Thursday, October 21, 2010

Biomimcry: Using Fireflies to Improve

If you don't know what biomimcry is, it's a way of learning from nature and using it's biological forms and ideas to solve our human problems.

It's kind of hard to think up a new or improved product using biomimcry. I've thought of  a couple different things, but they don't seem realistic or they've already been done. The first thought that came to mind when thinking about this assignment was using the flight and aerodynamics of bumblebees or humming birds to help make planes  more sufficient way of traveling. Of course, I started thinking more about it and it seemed that the aerodynamics of the bumblebee and that kind of nature have been incorporated into the structure of planes already.

I have another thought that may seem a little out there right now. But I got to thinking, what if we were able to use fireflies as a source of light? And I mean not capturing them and putting them in a jar for light bulbs. Seriously, what if we could generate and use the same chemical reactions that fireflies do to make light?

Not too long ago, I heard on the news that our energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs are actually "poisoning" us. Scientists call it "dirty electricity." The more energy efficient light bulbs in the house, the more you are in danger of worsening your health problems you may currently have. It's the CFL's that are making the electricity "dirty." And only especially when the light bulbs are done have reached their life span and are possibly broken. The CFL's are exposed and cause more harm.

To get away from all the bad talk, I was thinking of a new light bulb that would be just as energy efficient, but use the same technology or science as lightning bugs. This light bulb would be generating "clean electricity." If it comes from nature, I would sure hope it wouldn't hurt nature in return.

FireflyThe way that fireflies create their little light is by a chemical called luciferin, which makes an enzyme, luciferase. When oxygen comes into the picture and combines with the luciferin, it speeds up the reaction process, which happens in 2 steps:

1. Luciferin + ATP -------------> luciferin adenylate + PPi (pyrophosphate)
   (What happens here is that luciferin and ATP combine and create the luciferin adenylate and  pyrophosphate, which attaches to the luciferase enzyme)

2. Luciferyl adenylate +oxygen ----------------------> oxyluciferin + AMP + light
   (Here, the luciferyl adenylate combine with oxygen to make oxyluciferin and AMP and light is given off. Then the oxyluciferin and AMP are released from the enzyme.)

I was thinking that if we take these same chemical reactions from the firefly, we might be able to make a pretty sweet light bulb. We would have to adjust the wavelength of light though to see properly.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

UPDATE: Eco Footprint

It's now the middle of the quarter. Don't really want to be thinking about that right now, but it's time for an update one how well I'm doing on reducing my ecological footprint.

I've been doing well and keeping up with a couple of my goals. Every time I take a shower, I time myself. My showers now only take between 4 and 10 minutes, compared to before they were 10 to 15 minutes. For the other part of my water conservation goal, when I wash the dishes I make sure the water isn't blasting out the faucet while I'm rinsing them. I feel like I pay more attention to this goal because it's easier for me to remember and sometimes there isn't enough hot water, so my showers are a little cold and it makes me take shorter ones.

Remembering to turn off the lights and unplug my cell phone charger has also been a success. I've been really conscious about this. Once my phone is done charging, I unplug it from the charger and then unplug my charger right away. I'm trying to do the same for my laptop charger. Most of them time, I leave it plugged in. Now when it's done charging, I remember to unplug it also. Thinking about all the unplugging I've been doing, I started to leave my TV and DVD player unplugged, since I don't use them that much. To save a little more electricity, I'm remembering to turn the fan off when I'm done taking a shower. A lot of the time I forget to turn it off when I'm done in the bathroom.

My other goal of buying products with less packaging is... going. I could be doing better. The last few times I've gone grocery shopping, I've tried to buy items can be mostly recycled. It's hard trying to find some products that are all recyclable. When I'm on campus and I buy lunch, I make sure almost everything can be recycled or composted. There are usually one or two items that go in the "landfill" bin. The other part of my goal, buying local fresh food, is not going so well. This part needs improvement. I have not gone to buy local foods from the farmer's market or from the Food Co-op.

Alright, I'm going to make a new goal and hopefully achieve it and stick with it. My new goal is to remember to bring my resuable bags with me to the grocery store. I have them and I always forget to bring them with me. There are 3 big bags full of bags in my closet. More bags do not need to be added to that.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We Could Learn a Few From Denmark

This week for my blog, I was inspired by a video I watched in my Social Psychology class last week by the PBS NOW Series: Electric Dreams. It's about Denmark and how sustainability has become a part of their culture and daily lives. They follow a family and talk about how they keep their carbon footprint low. The video also talks about how electric cars are going to become more popular and take over their cities.

The people of Denmark are used to riding their bikes to work. Ramps are placed on stairs to make it easier to walk their bikes up them. They also have huge bicycle parking lots. A family of four seems to get by most of the year without using their car. The husband rides his bike to work from April to October. The wife walks her son to school every day. It takes them 45 minutes each way. Even when they go visit grandma, they take a bus to a train and then ride the train for 3 hours and then walk another 20 minutes to her house.

Keeping their carbon footprint low outside, they keep it pretty low inside their house. They monitor their energy use every week. To make sure they aren't using too much, they write it down and compare it to the week before. They want to keep their consumption at 50 kilowatts hours per week. That's a quarter of what Americans normally use. The family tries to reduce it even more, if they are using a little more than their goal.

For the second ingredient to Denmark's sustainability, they had to figure out how to use their stored wind energy. The answer, Danes are putting more electric cars on the road. They're hoping that in the next year or so, their roads are going to be filled with them. I found this interesting  while watching the video, a way to get more Danes to buy the electric cars, the government is putting ridiculous taxes on the cars that are still gas powered. One gentleman that filled up his gas car, paid $88 for 13 gallons of gas! That's just for a mid-sized car. If a Dane still wants to buy a gas car, there's a 25% government tax and an additional 180% tax just because it uses fuel. So a $20,000 car, turns out to cost $70,000 in the end. I don't know about you, but I'd rather pay for the electric car that costs less and is more friendly to the environment.

Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, came up with a technology to store the wind energy in lithium ion batteries. A GPS system in the vehicle will let the driver know where an "electric filling station" is on the way to their destination. These "filling" stations will remove the current battery and replace it with a full charged battery and the people are good to go back on the road to grandma's house. They would pay Agassi a fee for every kilometer they drive and he would pay DONG Energy for the energy used. By storing the energy in these rechargeable batteries, Denmark is able to put 750 windmills in the sea, that's if all the cars in Denmark are electric powered.

Nissan Electric Concept CarAgassi leaned on the auto industry to develop an electric car that can be mass produced and that's affordable. Nissan wanted to take on the challenge. Charging stations would be available at the owners home, work, and leisure destinations. The cars could all be charged at night, which is important for the environment because they can use the stored energy. DONG Energy said it would be expensive to do this and aren't sure how many people are going to want to invest in this purchase quite yet.
 I think if America wants to become more sustainable, we need to be looking at countries like Denmark as an example to change they way we live and to reduce our footprints.

Do you use reusable bags when you go grocery shopping?