Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Consumers Seek Politically Correct Products

Beth LeGrande doesn't seek out politically correct retailers, but she was pleased to learn that Home Depot, her paint supplier, is eliminating products that contain wood from endangered forests.

"That would make me want to go there," the Raleigh legislative assistant said. "Every little thing helps."

After spending decades competing on price, a growing number of retailers are now focusing new marketing efforts on people such as LeGrande who care just enough about social values to be selective in how they shop.

Terms such as "recycling," "organic," "animal welfare" and even "labor rights" have been introduced, albeit selectively, in the marketing material of companies such as Staples, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Target, suggesting that it takes more than just low price to survive in today's competitive market.

This marketing push coincides with an effort by some discount retailers to diversify and reach out to a new and often more affluent segment of shoppers who can bolster their sales and revenue.

Consider, for example, that Wal-Mart -- the retail giant that conquered the world with the slogan "Always Low Prices" -- now stocks Horizon organic milk at nearly $3 a half-gallon, alongside containers that cost 30 percent less.

Or that OfficeMax would find a good market for 100 percent recycled computer paper when consumers can pay 20 cents less for a package of regular paper.

"Price is becoming secondary for most retailers," said Nicholas Didow, an associate professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Their tradition in the marketplace is to serve a consumer segment that is very price sensitive, but that doesn't mean they cannot also carry other lines of merchandise that is appealing for other reasons. And when the elephant walks, the jungle trembles.

"When Wal-Mart heads in this direction, you can fully expect other low-price retailers to move quickly as well."

Companies also have to worry more today about their role in the global economy, and how their reputation can be affected by events thousands of miles away.

Eddie Bauer, the global apparel chain, recently went through a rigorous, three-year monitoring process to gain certification from the Fair Labor Association. The nonprofit organization seeks to improve working conditions in Third-world factories that produce goods for American retailers, and having a Fair Labor letter of approval can improve a company's public appearance.

Many companies, including Eddie Bauer and Gap, have been stung by conditions at their vendors' manufacturing plants in recent years.

News of infractions can travel fast, especially in a country sensitized to layoffs and plant closings that occur when businesses move operations overseas, and that can hurt sales. Corporations are learning how to respond.

Last year, Gap issued a report detailing conditions at factories that produce its clothes and accessories, disclosing a number of infractions and problems -- and getting praise from labor activists about its candor.

"Consumers are asking more questions about how and where apparel is made and about the impact of the food that they eat, and like any smart business, companies are gearing up to address those concerns," said Matt Hirschland, a spokesman for San Francisco-based Business for Social Responsibility, an industry trade group that consults with businesses on social and ethical issues.

Since its inception in 1992, Business for Social Responsibility has gradually added global Fortune 500 companies to its membership roll. Large retailers such as Toys "R" Us, OfficeMax, Gap and Sears are now among them.

Critics question how deep the commitment of this new generation of politically correct companies truly is. Businesses are, after all, in the business to make money, not policy.

Costco, a discount retailer known for its high wages and strong employee benefits, knows firsthand what a difficult balancing act that can be.

The company has come under fire from some Wall Street analysts who complain it's prioritizing employees over shareholders.

Costco has countered that by treating its employees well, it's reduced turnover and kept well-trained and skilled employees, realizing savings in other ways.

And so far, shareholders appear forgiving. Costco's stock has held steady over the past year at about $49 a share while its main competitor, Wal-Mart, has seen the value of its shares drop 13 percent to $49.50.

Wal-Mart isn't about to let its competitors gnaw away the edges of its business empire. Instead, the company is fighting back, recently introducing a new fashion collection for women, Metro 7, to appeal to stylish, yet price-conscious, customers. It also announced a new environmental initiative that includes a switch from petroleum-based to corn-based plastic packaging for some of its groceries.

This announcement came about the same time McDonald's began selling Fair Trade Certified organic coffee in 658 New England stores.

Bill Whitman, a McDonald's spokesman, said consumers in Massachusetts and New York were already very familiar with its new coffee partners, Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Newman's Own Organic Blend. It's still too soon to say whether the coffee will be offered nationwide, he said.

"It's not unusual for McDonald's to look for regional products that have great appeal and to incorporate the great taste of those products into our local menu," he said, downplaying the suggestion that organic coffee would represent a bigger shift in how the fast-food chain does business.

But Paco Underhill, a retail and consumer behavior expert in New York, said retailers are learning that the same person who shops at Neiman Marcus may also consider grabbing a hamburger at a fast-food restaurant, or go to Wal-Mart for groceries.

His company, Envirosell, has conducted studies showing that people of all educational backgrounds and income levels now read labels to find out exactly what they're spending their money on.

"People want to know why Eckerd's own face cream is $2 less than Johnson & Johnson's, or how much salt is in this soup versus that soup," he said. "We have become much more informed as consumers."

The organic coffee or milk could tip the scale for many of those label-conscious shoppers who now care about content as much as price, he said.


WTO summit, Hong Kong: the free trade myth

For years rich countries have bullied poor ones to open their doors to floods of cheap imports. Now they are using the World Trade Organisation to kick down the door altogether.

In the past most of today's most developed economies have used policies to protect their industries from foreign competition until they were big enough to survive without support. But now they are using the WTO to deny poor countries the same route to economic development.

They hide behind the free trade argument that says if all trade restrictions like import tariffs and quotas were dropped each country would do what it does best and all would prosper.

But this level playing field is a myth. Pitting fledgling industries in poor countries against big business overseas is like putting a rabbit in a cage with a tiger. There can only be one winner.

The fair trade argument puts people at the centre of world trade. It says that trade rules should allow people to work themselves out of poverty by selling their products to rich countries and other developing countries at a decent price. They should also be able to protect their economies until such time as they are established enough to compete with the more developed countries.

In theory, WTO rules should remove trade barriers in rich countries while allowing poor countries to protect their markets until they are strong enough to compete. However, in practice rich countries use their power and influence to rig the rules in their favour – kicking down the doors to developing country markets and driving the poor deeper and deeper into poverty.

What we want

The outcome of the Hong Kong talks will set the rules of world trade for years to come. As they stand the rules benefit the richest countries and drive the world's poorest people deeper and deeper into poverty.

World leaders must not miss this opportunity to make trade fair. At Hong Kong rich countries must:

Kicking down the door to the markets of developing countries before they are ready will destroy their economies. Poor country governments should be allowed to decide on trade policies that will help them end poverty.

Subsidising the overproduction and dumping of farm produce on poor countries is destroying the livelihoods of millions of poor farmers.

This round of talks was intended allow poor countries to capture their share of world trade - but for every concession the rich countries are demanding something in return. This is not only dangerous and unreasonable but it goes against the original spirit of the talks.

more on Oxfam

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

experiment a fuel cell car for christmas ?

This new Thames & Kosmos Fuel Cell Kit provides a playful introduction to one of the most significant technologies of the 21st Century. With this kit you can build a model car that actually runs on water!

Pour in the water and watch it separate into hydrogen and oxygen, forming a gas to power your vehicle across the floor. Now that we have your attention, roll up your sleeves and find out more through experiments and demonstrations you can do on your own, in a classroom or with friends.

Fuel cells are one of the most promising means of producing energy in the future. Because they do not consume fossil fuels they are considered environmentally friendly. Automobile manufacturers are already experimenting successfully with this technology and it is widely believed that fuel cells will become the energy source for automobiles in the near future.

With this unique kit, you can build your own experimental reversible fuel cell car to learn more about this energy source. With more than 30 experiments and demonstrations, provided either in the kit or on our web site, users will learn how a reversible fuel cell works to perform electrolysis as well as to create energy. The electricity required to activate electrolysis is created with a large solar cell included with the kit. During electrolysis, water is separated into hydrogen and oxygen and the resulting energy is stored as a gas. When needed, the gas is fed into the fuel cell, which then serves as the power source.p> The Thames & Kosmos Fuel Cell kit also includes a digital MultiMate which measures currents and voltage, allowing you to learn exactly what a fuel cell is and how it functions. The experiments and demonstrations explain the physics upon which this future technology is based.


30 Experiments include: How to build a solar-powered car; Effects of direct and indirect radiation; Characteristics of a solar module; Electrolysis and its effect on water; Oxy-hydrogen test; How to construct and load a reversible fuel cell; Decomposition of water in the fuel cell; Qualitative and quantitative analysis of gas in a fuel cell; How efficient is electrolysis?; How light influences electrolysis; Solar electrolysis; Fuel cell-powered car. Add your own experiments!

Kit contains: Complete reversible fuel cell (hydrocycle system) • Wire • Motor • Chassis • Axle • Gas collector • 4 Wheels • Solar panel with support • Syringe • Tube • Digital multimeter • Test tube • Protective goggles • Labels • Bag of small parts for fuel cell • Bag of small electronic parts • Comprehensive lab manual with 30 experiments and demonstrations • (Additionally required: 1 quart of distilled water)

more information

Air today has the highest fix of CO2 in over a half a million years

Carbon dioxide (CO2) that is known as the principal gas driving global warming is also well understood to have reached alarming levels. But a new 10-country European study into Antarctica's ice cores startlingly suggests that levels are nearly a third higher than any point in 650,000 years.

In the run up to a major UN summit on global warming in Canada, the study provides compelling evidence of man's role in changing the Earth's climate system.

The new revelation owes its origins to the deepest ice core in the world located at a site dubbed Dome Concordia in the Eastern Antarctica. European scientists have drilled into the core using a 10 cm wide drill bit to extract ice deposited over 650,000 years ago as identified from the layers of annual snowfall.

The analysis of the ice for trapped bubbles of carbon dioxide shows that at no point in the intervening years were the levels close to current day concentrations of 380 part per million. This leads scientists to believe that the rising CO2 concentrations today are at least 27 percent more than the highest levels ever seen in 650,000 years.

The study appearing in the journal Science also suggests that in the world's pre-industrial times up until the mid 19th century, the CO2 concentrations had been at least a 100 parts per million lower than today. The study's lead author Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland said the results were “another piece” to show how man influenced atmospheric compositions in shorter time scales “compared to natural cycles of the climate system”. Events like volcanic eruptions are known to release into the atmosphere large volumes of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that contribute to Earth's rising surface temperature. But the new evidence clearly links the rising carbon dioxide concentrations to man's industrial and economic activity in the last two centuries.

If in just five years, average global temperatures haves risen by 100 times and nearly 0.2 C over what is expected for such a period, one can imagine what the world can expect in years to come. 2005 is already on course to be dubbed the hottest year in Earth's known history. With this kind of temperature change comes a quicker meltdown of polar icecaps and a consequent twice as fast ocean-rise, which as per evidence from tidal gauges from 1850 and recent satellite imagery is currently 2 mm a year.

With this study the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) has set a record that previously stood at the depths of 210,000-year old ice in another part of Antarctica. However, it appears that as quickly as man discovers his past, he is even after destroying his future. Professor Kenneth Miller of Rutgers University said, “Now with solid historical data, we know it (climate change and ocean rise) is definitely a recent phenomenon”.

He alongside other researchers are hoping that the combined wealth of evidence provided by these studies help in sharpening the world's resolve to cut carbon pollution that the Kyoto Protocol sought to facilitate. Meanwhile, there is hope that this meeting at Montreal augurs a change in stance on the part of America that so far has steered clear of signing its pledge to reduce carbon dioxide pollution.


Monday, November 28, 2005

Fair trade site of day: Avalon organic coffee

Avalon Organic Coffees is certified as an organic coffee roaster by the Organic Crop Improvement Association (O.C.I.A.). The O.C.I.A. is an international farmer-owned and operated organic certifying organization that shares a deep commitment to food production and processing methods that support and benefit our environment. Avalon Organic Coffees purchases only the highest grades of organic coffee and roasts it to order in small batches, for maximum control of the roasting of each bean.

Shade Grown
Our organic coffees are shade grown, protecting the more than 150 species of migratory birds that flock to coffee growing regions each year. The shade trees also yield other agricultural products that generate important additional income for coffee farmers.

Chemical Free
Our organic coffees are grown without the use of pesticides. The quality of the soil is maintained, the farmers are not exposed to toxic chemicals, and you get the best coffee nature has to offer.

Socially Responsible
Avalon Organic Coffees is committed to improving the quality of life for the people of the coffee producing regions of the world. The funding of agricultural research programs to develop sustainable growing practices and community development projects are major components of this endeavor.

Avalon Organic Coffees proudly supports Coffee Kids by making volume-based donations to the organization. Coffee Kids is an international non-profit organization established to improve the quality of life for children and families who live in coffee-growing communities around the world.

Fair Trade Certified
Some of the varieties of Avalon Organic Coffees are also fair trade certified. Coffees that are fair trade certified are made from green coffee beans that are more expensive than regularly harvested beans, with more of the purchase price going to the farmers and workers who harvest those beans.
Superior Cup Quality
Avalon Organic Coffees are processed under strict quality control to ensure that only the highest grade beans are selected. Our high-precision roasting method produces a finished rich full-flavored coffees.
Kosher Certified
Avalon Organic Coffees are now Kosher certified

need coffee ?

Wine and Organic Beer

Not long ago, connoisseurs scoffed at organic wines, after early experiments produced some less than appealing results. But concerns about the environmental and health effects of synthetic fertilizers and vineyard pesticides have led many growers to go organic or biodynamic, and, not least because of methods that enrich the soil, many of these vintages have first-rate quality and taste. Note: While wines labeled "organic" contain fewer sulfites (potential allergy and heartburn triggers) than conventional wine, which can hold up to 350 parts per million (ppm), they can have naturally occurring sulfites of up to 100 ppm. But most contain only 40 ppm.

Product Picks

(All the below are certified organic and/or biodynamic):Orleans Hill Winery's 2004 "Our Daily Red" ($9; is a good affordable table wine. Another buy from Washington State's esteemed Columbia Valley: Badger Mountain's 2004 Johannesburg Riesling ($8;, 800-643-WINE). Portugal's Port Vintage Character Casal Dos Jordoesport wine ($26;, 888-ECO-WINE) hails from the world's only organic-port producer. TheChateau de Bastet 2003 Cotes du Rhone Cuvée Spéciale is also vegan ($17.99;, 800-216-3898). Can Vendrell's Cava Brut Riserva's sparkler ($17.99;, 800-216-3898) blends native Spanish white grapes. LaRocca Vineyards 2002 Estate Bottled Chardonnay ($11) or 1999 Estate Bottled Late Harvest Lush Zinfandel ($25) (

Extra, Extra: Favorite organic or biodynamic selections presented by wine consultant Aaron von Rock at a recent Green Guide tasting include: Talley Vineyard's 2003 Estate Chardonnay ($26,, 805-489-0446). Georg Breuer 2002 Terra Montosa Riesling ($25;, 800-257-7225).Alois Lageder 2003 Pinot Bianco Alto Adige ($11.49; Coturri 2002 Estate Vineyard Zinfandel Sonoma Mountain ($30,, 866-268-8774). Domaine des Saumades2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape ($29.95;, 212-838-7500).

Climate change effects can be compared to ’weapons of mass destruction’ warns Lord May

The potential effects of climate change invite comparison with 'weapons of mass destruction', according to excerpts from a speech by Lord May that are released today (Monday 28 November) to coincide with the start of a major United Nations meeting in Montreal, Canada.

The comments are taken from the Royal Society's Annual Anniversary Address, to be delivered by Lord May on 30 November. It will be Lord May's last address to the Royal Society - the UK national academy of science - as President. He will draw attention to a meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, due to start in Montreal on 28 November.

Lord May will say: "We need countries [at the Montreal meeting] to initiate a study into the consequences of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at, below, or above twice pre-industrial levels, so that the international community can assess the potential costs of their actions or lack of them. Such an analysis could focus the minds of political leaders, currently worried more about the costs to them of acting now than they are by the consequences for the planet of acting too little, too late."

This reiterates a joint call for such a study made by the national science academies of the G8 nations, along with Brazil, China and India, in June 2005.

Lord May will also draw attention to, "the increasing incidence of 'extreme events' - floods, droughts, and hurricanes - the serious consequences of which are rising to levels which invite comparison with 'weapons of mass destruction'. In particular, recent studies, made before Katrina, suggest that increasing ocean surface temperature (the source of a hurricane's energy) will have little effect on the frequency of hurricanes, but strong effects on their severity. The estimated damage inflicted by Katrina is equivalent to 1.7% of US GDP this year, and it is conceivable that the Gulf Coast of the US could be effectively uninhabitable by the end of the century."

He will warn that, "...countries must recognise the need to sever the link between economic growth and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. No country, including the UK and US, has yet managed to achieve this, mainly because growth currently means increased use of energy generated from fossil fuels. Appropriately constructed economic instruments, such as a carbon tax, could help motivate a reappraisal of this perverse message."

Lord May will also say: "The UK already seems likely to miss its target for the Kyoto Protocol, because emissions have risen for the past two years, owing to the UK not getting to grips with the difficult questions of meeting demand for electricity and transport without burning more and more fossil fuels. By the same token, emissions of greenhouse gases by the US are currently 20% higher than in 1990, compared with the target assigned to it in Kyoto of a cut of 7%. President George W. Bush's failure to follow through on the commitments his father made on behalf of the US is underlined by his failure even to mention climate change, global warming or greenhouse gases in his 2,700-word speech when welcoming the new US Energy Act in August 2005, just weeks after signing the Gleneagles G8 communique.

"In short, we have here a classic example of the problem or paradox of co-operation (also known as the Prisoner's Dilemma or occasionally the Tragedy of the Commons) referred to at the outset: the science tells us clearly that we need to act now to reduce inputs of greenhouse gases; but unless all countries act (in equitable proportions), the virtuous will be economically disadvantaged whilst all suffer the consequences of the sinners' inaction."

Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign 2005-2008

The European Commission has launched the Sustainable Energy Europe 2005-2008 Campaign to help achieve European objectives in relation to renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, clean transport and alternative fuels. It includes all organisations undertaking projects or programmes in these fields. Specifically, the Campaign aims to raise awareness of decision-makers and the general public, spread best practice, and support trends towards more private investment in sustainable energy technologies.

Any public or private organisation which implements, or plans to undertake, sustainable energy activities can contribute to the Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign and is invited to join the Partnership. Becoming a Partner is essentially a voluntary commitment, yet it requires strong commitment and a substantial contribution to the Campaign objectives.
In return, Campaign Partners are given exclusive rights to use the Campaign logo. They will also be included into the Annual Catalogue, receive a promotional toolbox and official Campaign Acknowledgement, obtain access to the forthcoming 'members area' of the website, get the Campaign Newsletter, and be invited to the Annual Conference and Competition.

Further information:

Saturday, November 26, 2005

World’s first tallow-biodiesel plant in Brazil

The largest world factory converting bovine tallow into biodiesel will begin production next June in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, said Wednesday Dedini industries, one of the main equipment suppliers.

The 18 million US dollars plant which is being built by the Bertin Group, one of Brazil’s leading cattle farmers in the beef industry is expected to produce 100.000 tons of biodiesel annually made out of approximately the same volume of tallow.

“The input cost is 30% lower than soybeans”, said Jose Luis Oliveiro, Operations vicepresident from Dedini.

The plant will be the largest of its kind in Brazil and the first to use tallow as basic input. Brazil has a cattle herd of 190.000.000.

The factory is expected to produce almost 14% of the biodiesel required to comply with the Brazilian government’s target of blending 2% biodiesel with regular diesel (from oil) effective January 2006.

The construction of the biodiesel factory is also seen as a diversification strategy of the Bertin Group which is complementing its main beef production with other options such as cosmetics, footwear and fuel.

According to Sao Paulo market analysts Bertin apparently is also investing in building roads, energy and sanitation infrastructure

Friday, November 25, 2005

BedZED, zero energy city !!!

What is BedZED?
BedZED, the Beddington Zero Energy Development, is an environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient mix of housing and work space in Beddington, Sutton.

Unique is an over-used word, but BedZED deserves it. There are a number of small, one-off projects based on sound environmental principles. However, to our knowledge, BedZED is the first to incorporate up-to-the-minute thinking on sustainable development into every aspect of the scheme, from the energy-efficient design to the way the houses are heated.

Why ‘Zero Energy’?
BedZED will only use energy from renewable sources generated on site. It is the first large-scale ‘carbon neutral’ community - i.e. the first not to add to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. BedZED shows how housing can be built without degrading the environment.

Easy, affordable and attractive
BedZED is a long way from the hair shirt image that bedevils green living. It aims to be a beacon, to show how we can meet the demand for housing without destroying the countryside. It shows that an eco-friendly lifestyle can be easy, affordable and attractive – something that people will want to do.

The site
BedZED turns a former sewage works into a community of:
• 100 properties for sale and rent,
• Childcare facility
• Plenty of green space, including private gardens.

Key BedZED features include:

• Where possible building materials selected from natural, renewable or recycled sources and wherever possible brought from within a 35-mile radius of the site.
• A combined heat and power unit able to produce all the development’s heat and electricity from tree waste (which would otherwise go to landfill).
• Energy-efficient design - with the houses facing south to make the most of the heat from the sun, excellent insulation and triple-glazed windows.
• A water strategy able to cut mains consumption by a third - including installing water saving appliances and making the most of rain and recycled water.
• A green transport plan which aims to reduce reliance on the car by cutting the need for travel (eg through internet shopping links and on-site facilities) and providing alternatives to driving such as a car pool.
• Recycling bins in every home.

The BedZED team
BedZED is being developed by the Peabody Trust, working with environmental consultants BioRegional and architect Bill Dunster, who jointly developed the zero energy concept.

Housing of the future
BedZED provides an answer to many of the problems facing planners and politicians as they try to meet the demand for housing in the 21st century:
• It is an excellent example of creative use of brownfield land.
• IIts mix of living and work space cuts down on commuting and helps boost the local economy.
• The mix of homes - for sale and rent - on affordable and market terms will attract high and low incomes which are the basis of socially inclusive communities.

Visit BedZED

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cheaper Veggie Diesel May Change the Way We Drive

Japanese scientists may have found a cheaper and more efficient way to produce "biodiesel." The renewable, vegetable oil-based fuel can be used in conventional diesel engines, which are found in about 2 percent of cars currently sold in the U.S. and in about 40 percent in Europe.

The breakthrough could be just in time—industry experts say that demand for the cleaner, greener fuel is on the rise.

Any vegetable oil can become fuel, but not until its fatty acids are converted to chemical compounds known as esters. Currently the acids used to convert the fatty acids are prohibitively expensive.

Michikazu Hara, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Yokohama, Japan, and his colleagues have used common, inexpensive sugars to form a recyclable solid acid that does the job on the cheap. Their research is reported in last week's issue of the journal Nature.

"We estimate the cost of the catalyst to be one-tenth to one-fiftieth that of conventional catalysts," Hara said.

The breakthrough could provide cost savings on a massive scale, he said, because the technique could fairly easily make the transition from the lab to the refinery—if interest warrants.

"We have developed this material for large-scale chemical production," Hara said. "Unfortunately, interest in biodiesel in Japan is not higher than in the U.S. and Europe."

Biodiesel Boom?

Though it has been historically limited, U.S. interest in the fuel appears to be rising rapidly.

"We are anticipating 75 million gallons [284 million liters] of production in 2005, and that's triple last year's production," said Jenna Higgins, a spokesperson for the National Biodiesel Board, a biodiesel-industry trade group.

Higgins cites several reasons for the surge, including government incentives and the rising cost and sometimes short supply of conventional diesel fuel.

A Minnesota law, which took effect September 29, mandates that virtually all diesel sold in the state has to be at least 2 percent biodiesel—provided local producers can match the demand.

"That created demand for about 16 million gallons [61 million liters] a year," Higgins said. A larger boost was provided by a U.S. federal tax credit that encourages blending biodiesel and regular diesel fuels.

"That has made biodiesel more cost competitive and significantly increased demand," she said.

The most common biodiesel fuel product, B20, is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent conventional diesel. Most commercially available biodiesel is sold in such blends.

Generally, biodiesel costs more at the pump than regular diesel fuel. The cost difference is about the same as it is between premium and regular gasoline.

Biodiesel production costs are tied to weather patterns that affect crops used in its production, such as soybeans or rapeseed (canola). Diesel costs are tied mainly to the cost of its source, petroleum.

Currently the U.S. is home to some 45 biodiesel plants. The average plant produces just 6.5 million gallons (24.6 million liters) a year, but larger facilities may soon be coming online.

Tip of a Green Iceberg?

Monty Goodell is president and CEO of Houston, Texas-based Cogeneration Technologies, parent company of the Biofuel Industries company. He is developing a 50-million-gallon (189-million-liter) facility. The operation would double the entire U.S. biodiesel output, based on 2004 numbers.

"We are at the tip of the iceberg for biodiesel," he said.

"There were 500,000 gallons [1.9 million liters] of biodiesel produced five years ago [in the United States]," Goodell said. "Last year there were 25 million gallons [95 million liters] of B100 biodiesel produced—a 5,000 percent increase in just five years." B100 is 100 percent biodiesel—no diesel added.

If B20 ever becomes a diesel fuel standard, Goodell says, biodiesel demand could be staggering.

"[There were] 55 billion gallons [208 billion liters] of petroleum diesel consumed in the U.S. last year," he said. "[A biodiesel requirement of] 20 percent would equal a requirement of 11 billion gallons [42 billion liters] of B100 biodiesel needed" for mixing with diesel fuel.

The word does appear to be getting out.

"We are seeing quite a bit of demand," said John Rymes, of Rymes Heating Oils in Concord, New Hampshire. Rymes has several biodiesel pumps and also provides biodiesel for construction-vehicle operators and home heating-oil consumers.

"I'm not going to tell you that we've generated a lot of income from it, but we're committed as a company to try to bring a cleaner-burning fuel to the region," he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that the greener fuel emits only a third of the unburned hydrocarbons and half of the carbon monoxide and particulates that standard diesel fuel emits. Furthermore, biodiesel's sulfur oxide and sulfate emissions, which cause acid rain, are negligible.

The fuel is also biodegradable, so safety concerns and pollution issues are minimal.

Rymes explains that New Hampshire fuel taxes currently take a big bite out of his potential profits on the fuel. But, to stimulate interest, he keeps biodiesel priced as competitively as he can.

"It's a great product," he said, "and there are a lot of people interested in using it."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NCC Concept House - the house without energy bills: community

The building is well insulated and has a good layout and intelligently selected installations. The use of solar energy and the rigidity of the building sections mean that the additional energy required for heating and cooling the building is minimal.

Solar cells and wind-power plants provide the direct electrical power required for the building’s daily operation. Surplus energy is stored in batteries and hydrogen-gas tubes for use at night and during the winter months. The building is heated by the surplus heat generated from the production and use of hydrogen gas. Energy wells are used for cooling.

Other aspects of the building are also more environmentally compatible compared with current construction practices.

Functionallity and use of design:
The Concept House is a 900-square-meter conference facility that can accommodate groups of up to 50 people, including 15 overnight guests.
Exterior: The building comprises two parts – the main body of the building and the energy spoiler. The main body is extremely well insulated, which means minimal additional energy is required for heating and cooling. The energy spoiler is made of transparent solar cells (585 square meters) and also protects the building from wind chill.

Two 30-meter-high wind turbines are located behind the building, and additional solar panels (375 square meters) are positioned on the roof of the parking lot.

Interior: Bright and open layout on two levels with large, well-insulated windows. Entrance level: lobby, bar, kitchen, dining room, elevator and combined bedrooms/meeting rooms. Upper level: auditorium, lounge, sauna and combined bedrooms/meeting rooms.

The building also contains other innovative solutions, such as transparent solar-cell panels, transparent insulation, daylight via fiberoptics for lighting purposes, a hydrogen-gas sauna and foldable sleeping/meeting modules.

The building also has a so-called “technology wall” where guests can monitor the building’s energy consumption and generation in real time.

Drawbacks of life improvement:
The NCC Concept House is not commercially feasible today. Although all technology included is available and working, the price tag for the building would exceed that of a “normal” building by more than 100%. However, as has been the case with almost all other modern technologies, increased demands could considerably lower the price and not only make the Concept House commercially feasible but also generate a demand for similar technologies in other building types.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Jatropha Oil for Guatemala

The Guatemalan Company OCTAGON planted 2500 ha of Jatropha curcas L. to produce biodiesel, a fuelcheaper and less polluting than thode derived from petroleum. Cultivation began in november thanks to 90,000 € (110,000 $) donated by the Finnish government's "Alliance for Energy and the Environment".

The physic nut plant has grown in Guatemala for many years, but it had not been studied as a fuel source until recently, Octagon spokesman Ricardo Asturias told Tierramérica.

"After several studies, it was found that used as a fuel it is capable of moving several different types of engines", he said. The oil is extracted from the seed and then processed into biodiesel.

Octagon hopes to try out the new fuel soon.

a credible alternative: hydrogen as a renewable energy

Why Hydrogen?

Hydrogen, first on the periodic table of the elements, is the least complex
and most abundant element in the universe. Using hydrogen as fuel can
fundamentally change our relationship with the natural environment.

As a nearly ideal energy carrier, hydrogen will play a critical role in a
new, decentralized energy infrastructure that can provide power to vehicles,
homes, and industries. Hydrogen boasts many important advantages over other
fuels: it is non-toxic, renewable, clean to use, and packs much more energy
per pound. Hydrogen is also the fuel of choice for energy-efficient fuel

Health and Environmental Safety

Hydrogen, which exists as a gas under normal atmospheric conditions, is
odorless, colorless, and tasteless. It is both non-toxic and safe to
breathe. It can also be safely transported. In a hydrogen-based energy
economy, environmental disasters like the Exxon Valdez debacle would be
relegated to history. Because hydrogen dissipates when leaked, a major
hydrogen spill would amount to little more than a waste of precious fuel.

The Many Problems with Fossil Fuels

To appreciate the various benefits of hydrogen as an energy carrier, it is
important to understand the shortcomings of fuels we depend upon today.
Conventional petroleum-based fuels like gasoline or diesel, as well as
natural gas and coal, all contain carbon. When these fuels are burned, their
carbon recombines with oxygen from the air to form carbon dioxide (CO2), the
primary greenhouse gas that causes global warming.

Furthermore, combustion of fossil fuels at the high temperatures and
pressures reached inside an internal combustion (IC) engine (what powers
most vehicles) or in an electric power plant produces other toxic emissions.
Carbon monoxide (a poison), oxides of nitrogen and sulfur (NOx and SOx),
volatile organic chemicals, and fine particulates are all components of air
pollution attributable to the refining and combustion of fossil fuels. When
released into the atmosphere, many of these compounds cause acid rain or
react with sunlight to create ground-level smog. Vast ecosystem damage,
increased lung disease and cancer are the ultimate price we pay for
consuming these fossil fuels.

Superior Efficiency

Modern industrial development relied upon the widespread exploitation of
these carbon-rich fuels. Mined in abundance, they were burned with little
regard for overall system efficiency. But the search for alternatives has
exposed another major shortcoming of carbon-based fuels: their energy is
difficult to capture. Harnessing explosions'the process by which an IC
engine converts chemical energy into mechanical energy'is inherently
inefficient. Even after more than a century of refinement, most IC engines
capture only 15–20 percent of the energy in gasoline. The rest of that
energy is lost as waste heat and vibrational noise. Centralized electricity
generation is similarly inefficient. The current U.S. electric system
converts 33 percent of fuel energy into electricity and squanders most of
the remaining heat.

In stark comparison, fuel cells running on pure hydrogen are dramatically
more efficient. By harnessing the fuel's energy via a chemical reaction
rather than combustion, a fuel cell can convert 40–65 percent of hydrogen's
energy into electricity. While a hydrogen-burning IC engine pollutes less
than one running on gasoline, its energy efficiency is still less than half
that of a fuel cell.

Because a fuel cell's energy efficiency is not scale-dependent, stationary
fuel cells can be sited locally where the waste heat can be used. This
cogeneration of heat and power brings a fuel cell's energy efficiency close
to 90 percent. All the while, this unparalleled energy efficiency arises
from a reliable device that emits only drinkable water and scant traces of
other emissions.

Decarbonization: the Trend Towards Clean Renewables

Post-industrial nations tend to favor energy-fuel decarbonization'a
migration toward fuels with lower concentrations of carbon (exemplified by
the shift from coal- to natural gas-fired electricity in the United States).
Less carbon implies a greater concentration of hydrogen, which boasts a much
greater specific energy density and burns more cleanly. As the trend
progresses, pure gaseous hydrogen fuel waits as the ultimate goal.

Looking ahead, it is also important to consider that fossil fuels are
finite: we will eventually run out of them. This is not the case with
hydrogen. Because this renewable energy carrier can be made from the
electrolytic decomposition of water, and becomes water again when joined
with oxygen in a fuel cell, hydrogen is inexhaustible. And when the process
of electrolysis is powered by renewable electricity, the energy lifecycle of
hydrogen is entirely pollution-free. In the meantime, transitional methods
exist to make hydrogen with relatively moderate environmental impact.

We currently consume fossil fuels 100,000 times faster than they are made,
inspiring much speculation about how long our worldwide supplies will last.
But the actual date of empty wells is largely irrelevant. The many benefits
of hydrogen will make petroleum fuels obsolete at low prices before their
scarcity sends drilling costs skyward. In the coming years, we will begin to
see our energy economy, now rooted in fossil fuels, replaced by a hydrogen

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Toyota to make cheaper hybrids

Japanese carmaker will use smaller, less pricey system starting in 2008

Toyota Motor Corp. will begin using a cheaper and smaller hybrid system from 2008, more than doubling production of the high-efficiency vehicles to 600,000 units a year by then, the Asahi daily reported on Wednesday.

Japan's top auto maker would like to to spread the hybrid powertrain as the main fuel-efficient alternative to internal combustion engines in order to make up for initial spending on research and development and to lower high per-unit production costs.

Toyota is aiming to sell 1 million hybrid vehicles annually some time in the decade beginning in 2010.

Since rolling out the world's first gasoline-electric hybrid car in 1997, Toyota has improved the powertrain with a second-generation system it calls THS II, which powers the remodeled Prius and Lexus RX400h SUV, among others.

But the hybrid system, which allows vehicles to run on an electric motor under certain driving conditions to save fuel, still costs manufacturers -- and consumers -- thousands of dollars over the cost of a regular, gasoline-only, vehicle.

By making the system smaller, Toyota aims to slash the premium by half and expand its use to most of its mid-sized or larger cars, the Asahi said, without citing sources.

Toyota executives have said they aimed to eventually make the powertrain available across its entire product line-up.

Toyota has been pouring R&D resources into addressing the cost issue, but a spokeswoman said a target date for a third generation hybrid system had not been set.

"2008 is certainly a possibility, but we don't know that yet," she said.

Toyota expects to build and sell about 250,000 hybrid vehicles this year through its eight model offerings.

Next year, that will rise to between 350,000 and 400,000 units, boosted by the addition of the Camry hybrid to be built in Kentucky from the latter half of 2006, and the China-built Prius, production of which has been targeted to begin by this year.

The Asahi said Toyota would begin making key components for the hybrid systems in the United States -- the first time this manufacturing would be done outside Japan -- in line with the auto maker's stated aim to eventually procure such parts locally.

Led by Toyota's aggressive push, sales of hybrid vehicles have risen sharply over the past few years, particularly in the United States and Europe, but auto makers have yet to agree on a de facto powertrain for saving fuel.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

BERKELEY, Cal dorm room showcases eco-friendly living

From the fertile campus that gave us atom-smashing and fruit cocktail now comes another contender for innovation. The eco-friendly dorm room of UC Berkeley sophomore Rachael Robertson is being called the nation's first "green room."

"I'm so happy I found it," enthused Robertson, holding a bottle of deodorant made only of alcohol and scent of sage. "It's much better for your body and for the environment." No pore-clogging aluminum compounds.

The room is blooming with brightly colored green room explanatory signs next to each of the appliances -- all Energy Star rated for low electricity usage -- and the environmentally sensitive personal-care products such as Tom's of Maine natural bar soap, Seventh Generation facial tissue and Avalon Organic Botanicals shampoo.

Several universities are installing Energy Star rooms with electronic devices and lighting that reduces electricity use.

"But Berkeley decided to take it to the next level, to the next shade of green," said Judi Quach, assistant project coordinator for the nonprofit Strategic Energy Innovations of San Rafael.

The idea began when Quach's organization secured a U.S. Department of Energy grant for three Energy Star rooms -- at Cal, the University of Hawaii and a California State University campus to be named.

But Cal's energetic recycling manager, Lisa Bauer, expanded the concept with the personal care products.

"So much of what students do and learn sets patterns for their lives," Bauer said. "Your choices do make an impact."

Robertson doesn't mind strangers coming to her room to study her lifestyle, she said this week as a small group crowded into the small room with Tibetan prayer flags on the ceiling and a wide view out her fourth-floor window in eight-story Putnam Hall near College and Durant avenues south of the main campus.

"It's been great," she said, adding that students and other visitors on regularly scheduled tours for the campus community are inspired by what they see. "I'm really excited about energizing them."

The one-year experiment, officially launched Oct. 28, reflects burgeoning attention at Berkeley and on other campuses to what proponents call the sustainability movement.

Among the measures shown to Cal Chancellor Robert Birgeneau on a "campus sustainability tour" Tuesday were solar panels on the student union building, waterless urinals, paving stones that reduce runoff and a dining hall whose environmental contributions include takeout containers made of biodegradable sugarcane.

The green room is designed to show students how easy it is to make a few simple, affordable changes that help the environment without sacrificing their comfortable lifestyles.

"A lot of people come to the room thinking that in order to be a green room, it's going to have to be something revolutionary -- for me to live sustainably, I'm going to have to change my entire life," said sophomore Desirae Early, one of seven students on the green room committee that designed the showcase.

Several appliances were donated by merchants, and a private donation covered the $150 to buy the initial supply of personal-care products for Robertson.

Student Rachel Barge, sustainability director for the student government, said the green room is "basically your ideal, perfect, how-everyone-should-live type of room."


Rebuilding a New New Orleans

Unless you've been living under a rock -- and these days, we can't say we'd blame you -- you've probably put at least a smidgen of thought toward the fate of New Orleans.

It's a rare thing to reconstruct an American city from scratch (though we can think of a few more cities we'd put on the list). There are some who advocate letting bygones be bygones, allowing the name and character of The Big Easy to fade into days of yore, but most people support the eventual rebuilding of the city. The question is, how should it be done, and to what end? We think it should be called New-New Orleans, because that's fun to say, but after that we're stumped.

Instead of racking our comparatively small brains for answers, we turned to a collection of environmental, political, and academic leaders who have bright ideas. We asked them all the same question: What's the one thing you'd most like to see occur as part of the rebuilding of New Orleans?

Their answers ranged from building green to building on barges, from processing with residents to procuring ponies. Read on for inspiration.

Christie Todd Whitman

There's been such a deluge of money, resources, and technical expertise -- I hope that local authorities take just a modicum of time to thoughtfully plan and apply smart-growth principles to the redevelopment effort. For starters, it's quite clear that there's been a lot of development in the wrong places -- not just in low-lying neighborhoods, but also along the barrier islands and coastal wetlands that historically have dampened the impact of storm surges. Local and state officials should seriously consider declaring some of those areas off-limits to development as part of a long-term strategy to restore those natural barriers, and instead encourage more compact development in suitable areas to ensure that there's no net loss of existing homes or potential for new construction.

How we plan and design those new communities is also critical. An obvious priority would be to avoid recreating past mistakes, such as concentrating poor families in just a few wards and isolating them from the greater prosperity of the region. I'm also concerned that we're going to see vast areas of new sprawl development in the rush to rebuild -- exactly the wrong type of development for a time when infrastructure dollars and buildable land are in short supply. Instead, we need compact "walking neighborhoods" that feature a mix of market-rate and affordable housing, convenient transportation choices, and easy access to jobs, medical services, and other daily needs. Smart planning and an open public process can deliver those outcomes. The future of so many families depends on it.

Christie Todd Whitman was the administrator of the U.S. EPA from 2001 to 2003 and co-chairs the national advisory council of Smart Growth America.

Ari Kelman

I suppose the right answer is that I hope poverty and racism -- root rather than proximate causes of disaster -- will be washed away in the outpouring of concern following Katrina. And while I'm stumping to become Miss America, I'd also like every child along the Gulf Coast to have a pony. A really friendly pony that never bites. And can fly.

Inappropriate humor aside, the truth is we're already starting to forget Katrina. There's Supreme Court nominees to squabble over, indictments to ponder, and tears to shed for earthquake victims. Add to that the fact that New Orleans is among the most complicated urban ecosystems in the nation, and it becomes harder still to imagine that we'll maintain our focus for the years it will take to rebuild the city.

It's that last point, about the complexity of the urban fabric in New Orleans, that leads me to what I really hope will come out of this: people should stop trying to separate social and environmental issues as they rebuild. Cities are not simply human artifacts. Nor, of course, are they wholly natural. They're both: networks of human and non-human intermingled, prone to feedback loops across the nature/culture divide.

So rebuild New Orleans on a more solid foundation: the understanding that it's futile to separate cities into compartmentalized zones -- people here, nature there. Such antiquated thinking left New Orleans vulnerable over time, and then under water. Now wring out the city and rebuild it, acknowledging that people must live together with nature. This might yield sustainable urban spaces and a kind of environmental justice. Failing that, ponies are really soft -- and we can ride them out of town when disaster next strikes. Because it will, and if the past is prelude there won't be any gas left for our cars.

Ari Kelman teaches history at the University of California-Davis. He is the author of A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans.

Na'Taki Osborne

My greatest hope for the rebuilding of New Orleans is for equity and justice. In the short term, assistance should be given to help low-income citizens and families attain affordable housing units.

In the long term, permanent, affordable housing must be developed so that all who desire to come back to New Orleans have the opportunity to do so. This long-term strategy should build on principles of mixed-income housing distributed equitably across New Orleans, and should go against policies that promote the concentration of poverty in areas "undesirable" to live in by some.

Historically, African-Americans were isolated to the swampy, low-lying areas, while rich whites built on higher ground. All citizens, regardless of race and class, should be given equal opportunity to live in both the urban and suburban areas of New Orleans, in proximity to jobs and with an adequate transportation system to get from home to work, school, and other services. As the rebirth of the city begins, it is imperative that we learn from past mistakes, starting with reconnecting with nature and building New Orleans back in an ecologically sound manner that works with the forces of nature and not against them. Extensive environmental cleanup is needed immediately, and all neighborhoods must have parks and open space.

People of color and poor people should not be concentrated in proximity to a proliferation of toxic waste and other pollution-generating facilities, or vice versa. People displaced by Hurricane Katrina were suffering before the storm touched down and before the levee broke. They were living in poverty and pollution before this natural tragedy. This injustice must not be sustained.

Equality of economic opportunities is also paramount in terms of jobs and contracts connected to the redesign, rebuilding, and cleanup of the city. Jobs in all sectors must conform to the practice of giving people living wages for their work. And citizens must lead the planning process -- all residents of New Orleans, from the Garden District to the Ninth Ward, deserve to and must be involved in transforming the rubble and remains to an economically vibrant, environmentally sustainable, healthy, livable community.

Na'Taki Osborne, who grew up in the area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley, is the national leadership development coordinator at the National Wildlife Federation.

Jacques Leslie

With its vast size and overwhelming destructiveness, Katrina seemed to herald an unprecedented era of hydrological menace, but New Orleans' story is distressingly old. Indeed, as I watched the city's submersion and subsequent disarray, I felt as if I knew the plot, for I'd just finished writing a book about dams. Over little more than half a century, large dams have displaced between 40 million and 80 million people: a population that is often indigenous, usually poor, and invariably disregarded by authorities.

Both dams' construction and levees' collapse scatter victims from their homes -- usually to unwanted land, where they go hungry, or to the fringes of cities, where they become day laborers and beggars. The dam resettlers' loss is for the nation's good, say the dam builders; New Orleans' "underprivileged" inhabitants will be better off, says Barbara Bush.

In New Orleans, as with dam resettlement, only one course is just: make the victims the first beneficiaries of the recovery. Whatever jobs and contracts are offered, the uprooted get first crack at them. What companies flourish must support vital institutions such as hospitals and schools. The least that the victims deserve is a stake in the outcome: ask them what they want, and heed the answers.

Jacques Leslie has written for Harper's, Mother Jones, and The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of Deep Water: The Epic Struggle Over Dams, Displaced People, and the Environment.


UCLA Makes Thin-Film Polymer Solar Progress

Using solar cell made out of everyday plastics could promise to be a more affordable way to harness the sun's rays, say researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. Percentage efficiencies are still in the mid-single digits but recent gains continue to give researchers hope that these polymer cells could soon give silicon cells a run for their money.

In research published in Nature Materials magazine, UCLA engineering professor Yang Yang, postdoctoral researcher Gang Li and graduate student Vishal Shrotriya showcase their work on a new plastic (or polymer) solar cell they hope to produce at 10 to 20 percent of the current cost of traditional cells, thus making the technology more widely available.

Made of a single layer of plastic sandwiched between two conductive electrodes, UCLA's solar cell is easy to mass-produce and costs much less to make. The polymers used in its construction are commercially available in such large quantities that Yang hopes cost-conscious consumers worldwide will quickly adopt the technology.

Independent tests on the UCLA solar cell already have received high marks. The nation's only authoritative certification organization for solar technology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), has helped the UCLA team ensure the accuracy of its efficiency numbers.

According to Yang, the 4.4 percent efficiency achieved by UCLA is the highest number yet published for plastic solar cells (Ed. note: It should be mentioned that recent achievements above the 5 percent mark were announced this week from a team of researchers from New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University. These results, however, were not yet confirmed by NREL).

"As in any research, achieving precise efficiency benchmarks is a critical step," Yang said. "Particularly in this kind of research, where reported efficiency numbers can vary so widely, we're grateful to the NREL for assisting us in confirming the accuracy of our work."

Given the strides the team already has made with the technology, Yang calculates he will be able to double the efficiency percentage in a short period of time. The target for polymer solar cell performance is ultimately about 15 to 20 percent efficiency, with a 15- to 20-year lifespan. Large-sized silicon modules with the same lifespan typically have a 14 to 18 percent efficiency rating.

The plastic solar cell is still a few years away from being available to consumers, but the UCLA team is working diligently to get it to market.

"We hope that ultimately solar energy can be extensively used in the commercial sector as well as the private sector. Imagine solar cells installed in cars to absorb solar energy to replace the traditional use of diesel and gas. People will vie to park their cars on the top level of parking garages so their cars can be charged under sunlight. Using the same principle, cell phones can also be charged by solar energy," Yang said. "There are such a wide variety of applications."

Jatropha in Africa


Much has been made of the notion that biofuel consumes more energy during production, through energy expenditures for fertilizer, irrigation, and refining, than it can yield when burned. That is to say, biofuel has been accused of having a negative energy payback. In some cases, under very specific assumptions, this is true, but there is great variation in the energy paybacks for various biofuels. Some studies indicate biofuel can deliver an energy payback as high as 10:1 or even 20:1.

Jatropha isn't a well known biofuel, like corn or sugar cane, but when it comes to producing bio-diesel, Jatropha may be have the highest energy payback of any biofuel. Moreover, unlike corn or sugar cane, Jatropha is a perennial, yielding oil seed for decades after planting, and it can grow without irrigation in arid conditions where corn and sugar cane could never thrive.

The African continent, which at 29 million square kilometers in size is nearly as large as Asia, is relatively sparsely populated by comparison. It is also a continent of spectacular natural wealth, having vast reserves of land with climates ideal for growing Jatropha. Over half of the land in Africa is considered suitable for Jatropha cultivation. If only 2% of that land was used to cultivate Jatropha, it would yield as much oil per year as U.S. oil companies expect - best case - to remove from Alaska's north slope over the next 20 years. And after 20 years, these fields of Jatropha would still be producing oil, whereas the Alaskan oil fields would be dry.

If, to use an extreme case, 25% of Africa's land deemed suitable to grow Jatropha were used for that purpose, the yearly output would match 100% of the current oil consumption in the USA. Needless to say, such a scenario would also erase forever the landscape of poverty that has plagued Africans for decades. And where the Sahara and Kalahari are on the march, Jatropha can grow, storing moisture, stablizing soil, and slowing if not reversing desertification.

It isn't practical to expect Jatropha, or biofuel in general, to completely replace crude oil. But conventional estimates of how much biofuel might actually be produced if grown on a massive commercial scale worldwide may be low, particularly when taking into account what may be superior yields from crops such as Jatropha. - Ed "Redwood" Ring

Jatropha curcus is unusual among tree crops

Perhaps its most unusual feature is its modular construction. The dry fruits and seeds will remain on the tree for some time, before falling to the ground, especially under dry conditions. Benefits include but are not limited to:

Oil as raw material: Oil has a very high Saponification value and is being extensively used for making soap in some countries. Also, the oil is used as an illuminant as it burns without emitting smoke.

Medicinal plant: The latex of Jatropha curcas (VanaErand or RatanJyot) contains an alkaloid known as "jatrophine" which is believed to have anti-cancerous properties.

Raw material for dye: The bark of Jatropha curcas (VanaErand or RatanJyot) yields a dark blue dye which is used for colouring cloth, fishing nets and lines.

Soil enrichment: Jatropha curcas (VanaErand or RatanJyot) oil cake is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium and can be used as organic manure.

Feed: Jatropha leaves are used as food for the tusser silkworm.

In addition to these benefits, scientists at Perdue University in the U.S. and elsewhere are working in the extraction of usable pharmaceutical derivatives from Jatropha Curcas while others are attempting to grow non-toxic plants (Mexico).

Preliminary research indicates Jatropha may display certain Anti-Tumor properties, Anti Malarial properties and research is advancing related to HIV/AID’s and immune system response enhancement. There are other levels of use that can be exploited. Direct fermentation of seed cake and pulp delivers an organic fertilizer that has a high potential for export to developed countries.

It is in the field of Bio Diesel fuel, however, that Jatropha's properties are the most exciting. At same power output, Jatropha curcas oil specific consumption and efficiencies are higher than those of diesel fuel. Tests conducted show that out of these various vegetable oils including copra, palm, groundnut, cottonseed, rapeseed, soya and sunflower - the lowest exhaust gas emissions were obtained with copra and Jatropha Curcas crude oil.


In a survey conducted by Dr. Guy Midgley, Chief Specialist Scientist of the Kirstenbosch Research Center of of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Cape Town) over 1,080 million hectares land Africa could be termed prime growing regions for Jatropha Curcas on the African continent. A further 580 million hectares could be used making a total of 1,660 million hectares suitable for the growing of Jatropha Curcas.

On the map of Africa the dark areas represent prime Jatropha growing regions in Africa. These areas, comprising over 1,080 million hectares, or 10.8 million square kilometers, are ideal because the average annual rainfall exceeds 800 mm, and the minimum temperature of the coldest month is greater than 2 degrees centigrade.

The light green areas of the map are areas with average annual rainfall in excess of 300 mm, with the minimum temperature of the coldest month greater than 2 degrees centigrade. These areas, comprising over 580 million hectares, or 5.8 million square kilometers, are also viable regions for growing Jatropha.


The yield per hectare per year is up to 8.0 tons of Jatropha seed, which contain over 30% oil. At $320 (US$) per ton, this will translate into sales of Jatropha crude oil of $768 per hectare per year. Of potentially equal or greater value is the yield from Jatropha seeds of glycerin. Up to 7% of Jatropha seeds are made up of glycerin, which sells for up to $2,000 per ton. This translates into glycerin sales of up to $1,120 per year per hectare, or total sales of up to $1,888 per year per hectare.

Imagine, if only 3% of the land in Africa that is considered viable land to grow Jatropha was actually planted with Jatropha, with a yield of 8 tons per hectare per year and an oil content of 30% some 119 Million tons of Jatropha crude oil would be produced per year. The glycerin content at 7% of the 119 M tons would produce an additional 8.366 M tons. Glycerin is indeed a valuable by product.

In terms of annual revenues, if only 3% of the potential Jatropha growing regions in Africa were planted with Jatropha, based on a Jatropha crude oil price of $320 per ton and with glycerin selling at $2000 per ton a total sales value of $55 billion per year would be generated. Processing the crude oil into Bio Diesel would on average in Africa add a further 15% to the sales value. This sales value excludes other byproducts of Jatropha. Most African countries are oil dependent and foreign exchange expenditure would be reduced.

Jatropha farming could be an incredible contribution to economic development in Africa. Feasibility however is problematic due to the difficulty sourcing suitable financing. The two main reasons for failures to source funding are:

1) Land in many countries in Africa is not owned but leased. This effectively eliminates land being used as collateral by funders.

2) Start up agriculture projects are generally among the most difficult projects for which to obtain funding.

Moreover, financial models show that an assured supply of feed stock is required from a central area to ensure a viable project. Only when this is assured can out growers be considered to supplement the main supply chain. Projects where only marginal land is to be used will be very border line and unlikely to financially succeed. Good yields on marginal land are highly unlikely to be obtained.


There are still some inherent problems with Jatropha and research work is still required. We are learning more and more about the properties of Jatropha. These potential problems include:

1) Jatropha oil is hydroscopic – absorbs water and needs nitrogen blanketing on steel tanks. One issue that is quite clear is because Jatropha is high in acid, it has the tendency to degrade quickly, particularly if not handled properly through the supply chain.

2) Right from the time of expelling, the oil needs to be kept in storage conditions that prevent undue degradation. Exposure to air and moisture must be minimized - hence the need for nitrogen blanketing on the tanks.

3) The range of fatty acids present in the various seeds will differ but the oil and biodiesel that is produced must be acceptable. However, this assumes that that oil is fully degummed. The degumming may well be more of a problem than making biodiesel!

4) The phospholipid, protein and phorbol ester contents in edible Jatropha seem to be quite different compared to these contents in non-edible Jatropha. It needs to determined if this affects the degumming method. The degumming removes lecithin and other related compounds, so if these are high than a modified degumming method may be needed. If the oil is properly dried after degumming and kept under nitrogen blanketing this may suffice. Biodiesel companies are investigating storage requirements and the oxidative stability of Jatropha.

5) Seeds degrade as soon as they are picked and so careful storage and handling is required. In the warm humid atmosphere in countries such as Ghana the degradation of seeds can be rapid. Even in the U.K. seed storage is a problem. Recently a U.K. importer had samples of rapeseed that had been harvested and stored in wet weather. The analysis showed that they had 28% of free fatty acid! The free fatty acid must not increase above 2%.

6) There has never been a highly commercial group handling Jatropha Curcas harvest and derivatives.

Rubber Nitrile tanks are perfect for container shipping as there is no exposure to the atmosphere or the air, this is because they are collapsible and always work in a vacuum. They can be fitted in a 20ft – 30 ton container. Each container would hold about 22.4 tons Jatropha Curcas crude oil. Their use would prevent the problem of water absorption.

World Wide manufactures of Bio Diesel processors are beginning to recognize the need for their units to be able to accept more than one variety of vegetable oil. The pre-processors, (de-gumming units) must be designed to be “multi disciplinary”. Commercial Bio Diesel processors are expensive and it is financially essential for feed stock to be available on a continuous basis. Harvesting is seasonal and storage time has to be minimal due to the free fatty acids having to be no more than 2%.

Feasibility studies ideally need to be done but this is far too time consuming. The bio-diesel entrepreneur would need to take some statistical chances. By growing at the same time alternative crops to Jatropha curcus the problems may be somewhat reduced.

It makes sense that a bio-diesel entrepreneur should focus on the promotion of partnerships and in-house activities that support multiple crop development and improvement activities as well as seeking the add on values that are available.

Climate change will grossly increase African's poverty levels. A Bio Diesel 1 Group initiative introduced Stancom Tobacco to the benefits of growing Jatropha curcas for conversion into Bio Diesel. The photos in this article show the Stancom Tobacco's nurseries in Zambia. The harvested seed will be collected by BD1 Malawi and processed into crude oil.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Residential ground source heat pump (GSHP)

A GSHP system can be installed in a residential structure of any size, anywhere, whether it is single-family or multi-family. GSHPs can be installed on almost any size lot: under lawns, landscaped areas, driveways, or the house itself. An existing house can be retrofitted with a GSHP using the ductwork that is already there. Your dealer/installer will be able to determine ductwork requirements and if any minor modifications are needed. Home builders and homeowners can both take advantage of the special financing that is offered in many locations on a GSHP either through the utility or manufacturer.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both endorsed ground source heat pump systems as among the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly heating, cooling, and water heating systems available. In a 1993 report, the EPA concluded that geothermal technologies represent a major opportunity for reducing national energy use and pollution, while delivering comfort, reliability and savings to homeowners.

Ground Source Heat Pumps offer great benefits:
▪ Can be a combination heating/cooling and hot water heating system
▪ Some can save you up to 50% on your water-heating bill by preheating tank water
▪ Made of mechanical components that are either buried in the ground or located inside the home
▪ About the same size as a traditional heating/cooling unit
▪ Pipe carries up to a 50-year warranty
▪ Can cut energy consumption by 20 to 50% and reduce maintenance costs
▪ Keep the air warmer in the winter (90 -105¡ F) and at a more consistent temperature throughout the home, eliminating the hot and cold spots common with other systems
▪ Very quiet, providing a pleasant environment inside & outside the home
▪ No noisy fan units to disturb outdoor activities
▪ No exposed equipment outdoors; children or pets cannot injure themselves or damage exterior units
▪ No open flame, flammable fuel or potentially dangerous fuel storage tanks

GSHPs offer great savings:
▪ One of the most efficient residential heating and cooling systems available today
▪ Heating efficiencies 50 to 70% higher than other heating systems and cooling efficiencies 20 to 40% higher than available air conditioners
▪ Save money in operating and maintenance costs
▪ Investments recouped in only a few years
▪ Positive cash flow; energy savings usually exceed the cost of the system
▪ Some utilities offer rebates or incentives to their customers who purchase GSHPs. To see what your state has to offer click here.
▪ Many heat pump manufacturers, local utilities, and lending institutions have special financing for homeowners who are installing GSHPs

GSHPs are environmentally friendly:
▪ Conserve natural resources by providing climate control efficiently and thus lowering emissions
▪ Minimize ozone layer destruction by using factory-sealed refrigeration systems, which will seldom or never have to be recharged
▪ Uses underground loops to transfer heat, with no external venting and no air pollution

Sweden first to break dependence on oil! New programme presented

The Swedish prime minister announced that the government would appoint a commission that will try to make Sweden independent of oil by 2020.

article by Mona Sahlin, Minister for Sustainable Development

In recent weeks we have read about and anguished over the devastation in the United States. These natural disasters have also reminded us how vulnerable we are to the forces of the weather. A hurricane that puts a number of oil rigs out of action affects the availability of oil, the economies and the price of petrol around the world.

We have seen the consequences in every country. In light of the oil supply disruptions, the Swedish Government recently decided to allow withdrawals from the country's emergency stocks of petroleum products. The whole world is now dreading the problems brought about by dependence on oil. In a situation where President Bush speaks to the nation about using cars less - and where Ford and Toyota demand that the President takes steps to reduce dependence on oil - each and every one of us can see how the devastation created by the hurricanes rapidly changes the attitude towards fuel. It is as though the idea that oil is a finite resource is only now seriously having an impact on the debate. But there is reason to believe that this awareness will also remain on the agenda in the slightly longer term.

Climate change is the greatest and most important environmental challenge of our time. Most of the world's climate researchers agree that the Earth's climate system is changing - and in order to slow down these changes, emissions of greenhouse gases must be reduced. The Government is therefore setting a new policy target: the creation of the conditions necessary to break Sweden's dependence on fossil fuels by 2020. A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices. The price of oil has tripled since 1996! Old oil price records are now being beaten at a rapid rate.

It is already a major competitive advantage for Sweden's industry and the economy that, by international standards, the country has such a small dependence on oil. Swedish policy instruments such as investment grants, norms for energy use, loans with interest subsidies and information drives have formed the basis of a conscious policy to gradually reduce oil use. Since 1994 the use of oil in the housing and services sector has decreased by 15.2 TWh. The use of oil in industry has remained largely unchanged - although industrial production has increased by 70 per cent! Measures to increase energy efficiency and to promote the development of district heating continue to be politically important tools. An increasing number of households are taking advantage of the benefits of district heating and heating pellets; car industry order books are being filled with hybrid and ethanol cars. This trend must be speeded up. The Government is therefore presenting a national programme against dependence on oil with the following main features.

. Tax relief for conversion from oil. It is unacceptable that many owners of single-family homes are dependent on oil for their heating and are thus hard hit by high oil prices. In the next few weeks I will be presenting a Government Bill on financial support for the owners of single-family homes and multi-dwelling buildings in order to encourage conversion from oil heating to renewable energy heating, beginning next year. The public sector must take the lead and set a good example. For some time now, therefore, special support has been available to libraries, public swimming baths and hospitals, for example, that become more fuel efficient by converting to renewable energy.

. More renewable energy. Oil and coal are finite fuels. The target must be that we base our entire energy supply on renewable fuels. The EU trading system represents an important step towards improved competitiveness in renewable energy at European level. In our country, renewable electricity has increased by approximately 4.5 TWh since 2002, not least by means of the green certificate system. We will give a longer term perspective on electricity certificates in a Government Bill to be presented next spring. The level of ambition has been set very high - by 2016, renewable electricity production will have increased by 15 TWh from the 2002 level. A directive to state-owned Vattenfall means the company will be responsible for major investments in renewable energy for the future. A new inquiry will submit proposals to the Government on how also agricultural production of renewable energy can be increased.

. Measures for renewable fuels. Breaking dependence on oil in the transport sector will be a great challenge and the Government therefore has an ambitious policy to increase the percentage of renewable fuels. For the individual, it will pay to choose an environmentally friendly car. Carbon dioxide neutral fuels will be cheap - they are exempt from both carbon dioxide tax and energy tax for a five-year period. Environmental cars will be exempted from the Stockholm Trial with environmental charges and will have access to free parking in some municipalities. Cars that are classified as a taxable benefit and run on environmentally friendly fuel will continue to enjoy tax relief. The Government will give priority to purchasing environmentally friendly cars. Sweden is also working actively in the EU for us to permit a higher blend of ethanol in petrol, a measure which would quickly have a great positive effect. The readjustment of the transport sector requires both international and national efforts with broad contributions by researchers, industry, users and the state.

. Research and new knowledge for a renewable society. Resources for energy research will now be increased substantially - the level advised in the budget amounts to some SEK 815 million per year. Next year the Government will therefore present a new Bill in this area. The purpose of these measures is to achieve more renewable energy production and more efficient energy use. Special research projects in areas such as energy use in built environments, biofuels, gasification of biomass, and commercialisation and risk capital provision may also be called for.

. Continued investment in district heating. District heating has increased radically in Sweden in recent years and the Government wants this trend to continue. The Government will thus offer clear financial incentives where biofuels and environmentally friendly heating will be economically advantageous. New money for climate investment programmes in all the municipalities in the country will also be significant in reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Along with high oil prices and climate change, an increasing number of countries are recognising the problem with fossil fuels. Sweden has the chance to be an international model and a successful actor in export markets for alternative solutions. But this requires conscious investments - not a reactionary policy that obstructs the transition to alternative energy sources and investments in the environment of the future. Breaking dependence on oil brings many opportunities for strengthened competitiveness, technological development and progress. The aim is to break dependence on fossil fuels by 2020. By then no home will need oil for heating. By then no motorist will be obliged to use petrol as the sole option available. By then there will always be better alternatives to oil.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

International “Day of Intervention” Targeted Ford Dealerships in 90 Cities

Citizen Activists Challenged Ford’s Greenwashing, Pressured Ford for Clean Cars

JumpStart Ford Campaign
November 15, 2005
CONTACT: Andrea Buffa 415-575-5552
Brianna Cayo Cotter 415-398-4404 x357

On Saturday, November 12, citizen activists in the United States, Canada, and England demonstrated outside Ford dealerships in an international "Day of Intervention" aimed at sobering up America's most oil addicted automaker. They successfully countered Ford's recent greenwashing advertising campaign by educating the public in at least 90 cities about the reality that Ford is still ranked last among US automakers for both its fleetwide fuel economy and its tailpipe emissions. The day of action was coordinated by the Jumpstart Ford campaign, an international grassroots movement compelling Ford Motor Company to improve its fleet-wide fuel efficiency to 50 miles per gallon by 2010 and eliminate tailpipe emissions by 2020.

"It was great to see so many actions at Ford dealerships, including 14 protests in Canada alone," said Mike Hudema, Jumpstart Ford campaigner with Global Exchange. "Despite the millions of dollars Ford is spending on TV advertisements and PR stunts to project an image of itself as an environmental company, people throughout the world know the difference between PR and real progress."

In Winnipeg, Canada, concerned citizens dressed up as polar bears outside their Ford dealership to raise awareness about the threat that climate change poses to the bears' habitat. Ninth grade students who recently traveled to Manitoba to see polar bears on a school trip also attended the Winnipeg protest and asked the Ford dealership in Winnipeg to join the Jumpstart Ford campaign. In London, England, activists with the Alliance Against Urban 4X4s took their message to Ford's Premier Automotive Group design offices, where they collected 150 signatures on a letter to Ford, asking the company to meets its voluntary targets for carbon dioxide emissions in Europe rather than pushing SUVs like the Range Rover Sport.

In the US, Ford dealers were "adopted" through meetings and demonstrations in 75 cities from Oakland to Houston to Boulder to Miami to Middlebury. Iraq War veteran Jeff Key attended the Los Angeles protest outside Galpin Ford, where he called on the company to show leadership in ending America's addiction to oil. "The lives of our bravest patriots, my fellow service members, are at stake," he said. In Houston, where residents have recently been impacted by Hurricane Rita and the influx of the storm's victims , concerned citizens focused on the issue of global warming. They used a weather balloon to float a huge banner reading "Hurricanes: Built Ford Tough" in front of a Ford dealership.

"This past Saturday, citizens around the world ranging from soccer moms to Iraq vets joined together to intervene with Ford Motor Company, an all-American brand engaged in very un-American activity," said Nile Malloy, Jumpstart Ford organizer for the Oakland dealer intervention. "Anyone who challenges Ford to do better is being attacked by the company and accused of living in a time-warp. Ford has known about global warming and the asthma epidemic for years, yet it was during this time that the company made huge profits by pushing gas-guzzlers. Ford can't hide behind its latest green washing and hybrid smokescreen. More and more people are finding out about existing technologies like plug-in hybrids that offer much cheaper, easier and safer ways to power our cars and even SUVs. The movement to jumpstart Ford is growing."

In Detroit and Los Angeles, citizen activists projected 30-foot "light banners" onto the side of Ford dealerships and other high-profile buildings. Using the latest in direct action technology, they projected images that looked like billboards with messages including "Ford: Toxic Tailpipe Leader" and "2000+ Killed in a War for Oil; Ford, Building Cars to Die For." The most striking image was of CEO Bill Ford Jr.'s face with the caption, "A lot of people are talking about climate. I'm destroying it."

Every year since 1999, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ranked Ford cars, truck and SUVs as having the worst overall fuel economy of any American automaker. A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists ranks Ford as having "the absolute worst heat-trapping gas emissions performance of all the Big Six automakers."

Although Ford promised in September to "increase global hybrid production ten-fold, to approximately 250,000 annually by 2010" by offering a limited lineup of optional gasoline-powered hybrid engines, these numbers represent less than 3.5 percent of the 7 million cars that Ford produces annually and will result in no meaningful improvement its fleetwide fuel efficiency.

Finnish Wood-Cutters to Suspend Lapland Logging

Finland's state logging firm said on Wednesday it would take a break from felling trees in part of Lapland's forests, a move that follows a United Nations call for a suspension after complaints from reindeer herders.

Earlier this week, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended the government suspend logging after three herders from Nellim, in Finland's far north, complained about logging in key reindeer-grazing areas and asked for 27,000 hectares (67,000 acres) of land to be protected.

State logging company Metsahallitus said it would decide on any resumption of logging in the area only after the government put its case to the United Nations, for which it has six months, and after the United Nations responds.

The dispute relates to a long-standing complaint about land rights by Lapland's indigenous Sami people, who make up a significant proportion of reindeer herders.

They say the state-owned lands where reindeer graze are vital for preserving their culture and their herds.

Metsahallitus, which says existing protection for state- owned forests is sufficient, said that in the meantime it would try to find suitable logging areas elsewhere in northern Lapland.

Environmental activists have also been campaigning to stop logging in northern Lapland. In Berlin on Wednesday, supporters of Greenpeace spread waste from Metsahallitus logging operations in front of the Finnish embassy.

Last week, activists blockaded a ship carrying paper cargo from Finland to Germany to protest against the logging of the ancient forests they called an irreplaceable heritage.

Nellim, near the Russian border, accounts for about a quarter of the 130,000 cubic metres (4.6 million cu ft) of wood Metsahallitus cuts in northern Lapland every year.

Metsahallitus said that of the 27,000 hectares (67,000 acres) identified by the reindeer herders, about 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) were either currently logged or in the company's short-term logging plans.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Food Security Worries Could Limit China Biofuels

Worries about feeding the world's most populous nation could limit the growth of China's environmentally-friendly biofuels industry, officials and executives said on Friday.

Biofuels made from agricultural products ranging from sugarcane and wheat to waste oil from cooking, are becoming increasingly attractive as crude prices climb.

Beijing bureaucrats, concerned about rural poverty and rising oil imports, are attracted to a technology that offers a chance to cut dependence on foreign petroleum and boost the value of farmers' output.

Its biofuel programme, originally developed in part to help tackle surplus corn stocks in the northeast, involves subsidised production of over 1 million tonnes of the fuel.

Five provinces already blend 10 percent of ethanol into all their gasoline and over 20 cities scattered across the country are also pioneering the "gasohol" mix.

But even with the additional advantage of helping clear city skies clouded by smog -- up to 70 percent caused by car emissions, according to Gao Haiyang, from China's Automotive Technology and Research Centre -- the programme is unlikely to expand across the country just yet.

"Basically this country has such a large population that the top priority for land use is food crops ... and at the moment they don't want to exacerbate competition for new materials," said Sergio Trindade, president of SE2T International.

China has long been concerned about its food security, and although it has abandoned a Maoist-era insistence on self-sufficiency, is still keen to meet much of its needs with domestic production.


China's scientists hope that farming by-products like straw and corn stalks, or even forest residues, could offer a longer-term solution.

These are usually burnt, but contain cellulose that can be broken down into ethanol -- although currently it is too expensive to be commercially viable.

"Cellulose provides a renewable fuel option without concerns about food safety and land requirements," said Li Shizhong, Professor at the Biomass Engineering Centre at the China Agricultural University.

He said China was capable of developing cheap but reliable technology in as little as a decade, and called for a national target of 12 million tonnes of ethanol output by 2015 to 2020.

With the domestic market for fuel blending estimated at around 5 million tonnes, he suggested that some of the extra production could be channelled to the chemicals industry as a feedstock for ethylene.