Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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The World Solar Challenge: Developing Cars for our Future

Solar Car

The World Solar Challenge: Designing cars for our future/

“The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport!”

By Linn Smith

September 12, 2016—-The World Solar Challenge (worldsolarchallenge.org) is a solar car race that takes place in Australia every two years. Teams from universities, corporations and even high schools from around the world participate to promote research on solar-powered cars. The solar car race began in 1987 and in 2015 there were 43 teams from 23 different countries entering the race. The 30th anniversary of the race will be October 8-15, 2017.

The Solar Challenge

The Solar Car of the Future

Hans Tholstrup and the Solar Car

The idea for the contest came from Hans Tholstrup who was the first to navigate a solar car coast to coast across a country–Australia. In 1982 Hans Tholstrup, along with Larry Perkins, drove their solar car across Australia in 20 days. (See article, “The First solar Car to Cross a Continent”, Planet Earth Weekly, August 24, 2016.) The contestants in the World Solar Race are allowed 5kw hours of stored energy, which is about 10% of the necessary energy to make the trip across Australia, a total of 1900 miles. All other energy must come from the sun, or the kinetic energy generated from the motion of the vehicle.

The Solar Achiever

The solar car traveled 2500 miles in 20 days.

The Solar Car Race

Every two years the race starts in Darwin, Northern Territory in Australia and ends in Adelaide, South Australia. According to worldsolarchallenge.org, “Once the teams have left Darwin they must travel as far as they can until 5pm in the afternoon, where they make camp in the desert wherever they happen to be. All teams must be fully self-sufficient and for all concerned it is a great adventure – many say the adventure of a lifetime!” During the journey there are 7 mandatory check points where team managers may update themselves with the latest information on the weather and their own position in the field and perform the most basic of maintenance only, checking and maintenance of tire pressure and cleaning of debris from the vehicle.

Solar race across Australia.

Building cars for our future!

The Solar Car Categories

There are 3 categories of solar cars. The Challenger class makes the trip in a single stage from Darwin to Adelaide. The Cruiser Class is conducted as a regularity trial and the Adventure Class is a non-competitive class which consists of cars built for previous events.

Solar cars for our future

Driving Across Australia

The World Solar Challenge contest is primarily designed to find the world’s most efficient solar car and to inspire some of the brightest young people on the planet to address the imperatives of sustainable transport! You can find the entry forms online on the Solar Challenge website. A chance of a lifetime!

The solar Car race

Entry in the solar car race.

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Another Pragmatic Use for Solar–The Solar Bus!

The solar bus!

A prototype of what is to come in Uganda–the solar bus!

“It’s environmentally friendly, green and clean—the solar bus!”

By Linn Smith

July 3, 2016—In February of this year, Africa’s first solar bus, a prototype, hit its highways thanks to engineer, Paul Isaac Musasizi, CEO of Kiira Motors. The Kayoola Bus, as it is called in Africa, is an environmentally friendly, green and clean, 34 seat alternative to current buses. The system consists of two batteries charged by solar panels on the roof.

Creating Jobs for Uganda

When manufacturing of the bus is in place the company hopes to create 7,000 jobs, and by 2039, be able to manufacture all the parts for the bus in Uganda. Pricing the bus at $58,000, Musaisizi currently has some government funding, but is still looking for investors to get his project off the ground.

The solar bus

The Solar Bus–ride free!

Australia’s Tindo

Uganda does not boast the first solar bus. Australia has what they call the Tindo, powered 100% by solar! The Tindo was created by a New Zealand company called Designline International which “leads the world in vehicle design, hybrid propulsion systems and electric drive systems,” striving to keep New Zealand green through being environmentally conscious. The batteries of the Tindo are charged by a solar system on the roof at the city bus station instead of panels on top of the bus. This bus has been in operation since 2007 and accommodates 40 passengers–and cost to ride? Totally free!

China's hybrid bus

China’s hybrid bus–keeping in green!

China’s Hybrid Buses

China put solar hybrid buses into operation in 2012. These buses have solar panels installed on the roof which power lithium-ion batteries.

Solar Bus

Austria’s Solar Bus

And Solar for Austria

In Austria the first solar bus was put into operation in 2011. This is a bus developed to transport students between the university campuses.

“Solar buses—solar energy applied in another pragmatic way!”


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What’s New in 2016 for Clean Energy?

Electric Cars

Pre-Orders 230,000 and Rising

“Clean Energy: Leaving a healthy planet for future generations!”

By Linn Smith

April 9, 2016–Things are going very well in the Clean Energy field for 2016. According to a Bloomberg News article titled, “Solar and Wind Just Did the Unthinkable,” the unpredictable happened last year–oil, coal and gas bottomed out. Even though Europe had its smallest investment in renewables in nine years, one half of the world’s annual investments in clean energy came from emerging clean energy markets, “The world is now adding more power capacity from renewables every year than from coal, natural gas and oil combined…..as fossil fuel prices crash.” It’s predicted by the International Energy Agency that renewables will lead the world’s energy market by 2020.

cop21

A promising outlook for the future

Investment in Fossil Fuel Exploration Declines

According to the NY Times, one of the reasons for the crash of the fossil fuel industry and rise of clean energy is the fact that investment in exploration for fossil fuels has dropped dramatically. Mining and exploration in the U.S. dropped from $135 billion in 2014 to $88 billion in 2015 and the drop will continue in 2016. It boils down to supply and demand, which is partially driven by more energy efficient-cars.

Tesla Model 3

Public interest in electric cars is on the rise, as witnessed this past week by Tesla’s Model 3, with pre-orders hitting 325,000 in the first week–and pre-orders are rapidly growing. The cost of the Tesla is about half of the previous models, costing around $35,000 for the basic Model 3.

In 2015 a poll showed that 48% of Americans said they would consider a hybrid car, while interest was at 21% for electric cars. The biggest concern for most people has been the price. With the unveiling of Tesla’s Model 3 recently, this concern has been met by an affordable electric car. The price has been cut, making it not only affordable but competitive with gas models causing people to line up at Tesla dealerships across the country.

Electric Cars and the Oil Crisis

A Bloomberg article titled, “Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crises” states, “With all good technologies, there comes a time when buying the alternative no longer makes sense,”—as happened with smartphones, TVs, ect. The reason electric cars now make sense—price drop, less expensive batteries and better performance–plus the charging infrastructure is in place. When you travel the country you will see charging stations every couple hundred miles along major highways. Prediction of electric car growth? Tesla estimates the growth rate will be at least 60% through 2020, cutting approximately 2 million barrels a day of oil demand! (The same growth rate that pushed the Ford Model T past the horse and buggy in 1910!) Tesla, Chevy and Nissan all plan to sell electric cars for under $30,000 in the next several years!

Electric Cars: Less Pollution

But there is still the fact that electric cars aren’t any cleaner than the energy used to create the electricity that provides their charge. The Sierra Club’s article “Electric Vehicles: Myth Vs.Reality” dispels many of the arguments against electric cars. They state, “According to a range of studies, an electric car leads to significantly less carbon dioxide pollution from electricity than the CO2 pollution from oil of a conventional car.” As we retire more coal plants and provide cleaner sources of power, the carbon footprint of an electric car drops even further.

If you have solar panels for your house, the panels not only provide electricity but will recharge your electric car. Www.solarchargedDriving.org says you will need about 7-10kw of power on your roof for both your electricity and car charge. Also you can find out if there is a green option through your local utilities company.

So should you divest in oil and reinvest in renewables? Now might be the time to do it. Warren Buffet, an advocate for clean energy, offers investment bonds at 5.4% interest through his company, MidAmerican Energy. There is also a site that offers a direct buy into crowdsourcing solar startups through http://www.joinmosaic.com at a 4.5-6% interest rate. This company has a very good reputation.

So—2016 looks like a great year for clean energy!

“Clean Energy: Leaving a healthy planet for future generations!”


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Denver’s New Building Code Requires Electric Car Hook-ups in Garage

Charging electric cars

New building code requires garage to have electric car hookups.

“It’s a message that’s moving across the United States, to be more energy efficient, to be more sustainable.”–Scott Prisco

By Linn Smith

March 10, 2016—Denver, Colorado’s new building code requires single-family homes and duplexes to be wired with electrical support (conduits leading to the electrical panel) for electric plug-in cars. In the long run, this will make the purchase of an electric car more economical.

According to the Denver Post, it will prevent owners from having to dig or break through walls to install the necessary wiring. Mike Salisbury of Southwest Energy Efficiency Project says, “What this tries to do is make sure it’s easy and inexpensive for a new homeowner (to install) a new charging station.” This wiring will only add an extra $200-$300 to the cost of a new garage, which is minimal compared to the cost of rewiring an already standing garage for a plug-in electric car.

Carport Electric Charging

New codes for Denver requires electric charging facilities.

Other cities, such as Boulder, Vancouver, Los Angeles, have already adopted this requirement for new garages. Scott Prisco, Denver building official, says, “It’s a message that’s moving across the United States, to be more energy efficient, to be more sustainable.”

The new building requirements will take effect in September 2016.


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Toyota Enviromental Challenge 2050: Eliminating the Carbon Footprint

Toyota: Creating Cleaner Cars

Toyota: 6 challenges to cutting CO2

Toyota is moving ahead of other auto manufacturers by taking responsibility as a global clean air leader.

By Linn Smith

January 20, 2016—Toyota, a Japanese auto company, passed Volkswagen as the top seller of cars during the last half of 2015. And, instead of dealing with an emissions scandal which intentionally violated the U.S. Clean Air Act as Volkswagen did, Toyota is moving ahead of other auto manufacturers by taking responsibility as a global clean air leader. They state on their website, “Extreme weather patterns worldwide have been provoking successive disasters. If current conditions continue and increased measures are not taken to reduce greenhouse gases, it is estimated that by 2100 the world’s average temperature will have risen by 3.7–4.8 degrees C. It is further estimated that, to hold the temperature rise since before the Industrial Revolution to “below 2 degrees C,” we will not only have to reduce additional CO2 emissions to zero, but will need to achieve an actual positive trend through absorption.”

Toyota: Cleaning up our environment

Toyota: The Environmental Challenge

Eliminating CO2 Emissions

In October 2015 Toyota presented a plan to remove their carbon footprint by challenging themselves to reduce vehicle CO2 emissions by 90% of their 2010 levels by 2050. The long term plan is to eliminate their carbon footprint in Toyota cars and auto production using the six stages of their Toyota Environmental Challenge plan.

The Challenges

The first challenge is the New Vehicle Zero CO2 Emissions Challenge. In this stage Toyota will develop and accelerate the production and sales of the next generation of cars with low or zero CO2 emissions. These include hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric and fuel cell cars. They also will provide support in developing an infrastructure to maintain and promote widespread adoption of these vehicles.

The second challenge is the Lifecycle Zero CO2 Emissions Challenge. In this stage Toyota will reduce CO2 emissions in the materials used to produce their autos, in the actual production process of the cars and they will also produce Toyotas which emit less CO2 when driven.

In the third stage, the Plant Zero CO2 Emissions Challenge, Toyota will adopt renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, improve manufacturing technology and reduce the time it takes in the production of vehicles.

Toyota: Creating a Clean Environment

Toyota: Ever-better manufacturing

Challenge four is Minimizing and Optimizing Water Usage. In this stage less water will be used in auto production. They will also implement a rainwater collection system, re-use wastewater through recycling and set up a system to purify the water used and return it to the environment.

Challenge five will Establish a Recycling-based Society and Systems and will consist of four key areas: (1) utilization of eco-friendly materials; (2) making use of parts longer; (3) development of recycling technology; and (4) making vehicles from the materials of end-of-life vehicles.

Challenge six will Establish a Future Society in Harmony with Nature. Toyota will engage in planting trees, environmental conservation around their manufacturing facilities and take part in environmental education programs.

A Challenge to All Industry: Save Our Planet

Toyota states that these goals are to challenge themselves in creating a healthier planet. It’s time all manufacturing industries took up this challenge and helped in the effort to save our planet!

Clean up our planet by slashing CO2!


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Tesla Motors: Creating a Sustainable Vision for our Future

The future is open to the advancement of electric vehicles.

Musk has opened the patents, held by Tesla, to the public.

“We believe that by applying the open source philosophy to our patents, it will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.” Elon Musk

By Linn Smith

July 8, 2014—If you haven’t heard about Tesla Motors you’re missing some outstanding work by a company that supports clean energy vehicles. Tesla is an independent automaker, who is striving to eventually offer electric cars at prices affordable to the average consumer.

Regenerative Braking

In an article by Christy Lewis at http://www.ytcleanenergy.org, she describes driving a Tesla Model S electric car over Teton Pass in Wyoming. The Tesla started out charged with the capacity to go 263 miles. As it climbed the mountain, it lost a little range capacity, but still maintained 245 miles of power and, at the top of the mountain, the Tesla had 220 miles of range capacity left. The Tesla car only lost 25 miles of range capacity in a 6 mile climb. Then, as it declined the 10 miles down to the bottom of the pass, the Tesla gained a 5 mile range due to braking.

Lewis states, “Driving an electric or hybrid vehicle up steep mountain passes can decrease the efficiency because you are not driving ‘ideally’. However, this Tesla trip shows that the effects of regenerative braking negate some of the less than ideal effects of driving up a steep grade. Overall, the Tesla traveled 110 miles and only lost 14 miles off the “ideal” range.”

Telsa opens its patents to the future.

Regenerative braking down the pass adds to the Tesla’s milage capacity.

Lewis describes how the regenerative braking system of the Tesla works, lengthening the time between charges. “If you are coasting down hill in a vehicle, your wheels accumulate a large amount of kinetic energy. As you go faster, and need to brake, all of that kinetic energy is lost as heat to the atmosphere in the traditional gasoline burning vehicle. In electric vehicles or hybrids, the electric motor runs backwards to brake the car when you press on the brake pedal. As the motor runs backwards, it acts as an electric generator, and produces electricity that goes straight to the car’s battery. So every time a hybrid or electric vehicle brakes, it is essentially charging its own battery!”

Opening The Door to Tesla’s Patents

On June 12, 2014, a statement by Elon Musk, CEO and Chairman of the Board at Tesla, was released providing open access to Tesla’s technology. Musk stated, “Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology. Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transportation. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.”

He also noted that electric car sales by major car companies are less then 1% of their total sales, and it is impossible for Tesla to build cars fast enough to address the current climate change crises attributed to burning fossil fuels.

Tesla has opened its patents up to all manufactures and engineers, in hopes that the technology to combat global warming will accelerate to meet the demand for reducing fossil fuels. “Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be a small protection against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that by applying the open source philosophy to our patents, it will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.”

Tesla Motors and Elon Musk get it! Either we work towards saving our planet for future generations or we don’t! Maybe it’s time car manufacturers stop thinking about profits and start thinking about our future!


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The Science of 350: How Much CO2 is in Our Atmosphere?

The Science Of 350 and the Growing amount of CO2

Every year data measures a greater amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.

By Lin Smith

The Safe Limit of CO2 for Humanity

January 20, 2014-–The science of 350: Scientists say that 350 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere is the safe limit, and unless we rapidly return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts, such as the continued melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt.

Up until about 200 years ago our atmosphere contained about 275 parts per million of carbon dioxide, which gave human beings the environment necessary to exist. It provided us with just enough warmth on Earth–not too hot, not too cold! Parts per million (ppm) is  a way of measuring the concentration of different gases. It means the ratio of the number of carbon dioxide molecules to all of the molecules in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric CO2 and the Industrial Revolution

Beginning in 18th century, people began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. This was the Industrial Revolution of Britain, Europe, and the U.S. During this time period, CO2 began to rise in our atmosphere. The production of goods transitioned from hand made to machine made. The transition also included changing from wood and other biofuels to coal.

What is a Biofuel?

A biofuel means a fuel derived directly from living matter, such as wood, corn, ect. The CO2 released from wood and other biofuels has minimal impact on greenhouse gases. When we burn wood and other biofuels, the energy the biofuels took from the sun for photosynthesis, (remember your science classes?) is released back into the atmosphere. It takes and gives back about the same amount, thus maintaining the 275 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere-just enough for us to exist –comfortably, up until now! When we burn fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, we put more CO2 in the atmosphere than is used by earth’s vegetation. The earth then warms and that warmth is absorbed by the CO2, which does not allow it to escape into space. When CO2 is too high, climate change occurs, as it is doing today.

Reliance on Fossil Fuels

Many activities we do every day, like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating and cooling our homes, rely on these fossil fuel energy sources that emit carbon dioxide, trapping gasses into the atmosphere. We’re taking millions of years worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. The planet now has above 400 parts per million of CO2, and the number is rising every year. That is more than this planet has seen in its history! Scientists say the highest safe level of CO2 is 350 parts per million. This is the safety zone for planet earth!

Preserving Our Planet

James Hansen, of NASA, says if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that we are inhabiting, we need to reduce the CO2 above 400ppm to, at most, 350ppm. We need to stop taking carbon (coal) out of the ground and putting it in the air. We need to start using solar and wind and other sources of renewable energy. If we do this, then the earth’s soils and forests will slowly cycle some of the extra carbon out of the atmosphere and eventually CO2 concentrations will return to a safe level. By doing this we could go back to the 350 by 2050. But the longer we remain in the danger zone, above 350, the more likely that we will see disastrous and irreversible climate impacts!

Cutting Fossil Fuels

1. Recycle your waste. Many household wastes, including most plastics, are made from fossil fuels. Most prepackaged foods and goods use fossil fuels for their production and disposal. Try to reduce your overall consumption of things you don’t really need, and recycle everything!
2. Drive less, walk, cycle, take public transportation, or drive a hybrid vehicle. I know hybrid vehicles aren’t an economic choice  for many people, but there are a growing number of older hybrids on the market, and if you weigh the cost of purchasing one with the amount you could save in gas, it may be a good choice, for you and the environment. An older Prius may get 60 mpg, and, no, the batteries aren’t wearing out like predicted.
3. Cut your household power consumption, turn off lights when not in use. Most of the electricity in your house is likely to come from coal-fired power stations, not renewables. Insulate your home, use a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning, hang your clothes instead of tumble dry. I know–who has clothes lines anymore?? BUT they can be inexpensively installed in the back yard–just like the old days! Just put ‘em back!
4. Install a solar panel. They are getting less expensive to install and will save you money in the long run.

The Science of 350 states we must lower the CO2 in our atmosphere, even doing something small will be a start towards saving our planet for future generations!

 

 


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The Carbon Footprint of Electric and Hybrid Cars

English: Global rare earth element production ...

The use of Rare Earth Metals continues to rise for hybrid and electric car batteries and other forms of technology.

Electric Car Friendly-Hybrid Car Friendly States

This map shows which states are electric car friendly.

By Lin Smith

Hybrid and Electric Cars: Reducing Carbon Footpring

Honda announced it would recycle rare earth metals to make batteries for new hybrid cars

The Climate Central Report: Electric and Hybrid Cars

September 28, 2013–A gasless car is a good thing for our atmosphere,  but, as with other vehicles, they leave a carbon footprint, depending on the power supply of the electrical outlet used for recharging. Comparing the carbon footprint of electric, hybrids, and the gas vehicle can be difficult and complicated, as many factors must be taken into consideration. “An electric car is only as good for the climate as the electricity used to power it,” states a report from Climate Central, an organization of scientists and journalists which reports the facts about our changing climate.  In a recent publication  Climate Central states that charging the electric car can indirectly burn fossil fuels by using electricity provided by a coal burning power plant. They have published a chart called “A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars: 2013.” The map shows: A) The individual states in which the electric car is climate friendly, B) The states in which driving an electric car is good, but when you include the emissions from producing the car, the gasoline hybrid is more climate-friendly, and, C) The states in which the hybrid car beats the electric car in being the most climate-friendly because of coal burning power plants. You can see which category your state falls in at: climatecentral.org/news/a-roadmap-to-climate-friendly-cars. Climate Central concludes that, “Power plant emissions count against electric cars.” If the electricity source you plug your electric car into is produced by a coal powered plant , then the electric car may not be your best choice, as the power grid varies from state to state, most still using coal.

With more than 6.8 million hybrid electric cars on the road worldwide, the batteries of these cars are also controversial, as they use rare earth metals (REEs) in the production, such as terbium, neodymium and dysprosium. Most of these metals are imported from China, raising the risk of replacing the dependency on foreign oil with dependency on rare metals. These metals are not only used by the car industry but are also needed in the manufacturing of fiber optic telecom cables and other technology. In 2005, China restricted the exports of these metals to limit the environmental damage caused by mining and to ensure that China had enough  resources to meet  their own domestic demand.

Reducing Dependency on Rare Earth Metals For Hybrids and Electric Cars

Scientists are currently developing methods that reduce dependency on rare earth metals. Several months ago, Honda announced it would recycle rare earth metals to make batteries for new hybrid cars. The recovery method will extract as much as 80% of these metals in a form of 99% purity from used hybrid batteries. Using this method Honda plans to produce as much as 400 tons of rare earth metals per year. In past years, Honda has melted down the metal from hybrid batteries and reused it to make stainless steel. Popular Mechanics Magazine, 2013 states, “Honda is far from the only car manufacturer that is increasingly conscious of its rare earth metal use.” Nissan has reduced its use of dysprosium in batteries by 40%, GM has plans to use Chevy Volt batteries to provide homes with off-grid back-up power, and the Ames National Laboratory in Iowa is developing a magnet that uses a common element, cerium, with better operation at higher temperatures than rare earth metals. Toyota has reportedly developed an alternative motor without rare earth metals, and in Chicago a company called Hybrid Electric Vehicle Technologies (HEVT) has developed a “switch reluctance motor to power the next generation of electric motors, making performance leaps with unmatched reliability and reduced cost due to the use of zero rare earth mining.”

Research for alternatives to rare earth metals will continue to gain momentum around the world, driven partly by the scarcity of rare metal. Necessity is the mother of invention, and as the Oxford Dictionary states, “When the need for something becomes imperative, you are forced to find new ways of getting it”—and so it is with electric and hybrid cars. As the metals for the batteries become harder to obtain and the desire to create a more efficient and lower-cost vehicle grows, necessity will create the next generation of cars.