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The PristinePlanet.com Newsletter
10 July 2005 -- Issue #9
Editor: Michael J. Ross
Environmental News

Fiber Optics to Bring Sunlight into Buildings

The conventional use of sunlight to illuminate the insides of our buildings, involves covering a building's exterior with solar panels, which capture the sun's radiation and convert it into electricity, which is then transmitted inside the building to conventional fluorescent and incandescent bulbs. At first glance, this approach seems like a considerable improvement over the more wasteful situation nowadays of letting the sun's rays bounce off the building unused, and pulling power from an electrical grid, which probably generated that electricity by burning coal, damning rivers, or running a nuclear power plant. Admittedly, the conventional solar panel approach is a huge improvement.

But that can't possibly be the best that we can do, considering that it is a multi-stage process, with the first input being light (from the sun), and all that work is done to transform it into something else, which is then transformed into... light. It can't be 100 percent efficient, and it certainly isn't, using today's technology. Surely there must be a way to let the natural sunlight become indoor lighting, and thus avoid the costs of building, installing, and maintaining solar panels. "There is such a way," points out the nearest wag. "They're called windows!"

Yet those windows are only of much use to the lucky souls who happen to have window offices, and even then only when the sun is facing those windows at a non-oblique angle. Wouldn't it be terrific if there were a way to capture all of that sunlight falling on the building's rooftop and outside walls, and distribute that throughout the building? According to scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, there is a way, and it uses fiber optics.

Fiber optics is considered by most people to be a recent discovery. Thus it would likely astonish them to learn that the principles of fiber optics were first developed during the 1790s and the 1870s, by various engineers and researchers -- most of whom were ignored. It wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that the potential of fiber-optic technology was given worthy attention, primarily for communication purposes. The strands of glass used to transmit the light, were made increasingly smaller (until reaching the limits of manufacturing), because there was no advantage to having a thicker tube to transmit the same amount of information.

But that team at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory is demonstrating that there truly is a valid reason for using thicker fiber-optic strands, namely, for bringing sunlight from outside of a building to the inside. The researchers point out that indoor electric lighting is the biggest consumer of electricity within commercial buildings. They have termed their new system "hybrid solar lighting" (HSL), and claim that it would reduce this energy usage by supplementing with sunlight the indoor lighting that currently relies entirely upon electricity. Fortunately, this supplementation would not take the form of doubling the number of light sources -- with each traditional electric bulb being paired up with a hybrid solar light fixture -- because the solar light is directed into electric bulbs, in particular, high-efficiency fluorescent lighting. At nighttime and on cloudy days, when the solar light is not flowing into the bulbs, traditional electricity would be used to generate light. At times when the sunlight was fully illuminating each room, the lights would draw no electricity, and would stay off automatically as directed by a sensor.

These results were reported in the laboratory’s magazine, ORNL Review, and then again in an article posted on the Web site of World Science, dated 11 March 2005. The article notes that a similar technology for transmitting solar light through fiber-optic tubes had already been created in Japan. But according to the Oak Ridge scientists, their system has an advantage over the Japanese Himawari (sunflower) method in that it would move the technology from its current luxury niche market and into more widespread usage. They claim that this will occur because their design combines solar power with traditional electric light, as well as having demonstrable energy savings. They already have plans to help install a hybrid solar lighting system at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's headquarters in Sacramento, California (under a California Energy Commission contract).

It will be interesting to see if one day in the future, all of the rooms in all of our buildings are receiving as much sunlight is possible. Perhaps then there won't be so much competition for the coveted corner offices.

Member Profiles

Ecoist

What do unwanted candy wrappers have in common with fashionable handbags? At first glance, not much. But what if the former could be turned into the latter?! After all, candy wrappers are colorful, water resistant, flexible, and durable for their weight. Perhaps the biggest difference is that unwanted candy wrappers typically end up in landfills, where they can take ages to biodegrade. But not the wrappers used in the construction of items made and sold by Ecoist, located in Miami and founded in December 2004. This newcomer to the world of green products offers stylish handbags made from wrappers, soda bottle labels, and snack bags -- all obtained from food and drink manufacturers that otherwise would discard them as a result of misprints or the discontinuation of product lines.

Despite the low-cost materials, Ecoist's handbags are remarkably attractive, requiring anywhere from two to five days to be handmade. Moreover, they are quite unique -- not only as a product line collectively -- but individually, since the patterns and colors of the materials vary from one item to the next. Thus each handbag is truly one-of-a-kind, and would make an ideal gift for any woman. Ecoist offer handbags in various sizes and styles, including clutches in three sizes, coin pouches, and tote baskets in two different sizes. The company's Web site has full details, as well as links to their handbags' appearances on Good Morning America and WB11 Morning News, as well as in seven magazines. Another reason to visit their site is that if you sign up (providing a name and e-mail address), you will automatically be entered to win a monthly "Small Basket Tote Giveaway".

To learn more about the philosophy and origin behind the company, you are invited to read Jonathan Marcoschamer's interesting posting in the "Inspiration" section of the PristinePlanet.com Forum. As Jonathan notes, "I believe that by creating durable, stylish and designer products made from recycled or organic materials, we can increase awareness, demand and sales for eco-friendly products and make way for the new generation of eco-brands." He quotes designer Bruce Mau: "In a world where shopping is everything, in order to change culture, you have to change retail." That is the same principle that underlies PristinePlanet.com.

On the company's Web site, Jonathan and his colleagues define an Ecoist as "an individual that seeks a modern, eco-friendly lifestyle" -- and part of that lifestyle is choosing stylish products made from recycled and organic materials. The company's commitment to sustainable practices goes beyond using recycled materials to make innovative handbags. For every bag that a customer purchases, Ecoist will plant a tree in Mexico, India, Haiti, and the U.S., through partnerships with Global ReLeaf, Trees for the Future, American Forests, and similar organizations.

What lies ahead for Ecoist? Currently they are producing their bags in Mexico, but they intend to share those techniques with people in other countries, so they too can begin making useful products from their own waste-bound materials. In addition, Ecoist plans in the near future to launch a line of home accessories manufactured from recycled and organic materials. Yet they may have some competition: One Ecoist customer said that her 11-year-old daughter ate about 60 Bazookas to collect the wrappers to make her own bag!

As Ecoist continues to grow and offer more environmentally friendly products, PristinePlanet.com is pleased to have them as a member of our community!

After reading Jonathon's posting, be sure to explore some of the others, and perhaps add your own. The Forum is there for you.

PristinePlanet.com News

PristinePlanet.com Article in Business Magazine

In Business is a leading magazine for sustainable enterprises and communities. Their May/June issue, published 2005-6-21, had a feature article on PristinePlanet.com, written by our newsletter editor, and entitled Going Online for Green Shopping. The article describes the purpose and origins of PristinePlanet.com, as well as the business challenges and entrepreneurial lessons learned in the process. Copies of the magazine can be obtained from their subscription page.

Archived Newsletters

All material copyright © 2004 PristinePlanet.com™, except for Environmental News articles copyright © 2004 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved. No portion of this newsletter can be copied without express written permission from its copyright holder.

Letters and guest articles posted in the Newsletter section of the Forum or sent to the publisher become the property of PristinePlanet.com, and may be edited for brevity or clarity prior to publication.

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