Wednesday, February 25, 2009

G. Gallus Domesticus Feces

The poultry industry in Maryland is one of the nations’ largest and contributes more than $700 million annually to the Maryland economy. In this report I will talk about some of the negative aspects of the industry such as pollution to the environment, political motives/decisions, and also some alternative solutions for the vast pollution.

Since we don’t have time for a history lesson I’ll jump right into the negative externalities that the poultry industry imposes on Maryland. Agriculture, according to the EPA, is the largest single source of pollutants and sediments in the Chesapeake Bay. The main pollutant, nitrogen, is derived mostly from the 650 million pounds of chicken manure that poultry produce annually. Inevitably, some of this excess chicken manure finds its way to the Chesapeake Bay by means of runoff from storms and further pollutes the estuary. The nitrogen and phosphorous deposits can cause algae blooms to develop which in turn deplete the oxygen levels needed by aquatic life (i.e. crabs / oysters) to survive, and finally hurt the Chesapeake fishermen’s industry by means of job loss.

Why hasn’t anything been done? Simply put: Politics. As mentioned earlier, the poultry industry nets +$700 million annually, and although the pollution factors may ultimately take jobs away from the watermen, get this: for every one job added on a chicken farm, it is estimated that seven related jobs are created in slaughterhouses, construction, and trucking. Not to mention that Maryland is one of the only states where the poultry industry is regulated by the State Department of Agriculture; whose primary mission is helping farmers. Although legislations have been proposed to curb the effects of the pollution such as permits to handle manure, Farmers have defeated such efforts twice in the past. Lawmakers have even given them options like to either maintain a 35 ft wide filter strip of vegetation along streams and ditches or to not spread manure within 50 feet of streams or 10 feet of ditches. Unannounced inspections would occur and if the farmer is caught in violation they can face hefty fines. This method allows the liability for the manure to be placed on the farmer rather than the larger companies who provide the chickens and feed.

Some alternative uses for the chicken manure have been suggested while some are already in effect in other states. For example, some agricultural farms recycle the chicken manure at a factory that produces fertilizer pellets and ships/sells the product elsewhere. Other companies, like Waste to Energy Plants (WTE), are using the poultry waste to turn biomass into biogas. The biogas product can be used for steam or electricity generation and possibly heat/light homes in the local area or be sold to other companies.

I think the fertilizer pellets are a great idea to keep the waste out of the Bay. Also, if I were a farmer of large operations that produced tons of biomass waste, I would open up a second business, that produces organic flowerpots and other such products from biomass. This way the farms can become even more efficient by selling their waste to consumers in the form of goods. I also believe that the WTE plants are a great idea. I don’t know how cost effective they are, but I don’t see the harm in using biogas to cut down on energy prices.

-- Mark Preston

Sunday, February 22, 2009

California Drought Hits Agriculture

Hundreds of thousands of acres, far more than in years past, are expected to lie fallow this year. As they dry up, so do the fortunes of communities across the state. Proud, self-reliant people are going to be going through their savings and maybe even going on the dole. Tough times, and another sign about the linkages between resources and the economy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

End of material on the first midterm

Hic iacet inquisitionis magnae materiae finis.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mmmmm... Beer...

"To alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems." --Homer Simpson
Beer is a beverage consumed across the world by many cultures. In the United States, beer consumption is a popular pastime with a large economic impact on society. Brewers employ over 2.5 million people in this country, and those people earn about $60 billion which is redirected back into the economy. However, beer has its dark side as well. Brewers have excess yeast that is discarded every year and dumped or used for feeding livestock.
Sierra Nevada brewing company has joined forces with a company known as E-Fuel to convert the left-over beer yeast at Sierra Nevada's Chico, California brewery into ethanol that can be used as a biofuel. E-Fuel is the creator of the Efuel 100, the first home ethanol system. The Efuel 100 will be installed in the first quarter of 2009 and tested in the second. If all goes well, it will be in regular use starting in the third quarter of 2009.
In the past, Sierra Nevada would transport discarded yeast to local farmers to feed local livestock. Last year Sierra Nevada discarded 1.6 million gallons of leftover yeast. Now, Sierra Nevada Brewing company has installed the E-Fuel 100 and will be using biofuel for part of the production process. The E-Fuel 100 costs almost $10,000 to install but will eventually bring a return on investment. [According to this site, using discarded beverage alcohol in the mini-refinery will result in making ethanol as cheaply as 10 cents per gallon!)
In my opinion, this is a great example of how some of the latest technology can make something from nothing. This is a cost-effective way for companies to lower their demand for oil. It is not that I disagree with brewers feeding livestock with discarded yeast, it is that in this day and age energy is a concern for everyone. Using discarded material for energy is more efficient for our economy than feeding livestock is.
--Brady Langelan

Gas flaring

Gas flaring can be defined as the process of burning off unwanted gas and liquids into the atmosphere during the process of extracting crude oil from the earth. Gas flaring not only harms the environment by emitting some 400 million tons of carbon dioxide globally, but it is also wasteful of a comparatively clean energy source- natural gas.
Gas flaring has caused a lot of environmental problems especially in regions that still practice it. Studies have shown that the chemicals that are burnt off during this process, including benzenes, sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide, can cause diseases such as cancer, bronchitis, and skin ailments. Gas flaring consumes about 170 billion cubic meters of natural gas and it is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
This process of gas flaring may be tolerable in remote areas where no nearby animals or plants will be exposed to these chemicals, but that is not the case in countries like Nigeria and Russia. These countries have continuously practiced it, exposing communities in places like the Niger delta to hazardous emissions. NGOs and other have suggested that oil companies and/ or government should pay for the pollution they have caused and continue to create and profit from. I feel oil companies will have the money to pay any amount we want them to pay because of the excessive profits they make. It is difficult to stick a particular price on pollution, but this is a human rights issue as well, so something needs to be done. Gas flaring should be abolished and if it continues, other coutnries should lay sanctions on the countries that practice it.
--Ike Ezekwe

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tough times for ethanol

In addition to hurting the wind power industry (below and here) the recession is hurting ethanol producers. It used to be that corn-based fuel was cheaper than refined petroleum, so gasoline producers were mixing in as much ethanol as they could get away with. Now that demand for fuel is down due to the economic slump, governmental requirements that producers mix in some ethanol are costing producers more than expected.

From what little I know, corn-based ethanol is just a bad idea to begin with. I support cellulosic ethanol production (i.e. that from bio-waste materials such as the wood chips and corn stalks mentioned in the article) but it's hard to imagine that turning food for people into food for cars makes economic sense. Of course, I can see why corn producers like it, but that's another issue!

An Economic Solution to an Environmental Problem

Washington DC is considering taxing plastic bags to internalize the environmental externality they create. This article has the usual whining and semi-legitimate arguments we saw a few years ago out in San Francisco, but it gives short shrift to what for me is a huge point: if people will just learn to bring bags with them when the go grocery shopping, they won't have to pay the tax! How hard is it to grab a handful of plastic bags before you head out the door, or just keep some in your car? Sure, it takes getting used to, but that's all we're talking about- learning a new habit. Amazing how excited people get about such a small fee that seems like it will actually do some good.

Oops, sorry- I guess this one gets my hackles up a bit!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Biomethane for Oslo buses

Oslo, Norway is using biomethane to fuel its public transportation. The increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the city (more than 50% since 2000) and the increase in pollution (approximately 10% since 2000) has lead the Oslo City Council to begin investigating alternatives to fossil fuel-powered public transport, and it decided on biomethane because it emits less carbon and is easier and cheaper to produce. Norway’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050 and Oslo aims to be one of the most environmentally sustainable capitals of the world. The net emissions of a biomethane operated bus are zero since the carbon originated from the atmosphere rather than fossil fuels. Even when taking into consideration the electricity used at the sewage plant to convert the gas from waste into fuel, the Oslo city council calculated that carbon emissions per bus are 18 tonnes per year, a saving of 44 tonnes of C02 per bus per year.

Oslo has two sewage plants with enough biomethane to provide fuel for 80 buses. If the trial is successful Oslo city council plans to convert all 400 of the public buses to run on biogas. It is the council’s hope that cars will also be able to run on biogas.

I think it is an idea worth exploring. So far it has been working for Sweden. It would also reduce noise pollution (buses which run on biomethane are quieter), and we could also use it for our domestic uses such as residential heating or to generate electricity. We shouldn’t let our waste go to waste so to speak, and I know that in some states (Wisconsin for example with the “Dairyland Power Cooperative") animal wastes are being converted into biomethane and used to power their generators as opposed to letting them run into streams. All in all I think that the environment and humankind would be better off. “Yes to poo power”.

--Christine Wanjiru

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why do we need to worry about producer surplus just as much as we do consumer surplus? There are many reasons, one of which is that some producers make some pretty cool stuff. The economic downturn is really slowing the advance of green energy in places that are most able to expand it, because companies are suffering. From the New York Times (link):

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20 percent of its work force because of falling sales.

California Water Shortage

The water shortage predicted in the article posted earlier is definitely a reality in this California city: if a household consumes more than 150 gallons of water per day (on average over a month) they could have their water turned off! Extreme measures forced by a drought that appears worse than anything in the past 150 years. Ouch!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Organic agriculture fights climate change

Brand new research from Switzerland describes how organic agriculture causes an EXTERNALITY in terms of mitigating climate change. "Organic agriculture addresses both emission avoidance and carbon sequestration. The first is achieved through lower N2O emissions (due to lower nitrogen input; 1-2% of the nitrogen applied to farming systems is emitted as N2O, irrespective of the form of the N input), less CO2 emissions through erosion (as, due to the better soil structure and more plant cover, less erosion usually occurs in organic farming systems than in conventional ones) and lower CO2 emissions from farming system inputs (this mainly refers to pesticides and fertilizers that are currently and for the foreseeable future mainly produced employing fossil fuel). Sequestration (both temporary and long-term) takes place through differences in cultivation practices (such as increased application of organic manures, use of intercrops and green manures, higher share of perennial grasslands and trees or hedges etc.) and changed soil characteristics (higher soil organic matter content and thus higher organic carbon content, better soil structure). Given the size of the agricultural sector on a global scale, the potential for mitigation via OA is huge. Of course more detailed assessment of the concrete potential duly differentiated according to climatic zones, local climatic conditions, variations in crops and cultivation practices, etc. is till needed.
Chrysler announced last Thursday plans to debut an ENVI electric car to the public by 2010. Chrysler has a couple of models in mind, including Jeep, minivan, and sports car prototypes . The cars can go 40 miles on battery alone for a 150 to 200 mile range. ENVI are charged on a standard 110-volt outlet, which are found in most homes.
The company is currently testing 100 electric vehicles and one key concern is battery life . One idea put forward was leasing the batteries to buyers, who can exchange dead batteries for recharged power sources. Also, small interior generators are in development that can produce enough electricity to keep the car running on little gasoline for 400 miles.
Another economic issue with the batteries is the infrastructure needed to support battery recharging . Creating battery stations would only be effective once economies of scale, when a large-scale company gains a cost advantage due to their size, is reached. In this example, it would not be cost effective for Chrysler to supply battery stations that require numerous batteries and workers to until they have enough ENVI vehicles out on the road.
I have a hard time believing that these vehicles will be on the road by 2010 due to the current economic climate. Chrysler was already bailed out in 1979 for 1.5 million, received billions in the last bailout, and fired 32,000 workers. Despite their efforts to go green, the cost of the ENVI cars will defer the public from buying and the cost of research and development will hinder Chrysler from keeping their 2010 promise. Overall, I think this is a step in the right direction but at the wrong time.
--Jessica Wilson