August 20, 2006 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle August 2006, Vol. 47, No. 8, p. 6

Vital Signs 2006-2007, published by the Worldwatch Institute about “Trends That Are Shaping Our Future,” cautions that drilling deep wells and increased pumping capacity have caused groundwater depletion in many parts of the world. In effect, groundwater is being pumped out faster than nature can recharge it – causing settling or sinking of the land surface and seawater intrusion.
In the United States, groundwater depletion has been a concern in the South and High Plains for many years, writes Worldwatch. It has also been evident in the Atlantic coastal plain, Gulf Coast plain, west-central Florida, the Chicago-Milwaukee area, and the Pacific Northwest. And the water table under California’s San Joaquin Valley has dropped nearly 10 meters in some spots within the last 50 years.
Continues Worldwatch: Large-scale groundwater withdrawal can lead to a consolidation of aquifers, causing land subsidence – with widespread damage to urban centers – undermining buildings, rupturing water roadways, and sewer systems. “More than 80 percent of the subsidence in the United States is related to the withdrawal of groundwater,” adds the Institute’s Vital Signs.
The Composting Council of Canada’s annual conference, September 13-15, 2006 in Hamilton, Ontario, will feature a tour of the City of Hamilton’s new Central Composting Facility. The official opening of the plant, designed to process 60,000 metric tons/year of household organics, took place on June 24th. The facility was constructed through a partnership between the City of Hamilton and Maple Reinders Constructors Ltd.; it is using the Christiaens in-vessel composting technology from the Netherlands. The CCC tour of the Hamilton facility is on Wednesday, September 13th. To register, visit or call 416-535-0240. An article on the Hamilton facility will appear in a Fall issue of BioCycle.
The Carolina Compost School is scheduled for September 25-29, 2006 at North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Compost Training Facility in Raleigh. Activities include classroom work, an outdoor laboratory and tours. The curriculum covers compost microbiology, feedstocks characterization, facility design, safety and OSHA rules, air and odor management, compost quality, vermicomposting, and compost use in agriculture, ornamental horticulture, sustainable landscaping and sediment and erosion control. Instructors include Craig Coker (Coker Composting & Consulting, Inc.), Don Boelkeheide (Organic Gardening Zone 7), Frank Franciosi (Novozymes North America, Inc.), Ann Gill (Mecklenburg County Solid Waste), Brian Rosa (North Carolina DENR) and Rhonda Sherman (NCSU). Registration fee is $395 per student; attendees will receive 30 continuing education units (CEU’s). Register via
The Maine Compost School’s fall session will be held October 16-20, 2006 at Highmoor Farm, a research farm of the University of Maine located in Monmouth. Field trips are scheduled each afternoon (except for Friday), with a range of composting and organic waste processing facilities on the tour schedule. Classroom sessions cover an introduction to the science and biology of composting, and composting methods and systems; compost feedstocks; bioaerosols and other respiratory issues; composting site selection and management to get the right start, BMPs for odor, vector, leachate and litter control and feedstock contamination; compost maturity; various compost end uses; and keeping neighbors involved and educated about activities. Instructors include Bill Seekins, Maine Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources; Mark King, Maine Department of Environmental Protection; Mark Hutchinson, University of Maine Cooperative Extension; George MacDonald, Maine State Planning Office; Will Brinton, Woods End Research Laboratory, Inc.; Eric Sideman, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Robert Kelly, Kelly Green Environmental Services; Carlos Quijano, Coast of Maine Organic Products Inc. and managers of the various facilities to be toured. Cost of the 5-day school is $495; a certification exam is given at the end of the course. To register, visit
In 2004, China generated 1.2 billion tons of industrial solid wastes – 20 percent higher than the previous year, reports a 2006 issue of Warmer Bulletin. The overall reuse rate was reported to be 55 percent. Some waste materials – such as food residuals – have been targeted by Chinese officials who urge a “clampdown on food waste in restaurants as wining and dining in Shanghai alone wastes up to 1,100 tons of food a day.”
Businessmen and their banquets are considered the main culprits in over ordering, “as bosses fearful of losing face make sure that their guests have more food than they can eat.” In Shanghai, says one national report, the 1,100 tons of food waste a day from the city’s hotels and restaurants not only badly reflects on efforts to eradicate poverty, but has also become an environmental problem. The amount of waste has led the government to kick off a “green campaign” urging change to take place.
In late May, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Directive to increase the pace of municipal use of biodiesel – requiring virtually all city diesel vehicles to run on B20. The city uses about 8 million gallons of diesel/year. San Francisco now has more than 800 alternative fuel vehicles in its fleets.
Fort Lauderdale became the first Florida airport to implement clean air shuttle service. Biodiesel currently powers three trams and 56 diesel buses, including five hybrid buses. The latest issue of the National Biodiesel Board Bulletin reports private sector activity as well. New Holland is the first large farm equipment company to join the Biodiesel Alliance. And in Iowa, the president of Mulgrew Oil that sells biodiesel in Dubuque gives credit to Gov. Tom Vilsack for signing into law a provision that point-of-sale retailers will receive a three cent income tax credit on each gallon of a two percent (B2) blend or higher. In Kentucky, a new biodiesel plant will be operated by Owensboro Grain – a 50 million gallon production facility to open in mid-2007.
Biobased Solutions (Vol 7, No. 3 – May 2006) notes that the number of fuel suppliers and retailers offering soy biodiesel jumped from 450 in fall 2002 to over 3,000 in 2005. Biodiesel sales totaled 15 million gallons/year in 2002 and exceeded 75 million gallons in 2005. With many entrepreneurs eager to build biodiesel production plants, the importance of maintaining quality is critical. The United Soybean Board and the National Biodiesel Board have launched a self-policing standard called the National Biodiesel Accreditation Program.
Plant pots made from organic residuals could one day be a boon to the horticulture industry, writes the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The ARS and the Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) of the American Nursery and Landscape Association are working together to create biodegradable pots. Justin Barone of the ARS is testing the suitability of such farm by-products as poultry feathers, egg protein and lipid, milk and cheese protein, polysaccharides and plant proteins for conversion into polymeric products that can be pressed into pot shapes. The pots will also be tested for use in composting, during which carbon dioxide will be monitored. The ultraviolet and weather stability of pots during storage will be determined.
Biodiesel made from soybeans produces more usable energy and reduces greenhouse gases more than corn-based ethanol, making it more deserving of subsidies, declares a study published in July in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Performed by researchers at the University of Minnesota and St. Olaf College, the study shows environmental benefits of the biodiesel over ethanol made from corn. It states that ethanol provides 25 percent more energy a gallon than is required for its production, while soybean biodiesel generates 93 percent more energy.
According to the authors, ethanol in its production and consumption reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent compared with fossil fuels. Meanwhile, biodiesel reduces such emissions 41 percent. Their analysis concludes that the future of replacing oil and gas lies with cellulosic ethanol generated from low-cost materials like switch grass or wheat straw, if it is grown on agriculturally marginal land or from waste plant material.
Neither biofuel was cost-competitive in 2005 without subsidies. Biodiesel cost 55 cents a liter to produce, or 20 percent more than ethanol. The Minnesota researchers conclude that with a projected doubling of global demand for food within 50 years and an even greater expected increase in demand for transportation fuels, “there is a great need for renewable energy supplies that do not cause significant harm and do not compete with food supply.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new website ( where visitors can obtain basic information about recycling of yard trimmings, food scraps and wood waste. The outreach is part of the Agency’s focus on food scraps and yard trimmings diversion, as those materials are targeted in EPA’s Resource Conservation Challenge to help meet a national goal of 35 percent recycling by 2008.
USEPA also recently released a guide for food service providers titled, “Putting Surplus Food to Good Use.” The brochure promotes the following hierarchy for managing surplus food: Source reduction, Feed People, Feed Animals, Industrial Uses and Composting.
Distinguishing between disposable cups made from compostable plastic versus those made from conventional plastic is difficult as they look the same. And each is a contaminant in the other’s recycling stream. To overcome this obstacle, Rexius Forest By-Products, which operates a composting facility in Eugene, Oregon, purchases large quantities of cups made from Naturworks PLA, and has them imprinted with the company’s name and logo on one side, and the words “compostable cup” on the back. “We buy 75,000 cups at a time and the price is about the same as conventional plastic cups ordered in quantities of 5,000 to 10,000,” says Jack Hoeck of Rexius. “We sell the cups to event organizers, and will take them back for composting.” The company targets venues and special events that focus primarily on beverages, such as concerts and beer gardens at festivals and fairs.
The Japanese government has endorsed a revision of the Biomass Nippon Strategy, a national project to promote biomass use policies as transportation fuel, resources, etc. Definition of biomass in this context includes animal waste, food residuals, wood chips and rice chaff. Unutilized biomass in Japan includes: 80 percent food waste (about 17.6 million tons); over 40 percent of paper waste (about 16 million tons); 70 percent of nonfood farm crop residues (about 8.4 million tons); most wood waste from forestry (about 3.7 million tons); and 36 percent of sewage sludge (about 27 million tons).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $4.2 million to 18 small enterprises to develop innovative products and renewable energy from woody biomass from national forests. Although many recipients are forest products companies, funds were also awarded to the Cawaco Resource Conservation & Development Council which will co-fire biomass with coal; Big Valley Power, a biomass power plant in Redding, California; the Montana Community Development Corp., which has been experimenting with using wood waste from logging operations to fuel a boiler at a paper mill; Mt. Taylor Machine in New Mexico that makes fuel for pellet stoves; and the town of Red River, NM which plans to ship wood chips from forest thinning to a biomass power plant. According to the USDA, the grant program improves forest health and reduces wildfires by removing built-up fuel hazards.
According to the Steel Recycling Institute, recovery rate for steel cans jumped to 63 percent in 2005 – another increase from the previous year’s record-setting rate of 61.7 percent. Nearly 1.4 million tons were recycled back into various steel products – “a solid demonstration that Americans understand that they can become part of the solution,” says Bill Heenan, Institute president.
Biogas is generated by biodigesters at the city of Edmonton, Alberta’s Gold Bar Wastewater Treatment Plant, as biosolids are broken down. While some biogas currently fuels boilers, contaminants in the gas create scaling problems with existing equipment. “At certain times of the year, we could potentially use up to twice as much of the biogas as we now do,” says Darryl Seehagel, supervisor of the Wastewater Research and Training Center. Market value of the gas is “probably over a million dollars a year.” Officials at the city, the Edmonton Waste Management Center of Excellence, and Alberta Research Council are examining ways to remove hydrogen sulfide, siloxanes, carbon dioxide and other impurities from the biogas.
The cleaning project could also have other benefits, says Seehagel. “If we did clean it up, our boilers would run more efficiently. There would be far less maintenance, and there would be options of using technology such as microturbines to create clean renewable energy onsite.”
The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) is pairing two renewable energy sources – wind and biodiesel – to produce electricity even when the wind isn’t blowing. The demonstration project links seven wind turbines with a 2,800 hp diesel engine fueled by 100 percent biodiesel. The goal is to guarantee two megawatts of renewable electricity. Cogeneration would also provide soybean growers with another market for biodiesel, while helping Minnesota meet its ecopower goals.
The Project is supported by a $760,000 research grant from the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund. The hybrid system is being tested at an 11.55 megawatt wind farm operated by Minwind Energy, which sells power to Alliant Energy and Xcel. Biodiesel fuel is fast gaining acceptance – B2, a mix of two percent biodiesel and 98 percent petroleum diesel, can be used safely in any diesel engine; B5 and B20 are increasingly used in farm machinery and transit buses.
In a progressive program, Organic Bouquet – the nation’s first organic floral company – is partnering with Climate Trust, a leading provider of carbon offset programs, to purchase carbon offsets to mitigate greenhouse gases generated from shipping the company’s flowers. Organic Bouquet will participate in the Climate Trust’s Truck Stop Electrification Program, which reduces diesel emissions at truck stops. The program will retrofit 275 “docking stations” at seven major truck stops with “Shurepower” electrical outlets, allowing truckers to power their rigs with electricity rather than diesel fuel. Climate Trust estimates this program will remove nearly 90,000 metric tons of CO2 over the next 16 years – also saving truckers an estimated 10 million gallons of fuel.

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