Archive for category New CO2 reduction solutions

If we paint it white, all will be all right…

Everyone is always looking for ‘big ideas’, the ones that will in one fail swoop solve all our problems. For me, the business of reducing our CO2 emissions and looking after the environment takes a different approach: we mustn’t stop looking for the ‘big idea’, or even several of them, but in the meantime we shouldn’t ignore the myriad of smaller ideas that on their own can’t turn everything around, but that definitely can help stop the rot.

This is why I love the latest idea put forward by Hasham Akbari, a scientist based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. It’s really simple: if we turn more of the landscape, and above all the cityscape, white, more sunlight will be reflected and this will help reduce CO2 emissions and delay the effects of global warming.

So what we need to do is to emulate the inhabitants of many a sun-drenched country, and paint all possible outdoor surfaces (above all the roofs of all buildings) white, or at least a light-reflecting colour. This approach will contribute to the reduction of global warming in two ways:

  1. Sunlight reflected back from the earth’s surface reduces the amount of thermal energy given off, and thermal energy contributes to the greenhouse effect. Therefore, if we increase the surface area that reflects sunlight, we reduce the thermal energy given off by the earth.
  2. Buildings that reflect sunlight become less hot in the sun, and therefore need less cooling down. This concept has already been understood in places like California, where whitehouses with flat roofs have been painted white since 2005 in order to reduce the need for power-hungry, CO2 emissions-generating air conditioning.

Akbari reckons that if we all get together to paint an additional 0.3 percent of the earth’s surface white (or at least a colour that reflects sunlight), we could actually save 44 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, the same as the expected rise in emissions over the next 10 years, giving us more time to work on other long-term ‘big ideas’.

Perhaps painting 0.3 percent of the earth’s surface white is a little too much to hope for, and to achieve it, we would certainly have to address several major issues, starting with the fact that white sloping roofs would be, quite frankly, ugly, let alone a potential navigational nightmare for air traffic (hold on, maybe this is a cunning plan to reduce air traffic… keep that thought!). This would certainly be the case for white roads.

However, it does remain an excellent idea, and everyone could contribute to it cheaply and quickly. Imagine, for instance, if we all went out this spring and painted just our patios and garden sheds white. This would already account for a huge surface area, and at least several million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and all for the cost of a pot of paint. Now, let’s take it further: imagine that governments decree that all playgrounds, outdoor carparks, warehouse roofs, the roofs of public buildings are painted white. What about if the roofs of all new cars have to be white? Ok, that’s a contradiction, but could theoretically reduce the emissions of all future transport…

I think this idea has mileage, and will be off tomorrow to B&Q to buy my pot of paint. Not sure what I’m going to paint yet, but here’s advance warning to the neighbours…

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1BOG - a strange acronym for a great idea

No, in spite of the acronym it’s not about recycling human waste! 1BOG stands for 1Block Off The Grid, and the idea is ‘Solar Power Community Purchasing’.

Installing Solar Power is notoriously complicated and expensive, not to mention the red tape involved, which is certainly one of the reasons that  the uptake has been slow in most countries around the world. 1BOG has been set up to break down this barrier and encourage more US inhabitants to go the solar route by helping them do so as part of a group, thus simplifying the process, improving negotiating power, and giving support on red tape issues.

They have just been acquired by Virgance, owners of Carrotmob, another community based idea for reducing CO2, and a company to watch over the next few years. Today I received an email saying that 1BOG has launched officially in no less than 20 different US cities, so they are really going for it from the outset.

In these troubled times, we are all looking to save money and even Barack Obama (who has obviously been reading Reduce Your Co2) is now telling the world that by investing in sustainable power generation, we can save money and do good for the planet. 1BOG helps reduce the up-front investment, one of the bigger blocks to moving over to Solar Power, and I for one hope that their communities spread broad and wide as fast as possible. In fact, I very much hope we will very soon be seeing them on this side of the pond.

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IHT - the ‘road’ to environmentally friendly heating?

An article in the environment section of today’s Guardian has caught my eye, as it talks about what must be one of the most original low emissions heating solutions yet proposed - and what’s more there are no issues with installing solar panels or wind turbines that annoy the NIMBY neighbours…

It’s called IHT - Interseasonal Heat Transfer, and the main energy source is already there (well ok, as you will see, there is some ‘adaptation’) - roads, runways, carparks, tennis courts, anything made of asphalt. Basically, IHT takes the heat absorbed by asphalt surfaces and transfers it to liquid, which is then stored in insulated tubes until it is needed, when it can be pumped out. At a basic level, this solution can be used to heat and, using convection in the opposite direction, cool roads to help them last longer and avoid freezing or melting. When combined with a geothermal heat pump, it can however also be used to heat buildings.

The advantage of this solution is of course that there are no additional blots on the landscape to worry about. Yes, you have to dig up your road, car park or runway in order to install the system, but then how many roads are dug up every year?

Invisible Heating Systems, who are selling the solution, claim approximately 33 square metres of tarmac will heat 100 square metres of a house, and that 400 square metres can provide 108 mW of power per annum.

Of course this is almost certainly not a cheap option, but I think it holds huge potential, at least for public areas and businesses, with greater funds or public sector support, and more likely access to large areas of tarmac. It is also a genuine example of the kind of lateral thinking that engineers and scientists must use to find solutions to reduce CO2 emissions. New inventions are needed, but they will always take longer to get to market. Harking back to Blue Peter and using the tools and materials already available to use will often bring about solutions that are more efficient, and more acceptable too. This is one technology I will be following closely.

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