The Biggest Green Innovations and Advances of 2011

DIY wind turbine kit, available through open-source technology.

While environmental policy and perspective have seen more than its fair share of setbacks in the last year, 2011 was no slouch of a year when it came to green advances and innovations. Here are some of our favorites, as published by the

Huffington Post

and

Earth Techling

:

Wind Technology Advances

Gearless Turbine Gets Power From Light Winds

- The Honeywell Wind Turbine for homes uses a new gearless system that allows it to generate electricity in winds as low as 2 mph, producing up to 1500 kWh annually. In addition, the

DIY Wind Turbine Project

culminated in a vertical-axis wind turbine design utilizing easily attainable parts, can be built by anyone, and yields impressive power output. As a bonus, it's open source. And, if you can believe it,  Wal-Mart is now offering a 600 watt, self-installed

Home Wind Turbine

that will charge 12 volt or 24 volt battery banks for those who want a little off-grid lifestyle.

Oil Spill Cleanup X Challenge Winners

Elastec/American Marine made impressive strides for oil spill cleanup this year.

They won the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge

for who could develop a system to clean crude oil from the ocean's surface at a rate faster than 2,500 gallons per minute. The team was awarded $1 million for their system that could clean up oil at a rate of 4,670 gallons per minute.

Fuel Cell Advances

USC Scientists Make Fuel Cell Breakthrough

- A team of researchers has found a way to release hydrogen from chemical form so it can be stored as a stable solid, making it more usable as a fuel cell.

Green Automobile Advances

At the Geneva Motor Show, VW unveiled the

Bulli Electric Van

, a zero-emissions update to the classic Microbus of the 1950s and beyond. In October,

Nissan announced a six year strategy to become the world's leader in green vehicles

. Between December 2010 and October 2011, Nissan had sold 16,000 of its Leaf electric cars. Meanwhile,

Ford unveiled an electric version of its Focus in 2011

. Ford claimed that the vehicles performance and efficiency figures will be comparable to other electric vehicles on the market.

Toyota and BMW announced in December that they would soon be collaborating

on research for next-generation car batteries. They hope to produce cleaner, more efficient batteries in the future. Companies like ECOtality are

increasing electric vehicle charging station infrastructure across the U.S.

, and by doing so are hoping to increase electric vehicles' market share of the domestic vehicle market. In August, President

Obama announced improved mandatory fuel standards

for large vehicles beginning with model year 2014. The Obama administration also introduced a plan, which could take effect in 2017, to

raise vehicle efficiency standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025

. The Associated Press reported that in 2009, U.S. automakers

agreed to increased standards of 35.5 miles per gallon

by 2016.

Biofuel Advances

In October, the U.S. military announced that it will be

powering its tanks and Air Force planes with biofuel

within the next few years. A U.S.-Chinese renewable energy partnership also

developed an oily nut-based aviation biofuel

. It was successfully tested in a Boeing 747-400 during a two-hour test flight in Beijing in October. Dutch air carrier

KLM announced in June that it would begin using recycled cooking oil

to power flights between France and The Netherlands. New research in 2011 found that

alligator fat is well-suited to the production of biofuel

. However, HuffPost blogger David Mizejewski wrote, "Whether or not alligator fat becomes a fuel source of the future remains to be seen." And the Navy recently announced they had successfully flown the first unmanned

biofuel flight

of a MQ-8B Fire Scout at its base near Patuxent River, Md.

Bike Sharing Programs

While bike sharing programs may be nothing new for some cities, 2011 was a big year for them. Both

New York City

and

San Francisco

announced that they would be rolling out a bike sharing program for the summer of 2012. Chicago also announced that it

hopes to bring 3,000 bikes and 300 kiosks

to the city by next summer. These cities hope to

repeat the success of Washington, D.C.'s bike sharing program

, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in September with its one-millionth trip. The D.C. program has 1,100 bikes and 114 docking stations in the District of Columbia and Arlington County, Virginia.

Green Living Advances

Innovator Builds The Better Energy Efficient Window

- Indow Windows has wowed some in the green industry with its simple energy-efficient home window design that cuts down energy cost and noise.

Advances in Solar

Home Solar Panel Kits Come To Costco

- Costco offers four different ready-to-install solar power generator kits to its members through its website that are from Grape Solar. And a

new paint from developers at the University of Notre Dame

could one day reduce the need for solar panels. The paint, which looks like normal house paint, has light-activated "semiconducting particles" that produce small amounts of electricity, which "researchers hope they can magnify in great enough amounts to power home appliances."

Know of a great, green innovation you'd like to share? E-mail us at

info@betterfarm.org

.

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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.