Renewable energy portfolio standards need to include all forms of sustainable energy

CNG to power our next truck is not from shale; it could come from a frozen can of soup

By Gregory Jackson

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(Photo:  2015 Truck of the Year is Ford’s all aluminum alloy F-150.  At the Cleveland Auto Show).

This week in Cleveland is the 2015 Cleveland Auto Show (March 7-15, 2015), where there are 750 concept vehicles and the North American Truck of the Year, the 2015 all aluminum F-150.  The 2015 Ford F-150 weighs 700 pounds less than last year’s F-150.  The EPA-estimated fuel economy is 26 miles per gallon, earning it the highest EPA fuel economy ratings for a truck.  We plan to Ride-n-Drive it at the show.

However we are not interested in the new F-150 aluminum truck, instead we are interested in revisiting any of their CNG bi-fuel trucks because 42,600 wet tons per year of food waste can generate 1,800 gallons of CNG per day.

Last summer, Groundz visited CH4BioGas Company, provider of Campbell’s Soup Company (NYSE: CPB) recycler of Campbell’s Soup food waste and vital zero waste infrastructure for others.  Their digester in Napoleon, Ohio was recycling a couple semi-trucks per day of frozen soup that went bad in transport during last year’s cold winter.  This winter has also been subzero temperatures and may result in more frozen soup destined to the anaerobic digester.

Their digester is impressive because it source separates tin, paper, and food.

In the digester the food waste produces methane gas that powers part of Campbell’s Soup plant across the street.  The final material goes through a three-tank pasteurization process that makes the finally bi-product of compost that resembles a high quality topsoil mix, which we were given samples for interested buyers in Cleveland.  The digester can be operated by a plant manager’s smart phone.

In December, after two years of piloting an experiment on creating new food waste recycling infrastructure (and a new nonprofit called Groundz) while driving a 1999 Ford Taurus, the car has since retired with a bad head gasket.  In the meantime we have been hauling in an orange 1982 F-250.  We often get requests from buyers, it’s not for sale.

How does 42,600 wet tons of food waste produce 1,800 gallons of CNG per day and power homes in Cleveland?

Through anaerobic digestion, a process using hydrolysis, fermentation, and methanogensis; breaks down organic material to capture methane for high quality CNG conversion.  CNG produced this way is the same as CNG from shale; the biggest difference is how the natural gas was sourced.  To utilize methane gas, the digester captures it to power a generator, and produces 1.3 Mw per hour of electricity.

When we congratulated Ford for 2015 Truck of the Year we also recognized their bi-fuel trucks were the first on the market.

“Sounds like you’re doing great work and I like the way it’s integrating, food, fuels, health, and environment!” said Carrie Majeske, associate director of global sustainability integration for Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F).

Ford’s vehicle showcase at this week’s Cleveland’s Auto Show at the IX Center is an assortment of their vehicles, the Ford Robot, and F-150 all aluminum alloy 2015 Truck of the Year where I met Brian Hocevar, Ford salesman at Liberty Ford from Solon, Ohio.

“Have you ever seen the video of golf balls driven into the F-150 truck to compare its strength with last year’s F-150 model?” asked Hocevar.  “Look, there’s even LED lights in the bed.”  They were nice lights.

I asked Hocevar about my Ford Taurus, which is rusty in the rear wheel wells.

“Here touch it, it’s made of all aluminum which doesn’t rust,” said Hocevar.  “Yeah, Ford used to make the Taurus like that.”  I asked Hocevar if someone from Ford was interested in learning about Groundz.

Groundz dream is to pickup food trimmings fueled with last month’s food waste; it takes about 27 days for a bucket of banana peels to release CNG and generate electricity.  Yet the renewable energy conversation does not include renewable CNG from digester technology, thus we want to raise awareness of its sustainable sourcing by driving a Ford truck bi-fuel.  He directed me to the Ford information table.

I shared our enthusiasm for celebrity chef food waste recycling at urban farms and hypothetically recycling of spent grain for Ohio City brewers in Cleveland by delivering the waste to quasar energy group’s anaerobic digester in Collinwood and asked if I can give him a Groundz newsletter.

“No, I can’t take your newsletter, but visit FordNewIdeas.com.  Good luck,” Ford information table person said.  Yet, Groundz is not an idea, but a nonprofit organization already serving organic waste recycling needs for customers.  So I returned to Hocevar and shared the same information I had with the Ford information table.

“Sure, I’ll take a copy,” said Hocevar.  “What year is that Ford truck?”  He was referring to Cort Cable’s truck, Groundz co-founder, who drives an orange 1982 Ford F250, featured in our March 2015 newsletter.  Hocevar is known for his excellent customer service throughout Solon, as customers have been known to buy multiple Ford vehicles from him.  He gives his cell phone number so you can reach him on weekends.  “In fact, I’ll put this in my coat pocket.”  He walked quite a distance to his belongings for safe keepings.

I checked out Hocevar’s suggested Ford YouTube video hosted by John Brenkus ‘Sport Science’ Guy who challenges athletes to test the toughness of the 2015 F-150 aluminum since its criticism for structural weakness.  Check out Ford’s “The 2015 Ford F-150 takes on Top Athletes Pummeling it with Projectiles / Tough Science” (Ford YouTube video).

Natural gas availability far exceeds its current output.

In fact an estimated 12,400 to 20,800 trillion cubic feet of remaining global natural gas, about 16,200 trillion cubic feet or 150 times of current annual global natural gas consumption is available, according to The Future of Natural Gas:  An Interdisciplinary MIT Study, June 2010.

The 170-page report features the under-utilized natural gas market, despite the boom in shale natural gas, which has recently been noticed shale natural gas lack of safety standards.  Since the overall natural gas boom in the U.S. daily production was 52 billion cubic feet in 1985 has increased to 90 billion cubic feet in 2014; 18 million gallons of Bakken shale (North Dakota) oil has been spilled since 2006, not to mention the chemical-laden wastewater used to hydraulically fracture and capture the oil.

“Within the U.S. market, the price of oil (which is set globally) compared to the price of natural gas (which is set regionally) is very important in determining market share when there is the opportunity for substitution,” observed in the MIT study on the future of natural gas.

The MIT study focuses in light of carbon emission reduction economy as a benchmark for unconventional fuel sources since its application for intermittent renewable energy is viable when diversified with solar or wind power.

Carbon-restrained world is a good assumption to make since atmospheric carbon has not been this high in four billion years and its effect is starting to be understood.  When Daniel Fagre, USGS ecologist conducted field surveys at Glacier National Park, 25-foot high walls of ice that once dotted the landscape are now gone after ten years of observation.  It’s not just the missing ice that alarms Fagre, but that the American west gets 80 percent of their water from glaciers and without snow, the area will dry up effecting species like wolverines and hummingbirds.  With drier conditions glacial lilies may have already bloomed before the hummingbirds come for nectar.

Renewable energy like solar and wind will reduce carbon emission, but their outputs alone will not be enough to supply energy demand.

In fact, Boston winter this year would have their solar panels buried under 10 feet of snow – when power is not available from solar natural gas would kick in like a bridge – although many New England residents have seen 110 percent increase in their electric bills this winter.

“Most importantly for this study, there has been a growing recognition that the low carbon content of natural gas relative to other fossil fuels,” the report discovered that, “could allow it to play a significant role in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, acting as a “bridge” to a low-carbon future.

It can also be a bridge to a zero waste world.

Global annual food waste is estimated to be at 1.6 billion tons per year, of that amount 1.3 billion tons is still edible, with an estimated 3.3 billion tons of CO2 greenhouse gas released into the air from food waste, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) food wastage data.  The FAO reported the use of water to produce food not eaten is 250km3 that is roughly the amount of Russia’s Volga River water flow per year or three times the volume of Lake Geneva.

If 42,600 tons of recycled organic waste produces 1,800 gallons per day of CNG from anaerobic digestion, then if 1.6 billion tons were put into a digester, then we would have 5,633,802.8 gallons of CNG per month and 4.1 MWh of electricity per month.  Granted the goal would be to try and re-donate some of the 1.3 billion tons of food still edible to feed everyone.

Quasar Energy Group, founded in Cleveland, Ohio has been building zero waste infrastructure for renewable energy through anaerobic digesters around Ohio and New York.  Their digester in Collinwood, near Euclid, Ohio would be the site where we would fuel our truck to help lower the Company’s flare rates.  (A flare rate is the frequency of required natural gas burn off to safely run the digester and allow the production of more renewable energy).

When I spoke with representatives from Quasar Energy Group and shared with them our goal of donating food waste, coffee grounds, and spent brewery grains to their digester so we can fuel our dream truck (a Ford bi-fuel) with their CNG pump and help reduce flaring to zero, they liked it.

“That would be a good goal,” said someone at Quasar Energy Group who is familiar with demonstrating closed-loop organic waste recycling and flare use reduction.  “But with the recent drop in oil prices the drive to use CNG has also dropped.”

Groundz goal is to raise awareness of renewable CNG, which is different than conventional CNG.  Renewable CNG is generated by providing a solution for organic waste recycling, too.  Considering that we throw out 1.6 billion tons per year of food waste, just 42,600 tons per year, easily processed in a digester to generate CNG and electricity, but no one knows how much power we are wasting because more research and awareness should be given to anaerobic digestion for CNG and electricity.

In the United States, USDA and EPA launched U.S. Food Waste Challenge.  USDA estimates that every American throws out about $390 worth of food per year, in 2010 that meant 133 billion pounds of food, and too much of our food is wasted said Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA.  Last year Groundz was recognized by the USDA as helping our customer meet the USDA Food Waste Challenge when we recycled/composted 31,000 pounds of coffee grounds for one Dunkin Donuts for 15 months.

While the MIT study highlights the many sustainable applications of CNG for vehicles, emerging production in Utica (Ohio), Marcellus (Pennsylvania), and Bakkan (North Dakota) shale, projected $210 billion over the next 20 years of investment into this form of natural gas sourcing is expected, lower carbon future, natural gas “bridge”, and methane hydrates, it does not mention anaerobic digestion.

“The resource can be disaggregated into a number of sub-categories,” the MIT report defines, “specifically, “proved reserves”, “reserve growth” (via further development of known fields) and “undiscovered resources,” which represent gas volumes that are expected to be discovered in the future via the exploration process.”  But no studies include how much natural gas and electricity can be produced from recycled organic waste.

In the energy market both political and economic signs may be pointing to alternative ways toward policy change and speculation for natural gas.

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is nearly no longer imported by U.S. markets, according to Mark Perry, scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and professor of economics and finance from the University of Michigan.

“The impact of the shale revolution in the United States on global energy markets has been huge,” writes Perry.  “Instead of relying on large amounts of foreign liquefied natural gas to compensate for shortage of domestic production, the reverse has occurred.  The U.S. now imports almost no LNG” (In his piece “Natural Gas Boom Is Win-Win-Win Policy written for IBD, Wednesday, February 18, 2015. A1).

Perry runs a shale-gas production growth scenario question that is not limited by regulations, presidential pipeline vetoes, or taxes, but ability to provide reliable gas for trading partners is the key question.

When a mechanic with 36 years experience managing a truck fleet of 250 said he modified a number of the trucks to be CNG capable, but they were not getting descent miles per gallon.

“We had to drive all the way to East 55th Street near St. Clair to get fuel,” this mechanic said.  “Because we have 250 trucks in our fleet there was an effort to convert all of them to CNG, but I’m glad that’s over.”

In 2014 the United States had over 1,100 CNG service stations with more planned.  With 57 million homes heated by natural gas also potentially providing CNG fueling by adding a compressor to your own home’s gas line, according to 2014 Alternative Fuel Buyers Guide, a Ford Motor Company publication.

Our goal would be for Columbia (of NiSource, NYSE: NI), Dominion, and other natural gas companies to strongly consider diversifying their natural gas sources by hooking pipelines to anaerobic digesters to reduce flaring at digesters and to help meet meaningful energy portfolio standards; these pipelines serve 57 million homes in the U.S.

Modifying engines originally manufactured without CNG capabilities have had mixed results.  In some of Ford’s early model bi-fuel trucks from the manufacturer of Ford trucks have been known to get 255 miles per CNG tank plus another 255 miles on conventional fuel on two full tanks, but miles per gallon has since improved.

“I like Ford trucks.”  They did not take bailout money when autos were receiving government bailouts.

“Me too, they are the most American you can get,” said this mechanic.

On Friday (March 6), Ford announced that Cleveland’s Ford Engine Plant right down the street from the IX Center will be producing the Twin-Scroll 2.0 and 2.3 Eco Boost Engines, the first time these engines will be manufactured in the U.S.

Another sign we have entered an economic opportunity for natural gas is contango.

Contango is the storing of oil for inversion.  Since there is more oil produced among weak demand, larger oil traders have more room to store oil at cheaper prices.  Citi expects the price of oil to go to $20 per barrel through this summer (2015).

“The practice turns an almost bullet-proof profit,” writes Gillian Rich, reporter for Investor’s Business Daily.  “It also inflates standing oil inventories and has analysts watching for oil and gasoline prices to tumble even further” (“Little Guys Lose Out on Oil Bonanza, Investor’s Business Daily, Monday, March 9, 2015. A7).

Can the natural gas market make room for renewable CNG?

With 94 percent of fuel for transportation sourced from petroleum in 2009 and three percent from natural gas, there certainly is more room to use CNG for transportation, but take it one more step further, make CNG from organic waste recycling.

Ford’s lighter material is built tougher and weighs lighter to conserve fuel, but one day Ford would have a win-win with aluminum alloy (carbon fiber?), bi-fuel trucks, or even CNG trucks fuel at your home.

When I asked the mechanic who performs maintenance on a fleet of 250 trucks if he has seen the new all alloy aluminum Ford F-150 weighing 700 pounds lighter than earlier models he said:  “This I gotta see.  Some of our trucks are made from aluminum and they look so flimsy in the wind.”

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