Uptown Circle in Normal, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Uptown Normal)
The Uptown neighborhood of Normal, Illinois, boasts an enormous traffic circle enclosing a popular civic space surrounded by what is likely the largest concentration of LEED buildings in downstate Illinois.
It’s among several neighborhoods around the Midwest that have been designed as “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development” (LEED-ND) projects. From the site of a former St. Louis housing project to a master-planned Chicago suburban train hub, the concepts behind LEED-ND have begun transforming not only buildings but also blocks into sustainable enclaves.
Sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, the LEED-ND program awards communities for planning that reduces dependence on cars while encouraging green construction, energy efficiency, storm water management, mass transit and urban agriculture.
State Line power plant. (Photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Creative Commons)
A recent Environmental Protection Agency settlement seals the fate of a Chicago-area coal plant that’s already been shut down for more than a year, but residents will see additional benefits from other provisions.
The consent decree announced by the EPA April 1 mandates that Dominion Energy “permanently retire” the State Line power plant on the Illinois-Indiana border and install pollution controls on another coal-fired plant in Kincaid, central Illinois.
However, State Line has actually been closed since March 2012, because of competition from cheap natural gas and the impending cost of pollution controls required to meet new federal environmental regulations. There was never any indication it would reopen, and last summer it was sold to a Texas company that specializes in demolishing power plants.
But residents of northwest Indiana and the Chicago area should theoretically still see some improvement in local air quality, thanks to mitigation requirements in the consent decree that mandate Dominion fund investments to reduce diesel emissions from rail yards, trucks and buses in the Chicago area.
A rendering of a SkySpecs unmanned aircraft, which developers say can help with maintenance of wind turbines and other hard-to-reach places. (Photo via SkySpecs)
While the initial sheen of the clean tech industry may have worn off for investors, that’s not necessarily bad news.
At the Clean Energy Challenge last week in Chicago, experts including venture capitalist Ira Ehrenpreis and U.S. Department of Energy official Dr. David Danielson acknowledged the challenges and dropping investment clean tech has faced in the past year, due in part to the economy and political maneuvering.
But they indicated that while there is less giddiness over the sector, it is moving into a more mature phase that could result in important breakthroughs in batteries and other technology.
A miniature streetcar at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. (Photo by Aapo Haapanen via Creative Commons)
In Shanghai, Peggy Liu’s family has largely adapted to China’s chronic air and water pollution — even accepted it as part of the price to pay for living in one of the world’s most vibrant, compact and convenient cities.
But it’s going to take more than water filters and pollution masks to survive China’s next looming environmental disaster.
It’s going to take a dream.
China’s middle class is projected to grow from 474 million today to 800 million by 2025, and Liu is among many sustainability experts concerned about the unprecedented strain that growth will put on the planet’s resources.
Liu, co-founder of the Joint U.S.-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE), spoke at an Ensia Live event Wednesday at the University of Minnesota about her solution: the new “China Dream” (Midwest Energy News is a media sponsor for the Ensia Live series).
At its core, it’s about giving China’s growing middle class a new, greener path to aspire towards — one that doesn’t emulate the “American Dream” of ever-growing consumerism.
(Photo by Gravitywave via Creative Commons)
©2013 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Daniel Cusick
Shipments of coal on U.S. railroads dropped 11 percent in 2012, according to new figures from the Energy Department, reflecting utilities’ continued shift away from coal-fired power generation in favor of natural gas and renewable fuels for electricity.
But although coal captured a smaller share of rail deliveries in 2012, oil helped make up the difference. Last year, crude oil and petroleum products delivered by rail rose 46 percent over 2011, or by roughly 171,000 carloads, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard poses with an electric Ford Focus in December. Indianapolis plans to replace its entire fleet with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. (Rich Callahan / Associated Press)
INDIANAPOLIS — In December, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard made national news by announcing that Indianapolis would be the first U.S. city to shift its entire fleet, including police cars, to electric and natural-gas powered vehicles, and that it would do so by 2025.
But that was hardly the first move he’d made toward sustainability.
Soon after taking office in 2008, Ballard created the city’s first Office of Sustainability. His administration has conducted energy-efficiency retrofits on 61 city-owned buildings; created bike lanes all over the city; and outfitted the 28-story Indianapolis City-County building with solar panels, wind-powered lights, low-flow toilets and a geothermal chiller.
These days many big-city mayors are moving to reduce energy and water usage. But Ballard, a Gulf War veteran who served more than two decades in the Marine Corps, is a Republican mayor in a conservative state where the coal-mining industry and coal-burning utilities are potent political forces.
Midwest Energy News wanted to know more about what drives Greg Ballard’s sustainability efforts, and his larger vision for sustainability of the nation’s 12th-largest city (responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity).
Ford’s 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine on display at the Paris Auto Show in 2012. (Photo by Autoblog via Creative Commons)
DETROIT — While electric cars wow crowds and the media at auto shows, there’s no denying that for now, gasoline-powered cars still rule the roadway.
That’s not to say electric vehicle technology isn’t important, says a leading industry analyst, but the focus for the near future will continue to be developing internal-combustion engines that meet tightening fuel economy standards while still being affordable to consumers.
Brett Smith, a co-director at the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sat down for an interview with Midwest Energy News in front of the Chevy Volt — which incorporates both technologies — at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.
A GM pickup converted to an extended-range electric vehicle by VIA Motors. The company couples an electric motor to the truck’s gasoline engine to create a powertrain similar to the Chevy Volt’s. (Photo by Howard Lovy / Midwest Energy News)
DETROIT — Trapeze artists performed death-defying acrobatics high above Detroit’s Cobo Hall convention floor, and a hologram of Thomas Edison gave sage advice to former General Motors Vice President Bob Lutz.
This was the way VIA Motors, a company that converts trucks, vans and SUVs into extended-range electric vehicles, rolled out three new products Monday at the North American International Auto Show, in a display reminiscent of the real-life Edison, himself the king of the publicity stunt.
And with electric vehicles still largely a niche product – even hologram Edison acknowledged “the transition will still take some time” – companies with all-electric offerings recognize the importance of competing for your attention, if nothing else.
“Customers have to know you exist,” said Lauren Flanagan, executive chair of another Lutz investment, Current Motor, an electric motorcycle company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
But while the major auto companies, with a few exceptions, rolled out prototype-only electric vehicles — from the BMW i-series to Smart’s not-yet-released electric-drive vehicle — Current is already shipping vehicles to consumers even while it improves on its proprietary electric motor. The electric motorcycles are selling to, “green, affluent, techie, early adopters who want a no-emissions vehicle,” Flanagan said.
Aerodynamic improvements like Freight Wings can dramatically reduce emissions – and fuel costs – for over-the-road trucks. (Photo by Stephen Petit via Creative Commons)
©2012 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission
By Julia Pyper
By adopting technologies that pay themselves off in less than two years, the road freight industry could deliver hefty emissions reductions and save thousands of dollars in fuel costs, according to a report released Tuesday by the Carbon War Room.
By adding a suite of seven efficiency technologies to its tractor-trailer fleet, the U.S. trucking sector could save 624 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2022, according to the report. The technologies would also achieve $22,400 in annual fuel savings per truck, which would see the upgrades paid off in 18 months.
“We found that there were a lot of low-hanging fruit in the sector: There were a lot of easy-win technologies that weren’t extremely expensive, but could make a huge difference in terms of reducing emissions and reducing — what we see as a problem — an overreliance on fossil fuels,” said Hilary McMahon, director of research at the Carbon War Room.
The report recommends five physical fuel-saving technologies, including aerodynamic upgrades, anti-idling devices, decreased rolling resistance with better tires, new transmission systems and adaptive cruise control. One of these technologies could provide between 3 and 15 percent in emissions reductions and fuel savings over a 10-year period, it says.
(Photo by Martin Naroznik via Creative Commons)
In the not-so-distant future, jets could be traversing the sky powered not by petroleum but by fuel derived from crops, agricultural waste, trees, algae, even municipal solid waste and sewage.
In the U.S. and other countries, research is ramping up into aviation biofuels, which can be used in standard jet engines with no conversions needed. Biofuels promise much lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other harmful compounds as well as price stability and geopolitical security.
Commercial-scale development of aviation biofuels is still in the early stages, and as experts explained at the Airports Going Green conference in Chicago earlier in November, viable aviation biofuel industries would look significantly different in different regions of the country. With growing competition for government research dollars and investment between regions, Midwestern players from the industry, academic and investor realms are trying to position the region as the national leader.