Making Cleantech “Totally Beautiful”

Most people would agree that developing clean, renewable sources of energy is an ecologically sound proposition. The images of pristine power derived from the sun are inherently beautiful. But what if that new wind turbine is constructed of components that cannot be recycled? And what if that hydroturbine contains toxic materials that pollute the water? Suddenly that cleantech product isn’t looking like part of the solution: it’s looking like part of the problem. And that is not beautiful at all.

For example, when aging wind turbines are replaced by newer-generation models, what happens to those old turbines? This is a problem that wind farms nationwide will have to deal with at some point. Solano County, California, to name one location, recently replaced 235 old 100-kilowatt turbines remaining from a wind farm installed in 1989.

While many parts from the old turbines can be reused or sold for scrap, much of it cannot. The parts that can’t be salvaged include the fiberglass blades, which require “special landfilling,” as do the parts that are coated with hydraulic fluid and would cost more to clean than their salvage value. The result? More contributions to the 175 million tons of landfill that the United States generates each year.

As for that hydroturbine: the first thing people want to know before you drop something into their water system is whether or not it will contaminate their water. Ten million tons of toxic chemicals are released into our environment by industries each year, of which over 2 million tons per year are recognized carcinogens.

Clearly, materials choices matter for cleantech companies if they want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Fortunately, eco-impact analysis software is allowing companies to make more informed choices about the materials they put into their products.

For example, Freiezo, a Missouri-based supplier of residential and commercial wind power systems, is taking advantage of this type of software to develop a turbine that is close to 99 percent recyclable—bringing them extremely close to their goal of being a zero landfill manufacturer.

Meanwhile, Washington-based Hydrovolts, mentioned in my last posting, is a manufacturer of micro hydropower turbines that run in constructed waterways (such as irrigation canals and water aqueducts).

They have used software to examine the environmental profiles of different materials—say, fiberglass vs. aluminum—before they use them to construct a turbine, and create an environmental footprint for each design option. As a result, Hydrovolts doesn’t just make a product that makes the world a better place by generating clean energy—they ensure that the product itself was designed with sustainability in mind.

As the UK-based sustainability guru Edwin Datschefski notes in his book The Total Beauty of Sustainable Products, “[a product]can’t really represent the pinnacle of mankind’s genius if it is made using polluting methods.” By using tools that help them pay attention to the materials that they put in their products, cleantech companies are taking a step closer to being “totally beautiful.”

Article by Susan Gladwin who leads the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program, which provides emerging cleantech companies powerful software and opportunities to help them develop solutions that address our most pressing environmental issues. In North America, Europe, Japan and Singapore, the Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Program offers $150,000 of Autodesk software for $50 to qualified clean tech innovators.

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