Articles in Category: Environment

Alcoa, Corp. recently launched new aluminum product lines produced with low carbon emissions and recycled content. The new sustainable line includes two key product categories:

  • Ecolum: a range of cast products among the least carbon-intensive products available today, yielding a 75% lower carbon impact than the industry average.
  • Ecodura: aluminum billets made with a minimum of 50% recycled content and use up to 95% less energy to manufacture when compared to products with no recycled material.

Alcoa said ecolum products will qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and, as such, the company is preparing Environmental Product Declarations for the building and construction market that helps customers achieve LEED materials and resources credits.

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Only plants that operate on hydro-electric power that meet the emissions requirements for the ecolum guarantee of less than 2.5 metric tons of CO2 emissions per metric ton of aluminum. The ecodura products can be produced at any facility that has the ability to remelt scrap.

Aluminum Rod

Ecolum aluminum rod produced at Alcoa’s Fjardaál hydro-electric smelter in Iceland. Source: Alcoa.

India has brought the world’s largest solar power plant online.

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At the end of November, the world’s biggest solar power plant was completed in the southern part of India and its already generating power.

Spread over 2,500 acres in the Tamil Nadu province, the new solar plant replaces the Topaz Solar Farm in Riverside County, Calif., as the largest solar power farm in one location in the world. The Indian solar farm can generate 648 megawatts of green electricity, while Topaz generates 550 mw. India aims to power about 60 million homes by using solar energy by 2022. The Tamil Nadu plant, built by Adani Power, can light up about 150,000 homes. India aims to produce 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2022. Read more

Should we live like wookiees?

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Well, maybe not EXACTLY like Han Solo’s best pal, Chewbacca, but live in tall, wooden structures?

Wookiee Cultural Center

A wookiee cultural center nestled deep in the trees of Kashyyk. Why don’t we get Pete Nelson to design treehouses for all of us? Painting by the incomparable Ralph McQuarrie. Source: Lucasfilm.

Wookiee civilization, as depicted in the “Star Wars” films, is an advanced, highly sophisticated one. The ape-like humanoids have all of the intelligence of the human characters in the movies, save the ability to vocalize and speak in a language that isn’t moans and growls. Read more

About 44% of all solar power that’s installed on residential rooftops, known as distributed solar capacity, is owned by private businesses, such as SolarCity, according to new government data.

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Distributed solar capacity in the U.S., which includes all solar power capacity other than utility-scale installations 1 megawatts or larger, increased to 12.3 gigawatts as of September, according to new figures from the Energy Information Administration. In comparison, a cumulative 11.6 gw had been installed in the U.S. by the end of 2015.

Renewables_Chart_December-2016_FNL

According to the report, third-party owners own 44% of distributed solar capacity in the U.S. residential sector, compared with 11% in the commercial and industrial sectors. The residential sector accounts for 56% of distributed solar capacity but 84% of third-party-owned solar capacity. Nearly half of U.S. solar capacity is privately owned. However, panels owned by individual homeowners and businesses are expected to eclipse TPO as the largest owner-category in the next five years.

Like the Cleveland Browns losing, the sun rising or winter bringing cold weather and shorter days, the Renewables MMI didn’t move this month and held flat at 52 as it has for four straight months. That follows four years of relative flatness, too.

We’ve previously written about the relationship between manufacturers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic panels and incentives for solar expansion and this report highlights the cozy relationship between production and ownership. If, however, individuals, can really eclipse corporate owners like SolarCity in the next few years, it could be a watershed moment for solar power in the U.S. as lower costs are expected to finally make owning cheaper and better than leasing.

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Could an ownership society push more adoption of solar? It’s hard to tell, but anything that increases demand, as falling prices generally do, would be welcome at this point.

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The Obama administration slammed the brakes on the Dakota Access pipeline on Sunday, refusing to issue a required easement from the Army Corps of Engineers while saying it will conduct a more stringent environmental review to consider alternate routes and consult further with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has bitterly opposed the project.

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However, the 1,172-mile pipeline may not be dead in its current form. Nearly all of the pipeline has been completed except a few miles that are planned to flow underneath the Missouri River and the manmade Lake Oahe in North Dakota. The Army has said they will ask Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the pipeline, to consider alternative routes and said that would be best accomplished through an environmental impact statement with full public input and analysis.

The Army Corps had actually approved the easement back in June but stepped in again after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by the Standing Rock Sioux whose reservation is near Lake Oahe. President-elect Donald Trump came out in support of completing the pipeline as planned last week and his administration could, potentially, undo these recent actions by the Obama administration.

Well, this is kind of embarrassing.

Four months after the U.K. defiantly voted to leave the E.U., that same organization and currency bloc has awarded $11.5 million (£9.6 million) in regional development funding to back a highly experimental new wave power project based at Hayle in northern Cornwall called Wave Hub.

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Indeed, so key is the E.U. contribution that Carnegie Wave Energy, the company behind the project, is now confident it will be able to complete the first phase, a 1-megawatt trial facility due to be connected to the national grid in 2018.

The plan is this would be followed by a second phase intended to deliver 15 mw by 2021. Slightly embarrassing in that the E.U. regional development funds are intended to “strengthen economic and social cohesion” across the EU, not what slightly over half the U.K.’s voting population voted for, but there you are.

Wave energy has promised much and delivered almost nothing for decades. Two Scottish firms, Pelamis and Aquamarine, have both gone into administration in the past two years, as firms struggle to develop economically viable technology. Carnegie’s differs in that it operates underwater rather than on the surface, protecting it from breaking waves. The firm says it needs only a 1 meter (3 feet) swell to generate power, a state the sea delivers almost every day of the year off the cost of Cornwall, renowned for its Atlantic breakers and home to Newquay.

It’s said by some to be the capital of European surfing. The technology is therefore closer in some respects to tidal power than traditional wave power technologies and should require lower maintenance and offer a longer operating life than previous surface positioned wave designs.

An artist's impression of the proposed new Wave Hub off Hayle, Cornwall © PA, taken from the FT

An artist’s impression of the proposed new Wave Hub off Hayle, Cornwall © PA, Source: FT.

Bizarrely, Carnegie Wave Energy is not even a British firm, they are Australian but as the CEO, Michael Ottaviano, is quoted by the Financial Times as saying, Australia is blessed with an embarrassment of energy resources “so there has not been strong incentives for new technology.”

The U.K., and indeed Europe as a whole, is not so fortunate and, driven by a commitment to decarbonize the region, it’s willing to back new technologies if they show sufficient promise. In total, Wave Hub’s Hayle project will cost some $72 million (£60m) and should, all being well, start delivering power the national grid within two years.

China, the world’s biggest clean-energy investor, lowered its solar and wind power targets for 2020, a reflection of how record installations of panels and turbines have simply overwhelmed the ability of the nation’s existing electrical grid to absorb the new electricity.

Renewables_Chart_November-2016_FNL

This is more bad news for the burgeoning renewable energy infrastructure market and it’s not like the metals that go into panels (steel, silicon and copper wire) were setting the world on fire before this news. Our Renewables MMI has been flat as a board, stuck at 52, for the last three months and only held at one point higher for the previous two months. Along with Rare Earths, Renewables have been habitually flat for much of the year.

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The problem, for China, is two-fold. It must upgrade its grid to accept available solar and wind power directly into local grids and also set up energy storage that can save generated power when for when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow.

China is now aiming for 110 gigawatts of solar power by 2020, a 27% reduction from an earlier target, according to a webcast posted on the website of the National Energy Administration that cited the agency’s chief engineer, Han Shui. The nation reduced its goal for wind power by 16% to 210 gw.

While China has poured billions of dollars into clean energy in recent years, the ability to deliver the newly-generated electricity from where it’s produced to where it’s needed has lagged, a common problem with wind and solar. The mismatch has left solar and wind capacity sitting idle in some parts of the country, hurting companies such as China Longyuan Power Group Corp. and China Datang Corp. Renewable Power Co.

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The development of natural gas and hydrogren technologies is a focus of research at Voestalpine AG‘s new DRI hot-briquetted iron ore facility near Corpus Christi, Texas.

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“We are hoping to run blast furnaces with hydrogen instead of coal and coke,” said Dr. Wolfgang Eder, Voestalpine’s chairman and CEO. “Development of such technology will take a 20-30-year time frame, but I am convinced we’ll hit that target.”

yoders_voestalpine3_550_110116

This blurry “art shot” of Voestalpine’s 450-foot HBI production facility signifies that this will be a “think piece” about research, smog and environmental sustainability. Or Jeff took this from the bus. Jeff seriously took this from the bus. Source: Jeff Yoders

Natural Gas and Natural Hydrogen

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the potential of converting natural gas (the fuel material for Voestalpine’s iron ore reduction tower) to hydrogen to decarbonize dirty production processes. Voestalpine’s head and environmental heart certainly seem like they’re in the right place, but what might be advantageous, for the U.S. and South Texas, is the jobs that that research will bring. Read more

China would probably argue that it gets bad press when it comes to environmental issues.

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Not surprisingly. China is said to be the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, having overtaken the U.S. in 2007, and was responsible for 27% of global emissions in 2014. It’s right that it gets a lot of attention.

Largely due to the consumption of about half the world’s coal, China is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, and the air quality of many of its major cities fails miserably to meet international health standards. Life expectancy north of the Huai River is said by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) to be 5.5 years lower than in the south due to air pollution, while water and soil pollution are equally severe.

China Cracks Down

Yet for all that, or maybe because of it, China is taking considerable strides to address its problems. A recent article in the South China Morning Post reports on the tough stance environmental protection bodies in China are taking with large industrial groups. Read more

The shipping industry would argue that it moves more cargo with a lower carbon footprint per ton than any of the alternatives.

Airlines, by comparison, move a fraction of the cargo (even including passengers) and yet emit comparable global CO2 emissions. Yet, while automakers and car buyers have been forced to accept the costs and burdens of substantial legislation, the manufacturing (particularly in Europe) has had to pay ever higher power costs to subsidize national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from their power industries and heavy industry has been regulated on emissions of just about everything, the shipping industry has gotten off relatively scot-free.

Escaping Regulation

Frugal as the shipping industry is in terms of CO2 emissions per mile/ton, it is still a major polluter as anyone who has witnessed a ferry boat or ocean liner firing up its boilers will testify. Not only does the industry account for some 3% of greenhouse gas emissions on current trends, it is forecast to rise to 5% by 2050, when all other targets are set to halve from 1990 levels.

Source European Commission report on Shipping

Source European Commission report on Shipping.

The problem is compounded by the fact that a ship’s bunker fuel is probably the most hazardous and polluting of fuels burned for any major industrial application anywhere, with higher levels of sulfur and other health damaging constituents. Read more