A Good Guide for Shopping

  • The Good Guide website's turkey rating page. (Image by Jessi Ziegler)

There’s a new way for consumers to find
out more about the products they buy.
Samara Freemark has the story
of a new online guide that lets you look
up how good products are for you and for
the environment:

Transcript

There’s a new way for consumers to find
out more about the products they buy.
Samara Freemark has the story
of a new online guide that lets you look
up how good products are for you and for
the environment:

The website is called the Good Guide, and it lets consumers get a pretty in-depth look at more than 60,000 foods and household products. The site ranks products by their impacts on health, the environment, and society.

The Good Guide is the brainchild of Dara O’Rourke. He’s a professor of environmental policy at the University of California at Berkley. O’Rourke says consumers don’t have easy access to the information they need to make smart buying decisions.

“What we’re trying to do is bring the best available science, put it in an easy accessible and free format, then get it to people whenever and wherever they make a decision about a product or a company.”

That’s where the Good Guide iphone application comes in. Shoppers can scan barcodes at the store to get instant product information.

That application, and the site, can be found at goodguide.com

For The Environment Report, I’m Samara Freemark.

Related Links

Keeping Phone Chargers Out of Landfills

  • A one-size-fits-all phone charger could cut down on the electronic waste generated by cell phones (Photo by Shawn Allee)

That search for the right cell
phone charger should soon become
a thing of the past. Cell phone
makers have agreed to come up with
a universal adaptor. Julie Grant
reports that that could save tons
of landfill space:

Transcript

That search for the right cell phone charger should soon become a thing of the past. Cell phone makers have agreed to come up with a universal adaptor. Julie Grant reports that that could save tons of landfill space:

Top cell phone makers – including Nokia, Samsung and Apple – have struck a deal to standardize handset chargers for European consumers by next year.

And the U.S. wireless industry association says Americans will likely see a universal charger before 2012.

That means when you buy a new phone, you won’t need to buy a new charger. You’ll be able keep using the one-size-fits-all charger.

Ted Scardamalia is with the technology analysis firm Portelligent. He says this is good for consumers – and the environment.

“If I have a charger that lasts for two or three or four phones, that’s two or three or four chargers I don’t have to recycle or put into a landfill.”

Last year, an estimated 1.2 billion cell phones were sold worldwide, according to University of Southern Queensland data reported by industry umbrella group GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association), generating up to 82,000 tonnes of chargers.

With concerns over the level of waste generated by redundant or outmoded chargers, European legislators had, prior to Monday’s agreement, considered forcing manufacturers to adopt universal technology.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Bumpy Road Ahead for Hydrogen Cars

  • Sysco - a major food distributor - is part of a year-long government funded project. They're running seventeen of their forklifts using hydrogen powered fuel cells. (Photo by Mark Brush)

Six years ago, President Bush proposed to end our addiction to oil by building a hydrogen
economy. At the time, driving a hydrogen powered car didn’t seem that far off. But today, the
reality of mass produced hydrogen powered cars has hit some bumps in the road. Mark Brush
looks at the challenges ahead:

Transcript

Six years ago, President Bush proposed to end our addiction to oil by building a hydrogen
economy. At the time, driving a hydrogen powered car didn’t seem that far off. But today, the
reality of mass produced hydrogen powered cars has hit some bumps in the road. Mark Brush
looks at the challenges ahead:

It’s all about the fuel cell. The cell converts hydrogen gas into electricity that can power up a
motor. And when that’s done – the only thing that comes out of the tail pipe is crystal, clean
water.

So there’s a lot of enthusiasm to build hydrogen powered cars. If you live in Southern California,
you can drive a hydrogen powered car right now.

(sound of a hydrogen car commercial)

But you can’t buy this car. You can only lease it. And you have to have a pretty good map.
There are only 2 places where you can fill the car up with hydrogen.

And that highlights just one of the challenges facing the hydrogen car right now. There’s no
infrastructure – no network of gas stations – to support it.

Steven Chu heads up the Obama Administration’s Department of Energy.

“It’s an infrastructure that is as extensive as the infrastructure for gasoline and diesel. And that
doesn’t come overnight.”

Chu wants to eliminate all the research money for hydrogen powered cars and trucks. He says
there are too many big problems to solve. There’s the infrastructure problem. Fuel cells are
expensive. The cheapest way to make hydrogen right now releases pollution. And there are
problems with storing the gas.

In an interview with MIT’s Technology Review, Energy Secretary Chu referred to these problems
as the four miracles. And that didn’t go over too well with some people.

“A miracle? Really? How many miracles have you seen? I’m not sure I’ve seen a real miracle in
my life.”

Levi Thompson directs the Hydrogen Energy Technology Laboratory at the University of
Michigan.

He says talking about these problems as miracles sends the wrong message. He admits, there
are some big puzzles to solve. But he’s convinced scientists can solve them.

“If you believe this is the savior, that this is going to transform the way we do things, I think you
have a responsibility to invest – even though that you see that it’s far behind.”

Thompson says the ultimate goal for a hydrogen economy is to get the hydrogen from water
using electricity from renewable resources like wind, solar, and hydro-power. So you get the
clean burning gas you’re looking for.

It can be done today, but it’s expensive. Thompson thinks it’ll get cheaper as alternative sources
of electricity become more widespread.

The Energy Department doesn’t want to give up on hydrogen research altogether. Secretary Chu
says fuel cells do make sense on a small scale – like to power fork lifts in a warehouse.

(sound of a warehouse and forklift)

Here at this Sysco warehouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a mini hydrogen experiment is
underway.

Sysco is a major food distributor. This warehouse is part of a year-long government funded
project. They’re running seventeen of their forklifts using hydrogen powered fuel cells made by a
company called Plug Power.

Darin VanDuyn is with Sysco. He says, mostly, they’ve had a good experience with these fuel
cells.

“We’ve had about 80 hours of lost time due to repair – minor failures, things like that – but nothing
major has disrupted their operation.”

VanDuyn says the company hasn’t decided yet whether they’ll move forward with the fuel cell
program. But policy makers say real-world experiments like these move us closer to mass
produced hydrogen vehicles.

Even though the Obama Administration wants to cut funding for hydrogen powered cars and
trucks, Congress holds the purse – and has the final say. So far, it looks like Congress will
continue to fully fund the research.

Automakers say the ups and downs of federal funding don’t affect their plans. Several
companies say they’ll start selling hydrogen powered cars in 6 to 8 years – and they’ll let the
market decide the fate of the hydrogen economy.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Is There Hope for Hydrogen?

  • Plug Power does sell these dishwasher-sized fuel cells for your home, but in places like India (Photo courtesy of Plug Power)

Researchers and start-up companies are looking for new ways to power the country. There’s been a lot of hope for hydrogen. But as Mark Brush reports there have been some bumps for companies on the road to the new hydrogen economy:

Transcript

Researchers and start-up companies are looking for new ways to power the country. There’s been a lot of hope for hydrogen. But as Mark Brush reports there have been some bumps for companies on the road to the new hydrogen economy:

There has been a lot of excitement about hydrogen fuel cells for awhile now.

Ten years ago we talked to a rep at a company called Plug Power. He was excited about selling a dishwasher-sized fuel cells that could power and heat your home.

“The only barrier to fuel cells is that people don’t know about them.”

Turns out, that wasn’t the only barrier.

It’s expensive to make these things, and the units weren’t as efficient at heating as they hoped they would be.

But the company is still around, and they are still hopeful about fuel cells for your home.

Andy Marsh is the president of Plug Power.

“So the industry hasn’t moved ahead as rapidly as we would like. It sometimes takes many more years to makes some progress than you had originally hoped.”

Marsh says his company is selling fuel cells in places like India, but he says fuel cells for our homes in the US are probably still three to five years away.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Funding for Hydrogen Vehicles Hit Hard

  • Mercedez-Benz A-Class F-Cell at the 2009 Washington DC Auto Show (Photo source: IFCAR at Wikimedia Commons)

The Department of Energy wants to cut funding for the development of hydrogen powered vehicles. Mark Brush reports the Energy Secretary has decided that cars powered by hydrogen are too far off:

Transcript

The Department of Energy wants to cut funding for the development of hydrogen powered vehicles. Mark Brush reports the Energy Secretary has decided that cars powered by hydrogen are too far off:

Six years ago, President George W. Bush proposed spending 1.2 billion dollars to develop hydrogen power cars.

Now, Stephen Chu, President Obama’s Energy Secretary, says hydrogen powered cars aren’t yet practical for today’s market.

Chu says they’d rather spend money on things like plug-in cars and cars powered by biofuels. Things that can hit the road now instead of 20 years from now.

People working on hydrogen powered vehicles aren’t too happy about the cuts.

Patrick Serfass is with the National Hydrogen Association.

“I’d say the hydrogen industry is perplexed. The administration has a lot of smart people in it and they have done a lot of great things for many parts of the renewable energy sector. But the proposal to eliminate the hydrogen vehicle program is a mistake.”

Serfass says hydrogen powered cars are not as far off as the Energy Secretary might think. He and his group are trying to persuade members of Congress to put research money back into the budget.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Getting Solar From Your Windows

  • Marc Baldo, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science (left) and Shalom Goffri, postdoc in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics (right) hold examples of organic solar concentrators. (Photo by Donna Coveney at MIT, courtesy of NSF)

Some researchers say they’ve found a way to make every window

in a building gather solar energy. Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Some researchers say they’ve found a way to make every window

in a building gather solar energy. Lester Graham reports:

MIT engineers say they can coat plastic or glass to redirect sunlight to the edges of a
window – to solar cells.

Instead of using a whole panel of expensive solar cells, the cells could just be aligned
just along the edges. The system could be used for solar panels, or could be used as
windows on tall glass paneled buildings.

Marc Baldo is the team leader at MIT.

“We think that this is a very practical and simple technology. It just relies on simple
coating processes. We have to develop techniques to, you know, manufacture and
integrate solar cells on the edges. But we’re optimistic that this might be useful within,
sort of, two to three year time frame.”

The researchers outlined their findings in the journal, Science. They say the focused
light at the edges really increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Automaker Takes Another Step Toward Fuel Cells

  • Ford has started converting some of the traditional, gasoline-fueled engines into hydrogen-powered engines. (Photo by Szekér Ottó)

Automakers from around the world spent last week showing off their latest concepts and production cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Many car companies announced plans to begin producing more hybrid vehicles. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports other environmental technologies got some attention as well, including a new way to use hydrogen to fuel the vehicles of the future:

Transcript

Automakers from around the world spent last week showing off their latest concepts and production cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Many car companies announced plans to begin producing more hybrid vehicles. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports other environmental technologies got some attention as well, including a new way to use hydrogen to fuel the vehicles of the future:


Many automakers now say that cars ultimately will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Fuel cells consume hydrogen to generate electricity to power a motor, while leaving on water as waste. There are problems with cells. They’re really expensive right now. And there aren’t many hydrogen re-fueling stations. Ford Motor Company thinks it has a solution. It’s converting some standard gasoline engines to burn hydrogen. Ford’s chief engineer for the system, Vance Zanardelli, says the new engine is a necessary step.


“In order to get people familiar with hydrogen as a fuel, realizing it is a clean, safe fuel, in order to help spur the development of more hydrogen fueling stations, the development of revised codes and standards, and really lay the groundwork, so that when fuel cells are ready for primetime, the world is ready for them.”


Ford plans to begin testing some of the new hydrogen-burning engines in shuttle busses next year.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.

Related Links

Herbicides May Complicate Pregnancies

A Midwest researcher has found that the combination of chemicals in some common weed killers may complicate pregnancies. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A Midwest researcher has found that the combination of chemicals in
some common weed killers may threaten human fetuses. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Warren Porter is an environmental toxicologist at the University of
Wisconsin – Madison. He says he went to the hardware store and bought
common herbicides containing the chemical compounds 2-4-d, dicamba, and
mecoprop. Porter diluted the mixture with water and fed it many times
to hundreds of lab mice. Porter says the mice experienced a 20 percent
increase in failed pregnancies and he contends exposure to the
combination of chemicals is to blame. He says government regulators
often test only individual chemicals and don’t realize how chemical
mixes might affect a living cell.


“It’s like a molecular bull in a china shop. It’s almost impossible to
predict in advance all the possible things they might do.”


Porter says exposure to the mix of weed killer chemicals can also
threaten human pregnancies. But other researchers say the risk to most
people is very low.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.