Movie Review – Chasing Ice

I spent the weekend in the Twin Cities attending several environmental events. The first event was a screening of the documentary Chasing Ice, produced by environmental photographer James Balog who founded Extreme Ice Survey. It is hard for me to put my emotions into words after watching this moving. It was simultaneously incredibly beautiful and yet horrific. Beautiful in that the imagery of the ice was stunning and horrific because the crew caught on film the melting of glaciers.

James Balog, along with several teams, installed 25 cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana and over the course of three plus years, the cameras took photos every 20-30 minutes and as I write this, have taken thousands of photos of the glaciers. Every six months, the teams traveled in oftentimes heralding weather to check the cameras, take additional photos and video and switch out memory cards. The results was stunning time lapse photography – who knew that ice could be so beautiful.

Yet what might have been most amazing, was that his cameras and crew caught what is to believed the largest calving incident ever recorded on film. A portion of a glacier in Greenland broke off (nearly the size of Manhattan) over the course of 75 minutes. It was amazing to watch but then the reality of what you are witnessing takes hold  – watching the disappearance of the glaciers. While glaciers have calved for centuries, they typically stay about the same in size – one piece breaks off while more ice forms. Yet today, these glaciers are not being replenished, per say, they are vanishing.

One element of the film that could be most interesting, was that James Balog began as a climate skeptic and now believes that climate change is real, and a major part of it is caused by human actions. For those who already believe in climate change, or those who continue to be climate skeptics, this is a must see film. And for those climate skeptics who still deny that climate change is real after seeing this film, well then nothing will change your mind.  (I would like to thank the Will Steger Foundation for providing 840 free tickets to see Chasing Ice).

Solar Exceeding Performance Expectations

According to SunPower Systems, who has solar systems operating at 25 California Water Agencies, their power systems have exceeded expectations for overall performance. The company estimates that the systems have saved the state’s public agencies a cumulative total of approximately $5.3 million over the past 12 months.

SunPower has designed and built nearly 25 megawatts of solar power systems at 43 water facility sites over the past decade. The company says on average, those systems are generating 102 percent of expected production.

“Water agencies and facilities typically have huge energy demand and a responsibility to rate payers to minimize operational costs,” said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. “SunPower delivers the most efficient and reliable solar technology on the market today, with guaranteed performance that ensures these facilities lock in positive financial returns. We are very pleased that our water agency and district customers are seeing returns above and beyond expectations, delivering added value to the public agencies and their ratepayers.”

SunPower has two new water agency projects currently under construction in California: a 922-kilowatt system for Western Municipal Water District located in Riverside, California, and a 1.2 megawatt system for Oceanside, California. This system is estimated to provider between 25-30 percent of electricity for the facility and save more than $1.6 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

Both systems will use the SunPower T0 Tracker, a ground-mounted technology that rotates the solar panels to follow the sun during the day, that the company says increases energy capture by up to 25 percent over conventional fixed-tilt systems, while reducing land use requirements.

EIA Releases 2013 Annual Energy Outlook Forecast

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) has released its 2013 Annual Energy Outlook forecast summary. While the report looks at all forms of energy with estimates going as far as 2040, there were two areas pertinent to biofuels. The summary forecast stated that renewable fuel use will grow at a much faster rate than fossil fuel use, and the share of generation from renewables will grow from 13 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2040.

The summary forecasts that while total liquid fuels consumption will fall, consumption of produced  biofuels increases significantly, from 1.3 quadrillion Btu in 2011 to 2.1 Btu in 2040, and its share of total U.S. liquid fuels consumption will grow from 3.5 percent in 2011 to 5.8 percent in 2040.

The increases are much smaller than those in AEO2012, however, as a result of diminished FFV penetration, a
smaller motor gasoline pool for blending ethanol, and reduced production of cellulosic biofuels, which to date has been well under the targets set by the EISA. (EPA issued waivers that substantially reduced the cellulosic biofuels obligation under the RFS for 2010, 2011, and 2012.) In addition, the production tax credit for cellulosic biofuels is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

At first glance the outlook for biofuels looks good, but the ethanol industry doesn’t want the take-away being all is good, but rather cautions that this news is not an invitation to curbing or eliminating the RFS.

“Doing so would only prove their lack of understanding of EIA’s report and, more importantly, show their ignorance of the purpose of the RFS,” said ACE Executive Vice President Brian Jennings. “Congress designed the RFS as a flexible and forward-looking policy to serve as a catalyst for biofuel use, and by design, the RFS is built to help break through the blend wall.”

“EIA, on the other hand, makes its projections based on market conditions and known technology. Ten years ago, the EIA Outlook said we could only make 3.4 billion gallons of ethanol in the U.S. by 2020. Congress deemed that unacceptable, and passed the RFS to encourage alternatives to oil, and they were right. The RFS works. Our industry produced almost four times that much ethanol two years ago – ten years ahead of schedule.”

The blend wall is one that is not very high and we’re already at the top but now we can’t get over and down the other side. Scaling the blend wall and increased market access is key, explained Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy.

“Currently the blend wall is preventing additional use of biofuels. While grain-based biofuels, such as corn ethanol have not only met, but exceeded the goals, the blend wall has prevented full saturation into the commercial marketplace and has discouraged investments in next generation biofuels.”

Buis added that Growth Energy and the biofuels industry will continue to work with retailers and consumers to educate them on higher blends, such as E15 and continue to garner the support necessary to break through the blend wall.

So if there is one takeaway its this – biofuels are growing and will continue to grow but only if the RFS stays in place and communities across the country work together to bring choice to Americans at the pump.

Chamber CEOs: Prioritize Clean Energy

How many Americans realize that we’re still on a fiscal cliff and that the danger has not been averted? Hopefully the majority of us realize this as Congress debates away during this year’s lame duck session. Many issues are under the microscope, but one that many believe is a key priority in economic growth and policy discussions, including the local chamber of commerce CEOs, is further development of clean energy.

The Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy (CICE) said it plans to be at the table when clean energy options are being discussed in Congress. Among other clean energy initiatives, the chamber CEOs are urging a renewal of the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) that is currently the key incentive responsible for growing wind energy manufacturing and development in the U.S. Failing to renew the PTC would cause economic harm – layoffs in states throughout the country.

“Our largest wind turbine blade manufacturer in Arkansas, LM Wind Power, has already announced more than 200 layoffs as a result of uncertainty around the PTC,” said Jay Chesshir, President and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Wind energy has been a huge economic development success for Little Rock, attracting jobs and investment to our community.  Continuing to diversify our energy portfolio is smart business. Allowing the tax credit for wind energy to expire now would only take us backwards and hurt our local and national economy.”

Local chamber CEOs have emphasized homegrown clean energy is helping to diversify local economies and create business growth nationwide. In 44 states across the country, nearly 500 facilities now manufacture for the wind industry, supporting well-paying jobs in red and blue states. The solar industry—including manufacturers, installers, and other service providers—supports more than 100,000 American jobs.

There is proof that clean energy is an economic driver. For example, with leadership from the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce, businesses in northeastern Massachusetts will save upwards of $30 million over the next 30 years. In Cleveland, Ohio, businesses saved a collective $1.5 million in 2011 alone by participating in the local chamber’s leading energy efficiency program.

CICE said community businesses across the nation are ready to lead the world in clean energy. The missing piece  – a clear market signal from Congress.

Austin Dillion Wins Rookie of Year Award

American Ethanol sponsored driver Austin Dillion has won the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year award. The ethanol industry has congratulated him and now fans have an opportunity to congratulate Dillion during the American Ethanol live Twitter chat that he will host Monday, December 10, 2012 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am CST.

Dillon was officially named the 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He joins his younger brother, Ty Dillon, as a 2012 Sunoco Rookie of the Year. The younger Dillon clinched the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series version of the award on Friday evening.

All of the American Ethanol partners are so excited for Austin,” said National Corn Growers Association NASCAR Advisory Committee Chairman Jon Holzfaster. “Rookie of the Year is a big win both for him personally and for farmers across the country. With all eyes on Austin, NASCAR fans also get to see the performance and benefits another homegrown winner offers when E15 fuels the race. Every car in every series races to the finish with E15 in the tank, but we are particularly proud that such a talented young driver speaks on our behalf.”

Austin Dillon, who drives the No. 3 car for Richard Childress Racing, culminated his first full season in NASCAR’s No. 2 tour with two race wins, sweeping both Kentucky Speedway events, along with 16 top-five finishes, 27-top-10s and 3 pole awards. Dillon finished third in the championship point standings and was formally honored for his 2012 accolades at the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series championship awards banquet.

Pacific Successfully Produces Sorghum Ethanol

Yesterday the EPA announced that grain sorghum is now an official pathway for a renewable fuel under the RFS. Currently, Pacific Ethanol has successfully produced ethanol from sorghum feedstock that was bred by Chromatin. According to Chromatin, this achievement paves the way for future opportunities to use locally grown sorghum as a versatile and resilient crop that is a more energy efficient and lower cost alternative to corn. Due to the positive results, Chromatin plans to expand its sorghum acres in 2013.

R Mussi Farms of Stockton, CA produced 40 acres of sorghum that were harvested and delivered to Pacific Ethanol’s ethanol production plant in Stockton, CA. “We were pleasantly surprised by sorghum’s flexibility. It’s a high-yielding, easy to grow crop regardless of environmental conditions, and it uses less fertilizer and less water than corn,” said Rudy Mussi co-owner of Mussi Farms.

Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO noted that growers were able to plant and produce high quality sorghum with minimal modifications to their current practices. He also commented that Pacific’s ethanol plants encountered no difficulties when substituting sorghum for corn. Additionally, he said the residue left over after the harvest of sorghum grain can be used as high quality animal feed.

Although sorghum imported from other regions has been used in California ethanol plants in the past, Chromatin’s program is the first instance of supplying locally grown grain to the Pacific Ethanol plant in Stockton, CA. Initial results show greater cost efficiency and an improved carbon footprint.

“During the third quarter, Pacific Ethanol used sorghum for approximately 30 percent of the feedstock at our Stockton plant,” added Neil Koehler, CEO of Pacific Ethanol. Blended with corn, sorghum has similar conversion properties to corn and produces even lower carbon ethanol.”

Offshore Wind Within Reach Off Eastern US Shores

The Obama administration has announced competitive lease sales for wind energy development off the eastern coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. This is the first time that a portion of the outer continental shelf will be leased for renewable energy development.

There are several areas proposed for leasing: the Virginia coast could support more than 2,000 megawatts of wind generation; Massachusetts and Rhode Island could support about 2,000 megawatts of wind generation. When combined, these offshore wind farms could generate enough electricity to power an estimated 1.4 million average sized homes.

“We have enormous potential for harnessing pollution-free wind energy off our coasts, and now are closer than ever to making this vision a reality in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. We are thrilled that the Obama administration has announced another critical step forward for offshore wind development and look forward to continuing to work with state and federal leaders to see turbines spinning off our coasts soon,” said Courtney Abrams, Clean Energy Advocate for Environment America.

The organization applauded Obama for his leadership and established its support for responsibly-sited offshore wind energy projects.  Abrams said offshore wind resources are vital to ensuring a future with cleaner air and fewer extreme weather events.  She cited the statistic that along the Atlantic coast alone, reaching the Department of Energy’s goal of 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power would reduce global warming pollution by the equivalent of taking roughly 18 million cars off the road.  In addition, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, meeting this benchmark would generate $200 billion in new economic activity while creating more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, engineering, operations, and maintenance.

World Energy Trilemma Report Released at Doha

According to the World Energy Council (WEC), the world is far away from achieving environmentally sustainable energy systems. According to the organization’s global ranking of country energy sustainability performance, over 90 countries assessed are still far from achieving fully sustainable energy systems.

The 2012 Energy Sustainability Index, published within the WEC’s 2012 World Energy Trilemma report, “Time to get real – the case for sustainable energy policy,” finds that most countries still have not managed to balance the energy trilemma. The WEC argues that countries must balance the trade-offs between the three challenges of the trilemma: energy security, social equity, and environmental impact mitigation, if they are to provide sustainable energy systems.

The Index reveals that:

  • Environmental impact mitigation remains a universal problem;
  • Providing high-quality and affordable energy access remains a significant challenge for developing and emerging economies; and
  • Countries at various stages of development struggle with energy security.

“The message of the Energy Sustainability Index is clear: all countries are facing challenges in their transition towards more secure, environmentally friendly, and equitable energy systems,” said Pierre Gadonneix, Chairman of the World Energy Council. “What makes the difference is how they set their final goals, how they balance market economics and public policies, and how they design the smartest policies in order to promote efficiency and to optimise costs, resources and investments for the long term. If we are to have any chance of delivering sustainable energy for all and meeting the +2°C goal, we need to get real.” Continue reading

WindMade Label Expands

During the COP18 climate talks in Doha, The WindMade organization announced the development of a new consumer label for companies and products made using renewable energy. The label is backed by UN Global Compact, WWF, Vestas Wind Systems and the Global Wind Energy Council. WindMade was launched in 2011 as the first global consumer label for companies powered with wind energy.

“Expanding WindMade is a natural progression, and this move follows strong demand from the market,” said Steve Sawyer, WindMade’s Chairman. “Today’s announcement will allow us to engage a wider range of interested partners and supporters for this new renewable energy label, which is built on the success of WindMade.”

The new label will recognize a wide variety of renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as hydro power and biomass from approved certification programs. This will offer added flexibility to companies that use multiple renewable energy technologies in their energy mix.

Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, added, “This new label continues the progress made by WindMade to successfully engage companies in addressing the impacts of climate change. It is fully aligned with the UN Global Compact’s efforts to promote greater corporate sustainability through the use renewable energy.”

A global survey of 24,000 consumers across 20 countries, conducted earlier this year, showed that 92 percent of consumers believe that renewable energy is a good solution to mitigating climate change, and that if presented with a choice, most of them would prefer products made with renewable energy, even at a premium. As a result of the survey, the new label, that will be launched in 2013, will build on the technical foundations of the WindMade standard and will be applicable to organizations, buildings, events and eventually products.

EPA Approves RFS Path for Grain Sorghum

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced it’s approval of grain sorghum as an approved pathway for a renewable fuel as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). According to EPA, ethanol produced from grain sorghum emits 32 percent less greenhouse gas than the baseline petroleum it replaces and uses one-third less water than some other biofuel feedstocks.

The EPA report states: “EPA’s analysis indicates that ethanol made from grain sorghum at dry mill facilities that use natural gas for process energy meets the lifecycle GHG emissions reduction threshold of 20% compared to the  baseline petroleum fuel it would replace, and therefore qualifies as a renewable fuel. It also contains our regulatory determination that  grain sorghum ethanol produced at dry mill facilities using specified forms of biogas for both process energy and most electricity production, has lifecycle GHG emission reductions of more than 50% compared to the baseline petroleum fuel it would replace, and that such grain sorghum ethanol qualifies as an advanced biofuel under the RFS program.

Bill Kubecka, chairman of the Sorghum Checkoff and a sorghum producer from Palacios, Texas said, “This is a significant step forward for the sorghum industry. This pathway for grain sorghum will make sorghum a more profitable biofuel feedstock for the renewables industry, thus increasing the value and demand for sorghum.”

The EPA’s ruling further affirms the Sorghum Checkoff’s belief that grain sorghum is a feedstock perfectly suited for starch-based ethanol production.

“We believe this new opportunity to produce advanced biofuel will increase demand for the crop and lead to greater profitability for producers across the nation,” added Sorghum Checkoff Renewables Director, John Duff. “Furthermore, it gives us great pride that these producers will play a key role in supplying homegrown advanced biofuel, and we look forward to supporting them in these efforts going forward.”

Green Plains Sells Agribusiness Assets

Green Plains Renewable Energy (GPRE) has completed the sale of 12 grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee to The Andersons. The sale include approximately 32.6 million bushels of GPRE’s reported agribusiness grain storage capacity and all of its agronomy and retail petroleum operations. GPRE expects to report a pre-tax gain from this sale in the fourth quarter of 2012 of around $46 million. XMS Capital Partners served as financial advisor to Green Plains in the transaction.

EU Commissioner Encourages Geothermal Energy

During a speech at the European Workshop on geothermal energy focused on urban areas, European Union (EU) Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger said that, ”The development of geothermal energy should be encouraged.” The European geothermal energy industry came out in support of the Commissioner urging decision makers to pay more attention to the potential role of geothermal energy in heating and cooling applications.

The event was held last week in Brussels to focus on the role geothermal energy can play as part of Europe’s renewable energy mix. If properly encouraged, the geothermal energy industry says geothermal can provide continuously provide electricity, heating and cooling. Geothermal energy is also advantages because underground thermal storage systems can be developed that are well suited to the concept of a smart city.

However,  the geothermal industry, now more than ever, is in need “of a clear regulatory framework for investing in new equipment, such as drilling,” said Philippe Dumas, director at the Council of European Geothermal (EGEC – European Geothermal Energy Council).  “And that is why we are asking for new binding targets for renewable energy beyond 2020. “

Dumas also noted that “policy makers, local authorities and utilities have become more aware of the range of the geothermal resource and their possible applications.”

The EU is currently working on an internal report on renewable energy so the EGEC took the opportunity to urge the them to ensure greater transparency in relation to the costs of each energy technology. The EGEC also asked the EU to evaluate the key bottlenecks for the further development of the geothermal sector.

Hydrogen Fueling Station Opens in Turkey

Hydrogenics Corporation has announced that a Hydrogenics electrolysis-based hydrogen fueling station has been officially opened in Turkey in the presence of Kadir Tobass, Mayor of Istanbul, as well as interested members of the public. The fueling station is located at Golden Horn, the historic inlet of the Bosphorus straight, and can fuel up to 65 kilograms per day of hydrogen at 350 bar. The station is for both land and sea transportation applications where Hydrogenics’ 8kW fuel cells can be used.

“We are very pleased to see the high level of interest shown by the Turkish government in hydrogen technology as a future fuel,” said Daryl Wilson, Hydrogenics President and CEO. “This first hydrogen fueling station in Turkey demonstrates Hydrogenics’ ability to respond to the increasing demand for hydrogen fueling stations across Europe. Our ability to deliver a complete offering addressing quality, safety and economic requirements further validates Hydrogenics as the company with the expertise to manufacture and install hydrogen fueling stations wherever needed.”

The station was financed by the International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technologies (ICHET), a project of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). ICHET was founded in Istanbul in 2004 and is supported by the Turkish Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. ICHET seeks to initiate projects in the developing world that establish or enhance hydrogen production.

Could Biofuels Be Produced from A Tobacco Tree?

Could biofuels be produced from the tobacco tree? With a grant from the European Union, researchers at Royal Holloway, School of Biological Sciences, will test this theory based on initial findings that the Nicotiana Glauca produces compounds that could be used to produce biodiesel or cracked to produce petroleum products.

There are some advantages of the tobacco tree: it is known to grow well in warm and arid climates; it does not require fertile ground; and it can thrive in regions that only 200mm of rainfall a year, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius.

“This is a crucial factor,” said Dr Paul Fraser from the School of Biological Sciences. “It means that growing this crop will not be in competition for land space with food crops. Indeed, many farmers have already raised concerns about giving their land over to biofuel crops. Our discovery could potentially solve this issue.”

Initial studies have shown that the plant is able to grow in desert climatic conditions, such as those found in the United Arab Emirates, North Africa and other arid tropical regions of the world.

The European Union has awarded funding to develop this work further through the MultiBioPro project. Together with partners in industry and academia Royal Holloway has received a research grant totalling 5,770,922 euros (approximately £4.4 million). The project will look to provide new insights into biological processes and improve the use of renewable energy resources.

Transforming Marine Algae into a Biofuel Crop

Are marine algae just as good as fresh water algae in producing biofuels? Yes, according to biologists at University of California San Diego. In a research study published in Algal Research, scientists genetically engineered marine algae to produce five different kinds of industrially important enzymes. The same process, say the researchers, could be used to enhance the yield of petroleum-like compounds from salt water algae.

Researchers say this discovery is important because it expands the kinds of environments in which algae can be conceivably grown for biofuels. For example, algal biofuels could be produced in the ocean, in brackish water of tidelands, or on agricultural land where crops can no longer grow due to the high salt content of the soil.

“What our research shows is that we can achieve in marine species exactly what we’ve already done in fresh water species,” said Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology at UC San Diego, who headed the research project. “There are about 10 million acres of land across the United States where crops can no longer be grown that could be used to produce algae for biofuels. Marine species of algae tend to tolerate a range of salt environments, but many fresh water species don’t do the reverse. They don’t tolerate any salt in the environment.”

“The algal community has worked on fresh water species of algae for 40 years,” added Mayfield, who also directs the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology. “We know how to grow them, manipulate them genetically, express recombinant proteins—all of the things required to make biofuels viable. It was always assumed that we could do the same thing in marine species, but there was always some debate in the community as to whether that could really be done.”

The timing of the research was fortuitous – in October, the National Academy of Sciences committee published a report concluding that the production of algal biofuels might be limited by fresh water. “But now we’ve done it,” said Mayfield. “What this means is that you can use ocean water to grow the algae that will be used to produce biofuels. And once you can use ocean water, you are no longer limited by the constraints associated with fresh water. Ocean water is simply not a limited resource on this planet.”

In addition to expanding this research, the scientists would like to determine whether whole algae, post-oil extraction, could be sued as a feed additive to improve animal feeds.