Not Every LCA Created Equal

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Automotive, Carbon Footprint, Life Cycle Assessment | Posted on 29-10-2010

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According to a Life-Cycle Assessment by WorldAutoSteel, the automotive wing of the World Steel Association, cellulosic ethanol has the smallest carbon footprint of most vehicle fuel types, with gasoline, diesel, and E85 from corn as the biggest emitters. They also determined steel as the least energy-intensive vehicle material.

The group examined raw material use, fuel consumption, and end-of-life energy requirements, but there are potentially major issues with the model. First is that the indirect emissions of land use change were not taken into account, so biofuels are depicted as cleaner than they actually are. This is particularly significant for the US if the country imported the fuel. In addition, only virgin materials were considered in the materials analysis, so aluminum was portrayed as much dirtier than steel.

There is an obvious conflict of interest in this LCA, but WorldAutoSteel was transparent enough to release their model to the public, which can be found here.

The purpose of the study was to show automakers that while using lighter materials may decrease fuel use, overall GHG emissions may increase because of the impact of mining and refining the raw materials. Because of the issues described above, the actual lesson from this study is that the fine print is critically important in determining the true emissions from a particular product, even with an intensive project like an LCA. It also demonstrates the importance of third parties conducting an LCA, especially if you are using one to make a statement rather than find problem areas of your product or process.

Global Opinion on Climate Change

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Climate Change, Education | Posted on 28-10-2010

A new survey shows that on an international scale, people rank climate change as their third most concerning global issue, behind the stability of the global economy and everyday violence. The “Climate Confidence Monitor” found that respondents from the US and UK ranked climate change as one of the least important global issues, but in Hong Kong and Vietnam, the trend was reversed. The same is true for optimism; compared to Western countries, respondents from developing regions were much more optimistic that climate change could be stopped.

Even if this sentiment stems from these developing countries being the most vulnerable to climate change, it is comforting to know that these areas are the most aware of the impacts and are the most willing to convert to a low-carbon infrastructure.

Interestingly enough, the area where people around the world were mostly in agreement was business. Specifically, people called for a greater response from the private sector to address climate change. This shows that consumers everywhere are ready to minimize their carbon footprint and that they want governments and businesses to join them.

First Truck, Bus Fuel Standards in US

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Automotive, Carbon Footprint, EPA, Energy Efficiency, Green, Greenhouse Gas, News | Posted on 27-10-2010

EPA and DOT have called for the first national standards on GHG emissions and fuel efficiency for heavy-duty trucks and buses. The new regulations, which will take effect on vehicles sold in 2014, range from 7-20% reductions in fuel use and CO2 emissions, and current emissions of N2O (nitrous oxide) and CH4 (methane) would be capped forever. HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) leakage from A/C units is also capped at 1.5% of total refrigerant leaked per year. This will ensure the use of low-leakage parts in A/C systems, further reducing GHG emissions.

There are also several credit options that manufacturers can pursue. Anyone may use CO2 credits to offset their excess CH4 or N2O emissions, and there are ways to earn more credits, including exceeding the reduction standards for emissions or pursuing advanced vehicle technologies, like hybrid drivetrains, fuel cells, electric vehicles.

Concerning upfront costs, the truck itself can pay for the average technology upgrade within one year of use. The overall savings in the first five years would include 250 million tons of GHG emissions and roughly half a billion barrels of oil. This, plus the societal benefits of reducing GHG emissions, equals about $41 billion in benefits to truckers (societal benefits include reduced time refueling and energy security). Just like the defense of the financial benefits of the Clean Air Act, this new regulation looks like it will save the country billions of dollars while cleaning the air and increasing energy security.

Climate Change Vulnerability, by Country

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Footprint, Greenhouse Gas, International, Supply Chain | Posted on 25-10-2010

Maplecroft, creator of the Climate Innovation Index, has recently released an updated Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI), a map showing the relative risk that each country faces due to climate change over the next few decades. The factors that were weighted include:

- Climate-related natural disasters

- Sea-level rise

- Population patterns

- Economic Development

- Natural resources

- Agricultural dependency

- Government/Infrastructure Adaptability

Countries were rated as having low, medium, high, or extreme risk. Some of the trends should be fairly easy to notice:

Low: Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden

Medium: Russia, USA, Germany, France

High: China, Brazil, Japan

Extreme: Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Vietnam

What might be the most important take-away point is that the extreme risk countries are oftentimes the ones that are going to experience the greatest future economic growth in the coming years. This could be important for western investors if economic development in those countries may be severely impacted due to climate change. Perhaps this will be yet another piece of evidence that might convince businesses and investors to think twice about ignoring climate change’s effects. This may sound pessimistic at first, but just think of the scale of clean energy and sustainable investments that could be made, especially in developing countries.

Linked from Maplecroft

Linked from Maplecroft

Atlantic Wind Connection Gets Funding

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Green, News, Wind | Posted on 22-10-2010

An ambitious wind power transmission project has received billions in funding from several companies, including Google. The project is not a set of wind turbines but rather a “transmission backbone” that will lower the cost and environmental impacts of future wind power projects along the mid-Atlantic coast.

The backbone provides landfall points that wind turbines can connect to, eliminating the need to connect individual lines for every turbine (schematic pictured, in red). By reducing the number of transmission lines reaching land, congestion is also dramatically reduced. The combination of these benefits maximizes the efficacy of the potential 6,000 MW of wind power that the backbone can tap into. To give you an idea of the scale of 6,000 MW, this is more than half of the wind energy installed in the US in 2009 and can power almost 2 million homes.

Americans Receive Failing Grade on Global Warming Knowledge

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Education, Greenhouse Gas, Science | Posted on 21-10-2010

A study from Yale asked Americans a variety of questions on global warming science and graded them on an A-F grading scale. Over half of the respondents received an F, and only 8% got an A or B. Here are some points that particularly stick out:

- Half of the respondents think that global warming is anthropogenic, a third think that global warming is naturally occurring, and 7% challenge its existence.

- Television is the most informative form of media regarding global warming information (88%), but the internet is the preferred form for people who want to learn more about the topic (38%).

- 20% think the energy from fossil fuels originally came from uranium in the Earth.

My personal favorite: “43% of Americans incorrectly believe that if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming.”

So if you’re reading this blog, chances are that your knowledge of global warming is significantly greater than the vast majority of the public. Congratulations!

Wind Energy Jobs (and Charts!)

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Green, Wind | Posted on 20-10-2010

Wind energy production has been soaring in the US, and this is good news for both the clean energy sector as well as overall job growth. A recent report has shown that more jobs are produced to obtain energy from wind than from coal (about .17 job-years per GWh produced, compared to coal’s .11). This is mostly due to the construction and installation of a huge number of wind turbines to catch up and ideally displace coal production. Operations and maintenance of wind and coal are about the same.

When you combine the increased wind capacity with the job-intensive nature of wind power, you get the following result: In the US, there are more people working in the wind industry than those in coal mining. This does not take into account the jobs related to energy production from coal, but this statistic still carries weight.

As more workers become well-versed in the ways of wind power (and renewables in general), they will encourage and support the momentum that has been building in the clean energy sector during the past five years.

Socially Responsible & Sustainable Investments

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Congress, Financial, States, Sustainability | Posted on 19-10-2010

At least one member of Congress sees the long-term investment opportunities in businesses taking corporate responsibility seriously. A new bill, the Federal Employees Responsible Investment Act (FERIA), would add a sustainability option to federal employees’ retirement and investment choices. This option would provide an index based on “strict financial criteria, in addition to having strong corporate governance, sustainable environmental policies and practices, solid workplace relations, positive community involvement, safe products, and respect for human rights around the world.” The argument supporting this new option is that with these policies, sustainable businesses offer lower risk without sacrificing company profitability.

These options have been labeled socially responsible and sustainable investments (SRI), and they are, in fact, quite profitable. Most large SRI mutual funds outperform S&P 500 by about 6%. SRI assets have also grown to a remarkable size, encompassing about 11% of investments in US financial markets as of 2007.

In the past, we’ve looked at how consumers want to patronize companies that focus on some kind of social or environmental cause. When you take into account that one third of US states have already adopted these SRI choices for their employees, having this bill passed is a no-brainer.

How to Cut Water Use with Potatoes

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Green, Sustainability | Posted on 18-10-2010

PepsiCo, which has earned itself the #19 spot on the Maplecroft Climate Innovation Index that we recently blogged about, has been shifting to more sustainable business practices over the past years. They have cut 15% of their water use (using a 2006 baseline) in about four years and are well on their way to get their announced goal of a 20% cut by 2015.

To help get this last 5%, four potato chip production facilities are testing a plan to cut themselves off from the central water supply altogether. How? Potato chips are made by first extracting almost all of the water from the potatoes (about 80%), and the resultant water is discarded. Instead, a 5-year transition plan will allow these four plants to use that wastewater stream as their main supply.

From a social sustainability angle, PepsiCo has provided the funding for efficiency and supply projects that have granted the country with 6 billion liters of water. What’s particularly interesting about this project is that PepsiCo has only consumed 5 billion liters in India. This means that the company’s presence in India has actually provided the country with more water than if it never operated any plants there.

No one forced PepsiCo to pursue these goals; for all intents and purposes, their business practices were working for them, and altering these at a significant level (such as cutting off their main water supply needs) would be relatively difficult for such a large company. But they realize the long-term economic, environmental, and social benefits of making these changes as quickly as possible. And from an efficiency standpoint, if a larger company can begin to turn itself around, what’s to stop a highly flexible smaller business?

Company Reversing Land Use Changes

Posted by akeenan | Posted in Carbon Offsets, Green, Greenhouse Gas, Sustainability | Posted on 15-10-2010

Despite Indonesia’s large-scale burning of virgin rainforests for land-use change and logging, there is some optimism. A pulp and paper company, Asia Pulp & Paper, has decided to convert a large portion of its pulpwood plantation into a massive carbon reserve. The 15,000 hectares (about 37,000 acres) in Jakarta are being reallocated as a deep peat bog for at least 30 years. The reserve will effectively act as a bog with decaying vegetation, peat, which consumes atmospheric carbon dioxide as part of a chemical reaction.

The company is teaming up with Carbon Conservation and is receiving funding from investors who want to purchase REDD-Plus (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) credits in the future. REDD credits are carbon offset credits coming from the mitigation of deforestation in developing countries, and REDD-Plus credits are granted for the promotion of afforestation and sustainable forestry-related projects.

This project is also a perfect example of sustainability. Environmentally, this conversion of land will be a large carbon sink and is an important move in Indonesia, the world’s third largest emitter of GHG. Socially, this land use change will provide jobs for the local community without negatively impacting their quality of life. And economically, both the paper company and the nearby indigenous communities experience long-term economic development.