Natural Environment Blog

Blogging for the Natural Environment

Month: October 2009

How to Make Your Old Car More Eco-friendly

If you would like to drive more environmentally friendly, but there is no chance for you to switch to a hybrid, there is probably a way to make your used car burn less fuel and therefore reduce emission.

Have you ever heard about “remapping”? Although many people will associate the term with the modified car scene, it is actually becoming an increasingly common practice amongst mainstream motorists.

What is engine remapping?

Remapping refers to a process that alters a car’s standard ECU settings to gain more horsepower and torque, and, in some cases, to reduce fuel consumption. What’s more, remapping is a cost-effective modification that, when performed by a certified remapping specialist, can take as little as two hours to complete.

Those who own turbocharged cars will benefit from the greatest power gains, with up to 30 percent more horsepower and torque obtainable after a remap, whereas non-turbo engines typically give a 10 percent gain in these areas.

For example, the hugely popular  BMW 320D, which boasts 163hp and 340Nm of torque in standard guise, will have its power rating boosted to around 190hp and 400Nm of torque after a remap. Similarly, a 1.6 TDCi Ford Focus, which only offers 109hp as standard, will gain almost 30hp after a professional remap.

Can remapping my car’s engine improve its fuel efficiency?

In many cases, yes. Although the remapping process won’t directly make your engine cleaner, it can increase its fuel efficiency rating, which will have a positive environmental effect, and benefit your wallet, too.

For example, in both the cars mentioned above, fuel consumption will drop by around 1mpg after remapping. In the case of the Volkswagen Golf GTi 1.8T, meanwhile there is a 2mpg improvement after remapping, which will add up to considerable savings over time, particularly for those doing high annual mileages. What’s more, you can achieve even greater fuel efficiency gains at the expense of power, if this is your priority.

Why would I want to change a car manufacturer’s standard map settings?

When car manufacturers launch new models, they usually map the car on standard settings to suit many markets around the world.

For example, Ireland has cold weather and Spain has warm weather, but car manufacturers usually apply a base map setting that suits both of these climates. A remap, however, exploits the car’s ECU to better suit a specific location.

Manufacturers also leave a possibility to upgrade the programme later to respond to market changes and customer demands, which leaves the opportunity for aftermarket tuning companies to offer after-sale remapping services.

How does the process work?

Many drivers talk about having their cars remapped, but most won’t be able to tell you what the process entails. Although it sounds like a highly complex procedure, it isn’t!

Unlike most car modifications, a remap doesn’t require any handheld tools such as screwdrivers and spanners. Instead, the mechanic simply plugs a diagnostics laptop into the car’s ECU and sets about introducing the new settings.

There are several ways to remap a car, but the popular method is to remap the car’s ECU by reading data on the car’s EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) chip. The easiest way to do this is by connecting a diagnostics machine to the car’s diagnostics socket, which allows the mechanic to both read and modify the car’s standard map settings. Once the data has been read, the mechanic can then choose to overwrite the EPROM file and replace it with a completely new file, which means they can apply different maps where appropriate, but also restore the original mapping settings should you need them again.

All drivers considering having their car remapped should be aware of any warranty implications – you need to know if the process will affect your manufacturer’s warranty or not, as it still counts as an aftermarket modification. For this reason, we would advise you to check with your local dealer before going ahead with the procedure.

Similarly, you should notify your insurer after having a remap carried out. Although it is almost impossible to visually trace a remap, authorised dealers will be able to tell the difference when driving the car. Most car mapping companies offer a service that allows you to have the ECU reset to the old settings for a small fee if you aren’t happy with the remap. Prices vary for each car and company, but in the UK, you can expect to shell out in the region of €350 for a remap, including labour and the required diagnostics.

This post was contributed by the Editorial Team at Car Buyers’ Guide. Car Buyers’ Guide is the publisher of Ireland’s leading motoring websites and magazines. CBG.ie is the only motoring website to have exclusive partnerships with the leading national newspaper websites (The Iris Times and Independent Newspapers). CBG.ie is visited by buyers over 450,000 times per month and users view over 11.5 million pages on the website per month.

For the latest motoring news and views, as well as road tests, videos and a host of quality used cars for sale, visit CBG.ie

Under Your Own Steam – How Small Businesses Can Generate their Own Electricity

Small businesses will always strive for ways to reduce their outgoings, particularly in an unfavorable economic climate such as the one we find ourselves in. One good way to reduce expenditure is to look at utilities; switching suppliers or reducing usage can help with energy bills, although it can often be a complicated task.

One way that small businesses are beginning to benefit from attempting to reduce their outgoings is through generating their own electricity. Previously the costs associated with generating electricity prohibited small businesses from considering this option, but  generating your own power is becoming a relatively affordable thing to do.

Increasingly generating electricity is becoming a viable option for small businesses, who can pocket the reduced utility bills, and even selling surplus energy back to the National Grid. Here are three ways in which small businesses can generate their own electricity.

Solar Panels

There are two ways in which solar power can be used to generate electricity. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) uses the sun’s energy to boil some water, while Photo-Voltaic (PV) solar panels convert the energy directly into electricity.

Photo-Voltaic solar panels are still reasonably expensive, but can generate a significant amount of electricity. These are solar panels which use light, so they can still generate power even on grey, overcast days although obviously not as much as long, sunny days.

One problem with solar panels is that they tend to mean power is only available during the day, when the sunlight is casting onto the panels. For domestic properties this can mean that solar panels are not appropriate, but for many businesses the majority of energy use takes place during office hours, when the sun is shining.

Either way, it will be useful to store the energy being generated, so most PV systems come with batteries which can be charged.

Another solution is to sell your energy surplus back to your electrical supplier (as long as you are still connected to the National Grid) and then paying them for your electricity when the sun goes down and you’re no longer generating power.

Wind Turbines

Wind turbines are experiencing a rise in popularity recently, particularly due to the shrinking price of micro-turbines in DIY stores.

While it may seem like the perfect solution, with the wind blowing all day and night, the amount of electricity which can actually be gleaned from these wind turbines is often negligible, depending on the specific location.

Wind speeds are always faster above ground level, at heights above an average house. The wind disturbance caused by other buildings around it further decreases the amount of electricity which can be generated.

A large turbine on the edge of a building where it can receive clean, fast air is more likely to generate a decent amount of energy, but there is also the annoyance of the noise of the blades spinning around.

Combined Heat & Power Units

Another method of generating electricity which is bound to become more widely available in the future is the use of Combined Heat and Power units (CHPs).

While they were previously only suitable for large buildings like factories and universities now small CHP generators are on the market, running on natural gas. The heat generated is channeled to provide heating and hot water for the building and is no less efficient than a modern gas boiler.

Future Benefits

While the technology required to generate electricity may still require a sizable initial outlay, the benefits should be apparent for years and years for a small business, with greatly reduced energy bills. As fossil fuels become scarcer the price of energy is bound to keep rising, so it’s no surprise that forward-thinking businesses are beginning to attempt to run under their own steam.

While these opportunities for businesses to save money on their energy use are still worth investigating, many of the technologies are not yet developed appropriately for businesses, and should probably be considered as future prospects rather than immediate changes.

Save Money Now

Most small businesses could be saving money now by switching business electricity supplier and employing energy-saving measures such as using natural light and ventilation where possible, avoiding leaving equipment on standby and turning off lights in rooms that aren’t in use.

This article was written by Adam Cairn on behalf of uSwitch for Business, a price comparison website, helping small and medium-sized businesses save money on their energy costs.

Why Furniture & Upholstery Derived From Animals Is Not Eco-Friendly

The benefits of choosing eco-friendly furniture and upholstery are two-fold. You can be kind to the environment, and kind to yourself. Refusing to use animal-derived materials saves land, water and food, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous chemical-use

Choosing animal derived materials for furniture may seem natural, but this may not be the case, since these materials are known to emit toxic emissions which pollute the air, the water and the soil. Often the raising of livestock for wool, down or leather can be cruel.

Leather

Considered very luxurious by many, leather is made from animal skins, and is ecologically harmful. Raising livestock for whatever purpose, meat or leather productive, requires considerable amounts of feed, land, water and fuels. The excrement produced on farms also infects the waterways.

Even the process used to tan leather is noxious and polluting, with some of the oils and dyes used being cyanide-based. The tanning of leather produces a range of different pollutants including chromium, sulphides and acids.

Wool

You can be forgiven for thinking that wool is an environmentally-friendly upholstery material, especially since the sheep from which the wool comes are not killed, merely shorn. Many people (including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have a problem with how wool-producing livestock are treated. They argue that even if they’re not subjected to pesticide-ridden habitats they could end up being mutilated by their owners.

Animal rights protesters have made a particular example of the Australian Merino sheep, who have been bred to have wrinkly skin which results in increased wool yields. Sometimes flies lay eggs in the folds of the sheep’s skin which can result in fatal maggot infestations, so farmers restrain the sheep without pain killers, cutting out chunks of flesh to discourage flies laying eggs.

Another environmental disadvantage of wool is the amount of gas that sheep and other wool-giving animals emit into the atmosphere through burping and farting. Sheep flatulence represents ninety-percent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, so you shouldn’t doubt that this is a major contributing factor towards climate change.

Down and feathers

Down is a popular filler material for cushioned furniture, and is made from an insulating layer of feathers which can be found underneath the outer feathers of ducks and geese.

Down and feathers are collected from commercial meat processing plants, which means that it is impossible to know if they were raised organically.

Some campaigners have warned that often geese and ducks are plucked while alive. Down and feathers have also been blamed for allergic reactions, although this is more likely to be due to the dust and dirty which can accumulate in bedding over a long time.

Cover finishes

Cover fabrics, such as cotton is often bleached or dyed, and releases carcinogenic dioxins into the environment. Permanent-press and stain- and water-repellent finishes can emit gas formaldehyde into the environment. Cotton covers can also have detrimental environmental effects, as cotton uses a lot of water and is treated with more pesticides than any other crop in the world. Cotton is resistant to dyes and bleaches, so half of these chemicals end up as waste in rivers and in the soil.

Adam Cairn writes on behalf of Gecco Interiors, who supply a range of eco furniture and green products.

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