Get ready for the next wave of GMOs

October 2, 2020 by  
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Get ready for the next wave of GMOs Jim Giles Fri, 10/02/2020 – 02:00 One summer day almost 20 years ago, a group of protestors arrived at a plot of genetically modified corn growing near the town of Montelimar in southern France. They were led by José Bové , a left-wing activist famous for his skirmishes with the law and his tremendous moustache. Using machetes and shears, the protestors uprooted the crops and dumped the debris outside the offices of the regional government. I thought about Bové this week as I read a new report on the next generation of genetic food technology . The techniques in the report make the processes that Bové opposed look clunky. The GMOs he destroyed were created by inserting genes from other organisms — say a stretch of DNA that confers resistance to a particular herbicide — into a plant’s genome. This brute force approach is time-consuming and hard to control. Now scientists are using a new suite of gene-editing techniques, including a process known as CRISPR, to rapidly and precisely control the behavior of specific plant genes.  Gene-edited crops already exist. Scientists at the biotech firm Corteva, for example, have developed a high-yield strain of a variety of corn used in food additives and adhesives. Yet these initial advances belie the technology’s potential. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? The power of gene editing can be wielded to modify plants and, among other things, achieve significant sustainability wins. Here are a few potential outcomes explored in the new report, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation , a pro-technology think tank: Dramatic reductions in waste, made possible by engineering crops to produce food products that last longer on the shelf and are less susceptible to pests.  Lower greenhouse gas emissions from cattle, after CRISPR is used to alter the genetic activity of the methane-producing microbes that live in the animals’ stomachs. Reductions to the hundreds of millions of tons of methane emitted annually from rice production, thanks to new gene-edited rice strains. Increases in the carbon-sequestering power of crops, made possible by engineered arieties that put down deeper root systems. This potential is thrilling, and there are signs that it will arrive soon. In China, where the government has made a big bet on gene-editing technology , numerous labs are working on crop strains that require less pesticides, herbicides and water. In the United States, a small but growing group of gene-editing startups is bringing new varieties to market, including an oilseed plant that can be used as a carbon-sequestering cover crop during the winter .  Yet when I read the ITIF report, I thought of Bové. Not because I agree with everything he said. Twenty years and many studies later, we know that the anti-GMO activists were wrong to say that modified crops posed a threat to human health. (The demonization of GMOs had profound consequences nonetheless: Fears about the risks posed by the crops are one reason why the crops are highly restricted in Europe and viewed warily by some consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.) The reason I thought of Bové is that, at one level, he and other activists were pushing society to take a broader view of GMOs. They wanted people to ask who and what the crops were for, because they believed, rightly, that the crops were produced mainly with the profits of ag companies in mind. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing for ag companies to be profitable. But our food systems affect so many aspects of our lives — from the composition of the atmosphere to the prevalence of disease. When GMOs first began to be planted, there hadn’t been enough debate about how the technology might affect these things. No wonder people were angry. That’s a lesson I hope we can remember as gene editing shapes agriculture. Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? If they can, we might end up with crops that everyone wants. This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote Is there a way that civil society, government and businesses can come together to prioritize development of gene-edited crops that deliver social and environmental benefits as well as economic ones? Topics Food & Agriculture GMO Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Andriano Close Authorship

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Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the climate cloud

October 1, 2020 by  
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Amazon, Google, Microsoft and the climate cloud Heather Clancy Thu, 10/01/2020 – 01:30 Despite all they’re doing to address climate change with both emissions reduction plans, circular economy innovation and consumer awareness, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have been criticized — rightly so, in my mind — for their close ties to the oil and gas sector . All of them are using their artificial intelligence prowess and analytics power to help companies such as BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil continue exploration and extraction. When I asked Microsoft Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa about this tension last year, he told me that changes won’t happen overnight. “Any clear-eyed person recognizes that this happens over time,” he said. “We will be relying on fossil fuels for some time.” Indeed, the relationship Microsoft disclosed last week with Shell is slightly different. Broadly focused on the fossil fuels company’s digital transformation, the applications being built collaboratively by the two companies are aimed at measuring carbon emissions — both Shell’s and those of its suppliers and customers. As part of its long-term strategy, Shell declared a net-zero emissions target by 2050 back in April.  But there’s a lot more to the relationship. Microsoft will procure electricity from Shell’s renewable energy portfolio as it works toward its 100 percent goal, and the two aspire to advance the use of sustainable aviation fuels.  “These complex challenges can’t be solved in isolation, or by doing business as usual,” said Judson Althoff, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Worldwide Commercial Business, in the blog about the deal. “We are proud to play our role in a sustainable future, and we know that a successful energy transition depends on strong technology partnerships anchored in co-innovation and development with leaders in the energy sector.”  These complex challenges can’t be solved in isolation, or by doing business as usual. Climate action purists will probably argue that any relationship with an oil company is bad news, but this one seems a step in the right direction. Frankly, I’d love to see more alliances centered on using the power of cloud computing services to move an industry closer to business practices that mitigate the impact of climate change. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, another development I’m watching closely centers on how cloud services powered by Microsoft would help scale adoption of regenerative agriculture. Another deal that has my attention is one between the Google cloud team and Unilever’s supply chain organization. The two are working on an application that uses the tech company’s AI and analytics power, combined with satellite imagery from the Google Earth Engine, to surface data about deforestation, water usage and biodiversity across the consumer products giant’s suppliers. The initial focus will be on deforestation, starting with sustainable palm oil — although other commodities will be added in the future. Unilever has committed to a “deforestation-free” supply chain by 2023. “The combination of these sustainability insights with our commercial sourcing information is a significant step-change in transparency, which is crucial to better protect and regenerate nature.” While I haven’t heard Amazon tout any relationships at this scale, the company’s sustainability data initiative is working with businesses that are using its cloud services to handle tasks such as solar irradiance forecasting and climate risk assessments . One way that all three tech giants could counter their legacy relationships with the fossil fuels sector would be to work on more deals of this nature actively — ones that have the power to transform entire industries. I think it’s pretty clear that the most positive impact that Amazon, Google and Microsoft can have on the climate movement is using their cloud computing might to transform and transition other businesses. We need to see more of this.  Pull Quote These complex challenges can’t be solved in isolation, or by doing business as usual. Topics Corporate Strategy Information Technology Artificial Intelligence Analytics Featured Column Practical Magic Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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5 things to know about California’s gas car sales ban

September 30, 2020 by  
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5 things to know about California’s gas car sales ban Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 09/30/2020 – 00:00 Last week — as historic wildfires ravaged the forests of California — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a history-making executive order: The state will ban the sales of new gas-powered cars within the next 15 years.  It’s a huge move, and the strategy will provide a significant boost to the market for zero-emission vehicles. About 2 million new vehicles are sold in California each year. Essentially, starting in 2035 all of these would have to be electric. The order is equal parts inspiring and jarring for a state that’s built major parts of its economy, as well housing and business development, around the internal combustion engine vehicle. But transportation emissions are the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and they’ve been rising in recent years; state leadership needed to take aggressive measures now to reverse this trend.  Vehicle emissions also cause air pollution, so eliminating fossil fuel vehicles will clean up the state’s air (learn more about this topic in a webinar I’m running Thursday with City of Oakland, the California Air Resources Board and fuel company Neste).  The order is equal parts inspiring and jarring for a state that’s built major parts of its economy, as well housing and business development, around the internal combustion engine vehicle. Here are five things you should know about California’s historic executive order: The movement around gas car bans is growing: While California is the first state in America to set such a goal, countries and cities in Europe, as well as China , are taking similar measures. The United Kingdom is poised to move its fossil fuel-vehicle ban from 2040 to 2030, one of the most aggressive in the world and just 10 years from now. Many European cities are tackling transportation decarbonization and air pollution by banning the driving of fossil fuel-powered cars within city centers. The Southern California city of Santa Monica recently became one of the first American cities to ban deliveries with fossil fuel vehicles.  Even in California, the idea of banning new gas car sales in the state has been volleyed around the state legislature for a couple years. Assembly member Phil Ting first introduced a bill in 2018 that sought to achieve the new gas car ban by 2040, but it failed to get support (as did a subsequent bill with a more detailed plan). If you’re wondering why Newsom opted for an executive order: This idea hasn’t been able to make it to light in bill form in California. These movements are messy, and California’s will be, too: Because phasing out fossil fuel vehicles is such a new concept for many, expect a variety of fits and starts — and legal wrangling — around this order and these types of measures in general. A prime example is Madrid, which implemented a fossil fuel-free car zone in 2018. The ban led to protests, followed by a halt of the ban, followed by a reinstatement of the ban after data showed that the ban led to significantly less traffic and cleaner air in Madrid’s city center. California’s order will face legal challenges from the auto industry, and also potentially from the federal level, if the Trump administration is elected again in November. A lot rests on the shoulders of the California Air Resources Board, which is responsible for creating and implementing a plan.  No one is coming for your old gas car: The executive order says that Californians still will be able to continue to drive already-owned gas cars and buy used gas cars after 2035. New cars are on average kept for 10 or 11 years, so it likely will be another decade after 2035 before the gas cars bought up until 2035 will be phased out.  A big question in my mind is how will Californian consumer car buying habits react to this? Will they try to buy gas cars within the next decade to get one in before the ban? Will the ban make them start to see electric as inevitable and thus make the switch sooner? Could you buy a new gas car in, say, Southern Oregon and drive it down into California after 2035? We’re all going to be learning. This is an electric vehicle boost: California tries to shape its policies to be technology-agnostic. That’s why it says “zero-emission vehicles,” which can include EVs, but also fuel cell cars and anything else that can achieve zero emissions.  However, electric vehicles will be the real winner out of this order. EVs have been becoming increasingly cost-effective and convenient, thanks to dropping battery costs and greater availability of EV chargers. Other competing technologies, such as fuel cells, can’t compete as EVs start to scale. This will require a big infrastructure buildout: Expect to see a serious scaling up of charging infrastructure related to helping consumers charge electric vehicles at homes (multi-family included), businesses, stores, gas stations and more. If the state is mandating that its residents can only buy electric cars, it better make sure that everyone has access to convenient and equitable charging options.  Making sure that this order doesn’t disproportionately disadvantage low-income communities that are already paying more than their share for transportation will be key to making sure the order is implemented smoothly and fairly.  Pull Quote The order is equal parts inspiring and jarring for a state that’s built major parts of its economy, as well housing and business development, around the internal combustion engine vehicle. Topics Transportation & Mobility Zero Emissions Electric Vehicles Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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More reflections about regenerative grazing and the future of meat

September 25, 2020 by  
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More reflections about regenerative grazing and the future of meat Jim Giles Fri, 09/25/2020 – 01:30 Editor’s note: Last week’s Foodstuff discussion on the impact of regenerative grazing on emissions from meat production prompted a flurry of comments from the GreenBiz community. This essay advances the dialogue. Let’s get back to the beef brouhaha I wrote about last week. I’d argued that regenerative grazing could cut emissions from beef production , helping reduce the outsized contribution cattle make to food’s carbon footprint. This suggestion produced more responses than anything I’ve written in the roughly six months since the Food Weekly newsletter launched. The future of meat is a critical issue, so I thought I’d summarize some of the reaction. First up, a shocking revelation: There’s no truth in advertising. I’d written about a new beef company called Wholesome Meats, which claims to sell the “only beef that heals the planet.” Hundreds of ranchers actually already are using regenerative methods, pointed out Peter Byck of Arizona State University, who is leading a major study into the impact of these methods. This week, in fact, some of the biggest names in food announced a major regenerative initiative: Walmart, McDonald’s, Cargill and the World Wildlife Fund said they will invest $6 million in scaling up sustainable grazing practices on 1 million acres of grassland across the Northern Great Plains . Two members of that team also are moving to cut emissions from conventional beef production. We tend to blame cows’ methane-filled burps for these gases, but around a quarter of livestock emissions come from fertilizer used to grow animal feed . When we consider the best way forward, we have to think about what economists call an opportunity cost: the price we pay for not putting that land to different use. Farmers growing corn and other grains can cut those emissions by planting cover crops and using more diverse crop rotations — two techniques that McDonald’s and Cargill will roll out on 100,000 acres in Nebraska as part of an $8.5 million project. These and other emissions-reduction projects are part of Cargill’s goal to cut emissions from every pound of beef in its supply chain by 30 percent by 2030. Sounds great, right? You can imagine a future in which some beef, probably priced at a premium, comes with a carbon-negative label. Perhaps most beef isn’t so climate-friendly, but thanks to regenerative agriculture and other emissions-lowering methods, the burgers and steaks we love — on average, Americans eat the equivalent of more than four quarter-pounders every week — no longer account for such an egregious share of emissions. Well, yes and no. That future is plausible and would be a more sustainable one, but pursuing it may rule out a game-changing alternative. In the United States, around two-thirds of the roughly 1 billion acres of land used for agriculture is devoted to animal grazing . Two-thirds. That’s an extraordinary amount of land. And that doesn’t include the millions of acres used to grow crops to feed those animals. When we consider the best way forward, we have to think about what economists call an opportunity cost: the price we pay for not putting that land to different use. The alternative here is to eat less meat and then, on the land that frees up, restore native ecosystems, such as forests, which draw down carbon. This week, Jessica Appelgren, vice president of communications at Impossible Foods, pointed me to a recent paper in Nature Sustainability that quantified the impact of such a shift . The potential is staggering: Switching to a low-meat, low-dairy diet and restoring land could remove more than 300 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by 2050. That’s around a decade of global fossil-fuel emissions. In some regions, regenerative grazing techniques, which mimic an ancient symbiosis between animals and land, might be part of that restorative process. So maybe the trade-off isn’t as stark as it seems. But demand for beef is the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon, where the trade-off is indeed clear: We’re destroying the lungs of the planet to sustain our beef habit. Once you factor in land use, eating less animal protein and restoring ecosystems looks to be an essential part of the challenge of feeding a growing global population while simultaneously reducing the environmental impact of our food systems. That doesn’t mean everyone goes vegan, but it does mean we should cut back on meat and dairy. Pull Quote When we consider the best way forward, we have to think about what economists call an opportunity cost: the price we pay for not putting that land to different use. Topics Food & Agriculture Regenerative Agriculture Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Walmart drives toward zero-emission goal for its entire fleet by 2040

September 23, 2020 by  
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Walmart drives toward zero-emission goal for its entire fleet by 2040 Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 09/23/2020 – 01:50 If you needed any more evidence that America’s vehicle fleets are driving toward zero-emission status, it’s this: Walmart just announced that it will electrify and zero out emissions from all Walmart vehicles, including long haul trucks, by 2040.  That includes more than 10,000 vehicles, including 6,500 semi-trucks and 4,000 passenger vehicles. Up until this point, Walmart largely had emphasized fuel efficiency , although it also ordered several dozen Tesla electric semi-trucks for a Canadian fulfillment center.  Why the change? Zach Freeze, senior director of strategic initiatives and sustainability at Walmart, told GreenBiz that “more needs to be done,” and Walmart wanted to set the ambitious goal of zero emission “In order to get to zero, we need to transition the fleet,” Freeze said.  The semi-trucks will be the trickiest vehicles to adopt zero emission technologies, be that batteries, hydrogen or alternative fuels. Some heavy-duty truck fleets are opting for swapping in alternative fuels today, while the electric semi-truck market matures (check out this webcast I’m hosting Oct. 1 on the city of Oakland’s circular renewable diesel project). Expect Walmart’s 4,000 passenger vehicles to go electric much more quickly. Passenger EVs today can help fleets reduce their operating costs (less diesel fuel used) and maintenance costs, leading to overall lower costs for the fleets.  Walmart is just at the beginning of its zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) journey, but the strategy with its announcement is to “send a signal” to the market. “We want to see ZEV technology scaled, and we want to be on the front lines of that trend,” Freeze said.  Jason Mather, director of vehicles and freight strategy for the Environmental Defense Fund, described Walmart’s new goals in a release as “a critical signal to the industry that the future is zero-emissions.” However, these commitments only cover Scope 1 and 2 zero-emission commitments, not Scope 3. Of course, Walmart isn’t the only big company using ZEV goals to send market signals. Last year, Amazon announced an overall goal to deliver all of its goods via net-zero carbon shipments, and the retailer plans to purchase 100,000 electric trucks via startup Rivian.  Utility fleets will be another key buyer for electric trucks. Oregon utility Portland General Electric tells GreenBiz it plans to electrify just over 60 percent of its entire fleet by 2030. Utilities commonly use modified pick-up trucks, SUVs, bucket trucks, flatbed trucks and dump trucks. PGE says that 100 percent of its class 1 trucks (small pickups, sedans, SUVs) will be electric by 2025, while 30 percent of its heavy-duty trucks will be electric by 2030. Its entire fleet includes more than 1,000 vehicles. “It’s really important for us as a utility to be doing this. At the end of the day, we’ll be serving our customers’ electric fleet loads,” said Aaron Milano, product portfolio manager for transportation electrification at PGE. “It’s necessary that we learn and help our customers through this process.” I’ll be interviewing PGE CEO Maria Pope at our upcoming VERGE 20 conference , which will run half days across the last week in October, virtually of course. Tune in for a combination of keynotes and interactive discussions with leaders such as IKEA’s Angela Hultberg, Apple’s Lisa Jackson, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, Amazon’s Kara Hurst, InBev’s Angie Slaughter, the city of Seattle’s Philip Saunders and the Port Authority New York and New Jersey’s Christine Weydig.  Topics Transportation & Mobility Clean Fleets Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Walmart Close Authorship

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The broken system that sends most food waste and organic matter to landfills

September 4, 2020 by  
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The broken system that sends most food waste and organic matter to landfills Jim Giles Fri, 09/04/2020 – 00:15 How about this for a series of maddening statistics? Landfills in the United States generate 15 percent of the country’s emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with a potential warming impact 34 times that of carbon dioxide. The single largest input into U.S. landfills is food waste, yard trimmings and other organic matter. Sending organic matter to composting facilities rather than landfills dramatically lowers emissions — in fact, expanding composting globally would avoid or capture the equivalent of around 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050 . Only 4 percent of U.S. households are served by a municipal composting service.  Most commercial food waste is also dumped, meaning that just 6 percent of all U.S. food waste is diverted from landfill or combustion.  In summary: This is crazy. We’re dumping the feedstock for a valuable agricultural resource in landfills, where rather than fertilizing crops it generates emissions that accelerate the climate crisis. I wasn’t aware of quite how broken this system is until I moderated a panel on composting infrastructure at Circularity 20 last week. (Video of the panel soon will be online — sign up for Circularity updates to get notified when that happens.) Afterwards, I called up my fellow moderator Nora Goldstein, editor of Biocycle magazine , in search of solutions.  Goldstein explained that most waste management firms are compensated for every truckload of material they send to landfill. This locks them into the existing model. Some firms might want to move into composting, but doing so would cause a double financial hit: Reduced landfill fees plus upfront expenditures for creating new composting infrastructure. That’s not going to look good in the next quarterly earnings. What can the food industry do to help fix this? Structural change will require government action such as California’s SB 1383 , which commits the state to reducing organic waste by 75 percent by 2025. ( Climate Solution of the Year , according to one industry publication.) But that doesn’t mean the industry can’t take smaller steps without outside help. I heard a bunch of exciting ideas in the panel, during my conversation with Goldstein and in emails I received after the event. Here are a few: Food waste producers should discuss what’s possible with local waste operations, said panel member Alexa Kielty of the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Long-term collaboration between waste producers, local government and disposal companies enables the waste industry to invest in composting solutions. Do due diligence on contractors who offer organics disposal services, advised panel member Kevin Quandt of the Sweetgreen restaurant chain. To see why, read about Quandt’s tussles with less-than-honest contractors in this excellent Los Angeles Times story . Companies involved in the farming end of the food business should incorporate targets for compost use into their regenerative agriculture commitments, Goldstein suggested. Large composting facilities can take years to set up, but food waste producers can investigate smaller-scale options in the meantime, wrote Ben Parry, CEO of Compost Crew, an organics waste collector operating in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia area.  Speaking of small-scale solutions that companies could collaborate with, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced funding for 13 pilot projects to “develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction.”  I hope that list provides some ideas for how your organization can get involved in fixing this crazy problem. What did I miss? As always, I value your feedback. Email comments, critiques and complaints to jg@greenbiz.com .  Topics Food Systems Waste Management Waste Compost Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Tesla’s co-founder is pioneering a circular system for electric vehicle batteries

September 2, 2020 by  
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Tesla’s co-founder is pioneering a circular system for electric vehicle batteries Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 09/02/2020 – 01:30 This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about electric vehicle batteries and the massive potential for battery recycling and reuse. As the market for electric vehicles takes off, that means eventually hundreds of millions of EV batteries will be in use and then face end of life. The industry needs to make the process of EV battery production, use, reuse and recycling much more efficient. Why? A few reasons: Battery materials are very valuable, and a lot of money is invested into pulling those metals out of the ground. The production of EV batteries is very wasteful, meaning companies are losing a lot of money through wasted materials. After electric car batteries aren’t very good at moving a car anymore, they can be taken and used for other applications, such as for the power grid, potentially for several years. EV batteries contain materials that can be toxic and need to be safely recycled and responsibly managed through end of life.  EV companies are trying to position themselves as green, and having more efficient and circular battery systems helps with the brand. The cost of EV batteries needs to get even cheaper to reach mainstream, and reuse of battery materials can reduce the cost of battery production.  One reason I’ve been thinking about this issue is because of our excellent event Circularity , which the GreenBiz team put on last week. Speakers across the three days emphasized the crucial nature of developing products and systems that reduce or even eliminate waste, leading to more profits and less pollution for the planet. Lithium-ion batteries are clearly a candidate for such innovative circular thinking.  Another reason battery reuse and recycling is coming to light this week is because of the emergence of Redwood Materials , a startup founded by former Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel. The company, featured in a lengthy Wall Street Journal article over the weekend, has a plan to take scrap metal from EV battery production and use that for the raw materials of other EV batteries. By sourcing leftover materials from current factories, the company can help lower the cost of batteries and also reduce considerable waste. Redwood Materials is already working with Panasonic (Tesla’s battery partner) to take scrap metal from the Gigafactory in Nevada. Straubel says that in 10 years he thinks the company can deliver battery materials for half the cost of mined materials.  If you don’t know Straubel, he’s the young engineer who, almost 20 years ago, convinced Elon Musk that lithium-ion batteries would get cheap enough and powerful enough to move a car. The result was Tesla, and Straubel contributed so much to the company over the years that Musk coined him as a founder.  I, for one, am very excited to see the talented and passionate Straubel emerge from the Tesla/Musk juggernaut as a leader and entrepreneur in his own right.  I’ve also been thinking about circular EV batteries because I’m planning to host a conversation on this subjec t at our upcoming VERGE 20 event , which will run the last week in October. If you have ideas for speakers or framing on second-life batteries, drop me a note: katie@greenbiz.com .  Topics Transportation & Mobility Circular Economy Electric Vehicles Recycling Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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What the urban exodus in San Francisco bodes for car dependency and public transit

August 19, 2020 by  
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What the urban exodus in San Francisco bodes for car dependency and public transit Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 08/19/2020 – 01:45 For someone living in San Francisco for over a decade, the latest numbers showing an exodus from the notoriously hard-to-live-in city are jaw-dropping. Housing vacancies are skyrocketing. Rent prices are dropping. Parking spots in my neighborhood are suddenly empty. The numbers are complicated but also worrisome when it comes to encouraging car-dominant housing in a state that has seen the relentless rise (until very recently) of transportation-related carbon emissions.  San Francisco is unique in that the city had some of the highest housing prices in the nation, combined with serious urban issues such as an entrenched homeless crisis and a difficult school system. Many residents were already on the edge of ditching the city before the pandemic, and the squeeze of the public health crisis — and its negative affect on transit, nightlife and density worries — have become too much for many. Other high-priced cities, such as New York, are facing similar trends. I get it. I, too, have longed for greener pastures. And who knows, maybe I’ll join in the farewell.  But anecdotal evidence suggests that former San Francisco residents are fleeing for the suburbs and even more rural areas in the state. Tens of thousands of tech workers employed by Google, Apple, Twitter and more are planning to work from home until at least summer 2021 and maybe permanently.   A rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to any state’s ingrained housing and transportation problems. They can theoretically live wherever they want while working online. Homes in Tahoe — San Francisco’s northern mountain paradise — are flying off the shelves .  A strong demographic trend of families moving from regions where they don’t need to rely on car ownership to regions where they do could exacerbate California’s transportation emissions issues. Car sales in the Bay Area already have been on the rise in recent months as families buy “COVID cars” and avoid transit, ride-hailing and carpooling.  But the shifting demographic numbers are also complicated. If many workers are no longer commuting at all, will that result in a sustained, long-term dampening of California’s transportation emissions? It sure did during the shelter-in-place period this spring.  We just don’t know yet what the bigger picture looks like, how city services such as transit will adapt to our new world and just how long this whole thing will last. In addition, some smaller cities, not nearly as expensive as San Francisco and New York, have not seen the same type of exodus. Seattle, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Miami haven’t yet seen a sizable shift from urban to nearby suburban housing. I’m also hoping tech and innovation could provide new tools that could help. Fast broadband connections and services such as Zoom, of course, are enabling telework. But a substantial rise in electric vehicles also could help combat the emissions associated with a growth in car ownership. Perhaps we might see more new car-free communities , such as Culdesac Tempe in Arizona, prove popular for residents and lucrative for developers. What we do know is that a rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to California’s or other states’ ingrained housing and transportation problems. We need to think of new solutions that prioritize residents’ needs but also don’t embrace a car-dominant future. This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s weekly newsletter, Transport Weekly, running Tuesdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote A rise in the traditional suburbs built around car ownership is not the answer to any state’s ingrained housing and transportation problems. Topics Transportation & Mobility Public Transit Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next

August 14, 2020 by  
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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next Sarah Golden Fri, 08/14/2020 – 00:45 I had high hopes for microgrids this year. The cost has fallen, out-of-the-box solutions are more common and businesses and homes understand the expense of losing power. All signs pointed to this being the year of the microgrid.  Yet here we are, at the start of the new fire season, and we’re just launching programs and soliciting proposals designed to add more resilience. What happened? For one thing, regulation moves slowly. The California Public Utilities Commission fast-tracked a rule-making process in September to help accelerate the deployment of microgrids. With that process still underway, the regulator issued a short-term action to deploy microgrids in mid-June . You know, just a few weeks before the start of this fire season.  It’s also tough for major utilities to gear up new technologies — and they’re juggling a lot: clean energy targets; COVID-19 complications; and in some cases, bankruptcy. Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility and the originator of 2018’s deadly Camp Fire, is simply not on track to ensure clean energy reliability. Instead, the utility is planning to deploy mobile diesel generators . This stop-gap measure is low-tech and dirty — but it should keep sections of communities online in a way that deployments of customer-sited energy assets wouldn’t. To make matters worse, the coronavirus is slowing the deployment of microgrids. Shelter-in-place orders have delayed permitting, construction and interconnection of new projects. The first half of the year was the slowest period for microgrid deployments in four years, according to an analysis by Wood Mackenzie .  Speeding up microgrid deployments  Although 2020 has hit some hiccups (to put it mildly), California is well-positioned to see more microgrids soon.  Utilities are mandated to increase energy reliability while meeting clean energy requirements, and service providers are motivated to secure major utility contracts . The state is also working to address key barriers to accelerate deployment for customer-sited energy projects, according to Wood Mackenzie microgrid analyst Isaac Maze-Rothstein.  Because modular microgrid components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased.   Programs such as the California Public Utilities’ Self-Generation Incentive Program encourage more customers to install energy storage at home, and California’s SB 1339 aims to streamline interconnections, which will help bring more microgrids online and keep costs low. Additionally, more out-of-the-box microgrid solutions are coming, simplifying the whole process.  “We are seeing the emergence of modular microgrids over the last year,” Maze-Rothstein said in an email. “Because the components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased.” Examples include Scale Microgrid Solutions , Gridscape Solutions , Instant On and BlockEnergy . The value of resilience  A growing body of research is working to quantify the cost of inaction.  We know outages — from extreme weather, natural disasters, physical attacks and cyber attacks — are becoming more frequent. And they’re expensive. Weather-related outages alone cost Americans $18 billion to $33 billion each year between 2003 and 2012, according to the Department of Energy . One of last year’s planned outages in California cost the local economy an estimated $1.8 billion . At the same time, the technologies that would keep the lights on are maturing — and providing a potential new source of revenue. As energy assets become more interconnected and grid operators look for added flexibility, energy asset deployments look increasingly economically attractive. Analysis from Rocky Mountain Institute modeled the economics of solar-plus-storage systems for the approximately 1 million customers affected by last year’s planned power shutoffs in California. It found that those customers would have enjoyed a combined net benefit of $1.4 billion, a calculation that takes into account the value of the energy assets’ contribution to the grid.  In a separate report, RMI showed the falling cost of batteries coupled with better energy management technologies often make the payback period of solar-plus-storage shorter than solar alone.  The calculations show the investments pay back faster for commercial customers, as the economic impacts of shuttering businesses are easier to quantify. This article is adapted from GreenBiz’s newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote Because modular microgrid components are all built primarily in factory, the construction timelines — and total system costs — can be significantly decreased. Topics Energy & Climate Renewable Energy Microgrids Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Equipment from Gridscape, one of several companies developing modular microgrids. Courtesy of Gridscape Close Authorship

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So far, this year is a microgrid letdown. Here is what’s next

This carbon challenge is bigger than cars, aviation and shipping combined

August 13, 2020 by  
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This carbon challenge is bigger than cars, aviation and shipping combined Adam Aston Thu, 08/13/2020 – 02:15 You may not know it, but you rely on industrial heat every day. It helped make the bricks that hold up your home; the cement underfoot. It forged the steel and glass in your car, and it also cooked the aluminum, plastic and silicon in the very screen on which you may be reading these words.  Industrial heat is essential but largely invisible. To transform basic inputs into stuff we need, manufacturers constantly heat (and cool) minerals, ores and other raw materials to extreme temperatures. And for all the magic of this everyday alchemy, industrial heat poses a growing threat to the climate. The world’s kilns, reactors, chillers and furnaces are powered mostly by fossil fuels.  High-temperature industrial heat, over 932 degrees F, poses a particular challenge because that’s the point at which fuels beyond electricity become the mainstay. Overall, industrial thermal energy accounts for about a tenth of global emissions, according to a December study by Innovation for Cool Earth Forum (ICEF, a Japan-backed multinational expert group). At 10 percent, industrial heat ranks on par with the combined emissions of cars (about 6 percent), planes (about 2 percent) and ships (about 2 percent).  Yet while those transport sectors are advancing towards low-carbon solutions — with promising technologies cultivated by multilateral accords — industrial heat lacks any consensus plan and has a long to-do list to develop low-carbon alternatives.  The options include biodiesel, renewable electricity, renewable natural gas, solar thermal, geothermal, thermal storage and hydrogen. Yet as a best guess, if these were market-ready today, renewable thermal solutions would cost from two times to over 10 times more than fossil fuels, according to an October report from the Center for Global Energy Policy (CGEP) at Columbia University.  Making natural gas renewable  In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. Chemically similar to the fossil gas piped to our kitchens, RNG is instead generated from the breakdown of organic matter at landfills (the biggest current source), municipal sewage treatment plants, farm waste and similar sites. RNG also can be blended into regular natural gas pipelines with minimal modification, much the way that input from windmills can flow onto the same grid as power generated by a coal plant.  In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. In fact, the wind example can help illustrate how early efforts to decarbonize industrial thermal energy are shaping up. In the 2000s, when wind and solar weren’t yet cost-competitive, market players pioneered ways to sell renewable energy indirectly. The solution was a set of standards and trading rules known as renewable energy credits, or RECs. The credits let a business in, say, Pittsburgh buy wind power generated in California, even before renewables were yet available on Pennsylvania’s grid.  What’s more, RECs allow a wind farm to sell both the power it generated and the renewable attributes of that power. As consumer and corporate demand for renewables grew, the value of the RECs rose, thereby incenting new wind and solar projects. Over time, RECs let companies source the renewable energy they needed, even when it wasn’t available locally, which made it easier for companies and states to slowly boost their targets for renewables.  Certifying renewable thermal solutions  Fast forward to 2020, and a team of collaborators is hoping to adapt learnings pioneered with RECs to nurture a nascent market for zero-carbon fuels, such as RNG, that buyers including L’Oréal USA and the University of California System are already using to generate renewable thermal energy. Today, RNG is held back in part by a Catch-22 financial trap. Costs add up quickly: equipment to collect biogas (the unprocessed methane-rich vapor given off by waste); upgrade the gas to pipeline quality; and connect to existing gas pipelines.  Capital needs for smaller landfill projects run from $5 million to $25 million. Larger projects — such as agriculture and wastewater plants — can hit $100 million, according to Jade Patterson, BloombergNEF’s analyst covering RNG. On average, each RNG project requires $17 million of capital investment, based on data from the RNG Coalition. A cement factory blast furnace in Maddaloni, Italy. At that price, most farms or town dumps can’t afford to develop biogas collection on their own. “An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations,” Patterson said. And if farms see reliable demand for their RNG, more are likely to make the investment: supply grows; prices fall; and the Catch-22 can be broken. “Companies are trying to decarbonize the heat piece of their Scope 1 carbon footprint,” explained Blaine Collison, an Environmental Protection Agency veteran and senior vice president at David Gardiner and Associates, a co-convener – along with the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions – of the Washington, D.C.-based Renewable Thermal Collaborative. “Creating renewable thermal attributes and trading instruments is critical to enable companies to act, to show the actions they’re taking and to demonstrate the reductions they’re achieving.”  The effort to extend a REC model to renewable thermal energy is being co-led by the Center for Resource Solutions (CRS), a San Francisco based non-governmental organization that’s been advancing sustainable energy via policy and market-based innovations since 1997. The first step? CRS is building a set of rules that meet the highest environmental standards and ensure that when customers buy green fuel, such as RNG, they can verify its zero-carbon merits, said Rachael Terada , CRS’ director of technical projects, in a recent webinar .  Now in its first draft, CRS’ Green-e certified fuel certificate standard is focusing initially on RNG, already being produced and sold on a small scale across North America. The standard can be extended to other renewable fuels in time. (Watch out for more news in this space at CRS’ Renewable Energy Markets 2020 , convening online for free Sept. 21-24.) Covering the U.S. and Canada, the CRS Green-e certificate program will establish protocols to create a registry such that each dekatherm (equal to 1 million British thermal units) is unique and cannot be double-counted, Terada said.  An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations. There’s already demand from industry to buy more RNG, said Benjamin Gerber, chief executive of Minneapolis-based M-RETS (formerly Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System), one of CRS’s partners in creating this trading platform.  “Having clear standards for renewable thermal products along with robust trading platforms will help drive greenhouse gas reductions,” Collison said. “We know that there’s a growing corporate need for these solutions.”  Thermal energy, in the long run CRS’ Green-e initiative has the potential to accelerate investment in renewable fuels, and thereby open up ways to decarbonize industrial energy markets.  Before then, companies can take some basic first steps, such as auditing their thermal energy use. “A lot of organizations simply haven’t done the work to understand how they’re heating and cooling their operations,” said Meredith Annex, who heads BloombergNEF’s heating decarbonization research team. The urgency is growing. As industrialization accelerates in China, India and other emerging markets, global demand for industrial heat has grown by 50 percent since 2000, estimates BloombergNEF , and without lower carbon options, will continue to rise.  Without a fix, global climate goals may not be achievable. “Decarbonizing industrial heat production will be essential to meeting the Paris Agreement goals,” notes David Sandalow, a former Obama administration official and lead author of ICEP’s roadmap to decarbonize industrial heat .  Pull Quote In time, decarbonizing industrial heat is likely to require an all-of-the above mix of solutions. But for now, renewable natural gas (RNG) may offer a fix soonest. An effective certification program could give lenders the confidence to fund new installations. Topics Energy & Climate Renewable Energy Manufacturing Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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