The Basics of oil pricing and the effect on the price of gas

Detailed analysis of changes in oil price from...

Detailed analysis of changes in oil price from 1970-2007. The graph is based on the nominal, not real, price of oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have been a lot of questions asked about why the President of the United States does not do something about the rising price of gasoline. It has also been speculated that by increasing the amount of oil drilling that we would greatly increase the amount of jobs available while reducing the price of oil.

The truth is that no president — whether Democrat or Republican, can do much of anything to affect the short-term price of gasoline. And increasing the amount of oil drilling will do very little to solve the unemployment problem. First let’s talk about the price of gasoline.

Crude oil accounts for about 75% of the cost of a gallon of gas (at current price levels, according to the Energy Information Administration.)

  • taxes account for just 12%
  • refining about 6%
  • distribution and marketing about 6%

The United States consumes about 20 million barrels of oil products per day(bbl/d), according to the Department of Energy

. Of that, almost half is used for motor gasoline. The rest is used for distillate fuel oil, jet fuel, residual fuel and other oils.

Each barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, which yields 19 to 20 gallons of gasoline. So, in the United States, something like 178 million gallons of gasoline is consumed every day.

With those facts in mind, let us take a look at how the oil industry operates.

The overriding factor that determines the price of oil from day to day is the market principle of supply and demand

. It comes down to simple economics: When demand is greater than supplies, prices rise.

The actual price of a barrel of oil is constantly changing, since oil is a commodity that is traded on the futures market. Buying and selling oil futures is called speculating, because you’re making trades based on expectations of future supply and demand. And demand is increasing.

In 2003, 11,000 cars were added to the streets of China each day totaling over four million new cars in that one year alone.  That pace has continued each successive year and it is expected that by 2015, 150 million cars will be traveling on China’s streets.  That is in addition to the estimated 254.4 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States according to the latest 2007 U.S. Department of Transportation study.  With this, anticipated Chinese car ownership, oil consumption is projected to reach 80 million barrels of oil a day above the current world production.

People talk about “oil independence” thinking that if we drill enough oil in the U.S. that we will not have to import oil from other countries.  There are a number of problems with that theory:

  1. All oil, whether domestic or foreign is sold on the open market. The global oil market is massively complex, as is the US’s role in it (for instance, we are both an importer AND an exporter), and it generally doesn’t matter where any particular barrel of oil ends up. All American oil is sold through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). The CME in turn, brings our oil, an American natural resource, onto the global market to be sold on behalf of the corporation that drilled it. In fact, America has been exporting millions of barrels a day. In 2008 the United States exported 1.7 million barrels, up from 1.048 million in 2004 according to Index Muni. Ultimately, prices and availability (“energy security”), are largely a function of global supply and demand. The oil flowing through a new pipeline would indeed increase global supply and in turn have a moderating influence on global prices and a positive impact on global availability. However, the demand for oil, mostly from China and developing countries that are increasing their use of automobiles and developing industries, is also increasing dramatically on a daily basis and it is that current and projected demand that is raising the price of oil.
  1. Companies that are generally considered a major U.S. Oil Company (Shell, Exxon/Mobil, Chevron/Texaco), are actually multi-national companies with operations throughout the world.  They don’t extract oil and gas just from in the United States; they extract it from operations located around the word.  And the oil that they extract goes into a huge open market where it is sold.  Naturally, it doesn’t make since to physically move a lot of oil from one place to another if it is not necessary.  So in theory, whatever is drilled in the U.S. probably, for the most part, stays in the U.S. But its price is dictated by the total amount of world supply. So although these companies are so-called U.S. companies, all that they really care about is selling oil and they sell it indiscriminately worldwide.
  1. In addition, the so called U.S. oil companies are not the only companies extracting “our” valuable crude. As you know, BP, a British company has a very large presence here along with a company you have probably never heard of…Statoil.   Statoil (a publicly traded company with 67% of its shares owned by the government of Norway) is the fifth-largest acreage holder in the Gulf and plans to drill three deepwater wells here in 2013. Statoil has more than $20 billion worth of oil and gas assets in the U.S. and has bet even more that drilling into America is the company’s best bet for growth. Since the government does not keep records as to the nationality of companies that hold oil and gas leases, it is unknown exactly how many foreign owned companies are extracting our precious resource, but those two are the largest.

So, it would be true to say that aggressive increases in U.S. oil production would bring the global supply a little closer to the demand for oil. Unfortunately, the U.S. is such a small player on the international oil scene — we control only 2 percent of the world’s known oil reserves — and even if we doubled our current production capacity today, we still wouldn’t make much of a dent. It would also take a number of years to assemble the drilling rigs, pipelines and manpower to make that type of production increase, meaning oil prices would be unaffected in the short-term.

The days of “cheap” oil are over. It is widely known that easy to reach oil reserves in the U.S. (and Canada), were drilled years ago. It is partly because of the fact that oil is selling for such a high dollar value today.  And it is because of oil’s high dollar value that companies can afford to go after harder to reach deposits such as those deep down in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic, as well as, shale deposits. If the price of one barrel of oil were to drop below $80, than those explorations would not be profitable.  So, as you can see it behooves the oil community to make sure that the commodity does not drop below that level. How do they make sure the price stays high; by continuing to pump less than the demand.


Even if the President were to open up vast acres of land for oil drilling the only rush that you would see from the oil companies would be their private corporate jets, full of lawyers and accountants flying into Washington D.C. to try to tie-up as much of that land as possible before the other guy gets there.

While companies may have identified areas of the country that are likely to have oil deposits, it takes hundreds of millions of dollars just to do the scientific research and drill exploratory wells to find exactly where the oil is located.  And when they do find a deposit, the oil companies are not going to move in overnight, put up a dozen drill rigs and start drilling; for two reasons.

  1. As much as it costs to do the exploration for the oil, it costs ten times that amount to actually tap the oil, extract it, and transport it to be stored and refined. Even if the oil find was a “sure thing” and with as much money as oil companies make, none of them can afford to move into an area and start drilling with more than a few rigs at a time.  What the oil companies will do is explore the oil find, tap it, and then extract the resource over the term of a decade or two, getting the long term benefit of their investment.
  1. Working in an oil field is not only extremely hard work; it is also very dangerous and takes a highly skilled worker to handle all of the jobs.  An oil company is not going to pull a bus up to the local unemployment office, or labor hall, and say “I’ll take the first one-hundred of you now,” and then carry them off to the desert to operate a drill rig.  Experienced oil workers are in high demand and there are very few if any out of work, even in these hard economic times.  It takes years of experience doing grunt work to become a journeyman on a drill rig or oil pipeline.

So, as far as jobs go, the only major employment increase might be in the local housing market to build homes, apartments or perhaps motels where the oil workers (and families), would live during the time they are drilling and building whatever infrastructure in needed.

So what is the answer to rising fuel costs? In reality, we have already started on that path but at the current pace it will take quite a few years before we see positive results.

In short the only true way to become “oil independent” is to reduce the amount of oil that is used in the United States.

Oil use in the U.S. is broken down into four main categories:

  • Transportation 72% (with “Light-duty vehicles making up 45% and trucks/buses making up 17% of that number)
  • Electric Utilities 1%
  • Residential and Commercial 5%
  • Industrial 22%

In response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. This legislation had two major objectives: 1) Reduce our overall consumption of petroleum and 2) reduce our dependence on foreign oil (meaning OPEC). The means to accomplish this was by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). Under CAFE automobile manufacturers are required to produce cars that averaged 18 miles per gallon. For light trucks the standard is 15.8 MPG. There is some flexibility. Every car (or truck) does not have to meet the standard. However, the average of all models (small, medium, and large) must meet or exceed the standard. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $55 per car for every MPG shortfall. CAFE initially took effect with the 1978 models. The standard was increased in 1985 to 27.5 MPG for cars and to 20.7 MPG for light trucks. The light-truck standard was again increased to 22.2 MPG in 2007.

But fuel economy standards did not stop there. Future standards were developed by DOT’s, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the EPA following an extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. And in 2011, thirteen major automakers (which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States), announced their support for the new standards.

In August of 2012 The Obama Administration finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025.

In addition, major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. They are focusing on a wide range of technologies that are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:

  • Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles;
  • Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups;
  • Incentives for natural gas vehicles;
  • Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.

But as you can see from the categories above, trucks and automobiles are not the only users of oil.  While manufacturers, businesses, and residences do not have to go to the fuel pump to get the energy to run equipment, appliances, lights, air cooling/heating units, etc., they do use oil by way of the electricity they consume.  By cutting back on fossil fuel electric generation and turning to solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources of energy, we can cut about 6% of our oil use.  If residences and businesses across the country installed their own solar energy systems it would drive down the demand from public utilities and therefore drive down their use of oil.

So while more drilling for more oil may sound logical and make a great political stump speech, it is not the answer to either oil independence or lowering the price of gasoline.

For insight on how the Oil Sands project in Canada will impact the price of U.S. oil click on this link to The World:

For more information about the current oil reserves I offer the following:

According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2012, proved oil reserves at the end of 2011 reached 1652.6 billion barrels, sufficient to meet 54.2 years of global production.  That is assuming that world consumption remains at 88 million barrels per day.

The U.S. controls 1.9% of the world’s oil with an estimated 30.9 million barrels of “proven reserves” (including both taped and untapped sources).  In addition, the U.S. produces 8.8% of the world’s oil at 7,841,000 barrels per day but consumes 20.5% of the world’s supply at 18,835,000 barrels of oil per day.

Assuming that BP’s claims are true, and there is 54.2 year of global production at present levels of use, we know that the growing economies of Asia are using more and more energy every day. Increased use will not change how much oil remains at this very moment but it will determine how long any such supply will last.

BP’s estimate is close to projections made by the Society of Petroleum Engineers who estimates that the remaining official world reserves represent 41.6 more years of oil.

A recent Scientific American article states that “A new analysis concludes that easily extracted oil peaked in 2005, suggesting that dirtier fossil fuels will be burned and energy prices will rise.”

In August 2012, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office issued a report on Potential Budgetary Effects of Immediately Opening Most Federal Lands to Oil and Gas Leasing.  It details the amount of land currently under lease, currently available for lease, and future lands that would be available if Congress were to allow said leases.

The Washington Post, on August 25, 2012, ran an article titled; Romney would open federal lands to drilling.  How much oil and gas is there?  The article is based on the report issued by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and “The basic takeaway here is that the vast majority of oil and gas on federal lands is already available for leasing, particularly in the waters off Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. There’s certainly room to open up further federal lands, but the additional resources appear to be fairly modest in comparison. For instance, opening up the rest of the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling would boost offshore oil and gas production in federal waters by just 3 percent in 2035.”


Posted in Business, Globalization, Green Energy, Price of Gas, Price of Oil, Solar Energy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is solar energy a bad investment?

solar panels

solar panels (Photo credit: spanginator)

What would happen if nearly every home in America were equipped with solar panels to the point that they were nearly energy independent?  That is the question that power companies around the country are asking themselves today, and having to find answers for in order to prepare for in the future.

Perhaps you have heard about Silicon Energy, an American company located in Mt. Iron, MN, that manufactures Photo Voltaic (solar) panels.  It has been reported that they are yet another solar manufacturer that is in danger of going out of business.  However, the reason for their struggle is not what you might think.  They are not being undercut by the Chinese. Their CEO and Board of Directors are not running off with the corporate profits.  And, their product is not a bad product.

The problem…energy consumption is down.

There are many variables that cause the rise and fall of energy consumption and two of the biggest are weather (extreme heat and cold), and industry.  While it is true that this has been an extremely hot summer, causing more people to use their air-conditioning systems a little more, and causing “peak load” problems for power generators. But, when averaged out over the course of six to twelve months the actual amount of energy use across the country is down.  This is due partly because the economy is down and thus manufacturing output is down, as well as, a high number of businesses have closed.  The other reason that energy consumption is down is due to efficiency.

All across the country, people have been replacing old electric appliances, air conditioners, and other electrical equipment with units that are way more efficient then their predecessors.  Although these new energy efficient models are not a recent phenomenon, they started developing them five or more years ago and they are improving efficiency with each new model, it has simply taken this long for a significant amount of these energy efficient models to be put into the hands of enough consumers to begin noticing a difference.  So now we have a situation where we no longer need as much energy as we needed just ten years ago.  And as both buildings and products continue to become more energy efficient, we will need even less electricity.

That is a big problem for the companies that provide electricity.  It is a problem because most of the electric generating infrastructure has been around for upwards of fifty years or so and run on either coal or natural gas.  Electric generating companies have a lot of money invested in both power plants and the power lines that deliver electricity to your home or business.  And it costs a lot of money to maintain this generating and delivery infrastructure.  In addition, nearly all of the electric generating companies are either privately owned or part of a co-op with responsibility to their shareholders to distribute profits.

To respond to the flat energy consumption, electric generating companies all over the nation are requesting rate hikes in order to maintain the same profit levels they enjoyed ten years ago.  It was recently reported that three electric companies in Minnesota (where Silicon Energy is located), have requested rate increases:

  • Xcel Energy requested and was approval for a $72.8 million hike – but had asked for even more;
  • Alliance Energy, which also serves Minnesota customers, will get another $10.2 million.
  • Roseau Electric Cooperative in extreme northern Minnesota will hike electricity prices by about 9%.

So how do solar panels effect electric generating companies? During the first five months of 2012, Xcel Energy had a solar panel program in place for the residents of their service area.  The program was so successful, so popular, and demand was so great, it quickly burned through this year’s total $5 million allotment in just those five months. Solar panels were going up left and right in Minnesota.  The beneficiaries of this project were the customers of Minnesota and Silicon Energy, who not only manufactured the Solar Panels but sold them to the residents in the program.  Individual consumers benefit by weaning themselves from the grid, getting free energy (after their equipment is paid for), more independence and less dependence on corporations, or government aid for power when times are tough – and not to mention reducing world instability caused by global competition or energy resources and a cleaner environment overall.

However, Xcel Energy like many energy companies are leery of too many solar panels because the proliferation solar panels means the demand for coal and gas energy will continue to “be flat” or even diminish.  And as I stated, energy generation and distribution (via coal and gas power plants and power lines), are how today’s energy companies make money.

Obviously, we are not going to cover the rooftops of every home in America or even come close in the next fifty years.  But as more and more homes and businesses become more energy efficient, the demand for mass power generation will become less and less.  Meaning, less customers to pay for the ageing infrastructure needed to continue to provide electricity to the remaining customer base.

Will there always be a need for mass power generation facilities?  I believe that there will.  We will need a reliable power source for infrastructure that is key to our life support (e.g. potable water treatment and delivery, sanitary sewer treatment, emergency services).

All of that said, there is one technology that stands to increase the need for electricity…electric automobiles.  Although the electric vehicle (EV), industry is in its infancy and struggling, it will not be long before they become more reliable as a source of transportation, and with their proliferation start placing an increased demand upon our electric infrastructure.

Just this last week Kohl’s Department Stores announced that they will expand its EV charging station initiative with 30 new stations across 15 additional Kohl’s locations by the end of fall 2012. This expansion spans two states new to the Kohl’s program — Illinois and Wisconsin —adds additional locations to the company’s Texas EV program, and will make a total of 101 charging stations at 52 Kohl’s locations across 14 states.

It is interesting to note that one of Kohl’s partners in this project is Duke Energy, a major generator of coal and natural gas electricity.

Kohl’s charging stations will add to the more than 4,350 public EV charging stations currently in the US, according to the US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.  In addition, an August 2011 report from Pike Research forecasts that more than 1.5 million EV charging locations will be available in the US and 7.7 million locations worldwide by 2017.

Of course, electric vehicle charging stations too, can be operated on solar power.  It is time for electric generating power companies to begin changing their business models.  Oh, and by the way, you can still get incentives from various Government Agencies to install your own solar panels.

Posted in Duke Energy, Electric Vehicle, Environment, Government Incentives, Green, Green Energy, Kohl's, Photo Voltaic, Solar Energy, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Green Energy Subsidies

The largest photovoltaic solar power plant in ...

The largest photovoltaic solar power plant in the United States is becoming a reality at Nellis Air Force Base. When completed in December, the solar arrays will produce 15 megawatts of power (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a lot of talk about government subsidies and how bad they are for the country today.

Check the history books, encyclopedias and the internet; If it were not for government subsidies we would not have the rail road, highway, or canal systems that we have today.  The aviation and shipping industries both got their starts through government taxpayer subsidies.  Subsidies also contributed to the science and technological improvements that made it possible to build wastewater treatment facilities, sanitary collection systems, and water purification plants in nearly every city during the early part of the last century.  If it were not for the government subsidized WPA, many small towns would be without city halls, post offices, and libraries today.  Just look at all the power that is generated by government built hydro-electric dams.  Those were huge economic burdens to previous generations that we, some 150 years later, all take for granted.

From 2002 to 2008, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Law Institute, $72 billion in subsidies went to fossil fuels, while $12 billion went to non-polluting renewables – and that includes hydropower, which is not a new technology.

For example, the U.S. government offered enormous tax incentives, financing and government help to promote oil and natural gas exploration in the United States, Middle East and elsewhere after World War II. The investments were a fantastic success – but they have continued to the present day at between $3.5 billion and $4.3 billion per year, while these companies have become the most profitable and powerful on the planet. Roger Bezdek, a long-time energy CEO, economics professor and former research director for the U.S. Department of Energy, analyzed U.S. energy subsidies from 1950 to 2010. He estimates that oil received $369 billion in inflation-adjusted subsidies, natural gas got $121 billion and coal got $104 billion.

These figures do not include billions of dollars spent every year to keep the Persian Gulf open and global oil prices stable. This may be smart foreign policy, but it costs billions of dollars every year -paid in taxes funding the defense budget, instead of at the gas pump.

These fossil fuel subsidies also do not fully include pollution costs. For example, automobile exhaust accounts for 85 percent of air pollution in Las Vegas. We all pay the costs of asthma and other illnesses in health-care costs, not at the pump.

Admittedly, solar technology is quite expensive at this point in time.  However, the costs to manufacturer silicon based Photovoltaics (PV) have dropped dramatically in just the past four years.  Other types of solar energy generating facilities are also becoming less expensive to build and the amount of energy produced per square foot is increasing as technology improves.

Solar panels on the roofs of homes can save home owners a significant amount of money in energy costs over the long run.  The current pay back is approximately seven years.  As the number of homes utilizing solar power increases, the need for the amount of energy generated by power companies will decrease.  In the short term that means that for those without solar panels on their roofs will be paying more for power as the power companies try to make up for lost revenue.  However, in the long run, as power companies adjust their markets and begin to capitalize on new technologies (such as electric vehicle charging stations), and expand their own base of renewable energy generation facilities, their customer base will stabilize and costs will go down.

I find it very interesting that for as long as I have lived in Las Vegas, since 1975, politicians have been saying that we need to diversify our economy to avoid future economic problems.  Here we are some 37 years later and people are now asking why we did not diversify our economy years ago, and are now behind the proverbial eight ball trying to make it happen.  I foresee the same happening in another 40 years when people are running on fossil fumes and asking why we did not do something before things got so bad.  Just as America did in the last Century, forward thinking Americans can prepare for the future by improving our energy infrastructure now so that the next generations will benefit.

The following article gives a general overview of where the Solar Industry has come and where it is going.

This article gives a more in-depth look at the research taking place in the Solar Industry:

Posted in Environment, Green, Green Energy, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life and Health

If someone tries to tell how the Supreme Court ruling on the  (aka: Obamacare), is going to effect the economy, small or large businesses, poor or rich people…Don’t believe them!  It does not matter is that person is the most scholarly economic professor or a lawyer, doctor, fortune teller, or successful bookmaker… all sides; left, right and center are wrong.




However, we can all work toward a common “united” goal.  The U.S. economy is a fluid creature that has the ability to reshape and form itself to fit whatever the mold.  There are good and bad sides to every equation and Americans have proved time and time again that they are quite adaptable.  You’ve got to (as Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen apply put to music), accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister In-Between. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment


Las Vegas is a study in contradictions.  The glitz and the glamour of the famous “Strip,” serves as a symbolic backbone, bisecting the neighborhoods that flank each side and cling for support while at the same time distancing themselves behind walls made of concrete block and trees, all in an effort to find normalcy in daily life.  Yet, normalcy in Las Vegas, where neighborhood groceries and the local bar & grills’, ring and flash with the music and lights of slot machines, differs slightly from other cities and towns.

We are a city that originated from “sin” and through time has struggled with the identity that sets us apart from all others.  Yet, it is this overtly (albeit morally reluctant), exploited image that is the key to all this city has achieved and ultimately to our continued success.

Amidst the artificial skyline of a plaster castle, glass pyramid, shrunken landmarks, and the facade of ancient Rome, we struggle with budgets to support the infrastructure that delivers our basic services.  For the adventuring tourist, we are an oasis of unlimited bounty, where water cascades down the sides of synthetic rocks and dances in the air to music with as much abundance as the champagne and alcohol that flows from the bottles and taps of the countless hotel restaurants, bars, and lounges.

Las Vegas is a brightly illuminated neon contrast to the subtle and natural majestic beauties of the surrounding Mojave Desert, alive with colored rocks and indigenous plants that struggle under the extremes of winter’s freezing cold and summer’s blistering heat for survival.  Big Horned Sheep wonder freely, along with the wild burros and horses that are decedents of the working animals that helped the early settlers of this once desolate valley create a livable environment.

An environment that once had springs of crystal clear water that bubbled up from natural lakes far below the earth’s crust, now capped by well heads and nearly drained.  Sand and rock once speckled with sparse desert plants and reptile creatures, have given way to ribbons and large pads of asphalt and concrete dedicated to the transport and temporary storage of modern vehicles.  A spider web of pipes crisscross beneath the surface of the valley floor, taken for granted, as they deliver precious commodities, such as water and gas that is key to our survival, and remove our waste.  We have tamed a once wild river and exploit its resource almost beyond recovery.  We have learned to control nature by channeling its monsoon flood waters.

We have moved forward from a time when we worked in harmony with nature to current day where science and technology dominates our every minute of life.



Posted in Environment, Sustainability | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Plastic water bottles are not entirely at fault

Now I did it!  I can just hear the computer keyboards start clicking away beneath the pounding of flying fingers, busily typing thoughts as they pass down the arms from the brain, furious at the very thought of someone giving even the least bit of reprieve to a “water bottle”.

However, before you let your anger build beyond reasonable thought, I ask that you read on.

The other day I ran across a posting that spoke about how over 90 U.S. universities have either banned or plan to ban bottled water on their campuses, according to the Ecologist, and over 100 U.S. towns and cities have also banned most forms of bottled water..  In response, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) trade association has produced a video in support of bottled water, which can be viewed along with the complete story at the TriplePundit web page.

After viewing the video and associated comments, I started thinking about its message and digging a little further into the problem.

Bottled water has been the target of many attacks these last few years, mostly because of the plastic waste that end up in landfills, oceans, street gutters, and everywhere else you look.  The other issues are health related due to the fact that the water in the bottle is not regulated as stringently as municipal water and in some cases shown to be more contaminated than water from the tap.  Also the plastic that bottles are made of are not of a quality that can be reused and cause illnesses when refilled multiple times.  The third point is the environmental footprint (e.g. the amount of petroleum fuel it takes to produce one bottle, process the water, and to ship the water, etc.).

Despite all of the drawbacks, bottled water does have a purpose.  There are a lot of areas in the world, and the United States, where clean water is scarce and bottled water is the only choice.  Bottled water is also necessity as an emergency supply in areas prone to violent storms, earth quakes, and other natural disasters that my knock out infrastructure for a period of time.  In addition, building codes have changed over the last twenty or so years.  It used to be that water fountains could be found everywhere.  Now, a developer can reduce the amount of drinking fountains required by code in a public building, if drinking water (or beverages), can be purchased via vending machines on the property.  There are examples of entire sports arenas built without a single water fountain.  To the owner, this means less money to spend on hardware, less maintenance, less worry about germ contamination, and less water usage for his building.

All of the above understood, I repeat that “Plastic water bottles are not entirely at fault.”  The bottom line is that the consumer has created this problem.

We have become creatures of convenience and it is much more convenient to buy our water in little bottles and pull them out of the refrigerated case whenever we are thirsty.  Seeing this demand for convenience, companies started bottling water and marketing it to the masses. The selling point is taste and the fact that it is a healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks.  Quite ingenious and ironic due to the fact that the largest players in the bottled water game also dominate the soft drink and juice beverage market.

It might surprise you that water sold in individual plastic bottles, only make up a little over one quarter of the total amount of the number of beverages sold in individual plastic bottles.

The research is difficult in that no single source exists to find an exact number that everyone agrees upon; but a close approximation shows that Two million (2,000,000) plastic beverage bottles are used and discarded in the US every five minutes. I will do the math for you and that adds up to twenty-four million (24,000,000) per hour, or two-hundred- eighty-eight million (288,000,000) bottles in a 12 hour day, for a grand total of One-hundred-five-billion, one-hundred and twenty million bottles per year (105,120,000,000 per year).  Now that is a lot of plastic bottles but this total includes more than just bottled water.  This total also includes soft drinks, sport drinks, tea, juice, and all other single serve beverages as well.

Further research shows that the three largest corporations holding bottled water companies dominate the market. Pepsi, under the name Aquafina has 13% of the market and Coke has 11% with its Dasani brand.  Nestlé holds a number of smaller brands but collectively they make it the largest bottled water corporation with 26% of the market. This makes up half the US bottled water market.

Production reports that I could find show that Coke and Pepsi each sell at least 3.36 billion bottles of water each year.  Again I will do the math which would mean that Coke and Pepsi with 24% of the bottled water market combined sell six billion, seven hundred twenty million (6,720,000,000) bottles of water.  Multiply the production figures for Coke and Pepsi by four and the total number that the entire bottled water industry sells is approximately twenty-eight billion (28,000,000,000) bottles of water each year.

Compare the twenty-eight billion water bottle production to the One-hundred-five billion total plastic beverage bottles and you can see that there is a much bigger problem than just water bottles.

What is interesting is the fact that there has been so much talk about recycling water bottles that a newly-released study indicates that plastic bottled water containers are once again the single most recycled item in nationwide curbside collection programs. As of 2010, the recycling rate for plastic bottled water containers increased to 32.25 percent, more than doubling in the last six years. The study, by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), shows a welcome continuation of steady annual increases in the recycling trend for plastic bottled water containers.

However, there are a lot of products, other than water bottles, made from PET (a type of plastic recognized by the recycle symbol with a number “1” in the middle), and they are being discarded regularly with the morning trash.  

So where does this evidence lead us?  Do we ban bottled water all together?  How about regulating the sale of water from single serving bottles to half gallon or larger containers?  There are a lot of coffee vending machines that dispense a single cup of coffee, how about developing a machine that dispenses water of various quantities into our own personal reuse containers instead of bottles?

If we are able to control the sale and use of single serve bottles of water, what do we do with the seventy-seven billion (77,000,000,000) other single serve bottles currently piling up in landfills and trashing our environment from the sale of soft drinks, sport drinks, tea, juice, and other beverages.

Perhaps the answer is to make recycling more convenient.  Instead of legislating against bottled water, legislate to require more recycling containers along streets and in front of all businesses so that there is a recycle container within 50 or 100 feet of wherever you might be standing.  We should also insist on better municipal recycling services.

The point is that the problem is much larger than bottled water and we must look at the bigger picture.

Posted in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR),, Environment, Green, Sustainability, Waste Minimization | 3 Comments

Do you and your business “give back?”  Is it possible to build a profitable business that is also socially responsible?  Just ask Blake Mycoskie, he has built a profitable business that is not only socially responsible, it also gives back on a one-for-one basis and he has written a very inspiring book that encourages others to follow in his shoes.  Toms Shoes that is!

Blake is the founder of Toms Shoes and stated his company with the mission that for every pair of shoes sold; one pair would be given to children that did not have shoes.  His book entitled “Start Something That Matters” details the humble beginnings of his company, how he found his mission and how he was inspired by others.

Blake invited me to read his book and has given me an extra book to give away to someone that I think will make a difference.  I found Blake’s personal stories both heartwarming, and very down to earth.  But I don’t want to tell Blake’s story for him, I suggest that you buy a copy of his book and if you do he will also donate one book to those less fortunate.  However, if you can convince me that you are sincerely interested in sustainability and corporate social responsibility, I will send the extra free copy of Blake’s book to you.  Just post your 200 word or less description of how you plan to give back on my blog page at under the “Start Something That Matters” tab.

Posted on by craigruark | 2 Comments

Greening Your Home or Office Greening Your Home and Office

Colorful Recycling Containers for Trash

Colorful Recycling Containers for Trash (Photo credit:

Whether you work at home or in an office away from home, you can find simple ways to save energy, resources, money and the planet all at the same time.

Greener homes are in the spotlight these days, but what about the other places where many of us spend huge chunks of our time–our offices? Some simple changes of habit can save energy and resources at work, and these small steps can be multiplied by persuading the powers-that-be at your workplace to adopt environmentally friendly (and often cost-effective) policies.

  • Lighting
    • Artificial lighting accounts for 44 percent of the electricity use in office buildings.
    • Make it a habit to turn off the lights when you’re leaving any room for 15 minutes or more and utilize natural light when you can.
    • Make it a policy to buy Energy Star-rated light bulbs and fixtures, which use at least two-thirds less energy than regular lighting, and install timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they’re not needed.
    • Turn off the lights when you’re leaving the room and use natural light whenever possible
  • De-Clutter Your Space
    • A Study from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute found that having a disorganized work space makes it difficult for people to process information efficiently. Things scatter around your office or cubical compete for your attention and disturb concentration.
    • Set up an inbox so your coworkers aren’t adding to your desk’s clutter when they’re dropping something off for you.
    • The average desk harbors over 400 times the bacteria, according to, of a toilet seat so make sure your dusting and cleaning keyboards along with de-cluttering.
  • Computers/Electronics
    • Computers in the business sector unnecessarily waste $1 billion worth of electricity a year.
    • Make it a habit to turn off your computer—and the power strip it’s plugged into—when you leave for the day. Otherwise, you’re still burning energy even if you’re not burning the midnight oil. (Check with your IT department to make sure the computer doesn’t need to be on to run backups or other maintenance.) During the day, setting your computer to go to sleep automatically during short breaks can cut energy use by 70 percent. Remember, screen savers don’t save energy.
    • Make it a policy to invest in energy-saving computers, monitors, and printers and make sure that old equipment is properly recycled. Look for a recycler that has pledged not to export hazardous e-waste and to follow other safety guidelines. Old computers that still work, and are less than five years old, can be donated to organizations that will refurbish them and find them new homes. (You may even get a tax deduction.)
  • Print smarter
    • The average U.S. office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year.
    • Make it a habit to print on both sides or use the back side of old documents for faxes, scrap paper, or drafts. Avoid color printing and print in draft mode whenever feasible.
    • Make it a policy to buy chlorine-free paper with a higher percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Also consider switching to a lighter stock of paper or alternatives made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or kenaf.
    • Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy remanufactured ones. According to Office Depot, each remanufactured toner cartridge “keeps approximately 2.5 pounds of metal and plastic out of landfills… and conserves about a half gallon of oil.”
  • Go paperless when possible.
    • Make it a habit to think before you print: could this be read or stored online instead? When you receive unwanted catalogs, newsletters, magazines, or junk mail, request to be removed from the mailing list before you recycle the item.
    • Make it a policy to post employee manuals and similar materials online, rather than distribute print copies. They’re easier to update that way too.
  • Recycle
    • Make it a habit to recycle everything your company collects. Just about any kind of paper you would encounter in an office, including fax paper, envelopes, and junk mail, can be recycled. So can your old cell phone, PDA or pager.
    • Make it a policy to place recycling bins in accessible, high-traffic areas and provide clear information about what can and can not be recycled.
  • Buy Recycled Products
    • Make it a policy to purchase office supplies and furniture made from recycled materials.
  • Watch what (and how) you eat.
    • Pack a waste-free lunch – make it a habit to bring your own mug and dishware for those meals you eat at the office.
    • Make it a policy to provide reusable dishes, silverware, and glasses.
    • Switch to Fair Trade and organic coffee and tea, and buy as much organic and local food as possible for parties and other events.
    • Provide filtered drinking water to reduce bottled-water waste.
  • Air Quality
    • Make it a habit to use nontoxic cleaning products.
    • Brighten up your cubicle with plants, which absorb indoor pollution. “Potted plants can filter volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – toxins like formaldehyde and benzene that are released from carpet, paint and the standard-issue pressed wood furniture that is found in most offices – from the air around your work space,” says Bill Wolverton, Ph.D, a former NASA scientist and the author of Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them.
    • Make it a policy to buy furniture, carpeting, and paint that are free of VOCs and won’t off-gas toxic chemicals.

Source: Sierra Club, 10 Ways to Go Green at Work and

Posted in Environment, Green, Green Energy, Sustainability, Waste Minimization | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Has the world become unsustainable?

Last month the world population reached seven (7) billion, a landmark event that started me thinking about how this large population might affect the world economy.  Is our population growing beyond what we can feasibly support?  Will we ever be able to create enough jobs for the working age population?

As I started looking for answers to these questions, I discovered that the World was too big for me to get my hands around, so I narrowed my thoughts to the United States.

According to the Twenty-third United States Census, known as the 2010 Census, the current population of the U.S. is 308,745,538. Of that population the number of working age persons (between the age of 16 and older) is 237,830,000. (Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics

Under this current recession, about 10% (in round numbers on average), of the total in the US working age population is unemployed.  That means there are 23,783,000 persons of working age currently out of work.  (NOTE: The official unemployment rate does not include people who are underemployed or who have given up looking for work.)

In contrast, at its highest point during the Great Depression, unemployment reached 25% (in 1933), but averaged around 15% over the course of the Depression.  The Fifteenth United States Census taken in 1930, determined the resident population of the United States to be 122,775,046 in 1930 of which 84,714,782 were of working age.  At that high point of the Great Depression there were 21,178,695 persons out of work but on the average about 12,707,217 persons were looking for employment during most of the Depression.

But a lot has changed between 1930 and today, mostly due to the advances in technology. 

Back in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, everyday life was very labor intensive.  Although factories were becoming more and more automated, they still required human labor to design, build and assemble nearly everything on the assembly lines.  I remember my mother talking about working at the Timex plant dong “piece work” which meant putting pieces together to make watches and clocks.  Laborers were paid by the number of pieces they could put together during their shift.  Factories of all types employed hundreds of thousands of workers in two, to sometimes three shifts a day.

Besides factory work, large businesses such as insurance companies, banks, publishing, and the like also employed huge pools of secretarial staff, mail room staff, and other support personnel to work on manual typewriters and stenograph machines putting out the reams of paperwork that kept the businesses moving forward.

In fact, after Don Ameche invented the telephone, hundreds of thousands of switchboard operators were required by both telephone companies and large private businesses to handle telephone calls alone.  (Pardon my humor; Don Ameche played the part of Alexander Gram Bell in the movie about Bell’s life in 1939.)

Outside of the cities, millions of family run farms filled the country side and required hundreds of thousands of hired hands to till the fields and harvest the crops.

In 1933, during the height of the “Great Depression”, President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a part of the New Deal. The CCC was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men ages 18–25.  It provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression, while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. The maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 2.5 million young men participated.

During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

The CCC performed 300 possible types of work projects within ten approved general classifications:

  1. Structural Improvements: bridges, fire lookout towers, service buildings;
  2. Transportation: truck trails, minor roads, foot trails and airport landing fields;
  3. Erosion Control: check dams, terracing and vegetable covering;
  4. Flood Control: irrigation, drainage, dams, ditching, channel work, riprapping;
  5. Forest Culture: planting trees and shrubs, timber stand improvement, seed collection, nursery work;
  6. Forest Protection: fire prevention, fire pre-suppression, firefighting, insect and disease control;
  7. Landscape and Recreation: public camp and picnic ground development, lake and pond site clearing and development;
  8. Range: stock driveways, elimination of predatory animals;
  9. Wildlife: stream improvement, fish stocking, food and cover planting;

10. Miscellaneous: emergency work, surveys, mosquito control.

Today, computers, touch pads, cellular phones and other digital devices have replaced several hundreds of thousands of laborers.  We no longer need army’s of typists, stenographers, or switchboard operators to run even the largest of companies.  Manufacturing (which has not been sent off shore), has become even more automated with robotic arms assembling even the smallest pieces into working parts that are installed into even larger devices without the single touch of a human hand thus displacing huge numbers of the labor workforce.

Think about all the things you do today that until as late as the 1980’s required the assistance of someone else.  Take for instance the purchase of airline and hotel reservations which are done entirely on the internet by you.  How about self service gas stations and grocery check-out or even shopping in general.  Each one of these businesses have been able to down size the amount of staff needed because we, as consumers, have put the burden upon ourselves to purchase goods and services through the internet or use automated teller machines and even pump our own gas and bag our own groceries.

While some support businesses still require manpower to operate (i.e. grocery story, cleaners, beauty and barber shops, auto repair, etc.), those businesses could never afford to hire enough manpower to make up for the displacement of jobs by computers, robotics and other automated devices.  And, as large corporations with their streamlined efficiency continue to grow to dominate the marketplace, smaller “mom and pop” businesses will disappear and so too will the jobs associated with those businesses.

In the rural communities, family farmers are being forced out of business at an alarming rate. According to Farm Aid, every week 330 farmers leave their land. As a result, there are now nearly five million fewer farms in the U.S. than there were in the 1930’s. Of the two million remaining farms, only 565,000 are family operations. As established family farms are shut down, they are not being replaced by new farms and young farmers. Very few young people become farmers today, and half of all U.S. farmers are between the ages of 45 and 65, while only 6% of all farmers are under the age of 35.

So with nearly double the amount of working age persons currently unemployed compared to those unemployed during the Great Depression, my unscientific estimate is that there are less than half the jobs available due to the increased use of technology.

Can we create enough jobs to employ all of the working age persons?

Actually, there is one industry that despite the advance in technology, that still requires a tremendous amount of labor.  That industry is construction, and whether or not construction alone can employ enough persons to make a difference is questionable.  The big obstacle to finding out is in the Davis-Bacon Law.

With today’s union and prevailing wage regulations I believe that the United States has crippled our ability to maintain our own infrastructure.

I know that is a bold statement but it is true.  Today we have thousands of citizens out of work and are suffering from the highest high school dropout rates of all times.  We have a lot of work that can be done by laborers with minimal education, but the unions and Government Prevailing Wage contracts prevent us from putting many of these people into jobs.

I am not saying that we need to pay minimum wage to these workers.  Nevada’s minimum wage (which is $1.00 higher than the Federal minimum wage), is $8.25 per hour which during a 40 hour work week would equate to $1,430 per month or $17,160 per year.  According to U.S. Poverty Guidelines, a single person making less than $10,890 or two persons making less than $14,710 per year are considered to be below the poverty level.  So as you can see, minimum wage does not mean “poverty” wage.

In addition, a person earning an income of $1,500 to $2,000 per month (a level of income that would generally make a person with children or other dependents eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)), could expect to get a Government check for somewhere between $350 and $450 per month.

However, the costs of Government Public Works projects are based upon a “Prevailing Wage” scale that differs by areas or regions on the United States.  Prevailing Wages are usually close to Union Wage scales which are far greater than minimum wage for many jobs or positions that require little to no technical skills.

Take for instance the construction of a roadway.  We have all passed lines of construction barrels along the highway cautioning us to slow down; that we are in a construction zone. At certain construction access points you will see a very tanned female (sometimes a male), holding a sign at the end of a pole.  Under Prevailing Wage classifications this person is called a Flag Person. When construction traffic is not accessing the site the Flag Person turns the sign to read “SLOW”, and might give you visual reprimand with their hand if you do not heed the caution.  When construction traffic is approaching Flag Person turns the sign to read “STOP”, and is prepared to dodge your bumper in case you do not.  While I admit that this job is quite serious and necessary along with being a bit hazardous; the skill level is minimal.  The prevailing wage rate for a roadway flag person is $41.44 per hour plus between $1.50 and $2.25 per hour extra depending how far the project is from the center of town.  That means that this job pays just over $86,000.00 per year.

In another example, the Clark County, Nevada Prevailing Wage “Group 1 Labor” classification for 2011pays $42.94 per hour.  This Group includes two positions called the Tool Crib and Light Tool Repairman.  The definition of those two positions are as follows:

Receives, stores, and issues handtools, machine tools, dies, materials, and equipment in industrial establishment: Issues tools and equipment to workers and maintains records of tools and equipment issued and returned, manually or using computer.  Locates lost or misplaced tools and equipment. Prepares periodic inventory or maintains perpetual inventory of tools and equipment, manually or using computer. Receives, unpacks, and stores incoming tools and equipment, and requisitions stock to replenish inventory. Inspects and measures tools and equipment for defects and wear, visually or using micrometer, and reports damage or wear to supervisors. Repairs, services, and lubricates tools and equipment, using hand tools, spray gun, or pressurized spray can. May deliver tools or equipment to workers, manually or using hand truck. May mark and identify tools and equipment, using identification tag, stamp, or electric marking tool. May be designated according to item stored as Die-Storage Clerk (clerical).

At the end of the description you notice the word (clerical).  Other than learning to use a micrometer (which by the way takes the same skill as using a ruler), as well as, spotting defects and how to lubricate certain tools, this position is not rocket science and certainly not worthy of nearly $90,000 per year in pay.

On a normal roadway construction job there maybe fifty to sixty workers depending on the project size.  Many of these workers are highly skilled at driving heavy equipment, and using specialized tools.  For the most part these skilled laborers are probably paid what they are worth under the Prevailing Wage system.  However there are dozens of Group 1, 2, 3, and 4 laborers making between $42.94 and $43.34 per hour that require very little skill but are required under Union Contracts.  These labor classification rates have made it nearly impossible for states and communities to afford to maintain our roadways.

Before going any further let me clarify that these wages also includes “Benefits” such as medical insurance, vacation pay, and retirement, etc. However, those benefits only amount to 8% of the overall pay.  According to various reports Prevailing Wage rates range between 15% and 25% (depending on the skill), above non-union wages. For example, the median hourly rate for carpenters in Wayne County (the Detroit area) in 2005 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adjusted to include fringe benefits, was $26.33, but the prevailing rate under Michigan law was $41.37.

For the complete history and basics of Prevailing Wage, I suggest that you read the White Paper written by George C. Leef entitled: Prevailing Wage Laws: Public Interest or Special Interest Legislation?  In his paper he determines that:

The most salient effect of prevailing wage laws is to raise the cost of public construction. They do so in several ways. First, by preventing competitive bidding on the labor costs of public projects, a greater outlay of tax dollars is required to pay the construction workers employed than would otherwise be necessary. Second, prevailing wage laws often interfere with efficient labor utilization because their enforcement mandates adherence to union work rules. Third, they impose additional compliance costs, including litigation, on contractors. And fourth, prevailing wage laws require additional administrative costs in determining what wage rates “prevail” and also adjudication and enforcement costs.

Another analysis of the cost of Prevailing Wage law (aka, Davis-Bacon Act) can be found in this report from the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University:

So in theory, if labor costs are 50% of the total construction cost, and we repealed the Prevailing Wage laws each construction project would cost between 15% and 25% less saving the public billions of dollars.  And these billions of dollars in savings could be used to fund more projects putting more people to work.

There is precedence for the government putting people back to work.

The building of the Continental Railroad was in its time a Government backed economic stimulus project The House of Representatives voted for the project on May 6, 1862, and the Senate on June 20 and President Lincoln signed it into law on July 1. Two companies were hired — the Central Pacific would build from the west and the Union Pacific from the east.

Besides land grants along the right-of-way, each railroad was paid $16,000 per mile ($9,940/km) built over an easy grade, $32,000 per mile ($19,880/km) in the high plains, and $48,000 per mile ($29,830/km) in the mountains.

In 1864, the average pay for constructing the rail road was $8.00 per month or $96.00 per year. Using a conversion based upon the Payment (wage rate) per time period for unskilled labor (see Expressed in number of currency units per time period (for example, U.S. dollars per hour) that same Railroad worker in 2011 would receive $972.00 per month or $11,664.00 per year or $5.60 per hour.

In 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as a part of the New Deal. The CCC was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men ages 18–25.  It provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state and local governments. The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 2.5 million young men participated.

Workers under the previously discussed Civilian Conservation Corps were paid $30 a month of which $25 went to their parents. Using a conversion based upon the Payment (wage rate) per time period for unskilled labor (see Expressed in number of currency units per time period (for example, U.S. dollars per hour) that same CCC worker in 2011 would receive $1,410.00 per month; $16,920.00 per year or $8.13 per hour.

So, has the world become unsustainable?  You tell me!

Posted in Environment, Public Interest, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Current RFPs and Funding Opportunities for Sustainable Projects

The opportunities posted here are provided for reference and inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement.  Click on the title link for further information on submissions.

Sustainability Research Networks Competition (SRN)
National Science Foundation
Funding:  $36,000,000
Preliminary Proposal Due:  December 1, 2011
Deadline: April 1, 2012

The goal of the competition is to support the development and coalescence of entities to advance collaborative research that addresses questions and challenges in sustainability science, engineering, and education. SRNs will link scientists, engineers, and educators, at existing institutions, centers, networks, and also develop new research efforts and collaborations.

Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I Solicitation FY-2012 (SBIR)
National Science Foundation
Funding:  $15 Million
Awards:  100
Deadline:  December 12, 2011
Then, March 15, June 15 and Sept 15, annually

The SBIR program solicits proposals from the small business sector to stimulate technological innovation and increase private sector commercialization.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: Sustainable Bioenergy
Award Ceiling: $10,000,000
Deadline: December 15, 2011

The Sustainable Bioenergy Challenge Area RFA focuses on the societal challenge to secure America’s energy future. In the Sustainable Bioenergy Challenge Area RFA, specific program areas are designed to achieve the long-term outcome of reducing the National dependence on foreign oil through the production of sustainable bioenergy. Project types supported by AFRI within this RFA include single-function Research, multi-function Integrated Research, Education, and/or Extension Projects, and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants.

Support of Advanced Coal Resarch at U.S. Colleges and Universities
National ENergy Technology Laboratory
Award Ceiling $300,000
Deadline: December 19, 2011

This award supports long-term, high-risk meritorious fundamental research that advances the science of coal technologies at U.S. colleges and universities. Since its inception in FY1979, the UCR Program has maintained three objectives, to be achieved simultaneously, which are: (1) to improve our understanding of the chemical and physical processes involved in the conversion and utilization of coal in an environmentally acceptable manner; (2) to maintain and upgrade the coal research capabilities and facilities of U.S. colleges and universities; and (3) to support the education & training of our next generation of scientist and engineers.

Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy
Center for Entrepreneurship, University of California, Davis
Award: Tuition, Room, Board
Applications Open: January 2012
Program Date: June 25-29, 2012

Develop the commercial potential of your cleantech innovation by working with leading investors, entrepreneurs and others in the green tech sector. This one week academy is a springboard for moving green tech research out of the lab and into the marketplace. The academy is taught by venture capitalists, university faculty, industry executives and angel investors, who serve as mentors and guest speakers and provide participants with the knowledge and networks needed to take the next steps forward.

A12-051  Wind Energy Systems for Base Camp Applications
U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM)
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1
Funding: Up to $150,000
Deadline: January 11, 2012

Develop a rugged, deployable wind energy system for use in military base camp applications that can be packaged, shipped, and deployed from TRICON shipping containers. Cost per watt and capable operational conditions are the key focus areas.

AF121-069 Advanced Space Energy Storage that Incorporates Long Cycle Life at High Depths of Discharge
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase 1
U.S. Air Force
Funding: Up to $150,000
Deadline: January 11, 2012

Develop an energy storage system with high specific energy density > 200 Wh/kg that is capable of 5 years of ground storage and 60,000 cycles at depths of discharge > 60% and showing a pathway to 100%.

AF121-073 Anti-reflective Coating for High-Efficiency Solar Cells
U.S. Air Force
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Funding: Up to $150,000
Deadline: January 11, 2012

Develop an advanced broadband antireflective coating active from ~300 to 1800 nm to enable high-efficiency solar cells.

AF121-075 Rigid-Panel-Solar-Array Deployment Synchronization Mechanisms for Rapid Assembly and Reduced Cost
U.S. Air Force
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Funding: Up to $150,000
Deadline: January 11, 2012

Develop modular deployment synchronization technologies for rigid-panel solar arrays

Sustainable Energy Pathways
National Science Foundation
Funding: $500,000 – $2,000,000
Awards: 20
Deadline: February 2, 2012
The Sustainable Energy Pathways solicitation calls for innovative, interdisciplinary basic research in science, engineering, and education by teams of researchers for developing systems approaches to sustainable energy pathways based on a comprehensive understanding of the scientific, technical, environmental, economic, and societal issues. The SEP solicitation considers scalable approaches for sustainable energy conversion to useful forms, as well as its storage, transmission, distribution, and use. The following Topic Areas illustrate the broad scope of sustainable energy interest areas of this solicitation: Energy Harvesting and Conversion from Renewable Resources; Sustainable Energy Storage Solutions; Critical Elements and Materials for Sustainable Energy; Nature-Inspired Processes for Sustainable Energy Solutions; Reducing Carbon Intensity from Energy Conversion and Use; Sustainable Energy Transmission and Distribution; Energy Efficiency and Management.

Energy, Power, and Adaptive Systems (EPAS)

National Science Foundation
Full Proposal Due: February 7, 2012
Supplemental Deadline:  April 1, 2012

The Energy, Power, and Adaptive Systems (EPAS) program invests in the design and analysis of intelligent and adaptive engineering networks, including sensing, imaging, controls, and computational technologies for a variety of application domains.  There are many clean energy topics of interest for EPAS proposals.

Annual Partnership Solicitation: Partnerships in MCA Countries
Millennium Challenge Corporation
Deadline: Ongoing through February 12, 2012

Partnerships in MCA countries as follows: Republics of Zambia, Indonesia, Cape Verde, and Ghana; Kingdom of Lesotho; United Republic of Tanzania. Category Explanation… Waste-to-Energy; Renewable Energy; Green Prosperity Initiatives; Low Carbon, environmentally sustainable and community-oriented development;

Biotechnology, Biochemical and Biomass Engineering
National Science Foundation
Awards: $300,000 to $600,000
Deadline: March 1, 2012

The Biotechnology, Biochemical, and Biomass Engineering (BBBE) program supports fundamental engineering research that advances the understanding of cellular and biomolecular processes (in vivo, in vitro, and/or ex vivo) and eventually leads to the development of enabling technology and/or applications in support of the biopharmaceutical, biotechnology, and bioenergy industries, or with applications in health or the environment.

Smart Grid Data Access
U.S. DOE, National Energy Technology Laboratory
No. of Awards: 12
Award Ceiling: $2,500,000
Deadline: March 1, 2012

Seeking applications aimed at empowering consumers to better manage their electricity use by enabling access to electricity consumption data by customers and their authorized third parties and providing or supporting the use of third party tools and software products that utilize the available data to deliver a value added service to the customer. Projects under this Funding Opportunity Announcement will be comprised of two Phases. Under Phase I applicants will need to demonstrate the capability for electricity customers and or designated third parties to access their usage data and the functionality of their proposed tool or software product to provide this access. Phase II involves adoption of the tools and software products demonstrated in Phase I to an entire service territory, region or community within the jurisdiction of the applicant or the utility partner of the applicant.

Environmental Sustainability
National Science Foundation
Awards: $300,000 to $600,000
Deadline: March 1, 2012

The Environmental Sustainability program supports engineering research with the goal of promoting sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being and that are also compatible with sustaining natural (environmental) systems. This program supports engineering research that seeks to balance society’s need to provide ecological protection and maintain stable economic conditions. There are four principal general research areas which are supported, but others can be proposed: Industrial Ecology, Green Engineering, Ecological Engineering, Earth Systems Engineering.

Autodesk Clean Tech Partner Software Grant
Deadline: ongoing

Free design and engineering software for early-stage clean technology companies in North America working to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Valued up to $150,000.

Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI)
National Science Foundation
Amount: varied
Deadline: accepted anytime

This opportunity promotes university-industry partnerships by making project funds or fellowships/traineeships available to support an eclectic mix of industry-university linkages. Special interest is focused on affording the opportunity for: Faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students to conduct research and gain experience in an industrial setting; Industrial scientists and engineers to bring industry’s perspective and integrative skills to academe; and Interdisciplinary university-industry teams to conduct research projects.

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