General Motors Joins the War on Coal

Coal is slowly being ousted by natural gas and renewable energies as an energy source. Even General Motors has joined the fight by eradicating the use of coal from its plants, which will allow the automobile company to prosper in a number of ways, including getting a head start on Obama’s fuel economy mandates. GM and Ford have already moved to aluminum bodies and parts for their vehicles; swapping coal for environmentally friendly energy sources is just another step forward for GM.

What does this mean? GM no longer burns coal in its facilities, instead opting for renewable energies. The company has switched coal out for solar panels, wind power, capture landfill gas (a renewable energy), and steam that has been converted from municipal waste. The technology that GM uses to burn coal, called boilers, are no longer needed and have since been shut down. According to Slate, “General Motors is already 87 percent of the way toward its goal of using 125 megawatts of renewable energy generating capacity by 2020.”

Yet, the corporation still relies on coal: it buys power from electrical facilities that burn coal; only 12 percent of GM’s energy sources are derived from renewables. But we can’t fault the car giant for making investments and efforts toward employing better environmental practices and energy mixes. GM’s small changes will result in bigger leaps to better our environment.

(From Slate)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2015

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“Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

A Republican-held Congress could spell bigger trouble for President Obama’s push for new climate policy. Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Obama’s climate efforts, namely because McConnell represents a state where a majority of its jobs begin and end with coal. McConnell has sullied Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by dubbing new climate policy a “war on coal.” A quarter of Kentucky’s counties continue to mine coal. Coal is a low-cost source of energy, which, according to McConnell, powers 90 percent of the state’s electricity.

Republicans argue two points when it comes to climate change: one, that scientists are wrong in their contention that humans are largely to blame for climate change; and two, jobs are more important than the effects of climate change. Moreover, some Senate Democrats haven’t backed Obama’s policy; the resistance from both parties has caused Obama to employ executive action to introduce new emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA has announced those regulations, which instruct states to create their own plans for restraining power plants emissions.

According to the Obama Administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, humans have had a large influence on the changing climate, and power plants are the “single-largest concentrated source of emissions, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” Two-thirds of the US’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent of that comes from coal-burning power plants.

In addition to the Obama Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also cautioned that permanent effects could result from climate change, including surface warming, polar ice cap melting, sea levels rising, and severe heat waves.

McConnell’s plan is to stall any new climate legislation in the Senate, whether it’s new restrictions on limiting the impacts of climate change, or regulations devised by Obama. McConnell has also assured that he will not hesitate to cut the EPA’s budget.

Almost all of the McConnell’s more than twenty fellow Republicans who are looking to run for the White House in 2016 — Senator Rand Paul (KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Senator Marc Rubio (FL), Senator Ted Cruz (TX), and Governor Rick Perry (TX) just to name a few — all doubt scientists’ findings that climate change is a result of human action. Conversely, Hillary Clinton’s beliefs fall more in line with Obama, which is to be expected.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans believe that the Earth has warmed during the last few decades; 40 percent of those polled believe that it’s human caused. The question of jobs remains a huge issue in Kentucky and across the US. Republicans — who traditionally favor less government involvement — rely on the fear that increased governmental regulation means a drop in job growth.

Of course, McConnell’s coined phraseology ‘war on coal’ carries weight with his constituents. Last year, coal production dropped in eastern Kentucky, seeing its lowest production output since 1962. McConnell associates the fall in Kentucky’s coal production to the US’s explosion in natural gas generation, as well as less costly mining in states like Wyoming. Kentuckians and McConnell are currently concentrating on job loss and growth, and not on how to protect the environment from its own inhabitants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2014

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“This company invented a better soda can. Why isn’t anybody buying?” – Grist, 30 October 2014

Less than a year after introducing the evercan, Novelis broke ground on a new multimillion dollar plant in Germany to manufacture the cans, which are made of 90 percent recycled aluminum. Novelis thought the evercan was a win-win for the company: the cans are cheaper to produce and more sustainable for the environment, since far less energy is used to produce recycled aluminum than virgin aluminum, a minimum of five percent.

With such advantages, it seems that the large beverage companies — Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, MillerCoors, etc. — would be chomping at the bit to get their hands on the evercan; however, these companies aren’t buying. The only company currently using the evercan is Georgia-based micro-brewer Red Hare Brewing Co. What’s even more odd is that Novelis’ aluminum supply is being purchased in spades by top automobile companies Ford and GM for their new lines of all-aluminum body cars.

But it seems that the beverage industry’s preferences are elsewhere. Besides the beverage companies’ hesitance to rely on one aluminum supplier, many of the companies, such as Coca-Cola, prefer PET plastic bottles to cans. Coca-Cola uses a bottle called a “plantbottle,” which is a PET bottle produced from sugar cane and sugar cane waste. The plantbottle makes up 60 percent of Coca-Cola’s worldwide sales. Moreover, the plantbottle is also resealable, which is a bonus for consumers.

Environmentally undesirable land filling, for obvious reasons, is a total waste of energy and valuable raw materials. Exporting lower value scrap is another way to export energy and valuable elements embedded in post-consumer aluminum products, only to come back to the US as more value added semi and fully finished products. This would adversely affect US trade balance.

Furthermore, economic incentives and societal consumer awareness supported by numerous newer scrap sorting technologies under development should limit land filling of scrap in US and reduce scrap export to countries like China.

If one beverage company vouches for the evercan, then perhaps other companies would follow suit. But more than that, the industries directly involved in recycling — aluminum, beverage, and waste — need to bolster their recycling actions so that Novelis has more material to work with.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 2, 2014

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The Washington Post’s “A Climate for Change”

The Washington Post announced that it is initiating a series of editorials, called “A Climate for Change,” urging a shift in the way climate change is spoken about and acted upon in the US.

In America, many still hold the paradoxical belief that climate change doesn’t exist, and/or there is nothing we can do about it, and use a number of reasons to justify their skepticism and distrust. While the general public often places the importance of the economy and jobs above the environment, Republicans contend that we can’t trust the science, curbing emissions will further injure our already-hurt economy, and the US won’t make an impact if China and India don’t also cut down on their emissions. Democrats who represent coal states don’t necessarily stand behind their party’s climate policy because it could damage their chances for reelection. Conversely, a number of environmentalists and Democrats push to win trivial conflicts, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Action on climate change has declined since President Obama arrived in the Oval Office in 2008. Obama has made climate change a key cornerstone of his agenda for both his terms, as did 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain. But when Obama took office in 2008, the Republicans simultaneously took a fierce opposition to his climate policy, forcing Obama to enact his Climate Action Plan through executive order.

Now the world desperately needs us to rethink how we deal with climate change. Sea levels, temperatures, and the likelihood of natural disasters are rapidly rising, all of which will impact every corner of the earth. As the Washington Post points out, Obama and the EPA might not even be doing enough to counteract the effects of climate change. The US should be a leader in introducing new climate change policy, which will hopefully spur other nations to follow suit.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 25, 2014

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