Green Building News

Green Building News August 2000

August 23, 2000

WWPA Accepts Soy-based Adhesive

The Western Wood Products Association has accepted the use of a soy-based adhesive in the making of finger-jointed structural lumber for horizontal applications. The system already had been approved for vertical framing. The PRF/Soy 2000 adhesive system replaces half of the conventional phenol-resorcinol-formaldehyde (PRF) resin with soy-based GlueMate, made by Hopton Technologies of Albany, Oregon. Mills must be certified to use the system. There are several advantages to this system. Emissions of volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde are slashed by 50 percent. The system can use green wood, which can expand the potential sources of mill waste to be assembled into usable lumber. The PRF/Soy 2000 joints cure faster and may also be stronger than joints made only with PRF resins.

DOE Seeds Biobased Products Industry with $8 Million

The U.S. Department of Energy announced financial assistance totaling nearly $8 million over the next three years to encourage the U.S. biobased products industry to use crops, trees and residues to make plastics, paints, and adhesives. The funds will support six research and development partnerships as well as a new education initiative for encouraging multi-disciplinary research and teaching programs.

"The Energy Department strongly supports the development of reliable, environmentally friendly raw material sources for manufacturing industrial chemicals and products," said Secretary Bill Richardson. "By working with universities and private companies, we hope to foster the development of a new biobased products industry."

The research and development projects selected address barriers identified by the industry to processing or utilizing plant material. Eastman Chemical, for example, is working with the department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado to improve the separation of plant material to manufacture chemical grade cellulose, adhesives, and other products. In another project, Pittsburg State University in Kansas and the BF Goodrich company propose converting vegetable oils, such as oil from soybeans, into functionalized oils to be used for high performance plastics. A complete list of recipients was published in a DOE news release.

Carbon Dioxide Could Replace Global-warming Refrigerant

Researchers are making progress in perfecting automotive and portable air-conditioning systems that use environmentally friendly carbon dioxide as a refrigerant instead of conventional, synthetic global-warming and ozone-depleting chemicals. Carbon dioxide systems probably will take another five to 10 years to perfect.

Carbon dioxide was the refrigerant of choice during the early 20th century but was later replaced with synthetic chemicals. Now carbon dioxide may be on the verge of a comeback, thanks to technological advances that include the manufacture of extremely thin yet strong aluminum tubing.

Engineers discussed their most recent findings last month, during the Gustav Lorentzen Conference on Natural Working Fluids held at Purdue University. The biannual Gustav Lorentzen Conference, which was held for the first time in the United States, focuses on natural refrigerants that are thought to be less harmful to the environment than synthetic chemical compounds.

Although carbon dioxide is a global-warming gas, conventional refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons cause about 1,400 times more global warming than the same quantity of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, the tiny quantities of carbon dioxide that would be released from air conditioners would be insignificant, compared to the huge amounts produced from burning fossil fuels for energy and transportation, says Eckhard Groll, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue.

Carbon dioxide was the refrigerant of choice a century ago, but one drawback to carbon dioxide systems is that they must be operated at high pressures, up to five times as high as commonly seen in current technology. The need to operate at high pressure posed certain engineering challenges and required the use of heavy steel tubing. Recent advances in manufacturing and other technologies are making carbon dioxide practical again. Extremely thin yet strong aluminum tubing can now be manufactured, replacing the heavy steel tubing. Carbon dioxide is promising for systems that must be small and light-weight, such as automotive or portable air conditioners. Various factors, including the high operating pressure required for carbon-dioxide systems, enable the refrigerant to flow through small-diameter tubing, which allows engineers to design more compact air conditioners.

More stringent environmental regulations now require that refrigerants removed during the maintenance and repair of air conditioners be captured with special equipment, instead of being released into the atmosphere as they have been in the past. The new "recovery" equipment is expensive and requires more training to operate. The recovery requirement would not apply to refrigerants made from natural gases, such as carbon dioxide, because they are environmentally benign, says Groll.

During the 1930s, carbon dioxide was replaced by synthetic refrigerants, called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which worked well in low-pressure systems. But scientists later discovered that those refrigerants were damaging the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer, which filters dangerous ultraviolet radiation. CFCs have since been replaced by hydrofluorocarbons, which are not hazardous to the ozone layer but still cause global warming.

Carbon dioxide offers no advantages for large air conditioners, which do not have space restrictions and can use wide-diameter tubes capable of carrying enough of the conventional refrigerants to provide proper cooling capacity. But another natural refrigerant, ammonia, is being considered for commercial refrigeration applications, such as grocery store display cases, Groll says. Engineering those systems is complicated by the fact that ammonia is toxic, requiring a more elaborate design in which the ammonia refrigerant is isolated from human-occupied spaces. The first ammonia systems are currently being tested in Europe.

Stronger Standards for Air Conditioners Can Keep the Lights On

Stronger energy-efficiency standards for central air conditioners could have prevented major outages and shortages caused by high electricity demand in 1999 and in California earlier this summer, according to a new study released by the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP), a coalition of environmental and consumer groups. Furthermore, making air conditioners 30 percent more efficient would cut pollution significantly, save consumers billions of dollars annually and eliminate the need for 155 expensive new power plants over the next 20 years.

"Soaring air conditioner use on hot summer days is the straw that breaks the back of overloaded power systems," said Steven Nadel, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and a report co-author. "This report establishes the clear link between air conditioner use, peak loads and blackouts. Any effort to improve electric system reliability must strike at the problem's root - the enormous peak electricity demand of air conditioners."

Power outages are already starting to hit this summer. In mid-June, nearly 100,000 people in San Francisco were left without electricity when the power demanded by air conditioners outstripped supplies. U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and others have predicted more problems this year, continuing the trend established last summer. Secretary Richardson has also promised to propose new standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps.

"In California, air conditioning accounts for 28% of the peak load, so improved AC efficiency is critical to help avoid the kind of power outages that hit the Bay Area in June," said Commissioner Art Rosenfeld of the California Energy Commission.

The report, "Staying Cool: How Energy-Efficient Air Conditioners Can Prevent Blackouts, Cut Pollution and Save Money," was produced for ASAP by ACEEE. The report takes an in-depth look at four power-outage case studies -- Chicago, Long Island, the South-Central states, and California. It concludes that if tougher standards had been in place starting in 1990, recent major blackouts would have been much less severe or avoided altogether. Dollar savings and pollution reductions for every region in the U.S. are included.

The economic and public health impacts of power outages and shortages were felt directly by more than a million people across the country in the summer of 1999.

  • Scores of deaths in Chicago were blamed on extreme temperatures that contributed to power outages.
  • The same heat wave caused outages in Ohio that cost the automaker Honda $250,000 in payroll alone.
  • In New York City, millions of dollars worth of medical experiments at Columbia University were damaged.
  • Entergy, a utility serving parts of Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi instituted rolling blackouts that affected more than 500,000 customers.

In total, the Department of Energy estimates that power outages and other fluctuations in power delivery cost nearly $30 billion annually in lost productivity. The report finds that a 30% improvement over current standards for residential units and a 20% improvement in the commercial standard leads to the greatest level of cost-effective energy savings.

GSA Starts Fast-Track PV System

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has announced plans to build a 100 kilowatt photovoltaic system at the Suitland Federal Center in Suitland, Maryland, making it one of the largest PV arrays in the U.S. The system will comprise an array of 2,800 amorphous silicon PV modules that will convert sunlight into electric power for the central cooling plant at the facility.

"This system demonstrates the General Services Administration's commitment to a cleaner tomorrow," said GSA's Anthony Costa, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Public Buildings Service in the National Capital Region. "The President has set a goal for the Federal Government of 2000 solar energy installations by the end of this year, and the GSA is helping to make that goal a reality."

Pepco Energy Services, a wholly- owned, separately managed subsidiary of Potomac Electric Power Company, will serve as the general contractor and project manager of the system while Applied Power Corp. will design, build and install the equipment.

The PV array will be located on the reclaimed site of an abandoned cooling pond. The two companies have already broken ground on the project and expect to begin producing power by September. The project will demonstrate to government agencies and other organizations the short construction time needed in developing solar power stations.

Largest PV Manufacturing Facility in the World Now Open

In June, First Solar opened its new 75,000 square foot photovoltaic factory in Perrysburg, Ohio. Capable of producing 100 megawatts of PV modules per year, the First Solar plant is the world's largest PV production facility. The plant makes thin-film, cadmium telluride PV modules using a vapor deposition process. The semiconductor film is applied to glass substrate and covered with a laminate layer for protection. First Solar's first product is a 50-watt module that recently received Underwriters Laboratories recognition for electrical and fire safety.

DNC Powered by Green Power and Alternative Fuels

The Democratic National Convention (DNC) that recently wrapped in Los Angeles had several green initiatives. The DNC Committee has arranged for the convention to be powered entirely by green power --electricity from renewable energy sources -- provided by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. A solar electric system has also been permanently installed on the roof of the Staples Center to provide about 15 percent of the center's electrical needs. The center also took steps to recycle construction waste and office waste. In addition, the DNC Committee has included a significant number of alternative fuel vehicles in its transportation fleet.


August 9, 2000

Lowe's Announces Plans to Buy Only Certified Wood

The world's second largest home improvement retailer, released details of its new lumber and wood product procurement policy aimed at helping protect the world’s threatened forests. Lowe's has committed to overhaul the sourcing of lumber and wood in the products it sells while engaging its wood suppliers and governments to take immediate steps towards the permanent protection of critical forest areas.

Under the Environmental Policy, Lowe’s will:

  • Aggressively phase out the purchase of wood products from endangered forests as these areas are identified and mapped. This includes an immediate ban on wood coming from the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia;
  • Work with suppliers to encourage the maintenance of natural forests and environmentally responsible forest practices;
  • Give preference to the procurement of wood products from independently certified well-managed forests. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is currently the company’s preferred certification system, and FSC certification will be given preference over other certification systems;
  • Work with our customers to increase the efficiency of wood use, including the promotion of wood reuse, recycling and advanced framing techniques;
  • Work with our suppliers to increase the procurement of quality recycled, engineered and alternative products (when their environmental benefits are clearly demonstrated), including alternative fiber and tree-free paper products for printing and packaging.

"Our new environmental policy represents a major victory for the forests and our customers," said Bob Tillman, Lowe’s chairman and CEO. "Our customers expect Lowe's to deliver the best quality lumber and wood products that have been responsibly harvested and produced by our suppliers."

"In developing our policy, Lowe’s pursued what some in the industry may consider an unconventional approach," added Mark Kauffman, Lowe’s senior vice president of Merchandising. "We worked closely with the environmental and scientific communities as well as our suppliers and facilitated a number of first-ever meetings between these groups."

This corporate initiative brought together environmental organizations, including Rainforest Action Network and the World Resources Institute (WRI), wood suppliers, governments and industry organizations. Lowe’s has taken an active role in encouraging industry and government negotiations with groups working to protect endangered forests in areas including the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and the Southeastern U.S.

"Lowe's commitment to green wood purchasing heralds a new chapter in corporate leadership to protect forests," said Dr. Anthony Janetos, WRI senior vice president. "We welcome their plan to help to improve forest management practices worldwide."

Ongoing mapping and monitoring work by Global Forest Watch will provide Lowe's with detailed maps showing the location of endangered forests throughout the world. Global Forest Watch, an initiative of WRI, is creating the first worldwide monitoring network that tracks threats to forests using satellite imagery and computers to gather the data and to map it out. Lowe's and other companies will be able to use Global Forest Watch's continually updated maps to instruct their suppliers on which areas of forest should be off-limits for wood production.

Lowe’s also announced the formation of a "Healthy Forests Advisory Board," which will help guide the company through its policy implementation process and provide counsel on general forestry issues. The Advisory Board will include environmental groups, environmental scientists, suppliers, certifiers and buyer groups. The Board’s first actions will be to address a number of ongoing environmental issues, such as the conversion of Southern forests to pine plantations, commercial logging in U.S. National Forests and illegal logging concerns in certain foreign countries.

FSC-certification Covers 12 percent of Swiss Timber Production

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) of Swiss forests producing 12 per cent of the country's timber will be certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines. WWF expects that over 40 per cent of the timber harvested in Switzerland will carry the FSC label within the next four to five years.

"This rapid ongoing FSC-certification process is crucial to the competitiveness of the Swiss forest industry," said Damian Oettli, Head of WWF-Switzerland's forest campaign. "Forest owners can show their commitment to environmentally and socially responsible forest management practices, while the FSC label provides them with an economic asset."

This development is the result of the adoption of Swiss national standards on forest certification in June 1999. These standards include -- among other things -- a commitment to establish protected areas accounting for 10 per cent of the certified forests. WWF-Switzerland, the Swiss Forest Owners Association, and other major stakeholders have signed the agreement.

The demand for FSC products is rapidly increasing in Switzerland. The Swiss "Druckerei ropress Genossenschaft" was the first print shop in the world to be certified. And Migros, the country's largest retailer, offers a wide range of FSC timber products to its customers.

Willamette Industries Pays Huge Air Pollution Settlement

Wood products manufacturer Willamette Industries reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency to resolve a suit alleging that it failed to control the amount of air pollution released from its wood product factories in four states. Under terms of the settlement the company must pay an $11.2 million penalty, spend an additional $8 million on other environmental projects and install costly pollution control systems on its plants in Arkansas, Oregon, Louisiana and South Carolina. The cost of these systems is disputed by the two sides. Willamette claims it expects to spend around $28 million, while EPA estimates the cost to be $74, including operation and maintenance.

The new pollution-control equipment required by the settlement will prevent Willamette's factories from releasing an estimated 27,000 tons of pollutants, resulting in significantly cleaner air in the surrounding communities. Pollution of the type emitted from Willamette's facilities, known as volatile organic compounds, is a component of smog. This air pollution can lead to breathing problems, especially among children and the elderly, eye irritation, and reduced resistance to colds and other infections. It can also accelerate the aging of lung tissue. More information can be found in a report in The Oregonian, a DOJ News Release and an EPA Fact Sheet.

Motor Technology Uses Superconductivity

Smaller, more efficient motors may be on the horizon. Using high-temperature superconductor (HTS) wires, researchers at American Superconductor and Rockwell Automation have successfully operated a 1000-horsepower motor. HTS wires have no resistance at low temperatures, so HTS motors operate at a higher energy efficiency and can be built up to three times smaller than standard motors. American Superconductor expects to test a 5,000-horsepower motor in early 2001. The companies are working under the auspices of DOE's Superconducting Partnership Initiative.

BP Makes Solar Electricity Standard on New Stations

New BP stations will be partly powered by energy from the sun by solar panels forming a transparent canopy above the gas pumps. Photovoltaic arrays have appeared on a several prototype BP stations built over the last two years around the world. Making PVs a part of all its new stations is a part of a company make over that includes a name change to simply "BP" and a new green and yellow "helios" logo. The move to a single brand follows a $120 billion series of mergers and acquisitions which, over the past two years, has brought together the former British Petroleum, Solarex, Amoco Corporation, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and most recently Burmah Castrol, to create a combined group with a market value of more than $200 billion.

Northwest's Largest PV Project Dedicated in Oregon

Solar power meets Shakespeare thanks to the newest and largest photovoltaic project in the Pacific Northwest. The City of Ashland, Oregon, along with a number of other sponsors recently dedicated a 30-kilowatt project installed at three locations around town. The Police Station will get all its power from their array, while Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespearean Festival will generate a portion of their own power. Surplus energy will flow into the Ashland electric grid where it is being purchased by 250 Ashland residential and business consumers who have subscribed to a solar service. Financial contributors included the City of Ashland, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, the Bonneville Power Administration, Avista Energy, and the State of Oregon Office of Energy.

Florida Solar Energy Center Celebrates 25th Anniversary

A quarter century of research, testing and education promoting energy efficiency has been officially recognized by Florida Governor Jeb Bush in a resolution kicking off the Florida Solar Energy Center's 25th anniversary.

Battelle Experts Forecast Energy Innovations for 2010

Energy experts from Battelle and the four DOE national laboratories it manages took a stab last week at predicting the top ten energy innovations for 2010. In the context of a shifting energy industry, the experts saw big advances coming for hybrid electric vehicles, smart energy management systems, distributed power generation, fuel cells, the conversion of gases to liquid fuels, advanced batteries, farms that grow bioenergy crops, solar energy, and the mining of methane hydrate crystals from the ocean bottom. You can read a detailed discussion in the Batelle press release.

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