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.
The Obama Administration has been putting the coal industry’s feet to the fire with new carbon-cutting initiatives, and a new report certainly won’t help coal’s case. Under the title, America’s Power Plan, the authors argue that the U.S. already has the technology in hand to make a rapid transition to renewable energy. What is needed, they argue, is an overhaul of utility regulations, with the aim of promoting growth in the more diverse, flexible and decentralized arena of renewable energy.
The report has some solid credentials behind it, having been produced by the energy policy firm Energy Innovation along with the Energy Foundation, a member of the Midwestern clean energy consortium RE-AMP. It was also peer reviewed by scores of experts with diverse affiliations including government agencies, academic, nonprofit and private sectors.
The gloves came off in the health care wars last week as a conservative group called Generation America released a pair of ads against the Affordable Care Act, depicting Uncle Sam as an evil puppet gynocologist in one and an evil puppet proctologist in the other. I know, right? Maybe we should have said the gloves came on, since a key element in the ads seems to be a veiled reference to medical gloves.
Nevermind that the ads come across as a creepily hilarious warning to keep Chucky-like Uncle Sam puppets away from your private parts, which kind of buries the whole public health policy message. The real question is what precipitated Uncle Sam’s fall from his career-making role as the iconic recruiter for the U.S. Army, to the tawdry, leering, figure on YouTube today? For an answer, let’s turn to the industrialist Koch brothers, who have become familiar figures in the climate change denial field and are now making their mark on health care.
The Coca-Cola company has been marking out its sustainability turf in global water preservation, including about 100 projects under its belt in the U.S. Now, Coca-Cola is ramping up its efforts. Just last week, the company announced a new public private partnership that will build on its existing relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with the expectation of replenishing one billion gallons of water through watershed restoration projects.
The new partnership is part of Coca-Cola’s ambitious goal of replenishing 100 percent of the water it uses by 2020. Given the damage done to U.S. watersheds by drought and fire this year alone, that’s going to be a pretty tall order, but by turning to the public sector for an assist, Coca-Cola has a good chance of making it happen.
Early last summer, two leading U.S. Senators sent letters to the National Football League and five other professional sports leagues, warning them not to help publicize the rollout of a new online shopping service for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
The highly unusual bullying tactic worked. The NFL promptly caved in with a public statement disavowing any such intention, and the silence from the other five leagues has been deafening. However, last week a crack finally appeared in the dam, as the Baltimore Ravens football franchise became the first team in professional sports to lend its name to the Obamacare promotion effort. Could this open the floodgates for a slew of additional endorsements from the pro sports sector?
Back in the day, the fossil fuel industry could expect virtually uniform support from the U.S. business community, but those days are long gone. In a particularly dramatic example of the new order, Tom Steyer, billionaire and founder of the investment group Farallon Capital Management, LLC, has just announced a television ad buy of $1 million through his NextGen Climate Action organization. The series of four ads will tackle the debate over the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline head on, by demonstrating how little the U.S. public stands to benefit from this high stakes project.
Who profits from the Keystone XL Pipeline?
All four ads are targeted to the Sunday morning political talk show circuit under the heading “Bringing Down TransCanada’s House of Cards: The Keystone Chronicles.”
“Who Profits From Keystone XL?” is the title of the first ad, which aired last Sunday. It focuses on the pipeline’s purpose as a conduit from Canadian tar sands oil fields to U.S. ports, bypassing U.S. consumers in favor of the global petroleum market.
To bolster its case that the pipeline will not benefit the U.S. public, the ad cites Keystone owner TransCanada, which submitted testimony to Congress that confirmed its lack of commitment to the domestic U.S. petroleum market.
In its closing argument, the ad also hints at the content of the next installment in the series. Evidently the upcoming ad will demonstrate the risks that communities in the pipeline’s path would be exposed to from a tar sands oil pipeline spill, by paying a visit to Mayflower, Arkansas.
Nissan, maker of the popular LEAF all-electric sedan, is on track to offer a 100 percent electric delivery van next year. That’s good news for urban delivery fleet managers looking to reduce their carbon emissions, and it’s also good timing on Nissan’s part. Called the e-NV200, the new vehicle will slip into a market that is quickly becoming saturated with public and workplace charging stations, giving route planners far more flexibility than they would have had just a few years ago.
Nissan’s new e-NV200 electric delivery van
The flexibility aspect could become quite interesting in the future, as Nissan makes the point that like all EVs, its e-NV200 runs quietly compared to conventional delivery vans. That opens up the possibility for late-night deliveries without running afoul of local noise ordinances.
Nissan has put the van through two years of on-road testing with several commercial fleet partners prior to setting the 2014 launch date, so although the company anticipates some future minor tweaks it looks like the e-NV200 has met its performance goals.
The e-NV200 incorporates the LEAF’s electric powertrain, and the vehicle itself is based on Nissan’s familiar multipurpose NV200 van. Compared to the conventional van, e-NV200 drivers will experience smoother acceleration from the electric powertrain, an important advantage on urban stop-and-go delivery routes.
The Port of Los Angeles has achieved a significant reduction in airborne pollutants over the past several years, in a clear demonstration that a well-planned, diverse and persistent approach to sustainability pays big dividends without necessarily putting a crimp on the bottom line. Activity at the Port picked up soon after the 2008 crash, and while the global economy is still spinning its wheels, the Port achieved at least two record-breaking months last year for shipping container volume. It is close to meeting its pre-crash annual high and has already exceeded 2005 levels by about eight percent.
The raw numbers for air pollution cuts at the facility itself are impressive on their own. Equally important is the fact that the Port is also contributing significantly less pollution to the surrounding region, which underscores how the right combination of regulation, technology and incentive can help create healthier living conditions even in areas dominated by vast, sprawling infrastructure and high-traffic facilities.
Google updated its 2012 carbon emission figures last week, and among the numbers is this interesting tidbit: a typical Google user can use the company’s services without leaving a carbon footprint. That’s thanks to Google’s vigorous pursuit of offsets as part of a far ranging carbon management strategy, which has enabled the company to claim a carbon-neutral status for the past six years.
Even without the offsets, the growth of cloud computing has contributed to an extremely modest carbon footprint for an active Google user. The company calculates that it comes out to about 8 grams of carbon daily, or the equivalent of driving one car one mile per month.
Of course, the problem is when you multiply those 8 grams by hundreds of millions of Google users, you’ve got a carbon footprint of enormous proportions, so while it’s fair enough for Google to pat its users (and itself) on the back, the takeaway here is that offsets are an essential part of an effective carbon strategy. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what Google has done to achieve its carbon-neutral position.
In last weekend’s weekly GOP radio address, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) continued to pitch the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as a job-creating engine, chiding President Obama for dismissing the project as “not a jobs plan.”
However, Scott’s speech follows on the heels of three major reports that demonstrate how rapidly wind power and solar power are becoming significant players in the U.S. energy landscape. When you consider how that translates into job creation and economic activity, it becomes all the more difficult to make a rational case for the construction of new fossil fuel infrastructure that could end up putting more jobs at risk than it creates.
Tar sands oil, natural gas fracking and other notorious fossil fuel issues have been grabbing the headlines these days, but in the meantime a wind power revolution in the U.S. has been quietly bubbling up under the radar. To call attention to that fact, the Department of Energy has just issued two new reports that highlight how quickly the domestic wind market is developing into a major force for clean energy and job creation.
Helping that trend along are consumer surveys, which are beginning to reveal a preference for products made with renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular. That’s a great motivator for U.S. manufacturers to nudge their electricity provider to include more wind energy in the local grid mix, in addition to businesses that have property available for their own on site wind turbines.
All in all, DOE paints a rosy picture for businesses that are looking to attract and keep customers through the allure of wind power. However, companies looking to build their business on wind power should also be aware of two parallel developments that could throw a monkey wrench into the action.
The electric vehicle (EV) world has been abuzz with the news that GM plans to drop the price of its 2014 Chevy Volt by $5,000, which will bring the starting price below $28,000 once tax rebates are factored in. That sounds practically irresistible if you’re in a household with a solid income and you’re looking to get your hands on a pioneering piece of all-American automotive technology that wins rave reviews from auto experts and ordinary owners alike. However, if you’re one of the growing legion of underemployed, underpaid, temporary and/or part time workers, buying a new car of any kind is becoming a pipe dream.
That’s a formidable obstacle to overcome, but the key characteristic of the Chevy Volt — its gasoline tank backup — puts GM in a good position to grow the business market for clean fleet vehicles, and that could eventually have a ripple effect on individual consumers.
When a railway accident touched off an oil-fueled disaster in a small Canadian town earlier this month, advocates for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline were quick to tout the safety of pipeline transport for petroleum compared to rail. That comparison is problematic, to say the least. One of the problems is the potential for long-term environmental degradation that could be attributed to the pipeline infrastructure and facilities related to spill cleanup, over and above the direct impact of episodic oil spills and breaks.
Those concerns were brought into sharp focus last week by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East (SLFPA-E), when the agency filed a lawsuit against approximately 100 oil, gas and pipeline companies in the state’s district court in Orleans Parish. The lawsuit alleges that the network of canals and pipelines built by oil, gas, and pipeline companies through Louisiana’s coastal lands resulted in significant damage to the protective buffer zone, leaving residents vulnerable to storm-related flooding.