Vino!

wine

I’m on a home-brewing KICK! And now I’m going to talk about homemade wine. I never really have done a whole lot with homemade wine before, but that’s mostly just because I’m not really much for wine. I’m a beer man, but it’s a pretty cool experiment to try and make your own wine. There are even a bunch of recipes out there for making wine with juice concentrate and bakers yeast, but I REALLY don’t recommend doing that. Unless you’re in prison. Then: knock yourself out.

 

For the rest of us, getting a good kit is essential for getting decent wine out of your experiment. There are even some very fancy sets out there that give you special wine pressing equipment and all of that. I’m not going to get into anything that crazy, but I can recommend a great beginners kit that I haven’t personally used but that a friend of mine has used with great success. It’s called the Strange Brew Wine Making Kit, and as a homebrewer, I can tell that this thing is well worth the money and time.

 

One thing that is great about this set is its simplicity. Some sets are full of confusing home brew components that can make the whole process seem way more complicated to a newbie than it has to be, and there’s really no good reason for that. Another thing that I love is that it has a glass carboy. The carboy is the thing that you’re doing the actual fermentation in before you do the initial bottling, and having a glass one is great because it allows you to actually see the fermentation going on. When it comes to wine fermentation, this is a great way to keep an eye on the fermentation process so you can see when it’s done. Aside from that, this kit has a very sturdy build and none of the parts that come with it are built out of that cheap, shaky plastic that makes you shake your head in shame at having spent money on them.

The Samsung Reclaim

samsung phone

As the name might tell you, the Samsung Reclaim is a little more than just another phone. It’s a newer type of phone that is looking to put a hurt on the immensely wasteful consumer electronics industry, and hopefully, make people think a little bit about the problem of “throwaway” technology while they’re at it. After all, it’s getting a little crazy out there in the electronics world.

The average person goes through a phone every year. Some people go through as many as three phones a year, and they’re always buying the newest and most “up to date” phone whenever it comes out. On the other hand, some people keep the same phone for years at a time because a phone is just that to them– a phone. Throughout the consumer electronics industry, there is a trend toward just tossing out old tech for the new tech that is just a month or two away.

The Samsung Reclaim, however, is made out of recycled materials through and through. Its casing is “reclaimed” from old recycled plastic, and the components are partially recycled from older phones and electronics. One of the other really great aspects of this phone is that it is made without PVC or other harmful materials that can leach out into your skin when it sweats. These things have been linked to cancer and other illnesses, so the Reclaim has taken them out of the equation entirely. The Reclaim instead opts for using less harmful materials and reduces its imprint on the world by significantly reducing the number of materials it uses in total.

In a world of throwaway technology, it’s nice that there’s something out there for the rest of us. If you’re not a smartphone addict, and you just need a great phone that is loaded with features and easy to use, the Samsung Reclaim is made almost entirely with you in mind. It’s worth noting that Samsung has recently overtaken every major cell phone manufacturer in the United States and Canada in terms of sales, so they’re obviously pretty keen at giving people what they want.

Buying Recycled Products: Awesome Eco

recycling symbol

I’m a huge fan of recycling glass for a number of reasons. Mostly, it’s because I’m a huge fan of going barefoot and nothing ruins your day more than some carelessly strewn glass interacting with your foot. However, it’s also because it’s one of the most widely used materials on Earth, and it often simply winds up being dumped into a junkyard once people are done with it. This is especially true with windshields, windows for buildings, and stuff like that.

This is why I love these recycled beer glasses so much. First, I love me some beer. Second, they are made out of 100% recycled glass. They even retain some of the hues that was imbued within the glass originally to keep out sun glare. Don’t worry, there are no harsh chemicals in the glass that could leech into your drink, but it does give them a really interesting look. Each one of these glasses is completely hand made, and no two of them look identical. Since I’ve never understood this obsession that some people have with all of their stuff looking the exact same, this is really great for me. It gives your kitchen some character when you have stuff in it that varies a little. Maybe that’s just me.

This is the time of year when you can make bad decisions or good decisions in epic proportions. At no other time of year do people spend so much money all at once. Due to this, it’s important that we all dedicate our purchases during this time of year to the most responsible items we can. It’s important to take advantage of the massive saturation provided by the temporary acceptance of “shopaholism” that happens during the Christmas season. Things like this are a great way to do that.

There are a lot of different products out there that are made out of entirely recycled materials. Since the best way to be environmentally conscious is to recycle/reduce/reuse, these really are the top of the line in terms of eco-friendly gifts. There will be more of these types of gifts coming up in future posts.

DIY Soap!

handmade and homemade soap

There are few things in the world of DIY home goods that carry as much of a unique coolness factor as bath and body products. For some reason, it never occurs to people that they can actually make their own versions of these products. It’s as though people think that these things need to be made in some huge factory, using crazy machines that no one even knows the name of. I don’t know if this says worse stuff about us or the products we slather all over ourselves, but either way, it doesn’t need to be this way. There are a few really great soap recipes out there that just about anyone can easily complete.

The one I’m putting on here is a cucumber soap recipe, and it’s great. This one is super simple and very easy to make. Not only does it use some more common items than other soap recipes, but it carries with it a certain natural cache. After all, cucumbers are used around the world for their astringent properties, so you’ll be making soap with a kick. The recipe is pretty simple:

1 & 1/2 c. cleanly rendered tallow
1 c. cucumber pulp
1/2 c. vegetable oil
3/4 c. cold soft water
1/4 c. lye flake3s
1/2 tsp. wheat germ oil or vitamin E oil

Grate every part of the cucumber to the finest texture that you can possibly get it. I mean EVERY part of the cucumber. Nothing goes to waste. Bring the tallow to a melt, and stir in the cucumber until you get a good mixture going. Keep it on the lowest heat your stove can manage for about half an hour, stirring infrequently.

Add the vegetable oil to the tallow, and set it aside. Add the lye flakes to the cold water, and set that aside as well. Once the two are cooled to about equal temperatures, you’re going to start stirring the lye into the tallow. It’s very important that you stir the lye into the tallow. Lye is an extremely caustic substance that can produce severe chemical burns. If you pour the tallow into the lye, you run a greater risk of having lye splash up onto your skin, so pour the lye into the tallow gently. Stir them together, and let the mixture sit.

Grease your molds with the petroleum jelly, and add the rest of the ingredients (wheat germ, vitamin E) to the lye/tallow mixture while stirring very slowly. Once they’re mixed and relatively lukewarm, pour the mixture into the molds and let it sit.

Lo and behold… soap!

An Eco Friendly Hummer?

green hummer

When one thinks of an eco-friendly car, the humvee isn’t the type of vehicle that normally comes to mind. Nor is a car that would be spotted on the streets of Great Britain, however, last weekend a Humvee was indeed spotted roaming the streets of the city. The car wasn’t turning heads for the normal, obvious reasons, it was catching people’s attention because of its significantly reduced size and because it is electric. This new design is called the MEV HUMMER HX.

The MEV HUMMER HX is the only proportionally correct licensed resort vehicle currently on the market. Its design matches the infamous Humvee and includes the characteristic louver grille, custom wheels, door sills, styled seats, and floor mats.

MEV, or My Electric Vehicle, was formed in 2006; initially trading as Mini Hummer Europe and achieved year on year growth because of its introduction of luxury golf cars manufactured by others to the European market. As a result of poor growth and lack of sales from third party suppliers, a decision was made in 2009 for the company to design and develop their own products.

The greatest thing about this new Hummer is that it is not a gas guzzler like its predecessors. This Hummer is electric and can be charged from a 12V charging point. Despite the fact that General Motors closed the Hummer automotive plant in 2010, it is believed that the little HX model could have saved the brand.

Just before closing the factory, MEV managed to sign the worldwide exclusive rights to manufacture the HUMMER HX as a mini electric vehicle.

Source: My Electric Vehicle

Natural Gas Cars

fuel pumps

Given the recent uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade dictatorship in Egypt, Americans should note how political and social conditions in the Middle East can rapidly and unpredictably change.

So, does it make sense for the world’s largest economy to be heavily dependent for oil in a region where disruption is always a possibility? No, it doesn’t. Yet America has been reliant on the Middle East for oil for most of the automobile age. Only recently has there been any effort to switch to alternative fuels and lower America’s dependence on imported oil.

Even though the U.S. has increased domestic drilling, they wouldn’t be able to pump its daily consumption of 18.7 million barrels per day without the imported fuel to make up the difference. In November 2010 alone, the country imported an average of 8.25 million barrels per day. Nearly 2 million of these came from the Middle Eastern oil producers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

What then is the solution to becoming less dependent on foreign oil? Many believe that the answer could be in domestic natural gas.

HOMEGROWN FUEL

The only domestic energy source that has the potential to end the country’s dependence on oil for transportation fuel in the U.S. is natural gas. Natural gas is abundant, competitively priced, clean, and available domestically.

Of all of its good qualities, abundance is the most appealing advantage. The Potential Gas Committee (PGC) has estimated that the U.S. had 1,836 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of recoverable natural gas as of 2008, out of a total future natural gas resource base of 2,074 Tcf. This would meet the nation’s natural gas demand for about 100 years, based on the nation’s current consumption rate.

Of the 22.8 Tcf of natural gas consumed in the U.S. in 2009, 90% was produced domestically. Furthermore, most imports of dry natural gas came from a reliable trading partner: Canada.

Natural gas has become a highly used energy source for industrial, commercial, and residential uses. However, it has yet to play a larger role in transportation fuel, aside from use in bus fleets and other industrial fleets.

WHY SIZE MATTERS

Two factors make the use of natural gas unappealing to consumers. The first is its lack of compactness. Large vehicles, such as buses and vans, are able to accommodate the large tanks that natural gas requires. However, smaller cars and modest-size SUVs cannot accommodate the large tanks without displacing volume from features that car buyers find appealing: trunk and cargo space.

The second issue stems from the lack of natural-gas filling stations. Even with more stations being added each month, there are only around 1,100 stations throughout the entire U.S. Compare this number to the more than 160,000 gasoline stations and it is obvious why it is more convenient and appealing to have vehicles which use gasoline.

To combat these two issues, public policy would have to heavily encourage natural gas fuel use in order to increase its role as a transportation fuel. U.S. drivers will not be likely to leave behind their gasoline habits, even if gasoline becomes more on a per-mile basis than natural gas.

PRICING

Critics of natural-gas point out that the current price of natural gas would likely go up if drivers shifted in large numbers to natural gas. Of the nearly 12 million natural-gas vehicles in use globally, only 110,000 are found in the U.S.

A counterargument to the critics’ point is to simply ask: What is going to happen to the price of gasoline in the upcoming years? The International Energy Agency predicts that global oil demand will rise in 2011-2012 due to economic expansions worldwide. This prediction could be wrong and the demand could always drop.

Currently, the price of oil is about $91 per barrel. However, given the rising demand in emerging-market economies for oil, how likely is it for the price of oil to stay the same? As global demand accelerates, it has been predicted that oil may top $100 per barrel in 2011.

FOREIGN OIL DEPENDENCY

As history has shown, events in the Middle East are subject to periods of interruption. Whether or not the price of gasoline remains stable or declines, it will not eliminate the liability of U.S. oil consumption.

Clearly oil will remain an essential fuel in the upcoming years; however, the U.S. needs to see that the energy future will be reliant not only on the price but also on the reliability of the energy sources.  Natural gas could provide the U.S. with the necessary solution to the uncertain international energy dependence.

DailyFinance

Biofuel from Cows

illustration of cow

Scientists have turned to the digestive tract of cows to study how to break down plant matter and convert it into energy. By using genetic materials from a cow’s rumen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun developing new ways to break down plant fibers for conversion into biofuel.

To convert switchgrass and corn stover, the leaves and stalks of maize, into biofuel requires the plant fibers to be broken down into sugars. The difficulty comes when cell wall polymers are cross-linked in various ways that make them resistant to breaking down. This finding comes from Dominic Wong, a chemist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Regional Research Center, located in Albany, California.

Through previous studies, it was discovered that a unique group of enzymes knows as feruloyl esterases (FAEs) are able to break down key links between the polymers. Studies have also shown that the enzymes are produced by specific types of microbes that degrade plant materials.  Wong collected the microbial population from a cow’s rumen and screened their genetic composition to find which genes produced FAE enzymes.

Wong has worked with scientists at Cargill to isolate, sequence, and clone 12 genes which are capable of being introduced into Escherichia coli for production of the enzymes. These enzymes then can be used to break down the polymeric network in the plant cell wall. Wong and the team of scientists at Cargill have written up a provisional patent application on the FAE genes and enzymes.

Furthermore, the enzymes can also be used to enhance the digestibility and nutritional qualities of animal feed, help with the development of nutritional supplements, and be of use in the development of other value-added products.

Agave: A New Bioenergy Crop

image of agave plant

Agave, known for its use in the production of alcoholic beverages and fibers, grows chiefly in Mexico and the south-west of the United States, as well as tropical South America. Agave grows best in semi-arid regions where it will not likely come into conflict with food and feed production. Agave is a succulent with the ability to survive long periods of time without water. An article written in an issue of Global Change Biology-Bioenergy states that there is Agave may potentially be used as a sustainable biofuel feedstock.

In 14 independent studies, scientists have found that Agave yields greatly exceed the yields of other biofuel feedstocks, such as corn, soybean, sorghum, and wheat. Furthermore, scientists have noted that there are various other species of Agave in existences that have not yet been evaluated.

Sarah Davis, a bioenergy analyst, states, “We need bioenergy crops that have a low risk of unintended land-use change. Biomass from Agave can be harvested as a co-product of tequila production without additional land demands. Also, abandoned Agave plantations in Mexico and Africa that previously supported the natural fiber market could be reclaimed as bioenergy cropland. More research on Agave species is warranted to determine the tolerance ranges of the highest yielding varieties that would be most viable for bioenergy production in semi-arid regions of the world.”

The economical and environmental sustainability of Agave could greatly stimulate the economies in Africa, Australia, and Mexico, where large amounts of land are unused due to the arid climate.

ScienceDaily

Solar Panel Tents

illustration of the sun

The US Army has developed portable tents that have flexible solar panels built into them. The solar cells are based on thin-film amorphous silicon, giving them durability and flexibility. Three models have currently been created and are known as the Power Shade, The TEMPER Fly, and the QUADrant. Each solar tent has a different energy generating capacity depending on the size of the tent and thus the actual number of solar panels that have been installed. “The Power Shade can generate about 3KW of electricity (the largest quantity of the three), the TEMPER Fly outputs about 800W, and the QUADrant generates around 200W of power.” This energy is used to power the high tech communication devices that have become standard for the military. The ability to gain energy from renewable and sustainable sources should greatly decrease their dependence on fuel as well as make the units far more portable.

Nowhere are solar panels more efficient than in the middle of the desert. The cloudless skies and long days will enable the solar panels to generate electricity to the best of their potential. I cannot really think of anyone else that would want to have tents like these. Most campers aren’t going to travel with enough electronic equipment to make such a system necessary, but I certainly cannot speak for everyone.

Source U.S. Army via ElectricTreeHouse

Ring Socket Timer

earth with recycling symbol

Energy conservation should be on the minds of everyone who has an electrical bill to pay. Vampire energy is the electrical power consumed by electronic devices while they are turned off and unused. Most people fail to appreciate how much power is simply wasted in modern homes. By taking the time to turn of surge protectors when you are not using your computer or entertainment system can have a significant effect on the energy consumption of your home and help to make your lifestyle more environmentally friendly.

Shown here is the Ring Socket, featured on Yanko Design’s website. The Ring Socket is a fairly simple idea that builds a timer into an electrical outlet. This functionality forces the user to determine how long they plan on using their electronic device and thus consider home much electricity they are going to consume. Most importantly, the socket isn’t an energy-saving device that relies on the user to turn it off. Even if you forget, the Ring Socket shuts off once the time has expired. The light-up ring would also have an indicator built-in, as shown below. If put into use, I really doubt anyone would ever pay to have a Ring Socket installed on every outlet in their home, but the design addresses an important point in the push for energy efficiency and conservation. People get distracted and even the most energy-conscious person can let their habits slip. The Ring Socket eliminates even the potential to waste power by automatically cutting off electrical devices when the time has run out.