Tuesday, May 19, 2015

In Other Words: Bioconcrete

Someone posted this in our companie's internal website. This is just cool!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sustainable Living – One Step At A Time: Water Conservation - Part II

In light of the current drought in California, I have revisited this issue since the last time I wrote about it.

Water conservation must be one of the easiest things we can do. According to an article posted by the Sierra Club, the three biggest sources of water consumption are: 
  1. The toilet (26.7 %)
  2. The clothes washer (21.7%)
  3. The shower (16.8%)
The article mentions that there is huge variability of course, and it is not clear what is used as a base line here (a 1.6 gal/flush toilet or something with higher consumption, what kind of clothes washer, and what showerhead etc.).

At any rate, changing out a toilet can cost anywhere between $200-$500. Changing out a decent clothes washer can run anywhere from $700-$2000 for high-end clothes washers. A showerhead, however, will at most cost about $80 for which you will get a luxury showerhead while having the potential of cutting the water usage more than half!

So they are affordable compared to replacing a toilet or washing machine, but in addition to water savings, they have two other ways in which they pay for themselves:

1.) Cutting down on hot water usage cuts down on natural gas usage or electricity depending on how you heat your water.
2.) Some places charge for the amount of sewage water produced which you will also be able to cut down.

And this brings me to today's topic:


In the search for ever more efficient showerheads compared to the current standard (2.2 gpm), I have over the past 6 years tried out the Niagara showerheads. The first showerhead I bought was the Earth 1.5 gpm showerhead from Niagara. It's a solid choice saving you 32% of hot water each time you shower compared to a 2.2 gpm showerhead. Wanting to push the boundaries, I also tried the Earth 1.25 gpm showerhead from Niagara. The latter was really hard to find back then, and it turns out that there is a reason for it.  In the words of a roommate:"That showerhead felt like a little sprinkler on half on." I wouldn't put it quite like that but, the performance felt borderline anemic for me as well. I have also had the pleasure of trying out the 1.75 gpm and 2.2 gpm version of this showerhead. Not too surprising, this is the order I would rate those showerheads:

Earth 1.25 gpm (borderline underperforming < <Earth 1.5 gpm (feels like a full shower) < Earth 1.75 gpm (feels luxurious) ~ Earth 2.2 gpm (not much of a difference compared to the 1.75 gpm version).

So why am I mentioning this? Up until recently, I thought that then 1.25 gpm consumption in showerheads was the furthest you could push it -  that is until I tried a couple of showerheads from Bricor. Bricor has a number of showerheads, I have tested the following:

- Eco-Fit: This shower head uses 1.25 gpm instead of 2.5 gpm - a savings of ~50%.
- Eco-Miser: This is a variation of the Eco-Fit using only 1.0 gpm which saves ~60%.
- A modded B125 Supermax: I tried the version that only uses 1.0 gpm.

I am happy to report that all showerheads are workable. Both the Eco-Miser and modded B125 Supermax perform slightly better than the Niagara 1.5 gpm showerhead. One big difference is that the showerhead from Niagara sprinkles water out in a circular pattern leaving a big cold hole in between that makes you feel longing for more water. All showerheads from Bricor cover that central part. The Supermax even allows for adjustment of the water stream which is really satisfying. As for the Eco-Fit, it is amazing that a 1.25 gpm showerhead can feel like a strong 2.5 gpm showerhead.

If I had to give out recommendations, I would say that the 1.0 gpm showerheads will be satisfactory for anyone who feels good using an otherwise 1.5 gpm showerhead and wants to maximize water savings. I would recommend the Eco-Fit without any reservations to anyone who wants to have a strong stream and save water. The price for these showerheads is really affordable. So for just $30-40 you can cut your shower water consumption by %50-60 which overall will save about 8% of water consumption in the entire house. That's efficient!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Other Words: Amyris and Darpa

It's always difficult to talk about what my company is working on, so I rarely do. However, as of late, I am really happy to be able to share some of the things I am excited about. Have a look at this promotional video of Amyris and Darpa. The cool thing: All of those people in the video are real people - not actors or anything. It's sort of amusing and cool to see your friends being featured in this video.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Freely-Speaking: On Soil

This is just a quick note on my way to work. I just listened to a news podcast from DW. I have to give it to the German press: Today's podcast covered a topic that I think is very forward thinking. It discussed the importance of soil. The main points were very simple:

1.) Fertile soil is an important resource.
2.) It takes a long time to build up fertile soil (upwards of a generation or so).
3.) The demands on soil are increasing because of in large parts increasing populations and decreasing availability of fertile soil (due to different forms of erosion, and unsustainable agricultural practices). Interestingly the news podcast also discussed that a future in which the biobased economy takes root will by necessity also contribute to increased demands on the limited soil that we have. 

Given the above, and the fact that making, managing fertile soil is never in the farmer's short term interest as the farmer usually just thinks about the next few harvesting seasons, the article suggested that having a political framework that puts in place the right economic incentives to foster innovation in long soil management would be prudent. Apparently, the discussion for such a framework is ongoing in Germany. Of course, talk is cheap,  and it's action that ultimately counts,  but I want to emphasize the following:

1.) American politics does not seem concerned about this topic at all at this point. And even if they were,...
2.) ...the American press also does not think that this topic is important enough to discuss anywhere. Instead, we spend our time talking about whether a presidential candidate would attend a hypothetical gay marriage in the family.