Study: Algae-based Biofuels Cut CO2 by 50-70%

ABOA new study shows that biofuels made from algae can reduce life cycle carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50 to 70 percent compared to petroleum fuels. And according to the Algae Biomass Organization, citing the study in the journal Bioresource Technology, algae biofuels are approaching the Energy Return on Investment (EROI) values that conventional petroleum has.

“This study affirms that algae-based fuels provide results without compromise,” said Mary Rosenthal, ABO’s executive director. “With significant emissions reductions, a positive energy balance, nutrient recycling and CO2 reuse, algae-based fuels will be a long-term, sustainable source of fuels for our nation.”

The study, “Pilot-scale data provide enhanced estimates of the life cycle energy and emissions profile of algae biofuels produced via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL),” is a life cycle analysis of an algae cultivation and fuel production process currently employed at pre-commercial scales. The authors examined field data from two facilities operated by Sapphire Energy in Las Cruces and Columbus, New Mexico that grow and process algae into Green Crude oil. Sapphire Energy’s Green Crude can be refined into drop-in fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The study found that when produced at commercial scales, algae technologies can be expected to be better than first generation biofuels when considering greenhouse emissions and on par with the return on energy investment when compared to those first generation biofuels. This is the first study to analyze real-world data from an existing algae-to-energy demonstration scale farm.

“These real-world data from demonstration scale facilities gave us new insight and allowed us to understand how scale will impact the benefits and costs of algae-to-energy deployment.” said lead author Andres F. Clarens, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “These results suggest that algae-based fuels made using HTL have an environmental profile that is comparable to conventional biofuels.”

POET Plants to Add Liquefied Carbon Dioxide

POET_LogoTwo POET biorefineries in Ohio are installing liquefied carbon dioxide facilities on site.

POET Biorefining – Marion and POET Biorefining – Fostoria will be operating in the Greater Ohio Valley liquid carbon dioxide marketplace. The plants will be able to serve the traditional food freezing and beverage carbonation markets as well as secure new carbon dioxide customers.

“One of our priorities at POET is to get the most value from the corn kernel,” POET Biorefining – Marion General Manager Cliff Brannon said. “We don’t just produce biofuel here. We produce Dakota Gold high-protein animal feed, Voila corn oil and more. We’re excited to add carbon dioxide to that list.”

With the latest two plants coming online this year, nine POET plants will be producing liquefied carbon dioxide.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

Warning that the world is not on track to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has urged governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the redrawing the climate mapproblem is not going away – quite the opposite,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in London at the launch of a World Energy Outlook Special Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020.

Noting that the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions, she added, “This report shows that the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy- sector emissions without jeopardising economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4 percent increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes(Gt), but also mask significant regional differences. In the United States, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid-1990s. China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity. Despite increased coal use in some countries, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt. Emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

Global Wind Day Puts Pressure on G8 Summit

This Saturday, June 15, is Global Wind Day, and this year the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) is asking people globally to put pressure on world leaders leading in to the G8 summit to keep their commitment to phase out fossil fuels and adopt renewable energy.

According to EWEA, the level of fossil fuel subsidies has increased nearly 30 percent to $620 billion since 2010. Today, fossil fuels receive six times more subsidies than renewable energy. Simultaneously, global carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have reached a record high of 400 ppm, a level that climate change experts say is hindering efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control.

“While world leaders pay lip service to combating climate change, what they are actually doing is subsidizing CO2 emissions to the tune of US$110/tonne. Fossil fuel energy GWDAppsubsidy reform could take us a long way towards protecting the climate,” said Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council.

EWEA says wind energy has become a mainstream technology: it is already cheaper in Australia and Brazil than conventional energy sources and directly competes with them in an expanding number of markets including Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of China and the U.S. Wind power is turning into the power technology of choice as utilities, energy planners and governments seek to diversify their energy mix, reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution, protect their economies from volatile fossil fuel prices and benefit from increased investment and job creation. EWEA says with the right policy support wind could reach 1,000 GW by 2020 avoiding over 9 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Opinion polls and surveys across the markets show overwhelming public support for wind power providing an important signal to decision-makers: According to a Eurobarometer survey 89 percent of EU citizens are in favor of wind energy, compared to 43 percent for coal and 36 percent for nuclear. In 2012 a survey conducted in the U.S. showed that 71 percent of Americans want to see more wind power development and in Canada a research poll found that 78 percent of Ontarians say that wind is one of the safest forms of electricity generation. In a recent survey in the UK, two-thirds of the Britons voted in favor of wind energy.

Biodiesel-Ready Cruze Delivers Muscle Car Power

Chevycruze3Previously, we told you about how fuel efficient the biodiesel-capatible 2014 Chevy Cruze is. Now, Chevy is reminding us that the little car with the big green heart in the form of a Clean Turbo Diesel also packs a pretty powerful wallop under the hood using what the company calls “overboost,” while still maintaining that great MPG:

Cruze Diesel’s turbocharged 2.0L engine delivers a segment-leading SAE-certified 151 horsepower (113 kW) and 264 lb-ft of torque (358 Nm), but overboost can increase torque to 280 lb-ft (380 Nm) for about 10 seconds of stronger acceleration. That’s the equivalent torque delivered by the 1972 Camaro Z28’s heavier 5.7L V8.

Unlike the muscle car era, Cruze Diesel marries that quick burst to a segment-leading EPA-estimated 46 mpg highway, and demonstrated range of 717 miles on one tank of fuel.

“Overboost provides increased performance when the driver demands it, like when passing on the highway,” said Mike Siegrist, GM 2.0L diesel assistant chief engineer. “When the driver leans on the throttle, the turbocharger increases the air and fuel intake over and above what the engine needs for normal torque demand.”

Chevy says the Cruze Diesel can sprint from 0 to 60 in about 8.6 seconds – half a second faster than its chief competitor, the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0L TDI. It sports a lightweight aluminum cylinder head and aluminum intake manifold that help with the car’s ability to deliver balanced ride and handling.

“Cruze’s turbo-diesel engine is powerful, efficient and clean,” Siegrist said. “It will change perceptions of what a diesel car can be while giving customers another fuel-efficient choice in the Chevrolet lineup.”

Investors Interested in Fossil Fuel-Free Portfolios

According to a recent survey conducted by SRI, 65 percent of retail investors and 53 percent of institutional investors are currently expressing interest in fossil fuel-free portfolios in reaction to climate change. More than 2,000 SRI industry professionals took the First Affirmative Financial Network’s Fossil Fuels Divestment Survey in anticipation of the 24th annual SRI Conference taking place October 28-30 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Other key survey findings include:

  • 77 percent see growing risks for investors associated with fossil fuel company holdings in their investment portfolios.
  • 30 percent of those surveyed either already do – or are getting ready to – offer fossil-fuel free portfolios to investors.
  • 63 percent believe that investors will in the next 10 years start divesting in meaningful numbers from fossil-fuel companies due to climate change implications of such energy sources.

SRI Conference Logo“The survey findings strongly suggest that fossil fuel free investing is one of the SRI industry’s next big issues. Ours is an incredibly dynamic field, and as we develop the agenda for the 24th annual SRI Conference in October, we are working hard to present speakers and sessions focused on the most timely, important, and pressing topics,” said First Affirmative President Steve Schueth, producer of The SRI Conference. “Fossil fuel free investing is already becoming a nationwide movement, and it’s likely to gain momentum as the impacts of climate destabilization are felt far and wide.”

Sixty-seven percent of respondents believe that 2013 is the right time for investors to assess and perhaps alter their approach to investing in traditional energy companies, while 40 percent of those surveyed worry about increased diversification risk in fossil fuel free portfolios, in their role as a fiduciary to clients. In addition, 24 percent of those surveyed said they would be able to adequately replace the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel companies in portfolios they managed/advised with holdings that exhibit similar risk/return characteristics.

IEA: Need Major Scale Up in Global Biofuels Production

Today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released their Tracking Clean Energy Progress report in New Delhi that details the increased role that biofuels will need to play in reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) as part of their Climate Change Scenario by 2020. The Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) applauded this finding, stating that biofuels are already significantly reducing global GHG emissions.

According to the report, globally, the world is not on track to meet the IEA’s goal of holding global climate change to a 2°C rise by 2020. According to the IEA’s Energy Sector Carbon Intensity Index (ESCII) average CO2 emissions have only improved by 0.02 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of oil equivalent in the last 20 years. In Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2013order to reach the 2020 target the IEA recommended that annual biofuels production needs to more than double and advanced biofuels capacity must increase six-fold.

“Biofuels are the only real viable option available today to reduce emissions in the transportation sector,” said Bliss Baker, spokesperson for the GRFA. “We agree with the IEA that biofuels offer real GHG emissions reductions today and that we must increase biofuel usage if we want to mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

In order to facilitate this major scale up in global biofuels production, the IEA released some specific recommendations for governments in their report:

  • Lessen the risks for early investors through mechanisms such as loan guarantees, guaranteed premiums for advanced biofuels, or direct financial support for first-of-a-kind investments.
  • Targeted policy support for advanced biofuels is required to ensure large-scale deployment.
  • Monitor sustainability in feedstock production.

“Frankly, the GRFA is not surprised by these findings, despite the commitments from world leaders we are clearly struggling to reduce emissions in the transportation sector,” concluded Baker.

Stover Harvesting Requires Careful Management

According to Purdue University researchers, removing corn stover from agricultural fields to produce cellulosic ethanol requires careful management to avoid adding greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion to the environment. However, environmental impacts from stover removal can be reduced by switching to no-till corn or adding winter cover crops, but these practices likely would increase production costs, researchers reported in a study, “Environmental and Economic Trade-Offs in a Watershed When Using Corn Stover for Bioenergy,” published in Environmental Science & Technology.

“Some crop rotation and tillage combinations are more environmentally benign than others,” said Ben Gramig, a Purdue agricultural economist and the study’s lead researcher. “But there are water quality and greenhouse gas tradeoffs when collecting stover.”

As Gramig explains, stover is the parts of a corn plant that remain after grain harvest. Greenhouse gases from cropfields are released into the atmosphere when carbon escapes disturbed soils during stover removal. Emissions also occur when nitrogen fertilizer is applied to the land or crop residues decompose. Plowing fields loosens soil and, when combined with removing stover, causes increased soil erosion.

The study examined the environmental effects and costs of stover collection from eight corn-soybean rotation and continuous corn systems in a watershed typical of the eastern Corn Belt. The comparisons were made by combining results from watershed and greenhouse gas computer simulation models and minimizing the cost of stover collection, to select which farming practices to use in an agricultural watershed.

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EPA Announces Climate Leadership Awards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Center for Corporate Climate Leadership has announced the winners of its second annual Climate Leadership Awards, with the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO), the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and The Climate Registry (TCR). Twenty three winners were given awards for their leadership in reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 10.43.44 AM“Our Climate Leadership Award winners are leading by example with their outstanding actions to reduce carbon pollution,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “These organizations are tackling the challenge of climate change with practical, common-sense, and cost-saving solutions to improve efficiency and cut waste.”

The national awards program honors corporate, organizational, and individual leadership in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in internal operations and throughout the supply chain. A wide array of industries are represented by these organizations, including construction, finance, defense, transportation, retail, energy and technology.

The Organizational Leadership Award were given to: Boulder County, Colo.; City of Austin, Texas; Intel Corporation; Port of San Diego and Sonoma County Water Agency. The Individual Leadership Award was awarded to: Tamara ‘TJ’ DiCaprio, Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability, Microsoft Corporation; and J. Wayne Leonard, Former Chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation. A list of all the winners is here.

“The 2013 Climate Leadership Award winners are leading the way on integrating climate response into their organizational culture,” said Daniel Kreeger, ACCO executive director. “They are demonstrating true commitment to managing and reducing GHG emissions in internal operations and throughout the supply chain, as well as integrating climate related risk management into their operational strategies. The winners are not only exemplary corporate, organizational, and individual leaders, but their actions provide a blueprint to catalyze the efforts of other organizations and individuals.”

Marjority of Americans Support Reduction of CO2

Obama on ClimateAccording to a new nationwide survey, 65 percent of American think that climate change is a serious problem and a substantial majority support President Obama using his authority to reduce its main cause, carbon dioxide.  The national poll, conducted on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), surveyed 1,218 registered voters and was conducted immediately following the president’s State of the Union speech – the first snapshot taken specifically on the climate agenda Obama outlines in his address.

The survey found:

  • 65 percent of Americans think that climate change is a serious or very serious problem, including 58 percent of independents.
  • 60 percent of Americans support the president using his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, including 53 percent of independents.
  • 62 percent agree with the president’s statement that “for the sake of our children” and our future, we must do more to combat climate change, including 55 percent of independents.
  • A majority of Americans, 57 percent, agreed with Obama’s promise to make addressing climate change a priority in his second term.
  • 65 percent of Americans think that climate change is already a problem or will become a problem in the near future, including 58 percent of independents.

“The president made it absolutely clear that he will lead the fight against dangerous carbon pollution, and a compelling majority of Americans stand firmly behind that leadership,” said NRDC President Frances Beinecke. “The best way to strike back, as a nation, is to reduce the carbon pollution from our dirtiest power plants, the single greatest threat to our climate’s future. That will take presidential leadership. Americans are counting on bold action – for the sake of our children.”

During his address, Obama said the nation can choose to believe Superstorm Sandy and severe drought and raging wildfires were all just “a freak coincidence” or believe the overwhelming judgment of science that they were climate change related. A majority, 58 percent, said they were the effects of climate change, including 51 percent of independents. In addition, 58 percent said the country should do more to address climate change, including 51 percent of independents, while just 14 percent said we’re doing enough already.

The promise to address climate change struck a chord with Americans according to Margie Alt who is the executive director of Environment America. “Now we’re counting on President Obama to put words into action, by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, limiting carbon emissions from power plants and advancing clean energy solutions — while protecting the air, water and special places Americans hold dear. By taking these actions the president will help fulfill our obligation to our families and to future generations, and we stand ready to support him at every turn along the way.”

Click here to read the full polling results.

EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the Future

Year two is underway in the EcoCAR 2: Plugging in to the Future, competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and General Motors. The program offers students hands-on experience in designing future cars. The competition began in 2011 and during year one, the competition emphasized the use of math-based design tools and simulation techniques in establishing vehicle foundation.

In year two, students will be challenged to reduce the environmental impact of a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, donated by GM. The teams must do this without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability. In years two and three, students will build the vehicle and continue to refine, test and improve vehicle operation.

There are 15 teams competing in the EcoCar 2 challenge and many of them will head to the winter workshop in Austin, Texas on January 23, 2013 where the year two competition schedule will be unveiled.

During the three-year program, General Motors provides production vehicles, vehicle components, seed money, technical mentoring and operational support. DOE and its research and development facility, Argonne National Laboratory, provide competition management, team evaluation and technical and logistical support. By sponsoring Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, GM and the DOE are developing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Third National Climate Assessment Released

Climate Change Photo Joanna SchroederA draft of the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) has been released by the Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee (NCADAC).  The committee says this is the most peer-reviewed analysis of climate change impacts on the United States. The assessment was written by 240 scientists and other experts from academia; local, state, and federal government; business; and the non‐profit sector. The public can review the draft and submit comments, and the final draft is expected to be released in early 2014.

Several key findings include new and stronger evidence that global climate is changing, extreme weather and climate events are increasing, and that the increase is related to human activities. In addition, the report finds:

  • Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the US in a wide range of observations. The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels and is expected to accelerate if action is not taken.
  • Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.
  • Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond.
  • Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects food and water and threats to mental health. Continue reading

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Steps Down

After nearly four years as the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lisa Jackson has announced in a statement that she would be stepping down as President Obama begins his second term. While reports say she gave no specific reason for leaving her position, she said in a statement, “I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference.”

Lisa-Jackson EPAUnder Jackson’s tutelage, the EPA approved the use of E15 in vehicles and light duty trucks manufactured after 2001. She also announced in 2009, during COP15, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas pollutant, and as such, could be monitored. At the time, both of these decisions caused heated debate that still continues.

In a separate statement, Obama said Jackson has been “an important part of my team.” He thanked her for serving and praised her “unwavering commitment” to the public’s health.

In reaction to her departure, Tom Buis CEO of Growth Energy said, “Administrator Jackson has been a dedicated advocate for the renewable fuels industry and her work to reduce our nation’s addiction to foreign oil, while providing cleaner air and a better environment, should be commended.  As Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, she should be applauded for all she has done to advance biofuels and a cleaner, better environment. Growth Energy wishes her well and thanks her for her tireless work during her time at the EPA.”

Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), added, “Administrator Jackson put into action the Obama Administration’s commitment to ethanol and other biofuels. During her tenure, she cleared the way for E15 giving consumers more choice and savings at the gas pump and she protected the progress that has been made in reducing our dependence of foreign oil by recognizing the importance and inherent flexibility of the RFS. The ethanol industry thanks her for her service and looks forward to working with her successor to continue the growth of America’s domestic renewable fuels industry.”

While Jackson has not announced her next move, there is speculation that she may run for Governor of New Jersey. There has been no announcement of who will take her place.

Companies Shifting to Clean Energy

As climate talks begin to wind down in Qatar, a new report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” has been released by Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund. The report concludes that many of the world’s largest companies are not waiting for binding treaties and subsequent polices, rather they are integrating clean energy and lower emissions into their business now.

The report shows that many Fortune 100 companies have set renewable energy commitments, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals, or both. While the movement is strong in the U.S., the trend to sustainability is even stronger internationally.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy.  “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

The report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world. For example, many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

For some companies, there are still key barriers to achieving sustainability goals including: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives; and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report also offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, specifically, extending the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energythis year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

Algae. Tec Facility Continues to Attract Attention

Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Member for Eden-Monaro Dr Mike Kelly recently visited Alage.Tec facility in Shoalhaven (Australia). The plant is proving out technology that produces low cost, high grade algae-based biofuels. While on site, Dr. Kelly was briefed about the technology by company representatives.

One element with great promise is the fact that algae “eat” carbon to grow. In Israel and China, for example, the carbon-hungry algae are being used to abate emissions from coal-fired power stations that are a similar size to the ones used in Australia.

“This region is fast becoming a flagship for renewable energy in Australia,” said Dr. Kelly during his visit. “We have already seen over $1 billion being invested in renewable energy projects in Eden-Monaro and the lower Shoalhaven region – that includes wind and wave energy, solar, biomass and geothermal.”

Dr. Kelly continued, “To have a company like Algae.Tec here in Bomaderry, which recently signed a collaboration agreement with Lufthansa to produce aviation biofuels and also with Holcim Lanka, is a wonderful boon. The possibilities of this technology are extremely exciting. Their algae technology has almost no impact on the environment and could potentially eliminate emissions from coal-fired power stations.”

Roger Stroud, executive chairman of Algae.Tec noted that that the biofuels technology being used in Shoalhaven is the same technology that will be used by the company to produce aviation and other transportation fuels.

“We currently have feasibility studies underway with interested parties in Texas, Brazil, China, Sri Lanka and Germany, as well as another site in New South Wales,” said Stroud. “The Shoalhaven facility has already had VIP visits from some of the world’s largest companies wanting to see how the technology delivers sustainable low cost fuel, carbon capture, and energy security.”