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December 05 2013


Diversified Renewable Energy Base Emerging in the US Northeast

A mix of renewable energy sources are emerging in the US Northeast

Renewable energy initiatives and investments in the northeastern US are producing results and paying dividends economically, socially and environmentally, according to a report from ACORE, the American Council on Renewable Energy.

Northeast region state governments have been at the leading edge of the drive to craft and implement policies to foster development and use of a distributed, diversified mix of renewable energy resources. With supportive policies in place in nearly every state in the 12-state region, the Northeast ranks second in the US for both solar and biomass power capacity. This progressive policy framework, which includes establishment of the pioneering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is driving renewable energy deployment and driving down costs to the point where they are competitive with fossil fuel power, ACORE’s “Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” the third in a four-part series of reports on renewable energy conditions and prospects nationwide.

As the ACORE report authors highlight:

“Renewable energy is steadily becoming more cost competitive in the Northeast. Three large utilities in Massachusetts recently signed long-term contracts to purchase renewable energy at less than $0.08 per kilowatt hour, below the cost of most conventional sources. If the contracts are approved by state regulators, they would save customers between $0.75 and $1.00 a month.5 Likewise, if it doubles the amount of wind power it plans to build, the PJM Interconnection could actually reduce wholesale energy market prices and save nearly $7 million per year in the mid-2020s.”

Renewable Energy Resource Diversity: The Northeast’s Strength

“Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” ACORE

Heavily dependent on imported energy and affected by retirements of fossil fuel power plants, Northeastern states have good reason to develop and deploy local renewable energy sources, ACORE notes in its latest regional report. Supportive state and local policy initiatives are proving instrumental in helping residents, businesses and the public sector realize the economic, social and environmental benefits that renewable energy resource development, along with greater energy conservation and energy efficiency, offer.

Eleven of the 12 states profiled in the report have instituted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate power utilities increase their use of renewable energy resources. Vermont, the 12th, has instituted a standard contract program along the lines of a renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT), the first of its kind in the US, ACORE highlights in its report. Established to spur clean energy and energy efficiency investments across the region and reduce the regional greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, the RGGI, is also helping fund New York’s $1 billion Green Bank, the report authors note.

With less in the way of large, utility-scale wind and solar farms, the US Northeast ranks lower overall than other regions profiled in ACORE’s “Renewable Energy in the 50 States” series. It’s comparatively strong when it comes to local, distributed renewable power capacity, as well as the diversity of renewable energy resources available, however.

“An array of policies and incentive programs, including feed-in tariffs, renewable energy credits (RECs), green banks, and rebates, support the development of renewable power, heat, and fuels in the Northeast.

“Many Northeastern states have set targets for solar energy generation, which, coupled with financial incentives, are largely responsible for driving more solar power capacity in the Northeast than in the Midwest or the Southeast. In fact, ISO New England, the regional transmission organization serving six Northeastern states, anticipates distributed generation installations within its territory to increase from 250 MW in 2012 to 2 GW by the end of 2021, with generation forecast to be mostly solar power.”

Moreover, most of the states in the region are working to produce clean energy from waste and biomass by  making use of municipal solid waste, wood waste and landfill gas. They’re also looking to produce more and make greater use of biodiesel and ethanol to reduce reliance on petroleum, an area where they have lagged other regions.

“To reduce reliance on expensive heating oil, some states, such as New Hampshire, have set goals for renewable thermal energy use. With the availability of wood waste from the forestry sector, homes in New England use wood for space heating, water heating, and cooking at nearly twice the national rate, and growth in this sector is expected to continue.”

Large-scale hydropower has and will continue to play a large role in the Northeast region’s energy mix. Meanwhile, recent developments suggest that offshore wind power could play a significant role in fueling renewable energy growth.

“The Northeast’s wind power market has grown more slowly than other regions’, but this fact could change soon,” the report authors state.

“Coastal states in the region have identified immense offshore wind power potential, and developers are in the advanced stages of planning what would be the first offshore wind projects in the country. In August 2013, the U.S. Department of the Interior held the nation’s first offshore wind lease sale off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the scale of which could support enough turbines to power one million homes.”

“Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” ACORE


Main and featured image credit: All Earth Renewables

The post Diversified Renewable Energy Base Emerging in the US Northeast appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 19 2013


EarthTalk: Progress in Biofuels Development

Biofuel development continues at the algae pond at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory  EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How far along are we at developing algae-based and other higher yield sources of biofuels?    – Jason McCabe, Tullahoma, TN

A few years ago biofuels were all the rage. Environmental advocates to national security hawks alike were extolling the virtues of ethanol and biodiesel as a carbon-neutral bridge to our energy future. But the bubble burst when it became apparent that there wasn’t enough agricultural land in the U.S. or elsewhere to grow sufficient amounts of corn, palm and other crops to feed both people and their engines. To boot, the process of extracting and distributing biofuels has proven anything but carbon neutral. And with ever cheaper natural gas widely available now, paying a premium for ethanol or biodiesel seemed frivolous.

But a new generation of biofuels based on algae might just change all that. One of the major problems with biofuels that algae could solve is space, since algae can yield as much as 100 times more fuel per unit area than other so-called “second generation” biofuel crops (e.g. non-food crops or non-food waste parts of food crops). Federal researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy report that it would take only 15,000 square miles—less than 1/7 the area now used to harvest all the corn across the country—to produce enough algae fuel to replace all of our petroleum fuel.

While burning algae-derived fuel in an engine or factory generates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions just like fossil fuels do, the algae itself requires CO2 to photosynthesize—so overall no new CO2 is added to the atmosphere. Furthermore, any CO2 created through processing or refinement can be captured and re-directed to the growing algae beds. And unlike other biofuel feedstocks, algae production has minimal impact on freshwater supplies—especially when it can be undertaken in ocean waters or even wastewater.

At least three well-funded ventures are poised to ramp up production of commercially viable quantities of algae-derived crude oil over the next couple of years. California’s Solazyme is building an algae fuel factory in Brazil in partnership with food processing giant Bunge and expects to manufacture 100,000 metric tons of fuel there each year. Solazyme is also retooling an Archer Daniels Midland factory in Clinton, Iowa to produce another 100,000 metric tons of algae fuel per year domestically.

Another company ready to make the leap into commercial scale production of algae fuel is Sapphire Energy, which operates a 2,200 acre algae farm in New Mexico where oil is harvested across 70 open ponds and refined on site. Sapphire—Bill Gates is a big investor—expects the facility, which goes online next year, to generate some 10,000 barrels of crude oil a day by 2018.

Yet a third player in the emerging algae fuel market is Synthetic Genomics, the brainchild of genomics guru Craig Venter, who beat the U.S. government in sequencing the human genome and at a fraction of the cost. The company, which last year purchased an 81-acre site in California’s Imperial Valley to scale up and test its synthetic algae strains across 42 open ponds, plans to genetically modify algae to optimize its oil output. ExxonMobil signed a $600 million development deal with the company to further the cutting edge research.


EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.

Image credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, courtesy flickr 

The post EarthTalk: Progress in Biofuels Development appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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March 01 2013


Q and A: The Angry Economist

Because of its natural gas boom, the United States is ahead of Europe in fixing climate change, the Oxford economist Dieter Helm argues.

August 01 2012


A Glimpse of the Alternative Fuel Future

While the biofuel, electric battery and liquefied natural gas technologies are advancing, the internal combustion engine will reign supreme for decades, a group reports.

July 25 2012


May 09 2012


Is That Onions You Smell? Or Battery Juice?

No more crying over electric bills, now that an onion-processing company has a battery to store electricity at off-peak periods.

April 03 2012


Solazyme and Bunge Plan Factory to Make Oil From Algae

Solazyme, a small California biotechnology company, and Bunge, a multinational agribusiness company, intend to build a factory in Brazil to produce oils from algae for use in biofuels and chemicals.

March 22 2012


A Tally of Green Jobs

In a report that could serve as ammunition for promoters or detractors of a greener economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics fleshes out a sector that has been poorly defined.

February 22 2012


The Biofuels Pipedream

Clear-cutting Indonesian rainforest for a palm oil plantationFirst generation biofuels have been widely criticized, but even second, third and fourth generation biofuels have uncertain technical, economic and environmental viability. A full assessment of the environmental costs of biofuels reveals that the vast majority do not make sense. For biofuels to be a truly feasible alternative to oil, life cycle analysis must take into account not only CO2, but all the associated environmental impacts. The total environmental impacts of biofuel go far beyond the GHGs released by combustion, they must include a host of factors including the impacts they have on biodiversity.

Many are counting on biofuels to contribute substantially to addressing future energy demands. The EU has proposed that 10 percent of all fuel used in transport should come from biofuels by 2020 and the emerging global market is expected to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year in the next couple of decades.

The research shows that biofuels are increasingly in demand. In a 2011 report titled Biofuels Markets and Technologies, Pike Research estimates that production of biofuels will increase from $82.7 billion in 2011 to $185.3 billion by 2021. The report goes on to predict that supply will not be able to keep up with demand.

On January 18th, 2012, BP released Energy Outlook 2030, its official corporate view of the future of energy. At the release event in London, BP’s CEO Bob Dudley outlined what he called the “great potential” of biofuels, but Dudley added, “the world needs to focus on biofuels that do not compete with the food chain and are produced in a sustainable way.”

First Generation

First-generation biofuels rely on food crops (e.g.: corn, soy, palm and sugarcane), which have readily accessible sugars, starches and oils. First generation biofuels have been based almost exclusively on conventional fermentation or esterification processes. The problems with first-generation biofuels include net energy losses, GHG emissions, increased food prices and even mass starvation. Further, the increased production of ethanol results in deforestation and more carbon dioxide, a large water footprint, and negatively impacted water quality. It is clear that first generation biofuels are a losing proposition environmentally and economically.

When everything is factored into the equation, using biofuels made from feedstocks like corn, sugar cane and soy may have a greater environmental impact than burning fossil fuels. As summarized in Michael Grunwald’s article The Clean Energy Scam, “ethanol increases global warming, destroys forests, and inflates food prices”.

Second Generation

Second generation biofuels like cellulosic ethanol are not yet commercially available, but believers contend they may significantly alter the energy equation. Second-generation biofuels use non-food feed stock like cellulosic biomass (e.g. grasses, reeds and agricultural residue such as corn stalks). The processing of cellulosic biomass uses enzymes to breakdown the feedstock’s cellulose into sugar and it is then fermented. Alternatively, a thermo-chemical approach gasifies the biomass and then liquefies it in a process known as “biomass-to-liquid.”

Early in 2012, the Advanced Biofuels Association claimed “cellulosic ethanol and advanced biofuels industry is on the cusp of a major increase in scale that will prove critics of the effort to increase biofuels production in the US wrong.” In a recent interview, BP Biofuels North America President Sue Ellerbusch claimed that biofuel manufacturers are “right on the cusp of told you so.” Ellerbusch claims that BP is making sufficient progress that “over time we’ll have an industry that can compete head-on with fossil fuels.”

Research presented by Jeanette Whitaker of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, UK, finds that second generation biofuels hold substantially more promise than ethanol made from food-based feedstocks.

In 2009, scientists touted bio char as a potential source of biofuel. Early lab results were promising, suggesting that biochar would lead to less carbon in the atmosphere while also improving crops and soil fertility.

Also in 2009, North Carolina State University researchers Dr. Anne Stomp and Dr. Jay Cheng indicated that they believe duckweed was the key to better ethanol production. Using wastewater for growth, duckweed can create ethanol both faster and cheaper than corn-based ethanol.

Another possible feedstock for the production of biofuel is grass. In 2010, the Carbon Trust started working with the University of York to research how they could use microwave technology to turn garden and wood waste into biofuel. This new biofuel reportedly has a carbon footprint that could save “95 per cent of carbon compared to fossil fuels”.

Early in 2012, researchers indicated that camelina may be the best feedstock for biofuel. Camelina is a low-cost feedstock that has high energy, is non-food, uses marginal land and requires no irrigation. Boeing is already using biofuel derived from camelina for some of its planes.

Also in 2012, a company called DSM announced that it has developed yeast and enzyme solutions that increase biomass conversion rates and make the technology commercially viable.

However, there is a dark lining to these silver clouds. The United Nations has indicated that some of the non-food crops used for the creation of the fuel risk billions of dollars in damages to general agriculture. They cite a scientific report which warns that should invasive species spread, potential damages could easily reach $1.4 trillion annually.

Third Generation

Rather than improving the fuel-making process, third-generation biofuels seek to improve the feedstock. The most viable third-generation biofuels are largely based on fuels extracted from algae cultivated in water. Profitable biodiesel production derived from algae are not expected until at least 2016, but by some estimates, they could account for a third of biofuel production as early as 2022.

Algae may be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a feedstock for biodiesel production. Algae consume carbon dioxide (CO2) for normal growth during photosynthesis, making it a promising sink for carbon dioxide from power, chemical and fermentation projects.

Some reports indicate that algae based fuel can represent up to 30 times more energy per acre than more common crops. While others suggest the yields of oil from algae are 10-100 times more than competing energy crops.

Some strains of algae can produce 50% of their weight of oil, which is far better than rapeseed (which might yield a tonne of biodiesel per hectare), or palm oil (8 tonnes per hectare). Some estimate that as much as 40 – 90 tonnes per hectare is possible from algae. Algae grown in ponds can in principle be placed anywhere and there is no need to use arable land for them. Some algae grow well in salt-water, which conserves freshwater, whereas growing crops requires enormous quantities of freshwater.

Growing algae could become cost-effective if it is combined with environmental clean-up strategies like sewage wastewater treatment and reducing CO2 emissions from smokestacks of fossil-fuelled power stations or cement factories.

Algae biofuel pioneer OriginOil is behind a 2009 “breakthrough” in the quest to cost-effectively extract a renewable biofuel from algae.

A study published in 2012 confirms that algal biofuels are a legitimate solution to efforts to combat lifecycle GHG emissions. The study is known as Environmental Science and Technology by ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, MIT and Synthetic Genomics. The study found that when produced in large volumes, algae has the potential to produce huge amounts of fuel per unit area of production.

The study also found that algal biofuels in saline systems using brackish makeup water can have freshwater consumption that compares to gasoline. Through a process known as “wet extraction”, there is potential for more than 50 per cent reductions in GHG emissions.

Given algae’s high oil yield, it’s estimated that about 1 percent of today’s 1 billion U.S. farm and grazing acres (as land, pond, or ocean space) could produce enough algae to replace all petroleum diesel fuel consumed in the U.S.

However, the research on algae as a biofuel is inconclusive. CSU mechanical engineering professors Anthony Marchese and Azer Yalin are amongst the researchers who are examining exactly what gases are emitted when algae oil burns. The CSU team seeks to understand how gases like nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions are produced from burning biofuel. The outcome of their research will go a long way to determine the viability of algae as a feedstock for biofuel.

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher who has reservations about the feasibility of algae as a feedstock for biofuel (it should be stressed that Rhodes is also a climate denier). The reason he claims he is bearish about algae is due to insufficient global rock phosphate reserves. These phosphates are required to grow algae.

The high hopes many have for algae as a biofuel may never come to fruition. According to a 2009 article by GWIR’s Thomas Schueneman titled Algae Biofuels – The Hype, the Hope, the Promise, the buzz around algae based biofuel “is wild-eyed optimism and pure hype.”

Fourth Generation

Fourth-generation technology combines genetically optimized feedstocks, which are designed to capture large amounts of carbon with genomically synthesized microbes, which are made to efficiently make fuels. Key to the process is the capture and sequestration of CO2, making them carbon neutral fuels.

Dr. J. Craig Venter said his Synthetic Genomics could lead to improvements in biofuels by letting scientists design feedstocks that capture more carbon. Venter is an American biologist who was one of the first to sequence the human genome and he is working to develop cells with a synthetic genome. His company plans to combine the processes of feedstock growth and fuel processing by designing organisms that will inhale CO2 and excrete sugars. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Venter’s teams are now using this knowledge to see if new biofuels can be efficiently developed.

Advanced Reactors

As reported in January 2012 issue of the journal Energy & Environmental Science and highlighted in Nature Chemistry, a team of chemical engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has discovered reactions occurring within wood that could serve as the basis for designing advanced biofuel reactors. The “mini-cellulose” molecule, called ?-cyclodextrin, solves one of the major roadblocks confronting high-temperature biofuels processes such as pyrolysis or gasification.  Paul Dauenhauer, assistant professor of chemical engineering and leader of the UMass Amherst research team, says that by creating reaction models of wood conversion, the scientists can design biomass reactors to optimize the specific reactions that are ideal for production of biofuels


Genetic modification and feedstock optimization may improve the outlook for non-food feedstock pathways and may expedite commercialization.

In the absence of a proven feedstock or production process, biofuels have been oversold by industry and politicians. Biofuels cannot solve all our energy problems on their own and the belief that they will leads to a false sense of security. The unwarranted faith in biofuels detracts from crucially important efficiency initiatives and undermines efforts to ramp-up abundant, truly renewable sources of energy like wind, solar and geothermal.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

February 06 2012


January 23 2012


Unlocking Seaweed's Next-Gen Crude: Sugar

A startup pins its hopes on research showing that a genetically modified strain of bacteria can break down the sugars in brown seaweed, or macro-algae, to produce ethanol.

January 20 2012


January 18 2012


Down on the Farm, a Sculpture Finds a Second Life

The Pennsylvania Farm Show's famed butter sculpture finds a new use this year, returning to a dairy farm to be processed into biogas.

January 17 2012


On the Horizon, Planes Powered by Plant Fuel

On Tuesday, a San Diego company plans to announce $17 million in new financing to continue its work on raising the fuel yields from jatropha, a tropical shrub that produces an oil-rich nut.

January 09 2012


Biomass and Electricity, Part One

A company harnesses biofuel from landfills to generate electricity with minimal releases of methane, a long-lasting heat-trapping gas.

December 16 2011


December 15 2011


On Our Radar: Superfund Cleanups in N.Y.

Corporations had argued that state regulations require them only to address significant environmental threats, not do a complete cleanup.

December 05 2011


November 14 2011


Flying on Chicken Fat

To shield themselves from oil price gyrations, airlines are experimenting with fuels that incorporate ingredients like used fryer oil and algae.
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