Category Archives: Alternative Energies

Information about alternative sources of energy

Waste to Energy vs Recycling?

waste-hierarchy.png

Some time ago we wrote about Sweden turning their trash into cash by incinerating their waste to turn it into heat and power.  They were (and still are) so successful that they need to import waste in order to feed these incinerators.

However in the past few years the debate has raged over whether WTE plants are a good thing for the environment or if in themselves they hinder the recycling process? The diagram at the top shows that Incineration/Waste to Energy are more preferable to simply dumping waste in landfill but falls behind recycling, reusing or reducing.  Those who oppose WTE have the view that once you have burnt the waste, that resource is then gone forever but we all know that not ALL waste can be recycled so the option of WTE must surely have a place in the process.

Europe has led the way politically by making the use of landfill sites uneconomical and aims to eliminate all landfill sites by 2050 – whereas in the United States, the public perception is that of a vast country with limitless availability of landfill space.  Coupled with the lower fuel costs this makes the transport of waste to landfill sites a cheap option for disposing of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).

US WTE

In 2015 there were 87 WTE sites in the US in 20 states with 11 of those being in Florida.  In the same year the first WTE site built for 20 years opened its doors in Palm Beach County, Florida and is the largest in the United States.  This $672million facility is expected to decrease the use of landfill sites in the area by 90% and will extend the use of the landfill facility by 30 years, whilst at the same time generating electricity for 44,000 local households. Currently over 50% of US MSW goes straight to landfill.

The Palm County facility also has an educational center with exhibits and interactive touchscreen games which showcase the facility and educate people about recycling.

So how might WTE hinder the recycling process? For a start, building a WTE facility is a huge financial outlay.  In order for investors to get a return on their money, they need to tie the local municipalities into lengthy contracts to supply them with waste for incineration.  This obviously reduces the incentive to provide facilities to separate out waste for recycling as there is a commitment to provide waste for burning.

How might WTE help the recycling process? Many of these sites are seen as huge unwelcome facilities that nobody want at the end of their street.  They are disconnected from the local population who leave their waste out for collection and then think no more about it and what has happened to it.  In Denmark a brand new facility just outside Copenhagen called CopenHill (or Amager Bakke) is close to completion (expected in the summer of 2018) and will be the most efficient waste-burning and energy-generating facility in the world.

The plant will produce 25% more energy than the plant it will replace from the same amount of waste.  It will provide both heat and energy for 160,000 households across Copenhagen. The incineration process will also recover materials that are not otherwise able to be recycled.  Metal segregation from bottom ash will be sold for road construction thereby replacing other virgin material.

copenhill
CopenHill facility, Copenhagen

However, where this place differs from other WTEs is that on its roof will be an artificial ski slope (although Denmark one of Europe’s flattest countries, skiing is a very popular pastime), a small grove of trees and the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall.  CopenHill expects to receive 57,000 visitors each year.

The facility will also strive to create a relationship between consumers and their waste. A huge smoke stack will puff out a steam ring across the city’s skyline with each ton of CO2 that is emitted from the plant. The aim is to educate the local population and make them aware that SOMETHING happens to their waste and to transform people’s perceptions about public utility buildings. If a facility becomes part of the local community, people are more likely to want to know what goes on inside and increases their awareness of the process as a whole, which must be a good thing?

So what side of the debate do you sit now? Denmark incinerates 50% of its waste materials but also has a high rate of recycling its food and organic materials, so incineration does not necessarily mean less recycling if the mindset of the population is geared toward this.

However, WTEs do produce an end waste product of ash (once any recoverable materials have been removed) and these will eventually end up in a landfill, so the process is not ultimately as efficient as recycling.  However you look at it also, burning waste is not a form of renewable energy – not like wind, tides or solar – and no scientist would support this statement. But Florida (and several other US states) do consider incineration as “recycling” and award credits accordingly.  See if your State awards credits for WTE.

So Waste To Energy offers a partial solution for waste management, particularly where there is no political or economic support for it but cannot truly be classed as contributing to renewable energy or recycling.  Is the Danish facility with a ski slope a smokescreen to deflect attention from the creation of another Waste to Energy plant – no matter how efficient it is?

Green Waste Enterprises has a Four Point Plan the 2nd of which includes the call to legislate to improve recycling laws.  Given that in the United States, responsibility for regulating recycling is devolved to State or Local Government this in turns leads to a disjointed approach.  Do you know what your local approach is to waste management?

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Thinking Outside the “Plastic” Box

single use pollution

Single-use plastic packaging is clogging up the oceans and overwhelming landfill sites.  Alternatives that are both sustainable and recyclable are under development but the need a boost to become economically viable and more mainstream.

Global plastic production had mushroomed from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes only 4 years ago.  It is expected that this figure will double in the next few decades and by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, there could potentially be more plastic in the oceans than fish.

Unfortunately, despite the moves to encourage recycling of plastic waste, a substantial amount of plastic packaing is uneconomical to recover, reuse or recycle.  So we need to be lookng for materials with a large range of properties that make them viable alternatives to unrecyclable plastic.

Here are 5 sustanable and affordable packaging alternatives:-

Edible films and wraps.  These starch-based products have been around for a while, but at the US Department of Agriculture, they are now developing a film made of milk protein.  In South Korea they have been looking at animal protein.

edible fims

 

Algae-based packaging.  If you boil up seaweed you get a gelatinous substance called agar.  This can be used to create textures that can replicate bubble wrap and foam packaing.  This is currently being pioneered by researchers in Japan, Lithuania and Spain.

algae based packaging

Mushroom-based containers.  Grown from agricultural by-products, this so called myco-foam is produced from mycelium a fungal network of threadlike cells, which are like the roots of mushrooms.  Ecovative in the United States is at the forefront of this technology.  Swedish retain giants, Ikea are looking at using this type of packaing to replace polystyrene, which is tricky to recycle.  Whilst polystyrene takes thousands of years to decompose, mycelium can simply be thrown into the ground where it will biodegrade in a matter of weeks.

mushroom based packaging

Cellulose, fibre and resin.  Bananas,coconut, softwood forestry by-products, as well as grasses and cereal stalks all have the potential to become bioplastics.  Some materials can be heated, melted and injected into moulds which is crucial if they are to compete with petroleum-based plastics.

cellulose packaging

Plant-based polymers.  Biopolymers can be made from corn or potato starch, even sugarcane.  Long molecular chains such as polylactic acid can be deried from annually renewable resources.  A number of companies from New Zealand to Thailand produce this.

polymers

Currently 95% of plastic packaging has only a short one-use life cycle.  It is used and then thrown away and results in a loss to the global economy of more than $80 billion a year – according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

One of the biggest challenges is getting manufacturers to move away from the old, familiar products.  New packaging is not necessarily more expensive to produce, in the long term, but as with any new product, the initial costs are in the start up when economies of scale have not yet kicked in.

This is where YOU come into the equation.  As a customer of any store or company using plastic packaging you hold a very important piece of the puzzle – you buy their products and if the customer is always right then if enough customers DEMAND that alternatives to plastic packaging is found then the companies WILL supply it.  It only takes one major brand to announce a policy change and others will follow.

Make your voice heard NOW!

 

Likes(1)Dislikes(0)

Make the Planet Great Again???

In the same week in June 2017 that the rest of the world celebrate World Environment Day (June 5th) and World Oceans Day (June 8th), President Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement to which the Obama administration had signed up to in April 2016.

One of his justifications for this disastrous act is the claim that the Agreement has a detrimental effect on US jobs in the coal and fossil fuels industry.  This may be the case, but however, he has totally overlooked the fact that today whilst the coal industry employs just over 160,000 people in the US, there are almost 374,000 people employed in solar energy and a further 101,000 in wind power industries.

  • Natural Gas – 398,235
  • Coal – 160,119
  • Oil – 515,518
  • Solar – 373,807 
  • Bio Energies – 130,677
  • Wind – 191,735
  • Nuclear – 76,711
  • Hydro Electricity – 65,554

Fossil fuels

Renewable/low emission energies

You can see that solar energy employs 20% of the total energy jobs with coal only accounting for about 9%. (figures supplied by Department of Energy)

Renewable-Vs-Fossil-Jobs-Bloomberg

Clean energy employs more people than fossil fuels in nearly every U.S. state

Clean energy jobs have seen incredible growth in recent years, with solar and wind jobs growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. According to a 2015 report from the Environmental Defense Fund, renewable energy jobs in the United States enjoyed a 6 percent compound annual growth rate between 2012 and 2015. Fossil fuel jobs, by contrast, had a negative 4.5 percent compound annual growth rate over the same time period. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s fastest growing profession over the next decade is likely to be a wind turbine technician.

Nonsense. The United States is notorious for inventing whole industries other countries end up dominating — because our private sector under-finances advanced development and commercialization.

Prior to pulling out the Agreement, Trump’s budget had already sabotaged America’s best chance to add millions of high-wage jobs.  This lack of foresight included zeroing the budget for the Department of Energy clean tech programs:

  • the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which invests in innovative clean technology
  • a program to improve manufacturing for clean cars, and
  • the loan guarantee program, which jump-started large-scale U.S. solar deployment, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution, and companies like Tesla.

The budget offers this rationale: “The private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

That’s a key reason America steadily lost manufacturing jobs while other countries make so many devices invented in the US such as iPhone, flatscreen TVs, and most consumer electronics….

So how does this help to “Make America Great Again”?  How can a country that considers itself to be a World Leader be so blinkered to its responsibility to actually LEAD?  Most developed countries are now moving away from coal and fossil fuels as they recognise and accept that it is a finite resource and prefer to invest in developing new renewable energy sources.  The Paris Agreement also  provided funding for newly developing countries to expand their energy needs along greener routes rather than relying on dirty fuels that the rest of the world have started to discard.

How can America ever be Great again if there is no planet for it be Great on?

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Advantages of Solar Energy

1. Renewable

Solar energy is a renewable energy source. This means that we cannot run out of solar energy, as opposed to non-renewable energy sources (e.g. fossil fuels, coal and nuclear).

We will have access to solar energy for as long as the sun is alive – another 6.5 billion years according to NASA. We have worse things to worry about; in fact, scientists have estimated that the sun itself will swallow Earth 5 billion years from now.

2. Abundant

The potential of solar energy is beyond imagination. The surface of the earth receives 120,000 terawatts of solar radiation (sunlight) – 20,000 times more power than what is needed to supply the entire world.

3. Sustainable

An abundant and renewable energy source is also sustainable. Sustainable energy sources meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In other words, solar energy is sustainable because there is no way we can over-consume.

4. Environmentally Friendly

Harnessing solar energy does generally not cause pollution. However, there are emissions associated with the manufacturing, transportation and installation of solar power systems – almost nothing compared to most conventional energy sources. It is clear that solar energy reduces our dependence on non-renewable energy sources. This is an important step in fighting the climate crisis.

solar eco friendly

5. Good Availability

Solar energy is available all over the world. Not only the countries that are closest to the Equator can put solar energy to use – Germany, for example, has by far the highest capacity of solar power in the world.

6. Reduces Electricity Costs

With the introduction of net metering and feed-in tariff (FIT) schemes, homeowners can now “sell” excess electricity, or receive bill credits, during times when they produce more electricity than what they actually consume.

This means that homeowners can reduce their overall electricity expenses by going solar. Data from One Block Off the Grid reveals that adding solar panels to your home can bring in monthly savings of well above $100 in many states. In Hawaii, residents save on average $64,000 after 20 years!

Nowadays, most homeowners choose leasing or power purchase agreements to finance their solar panels. This drastically reduces, or in some cases completely eliminates, the upfront costs of a solar panel system, and allows homeowners to start saving money from the first day.

7. Many Applications

Solar energy can be used for many different purposes. It can be used to generate electricity in places that lack a grid connection, for distilling water in Africa, or even to power satellites in space.

Solar power is also known as “The People`s Power”, which refers to how easily deployable solar panels are at the consumer level (both photovoltaic and solar thermal).

With the introduction of flexible thin-film solar cells, solar power can even be seemingly integrated into the material of buildings (building integrated photovoltaics) – Sharp, a solar panel manufacturer with headquarters in Japan, recently introduced transparent solar power windows.

8. Shared Solar

Because of shading, insufficient space and ownership issues, 1/5 American homes are simply unfit for solar panels.  With the introduction of shared solar, homeowners can subscribe to “community solar gardens”, and generate solar electricity without actually having solar panels on their own rooftops.

9. Silent

There are no moving parts involved in most applications of solar power. There is no noise associated with photovoltaics. This compares favorable to certain other green-techs such as wind turbines.

10. Financial Support from Government/State

Government and state rebates have become available both on utility-scale and for the majority of homeowners. This means that the effective costs of solar panels are much less than what they used to be. In some cases, the price of a residential photovoltaic system can be cut more than 50%.

As of 12/31/2008, the U.S. government offers a 30% tax credit with no upper limit. Chances are your home is also eligible for other grants and rebates.

11. Low Maintenance

The majority of today`s solar power systems do not require a lot of maintenance. Residential solar panels usually only require cleaning a couple of times a year. Serious solar manufacturers ship 20- or 25-year warranties with their solar panels.

12. Technology is Improving

Technological advancements are constantly being made in the solar power industry. Innovation in nanotechnology and quantum physics has the potential to triple the electrical output of solar panels.

Disadvantages of Solar Energy

1. Expensive

Is solar power really expensive? This is probably the most debatable aspect on the entire solar energy pros and cons list. The driving forces behind the development of solar energy are rooted in politics. Solar power is incentivized to compete against other energy sources on the market. On the other hand, the U.S. government, similarly to the rest of the world, provides incentives to every major energy production market – not just solar.

In 2010, coal received $1,189 billion in federal subsidies and support for electricity production while solar is not far behind at $968 billion.

Nowadays, the best solar panels can in many situations be cheaper than buying electricity from the utility. This wouldn`t have been possible without incentives.

2. Intermittent

Solar energy is an intermittent energy source. Access to sunlight is limited at certain times (e.g. morning and night). Predicting overcast days can be difficult. This is why solar power is not our first choice when it comes to meeting the base load energy demand. However, solar power has fewer problems than wind power when it comes to intermittence.

3. Energy Storage is Expensive

Energy storage systems such as batteries will help smooth out demand and load, making solar power more stable, but these technologies are also expensive.

Luckily, there`s a good correspondence between our access to solar energy and human energy demand. Our electricity demand peaks in the middle of the day, which also happens to be the same time there`s a lot of sunlight!

4. Associated with Pollution

While solar power certainly is less polluting than fossil fuels, some problems do exist. Some manufacturing processes are associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen trifluroide and sulfur hexafluoride has been traced back to the production of solar panels. These are some of the most potent greenhouse gases and have many thousand times the impact on global warming compared to carbon dioxide. Transportation and installation of solar power systems can also indirectly cause pollution.

The bottom line is this: There’s nothing that’s completely risk-free in the energy world, but solar power compares very favorably with all other technologies.

5. Exotic Materials

Certain solar cells require materials that are expensive and rare in nature. This is especially true for thin-film solar cells that are based on either cadmium telluride (CdTe) or copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS).

6. Requires Space

Power density, or watt per square meter (W/m²), is essential when looking at how much power can be derived from a certain area of real estate of an energy source. Low power density indicates that too much real estate is required to provide the power we demand at reasonably prices.

The global mean power density for solar radiation is 170 W/m².[5] This is more than any other renewable energy source, but not comparable to oil, gas and nuclear power.

 

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Sweden Turns Trash into Cash

swedish recycling
Recycling plant in Sweden

With a strong history of recycling and incinerating waste, Sweden now has to import rubbish from neighbouring European countries in order to feed its waste-to-energy incineration power plants – and gets paid to do it!  Sweden relies on burning waste in order to generate electricity to heat hundreds of thousands of homes, and the country is now running out.  Each year the Scandinavian country imports 700,000 tonnes of rubbish to fuel homes and businesses.

99% of household waste is recycled in one way or another – 50% is recycled and the other 49% goes on waste-to-energy incinerators.  The remaining ash constitutes about 15% of the original weight.  This is filtered and metal that can be recycled is removed.  Other pieces such as porcelain and tile which do not burn are also recycled for use in road construction.  About 1% still remains and this is then disposed of in landfill sites.

This is a stark difference to the opposition to this type of process in the USA – so why might this be?  Environmentalists in the US appear to oppose such facilities as being harmful to recycling efforts in general and also they have concerns about possible air pollution.  However, in the Swedish process, air emissions are cleaned through a series of scrubbers and filters and come out far under what is actually permitted.

In a recent Mayoral election in Minneapolis, the proposal to allow more burning of household waste in Hennepin County was the subject of one of the election debates.  The Environmental Manager for Hennepin County, Carl Michaud, considers that the Swedish are just “more practical”.  However a bigger factor as to why USA have not yet fully embraced waste-to-energy is the cheapness of fuel and the abundance of wide open spaces to dump their trash.

Sweden recognises that landfills have a major climate impact – when materials break down in landfill, they emit methane which is a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon.  According to Weine Witqvist, Director of Avfall Sverige, Sweden’s waste-to-energy association “When combining the resource issue along with the climate issue,  it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that landfilling is very bad for the environment and for the society – because you get nothing out of it – except problems”.

However, Swedes do not burn all their waste.  As a rule, there are recycling stations no more than 300 metres from any residential area and it is a way of life for most Swedes to separate their recyclable household waste and deposit them in special containers at their homes or blocks of flats or take them to recycling stations.  “Waste-to-energy and recycling are compatible with each other” said Matt Kasper, special assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.  “Countries in Europe that utilize waste-to-energy have some of the highest recycling rates in the world”.  Sweden’s 50% rate is more than double the US’s 24% recycling rate.

Zero waste is Sweden’s ultimate aim – they are not far off???

 

 

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Alternative Energies – An Introduction

alternative energy
images of alternative energy sources

Energy exists everywhere – in human beings, animals and non-living things for example the electricity to move a machine.  Energy is broadly classified as Renewable and Non-Renewable.

 

Non-renewable energy comes from the use of natural resources such as fossil fuels, natural gas and oil and they have a finite supply – THEY WILL RUN OUT!  Therefore we must look towards developing alternative energy sources which are renewable such as:-

  • Solar
  • Wind
  • Geothermal
  • Hydro
  • Biomass
  • Ocean (tidal/wave/thermal)
  • Hydrogen

We will add information here about all these sources of energy – the pros and cons of all of them.  However, as time is running out for the Planet, we need to find ways to counteract any cons.  We hope you will find the information useful.

 

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)