Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mercedes is Green - AT&T is Gangrene

Most large corporations now have sustainability initiatives and most now issue annual sustainability reports.  Also many of these large firms hire high price PR firms to broadcast the message of the firm’s greenness.   There is a significant amount of greenwashing going on in press releases.  In these releases the firms claim to be green when in fact they are gangrene.  I think we all consider BP to be in this category when they claimed to be beyond petroleum and yet caused the largest oil spill in US history.  BP has pretty much dropped their Beyond Petroleum hype and is concentrating on cleaning up the Gulf coast.

In this blog I will analyze two companies and their claims of greening their operations.  Both companies are large and both companies chose to use expensive fuel cells to affect their intended greening of their operations. 

The first company is Mercedes the high quality auto company.  Mercedes chose to change out 72 propane fueled forklift trucks in their plant in Tuscaloosa Alabama to run on hydrogen powered fuel cells.  Mercedes teamed with Plug Power and Air Products and Chemicals for the project.  I did a mass and heat balance comparing the carbon dioxide emissions of the two alternates available to Mercedes.  Their first option was to have bulk propane delivered by truck to their plant and then fill the fuel tanks of the fork lifts with this liquid petroleum gas.  I used the basis that each forklift uses 15 gallons a day of propane and the plant is in operation 360 days per year.

Air Products produces hydrogen in New Orleans from natural gas and liquefies the hydrogen using electricity.  Accounting for the carbon foot print of the natural gas, the electricity, and the diesel fuel to haul the liquid hydrogen from New Orleans to Tuscaloosa, I have estimated that compared with propane Mercedes has lessened its carbon footprint for the 72 forklifts by an approximate total of 1,700 tons per year.  No doubt Mercedes will pay much more for the fork lifts powered by fuel cells and no doubt they will pay more for the hydrogen fuel than they would pay for propane.  Mercedes gets the Green Machine’s nod of approval for this project.   Air Products and Plug Power can also rightly claim they enabled Mercedes to lessen its carbon footprint.

AT&T is my example of a company that thought it was greening its operations by installing fuel cells but actually increased its carbon footprint as well as its emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and increased its toxic solid waste.    Bloom Energy managed to convince AT&T to become their largest non-utility customer for their infamous Boxes to generate onsite electricity.  AT&T uses Fleishman Hillard, a world class PR firm, to positively position AT&T in the press.  AT&T and Bloom had joint a press release to announce the event of AT&T installing 17.1 megawatts of Bloom Boxes.   This is a very large amount of power generation and at a cost of $9 million per megawatt the whole program required an initial investment of over $150 million.  Of course the Federal Government and the state of California paid as much as half of the $150 million in the form of tax credits and grants.  The cost of the project is one of my beefs but the dirtiness of the Bloom Boxes is my real concern. 

I have previously reported based on the public filing of the permit application in Delaware each megawatt hour of power generated by a Bloom Box emits 884 pounds of CO2.   The level of CO2 emissions that the US EPA reports for power purchased from the grid in California for the year 2010 is only 681 pounds per megawatt hour.  Hence AT&T will increase emissions from 681 pounds of CO2 to 884 pounds of CO2 for each megawatt hour of power they use in California or by some 30%.

Also based on the Delaware application Bloom submitted, one can calculate that the 17.1 megawatts of Bloom boxes will emit 8.2 pounds a day of Volatile Organic Compounds and will require over 3,600 pounds a year of solid toxic waste to be hauled to hazardous waste disposal sites.  This is dirty energy that AT&T is now self-generating.

Fleishman Hillard acting on behalf of AT&T and Bloom positioned this project very differently in getting the following into MSN Money: “Bloom Boxes contain stacked fuel cells that convert air and natural gas into electricity through a clean electrochemical process. Use of this power reduces carbon emissions by approximately 50 percent compared to the grid and virtually eliminates all SOx, NOx, and other harmful smog forming particulate emissions.”

Given the degree of greenwashing going on, I think the US needs an Engineering General that places a warning on the Bloom Box that states “WARNING - you can fuel some of the people some of the time but you cannot fuel all of the people all of the time with the contents of this box.”  If the Tobacco Industry has the Surgeon General keeping them honest, then the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell industry needs the Engineering General to do likewise.   Actually the Federal Trade Commission has jurisdiction over false advertising claims of environmental benefit.    The FTC recently issued new green marketing guidelines to end greenwashing.   I doubt this government agency will act when Colin Powell sits on Bloom’s board of directors and Al Gore’s business partners are investors.

Note:  I gave both AT&T and Fleishman Hillard ample opportunity to respond to my suggestion that they investigate their claims in the press release.  I simply received no response from either company.