Entries in energy (4)
At The Functionality, we like a good graphic every now and then. We extend props to the US Department of Energy on a well conceived diagram of US energy production and consumption.
What's better than a concrete truck?
Not much, except one that mixes fly ash instead of Portland cement.
Fly ash is the byproduct of coal-fired electric generating plants and is historically dumped into landfills as waste. U.S. power plants alone produce millions of tons of fly ash annually (see photo).
It turns out that fly ash makes an inexpensive replacement for Portland cement, and actually has superior characteristics. Concrete that uses fly ash has superior strength, segregation, and ease of pumping.
Additionally, Portland cement production produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, so buildings and sites that use fly ash in concrete are effectively offsetting carbon production. The Fisher Pavilion in Seattle is an example of a building that was contructed with high fly ash content in the concrete (see photo). Fly ash was first used in 1929 when engineers discovered that it allowed for less total cement required. It has been often used in commercial applications over the decades but only recently in residential projects.
Fly ash could be less available or more costly in the future. More high-carbon fly ash is being produced as a result of the Clean Air Act of 1990 because of restrictions on oxygen to cut nitric-oxide emissions. Researchers at Brown University are studying why the high-carbon ash doesn't work for cement and other treatment options.
Above is a power generation system for the city of Barcelona. It's a series of photovoltaic cells on a public promenade along the ocean. The video shows the ocean vista and the public sitting steps. The city is capitalizing on two of its geographical assets: its location in a temperate sunny climate and its long beautiful coast line. As a well planned city, planners are creating something out of nothing. Like the park running down Manhattan's west-side the Barcelona water front is simply a place to experience the city, buy from the local vendors or enjoy the ocean. American cities could learn a thing or two.
Our tall compact cities, like New York, Boston's downtown, Philadelphia, even Chicago could be awash in wind power. Our sun drenched desert oasis' like Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, even Fresno could rethink their public amenities in a similar fashion to Barcelona. Where we once talked about black tar roofs creating urban heat islands, we should be talking about photovoltaic cells creating urban energy power-plants.
None of this will happen with out a new understanding of the energy market. Like all markets, and part of why we are in this general economic morass, there needs to be transparency and standards for carbon trading. Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and The Olive Tree is about how globalization is affecting our world. Friedman points out that:
today's era of globalization is not only different in degree; in some very important ways it is also different in kind. As The Economist once noted, the previous era of globalization was built around failing transportation costs. Thanks to the invention of the railroad, the steamship and the automobile, people could get to a lot more places faster and cheaper and they could trade with a lot more places faster and cheaper. Today's era of globalization is built around falling telecommunications costs – thanks to microchips, satellites, fiber optics and the Internet. These new technologies are able to weave the world together even tighter.
Potentially with the Carbon-Market we could close the loop. Our cities could be the public face for displaying our new carbon efficiency. Imagine a city where each bus stop shows you your carbon foot print reduction. Each BetterPlace battery exchange displays the amount of carbon we've taken out of the atmosphere. Where buildings are covered in tickers that tell us how much of our 2 trillion dollar loan to China we have paid off by reselling them Carbon Units. Where parks are designed to maximize their use as a carbon sink and city amenity.
No system is perfect to be sure, but just as the microchip begat a smaller more connected, but still individual, world, the carbon market could bring us to see the world as a unified whole.
Currently at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. there is a new show called Green Communities. While the idea of the show is great, and one could argue that their focus on architecturally normative communities creates the kind of general acceptance for "greening" that this country might need for it to become wide spread; there seems to be a distinct lack of future planning.
The Carbon-Market is one way we could begin to use our national infrastructure to pay down our debt! We could all be double dipping; creating jobs through building more and developing a market for our carbon units that would sustain global growth.