Energy and Global Warming News for January 5: Study finds Michigan’s plan to fight climate change would also boost state economy; Wind farms could create thousands of new Nebraska jobs — NREL

Independent study says Michigan’s plan to fight climate change also would boost state economy

Michigan could gain a significant economic boost and thousands of new jobs by reducing emissions of gases that cause climate change, according to an analysis released Monday.

The report by the Center for Climate Strategies said a plan devised last year for battling global warming in Michigan would help limit the state’s heat-trapping gas emissions over the next 15 years.

But more than the environment would benefit, the nonprofit group said. It projected gains of 129,000 jobs, a $25 billion uptick in the gross state product and lower prices for home energy sources such as electricity, oil and natural gas.


“This study validates our commitment to energy efficiency and renewable sources of fuel,” said Steven Chester, director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s the right thing to do for a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2007 established the Michigan Climate Action Council, consisting of academic experts and representatives of industry, environmental groups and government agencies.

The council last February recommended 54 steps to reduce the state’s contribution to climate change. Most involved greater use of alternative energy and stepped-up efficiency in manufacturing, farming, transportation and other sectors.

The panel recommended an outside analysis of the potential effect on Michigan’s economy. The DEQ secured a $75,000 grant from the Troy-based Kresge Foundation for the study.

Economists with Michigan State University and the University of Southern California teamed with the Center for Climate Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that has helped more than 20 states develop programs to fight global warming.

Michigan began taking steps in that direction in 2008 with legislation requiring that 10 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources within seven years. It also ordered utilities to become more efficient.

The climate action plan calls for additional steps, such as greener building construction, greater use of rail transport, more recycling and urban tree plantings.

The study concluded that, combined with actions already under way, the climate action plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions to more than 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2025.

While acknowledging a lower-carbon economy would eliminate some jobs, the study predicted a net gain of 129,000 as alternative energy producers expand.

“It’s important to note that there will be winners and losers, but for the state as a whole this is a win-win and a significant one,” said Tom Peterson, CEO of the climate center.

Wind farms could create thousands of new Nebraska jobs

Harnessing Nebraska’s largely untapped wind-energy resources could create up to 40,000 jobs over the next two decades if a federal goal is met, according to a report.

The report, done by the National Renewable Energy Lab for the Nebraska Energy Office, was presented at wind-energy meetings held in Nebraska in December. It says that if a federal goal of having wind energy make up 20 percent of the U.S. energy supply by 2030 is met, 7,800 megawatts of wind energy would be produced in Nebraska.

Up to 4,000 of the projected 40,000 jobs would be permanent jobs lasting as long as each wind facility operated, which is typically about two decades.

The report also estimated that 4,700 temporary and permanent jobs would be created over the next 20 years if wind farms generating just 1,000 megawatts — much less than the 7,800 megawatts under the federal goal — were built.

Currently, wind farms in the state have the capacity to produce just 153 megawatts — significantly less than any state that abuts Nebraska. In Iowa, for example, existing wind farms have the capacity to produce more than 3,000 megawatts, and in Kansas, more than 1,000 megawatts.

Wind-energy advocates trying to make the Nebraska more attractive to wind-energy developers point to the report as evidence of how the state could benefit from more wind farms.

While Nebraska ranks fourth among states in wind-energy potential, according to a Harvard University report, the state ranks 22nd in actual wind-energy production.

Condoleezza Rice may put global links to use as adviser to energy start-up

Condoleezza Rice is on the board of directors for a new energy company hoping to take advantage of cap-and-trade legislation.

The former secretary of state, who has been teaching political science at Stanford University since the end of the Bush administration, is taking a leading role in a start-up straight out of the university known for its technological prowess. The stealth start-up, called C3, is hoping to make carbon cap-and-trade systems for businesses, according to TechCrunch.

Rice isn’t the only politically connected player on the board. C3 also counts former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

The company is the brainchild of Thomas Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, which was bought by Cisco in 2005 for $5.7 billion. Siebel is no political slouch himself “” he took a lead role in introducing vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to California.

Rice’s involvement in the company could suggest it is planning on going international, leveraging her experience and relationships on a global scale.

Little is known about the company, which is keeping much meaningful information under wraps. But according to filings with the SEC, it has secured about $26 million in private funding.

Of course, the company’s future viability depends on whether Congress adopts a cap-and-trade system, which the Obama administration has been pushing for.

Trash to gas: Landfill energy projects increasing

Hundreds of trash trucks across California are rumbling down city streets using clean fuel made from a dirty source: garbage.

The fuel is derived from rotting refuse that San Francisco and Oakland residents and businesses have been discarding in the Altamont landfill since 1980. Since November, the methane gas created from decaying detritus at the 240-acre landfill has been sucked into tubes and sent into an innovative facility that purifies and transforms it into liquefied natural gas.

Almost 500 Waste Management Inc. garbage and recycling trucks run on this new source of environmentally friendly fuel instead of dirty diesel.

In a state that has passed the most stringent greenhouse gas reduction goals in the United States, the climate change benefits of this plant are twofold — methane from the trash heap is captured before entering the environment and use of the fuel produces less carbon dioxide than conventional gasoline.

“We’ve built the largest landfill-to-LNG plant in the world; this plant produces 13,000 gallons a day of LNG,” said Jessica Jones, a landfill manager for Houston-based Waste Management. “It will take 30,000 tons a year of CO2 from the environment.”

Altamont is one of two California landfills making LNG; the other is a smaller facility about 40 miles south of Los Angeles. Other natural gas facilities are being planned by Waste Management at some of the 270 active landfills nationwide, and the number could grow quickly as communities seek to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency counted 517 active landfill energy projects in the nation’s approximately 1,800 operational municipal landfills. That was up almost 50 percent from 2000, and 28 percent from 2004.

Landfills have plenty of the ingredients to produce methane. Bacteria break down the food scraps, paper, lawn trimmings and other organic waste dumped there. Over time, the material ferments, releasing methane and other gases. About 50 percent of the gas emitted from landfills is methane. It is 21 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, the EPA said.

“Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide,” Tom Frankiewicz, program manager for EPA’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program in Washington, said in an e-mail. “Methane is also the main component of natural gas, so by capturing and using methane as an energy source you get an even bigger bang for the buck.”

At the Altamont landfill, seagulls hover over the sprawling complex, set among the rolling green hills and wind farms of the Altamont pass about 50 miles east of San Francisco. Dotted throughout the facility are more than 100 wells with black tubes that vacuum up methane from the heap.

The LNG is then pumped into the garbage and recycling trucks at a company fueling station in Oakland, while vehicles elsewhere in California get their gas at specially equipped stations.

The idea of turning garbage into clean energy is not a new one — the Altamont site has had a methane-fueled electric power plant since 1989 that can power 8,000 homes a day. Hundreds of other landfills in the U.S. also use methane captured from rotting garbage for electricity projects.

In 2005, the last year data was available, landfill methane electricity projects made up 10.8 percent of the country’s renewable energy output, not including hydroelectric power, EPA said.

Given its impact on greenhouse gases, four state environmental agencies contributed grants to help build the $15.5 million Altamont plant. Mike Beckman of Linde Group North America, the company that built and runs the natural gas plant, said the Altamont plant should continue producing fuel for 20 years or more.

That makes the nascent Altamont plant potentially profitable, as the gas is sold to Waste Management and other customers.

But to many who may want to use the technology, the cost of purifying the methane into usable liquefied natural gas can be a daunting barrier. The $15.5 million it took to build Altamont’s LNG facility is far more than it costs to build a small electrical plant.

“There is growing interest, but because removing impurities from the methane is currently quite expensive, right now it’s only profitable at larger landfills where you have enough landfill gas,” Frankiewicz said. “With today’s economics, these projects only happen at the biggest sites in the U.S.; the thought is that as the technology becomes cheaper, that will change. “

Mass. unveils landmark ocean-management plan

Massachusetts has released the final version of a landmark ocean-management plan, creating a vast regulatory map for the state’s coastal waters and setting new limits for offshore wind farms.

The plan allows up to 266 wind turbines in state waters — 166 in two designated commercial wind farm areas and 100 more turbines scattered up and down the coast in smaller “community” projects — as the state tries to ramp up its renewable energy output.

Authorized by the state’s Oceans Act of 2008, the plan is designed to regulate development in state-controlled waters, which extend three miles offshore.

It creates protected areas and prohibits development in state waters near the Cape Cod National Seashore.

The protected habitats include eelgrass beds and submerged rocky areas that provide shelter to some of the greatest marine biodiversity in the coastal waters. The plan is also designed to shield whale migratory paths and the habitats of endangered roseate terns.

Before the map, development in state waters had been handled piecemeal, said state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles.

State officials say the map is the first in the country with such a comprehensive scope. Other states, including California and New York, have adopted measures designed to protect offshore ecosystems. Rhode Island is working on its own coastal management plan.

President Barack Obama last year started a similar effort to draft a regulatory framework for federal waters — beyond the three-mile band of state waters.

Although the plan allows up to 266 turbines, Bowles said he doesn’t anticipate many of the community-based wind turbines being built — at least not soon — due to the high costs of siting and construction, although he acknowledged that technological improvements could bring those costs down.

The map parcels out the number of allowed community energy projects to each of the state’s seven regional planning authorities based on the length of shoreline and area of coastal waters. The plan also requires any project be endorsed by its host community.

Bowles said the final version of the map improves on an earlier version released in July in part by creating tougher protections for ecologically sensitive areas, which constitute nearly two-thirds of the state’s waters.

The final version sets a higher regulatory hurdle than the earlier version by requiring developers show that no environmental harm will come from proposed projects in those areas — or prove that the state’s data is wrong.

“It’s a much more difficult standard than was there before,” Bowles said.

Environmental groups praised the plan, saying it balances protection of vulnerable marine wildlife and habitats with responsible ocean uses.

“It’s a real victory for the ocean and everyone who depends on it,” said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation. “The bar has been set very high.”

The map would do nothing to block the development of the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm, to be located in federal waters off Nantucket Sound.

The plan establishes two new zones for commercial wind-energy projects south of Cuttyhunk Island near the southern end of the Elizabeth Islands and south of Nomans Land, off Martha’s Vineyard.

The plan gives local communities some say over the “appropriate scale” of any commercial wind farm in state waters.

The state is also forming a task force with the U.S. Minerals Management Service to coordinate the planning and review of large-scale wind-energy projects in adjacent federal waters.

The plan also sets out priorities for ocean management-related research over the next five years, including better ways to identify sensitive habitats and monitoring the effects of climate change in Massachusetts waters.

Europe Plans New Power Grid to Boost Green Energy

Nine countries in northern Europe are hoping to boost renewable energies by creating a new grid to balance out weather-related fluctuations, according to a German newspaper report. The ‚¬30 billion project is urgently needed to help boost green power and combat climate change.

Nine European countries plan to boost their renewable power generation with a ‚¬30 billion ($43 billion) project to build a power grid of high-voltage cables under the North Sea, German newspaper S¼ddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday.

The cables will transport energy generated by wind power, tidal power and solar power and thereby form a basis for the continued expansion of renewable energy to help combat climate change, the newspaper reported, citing government sources.

The project includes Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Luxembourg and Norway.

Under the plan, the cables will distribute wind power across large parts of Europe within 10 years. The aim is to link up offshore wind farms along the coasts of Germany and the UK with Norwegian hydroelectric power stations, tidal power stations on the Belgian and Danish coasts and wind and solar power systems on the European mainland.

Officials from the nine countries had agreed to discuss cooperation in December. A first meeting of so-called “national coordinators” is scheduled for Feb. 9, S¼ddeutsche Zeitung reported. The countries want to agree on a letter of intent by the autumn.

A spokesman for the German Economy Ministry confirmed that preparatory meetings at working group level would take place in January, followed by a “higher-ranking” meeting later on in the first quarter, S¼ddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Leading European power companies and network operators are to take part in the negotiations because the private sector will be expected to fund most of the investment, the spokesman said. The aim is to coordinate Europe’s renewable energy strategies on a technical and political level, he added.

The fluctuation of renewable generation as a result of changing weather conditions has posed a major obstacle to increasing renewable power generation, and a common grid could offset those variations and provide a reliable power supply for large parts of Europe. Norwegian hydroelectrical power plants, for example, could serve as a large-scale storage facility for wind power generated in the UK and Germany.

According to the newspaper, energy companies are in the process of building offshore wind turbines along Europe’s coasts with a total capacity of 100 gigawatts, equivalent to about 10 percent of Europe’s entire energy needs and matching the output of 100 large coal-fired power stations.

Sven Teske, an expert on renewable energies for Greenpeace, said Europe’s existing power grid wasn’t capable of taking in the output from the new wind farms and that European power grid urgently needs to be expanded, S¼ddeutsche Zeitung reported.

Where on Earth will we store all that captured CO2? Try the East Coast

Carbon capture and storage””sucking the CO2 from power plant or industrial smokestack emissions””has been cited by everyone from the Bush administration to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a key technology in any effort to combat climate change. That’s because the world””particularly China, India and the U.S.””burns a lot of coal.

Deep saline aquifers or nearly empty oil wells are a few of the possibilities for where to put carbon dioxide, but what might be even better is a volcanic rock known as basalt. That’s because the rock both stores CO2 and, over a relatively short period of years, forms carbonate minerals with it””in other words, limestone.

Already, several pilot projects to inject CO2 into basalt and see how successfully it stores the greenhouse gas are under way, including off the coast of Oregon and beneath Iceland. In fact, the Iceland project has already begun to inject trace amounts of CO2 dissolved in water to form carbonic acid, which speeds the reaction with the volcanic rock, according to physicist Klaus Lackner of Columbia University. “They want to understand the plumbing,” he told me this past November. “Drill back there 20 years from now, you shouldn’t find any CO2 because it’s all carbonate.”

Now new research from Lackner’s colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory led by geophysicist David Goldberg, shows that vast deposits of basalt lie off the coast of Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina. Even better, the risk of leakage from such storage is low since the overlying ocean forms a second barrier of protection for the injected greenhouse gas. Along these lines, the Sleipner natural gas project in the North Sea has successfully stored more than 10 million metric tons of CO2 for more than a decade. Just one of the formations identified in Monday’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Goldberg et al. off the coast of New Jersey could hold as much as 1 billion metric tons of CO2. Of course, the nations of the world emit more than 30 billion metric tons of CO2 per year.

Ultimately, the key will be determining that the CO2 can be safely stored for the long-term. Already, a proposed coal-fired power plant proposed in Linden, N.J. includes plans to pump captured CO2 emissions into an offshore sediment, albeit not a basalt one.

If CO2 emissions end up being captured at power plants, factories and other sources, the U.S. coasts in the East and Pacific Northwest might be well-placed to serve as repositories based on Goldberg’s research””in lieu of the atmosphere, where the gas is currently wreaking havoc with the global climate. “The Siberian basalt traps, the Deccan flats in India,” Lackner added, “there are enormous amounts of basalt [globally].”

Faster Than a Speeding Carrot: A Racing Car Made Entirely from Recyclables and Vegetable By-Products

A Formula 3 racing car made entirely out of recycled and renewable materials could be a sign of things to come in the automotive industry. At least, that is the hope of some British researchers who have built WorldFirst, an unusual automobile made mostly using recycled plastic water and juice bottles, potato starch, carrot fibers and other materials one normally expects to find in the recycling or compost bin.

The car reaches a top speed of 238 kilometers per hour and has been driven more than 800 kilometers for testing and demonstrations since it first rolled out of the lab in April. WorldFirst was tested at Brands Hatch””a motor racing circuit in Kent, England””driven by professional racer Aaron Steele.

Engineers at the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Center (WIMRC) at Warwick University in England built the car as part of a larger project to develop new materials for use in the automotive and health care sectors that meet the goals of sustainable development. The WorldFirst racing car also is a response to two emerging trends in auto racing: an interest in a greener approach to the sport and the escalating costs of fielding a competitive Formula 1 racing team that have chased away some sponsors, says James Meredith, a WIMRC biomaterials engineer and WorldFirst project manager. (Formula 3 competitions are generally considered to be stepping-stones for drivers looking to compete in Formula 1 races.)

The WorldFirst car is a proof-of-principle vehicle that shows it is possible to use recycled and reused materials to build a functioning automobile. “The choice of which materials to use was based on how easy they were to work with, what shape the part we needed to manufacture was, and what mechanical properties were needed,” Meredith says. Recycled carbon fiber was used for the large parts of the car such as the engine cover. Fibers made from flax and hemp were used for simple parts such as the bargeboard and bib, which are used to improve aerodynamics. Other major parts of the car are made from carbon and fiberglass.

The outer part of the steering wheel was made from Curran, a polymer made by CelluComp in Scotland and derived from carrots and other root vegetables. Curran has properties similar to those of glass or carbon fiber-reinforced polymer, Meredith says. The inside of the driver’s seat was made from soy-based foam, while the cover consists of a fabric made from flax.

The tires are still made of rubber, although tire manufacturer Avon Tyres (a division of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.) claims it is working to eliminate one of the biggest toxic polluting compounds in them, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are used to help soften the rubber. PAHs that leach from old tires disposed of incorrectly can contaminate soil and water, and the chemical compound can become airborne in tire fires.

The WorldFirst racing car runs on biodiesel derived from chocolate fat. Meredith notes that the chocolate fat used for this purpose is actually a waste product in the food industry. “Whenever you burn a biodiesel made from waste materials,” he says, “it can be argued that it is carbon neutral.”

The radiator is coated with PremAir, a catalyst material that converts the ozone portion of the car’s emissions into oxygen””something that is desirable since at ground level ozone is a pollutant.

How strong and how durable are the materials in this car? “In terms of their durability””we are still working on this,” Meredith says. “All the parts we have made to date are still going strong. Natural fibers will most likely have a lower resistance to weather effects as the fibers will absorb moisture if exposed and then degrade. Recycled carbon fiber and glass fiber with recycled resins should have equal durability to standard materials.”

Biofiber components derived from a variety of plants are already being used in some non-racing car components, says Mohini Sain, a professor of forestry at the University of Toronto’s Center for Biocomposites and Biomaterials Processing. Some manufacturers use biomaterials in door panels, consoles, tire covers and floor mats. Eventually, as the technology improves, biomaterials will be used in larger components, says Sain, who was not part of the WorldFirst project. Already, some biofiber materials perform as well as glass fibers and are less dense. Sain notes that biofibers do break down when exposed to moisture, but the fibers are coated in resins and plastics to counter this.

Meredith predicts the car should last as long as any other racing car, saying, “The natural fiber parts have lasted well although their weather resistance does not appear to be as good as existing materials.” In the end, “ideally all the natural fiber products can be shredded and composted, carbon parts can be recycled again””albeit with a small amount of degradation,” he adds.