The green technologies that could save the world

LIVING ARCHITECTURE

Our roads, skies and seas can all benefit from clean, renewable technology, but the buildings we erect and inhabit are also ripe for radical makeovers. Rachel Armstrong, professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University, is interested in ‘living’ architecture: that is, biologically powered, eco-responsible solutions to powering and regulating our homes and cities.

Rachel cites innovations such as bio-concretes – traditional concrete mixes that are modified and impregnated with infrastructure-prolonging microbial spores – and clever building cladding materials such as ecoLogic Studio’s ’little green cows’: units of algae that, with the right application, can produce fuel, provide shading and sink carbon. Then there are cutting edge building blocks such as Suzanne Lambert’s bio-bricks; while traditional brick production causes huge CO2 emissions, bio-bricks are made from human urine, loose sand and living bacteria – a low-cost, low-emissions alternative.

“Speaking of effective use of waste, perhaps my favourite is the University of the West of England’s ‘Pee Power’ project,” says Rachel, “which uses an ’organic’ battery system that turns urine into electricity, as well as cleaning water in the process. It has been powering urinals at Glastonbury for the last three years. It’s supported by Oxfam and Dunster House through a collective effort to improve lives in refugee camps and areas of the world with no sanitation or electricity.”

“No one renewable technology genre, even solar, can meet humanity’s combined energy footprint” – Melissa Sterry

WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Rachel’s Living Architecture project*, which began in 2016, draws inspiration from Philips’s “Microbial Home” (2011), which imagined a kitchen powered by its own waste.  Living Architecture’s version of this vision is centered on an organic processor: a kind of next-level super combi boiler.

In place of the usual fossil fuels, the organic processor runs on household waste, recycling and converting our bathroom waste (urine, faeces) and grey water (run-off from washing machines, baths and sinks etc) to produce clean water, electricity and oxygen and even soap.

The processor does this using a microbial fuel cell (an organic battery like the one mentioned above, in the Pee Power project), an algae bioreactor (an algae powered carbon farm) and a genetically modified processor. “This is the ‘metabolic app’,” explains Rachel. “In other words, this is programmable biology that will allow you to specify what your home organic processor will make. Want biodegradable soap? Want to remove oestrogen from the waste water so it doesn’t go into our rivers? This unit of programmable microbes will do that for you.”

SOLAR, SO GOOD

The Living Architecture processor relies on a number of processes, including solar – a renewables field with plenty of promise. Until recently, solar panels were dark, cumbersome and often expensive things, relegated to out-of-sight places such as rooftops. But recent breakthroughs have given rise to clear, white and even coloured panes that fit on both flat and curved surfaces, meaning these photosynthesis-mimicking panels can now be used almost anywhere – customised, integrated and hidden in plain sight while powering everything from laptops and buses to homes and businesses.

Melissa Sterry, a design scientist and systems theorist, is a staunch advocate of solar power.  “For me, it’s the most exciting, because it has the widest possible reach. In terms of potential, the major players in the energy sector all recognise that solar is the most scalable option. Hence, hefty research and development investment, which is enabling leaps in productivity of solar technologies, together with the distribution and storage networks that bring energy to our homes and businesses.”

“When helped rather than hindered, nature is its own self-regulating renewable tech, with built-in protections and sustainable solutions that benefit all living things”

AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM

Solar alone isn’t the answer, says Sterry. “No one renewable technology genre, even solar, can meet humanity’s combined energy footprint. To simultaneously migrate away from fossil fuels while maintaining the living standards many are accustomed to and others aspire to, we have to create a highly complex energy production and distribution infrastructure that integrates not one, but many types of renewables, ranging from the micro to industrial in scale.”

With dire warnings about the countdown to irreversible climate destruction now ringing loud, it’s clear that switching from dirty fossil fuels to clean, green renewables is our best hope of survival. But investment into this historically stymied field must pick up speed. Experts on the front line all agree that while the renewable rollout is accelerating, it’s not happening fast enough to avert the disaster we’re on course for.    

NATURE: THE ORIGINAL RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY

While technological interventions are clearly essential, nature itself also holds the key to our survival. When helped rather than hindered, nature is its own self-regulating renewable tech, with built-in protections and sustainable solutions that benefit all living things. Trees, for example, not only produce life-giving oxygen and provide food and habitat for the pollinators and biodiversity our food chain relies on, but also soak up deadly CO2 emissions, provide shade for an increasingly overheating world and act as natural flood defences, storing masses of water in their root systems. Trees are essential to our survival, and yet we continue to self-sabotage via acts of mass deforestation around the globe.

As a group of scientists and activists have recently pointed out in an open letter to The Guardian, the climate and ecological crises facing us now can be tackled by restoring the forests, oceans and other valuable ecosystems we’ve spent decades polluting and neglecting: “We are writing to champion a thrilling but neglected approach to averting climate chaos while defending the living world: natural climate solutions. By defending, restoring and re-establishing (crucial ecosystems), large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored. At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help minimise a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster. This potential has so far been largely overlooked.”

It’s in our interest to work with nature rather than against it. Renewables, which harness our natural resources instead of depleting them, are proof that this is possible. A sustainable, eco-responsible future is ours for the taking – but only if we act now.


*

Funded by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under EU Grant Agreement no. 686585, the Living Architecture project brings together experts from the universities of Newcastle, UK; the West of England (UWE Bristol); Trento, Italy; the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid; LIQUIFER Systems Group, Vienna, Austria; and Explora, Venice, Italy.

Food scraps turned into renewable energy sources: How your leftovers can make a difference locally

The City of San Luis Obispo just relaunched it’s food scraps program.

It’s because people throw out food every day that could be used for other purposes.

“It was eye-opening when we started using the green bins how much food waste the restaurant goes through on a daily basis,” said Michael Avila, Novo Restaurant Executive Chef.

Just because it doesn’t taste good, doesn’t mean it can’t be put to good use.

Workers at Novo Restaurant in San Luis Obispo throw food scraps in their green bins.

It’s part of a citywide initiative to go green.

“It’s nice that it’s not just going into the landfill with all the other garbage,” Avila said.

Instead, most green waste in San Luis Obispo County goes to the Kompgas Anaerobic Digestion Facility to be made into renewable energy sources.

The city says it’s partnering with county resources to salvage food waste.

“Right now, Californians produce about 20 million tons of organic waste that goes to the landfill and in that environment it produces methane and we want to capture that methane and turn it into something positive,” said Jordan Hopkins, San Luis Obispo City Water Resources Technician.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, but instead of escaping into the air at landfills, it is converted into something we all use.

“It’s captured fully and turned into energy for the PGE grid,” Hopkins said.

Trucks dump green waste into piles which are first thrown into a shredder and then transferred to a machine that separates big pieces from small ones.

Next, it is moved to storage piles that are used to feed the digester later.

A crane automatically senses when the digester is “hungry” and “feeds” by dumping the material on a conveyor belt.

The digester plant processes about 100 tons of green waste a day.

The renewable biogas from the bacteria breakdown helps power about 600 homes every year.

From start to finish, the whole process takes about a month.

However, not all items like compostable utensils, plastic, glass or big rocks are welcomed.

Instead, the ideal recipe is mostly comprised of food scraps.

“75% food waste, 20% green waste and 5% fog – fats, oils and grease,” said Frank Gratz, sales manager for Hitachi Zosen INOVA.

No human or animal excretion is used.

The final products are compost “tea” or liquid used to make fertilizer, compost “cake” which is sold off and renewable biogas which is converted into electricity.

The plant is carbon zero meaning it doesn’t use any fossil fuels to operate.

Gratz says the more food waste brought in, the more renewable energy. He hopes bigger grocery stores and restaurants sign up.

The facility is odor-controlled as well as earthquake proof.

You can also minimize odor from your food scraps by sprinkling baking soda or freezing it until it’s time for pick up.

People living in San Luis Obispo can pick up a free bin at the city utility office downtown.

Throw the scraps into a bigger green waste bin and put it out on the curb on your normal garbage day.

Global Solar Power Equipment Production Market Share, Revenue, and Average Price by Manufacturers Shared in a Latest Research Report

Solar power systems are equipped with solar power equipment, which harness sun’s energy and convert it into electricity for further use by industrial, utility, commercial, or residential sectors.

Access Report Details at: https://www.themarketreports.com/report/global-solar-power-equipment-market-research-report

Factors such as increase in construction activities and various government policies to deploy solar power systems are expected to drive the adoption of solar power equipment, thereby boosting the growth of the market. In addition, increased emphasis on use of green and eco-friendly energy is expected to propel the growth of the global solar power equipment industry.

The global Solar Power Equipment market is valued at xx million US$ in 2018 is expected to reach xx million US$ by the end of 2025, growing at a CAGR of xx% during 2019-2025.

This report focuses on Solar Power Equipment volume and value at global level, regional level and company level. From a global perspective, this report represents overall Solar Power Equipment market size by analyzing historical data and future prospect. Regionally, this report focuses on several key regions: North America, Europe, China and Japan.

Key companies profiled in Solar Power Equipment Market report are Abb Group, Canadian Solar, First Solar, Hanwha Q Cells, Ja Solar, Jinkosolar, Longi Solar, Shunfeng International, SunPower Corporation and more in term of company basic information, Product Introduction, Application, Specification, Production, Revenue, Price and Gross Margin (2014-2019), etc.

Purchase this Premium Report at: https://www.themarketreports.com/report/buy-now/1415293

Table of Content

1 Solar Power Equipment Market Overview

2 Global Solar Power Equipment Market Competition by Manufacturers

3 Global Solar Power Equipment Production Market Share by Regions

4 Global Solar Power Equipment Consumption by Regions

5 Global Solar Power Equipment Production, Revenue, Price Trend by Type

6 Global Solar Power Equipment Market Analysis by Applications

7 Company Profiles and Key Figures in Solar Power Equipment Business

8 Solar Power Equipment Manufacturing Cost Analysis

9 Marketing Channel, Distributors and Customers

10 Market Dynamics

11 Global Solar Power Equipment Market Forecast

12 Research Findings and Conclusion

13 Methodology and Data Source

Sustainable Melbourne Fund goes national to offer business green loans.

The Sustainable Melbourne Fund (SMF) has partnered with Bank Australia to help business and agriculture across the nation ‘go green’.

The $200 million joint venture will assist commercial and agricultural enterprises anywhere in Australia to invest in sustainable infrastructure. Contrary to the name, SMF does not restrict its activities to Melbourne.

Rooftop solar power installations already make up 80 per cent of Sustainable Melbourne Fund projects. The Fund’s managers therefore expect solar panels to be the top priority for Australian organisations going forward.

Massive demand for solar panels drives SMF expansion

Huge interest in solar installations drove the former Sustainable Melbourne Fund CEO Scott Bocskay to expand the fund’s operations.

“We’re seeing a phenomenal growth in businesses looking to install solar,” Bocskay told PV Magazine.

The Sustainable Australia Fund (SAF) will offer Environmental Upgrade Finance packages with favourable financial terms. Companies can then install solar panel systems in a cost-effective way.

Rising energy prices and falling solar costs have combined to create ever-smaller solar quotes – and lower electricity bills – for businesses and farmers around Australia.

Meanwhile, Bank Australia is the nation’s first bank to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity. The green-credentialed bank reached its target this month via rooftop solar panels and a wind power purchase agreement.

Sustainable Melbourne Fund creates Aussie opportunities

Melbourne City Council created the Sustainable Melbourne Fund in 2002 to progress sustainable development in greater Melbourne. To date it has invested millions of dollars in green projects and provided loans up to $500,000 for individual eco-friendly ventures.

Now the SAF will offer fixed-interest loans for up to 20-year terms in council areas offering environmental upgrade agreements (EUA). These are created through state-based legislative changes to the Local Government Act.

Once an EUA is in place, the commercial property owner can apply for a discounted loan. This can be used to buy solar power or boost energy and water efficiency for instance.

As a result, 32 councils in Victoria have made the required legislative changes – along with six in NSW and four in South Australia.

Solar batteries surge in Australian agriculture

According to Scott Bocskay, farmers are applying for solar battery loans in increasing numbers. That’s because margins are low and power outages are frequent in agricultural enterprises.

Kevin Minogue owns a dairy farm near Katandra West in Victoria. He used an SMF loan to invest in commercial solar battery storage after a 30-hour outage during peak milking season.

According to the Ag Energy Taskforce 2019 Federal Election Policy, farmers have spent more than $100 million on 417 solar energy projects over the last three years.

This is more than any other single sector. The projects are also larger on average than other sectors, the report claims.

Department of Energy to award $79M for bioenergy research and development

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $79.3 million in funding for bioenergy research and development earlier this month. The department expects to award between 28-49 grants, with amounts up to $10 million. The first application deadline is June 3.
  • Of the 10 areas of interest (AOI), some of the most relevant to the waste industry are renewable energy from urban and suburban wastes, designing “highly recyclable plastics,” and “rethinking” anaerobic digestion
  • Funding from DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office is meant to bolster the United States’ ability to remain competitive in “the emerging bioeconomy,” with a focus on “terrestrial and algal biomass, biogas, and other waste streams.” This announcement also supports the “Water Security Grand Challenge,” because of its focus on anaerobic digestion.

Dive Insight:

This announcement stands out in part because waste-related topics are not always a priority in national funding and the biogas market has grown at a slower pace than many other renewables. Provisions in the new Farm Bill, as well as new small-scale EPA funding for AD research, are early signs that is beginning to change. As referenced in the DOE proposal, this is all part of an evolving landscape in the U.S. waste and recycling sector that could have untapped potential.

“Limited landfill capacity, increasingly stringent disposal regulations, and related issues associated with landfilling are necessitating novel waste management solutions. In particular, the notion that waste streams represent valuable feedstocks for the production of bioenergy and bioproducts is gaining currency,” reads the funding document. “Waste streams represent a significant and underutilized set of feedstocks for biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower. They are available now, in many cases represent a disposal problem which constitutes an avoided cost opportunity, and are unlikely to diminish in volume in the near future.”  

This sense of opportunity is manifested in the department’s anticipated award schedule, in which projects involving “urban and suburban wastes” have the highest minimum anticipated funding level for one project of any category at $5 million. Overall, DOE anticipates spending up to $10 million on projects in the category.

Acceptable feedstocks for this particular AOI include biogas, carbon dioxide/flue gas, post-sorted MSW, and wet waste. It notes that different parts of the waste chain can be feedstock for producing energy and wants projects that do not lead to, biogas, hydrogen or ethanol as an end product. The research area recognizes that several waste product feedstocks, including landfill gas, fats and grease and organics from MSW have much more potential than is being captured.

The AOI dealing with plastics in the circular economy, with potential funding of up to $5 million, wants bio-based plastics that may be easier to break down into component parts through chemical recycling. This area of study has gained increasing traction in the private sector recently. The AOI also wants to focus on “difficulties with plastic degradation and upcycling.”

The AOI on rethinking AD, with potential funding of up to $5 million, recognizes that potential energy from feedstocks goes uncaptured, and says the economics of AD are difficult for operations at scales smaller than five dry tons per day. This acknowledged difficulty is what the AOI appears to want applicants to focus on and DOE is encouraging applicants to consider ways to reduce disposal costs associated with AD.

The DOE has set a June 3 deadline for concept papers, and July 22 for full applications, with approvals expected in the fall.

Top 7 New Energy Trends Dominating 2019

New energy trends appear all the time. These are the biggest ones in 2019.

After 2035, it’s estimated that 50% of the world’s energy will come from renewable sources, according to predictions by McKinsey Company.

Renewable energy trends will dominate in 2019

In their Global Energy Perspective 2019 report, McKinsey Company explains that by 2030 the energy sector will really see a shift in demand.  Soon, countries around the world will stop using natural gas, oil, and coal as their primary energy resources.

It’s expected that global emissions will reach their peak around 2024. After that, there will be a massive shift toward renewable energy sources.

The next 10 years will be a turbulent era in energy. This year will be the turning point. Many of the long-term changes we’re expecting to see in the energy industry will begin to surface in 2019.

Although this is a list of trends for 2019. These are the conflicts and characters that will set the stage for the next decade.

Here are the five energy trends everyone should be watching.

1. The Number of U.S. Cities, States, and Territories Making Clean Energy Commitments Will Continue to Grow

Although the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement — a worldwide commitment organized by the United Nations to tackle climate change — cities and states have followed through.

According to the Sierra Club, hundreds of cities and six states and territories have made 100% renewable energy pledges. Ninety cities and two states have already met their goals.

As these environmentally conscious states, cities, and towns set the standard, more will follow. Especially as the issue of climate change persists, and extreme weather continues to decimate communities across the country.

More local governments will pursue higher environmental standards. Collectively, these changes at the local level will improve eco-friendly policies at a federal level.

Interest in conscious consumerism is only growing. Transparency is becoming essential for success. Likewise, more organizations will make climate action plans.
Ikea, Adobe, Bank of America, Apple, Lyft and Lego are just a few of the major companies who are integrating greener standards into their business practices.

2. Accelerated Growth in Alternative Energy

Alternative energy like wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower are all expected to grow in the United States in 2019.

Europe has been the global leader in wind energy. It’s consistently breaking records for the largest wind farms. It opened the largest in the world in Ireland in 2018.

The United States will become a more competitive player this year.

According to IBIS World, the wind turbine industry has grown 19% over the past five years and is expected to reach $4 Billion in 2019.

In 2018, tariffs imposed by the U.S. and China caused growth in the solar industry to slow.

Solar panels are only getting easier and more cost-effective for consumers. More incentives are emerging, technology is improving and more options are available.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar panel manufacturers will install two million solar panels by early 2019. And a total of four million by 2023.

Commercial adaptation of solar energy is growing too. More major corporations are expected to switch to solar. Companies like Google, Starbucks, and Microsoft already making commitments.

Geothermal energy is one of the worlds most underutilized energy sources. But that’s slowly changing. Experts say that geothermal energy produces 50,000 times more energy than oil and gas combined!

The United States has the largest geothermal capacity in the world.
The International Energy Agency Estimates that the geothermal energy market will grow 24% globally between 2018 and 2023.

Hydropower produces 15% of the world’s electricity, and it generated about 7% of the electricity used in America in 2018.

While its numbers and growth are less impressive than wind and solar, it’s gaining in popularity. The American market size for hydropower is expected to grow by 2%.3.

3. The Energy Storage Industry

2019 is poised to be a breakout year for energy storage.

As the renewable energy sector grows, the demand for supportive energy storage systems does too.

According to a report, the energy storage industry will climb to a 158 gigawatt-hour market in 2024. For reference, reports from 2018 place energy storage at a 12 gigawatt-hour market. By 2020 alone, the industry will triple.

But the U.S., and the rest of the world face storage problems. The batteries and technologies to support this high demand for renewable energy in the near future, don’t exist yet.

But energy companies see the opportunities. Many large energy producers are making plans to shut down natural gas facilities. They’re creating storage facilities for solar and wind energy in their place.

For example, Florida Power Light has vowed to create the world’s biggest battery in 2021

Batteries are expected to become more affordable. New battery technologies will improve the energy storage system both at a residential and commercial level.

It’s to be seen if government-controlled energy regulations will cause the industry challenges during this period of rapid growth.

4. The Grid Is Going Micro

Consumers have prayed for a more efficient and decentralized way to store and share energy, and microgrids deliver.

Microgrids are energy grids that work independently. Because they only serve a small community, they tend to perform faster and at a higher efficiency.

There are a handful of microgrid communities emerging across the United States.

For example, The Brooklyn Microgrid is arguably one of the most radical microgrid communities right now. It’s a community built around a completely independent renewable energy microgrid.

Residents create, deliver and exchange energy among themselves. They don’t use an energy provider and aren’t regulated by a greater authority.

This solution eliminates the need for any kind of utility company. Contributors simply use their own renewable sources to create energy for the grid.

Microgrids share a blockchain philosophy of putting consumers in control of the industry.

A microgrid infrastructure also utilizes blockchain technology to operate. It uses a secure, digital platform to record, track, save and trade energy.

Microgrids are still relatively rare, but the idea is catching on.

5. Blockchain’s Potential to Create a New Energy Infrastructure Will Persist

The prospects of blockchain technology have crept from the finance industry, slowly into healthcare, real estate, and now power.

As mentioned above, microgrids are one-way blockchain is appearing in the energy sector.

For a refresher, blockchains are decentralized, shared and distributed peer-to-peer networks. They promise more control and an easier way to share information. Along with improved accuracy and increased security of data.

Blockchain’s potential to infiltrate the energy sector is outlined clearly in Deloitte’s report, “Blockchain: A true disruptor for the energy industry.” A handful of key disruptors are mentioned, but two very compelling.

Trading is the biggest way blockchain could change the energy industry. Energy trading can happen instantaneously and securely with a blockchain system.

The use of smart contracts condenses trading to a one-step process. Eliminating the need for middle-men and women.

Reporting is another core way blockchain could revolutionize the energy business.

Instead of wasting employee time and energy on impossible tasks like gathering and analyzing data for compliance. Blockchain creates a secure system that allows regulators to access data themselves.

It seems like every year blockchain is in some predictive list, each time pledging that this is the year the industry will be radically changed.

It’s important to note that blockchain has already arrived, and used at a small scale. Issues of security and infrastructure continue to slow growth.

While blockchain will probably never change the energy sector overnight, it will eventually reach a threshold.

The Energy Industry in 2019: The Beginning of the Future

2019 is set to be an exciting year for the energy sector. Renewables will take center stage.

But the road to change will not be smooth. It will actually be winding and full of bumps and sudden turns.

Yet, there cannot be room for the new, without the loss of something old.

Massive Changes Are on the Horizon as Energy Companies Shift to Renewables

Consumers and energy professionals often have a hopeless attitude toward the use of fossil fuels and the world’s energy consumption habits. Energy industry professionals can develop a negative attitude towards a sector shifting to new energy.

But from the information collected in this article, it appears that the right changes are being made. To better serve consumers, employees and the planet.

The growth of the renewable energy industry is creating millions of jobs, reducing emissions, decreasing our carbon footprint.

A Strong Push Towards Renewable Energy is Underway

Renewable energy is going to change the world in a massive way in 2019. This year will expose the inevitable changes in the energy sector. It could also be the year that both consumers and energy executives start to have confidence in the transformation that’s underway.

To stay on top of top news and trends in energy and sustainability, explore our blog.

Renewable Energy Park in Palm Beach County producing power, reducing landfill waste

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Endless garbage, booming populations, and landfills filling up. What is a country, and our community, to do?

WPTV went looking for answers and found one at a place called “The Pit.” It is a cavernous room filled, and I do mean filled, with garbage. How much? Try 1.5 million tons a year, all the garbage in Palm Beach County. It all ends up at the Renewable Energy Park, which includes a state-of-the-art waste to energy facility.

Raymond Schauer is one of the key directors of the sprawling operation run by the county’s Solid Waste Authority.

Schauer told me, “This plant, by every measure, is one of the cleanest, if not the cleanest, waste to energy facilities in the United States.”

More than 3,000 tons of garbage arrive every day. Technicians work giant claws that grab up to nine-ton fistfuls at a time and deposit it in giant boilers. Those boilers burn at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. All that heat and energy is used to turn water to steam. The steam powers a turbine system which pumps out electricity to the local power grid. Enough power, in fact, to light 70,000 homes annually.

Robert Worobel is director of operations at the facility. He said, “Quite frankly, we are known as the Disney World of trash.”

In fact, solid waste operators from around the globe come here to check out the facility. Burned garbage becomes inert, non-toxic ash. It is then hauled to the nearby landfill, which has its useful life extended by decades.

The reason is simple. Schauer says, “We reduce the volume of waste coming into our landfill by 90 percent.”

Environmentalists complain about carbon dioxide and nitrogen pollutants from the plant. Engineers here respond by pointing to a huge wing of the facility packed with emission control systems, scrubbers, filters, etc.

Worobel said, “It is extremely clean. It can be compared to gas-fired plants, and (is) much cleaner than fossil fuel plants.”

Schauer puts it another way. He told me, “Put garbage in a landfill. That generates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas 28 times more destructive than any gas we emit from our facility.”

By one count, there is fewer than 80 waste to energy facilities in the United States. Compare that to nearly 500 such facilities across Europe. Landfills everywhere, though, run into the reality of shrinking space amidst demand to do something with all that garbage.

The Solid Waste Authority thinks it has an answer in this $680 million facility, one it hopes will be in the vanguard of efforts to protect the land around us.

How the Record Industry Is Trying to Make Vinyl More Environmentally Friendly

Last year, sales of vinyl records were at a 30-year high. But while the vinyl boom has been a bright spot for physical media lovers and the record industry alike, pressing vinyl poses a more urgent environmental concern than it did in the format’s heyday. At times, the process can seem almost antithetical to green living. Records are made of PVC, which comes from refined oil and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. Traditional pressing machines are powered by steam boilers that require fossil fuels to generate heat and pressure; the water used is treated with anti-corrosive chemicals in order to prevent rusting, thus creating more wastewater. And that’s just the pressing procedure.

Consider, then, vinyl’s packaging and distribution. While leading packaging companies like TC Transcontinental use recycled or sustainably sourced paper and cardboard, there’s no regulation forcing their competitors to take similar steps. The ink that’s used to print cover art and liner notes is traditionally solvent-based, meaning it contains volatile organic compounds that can contribute to the production of ozone. Once the record is encased in a beautiful jacket, it’s then shrink-wrapped in plastic wrap before boarding a gas-burning, carbon-emitting truck to ship. Suddenly the listener’s choice to buy physical music shifts from an action that helps sustain an artist’s career, to one that potentially threatens broader sustainability.

While some big-name artists have experimented with environmental offset initiatives—Pink Floyd donated proceeds from 2001’s Echoes to help plant four new indigenous forests, Coldplay did something similar with mango trees for 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head—such gestures have remained out of reach for many independent musicians and labels, both logistically and financially. But through recent innovations like steamless record presses and the growing ubiquity of carbon offset projects, there are more ways than ever to put out vinyl and still be eco-conscious.

In March, Canadian producer (and environmental toxicologist) Jayda G released her debut album, Significant Changes, via the indie label Ninja Tune. On the back jacket of the vinyl version, the fine print states that the record’s packaging is carbon neutral, meaning that the emissions generated are offset since the album reduces CO2 emissions in another part of the world. In this case, record sales help fund a clean water project in Odisha, India, where people usually burn open fires to sanitize their drinking water. According to ClimatePartner, Significant Changes has offset 1,024 kilograms of CO2 to date.

Even before issuing Significant Changes, Ninja Tune had been trying to make their records in a more environmentally friendly way, said Sean Preston, the London-based label’s head of manufacturing. This meant cutting down on single-use plastics, PVC dust bags, stickers, and toxic varnishes that add a glossy finish to record jackets. Considering the conservation-related concepts at the heart of Significant Changes, the album “kicked us up the arse a little bit” when it came to finding climate-neutral options, he added. Some steps of the vinyl production process are simply out of a label’s hands, however. “One of the first things we tried looking at was shrink wrap replacement,” Preston said. “You could not use shrink wrap at all, but the problem with that is, quite a few territories in Europe will do shrink wrap themselves. Just because we’re not doing it doesn’t mean someone else down the chain won’t… We’re not only trying to change ourselves—we’re trying to change the way people do business.”

On the pressing plant side of things, the Toronto startup Viryl Technologies introduced, in 2017, one of the first newly designed (rather than rehabbed) models since the 1980s, called the WarmTone. At the top of this year, Viryl launched a steamless option, which is powered by electricity instead of water pressure and can be retrofitted to any Viryl press. According to co-founder Chad Brown, there’s not a drastic performance difference between the company’s steamless and steam-powered options. “Steam is very good for heating record molds rapidly, so you’ll get a slightly faster cycle time,” Brown said. “With steam, a 24- to 28-second cycle time is achievable. Steamless, we hit 31 seconds.”

Putting aside about a five-second lag, there are some economic benefits to steamless presses. You don’t have to hire someone to maintain the boiler, and your water bill goes way down. (The whole system feasibly could run on renewable energy, assuming the pressing plant committed to solar power or wind energy.) Brown claims that Viryl’s steamless presses have been selling rapidly at $200,000 a pop, mostly to boutique pressing companies with only one to three machines. These are small operations compared North America’s largest plant, Nashville’s United Record Pressing, which boasts 38 traditional presses and can churn out over 60,000 records a day.

One such boutique pressing company, Chicago’s Smashed Plastic, launched in February with a single steamless model from Viryl. According to co-founder Andy Weber, the company faced a logistical nightmare before discovering the non-traditional option: If they wanted to get a boiler built, they were going to need approval from the city and have an engineer on duty at all times. Steamless, essentially, made their business viable. The company has serviced mostly Chicago indie labels (Feeltrip Records, Midwest Action) and local DIY bands—which adds another layer of sustainability. “The best part is, everybody we’ve done business with comes and picks up their records,” Weber said.

With steamless systems being so new, it’s unrealistic to expect instant ubiquity, particularly among larger plants. But there are ways to act sustainably without replacing every press. Record Technologies Inc. in Camarillo, California, has been operating since 1972 on a traditional boiler setup. Due in part to Southern California’s mandated smog checks, the company uses clean-burning natural gas, rather than traditional fossil fuel, to power their system. “We’ve had more stringent regulations to abide by, but part of it is also because we want to be more responsible,” said RTI plant manager Rick Hashimoto. “It’s for the good of everyone.”

Jack White’s eight-press Third Man plant in Detroit launched in 2017 with a closed-loop water system, which minimizes wastewater through recycling. For now, they use steam-powered but relatively energy-efficient Newbilt presses. “Electric presses definitely have our attention,” added Third Man production manager (and White’s brother) Eddie Gillis via email.

As word continues to spread, Brown remains hopeful about the rise of sustainable vinyl practices. “We’re fully expecting artists and labels to start asking for their vinyl to be pressed on steamless,” he said, adding that Viryl has partnered with a yet-to-be-announced major-label artist on a mobile steamless pressing plant. It’s slated to roll out in Nashville at the end of May, and from there will be available for use at stadium shows, festivals, and wherever else people might want to buy some vinyl.

While artists have the power to bring awareness to new green practices, a responsibility also falls on listeners to potentially pay a little more for eco-friendly products. Stoughton Printing, a California-based music packaging company, has long taken financial risks so that their record sleeves would be both high quality and sustainably made. Their president Jack Stoughton, Jr. raises a good point: “If you, the consumer, are willing to lay down $40 for a top-notch record today, whether the jacket cost 25 cents more really doesn’t make a difference to you.”

Starbucks brews up solar energy initiative across Houston and Texas

Coffee shop chain Starbucks is plugging into Texas’ solar energy industry in a big way.

Two 10-megawatt solar farms in Texas owned by Cypress Creek Renewables LLC are providing enough energy for the equivalent of 360 Starbuck stores, including locations in Houston, Humble, Katy, and Spring. Separately, Starbucks has invested in six other Texas solar farms owned by Cypress Creek, representing 50 megawatts of solar energy; Santa Monica, California-based Cypress Creek is selling that power to other customers.

Three of the eight solar farms in the Texas portfolio are just outside the Houston metro area. One is in the Fort Bend County town of Beasley, while two of the projects are in Wallis and Wharton.

Starbucks already relies on a North Carolina solar farm equipped with 149,000 panels to deliver solar energy equivalent to powering 600 Starbucks stores in North Carolina, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

“Our long-standing commitment to renewable energy supports our greener-retail initiative and demonstrates our aspiration to sustainable coffee, served sustainably,” Rebecca Zimmer, Starbucks’ director of global environmental impact, says in an April 15 release about its solar investment in Texas. “Now, we are investing in new, renewable energy projects in our store communities, which we know is something our partners and customers can appreciate for their local economy and for the environment.”

The solar commitment in Texas aligns with Starbucks’ goal of designing, building, and operating 10,000 “greener” company-owned stores around the world by 2025. The Seattle-based retailer expects this initiative — whose features include renewable energy, energy efficiency, and waste reduction — to cut $50 million in utility costs over the next 10 years.

U.S. Bank’s community development division teamed up with Starbucks and Cypress Creek on the Texas solar farms. Chris Roetheli, a business development officer at U.S. Bank, says solar tax equity investments like those undertaken by Starbucks are growing in popularity among non-traditional investors.

“Starbucks is taking a unique approach — investing in solar farms regionally to support a specific group of its stores,” Roetheli says in the announcement of the solar collaboration. “This is a new concept, and one that I think other companies are watching and may follow. It’s an interesting model that allows them to talk specifically about the impact of their investments.”

Starbucks’ investment comes as Texas’ stature in the solar energy sector keeps rising, along with the state’s role in the wind energy industry.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, more than 2,900 megawatts of solar capacity are installed in Texas. That’s enough energy to power nearly 350,000 homes. Among the states, Texas ranks fifth for the amount of installed solar capacity.

Solar investment in Texas exceeds $4.5 billion, with about 650 solar companies operating statewide, the association says. The solar energy industry employs more than 13,000 full-time and part-time workers in Texas, according to the Texas Solar Power Association.

With more than 4 gigawatts (over 7,000 megawatts) of solar capacity expected to be added in Texas over the next five years, the national solar association reported in 2018 that “Texas is poised to become a nationwide leader in solar energy … .”

As it stands now, though, solar supplies less than 1 percent of Texas’ electricity.

A 2018 state-by-state report card for friendliness toward solar power assigned a “C” to Texas, putting it in 34th place among the states.

The report card, released by SolarPowerRocks.com, lauds the backing of big Texas cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio in encouraging residential solar installations.

However, the report card adds, outlying areas in Texas lag their urban counterparts in support of residential solar, “and we’d like lawmakers here to codify more protections and goals for solar adoption, but in the most populous areas, the Lone Star [State] shines.”

The Downside to Renewable Energy

Renewable power technologies such as wind and solar are becoming economically competitive with fossil fuels. As ecological need and economic reality converge, renewables are going to make up an increasingly large percentage of the world’s power supply. It’s a necessary technological transition. But at the same time, renewables have a downside that needs to be addressed: rare earth elements.

According to environmental attorney Christopher “Smitty” Smith, rare earth elements are used in virtually all electronics. This includes solar panels, which require rare earth metals such as yttrium or europium, and wind power, which uses vast quantities of neodymium in the magnets that help convert wind energy to electricity.

Rare earth elements are actually fairly abundant in the Earth’s crust. But these metals are typically found in extremely low concentrations. That means a lot of destructive mining for minimal effect. Rare earth mining produces large quantities of contaminated mine waste, creating a disposal problem.

Additionally, many of the most productive rare earth mines are in countries with weak environmental regulations. Political instability and national security concerns provide further risks to long-term supply. Accordingly, Smith writes, recycling these elements is big business, employing thousands of mostly unskilled workers worldwide. Formal, supervised recycling processes are needed to safely dismantle and recycle the materials, in contrast to the informal recycling systems that are currently in place. These informal systems are cheaper but may expose workers to health risks. Even so, the formal and informal economies often work in tandem. Smith suggests charging a fee upfront so electronics producers and consumers have to pay for the costs to properly recycle these products. The most efficient solution would be to reuse electronics when possible. One positive trend is that reuse is becoming more and more common. Smith suggests a global collection system to maximize reuse and keep electronic waste away from smugglers and illegal disposal.

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Another idea suggested by scholars Robert U. Ayres and Laura Talens Peiró is maximizing “material efficiency” for rare earths and other crucial materials. Currently, when high grade ore is mined, lower quality ores or unwanted side materials, the mining equivalent of fisheries’ bycatch, are excavated but not used. In addition to recycling, finding uses for these mining byproducts could potentially reduce waste in the electronic and renewable energy sector. One drawback is that some of these lower-grade materials are energy intensive to collect, given the low yield.

In the short term, the risks of mining rare earth elements do not outweigh the benefits of renewable power, but improvements are needed. And when it comes to each individual’s impact, forgoing that latest smart phone upgrade may just be the best thing you can do.