Saturday, March 4, 2017

Let's Save the World

This past week I went to a seminar on water resources and conflict-resolution. After the seminar, I was talking with some people who had attended the seminar and we all said what we were doing and what we wanted to do in our futures. I told them that I wanted to save the world. A tall task, but something that can be achieved with an accumulation of small actions. There was a teacher in middle school that had said that you should try to leave the world in a better state than when you entered it. I have carried this notion with me since hearing it and I have based my life around this.

My current life is pretty comfortable. With this excess in comfort comes an excess in resource consumption. Over the last couple of months, I have been trying to lessen my impact on this earth. Frankly, it's really hard. Nonetheless, I continue to bring consciousness into my daily actions and decisions so that I can be a better friend to mother nature. I have been putting in the effort to reduce the number of times a week that I eat out and I nearly always bring a reusable cup when I get my coffee in the mornings. Also, I have increased the amount of composting that occurs in my household, which we use to grow the plants in our garden. Whenever I can, I try to carpool with people so that the emissions between us are reduced. I'm a speedy showerer and I try to beat my record each shower. When I go out to eat, I usually order a vegetarian meal instead of meat or I avoid red meat since its more expensive and resource intensive. At this point in my life, I am proud of my accomplishments and I hope to always improve upon them so that I can inspire others to make similar changes.

I believe that small changes can make a huge difference. Dr. Brower and Dr. Leon suggest some wonderful small steps to leading a more sustainable lifestyle. We have touched upon each of these items in our capstone series. There are several actions that I can personally control in my life like eating less meat, eating organic, and using sustainable transportation. When it comes to items regarding where I live, unfortunately, I do not have much if any control. Living at home with a family that has established ways makes it hard to make changes, especially when I'm not home that much to discuss these issues with them. Fortunately, everyone except for me lives close to school or work. While I'm in school, I have to live at home to reduce costs and because I don't work enough to make money to sustain living on my own quite yet. But, the changes that I can try to make for my contribution to my household can make some great changes in the world.

In my opinion, even the smallest action can have an impact. It's like the butterfly effect; if you change one tiny thing in history, the future can change. I feel like the same thing can happen when you make lifestyle changes. No one should ever get discouraged if they are making a small change. If you get change at the grocery store and you save it in a piggy bank, eventually you will have enough money to make another purchase. You can use your 'change' to treat earth the way it should be. If you start by making small changes, making larger changes won't be as difficult. Sweeping changes are still necessary if we want to make the largest possible difference on this earth, but we can't just force people to make major changes without preparing for them or even understanding why they should do them. As I reach the end of the capstone sequence, I realize that there are many small changes that I have made in my life. While I move on from this experience, I am going to be working on making larger changes that will hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Getting off of the Grid

The current electrical grid system is being challenged by the idea of fuel cells. Fuel cells convert chemical energy to electrical energy through various chemical reactions. There are many benefits to installing and implementing these fuel cells. Environmentally, fuel cells are much better than the current electrical grid because they emit far fewer criteria pollutants and create very little noise. The fact that they do not emit many emissions, let alone far fewer criteria pollutants is very impressive. With nearly no noise created by fuel cells, power plants or even individual cells for homes could be located closer to cities and communities, which reduce the distance that the energy would have to travel to be utilized. Fuel cells are also relatively efficient in producing energy, roughly between 30 and 60% efficient when used without other fuel systems. When paired with a gas turbine, efficiency increases to over 70%. When the byproduct of heat is reentered into the system, efficiency of the fuel cell can reach 85%. Fuel cells release heat as a byproduct, which can be used in different processes that include boilers, domestic hot water, space heating loops, swimming pools, and absorption cooling thermal loads. Fuel cells are also much more reliable than the current methods for energy production. They are less subject to interruptions, such as storms or power failures. Power plants with fuel cells can produce the same quality of energy as contemporary energy systems. They are easy to permit and do not require air permits since there are nearly no emissions. Fuel cells are very modular and operate at constant efficiencies. Overall, fuel cells look pretty darn good.

However, there are some downsides to using fuel cells as a main source of energy. Fuel cells are very expensive and require large initial investments to use. A lot of work is going into decreasing these costs to make the fuel cell more competitive with other energy sources. Fuel cells also heavily rely on hydrogen as its main input which is obtained from natural gas and other fossil fuels. By allowing more fuels to be used to run these cells will allow for costs to go down and for less dependence on just one kind of fuel that might not always be available. Integrating the fuel cells into our current grid system is a major challenge for researchers and promoters. The grid is very established and changing it will cost a lot of money. Also, fuel infrastructure and human infrastructure has to change to be able to handle and supply this kind of energy. The government will also have some issues trying to figure out how to regulate fuel cells so that they are safe and produced properly.

It's crazy to think that UCI is the leader of fuel cell research and other outstanding sustainability research. We are the first school with hydrogen fuel cell buses that emit no carbon emissions. We are also the only school to offer a graduate course on fuel cells. It's also great that Orange County is stepping up its game and investing and implementing fuel cells to reduce emissions. Orange County is a leader in air quality standards and strive to reduce emissions to preserve the air.

A question I have is how long can one fuel cell last?