Environment Forum

Could “putting the cow inside the plant” make a new biofuel?

SWITZERLAND/The Next Big Thing in biofuel might involve genetically engineered plants that digest themselves, making it cheaper to turn them into fuel. That’s one of the new ideas that Arun Majumdar finds fascinating. As the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s ARPA-E – the path-breaking agency that aims come up with efficient, green energy solutions — Majumdar said this concept is one of a few dozen that are in the development stage now.

Majumdar let his enthusiasm show as he described this project at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Thursday. He was talking about a project in its early stages at Massachusetts-based Agrivida.

“If you look at biofuels, cellulosic biofuels  …  you take agricultural waste, you separate out … the cellulose, then you throw a bunch of enzymes at them. And these enzymes are there in the cow’s gut, or termites, that break down this long chain polymer, this cellulose, into small bits and pieces called sugar molecules. And then you take those sugar molecules and feed them into another bug and then you produce gasoline,” he said.

The costly part of this process, Majumdar said, is growing these enzymes in a bio-reactor instead of in a cow.

“What this company’s doing is a very interesting idea. They take the gene sequences that produce enzymes and put them in the plant itself, so when the plant grows, it produces the enzymes free of cost.” But isn’t there a risk that the plants wouldn’t grow, since they would carry enzymes that would make the plants self-digesting? One possible solution is what this start-up company is trying: make the enzymes inactive, and activate them later by changing temperature, humidity or acidity.

CCS makes it into Oxford Dictionary of English

ccsIt’s not been a great year for greens, politicians and companies looking for progress on the fight against climate change. First came the disappointment at the Copenhagen meeting in December, then Senator Lindsey Graham pulled out of the Senate bill, then the Senate climate bill mutated into an oil spill bill —  and even that couldn’t get passed before the congressional August recess.

But climate backers might find a bit of happiness in the fact that bits of their lingo have officially made it into modern English discourse. Two climate related entries made it into the third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English, which was published on Thursday. 

Here are the entries: Carbon capture and storage – the process of trapping and storing carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels; and Geoengineering – manipulation of environmental processes in an attempt to counteract the effects of global warming. Try that last one in your spell checker!

Utilities may win big from energy bill

The sun rises over electric power lines in Encinitas, California in this file photo from September 4, 2007.   REUTERS/Mike Blake

–Andrew Leckey is President of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communication at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Any views expressed here are his own.-

Having spent the past two weeks in record high temperatures in Beijing and Shanghai, with global warming being noted publicly by Chinese officials as the primary cause of severe weather, I find the situation faced by U.S. companies somewhat ironic.

The now-grounded U.S. climate legislation, rather than clearing a general or modest environmental path for U.S. companies and emerging nations, underscored the significant differences of opinion over the environment and the economic impact of regulation.

Time to get un-addicted to oil

rona

– Rona Fried, Ph.D., is CEO of SustainableBusiness.com, a news and networking site for green businesses: including a green jobs service and a green investing newsletter.  Any views expressed here are her own. —

Over the past 30 years, four U.S. presidents chose to continue down the fossil fuel path of least resistance instead of investing heavily in energy efficiency and renewable energy – the only long-term solutions that can avoid catastrophic oil spills like the one we are witnessing today.

We have all the technology to transition to a clean economy that gives us the energy we need without destroying biodiversity, ecosystems, human life and the economy.

World waits on Washington’s climate bill

CLINTON

Laura Zizzo is a partner at Zizzo Allan Climate Law LLP. Any views expressed here are her own. –

There is an important race occurring in capitals, factories and research facilities across the globe.

It’s a high-stakes race that will determine two very important things: whether we will be able to respond to climate change in time to avoid catastrophe, and which economies will be the clean energy/low-carbon superpowers.

from Global News Journal:

Biofuels’ green credentials called into question

Biofuels were once seen as the perfect way to make transport carbon-free, but a series of EU studies are throwing increasing doubt on the green credentials of the alternative fuel.

The latest to be released gave a preliminary assessment that biodiesel from soybeans could create four times more climate-warming emissions than conventional diesel.

The European Commission has not helped itself by keeping many of the studies hidden -- the most recent being an annex cut from a published report that was only released after Reuters and several NGOs used transparency laws to gain access.

from The Great Debate UK:

Impact of the volcano disruption on the airlines

Joris Melkert

- Joris Melkert, MSc BBA, is assistant professor in aerospace engineering at the Delft University of Technology. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Despite the announcement that air space could begin to re-open in Northern Europe, the Icelandic volcano eruption could prove to be a major turning point for the global airline industry with short- to medium-term questions already being asked by some about its future financial viability.

One of the biggest questions, which engineers will be grappling with right now, is whether there is a cost-efficient way to ‘design out’ the current problems that aircraft experience with dust clouds.

from The Great Debate UK:

Why the Icelandic volcano could herald even more disruption

Andy_Hooper- Dr Andrew Hooper is an Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology and is an expert on monitoring deformation of Icelandic volcanoes. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The unprecedented no-fly zone currently in force across much of Europe has already caused the greatest chaos to air travel since the Second World War.  Thousands of flights have been cancelled or postponed with millions of travel plans affected.

The economic consequence to our ‘just-in-time’ society is incalculable at this stage given the disruption to holidays, business plans and indeed the wider business supply chain.  However, the global cost of the disruption will surely ultimately result in a cost of billions, with the share price of several airlines in particular already taking a hit.

from The Great Debate UK:

Managing catastrophic risks and climate change

Graciela Chichilnisky-Graciela Chichilnisky is the Architect of the Carbon Market of the Kyoto Protocol and the author of 'Saving Kyoto', New Holland Publishers, UK, 2009.  Chichilnisky is a Professor of Mathematics and Economics at Columbia University in New York, Director of Columbia Consortium for Risk Management and Managing Director of Global Thermostat Inc. The opinions expressed are her own.-

We live surrounded by uncertainty. Tsunamis, the eruption of super- volcanoes, violent floods and storms, asteroid impacts that eliminate entire species as the dinosaurs that went extinct 60 millions years ago, the recent 8.8 earthquake in Chile, not to mention the global financial crisis.  Some disasters are worse than others, but they all have one thing in common. They are catastrophic risks.    This means risks that occur very rarely – but when they happen they have truly major consequences.

How should we prepare for the unknown catastrophe - how should we manage catastrophic risks?

Can the U.S. compete with China in the green economy?

OBAMA/

Fred Krupp is president of the Environmental Defense Fund. The views expressed are his own.

It’s as though three mammoth challenges facing America are intertwined like the strands of a rope: reducing our dependence on Mideast oil; creating new American jobs from clean energy; and reducing pollution responsible for climate change.

Together, those strands are a lifeline to the future.

While the House of Representatives passed comprehensive energy and climate legislation last summer, polarization has created gridlock in Washington, paralyzing most major legislative initiatives, including clean energy.

  •