Energy 365

Biofuels Become More Efficient; Binge on Whiskey

The world of biofuels is abuzz these days with new innovations. First up, an intrepid metabolic engineer from the University of Illinois has stepped up to the challenge of efficiently developing biofuels. And that's great because while we keep coming up with ideas for feedstock -- or things that we can turn into biofuel like corn or switchgrass or butter(!) -- we're having a hard time balancing the energy equation in terms of efficient production.

Carrots of the Future: Zoo Tests out Vertical Growing

If you thought your grocery bill was high, you should see that of the Paignton Zoo in Devon, England. Before the zoo and garden installed some state-of-the-art horticultural technology, the tally for leafy greens, fresh fruits and crunchy carrots topped out at about 200,000 British pounds a year. Those hefty feed prices, combined with the zoo's position to educate the public, drove management to test out a futuristic agricultural system -- high-density vertical growing.

Video Games Champion Energy Conservation

Video games and energy conservation generally don't go hand in hand. Your gaming console discharges heat like an oven and its little red light means it's always guzzling power. The games themselves are frequently worse, starring characters who effortlessly burn though energy with no concerns beyond the amount of ammo left in their plasma cannon. So it might come as a surprise to learn just how many video games have jumped on the energy conservation bandwagon. Here are just a few freebies to consider. The games range from the cute and simple to the deep and professional. And yes, most of them are totally free.

Sink-Toilets Help You to Wash and Go

For many of us, visiting the bathroom is a lot like visiting Las Vegas. What happens in there, stays in there. Several companies are hoping to change your habits in there though, most notably by inducing you to wash your hands on top of the toilet. Big deal. Sink-toilets have been hanging around highly efficient Japan for decades. The compact devices feature a toilet on the bottom and a sink mounted on the top in the spot where you might usually keep some well-thumbed reading material. Once your affairs are in order, you simply turn around and wash your hands, with the fresh water coming from the tap, trickling into the sink basin, politely bypassing the tank and traveling directly to the toilet bowl to refill it.

"Dumbest" Turbine Ready to Hit Rough Ocean Waters

Atlantis Resources just unveiled its 1,430-ton, 73-foot-long tidal turbine, believed to be the biggest turbine of its kind in the world. But the kicker for me was the chief executive, Tim Cornelius' description of the behemoth: "In order to get a robust turbine we have had to make what we call ultimately the dumbest, simple but most robust turbine you could possibly put in such a harsh environment."

Keeping Power Down with the Joneses

Positive sticker/stamp reinforcement. It's one of the secret weapons of teachers, tutors, and honestly, even editors. It's something simple -- a gold star, a positive message in cheery ink -- but it's bizarrely motivating. You don't get a sticker or stamp for mediocrity. Playing into the deep psychological satisfaction that comes from such a simple reward, utility companies are beginning to stamp some customers' power bills with a pleasant smiley face. The faces are meant to motivate customers who have used less power than their neighbors to keep doing so. It's half grade-school, half old-fashioned neighborly competition.

Churches Pray for Energy Star Certification

Running a church is hard work. After all, a house of worship is a port in the storm to members of its community. Services, soup kitchens, bible studies and confessionals have to be held as planned for each and every needy soul. All that outreach consumes not only the time and commitment of members and staff, but also a fair amount of energy. With utility costs averaging $1.66 per square foot per year, the First Parish had enough. Find out what the church did inside.

What are anti-energy drinks?

We're all familiar with energy drinks, the beverages that give some of us the caffeine, vitamins, herbs and sugar to power through our work days and stretch our nights out to the max. Regardless of the brand, you're basically guzzling down stuff from the local hippie health store with a cola makeover. Anti-energy drinks, as you can probably guess, are the same idea aimed at opposite results. Hit your favorite natural foods store and you'll find no shortage of herbal sleep and relaxation aids like melatonin, kava root or valerian root. Given the enormous worldwide success the energy drink industry has enjoyed, it makes perfect sense to throw some of those aids into a can and add a little flavor, fizz and a suitably ridiculous brand name. Mary Jane's Relaxing Soda and Drank anyone?

Persuasive Technology Gunning for Energy Efficiency, World Peace

Do you drive a hybrid vehicle that feeds you every kind of stat imaginable on your mileage consumption? Or maybe just a run-of-the-mill beater that grudgingly displays your miles per gallon? Either way, you're interacting with persuasive technology. Even if you opt for public transportation, chances are you're encountering persuasive technology. And those technologies are trying hard to change the way we consume energy. Like the term suggests, persuasive technology encompasses anything that aims to change people's beliefs and behaviors -- be it a dashboard display, a smart meter or a video game.

Plants and Animals School Us in Energy Efficiency

I've been reading about energy transference in animals of late, and the data clashes in interesting ways with the current state of our electrical grid and our hopes for a smart grid future. It's tempting to run to the biomimetic principle of "nature always designs it better" and look to the animal and plant worlds for energy efficient inspiration. But when you look closer, you start running into trouble. Plant Energy vs. Animal Energy Plants that get their energy directly from the sun (through photosynthesis) are the most energy-efficient organisms on the planet. They absorb a renewable energy source and use or store all of it. That's the bottom of the food chain -- the base of the pyramid.