Green imaging options for the office

ENERGY STAR is a government program to encourage the use of energy-efficient equipment. The program is a joint initiative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The fact that those two organizations are involved highlights the duality of saving energy – it conserves valuable natural resources, and lowers your total cost of ownership.

The ENERGY STAR designation generally means an appliance does a job as well as a standard appliance, but uses at least 25 percent less energy.The EPA says that imaging products including small and large-format – with ENERGY STAR status will save more than $3 billion over the next five years and prevent emissions equivalent to the exhaust of 4 million cars. Imaging equipment isn’t the only equipment in an office, but due to its cost, electrical footprint, and maintenance, it requires more attention than other equipment.

Another issue to consider is the presence of toxic materials in imaging equipment. One way to check that is to see if your supplier is compliant with RoHS, a European Union directive that stands for “Restrictions on Certain Hazardous Substances.” Standardization with RoHS compliancy is moving to the United States; it is already mandated in California.

If you’re buying a large-format printer, two other items to consider are the warm-up time and how good the first print is. You can waste a lot of energy and paper if your printer does poorly in either of these areas. Another item you should look at when shopping for new imaging equipment is the recyclability of the parts. If your printer can be refurbished and resold after it leaves your shop, you will have one less downstream issue to worry about. Inquire first if the manufacturer of your equipment has a program to take back and refurbish used equipment. If this is an issue, see about leasing or purchasing certified refurbished equipment.

Green paint providing form and function

Time to repaint the office? Don’t use normal paint and expect your employees to breathe those fumes for weeks later! The EPA claims indoor air is three times more polluted than outside air; reduce some of that by using paint with low quantities of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

Like many green ideas, using low-VOC paint has more than one advantage. Of course the air will be cleaner, but you’ll also be able to easily dispose of unused paint, since it’s not a hazardous waste.

There are actually three categories of environmentally smart paint: natural, zero-VOC, and low-VOC.

Natural paints are made from natural raw ingredients, such as plant oils, clay, and beeswax. These have virtually no emissions and are completely safe for your employees and the environment.

Paint with less than five grams of VOC per liter can be called “zero- VOC,” according to the EPA.

The amount of VOCs in low-VOC paints varies – the amount is written on the label – but they’re all below 300grams per liter, and many are under 50 grams per liter.

All low-VOC paints use water as the solvent rather than petroleum-based solvents. That in itself is a major advantage. Low-VOC paints also contain no, or very low levels of, heavy metals and formaldehyde.

ArcelorMittal focused on improved energy management

Larry Fabina, energy team coordinator for ArcelorMittal USA in Chicago, says that over the past four years there has been a transformation at the steelmaker, both operationally and culturally, to be more focused on improved energy management. “From the shop floor to the desk space, many employees have become conscious about how energy use affects their day-to-day life at work and at home.”

In the United States, ArcelorMittal has achieved more than $22.7 million in ongoing annual energy savings by implementing 24 projects over the past two years. “The company also expanded the number of sites engaged in its energy program during 2010, with 90 percent of our U.S. sites using the ArcelorMittal Energy Management System model,” Fabina says. In 2008, ArcelorMittal was the first steel company to achieve an Energy Star award, and has done so for four consecutive years.

Last year, ArcelorMittal competed for and was awarded a matching grant of $31.6 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for a project to capture gas flare and reuse it to produce electricity at its Indiana Harbor facility. It also has another ARRA project in the works focused on reducing energy consumption at its Burns Harbor mill.

ArcelorMittal also has set a global goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent per metric ton of steel by 2020, Fabina adds.

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.

Fuel cell technology increasing

Adoption of fuel cell powered products is gathering increasing momentum in a wide variety of application areas. The shift from an R&D-based industry to a fully commercial one is well under way, though it has not been without its setbacks. Fuel cells are now being deployed for applications as diverse as residential power, off-grid mobile communications sites in Africa, low-carbon transportation and electrical grid reliability. According to a new report from Pike Research, Boulder, Colo., global fuel cell shipments doubled between 2008 and 2010, from approximately 7,500 units to more than 15,000 units annually during that period.

“The reasons for the groundswell of interest in fuel cells are as varied as the sectors that are implementing the technology,” says research director Kerry-Ann Adamson. “Industry and government leaders are finding that fuel cells are a highly effective tool for deploying reliable, clean power for stationary, portable and transport applications.”

Adamson adds that the largest fuel cell unit growth has been in the stationary power sector, which represented approximately 60 percent of shipments during 2010. Demand for stationary fuel cells is being driven by a number of early adopter sectors including the Japanese market for residential units, power for grid-tied and off-grid mobile base stations globally, and combined heat and power (CHP) plants for a variety of markets, including hospitals and hotels. Portable fuel cells have had their ups and downs over the past two years, with a temporary spike in shipments created by the sale of 3,000 Toshiba Dynario external battery rechargers in 2009, followed by a sharp decline in total sales in 2010. Significant volumes for transportation fuel cells in cars and buses are still several years away as automakers gear up for fuel cell vehicle (FCV) launches in 2015, though shipments from the auxiliary power unit (APU) sector continue to increase year-on-year.

In the midst of this period of market evolution, the fuel cell competitive landscape is coming into clearer focus. With literally scores of companies having active development programs, Pike Research’s analysis indicates that a handful of market leaders and fast followers are beginning to emerge. The analysis shows that in 2010 less than a dozen companies accounted for the vast majority of global shipments. “The next few years will determine which of the current fuel cell companies will survive and thrive, and which will fall by the wayside,” says Adamson, “but this is also a time when barriers to entry for new companies are decreasing. With the start of product standardization, the creation of new business models, and the increasing focus on product shipments, we fully anticipate the market opening up to many new entrants over the next five years.”

An executive summary of Pike Research’s first annual “Fuel Cells Annual Report” is available for free download on the firm’s website,

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.

Plug-in fleets to hit 1.3 million vehicles by 2015

Over the next few years, corporations and governments will be highly focused on improving the efficiency of their vehicle fleets. While traditional hybrid electric vehicles will continue to play an important role, with the twin goals of reducing lifetime operating expenses as well as lowering emissions from their vehicles, fleet managers will increasingly turn to plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as a solution. A recent report from Pike Research forecasts that between 2010 and 2015, more than 1.3 million PEVs will be purchased for use in fleet operations, with nearly 400,000 vehicles being sold annually by the end of the forecast period.

“Plug-in electric vehicles are primarily known for their consumer applications, but they will play a greater and greater role in fleets as well,” says senior analyst Dave Hurst. “Fleet managers will be drawn to the fuel efficiency benefits of PEVs, in many cases to satisfy requirements to reduce overall fleet emissions. Tax incentives are also a powerful motivator to some fleet operators, though others will not factor this into the equation either because they do not qualify or because the tax incentive is not put back into their budget.”

Hurst adds that automakers will look to the fleet markets in these early years of PEV sales to help bolster production and reduce overall vehicle costs. As a result, passenger cars will be the leading segment in the PEV fleet market over the next five years, representing more than 80 percent of total sales in 2015. Small SUVs will also be an important segment, though their adoption will lag significantly behind passenger cars. Early adopters for fleet PEVs will include operations that have local, predictable routes such as delivery vehicles and taxis. Hurst anticipates that many fleet operators will maintain their own EV charging stations and thus will be relatively insensitive to range and charging infrastructure concerns.

Pike Research’s study, “Hybrid Electric Vehicles for Fleet Markets,” analyzes the opportunities and challenges for light-duty HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs in commercial fleet markets around the world. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website,

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.


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