Environmental groups and local communities in Pennsylvania scored a huge victory on December 20, when the state’s Supreme Court ruled against the establishment of a statewide zoning plan for oil and gas fracking. The anti-fracking ruling affirmed an earlier decision by a lower court to strike down the parts of Act 13, a state law passed just last year, in February 2012.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection had characterized Act 13 as a positive development that imposed “stronger environmental standards” on fracking, an unconventional drilling method that involves pumping a chemical brine deep underground. However, Act 13 also imposed uniform statewide standards for Pennsylvania fracking that overrode any attempt by local communities to regulate the practice more strictly.
In striking down those parts of Act 13 creating a statewide zoning plan, the Supreme Court also adopted an unexpected argument that could have an enormous impact on future energy development in Pennsylvania.
Consumer surveys are beginning to show that products manufactured with wind power get high marks, and potentially more customers. That’s good news for startup brands, but you don’t have to be new on the market to reap good value out of wind power. Case in point is SC Johnson, which has been around since 1886 while growing iconic household brands including Windex, Glade, Pledge, Scrubbing Bubbles, Off!, and Raid — all now manufactured with wind power thanks to two 415-foot turbines at the company’s Waxdale plant.
SC Johnson has been putting a lot of eggs in the wind power basket. The company greets visitors to its home page with a top-of-the-page “NOW MADE WITH WIND!” proclamation, and it has just come out with a splashy announcement of the one-year anniversary of the operation of its two massive wind turbines.
All of this makes us wonder, why are legislators in SC Johnson’s home state of Wisconsin still trying to obstruct future wind development in the state?
Energy and feed costs have been identified as two of the key issues facing the future growth of aquaculture - a technology which must grow if the world’s human population is going to increase without exhausting natural fisheries. That’s where companies like OriginOil come in. We’ve been following OriginOil’s energy-wise progress in the algae biofuel arena, and given the connection between algae and fish feed, it was only a matter of time before the company applied its technology to sustainable fish farming.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at OriginOil’s new showcase for aquaculture at the Salton Sea in California, which is due for a public launch on Wednesday, December 18.
The electric vehicle-to-grid (V2G) movement is picking up steam. The latest example comes from Honda, which announced that it is participating in a major V2G demonstration project spearheaded by the University of Delaware. If the project bears fruit, which it is likely to do, it will provide yet another reason for commercial fleets to transition out of petroleum products and into electric vehicles: it will give them an opportunity to make money.
We’ve already noted a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study showing that conversion from diesel to electric trucks could save fleet owners a substantial amount of money, once the potential for V2G earnings is factored in. Now let’s see what UDel and Honda are up to.
LEGO Group is gazing into a future of strong sales growth worldwide, especially in Asia, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a consequent growth in its greenhouse gas emissions. The iconic toy company has just announced a new partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation Climate Savers initiative for businesses. The new agreement goes beyond LEGO’s in-house operations to embrace a comprehensive partnership all along its supply chain.
That’s an important development because according to LEGO, only about 10 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions are related directly to manufacturing products within the factory walls. The other 90 percent comes from the supply and distribution chains, as well as end-of-life impacts. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the main goals of the plan.
One clear advantage of electric vehicles over conventional cars is the simplicity and longevity of the electric drive system. That’s a big plus for fleet managers in terms of maintenance, repair and replacement costs, and now a research team from Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has extended the savings by engineering a self-healing element into the EV battery itself.
Inspired by biomimicry, the team has come up with a new polymer (a form of plastic) that can be coated onto the electrode in a lithium ion battery. As with natural systems like the human body, which rely on self healing to survive, the flexible coating is designed to act autonomously and heal the cracks that develop on electrodes during the battery lifecycle.
A biomimicry tweak for EV batteries
In one of those happy accidents of science, the immediate motivator for the team’s self-healing battery project was the need to develop a long-lasting, flexible “electronic skin” for robots and prosthetic devices.
As it turned out, the polymer coating also tackles a huge problem in lithium ion (Li-ion) energy storage, which is the loss of capacity over time as the battery runs through charging and discharging cycles.
The Cleveland Browns football franchise plans to showcase its food waste-to-energy system at a big home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 24. The new system, called Grind2Energy, is the first of its kind at any NFL stadium. It reclaims food scraps for conversion into renewable methane gas, rather than sending it to a landfill where it would decompose and add methane (a potent greenhouse gas) to the atmosphere.
For those of you who follow clean energy news regularly, Grind2Energy isn’t new as in “new rocket science” new. It’s basically a highly efficient system for hauling slurry from on-site garbage grinders to off-site biogas digesters.
What’s really striking about the demonstration is that a pro football franchise would go out of its way to showcase something as humble and off-topic (off-topic to sports, that is) as sustainable food waste management. So, what’s up with that?
They’re going to have to find another name for wastewater pretty soon. This much maligned byproduct of household and industry has been quietly making a name for itself as a recoverable resource. One of the latest examples comes from South Africa, where gas and oil company, Sasol, has partnered with GE Power & Water to develop a new system for providing a high level of treatment for industrial wastewater that also recovers biogas for power generation.
The new system, called Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor Technology (AnMBR), is transferrable to other industries, so let’s take a look and see how it works.
Our friends over at Fuel Fix have chipped in with another warning that the fracking bubble is about to burst, but that won’t necessarily mean relief is in sight for communities beset by the negative impacts of fracking. A rapid decline in productivity from shale formations is leading to a rapid increase in the number of new wells as companies attempt to make up for the dropoff in revenue. Fuel Fix calls this the Red Queen effect, after the frenetic character in Alice in Wonderland, and it could lead to tens of thousands of new wells in South Texas alone over the next few years.
The full Red Queen Effect article, by Jennifer Hiller, is well worth a read. It focuses on the Eagle Ford shale formation in Texas, but its lessons can also be applied to the Marcellus Shale region in Appalachia and other shale formations throughout the U.S.
The Red Queen Effect
For those of you new to the issue, fracking is short for hydrofracturing, an unconventional method of natural gas (and oil) drilling that involves pumping massive amounts of chemical-laden brine into shale formations.
Aside from the obvious environmental hazards, one bottom-line risk is the fact that the typical shale formation depletes far more rapidly than sites for conventional drilling.
You’ve probably been hearing a lot about energy storage systems lately, and here’s a chance to see how they work on a large scale. The Philadelphia Navy Yard has embarked on a smart microgrid demonstration project called the GridSTAR Smart Grid Experience Center, including an advanced battery provided by the company Solar Grid Storage.
Don’t let the “navy yard” part of the name fool you. The Philadelphia Navy Yard has has been designated a federal Energy Innovation Hub with the help of $122 million in Department of Energy funding.* After languishing for decades, it has been repurposed as a business center and showcase for green technology. The GridSTAR Smart Grid Experience Center was specifically designed as a resource to help accelerate smart grid adoption in the northeast region.
The City of Kerman, California has just achieved one of our favorite bottom line and sustainability twofers, by using land at its wastewater treatment plant to host a 500-kilowatt solar system. Aside from shaving about 40 percent off the plant’s electricity costs, the solar array also offsets an energy-intensive expansion and upgrade of the treatment process.
The solar system was built by Borrego Solar under a solar PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) with ConEdison Solutions of Valhalla, NY, which means that Kerman taxpayers paid no money up front to get the savings and the clean energy while expanding and improving operations at their treatment plant. That’s a nifty little demonstration of having your cake and eating it, too. The question is, how does it apply to the private sector?
Wireless electric vehicle charging is beginning to trickle into the market, which adds an appealing convenience factor that conventional gas-powered cars just can’t match. Meanwhile, consolidation in the retail gas sector has resulted in a long-term decline in the number of gas stations, while the number of public, private, and workplace EV charging stations has been skyrocketing. In other words, wireless or not, charging up an EV is quickly becoming a far more convenient exercise for both commercial operations and individual consumers.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a company called HEVO Power, which is offering an innovative approach to wireless EV charging for fleet vehicles.
The global solar company Abengoa Solar has just announced that its massive Solana solar power plant has begun commercial operation in Arizona. The plant represents a transformational breakthrough in utility scale solar power, because it includes an energy storage system based on molten salt. The storage feature enables the plant to keep generating electricity long after the sun goes down.
Solana is also noteworthy because it puts yet another feather in Arizona’s already impressive cap of solar power projects. The continued growth of the Arizona solar power sector is a bit of a surprise given the conservative leanings of Governor Jan Brewer and other public officials in the state, so it’s worth taking a look at Solana in that context.
The cherry tree is a standout example of eco-effective manufacturing in nature, so it’s little wonder that the company LanzaTech has adopted it as a symbol for its carbon capture technology. LanzaTech has developed a system for harnessing the power of living organisms to convert waste gas into useful fuels, a technology that could play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources as well as landfills, coal mines, and gas and oil drilling sites.
To help accelerate the development of LanzaTech’s system into new fields, the U.S. Department of Energy has just awarded the company a $4 million grant under the new REMOTE (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy) initiative.
Consider the cherry tree
LanzaTech illustrates its company philosophy with a quote from Michael Braungart’s 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things:
A cherry tree produces thousands of blossoms which create fruit for birds, humans and other animals in an effort to grow one tree. The blossoms and fruit that fall to the ground aren’t waste, they are food for other systems and processes that nourish the tree and soil. It’s a question of design and eco-effectiveness, a question we should be addressing in our approach to life and manufacturing.
The last time we took note of the company Ecovative Design, it was profiled as a case study of the Circular Economy concept by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The central idea behind the Circular Economy is that conservation, recycling, and reuse should be engineered into products and their manufacturing processes, rather than being tacked on as a responsibility for consumers. Ecovative fit the bill with its biodegradable packaging products made from mushrooms. Now the company has announced that it is ready to branch out into Mushroom Surfboards, of all things, so it’s high time we took another look.
Putting mushrooms to work
Technically speaking, Ecovative’s Mushroom Surfboards are not made from the same kind of mushrooms you’d buy at the supermarket.
However, they come close enough. They are made from Ecovative’s Myco Foam, which is named after its foundational material, mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative growth stage of mushrooms. Ecovative grows its Myco Foam on a medium of husks, seeds and other agricultural waste, rather than on manure or compost.