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Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Green Laptops for Eco Friendly Computing

What will "green" notebooks of the future look like?  Although we cannot claim to be holding a technology crystal ball, we can relay to you the latest in green computing innovations, and make a few predictions based on the information at hand. 

The design for truly green laptop wonders of the future—currently in the conceptual design phase—is tending toward smaller, sleeker, and cleaner, but what about greener?  Let’s take now-and-later peeks at energy efficiency, disposability and recycling issues, proposed models, and sustainable packaging options.

Energy Efficiency

Overall Energy Consumption.  While we usually associate computer tech with energy guzzling, laptops are currentlyLaptop the more efficient green computing machines by far.  ENERGY STAR notebook models are said to utilize 15 watts of electricity or less, compared with desktop PCs that average in the range of 200–400 watts.  As of July 20, 2007, new and even more rigorous Energy Star standards have been put into effect (under the Energy Star 4 label).  These efficiency clamp-downs are aimed at controlling energy expenditure in three distinct operating modes: standby mode, sleep mode, and when in use.  Read more at the ENERGY STAR Web site, which contains a list of program-qualified products.

Screening Your Display Choices: LCD or OLED?  Given the long-time, stalwart display technology on laptops, it is beginning to look as though LCDs will soon be relegated to a dusty shelf in history’s tech-efficiency museum, once OLED (organic light emitting diode) technology begins to pickup steam with consumers and manufacturers.  OLEDs have the following advantages over legacy LCD technology:

  • They draw less power because they don’t lean on a fluorescent backlighting crutch to function, like today’s LCDs.
  • They have a huge potential to affect aesthetics because they don’t require conventional framing around the screen itself.
  • Like many other LED technologies, OLEDs are currently limited in application because organic material doesn’t last as long as the toxin-emitting options on today’s market.  But keep a techie eye on the horizon—researchers are working on improved sealants to protect and preserve the organic materials, in addition to slight variations of OLED-tech that will have wider applications.

Powering Your Portable Computer.  The market carries a host of solar-powered options to keep you up and running, from portable photovoltaic packs to solar cell battery savers.  The green laptop tech-vine whispers that several nations have solar-powered laptops (with integrated cells) in the works.

While reuse and recycling are vital parts of minimizing our tech-print on the planet, eventually we want to move completely to a zero-waste mentality.  This transition requires investigating avenues for eco-friendly, biodegradable components and packaging materials.

Disposability and Recycling

Chlorinated or brominated flame retardants, CFCs, HCFCs, solvents, and fast-going-out-of-fashion lead solder—the very words make us shudder, especially when we consider that these eco-harming toxin-toters are laced throughout our laptops!  What is a green-conscious techie to do?  Proper recycling and toss away options for tired-out tech toys are fast becoming mandate here in the U.S., with restrictions slowly tightening the noose on irresponsible corporate practices.

A handful of domestic companies offer services for hard-to-recycle materials and it’s no longer unusual to find a big name organization performing its stewardship duties for the planet.

Fujitsu is one company distinguishing itself as not only a key player in terms of exceeding efficiency standards and utilizing biocontent for its products—the company also belongs to the Product Recycling Program, through which tech corporations accept their worn out electronics for recycling and trade-in.  Some other member companies among the troupe are Apple, Canon, Dell, Gateway, HP, and IBM.

Other options available to you:

  • Donate a still-operational notebook to a charitable organization that can patch it up for reuse.
  • Some companies throughout the U.S. will offer you a nearly-new and working system made from reused parts for a few dollars, or in exchange for a few hours of sorting recycled components.

Compelling Constituents

While reuse and recycling are vital parts of minimizing our tech-print on the planet, eventually we want to move completely to a zero-waste mentality.  This transition requires investigating avenues for eco-friendly, biodegradable components and packaging materials.

ElectronicsVisionaries are becoming highly creative with reusing industrial waste products for more useful applications.  Richard Wool, a professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware, has paired chicken feathers with soy-based resins to create an ideal composite material that improves computer circuit board operation, and inspires new visions for microchip technology.  Composites are fillers (often uniquely paired) that, when added to a product, can enhance features like speed, connectivity, and durability.  Wool’s design not only helps facilitate speedier connections (via the chicken feather’s hollow tubes), it also helps to alleviate some of the planet’s abundant supply of waste products.  Who knew that one generation’s waste would become composite materials for next-gen electronics? 

The field of nanocomposites works on the macro-electronic level to examine how composite fillers can enhance matrix-related capacities.  Most current epoxy resins used to cement our computer constituents together are costly and toxic, prompting researchers to examine an array of low-cost and eco-friendly solutions.  Integration of soy- and clay-based products are currently a main focus because they are biodegradable, and they help rid the planet of waste products that pose tricky and costly disposal issues.

Tech Lesson from Mother Nature

Soon, our screens will display differently for optimal energy efficiency, and our components will be made differently by efficient, eco-friendly production processes that utilize sustainable and non-toxic reuse products.  Our laptop software is also shaping up to make advances by . . . returning to our roots?  Yes, the latest in software research foretells a truly nature-based theme courtesy of Mother Nature herself.  Nature’s tutelage is the up-and-coming field of biomimetics: the study of how technology can be enhanced, advanced, and improved using mechanisms found in nature. 

From modeling applications after honeybee colonies to utilizing the unique, systematic formation of snowflakes, biomimeticHoneycomb technologies target the ways in which natural systems operate.  Researchers have translated nature’s models into tech for such things as specifying more distinct search parameters and obtaining better search results faster using narrower targets.  This has wide implications for energy conservation because less energy will be expended performing functions that can be circumvented by newer methodologies.  Researchers are even in the process of teaching our computer systems how to recognize an internal error and repair it independently!  The field of robotics is catching on by applying these natural mechanisms to create "biologically inspired robots."  As it’s shaping up, green tech, and especially the green notebooks of our future, will be very sleek and savvy indeed.

The Humanitarian Hue of Green

As our tech leaps green light years ahead of where it’s at, what of those in countries that aren’t blessed with our bountiful supply of tech tools at their fingertips?  MIT’s Media Lab has been slowly spreading a solution – global distribution of $100 laptops furnished with a Linux system.  Dubbed the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, this large-hearted initiative works with ministries of education in participating countries to provide inexpensive laptops to schools.  These laptops come with highly programmable features and will reach children on an interactive level; children who would not otherwise have access to the technologies we consider to be daily essentials. 

Intel and Google have jumped on board the project and many countries around the world are signing requests for one to two million of the "green machines," which come with a dual-format screen display—one is LED and the other is sunlight-readable.  The laptops will be equipped with Wi-Fi access and the MIT Media Lab advises it is currently researching low-cost solutions for Internet connectivity issues—for now, the machines will operate by an onsite "peer-to-peer" mesh network.  Machines are currently being distributed in the final beta test phases.  Read more about the program and updates on the OLPC website.

But is it green?  Green quotient flags were raised about the project’s environmental considerations, since the casing will be made of rubber to navigate any encounters with rugged terrain.  But consider that the systems are Linux-based and open-sourced, meaning that anyone can update software at any time, which addresses cost and OS obsolescence issues.  While stateside we’re more apt to trash or overhaul a relatively recent model for the newest favored fad, these updatable machines are not likely to lose their performance value as quickly.

Newest in Packaging

Eco-concerns over this humanitarian effort cause us to pause and question our packaging situation.  Tech packaging is currently an issue of hot debate around the globe; we must look to reduce our packaging, not simply find ways to reuse it because reuse consumes energy, as well.

For now, here’s what to look for in the marketplace:

  • Coming in a wide-range of options, green notebook casings are made from recycled cardboard, recycled rubber tires, hemp, seagrass, wool, felt, and abundant supplies of sustainably-harvested bamboo.
  • Notebook plastics can now be recycled and labeled—not currently a common practice, but a trend to look for in the future.
  • Bioplastics made from corn, rice, potato, or soy, are the new green solution.  Currently however, their green tech magic is limited until heat-sensitivity issues are resolved.

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