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.

EPA Determines CO2, Other GHGs Endanger Society

coal_fired_power_plantSome of the biggest news to come out of Copenhagen yesterday was the ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gas emissions are now considered “an endangerment” to society. This ruling now gives the EPA the authority, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate greenhouse gases. This decision could lead to stricter vehicle, manufacturing and power plant emissions – including ethanol and biodiesel plants.

The timing was no coincidence as President Obama is looking to improve America’s bargaining hand during the two week Climate Change Conference where leaders from nearly 200 countries are attempting to create a global climate policy plan.

On December 7, 2009, the Administrator signed two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

  • Endangerment Finding: The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)–in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.

  • Cause or Contribute Finding: The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.

In addition to tightening emission standards, there are two other ways that have been discussed at length to regulate CO2 emissions, the gas that is in the most abundance. First is through a carbon tax and second through a cap and trade system.

Book Review – Our Choice

OurChoiceThis morning the Copenhagen Climate Conference kicked off. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the two big issues are the reduction of CO2 and the halting of deforestation. As I noted in other writings, there are Climate Alarmists and Climate Skeptics. Climate Alarmists, which Al Gore would be considered, believe that if we don’t curb global warming now, the earth will face unprecedented consequences. The climate skeptics, as Bjorn Lomborg would be considered, offer the view that the problem has been blown out of proportion or is focused on the wrong culprits. Actually there would be nothing more fun than a Lomborg/Gore debate.

On Friday, I presented a ‘skeptics’ view…today I will present an ‘alarmists’ view. For the third book review, I chose Al Gore’s, “Our Choice A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.” Most people know that Gore helped to put the global warming debate on the map with his first book and movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” These efforts led to a shared Oscar and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Gore will also be playing a major role in Copenhagen over the next two weeks.

Gore begins, “It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will.”

Throughout the book, Gore uses a combination of words, graphics and pictures to demonstrate the climate change debate, detail many of the solutions and offer policy recommendations. There is one area where I think Gore did a great job, and that is explaining what the six categories of global warming pollution are: carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, sulfur hexaflouride, tetrafluoroethane, carbon monoxide, butane and nitrous oxide. To date, the biggest focus has been on carbon dioxide and Gore’s focus throughout the book is no different.

Along those same lines, Gore advocates that the most effective way to curb CO2 is through putting a price on carbon. He writes, “An effective plan for solving the climate crisis must include aggressive remedies for our erroneous reliance on deceptive market signals in carbon-based energy.” Continue reading

Copenhagen VIPS travel in Limos Fueled by Straw

Tanking of the Volvo VIP Fleet with Biomass Made from Waste

Tanking of the Volvo VIP Fleet with Biomass Made from Waste

VIPS traveling around Copenhagen during the Climate Conference are not only traveling in style, their limos are fueled with biofuel produced from straw. According to Novozymes, the largest enzyme producer in the world, this is the first time ever a fleet of limos has been fueled with this type of biofuel.

The advanced fuel is made from waste biomass, namely straw, by Inbicon, at its new USD-60 million gallon demonstration plant in Denmark. The fuel boasts an 85 percent reduction in CO2, as compared to cars running on gasoline. The reduction of CO2 is a hot topic during the conference.

Another hot topic is developing more effective enzymes to convert starch to sugar during the biofuel production process. Novozymes developed the enzyme that is being used in Inbicon’s ethanol production process.

The fleet of Volvo limousines is sponsored by Partnership for Biofuel, which is a cooperation between Inbicon, Statoil, Danisco, and Novozymes, as well as Volvo.

Book Review – Cool It

CoolItWhat is the greatest crisis in the history of civilization? Global warming. Well, at least according to the media’s portrayal. However, according to Bjorn Lomborg, the author of “Cool It, and the second review in my Copenhagen Climate Conference three views in seven days series, while global warming is an concern, it is not the most pressing worldwide issue.

Lomborg writes, “That humanity has caused a substantial rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past centuries, thereby contributing to global warming, is beyond debate. What is debatable, however, is whether hysteria and headlong spending on extravagant CO2-cutting programs at an unprecedented price is the only possible response.”

He continues, “Such a course is especially debatable in a world where billions of people live in poverty, where millions die of curable diseases, and where these lives could be saved, societies strengthened, and environments improved at a fraction of the cost.”

Has the worldwide frenzy surrounding global warming caused us to lose our common sense? Continue reading

Rethinking Deforestation – A Copenhagen Challenge

Amazon_RainforestYesterday I wrote about one of the major challenges facing leaders who will be participating in the Copenhagen Climate Conference – global warming. Today, I’m addressing a second major issue facing the leaders – stopping deforestation. There is a misnomer that the main driver of deforestation is the increased production of biofuels. While there is a correlation between biofuels and deforestation, it is minor compared to the real driver – the trees are worth more cut down than they are standing. Let me explain.

Some of the poorest people in the world reside in the regions in and around the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. To survive, they cut down the trees and sell them. Although there have been attempts to ‘block’ this wood from international markets, these efforts have not been successful. Once the trees are cut down, cattle farmers move in and once the land has been over-grazed and the cattle move on, farmers often begin growing soybeans. Another point of interest is that sugarcane does not grow well in the Amazonian region; however, laws have been passed that prohibit the expansion of sugarcane production on native vegetation.

According to The Breakthrough Institute, “The main drivers of Amazonian deforestation are socio-economic. Yet decades of environmental policy have failed to take this basic truth into account.” If we’re going to keep the rainforest intact, then the people who live in the region will need to be given new opportunities to generate wealth that are worth more then selling the trees.

During the climate talks next week, leaders will be attempting to create policies that will address the urban poverty drivers of deforestation. I was in Brazil last week and in prepartion for the meetings, the Brazilian Climate Alliance has prepared a report with recommendations to reduce/climate deforestation. The proposed policies will be released during the conference and the world will be watching.

Book Review – The Chilling Stars

Chilling_StarsYesterday, in the post Countdown to Copenhagen, I mentioned that there are still quite a few scientists around the world who agree that climate change exists, but don’t agree about the cause. To kick off my three views in seven days series, is a review of the book, “The Chilling Stars A New Theory of Climate Change.” The authors are climate physicist Henrik Svensmark and award winning science writer Nigel Calder.

Let me start off by acknowledging that the majority of scientists believe that greenhouse gas emissions, primarily CO2, are causing global climate change. However, here is what Svensmark and Calder say about carbon dioxide. “To correct apparent over-estimates of the effects of carbon dioxide is not to recommend a careless bonfire of the fossil fuels that produce the gas. A commonplace libel is that anyone skeptical about the impending global-warming disaster is probably in the pay of the oil companies.”

They continue, “In fact, there are compelling reasons to economize in the use of fossil fuels, which have nothing to do with the climate–to minimize unhealthy smog, to conserve the planet’s limited stocks of fuel, and to keep energy prices down for the benefit of the poorer nations.”

So if climate change is not driven in part by CO2, as argued by the authors, then what is the primary driver of climate change?

The premise of Svensmark’s climate change theory is that the interplay between clouds, the sun and cosmic rays, have a greater effect on climate than man-made carbon dioxide. For those who don’t remember much of any science from high school or college a cosmic ray is comprised of sub-atomic particles from exploded stars. Continue reading

Countdown to Copenhagen

Polar_Ice_Cap_DFThe countdown to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference is on as the talks begin in six days. The conference, December 7-18, 2009 is a meeting of the UN to hash out a successor to the Kyoto protocol that is set to expire in 2012. The aim is to prevent global warming, and similar talks date back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

While we haven’t focused much on Copenhagen on this site, alternative energy will play one of the biggest roles during the summit for its potential to curb worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in the Guardian, “Climate scientists are convinced the world must stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions and start making them fall very soon. To have a chance of keeping warming under the dangerous 2C mark, cuts of 25%-40% relative to 1990 levels are needed, rising to 80%-95% by 2050. So far, the offers on the table are way below these targets.”

What I find most interesting is that while there appears to be a scientific consensus on the existence of global warming and that it is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, mainly CO2, there are still many scientists who don’t agree. As such, the question must be asked, should we be moving forward so quickly both in the U.S. and around the world, on climate policies based on greenhouse gas emission reductions?

Now, before you shoot me and accuse me of being indifferent to the environment and human health issues, less pollution is always good and many economists predict that the next “Green Revolution” (the first one was in the 70s) will help our country rise above the recession. That said, I do believe we need to do something, I’m just not convinced the options on the table are the right ones.

Therefore, over the next week, I’m going to be offering three views on climate change as laid out in three books focusing on global warming. From there, it’s up to you to decide what direction worldwide leaders should be taking.

An Inside View of the Brazilian Ethanol Industry

Brazil_DF_StoryOi from Brasil! I have spent the last three days learning about the ethanol industry in Brazil. I have been traveling with a group of 20 international journalists in the State of Sao Paulo, where 60 percent of the country’s sugarcane is grown and consequently where the majority of the ethanol is produced.

I’ll be writing a series of posts about my trip over the next week but I can sum up my experience in one sentence. Where there is a will, there’s a way. When the country of Brazil decided in the 1970s during the oil crisis that it would become energy independent, it did. Today, Brazil gets the majority of its energy, both renewable and fossil fuel based, within its boarders. In addition, the majority of the ethanol produced in the country stays in the country.

Also, unlike the U.S., Brazil produces most of its electricity needs from renewable sources as well. Today, more than 80 percent of its power comes from hydroelectricity, but this poses a problem during drought conditions and will be a bigger problem as water issues become more paramount. A solution? To sell the extra electricity from the sugar mills into the grid during the months the plants are operational, which happens to be during the dry time of the year. UNICA, the organization that represents the Brazilian sugarcane industry, predicts that sugarcane could supply 15 percent of the power by 2017.

While I don’t agree with all of Brazil’s polices and many in the country agree there have been some good and bad decisions, they offer the world demonstrable options and thus, a shorter learning curve to solid energy policies and technologies.

You can take a virtual tour via my Flickr account. Until tomorrow, Tchau.

Algenol, Linde Partner On CO2 Management Technology

DSalgaeAlgenol Biofuels, in partnership with The Linde Group, have agreed to collaborate in a joint project that will attempt to identify the optimum management of carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen for Algenol’s algae and photobioreactor technology. The goal is to develop cost-efficient technologies that capture, store, transport, and supply CO2 for the production of third-generation biofuels out of carbon dioxide, salt water and algae as well as remove oxygen from the photobioreactor.

“Producing fuels or chemicals from algae is a promising way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr Aldo Belloni, member of the Executive Board of Linde AG. “A cost-efficient supply of CO2 is a key factor in this biofuel chain. As a pioneer and leading company in CO2 capture, transport and supply we are delighted to be a key player in major projects in the algae-to-biofuel area.”

The technology will serve two purposes: to reduce atmospheric concentrations of C02 and to deliver sustainable low-cost alternative biofuels. Algenol has developed proprietary technology to produce advanced biofuels using algae, CO2, salt water and sunlight. One of the major benefits of producing biofuels from algae is that the algae consumes CO2 from fossil fuel sources, such as combustion flue gases from coal-fired power plants.

In other news, earlier this month, The Linde Group, in partnership with Waste Management, commissioned the largest landfill gas (LFG) to liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in the U.S. in Livermore, Cali.