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Cedar Rapids and Estherville, Iowa

Hundreds of workers lost their jobs after the Rockwell-Goss printing press factory closed here in Cedar Rapids in 2001. The hulking empty shell sat idle on the outskirts of the city for four years.

But that was before wind power blew into town, bringing thousands of clean-tech manufacturing jobs to Iowa and the Midwest.

In many cases, the new industry is setting up shop in defunct heavy manufacturing plants, bringing new economic life and vitality to old settings.

Bob Loyd, who once oversaw crews manufacturing the last printing presses to leave the old Rockwell-Goss factory, now manages workers assembling the newest generation of giant wind turbines in the same building.

“We’ve all watched the demise of heavy manufacturing in the Midwest in recent years,” says Mr. Loyd, plant manager at Clipper Turbine Works, a division of Clipper Windpower in Carpinteria, Calif.

“I wouldn’t say it’s all returned. But wind power is definitely helping bring some of that manufacturing muscle back.”

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(CNN) — Environmentalists are encouraged by President Barack Obama’s focus this week on renewable energy and stricter emissions standards, although some economists are skeptical he can pull the country out of the recession while cleaning up the planet.  Obama must strike a careful balance between stimulating the economy in the coming months and investing in the long-term future of the environment, said Raj Chetty, professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Perhaps only in President Barack Obama’s Washington could the CEOs of the nation’s top wind and solar trade organizations pass for celebrities.

Yet if anyone needed an indicator of the growing prominence of the renewable energy world in the nation’s capital during the age of Obama, it was on display Monday night at the Green Inaugural Ball, hosted by former Vice President Al Gore at the National Portrait Gallery.

Standing on the red—or rather, green—carpet alongside musicians like John Legend, Maroon 5, and will.i.am were Denise Bode, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, and Rhone Resch, the Solar Energy Industries Association’s president and CEO.

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Bruce Falconer-Desperate times call for desperate measures. Nowhere is this more the case than with today’s commercial aviation business, whose slow death has been accelerated of late by the twin nightmares of soaring fuel costs and global recession. The price of oil is way down from last year, but the financial breather will inevitably be short-lived as scarcity of fossil fuels grows in years to come.

What’s a desperate airline to do? Charging for alcoholic beverages and checked bags won’t cut it. (Don’t expect these costs to vanish any time soon.) Nope, the only solution lies in experimentation with new fuel sources. Take Virgin Atlantic. Last year, Richard Branson’s airline made news by powering a Boeing-747 with fuel partially derived from oils extracted from babassu nuts and coconuts.

In a piece I wrote for Mother Jones prior to the Virgin flight, I reported on widespread speculation that Branson might also choose to test algae as a biofuel. He never did so, of course, and now Continental Airlines has beaten him to the punch. 

From the BBC:

The 90-minute flight by a Continental Boeing 737-800 went better than expected, a spokesperson said.

One of its engines was powered by a 50-50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraft fuel.

Wednesday’s test is the latest in a series of demonstration flights by the aviation industry, which hopes to be using biofuels within five years.

The flight was the first by a US carrier to use an alternative fuel source, and the first in the world to use a twin-engine commercial aircraft (rather than a four-engine plane) to test a biofuel blend.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — As a candidate, Barack Obama promoted hybrid cars.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Obama will climb into the Mother of All Hybrids — part car, part truck and, from the looks of it, part tank.

In keeping with recent tradition, the Secret Service will place a brand-new presidential limousine into service January 20 to drive the new president on the 2-mile jaunt down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade.

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With enough investment, geothermal power could satisfy 10 percent of the US energy diet, energy experts say.

Could hot rocks miles below the earth’s surface be the “killer app” of the energy industry?

Google thinks so. It’s investing more than $10 million to develop new technology that would make this subterranean resource a widespread, economically viable competitor to fossil fuels.

Geothermal heat could meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs by mid-century, according to the US Department of Energy. What’s more, it would not generate the climate-warming carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.

Once tapped, a geothermal system would stay online for centuries. Unlike wind and solar, it would be a “base load” energy source, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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Mother Jones-When plants are burned or decay, carbon is released, combining with oxygen to become CO2. But when the same plants are heated in a kiln without oxygen, a process called pyrolysis, about half of that carbon turns into charcoal, a substance so inert it takes hundreds of years to revert to CO2.

Pyrolysis can be performed on an industrial level—a Wisconsin-based company called best Energies sells a device that processes about two tons of wood or other biomass (including turkey waste) an hour—or on a small scale anywhere on earth. The resulting “agrichar” or “biochar” makes a great soil amendment, which means fewer greenhouse-enhancing fertilizers, and more crops that can be turned into more biochar…It’s the most virtuous of circles.

Added bonus: Pyrolysis produces a gas that can be burned to produce more energy than the pyrolysis itself requires—energy that beats wind or solar in that it’s actually carbon negative. Cornell University’s Johannes Lehmann, a leading expert on the subject, believes the US could convert huge amounts of logging and agricultural leftovers into biochar, and even grow crops just for that purpose. Pyrolysis, he estimates, could eventually offset nearly a third of America’s CO2 emissions.

Mother Jones-For the past 30 years, the promise of solar power has been both a shining beacon and a source of disappointment. The roadblock has always been the technology needed to harness the sun: It’s frighteningly expensive, and complicated to maintain. Plus, after installing a system, you instantly become the dweeb down the block with the big brown panels on the roof.

Enter Steven Novack of Idaho National Laboratory. Novack and his colleagues have invented a radically different type of solar technology—the nano-antenna, which is about 1/25th the diameter of a human hair and can be crammed by the millions onto a square the width of a mailing envelope. Nano-antennae work sort of like radio antennae to tune in solar radiation, and they absorb about 80 percent of the sun’s available energy, and can collect infrared radiation even when it’s cloudy. By comparison, standard panels make use of only about 20 percent of the sun’s energy. The Idaho lab aims to produce its antennae in sheets for a few dollars a yard. Novack estimates they’ll hit the market by 2015.

Representatives of several public health, environmental, and manufacturing groups met last week with the Bush administration’s Office of Management and Budget and asked that more testing be done on car engines before federal ethanol limits are changed, warning that the impact of such an action upon consumers and the environment is not yet fully known.

The question of whether cars can safely run on higher blends is a murky one. At the moment, federal law allows gasoline used in regular cars to contain no more than 10 percent ethanol. The ethanol industry says the proportion could go higher—to 15 percent or even 20 percent—without significantly affecting how cars drive or hold up or how their emissions control systems perform. Some industry representatives are asking the Environmental Protection Agency, which has final say in these matters, to quickly approve 12 or 13 percent blends.

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File this under “I wish I had thought of that.”

Last year, two MIT students won a prestigious international design award for a novel idea: Turn footsteps into electrical energy. The proposal imagined that an Italian train station would install a special floor. As passengers raced to catch their trains, the energy in their stomps would feed through an electrical system and power the building’s lights. Cool idea, but it only existed on paper.

A year later, Tokyo is rolling out the real thing. The East Japan Railway Company will be testing “power-generating floors” in ticket gates and staircases. As people move through the gates, they’ll step on stone tiles that give a little under the weight. That slight movement is captured and turned into energy. You can learn more about the process, called piezoelectric conversion, in a Monitor article from last year.

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chinahybridfrom the blue marble blog-China’s first mass-produced hybrid electric car hit the market today. The car is made by BYD Auto and backed by Warren Buffett who owns 9.9 percent of the company. The F3DM (if you say so, C-3PO) can be charged from powerpoints at home or at electric car charging stations. That’s a first for mass produced. The hybrid runs 62 miles on a full battery and costs under $22,000 dollars.

BYD Auto says it doesn’t expect the F3DM will succeed with Chinese customers initially because of the high price, reports AFP. Instead the company is focusing on sales to company fleets. The strategy is to leapfrog past traditional cars—where Chinese technology lags badly—straight to hybrids.

Smart strategy. Remind me again why exactly we’re bailing out our own loser car companies? BYD already specialized in producing rechargeable batteries and only started making cars in 2003 when it bought a bankrupt state-owned car company. Since then it’s beaten Toyota and General Motors to the punch as those companies won’t launch home-chargeable hybrids cars before 2009 and 2010 respectively. Can’t we leapfrog past the traditional car companies straight to hyperdrive mass transit? Can’t we, as the Chinese say, transform the current mass chaos into mass opportunity?

Hawaii’s governor has announced plans to create an extensive electric-car-charging network by 2012, in an effort to wean the islands off of high-priced oil.

The plan, unveiled today by Republican governor Linda Lingle, calls for a public-private partnership with Better Place, a company that develops infrastructure to support electric vehicles. The Silicon Valley start-up, which made a similar deal with cities in California’s San Francisco Bay Area last month, plans to install between 70,000 to 100,000 charging ports throughout Hawaii’s four largest islands. Hawaiian Electric Companies, the state’s largest utility, has agreed to collaborate with Better Place to develop the network.

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Thank you Reagan for:

Deregulation, Laissez Faire free-market economists,  “trickle down” economics,  “supply side” reaganomics, and for increasing the National Debt from $700 billion to $3 trillion and tripling the trade deficit.

Thank you “Bush the Elder” for:

Continuing the deregulation of corporations and governmental oversight, not finishing the job in Iraq the first time around, initiating the concept of NAFTA, cutting alternative fuel research funding, and for overseeing the greatest funding decrease of the EPA and the subsequent attack on the environment of any president to date.

Thank you Clinton and your GOP Congress for:

Making NAFTA the economic legacy of the 1990s and leading to the loss of millions of jobs, the “contract with America” which led directly to the Big 3 auto crisis that we are dealing with today, continued deregulation at the behest of lobbyists particularly the financial and banking sectors.

Thank you ‘Bush the Dumber” for:

Continued deregulation particularly of the mortgage, securities, credit and insurance industries, for lying to the American people and getting us into a war we can’t afford and can’t win,  for the largest National Debt in history, for continuing to dilute the authority of oversight agencies, for putting corporate interests over those of the people every chance he got, for not going after OBL, for ignoring the Geneva Convention and destroying all international respect for this country, particularly after 9/11, and making us the most hated country in the world. for constantly ignoring the will of the people,  for denying the warning signs of an impending recession and then neglecting to do anything about it, for “leaving no CEO behind.”   Thanks also Mr. President # 43 for the following:

Employers cut 533,000 jobs in Nov., most since 1974

unemployment rate to rise to 6.7% from 6.5% in October and the highest in 15 years

Retailers cut 91,300 jobs, including 24,200 at automobile dealerships.

Manufacturers cut 85,000 employees.

Construction companies cut 82,000 workers.

Temporary help firms cut 78,200.

Companies in the leisure and hospitality sector cut 76,000 employees, including 36,600 hotel workers

Lost in America: 1.9 million jobs

Worst economic crisis since the Great Depression

In the interest of big business, denying the Global Warming crisis

Promoting a culture of corporate greed that not only led to this mess, but also to the point where toy, pet food, pharmaceutical and milk companies are encouraged to put profits over the health and welfare of the American public.

Making China, a communist country, the next Superpower.

Most of all, Thanks Ronnie, George, Bill (Newt, DeLay, Santorum, Lott, Dole), George Jr, for doing what you could, to destroy the American Dream for millions of people.

MADRID, Spain (AP) — A new kind of silent hero has joined the fight against climate change.

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program.

The power the 462 panels produces — equivalent to the yearly use by 60 homes — flows into the local energy grid for normal consumption and is one community’s odd nod to the fight against global warming.

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windSixty-nine percent of those polled in 21 countries say utility firms should be obliged to use more renewable resources, even if this would increase their monthly bills.

A wide majority of the world’s citizens are unhappy with the slow pace of their governments’ moves toward renewable energy and want their leaders to do more, even if that raises their utility bills, according to a global opinion poll released today.

The finding sends a clear signal to officials at next month’s climate change meeting in Poznan, Poland, scheduled to lay the groundwork for a 2009 international treaty to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

“Governments have left a lot on the table in terms of public readiness to take action,” says Steven Kull, head of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which conducted the 21-nation poll.

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