A Growing Energy Source: Renewable Natural Gas

Referred to as “the largest livestock manure-to-energy project of its kind,” Roeslein Alternative Energy will begin producing Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) this summer from nine Smithfield Foods’ hog farms in Missouri. When the project is completed, each year it will turn 850,000 tons of methane (which would otherwise go into the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming) into 2.2 billion cubic feet of RNG. That’s equal to 17 million gallons of diesel fuel!



A Whole New Level of Sustainability


A Whole New Level of SustainabilityBoth economically and environmentally, the technology makes sense and can be replicated worldwide. Blake Boxley, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Smithfield Hog Production, explains, “This project will show how farmers can do more than produce food. We can make energy, we can reduce waste, and we can be good stewards for our most important resources – land and water.”



“Manure Lagoons”


Manure LagoonsYes, there is such a thing. Eighty-eight of them, in fact, at Smithfield Foods’ hog farms. Phase one of the $120 million project began back in 2014 by creating covers for these manure lagoons. The covers keep methane gas from escaping into the atmosphere, keep the rain out, and as you can imagine, greatly improve the way the air smells! Phase two is underway which involves technology that purifies the methane gas and then connects it to the natural gas pipeline. The project is on schedule to be completed this summer.



Transforming America’s Heartland


Transforming America’s HeartlandTurning manure into energy isn’t the only transformation Roeslein Alternate Energy has in store for the Midwest. Future plans involve restoring prairie grasslands to produce prairie grass biomass that will also be converted into energy along with the manure. The prairie grass addition will double the project’s energy production and fund the transformation of marginal land into stretches of beautiful prairies filled with native wildlife.


“The Heat Is On”

The Heat Is On - In-Text ImageToday we feature Pennsylvania’s current Secretary of Planning and Policy, John Hanger. Secretary Hanger is a graduate from Duke University and the University Of Pennsylvania Law School and was formerly the Secretary of Environmental Protection of Pennsylvania from September 2008 through January 2011. He has an immense amount of passion and experience in environmental, energy, and green economy issues.



Q: When did your passion for protecting the environment begin?


The Heat Is On - Quote 1A: Like many children, I liked animals. I was born in Kenya and so the natural environment and wildlife were very vivid. As I grew older, I realized the importance of clean air and water, both of which are vital to public health and a good quality of life. As the huge amounts of heat trapping gas goes into the atmosphere and changes the world’s climate, my concern for environmental issues continues to grow. Indeed, the last five years have been the warmest five-year period since modern temperature records started; 2014 was the warmest year; and now 2015 will smash the warmest year record again. The heat is on and increasing.



Q: How did you become involved in energy conservation and what advice do you have for people wanting to enter this industry?


A: After law school, I began developing a deeper interest in the environment and energy in my first law job in the Energy Project at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. I got a lot of responsibility early, and it was sink or swim time. I worked hard to master information. Preparation is a key to success in any activity. Prepare well by improving writing skills and learning basic statistics. Meet people and show that you are passionate and well prepared.



Q: What environmental protection and energy conservation topics are most frequently brought up in government discussion?


A: Reducing air and water pollution as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency are among the most frequent topics. Addressing climate change is the most important environmental topic.



Q: What’s new in the energy conservation industry that’s exciting to you?


A: Better lighting technology, declining costs of energy storage, creation of better batteries. Better batteries and energy storage will allow renewable energy to provide power all day and all night. It will allow families and businesses to leave the electrical grid. Better batteries will also make electric vehicles more practical for transportation.



Q: If you could tell the world about only one way to conserve energy, what would it be?


A: Use the most fuel efficient means of transportation possible, whether it be walking, biking, public transit, or a high fuel efficiency private vehicle.



Q: How do you envision our world in 50 years?


A: If we address, and control, climate change, the temperatures will still go up about three to four degrees. If we don’t address climate change, the temperatures will be higher and produce devastating changes. The heat is on and increasing. We must all act now or our children and grandchildren will be far from happy with us.



Q: Any final thoughts on energy conservation?


A: Everyone can make a difference by using energy wisely and supporting renewable energy sources. And everyone should vote. Please also educate yourself about the positions of candidates on climate change and the environment.


Let’s Chat About Energy Conservation

John Portrait In-Text ImageToday we feature a conversation with green builder John Hill. He’s a graduate of Appalachian State University, a leading school for sustainability education and home to the longest running sustainable development program in the nation.



Q: Have you always been passionate about protecting the environment?


A: I’ve been interested in renewable energy technology since high school. So when I was ready to attend college, I researched universities and found Appalachian State. They had been teaching appropriate technology for a couple of decades and their list of courses looked super interesting. I worked my way through all of the course work and then some, eventually earning a degree.


Lets Chat About Energy Conservation - In-Text Quote 1 I really enjoyed the renewable energy courses as I thought I would, but ended up being more passionate about energy efficiency. The building science and sustainability courses forced me to consider the bigger picture of our energy use and consumption, as well as its generation. It was an eye opener to see how many systems and details need to work together to make the most durable, comfortable, and efficient buildings possible. As it turns out, our built environment uses a tremendous amount of the energy we produce. Also generating power is one of the largest impacts we have on planet earth and therefore on all of its present and future inhabitants. Which means building smarter, smaller, and more durable buildings can make a real impact. Low hanging fruit really.



Q: How did you get involved in the green building industry?


A: Once my wife and I settled into Boone, North Carolina (where Appalachian State is located), we realized that rent costs were pretty darn high. We decided to build a house while we were there, thinking we could use some of the strategies and technology that I was learning in school. The building business was booming in the area at that time and I couldn’t find a contractor interested in taking on a small alternative home, so I entered the building industry out of necessity. My wife and I, along with friends and occasionally a hired builder, eventually finished the project. We ended up with a great little house and a great big education. I later went to work for one of the builders that had helped with the project and I’ve been working in the field since.



Q: What were some of the special features of your first green house?


A: Our main design goal was to create a low-impact home that would appeal to people because of its functionality and comfort – not just that it didn’t cost a lot to power. We spent a ton of time designing out wasted space, and figuring out how to get multiple uses out of certain areas so that we could keep the footprint small. That was the hardest part. We used high ceilings, plenty of daylighting, and an open floor plan to help the space feel big. We designed one bedroom to open up to the great room so we could expand the living space for entertaining.



Lets Chat About Energy Conservation - In-Text Quote 2Fortunately, almost everything you do to make a house more efficient also makes it more comfortable. For instance, by using heat recovery in the ventilation system, you not only save on heating and cooling energy – the fresh air that supplies the house is a more comfortable temperature. By orienting the house to the sun and using passive solar strategies, you can capture solar energy during the winter while avoiding overheating in the summer. That’s a win-win for year-round comfort. Of course, we made the shell of the house super resistant to heat and air transfer and chose efficient appliances, all of which increases performance and lowers energy use. Our solar water heating system was significantly more complex and expensive to install than a traditional water heater, but month after month, it used free solar energy to do most of the water heating, offsetting around a quarter of the house’s energy needs. The payback for that effort is more than financial – it just feels good to take a shower and know the water was warmed by the sun, not a power plant or oil well. In the end, the home we built operated on less than half of the energy of a typical new home in that region and we made plenty of mistakes on our first try.



Q: What’s new in the green building industry that’s exciting to you?


A: I really like the tiny house movement for exposing us to how much downsizing is possible while maintaining or probably improving one’s lifestyle. I also dig electric drive vehicles, especially bikes. I think plenty of us could trade a 5000-pound auto for a 50-pound electric bike and have a hell of a lot more fun getting around, using a fraction of the energy.



Q: What are your top energy saving tips?


A: Localize or regionalize your diet. Live near where your main activities are in the smallest residence imaginable – and think hard about this one! Turning off electronics that you’re not using is helpful, too.



Q: How do you envision our world in 50 years?


A: We should all be living in buildings that produce more energy than they use and zipping around in lightweight electric vehicles powered with renewable sources. Maybe by then we will no longer be harming our planet, but sustaining it and repairing it – leaving it cleaner and more resilient for future residents.


The Mind-Blowing Benefits of Wind Energy

From creating thousands of new manufacturing jobs to being a clean and renewable energy source, wind energy has been the energy industry’s darling for more than a decade. Here are some interesting facts from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).


Wind power in the U.S. is…


  • Generating electricity with zero emissions, pollution and water use
  • One of the fastest-growing sources of new electricity supply
  • The largest source of new renewable power generation added since 2000
  • The employer of 73,000 people in more than 500 manufacturing facilities
  • The generator of enough electricity in 2014 to power the equivalent of 16.7 million homes



Blow Off Your Power Bill


Blow Off Your Power BillConsider this: according to the AWEA, a small wind turbine could generate enough energy to cover the electricity costs of the typical American home. It’s true that a small wind turbine isn’t cheap – you’re looking at least $4,000, but you can fully recover the cost in as little as six years. The U.S. government also gives a 30% federal Investment Tax Credit for fully certified wind turbines. If you’re thinking of buying one for your house, here’s the list of certified small wind turbines.


As appealing as never having to pay your power bill again sounds, wind energy is, unfortunately, not for everyone. There are some basic requirements:


  • You live in an area that has adequate source of wind
  • You live on at least one acre of land
  • Your area is zoned to allow wind turbines
  • Your electricity bill is $150/month or more on average

If you’re still interested, learn everything there is to know about small wind electric systems in this consumer’s guide from the U.S. Department of Energy. And you can still support wind energy by joining the AWEA’s community of advocates.