October 2011, Vol. 23, No.10


Project to turn algae into biofuel receives national attention

Planet Forward has named Jamie Hestekin an Innovator of the Year. Hestekin, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville), is leader of a project working to turn algae into biofuel. Hestekin and his team and their progress on the project will be featured on Planet Forward’s website and television special during the next year, according to a University of Arkansas news release.

The University of Arkansas team, which includes 15 students as well as co-advisers Bob Beitle and Roy Penney, is working on creating a biofuel mini-processing unit that can turn algae and other biomass directly into fuel. The unit, which is small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck, produces a few milliliters of fuel-grade butanol at a time and could serve as a model for larger applications of the technology, the news release says.

Planet Forward is a program of the Center for Innovative Media at George Washington University (Washington, D.C.). The program features ideas about energy, climate, and sustainability online and through television specials that air on public stations across the country. 

Reducing runoff to biologically sensitive water in California

When the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board required a reduction in the amount of irrigation water and other dry weather runoff that reaches the La Jolla beach from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of California (UC) San Diego took the task seriously.

To protect the area from runoff, this year the university completed a $4.9 million water-pollution-control construction project that features bioswales, walls, and other landscaping enhancements; a system of water-diversion structures; pollution-prevention controls; and erosion and sediment controls spanning more than 12 ha (30 ac), according to a UC San Diego news release.

The project also features media filters consisting of a gravelly blend of dolomite, perlite, gypsum, and crushed rock. Stormwater flows down through the filter, where phosphorus, copper, and other pollutants are absorbed, and petroleum products are broken down.

The control board monitors La Jolla beach as one of California’s 34 areas of special biological significance. Hundreds of aquatic species, including the leopard shark, congregate off of the beach shore, the news release says.

Financed by a $1.1 million grant from the State Water Resources Control Board, a $2.65 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, $150,000 from the Miocean Foundation (Irvine, Calif.), and $1 million in campus funds, the new construction helps the university meet state mandates while creating a more pedestrian-friendly beach, the news release says.

The San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter of the American Public Works Association (Kansas City, Mo.) recognized the construction as Project of the Year, and the San Diego chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (Reston, Va.) presented it with its Outstanding Award. 

Relating water consumption and energy use

The relationship between water and energy consumption is revealed in a new report, Drops of Energy: Conserving Urban Water in California to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The report, produced by the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law, suggests steps government leaders and consumers can take to reduce water use and save energy, according to a UCLA news release.

The topic hits home in California, where approximately 20% of the state’s electricity, 30% of its non-power plant natural gas, and 333 million L (88 million gal) of diesel fuel is used annually to power water consumption, according to the California Energy Commission, the news release says.

The majority of consumer energy consumption comes from such household appliances as dishwashers and hot-water heaters that also use water, explained report author Ethan Elkind, who is a climate change research fellow at UCLA Law and Berkeley Law. “Water use means energy use; therefore, conserving water means conserving energy,” Elkind said.

The report recommends expansion of such energy-efficiency funding programs as public goods surcharge on water bills and on-bill financing to help water consumers pay for water efficiency improvements. It also suggests rate structures that encourage and reward water-use efficiency, the news release says.

The recommendations were the result of a business and climate change workshop convened by the two universities. The workshop was the seventh in a series funded by Bank of America as part of the bank’s 10-year environmental initiative on climate change.

For more information, see the report at www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Drops_of_Energy_May_2011_v1.pdf.


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