EPA, USDA Announce Biogas Program

Two federal agencies are teaming up to capture the methane U.S. farms produce and turn that greenhouse gas into fuel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture have a new interagency agreement that will promote the biogas as a renewable energy source, while cutting those gas emissions from livestock operations. This EPA press release says the agreement is an expansion of the AgStar program:

“We want to seize every opportunity to confront climate change and move into the clean economy of the future. This is a smart way to transform what would be a harmful greenhouse pollutant into a source of renewable energy — and make a profit for American farmers,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We have the technology and the expertise, all we need now is to act. The AgStar program brings real benefits to our air and creates new opportunities for our farming community.”

“The farms and ranches that dot our countryside can contribute greatly to addressing America’s long-term energy challenges and the partnership we are announcing today will not only help generate renewable energy, but provide new income opportunities for farmers and ranchers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The EPA and USDA believe the $3.9 million their collaboration will provide over the next five years will help farms overcome obstacles preventing them from recovering and using biogas. Right now, there are about 150 on-farm manure digesters across the country that turn methane into biogas. Estimates are that 8,000 farms could put in digesters and recover the equivalent of the greenhouse gases of 6.5 million passenger vehicles a year while producing 1,500 megawatts of energy.

Economist Defends Ethanol Jobs Numbers

Nat GreeneIn a commentary on the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, the organization’s Director of Renewable Energy Policy Nathanael Greene criticizes the ethanol industry for what he calls a “highly inflated jobs study” released earlier this week. Greene claims the industry’s jobs numbers are “way off” because they use both inflated jobs multipliers and inflated economic impact, creating what he calls “wonky numbers.”

The author of the study, John Urbanchuk of Entrix, provided a detailed defense of his analysis in a comment on Greene’s post.

John UrbanchukDefending the job multiplier, Urbanchuk writes, “Mr. Greene accuses me of using “inflated” jobs multipliers and suggests that “… a multiplier of 6 is aggressive. A multiplier of 3-4 is more realistic …” I used the RIMS II final demand employment multipliers for supplying industries calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

Greene also accuses the ethanol industry of “magically creating thousands of corn growing jobs that would have existed anyway,” which Urbanchuk also defends.

“Our analysis estimates the number of jobs in the corn sector supported by ethanol and at risk if the VEETC is eliminated. The loss of 4 billion gallons of ethanol is the equivalent of 1.5 billion bushels of corn, or about 11% of total corn utilization. Mr. Greene assumes that if corn demand is reduced by lower ethanol production, corn growers will continue to plant and produce the same amount of corn regardless. Supply and demand, Mr. Greene … supply will adjust to lower demand … fewer acres and bushels translates to fewer jobs to plant, treat, harvest, transport corn … not to mention to provide all of the ancillary tasks on the farm. Moreover, during the whole international land use change debate the environmental community said if we weren’t growing corn for ethanol, all that land would “revert to nature.” It now appears that the claim is that if we weren’t growing corn for ethanol, we’d be growing the same amount anyway for some other else. In other words and to parody a famous movie “if you grow it, they will buy it”! You can’t have it both ways.”

Read Greene’s entire post and Urbanchuk’s response here.

Green Activists Continue Ethanol Smear Campaign

Another anti-biofuels report has been released, this time from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) who is arguing that an immediate benefit would ensue if current biofuels policies were repealed and replaced with policies that would take the world’s most productive cropland out of production. Maybe more alarming is that while the report attempts to discredit the most promising biofuels technologies, it gives fossil fuels along with other dirty energy sources a get out of jail card. This report has spurred the biofuels industry to respond.

“Most disappointing about the continuous barrage of attacks by environmental activists is that we share many of the same goals,” said Matt Hartwig, Director of Public Affairs at the Renewable Fuels Association. “Ethanol producers remain steadfastly committed to developing new technologies that improve efficiencies and expand the basket of feedstocks from which ethanol is made. Unfortunately, many in the environmental movement choose to rely on disproven theories and partnerships with the oil lobby to mislead and misrepresent what American ethanol production is all about. Simply put, second and third generations of ethanol technology will not exist without a successful first generation.” Continue reading

Register Now for Energy Communications Summit

Another approach and discussion is emerging surrounding messaging and education of global climate change. Green communication specialists will gather in May for a summit to refine the cause that clean energy and sustainable business practices are good policy and good business.

renergizeThe first-ever Green PR summit rEnergize Communications Summit will be held May 23-25 to discuss how corporate brands, products and initiatives will be best positioned for success in the new era of climate change and sustainability. Communication experts from corporations, organizations, trusts, foundations, and local and state government will be working together to create a unified messaging strategy that will prepare people for the global changes already under way to alleviate the destruction of climate change.

“There is a disconnect between the importance that people place on the environment and what sustainability actions they are willing to adopt,” said Joanna Schroeder, APR and Principal of 4R Communications, the company spearheading the summit. “Now that the world has embraced the issues surrounding climate change, and policy is underway to mitigate potential damage, we need a concerted communications effort that will help educate and prepare the public for these inevitable changes.”

Conference speakers include Cara Pike, Director of Our Social Capital Project and author of Climate Crossroads: A Research-Based Framing Guide; Autumn Salamack, Aveda; Greensburg, Kansas Mayor Bob Dixson; Brian Davis, CleanBiz Horizons; Jim Lane, Biofuels Digest; and Greg Pahl author of The Citizens Energy Handbook.

Register by March 15 to receive free registration to the webinar, “5 Key Barriers to Environmental Engagement,” as well as for conference registration discounts. For a full list of speakers, and to register, visit www.rEnergizeMedia.com. You can also follow news about the conference on Twitter at #GRPR.

Ethanol Industry Rep Appointed to California Panel

CA ARBAt least one ethanol industry representative has been appointed to an expert work group attempting to assess the true carbon footprint of all fuel sources under the California’s proposed Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

POET Senior Vice President of Science and Technology Mark Stowers has been appointed to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is one of 30 experts from around the world appointed to the group. The group has been charged with assisting the Board in “refining and improving the land use and indirect effect analysis of transportation fuels,” according to a CARB resolution. The group will come up with recommendations to present to CARB by Jan. 1, 2011. The group’s first meeting will be Feb. 26 in Sacramento.

“The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is an important piece of energy policy, too important to rely on theories or unproven models,” Stowers said. “As the lone representative for ethanol producers in the workgroup, I want to make sure than all carbon accounting is based on the wealth of facts and accumulated data regarding agriculture, energy and deforestation. I also want to ensure that all fuels, including oil and electricity, are held to the same accounting standards as biofuels so that the rule truly can lower carbon emissions.”

The group also includes Jesper Hedal Kløverpris of Novozymes, which produces enzymes to further the development of advanced biofuels, as well as a number of university and energy researchers – but Stowers is the only ethanol industry representative on the panel. Stowers has led efforts at POET to create new, efficient processes for producing grain-based ethanol that save energy, limit water use and improve ethanol yields. He also leads POET’s cellulosic ethanol effort, known as Project LIBERTY, which produces ethanol from corn cobs.

ALMS Partners with American Forests

American Le Mans Series (ALMS) is known globally for its environmental initiatives, and today is taking another green step with its partnership with American Forests to support its “dollar-a-tree” Global ReLeaf program. Nonprofit American Forests, has a goal of planting 100 million trees by 2020. ALMS has pledged to plant at least 5,000 trees during the 2010 race season with the focus on areas that have been damaged by natural disasters such as fires and floods and areas that have been overdeveloped.

“Since its inception, the ALMS has been at the forefront of developing green initiatives and solutions in motorsports,” said American Le Man Series President and CEO Scott Atherton.”We are very proud of our efforts with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy as they relate to our on-track efforts. Our involvement with American Forests enables us to contribute to similar solutions away from the race track and is another way the American Le Mans Series can advocate for a greener tomorrow.”

With the implementation of the Green ReLeaf campaign, the Series will begin every race weekend by displaying a Survivor tree in the paddock. The Survivor Elm – donated by the Series and its teams through American Forests’ Historic Tree program – will encourage fans to do their part for the planet. For every three trees planted, roughly one ton of carbon will be sequestered, allowing for over 1,666 tons of CO2 to be taken out of the atmosphere overall, and every acre of trees planted (approx. 340-490 trees) by the Series will offset about the amount of CO2 produced by driving a car 26,000 miles, or about twice the amount the average driver drives per year.

This initiative is part of the Series’ Michelin Green X Challenge, a season-long green competition.

Going Green Can Save You Green

Last week, I wrote a story regarding President Obama’s executive order for the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020. One goal of this program is to get other companies to follow suit, but many companies don’t know where to start. Enter the Hondo Green Assessment Tool (HGAT). To learn more about how companies can become more sustainable, I spoke with the Hondo Group’s CEO Lynn Balinas.

HGAT is an internet based tool for small to mid-sized companies that can measure a company’s carbon footprint, manage its carbon footprint and maintain carbon footprint goals, explained Balinas. The tool measures five categories: water, energy, transportation, materials and waste. Ultimately the tool helps companies become not only more sustainable but more profitable as well.

“People usually first think, it’s about the environment, it’s about global warming. That’s part of it,” said Balinas. “But it’s good governance and it’s actually profitable for organizations.”

A few years ago, people perceived that going green meant going broke. That is actually not the case. Going green will actually help you make more green. For example, if all small to mid-sized businesses turned off their computers and printers at night (unplug the electronics) nearly $2.1 billion could be saved annually.

Here is how it works. After 35 days of metrics based on the five categories outlined above, the HGAT will tell a company how to reduce the carbon footprint and give suggestions that a company can choose to integrate. Ultimately, the tools that are put into place will help a company manage its program and save money.

Companies can implement the program alone or partner with other small to mid-sized companies. Balinas said that the average cost to a company with less than 50 employees is around $50 per month but the return is much greater.

Listen to my interview with Lynn below to learn more about HGAT.

Book Review – Break Through

How many people agree with the statement, “We should not leave the solution to our environmental issues to environmentalists.” Two proponents of this idea are Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenbeger with the Break Through Institute and author of a book by the same name, “Break Through: Why We Can’t Leave Solving the Planet to Environmentalists.”

They write, “In the end, it is the global ecological crisis themselves that have triggered the death of environmentalism. For us to make sense of them, the category of “the environment” – along with the ancient story of humankind’s fall from nature – is no longer useful. The challenge of climate change is so massive, so global, and so complex that it can be overcome only if we look beyond the issue categories of the past and embrace a grand new vision for the future.”

They continue by arguing that before a new vision can be realized we must first ask, “What kind of beings are we? and What can we become?” And this is what they set out to answer; however, along the journey, I lost interest and barely held out long enough to discover the answer to these questions.

Right now, many people who read the book are thinking (or will write me) you didn’t get it. No, I got it. In fact, the answers are philosophical, engaging, well thought out, and have extreme merit. But the truth is, I like to be entertained when I read, even if it’s a nonfiction or business book, and this book felt like I was back in philosophy class in college (and for me that was one and done). Yet the philosophical arguments they lay out adeptly get us thinking into a new thought paradigm. We should no longer think about how the world can work together to solve global warming in the traditional sense of’ ‘environmentalism,’ but we must realize that true results will come when we understand that the solution to the problem lies in the intersection between ecological concern and global prosperity.

Obama to Slash Gov’t GHGs by 28%

For those of you who still have President Obama’s State of the Union speech in your mind, then you may remember his call for the government to slash greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). He has followed through. Less than a week after the pronouncement, Obama has issued an Executive Order 13514 on Federal Sustainability for the federal government to slash GHG emissions 28 percent by 2020.

According to the White House, the federal government, which includes all of our armed forces, is the largest energy user in the U.S. The 28% reduction would decrease annual electricity use by 1.5% saving between $8 – $11 billion in energy costs through 2020. Just in 2008, the federal government racked up a $24.5 billion energy bill.

“As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” said Obama as quoted in an article in Recharge. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

This goal will require the government to shift to clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, which will support job growth and technology development in the clean tech sector – another major goal of the administration. This move also signals Obama’s commitment to passing a comprehensive climate change package, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

In the meantime, departments will be required to develop sustainability plans that will include current GHG emission estimates and to ensure follow-through, achievement reports will be published online for the public to view and submit reponses.

Obama’s Message: Hope, News Jobs & Clean Energy

PicImg_President_Obama_addresses_d7d1The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the global clean economy and America must be that nation,” said President Obama tonight during his first State of the Union address. “I will not accept second place.”

There were several major focuses of his speech including the support of small businesses, building a stronger financial institution and the creation of new jobs, especially in the clean tech sector. “We need to put more Americans to work building clean energy systems,” said Obama. He also wants to give incentives to consumers who add energy efficiency technologies to their homes, the purchase of these will help to support clean energy industry, he explained.

Obama continued that the House has already passed a bill that will do some of these things, and expressed hope that the Senate would as well. “I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.”

In anticipation for Obama’s support of clean tech jobs, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President, Bob Dinneen sent out a statement saying, “America’s ethanol producers stand with the President, ready to provide good paying jobs and economic opportunity in a cleaner and more sustainable manner. “In just the past 10 years, ethanol production has helped create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for engineers, construction workers, chemists, accountants, maintenance supervisors, and countless others. With new technologies on the precipice of commercialization, this industry is once again poised to bring unparalleled economic opportunity to small, rural communities all across the nation.”

Obama continued, “No area is more ripe for investments than energy…but to create more of these clean energy jobs, we meed more production, more efficiencies and more incentives. He then laid of some of the elements that are needed to create the clean energy industry including continued investments in advanced biofuels. Finally he said, “And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy profitable energy.” Continue reading

Book Review – Climate Cover-Up

This week we’re back to climate change, and the author James Hoggan, lays out the “crusade to deny global warming in “Climate Cover-Up.” For those of you familiar with the online green space, you may have come across the blog DeSmogBlog, which is co-founded by Hoggan. This site is dedicated to “out” those companies, experts and scientists who are (or were) trying to deny global climate change and manipulate the public. It also calls out the supporting characters to the deceit – the mainstream media.

ClimateCover-UpLike companies who have been outed in their campaigns against ethanol, Hoggan outs companies like ExxonMobil who had campaigns against the existence of global climate change. Climate changed seemed to gain worldwide consensus in 2006/07 in part due to the success of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth“. (For Gore fans, he just released his follow-up “Our Choice” last winter.)

Hoggan writes, “…no one seemed to be confused about climate change in 1988. The great scientific bodies of the world were concerned, and the foremost political leaders were engaged. So what happened then and now?” Well, that’s exactly what Hoggan lays out for the reader:  a big fat smear campaign against the earth. Continue reading

Wildlife Report Picks and Chooses Data

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has analyzed a new report out from the National Wildlife Federation on “Corn Ethanol and Wildlife” and found it lacking in accuracy.

The University of Michigan study released last week claims to show “how government incentives for corn ethanol are driving farmers to shift land into corn production, resulting in significant decreases in grassland bird populations throughout the fragile Prairie Pothole Region.” The region studied includes Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota.

The RFA analysis concludes that “selective and questionable use of data, unclear research methods, and emotional arguments cast doubt on the reliability of the conclusions and recommendations.”

The authors deliberately pick and choose certain data from certain years to support their conclusions. In many cases, the authors selected agricultural data points that are obvious outliers when viewed in the context of both mid- and long-term historical trends. As one example, the paper uses 2004 and 2007 data for comparisons of planted corn acres, but uses 2007 and 2009 data for a comparison of acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

RFA also notes that USDA data clearly show that recent expansion of corn acres nationally and in the four-state region examined in the NWF report came through crop switching, not through the conversion of native grassland, since total crop acres in the four states actually declined slightly from 2004 to 2007. On top of that, the NWF report uses “grossly outdated assumptions about growth in average corn yield per acre and the amount of ethanol yielded per bushel of corn” to suggest the biofuel requirements of the expanded Renewable Fuels Standard will demand an additional 10.69 million acres of corn by 2015 over 2009 levels.

Read the RFA analysis here.

Solar Whale Boat to Clean Up Waterways

Entrepreneurs around the world have devised some clever ways to address global warming and here is another another one: a solar whale boat. Known as the Physalia, this 100 percent self sufficient energy amphibious garden is shaped like a whale and designed to clean up polluted waterways throughout Europe. Physalia  means water bubble in Greek and according to Vincent Callebaut Architectures, who concepted the ecosystem, “It is a poetic invitation to travel, a sensory experience for the transdisciplinary research, geopolitical debates, popular pedagogy.”


This carbon-zero emission boat is designed using renewable energy including a roof that contains a double pneumatic membrane chiselled with smooth photovoltaic solar cells. Under its hull, hydro-turbines transfer water into hydro-electricity powering the navigation system.

The surface is comprised of aluminum covering the multi-hull steel structure and is covered by a TiO2 layer of anatase shape that reacts to ultraviolet rays reducing water pollution. So, in essence this boat is both self cleaning and also absorbs chemical and carboned waste left by other boats. Lastly, with a planted roof and hydraulic network, the boat can purify the water.

Click here for a conceptual presentation of the Physalia.

Ethanol Buses Gaining Ground in Sao Paulo

EthanolBusEthanol-powered buses are gaining ground in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil. While it is unusual to see ethanol used in replacement of diesel fuel in diesel engines in the States, it is not so uncommon in other areas. In 1993, a group of companies began working together to discover a solution for mass transport and its relationship to global warming. The result was the Bio Ethanol Sustainable Transport Project (BEST) which includes more than 600 buses that have been converted to run on 95 percent ethanol.  Of the total number, 400 of them are in Stockholm.

The program has been in effect in Sao Paulo Brazil since 2007 and while I was there last month, I had the opportunity to ride one of the brand new buses. There are quite a few players in this project – the National Biomass Reference Center, University of Sao Paulo’s Electro-Technical and Energy Institute, and UNICA, the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, among others.

EthanolBusEngineThe bus is equipped with a 15 m Scania chassis, has a 9 liter, 270 hp engine that is fueled with 95 percent ethanol and a 5 percent  ignition promoter additive and a compression ratio of 28:1. (The most common compression ratio is 18:1.) The emissions meet the European Union’s standards, EURO 5, as well as the Enhanced Environmentally Friendly Vehicles (EEV) standards. The Cosan Group is providing all the ethanol used in the two operational buses.

While the BEST project is still a pilot program in Sao Paulo, the demand for the buses is growing due to the Climate Change Law of Sao Paulo City that was passed. This law states that all bus fleets must run on renewable sources by 2018. The city mayor recently announced a goal to have 200 buses running in the short term with a full conversion to ethanol by 2019, a tad past the deadline set by the city; however, theoretically, within 10 years, there will be no diesel buses running in Sao Paulo. This is achievable in that there is another law that requires all buses to be retired every 10 years.

UNICA is hoping other metropolitan areas adopt Sao Paulo’s legislation and there are talks with the city of Rio to bring in ethanol buses as they prepare to host the 2016 Olympic games.

You can see more pictures of the ethanol buses in my photo album.

Energy From Cows Could Reduce Emissions

Producing more energy from cow manure could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the climate summit in Copenhagen, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an agreement with U.S. dairy producers to accelerate adoption of innovative manure to energy projects on American dairy farms.

“This historic agreement, the first of its kind, will help us achieve the ambitious goal of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions while benefiting dairy farmers,” Vilsack said from Copenhagen. “Use of manure to electricity technology is a win for everyone because it provides an untapped source of income for famers, provides a source of renewable electricity, reduces our dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and provides a wealth of additional environmental benefits.”

Under the agreement, USDA intends to increase the number of anaerobic digesters supported by USDA programs. Beyond promoting the digesters, the agreement will encourage research, and development of new technologies to help dairies reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Anaerobic digester technology is a proven method of converting waste products, such as manure, into electricity. The technology utilizes generators that are fueled by methane captured from the animal manure. Currently, only about 2 percent of U.S. dairies that are candidates for a profitable digester are utilizing the technology. Dairy operations with anaerobic digesters routinely generate enough electricity to power 200 homes.