When I think Cleantech, my mind goes straight to the triangular logo on my waste container at work: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” These three words are central to most enduring cleantech innovations, though sometimes in paradoxical ways. “Reduce” is the most prone to paradox, since reducing one thing generally happens by increasing another. Let’s explore this “reduce” paradox via two well-known examples in that space.
A UW-led research group may soon play a major role in reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, thanks to a $4 million award in early January from a government research agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
The group is composed of four partners and several UW graduate and undergraduate students, working on a project to develop a genetically-modified microbe that will transform methane, the main component in natural gas, into liquid fuel for transportation.
WE have a transportation problem. The governor’s Connecting Washington report identified a maintenance shortfall of almost $800 million per year over the next 10 years just to keep roads, bridges and ferries in safe working order.
We have a climate problem. Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, and the scientific consensus about the risks of global warming continues to build.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded a group led by the University of Washington $4 million to develop bacteria that can turn the methane in natural gas into diesel fuel for transportation.
“The product that we’re shooting for will have the same fuel characteristics as diesel,” said principal investigator Mary Lidstrom, a UW professor of chemical engineering and microbiology. “It can be used in trucks, boats, buses, cars, tractors – anything that diesel does now.”
At first glance, the new Chevy Malibu jacked up on the ground-floor lab of the University of Washington's mechanical-engineering annex doesn't look like anything special — except that it's missing its engine.
When they're done with it, though, several dozen of the school's engineering students will have transformed it into one of two electric-biodiesel hybrid Chevy Malibus in the world that run on two separate motors — one for the front wheels, one for the back.