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Hycrete Certified for Waterproofing Concrete Water Tanks

Michael Kanellos: March 31, 2009, 3:01 PM
Hycrete, which has devised materials and processes for waterproofing concrete, has landed NSF 61 certification, which means that contractors can build potable water tanks holding 200,000 gallons of water or more and add in the company's mixture. Why would you want to waterproof concrete? To prevent corrosion. The company's chemicals also allow contractors to forgo wrapping foundations and other structures with plastic membranes. Like many other building materials, concrete is undergoing a green retrofit. Calera, a Khosla Ventures company, is putting the finishing touches on a pilot plant (reported here first) in Moss Beach, California in which it will use plankton to capture carbon dioxide and produce minerals for concrete. Other interesting green building companies to look at: E2E Materials (biodegradable composite board), Arxx (insulated concrete forms), Icynene (spray foam insulation), Microposite (environmentally friendly building board), Integrity Block (earthen building blocks), Bottlestone (countertops from old bottle glass) Aspen Aerogels (deep-sea insulation in your home!), Cal-Star Cement (bricks), Icrete (custom and environmentally sound concrete) and of course Serious Materials. Construction consumes 12 percent of the energy in the U.S. and one heck of a lot of the waste product.

Energy Focus: Make an LED to Replace Flares on Army Rockets

Jeff St. John: March 31, 2009, 12:37 PM
The U.S. Army now uses rockets with flares that provide infrared light to soldiers wearing night vision goggles on the battlefield. But apparently the Army thinks light-emitting diodes (LEDs) could beat the flares on performance and reliability — and it's asking Energy Focus (NSDQ: EFOI) to help research the possibilities. The Solon, Ohio-based maker of fiber-optic and LED lighting, which has seen some tough times in its commercial, industrial and swimming pool lines of business, said Tuesday it has won a Department of Defense research grant to work on replacing flares with LEDs.  The plan is to make an LED that provides lots of infrared light but little or no visible light — all the better to provide infrared illumination of enemies on the battlefield while keeping U.S. soldiers under cover of darkness. There's also the matter of increased reliablity of a solid-state electronics system over a burning flare, and the elimination of the risk of ground fires from falling flares, Energy Focus said in its Tuesday announcement. The company didn't disclose the value of the grant. It isn't the first for the company. Back in November 2007 it won a $1 million contract to work with DuPont and the University of Delaware to work on using fiber optics to concentrate light on high-efficiency solar cells (see Energy Focus to Use Fiber Optics to Help Boost Solar Efficiency).  And late last year it won two more grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), one to develop explosion-proof LED fixtures, and another to develop lighting systems that can "reset a military service member's natural body rhythms to artificially created environments" — in other words, fool a ship-bound sailors body into thinking it is experiencing natural cycles of sunlight and nighttime darnkess. The latter is likely a follow-up to its 2007 contract with the U.S. Navy to develop LED-lit fiber optic pipes for Navy ships, meant to cut down on time and effort spent changing light bulbs. So far that's led to a contract to retrofit a hangar deck on one Navy destroyer. Energy Focus apparent focus on government contracts may be in response to trouble in its other lines of business. On Tuesday it reported a net loss of $14.4 million for 2008, compared to a 2007 loss of $11.3 million, mainly driven by falling sales in its pool lighting business. As for infrared LEDs, they're actually the first type of LEDs to receive a patent, back in 1961. The challenges in developing one to replace a rocket flare will likely be those of power demand and durability. 

Livermore Theater Gets Power From Solyndra Panels

Ucilia Wang: March 31, 2009, 9:31 AM

Solyndra's unusually shaped solar thin films have found a home on top of a movie theater in Livermore, Calif. 

SPG Solar has installed a 132-kilowatt system at Livermore Cinemas, a project that Solyndra touted as one of the early commercial installations with its solar panels. The system is now generating power.

Solyndra, based in Fremont, Calif., has developed a way to deposit a thin layer of solar cells in glass tubes, which are then placed side by side in a panel. Conventional solar panels, on the other hand, have a flat surface. The company garnered national spotlight earlier this month when it became the first company to get a loan guarantee from a renewable energy program run by the U.S. Department of Energy. The loan guarantee would allow Solyndra to borrow $535 million from the federal government for building a second factory.

Because Solyndra’s technology is so different from that of its peers, it has attracted a lot of skepticism and fascination. The company uses copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) as the key ingredients for converting sunlight into electricity, an approach that is just starting to be commercialized. Other CIGS companies include Miasolé, Nanosolar and HelioVolt.

Solyndra claims that the solar cell-lined cylinders could capture direct, diffuse and reflected sunlight from all angles, making them more productive than conventional panels. Most of the panels sold today use crystalline silicon, which can convert a higher percentage of sunlight into power than CIGS. Cells in those panels typically face only one direction.

The Livermore installation is one of several that have been completed in the United States and Europe, said Kelly Truman, vice president of marketing and sales at Solyndra, in an interview last week. The company is targeting the commercial rooftop market.

McDonald’s Agrees to Promote Pesticide Best Practices

Matthew Weinberg: March 31, 2009, 8:07 AM
As the result of an ageement with it's shareholders, McDonalds will start surveying their American potato supply chain and promote best practices in the reduction of pesticide use. The global burger company is the largest buyer of potatoes in the U.S., according to the release, and the agreement puts back an earlier shareholder resolution filed by the Bard College Endowment, Newground Social Investment and the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund. According to the statement McDonald's agrees to:
  • Survey its current U.S. potato suppliers.
  • Compile a list of best practices in pesticide reduction that will be recommended to the company's global suppliers (through the company's Global Potato Board).
  • Communicate findings related to best practices to shareholders, and in the company's annual corporate social responsibility (CSR) report.
"Leadership companies such as Sysco (which supplies Wendy's), General Mills, and Campbell's have already demonstrated that pesticide use reduction makes sense from both an environmental health and business perspective. We welcome McDonald's stepping up to the plate and look forward to supporting the company's efforts to reduce pesticide use in the future," said Dr. Richard Liroff, executive director of the Investor Environmental Health Network, in a statement. This looks like a huge move forward for McDonald's, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice. We're talking about large volumes of potatoes with food inspection already getting overwhelmed as it is. But the initiative is, of course, a good one.

GM’s New CEO Says More Plants May Close, Mentions Bankruptcy

Michael Kanellos: March 31, 2009, 7:50 AM
Fritz Henderson, General Motors' new CEO, says the company may have to close more than the five plants it has already proposed cutting in order to come up with a turnaround plan to satisfy the White House. Henderson took over the troubled car maker Monday after President Obama rejected GM's turnaround plan. GM is seeking $13.4 billion more in assistance from the federal government, but the government says it wants a plan that will can lead to a revival of GM and not just one that will suck money down the drain. “We need to reinvent General Motors and we need to do it in a very, very abbreviated time period … so that we’re not spending our time careening from crisis to crisis,??? Henderson said in a press conference, according to the Detroit Free Press. He also added that bankruptcy is "certainly more probable."

Used and Refurbished Tires Still Finding Their Way Through Latin America

Matthew Weinberg: March 31, 2009, 5:33 AM
The Supreme Court in Brazil is once again struggling to decide the import of used tires from other countries, especially from the United States and the European Union. And once again, the process is temporarily halted in order to be “properly??? analyzed by the Court members. Some of them have already voted. A new final decision is expected to come out soon. This is a decade-long issue with no proper results to date. Although Brazil’s Constitution expressly prohibits the import of used and refurbished tires since 1991, many companies are allowed to import them thanks to preliminaries decisions from the Justice due to breaches in the law. For decades, environmentalists and NGO’s condemn the usage of used tires due to its heavy aggression to the environment. A great sum of these tires is exposed nationwide without proper care. In general, developed countries export these tires for a negligible amount of money. It’s always good business to get rid of the trash -- especially if you have someone who actually pays for it and makes huge loads of money out of it. Same happens for the high-tech trash being expelled to Latin America these days. (We’ll discuss this later on.) But make no mistake; there are no good and bad guys. This is an unsolved case due to the high profits around a market that, only within Brazil’s range, is responsible for about 40,000 direct jobs from at least 1,600 companies involved. When money talks, it’s no surprise that environment gets only a secondary look in the decision making process. Especially when public policies towards environment have always been poorly managed. Thought of the Amazon? Bingo. Thought of water-generated energy? Bingo. Paulo Rebêlo is a writer, journalist and media consultant from Brazil. He can be reached at

GE Was Going to Invest in Tesla, But Backed Out

Michael Kanellos: March 30, 2009, 8:08 PM
Can I go five hours without writing a Tesla story? No! I'd probably get an iron deficiency or something. In any event, the company cleared up the General Electric mystery today. Elon Musk, the vague-yet-chatty CEO of the company, told Car & Driver that GE was committed to invest in Tesla. But by the time the article came out, GE had backed away. Something to do with an economic downturn. Others picked the investment. Just in case you were wondering. We're still waiting for the official verification that the company does have its loan from the government. Other recent statements from Mr. Musk: 1. Fifteen. That's the number of years a man can turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn't see. 2. What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. 3. I came, I saw, I conquered, but not necessarily in that order. 4. You knew all along, didn't you Dr. Zaius?