Monthly Archives: August 2013

Pipeline Wars

keystonepipeline

The recent news about the latest hitches for the Keystone XL pipeline may have cheered its opponents, but not for long, especially if TransCanada can demonstrate positive emission offsets.

The debate over the Keystone Pipeline XL continues. Due to the crossing of international borders, TransCanada has to obtain a Presidential Permit to install these updates.  The president continues to repeat his position that the administration’s decision will be “based on whether or not this is going to significantly contribute to carbon in our atmosphere.”

Back in 2012, TransCanada, the Canadian energy company, pitched the idea to expand its Keystone Pipeline further throughout the United States. The current pipeline runs from Alberta, Canada all the way to Cushing, Oklahoma. Its main function is to transport synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen, delivering up to 590,000 barrels per day.  The proposal made by TransCanada asks for an expansion of 1,700 new miles of pipeline. The expansion would travel through an additional two states, Montana and Texas increasing the delivery of an additional 240,000 barrels each day.

Supporters say the estimated $5.3 billion project will lower the price of gasoline and reduce the country’s dependency on foreign oil. Opponents however have raised concerns about the potential negative impacts of the Keystone XL project which include the risk of oil spills along the pipeline and 12–17% higher greenhouse gas emissions.

TransCanada has returned to the table with a new route and promises the creation of hundreds of new jobs, energy security, and economic prospects.  Yet despite these benefits, they are still facing a large amount of opposition.

Environmentalists have been trying to stop this proposal every step of the way, calling the pipeline an “environmental crime.” Their main concern lies in the carbon emissions that are generated by the oil production. The process of oil manufacturing and refinery is very energy-intensive, resulting in increased levels of carbon dioxide.

Currently, President Obama’s hesitations lie squarely with the environmentalists. He and his administration have called out for anyone with a solution to this problem to step forward.  Should TransCanada somehow demonstrate an offset of emissions, the project would be “green lit” which  would represent an amazing achievement for the United States in this current times of crisis.

The final decision will be made by Secretary of State John Kerry and is not expected until the end of the year or early 2014.

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Improving Food Waste Management

reuse_reduce_recycle

Food management means more than just preparing meals for consumers. Although the bulk of the work is in the actual preparation, many forget about the odds and ends of this process. Perhaps the second largest product of food management is waste, as it is produced every step of the way.

From pre-consumer to post-consumer, food scraps come out of our kitchens and off of our tables as if the waste were the desired end product.   Supermarkets throw out $15 billion in fruits and vegetables each year, which inevitably rot in landfills. All of those spoiled apples and tomatoes not only add up to a loss of these assets to be transformed into something more useful, but also a loss in profit.

Food waste generates a lot of costs. Improper purchasing, overproduction, spoilage and the disposal of this waste are the costs each food industry  location pays for, but add in the cost of haulers to transport, store, process and ultimately resell the byproduct – well it adds up to an  illogical amount of money.

Companies are finally stepping up to redesign the ways that they handle their food waste. Gone are the days of paying trucks to haul hundreds of pounds of food to useless landfills or even distant compost facilities. Instead, many companies are deploying new ideas and technologies that will help reinforce the three R’s we all know and love, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle:

Reduce. Many companies are now keeping a steady eye on the food that’s going into the trash.  Measuring and tracking food waste to source less, sizing portions correctly to create less, and encouraging consumers to take only what they can carry are smart techniques to reduce the overall volume of this waste stream.

Reuse. Most often, pre-consumer waste is still of good quality, but is simply not destined for any specific use.  Donation to food agencies battling hunger and to local farms feeding animals is a great use of this commodity.

Recycle. On-site technology, like the Eco-Safe Digester, offers a solution to best implement a more efficient process in disposing what is left.  The effluent discharged from the machine is transformed into biogas which is then stored for the creation of energy.  In some kitchens, cooking oil and grease are stored and hauled to facilities recycling this waste into animal feed, lubricants, and fuels such as biodiesel. Composting is another solution that attempts to transform the food waste into something useful however, these facilities are not wide-spread.

The traditional three R’s have recently expanded their definitions taking into account smarter reduction strategies, more efficient reuse options, and emerging technologies.  The data monitoring of all of these three steps will tie them all together and improve food waste management efforts.

Pennsylvania – The Garbage State

garbagepatch

Have you ever thought about where that week-old pizza goes once dumped in the trash? The answer is probably Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for them, PA is the number one importer of municipal solid waste and has been since 1992.

Of all the US states, Pennsylvania has been hit the hardest with 23 percent of the nation’s waste crossing into its borders from 28 states including New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Why Pennsylvania? Being more rural, the state has enormous amounts of available land. As opposed to the surrounding areas of urban New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania has enough room to fit enough landfills the space needed to take in all of this trash. Pennsylvania’s numerous interstate highways have also made traveling from New York or New Jersey a long but easy trip for the waste until now.

Historically, Pennsylvania has reported receiving more than 4.1 million tons of waste from New York State each year. PA residents generate only one third of that amount a year. Pennsylvania had to adopt a number of regulatory measures to address the negative impacts associated with their landfills calling into question the continuing ability of New York City to rely on Pennsylvania to meet its disposal needs.

Further, a review of several mid-western and southern states found no large waste importing landfill, with excess permitted capacities, that could reliably meet New York City’s long-term disposal needs and with disposal costs rising steeply it seems imperative that the city address this issue before escalating costs significantly impact the city’s fiscal strength.

So, for New York City to meet its disposal needs, it will likely have to either access landfills that are not currently accepting large volumes of out-of-state waste or create a more self-reliant process that mitigates dependence on outside interests and other states.

The most cost competitive waste management solution will likely be a fully-integrated recycling and waste prevention program in which New York City integrates smarter long-term strategies that include on-site food waste disposal. Handling food waste at its source of generation and removing it out of the waste stream will provide New York City control over rising disposal costs by eliminating the transportation costs associated with reaching distant landfills.

This plan would stretch out the life of Pennsylvania’s landfills, filling them slower and reducing the need for expansions while increasing New York City’s recycling rates which have been dropping.

The flow of trash that is forced to come from out-of-state locations is placing a burden on both Pennsylvania and now New York City and soon those 27 other states.  Pennsylvania is in a great position to drive the change needed, perhaps transforming them from The Garbage State to The Smarter State.

A Food Waste Challenge

luckycharms

General Mills is doing more for the public than just making Lucky Charms. The large-scale food corporation has recently jumped on board with the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program represents a call for the better distribution and use of food by removing it from the waste stream.  General Mills and the others involved aim to reduce the amount of food waste going into landfills, reuse some of the waste to combat hunger, and recycle the remaining food scraps for energy generation and clean water generation among other uses.

General Mills’ involvement in this program does not represent the first time the large-scale corporation is working on shrinking its waste footprint. As a member of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the company had already been reducing its solid waste and has a plan to cut its totals in half by 2015.  Their efforts began in 2005, and to date have diverted from landfill and donated more than 23 million pounds of food to charities all over the United States.

General Mills is not the only corporation involved in this program.  Unilever North America has pledged to either divert for donation to Feeding America or divert for conversion to energy all of the food waste generated from their 22 U.S. food processing and manufacturing plants and headquarter offices.  Wakefern Food Corp a cooperative comprised of 48 members who individually own and operate more than 250 supermarkets under the ShopRite banner in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware has outlined objectives surrounding donating and recycling.  Many of their stores have already installed the Eco-Safe Digester, an on-site solution that transforms waste into nutrient neutral water that can safely be disposed of via conventional sanitary sewer systems where it is then converted into energy, clean water or compost.

This USDA is also hoping that companies likes General Mills will work to improve their supply-chain network to create faster and more direct routes to Feeding America.  A challenge many food manufacturers and suppliers face today. The program also hopes to engage consumers and educate them on the benefits of reducing the creation of food waste.

The actions made by both GM and the USDA indicate a growing focus on the waste industry. Not only does this program mean for a greener environment, but it also means for a better United States, as we help those who are in need. It provides for a solution to two extremely important national issues. And this is only the beginning.

The USDA is hoping to have 400 partner organizations by 2015 and 1,000 by 2020.

Regulation Drives Change

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Landfills have been used as the final resting place for all of our waste for a very long time.  It is the most common method for waste disposal around the world.  This burial ground is home to such wastes as food, paper, glass, metals, plastics, construction debris, medicine, electronics, fertilizer, etc.  Big open holes filled with garbage, then compacted, filled some more and then buried with a layer of dirt.

We have been dumping our trash in the ground for years without a second thought to the environment or our health. But finally there is concern for the environment that has brought to light the need to terminate this practice, eliminate this antiquated process and move on to greener pastures.  A solution needs to be defined that will benefit not only the earth, but also ourselves.

Many states are recognizing that there is value in food waste and are turning it into an asset rather than burying it.  Four states are pioneering ambitious movements to regulate and remove food waste from their state landfills. Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and California have either announced or already initiated programs that will mandate the recycling of food waste. As amazing as this is for the environment, and as ambitious as the program is, unfortunately it raises some problems especially for the owners of large businesses that generate more than 1 ton of food waste a month.

In order to comply with the new regulations set forth by these states, businesses that generate more than 1 ton of food waste per month will have to find a new way to dispose of this waste as sending it off to be buried in a big hole will no longer be an option.  No more dumping the food waste into dark garbage bags to be hauled many miles to the burial ground because those haulers will be fined for breaking the law.  This has trouble written all over it for businesses that don’t execute a plan now.  So, what are their choices?

The most popular answer to this question is composting. Supporters argue that it is an advantageous means of disposing of the waste due to its environmental benefits.  But, the process is hardly environmentally-grounded and although it produces dirt that can be resold and spread about, the process itself is costly, inefficient, unreliable, time consuming, and labor intensive not to mention that is in no way a “green” solution.

On-site digesters that are designed to cost less than traditional hauling, pre-screen for contamination, keep trucks off the roads, take minutes to dispose of, and repurpose staff time,  all the while sending the digested food waste to wastewater treatment plants that are converting it into biogas, biosolids or new clean water is the best solution out there.

Finding a new home for this waste will reduce the volume that ends up in landfills, but a good solution will also need some focus placed on purchasing less and producing less in order to generate less.

There is no escaping these new regulations, and as more states begin to adopt this as a means of sustainable survival, more will have to comply. It makes sense to formulate a plan and pilot a solution to be ahead of the game.

Power Plants are Thirsty

energywaterconsumption

Decisions made today about which power plants to build, which to retire, and which energy or cooling technologies to deploy and develop matter. Understanding how these choices affect water use and water stress will help ensure that the dependence of power plants on water does not compromise that resource, the plants themselves, or the energy we rely on them to provide.

The power plant portfolios of U.S. companies have widely varying water-use and carbon profiles.

Currently, the three leading players in the ‘energy game’ are coal, natural gas, and nuclear power. Combined, they were responsible for almost 90 percent of the energy produced in 2012. The dirtiest of the three is the burning of coal due to its enormous output of greenhouse gases. And yet, the process shares more in common with nuclear power than one would think, as they both use enormous amounts of water.

By the numbers, coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants are nearly neck in neck when it comes to gallons of water required to produce a megawatt-hour of energy (enough to power 1,000 houses for an hour).

Type of Power Plant

Number of
Facilities

Percent of Energy
Produced in 2012

Gallons of water
used per megawatt-hour of electricity

Wind

114

3.46%

0

Solar Photovoltaic

30

0.11%

26

Natural Gas

493

30%

198

Nuclear

104

19%

672

Coal

600

37%

687

The water intensity of these energy resources brings us face-to-face with the realities of energy and water overconsumption. High electricity consumption means more water withdrawals, placing extra strain on the water system. At the same time, emissions from power plants contribute to climate change and temperature spikes, which increases the amount of water required to produce more energy creating possible droughts.

Why is this a problem? Our water supplies are unlimited, right? WRONG.

We are currently trapped in a vicious cycle when it comes to our energy. The method that we deem to be greener “natural gas” uses a significantly smaller amount of water but we currently do not have enough of these facilities to power the entire United States, meaning that we have to invest in new programs which costs money and takes time. Our water supplies are on a ticking clock; eventually, we’ll run out of time.

There are low-water options in our future: renewable energy and energy efficiency.  For now, however, we must continue to conserve water while pushing towards the best available energy technologies for our states.  The more we invest in energy efficiency, the more we cut our overall energy use — saving enormous amounts of water and reducing harmful power plant emissions. After all, the cleanest source of energy is the energy (and water) we don’t use.

No Water Could Mean No Electricity

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Water plays a larger role in society more than the average citizen knows. Our precious H2O is not just a source of hydration for our bodies or a means of getting clean it is used to create energy.  Energy and water are woven into our daily lives and strongly linked to one another. Producing energy uses water, and providing freshwater uses energy. Both these processes face growing limits and problems.

To keep the power on in the US each day requires the withdrawal of 143 billion gallons of freshwater each day.

Half of our country’s 104 nuclear power reactors withdraw 25-60 gallons of water for each kilowatt-hour of electricity it generates.  Coal plants withdraw 20-50 gallons per kilowatt-hour, not considering the water needed to mine coal or store coal waste from these plants. So, for either a nuclear or coal plant to generate electricity for one load of hot-water laundry 3 to 10 times more water must be used at the plant than is used to wash the clothes.

We also rely on water to move around. Water is a major component of the chemical fuels that help our cars run and heat our homes. In fact, 13 gallons of water are used to produce just one gallon of gasoline.  The United States alone pumps approximately 367 million gallons of gasoline a day.

The growing demands for electricity and gasoline require us to have on hand a never-ending supply of water. Unfortunately the water’s future looks dim.  Our water is simply running out.  The increased demand for supply, sudden changes in climate, severe droughts, extreme heat, and dangerously low river levels are quickly becoming threats to our water’s survival.

Water withdrawal by power plants can become a major challenge during times of drought or other water stress, when water is simply not available in the required volumes or at the required temperatures power plants have to either temporarily reduce their power output or shut down entirely.

With the loss of just one foot of water in Lake Mead on the Colorado River, the Hoover Dam loses 5 to 6 megawatts of generating capacity. That seemingly small number actually has the potential to supply about 5,000 homes with electricity.

In drought-plagued New Mexico, water is gold.  In May of this year, Mora County NM took a firm stand to protect its precious liquid:  it banned all oil and gas extraction from county lands.  Of concern in Mora, and increasingly throughout the country, is the potential harm to water sources from oil and gas drilling, as a result of the practice known as fracking. Mora County’s decision – to keep more climate-altering fossil fuels in the ground so as to preserve and safeguard local water supplies for its people – draws a precautionary line in the sand.

Climate changes, extreme heat and extended droughts are already testing the resilience of energy and our water systems.  By 2030 researchers believe that the net effect nationally will be a more variable and unreliable water situation and that electric demands will grow nearly 30 percent in the Western United Sates and 10 percent in the Southeast, a trend that begs the question: With what water?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has hopeful opinions on the subject, asking for the US to move on to renewable energy sources. They state that if, by 2050, the US is able to get 80 percent of its electricity from these sources, our water consumption would be cut in half. A decrease by 50 percent would mean less water usage, more energy, and more water reserves. Ultimately, a switch to renewable energy means keeping us out of the darkness.  Technologies like the Eco-Safe Digester are also offering a promising solution, to convert food waste into an effluent that our wastewater treatment facilities extract as biogas to be stored and used to make renewable clean energy.

As one can see, without adequate supplies of water, no region’s future is bright.