A while back I shared with you a primer on the world’s oldest source of energy – bioenergy. Today, I want to look a little deeper at the pros and cons of bioenergy.
Bioenergy a reliable source of renewable energy. We will never have a shortage of waste that can be converted to energy. As long as there is garbage, manure, and crops there will be biomass to create bioenergy.
Bioenergy can be stored with little energy loss.
As long as there is agriculture there will be a constant energy source.
Bioenergy emits little or no greenhouse gas emissions and is carbon neutral. The carbon that is created by biomass is reabsorbed by the next crop of plants.
Bioenergy doubles as a waste disposal measure.
Bioenergy crops help stabilize soils, improve soil fertility, and reduces erosion.
Bioenergy is a source of clean energy, the use of which can result in tax credits from the US government.
Bioenergy reduces the need for landfills
Using wood from natural forests can lead to deforestation if the forests are not replanted.
The cost of harvesting, transporting, and handling biomass can be expensive.
Storing and processing of biomass requires large amounts of space.
Some fuel sources are seasonal.
May compete with food production in specific cases.
As with every energy source there are pros and cons, but as you can see the pros for bioenergy definitely outweigh the cons. Bioenergy should be included as part of our larger energy picture that includes all types of renewable energy including solar and wind energy.
Bioenergy is best when it is created using waste materials. These are materials that are by-products of agriculture and farming, downed trees, and our garbage and waste that would be left rotting in a landfill. These waste materials can create valuable energy at a relatively low cost, and using these for energy reduces the need for landfills, and helps preserve our surroundings while creating another source of power.
A new collaborative agreement between the Energy Huntsville Initiative, BizTech and the Alabama Center for Sustainable Energy will boost efforts to grow the energy sector in Madison County.
All three organizations will work to establish and cultivate energy-based startups, create a joint operational charter and develop points of contact to coordinate objectives in the group’s memorandum of understanding.
Since 2013, Haley Hix, Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, has been hard at work, creating and implementing environmentally conscious projects. Her goal in each new endeavor is two-fold: to educate the Huntsville community about sustainable options and to make the UAH campus more environmentally friendly.
The small town girl from Tennessee has always been keenly aware of her environment.
ALCSE: “Is there something in your life that makes you love sustainability – or be a champion of it?”
HALEY: “I think it probably had a lot to do with growing up, the way I was raised on a farm, and learning to be protectors and promoters of our environment. In my eyes I just saw it as a very sacred thing. I mean it doesn’t belong to us. We’re here to be caretakers of it.”
Her position as Sustainability Coordinator required a little more initiative, but that’s something Haley isn’t lacking.
ALCSE: “So. Tell me how you got this job… because my co-worker.” Uncomfortable pause. “she said that you basically…” More pause. “kind of…”
HALEY: “Created it?” Laughter.
ALCSE: “Well.” Laughter. “Let’s start with that.”
HALEY: “I started 2013 as an intern here for our energy manager. I was a Power Save Campus Intern. It was a position through the Alliance to Save Energy, which is a national nonprofit that encourages universities to do energy conservation and energy efficiency. I was about two months in when I realized: we don’t have any sustainability projects going on campus. We don’t have a budget for sustainability or any sort of way for students to start sustainability projects.”
ALCSE: “What were your tasks when you began the internship if there weren’t any projects?”
HALEY: “We would do lighting audits of the buildings, make plans for upgrades for new lighting fixtures. We hosted events where students could come and switch out bulbs for more efficient bulbs in their dorm rooms. We would do energy competitions for the residents halls on campus where they would compete for three weeks in the spring to turn all their lights off and save energy and the winning dorm won a prize.”
ALCSE: “That’s kinda cool.”
HALEY: “We didn’t do any institutional changes. It was more an awareness program. And so I thought we needed to do something a little bit deeper. As a student I wrote a proposal for a campus green fund, researched other universities’ student green funds and put together a proposal for the vice president of finance. I proposed in August of 2013 and we got approval for 20K the first year.
“Then I started doing little projects here and there and I eventually convinced this department that they needed a sustainability coordinator.” Laughter.
ALCSE: “I love that.”
Haley loves her job. She’s implemented a lot of projects in the two short years she’s held the position.
If you’ve been to the Charger Union, or any academic building on the UAH campus, you’ve seen Haley’s first campaign: Hydration Stations.
Fact: Only 1 in 5 plastic water bottles really find their way into recycle bins.
Other projects followed, getting larger and larger in scale. Take for instance, the recent composting project, with four departments and three student groups involved.
“That was actually my first project. We did a Ban the Bottle Project to get rid of all the little plastic bottles.”
ALCSE: “Which one of these [projects] is your fave? Or, to ask a different way, which one are you most proud of?”
HALEY: “Actually our composting project is really cool. I don’t know if it’s my favorite…but it is neat because it’s solar-powered and rain-water fueled.”
“Mike Marshall and I wrote a proposal for the Green Fund to start a composting project here at the community garden.
“We built – and I mean we literally, physically built – this composting facility with solar panels on top to power the compost tea brew room. Solar panels power the tea brewer for the compost. We have a rainwater catchment system. We use the rainwater to make the compost tea.
“We collect food scraps – this is in process – from the dining facilities on campus.”
ALCSE: “How big is it?”
HALEY: “Half the size of this room…the pile is….about 9×12. Our grounds crew turns it for us.
“We also have a vermiculture system. We take the compost and the worm castings [from the vermiculture system] and we use both of those things to make the compost tea.
ALCSE: “Where do you get that part?”
HALEY: “The castings?’
HALEY: “We built a vermiculture continuous flow system. We put in red wrigglers and we have this system to catch the castings to use for the composting.”
Dr. Leland Cseke & Mike Marshall
ALCSE: “Who did that part?”
HALEY: “That was mainly Mike Marshall. He’s the student who headed the garden.”
ALCSE: “So he had other students help him?”
HALEY: “Yeah. That’s the other thing. We have curriculum designed around it.
ALCSE: “Who wrote the curriculum?”
HALEY: “One of our biology professors, Dr. Leland Cjecka. He’s kind of like the faculty advisor for the garden and he also designed a class around this whole system out here, which is called People Plants and the Environment.”
ALCSE: “Who takes it?
HALEY: “Well anyone can take it really. It’s mainly undergrad biology students. I took it as an undergrad. It was a really cool class.”
ALCSE: “That sounds like a neat program.”
HALEY: “We use the compost tea on the garden and we use a few pieces of the greenway to test it out because we eventually want to use it to replace all our commercial fertilizers that are used on the entire campus. So that’s the big picture.” Read more about UAH’s Community Garden HERE
As big projects morph into even bigger ones, Haley plans to keep sharing the message. She’s most interested in the third piece of the environmental pie: environmental justice. She’d like to see more minorities in leadership roles and less environmental hazards placed in low-income areas.
Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama, sponsored a tree for the first time this year because the Tinsel Trail draws large crowds.
“Who doesn’t love Christmas trees?” Tait said. “For us, it is just a great way to introduce ourselves to people who may not know us. And also to show off a little of our personality.”
Tait’s tree features LED lightbulbs as ornaments and is topped by a star shaped like the sun. His nonprofit offered free home energy audits to visitors who posted a selfie with the tree and used the hashtag #netzeroenergy.
Confused by which light bulb to buy? We’ve put together a short primer to (ahem!) “shine some light” on the topic for you.
Here’s the key thing to know about light bulbs. If you buy junk, you’ll get junk.
It used to be that wattage of the bulb determined what you needed to buy. Not so much anymore. Lumens is what you should look for. The higher the lumens, the more light is output by the bulb.
Be wary of really cheap LEDs. More than likely they don’t last very long. LEDs are supposed to last well around 20 years. Cheap ones typically last for less than 10 years.
Only buy bulbs with an ENERGY STAR logo on them. This is the only way to know if a light bulb is truly a good purchase. In order to receive the ENERGY STAR logo, they can’t just save energy. They must be in the top 25% of its class, pay for itself, AND be independently verified. This is why cheap LEDs, which save energy, cannot get the ENERGY STAR logo.
Incandescent Bulbs: These are what I call the “old-fashioned” bulbs though they are becoming less standard all the time.
Pros: They create warm light. Designers love this bulb best.
Cons: They wear out quickly, use more energy, and create more heat. That means more frequent replacement and more energy use.
Life: 800 – 1,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~ $1 per bulb
Energy used: ~.06 Kilowatts (kW)
CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) Bulbs: The second generation to the humming tubes hanging in your dad’s basement workshop, these are the curly-shaped little darlings.
When we first moved away from incandescent bulbs, critics of the CFL cried ugly because they produced a cool, harsh, light with blue undertones. As technology has advanced, CFLs can be found in warmer color spectrums that are closer to the traditional incandescents.
Pros: CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.
Cons: CFLs contain mercury.
Life: 6,000 – 15,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~ $2 per bulb
Dimmable: No (dimmable options may be available for purchase)
LED (Light Emitting Diode): The energy superstars of the group. Depending on the brand and variety, they can last from 2 – 25 years. Put them in your teenagers’ bedrooms. You know they’re not switching them off.
Pros:LED bulbs produce less heat and last a long time. New LED bulbs can cast that warm-colored light we love. LEDs don’t break when jostled, a huge factor in busy manufacturing sites and industrial areas. Best of all, they don’t contain mercury.
Cons: LED technology is moving quickly. Some of these bulbs still create directional light, but most newer versions disperse light better. Lastly, LEDs do have a slightly higher upfront cost.
Life: 50,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~$1.25 – ~$20
Dimmable: Yes (non dimmable options are available)
Energy used: ~.008 Kilowatts (kW)
Sustainable Efforts for Light Bulbs:
Place your lights on a dimmer. It can save up to 50% in energy costs. Remember, most CFLs and even most LEDs aren’t dimmable. You’ll need to specifically buy dimmable bulbs!
Turn out the lights: One incandescent bulb left on 8 hours costs ~ 6 cents. 5 incandescents burning 8 hours cost ~ 30 cents which equates to $110/year. A possible overnight scenario might include 2 porch lights, 1 kitchen light, 1 family room light, and 1 bathroom light burning. Good old Dad was right after all.
Recycle: CFLs contain mercury and all bulbs take up space in landfills. The good news is it’s easy to recycle your old bulbs. You can even bring them to your neighborhood hardware stores. Visit this site http://search.earth911.com/ and type in your zip code for recyclers near you
Comparison Between LED, CFL and Incandescent Light Bulbs:
Try to buy LEDs everywhere you can, but if you can’t, target your high use areas first! If you have incandescents, go ahead and replace them. If you have CFLs, wait until they die, and then upgrade.
LEDs have gotten extremely cheap! Off brand is perfectly fine to buy, as long as they have the ENERGY STAR logo.
Make sure to match lumens, not watts. Take your old bulbs with you to the store and look for the LEDs that have close to the same lumens, not watts. You may have a 60 watt incandescent only to find a 40 watt ‘equivalent’ LED is actually what you need.