Sometimes a walk through the neighborhood on ‘trash day’ is just what you need.
I was planning my next blog post, and deciding on several topics, amongst which was a TED talk on Styrofoam recycling, when I encountered this:
And then a few dozen paces later, this:
Most of us are familiar with the concept of a Science Project. If not, let NASA tell you about them here. And of course, for us as project managers, the more important of those two words is (you guessed it!) project. This TED talk was running through my mind and when I saw these two instances of Styrofoam being sent to landfill, minutes away from my own home, I decided this would have to be the next topic.
Please, do yourself a favor and watch this young man, Ashton Cofer, present at TED – it’s only 5 minutes, but 5 minutes well-spent. You can even take some presentation tips from this (at the time) 14-year-old 8th-grader from Ohio, as he does a tremendous job conveying the presentation, using comedy, great timing, and illustrations at just the right time to accentuate his points.
As project managers, we’re often faced with the situation in which our projects seem like they’re in a hopeless situation. And sometimes, it’s just a matter of perseverance – ironically, the name of a MUCH LARGER science project. This young man and his team persevered and came up with a method to make Styrofoam re-usable as activated carbon, effectively preventing the substance from filling up landfill and giving it another life.
The story of this effort and the science behind it is featured in this story from Scientific American.
From the article:
For the past five years Scientific American has partnered with Google to award the Scientific American Innovator Award, which honors an experimental project that addresses a question regarding the natural world. This year's award went to three eighth graders from Ohio who were particularly disgusted with the amount of Styrofoam (polystyrene foam) trash they saw in their everyday lives—the material accounts for 25 percent of landfill space, and is exceptionally difficult to recycle or reprocess.
After 50 hours of experimental work, the team successfully converted the polystyrene into carbon with over 75 percent efficiency by heating the material to 120 degrees C. They then treated the carbon with a set of chemicals to increase the surface area of the material, and tested it against commercially available water filters. Their results showed that their carbon successfully filtered many of the same compounds that commercials filters remove from water.
This was five years ago. Readers of this blog know that I preach the idea of looking beyond the end of a project – past the ‘ribbon-cutting ceremony’ (or in this case, the receipt of a trophy) and measure success by what has happened after the project’s product is ‘in service’. I decided that I would practice what I preach – look beyond the project’s end date and see what success Ashton and his teams’ idea had had.
Not surprisingly, Ashton is at Stanford University and has founded a couple of companies, one of which is StyroFilter (see their website here). The inventors have made this a non-profit. Watch this video, too also short, and inspiring. I actually got a couple of (positive) shivers from this - no kidding. It makes me want to delegate more innovation to 8th graders!
I’m interested in your reaction to this science project, the way the students handle themselves, and the lessons we, as (theoretically) more grown-up project managers can learn from them!
Inspired by an interesting article in Fast Company Magazine, I ventured into the world of construction, about which I know very, very little, to discover something called an Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, EC3.
In this short journey, I discovered a means of graphic display called a Sankey Diagram, which I’ll share with you below, and I rediscovered the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) which we had written about in our now 10-year-old book Green Project Management.
The key part of the article from Fast Company is here:
The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator, or EC3, is an online tool that collects the carbon emissions data of thousands of types of building materials, allowing building developers, designers, and contractors to see the potential impact of their projects, and to compare materials to find ways of reducing their embodied carbon.
The tool works by compiling a massive database of construction materials’ environmental product declarations, which quantify the carbon footprint of their production. The calculator enables users to plug in the construction material choices and quantities they plan to use in their building projects to get clear estimates of their embodied carbon emissions. With specific data on materials ranging from concrete and steel to carpet tiles and window panes, the calculator shows how material choices made from the very earliest stages of a building’s design can drastically reduce its embodied carbon.
Let’s start with the definition of Embodied Carbon.
The best definition I could find was from the Carbon Cure website:
Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole lifecycle of a building or infrastructure.
It includes any CO₂ created during the manufacturing of building materials (material extraction, transport to manufacturer, manufacturing), the transport of those materials to the job site, and the construction practices used.
Put simply, embodied carbon is the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational. It also refers to the CO₂ produced maintaining the building and eventually demolishing it, transporting the waste, and recycling it.
Again, from the Fast Company article:
The project got early support from industry partners including Microsoft, which has piloted the calculator on a major project at its headquarters in Redmond, Washington—a 17-building redevelopment that will see its first new structures completed in 2022. The goal was to build up the data set and for the calculator to be able to reduce the project’s embodied carbon as early in the design process as possible. In line with Microsoft’s 2020 pledge to become carbon negative by 2030, it’s targeting an embodied carbon reduction of 30% for this project.
“Zero carbon was something that was really important to us because we knew that we had to as a society get to zero carbon, but we really wanted to dig into how would that actually work on a project and particularly on a project of this scale,” says Katie Ross, senior sustainability program manager for Microsoft’s real estate and facilities team. “EC3 is a prime example for us of how we think about leveraging technology to create data-driven decisions and really support our mission to become carbon negative.”
Reducing building energy consumption is critical to critical climate change mitigation goals, as buildings consume 40% of energy globally and produce 36% of greenhouse gasses (GHGs). The Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) is a free online tool that enables building industry members to make more carbon-efficient material choices when designing and constructing buildings. EC3 uses data including building construction estimates, BIM models, and a database of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) to calculate a project’s overall embodied carbon emissions, allowing comparison, specification and procurement of lower carbon options.
The EC3 platform is free and open, and is also designed to be accessible to all, including architects and contractors who may be new to green building. EPDs can be lengthy and technical for builders who may not be accustomed to this scientific language. Embodied carbon reports are also delivered in a simple PDF format, which can be easier to work with. The EC3 tool is also open source, which means that it is and will remain a completely transparent tool. The methodology is published and being developed with stakeholder input. Anyone can register for free access, and the tool's underlying EDP database is available through an open API.
Additionally, the EC3 tool encourages project managers to set a “carbon budget” enabling builders to keep their materials sourced at a low embodied carbon level. This baseline can become what later design decisions get measured against.
The EPD mentioned above is actually important to know about. Again from the Carbon Cure website:
An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is an independently verified document, defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14025 as a declaration that "quantifies environmental information on the lifecycle of a product to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function."
In the same way that nutritional labels report the measured nutrition facts for food products, EPDs report the measured lifecycle environmental impact of a product so designers and builders can make more informed decisions.
Companies implement EPDs to improve their sustainability goals and to demonstrate a commitment to the environment to customers. However, the green building market is starting to demand EPDs across a wide spectrum of building products—especially concrete products.
Throughout the 12 years I’ve been researching sustainability in project management, one recurring theme is the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment). A tremendous description of LCAs can be found here, and an extract is below (from oneclickLCA.com).
Have you been hearing more and more of Life-Cycle Assessment or LCA? Have you tried reading about Life-Cycle Assessment and given up after being confronted with walls of technical data?
Fear not and read on for a simple, practical take on Life-Cycle Assessment that will clear up why it has become such an important concept for Green Building experts.
LCA answers the simple question: how sustainable is my product or process? We know products are not equal in terms of their environmental impact and putting a number on that can be hard. LCA is a standardized, science-based tool for quantifying the impact answering the simple question: How does my product or process affect the environment?
Life-Cycle Assessment allows you to evaluate the effect on the environment of a product, service, or process over its entire life-cycle. This means that LCA takes into consideration all the steps that lead from raw material to manufactured product, including extraction of the materials, energy consumption, manufacture, transportation, use, recycling, and final disposal or end of life. It is a holistic methodology that quantifies how a product or process affects climate change, non-renewable resources, and the environment as a whole. Life-Cycle Assessment’s strength lies in the fact that it takes into account what happens before and after the final product is used by customers, and can effectively measure effects over a long time of period.
For example, if you want to know how your building will influence climate change during its entire existence, LCA can give you the answer.
Project managers who think in terms of LCAs and get smarter about the philosophy behind LCAs will be better-prepared for the future. The 7th Edition PMBOK® Guide will likely include much deeper connections to the LCA philosophy, and will ask project managers to think more holistically about how their projects connect to an organization’s mission/vision/values and its daily operations.
One tool for visualizing this is the Sankey Diagram. The Sankey Diagram has its roots in engineering, especially for energy use. It is an illustration of energy with arrows proportional to the amount of energy flowing. The first example (and thus the name) is from Irish engineer Captain Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey in 1898. He compared the energy efficiency (energy balance) of steam engines. It does have an earlier history, with French engineer Charles Joseph Minard using such diagrams to visualize Napoleon's Russian Campaign of 1812.
Below is an example of energy flow in a passenger car (in German).
Today, Sankey diagrams are used worldwide for data visualization, e.g. in material flow analyzes and energy management systems, but also in wide ranging areas such as immigrant flow and economics.
As is my practice, wherever possible I provide resources for project managers here on this blog.
You can download your own Sankey Diagram template, including instructions, here. I tested it. It works. Here's what it looks like - but if you download it you can edit it to your heart's content!
I mention the Sankey Diagram because I increasingly see this type of chart appearing in project reports with the increased use of Tableau and Power BI and other data analytics and visualization programs that have hefty capabilities to translate data into knowledge and wisdom.
And… it is featured in the EC3 tool. Below is an example of a Sankey Diagram generated by the EC3 tool.
A great introduction to the EC3 tool and instructions on how to log in and use it can be found here in this video.
Electric vehicles appear to be the trend of the future. Ford is introducing a pretty cool-looking Mustang SUV which is fully-electric. Of course Tesla has had electric vehicles for years, and some states and countries are moving to eliminate all vehicles but electric in the near future.
But what is interesting and surprising to many folks is that the move to fossil-fuel vehicles was actually a shift AWAY from the existing electric vehicles of the early 1900s.
Everything old is new again. Below is a picture of a 1900s Fritchie, and below it, the brand new Ford Mustang all-electric Mach-e. Quite a difference.
It’s actually quite an interesting story – learn more here.
Download this interesting history of the electric vehicle:
But that’s not the real story here, it’s more about the batteries in those old electric cars, a battery invented by a Swedish scientist and brought to popularity by Thomas Edison.
And it’s also a story about Texas and some Texas-sized tall tales about wind power’s alleged failures.
For example, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said “a reckless reliance on windmills is the cause of this disaster,” claiming that “the windmills froze, so the power grid failed”. Here’s a story from the Texas Tribune on the power failures.
Reuter’s news fact checkers came up with this conclusion:
“The use of wind turbines in Texas does not appear to be the primary cause of statewide power outages amid historic cold weather. The state’s woes mainly stem from issues surrounding its independent power grid. The cold weather affected all fuel types, not just renewables.”
Still, although the criticism of wind power contrived and very much ‘over the top’, it is true that one improvement to renewable energy would be to store the power from windmills that aren’t currently turning or solar panels that aren’t being bathed in sunshine.
And that need for storage takes us to – you guessed it – batteries. Until I read the BBC article and did some follow-up research, I wouldn’t have thought that the breakthroughs would be coming from the 90s.
And not the 1990s. The 1890s.
The battery of concern, the nickel-iron battery, was introduced (and patented) by Swedish inventor Ernst Waldemar Jungner in 1899.
It is very durable, is able to easily deal with the rigors of overcharging or being frequently depleted, but it does have the unique property of producing hydrogen as a byproduct. In the 1890s, this was an annoying and potentially dangerous issue. But 100+ years later, things are very different.
Do you remember your high school chemistry class? Electrolyis? See this video, just in case you forgot.
From the BBC article:
A research team at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands happened upon a use for the nickel-iron battery based on the hydrogen produced. When electricity passes through the battery as it’s being recharged, it undergoes a chemical reaction that releases hydrogen and oxygen. The team recognised the reaction as reminiscent of the one used to release hydrogen from water, known as electrolysis.
"It looked to me like the chemistry was the same," says Fokko Mulder, leader of the Delft University research team. This water-splitting reaction is one way hydrogen is produced for use as a fuel – and an entirely clean fuel too, provided the energy used to drive the reaction is from a renewable source.
The technical paper about this process from Delft TU is here:
The team came up with the name “Battolyser” (a cross between ‘electrolyser’ and ‘battery’)
Conventional batteries, such as those based on lithium, can store energy in the short-term, but when they’re fully charged they have to release any excess or they could overheat and degrade. The nickel-iron battolyser, on the other hand remains stable when fully charged, at which point it can transition to making hydrogen instead.
The University’s spin-off company Battolyser says this on the Koolen Industries website:
Right now, the largest battolyser in existence is 15kW/15kWh, and has enough battery capacity and long-term hydrogen storage to power 1.5 households. A larger version of a 30kW/30kWh battolyser is in the works at the Magnum power station in Eemshaven in the Netherlands, where it will provide enough hydrogen to satisfy the needs of the power station.
This video explains the functionality of the Battolyser project.
One takeaway for me in all of this: it may be a century before a project’s product (in this case, the invention of the nickel-iron battery) starts to yield real benefits!
When a country charters the largest construction project in its history, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice. I highly recommend that you indeed sit up, grab a wienerbrød, and sip on a kaffe to best enjoy this post. Just to give you an idea why this is exciting – here are some examples of projects on the scale that I’ll discuss here (the largest in a country’s history):
Most of these are in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars (or equivalent currency). That is a lot of wienerbrød!
So which country are we talking about here? Well, there was a hint in the title of the blog post, because that is (or is supposed to be) Danish. The story is about what is going to be a brand new Danish island, an Energy Island. Yes, you read that correctly – a brand new island in the North Sea, purpose built to generate and store power.
The island will be located about 80 kilometers off the coast of Jutland, the large peninsula which contains the Danish mainland (see map, source: https://ocean-energyresources.com/2021/02/12/north-sea-energy-island-can-make-denmark-and-belgium-electricity-neighbours/).
The cost? Oh, about 210 billion Danish krone ($33.97 billion). The benefit? It better be huge, with that sort of expense. And it is: the island’s turbines will produce enough energy to power 10 million homes in Europe, including, of course, the entire country of Denmark.
The construction project, believed to be the biggest in Danish history, will – aside from the construction of the island itself, no small feat – will build and link hundreds of wind turbines to deliver enough electricity for millions of households.
Have a look at this brief video for details and striking images:
What’s the rationale for this project? After all, you don’t just go building islands in the ocean for $30B for no reason. In this case, the rationale is directly traceable to Denmark’s Climate Act, in which the country has committed to an ambitious 70% reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to becoming CO2 neutral by 2050. Last December it announced it was ending all new oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.
When built, the island will supply both clean power to homes and green hydrogen for use in shipping, aviation, industry and heavy transport. The decision came as the EU unveiled plans to transform the bloc's electricity supply. The bloc aims to rely mostly on renewable energy within a decade while increasing offshore wind energy capacity roughly 25-fold by mid-century (Ecowatch, 2021)
From a project management perspective, what’s the time, cost, scope, value, and fit for this project? And the value?
Find more information about these projects here:
In the prior post, "Repurposed Rigs", I discussed the ways in which oil rigs at their end of life were being repurposed - as diving resorts, or coral reefs. One company, Blue Latitudes, specializes in the research, consulting, and planning for such projects.
Co-founders, and marine biologists Emily Hazelwood and Amber Sparks have been featured in Forbes magazine (see this article) in their "30 under 30" section. I recently had the privilege of speaking with them about these initiatives from a project, program, and portfolio perspective.
If you haven't already, please have a look at this amazing video that gives the background of the work Blue Latitudes is doing.
Let me start with their backgrounds and then just have you take a look at the interview.
Blue Latitudes' Mission (from their website) is:
Our vision at Blue Latitudes is to find silver linings in our oceans at the intersection of industry and the environment.
We unite science, policy, and communications to create innovative solutions for the complex ecological challenges associated with offshore industry.
As to the co-founders, there's a photo above from a profile on Scubapro.com, and below, a photo of them with an old friend; then we get right into the biographies and the interview itself.
Emily Hazelwood is a marine conservation biologist, oil and gas consultant and explorer. She has a B.A. in Environmental Science from Connecticut College and an M.A.S degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Emily was recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy sector for her work with Blue Latitudes to develop sustainable, creative, and cost-effective solutions for the environmental issues that surround the offshore energy industry.
Emily has extensive experience conducting both international and domestic environmental impact assessments for governmental agencies and private sector clients, and specializes in developing sustainable environmental strategies for offshore energy development and decommissioning.
Mrs. Hazelwood previously worked as a field technician on the BP 252 Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This is where she witnessed first hand the destruction and devastation wrought by an oil spill. However, it is also where she learned of a unique silver lining despite the realities of offshore oil and gas development, the Rigs to Reefs program. She is a PADI certified Dive Master and an AAUS Scientific Diver.
Amber Sparks is an oceanographer, environmental scientist and entrepreneur. She has a B.A. in Marine Science from UC Berkeley and a M.A.S in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 2018, Amber was recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy sector for her work with Blue Latitudes to develop sustainable, creative, and cost-effective solutions for the environmental issues that surround the offshore energy industry.
Amber also has a strong background in technology. A former Ocean Curator at Google, she engineered and launched intelligent layers in Google Earth and Google Maps that distill and relate complex concepts in ocean science for a variety of audiences. Today she uses those skills in the oil and gas industry to map fishing activity in proximity to offshore structures and inform decommissioning decisions in relation to commercial fisheries.
Mrs. Sparks has extensive experience as a project manager specializing in ecological impact assessments, marine biological monitoring and habitat restoration through the Rigs to Reefs program. She is certified as an AAUS scientific diver.
Here's the interview (about 37 minutes):