green and sustainable business

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State of green biz is mixed

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Like a mixed green salad, GreenBiz Group‘s fifth annual 2012 State of Green Business report offers a jumbled view of the current green and sustainable business landscape.

“Things aren’t going as well as we’d hoped,” said Joel Makower, principal author of the 84-page report. “For the first time since we began doing our assessment, in 2008, several of the indicators have taken a downward turn.”

Each year GreenBiz examines sustainable business by tracking 20 indicators of progress that measure such things as carbon emissions, e-waste recycling, green office space, vehicle fleet emissions, toxic emissions, energy efficiency, employee commuting, corporate reporting, and a dozen other metrics. Read the rest of this entry »


Big bucks this month for renewable energy

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cleantech1More than $1.5 billion from two sources, one private and the other public, is going for renewable energy and clean technology projects.

The private venture capital firm Khosla Ventures said earlier this month that it closed on more than $1 billion in funding under two new venture funds with at least two-thirds of the money allocated for clean-tech investments, according to Samir Kaul, a general partner at the Menlo Park, CA firm.

On the same day the Department of Energy and the U.S. Treasury Department announced $503 million in government cash grants to 12 companies that are developing renewable energy projects.

Kholsa Ventures was founded in 2004 by Vinod Khosla, the founder and first CEO of Sun Microsystems. The firm offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital for entrepreneurs working mainly in clean-tech areas such solar, battery, high efficiency engines, lighting, greener materials like cement, glass and bio-refineries for energy abd bioplastics, and other eco-friendly technologies.

In the two new venture funds announced early this month Khosla closed on a roughly $250 million Seed Fund designed to make investments of around $2 million each, Kaul says.

The firm also closed Khosla Ventures III at about $800 million, which will back companies with initial investments of $5 to $10 million.

This was Khosla’s first foray into raising funds from outside investors and the largest clean-tech funding by a single venture capital firm since 2007.

California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) was an investor along with other unidentified pension funds, university endowments and foundations.

Kaul estimated both funds will be invested over the next three to five years, adding that Khosla is looking into various sub-sectors of clean-tech with a special focus on building materials and bioplastics.

Those “are very big markets and they are growing and there’s a lot of consumer demand,” he said.

Current bioplastics investments by Khosla include Draths Corp. of Okemos, MI and Segetis Inc. of Golden Valley, MN. Its building materials portfolio includes two California companies, Soladigm of Santa Rosa and the cement company Calera Corp., of Los Gatos.

So far this year Khosla has added seven new portfolio companies in the clean technology sector. These include Skywatch Energy in solar, HCL CleanTech Ltd. in cellulosic sugars, Hybra-Drive Systems LLC in efficiency, and Rayspan Corp. and SeaMicro Inc. in information technology.

Stimulus grants awarded by DOE and Treasury are in the first round of about $3 billion in direct payments to companies in lieu of tax credits that will eventually support an estimated 5,000 biomass, solar, wind and other renewable energy production facilities.line “These grants will help America’s businesses launch clean energy projects, putting Americans back to work in good construction and manufacturing jobs,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Companies receiving the most money involved wid farm projects, including the Penascal wind farm ($114.1 million) in Sarita, TX; the Locust Ridge II, LLC wind project ($59.2 million) in Shenandoah, PA; the Canandaigua Power Partners, LLC wind project ($52.4 million) in Cohocton, NY; and the Wheat Field wind farm ($47.7 million) in Arlington, OR.\line Iberdrola Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola SA was awarded $294.9 million for five wind projects, bringing the company’s investment so far in U.S. wind power to about $1 billion. The 12 winning projects could produce 840 megawatts of electricity, representing a 3 percent increase in total U.S. renewable electricity generation capacity, the Energy Department said.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

15 September, 2009 at 9:12 am

Seattle, Tacoma push their “Green Gateway” status

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gg_logo1Size and distance matters a great deal when it comes to solidifying Pacific Northwest ports’ status as the “Green Gateway” for cargoes moving out of Asia.

It seems inherently obvious that the larger the cargo vessel and the shorter the route that its cargo has to travel, greenhouse gas emissions will lessen. What the Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Tacoma have done, for the first time it appears, is actually quantify this carbon footprint conclusion.

They did so in a study released Monday that estimates the GHG emissions from the delivery of cargo containers from the four most common-sized container ships in use – 4,500 TEUs, 6,500 TEUs, 8,500 TEUs, and 12,500 TEUs. The TEU, or 20-foot container equivalent unit, is the standard measure of all those ubiquitous boxes that are stacked on ships, rolling behind trucks or double-stacked on trains.

Their conclusion: The lowest emission route to ship cargo from Asia to the U.S. Midwest is through the Puget Sound – what they call the “Green Gateway” for trade.

“The carbon study results are good news, and a great boost to our efforts to measure and reduce our environmental impact,” said Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani. “Our ongoing sustainability initiatives have created a Green Gateway that is good for our environment and our customers.”

It also adds environmental street-cred in the continuing competitive commercial battle between intermodal rail and all-water container services by taking aim from a carbon footprint perspective on the advantages of rail services from West Coast ports over all-water services to the Gulf and East coasts.

The study confirms “what we’ve known for a long time,” says Port of Tacoma Executive Director Tim Farrell. “This region has been a truly green gateway for a long time, and our customers are helping us demonstrate that businesses can do well by doing good.”

The study analyzes the carbon footprints of trade routes between Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and the U.S. distribution hubs of Chicago, Columbus and Memphis, as well as routes that use US East and Gulf Coast ports via the Panama and Suez canals. It was commissioned by the Port of Seattle and conducted by Herbert Engineering, a ship design, engineering and transportation consulting firm based in California.gg_final_map_for_web

A study comparison of the emissions of ocean-going containerships and domestic rail service finds that marine transportation emits about 1.5 to 2.25 less carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per TEU-mile than rail transportation. “This relationship favors shipping over rail transportation when travel distances are comparable,” the study continues. But the ocean distance from Asian ports to the West Coast ports and in particular the ports of Prince Rupert in British Columbia and Seattle “are so much shorter than the (all-water) distances to the East Coast ports that this more than offsets the detrimental impact of the longer rail distances from the West Coast ports.”

The report also finds that shipping though Seattle provides the lowest overall carbon emissions from the three Asian departure ports used in the study, when the cargo continues on to inland container terminals at Chicago and Columbus.

Prince Rupert, emerging as major rival to Seattle and Tacoma in intermodal rail services to the Midwest, has a similar emissions footprint. When shipping to Memphis, the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland have the lowest emissions.

The carbon footprint advantages from West Coast ports “can be quite significant,” the study says.  For example, “carbon emissions expressed in terms of emissions per TEU moves are approximately 41% lower when moving a container between Shanghai and Chicago via the port of Seattle on a 8,500 TEU containership, as opposed to moving the same container between Shanghai and Chicago via the Panama Canal and the port of New York/New Jersey on a 4,500 TEU containership. The latter-sized vessel is the largest that can currently fit through the canal.

View the study, “Carbon Footprint Study for the Asia to North America Intermodal Trade,” here.

Written by William DiBenedetto

4 May, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Sunday feeling:Plastiki Expedition

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plastiki1I was reading about David de Rothschild and his Plastiki Expedition yesterday in a New Yorker article. He’s building an entirely recyclable boat out of plastic water bottles and aims to sail it to the Eastern Garbage Patch sometime this year.

His website, Adventure Ecology is well worth exploring and check this for a video from that site on the boat and the expedition.


Written by William DiBenedetto

3 May, 2009 at 7:51 am

Posted in environment, green

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Renew Energy has plant for sale; BioEnergy Development opt for biomass

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Renew Energy could close Wisconsin plantrenewenergy

Ethanol producer Renew Energy LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 protection under the US Bankruptcy Code in late January, announced today that it will close or sell its 130 mgy ethanol plant in Jefferson, WI if a buyer cannot be found. The sale or closure will take effect between May 18 and May 31, the company said, and would likely result in the layoff of the plant’s entire workforce of 80.

The company is a Wisconsin limited liability company with five members, each holds a 20 percent interest in the company.

For its most recent fiscal year, Renew Energy generated revenue of about $184 million. As of the Jan. 30 bankruptcy filing, it had liabilities of more than $150 million (of which $37 million is unsecured trade debt). It retained William Blair & Company L.L.C. to assist in locating lenders for a DIP facility and in soliciting purchasers of the company’s assets.  In the interim, the company had negotiated a temporary DIP facility in the amount of $2.5 million from West Pointe Bank.

biofuel3BioEnergy Development goes with biomass

BioEnergy Development Company, based in Fishers, IN, said late Friday that it signed a letter of intent with an area utility company and secured land options for the development and construction of a biomass electric generation plant.

The proposed plant BioEnergy Power LLC, will be located on a coal strip mine site in Clay County. The plant is expected to employ 25 to 30 full time workers upon completion.

The new plant will generate approximately 27 megawatts of electricity from wood waste that was previously provided to a paper plant in Terre Haute. The plant closed in 2007; subsequently, a Purdue University study funded by the Indiana Energy Department identified “green” energy production as the highest and best of use of wood wastes.

BioEnergy is in negotiations with a wood waste aggregator to supply the plant. Most wood waste for the plant will come from within a 100-mile radius of the proposed site. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the $17 billion per year Indiana hardwood industry has generated 1.2 million tons of annual waste for the past 25 years.

To qualify for green energy credits issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, and to be certified by the U.S. Department of Energy, this plant will use only wood waste and other renewable waste biomass in power generation. To further lower the plant’s carbon footprint, BioEnergy Development is in discussions with other companies to capture carbon dioxide for use in developing other types of energy.

BioEnergy Power LLC said it intends to complete the permitting process and begin construction by fall, 2009 complete construction by the end of 2010.

Written by William DiBenedetto

20 April, 2009 at 10:38 am

Biofuels backlash?

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biomass3The United Kingdom’s Environment Agency has given a somewhat grudging endorsement of biofuels in a new report that asks this question in its title, Biomass – carbon sink or carbon sinner?

It seems an overly clunky and cutesy title for a government agency, but that aside, the report highlights how biomass energy “could play a key role in delivering our greenhouse gas emission targets but only if action is taken to ensure it is genuinely low carbon.”

Parsing that sentence could drive one crazy: “Could play a key role?” and what does “genuinely low carbon” mean?

Somewhat better is this quote about the report on the agency website: “Using biomass to generate electricity and heat can deliver very large greenhouse gas emission savings compared with using gas or coal but only if the fuel is produced in an environmentally sustainable way and used efficiently.

“Best practice can deliver up to 98 percent less emissions than using coal but worst practice can result in more greenhouse gas emissions overall than using gas. The report estimates that greenhouse gas emissions of over three million tons of carbon dioxide per year could be saved by 2020 if good practice is followed.”

The agency urges the government to ensure that all power generators publicly report GHG emissions from producing, transporting ands using biomass fuels and “be ready to set minimum standards if required.”

GHG emissions from energy generated using biomass “are generally, but not always, lower than those from fossil fuels,” the report says. How it is produced has a major impact on emissions.

Overall the best performing biomass schemes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions are those that deliver combined heat and power rather than just electricity, which is the current trend, the report continues. “They use wastes or energy crops that have not been transported too far. The worst performing schemes are those where energy crops are grown on what was previously grassland using a lot of nitrogen fertilizers. They expend energy in processing the biomass, for example into fuel pellets, and the fuel is transported thousands of miles and burned to generate electricity only.”

Biomass heat and power is currently the largest source of renewable energy in the UK but it accounts for only 2.3 percent of the UK’s electricity generation and 1 percent of the country’s heat needs.

“It can be a low carbon renewable energy source because it is either based on wastes which would otherwise go to landfill or on energy crops and forestry that, after being harvested, continue to grow and absorb the carbon emitted when they are burned.”

The UK government’s renewable energy strategy does plan for huge growth in energy generation from biomass so that by 2020 it provides about 30 percent of renewable electricity and heat towards the UK’s overall target of 15 percent renewable energy.

“We want to ensure that the sector’s growth is environmentally sustainable and that the mistakes made with biofuels are avoided, where unsustainable growth has had to be curbed,” says Tony Grayling, the agency’s Head of Climate Change and Sustainable Development. “Biomass operators have a responsibility to ensure that biomass comes from sustainable sources, and is used efficiently to deliver the greatest greenhouse gas savings and the most renewable energy.”

Read the 12-page report here.

More backlash: There was this provocative assertion on the UK-based PeakOil news & message board: Biofuels ‘Like Pouring Vodka Into Beer.’

Huh? Is that bad or good? The short item sees that as a bad thing apparently, considering the opening line: “Biofuels could produce twice the carbon emissions of fossil fuels they replace, environmentalists have claimed.”

Talking about the UK’s Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, the item says Friends of the Earth have said rules introduced a year ago requiring a percentage of UK transport fuels to be “green” could have created an extra 1.3 million tons of CO2.

Considering the source of this one, is it possible that FOE were taken out of context a teensy bit?

Written by William DiBenedetto

15 April, 2009 at 9:28 am

Earth Day for the rest of us

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While corporations increasingly glom-on to Earth Day as a public relations and marketing tool to demonstrate just how green and sustainable they are – whether they really are or not – the Sierra Club is taking the jamboree back to its more populist and individual roots, with Seven Ways to Heaven on Earth Day 2009.

Don’t forget, April 22 is the 39th edition of Earth Day and as the club says, “If you let this one come and go without doing some good work to celebrate the day, well, you just might not get into heaven.”

It continues:  “We confirmed with the eco angels (green wings, pesticide-free cotton gowns, and fair-trade halos) that the following seven activities will confirm your seat at that big sustainable feast in the sky.” So click the link above, read, enjoy, laugh, cry and get ready to “Get out and DO something!”

And remember: Every day is Earth Day.

Written by William DiBenedetto

13 April, 2009 at 8:35 am

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