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Hoffman Landfill to the Bayview Waste Water Plant: Trash into Gas

Hoffman Landfill to the Bayview Waste Water Plant: Trash into Gas

Untitled from Nikia Washington on Vimeo.

Solar Technology Shatters the Old Glass City

By: Nikia Washington

Toledo, long known as Glass City, earns the title of Solar Valley. The concept of renewable energy is spreading fast, as Toledo offers a home to new solar companies, ideas and efforts.

 Death of Glass City

Toledo, a recognized portion of the Rust Belt and a key player in the auto industry, experienced a quick downward spiral at the turn of the century. Toledo’s unemployment rate has more than doubled in the last decade, reaching an 11.3 percent average in 2010. In the past 10 years, the nation’s unemployment rate increased by more than four percent, according to the United State Department of Labor.

Bill Stewart, special assistant to the mayor of Toledo, Michael P. Bell, explained Toledo took an economic dive due to its close ties with Detroit and auto production.

“Anything that happens bad to the autos, happens bad to Toledo,” Stewart said.

As reported by the Toledo Blade, the city lost more than 9,500 jobs between 2001 and 2004.

However, for the first time in years, Toledo’s economy recently showed an upward trend. President Obama visited the city’s Jeep plant in June of 2011 and announced an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. The solar industry’s contribution to Toledo’s job market is a possible factor in the improvement.

What is Solar Energy

Solar power, as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, is the energy received from the sun to create renewable energy.

 Two types of solar technologies currently exist in the market: photovoltaic, which collects energy from the sun to provide electricity, and concentrated solar energy (solar thermal), which magnifies the intensity of the sun to create heat.

The solar thermal method uses the sun to warm an anti-freeze liquid in tubes called solar thermal collectors. The liquid is then transferred to a heating tank, commonly used for hot water and space heating. The photovoltaic method uses photovoltaic silicon cells, usually linked together to generate maximum power, to collect energy from the sun. A grid gathers the energy from the cells and then converts it to operational electricity.

Welcoming New Solar Companies  

Late in the 1990s, a Toledo native gave birth to a company named First Solar. As reported by CNET News, Founder Harold McMaster previously worked with the glass industry during the 1940s and became an expert on tempered glass. In the 1980s, he experimented with the idea of solar energy and glass. In 1999, First Solar pioneered a goal to “provide an economically and environmentally viable alternative to peaking fossil-fuel electricity generation,” as presented on the company’s website.

First Solar provides solar services and products to businesses and organizations around the world, including China, Germany, and France.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a research facet of the U.S. Department of Energy, regularly partners with First Solar.

“First Solar is one of the darlings of the solar world,” said Bill Scanlon, a public affairs representative for NREL.

First Solar now stands as one of the leading solar manufacturers in the world and one of the fastest growing, according to the company’s website. In addition to offices around the globe, one of the company’s three production facilities exists in the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg, the only First Solar production facility in North America.

 In 2002, University of Toledo Professor Xunming Deng took a leave of absence to cofound solar manufacturer Midwest Optoelectronics, LLC. The company introduced a new form of lightweight, flexible photovoltaic solar technology.

 The company was renamed Xunlight in 2006 and shipped its first solar modules in 2009. Xunlight is now Toledo’s second leading solar manufacturer.

 Metropolitan Toledo is also home to numerous other solar manufacturers, including Isofoton and WK Solar Group LLC.

Waterways, shipping lanes, railroad capacity, trucking access and the strong history with the glass industry make Toledo a strong prospect to solar companies.

 “We’re not a huge city like Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles,” Stewart said. “But we’re a big enough city that has all the amenities.”

Toledo’s Solar Venues

With a growing amount of local solar manufacturing, Toledo venues are taking advantage of the available solar technology. Richard Martinko, director of transportation research at the University of Toledo, is an active participant in processing of local solar projects.

“We have plenty of different locations where we have implemented solar power to help with efficiency,” Martinko said.

Solar fields, which are large quantities of solar panels installed in one location, now exist at Toledo’s Scott Park, near UT’s campus, the Toledo Art Museum, and elsewhere.

Scott Park, located off Moran Avenue between Dorr and Nebraska, currently contains photovoltaic solar panels that were developed and managed by the university. Students at UT can use the park for research.

“Scott Park directly correlates with the university and our energy consumption goals,” Martinko said.

As reported by, a website for green investors, the goal of the Scott Park solar initiative is to decrease campus energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2014.

 UT also plans to have students participate in this year’s Solar Decathlon, in which schools from around the country showcase their solar ventures. This year’s decathlon will be held in Washington D.C.’s Potomac Park.

 The Toledo Art Museum is one of Toledo’s existing buildings with new green initiatives. In 2008, First Solar installed solar panels on the roof of the structure to provide energy to the building.

Martinko said the art museum solar field was one of the largest in the state of Ohio upon production.

The I-280 solar project, a field of panels to the west of the Glass City Veteran Skyway, provides energy to bridge. After receiving a grant from the state, the Department of Transportation and UT teamed up for the project. The $1.7 million project shows significant decreases in energy costs. Panels by Xunlight and First Solar complete this large solar plantation, which went into effect in July of 2010.

 Rise of Solar Valley

Across the United States and around the globe, manufacturers are looking to make solar energy more efficient.

NREL is currently working on two major projects that use technology and research from the University of Toledo: a “solar optical furnace” and photovoltaic cells that process the suns energy at a faster rate, Scanlon said.

Through the rising anticipation of Toledo as a solar super power, Stewart is reluctant to say that the new technology can single-handedly revive the city.

“I can’t say the solar industry has been this huge boom that has turned everything around. That’s not true yet,” said Stewart.

However, Stewart does recognize the potential solar energy can make, not just in northwest Ohio, but everywhere.

“Solar energy will last forever,” Stewart said. “As long as we have the sun, it will last.”

BG Water Quest

BG Water Quest! from Black Swamp Journal on Vimeo.

Alesia Hill searching for BG’s best water on a college student budget!

Let It Shine

Veterans' Glass City Skyway Bridge. Photo by Nikia Washington

I-280 Solar Panels Produce More Energy as Sun Rays Strengthen

Summer sun is allowing the Ohio Department of Transportation to cut energy expenses. During the first week in June, the solar panels along Toledo’s Interstate 280 near the Maumee River have produced enough energy to save $95 per day in the average cost of energy. This output is over 100 times greater than the first day of production in January 2011.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is taking part in a new trend in solar energy production, using the energy to power highways across the nation. Creating solar energy involves using solar panels to capture energy from the sun and converting it into power, most commonly electricity.

This year, the I-280 panels, used to power the Veterans’ Glass City Skyway Bridge, became the first solar highway in Ohio. The Skyway Bridge, along with most highway systems, requires large amount of energy to function, an expensive cost for transportation departments to maintain. In 2009, the Oregon Department of Transportation announced the premiere of the first solar highway, a highway powered by solar energy, in the country.

This solar panel project began in 2005 when Ohio Congresswoman Marcy Kaptor obtained a grant for an ODOT project. During the production of the Veterans’ Bridge, Richard Martinko, who was then employed for ODOT and project manager of the bridge, and his crew brainstormed on how to efficiently power the bridge.

Mike Gramza, district planning and engineering administrator for ODOT, said methane gas had been one alternative considered for the project. Martinko said energy could also be obtained from wind power.

ODOT selected solar energy toward the completion of the bridge project.

After being employed by UT as the director of transportation research, Martinko was familiar with the project’s power saving initiative. University of Toledo proposed to do a research for ODOT which would involve solar energy.

 So far this summer, the panels have produced more than the amount needed to power the bridge.

Martinko explained that ODOT uses a net metering system to capturw and expend the energy.

“The panels produce energy, which goes to the onsite meters, and ODOT receives credit,” Martinko explained. ODOT stores the credit, which is used to provide electricity to the bridge. Because the bridge is now supplying its own energy credit, there is no need to purchase energy from the local supplier.

Meters maintained by the Energy Research Initiative (ERI) to collect data. Photo by Nikia Washington

Gramza explained that ODOT has two meters, one in current use, which captures the energy output of the panels.

“The energy companies are trying to buy the energy we produce for a fraction of the price it’s worth,” Gramza said.

Energy companies commonly attempt this method; they obtain energy for a lower cost and sell to their customers at regular price. To prevent losing money by selling the energy at such a low cost, ODOT has decided to begin using its second meter. This second meter will allow the city to collect more credit and provide more electricity. Without the second meter, additional energy would be lost.

These credits can be stored and will be useful during the colder months when the sun is weaker.

“There’s always more solar energy in the summer than there is in the winter,” said Allen Bowen, project manager for Advance Distributed Generation (ADG), the solar heating company that installed the panels and will maintain them until March 2012.

UT selected the Maumee-based branch of ADG, along with local companies Xunlight and First Solar, for the project.

“The University of Toledo did the design, maintenance, and review,” Gramza said.

Students and staff are responsible for the research conducted on the bridge.

“With the panels and work we’ve done onsite, it rounds out to about $1.7 million,” Martinko said, in reference to the total cost of the project.

Xunlight & First Solar provided the solar panels, each with two different models. The First Solar model resembles most glass panels, multiple photovoltaic cells beneath a layer of thick glass. The Xunlight panels are flat, lightweight, and flexible, most commonly used for roofing.

“What we would be comparing is the energy output from both of the panels,” Martinko said. He and Gramza were sure to note they are not comparing the efficiency of the two; there is not a competition between the two products.

UT also contracted with Energy Research Initiative, a company that gathers data daily from the solar panels. This data is the leading source for Lucid Designs, a website production company selected by UT to design a web database.

 “We want to educate the public on the green initiative,” Martinko said.

This kiosk is located at the rest stop just south of I-75 exit 181. Photo By Nikia Washington

In addition to the website, ODOT and UT have installed kiosks at the Interstate 75 rest stop south of Bowling Green and on UTs campus.

If the project goes well, officials want to power rest stops, signs, and maintenance garages with solar energy.

Veteran’s Glass City Skyway lights up during the night using an array of colors.


Xunlight Panels

Mike Gramza defined the Xunlight panels as plastic blankets. To efficiently use the panels, construction workers had to build hill in order for the panels to lie on a slope. Photo by Nikia Washington

First Solar Panels

Alex Weinandy, transportation engineer for the Ohio Department of Transportation explained the slope had to be exact and facing the southwest in order for the Xunlight panels to catch the most sunlight. The Xunlight panels lay flat against the manmade hill. Photo by Nikia Washington

First Solar Panels

First Solar panels are standard glass panels with a multitude of cells contained in each glass panel. Alex Bowen, ADG project manager for the I-280 solar panel project, said many panels were damaged this winter, due to heavy ice and snow. Photo by Nikia Washington

Bait Fish In Ohio

As the practice of fish farming in Ohio continues to progress, more farmers are in need of bait fish, which is a fish used as bait to catch larger fish.  There is a variety of bait fish, including goldfish and carp.  Two of the main bait fish raised in Ohio include the spotfin shiner and the emerald shiner.

For many years Ohio has imported bait fish from other states like Minnesota and Wisconsin.  However, aqauculture specialists discovered there is plenty of land and water that is suitable to a variety of cool and cold water species. For the last five years, aquaculture researchers at Ohio Center for Aquaculture Development have worked on enhancing the development of the spotfin shiner. Enhancement can only be done on the spotfin shiner as its biologically fit to be farm raised.  However, the same does not apply to the emerald shiner as it’s a wild caught baitfish.

Shawn McWhorter, aquaculture specialist and research associate, works at the Bowling Green Satellite Aquaculture center.  McWhorter’s research focuses on enhancing the practice of fish farming and the development of bait fish.

Found out more about the research development in the following video.

Bait Fish In Ohio from Black Swamp Journal on Vimeo.

A local research center in Bowling Green, Ohio is researching better ways to produce bait fish. This will help to decrease the amount of bait fish being imported from other states.


Ohio’s Fish Farming Potential

People may think of chickens, pigs or cows when thinking of farm animals.  But here in Ohio, fish are increasing the farm animal choice.

Over the last decade there has been an annual increase in the number of fish farms in Ohio.  In 1998 there were 33 farms in Ohio.  Recently, the Census of Aquaculture predicted over 200 fish farms in Ohio.  And the opportunities only keep growing.

With consumers looking for a healthier diet, more people are turning to fish and no longer looking at poultry as their only choice of lean protein.  The good fish oils are important nutritionally.  The more people hear about this, the more fish they consume.

The U.S. Economic Research Service said, on average, Americans are eating four pounds more fish per year now than they did in the 1970s.  Global fish consumption has risen to a record of almost 17 kilograms a person.

The rising global demand for fish and concerns over depleting ocean stocks have increased the demand for farmed fish.  According to reports by the FAO., aquaculture now makes up 46 percent of the world’s food-fish supply, up from 43 percent in 2006.

View Fish Farms in Ohio in a larger map

As the numbers continue to increase, even more farmers are interested in starting a fish farm of their own.  Before starting a fish farm, one must be aware of the fact that they will have to spend a pretty penny and have a lot of patience.  As a co-owner of Remlinger Farm in Kalida, Ohio, Mark Remlinger is familiar with the process of starting a fish farm.

“It is very expensive and risky form of agriculture.  Aquaculture involves capital investment, daily labor, and management and above all, risk,” Remlinger said.

Bait fish at Bowling Green's Satellite Aquaculture Center. Photo By: Saisha Gailliard

Many times, people interested in aquaculture are looking for an enterprise with low initial investment.  “Aquaculture can be a very capital intensive business.  People that just get into the business for the money usually don’t like it,” explained Remlinger.

To help Ohio farmers learn more about aquaculture, Ohio State University has established a research program.

“We deal with the very specific problems that people within the industry have that they can not answer for themselves,” said Laura Tiu, an aquaculture specialist at Ohio Center for Aquaculture Research and Development (OCARD).

Currently, some of the top research projects involve addressing issues with raising baitfish, bluegill and yellow perch.  Another program has produced two improved lines of perch.  OCARD expects for the program aims to increase aquaculture production and efficiency of perch and the bluegill by 30 to 50 percent by developing genetically improved brood stocks.

Such information can be very helpful for someone like David Smith, president of Freshwater Farms of Ohio, in Urbana, Ohio.

“Were constantly hearing information about new research.  Even though we’ve been around since the 80 s,  we’re always looking for ways on how to improve,” said Smith.

From the very beginning, Smith and his family knew there was potential in the aquaculture industry.

“A lot of people look to coastal areas to raise fish, but I decided that the best way to expand was in freshwater farming.  And throughout the years, many people have started to do the same thing,” said Smith, who has a doctorate in fish nutrition.

Not only looking at the success of his business, but also the growth of aquaculture in Ohio, Smith is convinced things will only continue to improve for aquaculture.

And yet, many people are concerned that there maybe too much growth occurring within aquaculture.

The Growth faces Limits

As aquaculture is constantly growing, reports state there is a downfall to having a high demand for fish.  In February of this year,The International Herald Tribune reported on studies by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) finding that aquaculture cannot continue growing indefinitely at its current pace.   According to reports from the FAO. there has been an annual increase of 6.6 percent of production volume from 1970 to 2008.  And over this period, the global per capita supply of farm raised fish rose from 0.7 kilograms to 7.8 kilograms.  In response to this, Kevern Cochrane, director of the FAO’s resources use and conservation division, released a statement explaining that the U.S. is “going to run into constraints, in terms of space availability, water availability- particularly fresh water- and also environmental aspects and supply of food.”

To keep up with the high global demand for fish, production will have to double.  Aquaculture has the potential to fulfill such high demand.  With aquaculture, fish can be raised in tanks, ponds, oceans, lakes or even rivers.  More technology is making it more convenient for farmers to raise fish both indoors and outdoors.  Buying equipment to raise fish indoors, such as tanks, can be expensive, but it allows farmers to raise fish throughout the entire year.  Usually farmers who only have an outdoor pond are limited to raising fish in the early spring to late fall season.

Environmental Concerns

With aquaculture on the rise, environmentalists are concerned about the effects of fish farming.  According to the Environmental Defense Fund, some of these concerns include the pollution of local waterways with waste and antibiotics and the transfer of parasites from farmed to wild fish.  And despite the high demand for fish, environmentalists are still concerned about the effects that aquaculture has on the environment.

The fish feed has become a major concern.  Fish farms use feed made from fish oil or fishmeal.  Many times small fish is caught at sea and fed to bigger fish raised on farms.  There is concern that fish farming is depleting the oceans level of wild fish instead of easing the problem.

In consideration of this, more farmers in Ohio are using more grain-based diets to feed their farmed raised fish.  Doing so is not only beneficial to the wild fish population but is also a money saver for farmers.  Globally there is a high demand for fish feed.  Due to this demand, the price of fish feed has tripled in the last 10 years.  A lot more farmers are learning how to use the fish oil and fishmeal more efficiently.

Dave Smith of Ohio’s Freshwater Farms feeds more grain-based diets to his fish as the high price of diesel has made catching wild fish more difficult.

“It takes a lot of energy to go out and catch wild fish and wild shrimp.  It takes 50 calories of fuel energy to catch one calorie of shrimp and takes a tenth of this to raise fish on a farm,” explained Smith.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources requires permits for transportation of fish and other marine species.  This protects the state’s natural resources.  Without such regulations from the ODNR a non-native species could be released from a fish farm and could compete with a native species and threaten its survival.  The Ohio Department of Aquaculture works closely with the ODNR to prevent the spread of a fish disease, known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, in both farmed and wild species.  Constant monitoring is necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

A recirculating water system at BG's aquaculture center. Photo By: Saisha Gailliard

Recirculating water systems have also been another way for fish farming to practice sustainability.  Shawn McWhorter, research associate and aquaculture specialist for OCARD, uses recirculating systems for the fish at Bowling Green’s aquaculture center.

“With recirculating systems, we’re adding in what we need and we’re taking out what we don’t,” McWhorter explained.

The biggest benefit of the recirculating system is it’s smaller water footprint.  The closed-loop production systems continuously filter and recycle water.

Shawn McWhorter feeding fish placed in a recirculating water system. Photo By: Saisha Gailliard

“With the systems we’re using less water and able to control waste streams much better than we can with a pond, so it’s more environmentally friendly,” said McWhorter.










Slow Food works to change the way we think

“Changing the Way We Eat” on February 12 had the Maumee Valley Chapter of Slow Food inviting people to a potluck and a meeting that broadcast throughout the nation on the importance of healthy eating practices.

Greg Fondon tasted some of the culinary creations. Photo by Alesia Hill.

Slow food is an organization that started in Italy about 25 years ago.

“It was started by a group of students that were protesting American fast food restaurants being built in Italy,” said Lucy Long, a professor at Bowling Green State University and the cofounder of the Maumee Valley chapter of Slow Food.

According to Long the Italian founders of Slow Food didn’t have a problem with hamburger joints but they did have a problem with the attitudes that the American fast food industry promoted with its customers.

“They were very concerned that American fast food represented all these attitudes that food was simply for fuel and that they didn’t really care about the quality or where it came from,” Long said.

Since its creation Slow Food has spread from Italy to the United States with the first chapter starting in New York. Originally the American version of Slow Food focused mostly on eating good food, even gourmet food. According to Long it has slowly started to focus on the other aspects of the originally organization: fairness in the industry and a clean environment where the food is grown and prepared.

Long said there are two parts to Slow Food’s view on clean food, having a clean environment and farming practices that are sustainable and having a clean atmosphere where the food is prepared.

Lucy Long, event organizer, spoke with members of the Maumee Valley Unitarian Church. Photo by Alesia Hill.

“You don’t want to be eating something and have it be prepared by someone who is sick but too poor to stay home today, and actually that’s a huge problem in the
United States. Something like 60 percent of the food workers in the fast food industry are actually sick at work,” Long said.

Because of its clean food pledge the Slow Food movement also strives environmentally sustainable.

“You don’t want to eat the very last fish in the sea because you like to eat fish so you want to use environmentally sustainable practices,” Long said.

According to Long, American culture is very focused on the science aspect of agriculture, as shown through the use of genetically altered crops to increase the amount of crops harvested every year.  Corn is one of these crops and is one of the biggest products of Northwest Ohio.

It isn’t unheard of viruses hitting plants. In Ireland people’s main staple was potatoes. “In the 1800s, there were three different blights of potatoes, and millions of people starved. So in the long run, it’s not healthy for us, and its not healthy for the environment either,” Long said.

Attendees mingle at the "Changing the Way We Eat" event on Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Maumee Valley Unitarian Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. The daylong meeting and potluck was sponsored by Slow Food Maumee Valley. Photo by Alesia Hill.

Attendees mingle at the “Changing the Way We Eat” event on Saturday, Feb. 12, at the Maumee Valley Unitarian Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. The daylong meeting and potluck was sponsored by Slow Food Maumee Valley. Photo by Alesia Hill.

is another aspect associated with Slow Food.  If the food that is going into the body is healthy and clean, people will also be taking nutritional value into account.

Dietary guidelines tell Americans that fat in the diet is bad. “We’ve got too much fat and sugar in our diet. But it’s a lot more complicated than that as far as the fat is concerned because some fats are beneficial,” said Chris Patterson, a retired dietician attending the Slow Food event.

Patterson believes that the United States dietary guidelines places too much emphasis on reducing fat, without considering what kind of fat.

“Even though skim milk is what they use to fatten pigs, skim milk is what they have in schools and they think that it’s going to make kids skinny,” Patterson said. “It’s not going to happen.

Karen Lyke is a professor at Hawthorne University who teaches courses in Holistic Nutrition.

“In these courses the students study many different ways of eating and come to something that is meaningful to them,” Lyke said.

Slow Food ties together nutrition, the environment, and fair labor practices in one movement that is slowly working for change in the United States.

“This isn’t a political movement. We’re not trying to get people to vote for someone or to support some special measure. We just want to get people thinking,” Long said.


Air quality testing at Ohio schools continues

View Ohio schools studied by EPA in a larger map

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to study the air quality near six Ohio schools following the results of a two-month air monitoring by the U.S. EPA at seven locations in the state.

The U.S. EPA found levels of concern at three Ohio schools with the results of three others still being analyzed. Air quality at the seventh school was deemed safe.

Read the rest of this entry »

EPA monitoring of ‘widespread’ chemical to continue

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about a pollutant found at many schools during a recent two-month study of air quality.

Acrolein, a pollutant deemed “widespread” by the EPA, was found at 40 of the 63 schools studied across the nation, including seven Ohio schools. Of the schools studied, acrolein was detected at three schools: Elm Street Elementary in Wauseon, Ohio; Whitwell Elementary in Ironton, Ohio; and Life Skills of Trumbull County in Warren, Ohio.

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Wood County Ozone Grade Improved

2011 State of the Air Reports rate Wood County's air and ozone a 'C.'

Previously graded a “D,” Wood County’s ozone air quality has improved to a “C” in the 2011 State of the Air Report Conducted by the American Lung Association.

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