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10 green ideas that will change the world

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Articles - June 2012
Tuesday, May 29, 2012



0612 10Transformative 01“Solar energy is one of the most expensive energy sources right now. So every aspect of solar cells is being scrutinized to see how it can become more efficient and cheaper,” says Scott Weaver, chief business strategist at CSD Nano, a Corvallis startup that makes anti-reflective coatings for photovoltaic cover glass.

The Holy Grail for solar energy advocates is grid parity, in which electricity from solar costs the same or less than power from fossil fuels. CSD Nano, which is using nanotechnology based on the anti-reflective retina of a moth eye, is just one of many technology companies working on driving down costs. “It’s very exciting,” Weaver says. “We’re part of manifest destiny.”

Shannon Boettcher, a UO chemistry professor, is another pioneer, although he approaches the problem from a different angle. Solar energy is an intermittent power source, so figuring out how to store energy from the sun and make it a stable reliable energy source is crucial to achieving grid parity, says Boettcher. His research focuses on converting electricity from the sun into chemical bonds such as hydrogen that can be stored for later use. “We know how to do this using expensive exotic materials that are highly engineered. The challenge is to develop a process using earth abundant elements we can put together in low-cost scalable ways.”

An international contingent is working on this approach, Boettcher says. “Because if we want to displace all of our fossil fuel energy use, if we want to stop using coal, then we absolutely have to store renewables.”


0612 10Transformative 02LED lights are about five times more efficient than conventional incandescent light bulbs. They are also up to 20 times more expensive and lack the warm light typical of the conventional bulb, which keeps consumers from buying them. If everyone transitioned to LEDs, consumers would potentially save 190 terawatt hours annually — the equivalent of lighting over 95 million homes. Pacific Light Technologies, a Portland startup, is developing a new process aimed at mainstreaming the high-efficiency LED. The technology involves quantum dots — chemically created microscopic semiconductors — that provide better light output “tunable to different hues,” says Pacific Light CEO Ron Nelson. The dots, now being tested with major lighting manufacturers, will also reduce the cost of LEDs by at least 50% and enable replacement of the phosphors currently used in LED lights, reducing industry dependence on the rare earth compounds. “We believe we have found the elixir,” says Nelson.


0612 10Transformative 03In recent years, buying food from your local organic farmer has become all the rage. But most local farmers still struggle to compete against big agribusiness. Smart phones are coming to the rescue, helping small and mid-size farmers practicing sustainable agriculture differentiate themselves from the pack.

“If you’re a medium-size farmer and you’re trying to reposition yourself out of the commodity market, you might tell your distributor you’re certified for environmental stewardship but that story isn’t told to other links in the supply chain. So people are working on Internet technologies to empower farmers to tell what’s unique. You put a QR code on your package and the customer can access the rich information. This is combined with traceability tools that help midsize produce growers satisfy increasing traceability requirements for food safety. It’s about putting tools in the hands of farmers.”

-Scott Exo, former executive director of the Food Alliance, a Portland nonprofit that certifies sustainable agricultural and food-handling practices 



-1 #1 VP, Castagra ProductsTats 2012-05-29 23:59:08
Great list. I'm excited to see how these trends progress.
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John A. Ward
-2 #2 10 Green IdeasJohn A. Ward 2012-05-30 05:53:18
Great Article, in the first 4 points I learn that Solar is the most Expensive way to generate electricity, That LEDs Save 195 million in electricity while COSTING the USERS 1 BILLION EXTRA for the same light, that smart phones will allow for more information flow, while an old netbook would provide more access for less money, and the electric car is an expensive FLOP! do you people ever wonder how your ideas will fare, when the bankrupt Federal Govt. STOPS giving you money for your hair brained ideas!!?
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kiel johnson
0 #3 business ownerkiel johnson 2012-05-30 17:24:45
I wish that bicycles had made the list. It seems to fit in perfectly with the quote at the end,

"For whatever reason in our culture we are always looking for that magic technology to save us..."

Bicycles have been around for 150 years. Portland has shown that not only are there lots of positive benefits to bicycling but that it is also great for business. In the last 10 years I can't think of any other technology which has transformed businesses in Portland more except maybe the iPhone. From cargo bikes, to encouragement programs, to how we design apartments and parking. And there is plenty more opportunity.
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Linda Baker
-1 #4 managing editorLinda Baker 2012-05-30 17:57:20

Bikes did make the list. See number 4, "The Mobility Revolution."
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Jonathan Maus
-1 #5 Publisher of BikePortland.or gJonathan Maus 2012-05-30 18:07:58
Thanks Linda for pointing out that bikes do get a mention. It was such a minor mention — and stuffed in between all the excitement about cars — that I actually missed it the first few times I read the list.
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0 #6 CEO, Bright Neighbor, LLCArnold 2012-06-01 20:18:51
We are so proud to be considered one of the top ten green ideas that will change the world. Come join four other Portland-based social innovations and Bright Neighbor as we launch at the Portland State University Social innovation Incubator Pitchfest on June 29th. We look forward to seeing you there!

Maximize Your Neighbors, with Bright Neighbor!

Arnold Strong
CEO, Bright Neighbor, LLC
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Bonita Steers
-1 #7 Home Energy RX, PrincipalBonita Steers 2012-06-04 03:42:16
I specially want to emphasize #10 improved building standards, such as those used in Passiv Haus and other passive designs which can save up to 90% of energy used for heating and cooling. In other countries, new construction is required to meet new standards of construction. Also, Energy Audits as part of Real Estate transaction disclosures would give home buyers a better idea of what they are purchasing related to energy consumption.
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