Wire rope transmission in 1896. Source: Stadtarchiv Schaffhausen.

Kris De Decker at  Low-tech Magazine has published a fascinating article discussing rope drives, a 19th-century technology that was used, especially in Europe, to transmit power over shorter distances. This method of transmission was actually “more efficient than electricity for distances up to 5 kilometres” and even today “would be more efficient than electricity over relatively short distances.”

De Decker makes an interesting connection to the spread of small-scale renewable energy production and suggests a possible role for a technology such as the endless rope drive:

“In spite of [some drawbacks discussed in the article], power transmission by ropes might have a place in our energy systems. Today, there is a trend towards small-scale, decentralized power production, based on renewable energy sources. These solar panels, water turbines or wind turbines generate electricity, but whenever we need to produce mechanical energy, eliminating the step of generating electricity could result in a somewhat less practical, but more efficient use of energy.”

De Decker thinks that “If we used modern materials for making ropes and pulleys, we could further improve this forgotten method.” He illustrates his article with many photos of 19th-century installations.

ARB — 4 April 2013

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Egad! A snowstorm! Maybe global warming isn’t true after all. Oh, wait, it’s March in the Northern Hemisphere, so it’s still cold enough to snow. You almost had me there!

Comic by Slowpoke Comics

ARB — 25 March 2013

I’ve heard a lot of people say that we shouldn’t listen to the “deniers” of man-made global warming, and that the media shouldn’t give them “equal time.” I’m going to step out of line and say I think it’s good to pay attention to the arguments of those who disagree with the consensus view on climate change.

My thinking on this issue has partly arisen while participating in a discussion in the “Green Group” on LinkedIn. (Not sure whether a non-member can view the group and its discussions.) I’m here repeating some of my comments from that discussion.

Science has it own motivation for improving its work, but I think the contrarians, the misinformers, and the misinformed provide added incentive to make the science better. They also add incentive for science communicators and journalists to do a better job communicating with the public about the science and its inferences.

Just a little example from my own work. I’ve heard many of the misinformed raise the objection, How can CO2 as a trace gas cause such a problem? And isn’t CO2 beneficial for plants? I remembered studying this in earth system science, but I didn’t really know how to make the case for it, and I couldn’t find any really accessible article to refer people to. So I did some investigation and wrote an article for it on my own column: “Carbon Dioxide — How Can One Little Molecule Be Such a Big Troublemaker?

The point is that the misinformation gave me an incentive to do a better job of communicating.

ARB — 25 Dec 2012

I thought this was an interesting and useful infographic highlighting the growing U.S. solar manufacturing business. Right now, it shows a $5.6 billion industry that imports $3.75 billion, for a $1.9 billion trade surplus.

I wrote something about the growth of the solar industry recently for ThomasNet Green & Clean — see “How Will U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Affect Expansion of Solar Energy?

Infographic shows US solar industry trade surplus

AB — 15 September 2011

 

Recently at ThomasNet Green & Clean, I wrote about programs that are starting up around North America to recycle food scraps from homes, institutions, and businesses — see “Not Your Grandma’s Compost Pile – Increasing Efforts to Recycle Food Scraps.

This movement could have a significant impact on the waste stream, as I discovered from EPA data:

Government has begun to recognize that much of its waste stream is material that could be disposed of beneficially rather than simply being sequestered in a landfill emitting methane. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) … estimates that food scraps make up 14.1 percent of solid waste generated in the U.S., 34 million tons of food waste total. However, only 2.5 percent of that volume gets recovered.

AB — 28 August 2011

On ThomasNet Green & Clean last week, I wrote about the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat Program (see “Bunnies, Bluebirds, and Butterflies – A Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard?“), which has registered 140,000 wildlife habitats in backyards, schools, parks, businesses, and government properties since 1973.

I learned about the program by serendipity — driving through a neighborhood here in Raleigh, I noticed the NWF sign in someone’s yard, and decided to investigate the program with the idea of writing an article about it.

Landscaper John Magee told me he thinks the program is helping to restore some of the original forest that has been lost through development:

Even as habitat becomes more and more disrupted by development, we’re creating more and more little islands of habitat. Wildlife can move and migrate from one to another of them. Areas that used to be forest are now subdivisions, but as we create more islands it makes things easier for wildlife. We can reconnect things more back the way they probably should be.

AB — 14 August 2011

Tracey Schelmetic at ThomasNet Green & Clean today throws some much-needed cold water in the face of affluent consumers who think they are helping the environment by driving a hybrid SUV or building a 5,000-square-foot “green” house:

The Ford Escape Hybrid, considered the most fuel efficient hybrid SUV on the market, gets about 32 mpg combined. This is about the same as a Toyota Yaris with a traditional engine, and far below the efficiency of a Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets 42 mpg combined.

She also takes a swipe at Whole Foods, along with some comments that will please Trader Joe’s fans:

Sitting in opposition to Whole Foods is more environmentally minded chain Trader Joe’s, a company preferred by many eco-minded shoppers. Keeping an eye on the most important factor in a green business – building size – Trader Joe’s operates out of far smaller buildings. Stores tend to average between 8,000 and 12,000 square feet, compared to Whole Foods average store size of 50,000 to 80,000 square feet. Trader Joe’s also pledged to eliminate all GM foods from its shelves in 2001, and by next year will sell no seafood products that are not sustainably sourced.

AB — 2 August 2011