Faster Leaf Compost

Here’s an interesting way to get nature to help you with your fall gardening chores. Biotal Leafmould / Leaf Compost Maker quickly turns your leaves into quality compost, faster than through a normal decomposition process. You simply put it in a normal compost bin.

Here’s some info about the product

Leaves – converts leaves into rich leaf mould in months rather than years

* 10ml of Compost Maker, mixed with a full watering-can, treats about one-and-a-half bin bags of waste.
* Compost ready for use after ten weeks of rotting.
* Can be used to re-activate partially-composted or dead heaps.
* Suitable for use in all types of compost bins

Anybody used this stuff? Does it work? Seem like one of those gardening accessories that is pretty tempting to speed up composting.

An introduction to Biodiesel

There is no such thing as a biodiesel conversion. Biodiesel Pump

I found that phrase scrawled across the wall of the bathroom of a bohemian college coffee house.  It wasn’t hard to track down the person responsible;  A biodiesel awareness group met there every week and I did a bit of asking around.  Like many people when I heard the word “Biodiesel” I thought of those guys I’d seen on TV who drove around picking up used grease from all the fast food restaurants and dumped it into specially modified cars with all kinds of line heaters and special filters and tanks and all manner of mad scientist add-ons.  Apparently I was mistaken, like most people, and it was time for an education.

The diesel engine was invented in the closing days of the 19th century to replace the steam engine in industrial applications.  They were designed to run of a variety of fuels from coal dust to peanut oil but until recently were primarily run off fossil fuels.  But the combination of rising fuel costs with environmental concerns, political concerns, and the availability of 80’s era diesel powered autos at prices that encourage experimentation has brought about some interesting fuel options.

The three major alternative fuels for consumer diesel engines are:

  • SVO: Standard vegetable oil. Just what it sounds like, you just run off of straight veggie oil like you use to cook with.

  • WVO: This is what most people incorrectly call biodiesel. Basically you take oil straight from a restaurant and filter it.

  • Biodiesel: This is plant based oil, usually soybean oil, which is processed to be used as a direct replacement for petroleum diesel.



SVO and WVO require modifications to be made to the vehicle in before it can reliably be used as a replacement for conventional diesel.  WVO has to be carefully filtered and there are contaminates that can escape filtering and can cause some rather severe damage to rather expensive parts.  In addition it tends to solidify so the fuel lines have to be heated to keep it flowing properly.  All in all it requires more dedication to do it right than most people are willing or able to provide.  It wasn’t for me in any case.

filling

Biodiesel is a different story entirely.  There only four things to keep in mind when switching your vehicle to biodiesel.

  • Biodiesel is a solvent: When you run your first tank full of biodiesel it will go to work dissolving all of the gunk built up in your fuel tank, your fuel lines, and your injectors over the years. While this is a good thing, for the most part, it means that your fuel filters are going to be catching a whole lot of debris the first few tanks. If you don’t know how to change your own filters, this can run into some labor costs, and even if you do your own maintenance it means carrying around a few tools and spare filters.

  • Rubber Lines: The rubber fuel lines used in old cars are susceptible to the same solvent problems that I mentioned above. Over time when exposed to biodiesel they may break down and begin to leak. You can either replace them all, or just keep an eye out for any seepage for a while. My vintage Mercedes has been running on biodiesel for some time now and has never had a problem with the lines. Other people report problems within a few miles. To be safe, perhaps it is best just to replace all the lines.

  • Efficiency: Biodiesel contains less energy than petroleum diesel. That means that you will get slightly worse mileage, and also you may notice a slight drop in power. Since a diesel already gets as much as 40 percent better mileage than a gas motor its not that big of an issue, and honestly; If I was looking for performance I wouldn’t be driving a diesel.

  • Availability: This can be a deal killer for many people. Some cities have multiple outlets where biodiesel is readily available. Some have none.

So checking off the above list, I had no problem with changing filters, lower mileage, loss of performance, or replacing fuel lines.  All that was left was to find the stuff.

price signA quick Google search revealed only one retailer in my city; and it revealed a different decision to make.  Biodiesel is sold in different blends with petroleum diesel.  When you see B20, that means the fuel contains twenty percent bio, and 80 percent petroleum.  With B100, you get all bio and no petroleum.  In reality, most B100 is really B99.9.  A small percentage of petroleum is blended in because our government in their infinite wisdom gives a tax break for petroleum with bio added, but not for just plain bio.  The end result is adding a tiny amount of petroleum to B100 results in a significant savings to the provider.  Most of the sources I consulted recommended starting out with something like B20; Once your system is all cleaned out and you’ve gone through a few filter changes then you switch over to the pure stuff.

Depending on the market for biodiesel in your area your first trip to the biodiesel fuel seller may result in a bit of a culture shock.  While many retailers are simply normal fuel stations (you have to get used to not calling them gas stations) with a  biodiesel pump on the island along side the regular gas pumps, the one in my city bore a closer resemblance to something out of a post apocalyptic action thriller.

DFW Biodiesel

Above ground tanks were scattered about a lot in a predominately industrial area with fuel trucks parked prominently displaying DFW Biodiesel on their tanks.  A small unoccupied booth sat between two functional but antique looking pumps.  Beside the empty booth a lone terminal stood with a credit card slot and a display.  From this out of place looking island of technology you swipe your card, select which pump you wish to use (B20 or B100), and then by following the faded instruction sheet you fuel your vehicle.  I personally found I didn’t really miss the aisles of soda, candy, and cell phone accessories.  In the entire time I have purchased fuel from them I have yet to see anyone working there, and that is ok with me.  There is a certain do it yourself mentality that comes with using biodiesel; it’s certainly not for everyone…not yet anyway.

So, why go with biodiesel?  First of all, the environment.  Biodiesel produces 60 percent less carbon dioxide than regular diesel, It’s non toxic , and best of all it is available most places right now.  At some point I sincerely hope to see the day that we are driving primarily electric vehicles using power produced by solar and wind but that’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, and it is not next year.  Your average working person can’t afford a new electric car but many people can afford an older diesel Mercedes or Volkswagen.  Sometimes you have to take what you can get until you can get what you want.

terminalSecond, biodiesel extends engine life because of its cleaning properties and its superior lubrication properties.  I can tell the difference by the sound my engine makes when I run regular diesel.  It runs much quieter on biodiesel.

Third, I have to admit there is political element.  To me we have a choice of purchasing fuel from countries with a very questionable human rights history, or purchasing our fuel from our own farmers.  While biodiesel will not replace petroleum in its entirety by any means, every drop of biodiesel we use is that much less we have to import with all the nastiness that goes along with it.  I don’t know how much of a difference it makes in the grand scheme of things, but doing something is better than nothing.

You will notice that the above does not include saving money.  You won’t save money by switching to biodiesel.  At the present time in my area it is priced a few cents less than regular diesel.  Given the extra distance I have to drive to get it and the decreased economy I’m not saving any money.  Occasionally depending on the price of oil Biodiesel will actually be a few cents more.  Some things are just worth doing because they are the right thing to do.

Holistic Management Conference

An interesting educational opportunity is coming up for those interested in land conservation. Holistic Management International is hosting a conference in a couple weeks about healing damaged land with special land management techniques.

What’s this Holistic Management stuff all about?

HMI works with people around the world to heal damaged land and increase the productivity of working lands.

By healing the earth’s desertified lands, and by managing healthy land in concert with natural processes, we can repair our malfunctioning ecosystem while achieving a “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental and social sustainability.

Holistic Management® has been proven to work, even in drought, for over 23 years.

More info on the conference:

HMI is proud to host International Gathering 2007 “From the Ground Up: Practical Solutions
to Complex Problems”

Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town
Albuquerque, New Mexico
November 1-4 2007

Sessions and Workshops Cover:
Soil health
Animal behavior
Multi-species grazing
Partnering with Nature
Taking sustainability to the next level
International community development
Global climate change
Fire
Drought
Sustainable genetics
Working effectively with groups
Marketing
Solar dollars
Diversifying income
Carbon sequestration

Here’s the conference website so you can check it out with more detail.


Global warming, not the end of the world?

Daniel Botkin, president of the Center for the Study of the Environment and professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara writes about global warming on today’s Wall Street Journal editorial page.

You can sum up his position with the first paragraph of his editorial.

Global warming doesn’t matter except to the extent that it will affect life — ours and that of all living things on Earth. And contrary to the latest news, the evidence that global warming will have serious effects on life is thin. Most evidence suggests the contrary.

I think that Botkin makes an important point when he says that we can be so focused on global warming that we are ignoring other critically important environmental issues.

My concern is that we may be moving away from an irrational lack of concern about climate change to an equally irrational panic about it.

Many of my colleagues ask, “What’s the problem? Hasn’t it been a good thing to raise public concern?” The problem is that in this panic we are going to spend our money unwisely, we will take actions that are counterproductive, and we will fail to do many of those things that will benefit the environment and ourselves.

For example, right now the clearest threat to many species is habitat destruction. Take the orangutans, for instance, one of those charismatic species that people are often fascinated by and concerned about. They are endangered because of deforestation. In our fear of global warming, it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct.

Click through to read the entire editorial.

Comments anyone?

PZEV vehicles, and why you probably can’t get one in your state

Flickr photo courtesy of juancnuno.

I’ve been reading up on PZEV vehicles, ever since I saw a local advertisement for one here in Dallas.

What I didn’t realize until now is that you can’t buy PZEV cars in most states!

From the Green Car Advisor at Edmunds.com:

Vehicles with PZEV equipment are specially certified under California rules, which only six states now use. The total will jump to eleven in the next few years as Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maryland join the green team.

The EPA doesn’t have a PZEV classification. And it  won’t simply recognize the California certification and let the cars be sold wherever there’s a market for them.

Nope, the Feds insist that if a carmaker wants to sell a vehicle all decked out in PZEV accoutrements, it must re-certify it under federal standards. That’s despite the fact, well worth repeating, that by attaining the California PZEV rating, a manufacturer already has demonstrated that the car is cleaner than anything required by EPA standards.

The Feds do provide one break, though.  Recognizing that a lot of people who live in one state might cross the border to buy in another, the EPA allows car dealers in states that share boundary lines with the “California Rule” states to sell PZEVs if the manufacturers will provide them. That brings to 15 the number of states in which PZEVs can be sold.

It also casts a shadow over the EPA’s insistence that it has to certify the cars itself.

“We try to be practical,” said EPA spokesman John Millett.

So, if you live in Nevada, Arizona or Idaho, for instance, your local Ford dealer can sell you a PZEV-rated Ford Focus, if he has one in stock or can get one from a California dealer.

Volvo spokesman Geno Effler said his company, which markets two PZEV models, even honors the 10-year emissions warranty in the nine states that share borders with the official PZEV states.

But if a dealership in  Kansas, gets its hands on a PZEV, heaven forfend!

There’s that fine of up to $27,000 for selling a California-certified PZEV car in any state that doesn’t use the California rules or doesn’t share borders with those that do.

But that didn’t explain why Subaru is selling one in Texas, until I found this article from the Dallas Morning News.

So why aren’t PZEVs in every showroom? The main reason, as you might guess, is cost. Although Subaru charges $200 for the option, some estimate that it costs as much as $1,500. If Subaru passed on the entire expense, it could hinder sales and slow the automaker’s compliance with ultra-low-emission laws.

Most PZEV builders don’t even offer them outside the hot-air – er, clean-air – states because they don’t want to multiply their losses. Subaru says it’s one of the few manufacturers that make PZEVs available everywhere.

Still, PZEV is one-tenth as expensive as hybrid hardware and technology. And if the cost were spread among a larger number of vehicles, it would probably drop further.

“That’s why test markets like Texas are important to us to see how much demand there is for PZEVs,” said Subaru spokeswoman Lisa Fleming.

So why are they only available in certain states? A columnist from MSN Autos spells it out.

Not only can’t you buy one, but the government says it’s currently illegal for automakers to sell these green cars outside of the special states. Under terms of the Clean Air Act—in the kind of delicious irony only our government can pull off—anyone (dealer, consumer, automaker) involved in an out-of-bounds PZEV sale could be subject to civil fines of up to $27,500. Volvo sent its dealers a memo alerting them to this fact, noting that its greenest S40 and V50 models were only for the special states.

So, just how green is a PZEV machine? Well, if you just cut your lawn with a gas mower, congratulations, you just put out more pollution in one hour than these cars do in 2,000 miles of driving. Grill a single juicy burger, and you’ve cooked up the same hydrocarbon emissions as a three-hour drive in a Ford Focus PZEV. As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities.

That’s amazing stuff. But what’s more amazing is how few people have a clue that the gas-powered, internal combustion engine could ever be this clean.

Naturally, no company wants to bring too much attention to a car that most people can’t buy, unless it’s Ferrari. And there’s the catch. PZEV models are already available from Toyota, Ford, Honda, GM, Subaru, Volvo and VW. They’re scrubbed-up versions of familiar models, from the VW Jettato the Subaru Outback. But chances are, you’ve never heard of them.

So now I’m looking to see if there is a list of PZEV vehicles that are nationally available. Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nationally available PZEV car, and which makes and models they might be?