Thursday, October 30, 2014

Feldheim village, a model for Sovereignty in Germany

"Feldheim, German Village, Powered By Renewable Energy", 2011-12-29 from "Associated Press" newswire [archive.today/GHezp]

"German Environment Minister visits the energy self-sufficient village on a four-day fact-finding tour" (2013) [http://www.energiequelle.de/index.php/en/home/51-neuigkeiten-en/107-feldheim-2] [web.archive.org/web/20141030071030/http://www.energiequelle.de/index.php/en/home/51-neuigkeiten-en/107-feldheim-2]

"German town goes off the grid, achieves energy independence" (2013-02-19) [http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/town-goes-grid-achieves-energy-independence.html] [web.archive.org/web/20140123031644/http://www.treehugger.com/environmental-policy/town-goes-grid-achieves-energy-independence.html]

"Feldheim, Germany Generates 100% of its Energy From Renewable Sources!" (2013-02-19) [http://inhabitat.com/powered-by-100-renewable-energy-german-town-of-feldheim-achieves-energy-independence/] [https://web.archive.org/web/20140727012426/http://inhabitat.com/powered-by-100-renewable-energy-german-town-of-feldheim-achieves-energy-independence/]

"German village offers blueprint for rural green energy" (2013-03-26) [http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/26/us-germany-energy-idUSBRE92O0P820130326] [https://web.archive.org/web/20141005180127/http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/26/us-germany-energy-idUSBRE92O0P820130326]

"The energy self-sufficient village of Feldheim – a pioneer within Germany’s energy transition" (2013-12-04) [http://geolog.egu.eu/2013/12/04/the-energy-self-sufficient-village-of-feldheim-a-pioneer-within-germanys-energy-transition/] [https://web.archive.org/web/20140912063517/http://geolog.egu.eu/2013/12/04/the-energy-self-sufficient-village-of-feldheim-a-pioneer-within-germanys-energy-transition/]

"100% Renewable Energy Goal Achieved: 100% Renewable Electricity and Heat With Local Resources" (2014) [http://www.go100percent.org/cms/index.php?id=70&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=129] [https://web.archive.org/web/20141030071520/http://www.go100percent.org/cms/index.php?id=70&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=129]

"A Power Grid of Their Own: German Village Becomes Model for Renewable Energy" (2014) [http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/a-power-grid-of-their-own-german-village-becomes-model-for-renewable-energy-a-820369.html] [archive.today/2A7NY]

"A German village keeps the lights on with windmills and pig manure" (2014-10-28) [http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-10-28/german-village-keeps-lights-windmills-and-pig-manure] [archive.today/kC537]

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator developed by Michigan State University

Sovereign technologies [link]

"Solar energy that doesn't block the view" 2014-08-19 by Tom Oswald [Tom.Oswald@) cabs.msu.edu], Richard Lunt [rlunt@) msu.edu] from Michigan State University [http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/solar-energy-that-doesnt-block-the-view/]:
Solar power with a view: MSU doctoral student Yimu Zhao holds up a transparent luminescent solar concentrator module. Photo by Yimu Zhao.

A team of researchers at Michigan State University has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window.
It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.
And, according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering, the key word is “transparent.”
Research in the production of energy from solar cells placed around luminescent plastic-like materials is not new. These past efforts, however, have yielded poor results – the energy production was inefficient and the materials were highly colored.
“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent.”
The solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight.
“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,” he said.
The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.
“Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.
One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost.
“It opens a lot of area to deploy solar energy in a non-intrusive way,” Lunt said. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”
Lunt said more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.
The research was featured on the cover of a recent issue of the journal Advanced Optical Materials.
Other members of the research team include Yimu Zhao, an MSU doctoral student in chemical engineering and materials science; Benjamin Levine, assistant professor of chemistry; and Garrett Meek, doctoral student in chemistry.

A transparent luminescent solar concentrator waveguide is shown with colorful traditional luminescent solar concentrators in the background. The new LSC can create solar energy but is not visible on windows or other clear surfaces. (Photo by G.L. Kohuth)

Friday, August 22, 2014

How America's Largest Worker Owned Co-Op Lifts People Out of Poverty

2014-08-15 by Laura Flanders for YES! Magazine [http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/the-end-of-poverty/how-america-s-largest-worker-owned-co-op-lifts-people-out-of-poverty]:
Cooperative Home Care Associates has 2,300 workers who enjoy good wages, regular hours, and family health insurance. With an investment of $1.2 million into the cooperative sector, New York City is hoping to build on the group's success.
Before Zaida Ramos joined Cooperative Home Care Associates, she was raising her daughter on public assistance, shuttling between dead-end office jobs, and not making ends meet. “I earned in a week what my family spent in a day,” she recalled.
After 17 years as a home health aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the largest worker-owned co-op in the United States, Ramos recently celebrated her daughter’s college graduation. She’s paying half of her son’s tuition at a Catholic school, and she’s a worker-owner in a business where she enjoys flexible hours, steady earnings, health and dental insurance, plus an annual share in the profits. She’s not rich, she says, “but I’m financially independent. I belong to a union, and I have a chance to make a difference.”
Can worker-owned businesses lift families out of poverty? “They did mine,” Ramos said. Should other low-income New Yorkers get involved in co-ops? She says, “Go for it.”
New York City is going—in a big way—for worker-owned cooperatives. Inspired by the model of CHCA and prodded by a new network of co-op members and enthusiasts, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million to support worker cooperatives in 2015’s budget. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, New York’s investment in co-ops is the largest by any U.S. city government to date.
Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by their members on the basis of one member, one vote. Given enough time, worker-owned cooperatives tend to increase wages and improve working conditions, and advocates say a local co-op generally stays where it’s founded and acts as a leadership-building force.
“There is no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference,” says a report on co-ops by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York.

Selling the council on co-ops -
This January, as a new mayor (who ran on combating inequality) and a progressive majority of the City Council were taking office, the Federation’s report inspired Councilmember Maria Del Carmen Arroyo to think about co‑ops. “A bulb went off,” she said.
Arroyo, incoming chair of the Community Development Committee, represents a South Bronx district that’s still one of the poorest in the nation, even after years of “development.” National retailers, attracted by tax breaks, typically pay low wages and squeeze out local businesses. Partly in response, the Bronx is also home to an array of co‑ops, from the large CHCA to the small Green Worker Cooperatives, which incubates local green businesses.
When Arroyo convened a first-of-its-kind hearing on co-ops this February, New Yorkers packed not one but two hearing rooms at City Hall.
Among the co-op members who testified was Yadira Fragoso, whose wages rose to $25 an hour—up from $6.25—after becoming a worker-owner at Si Se Puede, a cleaning co-op incubated by the Brooklyn-based Center for Family Life. Translation at the hearing was provided by Caracol, an interpreters’ cooperative mentored by Green Worker Cooperatives.
By spreading risk and pooling resources, co-ops offer people with little individual wealth a way to start their own businesses and build assets. That said, if starting and sustaining a successful cooperative business were easy, there would probably be more of them.
As of January 2014, just 23 worker-owned co-ops existed in New York, of which only CHCA employed more than 70 people. Nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, roughly 300 worker-owned cooperatives average 11 workers each. Lack of public awareness and funding, as well as a weak support system, holds co-ops back, researchers say, and cumbersome city paperwork doesn’t help.

A working model -
CHCA is over 90 percent owned by women of color and yet (because of the co-op’s many owners) it hasn’t qualified as a minority- and women-owned business, Arroyo told the hearing. (Such businesses enjoy privileges in bidding for contracts.) “There’s no earthly reason we can’t change that,” Arroyo said.
If they are to change anyone’s life for the better, though, co-ops have to be successful businesses, and that’s hard, says Michael Elsas, CEO of CHCA.
The co-op was founded in 1985 on the premise that if workers owned their own company they could maximize their wages and benefits, and if workers were better trained and better treated, they’d offer better care to their clients. Creating the worker co-op was the first step. But to truly change life for their workers in a race-to-the-bottom industry such as health care, the founders knew they’d have to change the industry.
To that end, CHCA worked on several connected tracks. To raise industry standards, not just for CHCA workers but across the field, CHCA started the worker-run Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) that trains agencies across the country while also fighting for policy shifts. (PHI was instrumental in the campaign that recently expanded the Fair Labor Standards Act.)
To better address the needs of home care clients, in 2000 they created Independence Care System (ICS), a multibillion-dollar managed-care company, which contracts with the city to work with chronically sick and disabled adults. With ICS, CHCA filled an unmet need while also creating its own primary customer to fuel the co-op’s growth. ICS is responsible for 60 percent of CHCA’s business, and the co-op has grown from 500 workers in the late 1990s to 2,300 today.
Workers become “owners” with a buy-in of $1,000, paid over time. Of today’s 2,300, some 1,100 are worker-owners, Elsas says. The company had $64 million in revenues in 2013. They’ve raised wages, but more important to workers like Ramos are the regular hours, the family health insurance, and membership in the Service Employees International Union Local 1199. In short, respect.
CHCA occupies two floors of a new office building on Fordham Road. Peer-mentors answer caregivers’ calls at desks, with plenty of cushioned sitting-room space for talking. In the PHI training lab, there are no model plastic dummies. Workers in training learn what it’s like to be both caretaker and patient.
Wages for CHCA’s health care workers stand at $16 an hour including benefits, Elsas says. It’s not affluence, but it’s still almost twice market rate. Workers enjoy guaranteed hours—an average of 36 a week, compared to an industry norm of 25 to 30. They’re paid for business meetings, and in a state where the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio stands at 405: 1, the ratio at CHCA hit its highest (11:1) in 2006. Turnover stands at 15 percent, compared with an industry standard close to four times that.
“If I didn’t like it here, I wouldn’t have stayed all these years,” Ramos says.
Asked about New York’s new co-ops, CHCA’s Elsas hesitates. He’s all for making it easier for co-ops to get contracts, but he’s concerned about scale.
“I’m just not sure that setting up 26 new small co-ops will help change policy or practice,” he says.
Helen Rosenthal was changed by a small co-op: Her mother started one of the first nursery co-ops in Detroit, and she saw how lives improved. Now she chairs the New York City Council’s powerful Committee on Contracts, where she’s helping push the co-op legislation. “With co-ops, democracy is built into the legal DNA,” she said.
Administered by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), the city’s new funds will go to 10 nonprofits (among them, Green Worker Cooperatives and the Center for Family Life). The groups must create “234 jobs in worker cooperative businesses, reach 920 cooperative entrepreneurs, provide for the start up of 28 new worker cooperative small businesses, and [assist] another 20 existing co-ops.”
With so few co-ops in existence, creating more is better, says Hilary Abell, author of a new study from the Democracy Collaborative titled “Pathways to Scale.” More is better. Co-ops thrive in a mutually supportive ecosystem. “But the biggest need right now is certainly for larger businesses, capable of hiring 100 workers and up,” she says, adding that start-ups may not be the best path to scale: “There are 200,000 small businesses in the U.S. today, employing half of all America’s workers. Most have no succession plan.” Might some be ripe, she asks, for takeover by their workers?
After 92 years of the Federation’s fight against poverty, its leaders are clear: “Making sure that a safety net exists is not enough to help New Yorkers have satisfying lives. We needed a new approach to workforce development that would not only reduce poverty but also promote upward mobility, and that’s where co-ops can be an anchor,” says Wayne Ho, FPWA’s chief program and policy officer.
Funding for supportive nonprofits is not the only thing co-ops need from cities. In Spain, Northern Italy, Quebec, and France, robust worker co-ops benefit from laws that help co-ops access capital and public contracts. In New York, even as public dollars flow to big businesses as incentives, public spending is on the chopping block. The first city-sponsored trainings with a new, cooperative-inclusive curriculum started this summer, but passing co-op-friendly laws is going to take political power—of the sort that elected today’s progressive city leadership.
This $1.2 million won’t end poverty, but it’s a step in the right direction, says Christopher Michael of the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives. “We have all the raw ingredients of a successful policy initiative: engaged groups, a bit of a track record and support in the city council…
“This is just a start.”

Low-Power Hydrogen Fuel Extraction

Sovereign technologies [link]

"Stanford scientists develop a water splitter that runs on an ordinary AAA battery"
2014-08-22 from Stanford University [http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/august/splitter-clean-fuel-082014.html]:
Stanford CA -
A video describing the experiment is available here.
Stanford graduate student Ming Gong (left) and Professor Hongjie Dai have developed a low-cost electrolytic device that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen at room temperature. The device is powered by an ordinary AAA battery. Image courtesy Mark Shwartz/Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy.

In 2015, American consumers will finally be able to purchase fuel cell cars from Toyota and other manufacturers. Although touted as zero-emissions vehicles, most of the cars will run on hydrogen made from natural gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming. Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a low-cost, emissions-free device that uses an ordinary AAA battery to produce hydrogen by water electrolysis.
The battery sends an electric current through two electrodes that split liquid water into hydrogen and oxygen gas. Unlike other water splitters that use precious-metal catalysts, the electrodes in the Stanford device are made of inexpensive and abundant nickel and iron.
"Using nickel and iron, which are cheap materials, we were able to make the electrocatalysts active enough to split water at room temperature with a single 1.5-volt battery," said Hongjie Dai, a professor of chemistry at Stanford.
"This is the first time anyone has used non-precious metal catalysts to split water at a voltage that low. It's quite remarkable, because normally you need expensive metals, like platinum or iridium, to achieve that voltage."

In addition to producing hydrogen, the novel water splitter could be used to make chlorine gas and sodium hydroxide, another important industrial chemical, according to Dai. He and his colleagues describe the new device in a study published in the Aug. 22 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

The promise of hydrogen -
Automakers have long considered the hydrogen fuel cell a promising alternative to the gasoline engine. Fuel cell technology is essentially water splitting in reverse. A fuel cell combines stored hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to produce electricity, which powers the car. The only byproduct is water - unlike gasoline combustion, which emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
Earlier this year, Hyundai began leasing fuel cell vehicles in Southern California. Toyota and Honda will begin selling fuel cell cars in 2015. Most of these vehicles will run on fuel manufactured at large industrial plants that produce hydrogen by combining very hot steam and natural gas, an energy-intensive process that releases carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
Splitting water to make hydrogen requires no fossil fuels and emits no greenhouse gases. But scientists have yet to develop an affordable, active water splitter with catalysts capable of working at industrial scales.
"It's been a constant pursuit for decades to make low-cost electrocatalysts with high activity and long durability," Dai said. "When we found out that a nickel-based catalyst is as effective as platinum, it came as a complete surprise."

Saving energy and money -
The discovery was made by Stanford graduate student Ming Gong, co-lead author of the study. "Ming discovered a nickel-metal/nickel-oxide structure that turns out to be more active than pure nickel metal or pure nickel oxide alone," Dai said. "This novel structure favors hydrogen electrocatalysis, but we still don't fully understand the science behind it."
The nickel/nickel-oxide catalyst significantly lowers the voltage required to split water, which could eventually save hydrogen producers billions of dollars in electricity costs, according to Gong. His next goal is to improve the durability of the device.
"The electrodes are fairly stable, but they do slowly decay over time," he said. "The current device would probably run for days, but weeks or months would be preferable. That goal is achievable based on my most recent results."
The researchers also plan to develop a water splitter than runs on electricity produced by solar energy.
"Hydrogen is an ideal fuel for powering vehicles, buildings and storing renewable energy on the grid," said Dai. "We're very glad that we were able to make a catalyst that's very active and low cost. This shows that through nanoscale engineering of materials we can really make a difference in how we make fuels and consume energy."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Community-Owned Solar Power in Rehoboth, Mass

"Massachusetts Welcomes Community-Owned Solar Project"
2014-08-21 [http://cleaneasyenergy.com/cecblog/index.php/massachusetts-welcomes-community-owned-solar-project/]:
Rehoboth MA -
With the aim of bringing accessibility and affordability to the state's renewable energy initiatives, key players in Massachusetts renewable energy arena joined Clean Energy Collective (CEC) to celebrate the grand opening of Massachusetts newest utility-scale community-shared solar facility.

The 1 MW Southeastern Massachusetts Community Solar Array in Rehoboth, Mass. is now open to all ratepayers in the NGRID territory.
"I am excited to congratulate NGRID and our Massachusetts team on bringing this project to fruition," said Clean Energy Collective's CEO, Paul Spencer.
"Never before has large-scale, economic solar been accessible to so many, including renters and those with shaded properties. We're proud to have been able to bring this solution to such a solar-progressive state as Massachusetts and look forward to delivering much more."
The event featured commentaries from Jeffrey Ritter, Town Administrator for the Town of Rehoboth; Meg Lusardi, Acting Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources; Robert Terravecchia, CEO Weymouth Bank; and Paul Spencer, Founder and CEO of Clean Energy Collective.
CEC's community solar model provides the opportunity for residential and business customers in a participating utility territory to benefit from solar through a shared utility-scale array without having to install a stand-alone system at their home or business.
Community solar customers receive many of the same rebates and incentives as residential system owners, and credit for the power produced appears directly on an owners' monthly utility bills. The array is sited and maintained to operate at peak efficiency, delivering clean, dependable power for decades.
Following the grand opening of the Rehoboth array is a string of new CEC community solar facilities coming online in Massachusetts, including the 997-kW Western Massachusetts Community Solar Array in Hadley, Mass. that will begin serving WMECo ratepayers in September.

Hydrogen fuel manufactured from natural photosynthesis

Sovereign technologies [link]

"Water and sunlight the formula for sustainable fuel"
2014-08-21 from [http://news.anu.edu.au/2014/08/21/water-and-sunlight-the-formula-for-sustainable-fuel/]:
Canberra, Australia -
Dr. Kastoori Hingorani and Professor Ron Pace are at Australian National University. Image courtesy Stuart Hay and ANU.

An Australian National University (ANU) team has successfully replicated one of the crucial steps in photosynthesis, opening the way for biological systems powered by sunlight which could manufacture hydrogen as a fuel.
"Water is abundant and so is sunlight. It is an exciting prospect to use them to create hydrogen, and do it cheaply and safely," said Dr Kastoori Hingorani, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis in the ANU Research School of Biology.
Hydrogen offers potential as a zero-carbon replacement for petroleum products, and is already used for launching space craft. However, until this work, the way that plants produce hydrogen by splitting water has been poorly understood.
The team created a protein which, when exposed to light, displays the electrical heartbeat that is the key to photosynthesis.
The system uses a naturally-occurring protein and does not need batteries or expensive metals, meaning it could be affordable in developing countries, Dr Hingorani said.
Co-researcher Professor Ron Pace said the research opened up new possibilities for manufacturing hydrogen as a cheap and clean source of fuel.
"This is the first time we have replicated the primary capture of energy from sunlight," Professor Pace said.
"It's the beginning of a whole suite of possibilities, such as creating a highly efficient fuel, or to trapping atmospheric carbon."
Professor Pace said large amounts of hydrogen fuel produced by artificial photosynthesis could transform the economy.
"That carbon-free cycle is essentially indefinitely sustainable. Sunlight is extraordinarily abundant, water is everywhere - the raw materials we need to make the fuel. And at the end of the usage cycle it goes back to water," he said.
The team modified a much-researched and ubiquitous protein, Ferritin, which is present in almost all living organisms.
Ferritin's usual role is to store iron, but the team removed the iron and replaced it with the abundant metal, manganese, to closely resemble the water splitting site in photosynthesis.
The protein also binds a haem group, which the researchers replaced with a light-sensitive pigment, Zinc Chlorin.
When they shone light onto the modified ferritin, there was a clear indication of charge transfer just like in natural photosynthesis.
The possibilities inspired visionary researcher Associate Professor Warwick Hillier, who led the research group until his death from brain cancer, earlier this year.
"Associate Professor Hillier imagined modifying E. coli so that it expresses the gene to create ready-made artificial photosynthetic proteins. It would be a self-replicating system - all you need to do is shine light on it," Dr Hingorani said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Organic Photovoltaic Cells

Sovereign technologies [link]
Organic Photovoltaic Cells of the Future: Researchers at University of Tsukuba and National Institute for Materials Science use charge formation efficiency to screen materials for future devices
For More Information: Jason Socrates Bardi [+1 240-535-4954] [jbardi@) aip.org] [Twitter: @jasonbardi]

"Effect of temperature on carrier formation efficiency in organic photovoltaic cells"
by Yutaka Moritomo, Kouhei Yonezawa and Takeshi Yasuda, all of the Institute of Materials Science at the University of Tsukuba
Published 2014-08-19 by the "Applied Physics Letters" [http://www.aip.org/publishing/journal-highlights/organic-photovoltaic-cells-future] science news journal:
Organic photovoltaic cells: Researchers develop method to screen organic materials for organic photovoltaic cells by charge formation efficiency. (PHOTO CREDIT: Yutaka Moritomo/University of Tsukuba)

Organic photovoltaic cells -- a type of solar cell that uses polymeric materials to capture sunlight -- show tremendous promise as energy conversion devices, thanks to key attributes such as flexibility and low-cost production.
But one giant hurdle holding back organic photovoltaic technologies have been the complexity of their power conversion processes, which involve separate charge formation and transport processes.
To maneuver around this problem, a team of researchers in Japan has developed a method to determine the absolute value of the charge formation efficiency. The secret of their method, as they report in Applied Physics Letters, is the combination of two types of spectroscopy.
The two types the team uses are photo-induced spectroscopy to determine the change in absorption after femtosecond photo-pulse excitation, and electrochemical spectroscopy to examine the absorption change due to charge injection. "By qualitative analysis of the spectral change, we can deduce how many charges are produced by one photon -- its charge formation efficiency," said Professor Yutaka Moritomo, Institute of Materials Science at the University of Tsukuba.
Just how significant is this? It's a huge step forward, said Moritomo, and the team also discovered that the charge formation efficiency remains high (0.55) even at low temperatures (80 K).
"This was extremely surprising," Moritomo said, since the positive and negative charges are strongly bound in an organic photovoltaic device as an exciton -- a bound state of an electron and hole, which are attracted to each other by the electrostatic Coulomb force. "Its charge formation was believed to be too difficult without a thermal activation process," explained Moritomo. "But our work shows that the charge formation process of an organic photovoltaic device is purely quantum mechanical, and any theoretical model should explain the high charge formation efficiency at low temperatures."
The team's work will enable the high-throughput screening of organic materials for new organic photovoltaic devices. "Organic materials have several requirements -- including high charge formation efficiency and high charge transport efficiency -- so our method can be used to quickly screen the materials by charge formation efficiency," Moritomo said.
Next for the team? "Now that we have a method to determine the key physical parameter, charge formation efficiency, we're exploring the interrelation between it and the nanoscale structure of the organic photovoltaic device to clarify the mechanism of the charge formation," noted Moritomo.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vegetable protein and replacements for mass-produced chicken eggs

"Hampton Creek takes crack at breaking up egg industry"
2014-08-16 by Stephanie M. Lee for "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Hampton-Creek-takes-crack-at-breaking-up-egg-5693576.php]:
The yellow batter splashed with a sizzle across the frying pan. Teased with a spatula, it thickened into dense, fluffy puffs.
Scrambled eggs are among the plainest of dishes, but these tasted even plainer than usual. That was because these were not, in fact, eggs, but plant proteins.
The dish, scrambled in a trendy San Francisco work space, was an experiment in both cuisine and science. The startup behind it, Hampton Creek, wants to do nothing less than rethink the way food is made. Its first challenge is to replace chicken-bred eggs with healthy, tasty plant substitutes, and topple a colossal industry that churns out 1.1 trillion eggs annually.
Such ambition might seem lofty for a company formed just three years ago, but it's right in line with the current philosophy of Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists are betting millions on startups that use technology to create food from ingredients that are healthier and gentler on the planet, they say, than traditional growing and manufacturing processes.
Your plate, in other words, is about to be disrupted.
"Food - it's just ripe for innovation," said Samir Kaul, founding general partner at Khosla Ventures, which has backed several food startups in addition to Hampton Creek. "There are massive health effects, the environmental impacts are terrible, you just see the way these animals are raised is horrible."
Silicon Valley is famous for funding ideas with dubious societal value, like messaging apps that say nothing but "yo." But high-tech food makers backed by the likes of Bill Gates and the co-founders of Twitter are finding a place on supermarket shelves. Hampton Creek's mayonnaise and cookies, both plant-based, are in 10,000 stores worldwide. Plant-protein-derived chicken and beef by Beyond Meat in Southern California will soon be in 6,000 stores nationally.
But this new wave of businesses must persuade the public they are not just for vegans seeking eggless and meatless grub. As Californian as their philosophy may be, they will need to whet appetites far and wide.

Plants don't scramble well -
It turns out a plant does not scramble as well as an egg.
The project began with a deep dive into Hampton Creek's database of 4,000 plant samples and their molecular structures. Using proprietary techniques and no chemicals, the proteins are extracted from plants in powder form, cleaned up and mixed.
The first prototype had an off-putting "bean-y" flavor, employees explained. Thousands of formulas later, the latest version tastes close to the real thing.
Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick, likes to think about creating food as starting from scratch. A Fulbright scholar who worked for seven years in sub-Saharan Africa, he started the company after talking to a friend who was trying to reduce dependence on factory-farmed chicken eggs.
"If we had to start over, we wouldn't cram nine birds into tiny little cages and require lots of land and water and fertilizer and oil," the 34-year-old said. "We might work with farmers around the world to grow abundant plant species that use less water, use less carbon, that are just as nutrient-dense, that don't have environmental externalities. What we've come to understand is if we approach things less like a food company, and in some ways more like a technology company, new things can open up."
Tetrick was standing, because he dislikes sitting, in the company's blended office, kitchen and lab in the South of Market. Biochemists in lab coats mingled with business strategists on laptops. Crouched over a stove were "research and development" chefs, all formerly of renowned restaurants.

Climate change and food -
Outside, it was another unusually warm day in San Francisco. California's historic drought is hitting its agriculture industry hard and by one estimate will cost $2.2 billion in losses this year.
With the world heating up and the population expected to cross 9 billion by 2050, Tetrick thinks the current food system makes it "perversely easy for people to do the wrong thing for their bodies and the planet." So Hampton Creek's mayonnaise, based on the Canadian yellow pea, is cholesterol-, trans fat- and gluten-free. Its cookies contain no dairy products. Prices vary by store but are more affordable than leading brands, Tetrick said, because they do not include the costs of chickens and feed. The company's egg-substitute powder, which is sold to businesses, costs 35 percent less per serving than a chicken egg, he said.
For that reason, Tetrick said, Ikea will soon cook the powder into some of its meatballs. General Mills will do the same with some muffins and cookies. Tetrick declined to disclose sales figures, but said Hampton Creek's products, which are in Safeway, Whole Foods, The Dollar Tree, Kroger and ParknShop, one of Hong Kong's largest supermarket chains, will be in 35,000 stores by 2015.
Eggs were the beginning, but Tetrick is thinking bigger. Sugar? Ice cream? Come December, the possibilities will be explored in a new, 85,000-square-foot home in the Mission District. The 61 employees are backed by nearly $30 million from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, Gates and Khosla Ventures, among others.

Plant versus animal protein -
From a scientist's perspective, the difference between a meat burger and a meatless burger is a matter of semantics, Ethan Brown believes.
"If you think about what meat is - a collection of proteins, lipids or fats, trace carbohydrates, trace minerals and 70 percent water - all of those things are available to us through plants," he said. "And if we can arrange them in the same way they're arranged in animals' muscle and meat, why isn't that meat?"
Brown, 42, is the founder of Beyond Meat, an El Segundo startup whose backers include Gates, venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, and the Obvious Corp., founded by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone.

Cut greenhouse gases -
A lifelong animal lover who used to work in clean energy, Brown started the company in 2009 in an attempt to help the Earth in a bigger way. About 365 billion pounds of cow and poultry meat are produced annually, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It estimates the livestock sector contributes 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, although some groups believe the figure is as high as 51 percent.
Licensing a technology from the University of Missouri, Brown is selling chicken strips and ground beef in Whole Foods and Safeway. These aren't typical veggie burgers, which are often ground-up vegetables or tofu, but derivations of soy and pea proteins. The list will soon include Target and Costco, and in October, a meatless burger will hit Whole Foods.
"You want to call it a food company, but it's a disruptive technology company because it's using sophisticated machines and technology and scientists to create the future of food and the future of protein," said Stone, a vegan. "And it's something that tastes better and it has no cholesterol, it has more protein." It also has more omega-3s than salmon and more antioxidants than blueberries, Brown said.

Meat alternatives -
Cooked for The Chronicle, the chicken tasted authentic, if slightly chewier. The beef was close, but crumbled faster than usual.
Beyond Meat costs slightly more than actual meat. Its 1-pound bag of prepared chicken or ground beef is $5 to $6, whereas 1 pound of an uncooked chicken breast or ground beef is $3.50 to $3.88 on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Brown said prices will go down as the company scales up: in less than two minutes, its equipment can create more meat than the amount on a standard chicken, using less water and other resources.
Brown declined to disclose sales. General sales of meat alternatives reached $553 million in 2012, according to market research firm Mintel. That's still a tiny part of national meat and poultry sales, which topped $150 billion in 2009.
"While there are some amazing food scientists out there who can achieve great results, it's hard to imagine that tofu or tempeh will compete with T-bones anytime soon among people who enjoy the beefy taste and texture of a steak," an American Meat Institute spokesman said.
Just 4 percent of the U.S. population is vegan, Beyond Meat's research shows. So the company also wants to draw a broader group of "meat reducers," an estimated 72 million people between 25 and 34 who want to cut back on, but not eliminate, meat.
"The science is coming out and saying, 'Hey, the amount of meat we're eating may not be good for us,'" Brown said. "But people aren't wanting to give it up, so why give it up? Why not try plant-based meat?"
To appeal to these people, the beef comes in a black bag with a bull's silhouette - imagery meant to be more rugged and less reminiscent of health food.

Marketing health, taste -
Hampton Creek faces the same challenge of selling vegan food to non-vegans. Its website mentions neither the word "vegan" nor its technology. It instead emphasizes health, taste and affordability.
The name, too, is strategic. It may bring to mind nature, but there is no Hampton Creek. "I asked a whole bunch of purchasing managers and big food companies what name of a company they'd feel comfortable with," Tetrick recalled. "And they said, 'You know, 'creek' sounds pretty good." "Hampton" was the dog of the friend who inspired Tetrick to start the company.
Other entrepreneurs must also become known for more than their novelty to succeed. Modern Meadow is growing leather from animal cells. Last year, Google's Sergey Brin paid Dutch scientists $330,000 to grow a burger in a lab. NuTek Salt's salt is natural, but has high potassium instead of the usual sodium.
Another challenge is natural-food devotees who see well-raised animals as more natural than processed products.
"People's attitudes toward technology and their food is very different from attitudes toward their phones or homes or all the other places we use" technology, said Michael Pollan, a Berkeley food writer and a fan of Hampton Creek. "I think it remains to be seen how people will feel about highly technological foods."
Brown isn't worried.
"I don't think it's realistic to transition the population to kale and quinoa," he said. "But I do think we're a culture that does embrace innovation."

Friday, August 15, 2014

Year-round gardening - Fall & Winter

"Plant a fall-winter vegetable garden"
2014-08-15 by Pam Peirce, author of “Golden Gate Gardening”, for the "San Francisco Chronicle" daily newspaper [http://www.sfchronicle.com/food/article/Plant-a-fall-winter-vegetable-garden-5691410.php]:
Summer’s flying by, but the garden’s end is not near. Instead, we are just at the start of the season for planting our fall and winter garden. With a little planning, we can have plenty of homegrown vegetables and herbs to eat throughout the colder months.
Not only that, but these winter crops will require much less watering than the ones we grow in summer. Even when rains are sparse, the soil stays moist longer during cooler, shorter days.
Our winter crops all evolved near the Mediterranean Sea, where they grew through mild, wet winters similar to the Bay Area’s. Most tolerate frost; some can even be grown in shade.
The best planting times vary among the crops, and also depending on your microclimate. This list includes three planting date ranges for most crops: (coastal/some coastal influence/inland). Note that planting dates have some wiggle room, as regions and years are not uniform.
---
Tips for fall-winter gardens -
* Amend and fertilize soil before you plant fall crops. If you will be planting after Oct. 1, prepare soil earlier, while weather is still pleasant.
* Shadows are longer in winter, so placement is important. All of the above crops need at least half-day sun except arugula and parsley, which will be fine in open, bright shade.
* For container vegetable gardens, don’t skimp on root space. Give lettuce and small greens a depth of 8 inches, larger plants such as chard, kale, peas, broccoli 10 to 15 inches. Space container crops as you would in a garden bed, so that leaves of mature plants touch or reach the edge of the container.
* To make sure roots can use the whole container depth, place a small piece of fiberglass window screen (available at a hardware store) over drainage holes instead of using a layer of pot shards or pebbles.
* A fine, small-space trellis for peas in winter (cucumbers or beans in summer) can be made with hog wire fencing, which has 2-by-4-inch openings. Buy a 6-foot length of 4-foot-wide fencing. Stand it on end for a 6-foot-tall trellis. Fasten it between two tall metal stakes you’ve inserted deeply in the ground or mount it a foot from an existing fence.
* Most of the recommended winter crops can take light to moderate frosts, but floating row cover can be used if hard frost is predicted. Least frost tolerant are peas and lettuce.

Resources -
* Local nurseries carry seeds and plants of winter crops.
* Hog wire fencing is available at nurseries, hardware stores, or feed/farm supply stores.
* Floating row cover, a translucent nonwoven polyester material, is available in most nurseries, or by mail from Gardeners Supply, www.gardeners.com, (800) 876-5520.

Lettuce -
For fall and winter, choose loose-leaf or romaine varieties. Read descriptions to find ones that tolerate cold best. Some good choices are red-tinged 'Marvel of Four Seasons,’ speckled 'Flashy Butter Oak’ and the red-leafed romaine 'Rouge d’Hiver.’
Grow it: Set out plants rather than sowing seed directly in the garden.
When to plant: Coastal: Aug.-Dec. some coastal influence: Sept.-Nov. Inland: Sept.-Nov.

Snap peas -
These delectable morsels, pricey at the market, are as easy to grow as other peas. Use a sturdy trellis, 4 feet tall for bush, 6 for pole varieties. Use floating row cover to protect plants from snails and birds until 6 inches tall. Let pods become fat with peas, then eat pod and all. Pods may not form until spring.
Grow it: Sow seed directly in the garden.
When to plant: Coastal: Oct.-Nov. Some coastal influence: Sept.-Oct. Inland: Sept.-Oct.

Broccoli -
Once you’ve cut the main head, most varieties continue to reward you with smaller side shoots, sometimes well into spring. Try old varieties such as 'De Cicco’ or 'Calabrese’ or newer ones bred for fall planting, such as 'Packman F1.’ As with its cousin kale, check leaves for pests and pest eggs.
Grow it: Timing is for purchased or homegrown seedlings.
When to plant: Coastal: Aug. Some coastal influence: Aug.-Sept. Inland: Sept.-early Oct.

Mustard greens -
Whether you choose large-leafed spicy types or milder varieties, all can be planted late summer into fall. Cook the spicier leaves with strong-flavored ingredients, such as onion, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil. Use the smaller, milder ones in salads or stir-fries.
Grow it: Sow seeds of all mustards directly in the garden.
When to plant: Coastal: Aug.-early Sept. Some coastal influence: Aug.-Oct. Inland: Sept.-Oct.

Garlic -
Plants form storage bulbs by late June, but you can harvest early as “green garlic.” If you let bulbs mature, stop watering as soon as lower leaves yellow, in about May, to reduce disease. Softneck varieties are best adapted to our climate.
Grow it: Purchase starter bulbs at nurseries to be sure they are disease-free. Buy early, as the supply often runs short.
When to plant: Oct.-Nov. in all of our region.

Kale -
Popular for soups, salads or for drying into chips. All kinds thrive here: curly kale, Siberian kale or Tuscan black kale (the dino kale kind). Search plants weekly until mid-October (especially leaf undersides) and crush any insect eggs or aphids you find.
Grow it: Timing is for purchased or homegrown seedlings.
When to plant: Coastal: Aug.-early Sept. Some coastal influence: Aug.-Sept. Inland: Sept.-Oct.

Artichoke -
Stately, space-consuming plants are happiest near the coast. Be sure that the soil is well amended and fertilized for this large perennial plant and that soil is moist while it’s growing. Plants may not bear buds, or few of them, the first year.
When to plant: Plant from containers anytime. Plant from bare-root in November or December.

Parsley -
You’ll find many uses for fresh parsley when you grow your own, from a handy source of that “2 tablespoons minced parsley” in so many recipes to larger quantities for Mediterranean pesto and salads. Flat-leaf types are easiest to chop.
Grow it: Best started from small transplants.
When to plant: Aug. or early Sept. plantings give you the longest harvest.

Swiss chard -
All kinds thrive in winter, but plan to remove them in spring when they will bloom, seed and die. My favorite is 'Bright Lights,’ which has a mix of white, pink, yellow, orange and red stems. Winter-grown plants escape damaging leaf miner insects.
Grow it: Timing is for purchased or homegrown seedlings.
When to plant: Coastal: Aug.-early Sept. Some coastal influence: Aug.-Sept. Inland: Sept.-Oct.

Arugula -
This Mediterranean green thrives in our fall-into-winter weather. Use the spicy young leaves in salad or on pizza, or grow to full size and saute with onions and garlic to serve with pasta (try with ravioli) and Parmesan cheese. When cooked, the flavor is mild and sweet.
Grow it: Sow seed directly in the garden, When you start to harvest seeds from one sowing, plant more seeds.
When to plant: Aug.-Nov. in all of our region.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Analysts Say: Bike Share Programs Are Good For All"

2014-08-13 by Lauren McCauley for "CommonDreams.org" [http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/08/13/analysts-say-bike-share-programs-are-good-all]:
According to new research, there have been zero fatalities among bike share programs since they first began in 2007.
As city bike share programs sprout up in metropolitan areas nationwide and local governments attempt to tally the cost-benefit of such programs, analysts note that the "costs" of bike shares pale in comparison to the untold social and environmental costs of cars.
According to a Reuters article published on Wednesday, since the first bike share program began in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2007 there have been no fatalities recorded among users—despite the dire predictions of many.
Thirty-six cities, including New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco have thus far instituted such programs, where users pay a regular fee to access shared bicycles parked strategically throughout a city. Next spring, Philadelphia plans to launch its own share program and other services are currently in the works in Tampa, Florida, Boise, Idaho, and Portland, Oregon, among others.
However, as Reuters points out,  some local programs have been challenged by stifled enrollment and some rising costs. Citibank, which first sponsored the program is New York, is contemplating a takeover by a new operator, REQX Ventures, which reportedly has plans to expand further into Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as into Queens. Further, as its enrollment has dropped slightly since it began, according to reports, Citi Bike is planning to boost its yearly membership fee from $95 to $140, or more.
According to environmental economist Timothy Hamilton, assistant professor of economics at the University of Richmond, when weighing the cost-benefit of bike share programs, cities should consider a number of aspects: environmental benefits, expansion of public transportation (as more subway and bus stops are now more accessible because of the public bike sharing), as well as the health benefits of getting people on a bike.
The primary goal of such share programs, Hamilton says, is to reduce the amount of cars on the road. "That cyclist means one less car on the road and thus fewer emissions," Hamilton told Common Dreams. Hamilton, along with coauthor Casey Wichman, an economics graduate student at the University of Maryland, is currently researching the impact of bike share programs on traffic congestion and tailpipe emissions in metropolitan areas.
He contrasts these benefits with many of the social costs or "externalities" associated with driving which are often not accounted for in most assessments, including carbon emissions, wear and tear on roads, and increasing road congestion.
"There are of course going to be costs associated with bike share programs," Hamilton continues, adding that if they "offer the benefits of reducing air pollution and reducing traffic congestion, that's reason for governments to get involved and subsidize bike share programs."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"American Apparel, others try to profit from domestic production"

2014-08-10 by SHAN LI, TIFFANY HSU, ANDREA CHANG from "LA Times" [www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-american-apparel-made-in-usa-20140810-story.html]:

A young woman named Mariona lounges on her knees and forearms. She wears a provocative expression and tight red American Apparel booty shorts.
The advertisement's headline: "Made in USA — Sweatshop Free."
The ads sell a racy image, but just as crucial to the Los Angeles company's identity is the American aspect of its apparel. Now, as ousted CEO Dov Charney's campaign to regain his job grabs attention, a bigger question hangs over American Apparel Inc. and the entire garment industry: Can a company make its clothes in the U.S. and still make money?
Although American Apparel reaped a record $634 million in sales last year, the retailer hasn't turned an annual profit since 2009.
"The business model is at a crossroads," said Anne Olderog, director of brand consulting firm Vivaldi Partners Group. "They have to ask, 'What is the American Apparel of the future?' It needs to go beyond made in America."
American Apparel was a trailblazer in the made-in-USA movement. Companies were shifting their manufacturing overseas in the 1990s when Charney landed in Los Angeles and opened what became the largest garment sewing factory in the country, employing thousands.
But in 2009, American Apparel was forced to fire 1,800 skilled workers after an immigration inspection uncovered questionable employment documents. A rocky start last year to a distribution center in La Mirada caused costly shipping delays.
"The financial challenges at the company had nothing to do with our cost of manufacturing in Los Angeles," Charney said. "The made-in-Los-Angeles element is the path of least resistance, and ultimately results in the lowest cost and highest value for the customer."
For clothing makers, the lure of foreign shores boiled down to cheap and experienced workers who could quickly turn around new designs. Trade agreements eliminated duties and other restrictions that had boosted costs.
Since 2003, the number of apparel manufacturing establishments nationwide dropped nearly in half to 7,075, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show. American garment companies hemorrhaged nearly 800,000 positions since 1990.
Only 2.5% of the clothing purchased by U.S. consumers last year was made in the U.S., down from about 56% in 1991, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Assn.
But slowly, U.S. clothing production is gaining. That tiny share of U.S.-made apparel inched up half a percentage point from two years earlier — the first time that domestic manufacturers have won back market share, the group said.
The turnabout is gaining steam partly because of a consumer backlash to poor safety records and substandard working conditions abroad. Last year, a garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,000 workers.
American consumers also are increasingly wary of mass-produced items and instead want unique, artisanal goods made sustainably at home, marketers say.
More than eight in 10 are even willing to pay a premium for it, according to Boston Consulting Group.
Some manufacturers say they're investing in U.S. production because they want more control over quality. They point to rising expenses at overseas factories and increasing costs to transport goods.
U.S. costs still exceed the rates offered by bulk producers abroad.
Those massive Asian factory complexes can handle a single garment order from start to finish while the U.S. supply chain sprawls across a scattered network of specialist contractors. And in categories such as sweaters or embroidery, few American firms have the machinery or expertise to succeed.
There's also a shortage of skilled apparel workers, who are aging out of the system, switching to more lucrative careers or stymied by citizenship requirements. Often, they aren't up to date with new manufacturing innovations — automated pressing, multiunit sewing machines and more — that help make foreign factories so efficient.
Still, a projected 200,000 garment manufacturing jobs could return to the U.S. over the next decade, according to industry consultants. In Los Angeles County, a historical clothing production hub, employers have added only about 600 jobs from a low of 45,539 workers in 2011.
Long-comatose factories are reawakening. In one of the largest apparel factory investments in the last two years, Ralph Lauren pumped $142 million into expanding a factory in High Point, N.C. And Under Armour shelled out $58 million to buy and enlarge a Baltimore plant.
Textile companies built 23 new plants in the U.S. from 2011 through 2013, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations. This year, companies have invested at least $1.8 billion in building and expanding factories, many in the South.
For years, Brooks Bros. designed its Camelot cool aesthetic from Madison Avenue but constructed it in factories around the world.
Now, an increasing number of shirts from the 196-year-old brand emerge from a factory in Garland, N.C. Some 70% of suits come from a factory the company bought in Haverhill, Mass. in 2007. All of the ties are produced in Queens, N.Y. The workforce at the three facilities has boomed 50% in four years to 900 employees.
Brooks Bros. made the shift to improve quality. It also gained the flexibility to produce clothing in smaller batches, enabling it to "make one thing a thousand different ways instead of making a thousand of one thing," said John Martynec, senior vice president of manufacturing.
"I know deep down there's a viable industry for made in USA," he said, and not just for domestic consumption. "There's value in making these products to be exported as luxury items into emerging markets."
At American Apparel on a recent weekday, the seven-story downtown L.A. factory whirred with activity. Piles of red cloth moved along a conveyor belt on the way to be cut into hoodies. Teams of sewing machine operators, many wearing masks, hunched over bright scraps of fabric. Hot irons hissed.
The factory's 3,500 workers, plus another 1,500 at other local facilities in the L.A. area, produce about 200,000 items daily. Design and advertising is handled in-house.
This kind of all-in-one organization makes the company more efficient and works "even better than the status quo model of continuous outsourcing," the company argued in a recent ad featuring a smiling, apple-cheeked seamstress.
American Apparel's factory workers earn an average of $12 an hour. They have access to $3 subsidized lunches, an on-site medical clinic and free massages.
In contrast, the average monthly wage for a garment worker is $68 in Bangladesh, $95 in Cambodia and up to $300 in China, according to Sourcing Journal, a trade publication.
Some analysts say American Apparel could cut costs significantly by sending part of its production to foreign factories. Combined with a smart marketing campaign emphasizing fair wages to overseas workers, the retailer could still hold on to its brand value.
"If they can shift 25% of jobs overseas, and pay workers in Asia $5 to $6 a day, they would set a precedent in Asia and the U.S. at the same time," said Ronnie Moas, the founder of Standpoint Research, who also runs the activist site PhilanthropyandPhilosophy.com, which evaluates companies on ethical standards.
Moas said relocating 1,000 jobs could save American Apparel up to $20 million a year, a significant sum for a retailer that resorted to issuing stock this spring to pay off a $13.5-million interest bill.
Supporters of American Apparel's methods point out that the company's wholesale and retail businesses in the U.S. have been growing. Expenses have been declining.
Executives of Standard General, the New York hedge fund that in July joined with Charney to gain control of nearly 44% of American Apparel's stock, say the company isn't going anywhere.
Other analysts say that moving production isn't an option for American Apparel.
"They've essentially painted themselves into a red-white-and-blue corner," said Judith Russell, an analyst at the Robin Report, a retail strategy newsletter. "They can't get out of it. It would be viewed as hypocritical."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station now open, for profit

Sovereign technologies [link]
While solar technology may offer an alternative to dependence on fossil fuels, it cannot offer sovereignty if solar powered vehicle charging stations are provided for-profit for the benefit of an investor-owned company. Remember, the profits under an investor-owned arrangement only benefit investors, and profits are not necessarily reinvested back into the community or even into refining a product. Also, investor-owned entities have the intention of only serving to produce profit, and such enterprises are commonly found to screw the public, and send money to out of state cartels... an antithesis to sovereignty.

"First Electric Vehicle Charging Station Opened For California's PCH"2014-08-06 published by [http://www.spacemart.com/reports/First_Electric_Vehicle_Charging_Station_Network_On_Californias_Pacific_Coast_Highway_999.html]:
Point Reyes Station CA -
According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California is leading the nation in clean vehicle adoption with more plug-in electric vehicles on its roadways than any other state and some 3,000 new vehicles joining them each month.
Sunspeed Enterprises is developing The Pacific Coast SunTrail Route, a first of its kind, strategic network of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station hubs along scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California.
With more than 140,000 plug-in vehicles on the road today[1], and with half of them riding on California streets and highways[2], the need for an integrated network of charging stations is apparent and will only grow stronger.
"The time to build and effectively market a strategic EV charging route in rural, hard-to-reach places, is now," said Richard Sachen, Jr., CEO of Sunspeed Enterprises.
"Most of our competition is focused on high population centers where large clusters of people live and work, and consequently, they do not have the bandwidth to start alternative routes, but that is where we come in. If you drive an EV and want to get near the ocean and experience the coastal beauty of California, Sunspeed can get you there."
Rather than follow the crowd, Sunspeed Enterprises is laying the EV groundwork for one of the most picturesque, rural routes in all of California, the beautiful and breathtaking stretch of coastal roads and highways between Malibu and Eureka.
"Our network of charging station hubs is designed to allow EV drivers to enjoy the beauty of the California Coast while leaving the grass as green, the sun as golden, and the sky as blue as they found it," continued Sachen.
"Market research steadily shows strong consumer appetite for plug-ins and a manufacturer base that continues to add to their plug-in roster of vehicles. When we combine these factors with the numerous state and federal rebates available, we have a tremendous opportunity to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly system of driving."
According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California is leading the nation in clean vehicle adoption with more plug-in electric vehicles on its roadways than any other state and some 3,000 new vehicles joining them each month.
The initial stage of The Pacific Coast SunTrail Route will consist of 30 to 40 EV charging station hubs between Malibu and Eureka.
The first hub, at Point Reyes Station in Northern California, opened earlier this year, and six additional sites are expected to come online in the fall. Among the recently identified sites, the St. Orres Hotel in Gualala, The Town of Duncan Mills, and the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.
"One of the main concerns cited by EV drivers is range anxiety and we are working to eliminate that altogether by clustering our charging station hubs 15 to 20 miles apart," said Pierre Kacsinta, Marketing Manager at Sunspeed Enterprises.
"Even though the automotive industry has made considerable strides in developing long range batteries, that in some cases can travel up to 250 miles on a full charge, the EV driver will require charging hubs that are as convenient and as accessible as traditional gas stations."
"We have been highly selective in determining site locations for our EV charging hubs," added Sachen. "We look for pedestrian friendly locations that can offer dining and entertainment opportunities while you charge your EV. Currently, most of our anticipated hubs will be centered in downtowns, near hotels, restaurants, and resorts."
SunTrail Charging Hubs will include:
+ Level-2 AC (220v) medium speed charging stations
+ Level-3 DC (480v) fast charging stations (delivers full charge in 1/2 an hour)
+ Compatible with any Electric Vehicle (CHAdeMO and SAE)
+ 100% renewable energy source
+ Credit and debit card payment options
+ RFID reader
+ 24" LCD display
+ Smart phone payment processing
+ 24/7 security and emergency call button
+ LED lighting with motion detection
+ Solar PV panels (where feasible)
+ Weather protection

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

California changes law to allow for expansion of alternative monetary systems

"Gov. Brown approves CA Alternative Currencies Act"
2014-07-01 by Chris Tittle from "SELC" [http://www.theselc.org/gov_brown_approves_ca_alternative_currencies_act]:
On June 28th, California took a significant step toward further legitimizing the creation and circulation of community currencies and other innovative means of exchange [http://www.theselc.org/community-currencies]. Signed into law by Gov. Brown, the California Alternative Currencies Act (AB 129) repeals the outdated and vague Section 107 of the California Corporations Code [http://www.theselc.org/selc_proposes_ca_community_currencies_act], thus removing a significant legal barrier to the continued growth of the community currencies movement.
Read the chaptered bill here [http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_0101-0150/ab_129_bill_20140628_chaptered.htm].
Dating back to the California Constitution of 1849, Section 107 stated: "No corporation, flexible purpose corporation, association or individual shall issue or put in circulation, as money, anything but the lawful money of the United States."
As our research has demonstrated, the legal definition of "money" has always remained ambiguous and imprecise [http://www.communitycurrencieslaw.org/legal-definitions/]. The repeal of Section 107 reflects the growth of a diverse range of new payment systems and community-based means of exchange that have flourished in recent years. Driven both by economic necessity and innovations in technology, communities across California and across the world are creating their own means of exchange that support economic resilience and social cohesion in the face of rapidly changing economies [http://www.communitycurrencieslaw.org/complementary-currencies/#Complementary_Currencies_in_the_US].
AB 129 removes an outdated yet significant legal barrier to the creation and circulation of many types of alternative currencies, including local currencies like Davis Dollars [http://davisdollars.org/] and Bernal Bucks [https://bernalbucks.org/], crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin [https://bitcoin.org/en/] and Freicoin [http://freico.in/], reward point systems such as frequent flyer miles, and other means of exchange beyond "the lawful money of the United States."
Read more about community currencies and SELC's work to support economies based on barter, gifts, time banks, and local currencies [http://www.theselc.org/community-currencies].

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Comparative analysis of fiat money, cryptocurrencies and social currencies

"Currencies, the creation of money and the redistribution of wealth; A comparative analysis of fiat money, criptocurrencies and social currencies"
2014-06-08 by Enric Duran, posted at [https://radi.ms/money/], PDF [https://radi.ms/money/?format=pdf]:
 
Knowing about money is a key element to understanding the current economies, and a necessary basis in order to be able to analise the existing inequalities, as much on a local scale as on a global one.
Within this arguement, a crucial aspect is how money is created. To create money involves the distribution of it, money cannot be said to be created if it cannot enter into circulation and for it to circulate it has to be in the hands of individuals or groups who have the possibility of spending it.
Depending on how the value is represented, the money may have a cost or not, as in the different cases which will be considered later. The most important thing as a starting point is, given that the so·called democracies are supposedly societies with rights, and given that the way money is structured affects social and economic rights, and that how this money is created and whom it benefits, means that this is an issue that affects all human beings no matter how often we have been told this is a technical issue which has to remain in the hands of specialists.
Introduction to the three types of currency and brief trajectory
Fiat currencies, are issued by the central banks and the private banks under the legal coverage of the States to which they belong. From 1973 onwards, when the gold standard was left behind, the value does not rely on something material, but only on the price payed for it in the currency market and obviously the trust in all that it permits you to purchase.
The social currencies are the means of multi·reciprocal exchange, that is, a logical evolution of barter and a communitarian base. These currencies have been propelled by organizations and social collectives, which have been implementing their different means for more than 30 years now, although earlier examples can be found.
This article will be focusing on those social currencies where the creation power of a currency leads directly to the same participants through economic exchanges, as might be the case with “lets” and the banks in previous times. Its value tends to be linked with the money in circulation in the country of origin, and is neither purchased nor sold in the financial markets.
The Criptocurrencies are decentralized digital currencies. They are implemented when the promoter group uploads to the internet and makes public the software tool that explains all the necessary information. Because from the moment of its use, from the different computers converted into nodes, it starts to circulate and at the same time it starts verifying the different economic transactions. The channel of that verification is the blockchain (which can be accessed from any of these computers and at same time makes it accessible to everybody through the internet).
The first Criptocurrency was the bitcoin uploaded on the web at the beginning of 2009 by an anomynous person or group under the pseudonym of Satoshi. After this the so·called Satoshi dissapeared demonstrating that a central node is not essential for the criptocurrency to go ahead. The value of these criptocurrencies relies on the amount payable in the monetary markets where they coexist with other borrowed currencies (eg. the Euro or Dollar).
How is money created in each of these cases?

Fiat Money -
An extract from an innitial summery provided by the Bank of England in a recent document explains:
« In the modern economy, most money takes the form of bank deposits. But how those bank deposits are created is often misunderstood. The principal way in which they are created is through commercial banks making loans: whenever a bank makes a loan, it creates a deposit in the borrower¨s bank account, thereby creating new money.»
This description of how money is created differs from the explanation found in some economics textbooks. Thereby, all creation of legal money accessable to the population is issued from a private bank and is under their authority. The greater part of this money creation, which could be up to 97%, is through credit operations, whilst the rest, is by means of payments made by the same banks, from interest from deposit, from property purchases, payment of services or even their own employees.
As we can see the, the banks have at their disposal an enormous priviledge because they concentrate the capacity to create money through their own interests. It is also worth noticing that this mechanism for the creation of money has never been part of any democratic decision, nor debated in any political agenda. Instead of lending the customers’ savings, the deposits are created via credit, these deposits being a creation of new money.
In normal times, the central bank does not determine the quantity of money in circulation, neither is the money from the central bank that which reproduces itself via more loans and deposits. In previous decades the whole banking system and economic powers made every possible effort to conceal this information from the population and made sure that only mechanisms, such as the money multiplier, would be taught at University. This information was merely a smokescreen in order to guard their unquestionable privileges regarding the private creation of money.
Likewise, we need to take into account, ·even though they may be too big to fit into our imagination, all the personal, social, ecologic and political consequences that this system has had all these years and still continues to have.

Criptocurrencies -
In this case, the creation of a new currency functions according to two main tendencies. With the bitcoin and most criptocurrencies, it functions as a “proof of work”, and is asociated with what it is known as “mining”: a process which consists of machines which need to be more and more powerful in order to solve the mathematic formulas which allow the creation of new “blocks” as quickly as possible. To make this possible, companies and private businesses must invest increasing amounts in new technologies that might be obsolete within months. The “miners” earn the bitcoins they have produced and they put them on the market, it is, therefore, a coin which is created through a private initiative, in just the same way that central banks create money; but in a more decentralized way, meaning that no-one can decide who has access to the creation of new money and who has not.
While explaining how bitcoins are created, it is possible to see it as a concept resembling gold, as a rare and valuable coin, uncorruptible, and gaining value with the passage of time, as long as demand keeps growing and the market remains scarce.
The second mechanism, which nowadays is growing in acceptance, is the “proof of shake”. In this case, only the people who already have the currency can access more currency, if their node of operation is in proportion to the currency they already have. Thus, the characteristic of this currency is that it is a good currency to save. This one does not generate a techno-industrial race, consumes less energy resources and it is the savers themselves who produce the currency.
Logically, this mechanism does not apply to the creation of the first monetary units. In the initial phase there is usually, at first, either a combination of work effort, or a purchase of part of the currency, or a sharing out according to certian rules between the people who are first to ask for the currency at the outset. In all cases, the nodes play a determining role in maintaining the chain of blocks, because they are the elements within the network which assume the role of creating new blocks and validating the transactions which are taking place.
We cannot say that the process of criptocurrency is fair or equitable; not even in those rare cases in which they have been distributed without initial cost. 75% of mining nodes are concentrated in the 10 richest countries, and nodes in disadvantaged countries are nearly non-existent.
Besides, in Northern economies, there is a digital breach which allows only a small section of the population access to the creation of money in this way. So, even though it is a more spontaneous and diverse way of creating money, the criptominer wealth continues the trend of the concentration of wealth and power within the current system.

Local currencies -
A system of local currency uses credit without interest as a means of money creation: when two accounts make their first movement, one receives a positive balance and the other a negative balance as a result. The negative balance is not considered a debt, but a necessary condition in order to be able to create money in a decentralized way as social currency.
For example, a participant in such an economic system develops an activity as a baby-sitter, a job which is recompensed, thus generating a positive balance in her/his account. Once the participant is able make use of this balance, he/she can spend it to pay for the carpentry services of another participant, who will be paid with this positive balance. The balances in each account act as currency. All the economic transactions are registered within an Internet location accessible to all the participants, which ensures transparency. This monetary system can be considered a mutualist system, as the benefits of the network go to the participants themselves.
A variation of this system would be the creation of currency through credits without interest for productive projects.
(Graphic showing LETS in action)

In these cases, the productive projects would be allowed to generate a negative balance in proportion to their needs in order to complete the economic cycle, so that each time a customer paid for a completed job, the balance would return to 0, giving the possibility of beginning a new cycle.
In every case, the guarantee of the currency falls on the community of users, which usually decide, through a participative process, the basic working rules of the economic system.
Within these ruels there is also the possibility of a certain degree of creation of currency from the community, which may be generated to remunerate some of those tasks or services needed by the community. The positive balances in other accounts would be created due to a negative balance, collectively accepted, within the common account.

More reflections and some conclusions -
It is obvious that the monetary system is not sufficient to allow everybody access to basic resources (another fundamental element is to ensure those resources are accessible, produced, distributed and not wasted). But nowadays a monetary system is a necessary condition, meaning that without a balanced monetary system which favours access to real needs, other efforts which might be made will not be successful.
In order to build up monetary systems which will contribute to the generation of equity instead of inequality there is a long way to go. Firstly, official money, which will last as long as the States exist, would have to be radically transformed in order to stop it from being a banking privilege and become a common wealth; being created without interest in a similar way to which local currencies are produced. In the short term, this transformation is almost impossible within the stablished order, as the elites controlling and guarding the privilege of money-production will not allow it. Therefore, within the framework of the hollistic revolution, as other collectives and communities around the world are doing, our option is to build alternative monetary systems which start by being an strategic element for new social models and which would incorporate a just management of the wealth produced by our society.
Nevertheless, we must continue to spread awareness of the highly unfair functioning model of our current monetary system; the only way that, some day, the winds of change might blow so strongly that they cannot be stopped. A monetary system which is really public in a sense of common good (wealth), must be equitable in the sharing and facilitate the flow of money change in order to meet the needs of its participants. Thus, if there are tasks within the community which are seen as necessary but nobody volunteers for them, the currency must facilitate they are assumed by somebody. If the concern of the covering of everybodys needs arises, mechanisms for a minimal income might be established to make that possible.
If there must be a creation of money to cover basic needs, then it must be created; and if prizes must be fixed to avoid the risk of rising prizes because of money creation, then they must be fixed. Another possibility is to collect more money in order to redistribute it and make it disappear from the wealthy economic areas.
This approach is obviously opposed to that of the European Central Bank (ECB), which states rules such as: the sovereign states themselves must pay the central and private banks all the credit they have accessed with interest; moreover, when, due to their excesses, those same private banks enter bankruptcy, states are made responsible and must fill in the gaps left with public money from taxes. Even if those gaps are only balances which central banks can readjust by many other means not related with using public services, the ECB forces with its rules to put the weight of private bank bankruptcy on state economies.
(Photo showing ECB Central Branch)

The interest of the ECB in intervening so fiercely on state budgets must be adressed maybe in another ocasion; but, anyway, for many readers is not a secret, as they are already familiar with other such actors around the world, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is no other thing that the so-called neoliberal agenda which allows maximum privatization for the maximum benefit [of the few]; and the power of corporations over the common folk.
Meanwhile, it is important in my opinion to recognize, within the multidimensional monetary systems we are building up, the role of criptocurrencies in contributing to free us up from the control of the world economic powers. Even though they have limitations, and not being resource-distributing friendly (at least up to the present), they might prove very useful for long-distance economic relations, and, in general terms, for transactions the local currencies do not reach.
In other words, we can generate a good complementarity between criptocurrencies and local currencies for the revolutionary transition we are carrying on. While criptocurrencies allow us to escape the national and supranational control, social and local currencies generate better practices in the production and redistribuiton of resources.
Although it has many other functions, the primary goal of a monetary system must be to facilitate that products (either goods, services or public tasks) can be paid in a way that the needs of participants are met, and, at the same time, the productive activity is rewarded.
When people are starving and tones of food are thrown away; when thousands of houses are empty and thousands of people are homeless; when some can live on the revenues of the money and others must work non-stop to barely pay their bills… then, the monetary system is not fulfilling the purpose it should.
My opinion is that all human beings supporting integral revolution (or any other propposal for social transformation which strives for a reconstruction of fair economic relations in the planet), must be aware of the key role of the monetary system in our lives, and assume the responsability to rise awareness, reconstruct it and put it back into the role it should be accomplishing: to facilitate the relations amongst ourselves.