Green is a term widely used and abused in today’s building and consumer markets.
What does it mean to be “ Green ”?
The original term was very simple, “the use of rapidly renewable resources.” If you read a magazine or watch a television commercial you would be lead to believe that everything made is “green," but the truth be known that the true criteria is now very vague. The marketing media monster has seen our wants, needs and fears. They have now made it their mission to provide us plenty of feel-good products that will allay our fears and satisfy our guilt for destroying the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having been in the field of energy conservation for 25 years I have seen plenty of so-called “fixes” brought on by politicians and bureaucrats listening to so-called “scientists” fueled by an agenda with no moral purpose. This combination has left most of society in this aforementioned state of confusion.
What are rapidly renewable resources?
In a nutshell things: Things we can grow and use for a specific purpose that does not involve a process that would somehow damage the environment. The challenge we face as engineers is simple: Do we expend more energy to produce the “alternative” product than we will get in return or do we use a non-renewable more efficiently? Example: Corn. We are now using a food crop to create fuel. Any real scientist can tell you that it takes more energy to harvest, ferment, and distill alcohol than you will ever get in return (30% less efficient than gasoline). Couple that with the fact that we feed the world with two crops we grow, corn and wheat and it makes twice as stupid. This is just one of many situations that the “need to be Green” has left us doing more damage than good.
Ok, How Do We fix it?
Now here is the billion dollar question. If you listen to Al Gore we are already dead by CO2 and T. Boone Pickens believes that we can windmill and solar power our way to that pristine place we all want to be. The facts: Methane is 32 times more damaging to the atmosphere than CO2, yet we believe that hydroelectric power is benign when it creates 7-10% of the methane in the USA alone. Mr. Pickens’ idea is a good one except for the fact that the infrastructure to do this not in place yet for wind and solar power cells are a long way from perfection. We are not at this time in a political atmosphere that wants, nor understands the physics or the direction that we will have to go in order to save energy all the while save our planet.
Before You Fix It You Must Know the Problem
If we believe the news media we will most likely believe that transportation is the guilty culprit in this whole global warming debate, wrong. The transportation sector is only 18-20% of fossil fuel consumption. The building sector (houses and commercial buildings) consumes 68% of all the fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and crude oil) and contributes 70% of the greenhouse gases. This is the problem.
Until the advent of closed cell polyurethane foam air-use insulators were all we had to insulate homes. The problem with that is the fact that it is only 32% efficient and does nothing to stop air and moisture movement into the living area. Closed cell polyurethane foam has been used in lieu of fiberglass in refrigeration for over 48 years as it is 92% efficient, stops all air and moisture intrusion. As we speak 85% of all homes are being insulated with a product that not only has a 68% loss ration, but also has been on the carcinogenic agent list since 1996.
There can be volumes written as to why we should use foam instead of fiberglass, but we can put it into simpler terms, it works. All refrigeration as well as aerospace is totally dependent on foam to work. We, as a country, in all reality will be using fossil fuels for the next 20 years, how we manage and conserve our “non-renewable” resources will be the really true “Green solution”. Foam insulation is the key to making our biggest consumer of energy use 50-60% less. If we reduce the load to the utilities by 50% we will not only make alternatives happen faster, we will free up natural gas for transportation, which is cheaper and cleaner than gasoline.
The author, Michael David Vaughan is a 56 year-old engineer and general contractor in Georgia. He was the owner and founder of Profoam and Profoam distribution from 1994 to 2005. Vaughan also owned and founded Ure-tec, a licensed engineering firm in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi (2005-2007). Ure-tec was purchased by Burtin Polymer Labs in 2007 and Vaughan was contracted as Director of Engineering and Product Development.