decades, said Katherine Richardson, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and a co-author of the new paper.

Humanity may have run into trouble with planetary boundaries even in prehistoric times, said Richard Alley, a Penn State geoscientist who was not part of this latest research. The invention of agriculture may have been a response to food scarcity as hunting and gathering cultures spread around, and filled up, the planet, he said.

“It’s pretty clear we were lowering the carrying capacity for hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago,” Alley said.

There are today more than 7 billion people, using an increasing quantity of resources, turning forest into farmland, boosting the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and driving other species to extinction. The relatively sudden efflorescence of humanity has led many researchers to declare that this is a new geological era, the human age, often referred to as the Anthropocene.

The Earth has faced shocks before, and the biosphere has always recovered. Hundreds of millions of years ago, the planet apparently froze over — becoming “Snowball Earth.” About 66 million years ago, it was jolted by a mountain-sized rock from space that killed half the species on the planet, including the non-avian dinosaurs. Life on Earth always bounced back from these shocks.

“The planet is going to take care of itself. It’s going to be here,” Richardson said.  However, the human race may not be around to witness it.

“There’s a lot of emotion involved in this. If you think about it, the American ethic is, ‘the sky’s the limit.’ And here you have people coming on and saying, no it isn’t, the Earth’s the limit,” she said.

Technology can potentially provide solutions to many of the environmental problems we face today. But technological innovations often come with unforeseen consequences. Pierrehumbert said we should be wary of becoming too dependent on technological fixes for global challenges.

“The trends are toward layering on more and more technology so that we are more and more dependent on our technological systems to live outside these boundaries,” he said. “It becomes more and more like living on a spaceship than living on a planet.”

The Daily Show – Burn Noticed

Funny and scary at the same time. Maybe a shock buzzer for politicians would be a good invention? Every time they lie or say something really dumb, they get a shock…

Watch this to see what I mean.

It all boils down to the next 15 years

US Congress has gotten really good at kicking the can down the road, especially when it comes to climate change.  Doesn’t matter what party is in power.  It’s really up to the city leaders to take action – now.  Here’s why.

A major new report finds that if infrastructure investments during the next 15 years follow the current path of high carbon dioxide emissions, the world will sail well past the threshold of what world leaders consider to be dangerous amounts of global warming.

But the report also argues that it’s possible to foster economic growth and tackle climate change at the same time, in nations both rich and poor.

“Yes, it is possible to have better growth and better climate,” said Felipe Calderón, the former president of Mexico, who co-chaired a commission of 24 leaders from government, business, finance and economics in 19 countries. “We need to make some fundamental changes and tough choices.”

To put it more bluntly, Calderón said Tuesday, the next 15 years of development decisions will “determine the future of the world.”   Read more here.  http://mashable.com/2014/09/16/global-warming-fate-15-years/