the greening of the history channel
last night the history channel ran back to back modern marvels episodes on green technologies. the first was “renewable energy” an episode being rerun from last year and the second was a new episode, “environmental technology.” i must say both episodes were extremely thorough, very interesting, and jambed full of information. naturally as one would expect the renewable energy episode discussed advancements in solar energy including photovoltaic films that can literally be printed on surfaces like glass and roof shingles meaning the current method of growing expensive silicon wafers is unnecessary. geothermal energy was documented as well, both for producing heat and hot water, in both forms (the tapping the hot springs/lava method and the running conduit 6′-8′ under the ground for residential uses). wind farms now have turbines capable of generating 1.5 megawatts of power and hydro turbines are several hundred times more efficient than wind. “environmental technology” documented the ever widening field of both bio and phytoremediation which is the use of organisms or plant life to decontaminate soils and groundwater, even on sites contaminated with nuclear waste. a multitude of carbon sequestration methods were documented as well, including an interesting method of capturing the carbon from fossil fuel burning and putting it into a tank with algae blooms. through photosynthesis the algae actually devours the carbon dioxide leaving only water and oxygen. finally there was a very informative discussion on the successes/pitfalls of ethanol. the variety being championed here in the states is by no means a sustainable source of fuel. it costs 1.25 times more to produce than regular gasoline and is only about .75 times as efficient went burned. additionally, it requires one barrel of oil for every 1.3 barrels of corn based ethanol produced (1:1.3) additionally, one can produce only 350gal/acre. however, brazilian sugar cane based ethanol has a production ratio of 1:8 and one can produce 650gal/acre. the real chance for ethanol to be both renewable and sustainable lies in using switchgrass. switchgrass has a production ratio of 1:10 (barrels of oil used to barrels of ethanol produced) and one can produce 1150gal/acre. the plant requires far less maintenance to grow and can grow in a much wider region than corn. all said, nice job history channel.