Enrichment days enrich me too

Saturday was a busy day. First, we volunteered at Crafty Mart, and then we went to the zoo. Saturday was an Enrichment Day at the Akron Zoo, so we had to go enjoy the nice weather and get some more practice with the camera. Enrichment days are when the zookeepers put new and interesting toys into the animals’ habitats to add some variety to their life. Usually, it’s something they can explore or destroy, or a big toy with food hidden inside.  It’s meant to stimulate the animal’s natural instincts and it sure is fun to watch.

Zoo June Two

red panda

We got there in time to see the red panda’s enrichment time and it was well worth it. The red panda is so bossy and stompy and adorable. He reminds us of our Lemon. (I know… red pandas are not pets!) On Saturday, the red panda’s enrichment included a paper mache dinosaur and some extra bamboo. He also had some training time, which allows the keeper to look him over to make sure he’s healthy and to give him any medication he needs.

Zoo June Two

Did you know that red pandas aren’t pandas at all? They are so unique that they are now in their own family.

Zoo June Two

We love the Akron Zoo. Many vegans or animal activists question the ethics of zoos, but I think they are necessary because I think most people need to see something in order to care about it. Zoos also allow us to conserve animals who are nearing extinction due to human practices like logging, cattle ranching (that destroys 1,000’s of acres of forest every year), and sprawl. The Akron Zoo is great because you can see everything in about 3 hours, and they focus a lot of their education programs on conservation efforts. A few years ago, the Akron Zoo was included on the Ohio Solar Tour because of their green buildings.

Zoo June Two

komodo dragon

Zoo June Two

seahorse and starfish in the new aquarium

Flexible solar panels

A company in Germany (of course!) has invented flexible solar panels made from small, organic molecules on polyester films. They weigh a lot less than traditional solar panels, and they can generate just as much electricity! Solar energy is best collected in sunny and cloudy conditions.

Heliatek, the start-up company, has produced some proof-of-product demos, but they need a lot more money in order to build a larger (but still small) production factory. This little company needs a huge supply in order to make their product cost less. (Remember those good ol’ supply and demand laws you learned in macroeconomics? Here they are.) Currently, the flexible panels cost more than traditional panels, but as they sell more, and build a bigger factory, the cost of flexible panels could drop to 40-50 cents per watt!

A few other incentives for Europeans to start buying these panels

  • Builders won’t have to buy the heavy metal hardware to hold traditional solar panels.
  • The panels can be incorporated into concrete facades, not just windows.
  • Soon, policies in Europe will require buildings to produce as much electricity as they consume. (What!? That’s a great policy!)
  • They’re like tinted windows, only these ones produce energy.

It sounds like these will initially be sold to industries, not so much to individual consumers.

They need to become a little more efficient, but they have serious benefits to the future of solar power.

Heliatek’s complete panels (a panel is a collection of cells wired together) convert 8% of the energy in light into electricity (polymer solar panels are 3% to 5% efficient). Conventional silicon solar panels are 14 to 15% efficient, but the Heliatek technology’s good performance in low light  and high heat can make up for the lower efficiency.

Every little bit helps.

Thanks, Mashable, for this exciting story.

Plastic bottle light bulbs

When people build shantytowns and impromptu housing (as millions do around the world), it’s hard to get sufficient light inside because of lack of electricity. So, people live in the dark or have to go outside to see anything. Solution: plastic bottle light bulbs.

Liter of Light takes empty pop bottles, fills them with water and a little bleach (to prevent mold), and installs them in the roofs. The result is similar to solar light tubes and it allows people to have light in their homes throughout the day, without electricity.

Good.is explains how it works: “plastic bottles refract the sun’s rays, scattering about 55 watts of light across a would-be pitch black room.”

(The video on Liter of Light is even better!)

Vitamin D

Apparently, most of us don’t get enough vitamin D. Skin cancer scares have made most people slather on the sunscreen any time they’re outside. This is good, because pale is the new tan, but we need vitamin D, which we get from the sun. Here’s my solution – when I go to the pool, I lay out for 15 minutes on each side and then put sunscreen on for the rest of the time. I am as pale as pale can be, so I feel like the 15 minutes gives me a little prevention-protection so that maybe I won’t burn if I’m in the sun for a longer period of time. Who knew I was also giving myself a healthy dose of vitamin D with this method?

What does vitamin D do for us? Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and balance phosphorus. It prevents things like rickets and bone-thinning disorders. It might also help your hair, according to wikipedia.

How to get it

You can take vitamin D supplements, but D3 isn’t from a vegan source. D2 is vegan and likely just as effective as D3. Sunshine is best for everyone. Vitamin D is found in a lot of fishy foods (also not vegan), but soymilk is fortified with vitamins A and D.

In sum, try to get 15 minutes of sun a day, and then use the sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. (We’ll post about some not-tested-on-animals sunscreens when that topic becomes relevant to Ohio. lol) Since we rarely see the sun this time of year, double check your foods to be sure you’re getting some vitamin D, and a supplement with vitamin D might not be a bad idea.

The Kind Life has a good discussion of vitamin D.

Metro Building Tour

IMG_1091I toured the Metro Parks Green Building on Saturday. The building is brilliant, but not many people came. That was unfortunate because people should see how easy it is to save on energy. Plus, they had really great cookies!

The new Metro Parks Rangers building features just some of these features:

  • Outside: Rain barrels, solar panels, solar film, green roof, rain garden, smart pavers which allow rain drainage, and native greenery.
  • Inside: Recycled materials for countertops, reclaimed lumber for furniture and structure, recycled carpet, recyclable office furniture, waterless urinals, low VOC paints, motion sensors for lights, bamboo floors, reused technology, original bricks and floor tiles.
  • Basement: Composting toilet machine, geothermal heat system, and Hybrid car.

This building demonstrates how easy it is to reduce our impact on the planet, be healthier, and save money on energy costs. And live comfortably at the same time. The lockers were made from recycled milk jugs and the marble-looking kitchen counter top was made from newspapers!

The tour was well-staffed with cheerful and helpful volunteers. I look forward to the next Metro Parks event. They are truly leaders in our community, setting an example for all of us to leave a light footprint.

LEED Metro Building Open for Tours

The Metro Parks, Serving Summit County building is having an open house June 21-22 from 1-4 p.m. each day. This building was recently renovated, and includes these wonderful, sustainable features:

  • geothermal heating
  • waterless toilets
  • solar panels
  • a green roof
  • lumber from downed trees
  • recycled carpet, furniture and cabinetry
  • porous pavement to let rainwater through
  • a rain garden
  • rain barrels
  • and native landscaping.

If you want to tour the Metro building, you can pick up a shuttle at the Metro RTA Park-and-Ride lot at 530 Ghent Road, or you can park along the path and walk. The building is located on the corner of Sand Run and Revere Road.

The cost of the environmentally sustainable features cost an extra 15%, but that will be recouped by energy savings throughout the year, as the building won’t have to pay for their energy use. Most of that extra cost is also paid for through grants and donations. It really makes a lot of sense for public buildings (including college and university) to become more environmentally sustainable.

Akron Beacon Journal

Conference call with Sherrod Brown

Media Update: Sherrod Brown Press Release
Tiffin Advertiser-Tribune

I was fortunate enough to be included on a lunchtime conference call with Senator Sherrod Brown, who was announcing his new comprehensive energy bill. Senator Brown has participated in a series of “green” energy roundtables across Ohio. Anyone in Ohio knows that we have the potential to utilize our manufacturing base, and our educated workforce to create renewable energy. We can be the “Silicon Valley of Alternative Energy.” I’ve summarized his speech, and his answers to the press questions below.

Summary

Senator Brown introduced the Green Energy Production Act as a jobs bill, an energy bill, and an environment bill. Its purpose is to turn research into products, and put people to work in production of renewable energy technology. Our economic future depends on our ability to move to renewable alternative energy. If we take this step, we’ll attain the global leadership that America is accustomed to. This will would utilize the potential of this state, and other manufacturing states to expand businesses like solar & wind entrepreneurs.

Currently, Germans lead the world in solar technology because they made a decision to invest in it years ago. China is investing in wind production technology (building windturbines to sell to other countries)

While we’re debating whether to punch more holes in the ground, the rest of the world is passing us by.

This bill would encourage the commercialization of renewable products. There are too many great ideas left on drawing board or produced overseas because America hasn’t invested in renewable technology yet. Ohio would benefit from this because we have the potential. Our green energy manufacturing future should build on our manufacturing past.

The bill creates a Green Markets Program, and a Green Redevelopment Opportunity and Workforce program. It seeks to explore as many ideas and inventions as possible, and to encourage internships and apprecticeships to help our students learn the critical skills to meet the demand of the renewable energy future.

There is an efficiency grant program which would match energy companies dollar for dollar to develop renewable energy and to encourage energy savings. Currently, coal-based energy companies have an incentive to misinform the public about the benefits of solar and wind. This bill would help energy companies develop clean technology, so they don’t go bankrupt, but they can do the right thing for the environment.

Senator Brown said we need to build green energy here. It’s inevitable. Importing renewable energy technology like we do oil doesn’t need to be inevitable. It’s not in our country’s best interest.

Essentially, this bill will create good-paying jobs here at home.

Questions

Funding… over 5 years. This is a $36 billion bill, which incorporates a gradual increase ($1 billion the first year, $5 the next, and then $10 billion the following 3 years). It will make grants & proposals available. Some money comes from climate change legislation, which may include carbon credits.

We currently give oil companies $18 billion in subsidies per year. Perhaps some of that money could be used to fund the bill that creates jobs here in America and makes us energy independent. That idea would make it hard to gain the support of some Republicans, because they like to call the removal of oil subsidies a tax hike. Oil companies are the most profitable they’ve every been, and are more profitable than any other American company. We also spend billions of dollars in Iraq.

The bill creates an “investment corporation” to take it out of political process. There will be 7 members on the board, appointed by the president, confirmed by senate. Eligibility is based on criteria in the bill, which emphasizes business, labor, environment, and manufacturing.

Senator Brown doesn’t support the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill, and he doesn’t think it will pass. (I honestly don’t know much about the bill b/c I’m out of politics, much to my delight) Brown’s Green Energy Production Act is not an amendment to a climate change bill. This bill stands alone.

Is clean coal or nuclear included? No. This is about solar, wind, fuel cells and other new tech. “Clean coal” and nuclear power are not called “green” energy by most because of their harmful byproducts. They are not renewable sources.

Ethanol is not specifically mentioned in this legislation. As we look at food prices, Brown said, more technology will be developed to create energy from renewables other than food, such as restaurant waste.

What are the chances of it passing in this cycle? This bill is so different and innovative that it will take a long time to pass, so he is entering it into the public debate this week. It has potential. There are two other energy bills left to be debated this term.

This bill will get economic development off the ground by building solar panels, fuel cells, wind turbines, etc. Not necessarily producing the energy, but producing the technology. (The solar panels at Oberlin College came from Germany. They should come from Ohio.)

This bill gives me a little hope that, if we can get something like this started, we can swing ourselves out of the recession. We need green jobs, green manufacturing, and renewable energy that is inexpensive for the consumer. We can achieve this by producing the technology here at home. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Guest Post: Earth Day at Hoban High School

Today’s Guest Post comes from Matt Bryant, science teacher at Archbishop Hoban High School. He has done several projects with his students to measure energy use at Hoban, and then come up with ways to reduce excess energy use. Hoban participated in Lights Out Akron. Here is their story:

On Tuesday (Earth Day) this week I witnessed an amazing occurrence where I teach. The students, faculty, and staff at Archbishop Hoban High turned off their lights! The students in our environmental science classes have been working hard these past two years beefing up our aluminum can recycling, paper recycling and now raising awareness of our energy use (dare I say “waste?!”). In conjunction with the Lights Out Akron campaign, http://www.lightsoutakron.org/, the environmental science students (along with their intrepid teacher Mrs. Mohan) proposed that the school not only turn off unnecessary lights during the 8-9AM hour suggested by the Lights Out Akron campaign, but for the entire day. Teachers and staff were encouraged to open window blinds and turn off the lights they didn’t need for the day.

The best part was that everyone participated! As I walked the halls this morning with a local print news reporter, I saw EVERY classroom with the lights off or dimmed—no exceptions! The main office, athletic office, guidance office, business office, and institutional advancement had their lights off or dimmed too! I was extremely impressed at how willing our staff and students were to do without the normal lights to simply raise awareness of energy use. It seems we are entering a time of increased understanding of the importance of conservation and young people seem to be willing to change. When a teenager pays $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline, they immediately realize conservation is important for their wallet. When a teenager sees everyone in their school acknowledging the importance of energy conservation, they just might turn off the lights the next time they leave their bedroom at home.

On a more personal note: The students’ goal was a simple one: raise awareness of how much energy we use unnecessarily. I for one try to do my part by recycling at home, driving a fuel efficient car, bicycling to work on nice days, and adjusting my thermostat appropriately, but I’m not very good with my lights. Oh I have CFLs in virtually every fixture, but I still turn on the lights by habit when I walk into a room and leave them on too much when I leave. I do the same thing when I teach. Tuesday was different. I, and other teachers, realized that if the window blinds are open we might not need all the overhead lights on. I got by most of the day with no lights at all and about one-third of the lights on later in the day as the Earth rotated and the sunlight changed. I learned a lesson on Tuesday, one I intend to use at work and at home.

What did you learn on Earth Day this year?

Media Update: Akron Beacon Journal Story Here

UA Earth Day, pt. 3

As I looked at my pictures, I realized I left some stuff out…

Congratulations to the Honors Complex for winning the aluminum can recycling contest. They were rewarded with a traveling trophy and an Earth flag. The three representatives took off to tour campus with their Earth Day pride!

Live Art

IMG_9617After DJ Zachariah, Rachel Roberts played acoustic guitar, while Ursula Rauh painted a picture along with the music. It was beautiful art by two wonderful artists, and certainly highlighted the solar stage for the afternoon.

The solar stage was powered by the sun! Dovetail Solar and Wind set up a solar trailer and propped up the panels to take full advantage of the sun’s plentiful energy. They also brought a wind turbine for display. Dovetail has several projects across Ohio. “Green” jobs are American jobs – you can’t outsource solar panel installation. This is yet another great reason for the U.S. to get moving towards renewable energy.

I rode a Segway!

The UA campus police ride Segways around campus. They’re quick, and run on electricity. The wildest part is that they read your mind! If you think “go forward,” it goes forward. If you think “stop,” it stops! A noted skeptic, I had to try it, and it was true! How does it do that? Well, when humans think “forward,” we lean a little bit forward. The Segway takes advantage of that natural occurrance and motors us forward. It seems more practical for campuses, airports, etc. Not so practical for the average consumer, in my opinion. It was really fascinating, but I can’t see myself ever owning one.

Bikes

UA is trying to become a more bike-friendly campus. Students can look forward to more bike racks, and a bikers map of campus. The city of Akron is helping by also installing bike racks. It’s a hilly campus, but bikes are a great way to get around. There is a serious parking problem on campus that would be helped if students who live a mile or two away would ride a bike instead of driving to campus and parking in a parking garage for the week.

Funding

This year’s Earth Day event was funded by Environmental Akron, a student club, and through the sale of salvaged metals. As the university is expanding and building, some buildings are being torn down. Fortunately, the Director of Materials Handling had the foresight to go into the buildings and salvage as many usable materials as he could. He and his team salvaged a lot of metal and other usable goods such as office furniture and equipment. The salvaged metal brought in enough money to pay for Earth Day, with much to spare. Good job Mike!

Ok, that’s all. Looking forward to next year…

UA Earth Day Wrap Up

The University of Akron’s Earth Day “Do it now for the enviROOment” was last Wednesday. It was really a fantastic event, and generated a lot of student interest by showing practical renewable energy solutions. There was a wind turbine, 4 cars, a VegiTerranean food demo, bicycles, the Akron Metro RTA, a rain barrel, and so much more. The outside stage was powered by solar panels – Renewable energy in action!

Cars

IMG_9561It was so great to see the students checking out the electric cars. The Myers Motors NmG was featured, along with the Zenn electric car, and a self-converted Honda DelSol. Dr. Ross brought his biodiesel VW Beetle. It’s simply a diesel beetle which he runs on used vegetable oil from VegiTerranean.

I love the NmG from Myers Motors. It’s a one-person car, which is so practical. We all drive 5 person cars, but we only have 1 person in it for a majority of the time. Why not drive a 1 person car? And then have another car for family trips. Technology usually innovates to match our lifestyles, but continuing to make 5 person (or more) cars is one area where innovation has fallen away. It would make sense for each family to have a 1 person car, and a family car. Myers is currently working on new battery technology to make it run longer. They would also like to make a 2 person car.

I’ve never seen the Zenn electric car before. North Central Zenn brought their electric car. It was awesome! At $17,000, it’s the same price is a regular new car. The one displayed had a cloth roll-top. It seats 2 (very practical), and is designed for city driving. (The Zenn is pictured)

IMG_9619I loved the biodiesel VW Beetle. By using vegetable oil, he can operate his car cost-free. He simply separates particles from the oil and pours the pure oil into his car. Diesel engines were meant to run on vegetable oil, so this solution is so efficient. It’s a pure reuse. Instead of using ethanol, which comes from harvested plants, biodiesel reuses oil that normally would have to be processed.

Part 2 tomorrow…