Environment Forum

Onion grower powers up on its own juice

The green industry prides itself on innovation, perhaps especially in California, one of the most environmentally progressive states.

So it should be no surprise that a company in California has made headlines with a new technology that converts onion juice into electricity. Read about it here.

The company, Oxnard, Calif.-based Gills Onions, has been working on the project for years. But Steven Gill, co-owner of the family-owned company, didn’t set out with green energy as his goal. Gill just wanted to figure how to get rid of his onion waste in a sustainable, responsible way. Trucking excess onion tops, tails and skins out to the fields for composting was becoming a big hassle – and expensive.

In his research, and help from engineers at University of California at Davis and others, he discovered he could use the onion waste, especially the juice, in an anaerobic digester to create gas and then power up fuel cells. He ended up killing two birds with one stone. He got rid of his waste and created a clean energy source for his processing plant.

Gill said he’s gotten a lot of interest from other companies, including a carrot grower and processor. Will more food growers follow suit? Will we soon have fuel from not just onions, but carrots and potatoes and other vegetables?

MINI leases not good enough for some electric car champions

Sometimes, even electric vehicles aren’t good enough for the die-hard green car set.

An electric car advocacy group on Tuesday criticized California’s influential air quality regulator, the California Air Resources Board, for allowing BMW’s one-year pilot program of electric Mini Coopers to earn the same credit towards the state’s clean vehicle program as standard production cars.

California is requiring that automakers, collectively, put 7,500 zero-emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, on its roads.

Compost — or else! San Fran’s not just asking

No more Mr. Nice Green! San Francisco passed what it called the first mandatory requirement to throw carrot peels, moldy bread and other icky compostable material into separate bins in order to improve recycling. Total recycling would rise to 90 percent from a current 72 percent if all of the paper and scraps currently in the garbage were put in the right cans, the city said.

Mayor Gavin Newsom soft-pedaled the sticky side of the situation (although who wants any carrot in this story?). There is a $100 cap for fines on residences and small businesses, and the main goal is public awareness, he said in a statement.

The picture, by Reuters’ Daniel Aguilar, is of a dump in Mexico City, which is facing a crisis on where to put its garbage.

Made Green in California (TM)?

California’s environmental and other regulations are helping to send manufacturers running, but the state can capitalize on its green image (and should streamline regulations) a new study by the Milken Institute says.

The study found that Golden State manufacturing was already contracting at an astounding rate even before the latest meltdown, and that it was lagging some other Western U.S. states which had seen small upticks in jobs for people who make stuff.

In particular, high-tech manufacturing fell to 485,900 jobs in 2007 in California from 629,400 in 2000, the report said.

That will be $115 bln for clean energy, please

Yikes. Seems it ain’t easy, or at least ain’t cheap, being green.

It will cost California some $115 billion for (pretty much) hitting 33 percent renewable energy by 2020. That’s more than twice the price tag of sticking with a goal of 20 percent. The difference, according to a long-delayed report issued today by the state’s Public Utilities Commission is due to the speed of building fast. There are all sorts of other problems outlined in exquisite detail. It’s all quite handy for those trying to get a sense of just what needs to be done to go green. A lot, it seems.

When Kennedy announced the moon shot, was there this type of gnashing of teeth? Maybe no one ran the numbers ahead of time!

Pic of Mr. It’s Not Easy Being Green by Mike Segar/Reuters

Concerns about fed probe of First Solar deal overblown, some analysts say

Shares of U.S. solar company First Solarhave dropped about 7 percent this week on concerns about a federal review of the company’s recent acquisition of rival OptiSolar, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.

However, in a note to clients on Wednesday, Pacific Crest analyst Mark Bachman called the story “sensational, at best.” A day earlier, Cowen and Company analyst Robert Stone said “the issue looks overdone.” Both have “outperform” ratings on First Solar.

According to Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s inspector general is probing whether OptiSolar’s applications to develop 136,000 of public land were included in the value of the $400 million deal.In the event of an acquisition, applications can be transferred from one company to another, Bedrosian said, though no value can be attached to them.

Energy from — molten salt?

In these green times energy producers are leaving no stone unturned in the hunt for new sources of energy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that rocket-builder RocketDyne and a Santa Monica-based renewable energy company, SolarReserve, are planning to build a plant that they say could eventually power 100,000 homes by using solar power and molten salt.

The idea, which analysts say is promising, is to use solar power, collected in a huge array of tilting mirrors, to heat up molten salt to over 1,000 degrees Farenheit and use the resulting steam to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

The other plan to cut car pollution? Drive less

The feds are taking on California’s plan to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases and discussing the idea of low carbon fuel, but California has one other major idea to curb vehicle pollution, says the state senator who pushed through the tailpipe emissions law, Fran Pavley. The idea: drive less.

“No matter what we do on the clean car regs, with the gross of the state… and the sprawl out into the suburbs and the rural areas, we are going to be going in the wrong direction. And that’s something the federal government hopefully will eventually look at — land use,” she said by phone, when asked about next steps for vehicle pollution.

2008′s Senate Bill 375 by Darrell Steinberg set up targets for coordinated planning of transportation, land use and housing with regional reduction targets for greenhouse gases. At the time the bill passed, California was expecting its population to rise to 46 million by 2030 from 38 million.

California moves toward beach smoking ban

The California State Senate passed a bill on Friday that would ban smoking at all state parks and beaches — and imposing a $100 fine for anyone caught lighting up on the sand.

Senate Bill 4 still awaits approval from the state Assembly, but seems destined to become law in the Golden State, which prides itself on its more than 400 beaches along over 1,100 miles of coastline — and its repuation as a leader in the green movement.

In fact more than 100 local governments in California already ban smoking on beaches and in parks.

Wacky windmill forces California highway shutdown

Turns out birds aren’t the only ones with a reason to steer clear of wind farms.

This past weekend, a wind turbine spinning out of control forced California police to shut down a stretch of highway because of concerns that it could break into large, heavy, and very fast-moving pieces.

California Highway Patrol officers late on Sunday morning noticed that a roughly 125-foot tall turbine on a ridge near the desert town of Tehachapi was spinning much faster than any of the others at the Tehachapi farm.