Don””t Blame Dairy Cows for (Greenhouse) Gas Emissions, New Study Shows

A new study by the University of Arkansas and Michigan Tech shows that the dairy industry — including this Jersey cow — is responsible for only about 2 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. (Credit: Photo by Stephen Kennedy, courtesy of the Innovation Center for the US Dairy)

Forget all the tacky jokes about cow flatulence causing climate change. A new study reports that the dairy industry is responsible for only about 2.0 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, led by the University of Arkansas in association with Michigan Technological University, measures the carbon footprint of a gallon of fluid milk from farm to table and uses 2007 and 2008 data from more than 500 dairy farms and 50 dairy processors, as well as data from more than 210,000 round trips transporting milk from farm to processing plant. It was commissioned by the Innovation Center for the US Dairy, an industry-wide group.

The University of Arkansas addressed carbon emissions from the dairy to the milk in your cereal bowl. The Michigan Tech group looked further upstream. “We focused on the carbon footprint of the feed crops,” said chemical engineering professor David Shonnard, director of the Sustainable Futures Institute. “Animal feed is a major contributor to carbon emissions.” Using US Department of Agriculture data, Shonnard””s team, including PhD student Felix Adom and four undergraduates (Ashely Maes, Charles Workman, Zachary Bergmann and Lilian Talla), analyzed the impact of variables ranging from fertilizer and herbicides to harvesting and transportation. “We also looked at a Michigan feed mill, where grain gets combined with any of over a hundred different additives,” he said.

The team concluded that the cumulative total emission of greenhouse gases associated with all fluid milk consumed in the US was approximately 35 million metric tons in 2007. While the emissions are lower than sometimes reported, there is still room for improvement for dairy farms and businesses of all kinds, the study concluded. In particular, manure management, feed production and enteric methane (cow gas) were cited as areas that are ripe for innovation on farms. Energy management provides the greatest opportunity in the processing, transportation and retail segments.

The project has also raised other dairy-related issues that Shonnard””s group is investigating. They are studying the eutrophication of water — what happens when nutrients such as manure and fertilizers get into surface water, causing an overbloom of algae that sucks oxygen from the water and kills fish. The team is also investigating water consumption and land use in the dairy industry. “Growing crops is becoming more productive all the time, and we may be able to use less land to satisfy demand,” Shonnard said.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Michigan Technological University. The original article was written by Marcia Goodrich.


Window Farming: A Do-It-Yourself Veggie Venture

Window FarmHomegrown Harvest: Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray tend to Brooklyn’s first window farm. This form of urban agriculture is catching on in cities around the world, as downtown farmers go online to share techniques for growing greens indoors.

by Jon Kalish (Listen to the Stroy from NPR)

If you have a green thumb, a window and a serious Do-It-Yourself ethic, you too, can be a farmer … even in your downtown apartment building. Spring is here, and for urban dwellers with no access to soil, hydroponic gardening is a way to grow fresh veggies indoors.

“Window farming,” as it is called, is catching on in New York City and beyond. Window farmers use recycled 1.5 liter water bottles, clay pellets, plastic tubing and inexpensive fish tank air pumps to create their indoor gardens. There are now 4,000 registered users at Farmers are tending to their greens everywhere from the U.S. to Italy, Israel and Hong Kong.

Last year in Brooklyn, N.Y., Britta Riley, 33, raised $27,000 for her window farms project through an online micro-donation web site. She’s a true Do-It-Yourselfer.

“I grew up on a ranch in Texas,” Riley says. “So we always had to hack together what we needed to fix fences and so forth.”

Riley’s project partner is Maya Nayak, 29, a professional gardener. Nayak has been growing herbs in her own window farm in her ground floor apartment. A sign in her window advertises — and plenty of people have paused to check it out.

“We had to put up a curtain,” she explains, “because people come up and look. And you’re, like, ‘Wow, this is my living room.'”

The people staring in from the street see a window filled with vertical columns of plants. Vegetables and herbs grow with the help of sunlight and a little electricity — but no soil.

The window farms Web site provides instructions on how to put together a system that grows three plants. The materials will cost about $30 — and not all of them are traditional gardening supplies: water bottles, an aquarium air pump, air valve needles (like the kind you use to pump up a basketball), and a hanging system designed for displaying art.

Riley says that putting recycled consumer goods to use is an important part of the DIY ethic.

“We’re kind of showing that we can actually get really, really far using things that we already have available to us as consumers,” she says.

The simplest window farm system is a column of upside-down water bottles connected to one another. Plants grow out of holes cut into the sides. An air pump is used to circulate liquid nutrients that trickle down from the top of the column and make their way to the plant roots.

Window farms have been used to grow strawberries, cherry tomatoes and peppers. Riley’s favorite is bok choi.

“Buttercrunch lettuce grows great and lots of herbs,” Nayak says. “Anything leafy and green, essentially. You can’t grow carrots. I mean, you can’t grow root vegetables. Potatoes, garlic. Those things don’t work.”

Urban farmers use the Internet to exchange ideas for improving the window farms technology. It’s a process Riley calls “R&D-I-Y” or Research and Develop It Yourself. One window farmer figured out a way to silence the gurgling sounds these window farm systems make — and he shared his solution with the rest of the indoor gardening community.

“He just drilled a few holes into a vitamin bottle and stuck it over the end and all of a sudden it completely silenced the system,” Riley explains. “And then he posted that for everybody else and all of a sudden we have a new solution that’s cheap and that other people can replicate somewhere else.”

WindowFarmsA salad made from greens grown in a window farm in Riley’s Brooklyn, N.Y., loft.

Salad from Britta  Riley's window farm.

In the coming months, Riley and her colleagues will focus on how much energy it takes to run the air pumps and compact fluorescent light bulbs that are turned on when access to sunlight is a problem. Riley says that in addition to the environmental benefits of growing your own food at home, there are aesthetic wins as well.

“It’s just fun to have food growing in your own apartment,” Riley says. “Especially during the winter months you’ve got this lush bunch of green lettuce that’s growing in the window and kind of freshening the air in your apartment and it actually just looks pretty.”

And it’s about to get easier. For people who are excited about window farming but not so gung-ho about starting from scratch, Riley says her group will soon begin selling window farming kits.

Alex Lin, Teenage Activist

By Salvatore Cardoni

He’s overseen the recycling of 300,000 pounds of e-waste. He’s successfully lobbied the Rhode Island state legislature to ban the dumping of electronics. He’s used refurbished computers to create media centers in developing countries like Cameroon and Sri Lanka to foster computer literacy.

He’s Alex Lin and he’s just 16 years old.

“I don’t see anything uncommon in it,” says Lin, a high school senior from Westerly, Rhode Island. “My friends and I have been doing this since fifth grade. It’s become part of our lifestyle.”

Lin’s catalytic moment came in 2004 when he chanced upon a Wall Street Journal article. “It first alerted me to the e-waste problem, and warned of an e-waste tsunami to come.”

E-waste, or electronics garbage, is the quickest growing section of the U.S. trash stream. In 2007, Americans discarded more than 112,000 computers daily, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Even worse, just 18 percent of discarded televisions and computer products were collected for recycling.

While there is no federal law banning e-waste, 20 states have passed legislation mandating statewide e-waste recycling.

If only the states with e-waste laws in their 2010 legislative pipeline—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Utah, to name a few—had an Alex Lin at their disposal.


Alex Lin, third from right, has taken e-waste matters into his own hands. Photo: Courtesy Alex Lin

The Rise of E-Waste, the Birth of Team WIN

Almost all electronic devices contain varying amounts of hazardous chemicals and heavy metals—lead, mercury, and cadmium being among the most deadly to the human body.

“When improperly disposed of—i.e. dumping, burning, etc.—these chemicals can seep into the surrounding environment, harming humans, crops, and ecosystems,” says Lin. “With the advent of the computer in the 1970s, electronics use has increased exponentially, bringing with it ever-increasing amounts of waste. In the majority of the world, this waste is improperly disposed of, resulting in untold damage to the environment.”

Reduce, reuse, and recycle. These are the so-called 3R’s of eco-friendly behavior. To start, Lin and his student-led community service team, Westerly Innovations Network (WIN), concentrated their efforts on recycling.

“We worked with Metech International to hold an e-waste recycling drive that collected over 21,000 pounds of electronics,” says Lin. With assistance from a private recycling company and the municipal government, they established a permanent receptacle that collects up to 5,000 pounds of e-waste per month, and more than 300,000 pounds to date.

However, once Lin and his team discovered that reusing computers was much more efficient than recycling, they decided to create a computer-refurbishing program. “To make this sustainable,” says Lin, “we worked with the Westerly School System to incorporate computer refurbishing into the A+ Certified Computer Repair class’s curriculum.”

More than 300 refurbished computers were donated to low-income students without home computer access. “It was an eye-opening experience,” says Jeff Brodie, 16, of the moment when he, Lin, and other WIN teammates walked into one Westerly residence to set up a computer. “The kids were running around very excited.”

A Field Trip to the State House

Mission accomplished, right? Not quite. Lin’s e-waste eradication efforts were only ratcheting up. “We recognized that the true sustainability of our project lay in legislation,” says Lin. Through research, they learned of an e-waste bill that had been in the works for years in Rhode Island.

Seizing on the opportunity to translate their local success into the language of a state law, Lin and his team met with Arthur Handy, the state representative sponsoring the bill, and testified before both the House and Senate Environmental Committees. “He came across very well,” recalls Handy of Lin’s presentation as an 11-year-old. “They were clearly well prepared and had clearly thought the issue through.”

The bill, however, did not pass. “We were all disappointed—we had put in all this time and they didn’t listen to us,” says Brodie.

“Looking back at what might have gone wrong, we came to realize that bill was too complicated,” says Lin. To combat this, they drafted a local ordinance encompassing all the positive points of the law. “It was simple—ban e-waste dumping,” says Lin.

This go-round, Lin and his WIN Team sent out thousands of flyers, made radio announcements, wrote articles for local newspapers, and made presentations in front of both student and town council audiences. Handy says he was impressed that Lin had not given up after the failure of the first bill. “It showed that it was not just a school project,” says Handy. “It showed that it was something he had a passion for.”

Local media got wind of the story and helped spread the word to more than a million people in the greater Westerly area. “The biggest challenge against progress is simply awareness,” says Lin. “When my team and I first surveyed our town, only 12 percent of the residents knew how to properly dispose of e-waste.”

The Law of the Land

Fast-forward to October 28, 2005—the day local officials in Westerly unanimously passed Lin’s e-waste ordinance. “It was then proposed as a bill to the State House,” says Lin. “This time we brought a petition with 400 signatures and again testified before both the House and Senate. Bill H7789 passed on July 6, 2006.”

It is now illegal to dump electronics in Rhode Island. Proudest of all might have been Lin’s father, Jason, 47, an engineer who served as the team’s mentor. “It was a tremendous amount of work,” he says with a chuckle.

The bill set the stage for more comprehensive legislation that passed in 2008. “Now Rhode Island requires manufacturers to take back their computers and televisions, and to pay for the collection and recycling of them,” says Sheila Dormody, the Rhode Island Director for Clean Water Action, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization that worked with Lin.

The youth activist awards were piling up nearly as fast as the heaping piles of e-waste were vanishing. In 2005 alone, WIN won first place at the Community Problem Solving Competition, third place at the Volvo Adventure Competition sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program, and a gold prize at the Christopher Columbus Awards.

Scaling Up

As Lin crisscrossed the country and the globe attending these award ceremonies—from Lexington, Kentucky, to Gothenburg, Sweden; from Orlando to Aichi, Japan—he came up with the idea for WIN’s next e-waste endeavor.

“Cooperating with satellite WIN Teams that we established through connections made at conferences and competitions, we have worked to create media centers in areas in need of information technology,” says Lin.

And like that, the WIN Network went global.alexlin1

A teacher in Sri Lanka uses refurbished computers from Alex Lin’s recycling program to teach his students English. Photo: Alex Lin

“To date, we have sent out over 60 computers in seven media centers to countries such as Cameroon, Kenya, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines,” says Lin.

Lin hopes that these media centers will become a model for the sustainable and responsible reuse of computers between nations.

He also wants to “raise awareness of e-waste in developing countries so that they will be able to create the infrastructure to handle e-waste before it becomes a problem.”

According to a report last month issued by the United Nations Environment Programme, the amount of e-waste in developing nations is expected to greatly increase. By 2020, the report says, e-waste from old computers in South Africa and China will have jumped by 200 to 400 percent from 2007 levels, and by 500 percent in India.

For all of his success, Lin’s most far-reaching legacy might prove to be the one closest to home. Like his father did for the original team, Lin has begun mentoring his 11-year-old sister Cassandra’s Junior WIN Team, shepherding their efforts to recycle used cooking oil into biodiesel to help heat homeless shelters.

Srishti design students’ “Captain Planet” projects

Posted by hipstomp

A vertical, space-saving garden made from bamboo, a solar cooker made from used plastic cups and plates, and sand-filled water filtrations systems made from plastic bags and PET bottles (with a total construction time of just minutes): These are just a few of the projects done by design students at India’s Srishti School of Art, Design & Technology, under an eco-awareness campaign called Captain Planet in the Making.

Not all of the projects are successful–the solar cooker only heats up to 75 degrees, for instance–but it is the spirit of applying design to readily available materials, even rubbish, to make things people need that they are trying to promote.

The students’ collective Facebook page has over 100 photos of their research and projects, but unfortunately the descriptions are sparse or nonexistent. But one complicated-looking project whose function and usage we were able to ascertain by combing through comments is the animal-powered water pump, pictured just after the jump.

Previously a farmer would have to ascend the steps to the well, load his buckets and carry them back upstairs to water the crops; now the water is drawn up through a series of small buckets and deposited into a gutter, saving a trip downstairs.

It’s not clear whether the students devised this or the farmer did–the well-worn animal track would indicate it’s been in use for quite some time–but either way, it’s an impressive feat of design engineering with a presumably very low production cost.

More Pictures ->

Mini Generators Make Energy from Random Ambient Vibrations

Miniature generators (such as the one above next to a typical AA battery), developed at U-M’s Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated Microsystems, run on the random vibrations all around us. (Credit: Photo by Tzeno Galchev)

Tiny generators developed at the University of Michigan could produce enough electricity from random, ambient vibrations to power a wristwatch, pacemaker or wireless sensor.

The energy-harvesting devices, created at U-M’s Engineering Research Center for Wireless Integrated Microsystems, are highly efficient at providing renewable electrical power from arbitrary, non-periodic vibrations. This type of vibration is a byproduct of traffic driving on bridges, machinery operating in factories and humans moving their limbs, for example.

The Parametric Frequency Increased Generators (PFIGs) were created by Khalil Najafi, chair of electrical and computer engineering, and Tzeno Galchev, a doctoral student in the same department.

Most similar devices have more limited abilities because they rely on regular, predictable energy sources, said Najafi, who is the Schlumberger Professor of Engineering and also a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

“The vast majority of environmental kinetic energy surrounding us everyday does not occur in periodic, repeatable patterns. Energy from traffic on a busy street or bridge or in a tunnel, and people walking up and down stairs, for example, cause vibrations that are non-periodic and occur at low frequencies,” Najafi said. “Our parametric generators are more efficient in these environments.”

The researchers have built three prototypes and a fourth is forthcoming. In two of the generators, the energy conversion is performed through electromagnetic induction, in which a coil is subjected to a varying magnetic field. This is a process similar to how large-scale generators in big power plants operate.

The latest and smallest device, which measures one cubic centimeter, uses a piezoelectric material, which is a type of material that produces charge when it is stressed. This version has applications in infrastructure health monitoring. The generators could one day power bridge sensors that would warn inspectors of cracks or corrosion before human eyes could discern problems.

The generators have demonstrated that they can produce up to 0.5 milliwatts (or 500 microwatts) from typical vibration amplitudes found on the human body. That’s more than enough energy to run a wristwatch, which needs between one and 10 microwatts, or a pacemaker, which needs between 10 and 50. A milliwatt is 1,000 microwatts.

“The ultimate goal is to enable various applications like remote wireless sensors and surgically implanted medical devices,” Galchev said. “These are long lifetime applications where it is very costly to replace depleted batteries or, worse, to have to wire the sensors to a power source.”

Batteries are often an inefficient way to power the growing array of wireless sensors being created today, Najafi said. Energy scavenging can provide a better option.

“There is a fundamental question that needs to be answered about how to power wireless electronic devices, which are becoming ubiquitous and at the same time very efficient,” Najafi said. “There is plenty of energy surrounding these systems in the form of vibrations, heat, solar, and wind.”

These generators could also power wireless sensors deployed in buildings to make them more energy efficient, or throughout large public spaces to monitor for toxins or pollutants.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation, Sandia National Laboratories, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property. Galchev and a team of engineering and business students are working to commercialize the technology through their company, Enertia. Enertia recently won first place in the DTE/U-M Clean Energy Prize business plan competition and second place in the U-M Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies’ Michigan Business Challenge. Other members of the team are Erkan Aktakka, and Adam Carver. Aktakka is an electrical engineering doctoral student. Carver is an MBA student at the Ross School of Business.

Story Source:

Adapted from materials provided by University of Michigan.

Earthship Montana: Unorthodox, off-the-grid abode is green to the core

Posted by: Desh

Architect Michael Reynolds, better known as the Garbage Warrior, sought the creative support of his 12-man crew and a couple of volunteers to erect a self-sufficient, off-the-grid construction near Yellowstone River, in Miles City, Montana. The green house, dubbed as Earthship, is made of tires, beer bottles and pop cans. Energy independence is ensured via a thermal mass construction that offers temperature stabilization. Furthermore, renewable energy and integrated water systems contribute toward negligible utility bills.

The owners of this house, Scott Elder and Karia Lund, were so very concerned about the element of energy self-sufficiency that they employed every eco-measure one can think of. Special steel belted bricks were made by ramming dirt into 650 tires. Cementing empty soda cans and beer bottles with adobe mud, straw and glue, the couple formed the interior walls.

You could see solar panels on the top of the angled walls that recharge the roof-mounted batteries. The 1,100-square-foot home is powered with batteries contained in the brain room. The bathroom shower is amply elevated to bring gray-water recycling system into effect. A rainwater harvesting system collects up to 6,000 gallons of water in cisterns and reuses it thrice. The rainwater passes through four filters to become potable. After using it for cooking and washing, the water is made to drain through rocks, and further, it is used to water the plants. And that’s not all for sure; the grimy water is reused for flushing the toilets.

No LED clocks, microwave, curling irons, hair dryer or electric mixer are there in the house. For emergencies, there is a back-up wood stove always ready. A well-insulated refrigerator that runs on 24-volt direct current, a propane heater that fuels the gas stove, and a wind generator are responsible for an annual utility bill of $150 only.

More pictures and videos ->

Boat built from soda bottles prepares to set sail

Emma Woollacott

A boat built from 12,000 plastic bottles it to set sail this month, with the aim of crossing the Pacific Ocean.

The Plastiki‘s 100-day journey is intended to test out new materials and highlight the problem of ocean-borne plastic waste.

Its 60-foot hull is built on thousands of two-liter bottles, which are filled with dry ice and capped to increase buoyancy. The hull itself is built from recycled polyethylene terephthalate – a material widely used in bottles – and an experimental fabric based on the same plastic.

Electricity is generated by wind turbines, solar panels – and exercise bikes to be used by the crew.

Plastiki even has its own little garden on board, growing sprouts and herbs, although the designers are a little concerned about the effects of salt spray.

There’s a composting toilet, and a rainwater collection system on the cabin roof.

The boat was created by David de Rothschild, who says it will travel up to 200 miles per day on its journey from San Francisco to Sydney.

While he has no sailing experience himself, he says, he’s being joined by English yachtswoman Jo Royle and two descendants of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, whose Pacific crossing in the wooden raft Kon-Tiki was de Rothschild’s inspiration.