Waste To Energy Systems

Category Archives: Sustainable Business

Secret to Affordable Renewable Energy

Affordable renewable energy may be easier than previously thought.

Affordable Renewable Energy- Infrastructure Updates

Affordable renewable energy? Sounds like a contradictory statement, right? However, renewable energy is slowly overcoming its reputation of being complicated and expensive. As alternative energy systems like solar panels, wind turbines and biomass gasification systems gain momentum in replacing fossil fuels, the world is slowly realizing that the biggest cost associated with using renewable energy systems is connecting it into the aged, out of date energy infrastructure of the U.S. and other countries around the world.

Solar panels are shown on top of a Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing-funded (MASH) housing complex in National City, California November 19, 2015. Picture taken November 19. To match Insight USA-SOLAR/MINORITIES REUTERS/Mike Blake

Huffington Post recently published an article addressing this issue. It focuses on how investing into the infrastructure could make switching to renewable energy much easier and reduce its cost by as much as 30%. In many countries, renewable energy is as affordable as fossil fuels. The issue that stops a lot of companies from investing is renewable energy requires more investment up front. The funding for renewable energy projects already exists through funding from entities like the World Bank, and organizations like these can help eliminate the risk of updating the infrastructure to be green energy friendly. Last year alone, $329 billion dollars were invested in renewable energy projects. However, that is small in comparison to the $500 billion dollars given to subsidizing fossil fuels. Society needs to switch their mindset and commit to putting the work into updating the infrastructure that severely need updating anyway and saying goodbye to conventional fossil fuels.

With the next generation coming into adulthood, it is no longer a question of if sustainable alternative energy systems are needed but instead the question is why are we not switching over as quickly as possible. Climate change to this next generation is a fact and no longer needs to be proven to them.

For the full Huffington Post article please click here.

EPA Addresses Potential of Biomass

Blogger’s Note: The Clean Power Plan was implemented on August 3, 2015 by the EPA. The Clean Power Plan finalized new rules, or standards, that will reduce carbon emissions from power plants for the first time. As a result, new focus is being placed on biomass as a fuel source for renewable energy systems like biomass gasification . Recently, the EPA addressed the potential of biomass and is planning a workshop on land and forest management for responsible biomass production. Biomass Magazine recently published an article on this attention and workshop in their article “EPA addresses biomass in Clean Power Plan, plans workshop”.

Janet McCabe, U.S. EPA acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, has published a blog that addresses the potential role of biomass in the Clean Power Plan, and announced that the EPA will hold a workshop on the topic early next year.

Since the Clean Power Plan was issued, states and stakeholders have shown a strong interest in the role of biomass to help hit targets, McCabe said, and many states are seeking to understand how to craft plans that will be federally approvable under the final CPP guidelines. “To respond to this interest and to support state and stakeholder efforts to incorporate bioenergy in their CPP plans, we will be holding a public workshop in early 2016 for stakeholders to share their successes, experiences and approaches to deploying biomass in ways that have been, and can be, carbon beneficial,” McCabe wrote. “Biomass derived from land that is managed under programs that ensure the long-term maintenance of healthy forests can serve as an integral part of a broader forestry-based climate strategy, so the CPP expressly includes bioenergy as an option for states and utilities in CPP compliance.  It reflects the fact that, in many cases, biomass and bioenergy products in the power system can be an integral part of state programs and foster responsible land management and renewable energy.”

In the blog, McCabe emphasizes state flexibility as being a key component of the CPP, and points out that many already have expertise in sound carbon- and GHG-beneficial forestry and land management practices. “The CPP’s flexibility will give states the ability to build in approaches to biomass and bioenergy unique to their forests and land management programs and policies.  It recognizes the importance of forests and other lands for climate resilience—in addition to the carbon benefits of biomass—fostered by a variety of land use policies, renewable energy incentives and standards, and GHG strategies.”

The final CPP creates a pathway for states to use biomass as part of their plans to meet their emission reduction guidelines, according to McCabe. She said EPA expects many states to include biomass as a component in their state plans. “We look forward to reviewing plans that incorporate well-developed forestry and other land management programs producing biomass that can qualify under the guidelines laid out in the CPP, and we are confident that the CPP offers sufficient lead time and flexibility for states to develop approvable programs.”

Key goals of the workshop, the date of which was not announced, will be to provide an opportunity for states with well-developed forestry and land management practices to share their experiences, and to “foster a constructive dialogue about how states can best include biomass in their compliance plans if that is a path they choose to follow.”

McCabe added that the workshop will showcase the constructive compliance approaches many states are already implementing or developing, and as the first step to prepare for the event, EPA will be reaching out to key stakeholders to get ideas on the agenda.

Why We Make New Years Resolutions and How to Make It a Green One This Year!

It’s that time of the year. The end of 2015 is right around the corner and once again, the world gets a chance for a fresh start in the new year. Ever wondered why we make New Years resolutions? Are you looking for some #resolutions this year that will help make a difference in the #environment? Then you have come to the right blog! (Following was sourced from www.livescience.com)

Ancient people practiced the fine art of New Year’s resolutions, though their oaths were external, rather than internally focused. More than 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians celebrated the New Year not in January, but in March, when the spring harvest came in. The festival, called Akitu, lasted 12 days. An important facet of Akitu was the crowning of a new king, or reaffirmation of loyalty to the old king, should he still sit on the throne. Special rituals also affirmed humanity’s covenant with the gods; as far as Babylonians were concerned, their continued worship was what kept creation humming.

Centuries later, the ancient Romans had similar traditions to ring in their new year, which also originally began in March. In the early days of Rome, the city magistrates’ terms were defined by this New Year’s date. On March 1, the old magistrates would affirm before the Roman Senate that they had performed their duties in accordance with the laws. Then, the New Year’s magistrates would be sworn into office. After Rome became an empire in 27 B.C., New Year’s Day became a time for city leaders and soldiers to swear an oath of loyalty to the Emperor.

As Romans gradually became less warlike, the switch from celebrating the New Year during a month (March) associated with Mars, the god of war to one (January), associated with Janus, a god of home and hearth, seemed appropriate, he added. The first half of New Year’s Day in Rome would have been taken up by public ceremonies, oath-taking and temple sacrifices, he said, while the second half of the day was for social activities. Citizens would bring each other gifts of honey, pears and other sweets as presents for a “sweet new year,” Alston said.

There is no direct line from ancient Roman tradition to modern New Year’s resolutions, but the desire to start anew pops up repeatedly in western civilization. In 1740, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, invented a new type of church service. These services, called Covenant Renewal Services or watch night services, were held during the Christmas and New Year’s season as an alternative to holiday partying. Today, these services are often held on New Year’s Eve, according to the United Methodist Church. Worshippers sing, pray, reflect on the year and renew their covenant with God.

New Year’s resolutions have become a secular tradition, and most Americans who make them now focus on self-improvement. The U.S.government even maintains a website of those looking for tips on achieving some of the most popular resolutions: losing weight, volunteering more, stopping smoking, eating better, getting out of debt and saving money.

Here are some Green options to add to your list of New Years Resolutions .

1) Drink Less Bottled Water and Soft Drinks: It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce a plastic bottle. So why not use a water filter to drink tap water? Or use a water filter in a water container? Both are easy and much less costly than buying bottled water or expensive soft drinks.

2) Drive Less Often: Walk, bike or take public transport to work. Ask your employer if you can telecommute 1-2 days per week to further minimize your carbon footprint. Whatever you can do will mean you’re driving less and creating less pollution.

reduce-recycle-reuse

3) Use Recyclable Shopping Bags: Over 1 million plastic bags are used every minute of every day worldwide. We recommend keeping a few recyclable vinyl or canvas bags in your car and using them every time you shop. You’ll be amazed at how many plastic bags you can eliminate weekly by doing this one simple step.

4) Take Shorter Showers: Where Americans use an average of 100 gallons of water per day, Europeans only use about 50. All countries need to conserve water and we know that in Marin County, we’re in the middle of a multi-year drought. So have the mindset to use less daily by taking shorter showers, turning off the water at the faucet when you brush your teeth, and only flush the toilet when you absolutely need to.

5) Cut Your Paper Use: A ton of paper from recycled paper saves up to 17 trees. Recycle your newspaper, computer paper, envelopes and other papers you receive daily. Start a digital subscription to your magazines or newspapers. Request electronic statements from your bank and utilities.

6) Recycle Your Bottles, Cans and Compostables: More U.S. cities are offering expanded programs for curbside recycling, especially throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Ask your local waste management provider about it.

7) Green How You Eat: Consider fresh, organic ingredients from your local farmers’ market or grocery store. These are grown without pesticides and are healthy for your whole family, too.

8) Green Your Garage: A hybrid car used to be unusual, today, most car manufacturers offer hybrid or even all-electric cars that drastically cut your dependence on fossil fuels. At Good Green Moving, we’ve been able to reduce our carbon emissions by 80%. Furthermore, when available, we use recycled vegetable oil to power all of our vehicles and utilize 100% renewable energy to power our warehouses.

9) Green Your Home with Sustainable Materials: Think about an eco-friendly home that has bamboo flooring, a cotton or hemp shower curtain, zero-VOC paints, wooden blinds from sustainable forests, and more.

10) Let The Sun Be Your Energy Source: Finally, let the sun do the work for you. The latest solar powered photovoltaic systems are more energy efficient than ever and can get you off the grid. You’ll not only lower your electric costs, you can even earn energy credits by selling your excess energy to the power company.

 

The World Could Have An Unexpected Renewable Energy Leader

Blogger’s Note: The world is seeing the start of a global shift toward Renewable Energy as a primary source of power. With several organizations focusing on bringing alternative energy technology to third world countries in hopes of growing their economy and bettering their standard of living through affordable utilities, there are some unexpected leaders developing in the renewable energy world. A recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian discusses how Africa could quickly become the cleanest continent. 

 

An Africa-wide mega-scale initiative backed by all African heads of state should see the continent greatly increase its renewable energy over the next 15 years.

The African Renewable Energy Initiative (Arei) plans to develop at least 10 GW of new renewable energy generation capacity by 2020, and at least 300 GW by 2030, potentially making the continent the cleanest in the world.

The International Energy Agency, which has said that Africa is at the “epicentre of the global challenge to overcome energy poverty”, estimates that annual electricity consumption per capita in Africa for 2012 was around 600 kWh, compared with the world average of 3,064 kWh.

The plan to accelerate solar, hydro, wind and geothermal energy could see Africaleapfrogging other continents by developing thousands of small-scale “virtual power stations” that distribute electricity via mini-grids and would not require transmission lines, which involve a loss of up to a quarter of power during the process.

The initiative, which is tentatively estimated to cost at least $500bn over 20 years, is billed as “by Africa, for Africa”, and is intended to reduce Africa’s present reliance on coal. As well as reducing emissions, it will help at least 600 million people switch from lighting homes and cooking with diesel, kerosene and wood, and reduce air pollution in homes and cities.

Solar is expected to play a leading role. “We are ready to engage in massive solar and wind energy production to attain 100% electricity reach for our people,” said Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment cabinet secretary.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative at the COP 21 talks in Paris, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, said the continentcurrently loses 4% of its GDP due to a lack of clean energy.

“Africa is the continent suffering the most from the scorching heat from rising temperatures, and droughts have become more frequent and with greater intensity than ever before. Africa needs more money for adaptation.

“The continent has been short-changed by climate change. But we must ensure that it is not short-changed by climate finance. AfDB will triple its climate finance to $5bn a year by 2020,” he said.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of people without access to electricity is set to rise. By 2030, Africa’s share of the world’s population without electricity will increase from less than half today to more than two-thirds.

Detailed plans for each country will be worked out over the next five years, but the AfDB and other financial groups, including the World Bank, have pledged an initial $5bn.

News of the initiative comes as a coalition of 12 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia and Malawi set themselves a goal to replant 100m hectares (247m acres) of forest across the continent in the next 15 years.

It follows the successful planting of millions of trees and bushes in parts of Tigray, Ethiopia, and elsewhere where droughts, overgrazing and deforestation have devastated and eroded landscapes. Where land has been replanted with trees and bushes, farming communities have seen rapid improvement in soils, water supplies and increased food security.

Biomass Gasification- A Promising Energy Option

The four hundred year old technology of Gasification is finally getting some well deserved attention in the Alternative Energy world. With companies like Waste to Energy Systems fine tuning the gasification process, biomass as a fuel source for the process will continue to grow in popularity, especially in areas where electricity costs are high and biomass is abundant. A recent article from the International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Group published on www.altenergymag.com discusses the growth of this technology.
SLIDESHOW-6-GREEN
Gasification is one of the promising and new technologies for generating electricity from solid fuels or biomass such as wood, organic-waste and agricultural residues. The biomass gasification process uses heat, pressure and partial combustion which occurs when the air supply (O2) is less than adequate for the combustion to be completed. The utilisation of biomass energy can provide dual benefits: reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emission and increases fuel security, as it is usually produced locally. There are several other advantages of generating electricity through biomass gasification.

Some of the advantages are:

Available everywhere: Biomass based power can be made available anywhere and is quite promising for remote villages which have no access to grid but have large amounts of biomass
Rural economic upliftment: There is a growing trend in which companies are exploring the use of dedicated energy crops for biomass power production, which ensures a reliable biomass supply chain and provides employment for the rural masses

• Carbon neutral: Unlike coal and other forms of fossil fuels, which add carbon in the atmosphere when burnt, biomass energy generation results in no new carbon emission or pollution
• Efficient utilisation of renewable biological sources: Biomass power generation is a efficient process to utilise animal and agriculture wastes

• Large variety of feedstock: A large variety of feedstock such as wood pellets, rice husk, bagasse, etc. can be used to generate biomass energy

• Reduces methane: Using biomass for generating energy reduces the level of methane in the atmosphere. Methane is responsible for the greenhouse effect and with the production of biomass energy, the gas levels are lowered.

• Low cost resource: Biomass power can be produced economically compared to the costs of grid power if there is a good availability of feedstock

• Advantages over other renewable energy sources: Unlike wind or solar power generation which depend upon the amount of sunlight or wind available, energy from biomass is not intermittent.

The recent focus on renewable energy resources and environmental concerns is driving the market for biomass electricity. Although there are several challenges, this market has grown at a CAGR of around 8.4% during the last 5 years. Recognising the prospects of exploiting the market for generating electricity through the process of biomass gasification, IMARC Group has released a new report titled, “Biomass Gasification Plant Project Report: Industry Trends, Gasification Process, Machinery, Raw Materials, Cost and Revenue”. The report states that currently Europe represents the biggest market for biomass electricity production, followed by North America. Analysts predict that China, Brazil and India also have huge potentials for this market.

This report provides a comprehensive understanding of the biomass gasification market and gives an insight into the factors that need to be analysed while setting up a biomass gasification plant. These factors include:

• Market trends
• Key players
• Key risk and success factors
• Process flow
• Various types of unit operations involved
• Land, location and site development requirements
• Plant layout
• Plant machinery requirements
• Raw materials, utilities and manpower requirements
• Capital investments
• Operating costs
• Incomes and expenditures of the plant
• Profits
• Cash flows

Renewable Energy’s Unexpected Allies

Blogger’s Note: As Renewable Energy becomes a stronger driving force, it is beginning to pick up some unexpected heavy hitters. The Waste to Energy Systems Team is thrilled at how popular alternative energy is becoming and with each prominent backer, the success rate of these types of technologies improves by bringing awareness to the masses. 

From the blog “Unlikely Coalition Forms To Back Renewable Energy” from huffingtonpost.com:

Nine of the country’s biggest companies just helped set a new standard for corporate sustainability. Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, Salesforce, Starbucks and Walmart are among the handful of hugely recognizable names that on Wednesday committed to using 100 percent renewable energy, with several expecting to reach their goals within the next decade.

Goldman Sachs set a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2020, while Nike aims to hit that by 2025, and Johnson & Johnson by 2050. Procter and Gamble set its sights on a short-term goal for 30 percent renewable energy by 2020, while some companies, like financial services firm Voya International and furniture maker Steelcase, are closing in or have already reached a full reliance on renewable energy.

That these Fortune 500 firms have thrown their significant weight behind RE100, a global campaign to cut down on CO2 emissions by turning to renewable sources of energy, suggests a major shift in corporations’ awareness of their responsibility to lead their respective industries away from carbon.

And companies are realizing the business boost gained by placing financial incentives on themselves to use renewable sources. A recent report by the environmental nonprofit CDP, which organizes RE100 in partnership with The Climate Group, found that the number of companies putting a price on their carbon emissions has tripled since last year.

“Lowering risk, protecting against price rises, saving millions and boosting brand is what shaping a low carbon economy is all about,” Climate Group CEO Mark Kenber said in a statement.

The corporate sustainability movement is gaining speed: RE100 launched last year with 13 members, including Ikea, H&M, Nestle, Unilever and Mars. That number has since grown to nearly 40, with groups joining from across various industries. Recent members include financial services provider UBS and Dutch sciences company Royal DSM. Ikea, everyone’s favorite furniture go-to, has installed 700,000 solar panels on its buildings and last year generated renewal energy to match 42 percent of its total energy consumption. H&M, among the many retail outlets facing pressure for contributing to wasteful fast fashion, plans to cut its electricity usage by 20 percent by 2020.

Companies are finding various ways to harness efforts to reduce their carbon footprint as an economic opportunity. Under The B Team, a nonprofit led by top business leaders, companies like Unilever and Virgin are seeking to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

And as part of a coalition to promote sustainable business practices, HP expects to hit its emissions target early after partnering with SunEdison to rely on wind power, while L’Oreal is expanding its use of solar panels at various facilities across the globe. Kellogg will implement water reuse projects at one-fourth of its sites and has committed to zero net deforestation.

WES Team Attends National Bioenergy Day Conference

As a testament to the growing popularity of biomass and bioenergy, October 21st marked the 3rd annual National Bioenergy Day. Over 60 organizations across 24 states, spanning from the west coast to east coast all the way up to Canada, held events focused on environmental and economic benefits of bioenergy on the local, state and national level. The WES team attended the National Bioenergy Day conference in Baton Rouge, LA at Louisiana State University’s Agricultural Center

National Bioenergy Day Map

The top keynote speakers, Dr. Charles Reith, Professor of Natural and Environmental Sciences and Sustainability Director at the American University of Nigeria and Dr. Dan Len, Regional Biomass Coordinator for the Southern Region Forest Service, left the attendees with a positive message on the endless possibilities that biomass and bioenergy present. Their message was supported by other industry speakers such as pellet companies, area business development leaders and local energy companies.

National Bioenergy Day

Dr. Les Groom of LSU discusses Biomass as a Feedstock for Gasification.

Events like National Bioenergy Day will continue to increase awareness among the general population of the alternative energy applications that are available, including processes like downdraft gasification systems, and build confidence in biomass as a fuel source.

National Bioenergy Day

Waste To Energy System’s CEO Featured In Entrepreneurship Magazine

Our CEO, Richard Woods was featured in the Entrepreneurship Issue of the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report Magazine. The article highlights his R&D efforts for our system and his future goals for both of his companies, Albany Woodworks and Waste to Energy Systems. The complete article is found below. 

Louisiana entrepreneur: Richard Woods

(Photography by Collin Richie: Richard Woods)

Position: Owner and CEO

Companies: Albany Woodworks and Waste to Energy Systems

What they do: Convert waste from communities, businesses, farms or resorts into energy

Address: 30380 Payne Alley, Suite 2 in Tickfaw

Next goals: Use the success of the gasification system to propel oil reclaiming from plastics

A WELL-BUILT BASE

When Richard Woods noticed a barn being torn down in his Louisiana hometown of Albany 40 years ago, he had no idea the event would inspire him to open not just one, but eventually two unique businesses. He constructed his entire home with antique heart pine and cypress that he carefully salvaged from 100-year-old buildings like the barn, along with as much recyclable material as possible. “I’ve been an environmentalist my whole life,” Woods says. He found the reclaimed wood to be much better than anything people could buy new. “It naturally grew from that desire to use waste in a positive way for a business,” he explains. The home he built for his family is where Albany Woodworks got its start. Today the family business works to reclaim original well-seasoned beams, using state-of-the-art machinery, to be used in new construction or remodeling projects.

TRASH TO TREASURE

In the process of growing his lumber company, Woods had to find ways to deal with the waste his operations produced. In search of a sustainable use for byproducts like wood chips, sawdust and shavings, he began researching methods of converting these into a viable energy source in 2009. After five years of intense research and development, he invented the bioHearth, which uses gasification, a method of converting any kind of carbon-based waste into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. These combustible fuels can then run a generator, kiln or any other energy consumption system. “So it is not a limited market,” Woods explains. “It can go anywhere.” Now successfully running the Albany Woodworks generator from the plant’s waste, Woods is ready to take his bioHearth technology to market as part of his second startup, Waste to Energy Systems.

SELF-MADE SUSTAINABILITY

While gasification is being exploited in Europe and India to turn industrial waste into usable energy, Woods explains what makes his system more practical and more energy efficient is its ability to be installed on-site rather than the company having to haul its waste to a gigantic plant. “So you build a system that would fit right into their system; that is our unique concept,” he says. It might be surprising to discover Woods has no formal degree. “What I do is I know how to learn and I know who to apply what I’ve learned, and that is how I’ve built two businesses,” he says. “I think that is the key ingredient to entrepreneurship.” He is now using that same process to pursue patents for his technology. At age 65, Woods says he wanted to dedicate his last efforts to something that would make a difference in the world.

GREEN FOR GREEN

Juggling two businesses is no easy task for Woods, who will often pull an 18-hour day working to bring his bioHearth to market. Five months ago he put up a webpage to start marketing it and has since been inundated with contact from people wanting to know how it can help their industry. “People just started showing up, just like they showed up wanting my wood,” Woods say. He sees the bioHearth as a viable tool for emerging markets and counties—particularly in the Caribbean and anywhere with an electricity shortage, as well as anyone who is paying money to haul away waste. Woods has funded 75% of the venture himself, with aid from angel investors along the way. While his invention undoubtedly has many environmental benefits, the real key is economic viability, which he has achieved, calculating a return on investment on the system in just under five years.

Article written by Gabrielle Braud and published on October 14, 2015

How Can Ancient Farming Methods Help With Climate Change?

Technological advances have helped the world in many ways from longer life expectancy to space exploration. However in some areas, new technology may increase efficiency and mass production but it also harms the environment. One big area of debate is farming, sustainable vs. industrial. An important question in this debate is what methods did ancient farmers use for thousands of years in harmony with the environment and could they still hold merit in today’s world, particularly with the climate issues.  A recent article from www.worldwatch.org discusses this very topic.

From “Indigenous Farming Methods: Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change While Boosting Food Production” written by Mel Landers. 

Spanish conquistadors had great respect for the crops developed by the indigenous farmers of the Americas. A full 60 percent of the food eaten today worldwide originated in the region. But the conquistadors failed to appreciate the importance of the production methods used by those innovative local farmers.

There are over 600,000 hectares of terraces in Peru alone. Many of these are still in use today. They were constructed with rock fill at the bottom, between the rock face and the slope, to allow for good drainage. Most were built with stairs for ease of access.

Indigenous American crops were introduced in colonies around the world. But the farmers’ innovative production methods were shunned and, for the most part, lost to the world for 500 years. Serious efforts to rediscover these methods have only begun during the last few decades.

Sophisticated hydraulic engineering projects can be found, on a massive scale, in the Andes Mountains and along the Pacific Coast of South America, developed by people who had no metal tools. Using only simple devices and their own manual labor, these farmers built thousands of hectares of terraces in the mountains and thousands of giant water-trapping depressions (Qochas) in the high plateaus.

In Bolivia’s Altiplano, hundreds of square kilometers are covered by raised farming platforms (Waru Waru), causeways, canals, and manmade islands in an area that resembles a lake for half the year and is completely dry for the rest of the year. All this, as well, was built by hand.

Much of ancient Mexico City was built over a lake, on which the Aztecs built thousands of floating platforms (Chinampas) on which to grow their crops. Other farmers directed rainfall into spiraling holes that led to underground storage chambers. And many indigenous cultures constructed irrigation canals.

Land Improvement

The practice shared by all these farming societies was their use of raised beds, covered with thick layers of organic matter, or mulch. It appears that indigenous populations built such systems throughout the Americas. It was arguably their most important method of coping with the climate variability caused by the El Niño/La Niña cycle. The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia has proven the value of this type of system by creating a lush raised-bed garden in the Jordanian desert.

Raised beds, when tied together with ridges every few meters, can retain 100 percent of the rain that falls on the field, compared with less than 10 percent infiltration in a flat, ploughed field. During a drought, it is important to maintain the highest soil moisture content possible.

During periods of excess rain, the beds hold part of the root system up in well-oxygenated soil, above the level of the standing water. This prevents anaerobic decomposition of roots and helps guarantee at least some production. Unlike today, there was no “food aid” available to ancient indigenous peoples.

The raised structures were of variable lengths, but most were about a meter wide. If not formed on elevated platforms or terraces, they were commonly built on the contour to hold water and prevent erosion. When built in depressions, however, they radiated to the center. Crops were planted on the beds as the retained water receded.

The organic mulch shaded the soil, keeping it cool and moist. It also prevented raindrops from eroding the soil surface. As the organic matter decomposed, it provided food for earthworms and myriad other beneficial micro-organisms. Earthworms help aerate and fertilize the soil. A permanent mulch also created the proper environment for mycorrhizal fungi, which help ensure that plants receive nutrients and pest protection.

Soil Improvement

Heavy rains in the Amazon River Basin severely leach nutrients from the soil, leaving the native soils useless for agricultural production soon after forest is removed. Yet the first conquistadors to enter the Amazon Basin described their encounters with great agricultural societies, living in large cities that endured until European diseases devastated their populations.

These cities were made possible by soil improvement techniques that have only partially survived in a few remote communities of indigenous farmers. For 2,000 years, famers in the rivers of the Amazon Basin were producing fertile soil on which to grow their crops, where no such soil had existed before.

These soils, known as “black earth,” are still fertile 500 years after they were last made. They contain high concentrations of humus, powdered charcoal, and pieces of broken pottery. Although they are located high above the river levels, they contain aquatic plant remains and sand. The sand indicates that the people scooped up the river muck in the dry season and spread it over their beds.

The pottery chards provide soil structure where no natural rock exists. The charcoal (potentially stable for thousands of years) provides a long-term depository for nutrients, buffers the pH of the soil, and mitigates the toxic effects of aluminum in the soil. The humus (potentially stable for hundreds of years) is like a sponge for nutrients and moisture.

These soils cannot be reproduced simply by adding charred material. The humus is vitally important to the functioning of these soils. Fortunately, there are ways to produce large amounts of humus to recreate these super-fertile soils. Developing these soils today would contribute greatly to efforts to feed a world full of hungry people.

Putting These Methods into Perspective

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its 2007 assessment, suggests the use of ancient indigenous technologies from the Americas as a means of mitigating the effects of climate change. Evidence indicates that global warming is increasing the frequency and severity of both droughts and inundations.

These ancient agricultural technologies hold promise for increasing food production worldwide. With nearly a billion people suffering from chronic hunger, the time is overdue for another agricultural revolution. The introduction of indigenous American crops 500 years ago started one. The introduction of their innovative production methods could start another.

 

New Trend: Being Green Even Into Retirement

A growing demand is occurring as baby boomers begin to retire for sustainable, green retirement communities. This is expected considering the baby boomers were the first generation to be exposed to the relationship between human activity and its effect on the environment. Named the first green generation, baby boomers are beginning to expect that their retirement communities follow the rules that the green pioneers have fought so hard to implement.

The New York Times article “Demand and Expectations Grow for Green Retirement Communities” discusses this demand.


Pictured Above: Wake Robin uses 20% of its electricity from solar panels, meat and produce are from local farms and 50,000 ladybugs act as natural pesticides.

A DIE­HARD community gardener and composter, David Conrad, 77, wanted to age in a retirement community that complemented his love of all things green. So seven years ago, he and his wife, Sally, moved to earth­friendly Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vt. Now Mr. Conrad spends his days managing the Wake Robin recycling campaign, along with working in the community garden and walking the community’s four miles of wooded trails. Other residents make maple syrup or tend beehives that produce honey, which is bottled and sold. “I wanted to live in a place that’s healthy,” says Mr. Conrad, who is a retired college professor. “So sustainability is very important. We like to think that we’re leading the way.” Green do­gooders like Mr. Conrad are indeed forging a new path for retirees. Though eco-­conscious retirement communities are still rare in the United States (exact figures are scant), they are expected to grow in number as baby boomers age and seek healthier, greener alternatives.

“Moving forward, in the next 20 years, these green communities will become the standard,” said Andrew Carle, director of the senior housing administration program at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Lots of green communities are in the development stage, said Jamie Hopkins, associate professor of taxation at the American College of Financial Services. But for now, there’s more need than supply, especially as baby boomers age. Some places even have five­ year waiting lists, he said. These lush facilities offer lots of unseen benefits. Carbon footprints are reduced with energy­ and water ­saving initiatives, including geothermal heating and low­ flow toilets. And older people can enjoy environmentally friendly buildings that typically offer airy spaces with more natural light and indoor furnishings that use far less toxic materials. These communities can also reap subsidies and incentives that might provide more motivation to make the upgrades, experts say.

The biggest challenge, though, is wading through the gray policy areas of green standards. So Mr. Hopkins recommends making sure there’s enough evidence to back up actual claims. “Eco-­friendly doesn’t mean a lot,” he said. “And some places just use buzz words.” For example, some so­ called eco­friendly communities may have golf courses, which use lots of water. Two types of official green standards can serve as guideposts, though. The first, said Mr. Hopkins, is Energy Star ratings on appliances, which is a government label that designates energy efficiency. Second is a community’s LEED certification, Mr. Hopkins said. It’s a widely recognized program put together by the U.S. Green Building Council to create healthier, more energy­ efficient buildings.

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