Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable

KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day. Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm. But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions? “We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force. Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant. The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, a nonprofit industry group, commissioned an audit of the plant’s sustainability by an independent company, and the result was yes. It was the first United States-based certification of sustainability granted for a biodiesel plant, according to the alliance. The certification is intended to help clean fuel producers distinguish themselves to customers seeking green products — a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the environmentally conscious. For biofuels, the environmental benefits of which have fallen under increasing scrutiny in recent years, that differentiation is ever more important, executives and advocates say. Photo A control room at Pacific Biodiesel’s Kea’au biodiesel refinery. Credit Kent Nishimura for The... read more

NASA’s global air quality map shows we have the power to reduce pollution

A 10-year study conducted by NASA scientists using satellite technology to track pollutants in the atmosphere has shown localised human efforts to improve air quality can have a remarkable impact – as well as revealing areas where emissions have worsened in the past decade. The scientists monitored nitrogen dioxide levels in regions encompassing 195 cities around the globe between 2005 to 2014, creating high-resolution air quality trend maps that highlight which cities and countries are improving their air quality and which ones aren’t. “These changes in air quality patterns aren’t random,” said Bryan Duncan, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. “When governments step in and say we’re going to build something here or we’re going to regulate this pollutant, you see the impact in the data.” Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a toxic yellow-brown gas that’s emitted from cars and industrial infrastructure such as power plants, largely through the burning of fossil fuels. It contributes to the formation of the smog that hangs over urban environments, which constitutes a major respiratory pollutant. NASA tracked the emissions using its Aura satellite, which carries a Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument on board that can detect nitrogen dioxide in addition to other airborne chemicals and pollutants. The equipment let the scientists see year-to-year movements in nitrogen dioxide levels around the world. To help them make sense of the changing data, they compared the NO2 readings for localised regions with information such as the area’s emission control regulations and urban growth. What’s amazing about the trend maps is how quickly the level of the pollutant can change from year to year. In... read more

Delhi has banned half the cars on its roads to combat dangerous pollution

Just weeks after Beijing declared its first red alert status and initiated emergency restrictions to combat dangerous smog levels, another of the world’s most polluted capitals has implemented similar measures. Delhi, the capital territory of India, has embarked upon a two-week trial designed to halve the number of privately owned cars on public roads. Under the scheme, four-wheeled vehicles with registration plates ending in odd numbers are prohibited from driving on even dates of the month, and vice versa. The prohibition began last Friday, but authorities were particularly concerned about what would happen this Monday, as millions of workers returned to work after the New Year weekend. “There were doubts about what would happen when all the offices opened,” said Delhi Transport Minister Gopal Rai, as reported by Atish Patel at BBC News. “We are glad that people are following the rules.” Under the plan, privately owned cars banned from driving on a particular day must stay off the roads between 8am and 8pm daily, except on Sundays. The scheme will stay in effect until January 15, but already Delhi’s government is reporting early success in terms of air quality levels. “The first results of ambient air data collected by mobile units of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee on 24 locations across Delhi on the New Year Day show an encouraging trend of reduction in air pollution in both PM2.5 and PM10 categories,” a government release stated. “The implementation of the plying of four-wheeled vehicles on an odd-even basis was received with warmth by the residents of the national capital on the first day, and results of the ambient... read more

Beijing has declared its first ever red alert for pollution as smog engulfs city

China’s capital Beijing has issued a red alert for air pollution for the first time ever, with a heavy cloud of dangerous smog blanketing the city. The red alert – which is the most serious warning level on a four-tier system introduced in 2013 – is predicted to remain enforced until Thursday, at which point the air is expected to clear with the arrival of a forecasted cold front. Until that time, however, school lessons have been cancelled, with kindergartens, primary schools, and high schools all suspending class. Outdoor construction has been shut down, and some industrial plants have also been closed. “People should to the best of their ability reduce outdoor activities,” cautioned Beijing’s Environmental Protection Bureau on social media. “If you are engaging in outdoor activities you should wear a mask or take other protective measures.” While the red alert is in effect, half of Beijing’s privately owned cars will be forced off the roads, with locals being permitted to drive on alternate days depending on whether they have odd or even numbers on their licence plates. Up to 30 percent of government vehicles will also be parked. According to China’s state-run news agency, Xinhua, this restriction will place a heavy burden on Beijing’s public transport system, with an extra 2 million passengers expected to use buses and trains each day. The city will add up to 25,000 buses to the roads to shoulder the people load. Beijing isn’t the only city taking emergency steps, with Hebei, Shandong, Baoding, and Tianjin Municipality all implementing similar precautions in a first-of-its-kind collaborative action seeking to maximise the gains of... read more