A team of researchers and engineers plan to retool this 1937 steam-engine locomotive to run on clean-burning, carbon-neutral biocoal.
The image of trains used to include pictures of sooty firemen shoveling coal into glowing hot fireboxes.
Today, scenes like that are relegated to railroad museums and steampunk fantasies, as diesel-electric trains long ago became the standard.
But Davidson Ward thinks steam engines may still have a place in the 21st century.
Ward is a co-founder of Sustainable Rail International, a nonprofit that recently partnered with the University of Minnesota to retrofit a 1937 steam locomotive to run on a carbon-neutral coal made from biomass.
“It’s relatively radical in the rail industry in the United States to say that steam engines might be a logical way to go,” Ward said.
Boulder residents protest an Xcel Energy coal plant in July, 2011. (Photo by Zane Selvans via Creative Commons)
Could Minneapolis be the next Boulder?
In November, voters in Boulder, Colo., authorized the city to form a municipal electric utility if Xcel Energy doesn’t meet its clean energy demands.
Last week in Minneapolis, a citizens group went public with a call for residents and officials there to pursue an agenda that could lead down a similar path.
The Boulder referendum went to the ballot after the city balked at renewing a 20-year contract with Xcel to provide electricity in the city.
The contracts, known as franchise agreements, authorize utilities to use public right-of-ways in exchange for sharing a small percentage of revenue with the city. They’re typically renewed with little fanfare, but a few cities such as Boulder have recently used the negotiations to try to advance clean energy.
Minneapolis Energy Options wants to add its city to the list.
Wisconsin solar installers want to know why they’re being squeezed out of a state renewable energy incentive program.
A month after utility regulators voted to shift funding from solar to biogas projects instead, the state’s solar industry still has unanswered questions about the methods and numbers used to make the decision.
“From the outside looking in, it does appear that the numbers are skewed to benefit biogas,” said Jesse Michalski, a solar installer with Eland Electric in Green Bay.
Michalski and other members of a solar listserv have spent weeks discussing the theories, which range from politics to the use of outdated data.
Others say it makes sense for Wisconsin to focus on biogas, given the large potential for its dairy industry to convert manure into energy.
Rep. Keith Ellison
Earlier this month, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced legislation to eliminate billions of dollars in tax breaks, R&D funding, and other subsidies and loopholes that benefit the fossil fuel industry.
Midwest Energy News spoke with Rep. Ellison this week about the type of benefits he’s targeting with the bill, as well as what’s next for the legislation. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
MwEN: Why is this issue a priority for you?
Ellison: There are a number of reasons. We need to stop using fossil fuels to completely power our world. I don’t doubt that they will be a feature of our energy portfolio in the future, but we are literally destroying the world. We’ve got to cut the production of carbon and reduce hydrocarbon-based fuel usage.
I think that one of the ways we promote the use of hydrocarbon fuels is by subsidizing them. What we need to do is have a truer picture of the cost associated with these fuels, and that starts with cutting the subsidies, which is probably to the tune of $110-plus billion, which leads me to my next point.
Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or anyone in between, our debt-to-GDP ratio is too high. It needs to be reduced significantly. Let’s start by cutting subsidies to companies that already are making record profits, and also the very nature of their industry produces harmful gases released into the atmosphere. Let’s just not pay for that privilege.
Photo by jpmueller99/CC
Old coal is the dirtiest kind, and it still keeps the lights burning in large swaths of the U.S.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the U.S. is getting much of its electricity from power plants that are more than 30 years old – the biggest polluters.
The GAO found that coal-fired units in operation since 1978 or earlier provided 45 percent of the electricity from fossil fuel in 2010, but produced more than their share of emissions compared to newer units: 75 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions (3.6 times), 64 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions (2.1 times), and 54 percent of carbon dioxide emissions (1.3 times) – pollutants linked to respiratory health effects, smog, and climate change.
The internet is ablaze today with the story of a group of Michigan high school students who were suspended after riding their bikes to school, despite the fact they had arranged for an escort from the city’s mayor and police department.
Public sympathy seems to be squarely on the side of the students, which means if there’s one thing Americans hate more than cyclists on roadways, it’s excessive punishment of high school kids. In comment threads on various articles about the incident (and from parents), the principal of Kenowa Hills High School, Kate Pennington, has gone in for a fair amount of abuse for her reaction.
“If you and your parents don’t have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and Kinney, Fruit Ridge, then maybe that’s my responsibility,” she told the group before sending them home, according to a cell phone recording captured by a student.
The idea that a group of kids riding bikes to school constitutes a “prank,” and a life-threatening one at that, raised eyebrows among more than a few cyclists, including myself.
But thanks to the magic of Google Maps, we can see that Pennington has a point.
A solar-powered EV charging station, prior to its unveiling, at Como Park in St. Paul. (Photo by Michael Hicks via Creative Commons)
Independence, Missouri, is the kind of place where when someone buys an electric car it’s unusual enough that the local newspaper writes a story about it.
Stan Adkins of Cable-Dahmer Chevrolet sold a second Chevy Volt last month.
Adkins is a big believer in the car, but he doesn’t expect many sales in this Kansas City suburb until residents are more confident they’ll be able to plug them in when and where they need a charge.
“If you see public charging stations beginning to appear, it’s going to minimize some fear or reluctance that people might have in considering electric vehicles,” Adkins said.
Over the winter, Adkins helped start Electrify Independence, a civic committee focused on bringing the first public charging station to Independence by the end of the year.
Independence is among several cities and counties in the Midwest that are starting to plan new policies and infrastructure to support the growth of electric vehicles.
Reposted from EarthTechling with permission
By Beth Buczynski
Ready for a shock? Fifty-eight percent of all the energy generated in the United States is wasted as heat. With the high financial and environmental cost of creating electricity, especially with fossil fuels, this waste is unacceptable. According to Yue Wu, a Purdue University assistant professor of chemical engineering, finding a way to recover even 10 percent of this wasted heat could take a huge bite out of our collective energy consumption and power plant emissions.
Researchers at Purdue have been working to develop just such an energy-saving solution, and they’ve developed a new “thermoelectric” material that could make it a reality. Through the use of nanotechnology, the team says they will be able to harvest heat from hot pipes or engine components to potentially recover energy wasted in factories, power plants and cars.
I’m excited to announce that Kari Lydersen, a Chicago-based freelance journalist, will be joining Midwest Energy News as our second Reporting Fellow starting in July.
Regular readers are already familiar with Lydersen’s work. She wrote our first enterprise feature back in January 2011, and has been a regular contributor ever since, offering incisive and diligent coverage on issues including Wisconsin’s wind siting standards, the Chicago clean power ordinance, and the struggles of coal gasification projects in Illinois and Indiana.
In addition to her work for Midwest Energy News, Lydersen has written for the Chicago News Cooperative, OnEarth Magazine, the Chicago Reader and the Washington Post. She’s the author of three books and has taught journalism at Columbia College in Chicago.
In her new role, Lydersen will focus her efforts eastward to Michigan and Ohio, while maintaining an eye on developments in her home state. This position was made possible thanks to generous ongoing support from the Joyce Foundation.
Dan Haugen, our first Reporting Fellow, based in Minneapolis, will continue focusing on the western half of the region.
In the coming weeks, we’ll unveil a new design for Midwest Energy News that will capitalize on our original journalism efforts.
As always, thanks for reading.
Corn growers and ethanol producers want to expand their market by selling a new, higher-blend ethanol fuel that’s safe to use in most vehicles.
But the timeline for introducing E15 remains uncertain as industry and government officials continue to sort out the final details for the fuel’s sale.
The American Coalition for Ethanol and the Renewable Fuels Association held a webinar Tuesday to review the remaining obstacles for E15, which contains 15 percent ethanol.
Ron Lamberty, senior vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said we’re unlikely to see E15 showing up at the nation’s gas pumps any sooner than September.
Among the hurdles that still need to be cleared: