BioCycle June 2009, Vol. 50, No. 6, p. 6
Watermelons Tapped For Ethanol
Studies at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, Oklahoma have shown that simple sugars in watermelon juice can be made into ethanol. In 2007, growers in the U.S. harvested 4 billion pounds (lbs) of watermelon for fresh and cut-fruit markets. Around 800 million lbs, or 20 percent of the total, were left in fields because of external blemishes or deformities. Now, instead of being plowed under, such melons could get an economic “new lease on life as ethanol,” says ARS.
The laboratory in Lane already had been doing research to extract lycopene and citrulline from watermelons, which are valued nutraceutical compounds thought to promote cardiovascular and other health benefits. Wayne Fish, a chemist at the laboratory in Lane, found that ethanol can be fermented from the glucose, fructose and sucrose in waste-stream juices, i.e., what is left after lycopene and citrulline are extracted. Making ethanol offers the potential benefits of helping to defray sewage treatment costs associated with nutraceutical extraction, and providing watermelon growers with a new market for their crop.
Fish found that on average, a 20 lb watermelon yields about 1.4 lbs of sugar from the flesh and rind, from which about .7 lb of ethanol can be derived. Lane scientists also are examining annual ryegrass, sorghum and other crops that could be rotated with watermelons to furnish processing plants with a year-round supply of nutraceuticals compounds or ethanol.
Rural Energy Grants
Rural Energy For America Program (REAP) is accepting applications until July 31 for its Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvement programs. The program provides grants for agricultural producers (farmers and ranchers) and rural small businesses to purchase and install renewable energy, to conduct audits and to make energy efficiency improvements. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis for up to 25 percent of the total eligible project costs, ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 for renewable energy systems and from $1,500 to $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements.
Energy efficiency projects include retrofitting lighting or insulation, or replacing equipment with more efficient units. Renewable energy projects include biomass, geothermal, hydropower, hydrogen-based power, solar and wind. To apply for funding for the REAP grant program, contact your Rural Development State Office, by calling 1-800-670-6553, or visit
China Reports Widespread Soil And Water Losses
The Chinese government recently announced the results of a three-year study, the largest of its type since China became a Communist state, warning that nearly 40 percent of China is losing soil because of wind and water erosion. The investigation, conducted by 28 academics and over 1,000 researchers, found that the country’s 646 counties are suffering heavy losses with a combined area of 3.57 million km2. Over 82 percent of the worst counties are in the Yangtze and Yellow river valleys. Nearly 2 million km2 of land is in extremely serious condition, requiring urgent treatment.
Farming and forest clearing are blamed for much of the damage. Researchers found that 4.5 billion metric tons of soil were washed or blow away annually. At that rate, grain production in the northeastern “breadbasket” area could decrease 40 percent within 40 to 50 years. The report calls on China to adopt every possible measure to bring the soil and water losses under control in 15 to 20 years. China is also suffering a drought in its wheat-growing belt in eight provinces. The Chinese government has allocated $58.5 million for relief work.
This situation highlights the need to participate in the upcoming Biomass and Organic Waste As Sustainable Resources Conference, to be held in Beijing, November 19-21, 2009. The conference is jointly sponsored by China Agricultural University and ORBIT. Details are available at www.orbit2009.de.
UK Advocates Clear Compost Labels
Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs in the United Kingdom, recently outlined his support for alternatives to the use of soils containing peat, and called for clearer labeling of compost. “Peat harvested for gardening seriously damages rare wildlife habitats and contributes to climate change,” says Benn. “Gardeners care about the environment. All compost should be labeled clearly so that they can make informed choices about what they use.” Scientists at Defra, UK (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimate that peat dug up in Britain for garden mixes releases almost half a million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year – the equivalent of 100,000 cars on the road. Gardeners are being urged to consider alternatives to peat, such as compost. Currently, 54 percent of growing media in the UK is peat-free and strict targets have been set by the government for 2010, mandating 90 percent of growing media be peat-free.
Burying Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Ken Salazar, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, recently sent Congress his recommendations for a national program to reduce greenhouse gases by selecting underground geological formations on public lands to inject carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from coal-fired power plants. Salazar says that this geological sequestration is important for reaching the nation’s clean energy goals. “President Obama’s national energy plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050,” he says. “Capturing carbon dioxide emissions in secure geological formations prevents their release into the atmosphere, reducing the carbon intensity of our economy.”
The report, “Framework for Geological Carbon Sequestration on Public Land,” recommends looking for suitable rock formations in settings such as oil and gas fields, deep saline water-bearing formations and coal beds. The report acknowledges some potential dangers of injecting CO2 emissions that must be prevented, such as release into underground sources of drinking water, mineral resources, or the atmosphere. However, it fails to note that there are tried and true methods of “reducing the carbon intensity of our economy” – such as energy efficiency, diverting organic materials from landfills, renewable energy, composting and sustainable agriculture practices – that don’t carry the serious environmental risks of burying CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Coping In A Down Recycling Market
In a presentation at the USEPA’s Resource Conservation Challenge Workshop in March, Geoff Rathbone, General Manager of the City of Toronto, Ontario’s Solid Waste Management Services gave a presentation titled, “Recycling Market Update: Implications of Economic Downturn.” He notes that the immediate impact of the downturn in recycling markets could be seen by looking at the Toronto’s revenues from its recycling program: In 2008, Toronto earned $2.2 million/month from the sale of recyclables. In the first several months of 2009, revenues had fallen to $0.5 million/month. “The potential impact for 2009 could be a drop in revenues of $20 million from 2008,” says Rathbone. Toronto markets over 200,000 metric tons of recyclables annually.
To cope short-term, Toronto is following a hierarchy of options: 1. Move recyclables to market at “any cost;” 2. Compost if feasible; 3. Storage; 4. Disposal. “In a strong market, the cost to recycle is a net of $50-$90/metric ton, which is includes money paid from Ontario’s product stewardship funds,” explains Rathbone. “In this weak market, it has been $180/ton. But our cost to collect and dispose of waste is consistently $170/ton. So we take the long-term perspective, which includes setting money aside when markets are strong to help cover costs when markets are weak.”
Toronto has a goal to divert 70 percent of its waste from disposal. Its overall diversion rate in 2007 was 42 percent, therefore achieving its 70 percent target requires diverting an additional 250,000 metric tons/year of waste. Toronto is stopping shipments of its MSW to landfills in Michigan on December 31, 2010. Instead, residual MSW will be disposed at the Green Lane landfill in Ontario. With 70 percent diversion, landfill capacity will last until 2034.
Green Light To Drink Recycled Water In Space
NASA’s Mission Control recently gave the Expedition 19 astronaut crew aboard the International Space Station a “go” to drink water that the station’s new Water Recovery System has purified. The decision is an important milestone in the development of the station’s environmental and life support systems, which began supporting six-person crews at the end of May, according to NASA.
“This has been the stuff of science fiction. Everybody’s talked about recycling water in a closed loop system, but nobody’s ever done it before,” said Expedition 19 Flight Engineer Mike Barratt. Added Kirk Shireman, International Space Station deputy program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center: “This system will reduce the amount of water we must launch to the station once the shuttle retires and also test out a key technology required for sending humans on long duration missions to the moon and Mars.”
The Water Recovery System was delivered to the station in November 2008 and has been processing urine into purified water since shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 crew delivered and installed a replacement Urine Processing Assembly in March. The system is tied into the station’s Waste and Hygiene Compartment toilet and recovers and recycles moisture from the station’s atmosphere. Samples of the recycled water were returned to earth and tested for purity. A special Space Station Program Control Board meeting in April reviewed the analysis, which showed contaminants were well below established limits, and concurred that the water is safe and healthy to drink. Space station crews will monitor the purity of the recycled water with on-board equipment and periodically send down samples for testing on Earth. For more information about the space station and the new recycling system, visit http://www.nasa.gov/station.
Pay As You Throw Boosts Recycling In Czech Republic
The European Union’s (EU) Landfill Directive included a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) study to evaluate the impact of unit-based pricing on municipal recycling rates. The study covered 157 local authorities in the Czech Republic with a total population of 2.6 million. During the study, authorities could choose the payment method for waste collection. Of the 157 authorities, 92 operated PAYT programs and 65 operated flat fee systems. According to USEPA’s Spring 2009 PAYT bulletin, “the recycling rate of the PAYT group was nearly double that of the flat rate group.”
As part of the study, EU researchers assessed recycling behavior in about 180 households in Prague. The city uses a fee system based on the number and volume of containers or based on the number of persons using an apartment. “Results showed that 138 of the households separated their waste, recycled more materials and reduced their residential waste from 712 liters to 635 liters (difference of 169 lbs/ household) as compared to households that did not participate.”
The EPA PAYT Bulletin also reported that the agency has developed SMART BET – Save Money And Reduce Trash – Benefit Evaluation Tool. The tool is designed to help community waste managers decide whether PAYT is the right model for their town or city. Users can input readily available information, such as tons of waste sent to landfills and recycled annually; local population; and landfill tip fees. They also can provide a more detailed breakdown of the disposal and recycling streams, if available. The tool then combines this information with nationwide average waste disposal data, typical PAYT results and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions factors to calculate the estimated GHG and costs savings the community might see after implementation of PAYT. The tool will be available this summer at www.epa.gov/payt.
CO2 Offsets For Manure Management Projects
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cooperative effort by 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont are signatory states to the RGGI agreement. These 10 states will cap CO2 emissions from the power sector, and then require a 10 percent reduction in these emissions by 2018. RGGI provides for compliance flexibility through the use of emissions offsets. The emissions offset provisions of the participating states’ regulations allow for the award of CO2 offset allowances to projects outside the capped sector (the electric sector) that reduce or sequester emissions of greenhouse gases. These projects include methane emissions reductions for agricultural livestock operations.
To ensure consistency for offset projects among these states, draft model templates for Consistency Applications and Monitoring and Verification Reports were created to allow prospective offset project sponsors to begin collecting the necessary documentation that will be needed to complete state-specific reports. Recently, RGGI made available materials for offset projects in the category “Avoided Methane Emissions from Agricultural Manure Management Operations.” They can be downloaded at: www.rggi.org/offsets/update/sponsors. The draft model materials are being released for information purposes only.
Biosolids Composting Trials In New Zealand
In a trial conducted by Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC), biosolids that were previously landfilled are now being composted. Biosolids from the Council’s three new wastewater treatment plants in Pauanui, Whitianga and Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula are mixed with green waste gathered at refuse transfer stations. While the old wastewater treatment plants used a pond system, the new facilities produce highly treated wastewater and biosolids. “We were faced with sending this nutrient-rich biosolid matter to landfills outside the district at significant cost – both environmentally and financially – and so decided to see how we could use it to the benefit of our ratepayers and the environment,” says John Whittle, TCDC Group Manager, Service Delivery.
During the off-peak season, residents and visitors on the Coromandel Peninsula produce approximately 1.5 metric tons/day of biosolids from each of the three new treatment facilities. This sludge is currently shipped to a landfill in Tirohia, at trucking/disposal cost of $1,100 to $1,400/dry metric ton ($696 to $886 US). The Council also hopes to save costs by no longer disposing of green waste. Rigorous testing is being conducted to ensure Grade A guidelines are met, as well as additional testing for estrogen content.
Collective Support For Anaerobic Digestion In United Kingdom
A document, “Anaerobic Digestion – Shared Goals,” expresses collective support for the technology from across several sectors, including agriculture and biogas industries, supermarkets, water and energy companies, waste and food sectors, regional development agencies, local government and regulators. The report notes that anaerobic digestion is key to helping the United Kingdom meet its carbon dioxide emission reduction targets, as well as meeting its European Union Landfill Directive obligations. It also plays a significant role in the treatment of biosolids. The document discusses codigestion at wastewater treatment facilities: “Where appropriate, water companies will generate additional renewable energy by using their spare capacity to process other feedstocks such as food waste.”
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Minister Jane Kennedy announced at the annual conference of the National Farmers Union in Birmingham in February that she will convene a new task group to help deliver these shared goals. The task group will be chaired by Steve Lee, CEO of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM), and will development an implementation plan for setting out the practical measures that government and stakeholders will take individually and collectively to achieve the shared goals.
June 19, 2009 | General
BioCycle June 2009, Vol. 50, No. 6, p. 6