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Dave Heun

Dave Heun is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in publishing and digital media. Heun is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism. He worked as a reporter and editor for 24 years at the Kane County Chronicle, and spent seven years in marketing and communications in the medical laser industry. He has also been a freelance writer for the past eight years with the Daily Herald in the Chicago suburbs. His writing experience covers many facets from business, the arts, and sports, to environmental issues and high-energy physics. Part of his role with the medical equipment company called for working with environmental consultants and recycling companies involved with the recycling of scrap materials from old medical equipment, particularly surgical lasers.

SmartHome lives up to its name in a green future

They start out as a museum exhibit for the curious, providing a look into the future and spreading knowledge about things that capture our imagination.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has featured a “green home” for visitors to learn about building and living in a truly sustainable home.

Now, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has opened its PNC SmartHome Cleveland to visitors, providing tours of a home that could represent the future of energy-efficient housing.

PNC SmartHome Cleveland was constructed on museum grounds as part of an exhibition called “Climate Change.”

Conservationists have long felt construction in the United States would do well to consider that a country like Germany has thousands of furnace-free homes built at a “cutting-edge” efficiency standard that features walls more than a foot thick, large triple-paned windows, doors that resemble bank vaults, and other engineering methods that cut cooling and heating costs. It’s a concept known as a “passive house” and has been reported in the media that only about 15 such houses exist in the United States.

But there is one in Cleveland now. And though it currently stands as a museum exhibit, the SmartHome Cleveland will eventually be removed and presented to the public as a property available for purchase as a new home in the Cleveland area.

Designed to function without a furnace, SmartHome Cleveland is reported to be 90 percent more energy efficient than a typical home. It was constructed with sustainable materials and furnishings, advanced stormwater techniques, healthy housing techniques and designed to connect occupants to nature.

Three key elements distinguish “passive house” structures from typical houses: high levels of insulation, with walls up to 18 inches thick; a carefully sealed building envelope with minimal air leakage combined with efficient heat-recovery ventilation for superior indoor air quality; and ultra high-performance windows—at least double-paned and typically triple-paned. The result is a home with no drafts, no cold spots and extremely low heating bills.

The “Climate Change” exhibits will be on display through Dec. 31, 2011, in the museum’s Kahn Hall, but SmartHome Cleveland will be on display only from June to September 2011. SmartHome is funded by PNC Bank, the Cleveland Foundation and various other organizations and donors.

Discovery center illustrates and teaches green living

Constructing a building with conservation and environment in mind is one thing. But having the building serve the purpose of educating future generations about “green living” makes it a win-win for the environmentally conscious.

That philosophy guided the park district in St. Charles, IL, through the design and construction of its Hickory Knolls Discovery Center. A LEED-certified building, Hickory Knolls Discovery Center met a rigorous set of criteria to satisfy the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines, and it now invites the public to attend tours and numerous classes or programs at the newly-opened nature facility to learn of the many ways to “go green” — at home, at work, any where, any time.

The discovery center hopes to get people thinking that small changes in habits can lead to positive impacts on our planet, even if it is as simple as starting a home recycling program or converting to CFL light bulbs.

The center itself was planned to be as sustainable as possible, from the installation of plants on the roof to all aspects meeting LEED specifications, which monitor such things as indoor air quality, water efficiency, and CO2 emissions.  Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based, nonprofit consortium of building industry leaders, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The program’s guidelines serve to minimize environmental impact of the construction process.

“The entire building in and of itself is an exhibit,” says Pam Otto , Manager of Nature Programs and Interpretive Services.  “We want to be a source of inspiration to people who are considering adopting green practices in their own lives.”

Some of the decisions made by the park district included leaving the concrete block and brick walls exposed.  “Choosing not to cover them with sheetrock and paint conserved resources,” says Otto, while an integral color concrete floor in many areas of the building did away with the need for carpeting or tile and the inherent adhesive materials necessary for their installation.

Homeowners looking to remodel an existing structure using environmentally-friendly designs and products, or those who are contemplating new construction, could learn much from a center like Hickory Knolls as a source of information and ideas to get any project off to the greenest start possible.

Is your city practicing its own green ideas?

If the city or village you live in encourages “green living” by promoting recycling programs, rain barrel use, CFL or LED lights, and restrictions on water use during hot summer months, you’d like to know that the city fathers practice what they preach.

A good way to find out would be to determine what sort of green practices are in place at City Hall and other municipal buildings and operations.

Chances are, you will find a “green team” in place at the city level, pushing for conservation through example as much as through educational and marketing campaigns.

In Geneva, IL, a “Green Team” has been assembled with a representative from the various city departments being a part of this panel that studies ways for the city to embrace conservation projects and habits.

But it starts right in their own surroundings, with the City Hall building being upgraded with more energy-efficient equipment — from the HVAC system to the CFL lights on timers replacing incandescent bulbs.

Putting a dishwasher in the City Hall building may sound odd, but it allows plates, glasses and mugs to be cleaned and reused, rather than supplying the building with wasteful paper products, single-use plastic forks, knives and spoons, or even Styrofoam products.

Programmable thermostats in Geneva’s water treatment plant are an example of how most city buildings have been upgraded in an effort to reduce power costs. In another interesting twist, the gas generated from the main digester building that treats waste water is being used to provide fuel to heat exchangers. Rather than ship sludge off to landfills, the high-quality sludge is being used to fertilize farm fields.

The city takes its green measures to the street, literally. Street lighting has been converted from mercury vapor to more efficient high-pressure sodium, and city crews are recycling tree limbs and branches into wood chips, while also recycling scrap metal as a source of revenue.

Ongoing energy audits allow the city to track waste and make improvements in older city buildings.

Last, but not least, don’t be surprised if you see police cruising around your hometowns on a Segway in the future. There would still be squad cars available for emergency response, but fewer of them if the police are making some rounds through town on a Segway – thus saving on fuel costs and lowering greenhouse gases in the environment.

No small plans for biotech company banking on sun, water to produce fuel

As “green” technology expands, biotechnology companies will continue to make promising announcements about advancements in energy and conservation. How about a biotechnology proclamation that essentially says a way to realize “energy independence” is in the offing?

Joule Unlimited, out of Cambridge, Mass., was the topic of recent reports after the company announced it was able to produce fuel that can run jet engines through the invention of a genetically engineered organism. Joule Unlimited says this organism secretes diesel fuel or ethanol whenever it is exposed to sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Best of all, the company claims it can use the organism to produce renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates and in small or large facilities at a cost similar to those creating the cheapest fossil fuels.

Joule’s website uses the catchphrase “energy independence” and does it with confidence, based on the belief that this discovery can at some point revolutionize energy and eliminate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Experts in the renewable energy research world are understandably skeptical about Joule’s discovery and proclamation, claiming it is an exciting process but it is unproven and is likely to encounter problems in collecting the fuel that the organism is creating.

Trying to create fuel from solar energy is nothing new to the energy research industry, as it has been going on for decades. Joule executives believe they will make more progress than others because they have eliminated the need for tons of corn or algae that must be grown, harvested and destroyed to extract a fuel that must still be treated and refined.

Joule operates with what it is called a cyanobacterium, which has been patented for producing diesel molecules. The cyanobacterium, sometimes called blue-green algae, can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre annually, more than four times the most efficient algal process for making fuel – at a cost they estimate at $30 a barrel.
The cyanobacterium is found virtually everywhere and is less complex than algae, which makes Joule researchers believe it will be easier to genetically manipulate. The organisms are engineered to take in sunlight and carbon dioxide, then produce and secrete ethanol or hydrocarbons as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

The company reports that it envisions building facilities near power plants and feeding waste carbon dioxide to its cyanobacteria so it can reduce carbon emissions at the same time. Flat, solar-panel style module “bioreactors” house the cyanobacterium, which means the company can build large or small production facilities.

While detractors say the major problem will be collection of the fuel, Joule Unlimited is forging forward with a 10-acre demonstration facility in Cambridge in hopes that it will be operating commercially in less than two years.

Wind power industry continues offshore push in U.S.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) recently continued its push for clean energy and more emphasis on its offshore wind siting policies.

Christopher Long, an experienced energy policy crafter in Rhode Island, will serve AWEA as the Manager of Offshore Wind and Siting Policy, working as a lead staff member and advocate on offshore wind issues.

His work will include staffing the association’s Offshore Wind Working Group and acting as the liaison to the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, which AWEA helped launch in 2010. He was prominent in the numerous sessions regarding the offshore wind business opportunity at WINDPOWER 2011, the world’s largest wind energy conference, held in Anaheim, Calif.

In addition, Long will assist AWEA on siting issues including interactions with wildlife, sound and visual impacts, and related permitting issues.
One of Long’s past primary responsibilities was energy policy including the development of offshore wind energy projects, and he was appointed to represent Rhode Island in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium.

Long was also a fellow in the New England Clean Energy Council’s Leading Clean Energy Ventures program at the Boston University School of Management, which focused on innovation, venture formation, technology commercialization and job creation in the clean energy economy.

Because of high electricity costs and the close proximity of abundant offshore wind resources to major population centers, offshore wind can provide cost-competitive electricity to our nation’s coastal regions and will help to stimulate economic development, diversify our energy supply, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The association considers 2011 to represent a significant milestone year for wind power, with several major developments and coordinated strategic plans for an offshore wind industry in the United States.

Commercial-scale off-shore wind turbines have been in use in Europe to help provide power to communities facing high-energy costs, or those that encounter less wind on land. Wind turbines in the ocean generally encounter a steady, stronger wind stream than land-based turbines, which have to rely on power generators in many cases.

As rain barrel use grows so do questions and answers

Call it Yankee ingenuity if you will, but Americans are becoming more curious – and acceptable – of the idea of using rain barrels on their property because they have figured out ways to make them look good and operate properly.

This newest wave of acceptance for rain barrels is fueled mostly by the growing green movement – because the rain barrel captures rainfall and directs it back toward trees and plants, instead of down driveways and streets into the sewer system. It is also fueled by a better understanding and growing knowledge of what the barrels do and don’t do, in addition to addressing some common worries about placing these rain collectors near a home.

First, it seems that most fears about rain barrels have to do with the nuisances they attract, as they can become an inviting breeding ground for mosquitoes or a gathering spot for thirsty animals. The solution is fairly obvious. It is highly recommended that a screen, much like those used on windows, is placed atop the rain barrel. A good caulking job at the spot where the downspout comes into the barrel can fill up any potential gaps.

Those not familiar with rain barrels seem to think you have to scoop the water out of the barrel with a pail or bucket when you want to use it for watering. A rain barrel with a hose fitting is the most common, and it allows you to just screw on a hose and start watering when needed.

There are also general concerns about rain barrels in terms of the amount of rainwater they can handle. Or, more accurately, will a rain barrel ever overflow during heavy rains, or will it go dry quickly during dry spells?

Experts reveal that every inch of rainfall on a 1,000-square-foot roof will result in 600 gallons of rainwater collected. This basically means you will fill a barrel, or several barrels around your home, in very little time. Those thinking in terms of saving money on tap water usage can get very interested in a rain barrel with those kinds of numbers. A watering can will be used hundreds of times with that kind of rainwater storage on your property.

If you live in a rainy part of the country where, say, it is not uncommon to get 20 inches of rain in the spring and summer, it adds up quickly to as much as 12,000 gallons of free water. It makes sense to build or buy a rain barrel that has an overflow mechanism, such as an inside tube that directs water away from a house to garden or yard.

And finally, after all of the financial and conservation savings on tap water use, those who support the rain barrel concept simply feel that rainwater is excellent for lawns, flowers and trees. There is no denying that argument, based on how plant life has flourished from rainwater since the dawn of time.

A change in furniture showroom lighting saves energy

That nice furniture you look at on a showroom floor usually has light cast on it for effect – and those lights can be on 12 or more hours a day.

It represents another area in which going green can save money, plus have a better effect on the products being showcased in stores and warehouses across the country.

European Furniture Warehouse, a Chicago retail business that imports modern classic and contemporary European style furniture, is an example of a company that relies on precision lighting to highlight its products. The furniture importer recently replaced 1,030 75-watt halogen bulbs in their showroom floor with Energy Brite solid-state LED lights that use only 15 watts without sacrificing the quality of the lighting.

“We had heard about other businesses saving on energy costs by using LED lighting,” said Randy Racana, vice president of EuroFurniture. “We did the research and added up the potential savings. The decision to switch was simple, the math was very clear,”

EuroFurniture sought out the help of Go Green Technologies, a Schaumburg, Ill., company specializing in energy-reducing green technologies, to make the switch.

“We looked at the existing lighting of EuroFurniture and evaluated their needs,” says Ron Bender, vice president of Go Green Technologies. “We presented them with an LED alternative and showed them the benefits.”

Those benefits, and the math that was attractive to Racana, showed that over the course of a year, EuroFurniture would save nearly $30,000 or about 80 percent on energy costs.

But the new bulbs represented other savings.  Unlike halogens, the LED lights generate very little heat, so EuroFurniture is able to cut 15 percent of its air conditioning bill. With the 50,000-hour life expectancy of an LED, or about 11 years, halogen bulbs would need to be replaced nearly 20 times more than a single installed LED bulb.

The old halogens used a flood pattern, but the new LEDs have a 45-degree beam. “The spot-lighting is a much better way to showcase our furniture,” says Racana, “Rather than flooding the showroom, we are now displaying our furniture like pieces of art.”

Over time the furniture stands to benefit as well. Ultraviolet rays from halogen bulbs deteriorate artwork and furniture, while LED lights transmit no ultraviolet emissions. LED lighting also does not attract bugs. Some businesses install LED lighting in entryways just to keep buzzing insects from entering their establishments.

This sustainable community provides blueprint for future projects

In the not-too-distant future it’s possible, and even likely, that new subdivisions or “sustainable community” developments will follow a blueprint similar to Serosun Farms in Hampshire, IL.

This residential development located on 410 acres in Kane County and about 65 miles west of Chicago features custom homes that emphasize environmentally sustainable living.

But it also offers surroundings that fit right in with that concept, giving the title of “sustainable community” some significant meaning, while establishing what many believe will be a growing trend.

The buyers of these homes will be working closely with the developer, John DeWald & Associates, when discussions take place about design and construction. Architects and builders at Serosun Farms incorporate passive design elements that take into effect wind and sun patterns.

Another key green feature is a rainwater collection system, and geothermal heating and cooling.

With the homebuilders focusing on building and design aspects that aid the environment, those who live in the community will notice plenty of other “green” aspects will become part of daily life.

The community offers a farmer’s market with fresh produce, flowers, free-range poultry, grass-fed beef and other specialty items.

Wildlife habitats and prairie restoration will be incorporated into the grounds and surrounding areas.

Hay will be produced to support an equestrian center in the community, while permeable driveways and prairie grasses will ease rainwater runoff.

Residents will have access to community garden plots, allowing them the option of growing their own vegetables and fruits.

Wind energy association spreads good news on growing industry

The American Wind Energy Association is reporting that America ’s wind power industry grew by 15 percent in 2010 and provided 26 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the United States. With the 5,116 megawatts added last year, U.S. wind installations now stand at 40,181 megawatts — enough to supply electricity for more than 10 million American homes.

“The American wind industry is delivering, despite competing with energy sectors that have permanent government subsidies in place,” said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “Wind is consistently performing, adding 35 percent of all new generating capacity since 2007 — that’s twice what coal and nuclear added combined.”

Recent statistics from the AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report reveal that wind continues to be an important player in the nation’s energy sector, with lower costs competitive with other generation sources, and it’s second in new generation capacity only to natural gas.

“It’s simple: Wind is affordable,” says Elizabeth Salerno, director of data and analysis and chief economist for AWEA. “It’s costing less than ever, and competing with other sources thanks to improved turbines built for better performance without a big price tag.”

The U.S. wind market entered 2011 with 5,600 megawatts under construction — more than twice the megawatts under construction at the start of 2010. The extension of a tax credit in December 2010 provided a signal to investors to continue growing in wind energy.

The association believes the industry is on track to produce 20 percent of America’s electricity by 2030, as was laid out by the Department of Energy during the Bush administration.

AWEA is the national trade association of America’s wind industry, representing more than 2,500 member companies.

Repurpose those piles of pallets

They can be seen behind almost any warehouse in the world, those piles of wooden pallets. It’s hard to predict how many millions are in use in global commerce, but it’s safe to say that many discarded ones end up in landfills if some effort isn’t made to recycle or reuse them.

More so than in the past, businesses are realizing that the bulky wooden pallets that pile up in warehouses don’t need to be pitched with other waste. There are companies that will pick up loads of wood pallets for any of three possible purposes – putting broken pallets through wood chippers to create a mulch product; sorting out the ones that are still in good shape; or fixing damaged pallets for reuse.

“Undamaged pallets that can be restored are collected by pallet recyclers and sold to businesses that require pallets,” says Nate Rosenthal of the Rosenthal Group in St. Charles, Ill., which consults with clients to reduce waste and promote recycling efforts that benefit the company and the environment. “It is not uncommon for a pallet to be used 10 or more times.”

Rosenthal said the business of recycling wooden pallets is facing the same economic pressures as many other recycling efforts. “With the price of fuel playing havoc with the cost of operations, our recycling contractors are beginning to limit the size loads they will accept,” Rosenthal said. “More specifically, many pallet recyclers now require a minimum of 100 pallets before they will dispatch a truck to pick up your pallets.”

Recycling groups or community organizations offer this tip to companies that don’t have many wooden pallets stacking up on them: If you have only a few, just drop add them to the stacks of pallets at a nearby Home Depot and explain that you had a delivery and are just returning them.
In addition to being used for mulch products, Rosenthal said that damaged wooden pallets are often used as firewood in “waste-to-energy” operations.

“Pallets are graded according to condition,” Rosenthal added. “Obviously undamaged pallets are valuable and offer the highest rebates. Pallets with one or two broken boards are considered repairable and have some value. All others are usually scrapped and ground up for mulch.”

One of the other nice “green” features of wooden pallets is that they generally are made from wood that is left over from some other sort of production that is not suited for building or furniture construction. In that regard, they are made from potential waste wood and are already an environmentally friendly product.

Some businesses also list leftover pallets on Craigslist or a local Yahoo group to lure interest from crafters and woodworkers. It is all part of the process to recycle wooden pallets as much as possible, limiting the number of trees cut down to make them, and also keeping a large, bulky item out of our landfills.


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