SAPS: Getting more from orchard waste; cleaner air included

Number 3 in the Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series.

It is near impossible for all people to always agree on all matters, obviously. Take, for instance, climate change (global warming): 1) not everyone subscribes to the notion of a warming Earth; and 2) of those who believe the world is warming there isn’t universal consensus as to why this is. Some feel humans are behind it, while others disagree attributing such to natural forces. On this I think it is a fair assessment to say we’ll just have to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

One attribute, characteristic, element, phenomenon, call it what you will, people come together on is the notion of polluted air – that’s a given; it’s undeniable.

Where differences exist, these mainly center on what kind of and/or how much pollution is actually detrimental to the environment and human, animal and plant health. Sometimes conversation surrounding such can get very heated – and in a hurry. Many people seem to not burden themselves too much with matters of polluted air until they are directly affected by it. The reality is that there is more to contaminated, dirty, toxic, bad, hazardous, unhealthful, polluted – what-have-you – air than just meets the eye … and nose. Way more!

For years, in California, growers were given license to burn agricultural waste out in the open field sans any impunity. Today, it is an entirely different matter.

320px-BurningOffFieldsInTheEveningInSouthGeorgia[1]In the May 2003 Nut Grower magazine cover story: “Up In Smoke: If you’ve got money to burn, keep burning your orchard waste,” I opened thus: “The burning question of how to dispose of agricultural waste has some people scrambling for answers, particularly since waste from ag sources in the United States is considerable. It’s estimated that if just 30 percent of that waste were to be actually burned it would have a significant environmental impact. Incinerating refuse of any kind – farm-related or otherwise – releases harmful pollutants into the air we breathe and, due to air quality considerations in the San Joaquin Valley of California, any waste burning is only allowed on specific ‘permissive burn days.’”

I went on in the feature to list as well as describe ways growers can dispose of orchard waste without having to resort to burning it.

These were:

  • Chipping and shredding
  • Biomass (sometimes referred to as co-generation)
  • Cattle feed and animal bedding
  • GAC or granular activated carbon1

Each is described in significantly more detail below.

Wood chips

This one’s easy. Chipping and shredding, though it may cost more (the main costs come in the way of capital to either purchase or rent the chipping/shredding machinery – or one could hire a contractor to do the work) compared to pushing orchard brush out or toppling dead and/or decaying orchard trees into piles and hence burning (the per-acre costs to burn versus chipping or shredding was about $7 and $10, respectively, as determined by then Stanislaus County University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Roger Duncan and retired Merced County Farm Advisor Lonnie Hendricks through associated studies). With this alternative-to-burning method now at growers’ disposals, other uses for this ground-up material were found; either as a feed supply (or feedstocks) for biomass incineration (more on this in a moment) or as compost/soil-amending matter that could be reintroduced into planting/potting soils and that, according to Duncan and Hendricks via their research, “would produce a ‘long-term agronomic value,’” I reported. From the chipping/shredding processes, thus more environmentally friendly means of dealing with orchard waste on this order were identified.


Using orchard tree trimmings, prunings, etc. as a product for biomass or co-generation incineration, a byproduct of which can take any number of forms, unless there are on-site plants/facilities, this can be expensive to transport to such sites, one of the disadvantages of shipping said “biomass” – in some cases over long distances. Lately, there has been the problem of biomass burned in biomass plant- or co-generation-plant furnaces, from which electricity and heat are typically created, has lost its cost-competitive advantage compared to photovoltaic (solar cell) system and wind-farm installations, which has forced several biomass and/or co-generation sites in California to shut their doors recently. This has prompted some growers to come up with alternate solutions regarding orchard waste disposal. The methods which are coming to the fore have been very inventive, such as that which was covered yesterday in: “SAPS: Energy independence down on the farm.”

640px-California's_Central_ValleyBut, I will say that more than just electricity and heat is capable of being produced from biomass or co-generation furnaces. There is now the capability of converting much of the waste into liquid fuel that can be used, for instance, in trucks transporting said waste to biomass/co-generation sites, thereby creating what is called a closed-loop process thus bringing the entire process full circle, a process known otherwise as recycling. All of which, again, provides growers value while at the same time helps cut down on the amount of harmful pollution entering the air.

Animal feed/bedding

How apropos that I just finished eating my lunch consisting of a sandwich, the bread of which is made with raisins and chunks of walnuts. These are alternatively known as artisan or designer breads, breads which often contain a veritable cornucopia of ingredients, which I would imagine are all grown of the farm.

Focusing on one ingredient – walnuts – their shells like other forms of agricultural waste, too, must be disposed of. This task isn’t just limited to walnuts only. Think of all the kinds of nut varieties grown.

Well, there is good news. Real simply: as with chipping and shredding, nut shells (and hulls) can get ground up, reduced to fine bits and pieces.

When the “Up In Smoke” article was published in 2003, California was home to 1.4 million dairy cows. Each of those cows requires feeding. I also explained how the Golden State produced (at the time) a record 1 billion pounds of almonds the year prior. Also noted was that for every harvested pound of almonds (another huge California crop) produced was double that weight in hulls. In aggregate totals, 1 billion pounds of state-grown almonds yields 2 billion pounds of hulls.

Considering it takes three-and-a-half pounds of almond hulls to feed a cow daily, in 2002/2003 there was more than an ample supply of almond hulls to satiate California cows’ hungry appetites. In hard numbers, that’d be 1.825 billion (almond-hull) pounds. In other words, in this area there is plenty of room to spare.

But all hulls not being created equal, there may be some unfit for cow/cattle consumption. In which case those of inferior quality could get mixed in with chipped and shredded wood, dirt, trash, well, you get the idea.

Relatedly, what can be done with almond and other nut shells? These can be ground up for animal bedding use. Presto! Problem solved.

Granular activated carbon

Granular-activated what?! Granular activated carbon or GAC, is what!

So check this out. “In 1993 Wayne Marshall, a research chemist at USDA’s Southern Regional Research Center began investigating a way to manufacture almond shells into … ‘GAC,’” I again wrote in “Up In Smoke.” Producing GAC from nutshells, the process is environmentally friendly, whereas GAC produced from coal, coconut shells, peat and wood is not. Interestingly, GAC has numerous uses, not the least of which is to filter or “efficiently absorb chemicals like acetonitrile, benzene and toluene from soils as well as to remove metals such as copper and lead from the air and water.” A follow-up report on what became of this then-experimental program seems justified.


  1. Alan Kandel, “Up In Smoke: If you’ve got money to burn, keep burning your orchard waste,” Nut Grower magazine, May 2003, pp. 6, 7 & 10

SAPS: Energy independence down on the farm

Number 2 in the Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series.

Picture what it would be like to be energy independent and completely self-sustaining. Think also what it would mean if that paradigm was what everyone embraced, farmers included. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, you know.

Well, for Bill and Karla Chambers of Corvallis, Oregon, at their Stahlbush Island Farms, they’re already on board and this is exactly the way things on the farm have been for the two of them for quite some time now.

They invested $10 million (circa 2009) in an on-farm biogas plant that turns crop waste into electrical and thermal energy, according to Vegetable Growers News Managing Editor Matt Milkovich in “Vegetable, fruit waste can produce electricity,” in the Sept. 2009 Vegetable Growers News issue.

“When describing how the new biogas plant works, Bill compares it to a cow,” Milkovich wrote. “Whatever you feed to a cow, you can feed to a biogas plant; the end result for both is methane gas.

Cow_female_black_white[1]“Once collected, the corn silage, pumpkin waste and other organic material is ground up and placed in an anaerobic digester, where it turns into a soupy liquid. Bacteria convert the waste to volatile fatty acids, and a second set of bacteria converts those fatty acids to methane. The methane bubbles up through the liquid waste and is collected at the top of the digester, where it’s fed to an internal combustion engine that runs a generator to produce electricity, Bill said,” Milkovich added.

The VGN managing editor went on to explain that the process of anaerobic digestion cannot be shut down and the biogas facility must operate non-stop, so vegetable and fruit waste at Stahlbush Island Farms during the months of winter is stockpiled.

Milkovich explained further that when the plant is running full bore, it should generate nearly double the power needs of the farm. Any electricity not used, “will be sold back to the power grid, making the power company a customer rather than a vendor, [Bill Chambers] said.”

At that time when the biogas plant went online in June, according to Milkovich, Bill Chambers surmised that the 4,000-plus-acre farm could yield energy savings totaling $500,000 annually, the savings coming from not having to buy utility fed natural gas and electricity. Additional upsides to just such an investment include the labor saved from not needing to find ways to dispose of all of the crop waste. And, this added to the monetary savings and on-farm energy generation, by any measure, is a win-win-win absolutely.

One finale note: “Using waste to create energy also fit Bill and Karla’s goals of complete sustainability for their farm,” Milkovich offered. “And since the fruit and vegetable byproducts won’t be consumed anyway, they aren’t taking away from the food market to feed the energy market, Karla said.”

Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series kickoff: A farm-waste-reuse success story

One of the more, I think, unique facets of living in California’s breadbasket (the San Joaquin Valley) is the juxtaposition created by low-lying cities, towering and rocky Sierra Nevada mountain peaks in the company of myriad flat and hilly farm country. To get from city centers to what is probably best described as the world’s most fertile terra firma, takes no more – in most cases – than a 10-minute drive.

To give some idea of just how extensive farming is in the region, agricultural production in the Valley alone in monetary terms in 2009, registered about $16 billion, roughly half of the state’s production sales total. In 2014, state farm production in sales reached upwards of $44.5 billion. The ratio of Valley ag sales compared to the rest of California, still remains about 1 to 1.

When you consider all of that farming-related activity is concentrated on land area amounting to approximately 24,000 square miles in size, compared to all that lying within the Golden State’s borders, I would think you would agree that that fact is pretty remarkable. (Note: Valley land taken out of agricultural production since 1990 and converted to non-farm usage or that which has been fallowed due to ongoing drought and other factors, is considerable). So, from all of this, it follows then that the less of a burden all the ag-related-production activity is on the air, water and land – collectively, the environment – the better.

Finding and implementing ways to make the industry’s operations more sustainable, makes sense as doing such can lessen that burden. One of the areas of interest and concern in this region is waste and its associated disposal thereof.

And, this brings to the fore the bigger-picture story here which is that the next couple of Air Quality Matters postings will be devoted to exploring, covering sustainability on the farm, in the orchard and around the vineyard. (Up till now, agricultural coverage here has been somewhat limited).

Today’s discussion, the first in the Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series, has to do with waste reuse. And, just to be clear, what is being offered here has implications beyond the Valley.

Waste and reuse – these two words – are about as improbable a pairing as two ideas can get. However, this is not so much the case in agriculture, apparently.

In fact, the opening entry in the May 2016 Fruit Growers News article “Eye of the beholder: Produce intended for the landfill ends up in more valuable places,” written by FGN correspondent Kathy Gibbons reads as follows: “One man’s trash is another man’s salad.” She’s kidding, right? Quite the contrary.

320px-Landfill_face[1]Gibbons elaborates by stating: “That’s what Adam Kaye discovered when he visited Baldor Specialty Foods, located at Hunts Point in the Bronx, New York, in 2014. The culinary director for Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City was getting ready to open a popup restaurant called ‘WastED,’ with a menu that relied mostly on foods otherwise destined for the landfill.”

“A longtime customer of Baldor, which has its own fresh-cut produce processing facility, Kaye went to see what might be available in terms of fruit and vegetable scraps.”

“He took a picture of what he saw and took it back to Blue Hill chef and owner Dan Barber, who saw the same possibilities. Many of those scraps – ribbons of carrot peels, fennel cores, celery cores, bruised apples and pears – became ingredients for a Dumpster Dive Salad that became part of WastED’s menu.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Not only is this unheard of – or has been up to this point or one would be inclined to believe – but this colorful tale is getting more interesting by the minute.

And, get a load (pun intended) of this: The Blue Hill trial program became a source for part of what inspired Thomas McQuillan, who himself, for Baldor, is a business analyst, according to Gibbons. McQuillan was responsible for identifying alternative-to-landfill approaches that have little or no impact on the environment in respect to the disposing of the roughly five tons of wasted food generated daily by Baldor. “The company has set 2017 as its deadline to eliminate taking organic waste to landfills,” Gibbons added.

What it all boils down to (an expression that might not be the best as applied in this context) is that food scraps that would ordinarily be fodder for the trash heap, can actually get a second go-’round as reused food and, in this scenario, could very well wind up on the dinner plates of many.

Add to this that this is just the kind of stuff that could inspire other types of innovation that, like this one, could reduce the amount of agricultural waste being burned or landfill-destined. Who knows what kinds of or how many ideas might actually come to fruition that, in the end, will lend themselves nicely to the sustainable agricultural practices cause thereby furthering what has come to be known as environmental stewardship.

You just never can tell.

Image above: Ashley Felton

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (4): A retrospective, prospective

The focus of this post being air-quality awareness at work on the job, I reflect on my own work history. As a writer, in soliciting comment from those whom I interviewed for purposes of inserting such comment in the body of the written work I would submit to the publishers I was contracted with to do work for, as much as I could, I would forward prepared interview questions via email. When done this way, this eliminated the necessity of having to travel in which to accomplish the same task. That cut down on driving, which saved me time and fuel, and that helped keep emissions that would have been connected with said driving from entering the air.

This method of conducting interviews lends itself to telecommuting or teleworking when possible.

Which reminds me, at one publishing outfit I used to work for, there was so much copier usage that literally reams of copier paper would be gone through in seemingly no time. Fortunately, the company was a strong adherent of wasted paper recycling and this was indeed helpful. But, any opportunity that can be taken to minimize the amount of paper waste should be taken. If this means starting up a recycling program where there was none, by all means this should be considered, in my view.

Another area of consideration could be building efficiency where such is lacking. In the building-efficiency area there is a certification process known as LEED.

In the Air Quality Matters blogpost, “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: San Luis Obispo, California” I explained: “Desiring to gain a better understanding of just what LEED Certification is about, I contacted U.S. Green Building Council Media Specialist Jacob Kriss who, in an email, wrote: ‘LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the world’s foremost program guiding the design, construction, operations and maintenance of healthy, high-performing green buildings. To date, there are more than 22,000 LEED-certified commercial and institutional projects, and there are nearly 58,000 housing units certified under the LEED for Homes rating system. Every day, 1.7 million square feet of real estate is LEED certified, and there are LEED projects in 153 countries and territories worldwide. LEED buildings provide healthier indoor environments for students, workers, homeowners and community members; save money for building owners through reduced energy and water bills; and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.’”

Could something along these lines be in the futures of more commercial operations? Undoubtedly so.


Force applied at a given distance yields work. That’s the definition of work expressed in mathematical terms. Work slots once the exclusive domain of human beings only to be later filled by electro-mechanical counterparts is a whole other ball of wax. As much as this may sound like the stuff of science fiction rather than science fact, in some situations this has become today’s reality.

As part of that reality, there is a lot that comes with the territory. All well and good I suppose, but, how exactly are robots in the workplace and air quality related, you ask?

The long and short of this story is basically this: Robots as electro-mechanical devices have instructions inputted to them electronically, obviously, and, as such, can perform certain or specialized tasks. A numerically controlled lathe serves as a relevant example.

Depending upon the robot or robotics application, something along these lines could have good or bad implications – it just depends.

For a bit more perspective, in Air Quality Matters blogpost “Electricity use, air pollution and the robotics revolution,” I related: “It is obvious robots utilize electricity to operate, and the more efficient these consumers of electricity are, the less demand on the grid supply they’ll be and therefore the less negative environmental impact they’ll have.”

A company, trying to decide whether or not to employ these workers of the electro-mechanical persuasion, must not only take factors like this into consideration, but others too such as costs as well as the loss of human capital. One weighed against the other each has its own advantages.

Meanwhile, in that same Air Quality Matters blogpost, I had no hesitation in also relaying this: “The presumption, of course, is more and more will come online over time.”

How much more remains to be seen. Time will be the best teller of that.

In concluding this series with this post, an apology is owed. What this has to do with is “Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (3): A retrospective, prospective,” in the sense that I deviated somewhat from what was supposed to be a retrospective and prospective look at matters related to sparing the air. Not exactly keeping with the theme, I know. If nothing else, though, one thing is proved – I’m human. Truth be told, I’d like to see a robot, regardless of how life-like, try to make that claim!

So, there you have it.

For more on Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016, look here.


Image above: Bureau of Land Management

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (3): A retrospective, prospective

An entire week’s worth of air recognition – that’s what Air Quality Awareness Week boils down to – albeit a five-day week. How will I recognize this time to spare the air? Let me count the ways.

320px-Cal-Poly-Dexter-Lawn[1]Way no. 1: I pledge to not drive unless required.

Way no. 2: I pledge to spend as little time using the computer as possible. It also means using battery power as power-supply power when the computer is in use.

Way no. 3: I pledge to keep lights turned off if there is no need for such. If lights are needed, then only those fixtures equipped with compact fluorescent lights or fluorescent light tubes will be used.

Way no. 4: I pledge to perform work of a manual nature if any around-the-house-work outside needs doing. If power tools and equipment are called for, then only those operating using rechargeable batteries will be employed.

And, in keeping Way no. 4 in mind, this is what today’s retrospective comma prospective discussion is about.

At home outdoors

Using my own yard as an example, if nothing needs attention, I will wait until such time that it does before doing what needs to be done in the yard-work department. Simple, right? To put things in context, you should know that today’s high temperature is forecast to be 88 degrees (I doubt the temp. will get this high) and the air quality is supposed to be in the moderate range – an Air Quality Index also in the 80’s (what is forecast for Fresno County).

Forecast for Thursday and/or Friday are showers, which means afterwards, air quality here should be much improved and temperatures should be lower. As such, any yard work needed, I firmly believe, can wait till then. To me, it just makes sense to do yard work this way.

In fact, this routine – and my preference for doing yard work this way – will be maintained throughout the entire warm-weather season. Why? It is due to the propensity for the San Joaquin Valley in California at this time of the year to form ozone.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)Ozone precursors like oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight and heat (which in the Valley is typically in abundant supply now through September into October) combine to form ozone – what many refer to as smog. This gas is corrosive on the lungs and can trigger asthma attacks and can lead to more serious and/or debilitating lung conditions and diseases. So, applying some common-sense practices related to this, well, this seems wise.

Moreover, if the concentration of ozone in the area is such that an air pollution alert is issued, then perhaps foregoing all outdoor activities completely should be the order of the day, for sensitive individuals especially, these being the elderly, children and people with existing lung and respiratory conditions.

Other applied ideas could be in terms of limiting the amount of time the motor vehicle engine idles (if of the internal-combustion type) when first starting the car in preparation for leaving for work or in heading to the market for shopping, for example.

Looking forward, in your neck of the woods this week might be the time to plant trees that will eventually grow tall enough to shade the home from the summer sun and this could cut down on or help lower future energy bills.

What is more, trees can help with absorbing carbon dioxide from the air – maybe not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit helps. And, still, another idea might be to limit outdoor exercise to the early mornings or evenings where there is less opportunity and likelihood for the formation of ozone, particularly in places that are prone to ozone’s presence. In fact, it may be what the doctor orders.

Furthermore, an on-the-yard composting operation could mean less matter going to landfills and that could mean less in the way of landfill-produced methane gas or the opportunity for the creation of such could be less. All of which has implications for improved air quality.

Being air-quality smart, especially during Air Quality Awareness Week, could anything be more right?!

Up next (Part 4), air quality awareness at work; that is, in the workplace.

Upper image above: Gregg Erickson

Lower image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 (2): A retrospective, prospective

It’s what’s inside that counts

In this epoch of climate change (global warming) awareness, one of the constructs associated with this phenomenon, is “carbon footprint,” and what this means or how it relates on an individual or per-person level.

As this relates to Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016, some may want to know how they can reduce carbon footprint size inside the living space.

Hot water heater
Hot water heater

From the “Earth Day – 2016: Ideas for a healthier EarthAir Quality Matters Apr. 1, 2016 blogpost, I offered: “Secondly, keeping lights off when not needed, can save on electricity by placing less demand on the electric grid and that means lower energy costs. The same is true regarding appliances and electronic devices like computers, for example. By turning these off when not in use, this can do much to reduce energy use. Meanwhile, replacing incandescent with fluorescent lighting or either incandescent or fluorescent with light-emitting-diode lamps, such should prove to be less of a load on the electric grid, and that should translate into energy costs being lower.”

This is just scratching the surface. Gar Lipow, in his book, Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming really delves deep into this area. Provided in this detailed accounting is a wealth of smart solutions that can help people reduce their watt-hours of electricity consumption. Moreover, as to what Lipow covers, it’s all good and if many of the “solutions” this author presents were adopted universally, I cannot help but think of how much more of a positive impact this would have on the quality of air.

Another good resource which I have referred to from time to time is: “30 Simple Energy Things You Can Do To Save The Earth,” from The Earth Works Group, Distributed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Inside the apartment insulation application
Inside the apartment insulation application

Of course, not all 30 “things,” if followed through on, are going to directly result in air-quality improvement, but a good many do, such as setting thermostats at sensible levels; neither too cold during summers nor too hot during colder times of the year. Another is making the home more energy efficient and one way to do this is with improvements made regarding interior, exterior and even attic insulation. These and more useful tips are covered within this guide’s covers.

And, the two above-described books are but two resources. There are others.

Now, as to what the future of home carbon-footprint reduction may hold, there is no telling what is in store. But, it is interesting to think about the possibilities.

I think of my own kitchen that has a built-in exhaust fan located over the cooking surfaces of the stove. Imagine if one were to step away from the stove say, in answering a phone, while food in a frying pan, for instance, on top of one of the stove’s heating elements gets too, too hot and produces enough smoke as a result. Meanwhile, placed inside the exhaust fan is a built-in smoke detector provision which, if triggered, would automatically shut off the stove’s heating element in question thus preventing what is in said frying pan from reaching the flash point and therefore eliminating the threat of fire. This day is no doubt on the way. No question a capability of this type would doubtless be extremely practical and handy in a situation where someone has lost consciousness due to a medical crisis while the stove just happened to be on. What other kinds of air-savings techniques are just around corner?

This covers the home’s inside. Part 3 goes outdoors at home.

Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016: A retrospective, prospective

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17[1]Well, May 2 through May 6 marks Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016. I thought this would be the perfect time air-quality matters-wise, to look back, look ahead.

To refresh some reader memories or to inform those who have no prior knowledge of the “Earth Day – 2016: Ideas for a healthier Earth,” Air Quality Matters posting, provided were “ideas” to help in reducing pollutant emissions: 1) while out-and-about when engaged in travel; 2) indoors; 3) around- the home; and finally 4) at work on the job.

Out-and-about and on-the-go

To repeat from the Apr. 1, 2016 Air Quality Matters Earth Day post, I wrote: “Walking and biking instead of driving is an air-pollution-free way to travel. If one does choose to drive, then selecting an automobility device that puts out lower or no emissions, can do much and go far to protect the air we humans breathe. If none of these suits one’s fancy, by taking public transit – especially, the modes that don’t pollute – in so doing, this will go a long ways toward keeping harmful air-polluting emissions in check.”

With this in mind, I am devoting this first Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016 entry to none other than transportation.

I can think of a no better introduction than a public transportation discussion. As it applies and here in the states, I’ve done my best to keep my finger on the transit pulse. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what the future has in store for this area. Lately, I’ve been doing considerable research and writing on what the prospects might be. There has been so much written on this realm as of late.

The big attention-grabber, in case you have not already guessed is the hypothesis Hyperloop. Granted, development has come quite a ways and there is work under way to build an actual working prototype, one each in El Segundo and Quay Valley (southern Kings County), both in California, but will light at the end of the tunnel ever been seen regarding a functioning full-scale Hyperloop example, model, prototype?

Image courtesy of:
Image courtesy of:

Meanwhile, other efforts not just in the Golden State but elsewhere too include CyberTran, SkyTran™ and VECTORR™ each in various stages of development. I have written about the three of these in my book: “The Departure Track: Railways of Tomorrow,” released in 2013. What all of these have going for them, environmentally sustainability speaking, is that all make use of designs that effectively release no pollutant emissions.

Turning attention elsewhere, in the public transit department, there are many practical examples soon to come online – too many to include a list here, and these comprise both road- and rail-based offerings. An excellent source to consult to learn where significant progress is being made is The Transport Politic, the blog of transportation planner Yonah Freemark.

So, what’s left? Active and automotive transportation. Active includes walking and biking, both pretty much self-explanatory.

On the road, meanwhile, the greatest promise is held in zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) and partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs) and others. A great source to learn about the trends in domestic sales of these is the Electric Drive Transportation Association site.

Oh, and I would just like to add that there are new developments regarding the pending VW recall action. Preliminarily, agreement has been reached between the courts and Volkswagen. Spelled out is what course that remediation/mitigation will likely take. A final decision is expected in June. You may read much, much more about this here.

Tampa Int’l. Airport people mover
Tampa Int’l. Airport people mover

I’d be remiss if I did not provide or identify a source for U.S. public transit ridership (usage) in 2015. A worthy source for this information is from the American Public Transportation Association here.

Finally, the same APTA group has only a few days ago released a statement related to public transit as a “green industry.” That press statement can be viewed here.

The next “Air Quality Awareness Week – 2016: A retrospective, prospective” entries (2 and 3) will have to do with spare-the-air practices in- and outside the home, respectively.

Stay tuned.

Top image above: NASA

Bottom image above: Copyright James G. Howes, 2009 (used with permission)

Steam cleaning: Loco conversions enough to get some fired up; others hot under the collar

I now have in my possession – courtesy of a friend who has recently moved and could not take with him all that he had owned – about a half-dozen books and roughly four times as many magazines, in one way or another all having to with railroading, thus adding to my library of such.

Needless to say, I have thus far read through several. And, one of the magazines (Locomotive 2010) had a passage in one of the included articles (“Passage of time: Rio Grande 5371 was the last of a breed”) that struck a chord, the thought here being: “Will 5371 be the sole example preserved for future generations?”

What is special about this particular diesel locomotive (a General Motors, Electro-Motive Division model SD40T-2 which, in this case, just so happens to wear Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad colors and sport the 5371 number), is its built-in air-intake provision which enabled the model to better perform in walled-in spaces like tunnels with their typically limited air and/or air-circulation characteristics, compared to locos without such provisions built in, hence their earning the “tunnel motor” qualifier. The diesel, incidentally, sits among the collection of railway equipment housed at the Ogden Railroad Museum in Utah having taken up residence there since Aug. 2009, according to Mike Danneman, the article’s author.

Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia
Triple Crossing, Richmond, Virginia

The preservation, restoration and operation of representative examples of many historical, special, unusual, unique, etc. locomotives is a common practice the world over, no question. In fact, pulled behind some of the preserved, restored and operating locos at a few operating museums and tourist pikes are passenger cars on or inside which I have ridden. On rare occasion, I have been invited up into the locomotive cab and, in one case I even got to operate the loco itself.

Meanwhile, in yet another issue of Locomotive, this time for year 2007, in the “Editor’s Notebook” section, Editor Greg McDonnell wrote: “Locomotive emissions standards – smoke abatement laws by another name – are again a hot ticket. Again, they’re helping to spark a new revolution in locomotive technology.” Again, another one of those thoughts that hits home.

Here it is, almost May 2016, and if I remember correctly, all purchases of new diesel locomotives, I think as of the end of 2015, had to meet Tier 4 emissions standards – for operation inside America’s borders. What this means, if true, is that locomotive builders such as General Electric and Progress Rail Services, for example, have been hard at work creating products that meet (or exceed) these latest of requirements. That’s great news!

One thought leading to another, now I can’t help but think of all the progress air-quality related-wise that has been made in the area of locomotive technology development.

This may come as a shock and the statement I am about to make may raise a few hackles, and that statement is that for all the progress that’s been made, I can’t help but believe that some of that success, yes, success, is being countervailed, at least to some extent, by the allowance of the operation of steam locomotives across the continent. With rare exception, these fire-eating, smoke-belching contraptions are so notoriously damaging on air that it is any wonder that they are even allowed to operate at all. I’d really be surprised to find at my mentioning this if I haven’t at least ruffled a few feathers.

So, the question becomes: If the builders turning out the most fuel-efficient, cleanest-burning diesel locomotives in the land are complying with standards which are helping improve the quality of air, not to mention saving the railroads that use them a considerable sum of money over the long haul and therefore helping the railroad companies’ bottom lines, why is there not a similar set of air-compliant qualifications that these steam locomotive operators be likewise held to?


If the Grand Canyon Railway, with the conversion of one of its steam locomotives that now enables it to burn waste vegetable oil (WVO) compared to what this particular iron horse once combusted (be it coal or other fossil fuel) and thereby allowing this one steam locomotive to burn far, far cleaner, if GCR can do it (and, presumably, as a result of the conversion made, not only is the company able to benefit, but communities along the railroad’s path), so too should others running similar operations do likewise (that is, have steam locomotives on their pikes undergo like conversions)! What’s smart is smart and this smells smart to me.

Earth Day Extra! Next-level greenhouse taps sun’s rays for crop/energy production

Hydroponic growing technique
Hydroponic growing technique

The greenhouse. It derives its name not from the color of paint adorning exterior surfaces, but, rather, from the activity taking place within, in this case, that activity being the growing of plants, the representative crops themselves mostly verdantly attired.

Inside the greenhouse, seeds are sown and new plantings take root, all of it done in preparation for future transplantation on the farm, out in the field, as it were.

So, wouldn’t you know it?! That greenhouse which for eons (just an expression) has served as a plant-growing facilitator, can now also be used to enable electricity production. That’s right. Now these can be employed as energy generators, making them truly multipurpose in nature.

“Last summer, Fremont, California-based Solaria, a provider of solar module technologies, and Soliculture, provider of greenhouse integrated photovoltaics (GIPV) for commercial greenhouse growers, secured a strategic collaboration for PV agriculture applications,” explained Gary Pullano, Vegetable Growers News Associate Editor in the March 2016 issue.

In the cover story “Powered up: Greenhouse system yields crops/electricity,” Pullano went on to state: “Solaria is supplying its cell processing technology for use with Soliculture’s luminescent solar concentrator technology. The new modules are able to generate electricity in an altered light spectrum optimized for plant growth.”

It was revealed in the Vegetable Growers News article in question as well that the very “first commercial trial” of such a photovoltaic (solar) panel in a greenhouse roof (not to be confused with on-the-rooftop solar panel installation) application, took place on a portion of one of the Watsonville, California-located Kitayama Brothers Farms’ greenhouses.

“This product answers the unique needs of farmers and their businesses for a material that has neutral effects on plants but that also generates enough power to make it economically compelling. Now greenhouse growers have a major incentive to incorporating building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) into their agriculture projects,” Solaria declared in a company press release.

Meanwhile, continued Pullano, “Information supplied by Soliculture said positive effects from use of the product has ranged from early crop maturation, disease resistance and longer production time. Electricity generated by the panels could offset the electricity needs of the greenhouse and other electrically sensitive equipment, like coolers, pumps and supplemental light.”

Solaria Business Development Director Carley Corrado, cited by Pullano in the article in question, talked up solar panels’ relative low costs and how through in-greenhouse-roof placement, the panels can provide a payback relatively quickly, that is, compared to the typical or common or usual photovoltaic cell application/installation.

Interesting also that the panels in this then (July 28, 2015) newest of approaches do double duty as a crop-growing encourager and electricity generator in an agricultural setting, no less, with the added benefit of cleaner air to boot.

A greenhouse that not only serves as a platform under which one is able to raise crops, but one also that seconds as a generator that facilitates in the production of watts.

Who would’ve thought?!

Image at top: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

California’s ‘bad-air’ cities rank among nation’s worst, lung association finds

SMOG_-_NARA_-_542581.tif[1]In the American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual rankings of worst cities for annual fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 – particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter in size) pollution, fine particulate matter pollution over a 24-hour period and ozone pollution, it is cities in California that have consistently topped the list. And, this year is no different.

Furthermore, in its prepared “2016 ‘State of the Air’ Report Finds More than Half of Americans Live with Unhealthful Levels of Air Pollution” statement, the ALA writes: “The annual, national air quality ‘report card’ found that 166 million Americans live with unhealthful levels of air pollution, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects like lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.” The 166 million affected Americans, amounts to 52.1 percent of the nation’s population.

Adding insult to injury, the lung association relates, “According to this year’s 17th annual report, short-term spikes in particle pollution have gotten worse since the 2015 report, including in the city with the worst particle pollution problem, Bakersfield, Calif. For multiple cities that suffered spikes in particle pollution during this period, many of these spikes were directly linked to weather patterns like drought or to events like wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change.”

Not all news was bad, though. As evidence, the lung association proclaimed that there was some air improvement.

“… [T]he best progress came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution, with 16 cities reaching their lowest levels ever, and one other improving over the period covered by the 2015 report (2011-2013). Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” the ALA emphasized.

Meanwhile, additional California cities finding themselves among the top 10 spots in the annual PM 2.5 pollution list include: Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (2), Fresno-Madera (3), Los Angeles-Long Beach (4), El Centro (5) and Modesto-Merced and San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, both clusters of cities in the sixth worst position.

For 24-hour (short-term) fine PM, it was Bakersfield filling the top spot, with Fresno-Madera (2), Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (3), Modesto-Merced (4), San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland (8) and Los Angeles-Long Beach (9).

Rounding out the list were the most ozone-polluted Golden State cities of: Los Angeles-Long Beach (1), Bakersfield (2), Visalia-Porterville-Hanford (3), Fresno-Madera (4), Sacramento-Roseville (6) and Modesto-Merced (7).

According to the ALA the 2016 “State of the Air” report reflects data collected between years 2012 and 2014.

For more on 2016 “State of the Air” report findings and for more information, look here.


Top image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration