Articles in Category: Environment

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

29 States that are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Clean Power Plan on Tuesday urged the US Supreme Court to block the controversial regulations slashing carbon emissions from existing power plants while they’re being litigated, after the Washington, D.C. Circuit refused to issue a stay last week.

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The D.C. Circuit said Thursday that states and industry groups challenging the Clean Power Plan hadn’t satisfied the strict requirements for granting a stay.

In its Supreme Court application for a stay, West Virginia and 28 other states and state agencies argued that a majority of justices would likely agree that the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the Clean Air Act authority to craft the rule.

The MATS Precedent

The states might have a strong case for the stay simply because the High Court — at least a 5-4 majority of the justices — sided with them in an earlier case, last year, that pitted the EPA against a similar group of states involving its toxic emissions rule, which tried to limit mercury and air toxics, aka MATS.

That ruling set a major precedent for federal agencies, that they had to consider compliance costs before laying down rules and regulations. This would seem to favor the states filing suit to stop the CPP, as its compliance costs are not calculated, in any way, into the “plan.”

States are, rather, given up to three years to come up with their own plans to implement the CPP, although they may elect to have the EPA do that work for them.

The Effect of a Stay

Of course, the Supreme Court still might not stay the rule while the case is heard and simply wait for the D.C. circuit — which did move the case up on its docket to June — to rule and then hear an appeal to its decision, no matter which side wins. That would mean states would need to comply for a process that could take at least a year to shake out in the legal system.

Remembering that the EPA would only need to sway one justice to its way of thinking, then, perhaps the compliance process playing out over a year could favor the federal government. But, considering that Justice Scalia wrote the opinion in the MATS case, the precedent seems to be staunchly against them.

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“It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. Statutory context supports this reading,” Scalia wrote in the MATS decision.

An appeals court will allow the EPA Clean Power Plan to stay in effect while it is argued in court and China’s plans to tame its largely state-run metals producers are starting to become more clear.

Clean Power Plan Will Stay in Effect

The Washington D.C. Circuit on Thursday refused to put the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan on hold until legal challenges to the rule are completed, but they did fast-track a trial on the legality of the new rule.

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The Obama administration considers this an early victory as it looks to defend and implement the sweeping regulations that would slash carbon emissions from existing power plants.

29 States and several industry groups petitioned to overturn the CPP or, at the very least, block it from being implemented while the legal battle plays out. They’ve argued that they’ll be irreparably harmed by starting the compliance process, even though they’re likely to succeed in convincing the court that the rule is illegal.

However, the D.C. Circuit panel shot the request down in a two-page order, though it said the appeals court would expedite the consideration of the case and schedule oral arguments for June 2.

China’s Metals Transition Plan

China’s plans to set up funds to manage coal and steel capacity closures and stockpiling schemes for metals such as aluminum have offered nervous markets some clarity on the likely future make-up of the country’s sprawling and predominantly state-run metals and mining industries. But it’s still way too early to tell if these initiatives even can be successful in taming overproduction.

As the world’s largest producer of aluminum, steel and other metals, and the biggest consumer of copper and iron ore, China is crucial to global metals markets which have slumped in the past year as Chinese industrial demand growth slowed.

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After weeks of talks between government officials and leading metals producers, Beijing looks set to take a direct approach to managing capacity cuts and layoffs in coal and steel. It will provide smaller-scale financing deals to groups of producers of non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum, for stockpiling and capacity cutback initiatives.

Greece’s highest court overturned its government’s decision to stop Eldorado Gold‘s mining operation and Johnson-Matthey has lifted its estimate of last year’s platinum market deficit.

Eldorado Gold Wins Greece Gold Mine Appeal

Greece’s top administrative court has annulled the government’s decision last year to revoke Eldorado Gold‘s mining license, according to court documents published on Wednesday. The Canadian mining company had appealed to Greece’s top court to overturn the ban on its plans to develop gold mines in a forested area of northern Greece, in a case widely seen as a test of the new leftist government’s approach to foreign investment.

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Eldorado has put about $700 million into the project since 2012 and planned to invest another $1 billion to develop two mines at Skouries and Olympias sites in Halkidiki. Greece’s government initially revoked its permit in August, saying the tests for a so-called flash-melting method the company planned to use to ensure there would be no environmental damage did not take place on the spot, but rather outside Greece.

Johnson-Matthey Lifts Platinum Estimate

Johnson-Matthey has lifted its estimate of last year’s platinum market deficit after a surge in Japanese bar investment late in the year, though it cut its expectations for the palladium market shortfall.

Speaking at ETF Securities‘ annual investment conference on Wednesday, JM’s general manager for market research Peter Duncan said he expected deficits for both metals to persist this year, although he admitted this may have little impact on prices.

The company lifted its estimate for last year’s platinum market deficit to 702,000 ounces from 652,000 ounces in November, which Duncan cited in the earlier presentation. He credited the change to both an upswing in investment and a 13% drop in recycling.

Platinum hit its weakest point in more than seven years on Wednesday at $812.09 an ounce.