Author Archives: Larissa Koehler

From Stalk to Stover: Edeniq is Innovating to Provide New Fuel for Your Gas Tank

rp_ca_innov_series_icon_283x204.jpgEDFs Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.

The vast majority of Californians put ethanol in their car – it makes up about ten percent of every gallon we buy at the local filling station (not including diesel). This means that every year, drivers in the Golden State use about 1.5 billion gallons of this alternative fuel. Such widespread use of this fuel begs the question: What is ethanol’s environmental profile, and is everything being done to produce it as efficiently as possible?

Over the years, a great deal of effort has gone into answering the first part of the question, and the answer is: it depends on many factors. Water use, land use, and fertilizer use are all factors associated with growing ethanol feedstocks (typically corn) that can influence whether the fuel is an environmental winner. Aquifer depletion, unsustainable land clearing, and fertilizer run-off are just a few of the potential problems that can emerge when ethanol production is performed in a short-sighted manner. Similarly, feedstock type, biorefinery efficiency, and ethanol yield per ton also matter and can impact whether ethanol helps from a climate change standpoint. Cumulatively, each of these factors can influence the environmental profile of California’s third-most widely used fuel. Read More »

Posted in California Innovators Series, Cap and trade, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Low Carbon Fuel Standard| Comments closed

Methane leaks need to be a thing of the past, and Sacramento is taking a step in the right direction with SB 1371

California has more than 100,000 miles of often-aging natural gas transmission and distribution infrastructure.   Methane, the primary component of natural gas, when vented or allowed to leak into the air is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide at contributing to climate change over a 20-year timespan.  In addition, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than one-third of today’s human-caused global warming comes from short-lived climate pollutants that include methane. Taken together, this data shows how critically important it is to minimize natural gas leaks quickly.

Senate Bill (SB) 1371, authored by California State Senator Mark Leno, aims to cut methane pollution from California’s gas transmission and distribution system by requiring the Public Utilities Commission to get more aggressive in requiring utilities to find and fix natural gas leaks.  Yesterday, SB 1371 passed a critical vote in the State Assembly and is well on its way toward final passage later this summer. 

What does SB 1371 do?  Put simply, SB 1371 changes the way utilities respond to natural gas leaks.  Read More »

Posted in Climate, General| Comments closed

Powering Up: How Three Companies Are Energizing the Electric Bus Industry in California

rp_ca_innov_series_icon_283x204.jpgEDFs Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.

Los Angeles and California’s Central Valley have bad air pollution.  Sure, it’s not the 1970’s style pollution that doctors say was like smoking two packs a day, but California is still home to the top five most polluted cities nationwide.

Who: BYD America, Green Automotive, and Motiv Power Systems, three companies that each employ between 25 and 75 employees in California, and work to facilitate the use of electric buses in the state.

What: BYD America and Green Automotive manufacture heavy-duty electric vehicles, and Motiv Power Systems builds electric power systems to electrify buses.

Where: BYD America is based in Lancaster, Green Automotive is in Riverside, and Motiv is located in Foster City.

Why: All three companies are dedicated to expanding the use of clean, cost-effective transit buses, shuttle buses, and school buses in order to benefit the economy, environment, and public health.

The most significant offender is the state’s transportation sector, responsible for significant ground level ozone and nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.  Indeed, in too many California cities, the city buses and school buses are still powered on diesel fuel and spew harmful pollution into the air – further degrading the already compromised air.

Enter AB 32, a program that has created an entirely new way of thinking about transportation pollution and is resulting in powerful alternatives and new companies that offer a different approach to mobility.

BYD Ltd., Green Automotive, and Motiv Power Systems – are three companies working to accelerate the growth of electric buses and cost-effectively reduce pollution.

BYD Ltd., originally founded in 1995 to build batteries for small electronics, has significantly expanded their portfolio in recent years to include electric buses. They’ve opened an American factory in Lancaster and have already made inroads in that market by selling transit buses to Antelope Valley Transit and Los Angeles Metro, and recently showcased a new bus that runs up to 24 hours on a single charge. Read More »

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, Jobs, Transportation| Comments closed

Science and Economics Agree: The Time is Right for California to Get Serious About Methane Pollution

rp_Larissa-Koehler-200x300.jpgRecent numbers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that methane (CH4) is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in contributing to climate change over the first 20 years after it is released. Short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, are a large factor in determining how fast our climate will change over the next few decades.

These figures are particularly relevant in California where natural gas (which is about 99.9% methane) is used throughout the economy. For example, natural gas generates much of the state’s electricity through gas-fired power plants, is extensively used for home heating and cooking, and is increasingly being deployed as an alternative fuel for the state’s cars and trucks.

Yet, while California continues to operate and further build out a natural gas backbone in its energy economy, venting and leakage of uncombusted natural gas from pipes and machines can have an environmental impact. In fact, research shows that keeping methane leakage down to a minimum level is the only way to guarantee that the use of natural gas will provide immediate climate benefits, when switching from petroleum products. Read More »

Posted in Climate, Energy| Comments closed

Community Fuels: Changing the Face – and Impact – of the Fuel Industry

EDF’s Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32.  Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.

If one were to look around the room at a biodiesel or petroleum industry conference, they would quickly realize that the majority of attendees are male.  This is something that hasn’t escaped the notice of Lisa Mortenson, CEO of Community Fuels, who jokes that her gender makes her stick out at such events. Unique as it is that Community Fuels has a female leader, this is just one way that the company is changing the face of the alternative fuel industry.

Community Fuels is helping to make biodiesel a viable solution in California, by combining exciting research, quality production, and strong business practices. Biodiesel, a renewable alternative to traditional diesel, is made from raw materials (feedstocks) such as vegetable oils and animal fats, rather than fossil fuels. By virtue of its lower emissions profile when compared to standard diesel, biodiesel is helping California achieve its AB 32 and Low Carbon Fuel Standard greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals – and, in turn, the biodiesel industry is benefitting from those policies. “Groundbreaking California policies like AB 32 and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard drive Community Fuels’ growth,” says Mortenson. “Without strong policy support, companies like Community Fuels wouldn’t have the confidence to develop and build new businesses to displace a portion of fossil fuels with clean, renewable fuels like biodiesel.”

Who: Community Fuels, founded in 2005 and in production since 2008, has 25 full-time employees.

What: Community Fuels produces some of the highest quality and innovative biomass-based diesel fuels available. Their plant is operating at 10 million gallons per year of biomass-based diesel fuel with further expansion underway. Fuel is sold in bulk to the petroleum industry for blending with traditional diesel.

Where: Community Fuels operates a bio-refinery, laboratory and clean fuel terminal at the Port of Stockton, California.

Why: Community Fuels is dedicated to producing high-quality biodiesel for blending that lowers harmful GHG emissions, grows the state’s economy, and reduces dependence on foreign oil.

Long before Governor Brown’s plea for Californians to reduce their gasoline consumption, the founders of Community Fuels recognized the damaging pollution caused by traditional fuel and that biodiesel was an efficient alternative fuel that had the potential to scale and greatly reduce harmful emissions. The founders looked not only at California’s strong policies as a reason to open up shop within the State, but also at public sentiment — where they saw growing support of renewable, clean fuel. Mortenson is one of the co-founders and has served as CEO since the company was formed in 2005.

Community Fuels is the first, and currently only, producer in the nation to earn both BQ-9000 producer and laboratory certifications – industry-recognized third party accreditations of quality control procedures for fuel production and analytical laboratory capabilities.  This has contributed to Community Fuels’ reputation for quality and integrity, which has assisted the company in selling the majority of its biodiesel in bulk to petroleum companies and refiners who demand high quality products suitable for commercial-scale distribution and use.

Lisa-please work

Lisa Mortenson, CEO of Community Fuels

The petroleum companies typically blend the fuel with petroleum diesel, using 5% or less biodiesel. Mortenson believes that this low-percentage blend is attractive to petroleum companies and consumers because it requires no change to existing infrastructure – the marketability of this end product, according to Mortenson, “results in a large sale volume,  substantial amounts of displaced foreign oil and wide-scale greenhouse gas emissions reductions”.  The combination of these attributes means the biodiesel produced by Community Fuels spurs indirect job growth (by increasing the need for workers across the supply chain), helps to grow California’s economy, and goes a long way towards shaping a cleaner environment.

Community Fuels is constantly researching new feedstocks including unusual materials such as meadow foam seed oil, and has partnered with other companies like Solazyme to process algae oil.  Mortenson reports that every feedstock it uses is carefully vetted to ensure quality, scalability to a wide market, and compliance with a range of regulatory and sustainability standards.  Community Fuels also commits to using feedstocks that are co-products of other industries such as soybeans, canola, animal fats, recycled oils, and the co-products from ethanol plants.

Pano 1It is clear that Community Fuels is dedicated to creating a cleaner environment and a healthier state economy.  A series of grants received from federal and state agencies are both recognition of Community Fuels’ valuable work and a way for the company to continue its contributions to California.  EDF looks forward to seeing Community Fuels further its efforts to expand, innovate, and lead the alternative fuel industry as part of California’s clean energy economy.

 

Please note that EDF has a standing corporate donation policy and we accept no funding from companies or organizations featured in this series.  Furthermore, the EDF California Innovators Series is in no way an official endorsement of the people or organizations featured, or their business models and practices. 

 

Posted in California Innovators Series, Clean Energy, Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Jobs| Comments closed

Is SONGS haunting energy's past, present, and future?

Larissa KoehlerEarlier this year, Southern California Edison (SCE) permanently retired the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) after forty years of operation in San Diego County, appearing to put the large-scale power plant firmly in the past. However, much like Ebenezer Scrooge, California is grappling with the specter of SONGS’ past – which may haunt our present and future.

The story of SONGS is not unique to California. As of the end of 2012, 28 nuclear power plants were shut down in the United States – and many more will face the same fate in the near future, as they reach the end of their design life. Thus, a transition to renewables and incentivizing reduced demand – and a refusal to be tied to fossil fuels – is an issue of national importance.

The closure of SONGS has left California at an important crossroads: Continue to lean on fossil fuel energy and build additional combustion power plants – like Marley’s ghost chained to the past – or start shaping the future by using the clean solutions that are available today.

In a brief filed in a California Public Utilities Commission proceeding, EDF explained that California has time to develop environmentally superior resources, which California has dubbed “preferred resources,” and should do so before investing more resources in highly polluting fossil fuels:

  • Demand Response

Demand response (DR) and time-of-use (TOU) rate programs offer incentives to customers who reduce their energy usage when there is a high system-wide demand, which requires the use of more expensive and inefficient peaking power plants.

These programs have a tremendous potential to impact necessary demand: If 50% of SCE’s customers participated, energy demand would be reduced by two-thirds of the capacity SONGS provided.  As a bonus, those customers would also collectively see cost savings of $357 million, a 15% decrease.

Peter Lee /flickr

  • Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency measures result in huge energy and cost savings.  For example, in 2010 and 2011 CPUC energy efficiency programs saw energy savings that were enough to power more than 600,000 households and offset 1,069 megawatts (MW) of electric capacity – equal to the output of 3 large power plants.

  • Renewables

California currently has 10,700 MW of wind and solar power connected to the CAISO grid, with plans to add 8,000 more MW by 2020. For reference, consider that SONGS had the capacity to produce 2,200 MW of electricity.

  • Storage

The CPUC is already starting to put increased focus on energy storage, to good effect.  Continuing to emphasize the importance of storage could transition California from needing to rely on traditional energy sources at any time of the day.

In a talk on December 2, Commissioner Andrew McAllister of the California Energy Commission stated that the closure of SONGS “is an opportunity to see what’s possible.” We agree: rather than be haunted by the specter of SONGS, California should take this opportunity to innovate and work to fill any gap in production with preferred resources first.

In this way, the state can serve as a template for how other parts of the country could use current, clean resources to create jobs, lower prices for consumers, and improve air quality through reduced emissions. Additional combustion power plants? Bah, humbug!

Posted in Clean Energy, Energy, Energy Efficiency| Comments closed
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    How California can leverage market-based environmental policies to revitalize its economy, protect its quality of life and retain a leading edge in global innovation.

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