Author Archive

Tim Triplett

Tim Triplett is a freelance writer and editor based out of St. Charles, Ill. He holds a bachelor's degree in mass communications from Illinois State University and an MBA from Aurora University. In his 33-year career with various newspapers and business magazines, Tim has reported on a wide range of subjects, including business-to-business marketing, industrial coatings, the global metals trade and green manufacturing.

Obama administration cuts EPA budget

The Obama administration has proposed a FY 2012 budget of $8.973 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—a 13 percent decrease—as part of its effort to cut federal spending.

“As millions of families are cutting back and spending less, they expect the same good fiscal sense out of their government. That is why this budget reflects the tough choices needed for our nation’s short- and long-term fiscal health—and allows EPA to maintain its fundamental mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

Some key 2012 budget initiatives include:
• $350 million for projects strategically chosen to target the most significant threats to people’s health in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

• $2.5 billion—a decrease of $947 million—combined for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs). EPA will continue to work with states and communities to enhance their capacity to provide clean water and safe drinking water to Americans. Federal dollars provided through SRFs will help spur efficient system-wide planning and ongoing management of sustainable water infrastructure.

• $1.2 billion for the Superfund program to support cleanup at hazardous waste sites. While EPA will be exploring efficiencies in the program, the $70 million reduction to Superfund programs will slow the pace of new projects and completion of projects.

• A $27.5 million increase in enforcement and compliance, to be used for the latest e-reporting and monitoring tools. EPA will increase oversight and inspections at high risk chemical and oil facilities in order to protect Americans’ health.

• $16.1 million more to reduce chemical risks, increase the pace of chemical hazard assessments and provide the public with greater access to chemical information so they can make better informed decisions about their health.

• $1.2 billion for state and tribal grants—an overall increase of $84.9 million. This funding will help communities take steps to meet the pollution standards EPA has developed under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

• An additional $46 million for regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and implement GHG reporting requirements under the Clean Air Act.

• $67.4 million to support EPA’s efforts to clean up America’s great water bodies, specifically the Chesapeake Bay. This water body serves as an economic engine for an entire region of the country, and millions of Americans rely on it for access to clean, safe water.

• $584 million to support research and innovation into new and emerging environmental science. This includes a $24.7 million increase to Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants to ensure that EPA is using the best science to protect our air, water and land.

For more information on EPA’s proposed FY2012 budget, visit:

Innovative energy technology transforms heat into electricity

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is recognizing two companies for innovative new products that recycle wasted energy and turn it into usable electricity in homes or small buildings. Micro combined heat and power (CHP) systems are an emerging technology that can help change how we use and produce energy in our homes while protecting people’s health. When offsetting purchases of coal-generated electricity in cold climates, this emerging technology can reduce energy use and curb carbon dioxide emissions by 20 to 30 percent.

As winners of the 2011 Energy Star Emerging Technology Award, the Freewatt micro CHP system made by ECR International, Utica, N.Y., and the Ecopower micro CHP system made by Marathon Engine, East Troy, Wis., are helping home and small building owners, particularly in the Northeast region, produce their own electricity, reducing their utility bills. These technologies capture wasted energy from space or water heaters and turn it into usable electricity from a single fuel source.

Although the technology has been successfully used in larger applications for many years, micro CHP systems have only recently been commercialized for small scale use in residential homes, apartment buildings and small office buildings. This year’s winning micro CHP systems met strict criteria for efficiency, noise, emissions and third party-verified performance. In addition to submitting laboratory test results, products were monitored in the field for a minimum of one year to be eligible for recognition.

For more information, visit

Consumers favor solar, wind energy

The future of the U.S. energy supply is a topic of fierce debate in the political and business arenas, and consumer opinion is a vital component of the broader discussion about the pros and cons of various paths toward a clean energy future. According to a new survey from Pike Research, consumer support for renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, is extremely high.

In a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, the cleantech market intelligence firm found that 79 percent of consumers have a favorable view of solar energy, and 75 percent have a favorable view of wind energy. In terms of overall support, these were the top two highest ranked areas in a survey that asked consumers about their views on 12 energy and environmental concepts. The results are summarized in a free white paper, which is available for download on Pike Research’s website,

The percentages of survey respondents stating that they had either a “very favorable” or “favorable” view for each of the 12 concepts were as follows:

• Solar Energy:  79 percent
• Wind Energy:  75 percent
• Hybrid Vehicles:  64 percent
• Electric Cars:  57 percent
• Biofuels:  47 percent
• Clean Coal:  47 percent
• Nuclear Power:  42 percent
• Smart Meters:  37 percent
• Smart Grid:  37 percent
• Carbon Offsets/Credits:  24 percent
• LEED Certification:  19 percent
• Cap and Trade:  15 percent

Cap and Trade and Nuclear Power were tied in terms of the largest percentage of “strongly unfavorable” or “somewhat unfavorable” views from survey participants, each with a 19 percent unfavorable rating, followed closely by Carbon Offsets/Credits with 18 percent.

LEED Certification, the green building certification program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, suffered from a very low level of familiarity among respondents. Fifty-three percent stated that they were unfamiliar with the program, the lowest level of familiarity of any of the 12 energy and environment concepts.

Future viability of solar depends on cheaper cells

During 2010, new solar photovoltaic (PV) demand worldwide approached 10,000 MW and is expected to grow by double-digit percentages annually for the foreseeable future if production costs can be driven to market-competitive levels.

In response to interest in photovoltaics for industrial and utility scale power, SRI Consulting, Menlo Park, Calif., now part of IHS Inc., examines the economics for producing solar cells from three dominant commercial process technologies—monocrystalline wafers (Sunpower), CdTe thin-film (First Solar) and concentrating PV (Concentrix)—in its new techno-economic analysis report entitled “Solar Photovoltaic Technology.”

In the U.S. and other regions, utility commission renewable power portfolio requirements dictate that specific amounts of grid power be sourced using technologies that do not produce greenhouse gases. As a result, several utilities are now considering supplementing conventional power (nuclear, coal and natural gas) with a combination of wind power, biomass power, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic power.

Demand growth for PV power in the early 2000s averaged 40 percent per year, driven by a combination of technology advancements and generous government subsidies, especially in Spain and Germany, in the form of feed-in-tariffs. The global economic recession of 2008-09 all but eliminated growth, but early 2010 saw demand begin to turn around.

Photovoltaic power is well suited to distributed demand applications where its devices can be mounted on residential homeowner rooftops (< 5 kw capacity), and on small commercial buildings (< 50 kw). Advancements in both manufacturing technology and engineering and design practices are also reducing the cost of “balance of system” components required for the consideration of PV power at utility scale (> 5 MW) at economics approaching conventional peaking power cost (grid parity).

“Advances in technology have significantly improved cost competitiveness, but the commercial world still relies heavily on government subsidies,” said the report’s author and IHS Principal Consultant Anthony Pavone. “Like other renewable energy technologies, societal concerns over greenhouse gas-caused climate change provide the justification for these subsidies.”

Although the integrated product chain can be considered as starting with mined silicon metal and terminating with a combination of PV modules sold to end-use customers, and turnkey power plants sold to utility customers, the heart of the business is in producing PV cells, mounting them in modules (sometimes called panels) rated at 70 to 400 watts, and installing arrays of modules to satisfy customer requirements. A globally competitive producer requires a capacity base of 500 MW/year, and that a utility scale PV plant will have a capacity of 10 to 50 MW.

Two forms of cell architecture, silicon-based wafer and thin-film technologies, dominate the business, with 80 percent and 20 percent market share, respectively. SRI’s study estimates the production economics for a PV utility power plant with a 50 MW capacity using the two manufacturing approaches. These economics, although not cost competitive with most conventional baseload power generation (4 to 8 cents per kwh), are close enough to compete with peaking electric power in most business environments, and with base load electric power in high-cost power regions, including Denmark, Italy and California.

“As PV technology improvements reduce cost faster than conventional technologies reduce cost, the world is likely to soon see an environment where PV subsidies are no longer necessary,” said Pavone.

For additional information, visit

Three-quarters of U.S. lighting to be energy-efficient by 2020

The United States accounts for approximately 20 percent of the world’s total electricity consumption for lighting at an annual cost of over $40 billion. The largest share of this lighting electricity is used in commercial and public buildings, followed by residential lighting, industrial sector lighting and outdoor/street lighting. According to a recent report from Pike Research, Boulder, Colo., fluorescent and light emitting diode (LED) lighting technologies will play an increasingly important role in the U.S. market, making up over three quarters of that market by 2020.

“Fluorescent lighting technology is becoming more and more important in many key applications,” says Pike Research senior analyst Mike Wapner. “Fluorescent lighting is already very energy efficient, it has increasingly cost-effective dimming options, and it’s been around long enough for people to have familiarity and confidence with its performance in a variety of lighting situations.”

Wapner adds that while technical, market and other barriers will somewhat hamper the growth of LED lighting in the beginning of this decade, adoption will start to accelerate by the 2014-15 timeframe. Penetration of the outdoor stationary sector will grow first, partly because color rendering is less important in these applications (thus allowing use of the least expensive LEDs). When compared to the overall lighting industry, LED sales volumes will still be relatively low in those years, but high prices will lead to large revenue figures. The long life of LED products will also mean that most sales will go into new construction and retrofit situations, and there will be relatively little replacement business.

Even though technological, policy and market trends appear to be driving the U.S. lighting market away from incandescent lighting, they will not totally disappear any time soon. Many types of “specialty” incandescent lamps are exempted from U.S. regulations that will phase out the most common bulbs. Incandescent lamps are also inexpensive to manufacture and there is still nothing restricting their use in much of the world, Wapner says.

An executive summary Pike Research’s report,
“Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets,” is available for free on the company’s website,

Diesel fuel industry cuts sulfur content by 97%

The diesel fuel industry successfully met the Dec. 1, 2010, deadline mandated by the EPA, reducing the sulfur content of diesel fuel by 97 percent, to 15 parts per million. This ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel represents a major step forward in improving air quality in the United States.

“It is quite a remarkable feat that refiners have been able to reduce the sulfur content in diesel fuel by 97 percent,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “The United States now officially has the cleanest on-road diesel fuel in the world.”

The new clean diesel fuel will be a major contributor in helping cities and states meet strict new air quality goals set by the federal government, he said. “This new ultra-clean fuel is extremely important because sulfur tends to hamper exhaust-control devices in diesel engines, like lead once impeded the catalytic converters on gasoline cars. Just as taking the lead out of gasoline in the 1970s enabled a new generation of emissions control technologies that have made gasoline vehicles over 95 percent cleaner, removing the sulfur from diesel helps usher in a new generation of clean diesel technology,” Schaeffer said.

The diesel industry also will continue to transition off-road vehicles like farm tractors and construction machines to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. Construction and agricultural equipment manufacturers are well on their way to launching a new generation of low-emission clean diesel engines that will require this cleaner fuel, Schaeffer added.

The Diesel Technology Forum is a non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel and technology. For more information, visit

Carbon capture a market reality by 2020

With the U.S. coal industry reeling from a series of mining disasters, many business and government leaders are seeking ways to mitigate the costs—economic, environmental, social and human—of electricity from coal. Among the most high-profile approaches for addressing at least some of these costs lies in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

However, according to a recent report from Pike Research, CCS faces a number of challenges including uncertainty about the costs of technology, the lack of a pipeline network to transport CO2 to geological storage sites and, most notably, the absence of a price on carbon emissions.

“There will be an extensive, expanding CCS industry in place by the early 2020s,” says managing director Clint Wheelock. “How large and how vibrant that industry will be depends on how CCS is prioritized by corporations and governments over the next decade.”

The addition of CCS systems to power plants will likely add between 50 and 70 percent to the cost of producing electricity. To date, no commercial-scale integrated power plant with CCS exists. The intensive short-term financing, radical policy shifts and R&D advances that would be required for multiple deployments of CCS in the next five years, Pike Research believes, appear unlikely.

Nevertheless, the forces behind CCS projects are strong, and growth is likely to be significant in the longer term. By 2020, according to the report, global revenues for CCS systems could surpass $1 billion annually under a moderate forecast scenario. In a more aggressive scenario that includes a strong push for CCS by government and industry, that figure could be as high as $42 billion in the same timeframe.

An executive summary of Pike Research’s report, “Carbon Capture and Sequestration,”is available for free download at

Full steam ahead for geothermal

Geothermal Energy Association Executive Director Karl Gawell recently announced the findings of new industry reports that show the geothermal industry will soon add thousands of jobs as dozens of new clean geothermal power plants come online or enter advanced stages of development.

The GEA report—“Green Jobs through Geothermal Energy”—found that the federal stimulus, tax incentives and strong state renewable standards continue to fuel the growth in geothermal power and job creation. The full benefits of the stimulus to the geothermal industry have yet to be realized. About 95 percent of the projects receiving ARRA funding are either less than 50 percent complete or have yet to break ground.

“Recovery Act funding is going to make a huge difference over the next year to push projects to completion and create more jobs. The majority of the ARRA investment will really start to pay dividends for the economy in 2011,” said Gawell.

GEA anticipates that 2011 will be a high-point of geothermal activity in the U.S. under the stimulus legislation. Approximately 500 to 700 Megawatts of power projects will enter their final construction phase in 2011, adding 3,000 construction jobs, primarily in Nevada and California.

ARRA also appears to have drawn a diverse group into the geothermal sector. Almost half of the Geothermal Technologies Program awards from the stimulus went to non-industry entities such as colleges and universities; cities, counties, and other state and local institutions; tribal entities; and the Department of Energy’s National Labs.

As more geothermal industry jobs are being created, a number of colleges and universities across the country are emerging with undergraduate, graduate, and certification programs related to geothermal. GEA also compiled the “U.S. Geothermal Education and Training Guide” that details 22 undergraduate and graduate programs at U.S. colleges and universities. Additionally, 31 schools have research opportunities in geothermal studies available to students.

“To keep creating jobs in the geothermal industry, we must keep getting talented individuals coming into the industry. The programs at these leading schools will develop the next generation of geothermal professionals,” Gawell said.

For more information, visit

‘Clean diesel’ poised for greater environmental role

With the United States moving to implement stronger environmental and fuel economy standards, clean diesel fuel is poised to take on an even greater role in the U.S. transportation market, according to a new Hart Energy Consulting report released by the Diesel Technology Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of diesel engines, fuel and technology.

Representing 20 percent of refined petroleum product demand, diesel use has been increasing at an annual rate of 2.8 percent for the past five years, Hart reports. U.S. diesel demand is expected to increase 1.7 to 2.0 percent per year over the next decade, driven largely by the heavy-duty transportation sector and by pending fuel economy and climate policy initiatives that will increase diesel use among automobiles.

The diesel industry is in the midst of implementing advanced engine and emissions control technology that will lower emissions from on- and off-road vehicles and equipment by more than 98 percent compared to 2000-era technology. With superior fuel economy up to 35 percent better than gasoline vehicles, diesel provides a strong option for meeting efficiency requirements while maintaining performance and power, according to the report.

Another indicator of increased current and future diesel sales, the percentage of gas stations offering diesel fuel increased from 35.4 percent in 1997 to 52.1 percent in 2007. The Hart report predicts sales of clean diesel automobiles in the United States will increase from just 2 percent in 2009 to 8.5 percent in 2020.

“The significant growth in diesel car sales forecast for the United States has already occurred in other regions of the world,” notes Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum. “The Hart report highlights that in the European market, diesel car sales have increased from 32.1 percent in 2000 to an astounding 53.3 percent in 2007. The new emission and higher mileage standards mandated by the federal government will increase the importance of diesel autos for American drivers.”

Because of diesel fuel’s inherent attributes—its energy density, low-sulfur content, widespread availability and compatibility with biofuels—it is easy to recognize diesel’s emergence as a leading fuel of the future, Schaeffer adds. “Diesel offers energy and environmental improvement without the need for development of an infrastructure to support the advanced technology [as required by electric vehicles]. Diesel’s unique capability to utilize a range of renewable fuels and blends enhances its desirability under emerging renewable fuel requirements.”

For more information, visit

Alcoa’s bin helpful with recycling

Alcoa is providing 50,000 recycling bins to organizations and communities throughout the U.S. this year in its effort to promote recycling of aluminum cans and other packaging material.

“Alcoa and the Aluminum Association have a goal of increasing the recycling rates of aluminum beverage cans in the U.S. from the current 54% to 75% by the year 2015,” said Greg Wittbecker, Alcoa Director of Recycling. “This bin distribution program is just one way that we’re trying to make it easier for people to recycle.”

Recycling aluminum cans provides benefits to the environment because it saves valuable landfill space, and the cans are infinitely recyclable. They can be used, recycled, and back on the store shelf as a new beverage can in less than 60 days. And, it takes 95% less energy to make a can from recycled aluminum than from raw materials. Aluminum is also the most valuable material in the recycling bin. Although by weight it is less than 2% of the country’s recycled stream, aluminum generates 40% of the revenue to sustain all recycling programs.

“If we could get each American to recycle just one more can per week over what they already do, we could reach our 75% recycling goal,” said Wittbecker.

Alcoa Recycling first started providing bins in 2008 and has given bins to municipalities, colleges, Native American tribes and community-based organizations in 19 states.


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