International Society for Industrial Ecology

In the News

  • 23 Aug 2011 10:35 AM | Anonymous
    From: Waste Management Seeks to Turn Trash Into Energy by Brett Colman, "Houston Chronicle," August 22, 2011

    Waste Management Seeks to Turn Trash Into Energy

    By any measure, Waste Management is a giant in the U.S. garbage collection and recycling business, but its future may lie in a different service: turning trash into energy.

    That helps explain why the Houston company recently has been boosting investments in technologies that can convert much of what goes in the landfill into fuels, electricity and other energy products.

    While those investments are still relatively small for a firm that collected $12.5 billion in revenue last year and 100 million tons of trash, they highlight a shift in the way the country's biggest garbage hauler views its business as well as waste itself.

    "In my mind, it's pretty simple why we're doing it: If we don't figure it out, somebody is, and they'll take the waste away from us. If we lose the waste, we've certainly lost the business," said Carl Rush, vice president of the company's organic growth group, the chief vehicle for its energy investments.

    The shift in thinking comes at a time when U.S. landfill collections are hitting a plateau as Americans recycle more, consumer products makers reduce packaging and many large corporations adopt "zero waste" goals.

    Demand for renewable energy and fuels also is increasing, in response both to regulations requiring them and to public concerns about the nation's reliance on fossil fuels and their environmental impact.

    The confluence of trends has pushed Waste Management's leaders to take a hard look at where the company is headed, and has brought a slow and sometimes reluctant culture change to a business that had been set in its ways.

    "Five years ago it would have been, 'just put it in a hole and don't worry about it,' " Rush said. Today, company officials try to avoid even using the term trash. Instead, it's "materials" or "resources," he said.

    "It's remarkable to me to see the change that's taken place just in the mind-set of the people in this company."

    Waste Management's energy portfolio can be divided into two broad categories, existing and emerging.

    In the first, the company operates 17 waste-to-energy plants that incinerate garbage to generate electricity. It also collects methane gas from 129 landfills and turns it into electricity, which it sends to the grid for public use.

    Combined, those projects produce enough energy to power 1.1 million homes - more than the U.S. solar industry. And the company has a goal to double that by 2020.

    The emerging side, however, is where Rush and his team are placing their focus. Their goal is to identify and invest in technologies that can convert more materials in the waste stream into energy resources - and they've placed many bets in the last few years. Among them:

    Terrabon, a Houston firm that has developed an acid fermentation process that converts organic waste into a gasoline nearly identical to its petroleum-based counterpart.

    Agilyx, an Oregon firm that makes a crude oil substitute from waste plastics.

    Enerkem, a Canadian company that can make ethanol from municipal solid waste and wood chips.

    Waste Management also has its own pilot plant in Oklahoma that converts landfill gas to diesel fuel for its trash collection trucks. And it's in a joint venture with Linde in an Altamont, Calif., plant that turns landfill gas into liquefied natural gas and powers 1,000 garbage trucks there.

    The list goes on. The company now has a portfolio of nearly 30 acquisitions, joint ventures and investment projects at various stages of development. Rush won't disclose the actual amount Waste Management has spent on the projects, but he said typical outlays have been $5 million to $10 million each.

    Most of the technologies aren't yet contributing to the bottom line. But several should start production within the next two years, he said. As they grow, the goal will be to integrate them into Waste Management sites and capture more revenue. "That's sort of the next phase," Rush said.

    But some analysts are getting antsy to see a return on the investments. "I'm not seeing any benefit from it probably for three to five years," said Michael E. Hoffman, who follows the company for Memphis, Tenn.-based Wunderlich Securities. "That's a long time for investors."

    While he agrees with the longer-term strategy of extracting more value from landfills, he believes the company should have kept the investments quiet until they were closer to commercialization.

    Amol Deshpande, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said that may be sooner than many people think.

    Kleiner Perkins has partnered with Waste Management on several waste-to-energy projects, and commends the trash hauler for picking up on trends that are gaining momentum around the world and within the investment community.

    "It's what any very good, forward-looking management team would do," he said. "It's about being prepared for where the industry is eventually going."


    Updated 06:30 a.m., Monday, August 22, 2011
  • 18 Aug 2011 3:46 PM | Anonymous

    (USDA Press Release No. 0368.11)

    WASHINGTON, August 18, 2011

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development recently issued a $75 million loan guarantee to support construction of a waste-to-energy bioprocessing facility in Vero Beach, Fla., that will produce up to 8 million gallons per year of cellulosic ethanol and create an estimated 380 new jobs. Vilsack toured the facility last week, meeting construction workers and company and community officials to highlight the importance of helping our nation develop the next generation of biofuels.

    "Over the past two years, USDA has worked to help our nation develop a national biofuels economy that continues to help us grow and out-compete the rest of the world," said Vilsack. "In the months ahead, USDA will continue to work with federal partners like the Department of Energy, the U.S. Navy and the Federal Aviation Administration to improve our country's energy security and provide sustainable jobs in communities across the country. This cutting-edge facility in Florida, and others like it across America, represents the kind of innovation we need to continue to build a competitively-priced, American-made, homegrown biofuels industry that helps to break our dependence on foreign oil and moves our nation toward a clean energy economy."

    The facility, estimated to be completed by the summer of 2012 and being constructed by INEOS New Plant Energy, LLC, will use a gas fermentation process to produce an estimated 8 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol from citrus fruit, vegetable and yard wastes. The plant will consume an estimated 300 dry tons per day of organic material and, in addition to ethanol, produce enough electricity to run the plant and provide for the power needs of 1,400 homes. It is estimated that the facility will create 380 jobs, including 175 construction jobs and 50 full-time jobs in Indian River County, Fla. Compared to gasoline, the ethanol produced by the plant will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 90 percent.

    Earlier this week, President Obama announced that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will invest up to $510 million during the next three years in partnership with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation. The initiative responds to a directive from President Obama issued in March as part of his Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future, the Administration's framework for reducing dependence on foreign oil. Vilsack joined Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to sign a joint Memorandum of Understanding committing the departments to the initiative.

    The INEOS plant builds on these efforts to create new jobs and increase America's energy independence.

    The loan guarantee was issued through USDA Rural Development's Biorefinery Assistance Program, authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

    USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Rural Development fosters growth in homeownership, finances business development, and supports the creation of critical community and technology infrastructure. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site at

  • 23 Jan 2011 11:14 AM | Anonymous

    ( - Georgia Tech’s dean of the College of Engineering and five other faculty members have been awarded the distinction of Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science ( AAAS ).

    AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society, and the election as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

    Five of the new Fellows at Georgia Tech hail from the College of Engineering and one is on the faculty in the College of Sciences’ Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

    The new Fellows at Georgia Tech are:

    Gilda A. Barabino, associate chair for graduate studies and professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory, was honored “for distinguished contributions to tissue engineering research and education, as well as for enhancing the participation of underrepresented groups in scientific fields.”

    Stephen P. DeWeerth, professor of biomedical engineering at the Coulter Department, earned the distinction “for contributions in the field of neuroengineering, particularly for the real-time modeling of sensorimotor systems and for the development of neural interfacing technology.”

    Don P. Giddens, dean of the College of Engineering and biomedical engineering professor in the Coulter Department, was honored “for significant contributions to our understanding of the role of hemodynamics in cardiovascular pathobiology and for leadership of engineering education nationally.”

    Joseph W. Perry, professor of physical, polymer and materials chemistry and optical science, was honored “for distinguished contribution to the understanding, development and application of organic materials for third-order nonlinear optics.”

    Valerie Thomas, an associate professor of natural systems with a joint appointment in Georgia Tech’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the School of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, was honored “for sustained commitment to combining science policy with innovative interdisciplinary research in industrial ecology.”

    Zhuomin Zhang, professor of mechanical engineering, was awarded the Fellow distinction “for advancing thermal radiation research and its applications in temperature measurement, promoting education in nano- and micro-scale heat transfer and serving professional societies.”

    Last month AAAS honored 503 members with the award in recognition of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be honored from 8 to 10 a.m. on Feb. 19 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

  • 17 Jan 2011 11:05 AM | Anonymous
    These days, companies looking for ways to be environmentally friendly don't have to go it alone.

    Read more:

    Business partnerships are developing between companies that can use each other's waste, combine their transportation needs or increase renewable energy sources.

    There is, in fact, an entire field of study related to the idea: industrial ecology.

    "There is only so much that one facility can do on its own," said Jennifer Howard-Grenville, assistant professor of management at the University of Oregon's business school. "Rather than looking at environmental issues in one place, students look at a company as part of a supply chain, as part of a regional economy. That's when you start to see symbiotic relationships."

    Students in Howard-Grenville's fall Industrial Ecology course studied ways to make two Salem businesses and the City of Salem more sustainable through partnerships. It is part of the yearlong Sustainable City Year program, which connects students with real-world problems in one Oregon city a year.

    Howard-Grenville's students worked on five separate projects and then made presentations and produced reports for the city and the Salem businesses.

    "I was surprised and impressed," said the city's Annie Gorski about the students' work. "For the most part, they were asked to solve really difficult biological problems. There was a lot of science in what they did. I was surprised by how much information came back."

    Students working with the City of Salem researched whether treated water from the treatment plant could be reused at a local business undefined say, a cement company that needs water in its cement trucks undefined rather than discharged to the Willamette River.

    It quickly became clear to the students that transporting treated water from Willow Lake treatment plant to a nearby business was not cost-effective.

    So the students looked elsewhere for solutions.

    They found two sustainable approaches. They recommended installing regional water treatment plants near businesses that could reuse the treated water. And they recommended a much more sustainable approach by asking if there was a way to reuse water where it is used initially undefined that way, the water would never go to a treatment facility in the first place.

    For example, if a corporate site reused the water from sinks to water plants in their landscaping, less water would need to be treated at the city's treatment plant and the companies would reduce their water needs.

    "Everyone from Norpac to SeQuential is using Class A drinking water (often for processes that don't need such high-quality water)," said Gorski. "Because we don't have a water shortage now it's not a problem. But with future growth, we're going to want to divert water for different purposes so not everyone is getting the same clean drinking water undefined not everyone needs Class A water."

    Gorski said that because of the students' work, the city has some new tools to evaluate infrastructure for water and sewer, including a comprehensive financial model that can be used to evaluate when and how to expand energy generation at Willow Lake. The city is also evaluating other recommendations, like installing pipe at the 650-acre Mill Creek Corporate Center to reuse some of the water on site.

    In another project, students found that the best solution undefined both economic and sustainable undefined was sometimes counter-intuitive.

    Norpac's approximately 300 tons of canned food waste undefined rejected mainly because the cans are dented undefined is landfilled. At a cost of $16,800 per year, it seemed like it would make business sense to open the cans, compost or land spread the contents and sell the cans for scrap metal.

    But students were surprised to find that the answer was not so simple.

    "I started the project with an optimistic point of view," said Kelly McKeag, an MBA student expected to graduate in June. "It seemed like a really easy solution. But when you take into account all the logistical costs, it's expensive."

    It quickly became clear to the students that a partnership with several other canneries and a compost facility would be needed. The students also recommended that Norpac centralize its process so that all of the rejected cans end up at the same plant.

    "They came up with good ideas, and they got a pretty good handle on the problem," said Mark Steele, an engineer at Norpac. "Because Norpac has been working on these problems for a number of years, it's not easy to find new solutions."

    Assistant Professor Howard-Grenville said she appreciated how the students grasped the complexity of the problems and yet still tried to find reasonable solutions.

    "To me, the biggest part of the learning is how complex each situation is," Howard-Grenville said. "That's one of the benefits (of the Sustainable City Year program) undefined to see how messy the real world is."

    Read more:
  • 12 Oct 2010 4:53 PM | Anonymous

    It’s easy to get depressed looking at environmental issues: While we’ve stopped the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from further damaging the ozone layer, it’ll take generations to be fully repaired. Hello, skin cancer. Forests worldwide continue to disappear at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc with species and the air we breathe, and exacerbating CO2 build up.  Patches of plastic garbage the size of Texas are floating in our oceans and wiping out turtles, birds and fish, and climate change due to greenhouse gasses is bearing down on us like a class 5 hurricane. But hey–this is no time to stick our heads between our legs and kiss our butts goodbye. We’ve accomplished a lot and can do more; the window of opportunity isn’t closed yet.

    Full Article Here

  • 12 Oct 2010 4:40 PM | Anonymous

    Researchers at Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture recently completed lifecycle assessments measuring environmental impacts of three beef-production systems in the Midwest. The analysis compared cumulative energy use, ecological footprint, greenhouse gas emissions and eutrophying emissions – nutrients entering waterways -- associated with models of each beef-production strategy. The research focused on systems where calves were either: weaned directly to feedlots, weaned to out-of-state wheat pastures then finished in feedlots or finished wholly on managed pasture and hay.

    Full article here

  • 12 Oct 2010 4:28 PM | Anonymous

    Cornell researchers have developed a new method to create a patterned single-crystal thin film of semiconductor material that could lead to more efficient photovoltaic cells and batteries.

    The "holy grail" for such applications has been to create on a silicon base, or substrate, a film with a 3-D structure at the nanoscale, with the crystal lattice of the film aligned in the same direction (epitaxially) as in the substrate. Doing so is the culmination of years of research by Uli Wiesner, professor of materials science and engineering, into using polymer chemistry to create nanoscale self-assembling structures.

    Full articlehere

  • 24 Sep 2010 1:29 AM | Anonymous
    Click here for full article.

    ALEXANDRIA, VA —  As the amount of recycled content in glass bottles goes up, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and energy demands go down.

    So says what the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) is calling the first "complete and thorough" life cycle assessment (LCA) of glass containers, conducted by sustainability consulting firm PE Americas.

    The LCA takes into account the full life of glass containers, from raw material extraction to end-of-life recycling. PE Americas collected data from 105 furnaces in North America, representing 75 percent of North American glass container production. 

    For every 10 percent increase in the amount of recycled glass, or cullet, that is used to make containers, CO2 emissions go down 5 percent and the amount of energy needed goes down 3 percent.

    Using recycled glass reduces impacts from extracting and processing raw materials as well as emissions from melting glass.

    The GPI, a trade association, says that the emissions saved by using current levels of recycled glass are equal to or more than the emissions from transporting finished products. Transportation accounts for less than 5 percent of glass' life cycle emissions.

    In 2007, the North American glass industry had an average of 23 percent post-consumer recycled content. GPI member companies plan to bring that to 50 percent by the end of 2013.

    Read more:

  • 24 Sep 2010 1:00 AM | Anonymous
    Click here for full article.

    In the 1970's, we learned that getting our trash into the trashcan was all it took to "Give a Hoot" and "Don't Pollute!" I am truly nostalgic for those days before the onslaught of plastic pollution changed the rules of the game. The old 3 Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle don't begin to deal with the problem of synthetic pollution made from petrochemicals that has steadily increased since its introduction in the late 1950's. It's hard to believe that the single most ubiquitous consumer item in the world today, the single-use plastic bag, didn't appear in grocery stores until the 1980's. If you miss the trashcan with plastic trash, it doesn't just look bad for a while. It may last long beyond seven generations of human life, and it will probably end up in the nearest lake or ocean. The oceans have replaced the world's largest landfills as the biggest dumps on the planet. With single-use plastic production ever increasing, landfills filling, and recycling near nil, all that plastic has to go somewhere.

    Our oceans are truly in crisis from multiple attacks. They are overfished, they are warming up and acidifying, and they are polluted with chemicals and petroleum gushers that devastate whole regions. The public is just learning that there is an ongoing petroleum spill into every waterway and ocean: The Great Disposable Plastic Spill. Thanks to Charles Moore and his Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and those who followed him, we have over a decade of research on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch 1000 miles off the coast of California where plastic collects around the North Pacific Gyre. That swirling mess is but one of 5 major oceanic gyres on the planet that are all collecting our unwanted plastics. is currently conducting research in the Atlantic.

    The public is just learning about plastic pollution, but the petrochemical lobbyists are one step ahead to preserve the lucrative market for single-use products made from petroleum. When I was a prosecutor in the courtroom, we had a saying about defense attorneys who used smoke and mirrors because they didn't have anything substantive to show the jury. "When they lack the facts, they distract." Lobbyists working for Exxon, Dow, and The American Chemistry Council have developed a brilliant campaign to distract the public from the consequences of plastic pollution on our environment, our economy and public health. The general outlines of the strategy are as follows:

    1. Promote Recycling as the solution to plastic pollution. The plastics lobby advocates for, though they do not fund, single-use plastic recycling initiatives because recycling will never stem the tide of virgin petroleum product. Recycling rates for single-use plastics are abysmal and plastic is generally only down-cycled into lower grade materials, so there is no threat to continual new production of products that are used but once and thrown away. Most single-use plastic that does get to a recycling plant ends up in a landfill because it is contaminated with food or other substances, or it is sent to other countries where it is burned. In the meantime, taxpayers pay for the costly clean-up, recycling collection and sorting, and landfill.

    2. Promote vague and misleading vocabulary about plastic pollution. The term "marine debris" is promoted by the ACC because it doesn't point fingers at plastic, which accounts for 80-90% of trash both on beaches and in the ocean. Non-profit Plastic Pollution Coalition advises its members to use the term Plastic Pollution because this term identifies the source of the problem and facilitates life-cycle analysis from production through the interminable life of plastic on land or in water.

    3. Prevent or delay the reduction of single-use plastics through legal strategies. The ACC has sued local jurisdictions to require environmental impact reports on plastic bag bans and sponsored the current California legislation that outlaws fees on single-use plastic bags.

    4. Infiltrate the "environmental" groups by funding them. The plastics lobby funds clean-up missions and research on clean-up strategies to divert attention and resources from stopping the ongoing flow of plastic pollution. The American Chemistry Council, for example, funds Project Kaisei. Reputable marine scientists insist that even if we had all the resources and time in the world to do it, we cannot strain the ocean of plastics that exist in such massive quantities, in both macro and micro sizes, and throughout the water column, without straining the ocean of life. The only "solution" is to turn off the tap of plastics entering the ocean and to wait for it to eventually wash to shore, sink and be covered with sediment, or be eaten! This is a situation that calls for avoiding further hazard; not fiddling while the ocean is destroyed.

    5. Buy lots of Advertising and Legislators before key votes. The recent 21-14 vote defeating AB 1998, The Single-Use Bag Reduction Act, in the California legislature came as a surprise to many since the supporting coalition was so large and broad-based including the California Grocers Association, labor, the Democratic Party, a Republican governor and business as well as the expected support from environmental groups. But while the bill's advocates worked the entire state gaining popular support, the ACC dominated the airwaves strategically in the state's capitol with misleading ads about job losses that ridiculed legislators for paying attention to plastic bags. This strategy was paired with friendly financial donations to legislators. Who runs our government anyway, the people or corporations?

    Plastics are made from petroleum; there is less and less available, and we are going to tragic lengths to get at it as evidenced in the Gulf disaster with loss of life and habitat. Should we be risking life and limb for single use-bags and plastic bottles that can easily be replaced with sustainable alternatives? Should we be risking our food chain as plastic fragments become more plentiful than plankton in our oceans? Should we be exposing our fetuses, babies and children to the endocrine disrupting chemicals that leach out of plastic food containers into our food and drink? These questions and their answers are exactly what the plastics lobby wants you to avoid.

    There is a growing international army of marine biologists, environmental groups, civic leaders, public health experts, governmental agencies, parents and youth who are willing to take on the purveyors of plastic pollution. We call ourselves the Plastic Pollution Coalition. Please join and help us Prevent Plastic Pollution. Add a 4th R before the other three, and Refuse single-use plastics!
  • 24 Sep 2010 12:15 AM | Anonymous
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