Air Conditioning Goes Global - but Environmental Cost Could Be High

Posted by Ed Burke on Aug 15, 2017 9:05:00 AM

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Air conditioning is the new big thing globally. The huge increase in demand and the pace at which it is occuring, particularly in countries that are relatively rural with less reliable electricity, is bringing air conditioning to the forefront as a huge environmental concern that was essentially overlooked historically.

We tend to think of air conditioning as a sort of add on luxury item, but clearly the demand growth indicates it is becoming more and more of a standard item globally. We need to seriously look at how we approach making it a less energy intensive and environmentally destructive product. 

The issue with air conditioning, in terms of environmental impact, that is of particular concern (in addition to the huge energy usage and carbon emissions) is that older air conditioners are dependent on hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used as refrigerants and have hundreds of thousands of the heat trapping power of CO2. HFCs account for only 1-2% of warming currently, however, given their use in air conditioning and the increasing demand, projections put HFC contributions to emissions at up to 19% should their use continue unchecked. 

So what do we do?

As we discussed before, the Montreal Protocols were the critical factor in the global community moving away from CFCs, and there has been a demonstable effect on the ozone as a result of action on those protocols. The protocols replaced CFCs with HFCs - now we move into the second phase of the process, where HFCs also get phased out. 

I wrote an article for the August issue of Oil & Energy Magazine that details what the increasing AC demand looks like and goes into more of the process involved with the Kigali Amendment, Montreal Protocols, and the effect taking those actions is expected to have on the pace of Climate Change. You can read the full article here: Bringing Air Conditioning to Developing Countries

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change, carbon emissions, Air conditioning, HFCs, Montreal Protocol, Kigali Amendment

Turning CO2 & Sunshine into Fuel: The Bionic Leaf

Posted by Ed Burke on Jul 25, 2017 10:39:59 AM

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"Bill Gates has said that to solve our energy problems, someday we need to do what photosynthesis does, and that someday we might be able to do it even more efficiently than plants...That someday has arrived" - David Nocera, Harvard University

David Nocera & his colleague Pamela Silver, professors of energy science, biochemistry & systems biology (respectively) have co-created a system that combines H20 splitting solar energy and hydrogen-eating bacteria to essentially produce liquid fuel from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. 

The "Bionic Leaf" (version 2.0) is a cutting edge hybrid approach to artificial photosynthesis that can convert solar energy to biomass at an efficiency rate of about 10% using pure CO2 and 3-4% using air, which believe it or not, far surpasses "real" photosynthesis. ("Real" or plant based photosynthesis generates about 1% return of carbohydrates from solar energy in efficient plants)

Generally speaking, artificial photosynthesis seeks to use solar energy, water, and carbon dioxide to produce energy dense liquid fuels in the same way that plants use the same elements to produce energy. The process has the potential to be carbon neutral, which is a huge upside, environmentally speaking. Pretty exciting stuff!

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month that deals with the Bionic Leaf & Artificial Photosynthesis, if you want a little more on the chemistry and details involved you can read that article here: "Bionic Leaf Turns Sunshine, Water and CO2 into Liquid Fuel" 

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Solar Energy, carbon emissions, bionic leaf

Need a Fill Up? There's an App for That

Posted by Ed Burke on Apr 27, 2017 11:56:39 AM

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A number of start ups are seeking to replace your trip to the gas station with the tap of an app. Much in the same fashion you would use a ride share service, or a mobile glass replacement service, these apps would allow you to request a fill up via smartphone from your home, office, or wherever is convenient.

Two models in play currently are a weekly service based on a monthly membership, or essentially "touch fueling" cars (instead of 18 wheelers or equipment) on larger business campuses.

These types of start ups are still in the early stages, despite initial success. There are a lot of questions on how successful these types of apps would be nationally, as local regulations and variances could vary widely, as would requirements for drivers  - getting approval in Dallas TX may be different than doing so in Cambridge MA, for example.

I did an article for Oil & Energy Magazine this month running through the basics of these new apps, two of the successful early companies running them, and what types of integration with vehicles we may see in the future. If you'd like to read the article you can do so here:  "Fill Your Car's Gas Tank by Smartphone"

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Technology

Uber's Otto Delivers on Driverless Big Rig Technology

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 20, 2017 3:00:00 PM

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This past October, a Volvo 18 wheeler delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser in Colorado - with no driver at the wheel!

Say hello to Otto, Uber's self-driving big rig.

Before you panic - It's hailed as a solution for the trucking industry's driver supply problem, versus being a replacement for drivers in general. The company is quick to point out that the application is only really able to be used on the highway i.e. long haul routes. The technology is nowhere near where it would need to be to even consider reacting to real world tough urban obstacles like bike riders, pedestrians, and things like tourists trying drive through the Back Bay in Boston.  

As of now, the pilot programs appear to be going well when it comes to these self driving big rigs. Arguably, long haul truck routes should be the initial phase in of AV technology, because of the lack of aforementioned city obstacles.

The how safe equation is an ongoing issue when it comes to autonomous cars as well (you can read about that here: "The Struggle is Real when it comes to Autonomous Vehicle Safety" But it appears that the big rigs are passing thus far with flying colors, and multiple manufacturers are looking to get similar options onboarded. It's big news potentially for the trucking industry as well, as drivers retire and move on, there has been a real struggle to find qualified applicants to fill the spots. (They just don't make 'em like they used to, as they say... We're looking at you Kevin!)

I wrote an article for this month's edition of Oil & Energy Magazine detailing Otto's debut, and what it means going forward for the trucking industry as well as the technology itself. You can read that article here: "Otto: Uber's Self Driving Big Rig Delivers"

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Topics: Safety, Oil & Energy Magazine, AVs

Control Costs By Embracing Technology

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 21, 2016 3:00:00 PM

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Let's face it - innovation is often driven by either a desire to control costs, or a refusal to accept inefficiency. Often, it is both. Its hard to beat smart solutions that both control costs and allow for greater efficiency and productivity at the same time. In our unending quest to make things as efficient as possible, we've tried out and expanded tons of different systems for everything from financial data, to e-logs, to payroll, to website visits.

One of the biggest "bang for the buck" tools we've integrated into our daily business:

Tablets.

I can not say enough great things about our decision to move our drivers and dispatching to a tablet based system. Our tablet apps integrate mapping with GPS, so drivers can automatically track and then e-file their daily logs, and vehicle inspections. This saves mutiple hours per week, not even counting the time (and frustration) it saves in the office not having to sort, cross reference, and store stacks of paper.

The GPS tracking also enables us to easily file miles-per-state reports per IFTA regulations - instead of a driver writing out miles per state every day we simply run a report and file.

Integration allows dispatch to more efficiently assign loads, and automatically ensures that they have up to the minute information on the drivers hours of service so we can easily ensure compliance. 

Drivers also use their tablets to punch in and out, so payroll flows seamlessly from the app to HR. No more calling in hours, missed punches or snafus with vacation scheduling, its all handled within the apps. 

I wrote an article discussing tablets as well as a few other cost saving technologies we've employed that had additional time savings, insurance savings, etc (such as our phone apps). You can read the article here: "Controlling Costs and Staying Competitive" - you can read more about our cell phone app system here as well: "Want Safer Drivers? There's an App for That"

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Topics: Cell Phone Policy, Oil & Energy Magazine, Technology, tablets

New England States & Climate Change Preparedness

Posted by Ed Burke on Feb 11, 2016 12:30:00 PM

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A comprehensive state by state analysis of 5 specific threats: wildfire, extreme heat, drought, inland flooding and coastal flooding by Climate Change Central and ICF International has ranked New England states in order of preparedness. Once again, Massachusetts comes in on top.

I wrote an article for this month’s edition of Oil & Energy Magazine that goes into how each New England state stacked up, why, and where there is an opportunity to improve preparedness. You can read that article here: “Oil & Energy Magazine: States Prepare for Climate Change”

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, climate change

ASTM Spec for Higher Bio Blends Moves Heat Towards Lower Carbon Future

Posted by Ed Burke on May 26, 2015 1:48:24 PM

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ASTM International released its new spec for 6-20% bio blended heating oil (BioHeat) this past March. The prior spec only covered blends of up to 5% - like those you can pull from many racks now. 

This change comes as the rolling sulfur reductions in many New England and Northeast states is beginning. Most of these states are dropping sulfur to 15ppm by 2018, with some already at that level for heating oil (ie New York).

These changes in tandem are a huge push forward for the industry on both reducing emissions, and moving to a more environmentally friendly, domestically produced, bio blended product.

The hope is having an official ASTM spec for higher blends of Bio will encourage use of those blends to grow, because it will eliminate the uncertainty of product quality for consumers, dealers, and marketers. Additionally, the spec will allow manufacturers and OEMs to determine what blend their equipment can support, and they will be able to make adjustments to adapt to higher blends in an educated and informed manner.

There is less concern environmentally with moving to higher bio blends than we see with ethanol blends, because biodiesel can be produced from recycled grease, animal fats - essentially waste stock versus being 100% derived from virgin food crops (ie soybeans), whereas that is not the case for ethanol, which has been haunted by food vs fuel impacts. 

I wrote an article for the May issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on the topic of the new Bio spec and the move to cleaner heating oil, which you can read in full by clicking here:  "Transforming Heating Oil for a Low-Carbon Future"

 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Bioheat, Biodiesel, astm

Infrastructure on the Agenda

Posted by Ed Burke on Mar 31, 2015 12:16:19 PM

Abstract view of the cockpit of a semi-truck driving on the highway

Energy Infrastructure is one of the topics essentially absent from the Congressional agenda at the moment, with the exception of continuing efforts to pass a Keystone XL bill. As you recall, the last bill successfully passed the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by President. It ultimately died in the Senate where it lacked the votes to override said veto. 

What's interesting is the legislature is dealing with a lot of infrastructure and transportation structure and funding issues (the Highway Trust Fund, Supply Chain issues on the West Coast, EPA Clean Power Limit Proposals, etc) but has somewhat neglected looking at energy infrastructure as a stand alone concern.

One of the EPA proposals under review, the "Clean Power Plan" which seeks to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants. The proposal would spike electricity rates further, and rate payers would also be on the hook for the upgrades needed to comply with the proposal if it goes through in its current form. 

This is especially bad for New Englanders who have recently been dealt a 37% rate hike on electric utility rates (read more on that here: MA Rate Hikes). New Englands issue is a lack of infrastructure on the natural gas side, somewhat ironically. 

I wrote an article for the March issue of Oil & Energy Magazine on Infrastructure policies under review and how a lack of forward progress on them could slow economic growth. You can read the full article here: Infrastructure Shortfalls Could Slow Growth 

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Energy Infrastructure, Congress

Environmentalists & Oil Exec's Unite on RFS Volume Reduction

Posted by Kelly Burke on Jan 14, 2014 9:47:00 AM

A surprisingly unusual coalition of folks have united to support the EPA's reduction of RFS Volume Requirements including food industry leaders, environmental groups, humanitarian groups and oil industry groups. Why is that? 

Everyone involved has concerns about different impacts they believe are created or exascerbated by the mandate, especially if the volumes hold or increase. Refiners, for example are concerned about their ability to breach the "blend wall", where every gallon of gasoline would contain the required 10% - once thats hit it will be extremely difficult for refiners to generate the neccessary RINs, largely because of concerns about moving past an E10 blend.

Refiners and Motorist groups like AAA argue that E15 is not approved for use in a large portion of vehicles, and 13 major car manufacturers will even void warranty coverage in vehicles running E15. That's a huge issue for folks with cars that are not model 2014. Even the Ethanol groups numbers on this issue leave approximately 250 million vehicles on the road that cannot run properly on E15 - that's not good news for Joe Six Pack.

So why are Environmental groups throwing their support behind a Volume Reduction? Isnt Ethanol supposed to be "green"? Well, maybe not. Original numbers put ethanol at 16% greener than gasoline, and then theres the more obvious environmental impacts. An estimated 5 million acres of land that had previously been set aside for conservation have been converted into farm land for corn for ethanol. Fertilizer run offs have worsened a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and contaminated some local water supplies as well, according to an AP investigation. 

Food producers oppose the mandate on the basis that diversion of corn for use in fuel versus the food supply has driven up the cost of animal feed, as well as corn used in processing itself. 

Beyond just supporting the Volume Reductions, the groups in question support a full repeal of the RFS in many cases. 

I wrote an article for Oil & Energy Magazine that gets a little more detailed on the RFS Reduction, you can read it here if you are interested: Oil & Energy Magazine 

What are your thoughts on the RFS Mandate and potential Volume Reductions?

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Topics: Oil & Energy Magazine, Ethanol, RFS 2, EPA Mandate, Biofuels, EPA

How Effective is Your Safety Program?

Posted by Ed Burke on Sep 30, 2013 8:01:00 AM

We run a big fleet of trucks, including tankers, straightjobs, box trucks and a fleet of company vehicles driven by our sales team - so we have put a LOT of thought into safety program effectiveness. 

One of the main things we've learned is - It works if its working Proactively.

So how do you implement a proactive program? Think big picture. There are dozens of areas that when you think about it, ought to require a policy or procedure to avoid future issues. For example, we implement company policy on the following items, and make sure that all drivers and operations department personell are fully trained and informed on the policies so we are all on the same page. We have a full time Safety Manager and Operations Department that tracks and enforces all the variables, which may or may not work for your organization depending on size and need - but either way, if you run a trucking company, most or all of these items ought to be on your radar 

    • Rigorous Pre Employment Screening

    • Training - 15 days of documented training for new hires partnered with a senior driver or trainer

    • Distracted Driving Policy

    • Drug and Alcohol Testing Policy

    • Emergency Procedures - breakdowns, roll-overs, spills, etc. 

    • Vehicle Safety Compliance Policies

    • 90% max tank fill policy for site deliveries

    • Daily, documented pre and post trip vehicle inspections

    • Hours of Service Logs and Policy

    • Safety Meetings

    • Safety Bonuses

    • Full compliance with local, state and federal ordinances, laws and mandates

    • Tracking KPI's on DOT, CSA, and OSHA metrics, as well as tracking insurance variances, fines, and cost changes

     

    The list goes on, but these are the mission criticals. I get into a little more detail on each of the items in Septembers Oil & Energy Article (you can read that by clicking here)  

    What areas does your business focus on, and how do you measure your Safety Programs success?

 

 

 

 

 

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Topics: Safety, Safe Driving Policy, Oil & Energy Magazine

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