Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) is a Washington, D.C., law firm providing biobased and renewable chemical product stakeholders unparalleled experience, judgment, and excellence in bringing innovative products to market.

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers are leading analyses of recycling, repairing, and reusing solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in support of NREL’s mission to incentivize a circular economy for energy materials.  According to NREL, the increase in the installation of PV systems is leading to environmental and supply chain concerns because the technology relies on imports and mining of raw materials to meet domestic demands.  NREL predicts that, by 2030, decommissioned PV modules could total a million tons of waste in the United States or one percent of the world’s e-waste.  Concerned by these facts, NREL researchers have been leading ongoing analyses of the end-of-life management of PV modules in the current market.  Taylor Curtis, an NREL sustainability analyst, highlights that “[r]epair, reuse, or recovery of this equipment would reduce negative environmental impacts, reduce resource constraints, and stimulate U.S. economic growth.”
 
According to NREL research, if best practices are applied and regulatory barriers removed in the future, the U.S. industry for recovered PV materials could total $60 million by 2030 or $2 billion by 2050, from modules alone.  A summary of NREL’s recommended best practices for retiring PV systems is detailed in this report, and a detailed analysis of current federal and state regulatory barriers to PV module recycling and recovery is available in NREL’s March 2021 report titled “Solar Photovoltaic Module Recycling: A Survey of U.S. Policies and Initiatives.”


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On April 5, 2021, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), introduced a $500 million bill on biofuels infrastructure.  The bill, titled the Renewable Fuel Infrastructure Investment and Market Expansion Act, would create a grant program to aid fuel retailers in streamlining sales of fuels with higher ethanol blends.  These infrastructure grants would be available for five years.  Senator Klobuchar highlighted that "[d]iversifying our fuel supply and introducing higher blends of biofuels in the market are great steps forward as we work to promote clean energy technologies and invest in transportation infrastructure.”  She also stated that this legislation would highly benefit the economy and the environment by making cleaner fuels more accessible.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 8, 2021, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. (EDT), the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), in partnership with BioCycle and the American Biogas Council, will host a webinar titled “Food Scrap Recycling: Opportunities and Realities of Anaerobic Digestion.” The webinar will focus on anaerobic digestion and its ability to create biogas and digestate that can be used as renewable energy products. Registration is required via this link.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On March 1, 2021, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced the American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act of 2021 (Act), which would incentivize domestic manufacturing of energy technologies by providing tax credits for domestic manufacturers in rural areas. The Act encourages the transition to cleaner energy by driving reinvestment into communities that have been most impacted by economic downturn. “This bill will help revitalize these areas by making smart changes to the 48C Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit to drive investment in these communities, strengthen domestic supply chains, create additional clean energy manufacturing jobs, and aid the nation’s recovery,” stated Senator Manchin. Senator Stabenow urged the Senate to pass the Act, stating that the transition to a clean energy economy would significantly contribute to the fight against climate change. The Act has been endorsed by several non-profit organizations and industry stakeholders.

Significant measures would be taken under the Act, including:

  • Investment of $8 billion in American manufacturing and industry to serve as a tool to expand or build new facilities that make or recycle energy-related products; and
     
  • Provision of assistance to applicants through new guidelines and technical assistance that promote reinvestment and job creation.

The full bill can be accessed here.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson 

EPA has posted a Compliance Advisory entitled “Applicability of the Toxic Substances Control Act to Chemicals made from Petroleum and Renewable Sources Used as Fuels and Fuel Additives and Distillates.” The Compliance Advisory states that EPA is reaffirming that chemical substances used as fuels, fuel additives, and distillates made from either petroleum or renewable sources are subject to TSCA. Anyone who plans to manufacture (including import) a chemical made from petroleum or renewable sources must comply with the statutory and regulatory new chemical requirements under TSCA Section 5. According to the Compliance Advisory, EPA has received stakeholder inquiries “as to whether fuel and fuel additives made from renewable sources (such as renewable naphtha) are subject to the TSCA new chemicals requirements under section 5.” EPA states that it is issuing the Compliance Advisory “to affirm that fuel and fuel additives either made from petroleum or renewable sources are subject to TSCA and have been subject to its requirements since 1976.”

According to the Compliance Advisory, there are about 142 “naphthas” and 178 “distillates” (that compositionally can qualify as naphthas) currently on the TSCA Inventory, and they are considered Unknown, Variable composition, Complex, or Biological (UVCB) substances. Any substance that is not on the TSCA Inventory is a new chemical under TSCA Section 5(a)(1)(A). Prior to manufacture (including import) of a new chemical for commercial use, a premanufacture notice (PMN) must be filed with EPA under TSCA Section 5. The Compliance Advisory includes several questions and answers (Q&A), including:

Can you manufacture or import a chemical substance made from a renewable source if it is not listed on the TSCA Inventory?

No. Anyone who intends to manufacture (including import) a new chemical substance that is subject to TSCA for a non-exempt commercial purpose is required to submit a PMN at least 90 days prior to the manufacture of the chemical. Manufacturers (importers) are in violation of TSCA if they fail to comply or are late in complying with TSCA notice requirements. If you are required to submit a PMN, failure to do so is a violation of TSCA Section 15 and you may be subject to penalties. PMN submissions must include all available data, pursuant to 40 CFR 720.45 and 720.50. TSCA requires EPA to review the notice and make a determination; and, if appropriate, regulate the proposed activity.

EPA’s “compliance advisory” is disappointing. It signals this EPA is disinclined to promote renewable petroleum cuts and essentially (and emphatically) reaffirms what we believe to be EPA’s inflexible and unimaginative stance on “source” being determinative in petroleum cut UVCBs. This position, as we have noted in a variety of regulatory contexts, is a substantial disincentive to commercializing renewable petroleum cuts. EPA’s view is especially problematic when a refinery might wish to use a combination of petroleum and renewable feedstocks to make a single naphtha (or other distillate) cut.

For example, to avail itself of the equivalence determination, a company would have to submit a PMN for the renewable equivalent of a petroleum cut, sign the almost certain resultant consent order (EPA will undoubtedly identify aquatic toxicity concerns and may also identify health concerns), commence manufacture, file a Notice of Commencement of Manufacture or Import (NOC), and then request an equivalency determination. If EPA denies the equivalency determination, any downstream processor or user will have to either segregate the renewable products from the petroleum products so that the downstream entity can maintain records of compliance with the consent order or treat both the renewable and petroleum products as being subject to the order. Neither option is commercially feasible or sustainable.

This sequence of events illustrates why commercial entities are disinclined to avail themselves of renewable sources in the distillate space. EPA’s compliance advisory is an unexpected and, to many, unwanted parting gift from the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration may wish to revisit the wisdom and prudence of this inflexible, antiquated, and inequitable view.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

Researchers at Swansea University’s Energy Safety Research Institute have developed a new method that produces spheres that have strong capacity for carbon capture and work at a large scale. Described as “[a] fast, green and one-step method for producing porous carbon spheres, which are a vital component for carbon capture technology and for new ways of storing renewable energy,” the method was developed by a research team that adapted an existing method known as chemical vapor deposition (CVD). This adapted method involves the use of heat to apply a coating to a material using pyromellitic acid as both carbon and oxygen source. Research scientists involved in the development of this new method report that the new approach brings certain advantages over existing methods of producing carbon spheres, including:

  • It is alkali-free;
  • It does not need a catalyst to trigger the shaping of the spheres;
  • It uses cheap and safe feedstock that is readily available on the market;
  • There is no need for solvents to purify the material; and
  • It is a rapid and safe procedure.

 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 19, 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced that, in 2019, renewable energy consumption levels in the United States increased for the fourth year in a row, reaching a record 11 percent of total energy consumption. Wood and waste energy, wood pellets, and biomass waste from landfills accounted for approximately 24 percent of U.S. renewable energy use. According to EIA, industrial, commercial, and electric power facilities use wood and waste as fuel to generate electricity, manufacture goods, and produce heat. Biofuels, which includes fuel ethanol, biodiesel, and other renewable fuels, accounted for approximately 20 percent of U.S. renewable energy consumption in 2019. A detailed chart prepared by EIA further outlines the breakdown, including percentages for hydropower, solar, and wind energy consumption in 2019.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On September 23, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed by a record vote of 229-187 to the passing of a bill titled “Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act.” The bill aims to increase energy efficiency and renewable energy to address climate change. The Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act creates R&D programs to reduce fossil fuel production through various energy sources. It also incentivizes innovation through grant programs in energy efficiency, clean transportation, grid modernization, and workforce development.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On February 17, 2020, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) announced that one of its laboratories has developed a device using a natural protein to create electricity from moisture in the air. Electrical engineer Jun Yao and microbiologist Derek Lovley have created what they call “Air-Gen,” which consists of an air-powered generator with electrically conductive protein nanowires produced by the microbe Geobacter. The Air-gen connects electrodes to the protein nanowires in such a way that electrical current is generated from the water vapor naturally present in the atmosphere. According to Yao, the device generates clean energy 24/7. What Yao and Lovley describe as a low cost, non-polluting, and renewable device, can generate energy even in areas with extremely low humidity, such as the Sahara Desert. Although the current generation of Air-gen devices are only able to power small electronics, both scientists state that the ultimate goal is to develop large-scale systems that will highly contribute to sustainable energy production.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On September 18, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced a $3 million prize competition to power ocean observing platforms with marine renewable energy. To generate innovation, the Powering the Blue Economy Ocean Observing Prize will offer a series of contests to demonstrate marine renewable energy use for observing platforms. DOE hopes that this prize will help spur technological innovation through a path from concept to design to construction. Part of DOE’s Powering the Blue Economy initiative, the prize consists of two competitions. The first competition, “Discovery,” calls for novel concepts that pair ocean observing technologies with marine energy systems in five broad themes:

  • Charging unmanned systems;
  • Communications and underwater navigation;
  • Extreme environments;
  • Buoys, floats, and tags; and
  • Innovative ideas.

Following the first competition, will be the “Build” competition to bring innovators’ ideas to reality. The prize is led by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System Program.


 
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