Leaving Your Footprint

I’ve been spending time reading through the Global Footprint Network’s website. Their slogan, “Advancing the Science of Sustainability”.

Among the more interesting parts of their site, the section which features data in graphs and charts is particularly informative.  Here’s one example, global ecological footprint’s divided by region:

The site also allows you to view national footprints for a large selection of countries. Since the TBLI Conference Asia is coming up, I chose Thailand. Have a look at the chart broken down by component:


Sustainable Investment in Switzerland

Zurich based onValues released their survey last week entitled “Sustainable investments in Switzerland 2007”.  Here’s an excerpt of the executive summary:

The survey also asked participants to highlight emerging themes for the next 2-3 years. The
most frequently mentioned ones were (in decreasing order of importance):

• Sustainability issues in emerging markets (e.g. infrastructure, energy and
environmental aspects). Participants seem convinced that the combination of
interesting investment opportunities and the huge sustainable development
challenges in emerging markets offers potential for interesting investment products
satisfying both the ‘altruistic’ and the financial motives of investors.
• New materials/recycling
• Sustainable commodities (e.g. timber and second-generation biofuels)
• Microfinance and other strategies to combat poverty (seen as important but leading to
lower AuM than the top themes)
• Healthy living (seen as important but leading to lower AuM than the top themes).

Click here to download the whole thing as a PDF.

Second and Third Generation Solar

After posting last week about polysilicon and China, Robert came over to my desk and pointed out that what I wrote about is first generation solar technology.  He asked if I had looked up the developments in second and third generation solar technology. In all my reading and research on the topic of polysilicon, I had not . So he gave me some tips of what to look for, terms like thin-film solar.. which admitedly, I had never heard before. (remember I’m new!)

Some initial browsing provides interesting and encouraging information when it comes to new and better ways of harnessing the sun’s energy.  Developments like being able to roll a thin film, with a consistency similar to wallpaper, onto the roof of a house, or a wall.

Somewhere in WalesPreviously I referred to the problem of the manufacturing of first generation solar panels, polysilicon, which requires alot of energy to produce, not to mention the processing of waste.  Producing thin-film uses dramatically less raw materials than those panels, therefore less waste as well.  One example of a company involved in thin film solar technology is the German-American First Solar. Their website provides some background information as well as graphics illustrating what they are doing with thin film.

But perhaps even more encouraging is that there are more advanced methods currently being developed to further reduce the amount of energy and  the environmental impact of producing thin-film solar panels.  At the university of Arizona, researchers in the chemistry department are trying to use molecules made out of organic compounds that could make up a super thin film solar panel.  By super thin they mean 100 nanometers thick… many times thinner than human hair.  Such a breakthrough would not only make for lightweight, easy to deploy solar energy collecting material, but also the production clean and environmentally safe production of solar panels.

Polysilicon Dangers

It is no secret that solar panels are in high demand around the world, as they are looked at as a good source for renewable energy. And indeed on the surface, who could argue with the concept that our energy should come from the sun and create zero emissions in the process.

Photo Credit: ReutersBut in a recent WashingtonPost article I read about one ingredient needed to capture solar energy that I had never heard of before; Polysilcon. Now Polysilicon is apparently in 99% of electronics, and an essential component of solar panels.  Manufacturing that polysilicon creates waste, and while the process of making it requires a large amount of energy, the process of recycling the waste is yet another costly process.  And as Corpwatch and the WashingtonPost have recently pointed out, in places like China, alot of manufacturers are choosing not to do the recycling part… choosing instead to dump the waste.

As the demand for solar panels skyrockets, the value of polysilicon has gone through the roof.  The reporter at the Post refers to Chinese Polysilicon companies as the “.com’s” of China.  While business is booming, companies are cutting corners and dumping that waste wherever they can.  Land where polysilicon waste is dumped or buried becomes contimanated; nothing can grow there and people should not live nearby.

I strongly recommending reading the article for the full details.  There is definitely an issue here that needs addressing.  If solar energy is indeed one of our main sources of energy for a sustainable future, then something must be done to make sure the process of getting the tools we need to harness that energy, doesn’t wind up destroying the earth and countless lives.