Sequential: A Different Approach to Fuel

Sequential Biofuels is an Oregon-based company that uses collected and harvested oils to create a cheaper, cleaner-burning alternative to regular gasoline.  They sell bioethanol, biodiesel and a biodiesel blend, so almost any car can fill up.

Switching to biofuel is definitely not a solution to the global energy crisis, but Sequential’s business model is worth noting. First, Sequential Pacific Biodiesel collects waste cooking oil and harvests Oregon-grown canola.  Then, five million gallons of fuel per year are produced by a chemical process called transesterifiation in the Salem, Oregon production facility.

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Whether biofuels are an environmentally friendly petroleum replacement is debatable.  Collecting waste cooking oil is much more sustainable than growing agricultural feedstocks like canola, sugar cane and corn for the purpose of manufacturing biofuel.  This is because agricultural feedstocks require large amounts of land and energy to produce.  Click here to find a used cooking oil collection station near you.  Restaurants and individuals can use this service.

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Whether or not to support Sequential and business models of the like is your prerogative.  Regular gasoline uses non-renewables, requires drilling and creates exhaust that is harmful to the surrounding air shed and ozone layer.  There’s also the problem of gasoline storage (see my 1/29/11 post).  Biofuel is associated with agricultural pollution, CO2 emissions, high food prices, deforestation and even famine.  Electric vehicles have fewer emissions, but plug into the energy grid, relying on energy sources like coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, geothermal and biomass.  I’d love to ride around in one of these solar powered cars.  Until then, you can find me on my bike (most of the time).

I shot the above photos at the Sequential station in Eugene, Oregon.  Note the 244 solar panels that provide 30-50% of the station’s electrical power, the organic food selection and the living roof, which helps prevent storm water runoff!

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Richardson Grove: Trucks v. Trees

The California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) is proposing to widen a portion of Highway 101 that runs through Richardson Grove State Park on California’s north coast.  The project is part of former Governor Schwarzenegger’s Strategic Growth Plan to allow over-sized trucks (over 8 1/2 ft wide) to traverse 101.  Richardson Grove is home to old-growth Redwood trees that range between 1,000 and 3,00 years old.  Some of the Redwoods are 18 feet in diameter! I had a chance to visit this park on my way to San Francisco from Portland.

CalTrans is planning to cut the roots of approximately 66 Redwood trees and remove approximately 54 other non-old growth trees.  According to the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), Redwoods have shallow roots and deep cuts can cause these trees to die.

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EPIC , the Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and three individuals are suing CalTrans for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  This law requires CalTrans to create a thorough Environmental Impact Report  before it is undergoes a project that could effect the environment.  The plaintiffs argue that there is a lack of data necessary for CalTrans to properly determine the environmental effects of the road widening project.   

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Logging

Clear cutting is the complete removal of timber from an area.  Although clear cutting is more economically efficient than selective harvesting, the practice has a wide range of negative results.  These include loss of wildlife habitat, soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions,  elevation in stream temperatures and soil nutrient levels, increased air pollution and adverse affects from logging access roads.

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Old growth trees, commonly found in the Pacific Northwest are tall and straight, creating the best quality lumber, or “softwood.”  However, these stands are unique natural resources that cannot be replaced for generations, if ever.

Oregon’s Tillamook State Forest is home to many old growth species and is managed through a series of designated use plans.  Currently, all of the areas marked in red above are open to clear cutting in the next 50 years.  The yellow areas are open to thinning.

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I visited a hunting and fishing trade show at Portland Expo Center on behalf of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club to gather signatures on a petition asking Governor Kitzhaber to protect Oregon’s state forests by designating more areas of conservation.   Whether or not you want to sign is completely your prerogative.  I  intend for this blog to simply present facts and photos.   Sierra Club asks  for this public land to be managed for other uses besides logging like wildlife habitat, camping, fishing and hiking.  Although this petition does not speak to a specific bill in the legislative hopper, HB 2736 relates to the issue.  “This bill sets up a pathway for the Department of Forestry and counties to designate ‘natural resource conservation areas’ on state forestlands like the Tillamook, Clatsop, Santiam and Elliott State Forests.” Visit Sierra Club’s Legislative Tracker for more information.  The next day, I shot a few photos in the Tillamook State Forest. Enjoy!

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Metal Plating

Attaching metals to other metals . . . so many commercial products undergo some sort of plating process.  The surfaces of items such as jewelry, hardware, auto parts, circuit boards and instruments are covered with other metals to enhance durability and protect against corrosion.

The metal plating industry is one of the largest users of toxic chemicals in the country, according to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  It’s also the second largest user of nickel compounds and the third largest user of cadmium compounds.  This equates to serious hazardous waste streams.

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There are several plating methods such as electroplating and electroless plating, most of which require a series of chemical baths.  I visited two plating operations, one out-of-business and the other in business.  The out-of-business operation is basically a bunch of chemical baths in a shed.  This set-up places the surrounding land quality in jeopardy considering the area is due for an earthquake.  The second business is a viable circuit board manufacturer with multiple controls such as a floor draining system and secondary containment.  Click here to access the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center’s Report on Metal Plating.

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This LA Times Article describes a motion that four LA City Council members introduced today (Friday Jan 21, 2011) that will designate areas with high volumes of hazardous waste-generating industries as “green zone districts.”  “The aim would be to attract clean industries through incentives, including help obtaining permits and tax and utility rebates. Polluters, meanwhile, would be targeted with tougher inspection and enforcement protocols . . . Manuel Pastor, director of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, said that ‘in some of these neighborhoods there is no place that is not within 1,000 feet of a significant pollution hazard such as chrome-plating businesses, heavy industry and adjacent freeways.'”

 

Free Geek

Free Geek is a non-profit organization that originated in Portland, Oregon in 2000.  Since then, 11 other cities started their own Free Geek operations.  It is a “closed loop” system that reuses or recycles old computer equipment.  Free Geek’s Reuse Program Coordinator gave me a tour of the facility and explained how the program works.

First, Free Geek accepts almost any type of electronic equipment.  Then a host of volunteers are responsible for demanufacturing the equipment, testing it and building new computers, called Freek Boxes, from a series of parts.  Parts that do not have the potential for refurbishment are sent to various recycling centers.  Free Geek does not send its obsolete parts to any recyclers that ship hazardous materials overseas.  For example, all obsolete monitors and terminals are processed by Total Reclaim in Seattle, which is a signer of the BAN Pledge.  In 2009, the Basel Action Network recognized Free Geek as a e-Stewards Recycler, the gold standard for ethical practices in electronics recycling.

For more information, visit www.freegeek.org

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Links:
NY Times photo story: a Global Graveyard for Computers in Ghana.

E-waste becomes a top priority for EPA

Oregon’s E-Cycles Program