Obama Bets Big on Biofuels in Georgia

3 02 2009

Ben Mack | Wired

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars get all the love in Detroit these days, but Washington isn’t giving up on biofuel. Uncle Sam is spending millions of dollars to find ways of turning everything from algae to lawn trimmings into fuel as President Obama promises to invest heavily in alternative fuels.

The departments of energy and agriculture will award $25 million to advance development of “technologies and processes” to produce so-called “next generation” biofuels that aren’t refined from food crops like corn. The announcement follows an agriculture department  promise to loan $80 million to Range Fuels, a Colorado company that produces ethanol from wood chips, so it can build a refinery in Georgia.

“A robust biofuels industry – focused on the next-generation of biofuels – is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing our addiction to foreign oil and putting Americans back to work,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

The $25 million will finance projects focused on feedstock development, biofuel and biobased product development and biofuel development analysis. The goal is to create a wide range of “economically and environmentally sustainable” sources of renewable biomass that can be turned into fuel and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels, officials said.

“These grants will help support the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry by broadening the nation’s energy sources as well as improving the efficiency of renewable fuels,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The production of ethanol derived from corn, soybeans and other crops has been blamed for everything from spiraling food prices to clear-cutting in the Amazon. But there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol and other fuels refined from non-food biomass because they nullify the food vs. fuel debate and other criticisms. Several airlines are developing algal fuels, each of the Big Three automakers offers “flex-fuel” cars that can run on ethanol and even super-luxury automaker Bentley is promising a biofuel-burning car.

Washington is funding more than R&D, however. During the last days of the Bush Administration, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced an $80 million loan to help Range Fuels build a new refinery. It is the first time the agency has guaranteed a loan to a commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol refinery.

Range Fuels, which Obama visited in October, uses a thermo-chemical process called gasification to convert cellulose to ethanol. Production is slated to begin next year and will be ramped up in three stages, company CEO David Aldous told Ethanol Producer magazine. During the first stage, the refinery will convert 125 tons of woody biomass into fuel each day. That will climb to 625 tons daily and then 2,625 tons – at which point the refinery will produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. All of the biomass will come from the surrounding timber industry.

“It’s located in the Milion Pines area of Georgia,” Aldous said of the refinery. “There is a very significant supply of wood waste in that area, hundreds of years supply for our plant.”


Lessons From Australia: Drought Can Help Georgia Economy

3 02 2009


David Beasley | Global Atlanta

Paul Dalby traveled to Atlanta from Australia with stories of a drought so severe that rivers stop flowing, lakes turn toxic and farmers abandon their land in frustration.

Dr. Dalby’s  message, delivered as metro Atlanta struggles to map strategies for coping with severe water shortages, focused on his country’s past and America’s future.

“Australia is where America could be in a few years,” said Dr. Dalby, a consultant with an Australian-funded institute, the International Center of  Excellence in Water Resource Management.

Yet he offered hope for Atlanta. Droughts might be drastic. However, Australia’s experience proves that less water can spark innovation, new companies and products and even more profit for some farmers, said Dr. Dalby.

In a recent interview at the Australian Consulate General in Atlanta, Dr. Dalby told the story of the Murray River and what happened when Australia drained too much water out of it for human consumption. It is a story that may resonate in metro Atlanta, where the waters of the Chattahoochee River are at the center of a long-ranging federal court fight between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, involving an array of competing business, government and environmental interests.  

Continue Reading Here.

Florida: FWC hosts climate change summit

30 09 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – A climate change summit hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will begin Wednesday in Orlando.

Climate change experts and fish and wildlife scientists will discuss the future of Florida’s animal populations and how to conserve and manage Florida’s resources. Experts from the FWC and other state and federal agencies will discuss the impacts of climate change on wildlife nationally and determine what it means for Florida.

Some of the experts attending include Virginia Burkett, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and Defenders of Wildlife’s Jean Brennan, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Washington County suddenly awash in power plant proposals

29 09 2008

Washington County could be poised to become Power Plant Central.

It already is home to two natural gas “peaker plants” that run during periods of high demand, and now two different companies are eyeing three sites for additional plants that would operate year-round.

In January, Power4GeorÂgians applied for permits to build an 850-megawatt coal-fired power plant northeast of Sandersville. This month, Oglethorpe Power announced that two Washington County sites east of Sandersville are in the running to host a 100-megawatt power plant, which would use wood chips for fuel.

If built, the plants would join those constructed in Washington County during the past five years by Progress Energy and Duke Energy Sandersville. They are also close to Georgia Power’s 1,500-megawatt Plant Branch in Putnam County.

Electricity might be “the new kaolin” for Washington County, said Tommy Walker, chairman of the Washington County Commission. The white clay, used in finishing glossy paper and making other products, was once the backbone of the local economy, but hundreds of kaolin jobs have disappeared in the past decade. Most recently, Imerys eliminated 50 jobs, Walker said.

“I’m pro-business, and I don’t think the (Environmental Protection Agency) or the state would allow us to have anything that would hurt us,” Walker said. “We want healthy industries. But certainly we need jobs.”

Oglethorpe Power estimates that the biomass plants would employ about 40 people each, which would mostly replace the recent jobs lost from Imerys, Walker noted.

While Plant Washington would be fueled by coal, which has faced broad opposition in recent years for its pollution, the Oglethorpe Power project is meant to broaden the company’s “green power” base.

Both Oglethorpe and Power4Georgians are companies made up of a conglomerate of energy cooperatives from around the state.

Oglethorpe is choosing among five sites to build two or three plants, which would be fueled by woody debris called biomass. Waste wood from logging, particle board plants and the construction industry will be burned to create steam for power. The plants will be designed to allow for mixing in other types of biomass, such as pecan hulls and peanut shells.

Read on here.

N.C.: Professor to speak on global warming

17 09 2008

BREVARD – Brevard College faculty member Jim Reynolds will give a presentation on global warming for the UNC-Asheville Chapter of Sigma Xi Sept. 24 on the Brevard College campus.

Sigma Xi is a scientific research society that meets monthly for fellowship and the exchange of scientific information of all types.

Reynolds’ presentation is titled “Global Warming and the Coming Ice Age.”

Associate professor of geology, Reynolds joined the faculty of Brevard College in 1999. A fellow of the Geological Society of America, Reynolds has led international field trips to 11 countries in Latin America and Europe.

The event is free and open to the public and will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the McLarty-Goodson Building Room 125.

Study: Climate Change Likely Made Storms Even Stronger

4 09 2008


By ERIC BERGER | Houston Chronicle

The strongest hurricanes have gotten stronger in nearly all oceans around the world, likely in response to global warming, a new study concludes.

Scientists say the research is noteworthy, because it uses only satellite observations.This may eliminate some of the bias in the historical hurricane record that has made it all but impossible to determine whether monster storms such as Hurricane Katrina are stronger or more frequent than they were a few decades ago.

After reanalyzing 25 years of satellite data from the North Atlantic and the other five ocean basins where tropical cyclones form, the study’s authors found that the top 30 percent of each year’s storms became measurably stronger between 1981 and 2006. The intensity change was equivalent to about 5 mph for the strongest storms.

“I think this makes the argument much more compelling that climate change is really affecting the most rare, powerful storms by making them even stronger,” said James Elsner, a hurricane scientist at Florida State University and lead author of the study published in Nature.

In recent years, especially since the record 2005 tropical season, some hurricane scientists have believed that warmer oceans were producing stronger hurricanes.

But other scientists have said the record of past hurricanes couldn’t be compared to that of the modern era, when storms are analyzed in minute detail from space, air and sea. Prior to the use of satellites and aircraft reconnaissance, the ability to measure sustained winds at sea was severely constrained.

One of those researchers, Chris Landsea, of the National Hurricane Center, said the new paper overreaches in its conclusion that global warming has caused the apparent rise in hurricane intensity.

The new paper finds the sharpest rise in intensity for the North Atlantic, Southern Indian and Northern Indian oceans. The trends are more modest in the Western North Pacific and Eastern North Pacific basins, and nonexistent in the South Pacific.

Read on here.

Growing a Greener Peach-State

4 09 2008

Its Getting Hot Out Here

(Atlanta, Ga) Georgia’s young people are working to cure our nations energy crisis and are going green in a big way.  This Labor Day weekend, over 150 students and youth leaders from around Georgia participated in the third annual GreenPeach! Youth Environmental-Action Conference hosted by  Georgia Students for Sustainability and the Southern Energy Network.

The GreenPeach celebrated the work students have already done to green campuses around the state, and provided workshops to enhance participant knowledge of state environmental issues, like the affects of climate change on Georgia’s agricultural industry.  Conference attendees also learned the skills necessary to run campaigns that target polluters and decision-makers with the power to help green Georgia’s campuses and communities.

“Young people recognize the affects of climate change and how it will impact our future” said Kate Morales, conference organizer and Georgia State student.  “It’s motivating thousands of Georgia youth to take a stance and work for positive changes in how we produce our energy”.

Over the past year Georgia Students for Sustainability passed “green fee” initiatives, minimal student tuition increases which are used to fund renewable energy projects, on numerous campuses like Georgia Tech and Georgia State, and in the Board of Regent’s Student Advisory Council.

Read on here.