Oil Conservation News and Tips
from Please Conserve

Saving global by growing local

Oil conservation is a big topic that seeps into even the smallest aspects of modern life. It’s Valentines Day: you order dessert to top off a special meal at your favorite restaurant, and then take a bite of the raspberry tart. Something tastes off — not the fruit itself, but the aftertaste, once you realize how it got to your plate. What’s oil got to do with it, you might wonder, and the answer is, everything.

Today’s global market brings the world to your table with fresh produce appearing year round in markets all over the United States. Your climate determines which fruits can be grown locally, or even in your hemisphere. The summer fruits, such as peaches, plums and berries that stock markets in the dead of winter needed oil to fuel the thousands of miles they traveled on trucks, trains and ships. Globalization resulted in the stiff competition that made imports affordable, despite the costs inherent in long-distance shipping, due to cheap labor, and sometimes-lax agricultural safeguards. Organic produce, championed as the answer to toxic pesticides still relies on burning greenhouse-emitting fossil fuels to reach their destination. For foods transported around the globe, organic and sustainable mean two different things. Fraud further erodes imported organics luster. Recently, the FDA uncovered a plan to fake the organic status of Chinese fruit and vegetable imports.

In industrial agriculture, everything from the oil-based plastics used in packaging, to the monoculture of crops is geared towards efficiency, maximizing profit and minimizing costs; but the cost to the environment is only recently being examined. According to the Unites States Department of Agriculture 15 percent of all food in the U.S. is imported, and the percentage of imported fruit is even higher. Worldwide, fewer and fewer agri-giants grow the food we eat.

Alarmed about the trend, conservation-minded leaders and residents have started thinking differently about how we relate to our food supplies. Locavore is a new term on the lips of urban and suburbanites, who limit what they eat to what is available locally, each season, and put up, or can and preserve excess yields for future use. The practice might seem novel to young adults, but is merely the way the U.S. operated before World War II, before the consolidation of agriculture and the expansion of road and air travel.  

In Southern California, the concept of local food is epitomized in the Altadena Urban Farmers Market. The market operates more like a food and goods exchange, in which neighbors bring produce grown, collected or prepared locally. Although located less than 20 miles away from downtown Los Angeles, and less than five miles away from Pasadena, neighbors learn how to make cheese from goats raised on large lots and bring eggs collected fresh that morning to market.

Fuel cell technology increasing

Adoption of fuel cell powered products is gathering increasing momentum in a wide variety of application areas. The shift from an R&D-based industry to a fully commercial one is well under way, though it has not been without its setbacks. Fuel cells are now being deployed for applications as diverse as residential power, off-grid mobile communications sites in Africa, low-carbon transportation and electrical grid reliability. According to a new report from Pike Research, Boulder, Colo., global fuel cell shipments doubled between 2008 and 2010, from approximately 7,500 units to more than 15,000 units annually during that period.

“The reasons for the groundswell of interest in fuel cells are as varied as the sectors that are implementing the technology,” says research director Kerry-Ann Adamson. “Industry and government leaders are finding that fuel cells are a highly effective tool for deploying reliable, clean power for stationary, portable and transport applications.”

Adamson adds that the largest fuel cell unit growth has been in the stationary power sector, which represented approximately 60 percent of shipments during 2010. Demand for stationary fuel cells is being driven by a number of early adopter sectors including the Japanese market for residential units, power for grid-tied and off-grid mobile base stations globally, and combined heat and power (CHP) plants for a variety of markets, including hospitals and hotels. Portable fuel cells have had their ups and downs over the past two years, with a temporary spike in shipments created by the sale of 3,000 Toshiba Dynario external battery rechargers in 2009, followed by a sharp decline in total sales in 2010. Significant volumes for transportation fuel cells in cars and buses are still several years away as automakers gear up for fuel cell vehicle (FCV) launches in 2015, though shipments from the auxiliary power unit (APU) sector continue to increase year-on-year.

In the midst of this period of market evolution, the fuel cell competitive landscape is coming into clearer focus. With literally scores of companies having active development programs, Pike Research’s analysis indicates that a handful of market leaders and fast followers are beginning to emerge. The analysis shows that in 2010 less than a dozen companies accounted for the vast majority of global shipments. “The next few years will determine which of the current fuel cell companies will survive and thrive, and which will fall by the wayside,” says Adamson, “but this is also a time when barriers to entry for new companies are decreasing. With the start of product standardization, the creation of new business models, and the increasing focus on product shipments, we fully anticipate the market opening up to many new entrants over the next five years.”

An executive summary of Pike Research’s first annual “Fuel Cells Annual Report” is available for free download on the firm’s website,

No small plans for biotech company banking on sun, water to produce fuel

As “green” technology expands, biotechnology companies will continue to make promising announcements about advancements in energy and conservation. How about a biotechnology proclamation that essentially says a way to realize “energy independence” is in the offing?

Joule Unlimited, out of Cambridge, Mass., was the topic of recent reports after the company announced it was able to produce fuel that can run jet engines through the invention of a genetically engineered organism. Joule Unlimited says this organism secretes diesel fuel or ethanol whenever it is exposed to sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. Best of all, the company claims it can use the organism to produce renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates and in small or large facilities at a cost similar to those creating the cheapest fossil fuels.

Joule’s website uses the catchphrase “energy independence” and does it with confidence, based on the belief that this discovery can at some point revolutionize energy and eliminate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Experts in the renewable energy research world are understandably skeptical about Joule’s discovery and proclamation, claiming it is an exciting process but it is unproven and is likely to encounter problems in collecting the fuel that the organism is creating.

Trying to create fuel from solar energy is nothing new to the energy research industry, as it has been going on for decades. Joule executives believe they will make more progress than others because they have eliminated the need for tons of corn or algae that must be grown, harvested and destroyed to extract a fuel that must still be treated and refined.

Joule operates with what it is called a cyanobacterium, which has been patented for producing diesel molecules. The cyanobacterium, sometimes called blue-green algae, can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre annually, more than four times the most efficient algal process for making fuel – at a cost they estimate at $30 a barrel.
The cyanobacterium is found virtually everywhere and is less complex than algae, which makes Joule researchers believe it will be easier to genetically manipulate. The organisms are engineered to take in sunlight and carbon dioxide, then produce and secrete ethanol or hydrocarbons as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

The company reports that it envisions building facilities near power plants and feeding waste carbon dioxide to its cyanobacteria so it can reduce carbon emissions at the same time. Flat, solar-panel style module “bioreactors” house the cyanobacterium, which means the company can build large or small production facilities.

While detractors say the major problem will be collection of the fuel, Joule Unlimited is forging forward with a 10-acre demonstration facility in Cambridge in hopes that it will be operating commercially in less than two years.

Plug-in fleets to hit 1.3 million vehicles by 2015

Over the next few years, corporations and governments will be highly focused on improving the efficiency of their vehicle fleets. While traditional hybrid electric vehicles will continue to play an important role, with the twin goals of reducing lifetime operating expenses as well as lowering emissions from their vehicles, fleet managers will increasingly turn to plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as a solution. A recent report from Pike Research forecasts that between 2010 and 2015, more than 1.3 million PEVs will be purchased for use in fleet operations, with nearly 400,000 vehicles being sold annually by the end of the forecast period.

“Plug-in electric vehicles are primarily known for their consumer applications, but they will play a greater and greater role in fleets as well,” says senior analyst Dave Hurst. “Fleet managers will be drawn to the fuel efficiency benefits of PEVs, in many cases to satisfy requirements to reduce overall fleet emissions. Tax incentives are also a powerful motivator to some fleet operators, though others will not factor this into the equation either because they do not qualify or because the tax incentive is not put back into their budget.”

Hurst adds that automakers will look to the fleet markets in these early years of PEV sales to help bolster production and reduce overall vehicle costs. As a result, passenger cars will be the leading segment in the PEV fleet market over the next five years, representing more than 80 percent of total sales in 2015. Small SUVs will also be an important segment, though their adoption will lag significantly behind passenger cars. Early adopters for fleet PEVs will include operations that have local, predictable routes such as delivery vehicles and taxis. Hurst anticipates that many fleet operators will maintain their own EV charging stations and thus will be relatively insensitive to range and charging infrastructure concerns.

Pike Research’s study, “Hybrid Electric Vehicles for Fleet Markets,” analyzes the opportunities and challenges for light-duty HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs in commercial fleet markets around the world. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website,

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.”

GPS helping to cut down on oil dependency

You hop in your car, set up the GPS for the best route to your destination, and then let the voice of that global positioning system guide you the rest of the way. In the meantime, you are becoming part of a widespread network of GPS users who get where they need to go without taking a longer route or getting lost, thus limiting the chances of wasting gas for no reason.

It’s becoming apparent to global economists that what has become a fairly simple means of finding the fastest, least-congested routes to work and recreation destinations has become a significant factor in a movement that ultimately lessens America’s fuel consumption and the need for foreign oil. Imagine the trucking industry and how it has been able to cut back on diesel fuel usage by cutting back on unnecessary miles by using a GPS.

GPS is just one example of the fuel-efficiency trend. Among others:

* The railroad industry is starting to use lighter rail cars, more-efficient locomotives and friction-reducing rails to cut fuel consumption.

* The dawning of the E-ZPass or other electronic systems for collecting tolls. The end of long toll booth lines in some of the nation’s most seriously congested tollways has cut down on wasted fuel in a dramatic fashion – millions of gallons per year, by some estimates.

* The Kiplinger newsletter reports that by the 2016 model year, automakers will have to achieve average fuel economy for their passenger cars and light trucks of 34.1 miles per gallon, up from 27.3 mpg in the 2011 model year. This means auto companies will have to improve their models’ fuel efficiency by 4.3 percent each year between now and 2016.

* Please Conserve has reported in the past about the coming of electric cars and the promise of battery-powered vehicles bringing fuel efficiency to a new standard – using no gasoline at all. Meanwhile, the news generation of gas-electric hybrids offer 40 mpgs or more.

* The number of miles people are driving started a downward trend five years ago, and with the cost of gasoline skyrocketing again, this figures to continue.

* The green economy calls for vehicles that run on natural gas, but also on ethanol distilled from corn. It is certain that the use of ethanol will continue to grow from its current 10 percent, particularly with the Environmental Protection Agency approving a 50 percent increase in the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend into regular gasoline.

*Biofuels are another phase coming quickly, with fuels being created from grains, non-food materials and even stuff we are currently throwing into landfills.

Pepsi intros new ‘natural’ plastic bottle

With mounting criticism of the plastics industry regarding the billions of plastic bags and bottles in the environment (see Please Conserve post dated March 11) and the massive amount of oil needed to make plastic, news that PepsiCo has created a “natural” plastic bottle was being lauded for its green potential.

Environmental and health reporters at various major media outlets revealed PepsiCo’s creation of a plastic bottle using 100 percent agricultural waste to create a top-quality bottle that could be placed back into the existing recycling system.

Officials in the Natural Resources Defense Council were going as far as to call it “the beginning of the end for petroleum-based plastic bottles.”

The revelation of a plant-based, fully renewable plastic bottle is also good news for those who have contended that the Bisphenol-A, or phthalates, in many plastic products, particularly baby bottles, may be behind the recent increase in autism cases.

Environmentalists are also hoping that the creation of this plastic bottle proves to be a method that could become widespread, eliminating the proliferation of “single-use” or “one-use” plastic items that cannot be recycled, such as the small spoons or forks used at a grocery store food sampling kiosk.

Reports indicate that the PepsiCo bottle is made from switch grass, pine bark and corn husks. Other materials, such as orange peels, potato peels, oat hulls and other agriculture byproducts are earmarked for possible future use. This is a breakthrough for PepsiCo on many levels, since much of the agricultural waste that can be used would be byproducts of its other products such as Frito-Lay, Tropicana and Quaker.

Economic analysts view this as a win for the environment and a win for companies that embrace such methods, pointing out that Coca-Cola introduced a “PlantBottle” nearly two years ago, and a product with 30 percent plant material.

In creating the new bottle, PepsiCo officials proclaimed to have “cracked the code” in inventing a new form of plastic. It is believed that the key to this secret code process would be extracting cellulose from the waste, because cellulose is a basic building block of all plants and can be used to form the resin polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. With this process, Pepsi is saying its new bottle is identical to any other PET plastic bottle on a molecular level.

What the advancement of such a process could eventually mean in terms of saving oil supplies around the globe can only be speculation at this point.

Some conservationists are understandably cautious, insisting that the best course of action in reducing plastic bottles from showing up in landfills or in waterways is for consumers to cut down on their use – no matter how they are made.

Overwhelmed by plastics and what to do

Can you go a day without seeing a plastic bag or a plastic container? If you live in the United States, the answer has to be a resounding “No.”

The dramatic increase of plastic bags, containers, bottles, bottle caps and eating utensils in the United States and across the world has caused environmentalists to voice concerns about how these products fill our landfills, end up in our oceans, waste our oil supplies and cause health concerns because of the materials used to create them.

Environmental groups in small and large communities are starting to show a film by Susan Bereza titled “Bag It” that examines the proliferation of plastic bags and raises awareness that there are alternatives to consider when shopping. “Bag It” reveals several sobering statistics, amongst them:

* Polyethylene is most widely used in making plastic, with annual production of about 80 million metric tons, and it is made from oil, or fossil fuels.

* Plastic bags first started showing up in stores in 1977 and now are being consumed at a rate of a million a minute, or 500 billion bags per year worldwide.

* Plastic bags are starting to be outlawed in many parts of the world, as well as the United States, where 30 communities in Alaska have banned their use. The city of Washington, D.C., has imposed a fee for using a plastic bag as a way to deter their use.

* The city of San Francisco has banned use of plastic bags, and is reporting that there have been few complaints.

* Corporations and companies that make plastic products still believe that plastic is a better choice because the alternative is paper bags, which pose a threat to trees that produce the paper pulp. The American Chemistry Council strongly believes that plastic is a safe, recyclable alternative and has created a website.

* Environmentalists feel that paper products can be made from 100 percent recycled paper materials, whereas many plastic products never get recycled and end up in the landfills or in water streams and eventually in the ocean, where they are harmful to marine wildlife.

* Those crusading for less plastic are most concerned about “single-use” plastic products like plastic spoons and forks used for sampling food in stores or in company lunchrooms. Such throwaways take precious fuel to create and are rarely recycled.

* The recycling symbols on plastic items don’t guarantee they will be recycled. Every community in America has different guidelines for what they will and won’t recycle.

* A portion of the northern Pacific Ocean is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” because all of the plastic waste converges there, with tons of small plastic pieces swirling under the water. Aquatic life can’t differentiate between a small piece of plastic and a piece of food, thus autopsies on dead birds and fish on an ocean shore often reveal pieces of plastic that the creatures have consumed.

* Researchers estimate that in some parts of the ocean, there is 40 percent more plastic than food, and it kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals a year.

* Health officials are making efforts to get plastic baby bottles or children’s toys off the shelves if the plastic contains Bisphenol-A (BPA) or phthalates, both considered chemicals that are detrimental to health and a potential cause in the rise of autism cases and other childhood illnesses.

Ultimately, the film challenges people to be more aware of plastics in their daily lives and to try to start eliminating the use of those that are not necessary. Don’t take a plastic bag at a store when you can easily carry out the products or use your own carrying sack. Check the packaging of certain products to see if you can get them without a plastic container. Ask your community recycling leaders what is happening with the plastic bags and plastic packaging you put in your recycling bin.

As it is with any green initiative, ways to use recycled plastic bags, even as part of a process in creating countertops or other furniture pieces, continues to improve. Conservationists across the world are hoping to continue this trend, while also seeing the use of plastic bags fade from society.

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

‘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


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