May 31, 2008

May 2008 Digest

Sustainability: The New Frontier of Renewable Energy

To shift the energy paradigm from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy will require changes that will impact every tier of society and every acre of the environment. It is clear that skeptics from a broad array of stakeholders will earnestly try to evaluate each new development for its environmental sustainability with Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).

Concurrently, venture capitalists and Wall Street investors will be assessing their economic sustainability and risk factors. As Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels concedes "We recognize that we can't achieve environmental sustainability without economic sustainability." It is simply not realistic to expect governments to fund the changes. To be truly economically sustainable, private enterprise will have to be incentivized to do the heavy lifting.

Some of these assessments will result in time consuming and expensive court challenges leading to decision making inertia. In the meantime, urgent problems like forest health and its impact on climate change will spiral out of control while court challenges will negatively impact stakeholder confidence in these projects.

For example, looking at the past 50 years of wildfire acreage in the U.S. shows the growing cost of forest management inertia and delay aggravated, to a great degree, by incessant environmental lawsuits.

According to the Society of American Foresters there were 729 cases brought against the Forest Service during the thirteen years between 1989 and 2002! Out of 20 million acres identified and funded for thinning (through the bipartisan 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act) only 77,000 acres have been treated. One could say that the will of the people is being subverted systematically.

The real challenge is not technological - it is building communication links that will enable solutions to be developed, funded, and deployed. Without open dialog the status quo will persist because litigation will create delays and increase the economic cost of implementation.

During the early stages of change the threshold standards for determining sustainability need to be the most flexible. We can't really arrive at ideal solutions without deployments of promising technologies to measure, evaluate, and modify. As each threshold is met, it can be succeeded by more challenging ones.

We need to foster an awareness by all sectors that a balance between environmental and economic sustainability will be required for each phase of implementation.

The following stories highlight the risks of the status quo, demonstrate the need for communications bridge-building, and document examples of stakeholder engagement.

BIOstock Blog--------------
· Woody Biomass: Fuel for Wildfires
· Senators: "Wildfires are a climate change issue, too."
· Ending Obstructive Environmental Lawsuits
· Hurricane Katrina's greenhouse gas legacy
· Forest Service and Sierra Club mark trees together
· Logging trees to save forests from development
· No incentives for national forest waste-to-biofuels
· Senator Wyden: Thinning Forests to Save Them
· Woodchip prices now and in the future
· Links between California Wildfires and GHG emissions
· Up in Smoke: Reforesting California after wildfires
· Engaging Forest Stakeholders through Stewardship Contracting
· Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products

BIOconversion Blog--------------
· Woody Biomass: Feedstock for BioEnergy
· Bioenergy's "Top Five" List
· Coskata and GM partner on syngas to ethanol technology
· WIREC Side Events: Communicating the Truth about BioEnergy
· Responses to Time's unbalanced biofuels bashing
· Coskata to build demonstration plant near Pittsburgh

BIOoutput Blog--------------
· Surprising MPG results for low blends of ethanol

BIOwaste Blog--------------
· Capturing energy from unrecycleable waste

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

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