The Dernogalizer

January 5, 2010

Racing Car made out of Recycled By-Products

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 8:13 pm

I think this is pretty neat, and perhaps a glimpse of what our cars will be made of in the future.  Notable excerpts below.  Article is here.

“A Formula 3 racing car made entirely out of recycled and renewable materials could be a sign of things to come in the automotive industry. At least, that is the hope of some British researchers who have built WorldFirst, an unusual automobile made mostly using recycled plastic water and juice bottles, potato starch, carrot fibers and other materials one normally expects to find in the recycling or compost bin.”

“How strong and how durable are the materials in this car? “In terms of their durability—we are still working on this,” Meredith says. “All the parts we have made to date are still going strong. Natural fibers will most likely have a lower resistance to weather effects as the fibers will absorb moisture if exposed and then degrade. Recycled carbon fiber and glass fiber with recycled resins should have equal durability to standard material”.

Minnesota Enacts First Carbon Tariff in nation against North Dakota

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 7:40 pm
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Article (Scientific American, Jan 1, 2010) is posted below.  It will be interesting to see if other states follow suit, and what the effectiveness of this policy will be in lowering emissions in Minnesota.  One line in this article I had to laugh at was “State officials in North Dakota are mounting a legal battle against Minnesota. State officials argue that this would unfairly discourage coal-powered electricity sales in favor of renewably powered electricity.”  No, really?

The first carbon tax to reduce the greenhouse gases from imports comes not between two nations, but between two states. Minnesota has passed a measure to stop carbon at its border with North Dakota.

To encourage the switch to clean renewable energy Minnesota plans to add a carbon fee of between $4 and $34 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions to the cost of coal-fired electricity, to begin in 2012, to discourage the use of coal power; the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

State officials in North Dakota are mounting a legal battle against Minnesota. State officials argue that this would unfairly discourage coal-powered electricity sales in favor of renewably powered electricity.

Coal has immediate health effects in addition to the well documented long term effects on climate. Coal has been implicated in asthma, diabetes, heart disease and even neurological damage, reducing intelligence levels. North Dakota ranks 8th in toxic metals contaminating its coal waste, with 3,419 tons of toxic metals.

Most of North Dakota’s electricity exports is generated by coal-fired power plants. North Dakota officials argue that the move would place an unfair tax on electricity exports from the state and discourage its use by Minnesota utilities.

The state had set aside $500,000 for legal fees to fight the law back in 2007, and having now exhausted their arguments with Minnesota are preparing to use the funds to take legal action.

Both states, ironically, have abundant wind power resources. North Dakota in particular has been called “the Saudi Arabia of Wind”. Yet, till now it has barely tapped into that clean energy resource, with the first few wind farms only just starting to come online. Basin Electric Coop just completed one project on New Years Eve and Spain’s Iberdrola just completed another a few days ago.

By contrast, North Dakota coal has low energy value.

Will Tom Vilsack’s forest policy plans protect forests?

The following is a cross-post from UMD for Clean Energy’s blog, done by our member and former media director Kenny Frankel.  Kenny interned with a DC non-profit called “Save America’s Forests”, and exercises his knowledge from that experience to explain what’s wrong with US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s new forest policy plans.

So this past summer I had an internship with the DC-based environmental non-profit group “Save America’s Forests”, an international forest protection organization.  My boss, the founding director, came across an article that infuriated him.  It described Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s forest policy plans, which he said were a far cry from sound environmental policies.  He asked me to debunk this problematic article and bring attention to a lot of the misinformation.  Anyways, see the article and subsequent debunking below:

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently shared his thoughts on how to manage our country’s forests in an AP article written on August 14th, entitled “Vilsack calls for renewed emphasis on forests”.  The Secretary said he “placed a high priority on restoration to protect water resources and combat climate change”.  He additionally said that restoration may include “improving or decommissioning unnecessary roads and rehabilitating wetlands and streams”.  Unfortunately, the actions Vilsack seeks to take will cause significant forest and environmental destruction that will undermine the goals he lists above.

First, Vilsack points to woody biomass production as a way “develop ‘green jobs’ that help restore forests while using them as ‘carbon sinks’ to help offset global warming” … wait, by cutting down the very trees that would, left untouched, sequester carbon dioxide and then in burning them in biomass production, release carbon dioxide into the air? Biomass may theoretically, over 100 years, release less net carbon in comparison to fossil fuels, but it is still worsening climate change now.  I say if you want to “develop green jobs” and “restore forests as carbon sinks” you should allow natural forests to grow back, not to cut down the existing forests and burn them.  Duh.

Second, the article explains how Vilsack supports a “national roadless policy”, which is “an important step toward resolving the conflicts and patchwork approach that have hindered forest management for decades”.  I think implementing the roadless rule in forests is a step in the right direction because it limits – with certain exceptions – the Forest Service or a timber company from building a road through many areas of our national forests for the purpose of logging.  This is important because roads are permanent scars on the landscape that will never be fully restored to pristine condition.  They break up a once completely connected ecosystem into sections, which causes soil disturbance or the siltation of the forests, rivers and streams – or harm to birds, fish, insects, and a multitude of other animals.

This policy sounds like a definite environmentalist victory, but let’s take a step back.  What the roadless rule does not do is preserve the 58 million acres of forest that Vilsack is looking to protect.  It is not the same as making a wilderness area, which leaves the forests completely untouched.  In wilderness areas, the trees continue to sequester carbon, the salmon continue to swim and spawn freely and provide us with food, and the 1210 threatened and/or endangered animals and 750 threatened and/or endangered plants can survive.
The roadless rule, however, allows logging and roadlbuilding in roadless areas for the purpose of so-called “fire reduction” or “forest health”, which could amount to a giant loophole for major logging caused forest degradation in roadless areas that were supposed to be protected.  Further, the roadless areas are largely made of land with no forests, or forests with trees not worth logging.  What is very significant about the roadless rule is the larger portion of the national forests, over 100 million acres, which it allows to continue to be heavily logged.
With 193 million acres of national public forest left in the United States (less than 20% of all original American forests), passing forest protection policies which do not go the whole nine yards does is not good enough.

Third, Vilsack claims that “conservation work” will be done on forests – since more than 500 projects are aimed at creating jobs and promoting forest rehabilitation through projects such as removal of small trees and underbrush that serve as fuel for wildfires.  If Vilsack believes this is a conservation policy, we are in big trouble.  The idea that removing small trees and underbrush fire-proofs a forest is a recycled myth that just gives the Forest Service and its timber company friends the go to do more logging.  According to Congressional testimony in 2003 by Arthur Partridge, Professor Emeritus of Forest Disease and Insect Problems who has 37 years of teaching, research, and administrative experience, this concept of ground “fuels” is “misguided because almost anything in a forest will burn, given the right conditions.  Any fire specialist will tell you that the principal factors affecting fire are temperature and moisture, not fuels.”  He continues, “No legislation will prevent or even reduce fires in the vast areas of the national forests and to pretend so is fraudulent.”
He said this in response to Bush’s 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which aimed to thin forests in thousands of areas to supposedly reduce wildfire risk.  But now Vilsack is trying to go unnoticed using the same rhetoric – but why?  Well Big Timber could then legally make its way into the forests, and cut down more big trees under a false pretense while leaving more “fuel” debris on the ground in the act than beforehand.  Great, just great.

In sum, not only is “fuels reduction” or “tree thinning” then a stupid policy but it literally fuels biomass production, which we earlier concluded is a far cry from carbon neutral.  Well, looking on the bright-side, at least the roadless rule is half-a-victory for conservationists because no other policy Vilsack outlines in the August 14th article will safeguard the well-being of America’s natural world.  John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt must be turning over in their graves.

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