Posts tagged ‘cutting emissions’

A stink in Central California over converting cow manure to electricity

Central California is home to nearly 1.6 million dairy cows and their manure — up to 192 million pounds per day. It’s a mountain of waste and a potential environmental hazard.

But for dairyman John Fiscalini, the dung on his farm is renewable gold: He’s converting it into electricity.

At his farm outside Modesto, a torrent of water washes across the barn’s concrete floor several times a day, flushing tons of manure away from his herd of fuzzy-faced Holsteins and into nearby tanks. There, bacteria consume the waste and release methane, which is then burned in a generator capable of producing enough power to run Fiscalini’s 530-acre farm, his cheese factory and 200 additional homes.

Fiscalini’s resourcefulness should be drawing accolades, considering that state mandates are requiring California industries to boost renewable energy use and slash greenhouse gas emissions sharply over the next 10 years.

But efforts to convert cow pies into power have sparked controversy. State air quality control regulators say these “dairy digester” systems can generate pollution themselves and, unless the devices are overhauled, are refusing to issue permits for them.

The standoff underscores how conflicting regulatory mandates are making it hard for California to meet its green-energy goals.

“We didn’t expect this,” said Michael Gallo, chief executive of Joseph Gallo Farms in Atwater, Calif., whose family has spent “a lot of money” to get its dairy digester system compliant.

The idea of turning biological waste — whether manure, trash or grass clippings — into fuel has been around for centuries. Technologies vary, but the idea is to extract methane from decomposing organic material, remove impurities and burn it for heat, light or transport. Interest boomed after the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international treaty on climate change. Methane, considered by many scientists and environmentalists to be as damaging a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, was among the key six pollutants targeted.

Today, the European Union is leading the global charge to turn waste into watts; more than 8,000 biogas operations are up and running in Europe, and thousands more are slated to open in the next decade. The United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto accord, has only about 150 digester projects operating at livestock farms nationwide, said Chris Voell, a manager of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AgStar program, which works with farmers to get such systems up and running.

Funding is an issue. Government subsidies aren’t as readily available in the U.S. as they are in Europe. Just 16 digesters were operating at California dairies last year, fewer than in Wisconsin (which had 19) and Pennsylvania (18).

“California has about four times as much potential for emission reductions and energy generation as the next-largest dairy state,” Voell said. “I know the regulations are much more strict in California. But there’s so much potential there.”

Air regulators say they understand why farmers are frustrated but point out that methane is not the only worrisome gas that pollutes. Like an internal combustion engine in a car, the generators used to convert the methane into electricity produce nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

NOx exacerbates the state’s smog problem, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, which has some of the country’s dirtiest air. NOx levels for the valley are federally set. In the San Joaquin Valley, officials at the area’s air pollution control district say it is their job to enforce these rules and curtail ozone pollution.

That stance has come as a shock to dairy farmers such as Fiscalini, whose $4-million digester system was set up out of frustration with regulators wanting him to fight pollution. Time and again, he said, he’d been told by regulators and read in local newspapers that dairy farmers must curtail methane emissions. Fiscalini believed that such digester systems, especially ones that converted the waste into electricity, would eventually be mandatory.

For full article click HERE

March 1, 2010 at 1:36 PM Leave a comment

Vancouver Olympics going for the green

Reporting from Vancouver, Canada – As is normally the case for top city officials during the Olympics, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has a car and driver assigned to shepherd him through the whirl of the Winter Games.

But the 45-year-old former organic farmer, who earlier ran the Happy Planet juice company, has shown up for most Olympic events as he always does: on his battered but serviceable mountain bike, suit pants tucked into his socks.

Since he became mayor in December 2008, Robertson has doubled Vancouver’s bicycle infrastructure budget, set landmark electric-vehicle-charging standards for new buildings, and expanded the city’s “car-free” days.

It was probably a foregone conclusion that any city with Robertson at the handlebars was not only going to host a green Olympics, but would try for the gold.

The 2010 Winter Games, the Vancouver Organizing Committee announced, will generate fewer greenhouse gases during the seven years it took to organize and put on than what was emitted in only a few weeks in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.

The 2010 Games also will be the first in history to achieve a “carbon neutral” status for not only the Games, but also the travel of the 7,000 athletes, coaches and officials.

To do it, the city is relying on renewable hydropower for 90% of its electricity and the most ambitious set of green building standards ever achieved at Olympic venues, along with a fleet of hydrogen-powered SUVs and buses, heat from a curling rink’s refrigeration plant to warm an aquatics pool and heavy dependence on mass transit — there is no spectator parking at venues.

The Olympic torch is 90% recyclable and emits minimal greenhouse gases, and medals are made from recycled electronic waste. The Olympic athletes’ village this month received the highest environmental certification in the world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, “platinum.” Powered by its own neighborhood energy utility that converts sewage to power, the residential complex for about 2,700 competitors features a “net zero” building that produces as much energy as it consumes.

“We feel like we’ve raised the bar,” Robertson said. “Some of these technologies will be a legacy for generations to come that will benefit cities all over the world.”

Robertson’s goal is not just to produce a green Games, but to use the Olympics to help develop a new clean-technology industry base in British Columbia. At least $3 million in carbon offsets — investments in clean-energy projects whose climate change benefits “offset” the greenhouse gases generated by the Games — is being provided by a private sponsor. With it, city officials hope to see a direct injection of money into local clean-technology companies, giving the region a potential leg up on cities like Seattle and Portland that are also vying to become hubs of the new-energy economy.

“The big gains in our Games came from the fact that everybody associated — all our venue partners — adopted the green building standards,” said Linda Coady, the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s vice president for sustainability. “We made a business case for it early on, making the argument that yes, there’s an incremental cost associated with building green buildings, but for the most part you could recoup those costs within the first five years.”

Two other venues, the day lodge at Whistler Olympic Park, which features an on-site wastewater treatment plant, and the Whistler Sliding Center, where waste heat from the refrigeration plant helps heat buildings, have attained LEED gold certification.

How well the sites are actually performing is already apparent, via a sophisticated software system installed at each venue that tracks energy usage minute-by-minute and compares it with how the building did last week and last month.

The first five days’ readings showed a savings of 112,700 kilowatt hours, or about 16%, compared with what venues built without energy-saving features would have used. Spectators and managers can click into the energy tracker on their mobile phones or at home for an instant readout.

For all the accomplishments, critics say the Vancouver Olympics missed an important opportunity to advance the Vancouver region’s transition from automobiles to transit, toppling thousands of trees to make way for a new highway and cross-country skiing trails.

And while the organizing committee’s sponsor is making investments in energy-saving projects around British Columbia to make up for the 118,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases generated by the Games, that represents just 44% of the Olympics’ total footprint.

Organizers will not compensate for an additional 150,000 tons of emissions generated by sponsors and the 1.6 million spectators traveling to Vancouver for the Games. They have, however, agreed to assume these emissions as part of the Games’ total, 268,000-ton carbon footprint.

The David Suzuki Foundation, which was invited to evaluate the environmental record of the 2010 Games and gave them a decent-but-not-great “bronze” medal, suggested that ticket prices could have been raised to pay for spectators’ carbon emissions.

But Coady said the committee already had built a day’s worth of free transit ridership into every ticket and was under pressure to keep from adding more to the cost.

Further, imposing a carbon surcharge on the majority of ticket buyers who live within B.C. wouldn’t have been fair, “particularly when you consider that British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in North America where local citizens are already paying a provincial carbon tax,” she said.

The organizing committee instead is encouraging spectators to take responsibility for their emissions by buying their own offsets.

The Olympic offset sponsor, Offsetters Clean Technology of Vancouver, has a Web calculator for ticket-holders to add up their emissions. The company hopes to place staffers at the airport as the Games wind down to hawk additional credits to spectators as they fly home.

Half the proceeds from the voluntary offsets get invested in British Columbia clean energy projects, such as a cement plant that burns construction debris, and a greenhouse heated with wood chips; the other half goes to offset endeavors around the world.

Though corporate sponsors have voluntarily offset about 75% of their share of carbon emissions, hardly anyone is expecting spectators to beat down the doors to buy credits.

“Will we take down the whole 150,000 tons?” Coady asked. “That would be a gold medal performance.”

Click HERE for article

February 26, 2010 at 12:27 PM Leave a comment

U.S. sends a parade of promises to Copenhagen

Reporting from Copenhagen – A double-decker white tour boat sailed Wednesday afternoon toward a crescent of giant steel propellers towering above the seawater and spinning in a stiff winter wind.

The boat’s guest of honor, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, rose to laud his hosts and to assure them that his country was taking steps to “get our act together” on offshore wind power.

“We see Denmark as a leader and an example in wind, especially offshore,” Salazar told a cabin filled mostly with European journalists and wind-energy officials. “We know we have a tremendous way to go.”

Denmark draws more than 20% of its electricity from wind, the highest percentage in the world and one envied by U.S. officials eager to boost production of renewable energy.

Salazar is perhaps the Obama administration’s strongest proponent of offshore wind, frequently asserting that the Atlantic coast alone holds enough wind power potential to cover the entire nation’s current electricity demand.

His hastily organized harbor tour helped launch a weeklong charm offensive by the Obama administration at the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, a push to sell world government and business leaders on the United States’ increased commitment to renewable energy and combating climate change.

In public, at least, there appears to be a long way to go, as evidenced in part by an exchange Wednesday between representatives of the U.S. and China.

The United States’ special climate envoy, Todd Stern, urged China to honor its pledge to reduce its carbon emissions and to include that commitment in an international climate change agreement. China’s chief climate negotiator, Yu Qingtai, not only rejected the idea, he also criticized the U.S. for failing to provide financial aid to developing countries and reduce its own emissions of harmful gases.

Such sentiment toward the U.S. was anticipated. While Salazar was motoring through waters shrouded in gray, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson briefed reporters and activists on the administration’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions unilaterally. She touted the administration’s declaration this week that those gases endanger human health and are thus subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

For More click HERE

December 11, 2009 at 2:59 PM 1 comment


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