Green Technologies - Can Work Miracles

Nature recycles water, nitrogen, and carbon to renew the vital resources and to keep the environment clean and fresh. Nature does not like human intervention in breaking this cycle or going against it in any way. Let Mother Nature help us solve problems of food, energy and environment. Green technologies offer a great promise for a sustainable environment without upsetting the crucial balance in Nature. Over the last few decades, several solutions to environmental problems have been proposed. The diagram below depicts some of those advances in environmental technology.

Advances in Environmental Technology

It is encouraging that the EPA, DOE, and FDA are effectively dealing with the problems of the environment and energy. A lot of diversified activity is going on, and numerous new projects are underway. Similarly, individual state departments are fully active and intensifying efforts in dealing with Environmental issues. The object of this write up is to highlight the importance and scope of GREEN technologies (or eco-friendly technologies) and to draw attention to some commonly overlooked and simple solutions for accelerating our nation's efforts to take care of its environment and energy needs. We need to develop renewable resources of energy and stop importing pollution in the form of oil. We have the potential to become a net exporter of oil in less than 5 years, or at least self-sufficient in oil by developing alternative eco-friendly fuels and fuel additives. What is required now is a firm commitment and increasing involvement of the private sector. We also need to raise our standards of fuel/energy efficiencies and environmental parameters.

Let us start with the goal of zero waste. We need to recycle all wastes in an appropriate way and stop wasting money on landfill areas. The Waste Organizing Cabinet, as shown in the attached brochure, can be helpful in conveniently achieving the target of zero waste. After recycling plastics, paper, aluminum, tin, glass etc., the remaining biodegradable parts of the waste become a valuable resource of energy. This waste can be co-digested anaerobically, along with city sewage sludge and cattle/poultry farm waste, to produce methane gas. All agricultural wastes, and those from food and agro-based industries, which cannot be effectively utilized for any other purpose, like ethanol or bio-diesel production, can be co-digested along with the above wastes. Every state can run one, two, or more experimental digesters to set the parameters for optimum operation with due consideration to cost effective design and to find out inhibiting fractions of the waste sources. Necessary treatment can be researched to make that inhibiting part of waste suitable for anaerobic digestion. Basically it would be pH adjustment, optimum temperature and size reduction. Methane gas thus obtained can be used to produce electricity and to run farm machinery like tractors using compressed gas cylinders. It is difficult to estimate the total potential for gas or electricity production. Hopefully, a noticeable amount of gas or electricity can be produced this way.

Digested slurry from the anaerobic digester is a very good organic fertilizer containing almost all macro and micronutrients. Chemical fertilizers are destroying the natural fertility of our soils and we have to continually increase their input with intensive machinery use to maintain the same level of yield per acre. Digested slurry can restore the organic matter content and microbial activity of the soil. Nutrient holding capacity (cat-ion exchange capacity) and water holding capacity of the soil is largely dependent upon its organic matter content. This way we can not only save our fertile soils from the hazards of chemical fertilizers but also reduce the high demand on natural gas for their production. It will also help to considerably reduce emission of green-house gases. Moreover it will help cities and counties to significantly reduce the waste disposal cost, which in turn can be passed on to the residents in the form of relief in the ever-increasing burden of property taxes. The good news is that organic foods are becoming increasingly popular. The bad news is that this simple, old and cost-effective technology is not being given the due importance it deserves. Presently composting is a very popular eco-friendly activity that is widely being practiced in America. Micro organisms in the composting process consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide gas. Whereas Anaerobic Digestion (AD) takes place in a closed system in the absence of air (oxygen) and so less amount of carbon dioxide is produced. In addition to that AD is a net energy producing process with a lot of potential and also reduces odors, pests and soil-borne pathogens. There is a growing awareness in some European countries to tap the energy potential of this centuries old technology, on the commercial scale. They are considering growing energy crops for co-digestion.

All clean sources of electric power production---hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, and coal and wood based gasification---can be further developed to produce enough cost effective electricity. Electricity can be used to run fast speed (around 150+ mph) hybrid electric-diesel trains. Many incentives can be provided to popularize train travel. For example if a group of two or more people is planning a long distance vacation in a car or a van and they are offered a fun-filled attractive package to ride along with their car/van, they would love it, because their own car/van would be available at the destination. They can remain seated in their car/van and a specially designed equipment/lift can safely load/unload the car/van on the train. Train services can collaborate with the trucking services to cover the longer stretches of their journey. They can also sponsor bus and van services for the convenience of traveling public. These buses and vans can pick up passengers from their homes and take them to a main train stop where specially designed equipment can safely load them, along with passengers, on the train. The passengers can take advantage of the fast speed of train in this way. At the destination, these buses and vans can take the passengers to their homes/hotels in suburbs and small towns. We will have to ensure high volumes of goods and passengers transportation to make such an elaborate train service economically feasible. Big players in the transportation business, like UPS, Fed Ex, US Postal Service, Grey Hound etc. can be persuaded for a joint venture with Amtrak. More than 10% of gasoline and diesel can be saved in this way.

The hybrid electric-gas car development process has been very slow and needs to be accelerated. We need to reconsider our priorities, reset result-oriented and realistic goals, and be more focused on the outcome. The average American drives his car 10,000 to 15,000 miles in a year or roughly 30 to 40 miles a day. Majority of people live within 10/15 miles of their work and shopping areas. If we can develop such an energy efficient electric-gas hybrid car that can cover the first 15-20 miles on a fast charging storage battery, we can considerably reduce the consumption of gasoline as well as greatly reduce the tail pipe emission. For example a person living within 10/15 miles range of work/shopping area and driving such a hybrid car can go weeks even months without using any or very little gasoline. He can start his car in the morning, a few minutes before leaving, while the car is still plugged in and the temperature control system can adjust the optimum temperature (72F) inside the car, at the expense of residential electric power. Parking lots---public, business, and private, including street parking meters and restaurant parking---can provide electric power outlets for charging hybrid car batteries at a nominal price. Since hydrogen fuel cell technology is still in the developmental stage and probably needs another decade to be able to reach a point where we can start mass production of cost effective cars that are affordable for average Americans, a gas-electric hybrid car, with regenerative brakes and preferably an additional solar battery, is the best option until we find something better. Even a gas-electric hybrid car that can cover only the first 5/6 miles on a storage battery can make a lot of difference. Fuel efficiency in automobile engines is the most important factor. If somehow we can double the fuel efficiency, the petroleum demand can be reduced to one half.

We have the lowest gas prices in the world probably with the exception of a few Middle Eastern countries. An environmental surcharge of 25 cents per gallon, which can be increased by 5 cents in each successive year, will not be too much of a burden. With a strong commitment to environmental quality, it will be a small price for a big cause. It will encourage car-pooling and act as a catalyst for buying fuel-efficient, low emission cars and discourage the trend of high fuel consumption and high tailpipe emission SUVs and cars. This money can be spent on research and development of eco-friendly renewable energy projects, fuel-efficient and low emission automobiles, and other energy efficiency projects. All of the above suggestions can help save more than 50% gasoline and diesel consumption, and we can safely sign the Kyoto protocol.

The possibilities offered by Green technologies are unlimited. We need to carefully decide for the best options after necessary research and considering all aspects including their economic, ecological, safety, health and future implications. Such purposeful economic activities can create a lot of jobs and significantly contribute to the national economy.

This write-up was first distributed at the Living Green Expo at St. Paul, MN in April of 2002.