AmeriScan: October 24, 2006

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Energy Department Awards $100 Million in Fuel Cell R&D

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 24, 2006 (ENS) - In an effort to overcome cost and durability barriers associated with hydrogen fuel cell research, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman today announced $100 million to fund 25 hydrogen research and development projects

Speaking to the Council on Competitiveness and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Bodman said, “The Department of Energy is committed to breaking our addiction to oil by creating a diverse portfolio of clean, affordable and domestically produced energy choices. We expect hydrogen to play an integral role in our energy portfolio and we are eager to see hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road in the near future.”

The Department of Energy, DOE, will negotiate these 25 cost shared projects for an approximate total of $127 million - $100 million DOE cost; $27 million applicant cost over four years - fiscal years 2007 – 2010.

The projects will focus on fuel cell membranes, water transport within the stack, advanced cathode catalysts and supports, cell hardware, innovative fuel cell concepts, and effects of impurities on fuel cell performance and durability.

The funds are awarded to national laboratories, universities and private corporations. The largest single award, $8.9 million, goes to the 3M corporation for work on membranes used in proton exchange membrane fuel cells. The second largest award also goes to 3M for work on catalysts.

Awards also include stationary fuel cell demonstration projects that Bodman says will help foster international and intergovernmental partnerships.

Advanced research funded by these awards are intended to support the Bush administration's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, HFI, which seeks to make it practical and cost-effective for large numbers of Americans to choose to purchase fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

The projects will explore hydrogen production from diverse domestic sources, hydrogen storage, and polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells.

The President’s 2007 budget requests $289 million for the HFI, an increase of $53 million over FY 2006, to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cells and affordable hydrogen-powered cars.

"As a result the President’s investment in this initiative, the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell has been cut by more than 50 percent in just four years," the Energy Department says.

Fuel cells use hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity, with only water and heat as byproducts. They can power small portable devices and provide heat and electricity to buildings, and they can be used to power vehicles, with two to three times the efficiency of traditional internal combustion technologies. However, fuel cells are currently more expensive and less durable than internal combustion engines.

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EPA Study: Children's Exposure to Pollutants Diminishing

WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2006 (ENS) - The percentage of children living in counties that do not meet the air quality standard for fine particulate matter declined from 24 percent to 16 percent from 1999 to 2004, according to new data released today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA.

The data come from an update to "America's Children and the Environment," EPA's compilation of information from federal databases that provide insights into children's environmental health.

The data provides Americans with information about children's exposure to environmental pollutants, and the EPA calls the report "an important instrument for the agency to gauge its progress in carrying out its mission."

Children under six are less likely to be regularly exposed to secondhand smoke at home, decreasing from 27 percent of children in 1994 to 11 percent in 2003, and the concentration of lead in young children's blood has gone down by 89 percent over a period of 25 years.

The data present measures of trends in environmental factors related to the health and well-being of children in the United States. The measures were previously published in a 2003 EPA report, and this update adds from two to five years of additional data for each of the measures.

The data look at trends in environmental contaminant levels in air, water, food, and soil; concentrations of contaminants measured in the bodies of children and women; and childhood illnesses and health conditions such as asthma that may be influenced by exposure to environmental contaminants.

Children may be more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults because their bodily systems are still developing; they eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size; and their behavior can expose them more to chemicals and organisms.

The study covers outdoor pollution. It finds that as of September 30, 2004, about 0.8 percent of children lived within one mile of a Superfund site listed on the National Priorities List that had not yet been cleaned up or controlled, down from about 1.2 percent in 1990.

Indoor pollution is also reported. The percentage of homes with children ages six and under in which someone smokes on a regular basis decreased from 27 percent in 1994 to 11 percent in 2003.

To view more of the numbers, view "America's Children and the Environment" at: http://www.epa.gov/envirohealth/children/highlights/index.htm

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Toxic Soup Comes to a Boil in Massachusetts

WASHINGTON, DC, October 24, 2006 (ENS) - Hundreds of industries in Massachusetts have been allowed to discharge unknown amounts of toxic chemicals into municipal sewage plants without state permits for eight years, an association of government employees in natural resources agencies.

Citing agency records released today, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, accused the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, of "a jaw-dropping abdication of its public health responsibilities."

The group alleges that streams of harmful chemicals - including radioactive elements and heavy metals - may have entered Boston Harbor and other state water bodies for years without any warning to municipalities, fishermen or consumers.

"There is no excuse for this egregious eight year dereliction of duty," said New England PEER director Kyla Bennett, a former lawyer and biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to PEER, the Massachusetts DEP has issued "forbearance letters" since 1998 to at least 278 industrial wastewater dischargers. The letters, which remain in effect today, "temporarily" waive all permit limits, monitoring requirements, and holding tank approvals, as well as all state fees.

Based upon records obtained by PEER, the state waived regulation over an estimated 1.4 million gallons per day of wastewater entering municipal sewage systems. Although some municipal sewage plants monitor industrial dischargers carefully, others do not, said PEER.

According to DEP records, the industrial wastewater sent to treatment plants that do not have industrial pre-treatment programs was found to carry everything from radioactive elements, such as radium, to heavy metals, such as barium and chromium, as well as an array of acids, acetones and other chemicals.

Due to a lack of state monitoring, it is unknown how much of the chemical mix reached public water bodies.

Sewage plants themselves have federal permits limiting the pollutants they may discharge, but these permits do not necessarily cover every toxic pollutant that industries are putting into the sewer system. PEER is concerned that neither the sewage plants nor the government knows what pollutants industries are discharging.

PEER claims that the DEP issued forbearance letters on the pretext that it was on the verge of creating new rules. But those regulations were not proposed until more than eight years after the letters became standard operating procedure.

Late last month, DEP proposed regulations to replace forbearance letters. But these rules would still eliminate individual state permits for virtually all but the largest industrial sewage dischargers regardless of how toxic their discharges may be, says PEER.

"Unfortunately, the proposed new rules are also inadequate," Bennett said, noting that DEP also is claiming that it lacks funds to run an adequate program. "At this point, the Legislature needs to step in and ensure DEP will finally start properly regulating the flow of industrial wastewater throughout the Commonwealth."

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Acid Tank Failures Cost Pennsylvania Firm $150,000

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, October, 24, 2006 (ENS) - Leaky acid tanks proved costly today for a Pennsylvania company that regenerates used liquid from the manufacture of steel.

American Iron Oxide Co., AMROX, based in Allenport, will pay a $150,000 penalty for outstanding air, waste and water violations, said Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, DEP.

"Acid releases, failure to control dust emission, unpermitted stormwater and iron oxide releases into the Monongahela River - all of these are serious violations," said Ken Bowman, environmental protection southwest regional director.

AMROX runs an acid regeneration and iron oxide production facility that accepts spent pickle liquor from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and U.S. Steel and then regenerates the acid for reuse by the steel companies. Iron oxide is produced in the process, which AMROX sells to magnetic and other industries.

Two years ago AMROX suffered two acid tank failures. The DEP issued a compliance order for the remaining tank to be inspected promptly, and required AMROX to submit tank inspection and maintenance records.

DEP followed up this incident with an August 2005 consent order and agreement to resolve various tank and waste issues. That agreement obliged AMROX to get its remaining acid tanks out of service, inspected and repaired.

Tanks now must undergo annual in-service and biennial out-of-service inspections. Tanks must be registered, and AMROX may not install any new tanks without first obtaining a tank permit. AMROX also installed spill containment curbing between the acid tank farm and its property line.

Last year, the DEP told AMROX to address various air quality violations at the Allenport plant, including iron oxide dust releases, and put AMROX on a schedule for stack testing for chlorine and hydrochloric acid emissions. The company has complied with its air quality stack limitations, said the DEP.

The $150,000 penalty was paid into state funds that finance air and water quality improvement projects and waste cleanups.

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New Technology Turns Bay Area Table Scraps into Fuels

DAVIS, California, October 24, 2006 (ENS) - More than five million tons of food scraps go into California landfills each year, but that is about to change. Starting today, tons of table scraps from Bay Area restaurants will be turned into clean, renewable energy at a new research and technology demonstration facility at the University of California - Davis.

The Biogas Energy Project will process eight tons of leftovers weekly from premier restaurants such as San Francisco's Slanted Door, Jardiniere, Scoma's, Boulevard and Zuni Cafe, and Oakland's Oliveto and Scott's Seafood.

Each ton of scraps can produce enough energy to provide electricity to power 10 average California homes for one day. Later as much as eight tons of leftovers will go to the project every day.

The Biogas Energy Project is the first large-scale demonstration in the United States of a new technology developed in the past eight years by Ruihong Zhang, a UC Davis professor of biological and agricultural engineering. The technology, called an "anaerobic phased solids digester," has been licensed from the university and adapted for commercial use by Onsite Power Systems Inc.

The project's goal is to divert organic matter such as food waste and yard clippings away from landfills and into the energy grid. That reduces greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and turns trash into a substantial source of clean energy.

"The new Biogas Energy facility at UC Davis allows us to conduct innovative research on renewable energy sources. By utilizing agricultural and food waste as alternatives to fossil fuels, UC Davis continues the tradition of protecting California's environment," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"The College of Engineering is leading a campuswide initiative that emphasizes renewable energy, energy efficiency and transportation," said Engineering Dean Enrique Lavernia. "The opening of the Biogas Energy Project marks a significant step, and we're delighted that we were able to partner with industry in addressing this important problem for the state and for the nation."

Zhang's system processes a wider variety of wastes than other anaerobic digesters, most of which are in use on municipal wastewater treatment plants and livestock farms. It works faster, turning waste into energy in half the time of other digesters.

Zhang's system produces two clean energy gases - hydrogen and methane. Other digesters produce only methane. The gases can be burned to produce electricity and heat, or to propel cars, trucks and buses.

Zhang has proved in the laboratory on a small scale that in anaerobic, or oxygen-free, conditions, naturally occurring bacteria can quickly convert food and green wastes into hydrogen and methane gases.

Now the challenge is to make the gases in consistently high quality and large volumes over the long term. Onsite Power Systems has invested almost $2 million in helping Zhang refine the technology and prepare it for transfer to the commercial market.

Norcal Waste Systems of San Francisco is supplying the waste for the project because it already collects restaurant leftovers for its composting operation near Vacaville. Every day, Norcal collects 300 tons of food scraps from 2,000 restaurants in San Francisco and 150 more restaurants in Oakland, said Chris Choate, the firm's vice president of sustainability.

Choate said energy can be harvested out of about half of the waste material that the state currently sends to landfills.

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Without Cougar Predators, Deer Kill Zion Park Cottonwoods

CORVALLIS, Oregon, October 24, 2006 (ENS) - The disappearance of cougars from part of Zion National Park over the past 70 years has allowed deer populations to increase, resulting in ecological damage, loss of cottonwood trees, eroding streambanks, and declining biodiversity, finds a new study from Oregon State University, OSU.

The research just published in the journal "Biological Conservation" confirms predictions made more 50 years ago by naturalist Aldo Leopold, considered the father of wildlife ecology.

"When park development caused cougar to begin leaving Zion Canyon in the 1930s, it allowed much higher levels of deer browsing," said Robert Beschta, an OSU professor emeritus of forest hydrology. "That set in motion a long cascade of changes that resulted in the loss of most cottonwoods along the streambanks and heavy bank erosion."

"But the end result isn't just loss of trees," he said. "It's the decline or disappearance of shrubs, wetland plants, amphibians, lizards, wildflowers, and even butterflies."

In Zion Canyon, a popular tourist attraction for over a century, cougars are absent, scared off by the influx of human visitors. With their natural enemy gone, growing deer populations ate young cottonwood trees, robbing streambanks of shade and erosion protection.

As a result, floodplains began to erode away.

By contrast, a nearby roadless watershed has similar native ecology but is remote, with an intact cougar population and fewer mule deer. Streambanks in this watershed have nearly 50 times more young cottonwood trees as well as thriving populations of flowers, lizards, butterflies, and species of plants that help stabilize stream banks, provide food-web support, and protect floodplains.

"The documentation of species abundance that we have in this study is very compelling," said William Ripple, a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Resources and lead author on the study.

"These two canyons, almost side by side, have a similar climate and their ecosystems should be quite similar," Ripple said. "But instead they are very different, and we hypothesize that the long-term lack of cottonwood recruitment associated with stream-side areas in Zion Canyon indicates the effects of low cougar and high deer densities over many decades.

The findings of this study may be relevant to other ecosystems elsewhere when key predators are gone, the researchers said, and high populations of native herbivores such as deer or elk, or domestic grazers such as cattle or sheep, affect native biodiversity.

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