Thursday, March 27, 2008

Green Energy Development

The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.

---Wendell Berry

The essence of the problem is about consumption, recognizing that a society that consumes one third of the world's resources is unsustainable. This level of consumption requires constant intervention into other people's lands. That's what's going on.

---Winona LaDuke

What we are calling for is a revolution in public education. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with the experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.

---Alice Waters

The quotations can be found in the April/May 2008 issue of Mother Earth News, and at the website .

Perhaps your idea of food production in the future resembles the illustrating photo (which I found here ) and you may be right. Many people are preparing for a post-petroleum world by forming small self-sustaining communities of like-minded individuals. Fortified by stocks of food in individual cellars and possibly an arsenal of collective weapons, they await the apocalypse. I understand Tom Cruise is building an underground shelter.

With that kind of worry, on Tuesday I entered Ohio University's Walter Hall Rotunda (not the most environmentally sound structure, we discovered) for something called the Green Energy Development Summit. The forum was sponsored by US Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, OU's Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3), and the Pew Environment Group (which is one of the Pew Charitable Trusts). That's a pretty formidable team for a small college town in one of the most destitute parts of Appalachia. Was rescue coming at last?

Apparently the idea for the summit was cooked up by Tom Bullock, a representative for Pew in Ohio, and Scott Miller, who directs the energy and environment programs for CE3. They both contacted Senator Brown's office to get at least his name connected and some representatives here, remembering perhaps he visited Athens during his campaign for office to bless the solar array then opening on the roof of Athens Middle School. The senator himself came to Athens yesterday for a review of the conference and to meet with university and business leaders. I sat next to a representative of Governor Strickland. So there we were: a lot of suits and a bunch of blue jeans.

A half dozen of the people in neckties turned out to be presenters, each alloted about 20 minutes to tell us of business initiatives in which they were involved. Now I had 2 problems with this already. First of course is my prejudice that it's free market capitalists that have messed us up to the point where chunks of Antarctica the size of an average country are falling off and dissolving. Second is my ignorance, both about business marketing and the engineering that invents the products. That means I'm not such a great candidate to be telling you about this...but I'll try my best. What I want to accomplish is at least to get something on the Internet about what we learned that day, and hopefully attract some reaction from people who do know what they're talking about.

The first to present were managers of Bellisio Foods whose main plant is in nearby Jackson, Ohio. Bellisio is the third-largest producer of frozen food entrees in the United States, turning out something like 2 million packages a day. That's a lot of food and, as Ryan Wright informed us, eventually tons of organic waste. Bellisio used to pay truckers to come and haul it away someplace. To cook the food the company has 9 huge boilers full of water and heated with natural gas. So somebody got the idea of turning all that good compost into biogas and heating the boilers with that. As a result Bellisio became more environment friendly, saved $650,000 a year hauling costs, and estimates another $900,000 savings this year by waste conversion into biogas.

And you ain't heard nothing yet. The next colorful character to step up was Ben Schafer, an engineer himself and President of American Hydrogen. What Mr. Schafer's company does involves a process developed by research at OU, and then licensed to him. It reduces the amount of electricity needed to split hydrogen from nitrogen in the ammonia molecule, bringing cost of producing hydrogen to less than $2.00 a kilogram. A kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent in its energy content to one gallon of gasoline. No pollution. His assembly line is being set up in neighboring Meigs County, and will create a hundred jobs.

But the biggest jaw-dropper of all was the next gentleman, complete with Capetown accent. Neill Lane is President and CEO of Sunpower, with headquarters right here on Mill Street. Sunpower has emerged over the past 30 years as the world's leading developer of free-piston engines, including something called the Stirling engine. For those of us who thought solar just means a little flickering of electricity but hardly anything that could power---say---space exploration or something, these people have news for us! Here's where my lack of afternoons tinkering in gas-powered motors brings this article shuddering to a halt...but I can direct you to Wikipedia's page on the Stirling engine. And I invite you to click around Sunpower's site for some really amazing applications. Sunpower had a little humming machine going in a corner of the rotunda, which I guess was an air conditioner that had us all occasionally shivering in that place.

After a break, we spent the next 2 and a half hours in small sessions discussing barriers to and opportunities for more green energy development. I have to tell you that in each of the 3 sessions, public education K-12 was mentioned again and again. The Dean of Energy and Transportation Technologies at Hocking College told us students coming to them from high school are miserably prepared in math and science. Hocking's new Energy Institute was visited by Barack Obama just before the Ohio primary. I suggested preparation for the testing required by No Child Left Behind fills up all teaching time in science and math---and from what I hear is not only impractical but not directed to student needs.

It was an intense day and I'm glad to say my wife, who advocated we go to it, brought our 16-year-old daughter with us. As usual, she was the youngest person there. What was important for us all was the feeling of hope with which we left the building. Profitable innovation is underway that is helpful to our world...but most people don't know enough about it. That's going to change.

An overview of CE3 is here~~~

and this PDF was our agenda~~~

Scott assured us all the materials we developed will show up shortly online. He also plans to develop a forum on these topics in which anyone can become involved. I'll try to keep you updated.

The Pew Trust Tom represents is here~~~


jazzolog said...

I knew the Athens News Senior Writer Jim Phillips was in the audience, and I had hoped his article would be online by the time I wrote yesterday. It's up now though. Since he was taking notes, there are details that I missed~~~

Business leaders say ‘green’ approach doable, profitable
By Jim Phillips
Athens NEWS Senior Writer
March 27, 2008

What if Ohio-based companies could cut greenhouse emissions, wean America off imported oil – and kick-start the state’s economy in the process? A no-brainer, right?

This happy scenario is achievable, three business leaders told an audience at Ohio University Tuesday, and the key is alternative energy.

“I’m going to talk about a very real business opportunity for Ohio,” said Neill Lane, president and CEO of the Athens-based Sunpower, Inc., a company that makes free-piston engines. “Things are not changing slowly – they’re changing enormously quickly.”

Lane was one of three presenters at the Green Energy Summit, sponsored jointly by OU’s Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3), the Pew Environment Group, and the office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The event brought government and business leaders together to discuss ways to promote “green” and sustainable businesses in the region.

Lane noted that Sunpower, founded by local engineer William Beale, has been toiling away in relative obscurity for years, making Stirling engines that, when heated externally, produce electricity.

Though using reflector dishes to heat banks of Stirling engines with solar power can provide large amounts of clean electricity, he said, little attention was paid to the process until recently. But suddenly, with both global temperatures and oil prices shooting up, interest in Stirling technology is rising as well, he said.

“The world is different now from what it was three months ago, based on my phone ringing,” he observed.

Lane stressed that the technology – including many inventions to which Sunpower holds exclusive patent – already exists to move toward large-scale electric generation. One model is already being tested in Europe, where Stirling-based combined-heat-and-power (CHP) units completely power individual homes.

“It’s a power station on your wall,” Lane explained, adding that Sunpower has partnerships with four European companies that together account for over a third of the European Union’s heating-equipment market.

With concentrated solar technology, Lane said, the promise may be even greater. One 100-mile-square field of dish collectors and Stirling engines in a sunny state like New Mexico, he said, could meet the entire U.S. energy demand.

The best part of the story for Ohio, he added, is that the state is positioned to midwife a huge, new, clean industry that can provide both knowledge-based and manufacturing jobs. Lane estimated the industry has the potential to be worth over $28 billion by 2025.

“This is ours to lose,” he said. “This is Ohio’s to lose, and the USA’s to lose.”

BEN SCHAEFFER IS president of American Hydrogen Corporation, a company that recently opened in southeast Ohio to commercialize technology created at OU to generate hydrogen fuel by electrolyzing ammonia. The firm has an office in Athens and is opening a plant in Meigs County.

Where older methods created hydrogen at a cost of around $10 a kilogram, Schaeffer said, his company’s process brings the cost to 30 cents a kilo.

Schaeffer argued passionately that cleaner alternatives to oil must be found, and fast. He cited the “Hubbert’s peak” of oil production, named for a geophysicist who shocked the world in 1949 by predicting that the fossil fuel era wouldn’t last long.

Hubbert said that with unrestrained extraction of a natural resource in a given area, a graph of production levels will be a bell curve, peaking when the resource is about half exhausted. The world is near or past that peak now, Schaeffer warned. And as oil supplies peter out, the risk of global conflict over what’s left goes up.

Last year, he noted, China bought 55 percent of the world’s spot market in oil – up from about 3 percent five years earlier. Globally, he said, “$1.8 million an hour is what we spend on oil.” For the United States, whose domestic oil production has long since peaked, this means lots of purchases from the Middle East and elsewhere.
“I’d like to not be dependent on people who are organized slightly differently from what we are,” he noted wryly.

Citing the well-worn metaphor of the frog slowly boiled alive as the temperature under his pan of water is gradually raised, Schaeffer offered an alternative to the “boiled” frog – the “bold” frog that sees the long-term trend and acts to change it.

“I’ve always been curious why the frog didn’t turn the heat down,” he joked.

Schaeffer said American Hydrogen is committed to being a waste-free, completely sustainable business. The ammonia for its electrolysis is widely available as industrial waste, he said. And while the Meigs County plant will be on the utility power grid at first, he promised, as soon as possible it will generate its own power with fuel cells.

“We’re going to be eating our own dog food,” he said. “Our plant is going to run on the electricity we produce.”

AN OFFICIAL FROM a large food-processing plant in Jackson, Ohio, provided an example of how an existing, old-school industrial business can take huge steps toward cutting pollution and increasing energy efficiency.

Ryan Wright, utility/sustainability manager for the Bellisio Foods plant in Jackson, described how the 63-acre plant, which runs 20 production lines to create frozen entrees, has begun using its food waste to generate methane gas for energy.

The wastes are fed into a large treatment tank where they are “digested” by bio-organisms to create methane, which is then used to fire boilers.

The project cost $4.65 million, but has allowed the company to save on natural gas use, and the costs of trucking food wastes to a landfill, Wright reported. He estimated that it also cuts down on carbon dioxide production by over 43,000 tons annually.

“It’s great project; we’re proud of it,” Wright said. In addition to the cost savings, he added, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Anonymous said...


Neill Lane is right: the technology already exists!

The above is a link to Mike Adams's cartoon taking to task auto-makers for "greenboasting" (the practice of TALKING about being green, while not taking any real action to introduce green cars (electric cars) to the marketplace - some of those companies are even working AGAINST the greening of automobiles.)

Millions of Americans want the option to drive on cleaner, cheaper, domestic electricity. Many have banded together in Plug In America to demand that automakers give consumers a choice.

And here are on the stories of two guys whose vehicles ALREADY run on empty... Why just them? And why not millions of Americans?

The following is the story Stephen Weitz:

Stephen Weitz: This Truck Runs on Sunshine

Stephen Weitz, who holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry, says four things prompted him to buy an electric truck and charge it with solar energy: 1) global warming and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS); 2) Albert Einstein; 3) nitrogen "overdose"; and 4) open habitat and species destruction.

"NAS began warning of the dangers of rising carbon dioxide levels on global temperatures due to the greenhouse effect years ago," says Weitz, who lives in Oakland, California. "And Einstein won the Nobel Prize for describing the 'photovoltaic effect,' inaugurating the age of quantum physics and making photovoltaic solar panels a theoretical possibility."

Regarding nitrogen overdose, scientists have been documenting that harmless nitrogen (air is 80 percent nitrogen) is converted into potent fertilizer by internal combustion engines. This fertilizer is then deposited on soils, harming native plant ecosystems and endangered species.

"Some call it drive-by ICE (internal combustion engine) extinction," Weitz says. "Using 'green fuels' like ethanol and biodiesel would continue the problem, and hydrogen fuel cells are no solution because they cost too much, they're less efficient than battery-powered vehicles, and hydrogen is made by stripping fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide and exacerbates global warming."

Weitz wanted a source of energy for his electric vehicle that didn't originate from combustion. "By putting solar panels on the roof of my house, I could make use of an endless energy supply to charge my electric vehicle and operate and heat the house. Your house and your vehicle are the two biggest contributors to global warming, so making both carbon neutral strikes at the heart of the problem."

Rooftop mounting of solar panels also eliminates the need to convert undeveloped habitat into solar generation facilities. "We need to save open space for ecosystems, and we have so many empty roofs across the nation," he says. He points out as well that terrorist attacks and earthquakes are less destructive when power generation is distributed diffusely, rather than in concentrated spots like nuclear power plants or nuclear waste disposal sites.

For his PV system, Weitz contacted NorCal Solar (, which lists state-approved contractors. He obtained multiple bids, arranged two site visits, and got a "significant" rebate from the state for installing the system. He has Time of Use metering, and in the summer he gets a greater dollars-per-kilowatt credit for his solar-generated electricity than he spends at night to charge his electric truck. "PG&E (the local utility) is happy because their peak power needs are highest when my solar panels are putting out the watts, and lowest at night when I'm charging. The PG&E bill for operating my house and electric vehicle is almost zero."

There are two types of EV's, he explains: highway capable battery electric vehicles (BEVs), and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). "Buy only what you need," he advises." If you drive mostly around town and take long trips once a year, get an NEV and rent a car for the long trip. If you must do lots of freeway driving, buy a BEV—just realize it will cost more and use more energy."

Weitz searched the Web for his electric vehicle, and recommends eBay,, and "I was lucky and found one of the rare vehicles in the movie "Who Killed the Electric Car" that hadn't been crushed by the auto industry—a factory-built Chevy S10 pickup. I had it shipped from Arizona and an electrician installed a 220-volt charger in my garage."

Janis said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love all the links in that last comment, and the links inside the links. This is a wonderful start. Notice who these two car owners are and where they live: a scientist and another smart and authentic guy; they both live in California, one near Davis and one in Berkeley. I think California could and should take the reins as a solar power in the country. We have the sunshine; we have the brainpower; we have the population, the money, and with a little push, we might even have the will. I think the will and the power is growing to make a turnaround. Marketing techniques and market manipulations have been used to achieve morally dubious ends for far too long -- it's time to make these crooks socially unacceptable. I think it could happen. In any case, it absolutely should happen, or else there won't be any future for that little girl's children.

We also have to work on many other issues: dealing with trash and toxins; pure water, world hunger and poverty; and mass species extinction. Things don't have to be the way they are. Wouldn't it be nice if we could demonstrate that we have evolved as a species and that the hand that destroys can also be the hand that heals?

Janis said...

I am ordering the bumper sticker that says, "no plug, no car" -- it will look just great on my 19-year old car with a dent in the side! I think I'll even wash it to celebrate.

jazzolog said...

Thanks to Janis for stopping by, and it's great to meet you. If you have a site or something online, please send me the link. I just put up a comment with more information about Sunpower's solar potential at the HopeDance article that follows this one at jazzoLOG.

jazzolog said...

azzolog@gmail.comThe Free Market Saves The World

Something inside rebels against that title, especially on Karl Marx' birthday. The fact is increasingly I'm hearing from people in business that Going Green saves them money and gets us, at least partially, out from under the thumb of King Coal and the oilmen. One of the people attending the meeting this article is about was Ben Appleby, who's an installer at Third Sun Solar & Wind here and an active Sierra Club member. Ben claimed in one of the discussion groups the biggest problem Third Sun has is finding enough educated or trained workers in what green energy is all about.

The best explanation I've seen of these innovative solutions nationwide appeared in a Rolling Stone article last year by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Titled "What Must Be Done," Mr. Kennedy also argued for cessation of corporate welfare to oil and coal. Not only do our taxes pay for their research and development plus subsidies to drill and mine, but we have to clean up their mess too. What other business gets this treatment? I see the article is online and I urge everyone to read it. Here's the first of its 6 pages~~~

In early May, 100 of the nation's top business leaders gathered for a summit at a private resort nestled on 250 acres in California's Napa Valley. The attendees, gathered at the invitation of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, included CEOs and other top executives from such Fortune 500 corporations as Wal-Mart, Proctor & Gamble and BP. They had been invited to discuss ways to end America's fossil-fuel addiction and save the world from global warming. But in reality they had come to make money for their companies---and that may turn out to be the thing that saves us.
For three days, the executives listened as their colleagues and business rivals described how they are using new technologies to wean themselves from oil and boost their profits in the process. DuPont has cut its climate-warming pollution by seventy-two percent since 1990, slashing $3 billion from its energy bills while increasing its global production by nearly a third. Wal-Mart has installed new, energy-efficient light bulbs in refrigeration units that save the company $12 million a year, and skylights that cut utility bills by up to $70,000 per store. The company, which operates the nation's second-largest corporate truck fleet, also saved $22 million last year just by installing auxiliary power units that allow drivers to operate electric systems without idling their vehicles. In a move with even more far-reaching potential, Wal-Mart has ordered its truck suppliers to double the gas mileage of the company's entire fleet by 2015. When those trucks become available to other businesses, America will cut its demand for oil by six percent.

The executives gathered at the retreat weren't waiting around for federal subsidies or new regulations to tilt the market in their direction. Business logic, not government intervention, was driving them to cut energy costs and invest in new fuel sources. "We haven't even touched the low-hanging fruit yet," Kim Saylors-Laster, the vice president of energy for Wal-Mart, told the assembled CEOs. "We're still getting the fruit that has already fallen from the trees."

As the discussions at the summit demonstrated, America's top executives know something that the Bush administration has yet to realize: America doesn't need to wait for futuristic, pie-in-the-sky technologies to cut its reckless consumption of oil and coal. Our last, best hope to stop climate change is the free market itself. There is gold in going green, and the same drive to make a buck that created global warming in the first place can now be harnessed to slow the carbon-based pollution that is overheating the planet.

And green investment will not just enrich a few corporations. We know from past experience that it will strengthen America's economy, not to mention our national security, our economic independence and the effectiveness of our world leadership. During the oil crisis sparked by OPEC in the 1970s, American business and government went into overdrive to promote conservation and develop alternatives to Middle Eastern oil.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is professor of Environmental Law at Pace University in New York. He also is chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper Fund and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He directs NRDC’s Estuary Enforcement Project. Through these organizations and in conjunction with the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, he has brought successful legal actions prosecuting governments and companies for polluting the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. He has successfully argued cases to expand citizen access to the shoreline and to promote environmental justice. The Clinic has taken a leading role in protecting New York City’s water supply and reservoirs. Professor Kennedy has written numerous articles on environmental law and litigation, environmental justice and advocacy. With John Cronin, he wrote The Riverkeepers, published in 1997.

jazzolog said...

This feature article from yesterday's Akron Beacon Journal. Now how about schools and churches?

Growing greener good for business
Group hoping to find new ways to turn waste material into profit
By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal business writer
Published on Monday, May 05, 2008

Maybe it was Wal-Mart's pressure on suppliers to adopt environmentally friendly packaging. Or General Electric's EcoImagination, a commitment to ecologically sound products and services.

Or perhaps it was Al Gore's global warming alert in An Inconvenient Truth. Or something more immediate, like rising energy costs.

Whatever the reason, a Northeast Ohio group founded eight years ago to help startup companies learn about ''sustainable'' business practices has been attracting a lot of attention from veteran companies, nonprofits, academics and government agencies.

Today, some 5,600 people have joined Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, known as E4S. The organization runs training programs for companies looking to reduce their environmental footprint, and last year the Cleveland-based group started holding regular networking events in Akron.

''Until a year or two ago, not that many people knew about it,'' Holly Harlan said of E4S, which she founded in 2000.

Now many people are finding benefits to sharing their stories and hearing others.

''These ideas are still new and you can learn a lot from your peers,'' Harlan said.

Supported by funding from the GAR Foundation, E4S hosted three events in the Akron area last year. This year it will hold six meetings. Meanwhile, monthly meetings at the Great Lakes Brewing Co. in Cleveland will continue as they have for seven years.

The meetings typically involve a one- to two-hour program — which could be a panel discussion or local companies presenting their own green practices — with plenty of time before and after to network.

''Every month what surprises me are the number of connections, people who meet each other and find new customers, new suppliers, new financing,'' Harlan said.

The next meeting, on May 14, will introduce half a dozen businesses that are finding ways to turn waste into a business opportunity.

Joseph Hensel of Akron's Polyflow Corp. said he began attending E4S meetings more than five years ago looking for strategic partners or the occasional investor.

This month he will attend the Akron meeting as a presenter, explaining his company's ongoing development of a way to recycle mixed plastics and mixed rubber.

Arguably, polymers (plastics, rubber) are the most useful material known to man, but their durability has also been their
Achilles' heel.

While there is a recycle market for water bottles and milk jugs, products that use many different materials — like children's toys, tires, carpet — are destined for landfills, Hensel said.

Polyflow is close to commercializing a process that reverts those ''mixed plastics'' back into monomers, their building blocks. Monomers, normally derived from crude oil and natural gas, are used by the petrochemical industry to make polymers.

''We think we have the greatest advancement in the polymer industry since the invention of polymer,'' Hensel said.

Harlan said she loves to hear about those kinds of advances, but added that being ''green'' doesn't have to involve complex technology.

''We don't want you to implement anything that would break the bank,'' said Harlan, who recommends companies consider the ''triple bottom line benefit'' before acting. That means implementing changes that have positive environmental, economic and social impact.

Typically, the first place companies should look at is energy efficiency. Harlan recommends doing an energy audit and then looking for simple solutions, like turning off unnecessary lights or idle computers.

The second most common consideration is waste reduction. It costs money to dispose of waste, Harlan said, so companies that can think of a way to use byproducts save landfill costs while creating more profit.

Being more ''environmentally conscious'' and saving money are two of the three main reasons Americhem asked E4S for guidance, said Paul Feezel, who leads Americhem's internal ''green team.''

The Cuyahoga Falls company, which makes pigment concentrates, joined the ''Sustainability Initiative,'' an eight-month corporate program that includes seminars and homework. The first month's assignment: Audit the company's trash.

''We, like a lot of companies, are starting to focus on initiatives that balance people, profit and planet,'' Feezel said.

The third driver was an intimate understanding of customer needs, he said.

For instance, applying a non-degradable coloring to a customer's biodegradable product is counterproductive.

''So we have to ask, is there something we can do to meet their needs but have a lower environmental impact,'' Feezel said.


Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or

©2008 The Akron Beacon Journal

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