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Economy

Opinion | Clean, renewable biodiesel industry adding jobs, reducing pollution across U.S.

Mark Bentley

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If only Rudolf Diesel could see highways across America today. The inventor of the Diesel engine, which ran perfectly on peanut oil not long after its debut around the turn of the 20th century, would certainly be amazed to see that biodiesel has grown into an industry that supports more than 64,000 jobs, $2.5 billion in wages paid and more than $11 billion in total economic impact in the United States.

It is amazing that consumers in the U.S. saw nearly 2.7 billion gallons of biodiesel and renewable diesel produced in 2018. Biodiesel is the first and only EPA-designated Advanced Biofuel with commercial-scale production nationwide.

Biodiesel is made, after two decades of research and improvements, from an increasingly diverse mix of resources and is one of the most sustainable fuels on the planet. That biodiesel-powered vehicle that passes you on the highway may be running on a mixture of recycled cooking oil, plant oils, animal fats, recycled grease, soybean oil or even algae. We do not sacrifice food for fuel to create biodiesel. Oils and fats for biodiesel are a minor byproduct of producing high-protein feeds, like soybean meal, and quality cuts of meat.

Additionally, biodiesel production adds 11 cents per pound of value to soybean oil, equal to 63 cents per bushel or $36 per acre of additional value. Because of that added value to farmers, the protein from soybean crops can be made more affordable for foods for families or feed for livestock.

In “well to wheels” analysis, 100 percent biodiesel reduces lifecycle carbon emissions more than 50 percent compared to petroleum-based diesel, making it the best carbon reduction tool of any liquid fuel commercially available, according to the National Biodiesel Board. As a result, biodiesel is the first commercially available “Advanced Biofuel” — as designated by the EPA — on the market.

Biodiesel is biodegradable, non-toxic and burns much cleaner than petroleum-diesel. Compared to petroleum-diesel, biodiesel reduces black smoke (particulates), carbon monoxide and harmful unburned hydrocarbons that cause smog. U.S. biodiesel is an advance biofuel that has the highest energy balance of any commercially available fuel. B20 biodiesel, 20 percent biodiesel/80 percent petroleum-based diesel, returns 5.54 units of renewable energy for every one unit of fossil energy needed to produce it.

Clean-burning biodiesel can be used in existing diesel engines without any modification. Production of biodiesel is guided by stringent international (ASTM) fuel specifications, developed through years of testing. The industry also has an excellent fuel quality program that ensures that only the highest quality biodiesel is delivered to your fuel tanks.

While biodiesel is a perfect fuel for regular passenger vehicles, its use for fleet vehicles – trucks and buses, for example – is a great money-saver for industries that are increasingly running on thin profit margins. Using biodiesel also helps our overall economy by reducing our dependence on foreign oil from unstable parts of the globe, while expanding and diversifying our domestic refining capacity. Biodiesel also improves the balance of trade as using this fuel creates added outlets for farm-based products and creates high-paying manufacturing jobs in rural America.

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Among U.S. heavy-duty truck segments, which account for more than 87 percent of actual diesel fuel usage, every major engine manufacturer supports B20 in their new engines except for Daimler’s Detroit Diesel (which remains at B5). There have been more than 45 million miles recorded of successful, problem-free real-world operation with B20 biodiesel blends in a wide variety of engines, climates and applications.

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition will host two free biodiesel workshops on April 10 and 11, in Bessemer and Montgomery. The Bessemer workshop on April l 10 is from 9 a.m. until noon, including lunch, at Lawson State Community College’s Ethel Hall Room 201 at 1100 9th Avenue Southwest. The Montgomery event, also 9-12 on April 11, is at the auditorium of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries at 1445 Federal Drive.

Those in attendance will hear from experts who will provide information and resources necessary to allow fleet managers to make the sound business decision to add biodiesel to improve their bottom line. The workshops are an opportunity to open up an honest conversation to address any concerns about biodiesel. This fuel is a sound choice for municipalities, school districts, fuel distributors, service station owners – and all consumers. All are welcome to attend the free workshop. Registration is required at www.alabamacleanfuels.org/blog/post.cfm/free-biodiesel-workshops.

If Rudolf Diesel were around – he’d be there.

Mark Bentley is Executive Director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition.

About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition:

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition, a nonprofit membership-based organization, is the state’s principal coordinating point for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles. ACFC is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program. The promotion of clean, renewable, domestic energy sources helps reduce our dependence on foreign oil, improves local air quality and increases economic development opportunities in our local communities. For more information, please visit www.AlabamaCleanFuels.org or call 205-402-2755.

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Congress

Alabama may need 2,500 more ventilators. It’s having to compete to get them

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama may need 2,000 more ventilators than it has, and it’s being forced to compete with other states to get them on the private market.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday that the Alabama Department of Public Health is attempting to source its own ventilators as a number of hospitals in the state are already struggling and asking for more.

The state requested 500 ventilators from the federal government through the Department of Health and Human Services and the national strategic stockpile. It asked for 200 of them to be delivered urgently.

“HHS has indicated that they’re not going to fulfill that anytime soon because they’re still taking care of places like New York City,” Harris said in an interview with APR.

When Alabama nears an expected surge — say 72 hours before hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed with patients requiring life support — they may be able to make the extra ventilators available.

So Alabama, like a number of states, is being forced to try to source ventilators on its own through the private market, where hundreds of hospitals, all the other states and other countries are trying to do the same.

Harris said he signed a purchase order Thursday for 250 more ventilators.

“We’re waiting to see, and then there are others that we’re waiting to hear from,” Harris told APR. “We’re doing our best to try to source these in any way that we can.”

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“We’re attempting to source those ourselves, but as you know, all the states are looking to source their own and in some measure competing with each other,” he said a press conference Friday evening when Gov. Kay Ivey announced a shelter in place order.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones said Thursday that Alabama will likely make additional requests, but there are only 10,000 ventilators in the national stockpile and in the U.S. Department of Defense surplus. And with every other state in the country also requesting these supplies, the federal government has said that states should not rely on the national stockpile to bolster their ventilator capacity.

By Friday, nearly 1,500 people were confirmed positive with the virus. At least 38 have died. Dire models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — models that influenced the state’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order — project that by mid-April, Alabama could have a massive shortage of ventilators and hospital beds.

“The timeline I think makes sense and the time when we’re expected to have a surge is the part that was most useful to us,” Harris said. “We’ve been trying very hard to get an order in place with regards to this surge that we expect to happen.”

The model estimates that Alabama could have a shortage of 20,000 hospital beds, 3,900 intensive care beds and more than 2,000 ventilators.

At least 3,500 ventilators would be needed at the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April, according to the IHME model. Last month, Alabama Hospital Association President Donald Williamson said the state has a surge capacity of about 800.

The same model projects that about 5,500 people could die from COVID-19 in Alabama by August. However, the model is live and is regularly adjusted. Earlier this week, it suggested that 7,000 people could die by August.

Harris said the state, over the past couple of weeks, has added a few hundred additional ventilators to its capacity by converting anesthesia machines and veterinary ventilators for use on those infected with the coronavirus.

“Yet, even with adding all of those ventilators, going up by a few hundred units, which means to tell you that we’re still using around the same percent of all of our ventilators even though the number [of ventilators] is going up,” Harris said. “So we know that there are more patients on ventilators.”

The state health officer said some hospitals in the state are already struggling but others are cooperating to share resources.

“They are really working hard to make sure that they have what they need, and we’re trying very hard, along with the governor’s office, to make sure that Alabama has enough inventory,” Harris said.

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Economy

Report: 92 percent of small employers negatively impacted by coronavirus

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the National Federation of Independent Businesses said that 92 percent of small employers surveyed report that they have been negatively impacted by the forced economic shutdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The NFIB Research Center’s latest survey on the current impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on small business shows continued deterioration of the small business sector. The severity of the outbreak and the regulatory measures that cities and states are taking to control it are having a devastating impact on small businesses.

92 percent of small employers are negatively impacted by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. This is a marked increase from just ten days ago when 76 percent of small employers reported negative impacts to their businesses.

Only 3 percent reported that they are positively impacted. These firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods, and services. Grocers, for example, are listed by government as essential businesses and are allowed to operate. With the closing of restaurants and all the schools means more people are eating their meals at home.

The NFIB believes that this will likely ease in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels.

While State-specific data is unavailable, Alabama NFIB State Director Rosemary Elebash said, “Without a doubt, the coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Our members are determined to get through this, and they’re working to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of financial relief so they can avoid layoffs and having to close the doors for good.”

Alabama Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said, “We have organized an Emergency Small Business Task Force to identify problems our businesses are facing during this difficult time. We need to bring clarity to issues and government orders that are often confusing and to effectively communicate solutions and direct business owners to resources that can help. NFIB is an indispensable member helping to guide this task force.”

Nationwide, almost all small employers are now impacted by economic disruptions related to COVID-19. Just five percent of small businesses are not currently affected by the outbreak.

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Of these businesses, 44 percent anticipate that changing if the outbreak spreads to, or spreads more broadly in, their immediate area over the next three months.

Of the small businesses that were negatively impacted. 80 percent report slower sales, 31 percent report that they are experiencing supply chain disruptions, and 23 percent report concerns over sick employees.

Even President Donald J. Trump (R) has expressed concerns that the cure may be worse than the virus.

The big questions for the economy going forward is how long are these extreme measures going to last going forward and how long can small businesses continue to operate under the current conditions?

About half of small employers report that they can survive for no more than two months of this. About one-third said that they believe they can remain operational for 3 to 6 months.

Many small business owners are anxious to access financial support through the new small business loan program in the CARES Act to help alleviate some of the financial pressures building up.

Just 13 percent of small employers reported not as severely impacted and expect that they can remain open indefinitely.

Almost all small business owners are taking some sort of action in response to the outbreak by adjusting to changing economic conditions or protecting themselves from potential disruption.

Only 5 percent of owners have not taken any action in response to the outbreak. This is a marked departure from more than half (52%) that reported not taking action three weeks ago.

The actions taken by most small employers are those related to recommended CDC steps to protect and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace including talking to employees about hand washing and social distancing and disinfecting and cleaning offices and workplaces more frequently.

56 percent have scaled-down or adjusted business operations. 26 percent have delayed payments to their creditors.

The level of concern among small business owners about the coronavirus impacting their business has increased significantly over the past three weeks.

About 72 percent of small business owners surveyed reported being “very” concerned about its potential impact on their business now compared to just 16 percent on March 10th. 22 percent said that they are “somewhat concerned”. Only six percent surveyed said that are “slightly” concerned; while only one percent reported that they are not at all concerned.

Due to escalating financial stress on the small business sector, more small businesses are talking with their bank about financing needs than was the case 10 days ago. About 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration about finance options, and 23% are planning to do so soon. Another 38% of small employers have not, and do not, intend to do so.

The CARES Act includes new small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Almost two-thirds of the small employers surveyed plan to apply for the loan. The PPP is another targeted loan assistance program to help small businesses weather the rapidly changing economic crisis.

The vast majority of small businesses are now impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and owners are taking the threat to their business seriously.

Many owners have already sought out financial help and more are planning to do so in the near future. The outbreak has left few, if any, owners unscathed. The economic impact is immense, and now, the questions are how long will this last and how quickly can the small business sector recover when this ends.

This survey was conducted with a random sampling of NFIB’s 300,000 members. The survey was conducted by email on March 30, 2020. NFIB collected 1,172 usable responses. The small employers surveyed have between one to as many as 465 employees.

As of press time, COVID-19 has killed 6,096 Americans. 228,875 Americans have been confirmed as having active cases. Of these 5,421 are in serious or critical condition. Dr. Anthony Fauci estimates that between 100,000 to 200,000 Americans will die if the public will practice the social distancing policies that the administration is recommending to combat the spread of the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.

The number of American deaths from COVID-19 has doubled since Sunday and has been doubling every three or four days for weeks. The White House Coronav-2irus Task Force has presented modeling showing over one million American dead over the coming months if we do not practice their social distancing recommendations.

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Economy

Fifty major American companies join effort to fight the coronavirus

Brandon Moseley

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Wednesday, the White House announced that fifty major American firms have answered the White House’s call to join the national war on the coronavirus.

“The private sector is responding to President Trump’s call to step up and help combat the coronavirus,” the White House said Tuesday.

Many of the companies are shifting their focus and even assembly lines to deliver needed supplies to the doctors, hospitals, and first responders against the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Most did so voluntarily and were not coerced by government or threatened with the Defense Production Act.

Major corporations including: Facebook; Anheuser-Busch; Ford; Fiat Chrysler; Toyota; GE Healthcare; 3M; Jockey; Hanes; Ralph; Lauren; GE Healthcare; General Motors; and My Pillow have all stepped up and are contributing to the COVID-19 war effort.

. “While by no means comprehensive, these are some notable examples of the private sector stepping up,” said an administration official.

The National Sheriffs’ Association have cited: Home Depot, Grainger, and Staples as well as a half-dozen national restaurant chains for their help.

Their pleas for help have been “enthusiastically welcomed” by some top corporations, said National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Thompson. “What they are doing is more than impressive. It’s heartening,” he said.

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My Pillow has dedicated 75 percent of its production to the effort making PPE.

President Trump has highlighted the role that our corporate partners are playing in the COVID-19 effort during his daily coronavirus task force press conferences.

“With our great president, vice president and this administration and all the great people in this country praying daily, we will get through this and get back to a place that’s stronger and safer than ever,” said My Pillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell.

“Joining us this afternoon are CEOs of the great American companies that are fulfilling their patriotic duty by producing or donating medical equipment to help meet our most urgent needs,” Pres. Trump said on Monday. “What they’re doing is incredible. And these are great companies.”

Ford, 3M and GE Healthcare are making ventilators in a joint effort.

Toyota is using their facilities to produce face shields and collaborating with medical device companies to speed up manufacturing of vital medical devices.

General Motors is manufacturing respiratory masks and working with Ventec Life Systems to mass produce ventilators.

Fiat Chrysler is manufacturing and donating more than 1 million protective face masks a month.

Honeywell has doubled their production of N95 masks and intends to increase its capacity 500 percent over the next 90 days.

3M doubled their global output of N95 respirator masks and plans to make 100 million a month.

SpaceX is making hand sanitizer and face shields for local hospitals.

Lockheed Martin donated use of their corporate aircraft and vehicle fleet for medical supply delivery,

Boeing will print 3D face shields for healthcare workers and offer its Dreamlifter aircraft to help coronavirus response efforts.

Anheuser-Busch is working to produce hand sanitizer.

Bayer, Novartis, and Teva Pharmaceuticals donated millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine, an experimental treatment for COVID-19 that has shown some early promise.

·Johnson & Johnson has partnered with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to commit more than $1 billion to co-fund vaccine research, development, and clinical testing.

Procter & Gamble is ramping up its production capacity for hand sanitizer, and is working to produce face masks.

Medtronic is increasing its production of ventilators.

Panera Bread is partnering with USDA to serve meals to children throughout Ohio.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “The private sector has the ability to move with incredible speed. Many companies already own the equipment that can produce various items and have tweaked processes to manufacture products our country needs. For example, clothing companies such as Ralph Lauren, Hanes, and Brooks Brothers are making gowns and masks. Ford and GE combined forces to produce ventilators. Alcoholic beverage companies repurposed what would be normally be discarded into hand sanitizers. All of these are examples of American workers’ willingness to step up at a critical time in United States and world history.”

(Original reporting by the Washington Examiner contributed to this report.)

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.

Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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