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Going Green Goes Nuts

Adam L. Brinklow | April 17, 2013 | Lifestyle Story City Life

Even in green San Francisco it's hard to get people excited about Earth Day. We're already on board the recycling, composting, and reducing our carbon footprint trains, okay? Put the bullhorn away. But the Earth Day San Francisco festival (April 20 at Civic Center Plaza) goes a little beyond the pale in its green-tech innovations. Here are three slightly offbeat ways innovators are spreading the green gospel.

Become your own electricity distributor.
Ryan Wartena, CEO and founder of Growing Energy Labs Inc, has a vision: Energy computers storing power in every home, online networks for peer-to-peer electricity exchanges, and mobile apps managing your own "microgrid." "Look at a tree," Wartena says. "A tree grows as many solar panels as it needs, it doesn't ship them in from a leaf distribution center."

Of course, your home can't operate like a tree because you have to use up electricity as soon as you bring it in. And while there are lots of newfangled batteries for collecting solar and wind energy, there is no system managing when and how to use it. That's where GELI's energy computers would come in: a battery to be the equivalent of a hard drive, a power converter as the analogue to your computer's processor, and an operating system to manage power the same way a computer manages media and information.

It sounds wild, but Wartena received one of the first Verge 25 awards last year and Forbes and The Atlantic both called GELI a startup worth watching.

Build houses out of trash.
Most would call a soda bottle filled with plastic wrap garbage, but Brennan Bird calls it a new home in the making, provided you stack up a couple hundred bottles, that is. "Any structure you can build with a normal brick you can build with a bottle-brick," says Bird. "There's a bottle-brick house in Honduras that stood through hurricanes and earthquakes. The material is totally sound if it's built right."

Bird, a UC Davis grad, usually makes benches out of these plastic bricks, although he recently finished a bottle-brick "eco-doghouse" as well. They're easy to make: Gradually fill empty plastic bottles with any other kind of non-food waste, then tamp it down until it’s hard as, well, a brick. Bird will be on hand Earth Day Fest to do demos, in case you want to cut down on plastic waste and the price of that new addition at the same time.

Hack your fruit.
They call Francisco Jimenez a "fruit hacker." He does fermenting—turning overripe pineapples, bananas, and grapes into rich organic vinegars and syrups—but the real hack job comes from the versatility of the final product. "In my country [Costa Rica] it's used as an organic pesticide. On roses, you know, you can't use artificial pesticides; they kill them, but bananas make a beautiful vinegar that kills pests."

Hearing Jimenez expound the merits of vinegar can get a little dizzying, actually: "You can use it to clean your greens, or to make different kinds of shampoo for your hair, or you can dilute it with water to clean your clothing. It's beautiful, beautiful vinegar!" In other words, rescue a few bananas from the trash heap and in a couple months you can kill aphids, clean your clothes, and wash your hair without resorting to chemical products.

Check out more local green innovators at Earth Day Fest 2013, April 20, Civic Center Plaza, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Visit for details.

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