What Do Oil Spills, Education & The Volt Have in Common?

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far from over and but when it is, just what do you do with all that waste? In the case of the oil-soaked, plastic absorbent booms that floated in the Gulf of Mexico, they are ending up as parts for the Chevy Volt. This according to General Motors who is telling their story today during a radio media tour. GM estimates that they will save more than 100 miles of boom material off the Alabama and Louisiana coasts from landfills and create enough parts to supply the first production run that is now underway.

“Creative recycling is one extension of GM’s overall strategy to reduce its environmental impact,” said Mike Robinson, vice president of environment, energy and safety policy at GM. “We reuse and recycle material byproducts at our 76 landfill-free facilities every day. This is a good example of using this expertise and applying it to a greater magnitude.”

Heritage Environmental collected the boom material and then Mobile Fluid Recovery used a massive high-speed drum to spin the booms until they were dry. This process eliminated all the absorbed oil and wastewater. Then using its patented process, Lucent Polymers turned the booms into the physical state necessary for plastic die-mold production where finially, GDC converted it into auto parts. The components, which aid in vehicle air flow and water deflection, are typically comprised of post-consumer recycled plastics and other polymers, and recycled tires from GM’s Milford Proving Ground vehicle test facility. Now, 25 percent of the composition includes the boom material.

In case you’re wondering, who was the very first consumer owner of the Chevrolet Volt? Rick Henderson, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and chairman of Hendrick Automotive Group, has purchased the first Volt for $225,000. All proceeds from the online auction, which closed on Dec. 14, will benefit science, math, engineering, and technology education initiatives through the Detroit Public Schools Foundation.

GM Reaches Zero-Landfill Plants Goal

General Motors has announced that it has reached its global operations commitment set in 2008 to convert 50 percent of its 145 plants to landfill-free status by the end of 2010. Currently, 52 percent, or 76 of its worldwide facilities, now take all its waste generated from normal operations and reuse, recycle or convert it to energy. GM’s first facility to achieve landfill-free status was an engine plant in Flint, Mich., in 2005.

On average, more than 97 percent of waste materials from GM’s zero-landfill plants are recycled or reused and less than 3 percent is converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities, replacing fossil fuel use.

“We’re committed to reducing our environmental impact,” said Mike Robinson, vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety Policy at GM. “Whether it’s a facility that’s already achieved landfill-free status or one of the many that are nearly there, every site is serious about finding ways to reduce and reuse waste.”

The first step in the process for each plant was for employees to focus on reducing the amount of waste generated. From there, as much as possible, the waste was recycled. Each month, the plants monitor, measure and report on their performance against waste-reduction goals. The collected data, that originally set the stage for the landfill-free initiative, demonstrates what materials are being generated, reused and recycled, and reveals areas for improvement. Ultimately, The results helped form a process that enables all facilities to replicate best practices.

According to a GM news release, this year the company has recycled or reused 2.5 million tons of waste materials at its plants worldwide that would fill 6.8 million extended-cab pickup trucks. If parked end-to-end they would stretch around the world.

“It’s all about being creative, lean and rethinking traditional manufacturing processes,” said John Bradburn, manager of GM’s waste-reduction efforts. “When you think of what it would take for a family of four to not produce any trash for a year, that’s quite a task. This is 76 sites around the world and about 70,000 employees committed to the cause.”

Bradburn continued, “I believe our employees were willing to engage because they could relate to what it means. People don’t want to be wasteful; they want to help the environment. It’s become a sense of pride for those that work at those facilities, and it reflects in quality and throughput.”

ACORE Calls for Global Renewable Energy Standard

During COP-16, the ongoing global climate talks taking place in Cancun, Mexico, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) called for a global agreement on the adoption of a 25 percent renewable energy standard by the year 2025 to be called the Global Renewable Energy Standard (G-RES). In addition, ACORE went further and asked the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to be designated as the lead agency to support the implementation should an agreement be passed.

“The world seeks leadership and guidance on the best path to a cleaner, safer environment and stable atmospheric ecosystem. But it is clear to most of us that there is no single path – that this is a matter of many paths that together get the world to where it needs to be,” said Michael Eckhart, President of ACORE.

He continued, “We know today that three of the cornerstone paths to climate protection are the adoption of renewable energy, investment in greater energy efficiency, and protection of the rainforests as the Earth’s lungs. It is time to have concerted action on each of those three paths, getting started on what we know will work. I believe we can agree on the adoption of renewable energy here this week at COP-16, and we hereby call on the conference to introduce the measure and test it with a vote. We believe it can pass, and call on other associations and NGOs to encourage their governments to agree.”

ACORE put forward the following draft resolution that they believe most countries can meet while still achieving economic growth and employment.

RESOLVED, that the undersigned nations commit to a Global Renewable Energy Standard (G-RES) in the amount of 25% by the year 2025. That is, that each signatory nation shall hereby be committed to a goal of supplying not less than 25% of its national energy supply from renewable energy sources, herein defined as wind, solar, hydro, ocean, geothermal and biomass sources of electricity, fuels, heat and other end-use forms of energy; and to a process of international collaboration through the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) as the designated lead agency for implementation. The G-RES shall provide for two implementing mechanisms: direct installation of renewable energy systems sufficient to meet the goal, and the sale/purchase of Global Renewable Energy Certificates (G-RECs) between nations.

In the past, other groups have signed a memorandum of understanding on the 25 percent by 2025 goal including ACORE, the Chinese Renewable Energy Society, the Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association, the European Renewable Energy Council, and the World Council for Renewable Energy (WCRE). In addition, other groups around the world have promoted a “25×2025” goal including the Energy Future Coalition in the U.S.

Deforestation Decline Debunks Land Use Change Theory

Rainforest deforestation rates have reached new lows, which further challenges the theory of international land use change that has been used to penalize corn ethanol for its carbon footprint.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced today that deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon declined 14 percent from August 2009 to July 2010, reaching the lowest rates ever recorded for the second consecutive year.

Satellite images analyzed by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) show that an estimated 6,450 square kilometers of forests were cleared in the 12-month period, bringing rates to their lowest since monitoring started in 1988. The record-breaking decrease represents a major contribution to reducing Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, as global negotiations progress at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP16), currently underway in Cancun, Mexico.

Renewable Fuels AssociationIn a post on the Renewable Fuels Association E-xchange blog, Vice President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper says this development is yet another blow to the already roundly rejected hypothesis of international land use change (ILUC) first proposed three years ago by Environmental Defense Fund attorney Timothy Searchinger.

“Today’s announcement by Lula is just the latest exhibit in a recent barrage of evidence that is undermining the argument that ILUC is a significant concern in the context of U.S. biofuels expansion,” writes Cooper, noting that annual U.S. ethanol production stood at 3.4 billion when deforestation peaked in 2004. “In 2010, the ethanol industry will produce nearly 13 billion gallons. So, Amazon deforestation has fallen 76% since 2004, while U.S. ethanol production has increased 279% in the same period.”

Cooper adds that he hopes the news out of Brazil will be greeted warmly by the environmental community, but he doubts it. “Unfortunately, I have a feeling the response from NRDC and others may go something like this: “Well, how much lower would deforestation have been without biofuels in the U.S.?” This response, of course, dodges the real issues at hand and resorts back to hypotheticals and computer models.”

Wind Energy Powers COP-16

It is only fitting that wind energy would supply power to an environmental conference. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-16) is in full swing in Cancun, Mexico and renewable energies are taking center stage. Cancun’s windmill will produce 1.5 megawatts on each day, enough energy to power 1,500 houses. This according to the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosa.

“Mexico can generate up to 71 megawatts due to its geographic conditions. This will mean a reduction of as much as 2,000 tons of CO2,” stated Hinojosa during the inauguration of the windmill, just one day before COP16 kicked off on November 29, 2010.

Energy used for the Conference will be produced by the the windmill along with solar cells installed at the Moon Palace Hotel. This is a joint project with Italy. In addition, the country will “capture carbon” to offset the carbon produced during COP-16.

In the beginning of Hinojosa’s administration, Mexico generated only 2 megawatts of clean energy. The goal of the administration is to produce 2,160 megawatts by the end of the term. This means that 26 percent of the total energy produced in Mexico would be from renewable sources. Mexico is one of the leading countries in its reduction of CO2 emissions, right after Germany and South Africa.

Thank You EPA!

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is celebrating 40 years on December 2, 2010. To commemorate their anniversary, Green For All, a national organization dedicated to building a green economy, launched ThankYouEPA.com. The site lists several of EPA’s more important accomplishments and encourages Americans to share those successes through social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.

EPA’s actions have….

  • • Reduced 60% of dangerous air pollutants in the air we breathe.
  • • Prevented 205,000 premature American deaths in 1990 alone by providing cleaner air, and prevented hundreds of thousands more in subsequent years.
  • • Saved Americans more than $55 million in water and sewer bills in 2008.
  • • Cleaned more than 2,000 American rivers and lakes that were identified as impaired in 2002.
  • • Prevented 18 million American child respiratory illnesses in 1990 alone by providing cleaner air, and prevented millions more in following years.
  • • Increased recycling in American families and businesses that went from recycling about 10% of trash in 1980 to more than 33% in 2008.
  • • Increased the number of Americans receiving water that met health standards from 79% in 1993 to 92% in 2008.

Several accomplishments important to the biofuels industry include the implementation of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) that set the goal of using 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. The EPA also announced a historic ruling last month in which they approved the use of E15 in conventional vehicles manufactured after 2007.

Brazil Ethanol Industry On Display At COP-16

In an effort to showcase decades of renewable energy use, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) will be participating in events during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-16) and the World Climate Summit (WCS) which are taking place in tandem in Cancun, Mexico from November 29-December 10.

According to UNICA, nearly 50 percent of all of Brazil’s energy comes from renewable sources. This is three times the global average and UNICA believes this gives Brazil a leading role in the search for solutions for global warming and climate change. To demonstrate their technologies, UNICA will conduce a seminar on alternatives to minimize emissions from transportation in emerging countries on December 6 at the Cacao Room in Hotel Moon. The organization will also at the Brazil Pavillion with support from the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil, who will also be at the upcoming AG CONNECT Expo in Atlanta, GA on January 7-10, 2011).

Marcos Jank, UNICA’s President, points out that Brazilian greenhouse gas emissions measured in 2006 would have been 10 percent greater without the contributions from the sugar and ethanol industries. “Over the 35 years of large-scale use of biofuels in Brazil, more than 600 million tons of CO2 were kept from the atmosphere while the country saved US $240 billion that didn’t have to be spent on foreign oil,” said Jank.

He also notes that ethanol is moving beyond the fuel tanks of cars and buses and is also being tested as fuel to power generators, farm implements and machinery, as well as to fly planes. In addition, ethanol is used a replacement for fossil fuels in resins, fine chemicals and “green” plastics. The result, says Jank, is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading

Global Leaders Want Action During World Climate Summit

International business leaders are calling for immediate action during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-16) and the World Climate Summit (WCS) that are both set to begin on November 29, 2010 in Cancun Mexico. A group of global investors with collective assets worth more than $15 billion are asking global leaders to “take action now in the fight against global warming or risk economic disruptions far more severe than the recent financial crisis.”

The group is pushing for the passage of policies that limit carbon and spur the development and growth of low-carbon technologies. In a statement they cite potential climate-related GDP losses of up to 20 percent by 2050 and highlight the economic benefits of shifting to low-carbon and resource-efficient economies.

However, there is little hope that global policies will be passed, and less so that they will be enforced, in part due to the hesitation of the U.S. government in passing any policy to limit CO2 emissions such as cap and trade.

According to Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, an organization representing investors and environmentalists, “Current investment levels fall well short of what is needed to stem the rise of global temperatures and adapt to a warming world. Strong government policies that reward clean technologies and discourage dirty technologies are essential for closing the climate investment gap and building a low-carbon global economy.

California scored a minor victory during the November elections when Prop 23, a regulation that would in essence have undone California’s environmental and low-carbon policies was defeated. Those supporting Prop 23 wanted green polices scaled back claiming that the companies footing the bills to install low-carbon technology would go bankrupt and employees would lose jobs – the opposite of what policy makers are aiming for during an economic recession. Continue reading

Book Review – The Story of Stuff

Many years ago on a high school field trip, we were taken to the local landfill. It was nearly full and the city needed to do something – find somewhere to take its trash. Out of this field trip came my first environmental inspiration. I researched recycling and determined that at that time, the only way to get people to participate would be to give them bins that would be picked up at the curb. I pitched it to my class, they joined in the effort…we went door to door …and the during the next election, the resolution passed.

I felt pretty good for years to come but that enthusiasm has waned as I’ve learned that recycling programs are barely effective and we still generate too much stuff. “The Story of Stuff” came of out the internet movie sensation by the same name. Author Annie Leonard has been traveling around the world for more than 20 years learning about the world’s obsession with “Stuff.”. Not only do we have too much, but its too toxic. According to Leonard, we’re also using our natural resources far faster than the Earth can replenish them.

Leonard explains that the expanding economic system is about to hit a wall. It is running up against the limits of our planet’s capacity to sustain life. Economists predict that with the rate of growing populations, especially those in countries like China and India, coupled with the amount of CO2 emissions created from the production and transportation of our Stuff, we’re in trouble.

“Put it simply, if we do not redirect our extraction and production systems and change the way we distribute, consume, and dispose of our Stuff – what I sometimes call the take-make-waste-mold-the economy as it is will kill the planet,” writes Leonard.

While I don’t agree with her wholeheartedly, I do agree that she is on to something. I can’t tell you how many times in the past few years I’ve purchased something I usually don’t even need and it has a crazy amount of wasteful packaging. I am now even more aware as Leonard takes you through the entire process of Stuff from extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. Continue reading

AFVI Discontinues Annual Conference

According to School Transportation News, the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute (AFVI) announced that it will no longer hold their Alternative Fuels & Vehicles National Conference + Expo (AF&V), a four-day annual conference that brought together groups interested in advancing alternative fuels. The conference, which was formally called the annual Clean Cities Conference and Exposition, held 16 years of consecutive conferences.

“Over the past 20 years, we’ve seen alternative fuels go from the obscure to the mainstream,” said Annalloyd Thomason, Executive Director. “Federal Recovery Act funding puts the alternative fuels and vehicles industries in extremely good positions for the future. While the Conference once served as a tool to foster the further development of the industry, we see that role shrinking…and that’s a good thing.”

Thomason added that she sees alternative fuels not being an “alternative” for much longer. With strict federal emission and fuel economy mandates coming into effect soon, fleets will increasingly use alternative fuels and vehicles to meet the new standards.

“It’s a bittersweet ending,” she said. “We so appreciate the support of our sponsors and exhibitors throughout the years, and we’ll continue to work with them in the future on other projects.” Thomason doesn’t rule out resurrecting the Conference in the future. “If the marketplace demonstrates a need, we’ll re-evaluate it at that time.”

AFVi will continue its efforts to develop the alternative fuels market and continue to brand itself as “The Answer Place for Fleets” through market development and consulting.

Friends of the Earth: Africa up for Grabs

Friends of the Earth International (FOE) has released a report about Africa’s move to produce biofuels to help meet the global needs of renewable energy. “Africa, up for grabs: the scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels” looked at 11 African countries and found that five million hectares of land, or an area the size of Denmark, is being acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels, mainly for European markets. Dubbed “land grabbing,” the majority of entities entering the country are European and Chinese companies with Brazil making a play as well.

According to FOE, the purpose of the report was to take a closer look at these land deals and determine how many of them are for agrofuels and how they will affect local communities and the environment. In the report the authors write, “although information is limited, there is growing evidence that significant levels of farmland are being acquired for fuel crops, in some cases without the consent of local communities and often without a full
assessment of the impact on the local environment.”

The report says that many African countries are waking up to the realities of biofuels and have halted their biofuels programs. Others, they say are moving forward. FOE offers several actions that they believe should be taken including putting a stop to land grabbing; re-prioritize political priorities that include local sustainable farm programs and energy efficiency brought about through public transportation, walking and cycling;  and creating fair and appropriate land deals.

In a press release, Mariann Bassey, food and agriculture coordinator for Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria said, “The expansion of biofuels on our continent is transforming forests and natural vegetation into fuel crops, taking away food-growing farmland from communities, and creating conflicts with local people over land ownership. We want real investment in agriculture that allows us to produce food and not fuel for foreign cars.”

The report points out that jatropha, often hailed as a wonder crop for biodiesel production, is actually one of the worst enviornmental offenders and claim that those who have converted food crops to this biofuels crop, can not make a living.

In conjunction with the report, FOE is calling for the EU to scrap its biofuels policy and asking governments to invest in environmentally friendly agriculture and decrease the energy used for transportation through conservation efforts.

Is Iowa Putting the Cart Before the Horse?

Is the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) putting the cart before the horse in their proposition to add greenhouse gas emission amendments to the Iowa Administrative Code? The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) think so. The two organizations have joined forces to urge the EPC to delay consideration on decisions that would increase the regulatory burden faced by Iowa’s biofuels producers. The industry has been struggling from an economic slowdown and faces additional uncertainty at the federal level regarding similar GHG regulations.

In addition, the groups say that passing GHG regulations at the state level could put Iowa at odds with federal regulations if and when they are passed.

The two organizations wrote in their comment letter, “In addition to substantially increasing the regulatory burden faced by the state’s biofuel producers, we are concerned that amendments by the EPC may result in Iowa implementing more stringent regulatory requirements than may ultimately be required by the federal regulation with which the state is seeking to harmonize. As such, we are urging the EPC to delay consideration of the proposed amendments until such time that there is more certainty surrounding federal regulatory actions intended to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Alternatively, and at the very least, EPC should add certain provisions to its amendments that would nullify regulatory actions based on federal rules that may ultimately be stayed or deemed invalid by a court.”

More than likely, if the EPC were to pass GHG regulations, they would face a similar fate as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who is facing a multitude of legal challenges opposing the rules including a motion to stay any further EPA action on this front.

“Given these pending legal challenges, the state of Iowa should not adopt proposed changes to the state law and revision to its Clean Air Act Implementation Plan that could ultimately make its regulations more stringent than federal regulations. This is precisely what would occur should the EPA Tailoring Rule be stayed or ultimately invalidated,” continued the letter.

According to the two groups, another major issue which renders the EPC consideration premature is the EPA’s movement to include biogenic emissions of C02 under the Tailoring Rule. Should EPC adopt this rule, it would put them in violation by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which acknowledge the carbon neutrality of biogenic emissions from biofuels production.

Ultimately, RFA and IRFA are asking that if EPC continues to move forward with its GHG emission policy, then they should include provisions that would nullify their policies if the federal Tailoring Rule is stayed or deemed invalid. You can read the comments in full here.

Ride for Renewables

This past Sunday, Tom Weis left Boulder, Colorado on a hybrid electric-assist recumbent trike on a 2,500 mile journey that will end in Washington, DC. Coined the Ride for Renewables, Weis is set out to gain support for his plan that calls for a 100% renewable electricity grid for the U.S. by 2020.

Weis believes that 2010 is the year America needs to set the agenda to address climate change and he is so passionate about making change, that he is willing to pedal across the country to build grassroots support for his plan. He writes on his website, “This is about everyday Americans “taking back our power” by demanding a green industrial revolution that will put unemployed Americans back to work, reestablish our role as world economic leader, and help ensure future generations a livable planet.”

Weis will be traveling through Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and ending in Washington, DC. Along the way, he will highlight local renewable projects, bring attention to old, dirty technologies that need to be replaced and solicit signatures for his petition that he will present to DC legislators. You can follow his journey online at www.climatecrisissolutions.com where he will post photos and videos and he will also be posting to various social media sites.

Book Review – Food Wars

This week I read a book about the ongoing discussions regarding the causes of the food crisis. It should come as no surprise that several of the main reasons the globe is in the midst of a food crisis, according to a The Food Wars author Walden Bello, are commodity speculation, biofuels,  increased demand for food in Asia brought on by prosperity, and most influential, the massive ag policy reorientation known as structural adjustment.

In this case, I’m going to focus on Bello’s explanation of how biofuels contributed to rising food costs. Bello states that biofuels have been blamed for the food price increases over the past few years, but continues by saying while they were a contributing factor, they were not the cause of the volatility of food prices.

He writes, “More central as root causes have been structural adjustment, free trade, and policies extracting surplus from agriculture for industrialization, all of which have destroyed or eroded the agricultural sector of many countries. No one factor can be pinpointed as the cause of the global food crisis. It is the confluence of these conditions that has made the contemporary food price crisis so threatening and difficult to solve.”

But despite this concession, he is still not a supporter of biofuels, at least in the context of environmental benefits, and he says, “Indeed agrofuels contribute to global warming and certainly do not provide a solution to climate change.” Continue reading

Calling All Green-Minded College Students

Calling all green-minded college students. It’s time to take action for the environment in the new contest, “Greenest Student College Challenge.” College students are being asked to submit the most inventive and ingenious “green” ideas emerging from their college campus, and one lucky college student will become the owner of a new iPad provided by Duke’s Restaurants. The contest is sponsored by ThinkGreenLiveClean.

As the fall term is now underway for most students, they are being asked to make green resolutions. These resolutions will be reviewed by a panel of judges and one student with be given an award for the best idea. Entries will be judged on creativity of the green resolution and details on how the idea will be fulfilled.

“Since our contest’s green resolutions can be viewed by anyone anywhere, the Greenest Student College Challenge is essentially a national brainstorming session with an iPad as an incentive,” said Wyatt Taubman, founder of ThinkGreenLiveClean. “Students will be able to read what other students have written and will hopefully become inspired by all the great green ideas floating around. These students are going to have the ideas that will change the future so we want to let their ideas be heard now on a national level.”

The Greenest Student College Challenge marks the first in a series of contests to be hosted by ThinkGreenLiveClean, an environmental news website launched in 2009 by 23 year old Wyatt Taubman. The contests will run throughout the school year, and future contests will explore different aspects of students living sustainably. Green Resolution contest entrants must enter by October 18 at www.ThinkGreenLiveClean.com.