October 13, 2006

L.A. and U.K. Discuss Sustainable Energy

Los Angeles (October 13, 2006): Last July, two "heads of state," British Prime Minister Tony Blair and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, met in Long Beach, California to discuss global warming, energy technology, and other environmental issues. As a direct followup, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom hosted an "International Sustainable Energy Symposium" on the UCLA campus. The purpose: to provide an opportunity for academics, technologists, and policy makers from both sides of the Atlantic to share notes (and business cards) on a broad range of issues involving sustainable energy and climate change.

Why conduct the symposium?
Bob Peirce, the British Consul General at Los Angeles stressed the commonality and mutual respect that the U.K. and U.S. have for each other on the subjects of energy and air quality. He reminded the audience that the first nation to embrace coal during the industrial revolution (the U.K.) dominated the world militarily, economically, and politically. Similarly, the U.S. achieved the same result when it was the first to develop and exploit oil. His inference was clear - there will be a certain advantage to whomever is the first to embrace renewable energy. Collaboration will speed the process and strengthen the bond between our nations.

This symposium was an opportunity to consider and learn about the focus of various groups in each country. The subject matter was as diverse as the biographies of the panels:
- The "academic panel" discussed wind and water power, photovoltaics, electrical grids, green architecture, and environmental education.
- The "industrial panel" addressed biomass conversion technologies, and utility initiatives for renewable energy.
- The "policy panel" focused on California AB 32 air quality assessments, low carbon technologies, collaborative networks, and air quality regulations and control.

Biomass Conversion Technologies
Relevant to the focus of this blog, biomass conversion, Coby Skye from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works presented a report on L.A. efforts to identify and deploy clean conversion technologies (CTs). Many facilities in Europe and Japan have deployed clean waste-to-energy facilities. The U.S. is lagging behind although revolutionary clean technologies have already be tested in pilot plants throughout the country. The LA/DPW will most certainly build one of the first commercial-scale CT facilities in the country.

No only will CTs divert waste from landfills, they will contribute to cleaning up air pollution, generating green electricity, and reducing our dependence on oil. Questions from the audience focused on the state regulatory requirements that would need to be changed to enable Los Angeles' RENEW L.A. plan to be deployed. He said that the DPW would proceed with its plans and continue to make its case for Los Angeles until the necessary changes are made in Sacramento. Los Angeles is running out of landfill space.

Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles Deputy Mayor on Energy Environment spoke about Mayor Villaraigosa's recent trip to the U.K. and the city's efforts to: purchase clean energy vehicles, expand the mass transit system, tap methane gases from landfills, plant one million trees, and expedite green building permitting. Questions about the Mayor's support of conversion technologies and specifically RENEW L.A. were repeatedly addressed by the audience during and after the presentation. She referred favorably to the summer's Emerging Waste Technologies Forum at UCLA where CTs were the topic of discussion. However, she appeared to hedge any commitment on the Mayor's position by saying there were passionate viewpoints expressed on both sides of the issue.

Richard Germain of Navigant Consulting was on hand to moderate the industries panel. He has been personally involved in drafting many recommendations and preparing the Governor's BioEnergy Action Plan for California. As stated in the report "The recommendations contained in the Action Plan are intended to create the necessary institutional and regulatory changes that will substantially increase the production and use of bioenergy in California. These recommendations represent near-term first steps that can be taken by state agencies and the Bioenergy Interagency Working Group to invigorate the biopower and biofuels sectors."

Continuing Collaboration
While the purpose may have been to foster cross-Atlantic business relationships, there was too little time for attendees to meet and discuss ways to continue the collaboration. However, it is clear that there are many benefits to continuing collaboration. I invite attendees to this event to submit links to biomass conversion developments they hear about and comment frequently to any articles posted here.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Scott, I speak as a British National in Norfolk England, once WWII base for the USAF bomber command.

I beg the question, what can California or the US learn from Tony Blair? I would conclude very little, other than an incinerator proliferation disaster. I would counter the comment that the US is behind the UK on residual waste. The US is far ahead of the UK on plasma gasification, biofuel technology, on par with incinerator and slightly ahead on Zero Waste urban cultural strategies (San Francisco, San Diego). So on landfill diversion the US might be slightly behind on % volume reduction, but has better in the locker advanced residual technologies developed to leap frog over any UK incinerator only advances 2000-2007, so is better placed in many areas of CO2 reductions, PM2.5/toxic emissions and Conversion/Recovery/EfW tecnologies without Combustion being involved.

Tony Blair is a great politican, great smile, great spinmerchant with little to sell. His Energy from Waste (Incinerator) policy in the UK has been a complete disaster with the public. Lets not be fooled by appearances or Veolia spin. The UK has nothing to teach the US on upgraded PM2.5 emitters. Blairs only solution was dressed up incinerators than few folks want. They are currently being inposed by deceptive planning changes (Barker report) and reduced permitting scrutiny. Local people listened to for a phoney 5 minutes consultation and then ingored. You US EPA is streets ahead on PM2.5 research and monitoring than out useless Health Protection Agency and Environmental Agency/Defra.

The areas that the UK ( and Germany)might be slightly ahead of the US on Waste to Energy is in MBT/AD technology combinations and cleaner compost (Soil Association, PAS 100 quality) via IR and Xray scanners (e.g SRM/NEWS), and also in the area of MHT autoclaving (e.g Sterecycle) as a waste volume reducer and material recovery technology. Australia wet MBT/AD ArrowBio process looks promising for municipal waste. These are the good areas the US might look at and share notes on. IMO.

So whilst I appreciate Anglophilia, as much as Americanophilia is recipricated, don't get to taken in by Blair's EfW or CHP Incinerator smile, its a technological trojan horse! Same tired donkey dressed and spun up!

C. Scott Miller said...

Thanks PM2.5 for your comment.

It will take the combined brain power of the best and the brightest of all continents to solve the technological challenges posed by waste-to-energy technologies. But the benefits are so huge that barring a complete human behavioral change on the use of current waste streams, we must persevere. Churchill and your countrymen have been very good at teaching the world about perseverance.

We will be well rewarded for achieving the alchemy of cleanly and efficiently replacing fossil fuels with waste and biomass bioenergy. You are right - incineration is not the answer and advanced gasification and plasma arc systems are probably are probably not advanced enough. But unless we try hard now - with public interest and support at an all time high - how will we ever make the mistakes necessary to arrive at a workable solution?

It is bracing to see the amount of international collaboration on these issues. I invite everyone to come to the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference in March 2008 and participate (see http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=3&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wirec2008.gov%2F&ei=ME9TR4CgCZqSgQKAt_naCg&usg=AFQjCNEB6Z2zq_f9f7sqk0NJlqvTUhVn_Q&sig2=ZYHzJj1FJh9czh_TKwatmA).