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[1THING] Blog: Archive for June, 2013

[ Biofuels at a Crossroads Forum Probes Key Climate Change Question ]

When President Obama unveiled his long-awaited climate change strategy this week, he never mentioned biofuels. (See “Obama Unveils Climate Strategy.”) But with nearly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions due to burning petroleum for transportation, a key and controversial question is what role plant-based alternatives can play in cutting the nation’s carbon emissions.

As part of National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge initiative, we brought together two dozen experts from industry, academia, and environmental organizations to discuss whether biofuel can be a sustainable part of a cleaner energy future. (See in-depth coverage at Biofuels at a Crossroads, and vote and comment here: The Big Energy Question: Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?“) The forum Wednesday at National Geographic’s Washington, D.C. headquarters was timely, not just because the group convened the day after the President’s long-awaited climate speech.

It also came at a time that U.S. biofuels policy is under fire, as petroleum refiners are leading an effort to roll back the mandate (the Renewable Fuel Standard) that gradually increasing volumes of biofuels be blended into the U.S. transportation fuel mix.

Thanks to that policy begun in 2005, ethanol made from corn now makes up about 10 percent of U.S. gasoline consumption by volume; it’s one of the reasons that U.S. gasoline demand has fallen 6 percent from its peak in 2007. But it’s not clear that today’s biofuels can (or should) grow further.

For one thing, the vast majority of vehicles on U.S. highways today were not designed by automakers to run on a high volume of ethanol, even though the technology for flexible fuel vehicles is well-known and inexpensive. Most of the autos sold in Brazil are flex fuel, which has helped that nation do more than any other to give motorists a choice of fuel beyond gasoline. (See related, “Brazil Ethanol Looks to Sweeten More Gas Tanks.”)

But then there are the far thornier issues of food, water, and land. More than 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is going to make ethanol and ethanol by-products (About one-third of each bushel dry-processed for ethanol is turned into livestock feed product.) Since most of the U.S. corn crop is rain-fed, drought is a risk, and the irrigation required is heavy in some areas. (See related, “Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035,” and “Drought Withers U.S. Corn Crop, Heats Debate on Ethanol.”) Even more difficult is the indirect land impact issue: whether the increasing use of grain for fuel has prompted other nations to destroy valuable rainforest ecosystems for agriculture to make up for lost U.S. exports.

Any effort to undo the U.S. mandate on biofuels, however, would affect more than corn ethanol. It would also unravel the incentives that were meant to spur the development of more environmentally friendly alternative biofuels made from feedstocks like waste, grasses, and wood chips. (See related: “Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants.”) Although cellulosic biofuel has not come on line as quickly as hoped, the first plants are opening, with thermo-chemical and biotechnology processes showing promise. Yet the industry’s future is precarious due to lack of capital and lenders willing to take a risk on the technology.

That’s why we brought together some of the leading thinkers on this complex issue for our forum, Big Energy Question: Biofuels at a Crossroads. You can read some of their comments and see photo coverage of the forum above.

What do you think about biofuels? Vote and comment here: The Big Energy Question: Are Biofuels Worth the Investment?

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[ Charity Spotlight: Chesapeake Bay Foundation ]

chesapeakeThe Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers are broadly recognized as  national treasures., and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is dedicated to keeping it that way.

The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, a body of water formed where freshwater from rivers and streams flows into the ocean, mixing with sea water. But when we speak of “saving the Bay” they are not speaking only of saving the 200-mile-long estuary that runs from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Norfolk, Virginia.

They are also speaking of the 50 major rivers and streams that pour into the bay each day, and the creeks that feed those rivers and streams, as well as the roughly 64,000 square mile watershed covered with forests, farms, and wildlife habitat; cities and suburbs; waste water treatment plants and heavy industry. It’s a watershed that starts as far north as New York and runs through six states and the District of Columbia on its way to the ocean.

As the saying goes, “everything flows downstream.” If we are to “save the Bay” we must also save the hundreds of waterways that flow into it. Hundreds of waterways from New York to Virginia have been listed on the Clean Water Act’s “dirty waters” list. Not only do they have a negative effect on local communities, they also contribute to the Bay’s ills. We can “save the Bay” only if we clean up our local creeks, streams, and rivers.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its members, more than 200,000 strong, are the strongest and most effective voice that exists for protecting and restoring the Bay and its rivers and streams. We work at local, state, and federal levels for effective laws and regulations that will reduce pollution, restore vital natural systems like oyster reefs, forests, and wetlands, and encourage smart growth in our communities.

CBF acts as a watchdog to elevate good practices for healing our waterways, while being vigilant in opposing projects or proposals that would degrade water quality. Our scientists submit comments to governing bodies regarding fisheries management, wetlands mitigation, stormwater issues, construction and development projects and more. CBF is a well-respected resource on environmental issues that impact the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers, and streams.

To donate to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or become a member visit http://www.cbf.org/donate-landing

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[ Global Renewable Energy On Track to Soon Eclipse Natural Gas, Nuclear ]

Renewable power sources are increasingly cost-competitive, and demand for them is growing globally.

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[ Global Renewable Energy On Track to Soon Eclipse Natural Gas, Nuclear ]

Renewable power sources are increasingly cost-competitive, and demand for them is growing globally.

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[ Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy: End of Line for U.S. Coal Power ]

President Obama announced his long-awaited climate change policy: more clean energy, wasting less energy, and the first ever limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.

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[ Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy: End of Line for U.S. Coal Power ]

President Obama announced his long-awaited climate change policy: more clean energy, wasting less energy, and the first ever limits on carbon pollution from coal plants.

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[ Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants ]

The first commercial cellulosic biofuel plant aims to turn Mississippi wood chips into diesel fuel and gasoline that are chemically identical to petroleum products. Can homegrown “drop-in” biofuels transform transportation?

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[ Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants ]

The first commercial cellulosic biofuel plant aims to turn Mississippi wood chips into diesel fuel and gasoline that are chemically identical to petroleum products. Can homegrown “drop-in” biofuels transform transportation?

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[ Green Quiz: Presidents on Pollution ]

Green Quiz: Presidents on Pollution

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President Obama gave a landmark speech on climate change on June 25, 2013. Several decades ago, another president gave a speech ushering in the new Clean Air Act. Who was it?

 
A. Lyndon B. Johnson
B. Richard Nixon
C. Gerald Ford
D. Jimmy Carter 

Be one of the first three responders to email the correct answer to info@earthshare.org and you’ll win a green prize from EarthShare.

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[ How does Obama’s climate plan stack up for Wisconsin? ]

climatechangeEnvironmental groups across the nation and in Wisconsin are applauding President Obama for making climate change a priority.
President Obama says he has no time for the Flat Earth Society and those who don’t believe climate change is happening, as he announced new initiatives for alternative and reduced emissions at power plants.
Clean Wisconsin (formerly known as Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade) said there will be new manufacturing opportunities for things like solar panels, wind turbines, anaerobic digesters and other equipment. Officials also noted the health impact. Reduced carbon emissions will help prevent asthma attacks and other health problems.
The director of the John Muir chapter of the Sierra Club in southern Wisconsin, Shahla Werner,  says the president is finally putting action behind his words. She says the President’s commitment to establish new energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances, scale up sustainable clean energy production on public lands with an ambitious new goal to power 6 million homes by 2020, and use the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon dioxide pollution from power plants will create a brighter future for Wisconsin.
According to Werner, “Last year’s drought and heat wave, followed by relentless rain and flooding this year give us a glimpse of what climate change could cost Wisconsin in the future, from our farms to our forests to our cold water fisheries. The President’s plan could prompt more coal plant retirements, and also expand much-needed cleantech job opportunities in Wisconsin.”
Find out more about President Obama’s climate change action plan here.
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