Ecology, Energy, Economy

Pennsylvania Wastewater Treatment Plants Fined

Posted on | July 30, 2010 | Comments Off

Sewage treatment plants often spill over into adjoining waterways.

PHILADELPHIA – July 29, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it has recently filed administrative penalty complaints against 10 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants (POTWs) operated by nine municipalities in Pennsylvania for failing to comply with the Clean Water Act.

The 10 plants’ Clean Water Act discharge permits require them to periodically reevaluate their industrial pretreatment programs and submit information from that reevaluation to state and federal regulators. The complaints allege in part that the plant operators failed to conduct the sampling needed to reevaluate the pollution limits they set for industrial users. The penalties range from $22,000 to $32,000.

“Wastewater treatment plants are the last line of defense against the disposal of harmful pollutants into our rivers and streams,” said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “Uncontrolled discharges of Pollution can result when municipalities don’t update their pretreatment programs to protect our waterways as the law requires.”

Federal and State regulations require sewage treatment plants and plant operators to develop local limits, establishing maximum acceptable levels of pollutants to ensure that they do not create a threat to human health and to waterways. The regulations also require industrial facilities discharging toxic pollutants to municipal sewer systems to provide pretreatment to avoid wastewater problems.

Because wastewater treatment plants are not designed to treat toxic pollutants in industrial wastes, pollutants may pass through local wastewater treatment plants into receiving streams, posing serious threats to aquatic life, recreation, and consuming fish and shellfish. These pollutants can also interfere with operating the treatment plant, causing sewage and other wastewaters to pass through without proper treatment. EPA and the states enforce pretreatment regulations to avoid these problems at municipal wastewater plants, ensuring that industrial wastewater is properly treated before being discharged into local waterways.

Nine of the 10 POTWs are located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. These actions are part of the Agency’s strategy to improve water quality in local waterways and the Bay.

Municipalities or POTWs receiving the orders are:
Berwick Area Joint Sewer Authority, Columbia County: Derry Township Municipal Authority, Dauphin County; Greater Pottsville Area Sewer Authority, Schuylkill County; Borough of Huntingdon, Huntingdon County; Borough of Tyrone, Blair County; Shamokin-Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority, Northumberland County; University Area Joint Authority, Centre County; Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority, Luzerne County; Altoona City Authority-Easterly WWTP, Blair County; and. Altoona City Authority-Westerly WWTP, Blair County.

These entities have the right to a hearing to contest the alleged violations and proposed penalties.

For more information about EPA’s pretreatment program visit

$529 Million Loan to Fisker Automotive for PHEV

Posted on | April 28, 2010 | Comments Off

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the closing of a $528.7 million loan with Fisker Automotive for the development and production of two lines of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV). The loan will support the Karma, a full-size, four-door sports sedan, and a line of family oriented models being developed under the company’s Project NINA program.

“The story of Fisker is a story of ingenuity of an American company, a commitment to innovation by the U.S. government and the perseverance of the American auto industry,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “The Boxwood Plant is opening again, employing workers in Delaware, and is serving as a roadmap for all we can accomplish if everyone works together. Thanks to real dedication by this administration, loans from the Department of Energy, the creativity of U.S. companies, and the tenacity of great state partners like Delaware—we’re on our way to helping America’s auto industry reclaim its top position in the global market.”

Fisker, a startup based in southern California, expects to manufacture the Karma and Project NINA lines at a recently shuttered General Motors factory in Wilmington, Delaware. Fisker anticipates that it will employ 2,000 American assembly workers. Industry experts expect that domestic parts suppliers and service providers also will increase employment substantially.

“Not only will the Fisker projects contribute to cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions, these plug-in hybrid cars will help put American ingenuity at the forefront of automotive design and production,” said Secretary Chu. “And they will bring innovative cars to the market place while putting American workers back on the job,” Secretary Chu added.

Fisker’s plug-in hybrid products will be among the first to market and will help to accelerate the introduction of fuel-saving electrified vehicles in the United States. When full production is reached in 2015, Fisker estimates annual sales at up to 115,000 vehicles. Combining Fisker projected sales volume with the expected sales volume of the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, sales of electric and PHEVs funded with DOE ATVM loans could exceed 300,000 annually.

Initially, Fisker Automotive will use the proceeds of the loan for qualifying engineering integration costs as it works with primarily U.S. suppliers to incorporate components into the Karma’s design. The engineering integration work will be conducted in Irvine, California, where engineers will design tools and equipment and develop manufacturing processes. The Karma is scheduled to appear in showrooms in late 2010. The second stage will involve the purchase and retooling of the former GM plant to manufacture the Project NINA line of PHEVs, which is expected to begin rolling off the assembly line in late 2012.

Fisker automobiles are driven by electric motors that get their power from a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, or, when that is depleted, by a generator driven by an efficient gas-powered engine. The Karma and Project NINA models will have an all-electric, tailpipe-emission-free range of 40 to 50 miles on a full charge, more than most Americans drive each day. The battery can be charged at home overnight. Using gas and electric power, Fisker plug-in hybrids are expected to have a cruising range of up to 300 miles.

The Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program supports the development of advanced technology vehicles with improved fuel efficiency that help reduce the nation’s dependence on oil. This is the fourth loan arrangement signed by DOE with an advanced technology vehicle manufacturer.

Project BudBurst

Posted on | April 21, 2010 | Comments Off

“Project Budburst citizen scientists find that plants are blooming unusually early.”

Students, gardeners, retirees and other volunteers across the nation who are taking part in a nationwide initiative–Project BudBurst–are finding hints that certain plants are blooming unusually early, perhaps as a result of climate change.

The citizen scientists are recording the timing of flowers and foliage, amassing thousands of observations from across the nation to give researchers a detailed picture of our changing climate.

The project, which started as a pilot program in 2007, now focuses on a list of the “10 most wanted species”–flowers and trees such as the common lilac, red maple and Virginia bluebell.

Such widely distributed plants can provide important early signs of the impact of warming temperatures on the environment, according to the scientists who designed the project.

“Project BudBurst empowers people living anywhere in the country to make a contribution that will lead to better understanding of our environment,” said Project BudBurst director Sandra Henderson of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Office of Education and Outreach. “This is needed data to help scientists who are studying the impacts of climate change.”

Project BudBurst is operated by UCAR and the Chicago Botanic Garden, and is a partner in the USA National Phenology Network.

Funding comes from the National Science Foundation (NSF), along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, National Ecological Observatory Network, NASA and the National Geographic Education Foundation.

“While these observations may reveal impacts of climate change in local areas, scientists need data from many more locations,” said Elizabeth Blood, program director in NSF’s Directorate for Biological Sciences, which funds Project BudBurst. “Scientists also need more years of data to understand changes over larger regional scales, as well as distinguish the effects of long-term trends in climate from natural year-to-year variations.”

In Chicago, volunteers who have observed 15 kinds of plants since 2007 have found that seven of them are flowering earlier now than at any time in more than 50 years of observations by botanists.

“We will need volunteers to make observations for a number of years before we can fill in an accurate picture about the impact of climate change on our landscape,” Henderson says.

Volunteers say they enjoy making the observations.

“Where there are curious people, it doesn’t take long to bring together a group to go scrutinizing particular plants and trees, discovering the earliest stages of cones or bud formation, for instance, then following the later development,” said Sue Prindle, who lives in a retirement community in Silver Spring, Md. “It has been rewarding and fun.”

Overall, participants across the country have made more than 10,000 observations since 2007, establishing a baseline for the timing of key plant events.

“These findings are important as scientists analyze the impacts of global warming on our natural world,” says Kayri Havens, a senior scientist with the Chicago Botanic Garden and co-manager of Project BudBurst.

Each participant in Project BudBurst selects one or more plants to observe.

The Project BudBurst Web site encourages volunteers to focus on the 10 most wanted species, but it also welcomes observations of other plants.

Volunteers begin checking their plants at least a week prior to the average date of budburst–the point when the buds have opened and leaves are visible.

After budburst, participants continue to observe the tree or flower for later events, such as seed dispersal and autumn leaf dropoff. Participants submit their records of these phenophases online.

Anyone can view the results as maps of the phenophases across the United States.

The science of phenology, or tracking cyclic behavior among plants and animals, has a distinguished history.

For centuries farmers, naturalists, geographers and others have kept careful records of the phenology patterns of plants and animals.

Farmers have long used their phenology knowledge to predict the best time for planting and harvesting crops, when to start expecting problems with insect pests, and other seasonal events.

The effects of climate change on numerous plant and animal species throughout the world have been observed and reported in the scientific literature.

Some plants respond to warmer temperatures by extending their growing seasons. Others shift their ranges toward the poles or to higher elevations.

At the same time, many insects breed and disperse based on regular cycles of sunlight rather than temperature.

This can cause a mismatch between the behavior of pollinating insects, such as bees, and flowers that bloom earlier than the insects expect. Such asynchronous behavior has already been noted across many parts of the world.


Green Computing And Data Centers

Posted on | April 20, 2010 | Comments Off

It’s a daunting challenge erecting the largest net-zero-energy office building in the world.

It’s especially daunting when that building will be full of people computing, teleconferencing, and generating teraflops of information about renewable energy.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory aims to generate as much energy as it uses in the new 222,000-square-foot U.S. Department of Energy Research Support Facility (RSF) on the NREL campus. When completed this summer, it will house more than 800 people and a data center that stores and manages mountains of information on computer servers.

A net zero-energy building produces as much energy as it consumes.

To get there, “every watt has to count,” Craig Robben, Information Technology project manager for the RSF says.

The RSF can’t get to net-zero without getting credit from some of the energy produced via the sun and wind at its Golden, Colo., campus.

But neither can it get there if the actual energy use in the new building gets above about 250 watts per person. “That’s four or five light bulbs per person – for everything – computers, servers, building systems, the exercise room, everything,” Robben told a roomful of employees at a recent informational gathering.

The engineers and scientists from NREL’s Building Technology Program set the energy criteria and the energy design strategies that are making it possible for the RSF to use no more carbon-based energy than is produced by renewables.

Even just a couple years ago, there would have been no hope for per-capita energy use being that low in a modern office building. The electrical needs of desktop computers, servers, scanners, printers, and more would have mushroomed above those numbers.

Still, Robben is confident the RSF will meet those goals, with a big boost from smarter use of information technology.

Smart Cooling, Virtualized Servers Key to Energy Savings
Plans to get RSF there employ an intelligent cooling system, natural lighting, virtualized servers and common-sense measures to conserve, switch off and think twice.

“We’re wasting a lot of energy going out the back of the desktops as heat,” he said. “Desktop computers are not supposed to be space heaters.”

So, employees will be encouraged to continue the switch to laptops, which only average about 35 watts – about a third the average wattage of desktops. And laptops are getting so powerful that they exceed the needs of most users. Newer mobile processors now include the ability to ‘ramp-up’ their processing speeds as more number crunching is required.

Only LCD monitors will be going into the RSF, and a good portion of those will use the more energy-efficient LED-backlight. LCD’s have always been more energy efficient than the cathode ray tube monitors, but manufacturers are stepping up with new technologies to be even more efficient. As time goes on, Robben expects other new display technologies, such as Organic LED (OLED) displays, to replace LCD’s.

All-in-One Printer/Copier/Scanner to be the Norm
There will be very few, if any, local or group printers in the RSF. Scanners, copiers and fax machines will grow all but extinct. New all-in-one devices that can fax, scan, print, e-mail and copy in one unit will save huge amounts of energy, Robben said. The new protocol will be just one or two of those units per wing, compared to the current situation, in which there are some 600 printers for 1,800 employees, plus hundreds of other devices to scan, fax and copy.

The new units can print up to 50 pages per minute, print in high-resolution color on both sides of up to tabloid-sized paper, and perform high-resolution color scans that can be e-mailed.

Phone calls will be made via the Voice Over Internet Protocol system, which uses less energy, even while affording more functionality. The phone system gives users the option of turning the computer into a virtual handset. “Your computer becomes your phone,” Robben said.

RSF employees will be encouraged to switch to motion-detector or similar “smart” power strips that will sense when someone isn’t in the office, and then switch off the devices that aren’t needed – say, the label printer or task lights.

“It’s scary how much power is wasted there,” he said.

Cooling Down the Teraflops
The greatest challenge is achieving net-zero energy in a building that has a large data center.

Typically, servers rest in racks, chomping up and spitting out information. Cool air blows through, trying to keep the processors from frying.

To create all that cool air, data centers typically employ chillers, basically big air conditioning units that sit outside on pads. The chillers are running all of the hours of the day, pumping chilled water into the building. The cool liquid passes over a big radiator and fan unit cooling the air that passes through the data center and to the servers.

The RSF will employ several strategies to dampen the energy needs of the data center including taking advantage of Colorado’s climate and some ingenious engineering to minimize the hours the chillers must run.

“The building has been designed from the beginning to take advantage of our environment,” Robben said.

Underneath the RSF is a labyrinth of concrete looking like a Rube Goldberg mousetrap, storing thermal energy. That labyrinth becomes a giant “battery,” storing cool air during the summer nights and warm air during the winter days.

Air will circulate through that concrete maze constantly. The cold high-altitude air captured at night will remain in the labyrinth during the warm hours of the following day. During the winter, the hot air from the data center will be dumped into the labyrinth to aid in heating the building.

Meanwhile, efficient evaporative chillers, running cold water over pads, will cool the servers when needed. And for the rare occasion when outside air is too hot and humid for evaporative chillers to work effectively – estimated to be fewer than 10 hours per year – a more traditional central chilled water plant will cool the data center. Right now the data center chillers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Key: Running Many Virtual Servers on One Physical Server
In the RSF’s data center, the individual rack-mount server will go the way of dinosaurs.

Each of the rack-stacked servers plugs into its own power supply, and must be switched on even if during most hours it is just handling, say, 5 percent of its processing capacity. A humming, albeit underused, server still piles up the wattage.

Blade servers are game-changers, though. They’re smaller, more streamlined and still packed with great capacity. And they’ll be the work horses of the RSF.

Sixteen blade servers can fit in the space taken up by a few older servers. More important, all 16 are in a single blade chassis, sharing power supplies, cooling fans and circuit boards.

Along with blades, virtualization is the biggest energy saver at the server level. “Virtualization is taking multiple logical servers and running them on a single physical server,” Robben said. “We’re averaging 20 virtual servers per blade. We can run so many virtualized systems on one blade because most systems are only running at about 5 percent of their potential. With that kind of load we could potentially run 320 servers” off a single chassis fully loaded with blades.

Any virtualized server can be moved from one physical system to another without impacting services. That means that underutilized servers can be moved and their physical server can be put to sleep until it is needed again.

“Technology continues to provide us with the tools we need to make IT energy efficient,” Robben said. “The RSF will demonstrate how using these methods, standards and tools in an office environment can help a building reach net-zero.”

Learn more about green IT, Sustainable NREL and the Research Support Facility.

Haselden Construction and RNL are building the 222,000 square-foot Research Support Facility building, which is designed to be a model for sustainable, high-performance building design, and will provide DOE-owned work space for administrative staff who currently occupy leased space in the nearby Denver West Office Park. The RSF was designed by RNL. Stantec Consulting served as the project’s engineering consultant.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

— Bill Scanlon

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