BioCycle December 2010, Vol. 51, No. 12, p. 6
Canada Compost Won’t Require Labeling As “Hazardous”
Ontario’s compost industry ducked what a spokesperson called a “devastating” blow when the provincial government scrapped controversial recycling and disposal fees on some hazardous products as part of its producer responsibility initiatives (see “Compost Canada,” August 2009, and “Compost Takes A Classification Blow In Ontario,” July 2010). Under the program, packaged compost for retail sale would have been hit with a small fee – about one cent per pound – and even more damaging, says Susan Antler, executive director of the Compost Council of Canada (CCC), been labeled a “hazardous product.” That designation, resulting from regulations in Canada’s Fertilizers Act, “was a huge issue in terms of the image of our product; something we’re promoting as good for the soil and the environment,” Antler says. “The concern was that we wouldn’t be able to counter that impression … that a government-endorsed program would have delivered.”
The program – the second phase of a plan to make manufacturers and consumers pay for the end use of packaging and products – came into effect July 1, 2010. But facing intense criticism from consumers and opposition by politicians, the government imposed a 90-day hold for a review and formally scrapped the fee and designation scheme in October. The CCC enlisted widespread help from supporters to fight the inclusion of compost, Antler says. “It would have had implications across Canada and internationally.” The controversy centered on fees on paint, cleaners and other products, but the compost industry benefitted from the outcome, she says, adding that the ordeal consumed a lot of the council’s resources. “Hopefully it will never resurface again.”
DOE Funds Alternative Feedstock Research
The United States Department of Energy has been pumping significant research money into alternative biofuels feedstocks that can be grown sustainably while protecting water and soil resources. Recently funded projects include:
• North Carolina State University (NCSU) will receive up to $2,092,892 for a project with sites in Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina to evaluate impacts of biomass production on hydrology, water quality, wildlife, plant diversity, soil productivity, carbon budgeting and economics. NCSU and partners will investigate feedstock production options compatible with forest management, with a focus on pine and switchgrass intercropping. Total cost-shared project value is $4,807,390.
• Purdue University will receive up to $1,592,385 to conduct a sustainability assessment of multiple species of energy crops including miscanthus, switchgrass and hybrid poplar and examine the impacts of removing crop residues within two watersheds representative of conditions in the Upper Midwest. The project will gauge sustainability in relation to soil erosion, biomass yield and aquatic biodiversity impacts and develop methods to optimize watershed landscapes to improve water quality and associated ecosystem services. Total cost-shared project value is $1,991,177.
• The University of Minnesota will receive up to $790,943 to analyze the Mississippi River watershed using a set of models to help stakeholders make informed decisions about what bioenergy feedstocks to use, where to produce or collect them and what environmental impacts they will have in terms of climate change or other environmental shifts. The goal is to estimate the biophysical and economic impacts of different placements of feedstock production operations on the landscape in order to maximize net benefits returned to farmers, biorefineries and the public. Total cost-shared project value is $999,473.
• The University of Illinois will receive a $1.2 million grant to accelerate genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production. The project will investigate the possibility that small RNAs are involved in controlling the deposition and quality of lignocellulosic biomass in biofuels feedstock grasses, in particular miscanthus. Only recently have researchers discovered the importance of small RNAs as regulatory molecules in controlling the size, shape and composition of biofuel crops. RNAs are molecules that transfer both function and information from the genome to the rest of the cell. The role of small RNA in processes that underlie traits critical to regional biomass production, such as flowering, maturity time and overwintering, also will be studied.
Survey Seeks To I.D. WWTP Biogas Production Barriers
An online survey directed at wastewater treatment plants is now available for completion as part of the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) project, Barriers to Biogas Utilization for Renewable Energy. The project, awarded to Brown and Caldwell and Black & Veatch, is investigating disincentives for biogas produced by the wastewater sector from being fully used to generate heat or power (either direct or as electricity) or to be used as a fuel or sold in the methane and natural gas markets. The project also is exploring the barriers particular to biogas generation and combined heat and power recovery by small plants (less than 4.5 mgd). An online survey, located at www.surveymonkey.com/s/WERFBiogasSurvey_201011v1, has been released that explores the barriers to biogas use. This 15- to 20-minute survey is open to all wastewater utilities across the United States, regardless of experience with digestion, biogas use or combined heat and power (CHP). To gain a broad understanding of how barriers are viewed, investigators encourage staff at all levels within a utility – including directors, engineers, maintenance staff, elected officials and operators – to fill out the survey, even if they are for the same plant. If a utility operates more than one wastewater treatment plant, the survey is set up to loop back to complete a set of questions for each plant. The deadline for survey responses is January 7, 2011. Results will be aggregated according to general geography, plant size and other relevant factors; any information that would specifically identify a utility will remain confidential and not be shared outside of the project team. The survey results will be discussed and tested in focus groups to begin January 2011. Follow the progress of this project at www.werf.org/optimization. WERF is collaborating with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to co-fund this research. Questions may be directed to John Willis, Brown and Caldwell, at 770-361-6431 or Lori Stone, Black & Veatch, at 703-554-5048.
BCAP Final Rule Better But Not Perfect
Congress enacted the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) as part of the 2008 Farm Bill Energy Title. The program provides incentives for bioenergy feedstock to support production of biofuels and renewable energy. It also provides financial support for the collection, harvest, storage and transportation of biomass for conversion to heat, power, advanced biofuels or bioproducts and for the establishment and production of energy crops for use in facilities for those purposes. Implementation of BCAP has been stalled by controversy. The final rule was published in the Federal Register by the USDA Farm Service Agency October 27, 2010, eight months after a public comment period began. Thanks in no small part to the lobbying efforts of the compost and mulch industry, language that would have provided matching federal dollars to biomass facilities for acquiring bark and other woody materials was amended to stipulate that those funds would not be available in markets where it could determined that these materials have a higher and better use (see “U.S. Composting Industry Outlook,” page 49). That’s good news for folks like composters who depend on these feedstocks, but some remain concerned as to how these markets will be defined.
Additionally the final rule received criticism from the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) for failing to ensure the majority of program resources support sustainable perennial energy crop production or to set up a mechanism requiring a competitive review process that gives advantage to the most environmentally and economically sound projects. Such prioritizing, the ELPC said, will be necessary to ensure public and Congressional support for the program. Additionally, the ELPC said, “the final rule projects that the majority of BCAP funding will continue to support the collection of biomass feedstocks regardless of their environmental impact, rather than establishing new sustainable energy crops” and leaves major details to be worked out during the implementation process.
EPA’s Warm Version 11 Now Available
The U.S. EPA created the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) to help solid waste planners and organizations track and voluntarily report greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from several different waste management practices. Available both as a web-based calculator and Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, WARM calculates and totals GHG emissions of baseline and alternative waste management practices – source reduction, recycling, combustion, composting and landfilling. Now the federal agency has released a new version of the tool, available at www.epa.gov/warm. Updates include: six new construction and demolition (C&D) materials (asphalt concrete, asphalt shingles, drywall, fiberglass, vinyl flooring and wood flooring), revised emission factors for tires to reflect open-loop recycling, new features in the Excel version allowing users to use regional averages for electricity grid mix and to specify moisture conditions and associated decay rates at landfills, and routine updates of underlying data. Also available is the updated documentation covering the data and methodology behind WARM v11. This documentation is now organized by material type and is an update of the 2006 report Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Management of Selected Materials in Municipal Solid Waste. It is also available for download at www.epa.gov/warm.
Global Warming Puts National Parks At Risk
National parks and the communities that host them face major economic challenges related to climate change, a study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Natural Resources Defense Council finds. The study identified Maine’s 48,000-acre Acadia National Park – where two million annual park visitors spend $160 million and support 3,000 local jobs – as one of the 25 units of the national park system most endangered by climate change. The new report, “Acadia National Park in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption,” outlines pitfalls that face both the park and Maine’s economy under a scenario in which little or nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.
The analysis found that the resources and values that draw people to Acadia (the third most visited National Park) are at a direct risk. Through the month of September, year 2010 was shaping up to be the hottest ever for Maine. Global warming modeling scenarios put Acadia at 4.5°F hotter by midcentury and 8.5°F hotter by the end of the 21st century. That scenario would put the Maine Coastal park’s climate on par with Atlantic City’s current climate in as few as 60 years. Current scientific projections are that global sea levels will rise by about 2 to 3 feet by the end of the century in a lower emissions future or by about 3 to 4 feet under the medium-high emissions scenario. For Maine, according to the report, the local extent of sea-level rise likely will be nearly 1-foot higher than the global average. A higher ocean level would threaten low-lying park roads, first with damage from storm surges and ultimately perhaps with permanent inundation. A higher ocean also threatens to damage key park ecosystems such as saltwater and freshwater marshes. Read the full report at www.rockymountainclimate.org.
Sustainable Home Landscape Tool
Landscape For Life (www.landscapeforlife.org) gives homeowners advice on creating sustainable landscapes based on the principles of The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES). SITES offers the nation’s first rating system for sustainable landscapes as well as technical tools for professionals who design, construct, operate and maintain landscapes of all sizes. Landscape For Life presents this information in an easy-to-understand format that homeowners and gardeners can use. SITES is an interdisciplinary collaboration by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. (See “Performance Guidelines For Sustainable Sites,” December 2009.)