Farmers Live #EarthDay Every Day

earth-day-2015This year marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day but farmers have been living the spirit of stewardship for natural resources for generations and have been leaders in the generation of renewable energy sources like biofuels, wind and solar.

“For hundreds of years, America’s farmers have been working our land and providing the country and the world with high quality food, feed, fiber and fuel,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Today, on Earth Day, we are proud that our industry will keep getting cleaner, keep farming more efficiently and keep discovering new ways to fuel America with biomass and waste products that represent a smarter, cleaner, homegrown alternative to foreign oil.”

MIT Climate CoLab Seeks World Changing Ideas

Earth Day is April 22, 2015 but climate change is on many minds year round. This week Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Climate CoLab announced twenty-two contests that seek high-impact ideas on how to tackle climate change. A project of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, the Climate CoLab is attempting to harness the knowledge and expertise of thousands of experts and non-experts across the world to help solve this issue. The Climate CoLab has a rapidly growing community of over 30,000 members from across the world. Anyone is welcome to join the platform to submit their own ideas, or comment on and show support for other proposals on the site.

Climate CoLab“As systems like Linux and Wikipedia have shown, people from around the world—connected by the Internet—can work together to solve complex problems in very new ways,” said MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and principal investigator for the Climate CoLab project. “In the Climate CoLab, we’re applying this approach to one of the world’s most difficult problems—climate change.”

The contests cover a broad set of sub-problems that lie at the heart of the climate change challenge including: decarbonizing energy supply, shifting public attitudes and behavior, adapting to climate change, geoengineering, transportation, waste management, reducing consumption, and others.

The popular U.S. Carbon Price contest is returning this year, which seeks innovative policy and political mobilization strategies on how to implement a carbon price in the United States. Serving as Advisors for this contest are Former U.S. Secretary of State, George P. Shultz; former U.S. Representative (R-SC) and current Director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, Bob Inglis; and, former U.S. Representative (D-IN) and current President of Resources for the Future, Phil Sharp. Continue reading

Study- Clean Power Plan Won’t Affect Reliability

The second study in a few days has been released that finds that implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan will not negatively affect grid reliability. Analysis Group’s report, “Electric System Reliability and EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Tools and Practices,” addresses the impact of ongoing changes in the energy industry for stakeholders and offers recommendations to ensure reliability.

The report shows that “the industry, its reliability regulators, and the States have a wide variety of existing and modified tools at their disposal to help as they develop, formalize, and implement their respective State Plans.” In particular, it notes that, “These two responsibilities – assuring electric system reliability while taking the actions Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.32.08 PMrequired under law to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants – are compatible, and need not be in tension with each other as long as parties act in timely ways.”

The report was a response to concern raised around the Clean Power Plan specific to grid reliability, or that adding more renewable energy such as wind and solar to the electric grid would create energy output issues especially during peak times. With this is mind, the report authors note “[A] recent survey of more than 400 utility executives nationwide found that more than 60 percent felt optimistic about the Clean Power Plan and felt that EPA should either hold to its current emissions reduction targets or make them more aggressive.”

To date, more than 4 million comments have been submitted to the EPA, many around reliability concerns. Groups have begun studying potential impacts of the U.S. grid should the Clean Power Plan be implemented as proposed. This report, along with others, have found that the energy industry’s past experience and ongoing efforts should address concerns.

However, the report highlights what should be a concern, that has historically been ignored, and that is the “reality” of public policy and industry action” “many of these comments tend to assume inflexible implementation and present worst case scenarios, with an exaggerated cause-and-effect relationship. Moreover, many comments … tend to assume that policy makers, regulators, and market participants will stand on the sidelines until it is too late to act. The history of the electric system and its ability to respond to previous challenges including industry deregulation and previous Clean Air Act regulations … prove that this is highly unlikely.”

Analysis Group previously released two other reports examining the ability of states to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and implications for electric reliability: “EPA’s Clean Power Plan: States’ Tools for Reducing Costs and Increasing Benefits to Consumers,” and “Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions From Existing Power Plants: Options to Ensure Electric System Reliability.”

E15 Would Cut 358K Tons of CO2 Emissions in MN

mnbiofuelsassoc1A new study is showing how a 15 percent blend of ethanol, E15, would cut hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Minnesota. This news release from Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association touts an analysis by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In response to a query by the Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association, Dr Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said a gallon of E15 saves 1.26 g of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) per megajoule over regular E10 (gasoline that contains 10 percent ethanol). CO2e includes carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane.

Annual gasoline consumption in Minnesota averages 2.4 billion gallons. Should all 2.4 billion gallons be converted to E15 from E10, CO2e savings in the state would total 358,000 metric tons annually, Mueller said.

Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) greenhouse gas equivalencies calculator, this would amount to eliminating 75,368 passenger vehicles from Minnesota’s roads annually.

“Dr Mueller’s technical analysis is a clear illustration of the benefits E15 has in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota.

The 358,000 tons of emissions saved by E15 is on top of the savings already eliminated by using E10, bringing the total CO2e savings to 1.07 million metric tons annually in Minnesota, the equivalent of taking 225,895 vehicles off Minnesota’s roads annually.

Electric Cars Gain Ground in Vehicle Rankings

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has released its 18th annual vehicle environmental ratings on greencars.org. The top rated vehicles for the year were Mercedes-Benz Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Convertible/Coupe with the highest score ever, Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500E, Toyota Prius C and the Nissan Leaf. Six out of 12 places in this year’s Greenest List were claimed by plug-in electric vehicles. This year’s list also features a diverse array of manufacturers: nine different automakers are represented by the 12 top-scoring vehicles, including two American manufacturers (Chevrolet and Ford) and two European manufacturers.

Mercedes-Benz Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Convertible/Coupe wins Greenest Car of 2015 on Greencars.org. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz Smart ForTwo Electric Drive Convertible/Coupe wins Greenest Car of 2015 on Greencars.org. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

“As the electric vehicle market continues to develop, we’re seeing a number of different options from a variety of automakers, including several from American manufacturers,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.

ACEEE notes at the same time, it’s important to note that some of the Greenest are only being offered in a handful of states, and that the larger classes are not represented. As the list demonstrates, consumers can make greener choices whatever their vehicle needs may be by providing facts that allows a consumer to examine the eco-performance of any 2015 model. The site assigns each vehicle a Green Score, a single measure that incorporates lifecycle greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions. Updates to this year’s methodology include the incorporation of a fuel cell vehicle analysis and a new estimate of nuclear damage costs.

In addition to highlighting the year’s Greenest, Meanest, Greener Choices, and best-in-class lists, the greenercars.org website features informative write-ups on model year 2015 highlights, a consumer primer on vehicles and the environment, and advice on how to buy green when shopping for a new car or truck.

West Coast Biodiesel, Ethanol on the Rise

logo_E2-1Advanced biofuels, especially biodiesel and ethanol, are on the rise on the West Coast. Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national, nonpartisan group of business leaders, investors and others promoting smart environmental policies, says fuel policies in Oregon, Washington state and California, as well as federal initiatives, have helped the country as a whole produce more than 800 million gallons of advanced biofuels in 2014.

“The advanced biofuel industry is meeting the growing demand for cleaner-burning transportation fuels,” said Solecki. “Americans who want more local jobs, cleaner air, and more homegrown energy should demand elected officials enact policies, right now, that will promote the growth of advanced biofuel.”

E2 defines advanced biofuel as liquid fuels made from non-petroleum sources that achieve a 50-percent reduction in carbon intensity compared to a petroleum-fuel baseline. Advanced biofuel companies included in the report range from small biodiesel businesses like Beaver Biodiesel in Oregon, which produces about 1 million gallons annually, to POET, which at facilities in South Dakota and Iowa produces more than 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually using corn stover, or waste from corn crops, as a primary feedstock.

“If state and federal leaders want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil – and support American farmers, businesses, and entrepreneurs – they should ensure this clean, cutting-edge industry can expand,” Solecki said.

The report highlights, in particular, how Oregon is considering Phase 2 rules of its Clean Fuels Program, which is expected to create as many as 29,000 jobs and save Oregon consumers and businesses up to $1.6 billion in fuel costs. In Washington state, a new clean fuel standard is being proposed that would increase the use of advanced biofuel. And California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is being credited with lowering carbon emissions in that state.

The complete E2 report is available here.

Book Review: Flight Behavior

I recently read the novel Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, a book about climate change. When I first began reading the book I had no intentions of doing a review, but as I got deeper into the book, and the characters voiced their opinions, about media in general, my intentions changed.

The premise of the book is that millions of monarch butterflies migrate to a rural area in Tennessee for the winter instead of going to their usual location in Mexico. After they are Flight Behaviordiscovered by Dellarobia on her family’s land, and the media gets involved with a news story, people from around the world begin showing up including a scientist. The next several months the scientist, Dr. Ovid Byron, and his team attempt to ascertain why the monarch butterflies wintered in Tennessee.

There have been discussions in the media and scientific journals about how monarchs are decreasing in population. While some believe the cause is climate change, others believe it is the use of pesticides and some believe it is a combination of both. For example, Andre Leu, IFOAM President and author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides, quotes in his book, “Herbicide-resistant plants….have increased the use of glyphosate, which kills all other plants including milkweed, the only type of plant that monarch butterflies use for laying their eggs.” The author cites that milkweed has declined by 60 percent and monarchs in the U.S. that winter in the forests of Mexico has dropped from 1 billion in 1997 to 33.5 million. The milkweed fact above was mentioned in Flight Behavior.

I”m not going to use this space to debate climate change; rather, I’m going to use this space to discuss the role of media in the conversation. Today, media is quoting “experts” about climate change (and other issues) that are in fact not experts at all. Where are the credible scientists and researchers who are doing the work around climate change in this conversation?

Many scientists do not like how they are portrayed in and by the media. Reporters often spend more time being skeptical about the facts being delivered by a respected scientist then they do when speaking to a person who uses social media to get his/her word out effectively but has no basis in training or education to be discussing the scientific merits of an issue. (In other words, scientists don’t speak sexy talk).

Dellarobia and her husband Cub, give us an example: “Here’s the thing,” she said. “Why would we believe Johnny Midgeon about something scientific, and not the scientists?” Continue reading

Chicago to Vote on E15

Today the Chicago City Finance Committee is considering an amended ordinance that according to Alderman Ameya Pawar, one of the bill’s co-sponsor, will ensure Chicago motorists will have a choice at the pump. The “Chicago Clean Air Choice” ordinance would enable retailers to offer drivers E15 fuel.

Chicago E15 logo“Through the ordinance the City of Chicago will once again help lead the way in cleaning up the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic carcinogens in the air,” said Alderman Pawar. In his remarks he was referring to the Chicago City Council’s actions in 1984 that banned leaded gasoline in the city and its 2000 action where the Council banned various toxic additives.

Co-sponsor Alderman Anthony Beale, added that the ordinance has economic and security implications. “By reducing our dependence on fossil fuels by increasing ethanol usage, this ordinance is supporting a renewable fuel that is grown in America, keeping American dollars and troops at home, instead of sending them overseas.”

The original ordinance was introduced last summer. The enhanced ordinance includes an exemption of all filling stations selling less than 850,000 gallons of fuel per year and a 360 day phase in.

Ansell Installs Biomass Boiler to Reduce Energy Costs

The Ansell factory complex in Biyagama, Sri Lanka has installed its second biomass boiler as part of company initiatives to be greener. The new boiler has a capacity of 12.5MW and will be the largest hot water boiler in Sri Lanka. Ansell Lanka already has a 10.5MW boiler installed at its premises, which reduced CO2 emissions by 11,000 MT per annum. From 2004 to 2012, CO2 emissions have been reduced by 36 percent across all of Ansell’s manufacturing facilities, with the global CO2 emission rate from 2013 to 2014 alone reduced by 6 percent. The company anticipates the reduction of a further 14,000 MT of CO2 emissions annually as furnace oil consumption will now be reduced to the bare minimum.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 10.26.12 AM“This project represents another step forward in Ansell’s business strategy to conducting business ethically, transparently, and in ways that produce social, environmental, and economic benefits for communities around the world,” said Steve Genzer, senior vice president of global operations at Ansell. “We would like to thank the government of Sri Lanka for its continued support, and the more than 4,000 Ansell employees who are the driving force of implementing these green programs.”

The announcement is part of the company’s Green Productivity program, focused on energy management, and implemented within manufacturing operations across Ansell. Energy management at Ansell focuses on achieving the most efficient and effective use of energy and simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Programs that have been implemented include the installation of equipment to recover energy from flue gas emitted from boiler chimneys as an energy source to heat water, the installation of energy efficient equipment to provide chilled water for manufacturing site cooling systems and the conversion of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

“While the forward progress made in the last 10 years has been incredible, this is only the tip of the iceberg in how Ansell will be doing business differently in the years to come,” added Genzer. “Ansell is committed to a number of sustainable and practical initiatives that are designed to make a positive and lasting contribution to the markets it serves and the community in general.”

Bioenergy for the Birds

A new research paper examines the relationship between bioenergy and the birds. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) in conjunction with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and published in PLOS ONE, looked at whether corn and perennial grassland fields in southern Wisconsin could provide both biomass for bioenergy as well as a bird habitat.

The answer is yes.

UW-Madison biofuels and bird studyThe study found that where there are grasslands there are birds. For example, grass and wildflower dominated field supported more than three times as many bird species as cornfields. And grassland fields can product ample biomass to be used to produce advanced biofuels.

Monica Turner, UW-Madison professor of zoology, and study lead author Peter Blank, a postdoctoral researcher in her lab, hope the findings help drive decisions that benefit both birds and biofuels, too, by providing information for land managers, farmers, conservationists and policy makers as the bioenergy industry ramps up, particularly in Wisconsin and the central U.S.

The research team selected 30 different grassland sites – three of which are already used for small-scale bioenergy production – and 11 cornfields in southern Wisconsin. Over the course of two years, the researchers characterized the vegetation growing in each field, calculated and estimated the biomass yields possible, and counted the total numbers of birds and bird species observed in them.

According to Blank and Turner, the study is one of the first to examine grassland fields already producing biomass for biofuels and is one of only a few analyses to examine the impact of bioenergy production on birds. While previous studies suggest corn is a more profitable biofuel crop than grasses and other types of vegetation, the new findings indicate grassland fields may represent an acceptable tradeoff between creating biomass for bioenergy and providing habitat for grassland birds. The landscape could benefit other species, too.

Among the grasslands studied, the team found monoculture grasses supported fewer birds and fewer bird species than grasslands with a mix of grass types and other kinds of vegetation, like wildflowers. The team found that the presence of grasslands within one kilometer of the study sites also helped boost bird species diversity and bird density in the area.

This is an opportunity, Turner said, to inform large-scale land use planning. By locating biomass-producing fields near existing grasslands, both birds and the biofuels industry can win.