Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2011

By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 29, 2011

Google added Duke. Duke is in the Google circle.

Since Duke is a socially connected campus, that may not have surprised you, but would you have guessed the connection was made over hog waste?

In early September, Google announced it had partnered with the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative (DCOI) to invest in and purchase offsets from the recently operational Loyd Ray Farms Swine Waste-to-Energy Project developed in partnership between DCOI and Duke Energy.

Before I go any further, let me remind you that an offset is a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under proposed cap and trade programs, for example, offsets would come from reductions that take place in a sector of the economy that is not regulated under the cap. In the currently unregulated market, offsets are essentially one person saying to another “I will pay you to reduce your emissions because I can’t reduce mine, but I’m going to take the credit for that reduction.”

This is exactly the case for Google. In 2007, Google decided that it would become carbon neutral. According to the Google Green Blog, it has pursued neutrality on three fronts: increasing its energy efficiency, purchasing and driving the market for renewable energy sources and purchasing offsets for the remainder of their emissions. According to company literature Google has been carbon neutral since 2007.

Duke is not a mint like Google with its ad revenue. Google’s role in the offsets market is primarily to drive demand for high quality offsets; the mission of the University and the DCOI is slightly different. Instead of simply purchasing existing offsets in an underdeveloped market, DCOI was established in June 2009 with a dual objective. The first objective is to develop a portfolio of offsets for Duke to purchase in 2024, the target date for carbon neutrality. The second objective of the DCOI is to act as a catalyst for innovation and standards development within the burgeoning North Carolina offsets market in particular, and in so doing, share that learning with the broader community.

To fulfill this mission, DCOI is developing projects, banking offsets and brokering offsets to develop more offsets. DCOI is engaging the University research community, students, funding agencies and Duke Energy to develop the knowledge base for future offsets models in an open and transparent way.

In the brief history of the DCOI, the Loyd Ray Farms Swine Waste-to-Energy Project is an excellent first.

It took about three years to develop and construct the open source system from off the shelf technology. In addition to destroying the methane produced by the hogs, the system powers a 65-kW microturbine that feeds electricity back onto the farm and also powers the waste water treatment process which treats odors, ammonia emissions, nitrogen, phosphorus and heavy metals. The system, which came online in May, 2011, also controls releases to surface and groundwater.

Before full success can be declared, reliability of the system must be confirmed, other co-benefits must be measured and verified and the cost of the system needs to come down so the benefits are a net positive for the farmers.

Google, it turns out, has high standards for its offsets. Their involvement on the project not only lends a high level of production value, it is also an endorsement of the DCOI and Duke Energy project in particular.

So is all of this a green-washing hogwash?

As Google’s Green Team will tell you, capturing and converting methane into carbon dioxide may seem counter-intuitive. But, methane, the target pollutant of agricultural and landfill gas collection systems is a potent greenhouse gas, 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. So the conversion works out to a significant reduction.

On the other hand, the offsets generated by this project and enabled through a cap and trade scheme are an end-of-pipe solution. They achieve a marginal improvement. Plus, both of these sources of methane, agriculture and landfills, don’t just exist naturally, society creates them through supply and demand for meat and a disposable lifestyle.

So DCOI, now with the support of Google, is doing more than just putting lipstick on a pig. But we need to remember that the DCOI is just one initiative under the Climate Action Plan and Duke’s journey toward being carbon neutral.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

Link to original publication.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 15, 2011

Brian will annoy you with his enthusiasm. He will irritate you with his optimism.

But, Brian is exactly the kind of person Duke needs to get this climate neutrality thing done.

Brian Williams (not the one from NBC), is the transportation demand management coordinator at Duke Parking and Transportation (DPT). He has only been on the job for a year, but he is making progress.

The 2009 Climate Action Plan (CAP) laid out the challenge.

According to the CAP, transportation accounts for approximately 23 percent of Duke’s baseline greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. Commuters contribute about 52 percent, while air travel (43 percent) and the campus fleet (5 percent) make up the rest.

Brian’s focus is on alternative transportation. It’s his job to create the right incentives and implement programs that entice commuters and residential students to move from high impact modes of transportation (the single occupant vehicle (SOV)) to lower impact modes of transport like carpooling, vanpooling, public transit, bikes or walking.

This month’s Green Devil Challenge is on point in urging the Duke community to “Get Electrified” and to engage the latest batch of Brian’s alternative transportation options including WeCar, GoPass and the not yet arrived hybrid articulating busses which are slated to start service later this semester.

First, WeCar: WeCar is the new ZipCar-only-better (according to Brian) program run by Enterprise, and yes, they will come pick you up for extended rentals—on campus!

WeCar ratchets up the sex appeal of campus car-sharing programs with four Chevrolet Volts. These plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are touted to be the most fuel-efficient compact car sold in the U.S. They will travel approximately 35 miles (which is sufficient for most local trips) on a full charge before engaging the gasoline engine. Just remember to plug it in when you return—sharing is caring, after all!

An Enterprise representative who was checking up on the Volts, which reside just outside the Bryan Center, told me the usage on the vehicles has been good and steadily growing, as has membership in the WeCar program itself, which arrived on campus Aug. 15, 2011.

Although the program appears to be on track to duplicate and hopefully expand on the success of its predecessor, ZipCar, the reduction of SOVs and SOV trips on campus as a result of either program is unclear.

The second exciting edition to the alternative transportation arsenal is the new GoPass program. Replacing the old subsidized system, GoPass is essentially a free bus pass providing access to the regional transportation network (DATA , TTA, CAT and C-Tran) to students and those faculty and staff with offices on or adjacent to Duke’s Durham campus.

According to Brian, under the old program, approximately 600 to 700 people used public transportation and had a partially subsidized pass. Since the new GoPass program was announced, roughly 4,500 Dukies have claimed their GoPass—a plastic swipe card tied to your Duke unique ID. Of those new card holders, Brian reported that about 1,500 have used their card to access the public transit network at least once. However, more analysis of ridership patterns and improved usage rates will be required before the program can be called a true success. Regardless, the initial enthusiasm is impressive.

In addition to the new and modified programs, older programs, like the free Bull City Connector bus between Duke and Durham, carpool permits and the bike commuter program are also still available and building momentum.

Changes in culture can be difficult and can take a long time to manifest themselves. So when Brian reported that the number of carpool permit and bike commuter applications is much higher than last year and creating a backlog at the DPT offices, my first response was nearly an enthusiastic fist pump.

Unfortunately, I also know the flip side this backlog implies: it’s the frustration and confusion that comes from interacting with an over worked and stressed out DPT staff. Barriers get erected, communication breaks down, assumptions are made, progress is stunted, groups feel alienated … you get the idea.

So, we might all agree that good communication, clear information and useful resources are excellent, although non-trivial goals going forward now that a good foundation of alternative transportation options has been constructed. Good thing Brian is confident he can meet the challenge. In fact, he has already started with targeted in-person outreach, access maps for well served housing locations in Durham, maps of bike facilities on campus and informational how-to videos. And there’s so much more to come.

Lest you think I place too much faith in one man, I dare you to meet Brian. His infectious optimism for positive change will rub off and leaving you humming: “Always look on the bright side of life …”

See, we can all be like Brian.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

Link to original publication

Read Full Post »

By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 1, 2011

I started the day out in Page Auditorium, surrounded by first-years who were eagerly introducing themselves and comparing the size and location of their dorm rooms. Many of them had a green book with white writing splashed across the cover: their summer reading assignment.

In an attempt to follow-up on my column last Spring about the book, “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, I attended both sessions of the author’s speech to the first-year students, then sat with a FAC-led discussion group after each lecture.

The unprompted discussions surrounding the book may have reached deeper and more complex places than those I observed. Yet, the gist of this book’s impact was clearly evident and it ran the spectrum.

Some members of the Class of 2015 were uncomfortable, bored or otherwise turned off by the book. Some didn’t finish it, or claimed to have been unmoved. On the other hand, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the freshmen I spoke with said they had altered their eating habits significantly, had tried for at least some time to be vegetarians or had become full-fledged vegetarians.

It would therefore seem that Foer was extremely successful in his argument. I agree with him from an environmental perspective, Foer has the facts in his corner. Factory farming is bad, and that’s not even getting into the health or animal welfare issues associated with consuming meat.

But what bothered me most all day were the things Foer did not talk about. Foer’s seems to assert that the best way to address the problem of factory farming is to become a vegetarian. Though I understand space in the book was limited, this is simplistic. In a sense, it is the opt-out method. The book not only does nothing to address the factory farming issue culturally (a word Foer never uses), it also under informs.

One student in each question and answer session asked Foer why he stopped shy of veganism, that is, before fully personally confronting the factory farming of all animal products. Time, and that he’s not perfect, was the general gist of the response. The answer hardly seemed satisfying, although certainly, as he also pointed out, it was more approachable than an academic or logical explanation.

He also did not talk about the sourcing of the alternative option he presents, namely vegetables and the attendant issues related to their industrialized production. While arguably less impactful than animal product production, industrialized vegetable agriculture should be no less of a concern to the truly engaged and thoughtful eater.

Those who entered Foer’s discussion were presented with a local way to get further involved: a bookmark with the website: http://sites.duke.edu/food/

As the sun was nearing the treetops, I was headed toward one such center for engagement (also described on the website), the Duke Campus Farm, a sustainable, organic, demonstration farm with the motto: farm to fork, student to student. Foer’s choice to remain silent about vegetables wasn’t going to stop me from learning about them.

In the space of a three hour “workday,” I learned a lot—like how to prune basil, pick corn and what was making the tomato plants look dead but still productive (blight). I also learned about corn smut, a fungus that attacks the corn kernels making them appear engorged.

While I was harvesting your Marketplace meal of last Friday (no smut included), I also bonded with my fellow farm workers, who were a bit more practiced and knowledgeable. I eventually found my cherry tomato picking rhythm, but I would probably not cut it in a competitive work environment.

And then there was a rustling under the leaves of the sweet potato patch. A bunny. It was impossible to see unless it moved. The others came with sticks and a strong conviction that the bunny must go, but whether to relocate it or kill it was an open question. For several minutes we puzzled through the ridiculous notions that the bunny would go lightly into the proffered bucket for relocation, or when prompted, opt for a ride in the snare tarp instead of escaping under it. Meanwhile the bunny had other plans entirely, and it elusively outmaneuvered the big sticks, buckets and tarps making a clean getaway back the way it came.

So it was that the day’s literal and philosophical puzzle boiled down to that age old question: To kill or not to kill the bunny? And, how?

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

Link to original publication

Read Full Post »