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green and sustainable business

Archive for August 2009

Unilever works on ambient ice cream? Maybe not

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An unidentified Unilever spokesperson says the company has no plans to develop to ambient or room temperature  ice cream.

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It’s possible that the glare of publicity about this caused the company to back off, or maybe the timing isn’t right. Perhaps it wants to mislead the competition. Anyway it’s an interesting development.

Chances are you’re an ice cream fan and perhaps you consider yourself an expert on the subject. But did you know that the huge multinational corporation Unilever is the world’s largest ice cream producer?

It makes most of the world’s favorite ice cream brands. Brands like Klondike, Good Humor, Breyers and Popsicle. Even Ben & Jerry’s resides in the Unilever stable.

So when its company scientists poetically pursue the concept of warm ice cream as a way to address global warming, we should pay attnetion because dessert could suddenly become more guilt-free on several levels for everyone, especially environemntally speaking. They are developing a low-carbon product that would be sold at room temperature and then frozen at home.

It’s not clear how far along they are with this, but it seems like an excellent idea, one that would take the added cost of storing, handling and shipping ice cream in its traditional frozen state out of the equation at the manufacturer’s end of the supply chain. If it’s produced, sold and shipped at room temperature then some  costly and energy-intensive factors, including CO2 emissions, will melt away.

Warm, or ambient, ice cream is an idea that seems ready for prime time but it poses a rocky road for Unilever researchers worrying about the correct product “microstructure” that enables the consumer’s dish of Rocky Road to be, well, the same delicious dish of Rocky Road they have come to expect.

A research program to minimize the environmental impact of company products is underway in Unilever laboratories, aided by researchers at Great Britain’s Cambridge University.

“We have to look at a really radical solution,” says Gavin Neath, Unilever’s senior vice-president for sustainability.

Meanwhile Unilever is trying to reduce emissions resulting from its massive ice cream operations by improving the energy efficiency of its factories in Gloucester, Heppenheim in Germany, Caivano in Italy and Saint-Dizier in France.

It is upgrading two million refrigerators that it supplies to retailers in 40 countries. The company for several years has been shifting to “climate-friendly” refrigerators that use propane rather than hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are a powerful greenhouse gas. The shift to propane as a refrigerant began in 2004. Propane is a hydrocarbon, or natural gas that does not harm the ozone layer and has a low global warming potential, according to the company.

Hydrocarbon refrigerators are also more energy efficient, using up to 15 percent less energy compared to other models. Neath says that to date about 400,000 refrigerators have been replaced with the propane-powered units.

While health care reform stalls and environmental initiatives struggle to take a firm hold, at least the vital ice cream supply chain could have an eco-friendly future.

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 28, 2009 at 9:37 am

DOE grant helps Sea-Tac go electric

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seatacgroundThe Department of Energy awarded $5 million to help the Port of Seattle’s Seattle-Tacoma Airport install electric charging stations for aircraft ground support equipment.

Airlines operating at Sea-Tac and the port, which owns and operates the airport, will match the DOE grant.

The cost-share project will replace about 200 gas and diesel vehicles with electric-powered equipment, and will save more than 400,000 gallons of fuel a year, according to DOE.

The move “jumpstarts Sea-Tac’s efforts to be the first airport in the U.S. to fully electrify its fleet of ground support equipment,” the agency says. Sea-Tac currently has about 650 ground support vehicles.

In addition to the fuel savings, the project is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 4,500 metric tons per year.

Initial focus of the project will be gasoline baggage tractors and loading equipment because they are large fuel consumers at the airport. The project will install new electric charging stations on the ramp area.

For more information on activity nationwide on cost-sharing projects under the Clean Cities program, which is funded with nearly $300 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, visit the DOE website page or the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition.

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 27, 2009 at 11:03 am

BP ventures with Verenium, Martek provide biofuels boost

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cellulosic ethanolVerenium Corporation (Nasdaq: VRNM) a developer of next-generation cellulosic ethanol from biomass and high-performance specialty enzymes, reported a net second quarter loss for the period ending June 30 of $28.9 million on declining revenue and higher operating expenses.

Slightly more than $8.9 million of the total loss was attributed by Verenium to its “non-controlling interest in consolidated entities,” so the net loss on the part of the Cambridge, MA, company was $19.9 million. That was an increase of nearly 30 percent over the comparable period in 2008.

Despite the losses as the company’s joint venture with BP, called Vercipia Biofuels, gets underway and as it gears up to eventual commercial biofuel production, Carols Riva, president and CEO, told analysts that Verenium continues to make “significant progress on many fronts.”

He said the company has continued its aggressive expense management initiatives to control operating expenses and to conserve cash,. Verenium also amended financial covenants related to its 8 percent convertible notes to eliminate some of their “onerous restrictions.” Riva says that will simplify its financial structure and give the company financial flexibility.

Riva said that despite significant challenges that the ethanol industry has endured over the past three years, government support for biofuels ”remains strong as our government leaders realize that an overdependence on imported oil remains a critical weakness in our economy.“

The $300 million Vercipia 50/50 venture was selected in June to proceed with due diligence on a Department of Energy loan guarantee for Venerenium’s first commercial project in Highlands County, FL. That project is scheduled to break ground in 2010.

Riva says the guarantee “could extend the project debt covering up to 80 percent of eligible costs.”

The company is also making progress on the “optimization phase” at its demonstration plant in Jennings, LA, and has operated the plant on sugarcane bagasse and energy cane.

Riva says that Verenium remains optimistic that the markets for its products “will stabilize and improve as economic activity recovers.” He acknowledged that softening market conditions have affected revenues, which declined 11 percent to 16.3 million during the quarter. The revenue deline was mainly on the enzyme side of the business, regarding a change in “revenue recognition,” and the discontinuation of two product lines.

BP is also forging aheead on another biofuels front with the announcement earlier this week that it has entered a $10 million joint venture with Martek Biosciences Coporation to develop microbial oil for biofuels. BP and Martek said they will work together to develop a “step-change technology for the conversion of sugars into biodiesel.

Under the terms of the multi-year agreement they said they want to establish “proof of concept” for large-scale, cost-effective microbial biodiesal production through fermentation. The sugar-to-biodiesel plan converts sugars derived from biomass into lipids using unique fermentation mico-organisms. The lipids are then converted into fuelmolecules through chemcial or thermocatalytic processes.

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 20, 2009 at 7:30 am

Big Coal’s Dirty Money

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This is adpated from a recent post I wrote for Triple Pundit.

coal_fired_power_plantThe Sierra Club has long had it right: There’s no such thing as ‘clean coal’ and all of the blather and money spent on this nebulous and mostly illusory technology is time and well, energy, ill-spent to appease powerful coal interests.

A recent blog post from Mark Kresowik, Corporate Responsibility Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, calls out JPMorgan Chase, and particularly the investment bank’s CEO Jamie Dimon. Dimon talks a good game, expressing support for strong action on global warming and JPMorgan Chase’s commitment to clean-energy investments. “We try hard to be great corporate citizens,” Dimon says. “We need good policy on energy and the environment.”

But Sierra Club research has “pulled back the curtain and uncovered that his rhetoric doesn’t match his company’s action,” Kresowik says. JPMorgan Chase “is pouring billions of dollars into dirty coal plant projects – projects that would dramatically increase global warming pollution and ensure runaway global warming.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 14, 2009 at 6:59 am

“Critical” decisions needed to reduce transport GHGs

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cambridgesystematicsCould we step up the timeline? Please?

As long as gasoline-powered vehicles ply the nation’s highways reducing transportation pollution is perhaps the most critical element in the effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from group of federal agencies and advocacy groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund.

Once that realization sinks in completely and actions are implemented it will still take a long time, something like 40 years, before significantly measurable reductions actually take hold.

Will it be too-little-too-late? I think so, but that’s not the theme of Moving Cooler: Transportation Strategies to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, a recent study by Cambridge Systematics, a transportation consulting firm.

The 97-page report outlines six “strategy bundles,” including various pricing strategies such as congestion pricing, pay-as-you drive insurance and vehicle miles traveled, that if implemented in their entirety would result in annual GHG reductions of up to 47 percent annually by 2050.

Pricing strategies are always controversial and political hot potatoes; without those in place the GHG reductions drop dramatically to 24 percent a year by 2050.

Transportation contributes about 28 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. Transportation emissions are growing faster than those of other sectors; between 1990 and 2006 growth in U.S. transportation GHG emissions represented almost one-half (47 percent) of the increase in total U.S. GHGs. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 10, 2009 at 8:57 am

Easy as ABC to cut on-dock ship pollution

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Manoa3LSwansonThe  Port of Seattle‘s At-Berth Clean Fuels Program is reducing on-dock vessel emissions of sulfur dioxide by at least 80 percent and diesel particulate matter by 60 percent, helping the region to meet its clean-air targets.

The program, known as ABC Fuels, was formally unveiled this month in a demonstration aboard Matson Navigation Company‘s container ship Manoa, which was docked at the port’s Terminal 18 container facility and using low sulfur diesel fuel to power its auxiliary engines.

“ABC Fuels reduces emissions where it makes the greatest difference,” said Phil Lutes, Deputy Managing Director of the port’s Seaport Division. “When ships are in port, they’re close to where people work and live.  Switching to low sulfur diesel when they’re ties up at our piers means cleaner air for our region.”

One challenge is the cost-differential between regular fuel and low sulfur fuel, Lutes says. Low sulfur fuel is more highly refined and thus more expensive. The ABC program helps compensate shipping lines for the transition to low sulfur fuel.

ABC Fuels was developed as a collaborative effort by the port and shipping lines that call Seattle in order to meet the goals of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, a joint effort by the ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Port Metro Vancouver in British Columbia, and their private sector partners to reduce maritime related air emissions.

Vessels participating in ABC Fuels agree to use low sulfur fuel (0.5 percent or less) in their auxiliary engines while docked in Seattle. In exchange, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency helps defray the cost of the more expensive low sulfur fuel by providing participating vessels with $1,500 for each port call.

“The financial incentive helps vessel operators make the transition to the cleaner fuels,” says Lutes.

So far 37 ships from six container lines and one cruise line are participating in ABC Fuels. Those ships have made 91 stops at Seattle since January and represent about 35 percent of the vessels that make frequent calls at the Port. Sulfur dioxide emissions from those vessels have declined by more than 20 tons.

Participating shipping lines include APL, CMA CGM, China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), Hapag Lloyd, Maersk Line, Matson Navigation, and Norwegian Cruise Line.

The port is is contributing about $450,000 this year to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for emission reduction activities, including the ABC Fuels program.

Dennis McLerran, the agency’s executive director, said the program “achieves immediate and significant emissions reductions when ships are in port, to the benefit of   all who live and breathe in surrounding areas. We hope to see other larger container carriers and cruise lines take advantage if this program.”

Manoa4smallSpeaking aboard the Manoa while holding samples showing the dramatic difference in appearance between low-sulfur and regular diesel fuel, Lisea Swanson, Director of Environmental Affairs for Matson, said, “Protecting the environment is very important to our business and a major part of of core values.

“Matson appreciates the cooperative efforts that have allowed us to participate in this voluntary program to burn cleaner fuels at dock. It is safer and easier to comply with than similar programs in other jurisdictions.”

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 5, 2009 at 8:19 am

Feds, FedEx living large with solar

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solarpanelfxgThe U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FedEx Ground don’t have much in common but there is this:  Both are engaged in massive solar projects.

FedEx Ground, the small-package shipping unit of FedEx Corp., plans to install the nation’s largest rooftop solar-electric system at its 80-acre distribution hub in Woodbridge, N.J.

And the Army Corps of Engineers last week chose Clark Energy Group to develop the largest solar power project in Department of Defense history at Fort Irwin, CA. Acciona Solar Power will team with Clark to construct and manage the Fort Irwin Energy Solar Energy EUL project. The Enhanced Use Learning program is administered by the Corps’ Baltimore District.

The FedEx solar project is the third solar power project between a FedEx operating company and BP Solar and the fifth solar power project overall for FedEx. The 2.42-megawatt solar power system will cover approximately 3.3 acres of roof top space, using about 12,400 solar panels.

When completed, the system will have the capacity to produce approximately 2.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year and could provide up to 30 percent of the hub’s annual energy needs.

As part of the agreement, BP will install and operate the solar power system and FedEx will purchase the power generated.
Installation is scheduled to begin this month and is slated for completion by November.

When the system is fully operational, the combined environmental benefits based on a projected annual reduction of approximately 1,867 metric tons of CO2 emissions, are equivalent to one of the following:

- More than 340 passenger cars not driven for one year

- 211,900 gallons of gasoline not burned

- 4,300 barrels of oil not consumed

- 259 households’ electricity use for one year

- 47,872 tree seedlings grown for 10 years

- 13 acres of forest preserved from deforestation

Last year, FedEx Freight installed two solar power systems. One in Whittier, CA, is a 282-kilowatt system, while another in Fontana, CA, is a 269-kilowatt system. In 2005, FedEx Express activated a 904-kilowatt system at its Oakland, Calif., hub facility, making it the first of its kind in the FedEx family. That system today meets up to 80 percent of that facility’s peak energy demand. And, FedEx is currently constructing its Central and Eastern European gateway at the Cologne/Bonn, Germany, airport, which will include a 1.4-megawatt solar power system. The hub is slated for completion in 2010.

FedEx’s Woodbridge hub sits on a former brownfield site once used to stockpile soils dredged from the nearby Raritan River.  Soils and groundwater were contaminated with various polluting substances, primarily arsenic.  To build the facility, FedEx Ground worked with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection on a remedial action for the site. Today, the hub houses a workforce of more than 1,000 employees and independent contractors.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

August 3, 2009 at 3:05 pm

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