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Green Technology

In Light of National Aviation Day, How Can We Make Flight Greener?

August 16, 2018
National Aviation Day

On August 19, you can celebrate National Aviation Day. Perhaps you’ll do that by taking a flight to a place you’ve always wanted to explore, making good on your goal of signing up for flight lessons or just spending time feeling thankful we have that method of transportation at our disposal.

But, despite all the conveniences and innovations traveling by plane brings, it’s not kind to the environment. So, what can we do to start changing that bit by bit?

What About Introducing a Cap System?

In some areas of the United States and Europe, carbon trading arrangements — also known as cap-and-trade systems — place restrictions on the amount of carbon emissions companies can produce. Those who want to use more than their caps allow must trade with others who won’t reach their emissions limits.

Something similar could happen for flights, and the number people take per year. Such a plan might give every person enough air miles for one long-haul flight per year or a few shorter trips. Then, if they use that allotment and want to travel by plane more, they’d have to bid for someone else’s air miles in a government-regulated marketplace.

That system would be fairer than raising the costs of airfare, which is another way to potentially make people fly less often. Some people in low-income brackets already can’t afford to fly, even if they have relatives who live on the other side of the world.

However, if everyone receives the same amount of air miles at the start of a year, the people who don’t use theirs could sell them to frequent flyers and get cash.

The Contrast Between Fuel Burned and Seats Filled

Statistics indicate the Boeing 747, a popular passenger jet, burns five gallons of fuel every mile it flies. That’s a lot, but you should realize some models of that plane can carry more than 560 people. Even if you figure such a plane only has 500 seats filled because it’s a not a sold-out flight, it’s still only burning 0.01 gallons of fuel per mile per person.

Even so, you might decide you want to avoid flying as much as possible until it becomes a greener way of traveling. In that case, take heart, because engineers are working on alternatives. You can read about some of them below and might want to spend part of National Aviation Day learning about more advancements.

Solar-Powered Airplanes Might Suffice Someday

In 2016, two pilots made history by flying around the world in a solar-powered plane. The aircraft, known as the Solar Impulse 2, had an average speed of 45 miles per hour. However, its body weighs only 2.4 tons and has 17,000 solar cells. In comparison, some planes weigh more than 600 tons.

The Solar Impulse 2 took 505 days to fly 26,000 miles. That slow pace means it’s not ready for mainstream travel yet. But, it’s a positive thing that people are looking for alternative ways to power planes. If an entirely solar-powered plane isn’t feasible, maybe ones partially fueled by the sun would lead to today’s commercial jets guzzling less gas and being kinder to the planet.

Flight Is Only One Aspect of the Journey

Even if you’re reaching a destination by plane — a method that isn’t very eco-friendly — you can still do other things to enjoy an environmentally conscious trip. Look for restaurants with menus focusing on locally sourced consumables. Instead of renting a car once you get off the plane, consider getting around on foot or borrowing a bike from a local shop.

When choosing your hotel, pick one with a commitment to sustainability. Such an establishment might have low-flow shower heads, energy-efficient light bulbs and a program in place where the housekeepers do not replace your towels daily unless you ask for it.

By actively trying to make other aspects of your trip as planet-conscious as possible, you can offset the environmental impact of flying to and from your destination.

Sustainable Jet Fuels Are Becoming More Prominent

Many airlines are experimenting with using sustainable jet fuels. They typically contain a mixture of conventional fuel, plus a greener ingredient. This trend is not new, but it’s picking up momentum. In 2008, Virgin Atlantic made history by flying a route from London to Amsterdam with an alternative fuel in one of its engines.

The International Air Travel Association recently set a goal for 1 billion passengers to travel on planes powered by sustainable aviation fuels by 2025. Its representatives say if nothing changes, half a billion people will go via that method within the timeframe.

If you want to be one of them — perhaps as your way of celebrating National Aviation Day — prioritize flying with one of the airlines already using sustainable fuels.

Lufthansa began offering daily commercial passenger flights using biofuel in 2011 on some of its Airbus planes. More recently, Qantas made a trip from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia, using 90 percent standard jet fuel and 10 percent mustard seed oil. Even with that small amount of alternative fuel, the airline estimates it reduced carbon emissions by seven percent.

Beyond sustainable fuel, NASA is funding efforts for electric planes, design changes and more. Some of those efforts are long shots, though.

You Have the Power to Increase Eco-Friendliness on Flights

Even if you can’t fly with one of the airlines using alternative fuels, don’t despair. Simple things make a difference in greening your flight experience. You can use an electronic boarding pass instead of printing one out. Also, nonstop flights use less fuel than those that have layovers. If you have the option, choose the newest plane possible.

It’ll be a while before air travel providers aren’t primarily reliant on fossil fuels. Fortunately, advancements are happening, and you can make a difference, too.

Green Technology

Should People Be Concerned About Lowering Employment Rates from Agtech?

August 6, 2018
employment rates from agtech

We’ve all heard about how the robots are coming for our jobs. You’ve probably also heard about how wonderful automation is and how it can increase productivity and efficiency.

Agriculture is one of the many sectors in which automation is becoming more prevalent. Agricultural tech, known collectively as agtech, is transforming farming with its robots, sensors and algorithms.

The debate over whether the increasing rate of automation is a good or a bad thing is especially pronounced in agriculture. The sector has experienced job loss at the hands of technology before. It’s also facing extreme new challenges driven by a growing world population, an aging workforce and environmental changes.

History of Technology in Agriculture

Around the end of the industrial revolution, more than half of American workers were employed on farms. Since then, the portion of agricultural jobs in the U.S. economy has fallen to below two percent.

Technology was a primary reason for that shift. Within that timeframe, tractors and electrical machinery replaced horse-drawn machinery and a substantial portion of the manual labor involved in farm work.

The increased efficiency brought on by agricultural technology increased the output of farms and enabled them to produce more food. This allowed them to hire fewer workers and enabled workers to move into other industries. This increased efficiency also lowered the costs of food. While the average U.S. family spent more than 40 percent of their income on food in 1900, today they spend around 15 percent.

Modern technology, including self-driving tractors, precision agriculture and crop sensors, is continuing this trend of increasing the efficiency of farms. A Japanese company called Spread is working on building the first fully automated lettuce farming operation by incorporating indoor vertical farming and hydroponics. This approach will increase yields per square meter and reduce the risk of contamination, Minako Ando of Spread’s PR division says.

Short-Term Benefits

As farms incorporate automation, we’ll see increased efficiency, productivity and safety, as occurred following the industrial revolution.

While some may see a reduced need for staff as a negative, this will decrease the costs of running a farm. It will also enable farms to increase the speed and accuracy with which they accomplish transplantation and harvesting activities.

Looking back at Spread’s automated lettuce production system, the company seeks to create a new business model for farming that leads to profit stability. More consistent income could let farmers hire people on short notice for brief periods to deal with pressing needs such as seasonal fluctuations in demand, thereby stimulating the economy.

On many farms, technology will not replace all of a farm’s workers. A McKinsey study looked at various occupations and determined how much of its work could potentially be automated. It gives agriculture an automation potential of 60 percent.

Short-Term Drawbacks

These kinds of advanced agtech technologies will lead to the loss of some jobs in the sector. Various studies detail the recent loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and pin a large portion of the blame on automation. A Ball State University study describes the decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010, following a period of growth in the decade prior.

These impacts may differ slightly when it comes to agriculture, but the overall trend will largely be the same.

Long-Term Impacts

The consensus among economists is that increased automation will create challenges related to employment in the short-term but will provide long-term benefits.

To get an idea of how the introduction of agtech will play out, we just need to look back at the history of new technologies that reduced the need for labor. Although these innovations were often met with fear and resentment, they did not lead to mass unemployment or poorer societies.

The 48 percent of American workers who lost their agricultural jobs due to new electrical machinery did not remain jobless but found employment in other industries.

In the instance of Spread, the company distributes its lettuce to approximately 2,300 stores throughout Japan. The company’s marketing team takes handles all production needs in-house, ranging from product packaging designs to storefront displays, which leads to less production employment and more distribution employment.

“Although robotic technology can substitute for human tasks in some cases, often the robotic technology takes the repeatable and simple routine tasks that normally require physical labor,” Ando, of the company Spread, said. “Human jobs are thus shifted to more creative and rewarding work such as marketing and R&D.”

The human population is one that continually progresses, through technology and other means. This progression is inevitable and applies to all sectors of the economy, including agriculture. To help ensure that we can make this transition smoothly, we need to focus on learning new skills and distributing information that will enable everyone to take advantage of these new technologies.

Green Technology

4 Environmental Impacts of Heat Pumps

July 30, 2018
heat pumps environmental impacts

Heat pumps are an integral part of many homes’ HVAC systems, used for heating and cooling. They are found in homes around the globe, but until recently, experts haven’t started looking at heat pump environmental impact. How can your heat pump impact the environment and what can you do to improve your home’s carbon footprint?

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Green Technology

How Regenerative Agriculture Can Shape the Food System

June 14, 2018
regenerative agriculture

The concept of agriculture has been around nearly as long as humanity itself, but within the last 100 years or so, we’ve started to employ industrialized agriculture techniques that damage the soil and make it harder and harder to grow crops in the same areas. In 2017, American farmers alone planted nearly 320 million acres of farmland using these industrial techniques. Most of those crops were corn and soybeans — foods humans only consume roughly 25 percent of.

Centuries ago, our ancestors relied on regenerative agriculture techniques to plant their crops. Recent studies have emerged to suggest these ancient techniques could help save modern agriculture and reshape the food system. What is regenerative agriculture, and what can it do for modern farming?

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Green Technology

Hydroelectric vs. Wind Power: What Offshore Energy Should We Invest In?

May 31, 2018
hydroelectric vs wind power

Hydroelectric power was the largest source of renewable energy, but recent rapid growth in wind power capacity took away that title. Wind surpassed hydro regarding capacity in 2016, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration recently predicted that it would also overtake it in an actual generation this year.

Offshore wind, meanwhile, is just getting started in the U.S. As of now, Europe has much more offshore wind but, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States has a technical resource potential of around 2,000 gigawatts per year for offshore wind.

Interest in building new dams may be waning, but hydro has offshore potential too in the form of largely unexplored tidal and wave power. Plus, dams continue to be a vital, reliable energy resource.

So, hydroelectric vs. wind power: which makes a better investment? Let’s explore.

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Green Technology

Wind Energy vs. Solar Energy for Meeting Renewable Energy Goals

April 30, 2018
wind energy vs. solar energy

Having goals is an integral part of progress, regardless of what they entail. Individuals, families, communities — and yes, even countries — set a series of goals. As you achieve goals and set new ones, your options change. Moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy for an entire nation doesn’t require you to decide on one kind of energy source. Instead, it’s a better idea to take a look at all the available options and use as many of them as possible.

With that in mind, it’s important to note there are tons of options for renewable energy sources. The factors that determine what’s “best” for a given area depend on its natural resources. Places like Chile in South America have a plethora of wind, sun and geothermal energy. Other regions, like Iceland, are better suited to water and geothermal than they are to solar. Meanwhile, China has arranged to make biomass available to their citizens regardless of natural availability, which changes individuals’ ability to produce energy independently.

The U.S. is in a unique position. We have a vast landmass to work with that enables us to take advantage of many resources, not just one or two. However, given the availability of land and the way the economy has worked out, our two most common options are wind and solar. Here, there are solar options for everything including backpacks and sunglasses. Wind isn’t as common for everyday use, but it is a significant contributor to the energy grid.

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Green Technology

How Does Renewable Energy Compare to Nuclear Power?

April 19, 2018
Renewable energy compare to nuclear power

As concerns about increasing populations and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels grow, the energy industry is looking for ways to evolve. Renewable energy and nuclear power both have the potential to be significant players in the next era of electricity generation. Each type of energy resource has its benefits and challenges, and both have their proponents.

Will nuclear or renewables be the answer to our energy woes? The issue isn’t quite so straightforward. We already use both, and comparing these two very different types of energy can get a bit messy. Circumstances vary from facility to facility, and opinions vary widely. However, we’ll do our best to break the differences down for you in this article.

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