Information of Interest, May/June 2011
1. Study Addresses Freshwater Species Extinction & Development Policy
(www.iwr.usace.army.mil/) – At Congressional hearings in 2002, critics testified that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works projects have been and continue to be “among the leading reasons” for freshwater species disappearance in North America. These critics also indicated that “agency-wide biases, institutional barriers and faulty analyses are all contributing to the continued degradation of the nation’s rivers and wetlands.”
If these and other claims are accurate, Corps actions since the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and other Federal environmental laws were passed have been inconsistent with long-established policy that commits the Corps to pursuit of beneficial national economic development (NED) while protecting the environment.
These claims raised concerns about Corps policy effectiveness, an issue that was a major impetus for the Institute of Water Resources (IWR) study. But an equally important motivation for the study was identification of areas of freshwater species decline where the Corps could use its environmental mission and ecosystem restoration authority to address environmental problems of national significance.
Study objectives were: 1.) to estimate past and projected future rates of species extinction in the freshwaters of the United States, 2.) to compare freshwater species extinction rate to terrestrial extinction rate in the United States and to published estimates of worldwide rainforest extinction rate, 3.) to examine the historical, geographical and ecological context of extinction and imperilment in the United States for indications of cause, 4.) to discuss the issues that emerge and issue-management difficulties, and 5.) to identify potential restoration opportunities for the Corps. The results are compared with published analyses used to support the claims that the Corps has contributed and continues to contribute largely to conditions that threaten the sustainability of freshwater species.
Click here to read the report: The Sustainability of Freshwater Species and Water Resources Development Policy of the Army Corps of Engineers (PDF 1.02MB)
2. Artificial Leaf Direct-Converts Sunlight into Fuels from Water
(www.mit.edu) – MIT’s Nocera Research Group has developed an artificial leaf, which addresses one of the outstanding “Holy Grails” of science in the 21st century – the efficient and economical storage of solar energy in the form of fuels. The goal is to imitate photosynthesis, the process by which plants separate water into hydrogen and oxygen using solar light as the energy input.
The proposed device uses a PV to capture and convert absorbed light into charge-separated holes and electrons. Specially designed catalysts will capture the holes and electrons and use them to transform water into its chemical constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. The energy of those products will be released in a fuel cell, which recombines the hydrogen and oxygen to form water to start the process again. This advance will deliver water – with solar light as an input – as a renewable, environmentally benign storage vehicle for the future.
Daniel Nocera, PhD and research team leader, explained: “A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”
3. Report Highlights Executives’ Attitudes Towards Energy Efficiency
(www.economist.com) – A February 2011 Economist Intelligence Unit report reviews the importance of energy efficiency within businesses and their attitudes towards this issue. The global survey represents 278 senior executives within a range of industries throughout North America, Asia Pacific, Western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
As with most big business trends, two main questions arise: What risks do the climate agenda bring, and what opportunities might it generate? In response, companies are weighing the risk of doing nothing against the competitive advantage gained by embracing energy efficiency. While leading multinationals are taking aggressive steps to cut energy consumption, the survey reveals that many companies have not fully embraced the energy efficiency agenda, with respondents ranking their performance in this area as poor. To explore this and other issues, the Economist carried out a wide- ranging survey in October 2010. Some of the key findings are as follows:
- Almost one-half of respondents (49 percent) say that, in the past three years, energy efficiency programs have improved their company’s bottom line;
- While the cost-cutting angle is easily measurable, the intangible benefits to be gained from energy efficiency, while less easy to quantify, could be a significant source of business advantage;
- There are risks, too, in holding back from implementing energy-efficiency initiatives;
- Most businesses see energy efficiency becoming increasingly important, but are struggling with implementation;
- Few businesses are looking to their suppliers in evaluating policies;
- Not only do companies not rate their own performance highly, but there appears to be a notable disconnect between the perspectives of the C-suite and less senior managers.
To read the entire report, click here: Unlocking the Benefits of Energy Efficiency (PDF 1.04MB)
4. Department of Defense (DoD) May See Extra $1.5 Billion in Fuel Costs
(www.defensenews.com) – The Pentagon will face more than a $1 billion deficit in its fuel accounts if oil prices maintain their current level for the remainder of the year, according to the Defense Department’s top budget official.
“I’m worried about it. I think it is potentially a serious problem,” said Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s comptroller and chief financial officer, during a March 10 taping of the TV show, “This Week in Defense News.”
The Pentagon spends roughly $16 billion annually on fuel. About $11 billion is allocated from the base budget while the remaining $5 billion is spent in the Overseas Contingency Operations accounts, which primarily fund military operations in Afghanistan. If petroleum prices stay at the current level for the rest of the year, the DoD will have an additional $1 billion to $1.5 billion bill, Hale said. Crude oil prices are topping $100 per barrel. A $1 rise in the price of a barrel of petroleum sustained over a year increases DoD’s fuel costs by $130 million, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“If they spiked higher, then we would be substantially higher than that,” Hale said. “It is a concern.”
5. Marines’ Renewable Energy Technologies Exceed Expectations
(www.quantico.usmc.mil) – The U.S. Marine Corps has been attempting to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels through its Expeditionary Forward Operating Base (ExFOB) experiments. Although final analysis of its Afghanistan phase is due in May, reports already suggest renewable gear has a place in expeditionary operation, according to Capt. Adorjan Ferenczy, project officer at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL).
Feedback from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan, though preliminary, not only hints that more green gear may be sent down range, but that at least one of the original six ExFOB technologies has already exceeded expectations.
According to Ferenczy: “If there’s one system . . . that stood out the most, it’s SPACES (Solar Portable Alternative Communications Energy Systems). What the Marines from 3/5 were saying is that it reduced the number of batteries they had to take on patrols. SPACES, a flexible solar blanket intended to recharge batteries, proved rugged enough to go along with Company I Marines on patrol, reducing the weight of their gear humped outside the wire.”
Ferenczy also had qualified praise for the Ground Renewable Energy Networks system (GREENS), a solar panel intended to reduce Marines dependence on gas-powered generators in isolated forward operating bases. He commented that “in an austere environment, where logistical support is difficult and power requirements are low, the GREENS system is a great thing to have because it’s low maintenance and you don’t have to refuel it like a generator.”
Tactical and quality of life advantages for both solar technologies in terms of noise reduction were also evident. Ferenczy, who compared his own experience with the ExFOB feedback, commented that with this equipment, “you could walk into a tent and be able to talk without raising your voice.”
In addition, feedback from the operating forces thus far suggests solar systems offer reliability exceeding that of gas-powered generators. Ferenczy explained that the renewable technology “seemed to be a little more reliable than a generator system working in 100 degree-plus temperatures. It’s very hard to damage this type of gear.”
6. HDR Receives Phoenix Award for Memphis Depot Project
(www.hdrinc.com) – HDR and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) were awarded the 2010 Phoenix Award for EPA Region 4 on April 5, 2011 at the National Brownfields Conference in Philadelphia to honor the former Memphis Depot project. The Award honors individuals and groups working to solve the critical environmental challenge of transforming abandoned industrial areas into productive new uses.
HDR, the lead consultant on the Memphis Depot project for nearly six years, has been providing remedial action construction, operations and maintenance, long-term monitoring, community relations and programmatic support. This is the sixth time HDR has been selected for a Phoenix Award. The winning projects, including the former Defense Depot, were selected by a panel of environmental professionals, business and government leaders based on magnitude of project, innovative techniques, solutions to regulatory/social issues and impact on community.
HDR is an employee-owned architecture, engineering and consulting firm with approximately 7,800 professionals in more than 185 locations worldwide. All are committed to helping clients manage complex projects and to making sound decisions. HDR is ranked No. 11 overall in the 2010 Engineering News-Record Top 500 Design Firms survey. Learn more at www.hdrinc.com.