- Poop to Plastic?
- 90% of Americans Support Solar Power, Industry Development; So What’s Up with Congress?
- The Military’s Strategic Imperative to Save Fuel (and Lives)
- Tesla Model S Sold Out (Sorry)
- Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV Travels the World
- Nissan Leaf Taxi Testing Begins
- Cooking with Solar Ovens
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 12:01 PM PDT
When making a list of the most promising new sustainability innovations, sewage probably wouldn’t be the first topic that springs to mind. Let's face it – beyond being the butt of jokes, what other good can come out of human waste? Well, one company thinks they've figured out how to use sewage to reduce humanity's environmental impact and oil dependence.
Wastewater treatment plants could be a gold mine in the quest to replace the petroleum used every year to make plastic for packaging. energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan got a whiff of how sewer sludge is being turned into sustainable plastic. You can watch the full video below:
You've probably never given a lot of thought to what happens to wastewater, but it's a major environmental issue. Municipal water treatment plants nationwide process more than 150 million gallons of wastewater every day. When the treated water is released into a river or ocean, it leaves behind more than four million tons of sludge, mostly burned or trucked away to landfills. That's a lot of waste, and it's expensive, costing as much as $200 million annually.
That's where Micromidas comes in. They've figured out how to convert sludge into a usable product. "Literally, we are brewing plastic," said John Bissel, Micromidas CEO. "It's very similar to brewing beer or anything else." It's been known for a while that a chemical in wastewater can be used to make plastic, but the challenge has always been extracting and converting it at a competitive price compared to the source of most of America's plastic – oil.
The breakthrough lies in Micromidas' proprietary process. The company takes sludge, renders it down to a liquid resembling chicken broth, and applies a cocktail of designer bacteria microbes. The chemical reactions that follow change the liquid's composition into a thicker product, which is then run through an extruding machine, producing plastic.
If the idea catches on, it could mean big business. Nearly five percent of the oil consumed in America, about 300 million barrels a year, goes into making plastic products like shopping bags and water bottles. Combined with reducing costs for wastewater treatment and the impact of sludge being transported and buried at landfills, plastic from sewage makes sense. "Taking wastewater sludge and turning it into a bioplastic is pretty nice," said Michael Donahue, Sacramento Water Treatment Plant. "It's a pretty good idea."
Even so, there's still one hurdle to clear – the stigma of plastic from poop. But don't worry; their product will never become water bottles. "Realistically, we're looking for tertiary packaging applications," said Bissel. Tertiary refers to third-level packaging, like the layer of plastic surrounding a DVD player, the rings surrounding packs of bottles, or the wrap that secures products on pallets at big box stores around the country.
Other bioplastics are already on the market, but they’re derived from plants and are generally more expensive than oil-based plastic. These products require land, fertilizer, and water. By comparison, Bissel says all his technology requires is a laboratory and ingredients unlikely to run out any time soon.
Micromidas' product will hit markets next year, so we'll soon find out if sustainable plastic stinks, or if it can come out smelling like roses.
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 10:07 AM PDT
A nationwide poll conducted by Kelton Research showed that just shy of 9 out of 10 Americans (89 percent) think it’s important for the United States to develop and use solar energy. Breaking the results out along voting lines, 80 percent of Republicans, 90 percent of Independents and 94 percent of Democrats agreed with the above. This is the fourth straight year Kelton’s survey results showed nearly 90% of Americans support developing solar energy.
Results also showed that Americans support federal incentives to do so. More than eight of ten (82 percent) support federal tax credits and grants for the solar industry, just like those that continue to benefit companies in the all too well established oil & gas and coal industries. Seventy-one percent of Republicans, 82 percent of Independents and 87 percent of Democrats responding to the poll agreed.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would choose to financially support solar energy over other energy sources such as natural gas (21 percent), wind (12 percent), nuclear (nine percent), and coal (three percent). Solar energy is more than twice as popular as any other energy source among Independents – 43 percent vs. 20 percent for natural gas.
Moreover, support for solar energy remains strong despite all the recent media and Congressional attention devoted to the bankruptcy of Solyndra, Kelton found.
Eight out of ten (82 percent) of Americans think it’s important for the federal government to support US solar manufacturing, and a majority of Independent voters (51 percent) think it’s “extremely important.”
The American economy has evolved into one built on consumption, and Kelton found that 51 percent of Americans would be more likely to purchase a product if they knew that it was made using solar power. At 61 percent, consumers in the key 18-44 year old age group were even more likely to do so.
A Win-Win Situation
Solar leasing programs are making big strides in educating consumers and making it more affordable to buy solar power, but cost, along with consumer education, remain the biggest hurdles. Forty-eight percent of Americans cited costs as their biggest concern with purchasing a solar energy system despite the cost of solar panels dropping 30 percent since the beginning of 2010 and the introduction of solar leasing programs.
"In this tough economy, Americans want to see solutions coming from Washington," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "For members of Congress trying to find ways to create jobs, solar is a win-win.
“Thanks in part to proven policy successes like the 1603 Treasury Program, the solar industry has doubled its workforce in the last two years and now employs more than 100,000 Americans at 5,000 businesses spanning every state. And solar enjoys overwhelming support across all political affiliations – Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
“It's clear that solar has the strong support of the American people. Now it needs the support of U.S. policymakers in extending job-creating policies like the 1603 program to make sure solar continues to work for America."
So What’s Up in Washington, D.C.?
Kelton’s poll results, which are included in the 2011 SCHOTT Solar Barometer released yesterday, clearly indicate the breadth and strength of support for developing solar power across the US populace.
So what’s up with the elected leaders of our national government in Congress? Why is it that opposition to instituting longer lasting solar industry support and incentives, such as investment and production tax credits and the Treasury 1603 program, continues in the face of such broad public support?
The answers aren’t pretty, particularly as to its reflection on state of the American democratic republic. They’re a cause for ever more widespread cynicism, which has been defined as ‘spiritual death.’ A direct, causal link between the answers and the growing “Occupy,” or “The Other 99%” movement may also be inferred.
They’re yet another sign that our elected representatives are bought and paid for by corporate and external organizational and institutional interests.
We elect them based on their campaign promises, records and backgrounds, but it’s clear that US elected representatives, once ensconced in their offices and in Washington D.C., don’t believe it’s necessary to respond to the will of the broad public even when it is so unified. Other influences apparently prompt them to act otherwise.
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:24 AM PDT
Increasing energy efficiency in the U.S. military has become as much about geopolitical strategy as it is about saving lives and money. That's the perspective of the Pentagon's top energy official, and it has major implications for the U.S. military's drive to use less oil-based fuel.
energyNOW! correspondent Lee Patrick Sullivan interviewed Sharon Burke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Plans and Programs, about the military's fight against fossil fuel dependence. You can watch the full interview below:
By becoming more energy efficient and diversifying its sources of energy, says Burke, the U.S. military deprives hostile nations of petro-dollars. “No matter where you buy your fuel, if you buy it from Texas, or if you buy it from Mexico or Canada, or if you buy it from Saudi Arabia, it's priced on a global market," she said. "So every gallon you buy is a dollar in Iran's pocket, because it's a global market, and it affects our interests.”
“Supply lines have been a target in times of war since people have been fighting,” says Burke. But what's different today is the length of the supply line needed to reach U.S. forces deployed in remote areas around the world.
The military burns through about 50 million gallons of fuel a month in Afghanistan, and 70 percent of the total logistics movement is fuel or water. That oil dependence creates a human cost – more than 60 percent of the 3,000 U.S. combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from attacks on fuel convoys.
But the extended reach of U.S. forces isn't the only issue facing Burke. Electricity generators, which constitute the power backbone of forward bases and outposts, are a particular problem. "The way we're using generators on the battlefield right now is very inefficient,” says Burke. “That's just throwing away fuel."
Burke says the U.S. Army has put $100 million into improving energy generation and distribution. "That's going to pay back within a year," she said. The Pentagon's optimism isn't surprising, considering the Department of Defense spends $15 billion a year on energy, more than any other single organization in the world.
The total amount spent on fuel means reducing consumption across the military supply chain also represents a huge opportunity. "We haven't to date looked at our energy supply for our military forces as anything other than an assumption…as a result, we use more than we need to," said Burke. "If we're putting risks in there that don't need to be there, we gotta do better on that."
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:21 AM PDT
Tesla is finally looking to turn a profit again, now that it has created a highly popular car NOT for the super, super rich. But the deal isn’t done yet:
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:20 AM PDT
Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is traveling all over the world in all of its supercute glory – its next stop is Estonia, where Mitsubishi Motors has agreed to supply 507 of the adorable little electric cars to the Estonian government as part of an emissions purchase agreement.
Back in March of this year, negotiations between the Estonian government and Mitsubishi Corporation were completed, involving around 10,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Part of that agreement included the 507 i-MiEVs, to be delivered by the end of 2011 (if anyone knows what the rest of the agreement included, I'm all ears). Mitsubishi has also been offering technical assistance in measuring carbon dioxide.
The first 50 cars were dropped off earlier this week, in a ceremony attended by the prime minister and a number of government officials. The ceremony took place in Estonia's capital city of Tallinn, where the cars will also be distributed.
The Estonian government is one of several institutions trying to popularize electric vehicles all over the world. These little i-MiEVs are slated for use in public institutions supporting social welfare, but a private citizen wishing to purchase an EV will receive a government subsidy. Those cars will also be available from Mitsubishi, starting this month, and a government sponsored EV charging grid is in the works.
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:13 AM PDT
Nissan Leaf taxis for NYC are moving forward. Will Nissan Leaf taxis be the norm in a few years?
Posted: 02 Nov 2011 08:09 AM PDT
I think we’ve covered solar ovens before, but it’s been a loooong time if we have. Beth Buczynski of sister site Insteading has a nice piece on these this week, so thought I’d share:
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