International Compost Awareness Week
International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW), May 6-12, was launched in Canada in 2005 and has become the world’s largest environmental education event for composting — celebrated from North America to Ireland to Europe to Australia to India. ICAW features activities focused on building awareness of composting and the myriad benefits of compost. The U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) theme for 2012 is “Compost! Replenish the Earth for Generations.” The council organizes an annual poster contest around its theme. This year’s winner is Emily Bibler, a graphic designer from Iowa, who was inspired by landscape artist Grant Wood as well as Mexican amate paintings. The 2012 poster is available on the USCC website for $5. For more information about International Compost Awareness week visit http://compostingcouncil.org/get-involved.
Obama Administration Bullish On Renewables
The most recent issue of the Monthly Energy Review, published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, reports that renewable energy expanded rapidly during the first three years of the Obama Administration, substantially outpacing growth in the fossil fuel and nuclear power sectors. According to data gathered between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, renewable energy sources — including biofuels, biomass, geothermal, solar, hydro and wind — grew by 27.12 percent. Total domestic energy production increased by 6.72 percent, with natural gas and crude oil production growing by 13.66 percent and 14.27 percent, respectively. Nuclear power declined by 1.99 percent and coal dropped by 7.16 percent over the same period. Across the electricity, transportation and thermal energy sectors, renewable energy accounted for 11.74 percent of domestic energy production in 2011, compared to 9.85 percent in 2008.
During the same three years, geothermal grew by 15.63 percent, hydropower by 26.28 percent, solar by 28.09 percent, biofuels by 46.58 and wind by 113.92 percent. Only biomass dipped, by 1.21 percent. Hydropower accounted for 34.62 percent of domestic energy production from renewable sources in 2011, followed by biomass (26.75%), biofuels (22.20%), wind (12.75%), geothermal (2.42%) and solar (1.24%). “The investments in sustainable energy made by the federal government as well as state and private funders have paid off handsomely, underscoring the short-sightedness of emerging proposals to slash or discontinue such support,” notes Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, a nonprofit research and educational organization that promotes sustainable energy technologies.
Government Actions Deal Blows To Biogas
A glimmer of hope for resuscitation of the federal 1603 Treasury Grant program that paid up to 30 percent of eligible capital costs for renewable energy projects was lost March 13, when the U.S. Senate failed to accept an amendment to a transportation bill. Passage would have extended both the Section 45 Production Tax Credit for Renewable Energy for a year as well as revive Section 1603 (which expired at the end of 2011). Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council (ABC), suggested this was not a vote against biogas or renewables, but rather a vote against other unpopular elements of the amendment with which the biogas and broader renewables tax credits were paired. Serfass said he and others in the biogas industry believe Congress wants to send a signal of stability to drive investment in renewables and biogas and that, as the end of the year approaches, more interest will emerge to cut a deal to extend at least some of these credits.
At the state level, the California Energy Commission (CEC) voted March 28 to set an indefinite moratorium on inclusion of biomethane projects — specifically targeting projects which inject renewable natural gas (RNG) into natural gas pipelines — in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). While the CEC cited a need for more detail on how projects directly contribute to methane destruction in California, Serfass said the main catalyst seems to be a desire to stop projects making biomethane out-of-state and transporting it to in-state utilities through the interstate natural gas pipelines to qualify for the RPS. This action has the direct consequence of curtailing biomethane project development inside the state.
Not all biogas projects are impacted. Those that utilize the biogas on site — such as projects making electricity from fuel cells, engines and turbines — will not be affected by the moratorium. Projects currently in development that applied to the CEC before March 28 are exempt from the moratorium but still must face scrutiny by the CEC.
Trayless In New York City
Some schools go trayless to reduce food waste. New York City public schools implemented “Trayless Tuesday” in order to immediately curtail 20 percent of polystyrene trays going to the landfill. While New York City’s 1,700 pubic schools recycle by mandate, most of the approximately 850,000 students participating in the school lunch program are still served on single-serving plastic foam trays. That amounts to about 153 million trays a year, says Debby Lee Cohen, director of Styrofoam Out of Schools/Cafeteria Culture, who participated in a recent webinar entitled “Reducing Waste in Schools” hosted by EPA Region 2. “These trays contain styrene and benzine, kids eat directly off of them, they are only used for 20 or 30 minutes, and then they get exported to out-of-state landfills. That’s inconsistent with the message children are taught in school and at home to reduce waste and recycle.”
But the trays are inexpensive, says Stephen O’Brien, Director of Food and Food Support for the New York City Department of Education (DOE), and that is a significant factor when more than 75 percent of participating students are served breakfast and/or lunch at a reduced rate or for free. Cohen and O’Brien got together and began to brainstorm how to make a dent in the problem, eventually involving the New York City Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling. It turned out the DOE already had contracts for the bulk purchase of clay-lined paper boats, which could accommodate meals such as hamburgers, sandwiches and other items that did not contain high amounts of liquids or sauce. The menu was tweaked, and Trayless Tuesday was born. Rollout involved principals in each school explaining the program classroom by classroom, college student volunteers helping with initial implementation and a “flip, tap and stack” campaign to help ensure proper compliance. “If they are clean and dry, they can be recycled,” explains O’Brien.
Upgrading Recycling In New Mexico
The New Mexico Recycling Coalition (NMRC) has received a $590,303 Department of Energy grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. With the funds, NMRC plans to upgrade existing small-scale recycling centers and establish new ones, especially in more rural areas. Centralized processing facilities serve surrounding communities in a solid waste management strategy known as the hub-and-spoke model. The hub facilities reap some of the revenues from the recyclables to help cover operating costs, while the spoke communities benefit economically by sending a reduced volume of trash to the landfill.
“Investments from stimulus funds have already improved recycling in New Mexico with six new recycling hubs and more than 30 additional spoke drop-off locations,” said English Bird, NMRC executive director. “We are seeing a radical improvement in recycling processing capability in our state as well as access to recycling for our citizens.”
Southeast Biomass Burning
A study of southeastern U.S. forests shows that burning wood in lieu of fossil fuels to generate electricity may exacerbate global warming before it curtails it. The study, Biomass Supply and Carbon Accounting for Southeastern Forests, indicates that as the industry expands in the Southeast, biomass energy will come more from cutting living trees rather than from sawmill wood residues and other waste sources. Conducted by the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) — a national nonprofit that works with communities to “make the most of their local biomass energy resources” — the study emphasizes the need to balance forest health and related ecosystem services, such as drinking water and wildlife habitat, with renewable energy objectives.
“This study brings us to the crux of the matter regarding biomass electric power and atmospheric carbon, which is that consideration of near-term tipping points versus long-term carbon reductions must be assessed as we develop climate and energy policy,” says Andrea Colnes, BERC’s policy director. “For example, using wood to produce heat through clean technologies has a much shorter payback period than producing electric power, and can yield climate benefits in five to 10 years.” The study analyzed 17 existing and 22 proposed biomass facilities in seven states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Based on current trends in using wood for large-scale power plants and exporting fuel pellets to Europe, biomass energy in the Southeast is projected to produce higher levels of atmospheric carbon for 35 to 50 years compared to fossil fuels, after which biomass will result in significantly lower atmospheric levels as regenerating forests absorb carbon from previous combustion.
EPA Approves Camelina As Biofuel Feedstock
The US EPA issued a final rule in early January qualifying camelina oil as a feedstock meeting the biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel or cellulosic biofuel life cycle greenhouse gas reduction requirements specified in the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) Program of the Clean Air Act (amended by the Energy Independence and Securities Act (EISA) of 2007). The EPA evaluated biofuels produced from camelina oil, energy cane, giant reed and napiergrass. “Biodiesel’s evolving feedstock diversity is one of its greatest strengths, and we’re pleased to see EPA recognizing camelina as yet another feedstock that meets the agency’s standards as an advanced biofuel,” said Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs at the National Biodiesel Board. “As it has with other biodiesel feedstocks such as animal fats, recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and canola oil, the EPA’s evaluation shows that biodiesel produced from camelina oil reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared with diesel fuel.”
The rule also clarifies the definition of renewable diesel to explicitly include jet fuel. This offers additional market certainty and opportunity for renewable diesel producers. “By qualifying these new fuel pathways,” an EPA regulatory announcement stated, “this rule provides opportunities to increase the volume of advanced, low-GHG renewable fuels — such as cellulosic biofuels — under the RFS program. EPA’s comprehensive analyses show significant life cycle GHG emission reductions from these fuel types, as compared to the baseline gasoline or diesel fuel that they replace.”
“The challenge for camelina is that it is a new oilseed crop to this country with highly variable yields and a very uncertain market price,” says Jeff Schahczenski, agricultural economist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. “Even with federal subsidies under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), recent research suggests that camelina is not being readily adopted by farmers because of price competition with more valuable wheat and grain crops.”