The New Diesel Fuel … from fungi?

New diesel cars are greener, but imagine how much greener they could be if powered by fungi. (Photo: VW)

Money might not grow on trees, but diesel could according to Gary Strobel, a professor at Montana State University.

Strobel discovered that fungi growing in the Patagonian forests of South America are capable of producing gaseous diesel. The fungus, G. roseum grows on the Ulmo tree, and produces toxic fumes used to kill off competing species of fungus. Upon closer study, Strobel discovered that these fumes are “virtually identical” in structure to diesel. In fact, it’s a sufficiently close match that he claims the fumes would be adequate to power a diesel engine.

What makes the fungus a potential source for diesel is that the fungus is able to turn cellulose – the fibres in plant material – directly into diesel. This skips the fermentation process that normally occurs during the production of biodiesel, saving time and money. While G. roseum is found on the Ulmo tree in the wild, it could create fuel on any form of cellulose, be it trees, wood, sawdust or leftover husks after harvests.

Given its potential as a truly renewable source of energy, this fungus is certain to be a hot topic in the coming months and years.
Courtesy Justin Couture, Sympatico / MSN Autos

Vancouver Convention Centre Offers More Than a Green Roof

The Canada Green Building Council and BC Hydro are working together to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings in British Columbia through energy conservation. The two organizations have launched a joint effort to improve the design, construction and operation of buildings in this province.

The Vancouver Convention Centre

With the world coming to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games, the Vancouver Convention Centre expansion had to be spectacular. And sustainable.

Thanks to BC Hydro’s High Performance Building Program, this task was a little less daunting. BC Hydro helped build in energy efficiency from the ground up. And it’s anticipated that the kilowatt hours of energy saved per year will be equivalent to the amount of energy needed to power 220 homes for a full year.

Covering approximately four city blocks with 40 percent built out over the water, and all of it covered by a six-acre green roof – the Vancouver Convention Centre has added not only style but sustainability to its iconic status.

Expanding the Convention Centre and Adding a New, Energy-Efficient Icon to Vancouver’s Waterfront

The effect was immediate: as soon as the Vancouver Convention Centre opened in 1987, its five-sail design came to symbolize Vancouver as a vital, attractive and exciting waterfront city.

This April, the centre is poised to add a new element to its iconic status: a 1.1 million square foot expansion – 40 per cent of it built out over the water and all of it covered by a stunning six-acre green roof – developed to the highest possible standards of energy efficiency.

“Five years ago, the first concern of convention planners was security,” says Warren Buckley, President and CEO of BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), the Crown Corporation that manages both the Vancouver Convention Centre and BC Place Stadium. “Now, that’s dropped to number two. Today, they say tell us about your sustainability – they want to know how green we are, and it’s absolutely vital for us to be able to offer a sustainable facility.”

Planning began for the convention centre’s expansion many years ago, as soon as demand for conference space began to far outstrip what the existing centre could supply. But sustainability, says Project Manager Dave Walker, was always an essential part of the planning process. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to build a sustainable building and to achieve LEED® Gold standard”– which is why the planners signed up for BC Hydro’s High Performance Building Program at the very start of the design process.

More about the expansion

The new space:
• covers approximately four city blocks
• connects to the original centre by a 200-foot glass-enclosed walkway
• includes a six-acre green roof with over 400,000 indigenous plants, more than 200,000 square feet of exhibition space and 52 break-out meeting rooms
• an on site black water treatment facility that will produce enough water to irrigate the roof and flush toilets, and
• is expected to generate an additional $107 million a year in delegate spending

Built-in energy efficiency

The High Performance Building Program provides financial incentives, resources and technical assistance to help developers of new commercial and multi-residential building projects build-in energy efficiency where it can make the most difference: from the ground up.

“Nothing beats having energy efficiency built-in from the outset,” says Dave Walker. “It’s a lot less expensive than having to re-design your whole project later because you suddenly realize you should have done it in the first place.

Also, through the BC Hydro program, we received more than $200,000 in financial incentives – and every dollar helps, of course – but more than that, Hydro also brought us their knowledge and expertise in identifying and evaluating design options.”

High performance inside and out

Energy-saving measures completed as part of the Vancouver Convention Centre expansion project with the help of the High Performance Building Program include:

• upgraded (R18) roof insulation
• variable speed drives on pumps, so they don’t run at 100 per cent when they don’t need to
• high efficiency lighting
• premium efficiency transformers
• daylight sensors applied on all perimeter spaces
• heat-recovery chillers, recovering waste heat that provide significant steam energy savings, and
• demand-control ventilation, where spaces are ventilated only when they are occupied.

“We anticipate that we will save a total of 2.2 million kilowatt hours of energy a year,” – equivalent of providing electricity to 220 homes for a full year- says Dave. “We will also produce about 750 to 800 tonnes less carbon dioxide each year – equal to removing 146 average cars from the road – than a conventionally designed centre.”
Courtesy – Canada Green Building Council

Cement Techology

Cement from CO2: A Concrete Cure for Global Warming?

A new technique could turn cement from a source of climate changing greenhouse gases into a way to remove them from the air

By David Biello


CLIMATE CHANGE CURE?: By running the flue gas from Moss Landing’s mammoth smokestacks through ocean water, a new company can make cement from carbon dioxide pollution.

The turbines at Moss Landing power plant on the California coast burn through natural gas to pump out more than 1,000 megawatts of electric power. The 700-degree Fahrenheit (370-degree Celsius) fumes left over contain at least 30,000 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2)—the primary greenhouse gas responsible for global warming—along with other pollutants.

Today, this flue gas wafts up and out of the power plant’s enormous smokestacks, but by simply bubbling it through the nearby seawater, a new California-based company called Calera says it can use more than 90 percent of that CO2 to make something useful: cement.

It’s a twist that could make a polluting substance into a way to reduce greenhouse gases. Cement, which is mostly commonly composed of calcium silicates, requires heating limestone and other ingredients to 2,640 degrees F (1,450 degrees C) by burning fossil fuels and is the third largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Making one ton of cement results in the emission of roughly one ton of CO2—and in some cases much more.

While Calera’s process of making calcium carbonate cement wouldn’t eliminate all CO2 emissions, it would reverse that equation. “For every ton of cement we make, we are sequestering half a ton of CO2,” says crystallographer Brent Constantz, founder of Calera. “We probably have the best carbon capture and storage technique there is by a long shot.”

Carbon capture and storage has been identified by experts ranging from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the leaders of the world’s eight richest nations (G8) as crucial to the fight against climate change. The idea is to capture the CO2 and other greenhouse gases produced when burning fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, and then permanently store it, such as in deep-sea basalt formations.

Calera’s process takes the idea a step forward by storing the CO2 in a useful product. The U.S. used more than 122 million metric tons of Portland cement in 2006, according to the Portland Cement Association (PCA), an industry group, and China used at least 800 million metric tons.

The Calera process essentially mimics marine cement, which is produced by coral when making their shells and reefs, taking the calcium and magnesium in seawater and using it to form carbonates at normal temperatures and pressures. “We are turning CO2 into carbonic acid and then making carbonate,” Constantz says. “All we need is water and pollution.”

The company employs spray dryers that utilize the heat in the flue gas to dry the slurry that results from mixing the water and pollution. “A gas-fired power plant is basically like attaching a jet engine to the ground,” Constantz notes. “We use the waste heat of the flue gas. They’re just shooting it up into the atmosphere anyway.”

In essence, the company is making chalk, and that’s the color of the resulting cement: snow white. Once dried, the Calera cement can be used as a replacement for the Portland cement that is typically blended with rock and other material to make the concrete in everything from roads to buildings. “We think since we’re making the cement out of CO2, the more you use, the better,” says Constantz, who formerly made medical cements. “Make that wall five feet thick, sequester CO2, and be cooler in summer, warmer in winter and more seismically stable. Or make a road twice as thick.”

Of course, Calera isn’t the only company pursuing this idea—just the most advanced. Carbon Sciences in Santa Barbara, Calif., plans to use flue gas and the water leftover after mining operations, so-called mine slime, which is often rich in magnesium and calcium, to create similar cements. Halifax, Nova Scotia–based Carbon Sense Solutions plans to accelerate the natural process of cement absorbing CO2 by exposing a fresh batch to flue gas. And a number of companies are working on reducing the energy needs of Portland cement making. The key will be ensuring that such specialty cements have the same properties and the same or lower cost than Portland cement, says Carbon Sciences president and CEO Derek McLeish.

But the companies may also find it challenging to get their cements approved by regulators and, more importantly, accepted by the building trade, says civil engineer Steven Kosmatka of the Portland Cement Association. “The construction industry is very conservative,” he adds. “It took PCA about 25 years to get the standards changed to allow 5 percent limestone [in the Portland cement mix]. So things move kind of slowly.”

Calera hopes to get over that hurdle quickly by first offering a blend of its carbon-storing cement and Portland cement, which would not initially store any extra greenhouse gases but would at least balance out the emissions from making the traditional mortar. “It’s just a little better than carbon neutral,” notes Constantz, who will make his case to the industry at large at the World of Concrete trade fair in February. “That alone is a huge step forward.”

“Could you take this calcium carbonate and add it to Portland cement? You sure can,” Kosmatka says. “Could you add it to the ready mix to replace some of the Portland cement? You probably can do that, too.” That would help to rein in the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings—both from building them and powering them once they are built—that makes up 48 percent of U.S. global warming pollution.

Nor are there any limitations on the raw materials of the Calera cement: Seawater containing billions of tons of calcium and magnesium covers 70 percent of the planet and the 2,775 power plants in the U.S. alone pumped out 2.5 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2006. The process results in seawater that is stripped of calcium and magnesium—ideal for desalinization technologies—but safe to be dumped back into the ocean. And attaching the Calera process to the nation’s more than 600 coal-fired power plants or even steel mills and other industrial sources is even more attractive as burning coal results in flue gas with as much as 150,000 parts per million of CO2.

But Calera is starting with the cleanest fossil fuel—natural gas. The company has set up a pilot plant at Moss Landing because California is soon to adopt regulations limiting the amount of CO2 power plants and other sources can emit, and natural gas is the primary fuel of power plants in that state. According to Constantz, some flue gas is already running through the company’s process. “We are using emissions from gas-fired generation as our CO2 source at the pilot plant where we are making up to 10 tons a day,” he says. “That material will be used for evaluations.”

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has expressed interest in testing the cement, and Dynegy, owner of the Moss Landing power plant, is also intrigued. Although no formal agreement has been struck, “their proposed technology for capturing CO2 from flue gases and turning it into a beneficial, marketable product sounds very interesting to us,” Dynegy spokesman David Byford says. “There are very good technologies for capturing the emissions of other pollutants. The carbon issue is something we are just turning our attention to now, and so far it’s been quite elusive.”
courtesy Scientific

Geothemal Energy

Geothermal System
Geothermal Energy is energy that is stored in the ground from the sun. At six feet below the surface, the earth’s temperature is a constant 10-15C (40-60F) all year round. This energy is a steady heat source, even in the coldest winter. A Geothermal system can replace your conventional furnace and even cool your home in the summer. It works by installing closed loop piping into the ground either horizontally or vertically. These pipes are connected to a Geothermal heat exchanger unit inside your home and a fluid is pumped through the pipes. As the fluid travels through the pipes, it is heated by the ground. When the fluid returns to your home, the heat is transfered into the heat exchanger and pumped throughout your home via radiatorss or in-floor radiant heating.  This system can also be used to heat domestic water. Apart from the initial investment, which is usually recouped in 7-10 years, the only cost to operate the system is the small amount of electricity required to run the pump. The additional benefit to Geothermal is in the summer you can reverse the flow and the system will draw the heat from your home and absorb it into the ground providing a constant temperature all year round. Geothermal, a constant renewable source of energy producing zero carbon emissions.

Let’s Get Started

So you are interested in Green Energy. As our world transitions consumption of Energy from Non-Renewable Resources to Green Renewable Technologies, we as consumers need to do our part and minimize our carbon footprint by realizing our need for energy consumption is the driving factor to initiate these changes. We also have an obligation to maximize the efficiency of our energy consumption by educating ourselves on the newest technologies currently available.
One of the easiest and simplest ways is to start right in our own homes. The first step is to look at our lighting needs. During the day, do  you really need all those lights on or can you open a drape or blind to take the benefit of free natural lighting. If you must use lights, try using compact fluorescent lights(CFL). Substituting a 25 Watt CFL for a 100 Watt Incandescent bulb, will save approximately $30 over the life of the bulb. Also the CFL uses 66% less energy and lasts up to ten times longer. If everyone changed the five most used lights in our homes to CFL, we would prevent over one trillion pounds of green house gases.