Monday, September 21, 2015

California Climate Solutions: BioFuels

BioFuels Contributing to California Climate Goals

Ethanol from sugar cane and sorghum.  Diesel from waste vegetable oils.  Natural gas from food and yard waste.

These are just a few of the green fuels that are in the process of commercialization in California.

A key "pillar" in Governor Brown's California plan to reduce greenhouse gases by 40% by the year 2030 is to cut fossil fuel use in the transportation sector by 50%.  As I described in a prior blog post (California 2030 Climate Goals:  Transportation Fuel Use), the fossil fuel reduction goal is attainable with current technologies through a combination of electric/hydrogen vehicle deployment, efficiency improvements, expanded use of alternative transportation modes, and noticeable increases in the use of low carbon fuels.

Relative carbon intensity of current standard diesel fuel (ULSD) and
various substitutes.  Source:  ARB 2/19/15 Presentation

While electrification of the transportation sector remains a central policy goal of the state, there will continue to be some transportation modes that will be slower to electrify, including long haul trucks and other non-automobile vehicles and equipment.  In addition, traditional and hybrid cars will continue in use for the foreseeable future.  Vehicles that traditionally used fossil fuels can still contribute to the state climate goals through the use of renewable fuels.

For several years, the California Energy Commission (CEC) has been providing strategic grants to assist in the commercialization of alternative and renewable fuels.  The grants are a real climate success story.  With CEC assistance, many companies are now providing low-carbon fuels for direct use or to blend with existing fuels to lower the carbon intensity and climate impacts.  

Several of the projects were highlighted at a recent workshop convened by CEC Commissioner Janea A. Scott.

Harry Simpson of Crimson Renewable Energy said their facility in Bakersfield is the largest biodiesel plant in California.  They use used cooking oil, inedible corn oil from ethanol plants and animal fats as feedstock, but could use other sources in the future.  They are in the process of expanding their plant from 10 million gallons per year capacity to 22 million gallons per year.

Harry Simpson, President
Crimson Renewable Energy 9/18/15

Mr. Simpson cited state policies and incentives as key to their ability to expand production.  One of the policies is the state "Low Carbon Fuel Standard" (LCFS).  The LCFS is in the process of being renewed by the California Air Resources Board.  He also said that crops could be used as a feedstock for renewable diesel, but there are challenges assuring a consistent and adequate supply.  He said that some of these challenges could be overcome if there were a crop insurance program available for energy crops.

Susan Kennedy of South San Francisco Scavenger Company and Evan Edgar of Edgar and Associates described facilities to take food and yard waste and convert it to fuel and compost.  As the graphic below illustrates, food and yard waste would go through an anaerobic digestion facility.  Biogas would be processed and used by the trucks of the local waste company and displace traditional fossil-fuel based natural gas.  Residual material would become compost to use on farms.  The farms could grow food and the waste products from the food preparation could again be used as feedstock for fuel and compost.

Source:  Edgar/Kennedy Presentation to California Energy Commission 9/18/15

Mr. Edgar said that any community of 100,000 or more people could support an economically viable facility.  He said that the fuel used by the trucks would be "carbon-negative" based on the carbon calculation methodologies approved by the Air Resources Board.  Using the community size of 100,000 as an example, Mr. Edgar said a facility in such a community could produce enough fuel for a fleet of 35 waste/recycling trucks that would normally use about 330,000 gallons of fuel in a year.  Ms. Kennedy pointed out that, in addition to all the other benefits, their facility will help her company achieve their goal of reducing waste going to landfill.

Susan Kennedy, Evan Edgar and Paul Relis 9/18/15

Paul Relis of southern California waste management company CR&R described their anaerobic digestion facility under construction in Perris, California (Riverside County).  Their facility will be larger than the ones previously described.  The gas will be used to fuel about 70 CR&R trucks and they plan to have a system in place to clean and condition the gas so it can be injected into the local natural gas pipeline for residential and commercial use.

CR&R Faciity.  Source:  CR&R CEC Presentation 9/18/15

Projects like these benefit from a range of California policies and incentives, including the Low Carbon Fuel Standard which the Air Resources Board is scheduled to update in a few days.  The Energy Commission continues to put in about $20 million a year to support biofuels.  As of early this year, they had supported 45 projects with $135 million.  The Energy Commission expects to enter into a new funding round for projects later this year.

Source:  California Energy Commission Investment Plan Update April, 2015

BioFuel proponents are hoping for additional funds to accelerate commercialization of biofuels.  The source most often mentioned is the California Cap and Trade funds.

More Information:

California Energy Commission Renewable Fuel Program
ARB Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program
UC Davis Status Review of California LCFS
BioEnergy Association of California
California BioDiesel Alliance

Monday, September 7, 2015

"Clean Coal" - This Hydra Needs to Die

Presidential Candidates Promote Damaging Energy Source

In Greek mythology, the Hydra is a creature that belches poison gas and sprays caustic blood when injured. And, every time you try to kill it by chopping off the head, two more heads grow to replace the lost one.

According to one description, "this monster was so poisonous that she killed men with her breath, and if anyone passed by when she was sleeping, he breathed her tracks and died in greatest torment."

Hydra: Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

"Clean coal" reminds me of the Hydra.  Just when you think it has been slain in favor of better technology, the ugly head of  "clean coal" resurfaces and seems to multiply.  Clean or not, coal breathes noxious gas into the atmosphere and bleeds poisonous materials like mercury.

I'm not the first to see this analogy.  Mat McDermott discussed the clean coal hydra in 2008 here.  I'm sure others have too.

"Clean coal" is a mirage created by a coal industry desperate to revive an energy source that has no role in a climate challenged world.  Despite billions spent chasing the technology, it remains elusive, unproven and unreliable, while giving some a false hope that coal can be cleaned and the carbon emissions captured and stored or neutralized.  The reality is that "clean coal" is a distraction from the truly clean technologies that must be deployed to address climate change.

The latest "clean coal" hydra-head emerged from Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.  In response to questions about climate change, she has delighted climate deniers by dodging the issue and saying there are dozens of priorities more important than thinking about climate.  She is quick to promote "clean coal" and trash other technologies like wind and solar. "To say we’re basically going to outlaw coal, which is what this administration is doing, is so self-defeating. It destroys jobs, communities," Fiorina said in an interview with Katie Couric. She worries that China is going to get ahead of us in pursuing clean coal unless we start pushing clean coal technologies.

"Carly Fiorina (13045502775)" by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

"Clean coal" isn't a new concept for Fiorina. In her failed California Senate race in 2010, she said, "We also need to use every source of energy we have, including nuclear power and natural gas to reduce our dependence on oil from other countries. At the same time, we need to build on advancements in technology that make clean coal more affordable and more realistic." (source here)

What is new for her is a series of mis-informed attacks and outright lies about clean energy such as solar and wind (see detail from David Roberts on Vox here). She says she is uncomfortable with solar because of the huge amounts of water it consumes and wind due to bird kills. (Never mind that solar panels use no water and wind technology has advanced to the point where cell phone and radio towers are 10 times more dangerous for birds.)

Ad in Wall Street Journal May 9, 1979

Fiorina isn't the only candidate promoting coal, "clean" or otherwise.

Candidate John Kasich says of coal: "we are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it in Ohio, and we are not going to apologize for it." (source here)

"Obama’s war on coal is killing American jobs, making us more energy dependent on our enemies & creating a great business disadvantage" says Donald Trump (source here)

"Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH 4 by Michael Vadon July 16 2015 19"
by Michael Vadon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

“When it comes to coal, there is no industry in this country that has been more of a target of an outright assault from the federal government than has the coal industry" said Ted Cruz in Wyoming (source here)

"God blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas. Let's open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration." said Marco Rubio in Iowa (source here)

Coal Plant; Source: USGS

"... we should utilize our existing coal reserves cleanly, both through our existing plants and through the development of new cleaner coal technologies," says Bobby Jindal in a report on energy (source here).

Jeb Bush recently met with CEOs of coal companies (source here) and got a financial boost from "King Coal" (source here)

Scott Walker "has not made climate change a focus of his campaign, but he has spoken at the Heartland Institute, a group that denies man-made climate change. Walker also joined more than a dozen other coal-reliant states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the so-called Clean Power Plan" (source here)

Like the mythical beast, the modern "clean coal" Hydra threatens the world with fumes and poison.  In mythology, a giant crab defended Hydra.  Today, it is a group of misguided politicians helping a desperate coal industry survive.  In mythology, it took the cleverness of Hercules to slay the Hydra. Today, it will be the ingenuity of the renewable energy industry that slays coal through cost savings, environmental benefits and technology that works.

Hercules slaying Hydra; Beham 1545;  ©Trustees of the British Museum

Addendum .... Despite the seriousness of climate change and the threats from continued use of coal, it is possible to maintain some humor, as evidenced in this clean coal "ad" produced by the Coen Brothers in 2009: