Canadian Renewable Fuels Association launches new bioeconomy strategy

W. Scott Thurlow, President of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, used an Ottawa luncheon meeting of the Economic Club of Canada today to announce a new strategic plan for the Association. Entitled Evolution and Growth: From Biofuels to Bioeconomy, the strategy acknowledges that biofuels are not just about replacing and enhancing petroleum as an energy resource but should also provide the chemical building blocks of a greener industrial economy.

Thurlow’s presentation emphasized that renewable fuels provide major economic, environmental and social benefits and that innovation within and assisted by the industry has now reached a point where renewables are now going from green to greener. Renewable fuels are now encouraging such initiatives as the modernization of industry, diverting waste from landfills, and revitalizing the forestry sector.

The CRFA is seeking:

  • a fair value for greenhouse gas reductions, meaning monetizing of emission reductions through emissions trading or a carbon tax.
  • platforms that help advance innovation and promote investment in new renewable fuels technologies in Canada.
  • increasing the federal renewable diesel mandate to ensure a 5% inclusion rate of biodiesel in diesel fuel by 2020.
  • the build-out of new refuelling infrastructure so that consumers will have more choices at the pump.
  • increasing domestic production and use of advanced biofuels.
  • building a comprehensive bioeconomy strategy for Canada.

The full report and an audiovisual presentation are available at http://www.evolutionandgrowth.ca/

The next issue of Gallon Environment Letter will be focusing on the topic of building a bioeconomy and will provide more information about the CRFA proposals. Subscription instructions are at www.gallonletter.ca/subscription.htm

Renewable energy looking good in Europe

Critics of renewable power frequently suggest that the intermittent nature of wind and solar power make it unreliable and therefore uneconomic. Energy guru Amory Lovins pointed out to the recent GLOBE conference that conventional energy sources are also unreliable. Down time from scheduled maintenance, breakdowns, distribution system problems, solar flares, and labour disruptions not only at the generating plant but also throughout the supply chain can cause conventional generating stations to go off line. Now data on renewables from Europe show how much of a role renewable can play in major electricity systems.

The European Union has a population of just over 500 million, or about 25% more than North America. According to figures just published by the European Renewable Energy Observatory, an independent organization co-funded by the Intelligent Energy Europe Programme of the European Union,

The report presents information for each European Union country with respect to windpower, photovoltaic, solar thermal, small hydropower, geothermal, heat pumps, biogas, biofuels, urban waste, solid biomass, concentrated solar power, and ocean energy. Renewable energy provided 23.4% of gross electricity consumption in 2012, employed 1.22 million people, and accounted for about $200 billion CDN in economic activity. EurObserv’ER attributes most of the decline in renewable energy investment to a decline in technology prices.

The 185 page report The State of Renewable Energies in Europe 2013 Edition may be found at http://www.energies-renouvelables.org/observ-er/stat_baro/barobilan/barobilan13-gb.pdf

A summary is available at http://www.eurobserv-er.org/pdf/press/year_2014/bilan/english.pdf

High levels of VOCs are emitted from some new baby mattresses

Environmental engineers at The University of Texas at Austin have reported that infants are exposed to high levels of chemical emissions from some crib mattresses. The problem appears to be associated with the polyurethane foam and polyester foam that is often used in such mattresses. New baby mattresses emit four times as much VOCs as old crib mattresses. Body heat increases emissions and emissions of volatile organic compounds are highest in the sleeping infant’s immediate breathing zone. One of the researchers is quoted by the University as stating that crib mattresses release VOCs at rates comparable to other consumer products and indoor materials, including laminate flooring (20 to 35 micrograms per square metre per hour) and wall covering (51 micrograms per square metre per hour).

The researchers identified more than 30 VOCs in the mattresses, including phenol, neodecanoic acid and linalool. The most abundant chemicals identified in the crib mattress foam, such as limonene (a chemical that gives products a lemon scent), are routinely found in many cleaning and consumer products. The researchers have not published the brands of baby mattress used in their research.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, not much is known about the health effects that occur from the levels of VOCs found in homes. The implications of the research are not alarming, in GallonDaily’s opinion, but the whole question of indoor exposure to VOCs certainly warrants further study and emissions from baby products containing foam may warrant somewhat more accelerated further study.

A summary of the research findings is available at http://www.utexas.edu/news/2014/04/02/crib-mattresses-emit-chemicals/. The full paper, fee or subscription required, is at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es405625q?prevSearch=%255BContrib%253A%2BBoor%255D&searchHistoryKey=

Greenpeace praises some internet companies while slamming others, itself

It is not often that Greenpeace in North America praises large organizations in the private sector but that is exactly what the ngo did when flying its ‘thermal airship’ over Los Angeles earlier today. On one side the message read ‘Building the Green Internet’ and carried the logos of Apple, Facebook and Google. The reference was to the announcement by these three companies that they will power their data centres entirely from renewable energy. On the other side the airship carried the message ‘Who’s Next to Go Green?’ with the logos of Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and Pinterest, four companies that Greenpeace believes are powering their operations with polluting energy.

GallonDaily cannot help but note that the ‘thermal airship’, which can accommodate as many as three people for a one hour flight or one person for a three hour flight, apparently derives its lift from air heated by a propane burner system. Last time GallonDaily checked, we found that propane is a 100% fossil fuel with greenhouse gas emissions not much better than oil. For Greenpeace to praise companies that use 100% renewable power with an airship that uses 100% fossil energy seems somewhat more than ironic.

Nevertheless, the concept of praising environmentally more responsible companies while hitting on those that are not making similar moves towards sustainability is likely one that will appeal to the internet generation. Let’s hope Silicon Valley is listening.

The Greenpeace announcement of the stunt is available at http://greenpeaceblogs.org/2014/04/03/greenpeace-flies-silicon-valley-praises-internet-companies-gone-green/

Thoughts on waste management consultations

One of the closing sessions at last week’s GLOBE 2014 conference was a special session on waste management. Organized by the National Zero Waste Council, a fledgling organization sponsored by Metro Vancouver, the session, entitled Advancing a Waste Prevention and Reduction Agenda in Canada, involved a panel of generic policy experts involved not only with waste management but also with other environmental and social issues. The panel was chaired by Erica Johnson, host of CBC’s Marketplace show.

The most interesting part of the session was the opportunity provided to the 150 or so audience members to ask questions and make proposals for the work of the NZWC. Although held as part of GLOBE, this particular session was open to anyone who might be interested. Vancouver is currently going through a strategic planning process for waste management, including the construction of a thermal component commonly but not quite accurately known as an “incinerator”. Thus the session attracted a fairly activist group of people and organizations who have thoughts and notions about waste management.

In GallonDaily’s editor’s experience from more than 30 years of work on waste management issues, waste management is one of those issues, like hockey in Canada, where everyone considers themselves an expert. The suggestions brought forward by the audience covered the full range from banning polystyrene, putting a refundable deposit on all glass bottles or on all packaging, taxing homes according to the amount of waste generated, requiring retailers to take back all packaging, and asking the NZWC to ban the construction of an incinerator in Vancouver. One could see where the ideas were coming from but few if any of them were practical, politically viable, and economically sound whether for Canada or for the NZWC.

As almost everyone involved with public consultation, especially around waste management issues, will know, people frequently promote ideas that are based on an incomplete understanding of the facts. But the frustrating part of the GLOBE session was that no one on the panel or in the room attempted to explain why some of the ideas presented were not likely to fly. Thus the participants presenting these impractical ideas most likely went away feeling that they had made a contribution. When, in a matter of months, the NZWC announces its first workplan and none of these ideas are included, some of the activist participants will feel that they have been ignored. They will be angry and many will begin to promote their proposals even more aggressively. The panel led GallonDaily to two conclusions:

  1. consultations of this nature should include experts who can respond immediately to suggestions coming from the public and can discuss the pros and cons of each idea in a way that increases understanding of the complexity of the topic and of the considerations that have to be taken into account when developing waste management policy; and
  2. the industry must recognize that public opinion is eager for waste reduction initiatives that may be quite harmful to industry and, in some cases, to the environment. Unless the Canadian packaging industries and commercial users of packaging ramp up their public education efforts, local and provincial governments, possibly also a future federal government, will start implementing policies based on suggestions coming from public meetings such as this.

In GallonDaily’s opinion, industry will only have itself to blame if packaging bans, taxes, levies, and take-back programs become mandatory.