Category: global warming

The first anaerobic dry fermentation biodigester in the western hemisphere is up and running at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The alternative power system has been producing clean, renewable electricity from plant and food waste to supply electricity and heat for the university campus since Oct. 3.

University staff and students involved with the development of the power system had been stockpiling agricultural plant and food waste as feedstock in airless chambers and feeding it into the dry anaerobic biodigester since last summer in anticipation of bringing it online.

Anaerobic digestion is a process in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. As part of an integrated waste management system, anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of methane gas, CO2, and “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs into the atmosphere.  Anaerobic digestion is also used as a renewable energy source since the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production.

As the name indicates, ‘dry,’ as opposed to ‘wet,’ anaerobic digesters break down dry organic materials with moisture content of less than 75%, such as agricultural waste and plant material traditionally left over after harvesting a crop.

On Oct. 3, the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh team decided they had enough biogas to start-up energy production, so they turned on the plant’s gas turbine engines. The biogas from the biodigester drives the turbines, which are expected to generate enough electricity in the start-up phase to meet 5% of the university’s electricity and heating needs.

Besides producing clean, renewable energy from agricultural and food waste – corn stalks, husks, leaves, and discarded food – the bio-energy plant is serving as an ideal site for experiential learning, particularly for biology and environmental students.

Proposed plans call for revenue from the plant to flow into student scholarships, campus laboratory upgrades and expansion, and the creation of a rural community development innovation center.


In less than a month, President Obama will make a decision regarding the Keystone XL pipeline. Through the Tar Sands Action campaign, activists are working to encourage Obama to deny its construction. A sit-in to stop the pipeline was held August 20 to September 3 in Washington D.C.. During this two-week period of sustained civil disobedience, 1,252 people were arrested, among them junior environmental science major Adam Kranz from Lawrence University.

The pipeline, proposed by the TransCanada Corporation, would move crude oil 1,700 miles on its way from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

With a projected cost of $7 billion, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day and create thousands of construction jobs. However, heated debate has arisen over the environmental damage the pipeline would cause. In order to extract oil from the tar sands, forests must be cut down, high amounts of carbon dioxide may be emitted, water sources will be threatened and spills and leaks are likely.

Circle the White House on November 6th &  write letters

As part of the Tar Sands Action project, campus organizations including LU’s Greenfire, Amnesty International and SWAHP have been working to protest the planned Keystone XL pipeline. Greenfire hopes to mail off approximately 1,000 letters as part of their campaign.

Pending funding, Greenfire hopes to send students to the final action of the Tar Sands Campaign on Nov. 6, precisely one year before the 2012 elections. Protestors plan to encircle the White House in a motion of solidarity and a final attempt to send their message to the President.

Kranz concluded, “This isn’t just an issue about climate change. It’s about environmental justice. It’s not an abstract thing. People in Canada are already dying of cancers. Our way of life is already being destroyed by the infrastructure and the spills that have taken place. It’s important to remember that this issue is not just about preserving the environment, it’s about protecting people.”


Duane Reade is the first US retail pharmacy in New York City to electrify its truck fleet as part of a pilot program with Smith Electric Vehicles. Duane Reade is part of the Walgreens family of companies and the largest drug store chain in NYC.

The vehicles are ideal for urban delivery applications that demand heavy stop-and-go driving. Smith Electric medium-duty electric trucks will be included in its delivery fleet.

The “Newton” vehicle has a range that exceeds 100 miles on a single overnight charge and can carry over 16,000 pounds. Its average annual operating cost is 33%-50% of conventional diesel trucks. The electric truck is virtually silent and features a regenerative braking system that reduces wear on the brakes while restoring charge to the battery.

All new and renovated Duane Reade stores have LED lighting, which is reducing power consumption by 40% a year. The efficient lighting allows the stores eliminate energy consumptive air conditioning units, which were previously needed to mitigate the excessive heat produced by traditional light sources.

Other companies in NYC that are buying Smith’s electric trucks include Frito-Lay, Coca-Cola and Down East Seafood.

The Delta company

Delta opened the world’s largest biomass power plant in the Netherlands that runs on chicken manure, in September 2008 . The plant recycles one-third of the country’s total 1.2 million tons of poultry waste produced each year, or 440,000 tons, into useable energy. Roughly 270 million kilowatt-hours of sustainable electricity can be generated to provide power for 90,000 households each year. For Dutch poultry producers sending their waste to the power plant provides an environmentally safer and less expensive way to get manure off their farms.

Environmental issues

The Netherlands are a highly productive group of countries about twice the size of New Jersey. Agriculture is one of their most important industries but in a country of 15 million people, there are 110 million livestock animals in the Netherlands at a given time, including 85 million chickens, 14 million pigs and 3 million cows. And since chickens and pigs reproduce several times a year, the total livestock turnover in the Netherlands is about 450 million per year. Not surprisingly, it’s too much manure for such a small country to process.

The animals produce about 80 to 100 million metric tons of manure per year, about two times the amount of fertilizer the soil needs to produce a good harvest of crops. Some of it gets shipped to other countries to be processed, but a lot of the manure gets ploughed into the soil anyway. Cow and pig manure are safer for the environment, but chicken manure releases CO2 and  methane, a very strong greenhouse gas. When chicken manure is used as an alternative energy source, the methane isn’t released into the environment.

Biomass as a renewable energy source

Most fuels used for electricity production,  coal, oil and natural gas, are non-renewable resources. Once they are used to produce electricity, they are gone forever. Renewable energy – wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass energy – comes directly or indirectly from solar energy. When these power sources are managed correctly, they can provide energy indefinitely.

Biomass is material from living, or recently living organisms, both plants and animals. There are five basic categories of material: wood from wood products and/or processing; high yield crops grown for energy applications; agricultural residues from harvesting or processing like manure or silage; food waste from food and drink preparation and post-consumer waste; and industrial waste from manufacturing processes.

In an article published by Reuters, Argentine officials said they are the first government worldwide to require that companies engaged in potentially hazardous activities buy insurance to cover environmental damage. Government officials said about 35,000 companies in Argentina would have to comply with the new rules.

Argentina’s Congress approved the law in 2002, but companies didn’t comply with it because -ironically- there weren’t regulations to define which activities were considered dangerous.  During 2003  the office defined hazardous activities, established a criteria for policies amounts, and created a division of environmental insurance.

“Argentina is taking a leadership role in the region on this issue,” Sergio Chodos, an undersecretary at the Environment Secretariat. “There’s a lot of environmental insurance sold in Europe, but it’s not obligatory because it doesn’t have to be. In Argentina, lawmakers understood that this had to be made obligatory,” he said. Insurance policies will range in price from 120,000 pesos ($36,090) a year to 50 million pesos ($15 million), depending on a given company’s activities, output and the potential risk involved.

Global Warming
In February 2008, Argentina’s biggest newspaper, Clarin, dedicated its cover to the country’s contribution to global warming. Clarin asserts that even though the country isn’t near the developed nations levels of contamination,  Argentinians contaminate more than Indians, Chinese and Brazilians.

“Argentina contributes between 0.5 and 0.6 %  to the total greenhouse gases emissions, a laughable level compared with the 25%  the United States emit. But on a deeper analysis, Argentinians emit per capita more than Chinese and Hindus, whose countries are in full economic development, or even more than Brazilians and Uruguayans.”

The Numbers
44% of Argentinean emissions come from agriculture and cattle activity, and 70% of that,  from the methane that the 55 million cows that inhabit the country exhale. According to Guillermo Berra, a professional from the INTA, one way to reduce emissions would be to change the cows’ feed and improve their reproductive cycle. With measurements like that, “there could be a reduction between 10 and 20 percent of emissions”, says Berra.

Soy cultivation, gas waste, dirty energy and garbage fillings are among other Argentinean contributions. Soy cultivation is one of the worst contaminants in Argentinean agriculture. “Soy emits nitrous oxide, which is 300 times stronger than carbon. If above that, we continue to destroy native forests, the balance is tragic,” observes Osvaldo Canziani, Argentinean representative in the Inter-Governmental Panel of Experts in Climate Change from the United Nations.