Archive | Landfills

Garbage Fueled Garbage Trucks

Landfill gas is an appealing alternative to increasingly expensive oil-based fuels. This type of biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide that forms a liquefied natural gas (LNG) after being purified, condensed and finally super-cooled.

Linde North America and Waste Management are working together to create the world’s largest waste-to-energy facility in Livermore, California. Biogas will be used to fuel the fleet responsible for transporting the endless supply of garbage to the facility: This will begin the cycle of garbage fueled garbage trucks, where one would not exist without the other.

According to the Linde website “Linde [an international gases and engineering company] is responsible for the engineering of the plant as well as the cleaning and subsequent liquefaction of the landfill gas. Waste Management, North America’s leading recycling and waste management company, is supplying the landfill gas – which comes from the natural decomposition of organic waste.”

Methane gas is emitted when waste decomposes without exposure to oxygen, but methane does occur naturally in the environment as well: The EPA Landfill Methane Outreach Program explains that “Methane is emitted from a variety of both human-related (anthropogenic) and natural sources. Human-related activities include fossil fuel production, animal husbandry (enteric fermentation in livestock and manure management), rice cultivation, biomass burning, and waste management. These activities release significant quantities of methane to the atmosphere. It is estimated that 60% of global methane emissions are related to human-related activities. Natural sources of methane include wetlands [accounting for about 80% of emissions], gas hydrates, permafrost, termites, oceans, freshwater bodies, non-wetland soils, and other sources such as wildfires.

Methane gas produced by landfills currently seeps into the environment as wasted energy. Not only that, but methane supposedly causes more damage to the environment than CO2. Landfills are the largest source of human-related methane, accounting for almost 1/3 of emissions. It is only logical to absorb the gas for use as a clean and efficient fuel while eliminating another biproduct of human refuse.

Waste Management claims that “When the facility begins operating in 2009 it is expected to produce up to 13,000 gallons a day of LNG”. (press release)

Posted in Causes, Energy, Engineering, Landfills, Natural Gas, Other, Recycling, Waste Management0 Comments

Hycrete-Cementing Building Technology

When it comes to improvements, it is good to start with the basics. The fundamental part of any city, road, or building is concrete. By reducing the amount of energy needed to build, and by simplifying the components of the concrete, CO2 emissions are reduced while the whole building process is made more efficient.

Voted a GoingGreen winner and covered in numerous publications ranging from Time Magazine to Gizmag, Hycrete is a company at the forefront of cement technology. Hycrete has been manufacturing products in New Jersey for 40 years, and had already made a significant impact to the building industry by bringing a class of rust inhibitors to the market in the 1950s. Its more recent claim to fame-waterproof cement technology-was developed in the mid 90s when Michael S. Rhodes, one of Hycrete’s key inventors, developed the unique moisture and corrosion blocker.

Rhodes’ accomplishments are impressive: He has worked with NASA to develop solid rocket fuels and improve the heat shield of the Apollo series. The inventors’ interests are varied, however, and don’t stop there: Rhodes was also involved in creating products for the military, such as protective foams for submarines. At Hycrete, it was time to develop a product to shield one of the most used building materials on earth-Cement-from the elements.

The main problems associated with cement are corrosion and cracking. Hycrete describes the issue in their data sheet: “Conventional concrete absorbs water and dissolved salts through a network of capillaries and cracks. [This water weakens the cement and may cause rusting to any steel piping or internal structures. Also, water runoff is often an issue] Hycrete Elite’s hydrophobic properties shut down the capillary wicking action that carries salts to the reinforcement layer and transforms concrete into a waterproof construction material. Unlike external membranes or coatings, Hycrete Elite provides real time protection as it is mixed into concrete to provide integral waterproofing and corrosion resistance.” Being waterproof, cement mixed with hycrete elite is perfect for rooftop gardens, parking lots, erosion control etc.

Waterproofing cement the ‘old-fashioned’ way is a major environmental issue: A popular approach is to line the entire structure with a waterproof membrane. The problem with this membrane is that it is typically composed of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are non recyclable, so when this cement needs replacing it is simply tossed into a landfill. Almost half of the building materials sitting in landfills are made up of this kind of cement.

The soap like properties of hycrete, on the other hand, follow the ‘cradle to cradle’ philosophy and break down when returned to the soil. By being mixed into the cement rather than sprayed on top of it (though this is an option with other hycrete waterproofing products), the cement is recyclable and can be reused. It would be nice not to have to worry about leaky roofs while watering your fruit garden on top of a high rise complex.

Posted in Energy, Landfills, Military, Other, Philosophy, Science, Space, & Technology1 Comment

The Fluid Envelope: A Case Against Climate Alarmism

Industrial Smokestacks and Smog
It’s easy to imagine such an impressive
output of gas could be harming the earth.
(Photo: US

Editor’s Note: Our charter to report on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems seems to always bring us back to one overriding distraction – global warming alarm – and small wonder. We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations of political economy in the history of the world – and nobody is watching. “The debate is over on global warming,” goes the consensus, and even if that were a healthy or accurate notion, why has this consensus translated into hardly any vigorous debate over what would be a rational response?

Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary from virtually every environmental nonprofit in existance, the United States has been an extraordinarily responsible nation. We listened to our environmental movement; we institutionalized it. On every front there has been huge progress over the past 30-40 years. Our air and water are orders of magnitude cleaner even though our population has doubled. Our landfills our ultra-safe. We have set aside vast tracts of wilderness, rescued countless endangered species. Our food supply is scrupulously monitored. And every year our technology and our prosperity delivers new options to eliminate more pollution and live healthier lives. So what happened?

In the rest of the world there is also reason for great optimism, despite some discouraging challenges that continue to grip humanity. Human population is voluntarily leveling off, so that within 25-30 years the number of people on planet earth will peak at around 8.5 billion – and every time the projection is revisited, that estimate drops. At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing – and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

Technology promises abundant energy within a few decades, using clean fossil fuel as we systematically replace it with solar, nuclear, run-of-river hydroelectric, enhanced geothermal, wind, possibly biofuel. Technology promises abundant water within a few decades, as we learn how to recycle every drop of water used in the urban environment, convert many crops to drip irrigation, and develop massive desalination capacity. So why don’t we get to work?

The reason is because of global warming alarm. The bells of warning are ringing so loud that CO2 is all that matters anymore. Want to stop using petroleum? Then burn the rainforests for biofuel. Want to stop using coal? Then forget about installing affordable scrubbers to remove the soot that billows from coal fired power plants across burgeoning Asia – why clean up something that needs to be shut down? Want to save allegedly scarce open space? Then cram everyone into ultra-high density “infill” and destroy every semi rural neighborhood in the western world. Make housing unaffordable, then mandate taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing. And do it all in the name of reducing CO2 emissions.

Today, after reading two documents from the website of the Attorney General of California, “Mitigation Measures,” and “Global Warming Contrarians and the Falsehoods they Promote,” I became so alarmed at what we are willingly, blindly bringing upon ourselves because of all this CO2 alarm that I contacted Dr. Richard Lindzen, who has already contributed two lengthy articles to EcoWorld, “Current Behavior of Global Mean Surface Temperature,” and “Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?” I asked Dr. Lindzen if he still held the views he does. He replied emphatically in the affirmative, and sent me the article that follows. Dr. Lindzen, along with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., with whom EcoWorld recently published the exclusive “Interview with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.,” are both internationally respected atmospheric scientists. And both of them, in somewhat different ways, are quite concerned about the overemphasis on CO2.

Anyone who is championing extreme measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 should attempt for themselves to understand the science. As Dr. Lindzen wrote me earlier today, policymakers such as Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger “can be excused given the degree to which the environmental movement has taken over the professional societies.”

“Science” has become the trump card that drowns out reason – what great irony. And the scientific establishment itself has become politicized. And if you read the mitigation measures being proposed, just imagine if there was nothing we could do to affect global warming – which even some of the lead authors of the IPCC studies themselves acknowlege – and see if you want to live in the brave new world we are leading ourselves into by our own gullible noses.

Dramatic and positive global economic and technological developments, along with voluntary and irreversible global demographic trends, are about to deliver us a future where we enjoy unprecedented environmental health, abundance and prosperity. But to do this we need to preserve our economic and personal freedoms. Will the measures being proposed – especially in trendsetting California – fruitlessly combat a problem that doesn’t exist, crush economic growth and trample on individual freedom, and rob humanity of this hopeful destiny?

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Fluid Envelope – A Case Against Climate Alarmism
by Dr. Richard Lindzen, February 2008
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger Portrait with California Flag
What will be his legacy?

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations.

Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the Goebbelian substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well.

Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and previous warm periods appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. During the latter, alpine glaciers advanced to the chagrin of overrun villages.

Since the beginning of the 19th Century these glaciers have been retreating. Frankly, we don’t fully understand either the advance or the retreat. For small changes in climate associated with tenths of a degree, there is no need for any external cause. The earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The motions of the massive oceans where heat is moved between deep layers and the surface provides variability on time scales from years to centuries. Recent work (Tsonis et al, 2007), suggests that this variability is enough to account for all climate change since the 19th Century. Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface.

Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect, and, quite possibly, not all of even this really small warming is due to man. This further implies that all models predicting significant warming are greatly overestimating warming. This should not be surprising. According to the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86 % of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far, even if all the warming we have seen so far were due to man.

This contradiction is rendered more acute by the fact that there has been no significant global warming for the last ten years. Modelers defend this situation by arguing that aerosols have cancelled much of the warming, and that models adequately account for natural unforced internal variability. However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool, while scientists at the UKs Hadley Centre for Climate Research recently noted that their model did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability thus demolishing the basis for the IPCCs iconic attribution. Interestingly (though not unexpectedly), the British paper did not stress this. Rather, they speculated that natural internal variability might step aside in 2009, allowing warming to resume. Resume? Thus, the fact that warming has ceased for the past decade is acknowledged.

Santa Cruz Mountains and Redwood Forests
Whether or not someone is a climate alarmist should have no
bearing on the strength or purity of their environmentalist convictions.
(Read “Global Warming Questions”)
-

Given that the evidence (and I have noted only a few of many pieces of evidence) strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming has been greatly exaggerated, the basis for alarm due to such warming is similarly diminished.

However, the really important point is that the case for alarm would still be weak even if anthropogenic global warming were significant. Polar bears, arctic summer sea ice, regional droughts and floods, coral bleaching, hurricanes, alpine glaciers, malaria, etc. etc. all depend not on some global average of surface temperature, but on a huge number of regional variables including temperature, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, and direction and magnitude of wind.

The state of the ocean is also often crucial. Our ability to forecast any of these over periods beyond a few days is minimal. Yet, each catastrophic forecast depends on each of these being in a specific range. The odds of any specific catastrophe actually occurring is almost zero. This was equally true for earlier forecasts: famine for the 1980′s, global cooling in the 1970′s, Y2K and many others. Regionally, year to year fluctuations in temperature are over four times larger than fluctuations in the global mean. Much of this variation has to be independent of the global mean; otherwise the global mean would vary much more.

This is simply to note that factors other than global warming are more important to any specific situation. This is not to say that disasters will not occur; they always have occurred and this will not change in the future. Fighting global warming with symbolic gestures will certainly not change this. However, history tells us that greater wealth and development can profoundly increase our resilience.

Given the above, one may reasonably ask why there is the current alarm, and, in particular, why the astounding upsurge in alarmism of the past 2 years. When an issue like global warming is around for over twenty years, numerous agendas are developed to exploit the issue.

California Attorney General
Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown Portrait
What is his dream?

The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power and influence are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true.

After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for saving the world. Nations have seen how to exploit this issue in order to gain competitive advantages. But, by now, things have gone much further.

The case of ENRON is illustrative in this respect. Before disintegrating in a pyrotechnic display of unscrupulous manipulation, ENRON had been one of the most intense lobbyists for Kyoto. It had hoped to become a trading firm dealing in carbon emission rights. This was no small hope. These rights are likely to amount to over a trillion dollars, and the commissions will run into many billions. Hedge funds are actively examining the possibilities. It is probably no accident that Gore, himself, is associated with such activities . The sale of indulgences is already in full swing with organizations selling offsets to ones carbon footprint while sometimes acknowledging that the offsets are irrelevant.

The possibilities for corruption are immense. Archer Daniels Midland (Americas largest agribusiness) has successfully lobbied for ethanol requirements for gasoline, and the resulting demand for ethanol is already leading to large increases in corn prices and associated hardship in the developing world (not to mention poorer car performance).

And finally, there are the numerous well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue For them, their psychic welfare is at stake.

With all this at stake, one can readily suspect that there might be a sense of urgency provoked by the possibility that warming may have ceased. For those committed to the more venal agendas, the need to act soon, before the public appreciates the situation, is real indeed.

Richard Lindzen Portrait

About the Author: Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Coal, Energy, Geothermal, Global Warming & Climate Change, History, Hydroelectric, Landfills, Nuclear, Organizations, Other, Ozone, People, Regional, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Wind11 Comments

Plasco's MSW to Energy

Back in October 2007, in our post “Ze-Gen’s Waste to Energy” we reported on a Massachusetts-based company, Ze-Gen, who appeared to be “possibly the furthest along in the race to develop technology to turn waste into fuel – eliminating the need for landfills in the bargain.” That was then. There are other contenders in this race…

Plasco’s Ottawa Waste-to-Energy Plant.
(Photo: Plasco Energy Group

Just one day after we posted this report, Plasco Energy Group, based in Ottawa, Canada, announced in a press release “Plasco Energy delivers power to Ottawa grid,” that they have completed a waste-to-energy plant and are beginning the commissioning process.

Plasco’s technology, as described in the “how it works” page on their website, begins with municipal solid waste (presumably pre-shredded) being fed into a primary chamber, where most of the waste is converted into gas.

The gas is then further cleaned in a secondary chamber and is then used to power internal combustion engines which turn a generator. The residual solid waste is transferred to a different chamber where it is melted and converted into ingots. Here is what Plasco claims their plant can do with one ton of municipal solid waste:

One Ton of Municipal Solid Waste Equals:
1.4 megawatt-hours of electricity
300 liters of potable quality water
7-15 kilograms of metal
5-10 kilograms of commercial salt
150 kilograms of construction aggregate
5 kilograms of agricultural fertilizer

It will be interesting to see how soon Plasco completes the commissioning process for this first plant and brings the facility into its full rated capacity of 85 tons (metric) of municipal solid waste per day. Given that on December 3rd, 2007, Plasco Energy Group closed an equity financing of C$54 million led by First Reserve Corporation of Greenwich, Connecticut, there is reason to believe they are breaking in their new plant according to plan.

There are interesting contrasts between the Plasco claims and those from Ze-Gen. Most significantly, Plasco has apparently solved the challenge of processing municipal solid waste, a feedstock that is more problematic to convert (mostly due to higher and less predictable water content) than construction debris. The energy recovery per ton (normalized to short tons) differs greatly when comparing municipal solid waste (1.4 megawatt-hours per ton according to Plasco) and construction debris (4.2 megawatt-hours per ton according to Ze-Gen. Presumably the composition of typical construction debris – 90% scrap lumber – accounts for the energy density claimed for construction debris being literally triple that of municipal solid waste.

Finally, should an energy density of 1.4 megawatt-hours per ton in the case of municipal solid waste be applied when calculating the energy production potential of the 100 million tons of construction debris and 220 million tons of municipal solid waste produced in the USA each year, then the percentage of total energy production in the USA that could be offset by converting 100% of these waste streams into energy (as we calculated in our report on Ze-Gen) is not 4.0%, but 2.5%. Still a worthy proposition.

Posted in Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Landfills, Other, Science, Space, & Technology10 Comments

Life from Waste

We constantly hear about new ways to reuse and recycle waste, but not so often does our waste get the opportunity to play a direct role in creating new life. Such is the case, however, with the products about to be shipped from Fiberwood, a new company in Sacramento, California, that converts cardboard into mulch.

Material for hydroseeding often uses
mulch manufactured from trash.

When we visited Fiberwood last week to talk with their CEO, Stuart Douglass, it was clear they were about to go into full scale production.

Mountains of shredded cardboard stood to one side of the cavernous space, with a completed line of equipment already in place on the other side.

This first line, explained Douglass, will take cardboard feedstock and grind it down to nearly powder, and at a rate of up to 100 tons per day, output this mulch into 50 pound bags ready for shipment.

The logic of this is clear – California is the entry point for billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods each month, and virtually all of them arrive in cardboard containers. This surplus cardboard can go into landfills, or it can be recycled. The sheer volume of this incoming cardboard means only mulch for hydroseeding provides demand at a scale that can keep up with this supply.

The process of “hydroseeding” is where mulch and water are mixed at a ratio of 75 pounds of mulch for every 100 gallons of water, and this slurry is sprayed onto land with seeds added to the mix. The type of seeds added depends on the use, but only a small fraction of total hydroseed use is for conventional landscaping. The product is also used for dust and erosion control at construction sites, as well as to quickly restore ground cover in areas where there have been forest fires. At about one ton of hydroseed per acre, enormous volumes of this product are required.

Another huge demand for hydromulch, without the seeds but with a bonding agent added, is to spray a thin layer over landfills each day, covering the raw waste. This practice, recently passed into law, is required in order to reduce smells from landfills. It is known as “alternate daily cover,” and given only a 1/4″ thick layer is required, it is much more cost effective for landfill operators who would otherwise be required to add 6″ of soil each day to the surface of their landfills.

Douglass is no stranger to turning waste products into useful materials. In 1992 he built his first plant to turn newspaper fiber into loose fill insulation, an operation he later sold to Louisiana Pacific. In 2003 Douglass applied for a new patent that will enable the company to make an all natural blanket insulation using cardboard and other cellulosic waste. Douglass plans to eventually add a manufacturing line at his current facility to produce this product. Because this product is far more fire resistant and mold resistant compared with fiberglass, there is already a great deal of interest in the product.

So the next time you see native plants rapidly repairing a landscape scarred by fire, know that the material used to efficiently reseed the area may well have come from the cardboard boxes that once protected your imported consumer product. It gives a whole new meaning to composting.

Posted in Composting, Landfills, Landscaping, Other1 Comment

Ze-gen's Waste to Energy

Last week we had the chance to talk with Bill Davis, the President of Ze-gen. This three year old company is possibly the furthest along in the race to develop technology to turn waste into fuel – eliminating the need for landfills in the bargain.

Each year, the United States produces about 100 million tons of construction debris, and about 220 million tons of municipal solid waste. Currently nearly all of this waste goes into landfills.


Pouring the foundation at Ze-gen’s pilot
plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

What Ze-gen has done in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is set up a demonstration plant to accept up to ten tons per day of construction and demolition residual material. The material is used as the feed stock in a gasification process that utilizes molton bath technology.

The result of this process, which Davis emphasized is not the same as incineration, are “syngas” (primarily carbon monoxide and hydrogen) which can be used to generate electricity, and slag that can be used for construction aggregate.

The reason the New Bedford location was chosen is because it is next to an existing “transfer station” where construction and demolition waste is shredded prior to transfer to landfills. This shredding process yields a mixture of 90% wood, 5% residual metal, and 5% silica (with small amounts of other material) that looks like bark mulch. Having this materials prep already done allows the feedstock to be more easily tested in the 2,700 degree (fahrenheit) furnace.

Davis said that right now they are perfecting the design of the tubes being used to feed the material into the molton bath. This should take a few more months. After settling on a design to move materials from the shredder to the furnace, the next step will be to go into continuous operation and do gas analysis. As Davis put it, “we are looking at the quality and consistency and BTU level and contaminents that are in the stream. That will inform the engineering for the gas cleanup system.”

When asked about possible difficulties prepping construction debris and municipal solid waste, Davis noted “it appears wastestreams over time are surprisingly consistent,” and “we have some proprietary technology to drive the variability out of the feedstock.”

Developing technology to turn municipal solid waste and construction & demolition residue into electricity and construction aggregate is not easy. Davis estimates it will be sometime around 2010 or 2011 before they will have a full scale facility accepting waste and producing electricity. In order for the capital expense to be justified by the revenues over the lifetime of the plant, not only “tipping fees” (payments to accept and process waste streams – replacing the fees charged by landfill operators) are necessary, but also revenues from sales of electricity.

Evidently the prospect of municipalities all over the USA eventually adopting this technology, however, has attracted top tier investment in Ze-gen from Flagship Ventures and Vantage Point Partners – with the most recent round of financing concluded in the Summer of 2007.

And how much energy could converting 100 million tons of construction and demolition residue along with 220 million tons of municipal solid waste generate per year? Based on the generally accepted 2.11 kilowatt-hours of recoverable net energy per pound of waste, the USA could generate 154,000 megawatt-years of electricity per year, which equates to 4.61 quadrillion BTU’s. With the USA currently consuming around 100 quadrillion BTU’s of energy per year, reprocessing 100% of these waste streams would offset about 5% of the energy currently consumed in the United States, along with eliminating the need for landfills.

Posted in Electricity, Engineering, Hydrogen, Incineration, Landfills, Other, Science, Space, & Technology8 Comments

The French Nuclear Debate

LETTER FROM FRANCE: THOUGHTS ON NUCLEAR POWER
ECOLOGY, AND BIOFUELS
French Flag
Is Nuclear Power good for France?
List of French Nuclear Installations

Editor’s Note: Without at times annoying whoever may have made up their minds another way, it is much harder to otherwise search for answers to environmental challenges with the passion that we do. And in so doing we elicited a most passionate response from a visitor to EcoWorld who lives in France.

We think nuclear power is preferable to biofuel from rainforests, for example, and arguably better than hydropower at least according the wisdom of the preservationists. So we disagree here and there with anti-nuke folks. But preserving open speech is at least as sacred as preserving open space.

Nuclear power is something we believe needs to be vigorously debated. The green vs. brown characteristics of nuclear power can only be debated via reasoned analysis and ongoing dialogue. And to enable this process, journalistic skepticism is as crucial to society as scientific skepticism is crucial to science. In science a theory is continuously tested, and only hardens into an axiom of reality after years of exhaustive, interdisciplinary applied skepticism. In society, what we decide is beyond debate, how we organize our institutions, where we place our faith is constantly tested in the laboratory of reality. Ecology is everywhere. Debate is the crucible of truth.

Nuclear power is a topic we ran a few features on, and in one of them, “Nuclear Power – Cleanest & Coolest Choice?” the author was unabashadly pro-nuclear, and made mention of France’s reliance on nuclear power. This in turn prompted an email to the editor from a decidedly anti-nuclear person who lives in France. Her email was answered, both in a return email, and also in an EcoWorld blog post on 10-8-07 “The Nuclear Option.” The writer of this email, Therese Delfel, has consented to letting us publish her response using her name. So here is a letter from our esteemed correspondant in France. And perhaps we will comment, like anyone in the world might, using the original post again as the forum for this discussion of nuclear power. Let it be an open forum for open minds.

Is nuclear power green? We think in some situations nuclear power, as well as biofuel, can be appropriate choices. We also think global warming alarm is being used to sell everything to everyone, including biofuel and nuclear power. So we want to help restore debate that relies on reason instead of emotion, we want to help restore balance, we want to help encourage more scientific and journalistic skepticism, and let all credible positions have their say. Nuclear power, rainforest preservation, global warming, ‘smart growth,’ political ideology – and countless other vital issues all require constant skepticism, constant dialogue, constant freedom of speech, that the truth always ultimately prevails, and we continue to progress as a species.

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

Letter From France – Continuing thoughts on nuclear power, ecology, and biofuels.
by Therese Delfel, September 9, 2006

(original post and ongoing comments)

France Geography Map
The beautiful nation of France.
CIA World Factbook – France

—–Original Message—–

From: Therese Delfel

Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2007 1:56 PM

To: Ed Ring

Subject: Nuclear Programs

Dear Ed Ring

Thank you for your reply which shows you care about your readers’ views.

Ecology can be defined via very simple,
“hands-on” questions:

1. Is the process taken from A to Z to assess what impact it leaves on the Planet?

2. Is the process at all necessary / acceptable / economically viable?

3. Is the process placed in perspective, i.e. after-effects over years or centuries taken into account?

In all three questions, nuclear energy falls short of providing any satisfying answer. All figures and examples to follow are for France but the dynamics are very much the same in all developed and developing countries.

From A to Z, Nuclear Power’s impact, economic viability and after-effects:

- Uranium is NOT a renewable source of energy unless it is enriched, and then only partly renewable and then it is a … WAR product.

- Uranium does NOT guarantee economic independance: France imports all of its uranium.

- The transportation is NOT safe and nor are the plants no matter how modern and upgraded they are. And what technology could safeguard them against earth quakes or terrorist attacks?

- If the cost of implementing and dismantling the plants is taken into account (at present financed by tax-payers), nuclear energy is the MOST EXPENSIVE energy and absolutely not competitive against market prices.

- It generates a traffic and transportation unacceptable in terms of safety and ethics (hundreds of lorries crisscross France every day with their loads of nuclear fuel and waste). Like your children to be on their routes?

- 20% of total energy production is sold to neighbouring countries and 30% of total energy consumption could be… saved in an energy-saving program! Which means that already now, the 80% nuclear part could be reduced to less than 30% in grand total production.

- Testing in the Pacific was more than “a mistake”: it was criminal BUT every single country that operates nuclear plants HAS TESTED its bombs (be it in deserts or in oceans).

- There is NO “safe storing” in caves: it will leave 24 generations with our poisoned heritage, i.e. where we found breathtakingly beautiful tombs, precious stones and ores, they’ll find neatly layered waste in landfills and deadly nuclear waste that will kill for … 2,000 years! Would that be the definition of safety and the ethics of ecology?

- Ethically acceptable is when we know how to responsibly handle what we produce (and not hope others will learn at their own expense): would you give your baby a sharp knife in the knowledge that some day it will know how to use it? (this point is true for genetically engineered crops by the way).

- “We” is a commodity all too easily used these days: where “I” make mistakes (or worse), “others” should sort them out as “we” are all part of the big human family? What sort of “evolution” is that? This present generation is responsible for what it itself produces, consumes and destroys (even though everything is more subtle and intricate, the basics remain the same).

But my actual question is: why do you present nuclear generated cars as the alternative to biofuels ? There is NO link! (and the rush for biofuels is solely dictated by profit making, nothing to do with ecology at all… though the original idea may have been along the right line). We have reached a point where the question is not where to find more (of whatever, be it petrol, water, or anything else) but how to consume less!

Painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower
Where is France bound? Will the earliest, biggest adopter
of nuclear power determine it was folly? Are better
sources of energy ready to replace nuclear power?

The technology for solar powered vehicles is as (if not more) advanced as so called biofuels (that I just as strongly oppose both because of rainforest destruction and because of impoverishment of local ethnicities AND promotion of GE crops).

Car sharing, public transportation and energy saving programmes are THE future of our planet (if there is one! For instance, who could pretend he cares about the environment when he sits all by himself in a powerful car and blows into the atmosphere the worth of hundreds of gallons of petrol over and over again? Figures in France show that the traffic would be cut down to one third of its present state if cars were shared and efficient public transportation systems implemented, i.e. no new destructive road networks, one third exhaust fumes and noise left, two thirds of petrol consumption redundant, etc.

Another example: passive houses (gradually implemented especially in Germany and Northern countries) consume zero energy (neither nuclear nor coal !) and even produce some that can be stored (or sold but not for profit).

To sum up my position: I just as strongly oppose biofuels as nuclear energy (for whatever purpose) AND genetically engineered crops for that matter, I actively support rainforest and biodiversity protection as well as fair exchanges with local ethnicities (see WildAid’s “Surviving Together” program, the Wildlife Alliance actions, etc.), I am a tireless advocate of solar energy (in every single possible context and country), of efficient energy-saving and car-sharing programs, of the building of “passive houses” and honestly, I have little hope that the governments, industrial barons and financial tycoons will ever care about the Planet if they don’t make a profit out of it but I do find it really difficult to cope with people who advocate greenwashed ecology.
And I do think that Dr Ed Wheeler’s article presents a dangerous and false view on Ecoworld’s website and that it should at the very least be counterbalanced by facts that prove his view mere greenwashing (and I am sorry but I cannot accept that Ecoworld should, implicitely or explicitely, endorse it. Even though I accept your apologies in his stead, you do advocate nuclear energy yourself!

So all in all and though I respect everyone’s opinions, I strongly believe that the only actual human evolution ever will be for everyone to assume their opinions in their full implications and effects and I’m not sure whether such articles as Dr Wheeler’s contribute to the spreading of more responsible ecology or rather to an urge for greenwashed consumption (that gives an easy “good conscience”)… and THAT is a heavy responsiblity in itself.

Best regards

Therese Delfel

May I add and insist that France is but one country, absolutely similar in its destrutive ways to all the developed and developing countries, better in some ways, worse in others but definitely in the same boat, so best not to take other countries as examples for making things worse or the worst.

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Posted in Biodiversity, Cars, Coal, Consumption, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Ethics, Landfills, Nuclear, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Transportation0 Comments

When Green is Brown

Sacramento is the capital of California, a state that is world-renowned for its concern for the environment. As such, the Sacramento region is attracting businesses and investors from around the world, eager to capitalize on Sacramento’s enthusiastic embrace of green industry. But sometimes green is brown.

At the Port of Sacramento, a start-up company based in Long Beach has already gotten its first go-ahead from the governing board of the Port of Sacramento to build a biodiesel plant, that, according to the Sacramento Bee, “will make 60 million gallons a year of the alternative fuel.” Can you smell the rainforests burning?

Situated on 14 acres of land in the middle of this deep water port, this refinery will receive cargos of biofuel feedstock from all over the world. But let’s put this into perspective – Californian’s consume 700 million barrels of petroleum each year, which equates to 29.4 billion gallons of fuel. So this new biodiesel refinery, ten times larger than anything built in California to-date, at best will offset two-tenths of one percent of California’s demand for petroleum. But where will all of this biodiesel feedstock come from?

The best source yet known for biodiesel oil is from oil palms, which yield about 10,000 barrels of oil per square mile per year. This equates to 420,000 gallons of oil, which means that providing feedstock to this plant will require the destruction of 150 square miles of rainforest – and that’s best case.

In terms of land required to grow biofuel, the calculations for biodiesel and bioethanol are roughly equivalent. That is, the best-case feedstock for bioethanol is sugar cane, and yields are approximately 10,000 barrels per square mile per year, the same as for oil palms and biodiesel. These sorts of yields are only available in the tropics – in North America, using corn, the yields per square mile are only about half as good. So if you rely on biofuels to offset 100% of California’s petroleum consumption, instead of two-tenths of one percent, you will have to destroy 75,000 square miles of rainforest. That’s just for California.

To supply the entire world with biofuel instead of petroleum, best case, you would have to destroy 2.9 million square miles of tropical rainforest – which is, coincidentally, about all we’ve got left of these rainforest’s original 8.0 million square miles.

Biodiesel and bioethanol make sense if they are derived from municipal waste streams (feedlots, landfills, etc.), or if the crops are grown in arid regions (very low yields) to combat desertification, or if they are produced in factory reactors. Read “Biofuel Certification” for more about this, and read “Reforest the Tropics” for more information on the role tropical deforestation has on climate change.

Before Sacramento deserves its reputation as the green capital of the world, they will have to quit endorsing every proposal that feels green but is actually brown.

Posted in Consumption, Energy & Fuels, Landfills4 Comments

Landfills vs. Recycling

It is an article of faith among environmentalists that recycling is superior to landfills as a way to process municipal waste. But reality does not always conform to articles of faith, especially when it comes to environmentalism. We’ve reported on this before, read “Recycling Myths.”

First of all, contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of available landfill inventory. The US is pouring about 270 million tons per year into landfills, compared to approximately 70 million tons of waste that is being recycled each year. And right now, if every landfill operator in the USA did nothing to increase their landfill capacity, there is enough landfill space to absorb all of America’s garbage for the next 40 years. Many landfill operators have over 200 years of available landfill inventory.

Secondly, landfills are ultra safe. In the 1989 “Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,” standards were set by the Federal Government that virtually preclude contaminants from landfills infiltrating aquifers or otherwise causing pollution. Landfills today have liners of two to four feet of recompacted clay – nearly the density of concrete, on the bottom. Above that they have a 60-100 millimeter geosynthetic liner, a hard and impermeable rubber. Above that there is a one to two foot “drainage layer” which is comprised of pebbles and buried pipes, so any liquid that seeps downwards is immediately collected by the pipes and removed for safe processing. Landfills are no longer sited anywhere near known seismic areas, and in any case are being constantly drained so seepage is impossible.

Here is the clincher – we are on the verge of developing technologies that will process all municipal waste before it needs to go to a landfill, or a recycling company. This is extremely disruptive technology, since it is going to pull the rug out from what has become a multi-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded recycling industry. An example of a company that has already established a pilot plant to extract virtually all valuable materials from unsorted municipal waste is “World Waste Technologies,” based in San Diego, California. There are many other companies hot on the trail.

There are technologies coming soon that will use automated mechanical sorting along with thermal conversion and chemical conversion processes, and they not only will cost-effectively reduce unsorted municipal waste feedstock to valuable fuels, fertilizers, building materials and metal ingots, but these processors will run on the energy extracted from the garbage itself. And unlike today’s conventional (and very expensive) recycling operations, these new technologies emit virtually zero pollution.

So forget about recycling, pour garbage into the far more cost-effective landfills, and give the savings back to the taxpayers. As these new garbage processing technologies come on stream, if we like, we can then mine the garbage feedstocks previously accumulated in the landfills themselves, recycling everything stored in them en-masse.

Posted in Conservation, Energy, Landfills, Other, Recycling, Science, Space, & Technology1 Comment

Redefining Environmentalism

We’ve been challenged recently to defend our somewhat unconventional view of environmentalism. After all, if you believe that most of the conventional wisdom held by typical environmentalists is wrong, are you still an environmentalist?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, absolutely and resolutely, yes. We don’t believe in half the things that we’re supposed to believe in as “environmentalists,” yet we are environmentalists. People in the name of environmentalism waste billions of taxpayer’s money pursuing half-baked schemes, and tie our economy up in knots, and it is our job as non-conformist yet utterly committed environmentalists to carry the torch of true environmentalism. It is our job to expose environmentalist myths at the same time as we relentlessly pursue the truth, and redefine environmentalism to legitimately appeal to a wider, mainstream constituency.

We’re not sure yet whether or not anthropogenic CO2 is the reason for global warming, nor that the most dire predictions of global warming are very likely. We’re think measured use of DDT might be a wise choice in many parts of this world where malaria still runs rampant. We question why people claim there is a shortage of landfills, when we could have ten times as many landfills as we’ve got now and hardly anyone would notice. And we’re not sure recycling is as unambiguously good as environmentalists claim.

We don’t think the world is about to run out of oil, and we don’t think nuclear power is beyond debate, and we think the whole fixation on hydrogen is nonsense. We’re not even sure that genetically modified organisms is always a bad idea. We think humans should build more freeways, dig more quarries, and permit more housing developments. So how on earth can we call ourselves environmentalists?

The reason is simple: Because we want to see pollution cleaned up, we want to see energy abundance, and we want economic growth for all of humanity. Wasting time on hydrogen fuel cells was a distraction that cost billions of dollars and wasted decades – we could have had fuel efficient cars and developed electric cars instead of pursuing this pipe dream. And is nuclear power so bad? Why, if it’s managed responsibly? Are you saying coal power is better? These matters should not be beyond debate.

What’s wrong with freeways if the car is getting fuel efficient and ultra-clean? What’s wrong with more housing developments if the population of the world is going to stablize at 8.0 billion people – which it will? What’s wrong with landfills if recycling uses more energy than just smelting more glass, for example? Why are we regulating CO2 emissions, when we haven’t even eliminated harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide?

Having a commitment to clean technology does not mean we have to wear blinders and agree with everything environmentalist “experts” have to tell us. To be an environmentalist means having a commitment to cleaning up the air, the water, the earth, and to making sure there is room for wildlife and wilderness. It doesn’t have to mean you are against development of any kind, nor does it mean you have to fear every demon you are told to fear. Environmentalism should be a rational set of goals that isn’t influenced by emotional arguments or peer pressure.

Environmentalism should mean clean technology, near-zero pollution, and within that context, realistic balancing of ecological and economic objectives. We look for exciting examples of truly environmentally friendly technologies; battery powered cars, photovoltaic cells, green buildings; the list is endless and fascinating. We are as on guard for excesses of misguided socialist “remedies” as we are on the lookout for the excesses of unfettered capitalism. We have no allegience to either. Environmentalism, truly expressed, should have no ideology outside itself, not left nor right, not religious nor secular.

Posted in Buildings, Cars, Coal, Energy, Fuel Cells, Hydrogen, Landfills, Ozone, Policy, Law, & Government, Recycling, Science, Space, & Technology1 Comment

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