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Biodiversity just as powerful as climate change for healthy ecosystems

Science Daily | Posted on September 14, 2017

Biodiversity is proving to be one of humanity's best defenses against extreme weather. In past experiments, diversity has fostered healthier, more productive ecosystems, like shoreline vegetation that guards against hurricanes. However, many experts doubted whether these experiments would hold up in the real world. A study offers a decisive answer: biodiversity's power in the wild surpasses experimental predictions, in some cases topping even effects of climate.

Does it make sense to use poultry litter as fuel?

Watt Ag Net | Posted on September 11, 2017

One of the disadvantages of industrial-scale use of poultry litter as a fuel is the high cost of hauling litter off the farm, because litter is high in moisture and isn't as energy dense as coal. Excel Energy plans to buy the Fibrominn 55-megawatt poultry litter-burning power plant in Benson, Minnesota, and shut it down. The plant has been in operation for 10 years and it is still the only one of its kind in the U.S. I have lost track of the number of other similar projects that have been proposed in just about every major poultry growing area of the country that were never developed.The bottom line is that other forms of alternative energy, like wind, can generate electricity for a fraction of the cost of operating a large-scale litter-burning plant. But what about on-farm use of poultry litter as a fuel? Global Re-Fuel is a start-up company that is betting that on-farm furnaces for heating poultry houses with poultry litter will prove to be an economical alternative for growers. The 500,000-British-thermal-unit-per-hour furnace that the company has developed is being marketed for $100,000. One furnace should be able to heat two poultry houses.Burning poultry litter on-farm eliminates the hauling cost issues faced when litter is aggregated from multiple farms to serve an industrial user. Unlike industrial-scale facilities, poultry farms have had to rely on propane as the primary fuel to heat houses. Propane is not as economical a fuel as are coal and natural gas.I have covered several biomass-burning furnaces for poultry houses over the years. Furnaces have been designed to burn everything from poultry litter to hay to corn to heat poultry houses. One drawback of these systems has been that they require more attention than do propane powered systems, because feeding the fuel into the furnace requires human intervention. With propane, the grower just has to monitor the amount of fuel left in the tank and remember to order more.Biomass furnaces, including ones that burn poultry litter, are located outside the poultry house and exhaust outside the poultry house. Combustion inside the poultry house, as is the case with propane heaters, introduces carbon dioxide and water vapor into the air of the house. Research has shown that bird performance is improved when external furnaces are used because the ammonia level in the house is reduced, litter moisture is lower and ventilation rates in the house can also be reduced.

Judge: Trump Delay of Obama Coal Rule Was Illegal

US News and World Report | Posted on September 7, 2017

A federal judge in San Francisco says the Trump administration illegally delayed an Obama-era rule intended to increase royalty payments to taxpayers from companies that extract oil, gas and coal from federal land.

China targets farm waste as a 'clean' power source

Reuters | Posted on September 5, 2017

China will pay farmers to turn animal poo into fertilizer and power, the Ministry of Agriculture said on Wednesday, as Beijing cracks down on agricultural pollution that has for years leaked into rivers and lakes, angering Chinese residents. China will give farmers subsidies to build animal waste processing facilities to make fertilisers or to treat manure so it’s safe for disposal, and to install biogas plants that use methane to generate electricity, according a government plan announced on Aug. 1.The plan includes setting up recycling programs by 2020 in 200 major counties that have livestock farms. That’s less than half the 586 major counties the government says have hog and poultry farms.The agriculture ministry gave no details about the size of the subsidies, but the move could be a big step toward curbing chemical fertilizer use and cutting water pollution.

Wind Energy Is One of the Cheapest Sources of Electricity, and It's Getting Cheaper

Scientific American | Posted on August 31, 2017

A comprehensive survey of the wind industry shows wind energy is routinely purchased in bulk for just 2 cents per kilowatt-hour — and turbines are only getting cheaper, bigger, and better

Farmers, experts: solar and agriculture ‘complementary, not competing’ in North Carolina

Southeast Energy News | Posted on August 31, 2017

On a 120-acre farm in Biscoe, North Carolina, near the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest, a flock of hair sheep takes shelter from the summer sun beneath a row of solar panels.  They provide a valuable service to O2 emc – the Cornelius-based company that owns this solar installation – by preventing weeds that could block sunlight and decrease the panels’ efficiency.“What we’re trying to do is put agriculture and solar right next to each other,” says Brock Phillips of Sun-Raised Farms, who owns and manages the sheep. “It can be quite symbiotic if implemented correctly.” Building on an April analysis from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and the state’s agricultural agency, the latest study finds that less than a third of 1 percent of North Carolina’s 4.75 million acres of cropland now houses solar panels – belying criticisms that large-scale solar arrays are threatening the state’s traditional farms. With a new law adopted this summer expected to more than double the state’s solar capacity – mostly in the form of utility-scale installations – the numbers will undoubtedly increase.

10 Advanced Bioeconomy Places to Watch in Iowa

Biofuels Digest | Posted on August 30, 2017

Eddyville, Fort Dodge, Clinton, Newton, Cedar Rapids. Communities like these have been mainstays of the Iowa bioeconomy for years, even decades — home to corn and soy processing on the largest world scale, and much much more — integrated complexes of advanced refining where companies share infrastructure and often where the residues of the one process become feedstocks for another. They’ve been to farm products what fossil fuel hot spots like the Baytown, Texas mega-complex have meant to oil refining. Now, they have company. A new generation of technologies are coming forward, and a new generation of technologists. Research centers have become the focal point for Iowa’s future, and a slew of new bioindustrial towns — some famed for many years for their role in the bioeconomy, some emerging out of relative obscurity. They’re clean, they’re green, they’re growing, they’re an engine for the economies around them — and unusually and deeply interconnected not only to their R&D roots but to the existing bioeconomy infrastructure. They are linking the city and countryside in an unforgettable manner.

In solar scuffle, big utilities meet their match

High Country News | Posted on August 30, 2017

The Nevada regulators’ order was the most extreme example of a nationwide effort by corporate utilities — panicked about losing market share and profits — to roll back net-metering policies. It’s backed by the deep pockets of fossil fuel industrialists like the Koch brothers, conservative lobbying groups like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the electricity industry’s own trade group, the Edison Electric Institute. But the Nevada regulators unexpectedly sparked a fierce resistance movement, comprised not only of environmentalists and clean-energy advocates, but also libertarians, small-business owners like Helton, and ordinary citizens who have installed rooftop panels or thought about doing so. It’s not just a battle between dirty and clean energy; it involves corporate profits, individual freedom and the appropriate role of government in incentivizing market shifts. And if the ultimate outcome in Nevada is any indication, the utilities have a tough fight ahead of them. Public support for rooftop solar is broadening, even among people who don’t plan to use it themselves. “People like solar. It appeals to everyone from libertarians to the far left. The beauty of solar, particularly rooftop solar, is it doesn’t have a single narrative that’s driving it,” says Shelly Welton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, who tracks renewable energy policies around the country. Some people like it because it saves money, others because it helps fight climate change. Many simply enjoy being self-sufficient.

Pruitt, EPA Should Heed Court Ruling, Boost RFS Biofuel Blending Levels

25 X 25 | Posted on August 30, 2017

In a radio interview in Iowa late last week, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt made pretty clear the rational that went into his agency proposing lower levels of cellulosic biofuels, advanced biofuels, and total renewable fuels that would be required for blending under the next Renewable Fuel Standard rule: “Production levels and demand matter.” Pruitt goes on to express his concern that his agency is being “used in setting those [RFS blending targets] in a way to encourage ‘blue-sky’ thinking.” He is referring to the concept that the standard’s annual blending targets (Renewable Volume Obligations, or RVOs) were set by the 2007 law that reauthorized and strengthened the RFS to encourage oil refiners to build the infrastructure required to meet the blending levels prescribed.Pruitt’s characterization of EPA and its role in setting the RFS RVOs does not set well with renewable fuel advocates because it seems to run contrary to a federal appellate court ruling earlier this month that found that the EPA was wrong in previous years when it set lower biofuel levels.The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that EPA exceeded its authority in previous years when the agency interpreted the law establishing the RFS as giving it the authority to reduce biofuel mandates if it determined there was insufficient infrastructure to deliver it.

How rural co-ops are shifting to a cleaner power mix

Utility Dive | Posted on August 30, 2017

Driven by wind credits, low gas prices and consumer demand, rural co-ops are finding new ways to grow renewables. “Wind is set to remain the largest non-hydro renewable resource deployed by cooperatives, with more than 850 MW of new wind PPAs planned over the next two years, accounting for nearly two-thirds of planned additions,” according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s 2016 outlook.Generation and transmission co-ops made up the top 10 wind builders in 2016. But some are looking beyond wind energy to electric vehicles and water heaters to better integrate renewable energy. And in some areas, natural gas prices are still low enough to threaten wind energy development.