No doubt, 2008 was a tumultuous year. GM and Chrysler nearly went under. Banks and brokerage house screwed everyone, but we bailed them out anyway. And we saw our 401ks get sawed nearly in half. But it was great year for green engineering which has become a household term if not a common practice in design circles.
Here’s a review of the year’s top 10 year green engineering events, products and stories. The first five fall into the category of macro trends while the second five examine specific Design News stories. Comments, opinions and brickbats are welcome…especially if I missed something which I am sure I did. Happy 2009!
Green Engineering Macro view of 2008
1) The election of Barack Obama is the best thing that happened to green engineering and the environment in 2008 after eight long years of systematic neglect. Obama actually likes the environment and will back up those views with a sound strategy to combat climate change, protect the environment and secure renewable sources of energy. Let’s hope he does not get so bogged down in crisis after crisis so as to derail his strategic agenda.
2) In 2008, the nation after three decades of fiddling and diddling got serious about renewable energy. Wind, solar, tidal, wave and even algae are on the table despite the temporary reprieve in oil prices. Most Americans finally seem to realize we need to get serious about moving off fossil fuels even if we are enjoying a temporary price reprieve. And don’t be scammed by clean coal myth. Regretfully, it’s too late for many living near the Kingston coal-fired plant in Tennessee. Renewables are our future and 2008 was the year we woke up to that realization.
3) Green buildings employ just about every technology Design News covers. Colleges and companies everywhere are putting them up, some greener than others. A good place to research green buildings is the Rock Mountain Institute founded and run by energy expert Amory Lovins. Among others, he advised Texas Instruments on its newest semiconductor fab which is located in Richardson, Texas. The fab gave rise to the term “negawatts” which is power not generated.
4) Embarrassingly, hybrid autos FINALLY caught on with U.S. auto makers even though the leader Toyota has been at it for almost a decade. Did they know something we didn’t? Apparently. Let’s look at this a different way. This year, automakers realized that gasoline-powered engines are NOT the future. Electric cars regardless of what creates the electricity to power them are the future. The most formidable green engineering challenge remains creating long-life batteries that stand up to the elements, repeated cycles and charges.
5) Plastics, once an environmental scourge, are cleaning up their act with advent of bio-plastics and materials that can be recycled. What’s more, they contain fewer harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol-A and can be found in everything from clothes to water bottles. There’s even wood composites for cars should petroleum-based resins run out! No one is more on top these materials and trends than our own contributing editor Doug Smock, who has his own materials top 10 for 2008.
Green Engineering micro view of 2008
6) LEDs run cooler and more efficiently than other lighting technologies. What’s more, they do not contain heavy metals like mercury found in compact fluorescents, which are today’s most popular and efficient replacement for incandescent lighting. LEDs widened their market swath this year and could be found in street lights, projectors, TVs, consumer-recessed lighting and in bicycle lights.
7) The engineering behind the new MacBook introduced in October is as green as it exquisite. The enclosure and display contain no mercury or brominated fire retardants and the unit is ENERGY STAR compliant. It’s another tour de force from Apple. But just because it is a better notebook computer doesn’t mean H-P, Dell and Lenovo aren’t on the green engineering bandwagon. They are.
Office furniture maker Herman Miller is getting the health hazard antimony oxide out the materials it uses in its products. That’s a good thing. It wants Pepsi and Coke to do the same with its bottles.
9) A solar-powered trash compactor could save a lot expensive trips to dump, landfill or incinerator. BigBelly Solar just might have the answer.
10) Lastly, I want to commend National Instruments for its green engineering “Measure it, Fix It” campaign. It’s a painfully obvious idea - you can’t really fix what you can’t measure. But it’s sooo stunningly true! Its Green Engineering Technical Library provides an excellent overview on green engineering and where it applies.