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Beyond the solar panel Green research is expanding in multiple directions, from hydrogenproducing microbes to social concerns about big energy projects TERRENCE BELFORD Special to The Globe and Mail April 22, 2009 Anyone who thinks "green" research is confined to the nuts and bolts of daily life - making vehicles run cleaner, developing energy-saving products had best start thinking again. Green research is now reaching into such areas as the gene-swapping ability of bacteria, and microbes that can belch hydrogen and not methane. Scientists are measuring the carbon footprint of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Others are looking for ways to overcome resistance to new sustainable energy projects from the communities that are to play host to them. Here are a few examples. Bacteria, the billions of microscopic creatures that live almost everywhere on the planet, are showing a dangerous step forward in their evolution, says Dr. Lesley Warren, professor of geography and earth sciences at Hamilton's McMaster University. They are increasingly becoming immune to even the most advanced antibiotics. Toxic, antibiotic-resistant strains are proliferating in waterways across Ontario, and their appearance in clinical settings is on the upswing, she says.
Unless we find ways to prevent this strange mutation, the situation will get worse, she says. The problem lies in a bizarre natural attribute of bacteria. They can swap genes without going through the complications of reproduction, Dr. Warren says. But that is just the starting point. Bacteria that develop a resistance to such substances as heavy metals may find that genetic shift makes them resistant to antibiotics as well. "If benign bacteria with a genetic resistance to heavy metals comes in contact with one of the more toxic forms, that toxic bacteria can pick up the resistant gene," she says. Dr. Warren and a team of researchers spent the past summer doing a study of seven aquatic systems in Ontario from Lake Ontario to Algonquin Park. They studied not just the water but the sediment at the bottom of lakes, rivers and streams. "We found a definite correlation between the presence of metals in the environment and the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," she says; the greater the levels of heavy metals, the greater the number of these potentially lethal bacteria. Her research has now moved to the laboratory, where her team will try to find which metals affect bacteria most, the impact they have on genetic structure and perhaps even which genes mutate to create resistance to antibiotics. "Once we have the data then other scientists will be able to start the search for ways to deal with the problem," she says. Farm waste to hydrogen Genetically altered microscopic organisms play a key role in the work being done by Dr. Jerald Lalman, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Windsor. He has received grants totalling $1.3-million to find a way to turn crop waste such as corn stalks into hydrogen, the potential fuel of the future.
Hydrogen is to fuel cells what gasoline is to the internal combustion engine. The problem is that today's stocks of hydrogen come from fossil fuels as a byproduct of the process that converts crude oil into usable fuel or the burning of natural gas. His work aims to break that reliance by replacing fossil fuels with the leftovers from agricultural harvests such as corn stalks or bagasse, the crushed sugar cane stalks that get thrown away after giving up their sweet syrup. His two-stage process either cooks that agricultural waste under steam or soaks it in an acid bath to extract the sugars. Those sugars are then fed into a fermenter where genetically altered microbes gobble them down. In their original state the microbes would produce methane gas; these altered versions turn out hydrogen instead. The hydrogen is then collected and ready for use in the fuel cells of the future. "The work to date is encouraging," says Dr. Lalman, who has been working on the process for seven years. "But I would guess we are still five to seven years away from a practical application." GAMES' CARBON FOOTPRINT In Vancouver, James Tansey and a team of MBA students at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business have completed a research project that measured the cost to the environment of that city's Winter Olympics. All told, the construction, operation and the flying in and out of the athletes to Vancouver and nearby Whistler will create 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, he says. By comparison, all the operations and services carried out by the B.C. provincial government total 900,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, and all of Canada produces about 750 million tonnes. "Yes, it was a quite surprising discovery," says Dr. Tansey, director of Sauder's Centre for Sustainability and Social Innovation. "At the same time he praises Vancouver's Olympic organizing committee for first appointing a
vice-president of sustainability - Linda Cody - and then taking on the carbon emissions survey. "Organizations that don't do such surveys never run the risk of criticism; those that do can become targets," he says. Dr. Tansey says the Olympic Committee is now negotiating to offset its emissions through a carbon credit swap with Offsetters Clean Technology Inc., a company he founded before joining the faculty at Sauder. "The deal has not been signed yet but negotiations are taking place," he says. Overcoming resistance At Trent University in Peterborough, Stephen Hill, associate professor of environmental and resource studies, has just started a $26,000, two-year project to investigate why communities resist new green energy projects such as wind and solar panel farms and what government and project developers might do to reduce and overcome that resistance. "I don't like using the term NIMBY (not in my backyard) because many of these residents have concerns that are serious to them," he says. The first phase of the research will involve case studies of current projects that are meeting a wall of local objections, such as a small unnamed hydro project in Southern Ontario. The second will be suggesting strategies to address those concerns and nip them in the bud. "One of the problems is that the developers of these projects can see the business case, understand the technology and know the benefits but do not pay much attention to social concerns," he says. "For locals it is all about social concerns, how the project might affect their lives." He cites his own situation as a case in point. He wants to put solar panels on the roof of the family home. The cost would be about $30,000, and the local utility will pay him 80 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity sent back into the grid. He says he knows the technology; the $2,500 a year he would earn would pay the cost over time and his mortgage is due for renewal so the financing is available.
The problem is his wife. "She is committed to green energy, she understands the technology, but her concern is whether it would leave nail holes in the roof and how it would make the house look," he says. "It is the same sort of thing I am looking at on a broader scale when it comes to community resistance to new green energy projects." Download USA Solar Panel Construction Guide, Do-it-yourself Guide. New Plant set up, research, solar photo volt cell technology. Download Free American Detailed Renewable Solar Panel DIY Ebook, Course, Video Tutorials. USA Windmill, wind generator, solar energy electricity generation at home, homemade solar panels for US States, how to make American solar cell, pv wiring, assemble using parts, modules, blueprints, models, plans with government grants, US tax exemptions. Valid for US States Delaware, Pennsylvania, New jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, Hawaii.
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