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Dispatches From the Consumer Electronics Show: 10 Green(ish) Products to Look for in 2010

Green Guide scoured the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) for eco-friendly gadgets and devices. From batteries and solar chargers produced by (sometimes cheesy) small start-up companies to TVs and entire home-energy systems including manufacturing giants such as Panasonic and LG, these items stand out among thousands as having some real environmental benefit, or at least honest intention (in the context of consumer electronics).

Solar-Powered Speakers From Regen

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This company gets points for design, creating products that belong in MoMa and that have the potential to get consumers excited about solar. Regen’s ReVerb speaker has an elegant solar panel on the back that, when fully charged, can power up to 12 hours of music from an iPod Touch, iPhone, or any audio device with a similar jack. The nearly three-foot tall speaker will retail for about $2,300 when it hits the market this summer.

The display will show you how much power you’ve stored, and used. The photovoltaic (PV) panel takes 14 hours of indoor light and 6 hours of outdoor light to recharge. (There is an outlet option, so the party can go on in the rain).

All of Regen’s products have additional USB and other ports so that you can use stored energy for other electronic devices too. The only not so hot thing–no recycled content. And it is unclear on what types of plastics are used.

Wireless Energy Meter From Oregon Scientific

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Oregon Scientific’s Wireless Appliance Manager monitors energy use on up to four appliances with the use of remote sensors. You can also plug in any individual appliance for a quick energy audit.

The gadget’s display shows real-time power consumption and translates that into cost and carbon emissions for each appliance, as well as the date and time. But the most useful feature may be the alarm you can set when your electricity bill hits a certain level. And you can set a timer that turns off the monitoring device.

Oregon Scientific, which doesn’t advertise itself as environmental company but is committed to sustainability, also gets gold stars for design. The energy meter will be available this year for $60.

Miniwiz Portable Wind and Solar Charger and Bike-Powered Charger

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Miniwiz’s solar- and wind-powered charger is a little gimmicky, but one of the best designed, combo-charging devices at the show. It would have been a great stocking stuffer. The palm-size HYmim Biscuit can charge up to two AA batteries, and then through a USB port, most any five-volt devices, including your cellphone, GPS, iPhone, or Blackberry. The solar-panel is supplemented by a tiny wind turbine. On sale through the website soon, the charger will cost $40. I couldn’t get confirmation on whether the product is made from any recycled plastics, but Miniwiz is doing inventive things with recycled plastic bottles as building blocks for walls.

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For bike commuters, the Miniwiz ReeCharge collects energy generated by a device called a Dynamo Hub, which you integrate into your ride’s front tire. The ReeCharge battery has a capacity of up to 2.5 watts, which is generally enough to charge a five-volt device, like your iPod while you ride. The charger can be replenished with just a 45 km cycle. It’s not new technology, but a much smoother version, for $130, plus wheel integration.

LG Skype-Enabled and OLED TVs

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Unfortunately these don’t come in one package yet. LG offers Skype service on its standard LED televisions, while the new 15-inch OLED TV isn’t video-conferencing friendly yet. Panasonic and LG were the only two companies at CES showing Skype-enabled TVs, which have the potential to lower businesses’ carbon footprints.

LG’s NetCast service, which includes access to Netflix, YouTube, Picassa, as well as Skype, is available on the two television models LG markets as eco friendly: the PK950 and the LE8500. According to LG, these LED models use nearly 30 percent more efficient than non-LED sets.

Even better, the OLED television is fifty percent more energy efficient than traditional LED technology, according to LG representatives on the conference floor. But for now, it’s only available in Asia, and LG has said prices won’t be comparable with LED until 2016.

Tablet PCs From HP, Dell, and Lenovo

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E-readers, netbooks, and smartbooks were all the rage at CES this year, but we’re skipping right over them and moving straight on to tablet computers, which could combine and replace all three within the year.

Hewlett-Packard’s new slate PC–so far without a name or price–was announced at CES and should be in stores later this year. Details remain elusive, but the device will have computing, video, and e-reader capabilities, as well as 3G connectivity. In the meantime, the HP TouchSmart tm2 will be on the market next week and sell for $950. It is a laptop with a screen that flips around to cover the keyboard and becomes a tablet.

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Lenovo also introduced its first slate tablet, the 12-inch IdeaPad U1, which detaches from a traditional clamshell computer so it can be used with a keyboard or a touch screen with eight hours of battery life. It is expected to be on the market June 1 and sell for less than $1,000. Apple’s version is expected out in March. Tablets have been on the market for years, but sales are expected to take off with the release of the Apple product, according to experts.

Not to be outdone, Dell announced a five-inch screen tablet to be on the market before summer. It may or may not have e-reader capabilities.

With e-waste piling up in the U.S. and abroad, we suggest you skip third generation e-readers and wait for something more sophisticated.

In the meantime, software creators announced Blio, e-reader software which will offer over a million books in interactive, improved pdf-like format.

Powermat Wireless Charger

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“Wireless” is a bit of a misnomer, since you still have to plug this charger into a conventional socket for a charge. But that may be the only power cord you ever need again. With Powermat accessories, you can pretty much outfit any device to make it compatible with the wireless charger.

The Powermat makes the green list because, one, the magnetic induction and sensor technology used to charge your phone, etc… also senses when the device is fully charged and stops the surge of energy, essentially curbing wasted standby power that most chargers pull even when your phone is detached.

Secondly, the Powermat is gaining enough popularity that several cell phone manufacturers are working with Powermat to provide consumers with magnetic-induction enabled batteries, eliminating the need for a cord.

First generation was a bit more clumsy, requiring a separate phone case. Expected in June, the device sells for $80 for a three mat charger, plus a $40 battery. The Powermat represents incremental change that could end up streamlining product and reducing materials use and wasted standby power, otherwise known as vampire voltage. It also comes in a travel version, pictured here, with a battery pack.

Home Fuel Cells from Horizon and Panasonic

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Horizon is a company that got its start making educational toys about hydrogen fuel cells. Now adults can play with the same fuel cell technology with the Hydrofill desktop low-pressurized and seemingly safe hydrogen maker, producing up to ten liters an hour. The hydrogen produced by the Hydrofill is then injected into battery-like devices that you can plug into a charger and use to fuel most any handheld device or computer. It’s like using rechargeable hydrogen batteries. The whole package should run about $200 for the Hydrofill and $50 for the charger when it comes onto the market later this year.

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If you live in Japan, go for Panasonic’s fuel cell, which can power your entire home. Powered initially with natural gas, the fuel cell comes with a hot water tank to capture power generation byproduct. It’s only offered in Japan, where the government manages installation and servicing, according to Panasonic reps.

Vampire Voltage Tamer from Embertec

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Embertec technology for both your home entertainment and computing systems will eliminate nearly all vampire voltage. According to iGo, another company that makes similar devices and has a Web site dedicated to vampire-voltage awareness, standby power wastes $10 billion of electricity annually in the U.S.

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Embertec and iGo use similar solutions, but Embertec has a few added features. For both, you plug your electronics into a device that recognizes when they are turned off and in default standby mode and then cuts power. With the Embertec system, audiovisual equipment left on will shut down automatically after a set period of time of inactivity.

And moving in the right direction in terms of integration is Sony, whose eco-Bravia TVs consumer close to zero watts in standby mode, essentially incorporating a vampire voltage defense into the individual gadget.

Carbon Neutral Phone from Motorola?

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Motorola’s MOTO W23 Renew may not be the most advanced phone on the market, but it’s likely one of the only ones made of nearly a hundred percent recycled plastic–a rare feature among products at CES, even the so-called green ones.

Motorola also advertised the phone as a hundred percent recyclable, but most anything is these days.

Whether or not the phone is carbon neutral depends on how you feel about carbon credits. Motorola partnered with CarbonFund to offset the carbon costs of making the phones.

More Efficient Rechargeable Batteries From Ultralast Green

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Generally at the heart of any electronic device, green or not, is a battery. Traditionally known for their toxic materials, batteries have seen some good environmental improvements in recent years. For everyday home use, Ultralast, a small company based out of Massachusetts, now makes rechargeable batteries that they say last longer and are less toxic than most on the market. The Green PowerPunch Ni-Zn’s nickel zinc chemistry is not necessarily new, but it does eliminate the use of potentially toxic cadmium, and is more recyclable than alkaline and lithium batteries, according to Ultralast.

The company also says the batteries are nearly a hundred percent recyclable and more powerful and efficient–worth nearly 480 digital camera shots per charge–versus close to 200 with alkaline and 450 with the Sanyo Eneloop battery.

–Tasha Eichenseher

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