Have you ever thought about which fuel sources were the most important in Pittsburgh’s history? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever thought about which fuel sources were the most important in Pittsburgh’s history? On this week’s Energy Bite, Joel Tarr, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

JOEL: Coal was the fuel that made Pittsburgh into a great energy center—but it also did a lot of environmental damage. For instance, there were many days when the street-lights had to be turned on downtown at mid-day because of smoke pollution.

HOST: What’s been the second most important fuel source in Pittsburgh’s history?

JOEL: Natural gas has been important at various times in our history. Local natural gas supplies were discovered in the late 1870s, but by the 1890s they had been deleted.  Then, after World War II, the pipelines named Big Inch and Little Inch brought natural gas from the Southwest into the city and helped reinforce Pittsburgh’s attempt to free itself from smoke. Now, in the 21st century, the technique of hydraulic fracturing has made large natural gas supplies available from local sources again.

HOST: Do you often think about the effects fuel sources have on cities? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Is biomass a viable energy source? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever heard the term “biomass energy” and wondered what it is? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers

DANIEL: When we talk about biomass energy, we are talking about plant or animal products that are used to generate energy. Since the beginning of civilization, for example, we have burned wood to release the energy within it. Today, biomass energy sources include crops like corn, sugarcane and switchgrass, as well as wood residue from lumber, pulp and paper industries, or even garbage, food waste and sewage. There are many different ways to get energy from biomass. Often, we burn it directly or transform it into liquid transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. We can even turn it into a renewable form of natural gas.

HOST: What are the pros and cons of using biomass for energy?

DANIEL: On the positive side, biomass is a renewable resource that easily stores energy, and is available as needed. This gives it an advantage over wind and solar power that rely on current weather conditions. On the other hand, biomass takes a lot of energy to process, and using more of it for energy can lead to deforestation, water quality problems and increased global hunger.

HOST: Do you think biomass should be used as energy? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever heard the term “biofuels,” and wondered what they are? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever heard of the term “biofuels,” and wondered what they are? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers. 

DANIEL: Biofuels are liquid transportation fuels made from plant or animal products. The most common biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is made by fermenting sugar—just like the alcohol we drink. The sugar can come from any number of crops like corn, barley, sugar cane or even tree bark and yard clippings. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, fats or greases. In the U.S. these biofuels make up about 5% of all energy used for transportation.

DANIEL: Biofuels are liquid transportation fuels made from plant or animal products. The most common biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is made by fermenting sugar—just like the alcohol we drink. The sugar can come from any number of crops like corn, barley, sugar cane or even tree bark and yard clippings. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, fats or greases. In the U.S. these biofuels make up about 5% of all energy used for transportation.

HOST: And how are these fuels used?

DANIEL: You might be surprised to know that some of the very first cars produced in the 1800s ran on ethanol and biodiesel. Today, bioethanol is typically mixed with gasoline, which is why you will see signs that say “may contain up to 10% ethanol” when you go to a gasoline station. Similarly, you can blend biodiesel with regular diesel or use it directly in your diesel-fueled car in some regions of the country. Biofuel use is on the rise, primarily because countries around the world have adopted policies that require their use. Governments favor increased use in biofuels to support farming communities, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and because of the potential environmental benefits.

HOST: Would you be willing to buy a car that runs on a biofuel? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Do you ever worry about the environmental impact of all the plastic we use? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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Do you ever worry about the environmental impact of all the plastic we use?

HOST: Do you ever worry about the environmental impact of all the plastic we use? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

DANIEL: Every year, Americans buy products containing nearly 100 billion pounds of plastic. These plastics pose an environmental challenge throughout their life, from manufacturing to use and disposal. The question is – what can we do about it?  One place to start is what plastics are made from. For example, instead of making plastics from crude oil and natural gas, we can start making them from renewable materials, like corn or the plant, switchgrass. In addition, if the energy used to make plastics came from renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, there would be less impact on the environment.  In our research, we wanted to figure out what is best for the environment.

HOST: So, what did you find out?

DANIEL: Powering existing plastic-manufacturing facilities with renewable energy results in lower emissions and costs less than switching to the newer plant-based plastics. That being said, it probably makes sense to continue developing plant-based plastics. These plastics can have other advantages; for example, some plant-based plastics are biodegradable and reduce plastic waste. As a result, it’s hard to say what’s best because of the many ways plastics impact the environment.

HOST: Would you pay more for a product made from plant-based plastics? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered if we’ll ever run out of fossil fuels? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Have you ever worried that we might run out of fossil fuels? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

DANIEL: Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas were formed a very long time ago from decaying plant and animal matter creating deposits of energy underground. Unlike renewable sources such as wind and solar power, fossil fuels would take millions of years to replace. Current estimates suggest that we could run out of oil in about 50 years, natural gas in 60 years and coal in 120 years. But, in reality, we have more years’ worth of fossil fuels available now than we did 30 years ago.

HOST: How can that be?

DANIEL: Over time, we’ve discovered new fossil fuel deposits, and have developed new technologies for extracting them. As prices for fossil fuels rise, deposits that were previously too expensive to access suddenly become viable. As a result, our fossil fuel reserves have actually grown almost every year, despite our continued consumption. Of course, this trend cannot continue forever as we are indeed running out of cheap fossil fuels. As fossil fuels stop being economically feasible, we’ll have to switch to new sources of energy at some point.

HOST: Are you worried that we may run out of fossil fuels? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what crude oil is, and how we can make it into something useful? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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HOST: Crude oil is often a major factor in everything from economic growth to environmental disasters and foreign wars. So, what is crude oil and why is it such a big deal? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

DANIEL: Crude oil comes from the remnants of plant and animal matter. After millions of years under heat and pressure, these dead plants and animals were converted into liquid mixtures underground. These mixtures range from being light, watery and pale yellow, to heavy, black and tar-like. All types of crude oil are high in energy and can be converted into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Today, crude oil supplies over 30% of all our energy needs, more than any other energy source. Crude oil is also a building block for many chemicals and plastic products that we use every day.

HOST: How is crude oil turned into fuel and chemicals?

DANIEL: You’ve probably heard of oil refineries – their purpose is in the name.  Each oil refinery is designed to separate, or refine, the components of crude oil into different products based on their boiling points. Advanced refineries can do even more complex chemical engineering to make more of the valuable products, like gasoline. These refineries are enormous undertakings. They cost billions of dollar to build and can be as large as several hundred football fields.

HOST: Do you ever think about where your gasoline and plastic products come from? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

 

Have you ever wondered what cities are doing to reduce greenhouse gases?  On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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Host: Have you ever wondered what cities are doing to reduce greenhouse gases? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

Kelly: Many cities, like Pittsburgh, are working to reduce their greenhouse gases. In 2007, the city signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to implement local global warming solutions that will save taxpayer dollars and reduce energy use. In 2010, they analyzed where the city was emitting greenhouse gases in both 2003 and then again in 2008. In 2008, total emissions were 76.79 million tons of CO2 equivalent, of which municipal operations were about 3%. The city is now conducting a ten-year benchmark.

HOST: What is Pittsburgh doing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions?

KELLY: Projects already underway include replacing street lights with LEDs and improving building energy efficiency. Taking these actions will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carnegie Mellon and other universities are providing expertise to help implement some of these projects. In addition the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has created kits that help people understand the tradeoffs between some of these options.

HOST: Do you think the City of Pittsburgh should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what exactly the metric “global warming potential” entails? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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Understanding Global Warming Potentials by the US Environmental Protection Agency
Overview of Greenhouse Gases by the US Environmental Protection Agency
A Blanket Around the Earth by NASA Global Climate Change

Transcript

HOST: Did you know that some greenhouse gases have more impact on climate change than others? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: The term “global warming potential” is one way to describe the impact of a gas on surface temperatures. Scientifically, global warming potential is the ratio of the amount of heat a certain mass of greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide. If a gas has a positive global warming potential, it will warm the surface temperatures. On the contrary, if it has a negative global warming potential, it will decrease the surface temperatures.

HOST: What are the implications of global warming potential on climate change?

KELLY: Over the last century, people have been doing a lot of activities such as driving cars or flipping on light switches. Over a century, these actions net gases with a positive global warming potential, and consequently are warming the surface. Some activities, such as releasing natural gas, have a greater immediate warming effect than others, which leads scientists to wonder what energy sources might be best for the environment.

HOST: Does knowing about the higher impact of natural gas on climate change influence your decisions? (Yes, No, Maybe?) Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

 

changes in energy use as population changes

Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses how energy use changes with  a change in population.

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Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by International Panel on Climate Change

Energy and Population by Joel Darmstadter, Washington and Lee University

International Energy Outlook by U.S. Energy Information Administration

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HOST: Does energy consumption change as our population changes? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: Historically, we’ve seen total global energy use increase as population increases; in other words, adding a person increases total energy use. However, this is uneven throughout the world. Specifically, inhabitants of wealthy countries enjoy a greater rate of energy use, on average, than in developing countries. So, adding a person in say, Africa, has very little impact on energy use compared to adding a person to the U.S., by a factor of 20.

HOST: I’ve heard that as population increases, people move to cities; does this have an effect on energy use?

KELLY: Urbanization, where people move from the country to the city, is increasing. Today…over half of the world’s population lives in cities, with estimates of as many as 80% living in cities in 2050. On average, people living in cities often use less energy than their rural counterparts, in part due to the close proximity of resources as well as smaller living space. While this will help reduce our demand for energy, energy usage is predicted to continue to increase as population increases.

HOST: Do you think energy use will increase or decrease as population increases? (Yes, No, Maybe?) Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

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The Water-Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities by the Department of Energy

Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus by Wikipedia

Nexus Food Water and Energy by GRACE Communications Foundation

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered what exactly is the “Food-energy-water nexus”? On this week’s Energy Bite, Kelly Klima, a research scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

KELLY: You may have heard folks use the term “food-energy-water nexus.” This means that food, energy, and water are inextricably linked and that actions in one area often have impacts in one or both of the others. These connections have always been present, and growth of the global and U.S. population has placed an ever-increasing stress on these resources. We heard before from Dr. Jared Cohon on the link between water and energy; today…let’s explore the other links. For instance, agriculture is currently the largest user of water at the global level and the food production accounts for a large part of energy consumption.

HOST: Can you provide an example of these linked resources, and how they affect me?

KELLY: Think about how a slice of pizza gets to your plate. The ingredients probably all came from a farm, which uses water to feed the crops and livestock, and energy to harvest the ingredients. Then…the ingredients had to be transported to the pizza shop, which might require energy input. Finally…the pizza was assembled and cooked in an oven, which requires energy to operate. So, without water and energy, your food – the pizza – would never have made it to your plate.

HOST: Will knowing about the food-energy-water nexus influence your behavior? (Yes, No, Maybe)? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.