Green Technology Boom

Figure Corn Used in Ethanol Production

Biodiesel), other agricultural commodities, like wheat and soybeans, are way up, too. The soaring price of wheat actually caused Italian consumers to stage a one-day pasta-buying strike in late 2007. In the end, it was all for naught When analysts finally got around to running the numbers, it turned out that for corn etha-nol to replace a significant part of U.S. oil imports would require pretty much all the available farmland, thus sending food prices through the roof. And, icing on the rancid...

Aquaculture Blue Revolution

The problems caused by our attempts to put roast beef and chicken teriyaki on the table are nothing compared to the consequences of our growing taste for fish. Today's oceans are crawling with football-field-sized factory ships trailing miles of netting that sweep up sharks, dolphins, turtles, and whatever else is out there. We're so good at large-scale fishing, and so lax in deciding who gets to take how much, that the oceans have become a textbook example of the tragedy of the commons, the...

Electric Cars

The advent of plug-in hybrids leads to an obvious question If a mostly electric car is possible, why not dispense with internal combustion altogether and go completely electric Wouldn't such a car with only one relatively simple drivetrain and a single motor be both cheaper and cleaner The short answer is yes, but. Yes, a world of mostly electric cars powered by solar- and wind-generated electricity would be a much better place, for a variety of obvious reasons. But based on the difficulties...

Water Management

When something is plentiful and cheap, there 's little incentive to use it wisely. And with water, which has been nearly free for the past century, the amount of waste is breathtaking. Old pipes leak, water treatment systems do an inadequate or too costly job, homes and businesses have no idea what water costs and so don't make an effort to conserve. A 2007 European Commission report on water issues noted that Europe wastes at least 20 percent of its water. And if Europe is this bad, the U.S....

Meat Eating Beer Swilling

As Fred Pearce puts it in his scary, evocative book When the Rivers Run Dry, I figure that as a typical meat-eating, beer-swilling, milk-guzzling Westerner, I consume as much as a hundred times my own weight in water every day. And now the rest of the world wants the same lifestyle. China's meat demand is doubling every 10 years. Poultry consumption in India doubled in the first half of this decade. According to the UN, world population is expected to grow 10 percent by 2020, but demand for...

Global Water Shortage

The United States, because it's rich enough to engineer its way around most water problems and buy some breathing room for those it can't solve, is actually in relatively good shape. Other countries have more immediate, less easily delayed, problems. For example, India 's green revolution is by most standards one of the past century's great success stories. Once a country where tens of millions of people existed on the edge of starvation, it is now nearly self-sufficient in food, thanks largely...

Snowbelt Real Estate

Here's an offbeat, long-term thought People have been moving to warm, dry regions for decades, and they are now facing the inevitable conflict between falling water supplies and rising populations. For Americans living in Arizona, Southern California, and several other western states, life is about to become a lot more expensive and complicated as water prices rise to bring supply and demand into balance. And water problems are not confined to the Southwest. Georgia is in the grip of an...

Cellulosic Ethanol Not Food

If all plants store energy in their cells, then why choose food crops for biofuel There must be plenty of other plants that produce energy without driving up the price of pasta. And it turns out that there are. Everything from wood chips to grass clippings to energy crops like switchgrass and jatropha are potential biofuel sources. But unlocking their energy is tricky. Whereas corn starch is easy to break down into alcohol, the potential energy in many other plants is located in their...

Photovoltaics

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are made of semiconducting material most commonly crystalline silicon of the same type used in computer chips that produces electricity when struck by sunlight. Photovoltaic modules (i.e., solar panels) are composed of multiple PV cells. Two or more interconnected panels make an array. Solar arrays can be placed individually on home rooftops, connected by the thousands in desert solar farms, or any combination in between. The two keys to turning PV into a viable energy...

Genetically Modified Plants

As water and synthetic fertilizers become more expensive, agriculture has no choice but to adapt. Farmers will stop spraying water on their fields and shift to techniques like drip irrigation, which applies water in smaller amounts at the root zone, where it' s most beneficial. They'll use pesticides and fertilizers more carefully. And, despite their perhaps reasonable misgivings, they' ll buy and plant genetically modified (GM) seeds that produce higher yields with less water, fertilizer, and...

Biomass Just Burn It

Once upon a time, biofuels like wood and cow dung were simply gathered and burned for heat, light, or energy. This was both straightforward and carbon neutral. Plants captured the carbon, fire released it, and nature stayed in balance. It was only when we started burning the stored carbon held in oil, natural gas, and coal that the balance was upset. So the idea of returning to the old ways of generating power has a simplicity that's attractive assuming there's a fuel source that doesn ' t...

Solar Power Supply Chain

To make a solar cell, you need a semiconductor material like silicon or the more exotic compounds that go into next-generation thin films. And you need specialized machines to turn raw materials into intermediate products and then into solar cells. The result is several distinct supply chains, each with its share of public companies. Silicon Solar-grade silicon is made from silica, a ubiquitous material that makes up nearly 26 percent of the earth ' s crust. Before it can become a solar cell,...

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber consists of long, thin sheets of graphite-like carbon that are stronger than steel but lighter than aluminum. Thomas Edison is said to have invented it in 1879, and in 1961, Japanese researcher Akio Shindo developed the modern version, called polyacrylonitrile carbon fiber, after which several companies began producing it for specialized, expensive products like golf clubs and fishing rods. In the late 1980s, Japanese manufacturer Toray mixed carbon fiber with an epoxy resin to...

Returning to Our Roots

Biofuels also have other (albeit still theoretical) advantages. As agricultural products, biofuel crops should be less volatile than oil. If prices go up, we just plant more. And because most countries, the United States included, can grow their own biofuel crops and convert them to gasoline substitutes, biofuels would allow today's oil-importing countries to stop sending all their money to OPEC, and instead give it to their own tax-paying, incumbent-voting farmers. The result energy and food...

Corn Ethanol Farm Subsidy in Drag

The first biofuel to be widely used in the United States was ethanol, an alcohol derived from corn. It was first because it' s easy, rather than especially good. Corn is something American farmers know how to grow in vast quantities, and American truckers and railroads know how to ship. To turn it into ethanol, the corn is ground up and processed using heat, water, and enzymes to convert the liquefied starch to sugars, which are fermented into ethanol and carbon dioxide. The ethanol is then...

State of the Market

Governments around the world continue to support corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel with mandates and subsidies, despite their increasingly visible flaws. So production will continue to rise, and new plants will continue to be built. But soaring food prices and the realization that first-generation biofuels are not environmentally benign have forced a rethinking of the whole enterprise that will likely lead most governments to withdraw some of their support. The future lies with the...

Biofuels Growth Prospects

Given the progress that's being made on multiple fronts, it's likely that a decade hence, some combination of cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel, and biomass (along with other biofuels like butanol) will supply a significant part of humanity's energy. But the investment angle is not yet clear. First'generation biofuels aren ' t worthy of much enthusiasm, even though government mandates appear to guarantee a few more years of strong demand. And none of the half dozen promising next'generation biofuel...

Private Sector Players

A whole range of private-sector companies now see emissions credits as a growth market. For investment banks, the attraction of another big trading opportunity is obvious. But many of them are going further, actually initiating, financing, and managing projects to retrofit Indian factories, clean up Russian pipelines, and plant trees in Indonesia. This kind of merchant banking generates a river of fees that culminate it is hoped in trading profits and capital gains when the projects come to...

Next Generation Batteries

Generally speaking, a battery is an enclosed store of chemicals that react under controlled conditions to produce an electrical charge. In some batteries, like the common alkaline versions used in toys and flashlights, the chemical process goes one way, and once it 's done, the battery is exhausted. With other kinds of batteries, the chemical reactions are reversible, and a current flowing through them converts the chemicals back to a state where they can again release a charge. Today's...

Table Wind Power Stocks

Range from the world 's 1 argest power companies, like Spanish utilities Iberdrola and Acciona and America 's FPL, all the way down to single-farm entrepreneurs. And new entrants are pouring in as quickly as land can be leased and turbines delivered. Then there are the component makers that supply the industry with everything from carbon fiber for turbine blades, to specialized electronics, to information management services. Here again, new companies are forming and private firms are going...

Biodiesel Again Not Food

Diesel fuel powers engines in which pressure rather than a spark causes combustion. It 's big in Europe and, thanks to a new generation of quieter, cleaner diesel engines, might see dramatic growth in the United States and elsewhere. So a renewable source of this fuel would have a big potential market. Biodiesel ' s story is similar to that of ethanol Today's version is made from vegetable sources like soy and palm oil. But that's a dead end, for a variety of reasons. First, these sources don't...

Wind Powers Growth Prospects

Right now, wind power is in such demand that it will grow as fast as new turbines can be made, which is about 25 percent annually. In early 2008, the waiting list for many components stretched for more than a year, and though turbine makers were building new plants, demand was keeping pace, making it unlikely that they'll be able to cut their wait times before 2010. For investors, wind offers a range of choices. (See Table 5.1.) The turbine makers are mostly giants like General Electric,...

Subsidies Alone Wont Do It

Early in this decade, corn ethanol appeared to have all the attributes of a huge winner. It solved a big problem our dependence on foreign oil and it had the backing of the U.S. government, which appeared ready to force refiners to use ever-greater amounts of it in their formulations. So when South Dakota-based ethanol maker VeraSun went public in 2006, it was met with a fittingly enthusiastic reception. Its market cap on the day of its IPO was 3 billion, or nearly three times its annual...

The Anasazi

The southwestern United States is not a place where one would expect to find a complex preindustrial society. It's dry in normal times and prone to long droughts, with poor soil and forests that, when they exist at all, grow very slowly. Yet for a thousand years before Europeans arrived, people now called the Anasazi (Navajo for ancient ones) lived here in settled villages, and eventually in cities. Far more of them lived off this land in places like New Mexico 's Chaco Canyon than are able to...

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Also known as geoexchange, this variation on the geothermal theme exploits the fact that while air temperature varies with the season and time of day, 6 feet below ground, the earth is usually between 45 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sink some pipes into the ground below a building, circulate liquid through them, connect the pipes to a compressor, and it's possible to use the heat differential between ground and air to both heat and cool a building. Geothermal heat pumps use between 20...