Energy and Climate Change News for April 19th; Obama Wants Senate to Tackle Climate Bill; East Asia and China can halt CO2 emissions growth; Global warming reduces grain output in India

Obama Wants Senate to Tackle Climate Bill After Wall St. Reforms

President Obama expects the Senate to move on to comprehensive energy and climate change legislation once it finishes work over the next few weeks on Wall Street regulatory reform.

“This is one of these foundational priorities from my perspective that has to be done soon,” Obama said of the climate bill Friday during a White House meeting of outside experts helping the administration on economic recovery plans.

Obama predicted several weeks of Senate debate on the financial reform package, with lawmakers working behind the scenes on a climate bill that must get support from industry if it has any chance of passing.


“There has been a good bipartisan process taking place that would put a price on carbon,” Obama said. “The one thing will be for the business community to be with us on this.”

Obama said he expected a tough political fight cobbling together the votes on the Senate bill, which lead authors John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) have dubbed the “American Power Act.” The Senate trio plans to release the bill next Monday.

“As Tip O’Neill said, ‘All politics is local,’” Obama said in reference to the former House speaker. “Individual members of Congress may be worried about the impact in the short term of these moves.

“I fear that if we don’t take these steps soon, we’re going to have some big, big problems,” Obama added.

John Doerr, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, prompted Obama’s remarks about the nexus between economic recovery and energy issues. “Some sort of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman idea is a very promising way to do this and is very important,” Doerr said.

Senior White House aides have been gearing up behind the scenes for the Senate debate by meeting with all sides of the energy debate. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and Carol Browner, the president’s top staffer on energy and climate issues, will host U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue tomorrow as part of the administration’s ongoing courtship of the nation’s largest industry voice.

“They asked for the meeting,” Bruce Josten, executive vice president for government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said Friday.

China, East Asia can halt emissions growth

Some of the biggest nations of East and South-East Asia, including China, could stabilise their greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years at a price of $80 billion a year, the World Bank says. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam could make a concerted switch to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency at modest cost in order to stop carbon emissions growing by 2025, the bank says in a report.

China is now the world’s biggest emitter and among those developing nations with the fastest growing emissions profiles as they rapidly industrialise, lifting their people out of poverty. Importantly, the World Bank study concludes that the low-carbon effort would not compromise the high rates of growth in the six countries considered. However, the bank also acknowledges that attracting the required $80 billion of investment annually in these countries will be a hard task, if history is anything to go by.

The report, “Winds of Change: East Asia’s Sustainable Energy Future” is part of a wider economic assessment of the East Asia and Pacific region which finds the it bouncing back from recession. It estimates that real GDP growth in developing East Asia is set to rise to 8.7 per cent in 2010 after slowing from 8.5 per cent in 2008 to 7 per cent last year.

The report compares a business-as-usual scenario with one aimed at switching to a sustainable energy path. Without the switch, a doubling of energy needs in the next two decades would see greatly increased consumption of fossil fuels, rising air pollution and degraded environments.

But bulk of the rising energy need can be met with a portfolio of renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, biomass, geothermal and solar. For example, coal’s share of energy production could be cut from 70 per cent in the region to 36 per cent, assuming carbon capture and storage played a role. But early signs of a shift toward renewable energy and energy efficiency must be up-scaled and accelerated significantly, it says.

The challenge is more complicated for Indonesia. Also a major emitter in world terms, its carbon footprint is dominated by land-based emissions — largely deforestation — rather than energy or industrial emissions.

US solar start up secures backing from South Korean blue chips

US renewable energy start up Matinee Energy has emerged from stealth mode with the announcement of a new alliance with South Korean heavyweights Hyundai and LG Electronics that will see the three firms work together to invest up to $1bn in new US solar energy power plants.

Hyundai Heavy Industries and LG yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Matinee as part of a deal that also saw them accept an invitation to become lead partners in the first 240MW phase of a planned series of solar projects across the southern states.

Matinee, which was formed in late 2006, also announced that it has secured the financial backing of JP Morgan Securities to help raise finance for the proposed projects.

Company chairman Michael Pannos said that the new partnerships meant that the firm has now finalised the “total financing solutions” for its proposed new developments and will now be able to “reach economies of scale in both solar and wind turbine energy projects”.

The company remains highly secretive and few details are known about the precise nature of the partnership with Hyundai and LG or the nature of the technology it plans to use in the new projects.

However, it did confirm that it ultimately plans to build 900MW of utility scale energy plants mainly in the south west of the US over the next few years, and is looking to sign partnerships with a number of additional companies to support the project.

The firm also indicated that it will soon make “a major wind turbine announcement”, although further details were not available.

Matinee has already partnered with some US construction and technology companies for certain contracts, including Colorado-based The Industrial Company, however the alliance with two South Korean firms could further fuel concerns that US renewable energy projects are becoming overly reliant on overseas investors.

Senate Energy panel looks to move forward on carbon capture bills

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets tomorrow to begin discussions on three carbon capture and sequestration measures that could become fodder for larger energy and climate legislation.

The bills under discussion would promote research into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, incentivize commercial-scale projects and clarify ownership of underground pore space in rock to facilitate sequestration projects on federal lands.

CCS funding is seen by some as a negotiating tool to sway coal-state support for sweeping energy and climate legislation. And a committee aide said the CCS measures to be discussed tomorrow could make their way into the committee-passed energy bill (S. 1462) if it moves forward.

“We can’t move to the next step of our energy future without addressing the technologies we need today,” Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said in a statement when he introduced draft CCS legislation last month. “I believe we can pass a responsible bipartisan solution to protect jobs and our economy, rather than a countrywide cap-and-trade scheme” (Greenwire, March 22).

The committee tomorrow will hear testimony on a portion of Voinovich’s measure, introduced jointly with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). That language would offer $20 billion in incentives for early deployment of CCS systems.

The measure has been praised by the coal industry, but some critics say the language does not do enough to get CCS going. For instance, the $20 billion in incentives is one-third of the $60 billion provided by similar language in the House-passed climate bill (H.R. 2454).

“Conceptually, an incentive program to speed up adoption of CCS is valuable, but this one is too little money … and it lacks the most important ingredient, which is a price on carbon pollution,” Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said last month.

Avatar director vows to fight on for Amazon

Avatar director James Cameron vowed Friday to fight on for the indigenous people of the Amazon after a Brazilian court overturned a ruling that would have halted construction of a huge dam that would flood tribal lands.

“We are disappointed but we knew this would be a long battle,” Cameron told AFP by phone during a brief visit to Washington.

“If Brazil lets me back in, I would love to come back down and work with the indigenous people I met” during several visits to the vast South American country after the release of Avatar, Cameron said.

“But I want to go back as a film-maker, not a sign-waver. I want to film the culture of the Kayapo Indians and let the world see how they live in harmony with the forest,” he said, evoking strong parallels with Avatar.

The blockbuster movie tells the story of the peaceful Na’Vi people who live in harmony with nature on the planet Pandora and are forced to wage a bloody fight against strip-miners from Earth who have no compunctions about destroying the Na’Vi culture to get their hands on a precious mineral, unobtainium.

“Avatar was based on real but abstract stories. It came out of articles in National Geographic and documentaries on TV.

“But after meeting the indigenous people of the Amazon with whom we communicated very clearly and emotionally, it’s real for me. And it’s personal,” Cameron said.

After he had finished filming Avatar, the veteran film director and self-avowed environmentalist traveled several times to Brazil on fact-finding missions to “drill down and study the tectonic interface between progress pushing up against the natural world and bulldozing it out of the way.”

“It’s happening now and it’s a reality for these people” in the Amazon, he said, adding that his visits to Brazil had helped to shine an international spotlight on the fight being waged by Amazon communities to preserve their forest and river communities.

“Through our visits, we were able to get the story on the front page of newspapers in the US, and I don’t believe that the powers that be in Brazil really expected that kind of media scrutiny of a process they had tried to keep out of the public eye,” Cameron said.

Global warming reduces grain output

Rising temperatures and inadequate rainfall are causing grain output to stagnate in India, threatening food security in the world’s second-most populous nation, according to a weather scientist.

In the past decade, average temperatures have increased by 0.25 degree Celsius when the monsoon crops are sown in June, and by 0.6 degree Celsius when winter crops are planted in October, said Krishna Kumar, a senior scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, a state-owned researcher.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is counting on a bigger harvest to tame inflation from a 17-month high and to meet an election promise of ensuring food security for the poor by providing rice and wheat at below market prices. India’s economy slowed in the quarter ended December after a drought last year ravaged crops and pushed global sugar prices to a 29-year high.

“Warmer nights affect rice output while day temperatures hurt wheat production,” Kumar said in an interview on April 16 in the western city of Pune. “Night temperatures are increasing more rapidly than day temperatures since the late 1980s” due to rising human greenhouse-gas emissions, he said.

Dry weather caused by El Nino has raised concerns this year that output of rice in the Philippines and Thailand, palm oil in Malaysia and Indonesia, and coffee in Vietnam may be reduced. A drought in India pushed imports of sugar and cereal to a record last year. Warmer-than-normal weather in Pakistan led to food shortages causing nationwide riots, and reduced tea production in Sri Lanka, the world’s fourth-biggest grower.

“The projected warming over the water-limited tropics is likely to further depress yields and exacerbate water scarcity, constraining attempts to increase grain production,” Cristina Milesi, a scientist at the California State University and at NASA Ames Research Center, said in a report last month.

‘Leading Example’

India’s population and the largest water-limited tropics croplands, makes it a “leading example of the observed declines in food grain production,” she said.

The combined global land and sea-surface temperatures last month was 0.77 degrees more than the twentieth century average of 12.7 degrees, making March the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. March was also the hottest on record in India, government-owned India Meteorological Department, or IMD, said on its Web site.

A ‘Hamburger Helper’ for Diesel Fuel

In the never ending search for substitutes for oil in cars and trucks, a Nevada company has found an unusual partial replacement: natural gas.

Natural gas, of course, is already used in thousands of buses, in compressed form. But building a compression station for fueling, and converting the buses, is expensive. The Nevada company, Advanced Refining Concepts, of Reno, has developed a fuel that runs through conventional fuel pumps, truck fuel tanks and diesel engines.

That is crucial, said Peter W. Gunnerman, who co-founded the company with his father, Rudolf. “You can have the best fuel in the world, but the second you tell mechanics you have to change this or change that, it just doesn’t get done,’’ he said.

His company produces something called GDiesel, which starts with ordinary ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and with natural gas, which is primarily methane.

In its refinery, Advanced Refining Concepts bubbles the gas through the diesel fuel. In the presence of a proprietary catalyst, the methane and the diesel fuel react chemically, with the diesel fuel pulling apart the methane and absorbing its component atoms, hydrogen and carbon.

As the molecules of diesel fuel absorb the natural gas, they get bigger. Mr. Gunnerman said that the liquid grows by more than 10 percent.

Diesel fuel is sold by volume (gallons refers to size, not energy content) so anything that expands the product becomes a sort of Hamburger Helper, an inexpensive filler. Natural gas is considerably cheaper than diesel.

As the fuel’s density declines, the amount of energy declines very slightly. But that seems fine with the company’s customers, said Mr. Gunnerman. They report going more miles on a tank and needing fewer oil changes. Users include a construction company and truck fleet operators.

None of the benefits have been confirmed by a lab, but sales are growing, through a distributor that serves northern Nevada and northern California.

Mr. Gunnerman’s company has produced the fuel at a single processing unit. The unit could make 10,000 gallons a day but has been limited to 4,000 because there is not much natural gas available at the spot where it is installed, in Sparks, he said. In October, the company broke ground at an industrial park nine miles east of Reno, where it is installing 10 such units. Start-up is scheduled to begin next month.

Substituting natural gas for diesel fuel may be profitable and make sense from an energy security standpoint, even if it has no environmental benefit.

But Mr. Gunnerman said that the next step would be to find sources for methane other than natural gas.

Landfill gas, methane from sewage processing plants and similar sources are all potential pollutants and should be available for fuel instead, he said, and he is shopping for such sources.