Posts tagged ‘Clean Energy’

Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags

The lawyers and engineers who dwell in an elegant enclave here are at peace with the hulking neighbor just over the back fence: a vast energy plant that burns thousands of tons of household garbage and industrial waste, round the clock.

Far cleaner than conventional incinerators, this new type of plant converts local trash into heat and electricity. Dozens of filters catch pollutants, from mercury to dioxin, that would have emerged from its smokestack only a decade ago.

In that time, such plants have become both the mainstay of garbage disposal and a crucial fuel source across Denmark, from wealthy exurbs like Horsholm to Copenhagen’s downtown area. Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

With all these innovations, Denmark now regards garbage as a clean alternative fuel rather than a smelly, unsightly problem. And the incinerators, known as waste-to-energy plants, have acquired considerable cachet as communities like Horsholm vie to have them built.

Denmark now has 29 such plants, serving 98 municipalities in a country of 5.5 million people, and 10 more are planned or under construction. Across Europe, there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones.

By contrast, no new waste-to-energy plants are being planned or built in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency says — even though the federal government and 24 states now classify waste that is burned this way for energy as a renewable fuel, in many cases eligible for subsidies. There are only 87 trash-burning power plants in the United States, a country of more than 300 million people, and almost all were built at least 15 years ago.

Instead, distant landfills remain the end point for most of the nation’s trash. New York City alone sends 10,500 tons of residential waste each day to landfills in places like Ohio and South Carolina.

“Europe has gotten out ahead with this newest technology,” said Ian A. Bowles, a former Clinton administration official who is now the Massachusetts state secretary of energy.

Still, Mr. Bowles said that as America’s current landfills topped out and pressure to reduce heat-trapping gases grew, Massachusetts and some other states were “actively considering” new waste-to-energy proposals; several existing plants are being expanded. He said he expected resistance all the same in a place where even a wind turbine sets off protests.

Why Americans Are Reluctant

Matt Hale, director of the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, said the reasons that waste-to-energy plants had not caught on nationally were the relative abundance of cheap landfills in a large country, opposition from state officials who feared the plants could undercut recycling programs and a “negative public perception.” In the United States, individual states and municipalities generally decide what method to use to get rid of their waste.

Still, a 2009 study by the E.P.A. and North Carolina State University scientists came down strongly in favor of waste-to-energy plants over landfills as the most environmentally friendly destination for urban waste that cannot be recycled. Embracing the technology would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, but also yield copious electricity, it said.

Yet powerful environmental groups have fought the concept passionately. “Incinerators are really the devil,” said Laura Haight, a senior environmental associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Investing in garbage as a green resource is simply perverse when governments should be mandating recycling, she said. “Once you build a waste-to-energy plant, you then have to feed it. Our priority is pushing for zero waste.”

The group has vigorously opposed building a plant in New York City.

Even Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has championed green initiatives and ranked Copenhagen’s waste-fueled heating on his list of environmental “best practices,” has shied away from proposing to get one built.

“It is not currently being pursued — not because of the technology, which has advanced, but because of the issue in selecting sites to build incinerators,” said Jason Post, the mayor’s deputy press secretary on environmental issues. “It’s a Nimby issue. It would take years of hearings and reviews.”

Nickolas J. Themelis, a professor of engineering at Columbia University and a waste-to-energy proponent, said America’s resistance to constructing the new plants was economically and environmentally “irresponsible.”

“It’s so irrational; I’ve almost given up with New York,” he said. “It’s like you’re in a village of Hottentots who look up and see an airplane — when everybody else is using airplanes — and they say, ‘No, we won’t do it, it’s too scary.’ ”

Acceptance in Denmark

Attitudes could hardly be more different in Denmark, where plants are placed in the communities they serve, no matter how affluent, so that the heat of burning garbage can be efficiently piped into homes.

Planners take pains to separate residential traffic from trucks delivering garbage, and some of the newest plants are encased in elaborate outer shells that resemble sculptures.

“New buyers are usually O.K. with the plant,” said Hans Rast, president of the homeowners’ association in Horsholm, who cut a distinguished figure in corduroy slacks and a V-neck sweater as he poured coffee in a living room of white couches and Oriental rugs.

“What they like is that they look out and see the forest,” he said. (The living rooms in this enclave of town houses face fields and trees, while the plant is roughly some 400 yards over a back fence that borders the homes’ carports). The lower heating costs don’t hurt, either. Eighty percent of Horsholm’s heat and 20 percent of its electricity come from burning trash.

Many countries that are expanding waste-to-energy capacity, like Denmark and Germany, typically also have the highest recycling rates; only the material that cannot be recycled is burned.

Waste-to-energy plants do involve large upfront expenditures, and tight credit can be a big deterrent. Harrisburg, Pa., has been flirting with bankruptcy because of a $300 million loan it took to reopen and refit an old public incinerator with the new technology.

But hauling trash is expensive, too. New York City paid $307 million last year to export more than four million tons of waste, mostly to landfills in distant states, Mr. Post said. Although the city is trying to move more of its trash by train or barge, much of it travels by truck, with heavy fuel emissions.

In 2009, a small portion of the city’s trash was processed at two 1990-vintage waste-to-energy plants in Newark and Hempstead, N.Y., owned by a private company, Covanta. The city pays $65 a ton for the service — the cheapest available way for New York City to get rid of its trash. Sending garbage to landfills is more expensive: the city’s costliest current method is to haul waste by rail to a landfill in Virginia.

While new, state-of-the-art landfills do collect the methane that emanates from rotting garbage to make electricity, they churn out roughly twice as much climate-warming gas as waste-to-energy plants do for the units of power they produce, the 2009 E.P.A. study found. Methane, the primary warming gas emitted by landfills, is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the gas released by burning garbage.

The study also concluded that waste-to-energy plants produced lower levels of pollutants than the best landfills did, but nine times the energy. Although new landfills are lined to prevent leaks of toxic substances and often capture methane, the process is highly inefficient, it noted.

Laws Spur New Technology

In Europe, environmental laws have hastened the development of waste-to-energy programs. The European Union severely restricts the creation of new landfill sites, and its nations already have binding commitments to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2012 under the international pact known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the United States.

Garbage cannot easily be placed out of sight, out of mind in Europe’s smaller, densely populated countries, as it so often is in the United States. Many of the 87 waste-to-energy plants in the United States are in densely populated areas like Long Island and Cape Cod.

While these plants are generally two decades old, many have been progressively retrofitted with new pollution filters, though few produce both heat and power like the newest Danish versions.

In Horsholm only 4 percent of waste now goes to landfills, and 1 percent (chemicals, paints and some electronic equipment) is consigned to “special disposal” in places like secure storage vaults in an abandoned salt mine in Germany. Sixty-one percent of the town’s waste is recycled and 34 percent is incinerated at waste-to-energy plants.

From a pollution perspective, today’s energy-generating incinerators have little in common with the smoke-belching models of the past. They have arrays of newly developed filters and scrubbers to capture the offending chemicals — hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, dioxins, furans and heavy metals — as well as small particulates.

Emissions from the plants in all categories have been reduced to just 10 to 20 percent of levels allowed under the European Union’s strict environmental standards for air and water discharges.

At the end of the incineration process, the extracted acids, heavy metals and gypsum are sold for use in manufacturing or construction. Small amounts of highly concentrated toxic substances, forming a paste, are shipped to one of two warehouses for highly hazardous materials, in the Norwegian fjords and in a used salt mine in Germany.

“The hazardous elements are concentrated and handled with care rather than dispersed as they would be in a landfill,” said Ivar Green-Paulsen, general manager of the Vestforbraending plant in Copenhagen, the country’s largest.

In Denmark, local governments run trash collection as well as the incinerators and recycling centers, and laws and financial incentives ensure that recyclable materials are not burned. (In the United States most waste-to-energy plants are private ventures.) Communities may drop recyclable waste at recycling centers free of charge, but must pay to have garbage incinerated.

At Vestforbraending, trucks stop on scales for weighing and payment before dumping their contents. The trash is randomly searched for recyclable material, with heavy fines for offenders.

The homeowners’ association in Horsholm has raised what its president, Mr. Rast, called “minor issues” with the plant, like a bright light on the chimney that shone into some bedrooms, and occasional truck noise. But mostly, he said, it is a respected silent neighbor, producing no noticeable odors.

The plant, owned by five adjacent communities, has even proved popular in a conservative region with Denmark’s highest per-capita income. Morten Slotved, 40, Horsholm’s mayor, is trying to expand it. “Constituents like it because it decreases heating costs and raises home values,” he said with a smile. “I’d like another furnace.”

Click HERE for Article

April 16, 2010 at 9:19 AM Leave a comment

China to develop new energy source – combustible ice

China’s western Qinghai Province, containing major deposits of the country’s “combustible ice,” will see increased explorations for this emerging clean energy, Provincial Governor Luo Huining said on Saturday.

The plateau province plans to allow large energy companies along with researchers to tap this new source of energy while minimizing environmental threats, Luo said on the sidelines of the annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature.

“Combustible ice,” or natural gas hydrate, is mainly found in deep seas and atop plateaus. Approximately one cubic meter of “combustible ice” equals 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.

At a time of energy bottlenecks, the new energy resource has drawn interest from many countries. Additional attention has focused on the “ice” having a low proportion of impurities, resulting in it generating almost no pollutants when burned.

More than 100 countries around the world have found deposits of “combustible ice.” The deposits in Qinghai Province, home to one-quarter of China’s total reserve on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, were discovered in September 2009.

“Combustible ice” reserves on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau are estimated to equal at least 35 billion tonnes of oil, which could supply energy to China for 90 years.

Luo said tapping this new energy resource should be given high priority in China’s energy strategy.

For full article click HERE

March 8, 2010 at 9:48 AM Leave a comment

Obama Talks Clean Energy But Little About Renewables

Comment on this post Posted by John Davis – January 27th, 2010

ObamafirstunionIf renewable energy advocates had hoped for a big mention during Pres. Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, they probably are walking away from tonight’s speech feeling a bit left out.

While the president did make quick mentions of solar, biofuels and clean energy, Obama did not unveil any grand plan to use renewable energy to help move the nation forward. The Washington Times reports that, unlike his predecessor, Pres. George W. Bush, who in 2006 talked about the need to stop the nation’s “addiction” to foreign oil and to embrace ethanol and other renewable fuel sources, Obama seemed to leave most talk about renewable energy, especially biodiesel and ethanol, by the wayside. And while it might seem trivial, a mention in the State of the Union can make a big difference:

“It can have a very significant impact,” said Bob Dinneen, chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association.

“It really teed up a discussion about energy policy and led to the passage of the energy bill in 2007 that resulted in the renewable-fuel standard in this country,” Mr. Dinneen said. “So it was an important catalyst.”

But of course, one speech is not the end-all and be-all for any program, and we’ll really need to see how Obama does make clean energy a priority … and the role renewables will play.

January 28, 2010 at 10:38 AM Leave a comment

Green Wave Energy is trying to turn the wind power market on its axis

The company and investors are banking on the unconventional design of its microturbines that can generate energy by capturing breezes from any direction.

The potential for profit is blowing in the wind, and Green Wave Energy Corp. plans to catch it.

Green Wave Wind Turbine

Among its secret weapons: an 11-foot-tall, blazingly white, nearly indestructible prototype generator that produces as much as 11 kilowatts of electricity using gusts of wind.

The fiberglass contraption could make homespun, do-it-yourself wind power a reality, Chief Executive Mark Holmes said. A model version recently stood amid yachts in a Newport Beach shipyard before being disassembled for updates, but Holmes envisions it moving soon into the backyards and rooftops of homes and businesses.

“It’s gee-whiz stuff,” he said. “It gets really Space Age.”

Green Wave has big dreams for its generators, known as microturbines, and for a product that churns out energy using ocean waves. There are also ambitious plans for a park filled with larger turbines.

The wind-energy industry is growing, in part with help from federal stimulus money. For the first nine months of the year, more than 5,800 megawatts of wind projects were added to the nation’s energy supply, up nearly 40% from the same period last year, according to the American Wind Energy Assn.

But for fledgling energy companies such as Green Wave, staying aloft can be a major challenge.

“It’s been hard getting this off the ground,” Holmes said.

Unlike most windmills’ propeller-shaped turbines, the Green Wave products operate on a vertical axis, merry-go-round style.

More than 20 U.S. companies build or are developing vertical-axis turbines. Around 200 urban or rooftop units were sold in 2008, double the 2007 number.

Sales of small wind turbines soared last year to $77 million and 10,500 units capable of generating 17.3 megawatts of electricity, marking a 78% increase in capacity sold from 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Assn.

Holmes has invested $100,000 of his own money since Green Wave launched in October 2008 with a vast underestimation of the resources, time and effort needed to operate.

Development costs have been about $1.7 million, about four times higher than the team had expected.

The crew quickly learned the value of resourcefulness.

Friends, family and other investors, who have pitched in $110,000, have given Green Wave access to $1.5 million in facilities, supplies, vehicles, equipment and services, Holmes said.

The company has no official employees. Instead, all partners who provide services, equipment and working space are considered shareholders and officers. Most Green Wave workers have day jobs, such as the man who engineers corneas for eye replacement surgeries when he isn’t designing turbine parts.

Using shareholders’ properties — the shipyard, a 10-acre manufacturing facility in Perris, two others in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, and a garage in Orange — saves thousands of dollars in rent a year. Instead of using an expensive wind tunnel to test the strength of the turbines, team members hitch a 4-foot prototype to a truck bed and go for a 55-mph spin.

But even though Holmes is an ace at being thrifty, he’s less adept when it comes to government regulations and holdups, he said.

Before wave-power generators can even get close to public waterways, companies must hack through a pack of regulatory agencies, including the California Coastal Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The process, Holmes said, could take as long as three years and cost thousands of dollars in legal, permitting and other fees.

Fewer than 1% of small wind turbines are built in urban settings because of poor wind quality and zoning restrictions, according to the wind energy association. Convoluted permitting practices and resistant city planning departments thwart a third of all potential installations, the group said.

“The regulatory maze is so thick and complex that I am fairly certain no one can navigate it but well-trained lawyers — and even for them, it’s rather daunting,” Holmes said.

The federal government and several states offer rebates and tax credits to stir investment in the wind industry. California, according to the association, boasts some of the strongest sales in the market.

There’s plenty of competition from a crush of other young energy companies, all angling to set themselves apart.

Buying and installing a small turbine costs an average of $3,000 to $5,000 a kilowatt, according to the wind energy group. Recouping the investment could take six to 30 years.

Green Wave tries to position itself first as a company with money-saving products, while touting its eco-friendly qualities.

“We’re here to make money,” Holmes said. “We’re the new guys on the block. If we didn’t show up with a better mousetrap, we wouldn’t have a chance.”

Although he majored in chemistry in college, Holmes, 49, strayed from science for nearly two decades as he pursued a career as a maritime and corporate lawyer. In the 1990s, however, he worked on bankruptcy cases involving solar energy companies.

Intrigued by alternative energy, he began combing through patents, trawling the Internet and meeting with inventors. Along the way, Holmes had to learn physics and engineering.

Now he can translate “scientific gibberish” for investors.

Unlike most turbines, Green Wave’s vertical-axis products can generate power using wind from any direction, Holmes said. The smallest operates alongside a solar generator to power batteries built into a light pole, designed to generate light from dawn until dusk for as long as 20 years in remote or harsh locations such as deserts or jungles.

There’s also an “urban turbine,” which is smaller than many rooftop air-conditioning units.

The first prototype turbine was finished in February to the tune of $30,000, but others have been progressively cheaper to build. Eventually, Holmes hopes to manufacture turbines like “tinker-toy sets” for easy manufacturing and installing.

November 19, 2009 at 11:01 AM Leave a comment

How will Clean Energy Legislation Affect Energy Prices?

As debate heats up around the proposals for clean energy legislation in Congress, one of the main points of contention is the amount of money it will cost. More specifically, everyone wants to know how the average American household will be impacted by the respective energy bills in the House (Waxman-Markey’s American Clean Energy and Security Act) and the Senate (Kerry-Boxer’s Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act).

This article will investigate the change in energy prices one can expect from legislation that could be passed within the coming months, and try to sift through the wide discrepancy in figures that are being tossed around. Then some recommendations will be presented as to how energy usage can be reduced, to preempt any anticipated rises in cost.

How much will it cost?
How much more money per year should a typical American household expect to pay if clean energy legislation were to pass? Depending on where one gets their information from, this figure varies hundreds of dollars!

Although it may be difficult to agree on how many more dollars Americans can expect to pay from clean energy legislation, nearly every study concurs on one fact — we can expect energy prices to increase in the future with the passage of a clean energy act.

Full Article HERE

November 13, 2009 at 2:03 PM Leave a comment

US to boost solar manufacturing with tax credits

New York, 12 November: US Senators have introduced a bill that would extend the 30% solar investment tax credit (ITC) to equipment and facilities used to manufacture solar technology.

Solar Tax

Currently, the solar ITC can be drawn on for investment in or installation of solar power technology in operation in the US before 1 January 2017. Under the Solar Manufacturing Jobs Creation Act, equipment and facilities used to manufacture solar power technology would become eligible for the solar ITC. These technologies include solar cells, silicon, evacuated tubes and flat-plate solar collectors.

Click HERE to read full article from Environmental Finance Online News

November 12, 2009 at 12:06 PM Leave a comment

University of San Francisco: Building Green Buildings

The University of San Francisco plans to build a 60,000-square-foot science center on its main campus, the latest upgrade of the school’s aging facilities.

The $60 million Center for Science and Innovation would be built at the south end of the 42-year-old Harney Science Building, near the school’s War Memorial Gymnasium off Golden Gate Avenue.

Construction of the building, designed by the architectural firm NBBJ, is slated to begin in May 2010.

The Center is designed to be USF’s first LEED certified building (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), targeting a Gold level rating for exemplary sustainable design. The new facility will:

  • Generate 40,000 kWh of energy per year with solar arrays
  • Use renewable and recycled building materials
  • Maximize use of natural air and light
  • Store rainwater for use in landscape irrigation
  • Feature a green roof, covering an advanced computational studio, to naturally cool the building while reducing run-off

The Center for Science and Innovation is the next step in USF’s ongoing march to sustainability. In the first months of 2009 alone, the USF campus has:

  • Increased solar power generation six-fold
  • Moved to capture 75% of recyclable material from campus waste
  • Placed 3rd in a national campus recycling contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Launched “trust the tap” to eliminate plastic water bottles from campus.

Specific challenges are:

* A lack of informal study space for students,

* A lack of appealing and usable outdoor gathering spaces. and

* Dated, aging architecture.

The Center for Science and Innovation will address these challenges directly. Far from “just another building,” the project will completely reimagine the current Harney Plaza, providing a two-tiered commons with an inviting atrium sunken into the renovated and “greened” upper plaza. While still accommodating a host of student events for the university, the new flexible design promises a “living room” for campus. Meanwhile, approximately 15,000 square feet will be created for informal student study and gathering spaces. These spaces will vary from contemplative hideaways for individual study, to high-traffic areas more suitable for group work and events. Most importantly, the Center will make a bold, future-focused architectural statement in the core of USF’s lower campus. This will elevate the university’s external reputation and make a more sophisticated impression on prospective students and other visitors.

Check out the CSI blog and website to stay up-to-date on their new endeavor.

November 4, 2009 at 1:24 PM Leave a comment

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