Snickers, Milky Way Bars Made from US Wind Energy, Certified Palm Oil

Would you feel less guilty eating a Snickers bar knowing it’s made using 100% renewable energy?

Mars, Inc. announced that all electricity for US operations will come from wind: 70 sites that house 37 factories and 25,000 employees – about a quarter of its global footprint or enough energy to make 13 billion Snickers!

The company is buying all the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from Mesquite Creek Wind farm in Texas, a 200 megawatt project that consists of 118, 1.7 MW GE turbines spread over 25,000 acres.  The project comes online in mid-2015.

The biggest long-term commitment to renewable energy of any food manufacturing business in the US, the move is part of Mars’ mission to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Its short term goal is reduce emissions 25% by 2015 (from 2007 levels), which it will meet through Mesquite Creek.

“By making this commitment to buy renewable energy, Mars is sending a clear message that companies, private and public, have the power to lead the world on climate change. It’s good for the bottom line, it’s good for the environment, and projects like this leave a lasting legacy of values we hold dear,” says Jonathan Butcher, Sr., a founder of BNB Renewable Energy, which jointly developed the wind farm with Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. It is being built by Blattner Energy.

Sustainable Palm Oil

Since oils are ubiquitous in Mars’ products, in March, the company announced it build a sustainably-sourced supply chain for its palm oil.

All suppliers must have a fully sustainable and traceable palm oil supply across all their operations by the end of 2015, or have plans in place by then.  As a member of The Forest Trust, field teams will work with Mars’ suppliers to help them build that traceability. Mars says it will provide progress updates every six months on

And it’s going beyond that, launching a “deforestation policy,” which will initially focus on other raw materials it uses that greatly impact forests: beef, pulp and paper, and soy.

“Rapid expansion of palm oil plantations continues to threaten environmentally sensitive areas of tropical rainforest and carbon-rich peatlands, as well as the rights of communities that depend on them for their livelihoods. We have recognized that even though we have already implemented a 100% certified supply of Palm Oil this is not enough. We believe these additional measures will not only help build a genuinely sustainable pipeline for Mars, but will also help accelerate change across the industry by encouraging our suppliers to only source from companies whose plantations and farms are responsibly run,” says Barry Parkin, Chief Sustainability Officer of Mars.

This year, Mars began buying certified palm oil as a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), but this new policy goes much further, creating a fully traceable supply chain.

Even though a company buys 100% certified palm oil through RSPO, it is still blended with conventional oil – from unknown sources – to keep the cost and complexity down of creating separate supply chains. The Roundtable is struggling to get certified palm oil beyond a niche market and has been criticized for setting the bar on certification too low.

“While the RSPO charter discourages destructive practices, many techniques, such as native forest conversion, peat drainage, and field burning are still technically allowed. The RSPO puts no hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions, nor does it require reporting on emissions. Furthermore, the organization has shown an unwillingness to act on violations. In several instances companies that have withdrawn as members have kept the RSPO certification on their products for years with no recourse taken by the organization,” says Portfolio 21 in an analysis.

Mars has been around since 1911, when Frank Mars made his first candies in his kitchen in Tacoma, Washington. His son joined the company in the 1920s and the famous Milky Way bar was born. Based in McLean, Virginia, Mars has since grown to the fifth largest private US company, according to Forbes, with $33 billion in sales a year and 75,000 employees worldwide. It produces a wide range of food products from Pedigree in Petcare to Uncle Ben’s rice and Seeds of Change.


Washington state just lopped up to $2,500 off the cost of solar panels. Here’s how.

By Heather Smith


Steve Jurvetson

All new technology, no matter how innovative, arrives in a world of pre-existing laws and regulations. But not all technology catches the same breaks. A company like Lyft or Uber can do its thing right out there in the open for a surprisingly long time, despite being — essentially — appified versions of such already-illegal innovations as dollar vans and jitneys.

By comparison, solar energy, despite having made leaps and bounds both technologically and finance-wise, can’t show up at the block party without bringing down a lawsuit, a law, or some kind of extra fee.

Yet those impediments, intentional and unintentional, are beginning to remove themselves. A decision this week by the Building Code Council in Washington state is a prime example.

Until now, the process of legally installing solar panels on a building in Washington has been what it is in most of the U.S.: while there are state and national building codes, each county enforces them differently. What this meant was that the process of putting in solar ranged from the very simple (a solar panel installation was seen as the equivalent of putting on an extra layer of shingles) to the complicated and prolonged (any installation, no matter how much of a no-brainer, required a full set of plans, signed by a licensed structural engineer, which added between $800-$2,500 to the final bill.) Solar installers were spending a lot of time learning about how permits were handled from county to county, and avoiding some areas altogether because the process was so daunting.

Then this April, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order to deal with carbon emissions — and that order paved the way for the standardization and simplification of solar permitting. It was a surprisingly agreeable process, says Mia Devine, a project manager at Northwest Solar Communities, a coalition that helped with the rule changes. “The mandate of the governor’s office really made people pay attention. It actually passed unanimously.”

This whole “actually making it easy to put in solar” thing is still fairly rare, but the idea of having simpler rules seems like a popular one. In the coming months, expect to see more of these attempts to make rules around solar easier to navigate. It won’t be the wild west of the Silicon Valley startup world, but it’s shaping up to be a lot more open than it is today.


MIT creates graphite ‘solar sponge’ that converts sunlight into steam with 85% efficiency

By Sebastian Anthony


MIT is reporting that it has created a new, cheap material — using a microwave, no less — that converts sunlight into steam with an amazing 85% efficiency. This could have major repercussions in the realms of desalination and sterilization, and perhaps for concentrated solar thermal power generation as well.

The new material, developed by MIT mechanical engineer Hadi Ghasemi, consists of a thin double-layered disc. The bottom layer consists of spongy carbon foam that doubles up as a flotation device and a thermal insulator that prevents solar energy from dissipating into the fluid underneath. The top layer — the active layer — consists of flakes of graphite that were exfoliated using a microwave. The microwave causes the graphite to bubble up “just like popcorn” according to Gang Chen, another researcher involved with the work.


MIT’s spongy graphite-carbon solar steam machine — diagram on the left, in action on the right

 When sunlight hits the graphite, hot spots are created that draw water up through the carbon foam via capillary action. When the water reaches the hot spots in the graphite, there’s enough heat to turn the water into steam. The efficiency of the material is linked to the amount of incoming light — at a solar concentration (intensity) of 10 times that of a typical sunny day, 85% of incoming solar energy is converted into steam (assuming there’s enough water nearby; this doesn’t magically create steam out of thin air). “There can be different combinations of materials that can be used in these two layers that can lead to higher efficiencies at lower concentrations,” says Ghasemi. Graphene, anyone?

As for what this little spongy steam-maker might actually be used for, there’s a variety of possibilities. The low solar intensity requirement (10x is easy to obtain with a simple lens or reflector) means this could a very good way of producing clean water or sterilizing equipment (to this day, steam is still a very popular way of sterilizing things). Bulk desalination is another possibility, though we wonder if the carbon foam wouldn’t get clogged up with the leftover salt crystals.

And then there’s the most exciting possibility: Good ol’ power generation. In modern-day concentrated solar thermal power generation, fresnel lenses or parabolic reflectors are used to concentrate sunlight by up to 1,000 times. If steam can be produced with just the intensity of 10 suns, then system costs can probably be reduced and overall efficiency increased. A lot more work needs to be done before this stuff revolutionizes power generation, though: So far, though, MIT hasn’t gone any further than “ooh, this stuff produces steam!” As we mentioned before with regards to desalination, it’s very likely that this new material would clog up with mineral deposits rather quickly (i.e. fouling), completely destroying any semblance of efficiency.

Still, it’s clearly early days. Problems like fouling (limescale! corrosion!) have been around forever, and as such there are lots of ways to combat it. If MIT really has stumbled across a way of cheaply and easily producing steam from sunlight, then this could be big news.


ODU adds 600 solar panels to its campus rec center


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Old Dominion University and Dominion Virginia Power picked a sunny July day to dedicate a massive solar grid at the school.

The solar panel project now sits atop the roof of ODU’s student recreation center.

“It was just a great opportunity for us to partner, and a logical one, Dominion and Old Dominion to take a look at how we could expand solar opportunities here on campus and tie into what they’re trying to do in terms of growing that energy as well,” said ODU President John R. Broderick.

ODU is no stranger to solar power. Last year, solar panels were assembled on a rotating grid on the roof of Kaufman Hall. That project had 24 solar panels, which could power about two home. This latest array has more than 600.

Ken Barker, with Dominion Virginia Power, says ODU was a perfect partner for the project. “We’ve installed enough panels to power about thirty homes here on the roof of Old Dominion. That power will go back on our grid and we’ll use it as a demonstration of understanding how solar energy can fit into our electric grid at Dominion Virginia Power.”

Dr. Sylvain Marsillac, who oversaw the construction of last year’s project, has high hopes this new solar panel project is a stepping stone for powering America’s future energy needs. “It will be the future, you have to go through renewable energy, there’s no other way around, just because your gas and your oil will run out at a point. Fifty years or seventy years, it will run out; the sun will never run out.”

As part of Dominion’s solar partnership program, the facility will power about 31 homes during daylight hours.


Oak Ridge first EPA green power community in Southeast

KNOXVILLE—The Tennessee Valley Authority has been recognized as a Top 10 utility leader in green power program sales, and Oak Ridge has been designated the first Green Power Community in the Southeast by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Wind turbines at the Buffalo Mountain Wind Farm north of Oliver Springs generate electricity for the Tennessee Valley Authority.

TVA was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In the first NREL Top 10 ranking in a decade, TVA landed at No. 9 nationally with green power sales of 199,067 megawatt-hours in calendar 2013, thanks to TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions programs and participating local power companies, a press release said.

Oak Ridge is one of the participating communities, and it received the EPA designation based in part on TVA green power purchases. TVA and Oak Ridge officials had a brief ceremony to celebrate during a Monday night Oak Ridge City Council meeting.

“TVA is proud to be recognized nationally for our strong and growing support of renewable energy,” said Patty West, director of TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions. “Cost-effective, renewable energy is an important part of TVA’s diverse portfolio of energy-generation sources.”

A key to TVA’s renewable energy sales has been Green Power Switch, or GPS, which TVA launched on Earth Day 2000 with local power companies and members of the environmental community as the first-of-its-kind renewable power purchase program in the Southeast, the press release said.

GPS gives consumers and businesses the opportunity to buy 150-kilowatt-hour blocks of renewable energy generated in the Valley from solar, wind, and biomass conversion for $4 per block.

“Our local power company partners have enthusiastically supported this effort and, through their efforts, more than 12,600 residential and business customers are currently buying GPS energy blocks,” West said in the press release.

The City of Oak Ridge increased its GPS participation from about 500 local customers to more than 800 during a two-month campaign to achieve the EPA Green Power Community designation. That represents more than 5 percent of Oak Ridge’s customers, and the highest rate of any community in the Green Power Switch program.

Since the program began, GPS customers have supported 1,062,260 megawatt-hours of renewable energy in the Tennessee Valley, enough to supply the electricity needs for more than 66,300 average homes in the TVA service area.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a corporate agency of the United States that provides electricity for business customers and local power distributors, serving 9 million people in parts of seven southeastern states. TVA receives no taxpayer funding, deriving virtually all of its revenues from sales of electricity. In addition to operating and investing its revenues in its electric system, TVA provides flood control, navigation, and land management for the Tennessee River system and assists local power companies and state and local governments with economic development and job creation.