Ozzie Zehner

Author of Green Illusions

Tag: CO2

Why Biochar Isn’t Green

Ozzie Zehner Green Illusions Biochar UTNE Reader

UTNE Reader | Ozzie Zehner

While burning biochar, a rebranded term for charcoal, is less harmful than burning firewood, the fuel source would have a negative impact if produced on a large scale. “Green Illusions,” by Ozzie Zehner, is a practical, environmentally informed and lucid book that persuasively argues for a change of perspective on dealing with climate change. When contemplating alternative energy sources, such as biochar, one must understand its advantages as well as its limitations. The following excerpt comes from chapter 3, “Biofuels and the Politics of Big Corn.”

Even as legislators flood cellulosic ethanol and other biofuel initiatives with funding, some biofuel opportunities go over­looked, mostly because they are boring in comparison. For in­stance, wastewater treatment facilities release methane, the main component of natural gas, but more than 90 percent of Amer­ica’s six thousand wastewater treatment plants don’t capture it. As mentioned earlier, methane is a major greenhouse gas liability since its venom is more potent than that of carbon diox­ide. The sludge output of the average American yields enough power to light a standard compact florescent light bulb without end. So skimming the methane from an entire city’s wastewa­ter would not only prevent harmful emissions but also would produce enough power to run the entire wastewater operation, perhaps with energy to spare. Although not a large-scale solu­tion, captured biogas is a reminder of the modest opportunities to draw upon biofuels without advanced technology.

Another biofuel product that is now starting to gain more at­tention is a convenient replacement for firewood. Burning fire­wood directly is a relatively dirty practice, emitting dangerous particulates, hydrocarbons, and dioxins. In poor countries, the soot from firewood, waste, and dung kills about 1.6 million peo­ple per year. It’s also a local climate changer; soot darkens air and darker air absorbs more solar radiation. But there’s another way to extract energy from wood besides burning it—one that was widely employed before the Industrial Revolution but has since fallen by the wayside—charcoal (recently rebranded as biochar). When processors heat wood above 300 [degrees celcius] with limited oxygen, in a process called pyrolysis, it spontaneously breaks into three useful fuels: biochar, heavy oil, and flammable gas. In addition to its use as a fuel, farmers can till their soil with bio­char in order to reduce methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse-gas emissions. Archaeologists uncovered ancient South Amer­ican settlements in which buried charcoal has been sequestered for thousands of years, lending interest to the concept of using biochar as long-term storage for excess carbon.

In all, there may be many benefits to implementing biochar tech­niques in place of burning wood and waste for fuel directly. But this doesn’t make biochar a global solution. Cornell researcher Kelli Roberts points out that large-scale biochar production, as envisioned by some eager biofuel productivists, could yield unintended consequences. As with other biofuel methods, if producers clear virgin land to grow biochar inputs such as trees and switch grass, the process could ultimately do more harm than good. Alternately, if producers grow biochar crops on ex­isting farmland, farmers may be forced onto new land, yield­ing the same negative effects on virgin land plus the added risk of local food price instability. And then there is the hitch with any method for increasing available energy supply—it inevi­tability leads to growth, expansion, and increasing energy con­sumption—a reminder that smart upgrades in energy practices for local communities may not have the same positive effects if implemented on a larger scale.

 

Excerpted from Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism by Ozzie Zehner, with permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2012 by Ozzie Zehner. Available wherever books are sold or from the Univ. of Nebraska Press (800) 848-6224.

Read on: Utne.com

 

An environmental book John Perkins is endorsing:

Green Illusions

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University Art Removed after Irking Energy Executives

The University of Wyoming removed a sculpture that links coal use to climate change and beetle infestations after it upset University donors, according to a New York Times article and Green Blog post.

The idea behind the sculpture that appeared on the University of Wyoming campus about 16 months ago was simple but provocative: a swirl of dead wood and lumps of coal, intended to show the link between global warming and the pine beetle infestation that has ravaged forests across the Rockies.

But in a place like Wyoming, where the oil, gas and mining industries are the soul of the economy, some view such symbolism as a declaration of war.

Read the full New York Times article.

See more about the environmental book John Perkins is endorsing:

Green Illusions

Challenges Envisioning a Nuclear-Free Germany

Challenges Envisioning a Nuclear-Free Germany
Ozzie Zehner

Can Germany go Nuc Free? That’s the plan for 2022. But due to a phenomenon economists call “leakage,” a nuclear-free Germany may remain an illusion.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that even though Germany plans to shut down its reactors, the country now pays $139 million monthly to import electricity, some of it from Czech nuclear plants:

With the remaining nine German reactors scheduled to go offline by 2022, no one seems more eager to step into the breach than the Czechs. They’re in talks with vendors to build two more reactors at Temelín, while planning new reactors at the aging Dukovany nuclear station and at least two other sites… “Nuclear is the answer,” says Roman Portužák, who is involved in drawing up the country’s energy strategy at the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry. “How fast, how many reactors we’ll build—that’s still under discussion, but we’re definitely moving in this direction.”

Germany also imports stored nuclear power via Austria. Indeed, building luxury cars is energy intensive.

Many Germans expect renewables such as solar and wind energy to take up the slack, but taxpayers are less keen about paying for them. Germany is in the process of slashing subsidies that have spurred renewable energy growth throughout the country.

Germany has also exported energy-intensive smelting and heavy industrial operations to China and other countries, which has gotten those energy inputs off Germany’s tally. But the resulting raw materials and components are then shipped back to Germany.

Germany’s awkward energy contortions point to the complex global challenges and fuzzy accounting that we face when developing energy policy in an interconnected world. Perhaps Germany can go low-energy only if others do not.

— Ozzie Zehner is the author of the renewable energy book, Green Illusions

See more about the environmental book John Perkins is endorsing:

Video: 5 Reasons to Bicycle

This is a recent Danish video from the city of Aarhus, which may offer a glimpse into the future of bicycling through North American cities. Here are the translated points:

  • Reason 674: Big smiles
  • Reason 762: Fitness and fresh air
  • Reason 2,548: Speed through traffic
  • Reason 6,237: Quality time with the kids
  • Reason 94: CO2-neutral transport

See more about the the future of transportation here.

Green Illusions

Are Electric Cars Carbon Free? Some Perspective on Plugging In

Chevy Volt, Ozzie Zehner

According to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the carbon impacts of fueling your electric car depend on where you plug it in. The study, entitled “State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel Cost Savings Across the United States,” points out that charging an electric vehicle with coal-based electricity yields the same carbon impact as at conventional car that gets 30 miles per gallon (mpg). If the charging power comes from hydroelectric and natural gas, prevalent in the pacific northwest, the carbon impacts of fueling an electric car equate to over 50mpg, according to the study.

These figures do not account for electric car fabrication footprints, which can have a much larger impact than the fueling cycle according to research from the National Academies of Science. In my recent piece in Christian Science Monitor, I argue:

Electric vehicles don’t eliminate the negative side effects of vehicular travel. They simply move the problems elsewhere – often to contexts where they become more opaque and difficult to address. When we start to exchange one set of side effects for another, the exchange rates become confusing. This opens a space for public relations firms, news pundits, environmentalists, and others to step in and define the terms of exchange to their liking.. The Union of Concerned Scientists report also doesn’t account for the methane released during natural gas fracking, the side effects of hydroelectric dams, and other externalities from energy production.

When the full environmental costs of electric car batteries and hardware are figured in, their green charm begins to appear suspect. Perhaps environmentalists should take a step back and reconsider whether they’d like to become spokespeople for the next round of ecological disaster machines.

See more about the book John Perkins is endorsing here.

Green Illusions