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.

Flying on Biodiesel

It was fairly well documented, back in 1998, that you could fly turboprop and propellor engine planes using biodiesel fuel. But in terms of feasability, flying commercial jet aircraft on biodiesel has always been a more difficult accomplishment.

In September of last year, Boeing announced that at some point in 2008, they would be test flying a 747 using biodiesel. The plane uses Rolls-Royce engines, which can fly on a blend of jet fuel and biodiesel.

3rd Runway at HeathrowEarlier this month Airbus announced their tests of another alternative fuel, using GTL (gas to liquid) fuel to fly the superjumbo whale known as the A380. Their GTL fuel is the result of a cooperation with Qatar petroleum. According to the company this alternative is a viable short term solution for fuel that produces lower emissions and can eventually transition to synthetic fuels made from plant material.

Then last week Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic carried out the first biofuel powered commercial airline flight, where only 1 of the 747’s 4 engines was powered by a mixture of Brazilian Babassu nuts and coconuts. However, experts from both Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have labelled the flight as a publicity stunt and greenwashing.

Both environmental groups point to the problems of continued airport expansion and high demand for biofuel, which are already having detrimental effects on the planet and its people. Their wish is that Airbus, Boeing, and other powerful corporations investing time and energy into biofuels for air travel would shift their focus to these issues instead.

On a related and final note for today, the UN World Food Program has announced that with the significant rise in food prices this year, with their current budget, they will not be capable of stemming the tide of world hunger this year.

Clean Equity

Clean Equity Monaco 2008 is about to get started down in Monaco. Whenever I think of Monaco I think of all those obscene
gas guzzling sports cars that I saw on the streets there several years ago. It is good to know that people working to change that type of unsustainable logic are meeting up there, perhaps they can help bring on an era where luxury bicycles will outnumber luxury sports cars in Monte Carlo.

Photo Credit: AFPAs I look at the list of activities and personalities at Clean Equity, I see that Jeremy Rifkin is listed as a special guest. In his text Leading the Way to the Third Industrial Revolution: A New Energy Agenda for the European Union in the 21st Century -The Next Phase of European Integration-, Rifkin writes about what he calls the Third Industrial Revolution:

The key challenge that every nation needs to address is where they want their country to be in ten years from now: In the sunset energies and industries of the second industrial revolution or the sunrise energies and industries of the Third Industrial Revolution. The Third Industrial Revolution is the end-game that takes the world out of the old carbon and uranium-based energies and into a non-polluting, sustainable future for the human race.

I wonder if one day children in school will have a chapter in their history books entitled “The Third Industrial Revolution.” I also wonder if it will conclude with all the benefits that it brought for the planet .

City of the Future?

A zero carbon, zero waste, car-free city is what developers in Abu Dhabi have announced they will build. Masdar City, the “city of the future” is to be completed in 8 years, with a price tag of 22 billion dollars. When completed, it is supposed to achieve a population of 50,000, and be completely self sufficient while producing no carbon emissions. Water is to come from a solar powered desalinization plant, power from a photo-voltaic power plant, air conditioning from natural “wind towers”, and waste water is to be filtered and put back into the city for growing biofuel. Transportation? A fully automated electric personal transit system and monorail.

Naturally there are alot of questions and hopes and fears involved with the project. Will it really produce zero cabon emissions? What happens once the city goes past 50,000 inhabitants? Can plans to shield the city from neighboring Abu Dhabi airport and Abu Dhabi itself really work? What about emergency services, how will they get around the city quickly without vehicles?

The building has begun, so as the old saying goes – we shall see.

Below you can watch a very professionally produced public relations video about the project. Note the very noble sounding voiceover and fascinating sci-fi images. At the very end of the film the narrator declares that “one day all cities will be built like this.” To which I have to defiantly ask, have they ever been to Baltimore?