Portland State University Reduces Methane and Improves Sustainability

Methane is produced in many ways but some of the main culprits are through agriculture, water waste, natural gas, and landfill waste. Portland State University strives to be a green campus and act on the sustainability that they encourage from their students.

PSU has instituted “Meatless Mondays” in the dining halls and encourage students to reduce the amount of meat that they consume which will in turn reduce greenhouse gasses such as methane that is produced by livestock. They also encourage composting which helps to reduce food waste in landfills which also reduces the amount of methane and other greenhouse gasses produced and also creates natural fertilizer for future food growth. PSU has food compost bins all over campus and asks that students and staff make suggestions if they feel their should be one located in specific departments.

PSU also has reduced the waste in water by using refillable water stations and encouraging reusable water bottles. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality found that drinking water from the tap in a reusable container creates 85% less energy consumption and 79% less greenhouse gas emissions than using bottled water. PSU has also reduced methane emissions by using geothermal heat pumps instead of natural gas to heat 15 buildings on campus.

PSU offers several ways to be apart of this great project and get educated. Check out their Green Campus Tour Map or go to http://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/ to see how you can get involved.


Preventing Food Waste and Helping The Hungry

Groups like Donate Don’t Dump is finding solutions for food waste that not only help communities that need food but also prevent rotting food which creates methane gas. As of 2014, grocery stores and corporations normally send over 96 billion pounds of food a year to the landfills.

A child, Gabrielle Posard, is the one who created this group. This great volunteer group has spread across the country and is encouraging others to come up with solutions like this. According to endfoodwastenow.org over 40% of food in the US goes to waste. 97% of this food waste ends up in landfills with very little being disposed of in helpful ways such as composting. Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) says for every ton of food that is wasted it results in 3.8 tons of methane a greenhouse gas.


Geothermal Heating


Many residential and commercial buildings use natural gas and electricity to supply heat. The result in using these types of heating methods creates methane. In the past 10 years natural gas consumption was 1/5 of the total energy consumed in the world and 1/3 in the US. Natural gas and petroleum systems make up 30% of methane emissions in America.

A great alternative for heating and cooling buildings is geothermal heat pumps. These geothermal pumps are able to use the natural heat from the earth to create steam or to chill the water in order to heat and cool buildings. With this great tool it reduces the need for using other sources such as natural gas.

Portland State University installed a geothermal system to improve on their overall goal for sustainability. Four geothermal heat pumps were installed which are used to control the climate of 15 buildings around campus. Not only does this help reduce emissions that would have been used to heat and cool these buildings, but it also reduces utility costs for the university.


Becoming Environmentally Aware In College

While at college students are learning so much and one more thing they can add to the list is how to be sustainable and create habits that will help prevent greenhouse gasses such as methane. It is important that people at a young age understand the importance of living a sustainable life and know that their decisions now will impact the planet in the future.

On average each college student produces 640 pounds of waste every year (that includes 320 pounds of paper as well as 500 disposable cups). Due to these alarming facts, college seems like a great place to learn about how to prevent this kind of waste in the future. Colleges all over the country are working to be conscientious of their production of waste. Many are taking sustainability challenges and are turning into green campuses.

Some minor changes can make a huge difference. Getting no paper or plastic bags when shopping reduces a huge amount of waste—waste that would have ended up in landfills and created more methane. Also shopping for things that have little to no packaging also helps. Reducing garbage anywhere you can by eliminating using things you don’t need in the first place or learning to recycle and compost reduces increases in landfills and also the creation of greenhouse gas like methane.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/


Methane Explosion!

Methane is harmless in small amounts. When methane is introduced into an environment such as a home, it depletes the air in a room. In small amounts methane can cause headaches, nausea: this is a byproduct of asphyxiation. Decreased oxygen intake can also cause loss of consciousness. However, if in confined spaces, methane asphyxiation can cause death.

Methane is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable gas. However, methane processors place chemical agents into the gas that give it a strong odor: this done as a safety precaution.

Methane buildups can be extremely dangerous.  Methane is extremely flammable and can explode at concentrations between 5% (lower explosive limit) and 15%.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/

My Experience Going Vegan

For some back story, before taking this course I consumed a lot of meat. I normally ate some type of animal protein with every meal. After researching for this course I realized that I was making an even greater impact on the production of methane than a usual person, who probably only eats meat once a day, or even has meat free days. I decided to test out a vegan diet because I felt like a hypocrite researching this topic, writing blog posts, but not doing anything on my part to help.

Day 1 was a tough one, I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t exactly sure what to eat, I felt starved the whole day, and I just wasn’t into it. The second day was similar, I felt sluggish and tired, I probably wasn’t eating enough calories to get me through the day, and my body was reacting accordingly.

Day 3 is when I finally got into the swing of things. I started my day off with oatmeal, mixed in some fruit, had some almond milk with my tea, and was overall satisfied with a pretty hearty breakfast. Compared to my old breakfasts that usually consisted of 2 eggs and a cup of coffee with cream, this was a lot more satisfying. For a snack I had a smoothie, I was full and felt like I had just had a treat, compared to my snacks which used to be low carb protein bars, which usually left me only half satisfied.

Dinner rolled around which was my favorite. I made brown rice, black beans, mushrooms, sautéed kale, and steamed broccoli. I placed them all in a bowl and covered it all in a vegan dressing I made myself, with the help of the Internet. The best part about this dinner was all the leftovers I had, I packed them up into individual servings to take with me to school the following few days.

The following days and weeks were a breeze, I started getting into the swing of things by watching vegans on YouTube for meal inspiration. I had fun grocery shopping, and reading labels on foods to make sure they didn’t contain any animal products.

It’s now 7 weeks later, and I’m still eating a meat and dairy free diet. One of the best parts of not eating meat is that I no longer get headaches. As a stressed out college student, I assumed having a headache was just the way I was going to be living my life until graduation. Turns out, some people get headaches because they’re sensitive to meat. I went from having a headache every single day to not having a headache since I started this journey. Do I miss meat? So far, not really. It’s been too much fun trying out new recipes for a lot of my meals. It’s also an amazing feeling to know that I’m not damaging the environment by simply being more careful about what I choose to eat.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/

Mars and Methane

A “methane sniffer” has been sent to Mars. It is called the European/Russian Trace Gas Orbiter and will be used to map and detect methane on the planet. The idea of methane being on Mars was sparked in 2004 when a European space agency was circling the planet. No further testing could be done on Earth to give conclusive proof to scientists so they must go to the planet itself. They are looking to see if the gas is produced by a geological process or by microbes. Their largest goal is to be able to extract methane from Mars.

A second experimental lander is being sent off with the TGO called “Schiaparelli”. It will test landing technologies and be able to drill two meters below the surface to detect signs of life. This would be a huge breakthrough and very fascinating to hear about. Very exciting things to come for Mars!


Zero Waste Lifestyle?!

Lauren Singer is a woman that lives a zero waste lifestyle. All of the waste that she’s acquired in two years can fit into one small mason jar. Producing less waste could also be beneficial for those of us that are trying to lessen our impact of methane in our atmosphere. 13.5% of the methane emissions come from landfills and the food that we throw out. By taking some advice from Lauren and cutting down the amount of stuff we throw out everyday, we could help lower the amount of methane gases coming from the landfills.

Methane Captured with a Camera

A camera has been built by Swedish scientists that make methane gases visible. This camera could help researchers study greenhouse gases and help answer questions about climate change and global warming. This camera uses infrared spectroscopy; this method captures a spectrum of infrared light for every pixel in an image. In the images shown below the purple plume is methane released from researchers labs to test the camera, they also captured images of a waste incineration plant, sewage sludge and a barn with 18 cows inside.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas; it warms the planet 86% time more effective than carbon dioxide says researchers. However, researchers are still developing an understanding of how methane moves through the environment. Satellites also measure methane levels on a regional or even global scale but this camera fills the gap between the two scales. It also helps pinpoint the sources of methane gas and how it moves.

Consequences for the future

When the push for oil based fuel alternatives began, methane was one of the proposed fuel alternatives. Utilizing fracking to obtain methane was seen as a way to ease off America's dependence upon oil, foreign and domestic. To this effect, the methane industry expanded quickly during the 90’s due to advancements in the fracking. Fracking in techniques (in various forms) have been utilized for about 80 years and used commercially for around 65 years. As mentioned, what we know as modern fracking started in the 1990’s, modern fracking employs advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, using state of the art technology.

While enhanced fracking and other extraction methods have helped expand America's economy, this is not without cost. The individuals who are responsible in creating legislation that regulates the safety of fracking and the environment in which fracking effects and life both human and animal, are very biased. There are enormous amounts of money in the fracking, and this money blinds many to the repercussions, both short and long term, of fracking. According to a report, contributions from groups and companies operating fracking wells gave to congressional candidates representing states and districts where fracking were operated have increased by more than 230 percent between the 2004 and 2012 election cycles, from $2.1 million to $6.9 million. There are many more statistics and cases where those who benefit from fracking have manipulated law and policy to the detriment of responsible and safe practices. 

Some debate that “free market” fracking creates jobs and boost the economy.  However this is very short sighted thinking. Due to past unregulated nature of fracking little to no studies have been done to research its long term effects on the environment or life. Yet much of the damaged caused is immediately apparent.

However, as the green movement began, individuals and communities voices are being heard, and they are vehemently spoken against fracking. This reflects in recent legislation has finally been actively trying to regulate fracking.

An environmentally friendly approach

Natural gas drilling by hydraulic fracture, commonly referred to as fracking, is a process used to extract methane from the ground, however, the process has had negative environmental impacts such as drinking water contamination (for more on this see the documentary Gasland). This gas is collected for use as fuel but the environmental cost should outweigh the benefits of cheap energy. This situation can actually be approached in another way—by protecting the environment while collecting energy. How? By fitting cattle livestock with methane collecting backpacks which will keep the gas out of the atmosphere and can then repurposed as fuel. In this scenario, groundwater is protect, the atmosphere collects less methane from agriculture, and energy is collected in an environmentally friendly way. Win, win, win.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/ 

Removing methane; what is being done right now?

The issue of methane pollution and its impact on overall global warming is serious. With the many ways that humans contribute to this problem, it is also up to us to work on reducing the methane released from our industries. The main sources of methane come from our livestock and agriculture industry, petroleum and natural gas, coal mining, and landfills. In order to really have an impact on methane pollution and reduce the amount of this harmful greenhouse gas getting into the atmosphere, we need to address all of these areas of pollution.

Here are some of the ways that each one of these industries has begun adopting solutions for the methane that the release.  

There are many different research projects working to solve the issue of methane from cows and other livestock. In fact, the Australian government has committed $27 million dollars to 18 different research projects addressing this issue [1]. These projects include selectively breeding livestock that produce less methane, reducing methane emissions by eliminating particular livestock gut microbes, and changing the diet of livestock to create less flatulence (i.e. methane).

When our waste gets trapped in an oxygen free environment, such as a landfill, it decomposes and produces methane as a byproduct. In order to stop this methane from getting into the atmosphere, landfills are beginning to turn it into a biogas that can be converted to electrical energy. In fact the U.S. already operates 500 “landfill-to-energy” plants, and Germany produced enough energy from biogas in 2009 to power more than 3.5 million homes [2].

Fossil Fuels:
Coal beds natural contain methane which gets released when the coal is mined. Much like the methane extraction from landfills, methane from coal mines can be harvested and used as an energy source. The picture above shows one coal mine that is doing just this.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/

[2] http://www.nova.org.au/earth-environment/methane

Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells

Abandoned oil wells aren’t something someone thinks about especially when buying a house, but for some it’s a hidden danger. “In Colorado alone, there are more than 35,000 abandoned wells. There are more than 50,000 in Wyoming.” (Source 1) Officials believe that plugging said wells, usually with cement, means that the well is dead and can no longer do any harm. This means that there is no monitoring set in place to keep these wells in check. “When a state sees a well is plugged, they typically put a checkmark by that well in a database or in a file somewhere, and they don’t do anything (else) for the most part,” (Source 1) Methane is present in all gas and oil wells  and if accumulated in a confined space, being a dangerous gas, can be explosive. Tests have been done on both plugged and unplugged wells, with a majority only leaking small amount. Unplugged wells weren’t the only ones that were leaking a lot; most of the plugged ones were to blame. “Engineer Mary Kang estimated that abandoned wells account for 4 to 7 percent of the state’s total man-made methane emissions.” (Source 1) In Alberta, Canada they require monitoring and “found that, on average, 7.7 percent of wells end up leaking.” (Source 1) If leaking wells weren’t bad enough sometimes the locations of the wells was completely wrong. “A quarter of them weren’t where they were supposed to be. Some of them weren’t even close. The furthest well was more than a mile away from where records indicated it was supposed to be.” (Source 1) Be sure to do some deep searching the next time you’re looking at buying a new home to make sure methane isn’t lurking in your backyard. 

(An unplugged oil well in Pennsylvania)

The unknowns of fracking

Fracking is one method of methane extraction. Fracking is done by piping high pressure water and chemicals substances deep into the earth. There is a lot of obfuscation of the true effects and cost of fracking. However, fracking is treated like pre 90's tobacco in the regards of the related companies actively attempt to suppress stories and media that portray fracking in a negative light.

There are many negative effects to fracking. The methane gas and toxic chemicals utilized when fracking can spill from the well underground. This causes the toxic liquid to seep into nearby water supplies, which has catastrophic effects on the environment and human life. The fracking process requires 8 million gallons of water per fracking instance.

The water that is pumped into the ground, enters the earth. Since the water is now trapped below ground, it cannot evaporated, and is removed from the the natural cycle and environment. This has serves to exacerbate droughts in areas such as as Arkansas, California, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Texas and Wyoming, that already suffer from severe water shortages. There is little research on the long term effects of using such massive amounts of water from the environment. However, if it does escape by seeping to the surface, it is deadly.

Many issues such as the Aliso Canyon Southern California Gas incident take place due to neglect or regulation. The Aliso Canyon incident was caused by a valve that had been known that needed to be replaced. However that part was “difficult to find” so it remained faulty until the accident broke it entirely.

It is clear that fracking is underrated. That the effects that it has on the ecology and life need to be studied.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/

Life on Mars, is methane the key?

On Earth, we are worried about the production of methane and the harm that it can cause our environment and way of life. Count NASA among the people who are actively looking for methane and are excited to find it. There is only one minor difference, NASA is looking for methane on Mars.

It is well documented that methane on Earth is mostly produced through biology, by life itself. Therefore, due to recent and recurring findings from the Curiosity rover, there is renewed hope that there was or is currently traces of life on Mars. Mars has been known to have very small amounts of methane, but the new findings from the Curiosity indicate much bigger amounts of methane than previously thought.

In support of Curiosity's findings, meteorites from Mars that have landed on Earth have been examined. What they found from the center of meteorites are larger traces of methane than expected. This further supports the idea that life could potentially exist on Mars. Methane itself could support extreme forms of life and may be already if it turns out something is producing more methane on Mars.

For something that has potential to do real damage to life on Earth, it is quite extraordinary that methane could be a key to life on Mars.

Methane could have an impact on the upcoming election

In a recent announcement, President Obama clearly understands the dangers that increased levels of methane can have. With the help of the visiting Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Obama reiterated a stance that his administration took over a year ago. They reported the need to cut 40-45 percent of methane emissions by 2025.

It is an important development for leadership to recognize the harms of methane instead of solely focusing on carbon dioxide emissions. While carbon dioxide accounts for over 60 percent of the American gas emission, methane only accounts for 10 percent. Methane gas, however, is over 84 times more potent over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide. Due to the increased potency, methane is equally as harmful for our atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

It is a good start that the current Obama administration is finally acknowledging the dangers of methane to our planet. Their plan, however, might run into trouble with the possibility of a Republican president being elected. The proposals put forth likely won’t have any kind of effects until next January, after Obama leaves the White House. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have said they will keep Obama’s efforts on global climate going. The Republican candidates have stated just the opposite and plan on making cuts. It will make for an interesting point for potentials voters on election day.

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/ 

Works Cited:

Immediate Risks

Global warming can seem like a slow burning problem that builds over time. Greenhouse effects manifest as turbulent weather patterns (i.e. storms and floods). However, extraction methods for gathering methane cause much more immediate hazards to the environment and life, both human and otherwise. One such instance of methane's effect on the environment happened in California.

A rupture in the Aliso Canyon Southern California Gas Facility has leaked an estimated 94,000 tons of methane into the area over the course of 3 months. An estimated 1,000,000 barrels per day were released in the atmosphere. The leak is so large it is being compared to the BP spill. One scientist, Jeff Peischl states: "The current methane emission rate estimates released by the California Air Resources Board are approximately equal to the methane emissions from the entire Los Angeles urban area, and one quarter of the methane emissions from the entire state of California."

Learn more at http://methaneeducation.weebly.com/ 

Carbon Brief Organization


LA Daily News

Permafrost and the Presidents

(Image of atmospheric methane. Source: Robert Scribbler blog)

Awareness of the arctic conditions are significant to the conversation on methane emissions. It also provides us with a sense of needed urgency. Regardless of the estimates of the timeline and severity of when and what will happen, it is important to understand the process. The arctic will continue to melt if hydrofluorocarbons (HFH) including methane are not controlled. If the temperature in the arctic rises due to methane and CO2 then the methane stored within the ice and permafrost of the arctic would further increase the greenhouse effect therefore increasing the temperature further. The resulting cascade would make efforts to reduce human production of greenhouse gases less effective at controlling climate change. The image above shows the increasing amounts of methane in the arctic between 2009 and 2013. It is clear that the red sections representing the highest levels of methane in the upper atmosphere are growing. 

According to Edward A. G. Schuur, Benjamin Abbott and the Permafrost Carbon Network’s article titled “High Risk of Permafrost Thaw” increases in global temperature could contribute to carbons, primarily methane, being released from the permafrost soil in the arctic. They estimate that around 18.8 million square kilometres of northern soils contain around 1,700 billion tonnes of organic carbon4, the remains of plants and animals that have been accumulating in the soil over thousands of years. That is about four times more than all the carbon emitted by human activity in modern times and twice as much as is present in the atmosphere now. The recent attention from US and Canadian leaders concerning methane emissions is encouraging in regards to controlling the release of permafrost methane in order to prevent uncontrollable climate change.
(Photo of permafrost melting. Source: LA Times)

According to the Canadian Broadcast Company the United States and Canada issued a joint statement on March 10th, 2016 that outlines steps to combat climate change. The statement was issued in conjunction with the meeting between Canadian President Trudeau and President Obama in which they emphasized reducing methane emissions from gas and oil industry with regulatory structures organized by Environment Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency to reduce methane levels by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025.

(Photo of Obama and Trudeau. Source: CBC)
An additional elements stressed by the CBC was the protection of land in the arctic by the US/Canadian agreement including an effort to engage other Arctic nations to create a sustainable economy. The US Secretary of the interior told reporters “The Arctic is a leading indicator of what the planet faces in the years and decades ahead.” 

Considering the information presented, if the arctic is such as an important barometer of global health, reducing methane production should be top of mind when considering lifestyle choices.

Works Cited: