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Dan Markham

Dan Markham holds a journalism degree from Franklin College in Indiana and has been writing professionally for more than 20 years for various newspapers, magazines and books.

Electric and hybrid vehicles encounter bump in the road with reliance on lithium

While hybrids and other electric-powered vehicles are beginning to gain some traction with consumers—especially as gas prices top $4 per gallon—widespread adoption is still years away, say most auto analysts.

“Electric vehicles are not going to be there for another 10 years due to many factors,” says Tracy Schneiter, a vice president for automotive analysts IRN Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.

It starts with consumer acceptance. So far, the hybrid vehicle’s increased fuel efficiency is not sufficient for most consumers to justify its high price tag. When federal incentives to purchase hybrids expired, their sales dropped through the floor, Schneiter says.

Even for those environmentally-conscious individuals willing to invest in the various forms of electric vehicles, the absence of the necessary support structure remains an issue. In a report on electric vehicle deployment rates, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research says infrastructure, such as public charging stations, will be an important factor influencing adoption of electric vehicles.

Adoption of electric vehicles is likely to occur on a state-by-state or city-by-city basis, with electric-vehicle-ready communities targeted first by the automakers, experts say. According to CAR, when selecting markets for deployment of electric vehicles, Ford “considered past hybrid purchasing trends, utility company collaboration and commitment to electrification by local governments.”

Even if communities, the carmakers and the public are willing to embrace electric or hybrid-type engines, there remain obstacles to full deployment. At the March Steel Business Briefing Steel Markets North America Conference in Chicago, analyst Chuck Bradford noted that one key element of the electric car, the lithium used for batteries, shares a trait with the petroleum the U.S. is trying to wean itself from. “I’m concerned with where we’re going to get the lithium for all these lithium batteries,” said Bradford, president of Bradford Research Inc. in New York. “The lithium mined in the U.S. is chemical grade. Most of the lithium comes from China, Chile and Argentina. The big question is how many electric cars we can make with the limited supply of lithium.”

Ron Krupitzer, vice president of automotive applications for the Washington, D.C.-based American Iron and Steel Institute, says the steel industry is trying to stay ahead of the curve on any new engine technology. The association’s Future Steels program is studying the variety of hybrid technologies with an eye toward where steel best fits. “We’re trying to evaluate the best use of steels in these configurations,” Krupitzer says. “Many times, even the current vehicles are adapting existing platforms originally designed for internal combustion engines. We want to take a clean sheet of paper and design the best package of steel for these particular power trains.”

Americans adjusting laundry methods to save energy

In ever-increasing numbers, American consumers are deciding that it’s important to be clean and green. A recent survey from the Soap and Detergent Association shows that Americans are taking numerous steps to make their laundry habits more environmentally friendly.

The National Cleaning Survey reveals that more U.S. households are laundering in cold water and switching to multi-purpose cleaning products. Echo Research questioned 1,000 American adults, including 500 men and 500 women, asking what changes, if any, they have made to their cleaning routines in the past year.

According to the survey:

  • 58 percent are washing laundry in cold water more frequently.
  • 41 percent have switched to multi-purpose cleaning products.
  • 38 percent use refillable cleaning products.
  • 36 percent bought high-efficiency or energy-efficient washers or dryers.
  • 29 percent do laundry less frequently.


  • 12 percent make their own cleaning products.

“Consumers are making conscious decisions about cleaning products and practices that support their beliefs,” says Nancy Bock, SDA Vice President of Education. “They are not choosing products as they did in the past.”

Additionally, Americans seem to be reading their detergent label directions a lot more than in the past. The 2010 SDA survey shows 62 percent of respondents say they have read the directions on a package of laundry detergent, vs. 38 percent who say they never have read the package. When SDA last asked that question in 2003, 49 percent said they had not read the detergent directions.

“Cleaning products are changing. Reading the label takes the guesswork out of dosage,” says Bock. “With newer detergent products introduced in recent years, it’s more important than ever to read the label and use the proper amount of detergent in the washer.”

Visit SDA’s website for information on laundry and fabric care products at:

SEAM Act Introduced to Grow Nation’s Green Manufacturing Base

The United Steelworkers praised Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) for introducing the Security in Energy and Manufacturing Act of 2010. The SEAM Act is aimed at helping to grow the nation’s green manufacturing supply chain.

Senator Brown’s SEAM Act is a companion to Congressman Phil Hare’s (D-IL) bill, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 16 and supported by the USW. Brown’s bill provides for greater opportunity to create good green manufacturing jobs by making available $5 billion in tax credits or grants to companies manufacturing goods and components in the United States that are used in alternative energy projects, such as wind farms, nuclear power plants and solar generation plants.

The SEAM Act builds upon the energy manufacturing tax credit in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage a green domestic manufacturing supply chain for alternative energy projects as the nation transitions to energy independence. The section provides for a 30 percent tax credit for investments in new, expanded or re-equipped green energy manufacturing facilities.

The USW strongly supported Section 48c in the Recovery Act, which was so popular that the initial $2.3 billion in credit ran out quickly and many worthy projects had to be put aside awaiting additional credit authority, the union notes.

“The USW supports Senator’s Brown’s efforts to expand and improve this energy manufacturing tax incentive by providing an additional $5 billion in credit or grants to expand and create green manufacturing and good jobs right here in the U.S.,” says USW International President Leo W. Gerard. “A typical wind turbine made by Pennsylvania steelworkers includes 250 tons of steel, three tons of copper, 250 yards of concrete, titanium components for rotator hubs, gears and gear boxes, bearings and many more domestic components.”

Gerard also noted that USW members also make many other alternative and efficient energy products, such as glass for solar panels, goods from recycled paper and energy efficient air conditioning products.

“These are the kinds of good-paying, permanent jobs we need to create if we are to reinvigorate our manufacturing base so it can become a key player in the transition to a clean and green energy future.”

Kaiser Permanente Requiring Suppliers to Provide Environmental Information

Kaiser Permanente will now require suppliers to provide environmental data for $1 billion worth of medical equipment and products used in its hospitals, medical offices and other facilities.

The Sustainability Scorecard is the first of its kind in health care. It will allow Kaiser Permanente to evaluate the sustainability of each medical item it purchases while also encouraging suppliers across the industry to provide greener products for the health care sector. Addressing concerns about products and materials commonly used throughout health care will help create a healthier environment for Kaiser Permanente’s patients, employees and physicians.

“Kaiser Permanente recognizes we can improve health today and for the future by taking a close look at the products we purchase,” said Dean Edwards, vice president and chief procurement officer. “With Kaiser Permanente’s size and influence, the work we’re doing is continuing to move the industry.”

Kaiser Permanente spends more than $1 billion each year on medical products. By September this year, when Kaiser Permanente’s key supply chain partner, Broadlane, adopts the tool, the scorecard could influence $10 billion in medical purchasing. Kaiser Permanente’s current environmental policies already provide environmental guidelines for products ranging from greener cleaning chemicals to IV tubing free of potentially harmful chemicals. The Sustainability Scorecard goes further by requiring suppliers to provide information on their company’s environmental commitment, use of potentially harmful chemicals in their products and information about product and packaging recycling.

“Kaiser Permanente is continually working to find environmentally friendly products, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and inform public policy to protect the health and safety of our workforce and members alike,” said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente’s vice president for workplace safety and environmental stewardship officer. “With our Sustainability Scorecard, we are strengthening the link between sustainability and health.”

New Pen Consists of Mostly Biodegradeable Components

Newell Rubbermaid has announced that its Paper Mate brand is bringing innovation to the everyday writing experience and helping consumers go green with the introduction of Paper Mate Biodegradable, the first widely available line of pens and mechanical pencils made with a majority of biodegradable components, which break down in soil/home compost in about a year.

“The Paper Mate Biodegradable pen and pencil were developed based on insights that consumers desire simple, affordable ways to incorporate greener practices into everyday activities at school, home or the office,” says Bill Mullenix, president of Newell Rubbermaid’s Everyday Writing global business unit. “This is the first line of biodegradable writing instruments to be widely available to consumers globally. By offering a unique combination of performance and affordability, we’re making it easy for consumers to be greener.”

The Paper Mate Biodegradable line is the latest demonstration of Paper Mate’s ongoing commitment to the environment. In 2009, the brand launched a line of products made from recycled sources, including the Earth Write Recycled Pencil made from 100 percent recycled wood and Paper Mate Write Bros. Recycled Ball Point Pen made from 80 percent recycled material.

Additionally, Newell Rubbermaid Office Products brands are partnering with TerraCycle, the upcycling company that finds new ways to use items that would otherwise be thrown away, to create the world’s first program to collect and reuse or recycle pens, markers and other writing instruments.

Paper Mate Biodegradable products look and feel like conventional plastic, but their compostable components are a bio-plastic made from plant-derived sugar, an annually renewable resource. When disassembled and placed in yard soil or home compost, they decompose in about a year, increasing compost and reducing waste. Additionally, the products are packaged in 100-percent PVC-free recyclable material.

10 Ways to Green Your Everyday Purchases

In the spirit of Earth Day, Green America is offering 10 tips for individuals to become more environmentally friendly.

“Going green saves money, creates jobs, and supports local communities. Green is the new red, white and blue,” says Green America Executive Director Alisa Gravitz. “One thing all Americans can do to help the environment on Earth Day and every day is to direct their money towards greener purchases.”

Green America’s tips for going green:

• Borrow, trade or buy used—The greenest thing consumers can do is to not buy new things at all.  You can find books, CDs and movies for free at the local library. People across the country are setting up clothing swaps to give away old clothes and get new  ones in return.  Online services like Craigslist, Freecycle and Ebay make it easy to find quality used goods locally and nationally, including first-rate used furniture that is often higher quality than new.  

• Grow your own food –When you plant your own garden you can ensure that your food is organic and healthy, and since there is no transportation involved, there are no climate change emissions.  You’ll also save money and you can spend time with your family in the garden. A recent National Gardening Association study found that the average family spends $70 a year on maintaining a vegetable garden, and grows about $600 worth of produce.

• Green your energy at home—Start with energy efficiency; using less energy is the best way to green your power consumption and enjoy big savings. There are many simple actions you can take.

• Give your car a break—If only 1 percent of car owners in the U.S. did not drive for one day a week, we would save an estimated 42 million gallons of gas per year and keep 840 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere.  

• Buy used, organic, or sweatshop-free clothes—Cotton accounts for more than 10 percent of the world’s pesticide use and nearly 25 percent of the world’s insecticide use. Instead of buying clothes at the mall, you can buy stylish clothes at thrift and resale shops, and purchase new clothes that are sweatshop-free, organic and/or Fair Trade.

• Buy organic and Fair Trade personal care products—Make-up and body care products have been linked to allergic reactions, birth defects and even cancer.  In addition, many products contain oils and extracts that are harvested and produced in a way that harms the environment and exploits workers.

• Buy green home products—Household cleaners, paints and stains, furniture, carpets, and many other items contain volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption and eye irritants.  Instead, make your own cleaners from safe, household ingredients or purchase green cleaning products.

• Support local green businesses—Spending money at locally owned businesses keeps more money in your community while supporting the growing number of businesses that are going green.

• With the money you save, invest in a greener future—A growing number of Americans are investing for their future. While doing so, they can also invest in a better future for the planet. Invest in socially responsible mutual funds that earn competitive returns and promote corporate responsibility.  

• Turn to Green America’s National Green Pages to get started—Start greening your purchases everyday by using the National Green Pages (, the largest listing of business in the U.S. screened for their social and environmental responsibility.

Keystone Farmers Have Extra Incentive to Grow Green

In Pennsylvania, making the transition to more sustainable methods of food production has become more financially sustainable. For the second year in a row, the state will offer substantial monetary incentives for those farmers making the switch.
Pennsylvania farmers moving to organic agriculture or those who are certified organic have the opportunity to receive assistance for applying conservation practices through the state’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program organic initiative.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Pennsylvania has set aside $760,000 to support organic agriculture. Approved applicants may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 per year, totaling up to $80,000 over six years.

The EQIP organic initiative is designed to provide financial assistance in the form of payments of 75 percent of the average cost of a conservation practice, or 90 percent of the average cost of a conservation practice if the producer is in a traditionally underserved group, such as limited resource, beginning or minority farmers.

Technical and financial assistance is available for a large number of conservation practices. Core practices that receive additional consideration as part of the application evaluation process include conservation crop rotation, cover crop, prescribed grazing, nutrient and pest management, conservation cover, field border, riparian herbaceous cover, riparian forested buffer and windbreaks.

“Through the EQIP organic initiative, organic producers or producers transitioning to organic have a unique opportunity to receive assistance. By separating these producers into a special group, organic initiative applicants only compete with other organic producers for funding,” says Dave Brown, NRCS state conservationist. “There is also a general EQIP funding pool from which all eligible agricultural producers can apply. However, these applicants compete on a wider scale for funding, often against all other producers in a multi-county region or the entire state.”

For more information about EQIP or to apply, go to or contact the local USDA service center.

California, Oregon Governors Agree to Klamath River Restoration Effort

After years of negotiations, an agreement has been reached to move forward on a restoration effort on the Klamath River in the Pacific Northwest. Conservation organization American Rivers joined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in signing the historic pact.

The endeavor will represent the world’s largest dam removal project, restoring access to more than 350 miles of salmon habitat, resolve decades-long disputes over water in the basin and provide greater economic security for fishing, tribal and agricultural communities.

“The road to recovery begins for the Klamath River and its tribes, fishermen and farmers. River communities around the country will find inspiration in the collaborative solutions forged on the Klamath. It marks a significant new chapter in our country’s environmental history,” says American Rivers President Rebecca Wodder.

American Rivers conducted the first study on the potential removal of Klamath River dams in 2004 and continually insisted that removal of the dams be part of a more comprehensive basin-wide solution that these two settlements represent. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement settles many disputes concerning water and fisheries resources, while the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement calls for the removal of PacifiCorp’s lower four Klamath River dams. The next step is passage of federal legislation to implement the two agreements.

The four dams produce a nominal amount of power, which can be replaced using renewable energy sources and efficiency measures, without contributing to climate change. A study by the California Energy Commission and the Department of the Interior found that removing the dams and replacing their power would save PacifiCorp customers up to $285 million over 30 years.

Tax Credits Boost HVAC Innovations

More efficient types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning can save homeowners plenty on their heating and cooling bills. Government tax incentives that encourage homeowners to improve their energy efficiency also promise to fuel new product development by HVAC manufacturers.

The HVAC industry is expected to see growth again as tax credits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act help more consumers buy homes and update their systems. The green HVAC market should benefit in particular from federal and state support of more energy efficient homes and buildings, according to “HVAC, 2nd Edition—Green and Global,” the latest report from energy market research firm SBI Energy.

International manufacturers of HVAC devices seek to capitalize on the impending uptick in the market by designing high-efficiency equipment for sale in the U.S. that exceeds the 13 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio minimum standard that was established by the Department of Energy in January 2006. Such equipment would qualify for the higher standards required to receive the tax credits available through the ARRA.

Recent developments in HVAC technologies have included geothermal heat pumps, under-floor air distribution and integrated photovoltaic systems. “Growth in the HVAC market will be driven primarily by the residential and non-residential construction markets,” says Shelley Carr, publisher of SBI Energy. “In addition, tax credits, new HVAC innovations, global expansion, and renewed investment in the replacement sector will revitalize the market.”

Thanks to the ARRA, homeowners can receive tax credits of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the installation of a geothermal HVAC system for geothermal heat pumps placed in service before Dec. 31, 2016. The DOE estimates that around 35,000 geothermal/ground-source heat pumps were installed in 2007, despite relatively high initial costs compared to standard heat pumps. By 2009, the number of geothermal/ground-source heat pump installations had reached an average of 90,264 per year.

According to the DOE, the average home spends about $1,900 annually on energy bills. The DOE estimates that homeowners can reduce their energy bills by up to 20 percent merely by replacing furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners and heat pumps with more efficient models.

Cork’s Sustainability Depends on New Uses

The wine industry’s conversion from corks to plastic caps is beginning to have an unintended consequence—threatening the sustainability of the nation’s existing cork oak trees. In recent years, up to 90 percent of wine bottle caps have been converted to plastic. Without sufficient demand for cork, producers have less incentive to maintain the trees, which are beginning to disappear.

One company coming to the rescue is Adapt-Mobile Ltd., maker of phone accessories, which now offers its Adapt Eco Case line, which is made of natural cork. The cases are stylish and leather-like in appearance, touch and durability, but provide a much more eco-friendly solution to protecting smartphones and laptops. The natural protective properties of cork also make the cases both heat- and water-resistant.

Adapt-Mobile is working in partnership with Trees for Cities, an independent charity working to enrich biodiversity, create social cohesion and beautify cities through community tree planting, education and training initiatives in urban areas.

By purchasing Adapt Eco Cases, consumers can create a demand for corkwood, thereby supporting the ecosystems in which cork grows. In addition, Adapt-Mobile is donating 55 cents from every Eco Case sold to support the planting of new cork trees. Its goal is to plant more than 900 trees by 2011.


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