Storms Exacerbate Oil Spill Contamination

We recently reported on the March 31 oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, that dumped tens of thousands of gallons of heavy crude and threatened nearby water sources. The situation has been made worse by a significant storm that has been battering the Midwest and South, bringing hail, lightning and tornados. CNN reports that 33 homes and one business were destroyed, according to Tommy Jackson of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. Overturned and damaged cars were scattered along highways and roads.

According to THV11, an Arkansas CBS-affiliate, clean-up workers had anticipated the severe weather and were preparing spill areas for the possibility of further contamination. Crews laid sandbags and more absorbent oil booms around areas that had already been cleaned to prevent recontamination.

However, it appears these efforts may not have been enough to prevent oil from reaching nearby Lake Conway. Treehugger.com, an environmental and green living news site, has received reports that oil from the spill has contaminated the body of water, despite previous assurances that this was not a potential danger from ExxonMobil, the owner of the pipeline from which the oil originated. Videos and photos uploaded by citizen journalists from the Tar Sands Blockade show evidence that oil from the spill has spread as a result of storm runoff.

The Arkansas spill reinforces the point that consumers and businesses should continue to explore potential sources of renewable energy and alternatives to fossil fuels. Despite the heroic efforts of clean-up workers and environmentalists, there is very little that can be done to prevent severe weather from hampering their work. The only true solution to this problem is to reduce our reliance on crude oil by switching to green products that have a minimal environmental impact and are manufactured using sustainable processes. LifeIsGreen.com will continue to monitor the situation in Arkansas and keep you updated on the latest developments.

The Benefits Of Sustainably Produced Beer

Craft brewing has been exploding in the U.S. with sales growth of 15 percent in 2012. Brewing beer can be an ecological disaster or a environmental success story, depending on where a producer sources their ingredients and how they dispose of used water and grain. According to the MIT Sloan Business Review, an academic business journal, it takes 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of beer. Brewing also involves a considerable amount of spent malt that doesn't end up in the final product. How a producer chooses to deal with these issues should inform your decision about which beers to purchase.

A recent article in The Austin Chronicle, a Texas-based weekly magazine, featured a profile of Jester King, a craft brewer located the Texas Hill Country that adheres to a principle of producing beer "as close to the earth as possible". Jester King ensures that all of their grains are cultivated organically to avoid harmful chemicals and pesticides finding their way into the beers. 

Another brewer mentioned in the same profile, Independence Brewing, recycles water from their heat exchanger and gives spent grain to the owner's great-grandfather to feed his livestock.

Unfortunately, the legal process for obtaining an organic label is time-consuming and expensive, so many brewers who otherwise follow all guidelines for producing sustainable, organic beer don't bother with certification. Some brewers that do carry certified-organic labeling include Wolaver's, Goose Island Brewing Co., Eel River Brewing Co. and Butte Creek Brewing Co. The Brewers Association, an industry trade group, recently published guides for craft brewers detailing best practices for sustainable brewing, including waste water and solid waste management. As craft brewing and green living trends intersect, consumers can look forward to more environmentally friendly options.

Lancaster, California Blazing Trails In Solar Energy

One of the great success stories of the renewable energy industry is taking place one hour north of Los Angeles in California's Antelope Valley, where the City of Lancaster has made the adoption of solar energy one of its highest municipal priorities. A New York Times article published today details the stunning growth of the solar industry in a small city not known for its sizable environmentalist demographic.

R. Rex Parris, a lawyer and the mayor of Lancaster, has been making a serious push to make the California community the "center of the universe" when it comes to solar energy production. Additionally, Parris wants Lancaster to be the first city to produce more solar energy that it consumes. The city is on track to meet that goal as the city council recently made changes to Lancaster's zoning codes, requiring all new homes to be built with solar panels factored into the design.

This zoning change has led to an acceleration of solar panel construction in the city. Lancaster currently produces a total of 39 megawatts of solar energy, with another 50 megawatts of capacity under construction. Solar power has been integrated into the school system, which produces 7.5 megawatts of solar energy, along with the 8 megawatts produced by local high schools and a community college.

According to Greentech​ Media, a website that follows the green technology sector, the new city zoning rules will require that one to 1.5 kilowatts of energy be produced for every residence over 7,000 square feet. 

The benefits of solar energy for consumers are numerous. Solar power leaves homeowners less exposed to the volatility of fossil fuel prices, improves air quality and, in some cases, a resident can send energy they do not use back to the power grid in exchange for renewable energy credits, which can be sold to utilities looking to meet their renewable energy quotas.

Texas Is One Of Nation’s Wind Power Leaders

Texas is quickly becoming one of the nation's leading wind power producers. Typically associated with its massive oil and gas industry, the Lone Star State is making massive investments in its wind power infrastructure and is poised to deliver more of this renewable energy to major metropolitan areas in the eastern half of the state.

Legislative incentives and an abundance of wind in the Texas panhandle have much to do with the explosion of this industry.

Northern Texas serves as an excellent location for wind farms, with average wind speeds close to 25 miles per hour in some areas. Additionally, Texas added changes to its tax code in 2011 that allowed wind farms and renewable energy producers to pay lower property tax rates. These two conditions have paved the way for greater reliance on wind to power Texas homes and businesses.

The biggest obstacle to the integration of wind power into the Texas power grid is geography. While most of the major wind farms in Texas are located in the Panhandle and northern areas, the major metropolitan areas like San Antonio and Houston lie in the east. To remedy this problem, Texas is investing $6.8 billion in its power transmission infrastructure, doubling its capacity to send electricity to cities like Houston, San Antonio and Dallas in the east.

According to Sustainable Business, a website that tracks the global green industry, Texas derives 9.2 percent of its total energy from wind power with an installed capacity of 12.2 gigawatts. 

Going forward, the question is if Texas and other states will stick with their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), policies that are meant to set benchmarks for how much energy is derived from renewable sources. Residents of states with RPS guidelines will reap many benefits from the transition to renewable energy, including improved air quality and less exposure to volatile fuel prices.

U.S. Researchers Develop New Method For Xylan Extraction

Biomass energy solutions are still not highly developed enough to be a commercially viable power source, but this renewable energy sector took a large step forward this week with the announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy that its Joint BioEnergy Institute had created a method for extracting xylan that is both more efficient and productive than previous methods.

Xylan is the second-most common biological product on the planet after cellulose, and can be found in the cell walls of many plants. However, due to the structure of cell walls, this material can be difficult to extract with traditional techniques. However, the research team was able to identify a gene within a species of rice and suppress its development in new growth generations, making it easier to extract the xylan.

"Xylan is of particular interest for the improvement of feedstocks for the generation of cellulosic biofuels, a currently expensive and inefficient process," Ronald Pamela, one of the authors associated with the research study, said in a press release. "Xylan inhibits access of the enzymes that break down cellulose into sugars and is an additional substrate for cross-linking to lignin, all of which contributes to the recalcitrance of plant cell walls."

Biomass has significant potential as an energy source because it does not involve the extraction of fossil fuels, but the process of generating power from it is somewhat similar.

This blog has covered the topic in the past, and as reported previously that many experts believe that biomass technology has not yet reached a stage where it can produce large amounts of energy. Yet the importance of this development is summed up by Henrik Scheller, who directed the initiative.

"This engineering approach has the potential to yield future bioenergy crop plants that are more easily deconstructed and fermented into biofuels," Scheller told the source. 

If biomass power sources are at the center of U.S. energy policies of the future, there is little doubt that this technological innovation will play an important role. 

Arkansas Oil Spill Reveals Dark Side Of U.S. Energy Policy

Last week, an oil pipeline operated by Exxon burst near a small Arkansas town, spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil and creating an enormous ecological emergency. Treehugger.com, a green consumer news source, reported on March 31 that over 80,000 gallons has leaked so far, much of it close to water sources in the region.

The event, which may cause lasting environmental damage, highlights a major concern among eco-friendly activists in the United States: that the energy industry isn't taking spill threats seriously enough. The accident is especially conspicuous as national lawmakers and the Obama administration debate the future of the Keystone XL project, which would stretch for over a thousand miles across the country and transport the same type of oil that spilled in Mayflower, Arkansas.

According to NPR, the pipeline in question has been in operation for over 65 years, strung over 800 miles between Illinois and Texas. While some state officials, like Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, have publicly called on Exxon to do more to maintain their pipes, it's unclear how the oil giant will change its practices due to some of the legal technicalities associated with the pipeline.

Exxon is reportedly exempting itself from paying into a national oil spill clean-up fund due to the official designation of the type of oil known as diluted bitumen, which technically classifies it as a non-regulated oil. This ultra-heavy crude includes a synthetic chemical additive which makes it easier to transport. However, because of this tweak in labeling, Exxon will not be forced to comply with the standards that apply to the rest of the oil industry.

It may be years before scientists and government officials determine the full extent of the damage, considering how recently the event occurred. Stay with LifeIsGreen.com as we monitor this situation closely and the facts continue to develop. 

Tesla Motors Turns A Profit

Tesla Motors, the California-based maker of upper-end electric cars, announced earlier this week that it will produce its first-ever operational profit for the first quarter of this year. The company has been previously attacked by critics for being unable to produce more money than it spends, and the developments from this week suggest that the eco-friendly car business may be finally turning itself around.

The 10-year old company has been riding a wave of increased success, according to recent press releases from Tesla. For example, it managed to sell every one of the 4,750 cars it made in the past three months. Making matters better was the fact that this number was 250 higher than previously forecast. 

Elon Musk, the automaker's CEO and co-founder, said in a statement last weekend that this quarter was a watershed moment for the company and represented a big step forward for the electric car movement.

"There have been many car startups over the past several decades, but profitability is what makes a company real," Musk said. "Tesla is here to stay and keep fighting for the electric car revolution."

Things haven't been 100 percent perfect for the California automaker. For example, Tesla plans on eliminating production of its 40 kilowatt-hour battery, due to an overall lack of demand. Officials from the company stated that customers who have already ordered the device will be given a stronger but restricted one for no extra charge.

This development highlights the slow-but-steady growth in the green-friendly auto sector in the United States. It reflects a gradually increasing interest in electric cars, which offer both financial and ecological advantages to consumers.

Stay with the LifeIsGreen.com blog for more updates on this and other green technology topics. 

Researchers On The Cusp Of Hydrogen Energy Storage “Breakthrough”

A new report published in Science, the American journal for peer-reviewed scientific research, suggests that a team of engineers from the University of Calgary in Canada have developed a new way for creating hydrogen that is both easier to produce and simpler to store. This holds a lot of promise in the green technology industry because of the economic potential that hydrogen could provide if it were able to be processed at a commercial rate.

According to a press release from the university, Simon Trudel and Curtis Berlinguette focused on the manufacturing of chemical catalysts specifically for energy storage. Up until now, this process has been difficult to replicate outside of the laboratory in a cost-effective way. Berlinguette said in an interview that the developments at the University of Calgary could provide a fix for this particular problem.

The catalysts they have created so far are reportedly capable of triggering reactions that are many times more efficient. Additionally, they can be made from simple iron oxides and other organic compounds, as opposed to rarer minerals that are more expensive to obtain.

"This breakthrough offers a relatively cheaper method of storing and reusing electricity produced by wind turbines and solar panels," he said. "Our work represents a critical step for realizing a large-scale, clean energy economy."

Trudel added that he and his partner have taken steps to commercialize their discovery, including setting up a company that focuses on chemical catalyst processing.

As we have discussed previously on the LifeIsGreen.com blog, scientific innovations like this make bringing eco-friendly products to consumers far easier than before. Stay with us for more updates on this and other breakthroughs that enable society to run more efficiently and effectively than ever before.