President Obama announced the nomination of Cathy Zoi as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Ms. Zoi has a history of working in the energy sector including: being the founding CEO of the Alliance for Climate Protection; Chief of Staff in the White House Office on Environmental Policy; and manager at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where she pioneered the Energy Star Program.
Zoi will face the task of helping President Obama deliver on a promise that was central to his campaign: ending American dependence on foreign oil by focusing on renewable energy sources that in the bargain can help create thousands of new, “green” jobs. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama vowed to increase the emphasis on renewable, clean energy. That is a goal the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has been pursuing for years, trying to wean the country from dependence on fossil fuels and find cleaner ways to satisfy its energy needs.
EERE leads the Federal government’s R&D efforts on energy efficiency and manages what it calls “the Department of Energy’s (DOE) diverse energy efficiency and renewable energy applied science portfolio. The mission is to develop and deploy renewable energy sources and conversion technologies, as well as identify efficiency best practices, regulations and technologies that collectively strengthens our economy, protects the environment and increases national security.”
The National Corn Growers Association Ethanol Committee has established a task force of corn farmers to focus on climate issues, such as land use change, greenhouse gas emissions, cap-and-trade policies, carbon sequestration and low carbon fuel standards. The team includes farmers from Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio.
“There is a wealth of information and research on climate change that we need to gather and communicate to our members and policymakers,” said Steve Ruh, chairman of the task force and a farmer in Sugar Grove, Ill. “We also know there is a need for more research to fill the gaps for policy and legislative initiatives that will help us maintain economic and environmental sustainability.”
One immediate project for the task force is a response to the controversial low carbon fuel standard proposed by the California Air Resources Board.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) announced with a press release that The Pace Energy and Climate Center has been selected to develop a renewable fuels roadmap and sustainable biomass feedstock study that will help guide New York State policy on renewable fuels. The Roadmap was one of several recommendations from Governor David Paterson’s Renewable Energy Task Force report issued in 2008. The project is co-sponsored by the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation and Agriculture and Markets; who along with NYSERDA will oversee the development of the Roadmap.
“With federal and state policy calling for increased use of renewable fuels to diversify our fuel mix, it is vital that we have a better understanding of the sustainable feedstock resources for continued in-state renewable fuel production,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Francis J. Murray Jr. “The Roadmap will put forth a plan that assesses the economic, environmental, and energy impacts of renewable fuel production while identifying pathways in which energy dollars can be retained within the State.”
The goal of the initiative is to identify the renewable fuels, feedstocks, pathways, and applications that would be sustainable and provide the most benefit to New York State by reducing lifecycle greenhouse gases and dependence on imported fossil fuels. Once the state has a firm understanding on the types of fuels that are sustainable, policymakers can determine how best to bring them to market. Because the renewable fuel industry is changing rapidly, the Roadmap is intended to be updated periodically to identify more economical and sustainable sources of renewable fuels progressing towards carbon neutrality. The Roadmap will address renewable fuels that are currently being used, near-term renewable fuels that are close to contributing to the reduction in fossil fuel use within a three to ten year time horizon, and promising future renewable fuels that may make significant contributions to fossil fuel reductions in more than 10 years.
The Roadmap is scheduled for completion in September, 2009.
The Illinois Corn Growers Association today unveiled two landmark studies on ethanol that conclude production of the biofuel leaves a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline and has substantial room for growth without affecting corn supply to the food and feed sectors.
Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal research economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Energy Resources Center, studied the carbon footprint of the Illinois River Energy facility near Rochelle, Illinois which produces 55 million gallons of ethanol annually.
“We looked at the global warming and land use impact of corn ethanol produced at the Illinois River Energy ethanol plant — which is a modern, natural gas fueled facility — on a full life-cycle basis,” said Mueller. “We found conclusively that the global warming impact of the modern ethanol plant is 40 percent lower than gasoline. This is a sizable reduction from numbers currently being used by public agencies and in the public debate. The study also documents the significant net energy benefits of ethanol when compared to gasoline. And, additional opportunities exist to expand that margin even more through technological improvements and on farm changes in corn production that reduce green house gas emissions. Furthermore, corn supply for the ethanol plant was primarily met through yield increases in the surrounding area and, as documented with satellite imagery, without conversion of non agricultural land to corn.”
The study by Ross Korves, economic policy analyst at ProExporter Network, analyzed the consequences of a technology-driven revolution that is occurring throughout America agriculture which would see average corn production increase from 155 bushels an acre today to 289 bushels over the next two decades. The study suggests that sufficient amounts of corn will be available to increase ethanol production from the current level of 7.1 billion gallons last year to 33 billion gallons by 2030 with current technology. The study also factors in increased future demand for corn from both export and livestock (feed) sectors. Korves also looked at the environmental impact of ethanol production, predicting that the global warming impact (GWI) of the average ethanol plant would decline dramatically through increased efficiencies in coming years.
“The GWI of the average ethanol plant is expected to decline 27 percent by 2030,” said Korves. “By that year, the GWI of corn ethanol processed in a plant using a biomass combined heat and power system will be less than one-third of the GWI of gasoline.”
The Illinois Corn Growers Association also announced that the state has become a technological and commercial leader in corn-based ethanol.
How do we meet carbon reduction goals?
How do we reduce our carbon footprint with biodiesel and ethanol without actually creating more carbon from the production of those biofuels?
What are the trade-offs and benefits we could see between securing our food supplies and our energy security?
And how do we make all these things work while not damaging the environment we seek to save through the use and production of biofuels?
These are all good questions that came out the first session this morning as panelists and audience members at the Farm Foundation’s Transition to a Bioeconomy: Environmental and Rural Development Impacts Conference here in St. Louis.
One of the presenters, John Reilly from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says we must be careful we’re not expanding one environmentally-friendly source just to infringe on another area of the environment.
“Biofuel could be a major, major supplier of fuel in the future and, in principle, could be a low carbon source. But the indirect effects on land use is a large concern.”
Reilly says we must make sure that we don’t convert forests into farmland and lose any benefit that we gain from the production and use of ethanol and biodiesel.
You can hear more of my conversation with Reilly here: JohnReilly.mp3
Podcast: Play in new window
| Download (2.6MB)
It seems even entertainers can’t escape the momentum behind the growing renewable and alternative energy movement. Singer-songwriter Tracy Lyons is launching her ‘Mercury Rising Tour,’ a tour that will highlight alternative and clean energy technologies. Her tour will also operate on biodiesel.
Singer-songwriter, veteran environmental activist and National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) advocate Tracy Lyons launches her 2007-2008 Mercury Rising Tour on October 25 with a concert at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. Lyons’ vision for the tour is to draw additional attention to the issues of global warming, alternative/clean energy solutions and the negative effects that pollution has on our health. A longtime spokesperson for clean and sustainable energy technologies, Tracy Lyons’ call to action regarding environmentalism first came through health issues that she personally experienced related to toxicity poisoning from heavy metals including mercury and lead.
The Eco-Stage for Tracy Lyons’ Mercury Rising Tour will be powered off the grid by environmentally-friendly bio-diesel and will feature a state-of-the-art hydrogen fuel cell. As well, information will be provided on the latest clean energy technologies and education about critical initiatives driving environmental action. The tour’s carbon footprint will be offset by the purchase of carbon credits for anything that can’t be accomplished directly using clean energy technologies.
The United States will host the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference March 4-6, 2008.
The conference, which has been held previously in Bonn and Beijing, is an opportunity for government, private sector, and non-governmental leaders to jointly address the goal of advancing renewable energy.
Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky hosted stakeholders in the renewable energy industry last week to announce the conference and discuss their goals.
“This conference will play a key role in addressing energy security and climate change,” she said. “WIREC will also provide a platform to promote strategies for the development and rapid adoption of renewable energy systems worldwide,” Dobriansky says.
USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr also attended the WIREC kickoff to talk about USDA’s involvement in the conference. “It is important in this discussion to remember that renewable energy is in large part rural energy—ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel and biomass technology all rely primarily on farm and forest resources, and wind because of its siting requirements is also largely a rural resource,” said Dorr.
Weather-related problems that have caused damage to refineries in the Midwest have highlighted the need to diversify our nation’s transportation fuel needs. This issue is not only important for consumers who are feeling the pinch at the gas pump, but also for our country’s overall energy security.
This edition of “Fill up, Feel Good” discusses ethanol’s benefits in terms of energy security and the environment, featuring comments from a Midwest fuel supplier, the organizer of a national summit on energy security and climate change, and a world-renowned explorer and environmentalist.
The “Fill up, Feel Good” podcast is available to download by subscription (see our sidebar link)
or you can listen to it by clicking here (5:30 MP3 File): epic-podcast-7-15-07.mp3
The Fill Up, Feel Good theme music is “Tribute to Joe Satriani” by Alan Renkl, thanks to the Podsafe Music Network.
“Fill up, Feel Good” is sponsored by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed three Executive Orders Friday initiating Florida’s energy policy. The signing ceremony concluded the Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change held in Miami this week.
According to the governor’s press office, the Executive Orders carry out Governor Crist’s commitment to reducing Florida’s greenhouse gases and increasing energy efficiency. As a result, Florida will pursue renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy, as well as alternative energy such as ethanol and hydrogen.
Governor Crist said, “During the next few months, Florida’s Action Team on Energy and Climate Change will develop further recommendations for our state’s long-term climate-friendly efforts.”
Among the provisions in the orders, any purchased state vehicles should be fuel efficient and use ethanol and biodiesel fuels when available. Florida will also adopt the California motor vehicle emission standards, pending approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency waiver.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Crist at the Summit in hosting a roundtable discussion among chief executive officers of business corporations and non-government organizations and also as the luncheon keynote speaker.
The 2nd Annual National Summit on Energy Security is taking place today at the National Press Club in Washington DC, presented by 2020 Vision.
This year’s summit has the theme of “National Security and America’s Addiction to Carbon: Solutions to Oil Dependence and Climate Change” and features Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), among many other distinguished speakers.
The event kicked off this morning with a presentation of the first annual Energy Security Leadership Award to Sen. Richard Lugar.
The day will wrap up with a reception for and presentation by Arctic explorer Will Steger. Mr. Steger has recently finished a four month journey across the Canadian Arctic’s Baffin Island to experience and document how the Inuit culture is coping with global warming. He will present photos and information about this trip, as well as three upcoming trips, at a special VIP reception.
The event has been organized by 2020 Vision, which was formed in 1986 to promote global security and protect the environment. I spoke with executive director Tom Collina about the summit.
Listen to that interview here: energy-summit-collina.mp3
Podcast: Play in new window
| Download (1.7MB)
The agenda for the Ethanol Summit changed at the last minute and just 24 hours before the event, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Andy Karsner, announced he would attend. Andy said ethanol is a key part of the solution to combating global warming. He said ethanol isn’t the silver bullet, but rather part of the silver buck shot. For Andy, it’ll take a number of committed strategies to establish a more green America. It wasn’t all business for the Assistant Secretary though. Andy strapped on an official Ethanol flame-repellent suit and hopped into the hot seat of a replica Ethanol car.
2007 Indy 500 Photo Album
Fortunately, the longest presentation at the Ethanol Summit was one of the most interesting. Will Steger narrated a slide show of his various expeditions across frozen ice lands in Antarctica, the North Pole and the Greenland ice cap. He spoke of temperatures 30 degrees below freezing with 30 mile an hour winds. But, amidst all that freezing cold Will said he witnessed evidence that suggests the reality of global warming. Will said significant climate changes are causing large remnants of ice from the last ice age to break up and begin to melt. He said one ice shelf took him 21 days to cross and in 2002 the entire shelf disintegrated in just a matter of four weeks, and another ice shelf was completely gone a night after he crossed it. Will said these are real affects of global warming – a global warming he says the human population is contributing to and altering. For Will, the diminishing summer sea ice suggests the earth is experiencing what he calls “unnatural climate changes.” I stopped Will just after the summit for a personal interview and asked him why, exactly, these examples are evidence of something more than a cyclical climate change:
2007 Indy 500 Photo Album
Podcast: Play in new window
| Download (2.0MB)
Global Warming 101, a three month expedition across Baffin Island in the Arctic Circle, has completed its mission.
The purpose of the expedition, which was sponsored in part by the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC) and Fagen, Inc., was to draw attention to the effects global climate change is having on native Inuit population in some of the coldest areas of the world – the first to see the impacts of the warming of the earth.
EPIC executive director Tom Slunecka and Fagen president Ron Fagen both traveled to the small remote fishing and hunting community of Iqaluit for the conclusion of the expedition.
“Most people wouldn’t think that there’s a connection between biofuels and the Arctic circle,” Slunecka said. “But as we’ve discovered, ethanol’s ability to reduce harmful gases that contribute to global warming is dramatic, and there’s no more dramatic place to see it than to go to the North Pole.”
Slunecka says world-renowned explorer Will Steger talked with the Inuit people to find out about the changes they have been seeing. “The elders in the tribes have seen a large change in insects, birds and plant life now being introduced in the region,” he said. “With the warming climate, they are very concerned about new diseases being introduced that will ultimately affect everyone who lives in the region.”
Listen to an interview with Tom here: epic-gw101-wrap.mp3
Podcast: Play in new window
| Download (1.7MB)
Will Steger is now half way through the Global Warming 101 Expedition across the Arctic. As Steger and his team continue their journey, they are seeing drastic changes in the landscape.
Recently, the team passed through the Pangnirtung Pass. This area has often been known as “the land where ice never melts,” but over the last 40 years the overhanging glaciers have been disappearing or becoming significantly smaller due to melting.
The area of Pangnirtung also relies on the sea ice for its livelihood, because the ice allows the people to hunt for seals and fish. Nearly 80 percent of their food comes from hunting and fishing. Due to the thinner and breaking sea ice, the people of Pangnirtung have had to change their lifestyle. This has greatly disrupted the culture that has been carried down through generations.
Steger notes that the ethanol industry, through the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, is an important sponsor of the expedition. “It is important to focus on the solutions that are currently available, and EPIC is helping with that solution by spreading the word about ethanol,” said Steger. “It’s essential to lower our carbon emissions to help save areas like Pangnirtung.”
During a White House press briefing on Monday with European leaders, President Bush commented on his goals for renewable fuels and the current research in producing ethanol from sources other than corn in response to a foreign journalist’s question about global environmental concerns:
I have said we’ll have a mandatory fuel standard, not a voluntary fuel standard, but a mandatory fuel standard that will reduce our uses of gasoline by 20 percent over a 10-year period of time. We believe that ethanol and biodiesel, the spread of ethanol and biodiesel are — the goal of spreading ethanol and biodiesel is achievable, that’s what we believe. And we’re spending a lot of money to achieve that goal.
Now, the spread of ethanol in the United States is not going to be achievable if we rely only upon corn. There is a limit to the amount of ethanol we can produce with corn as a feedstock. So our research dollars are going to what they call cellulosic ethanol, and that means the ability to make ethanol from switchgrasses or wood chips. And we’re spending a lot of money to that end.
And it is a mandatory approach. And the reason why I laid it out is because, one, I do believe we can be better stewards of the environment; and, two, I know it’s in our national interest to become less dependent on foreign sources of oil. The fundamental question is, will America be able to develop the technology necessary for us to achieve the goal. I think we can. It’s in our interest to share that technology, not only with our partners who are wealthy enough to spend money on research dollars, but also with the developing world.
Now you talk about helping alleviate poverty in the developing world — wouldn’t it be wonderful if the developing world could grow crops that would enable them to power their automobiles, so they wouldn’t have to be dependent on foreign oil, either. And that’s the message I took down to South America, with Lula, and to Central America. For example, sugar cane is the most — you’re learning about ethanol here, but sugar cane is the most efficient way to make ethanol. It turns out in Central America there is a lot of land and opportunity to continue to produce cane, which means that the Central American countries could be eventually net exporters of energy. So we’ve got a lot of common ground and a lot of area to work on.