Articles in Category: Environment

Just a month after BMW proudly announced it was shifting its development strategy toward more all-electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous technology in order to address a “new era” in the industry, the company was rocked by the defection of the core development team of its i3 and i8 electric vehicle lineup.

The embarrassing part is the defection isn’t to another automotive major but to Future Mobility Corp., a Chinese startup backed by Tencent Holdings, a Chinese investment company. The move underlines how established “old world” firms in the automotive sector are struggling to compete with start-ups and newcomers in the EV and hybrid market.

Who Left BMW for Future Mobility?

The WSJ reports that Carsten Breitfeld, a 20-year BMW veteran who developed the company’s i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, left the Munich-based automaker last month to become chief executive of the Chinese electric car company. Now, three key executives from the “BMW i” electric car group are following him. Dirk Abendroth, who developed electric powertrains for the i-series, Benoit Jacob, who was head of design at BMW i, and Henrik Wenders, head of BMW i product management.

AdobeStock_ joel_420_electric_car_550_042016

BMW is betting on electric cars for its future, but Future Mobility just poached its entire i team. Source: Adobe Stock/Joel 420.

One would like to think they are not being simply lured by money, creative professionals of this caliber will be more motivated by being at the cutting edge of development and technology than euros in the pocket and BMW, for all their media hype, have failed to make a success of their electric vehicles division.

BMW Slows Electric Car Development

According to the WSJ, BMW has slowed development of future models. Last year, BMW sold 24,057 i3 models, and 5,456 i8 models, a 66% increase in BMW i division sales but paltry by the standards of a volume automaker. Read more

A former success story in U.S. renewable energy has filed for chapter 11 even as China’s “zombie mills” fire up steel production again.

SunEdison Files for Bankruptcy

U.S. solar energy company SunEdison Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Thursday, becoming one of the largest non-financial companies to do so in the past 10 years.

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Once the fastest-growing U.S. renewable energy developer, SunEdison embarked on an aggressive acquisition strategy that left it struggling with $12 billion in debt.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it had assets of $20.7 billion and liabilities of $16.1 billion as of Sept. 30.

China’s Zombie Mills Fire Up Production

The rest of the world’s steel producers may be pressuring Beijing to slash output and help reduce a global glut that is causing losses and costing jobs, but the opposite is happening in the steel towns of China.

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While the Chinese government points to reductions in steel making capacity it has engineered, a rapid rise in local prices this year has seen mills ramp up output. Even “zombie” mills, which stopped production but were not closed down, have been resurrected.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced last week its final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust.

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OSHA says the rule will help prevent lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney disease in workers by limiting their exposure to crystalline silica, which can cause all of the above diseases and disorders when inhaled. The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.

This pile of white silica sand is now being more tightly regulated by OSHA. Source: Adobe Stock/Coprid.

This pile of white silica sand is now being more tightly regulated by OSHA. Source: Adobe Stock/Coprid.

Construction companies have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most of the new requirements, such as:

  • Reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
  • Mandating employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level.
  • Limiting access to high exposure areas .
    Training workers to recognize exposures.
  • Provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
  • OSHA says the new regulations, which replace ones established in 1971, provide greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers — including many small employers — by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance without having to monitor exposures.

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As we’ve mentioned before, the new rules are the culmination of 45 years of debate and consideration of a new silica rule. Regulators have sought to strengthen the 1971 since its inception as silica, in its natural sand state, is pretty much everywhere on construction sites.

The Steel Recycling Institute recently released the first industry-wide Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for cold-formed steel studs and track manufactured in the U.S. and Canada. The EPD quantifies the “cradle-to-gate” life-cycle environmental impacts, and can be used by architects and engineers to document their impacts for certification of buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council‘s LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other credit-based green building certification systems.

What Are EPDs?

EPDs are a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. Declarations include information on the environmental impact of raw material acquisition, energy use and efficiency, content of materials and chemical substances, emissions to air, soil and water and waste generation.

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An EPD is created and verified in accordance with the International Standard ISO 14025, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). An EPD is also based on a peer-reviewed life-cycle assessment (LCA).

LEED has accepted EPDs for building products since version 4 of its system was released. Having EPDs opens steel products up to specification in a much wider range of building projects. Having them not only earns green credits, but it also is viewed by industry professionals as a measure of supply chain transparency.

Cold-formed steel studs and track can now be declared and tracked for LEED projects. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.

Cold-formed steel studs and track can now be declared and tracked for LEED projects. Source: Adobe Stock/ft2010.

This is the first industry-wide assessment of full life cycle environmental impacts of steel commercial building products in North America. Roll-formed from galvanized steel sheet into a variety of shapes, cold-formed steel studs and track are being as the primary structural system for buildings up to nine stories in height and have been used for curtain walls and interior partitions for decades.

“Environmental impacts of materials are critical decision factors for architects, engineers and builders,” said Lawrence Kavanagh, president of Steel Market Development Institute, a business unit of American Iron and Steel Institute. “With the construction industry moving to comprehensive assessments of a product’s entire life cycle, it’s important this EPD is now being added to the resources we and our partners have developed for our customers in the construction industry.”

Cold-Formed Studs and Track, the First of Many EPDs

Kavanagh also said this is the first of several EPDs that will be released this year and next and that SMDI hopes to, eventually, have declarations available for all steel building products manufactured in the US.

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The ability of steel to be recycled has always been a strong selling point in getting it specified into LEED and other green buildings but EPDs could help certain products be much more easily specified by architects into building projects.

Following on from our post Monday reporting on BP’s forward-looking Global Energy Outlook report we thought, with the current turmoil in the fracking industry bought on by OPEC induced low prices, it would be interesting to look at what the oil major has to say about the prospects for that business model.

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It may be that BP, still largely an oil and gas major, is looking at energy use through their own rose-tinted lens subscription. Many are heralding recent efficiency improvements in solar cells and the drop in prices as the start of a new golden age in solar power generation that, in a world so focused on rising carbon emissions, will sweep away older, more-polluting forms of power generation. BP doesn’t see it like that, and that does not mean to say they are wrong, but it does challenge us to ask if the current enthusiasm for a carbon-free world is misplaced.

About That Shift to Renewables…

History and the current sources of energy suggest that even by 2035 80% of our energy will continue to come from fossil fuels, that may be not what we want to see but it is what the data is telling us BP’s chief economist said in the presentation.

He went on to say disruptive as renewables will eventually become over the next twenty years, it is highly unlikely the integrated technologies will develop far enough or the costs come down sufficiently for a dramatically greater penetration of power generation than BP is already predicting. In its best case scenario tight oil and shale gas each contribute as much of a rise in energy supply as renewables such as wind and solar combined.

Just as surprising is the extent to which the oil major sees the transformational change that fracking will continue to be to the energy markets. Rather than consign tight oil and shale gas to the past, as Saudi Arabia had hoped would be the result of its purposeful depressing of the oil price, BP sees any demise as a temporary phenomena followed by continued growth in a couple of years.

How Low Prices Spurred Innovation

In fact the low price has further spurred innovation forcing energy firms to operate at lower and lower break-even points. Globally, technically recoverable resources are estimated to be around 340 billion barrels for tight oil and 7,500 trillion cubic feet for shale gas, the report says. Although  Asia has the largest resources, North America will remain the largest producer by far, even out to 2035.

Source: BP

Source: OECD/IEA

Although unconventional resources are spread across the globe, production is likely to remain concentrated in North America. Cumulative North American production of tight oil and shale gas between 2013-35 is roughly equivalent to 50% of tight oil and 30% of shale gas, technically recoverable resources. The comparable numbers for the rest of the world are expected to be just 3% and 1% respectively. Read more

BP’s Energy Outlook 2035 may not be an accurate view of the future Energy landscape over the next twenty years — with so many variables it would be surprising if it was — but it is the basis the oil major is pinning its own long-term strategy on so we can be assured it is well researched, and as a result is about as good as it gets as an exercise in energy market crystal ball gazing.

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Not surprisingly, the report states that power generation is expected to account for an ever-increasing share of primary energy consumption as the world continues on a long-term trend of electrification.

The Electric Share

The share coming from electricity rises from 42% today to 47% by 2035 and, as a result, power generation will become an increasingly important driver of how the global fuel mix evolves. The report points out that oil rose in the 1960’s, then nuclear in the 70’s and 80’s and, finally, natural gas in the 90’s and 2000’s.

The expectation going forward is, not surprisingly, that renewables will play an increasingly important role. The surprise is, rather, that they will not rise as fast or become as dominant as many would expect based on the current focus by governments and other authorities. By 2035 BP sees a more balanced and diversified portfolio of fuels for electrical power generation.

Surprisingly, with so much focus on carbon emissions and the rapid closure of coal-fired power generating capacity in Europe and parts of the U.S., the report sees coal remaining the dominant fuel, accounting for more than a third of the inputs to power generation, a share it holds at 44% today. With continuing global growth in coal use of 0.8% per  it is expected to remain a significant contributor with the gap between the shares of coal and of other fuels simply narrowing.

Source: BP Energy Review 2016

Source: BP Energy Review 2016

As a result — and not what the climate change lobby would be hoping to hear, total carbon emissions from energy consumption will increase by 25% between 2013 and 2035 (about 1% per year), with the rate of growth declining from 2.5% over the past decade to 0.7% in the final decade from 2025 to 2035. Read more

The final official act of Senior Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, before his untimely death over the weekend, was —last week — joining the 5-4 majority that stayed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan while challenges to the new regulations on power plants are heard in a lower court.

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The Atlantic writes that while it’s unlikely that the SCOTUS will revisit its stay — which keeps the new regulations from being enforced until the SCOTUS, itself, or the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court rules — it does draw into question if the High Court, itself, will rule the same way if it takes the case on appeal, essentially because Scalia’s death turns that 5-4 majority into a 4-4 tie. The legality of the Obama administration’s plan is being challenged by 29 states and several power and energy industry groups.

In the language of the Court, taking up a case is “granting a writ of certiorari,” often shortened to “granting cert.” Unlike in a decision on a case, in which five justices determine how the court rules, only four justices need to vote to grant cert in a case. Most experts thought it was likely that the Court—whatever its makeup—would eventually hear the case before Scalia’s death.

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The path to nominating and confirming a justice to replace Scalia on the court has already become a political battle with both parties taking up sides.

The Supreme Court has blocked the EPA Clean Power Plan and U.S. steel shipments ticked up in December, even as they lost ground from 2014 on the entire year.

Supreme Court Blocks Clean Power Plan… For Now

The Supreme Court has blocked President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency‘s new climate rules for power plants, dealing a major blow to the president’s climate agenda.

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In an order released Tuesday night, the court said it is placing a stay on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants while industry and state lawsuits move forward. This is not unexpected, as the rule — currently being challenged by 29 states and several industry groups — will be heard at the D.C. circuit court in June and could go through appeals that could last more than a year after that.

The length of the appeals process is important because the High Court granted the request in a 5-4 vote on Tuesday night, saying the rule was on hold until the circuit court reviews it and all Supreme Court appeals are exhausted. The court’s four liberal justices dissented from the decision.

The rules would have required existing electricity generating utilities to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 32% in the next 15 years. The Court “stayed” a decision on implementing the rule while it considers the legal challenges.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that the administration disagrees with the order, but “we remain confident that we will prevail” when the rule is argued on its merits.

That stands in stark contrast to the statements from the 29-state majority challenging the law and the industry groups that have joined the lawsuit.

The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) released a statement saying it applauded the decision. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (R.), one of the 29 attorneys general challenging the rule, took his applause a bit further.

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“It is an extraordinary action for the Supreme Court of the United States to grant a stay and is telling of the obvious illegality of the rule,” Schimel said in a statement. “It’s imperative that we fight back against the federal government’s intrusion into the affairs of the State of Wisconsin.”

Steel Shipments Up in December, Down for the Year

The AISI also reported that for the month of December, U.S. steel mills shipped 6,556,342 net tons, a 1.5% increase from the 6,457,870 nt shipped in November 2015, and a 17.8% decrease from the 7,978,310 nt shipped in December 2014. Shipments for the full year 2015 were 86,546,657 nt, an 11.9% decrease vs. full year 2014 shipments of 98,248,666 nt.

 

There was a lot of talk last year about coal resources needing to be left in the ground if the world was to reach it’s 2-degree-celsius reduction environmental targets.

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The suggestion was that legislation was required to force power generators to switch to less polluting energy sources and, while in the meantime tougher emissions standards have played their part, the market has been much more active than government in encouraging change.

Could 2015 be the beginning of the end for coal-fired power in the US? Source: Adobe Stock/Snap Happy

Could 2015 be the beginning of the end for coal-fired power in the US? Source: Adobe Stock/Snap Happy.

A recent US Energy Information Administration report covered by Reuters states that generators produced 101.86 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity with gas in November versus just 87.78 million MWh with coal, the lowest monthly level since May 1980 when monthly coal use was 84.88 million MWh.

How Coal Lost Ground

After more than one hundred years during which coal was the dominant fuel for power generation, some analysts think that when the final data for December is in, 2015 will prove to be the year natural gas took over. Read more

We recently wrote about how the spending bill signed in December favors solar power with better and longer renewable energy tax credits than it gives to wind power. However, solar also did better in the extenders” bill than the one technology responsible for generating the most energy from renewables in the US today: biomass.

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The tax extenders package benefits biomass power with an extension of the Section 45 production tax credit (PTC). The PTC for technologies other than solar or wind has been extended for two years, through Dec. 31, 2016. The incentive amount for wind, geothermal, and “closed-loop” biomass — the kind that does not create carbon dioxide — is $0.023 per kilowatt hour. For other eligible technologies such as fuel biomass, municipal solid waste, landfill gas and others, the credit is $0.012 per kw/h.

Can sugar cane bagasse solve our clean electrical power generation problems? Source: Adobe Stock/ idmanjoe.

Can sugar cane bagasse solve our renewable electrical power generation problems? Source: Adobe Stock/ idmanjoe.

In contrast, the legislation allows solar power companies to keep claiming federal tax credits at 30% of the price of a solar array. The credits, which apply to home solar kits as well as big commercial installations, will be good through 2019. After that, though, the credit will begin to drop, declining to 10% in 2022. Credits through 2022 vs. $0.012 cents per kw/h for one year? Even wind did better than biomass with its $0.023 cents per kw/h and an extension of those credits through 2019.

What is Biomass?

Biomass is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. In the context of biomass for electrical power generation, this is often used to mean plant-based material, but biomass can equally apply to both animal- and vegetable-derived material. Woodburning stoves are a primitive form of biomass heating. Ethanol for cars also falls under the biomass category as “biofuel” but it’s not used for electrical power generation.

Read more