Weekly News Check-In 8/5/22

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Welcome back.

Just like last week, there’s still a lot of drama around climate legislation. The Massachusetts Legislature incorporated some of Governor Charlie Baker’s proposed amendments and sent this major climate bill back to his desk just as the legislative session wound down. Notably, the Legislature didn’t capitulate to Baker’s suggested amendment on power generated by burning wood, and lawmakers also rejected proposed changes to their plan to permit 10 towns and cities to ban gas hookups in new buildings. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, please call or email the Governor and ask him to sign the bill into law.

While we wait for that, we’re seeing some really positive movement both practically and conceptually away from fossils and toward clean energy. In court, three public interest groups filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Washington [D.C.] Gas Light Company over what they called the “greenwashing” of its use of highly polluting methane gas. The complaint claims that Washington Gas consistently refers to fossil gas in customer-facing materials as clean and sustainable compared to electrification. Sounds familiar!

And on the opposite coast, San Diego officials took action against natural gas to strengthen their city’s position on climate change. The City Council voted unanimously to ban natural gas in new houses and local businesses over the next 12 years, and included a measure to phase out 90 percent of natural gas from existing buildings.

While the gas industry continues to hammer hard on the “can’t cook without my gas range” message, chef Chris Galarza is busy helping restaurants and institutions shift from gas to induction stoves. The change is good for the climate — and for kitchen workers’ mental health and well-being.

On the innovation front, a $70 million initiative will deploy 30,000 window-mounted electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of New York City’s aging public housing units. Encouraging a market for this type of heat pump could go a long way toward decarbonizing older buildings that typically heat with oil or gas, where residents rely on window air conditioners for cooling.

Innovation is shaking up building materials, too. Making steel is carbon intensive. It’s responsible for up to 9% of worldwide CO2 emissions and almost a quarter of all industrial emissions. Until recently, substituting green hydrogen for fossil fuel seemed to be the pathway to sustainable steel. But Boston Metal claims it has “cracked the code to electrifying steel manufacturing”. Their process produces steel without releasing carbon dioxide, and without using hydrogen fuel. Of course, the model relies on a green grid to supply that power.

We’ve run a lot of stories about the need for the U.S. transmission grid to expand and modernize, and how it isn’t happening fast enough to support the enormous growth of clean energy that’s quickly coming online. Here, we look at how grid-enhancing technologies enable us to get more out of existing power lines.

Recognizing that the U.S. lags behind China in the capacity to build the batteries it will need to meet its growing demand for electric vehicles, the Department of Energy is planning to loan a U.S. battery manufacturing consortium $2.5 billion to ramp up domestic battery production.

All of that is great, but we’re still stuck with fossils for a while – and the industry is pulling all its levers to draw that out as long as possible. One ploy is to turn the divestment movement back on itself. A New York Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by Republican state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases.

Another tactic involves claiming that existing fossil emitters like power plants can be cleaned up using in-stack carbon capture technology. We’ve expressed plenty of skepticism about this expensive scheme that consistently under-delivers. A new study bears that out. But the carbon capture and sequestration concept can be applied to removing CO2 directly from the ambient air – and a cutting edge direct air capture facility in Iceland is going big.

One last story about the fossil fuel industry:  The Associated Press recently did some great investigative work based on a 2021 aerial survey of the Permian Basin conducted by Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That survey documented massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations along the Texas-New Mexico border, and the AP concluded that just 10 companies owned at least 164 of 533 “super-emitting” sites. The Environmental Protection Agency is taking another look now, with enforcement action in mind.

Our climate section shows why we can’t just ignore that kind of industry malfeasance anymore.    While there are encouraging signs that we may be starting to get some traction in the race against global warming, we’re still way behind and the stakes are high. Scientists say it’s time to consider worst-case scenarios as the planet approaches environmental tipping points that could exacerbate other global crises like pandemics and war. That’s the tried-and-true “hope for the best, but plan for the worst” approach.

button - BEAT News  For even more environmental news, info, and events, check out the latest newsletter from our colleagues at Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT)!

— The NFGiM Team

LEGISLATION

MA state house stock shot
Legislature amends climate bill, leaving its fate in Governor Baker’s hands
By Dharna Noor, Boston Globe
August 1, 2022

The Massachusetts Legislature sent a major climate bill back to Governor Charlie Baker’s desk as the session wound down, incorporating some, but not all, of his proposed amendments. The fate of the legislation is now in Baker’s hands.

On the House floor Sunday, Representative Jeff Roy, who negotiated the bill in the Legislature along with Senator Michael Barrett, read a passage from Baker’s recent book about the importance of political compromise.

Roy said the bill gives Baker, who isn’t seeking reelection this fall, a chance to secure his climate legacy.

“He indeed has an incredible choice to make and we certainly hope that he embraces the compromises in this bill like all of us have already done,” he said on Monday. “Otherwise, he will be remembered as the one who pulled the plug on electrification and took the breeze out of offshore wind.”

The Legislature didn’t capitulate to Baker’s suggested amendment on power generated by burning wood.

In their original bill, lawmakers sought to remove wood-burning power plants from the state’s renewable portfolio standard, meaning they would no longer count toward renewable energy goals in Massachusetts or be eligible for state clean energy subsidies. The Legislature would have grandfathered in two long-standing small facilities that are currently in the program.

Baker filed an amendment that would have exempted all wood-burning power plants that began commercial operation before 2022.

Environmental advocates say that would have gutted the provision and praised the Legislature for standing its ground. Wood-burning plants produce harmful pollutants like carbon monoxide, and research shows they can emit even more carbon at the smokestack than coal-fired plants.

“In passing this bill, the Legislature is preventing our clean energy dollars from going up in smoke,” said Laura Haight, US policy director for the Partnership for Policy Integrity, in an e-mailed statement.

Lawmakers also rejected Baker’s proposed changes to their plan to permit 10 towns and cities to ban gas hookups in new buildings.

The policies have been contentious for state officials since Brookline first attempted to pass one in 2019.
» Read article   

take it
Baker in take-it-or-leave-it position on climate bill
Lawmakers accept his price cap amendment, reject most others
By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine
July 31, 2022

THE LEGISLATURE returned compromise climate legislation to Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday and urged him to sign it into law even though he didn’t get all the changes he wanted.

Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin, the House chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, gave a speech in which he appealed to Baker to follow his own advice on compromising and warned him of the consequences of not doing so.

Roy read a passage from Baker’s recent book that extolled compromise and suggested the governor should practice what he preaches. He also warned that a veto, which would kill the legislation, would hurt the state’s efforts to meet its climate goals and set the governor up as “the one who took the breeze out of offshore wind.”

Roy said he’s not thrilled with everything in the bill but is nevertheless supporting the compromise version. He said Baker should do the same. Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem of Newton offered a similar perspective. “The governor has now a chance to cement his legacy,” she said.

Not every senator was as enthusiastic. Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton urged Baker to sign the bill, but he said he thought the bill did not go far enough. “I hope with a new governor and a new Legislature in January we will go way beyond what we’re going to do today. We need to have bold action on climate,” he said. “What we’re doing today is nowhere near close to where we need to be.”

Baker sent the Legislature’s original climate change bill back on Friday with 19 pages of amendments, including a call for a $750 million appropriation of federal and state funds for clean energy development.
» Read article       

» More about legislation       

PROTESTS AND ACTIONS

electrify DC
First-of-Its-Kind Greenwashing Lawsuit Targets Gas Giant for Methane Lies
Washington Gas’s customers, said the plaintiffs, “have a right to the facts about the environmental and health impacts of the products and services they use—including where they get their energy.”
By Julia Conley, Common Dreams
August 4, 2022

Warning that a Washington, D.C. utility has run afoul of the U.S. capital’s consumer protection law, three public interest groups on Thursday announced a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against Washington Gas Light Company over what they called the “greenwashing” of its use of highly pollutive methane gas.

U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research and Policy Center, and ClientEarth filed their lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court, saying Washington Gas is consistently misleading more than one million customers by advertising its use of natural gas as a “smart choice for the environment.”

“Washington Gas consistently refers to fossil gas in customer-facing materials as clean and sustainable… compared to electrification,” said ClientEarth in a statement.

The company has focused heavily on convincing customers that using natural gas, whose main ingredient is methane, is a sustainable way to power their homes and workplaces—despite the fact that methane has 80 times the climate-heating potency of carbon emissions in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

With fracking driving a surge in global gas production over the past two decades, methane is now responsible for nearly half of planetary heating to date and for 23% of Washington, D.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington Gas’s customers would never know this from the company’s marketing materials, however, said the groups suing the utility.

“Washington Gas is greenwashing methane gas in its materials,” said Matt Casale, director of environmental campaigns for U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “The truth is that methane is a super-potent greenhouse gas that pollutes our air and worsens the climate crisis.”
» Read article       

» More about protests and actions

GAS BANS

Mayor Todd Gloria
San Diego City Councils votes unanimously for the ban of natural gas in new construction
According to officials, this action will reduce San Diego County’s carbon footprint and hit net-zero emissions by 2035
By Guillermo Mijares, Chulavista Today
August 4, 2022

San Diego officials have taken action against natural gas to strengthen their position on climate change.

City Council recently voted unanimously to ban natural gas in new houses and local businesses over the next 12 years.

According to officials, this action will reduce San Diego County’s carbon footprint and hit net-zero emissions by 2035. This vote against fossil fuels in the latest and future buildings also includes electrifying existing construction over the next decade.

Mayor of San Diego Todd Gloria says this move was necessary because the consequences of failed action on the matter would negatively affect the county.

“The window to reverse the dangerous trends of climate change is rapidly closing, and this moment demands aggressive action,” said Gloria at a public hearing this week. “Implementing this more ambitious plan won’t be easy, but the financial cost and human consequences of inaction are almost unimaginable.”

Several cities in the state of California have installed restrictions involving gas stoves and home heaters in newly-built construction buildings, including in areas like Encinitas.

Jordan More, fiscal and policy analyst at the city’s Office of the Independent Budget Analyst, emphasized what this action means on the state’s fight against one of the biggest issues in the world today.

“There’s one action within this … that outweighs every other strategy, and that is the measure to phase out 90 percent of natural gas from existing buildings,” Jordan More, on the importance of this unanimous vote regarding the fight on climate change.

Cristina Marquez, organizer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, said this move is essentially a green light to produce more jobs in the energy workforce, something the state sees as a big win.
» Read article      

» More about gas bans         

DIVESTMENT

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How Republicans Are ‘Weaponizing’ Public Office Against Climate Action
A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases.
By David Gelles, New York Times
August 5, 2022

Nearly two dozen Republican state treasurers around the country are working to thwart climate action on state and federal levels, fighting regulations that would make clear the economic risks posed by a warming world, lobbying against climate-minded nominees to key federal posts and using the tax dollars they control to punish companies that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past year, treasurers in nearly half the United States have been coordinating tactics and talking points, meeting in private and cheering each other in public as part of a well-funded campaign to protect the fossil fuel companies that bolster their local economies.

Last week, Riley Moore, the treasurer of West Virginia, announced that several major banks — including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo — would be barred from government contracts with his state because they are reducing their investments in coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

Mr. Moore and the treasurers of Louisiana and Arkansas have pulled more than $700 million out of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment manager, over objections that the firm is too focused on environmental issues. At the same time, the treasurers of Utah and Idaho are pressuring the private sector to drop climate action and other causes they label as “woke.”

And treasurers from Pennsylvania, Arizona and Oklahoma joined a larger campaign to thwart the nominations of federal regulators who wanted to require that banks, funds and companies disclose the financial risks posed by a warming planet.

At the nexus of these efforts is the State Financial Officers Foundation, a little-known nonprofit organization based in Shawnee, Kan., that once focused on cybersecurity, borrowing costs and managing debt loads, among other routine issues.

Then President Biden took office, promising to speed the country’s transition away from oil, gas and coal, the burning of which is dangerously heating the planet.

The foundation began pushing Republican state treasurers, who are mostly elected officials and who are responsible for managing their state’s finances, to use their power to promote oil and gas interests and to stymie Mr. Biden’s climate agenda, records show.

[…] Many Democratic state treasurers support efforts to combat climate change and want banks and investment firms to be clear about risks posed to returns for retirees and others. Democratic lawmakers in California and New Jersey are working on legislation that would require their state pension systems to divest from fossil fuels. But Democrats have not mounted anything like the national campaign being orchestrated by the State Financial Officers Foundation.

The Republican treasurers skirt the fact that global warming is an economic menace that is damaging industries like agriculture and causing extreme weather that devastates communities and costs taxpayers billions in recovery and rebuilding. Instead, they frame efforts to reduce emissions as a threat to employment and revenue, and have turned climate science into another front in the culture wars.
» Read article       

» More about divestment

GREENING THE ECONOMY

Chef Chris Galarza
Meet a chef working to electrify commercial kitchens
Christopher Galarza helps restaurants and institutions shift to induction stoves. The change is good for the climate — and for kitchen workers’ mental health and well-being.
By Maria Virginia Olano, Canary Media
August 3, 2022

Working in a commercial kitchen can be intense, and not just because of the pressure to make great food. It entails hours of standing over the open flame of a gas-burning stove, enveloped in a cloud of extreme heat, humidity and steam.

“It’s almost suffocating,” Christopher Galarza says. He spent 10 years cooking in conventional commercial kitchens until, thanks to a job change, he had the chance to experience an entirely different environment — that of a fully electric, induction-powered kitchen.

For Galazara, there was no going back.

Now he wants to see induction stoves become the norm in restaurants and commercial kitchens across the country — for the mental and physical benefits they offer to people who work in those kitchens, and for the role they can play in moving away from fossil gas and addressing the climate crisis.

[…] From the backyard barbecue to the teppanyaki plates sizzling in restaurants, most people associate great cooking with hot open flames. But the fuel that often feeds those flames is not just heating up our kitchens — it’s also contributing to the climate crisis. Methane, the main component in the fossil gas that fuels more than a third of home stoves in the U.S., is a potent greenhouse gas. Fossil gas also negatively impacts human health, containing other toxic chemicals linked to cancer and greater risks of asthma, especially in kids. ​“Like many cooks, I used to think ​‘gas is king,’ but at a certain point, I started questioning why,” Galarza says.

In 2015, Galarza took a job as executive chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which is well known for its focus on sustainability. Galarza grew accustomed to cooking produce from local gardens and fish raised on nearby farms. The campus also had one of the country’s first fully electric commercial kitchens, and Galarza experienced for the first time what it was like to cook on induction stoves and in electric ovens, with no gas lines or open flames.

The technology behind induction stoves, which has been around since the 1970s, uses magnetic fields instead of combusting gas to generate heat, and it is orders of magnitude faster, more precise and, critically, cooler and more climate-friendly than any other cooking method.

“I fell in love with it,” Galarza says. It wasn’t just the lack of toxic fumes and hot, injury-inviting surfaces that Galarza appreciated. It was also the ease of cleaning up an induction stove; it needs only warm, soapy water as opposed to the grease-fighting chemicals required to clean up a gas stove, and it takes a fraction of the time.

Another lesser-known benefit of climate-friendly kitchens is how they impact the mental health of the people working in them. Galarza felt the difference immediately. The burnout that had plagued him eased, and he began to experience the joy of cooking again. Reinvigorated, he was eager to share with others what he’d learned at Chatham.
» Read article       

limited listing
The plan to turn blighted houses into a new source of green power for the grid

A California nonprofit is retrofitting homes to make a “virtual power plant” – and fighting gentrification at the same time.
By Emily Pontecorvo, Grist
August 3, 2022

Standing outside the sagging house on 2nd Street in North Richmond, California, it was hard to imagine it as the future site of a pioneering clean energy project. The building’s rotting white siding seemed to sink into the dirt yard with no real foundation. Chunks of it were crumbling to the ground. As we walked around to the back, Jim Becker, my tour guide, pointed to a plastic pipe sticking out of the wall.

“Here, the sewage was just flushing out onto the dirt,” he said. “It was just shooting all the poop into the garden.”

But Becker was excited. He was showing me this house as a sort of “before” picture. Soon, workers will take the building down to its studs and reconstruct the walls and roof. Then it will get a full menu of clean energy offerings: energy-efficient lighting, an electric vehicle charger, an electric stove, electric heat pumps for heating and air conditioning, an internet-connected “smart thermostat.” Solar panels will line the roof, and a backup battery will allow future residents to keep the lights on and the refrigerator running during a power outage.

When the retrofit is done, the house will not be listed publicly on the cutthroat Bay Area real estate market. Instead, it will be shown to a select group of Richmond locals, mostly from low and middle-income backgrounds, who are looking to buy their first home.
» Read article       

» More about greening the economy

CLIMATE

incinerated
Scientists Say It’s ‘Fatally Foolish’ To Not Study Catastrophic Climate Outcomes
A new paper discusses ‘climate end games’ as the planet approaches environmental tipping points that could exacerbate other global crises like pandemics and war.
By Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News
August 1, 2022

As global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, some climate scientists say it’s time to start paying more attention to the most extreme, worst-case outcomes, including the potential for widespread extinctions, mass climate migration and the disintegration of social and political systems.

“Facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naive risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst,” an international team of researchers wrote this week in a Perspective piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More than half of all cumulative carbon dioxide emissions have occurred since international climate negotiations started in 1990. Global warming is accelerating and driving a steep increase of extremes like heat waves, wildfires and flooding. Most recent scientific estimates show that, under current policies, the world is headed for about 2.4 to 2.7 degrees Celsius warming by late this century.

As a result, the authors set 3 degrees Celsius warming by 2100 as a benchmark of extreme climate change. They chose that level of warming because it exceeds the current established targets of the Paris climate agreement, and because there are “substantially heightened risks of self-amplifying changes between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius warming that would make it impossible to limit warming to 3 degrees Celsius.”
» Read article   

plume
Tonga’s volcano sent tons of water into the stratosphere. That could warm the Earth
By Bill Chappell, NPR
August 3, 2022

The violent eruption of Tonga’s Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano injected an unprecedented amount of water directly into the stratosphere — and the vapor will stay there for years, likely affecting the Earth’s climate patterns, NASA scientists say.

The massive amount of water vapor is roughly 10% of the normal amount of vapor found in the stratosphere, equaling more than 58,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said atmospheric scientist Luis Millán, who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Millán led a study of the water the volcano sent into the sky; the team’s research was published in Geophysical Research Letters.

The Jan. 15 eruption came from a volcano that’s more than 12 miles wide, with a caldera sitting roughly 500 feet below sea level. One day earlier, Tongan officials reported the volcano was in a continuous eruption, sending a 3-mile-wide plume of steam and ash into the sky. Then the big blast came, sending ash, gases and vapor as high as 35 miles — a record in the satellite era — into the atmosphere.

Drone aircraft and other video from that day show the dramatic scale of the blast, as the volcano launched an incredibly wide plume into the sky. The intense eruption sent a pressure wave circling around the Earth and caused a sonic boom heard as far away as Alaska.

Earlier large volcanic eruptions have affected climate, but they usually cool temperatures, because they send light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. Those aerosols act as a sort of massive layer of sunscreen. But since water vapor traps heat, the Tongan eruption could temporarily raise temperatures a bit, the researchers said.

It normally takes around 2-3 years for sulfate aerosols from volcanoes to fall out of the stratosphere. But the water from the Jan. 15 eruption could take 5-10 years to fully dissipate.

Given that timeframe and the extraordinary amount of water involved, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai “may be the first volcanic eruption observed to impact climate not through surface cooling caused by volcanic sulfate aerosols, but rather through surface warming,” the researchers said in their paper.
» Read article  

» More about climate

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

window heat pump
Window heat pumps will help electrify New York City’s apartments
A $70 million initiative will deploy 30,000 electric heat pumps to bring climate-friendly comfort to residents of NYC’s aging public housing units.
By Maria Gallucci, Canary Media
August 3, 2022

The sleek white machine straddles an apartment window in Queens, New York City, blowing cool air inside the narrow bedroom. Unlike the boxy air-conditioning units that drone loudly and drip water from buildings across the city, this device hums softly and spares passersby from overhead leaks. And when the sticky, sweltering August heat gives way to bone-chilling winter weather, the machine can warm the room instead.

The startup Gradient showcased its new heating and cooling unit — a type of device called a heat pump — this week as part of the Clean Heat for All Challenge. Late last year, city and state officials in New York invited manufacturers to develop new electrified technology that would both improve living conditions and begin to decarbonize public housing buildings, many of which still rely on outdated heating-oil systems and gas-fired boilers.

On Tuesday, New York leaders announced a $70 million initial investment to deploy 30,000 window-sized electric heat pumps in apartments citywide. Gradient and another company, the global appliance maker Midea America, each won seven-year contracts to develop and produce devices for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which provides affordable housing. Leaders in other cities, including Jersey City, Boston and Seattle, say they’re tracking the project’s progress closely.

“We’re going to spur innovation for brand-new technologies here in New York that the rest of the nation will be looking at,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) said at a ceremony from a sunbaked basketball court at Woodside Houses, a complex of 20 brick buildings in Queens.
» Read article   

heat pump image
Questions about heat pumps? Connecticut offers free experts to help

The state’s energy efficiency program has hired a Massachusetts firm to provide virtual consultations with heat pump experts, along with developing a local network of trained heat pump installers.
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
August 2, 2022

Electric heat pumps are moving front and center in Connecticut’s energy efficiency program as the state seeks to speed adoption with a free consultation service and significant rebates.

EnergizeCT has contracted with Abode, an energy management company, to operate the consultation service and develop a statewide network of trained heat pump installers. Abode, based in Concord, Massachusetts, operates similar programs in that state that have so far resulted in the installation of close to 2,200 heat pumps in 13 communities, said Christopher Haringa, the company’s program manager.

Ratepayers can sign up for a virtual chat session with a heat pump expert on the EnergizeCT website. Since the service started in late May, Abode has conducted more than 100 consultations lasting an average of 45 minutes each, Haringa said.

“Homeowners are terrified of making the wrong decision, especially when they’re going to be spending $10,000 or more on their install,” he said.

Eversource and United Illuminating, which run EnergizeCT, are also in the process of overhauling the program’s website to better promote heat pump technology, said Ronald Araujo, director of energy efficiency for Eversource.

Air-source heat pumps are heating and cooling systems that run on electricity instead of fossil fuels. They move heat outside in the summer and inside in the winter. They are highly efficient and can significantly lower energy bills when paired with home weatherization.
» Read article   
» Live in MA or CT? Explore free services from Abode

» More about energy efficiency

BUILDING MATERIALS

Boston Metal
Boston Metal Electrifies Steel Manufacturing Using Electrolysis
No hydrogen required to make this CO2-free steel
By Lloyd Alter, Treehugger
July 21, 2022

The process of making steel is responsible for up to 9% of worldwide carbon emissions and almost a quarter of all industrial emissions. There’s chemistry involved: The blast furnace reduces the iron oxide content of the ore by blasting air and pulverizing coal into the melted ore. The carbon monoxide from the burning coal reacts with the iron oxide, producing iron and carbon dioxide, or: Fe2O3 + 3 CO → 2 Fe + 3 CO2.

Some companies, like Hybrit, are replacing coal with hydrogen, which combines with oxygen to make water. It has been called the first fossil-fuel-free steel because they were using hydrogen produced through the electrolysis of water with Sweden’s clean hydroelectric power.

But there is another way to separate oxygen from iron using electricity: Molten Oxide Electrolysis (MOE), where you melt the iron ore, add an electrolyte, and apply a serious amount of electricity. That’s the approach being taken by Boston Metal, which claims it has “cracked the code to electrifying steel manufacturing.”

I often run when I hear the phrase “cracked the code”—see just about every modular housing company we have shown—and the idea of molten oxide electrolysis has been around for a while to make very high-grade steel. One problem has been similar to that of aluminum: The anode was made of graphite, which was consumed in the process, releasing carbon dioxide.

The other problem is most electricity in the world is made by burning fossil fuels and electrolysis needs a lot of it; that’s why the greenest aluminum production is in Iceland and Quebec, Canada. But the world is changing as we try to electrify everything, and more renewable and clean electricity is coming on line every day.

Adam Rauwerdink, Boston Metal’s vice president of business development, tells Treehugger that “the cleaner grid makes this all possible.” He notes it takes a lot of electricity: 4 megawatt-hours per tonne of steel. For reference, the average house uses 11 megawatt-hours per year. Rauwerdink says this energy use is comparable to the HYBRIT process between the melting of the iron ore and the making of the hydrogen and less than the 5-6 megawatt-hours consumed in conventional integrated steelmaking. He also says a “core innovation was the development of the metallic chrome and iron anode that isn’t consumed in the process.”
» Read article   

» More about building materials

MODERNIZING THE GRID

LineVision
How to move more power with the transmission lines we already have
Grid-enhancing technologies enable us to get more out of existing power lines. Here’s an in-depth look at one such technology: dynamic line rating.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
July 29, 2022

Over the past few months, we’ve been covering how the U.S. transmission grid isn’t expanding and modernizing fast enough to support the enormous growth of clean energy needed to decarbonize our electricity. We’ve also been covering how regulators, utilities and energy industry players are trying to surmount the technical, legal and economic barriers to building out a 21st-century grid.

But in the meantime — and given how long it takes to build new transmission lines, that meantime could be a long time indeed — there are ways to expand the clean-energy capacity of the power grids we already have. One of the most effective methods for doing this could be using grid-enhancing technologies, or GETs for short.

The term GETs covers a variety of technologies, each with its own role to play. Dynamic line-rating systems can reveal that high-voltage power lines are able to safely carry more electricity than previously known. Topology optimization software can discover ways to configure transmission grid networks to ease power flow bottlenecks that are preventing power from reaching customers. Power flow routing devices can actively direct the flow of electrons from overloaded to underutilized power lines in real time.

Real-world deployments of these GETs over the past decade have shown that they can cost-effectively deliver benefits like redirecting power flows around congested grid lines and reducing the cost of interconnecting more solar and wind power resources. More recent studies have shown that using multiple types of GETs in tandem can unlock enormous amounts of latent capacity on U.S. transmission grids.

A study last year indicated that the use of GETs on the grids crisscrossing the wind-rich plains of Oklahoma and Kansas could double the capacity for new clean energy projects and reduce the amount of power lost to grid congestion, yielding paybacks twice the cost of deploying the technologies in the first year of operations alone.

And in February of this year, the U.S. Department of Energy released a study indicating GETs could pay back their costs through higher production and increased capacity for renewables in New York state within half a decade — far more quickly than traditional grid upgrades.

Achieving these hypothetical best-case scenarios from GETs deployments will take a lot of work, however. Despite their growing track record in delivering real-world value in deployments in Europe and Australia, GETs are just beginning to be put to use in active grid planning and operations in the U.S. Integrating multiple technologies across wide swaths of the grid is still in the realm of computer modeling rather than real-world grid operations.
» Read article       
» Read The Brattle Group report
» Read the DOE report

» More about modernizing the grid

CLEAN TRANSPORTATION

gigaboost
EV battery plants in US anticipate boost from $2.5B federal loan
A DOE loan to Ultium Cells, a joint venture of GM and LG Energy Solutions, is aimed at upping domestic production of EV batteries, a sector now dominated by China.
By Jeff St. John, Canary Media
July 26, 2022

The U.S. lags behind China in the capacity to build the batteries it will need to meet its growing demand for electric vehicles. The U.S. Department of Energy is planning to loan a U.S. battery manufacturing consortium $2.5 billion to help change that.

DOE’s Loan Programs Office announced Monday that it has made a conditional commitment to lend the money to Ultium Cells, a joint venture of U.S. automaker General Motors and South Korean battery giant LG Energy Solutions. If approved by the DOE, the loan could help Ultium finance the battery-pack gigafactories it’s building in Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

It would be the first loan for battery-pack manufacturing from the Loan Programs Office’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program, which loaned a total of about $8 billion to Ford, Nissan and Tesla between 2007 and 2010. Since then, EVs have grown from a niche product to a primary focus for many automakers in the U.S. and around the world, as governments have set mandates aimed at ensuring that fossil-fueled cars, vans and trucks can be replaced with zero-emissions vehicles quickly enough to forestall the worst harms of climate change.

President Biden has set a goal for half of all U.S. auto sales to be electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030, a target that will require a massive scale-up of EVs and battery production. ​“Those vehicles should be, to the best of our ability, made here in the United States — and the batteries should be made here, and as many of the components as possible should be made here,” said Jigar Shah, head of DOE’s Loan Programs Office.
» Read article       

» More about clean transportation

CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION

methane and CCS
High Carbon Capture Rates at U.S. Coal Plant a ‘Myth’, IEEFA Analysis Shows
By The Energy Mix
August 2, 2022

A proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) plant in the United States will capture far less than the 95% of carbon dioxide emissions its backers claim, concludes a new analysis released this week by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

A full life cycle assessment of the proposed CCS retrofit at New Mexico’s San Juan Generating Station “shows 90% or higher capture is a myth,” IEEFA writes in a release. It “estimates the overall carbon capture rate from both the power plant and the mine that provides its coal would be no more than 72%, and could be significantly lower,” even though “companies continually promise a capture rate of 95%.”

Moreover, project proponent Enchant Energy “acknowledges there is little investor interest in its carbon capture project and it will be asking for US$1 billion from the federal government” to get the job done, IEEFA says.

The San Juan project is a retrofit to be bolted on to an existing power plant, not a new installation, and it’s meant to capture emissions from a coal-fired power plant, not oil or gas—so the process is somewhat different from approaches now in development in the Canadian fossil industry.

But IEEFA says its findings are applicable to other types of carbon capture projects. That conclusion reinforces concerns that the Trudeau government has agreed to a generous subsidy for a technology that still isn’t ready for prime time after 30 years of development—even though more proven, less expensive alternatives are readily at hand.

The institute says this is one of the first studies to look at a carbon capture scheme across its full life cycle—in this case, from extraction to final electricity production. It concludes that:

  • Even if Enchant hits its 90% capture target for the power plant, methane emissions from the associated coal mine will bring CO2-equivalent emissions capture down to 68%. That will leave the Farmington, NM-based energy supplier touting a “low-carbon” project that still emits the equivalent of nearly three megatons of CO2 per year.
  • If the power plant hits a more realistic target of 65 to 75% carbon capture, the life cycle capture rate will fall to between 49 and 57%.
    » Read article       
    » Read IEEFA’s report: Carbon Capture’s Methane Problem

going giga
Going giga: The race to scale up the direct air capture industry
Construction has begun in Iceland on the world’s largest direct air capture facility to date, as the industry looks to scale at a pace rarely seen in the history of commercial markets. Net zero depends on it.
By Oliver Gordon, Energy Monitor
August 1, 2022

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the world will need to remove billions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere – and that’s on top of the vast quantities of emissions cuts also required.

However, last month, on a grassy, far-flung stretch of the Icelandic tundra, an important step was taken towards that aspiration: Swiss company Climeworks broke ground on its newest and largest direct air capture and storage (DAC+S) facility to date, Mammoth.

Climeworks opened the world’s first DAC facility, Orca, in September 2021 – also in Iceland. Now, following a $650m equity raise earlier this year, the company plans to rapidly scale up the market’s capacity by introducing large, modular DAC facilities and investing vast sums in developing the technology. Mammoth has been designed with a nominal CO2 capture capacity of 36,000 tonnes (t) per year – an order of magnitude larger than Orca’s 4,000t capacity – when fully operational in 18–24 months’ time.

However, to avoid climate catastrophe, DAC+S technologies need to reach gigatonne capacity at a pace that would make the solar and wind power industries blush. At the Direct Air Capture Summit in Zurich, Switzerland, in July 2022, the industry’s great and good gathered to discuss just how to scale up at such an unprecedented rate.

In Zurich, Climeworks founders Dr Christoph Gebald and Dr Jan Wurzbacher said going giga would require $30–50bn of investment per year from 2030 onwards. That would represent 10% of the annual investment made into renewable energy capacity today: an ambitious target that will require the private and public sectors to work closely together.

Large-scale deployment will also be heavily influenced by the green energy requirements of powering DAC facilities. Conservative projections estimate the industry will require up to 25GW of wind and solar capacity per year from 2030 onwards, accounting for roughly 10% of the installed wind and solar capacity in 2021 and 3% of the annual capacity projected as of 2030.

“The gigatonne target is ambitious, but the numbers are clear: it is doable,” said Gebald. “To make this happen, corporate action, investments, policy-shapers and regulatory guidelines need to come together.”
» Read article       

» More about CCS

FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Lenorah colors
Hidden Menace: Massive methane leaks speed up climate change

By MICHAEL BIESECKER and HELEN WIEFFERING, Associated Press
July 28, 2022

LENORAH, Texas (AP) — To the naked eye, the Mako Compressor Station outside the dusty West Texas crossroads of Lenorah appears unremarkable, similar to tens of thousands of oil and gas operations scattered throughout the oil-rich Permian Basin.

What’s not visible through the chain-link fence is the plume of invisible gas, primarily methane, billowing from the gleaming white storage tanks up into the cloudless blue sky.

The Mako station, owned by a subsidiary of West Texas Gas Inc., was observed releasing an estimated 870 kilograms of methane – an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere each hour. That’s the equivalent impact on the climate of burning seven tanker trucks full of gasoline every day.

But Mako’s outsized emissions aren’t illegal, or even regulated. And it was only one of 533 methane “super emitters” detected during a 2021 aerial survey of the Permian conducted by Carbon Mapper, a partnership of university researchers and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The group documented massive amounts of methane venting into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations across the Permian, a 250-mile-wide bone-dry expanse along the Texas-New Mexico border that a billion years ago was the bottom of a shallow sea. Hundreds of those sites were seen spewing the gas over and over again. Ongoing leaks, gushers, going unfixed.

“We see the same sites active from year to year. It’s not just month to month or season to season,” said Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona who leads Carbon Mapper.

Carbon Mapper identified the spewing sites only by their GPS coordinates. The Associated Press took the coordinates of the 533 “super-emitting” sites and cross-referenced them with state drilling permits, air quality permits, pipeline maps, land records and other public documents to piece together the corporations most likely responsible.

Just 10 companies owned at least 164 of those sites, according to an AP analysis of Carbon Mapper’s data. West Texas Gas owned 11.
» Read article      
» Read update: EPA announces flights to look for methane in Permian Basin

» More about fossil fuels 

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