Creating irresistible demand
for a global atmosphere upgrade

Bruce Sterling's Viridian Design Movement


Viridian Note 00445: Green Design Debacles
by Bruce Sterling

Key concepts: spectacular green design failures,
inherent difficulties of real-world engineering, architecture, and design, anti-utopian pragmatism, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), AM/FM (Actual Machines/Fantastic Magic), Seattle Civic Center and Justice Center, attempting to get oil from offal

Attention Conservation Notice: Just because green technology is a swell idea doesn't mean that it's easy, or even that it works at all.

Our own gloriously imperishable website debacle.
Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Sites for green goods. We'll know that this market category has reached maturity when a website appears that isn't about "mindful" green wares but concerns itself with really BAD, DYSFUNCTIONAL green stuff, with full critical detail about the many ways it went wrong.

Source: Seattle Times, April 02005
article by Jim Brunner


"Seattle's new City Hall and Justice Center, both touted as cutting edge and environmentally friendly, are suffering from defects that range from serious to annoying.

"Boilers have exploded. (((Oh dear.)))
Air conditioners don't work right. (((Hmmm.))) A natural ventilation system hasn't worked. (((How natural!))) Neither have the light shelves. (((Huh?)))

"A much-ballyhooed green roof turned brown. (((!))) Although City Councilman Richard Conlin is concerned about these issues, overall, he said he was 'pretty happy' with the way the new Civic Center buildings have turned out. 'We're kind of on the cutting edge of some of these design issues. ((("Cutting-edge" equals "breaks down tomorrow.")))

"It's not surprising some of it hasn't worked as well as we'd hoped and needs adjusting,' Conlin said.

The Seattle Justice Center.

"Several problems are related to heating and air conditioning control systems that leave some offices too hot and some too cold. The equipment was supposed to be more energy efficient, but right now 'tenants are uncomfortable and we are wasting money heating/cooling air that is not reaching the end user,' a city report says. (((In Seattle, guys who turn on air conditioners get to call themselves 'end users.')))

"The glass-entryway added to the base of the Seattle Municipal Tower has been plagued by a 'poorly designed' natural ventilation system. Designed without heaters and dehumidification, the area has condensation and wet floors, posing risks. (((What could be more natural than wet, dripping floors in Seattle? Call in the banana slugs!)))

Seattle city planning and development, housed in the drippy Seattle Municipal Tower.

"City Hall's light shelves installed on west- facing windows are causing glare and heat and are 'viewed as both imposing and ugly by occupants.' The cost to replace them with standard lighting is estimated at $590,000." (((Keep the 'light shelves' – anything 'imposing' and 'ugly' that is placed on a public building is guaranteed to become beloved within ten years.)))

(((It gets much better.)))

Source: Kansas City Star, article by Karen Dillon

"Innovative turkey-to-oil plant eats money, spits out fowl odor"

By KAREN DILLON The Kansas City Star

"CARTHAGE, Mo. – The eyes of the world have been on this Missouri town for several years to see if a New York businessman can really turn turkey leftovers into oil.

"The answer: A resounding yes. In fact, a revolutionary plant is turning 270 tons of poultry waste into 300 barrels of crude oil every day.

"That would be cause for wild celebration in many circles if not for two not-so-minor problems.

"First, the plant is losing buckets of money, and second, some residents of the town that once welcomed it now pretty much hate it.

"It turns out that process of cooking turkey guts, feathers, feces and other waste gives off a horrible stench. (((What? Really? Wow!)))

"'It's rotten,' said Beth Longstaff, a resident who was shopping at Wal-Mart recently. 'You can't get away from it. It's like something out of a horror movie.'

"Residents have responded with hundreds of complaints to company, city, state and federal officials.

"The stink has sparked the concern of government officials, including members of Missouri's congressional delegation who helped the plant get federal grants to try the new technology.

"Without the first $5 million grant, the plant probably never would have opened, but now it's burning through money so fast that the future is in doubt.

"'My obstacles are enormous,' said Brian Appel, the man behind the plant.

"The turkey oil is much more expensive to produce than projected – the cost of a barrel is double what it sells for. (((Yeah, but we can make that up in volume!)))

"Appel told The Kansas City Star recently that he doubts the process can be financially successful in the United States for several years.

"His company, Changing World Technology, (((a rather popular coinage))) has put on hold plans to build more plants in Colorado, Alabama and Nevada.

"Instead, he is considering a deal to build a plant in Ireland, where costs would be considerably less, and where a recent news article predicted a plant should be operating by next year. Appel also is negotiating with officials in Italy and Germany. (((Maybe he can "leapfrog" the technology into some place that already smells worse than burning turkey feathers.)))

"He doesn't know what the future of the Carthage plant holds, but he wants to make it work.

"'I owe it to the people who have been really supportive of what we plan to do, to do everything in my power to turn that around,' Appel said. But, he said, 'I don't know how long I can keep funding this."

"Several federal and state officials said they were unaware of Appel's negotiations overseas but haven't lost enthusiasm for the project.

"'The congressman believes in the technology,' said Dan Wadlington, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

"'Two hundred tons of turkey guts and feathers, and you come up with 100 barrels of refineable oil – it's a heck of a deal.' (((Imagine if ALL crude oil products smelled like burning turkey feathers. Maybe the oil business would never have come to be!)))

"Antiques and poultry

"In 2000, Carthage officials celebrated when they learned their town would be home to the world's first commercial demonstration plant to turn turkey waste into oil.

"Scientists had been tinkering with the technology for 30 years and it now seemed set to become a reality.

"The southwest Missouri town had been better known for art and tourism than for pioneering industry.

"The Precious Moments Chapel south of town has been a major attraction for years, and the town square, with one of the oldest courthouses in the state, is going through a rejuvenation of sorts. Trendy cafes have opened, and so have collectible and antique shops. Paintings, statues and sculptures decorate many spots around the square. (((Now that China has outsourced every heavy industry on the planet, it's up to the rest of us to sell each other vanilla-flavored coffee and our grandparents' possessions.)))

"Just four blocks off the town square is the industrial district where Appel located the plant. It seemed logical because ConAgra's turkey Butterball plant was already there and would supply the offal to the plant.

"Appel's company remains protective of the plant's technology. After promising a 30-minute tour, a plant official on a recent rainy day would only show a reporter the outside of the facilities.

"'This is a first-of-a-kind plant in the world,' said Paul Halberstadt, a plant vice president.

"Halberstadt explained visitors would have to dress in special clothing and heavy boots and take a safety course to get inside. (((Why not outfit everybody in the town?)))

"In general, though, he explained that turkey waste is pressure-cooked under extreme heat to produce oil.

"The plant was expected to cost $15 million to build, a third of it supplied by a federal grant that U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and Blunt helped obtain.

"But problems with the technology caused design problems early on. (((Or, alternately, maybe the "design problems" caused "problems with the technology."))) The plant had to be rebuilt at a cost closer to $40 million, with money coming from investors and ConAgra.

"The repairs delayed operation until last year.

"'Shame on us,' Appel said. 'We made mistakes. But we made the commitment to stick in with more monies.' (((You've gotta admit Mr Appel sounds lots nicer than Enron or Exxon guys.)))

"Those weren't the only projections that were way off.

"Initially, the company predicted the cost to make the oil would be a bargain – cheap in fact.

"But today, a barrel of the grade 2 to 6 diesel oil costs almost $80 to make, Appel said, while the company buying the experimental oil is paying only about $40 a barrel under its contract.

"Appel and his colleagues had assumed turkey waste would cost nothing because they expected the federal government to put a ban on feeding animal waste to animals. They estimated that processing plants would pay them $24 a ton to take away the offal.

"But that didn't happen, and Appel now is paying $52 a ton for animal waste, he said. (((See, it's basically about a crippling shortfall of turkey guts. And it gets worse, for ornithologists predict a "Turkey Gut Production Peak" for the year 2012, leading to mass Thanksgiving cancellations and a "Mad Max" wasteland.)))

"Appel also had high hopes that he would get a $1-a-gallon biofuel tax credit for production costs, or about $42 per barrel. Congress did pass the tax credit, but the definition of biofuel excluded Appel's technology. (((Live by Congress, die by Congress.)))

"In Ireland, Appel said, the losses would be reversed because processing plants would pay him to take the waste and the government has a tax credit. (((Plus, resurgent Irish hardliners are eager to field-test "turkey petrol bombs.")))

"Meanwhile, Appel has three proposed plants in the United States on hold, along with more than $8 million in federal grants.

"A tax credit and a ban on feeding animal waste to livestock are needed for the plant to become profitable, Appel said.

"The Blunt spokesman said there was still a chance that the plant would get a tax credit.

"'We are exploring that because the energy bill is still a work in progress,' Wadlington said. 'The congressman would like to find a solution.'

"Creeping odors

"Even if the finances turn around, Appel has to figure out how to get rid of the overwhelming smell.

"He's spent a $12 million federal grant he received last year in part trying to fix the problem.

"He promised before the plant was built that it would be an odor-free operation, and the Carthage mayor and townsfolk haven't forgotten.

"For more than a year, the smell would creep up the hill from the plant to the town square and then envelop the town. (((Poetry is not dead in American newspaper journalism.)))

"Then, in October, it became decidedly worse.

"One day recently, Halberstadt acknowledged that the smell was really rank, but said the company was doing everything it could to fix it. He showed off the new scrubbers that had been put in place to reduce odors.

"Residents have complained that the smell makes them retch. One said he was even afraid to let the dog go outside.

"Ann Carter, who owns Epicurean Delights, a wine, cheese and gourmet food store, said the first time she smelled the odor, she went outside and checked in the alley to see if something was there.

"'It was worse than a farm smell,' Carter said. 'I figured something had died.' (((Presumably her deli sells turkey. Those would be 'dead turkeys,' ma'am. You know, the parts that don't go on the sandwich.)))

"Mayor Kenneth Johnson worries that the town is getting a bad reputation.

"'This type of publicity isn't going to help tourism,' Johnson said.

"And on March 18, Blunt, Bond and Sen. Jim Talent wrote a letter to Doyle Childers, the director of Missouri Department of Natural Resources, asking that his agency find the source of the odor.

"'The plant... has great promise, with the hope of reducing our dependency on foreign oil,' they wrote. 'We do not want this technology to fail.' (((Now that I think of it, oil-bearing dead dinosaurs were closely related to turkeys.)))

"The Department of Natural Resources has cited the plant in recent weeks with two violations for odors and pollution – two truck trailers were found spilling blood and water or meat byproducts onto a roadway. (((There's got to be some kind of win-win solution here. Maybe they could turn roadkilled wildlife into oil, too.)))

"Childers, who visited the plant two weeks ago, said he also spoke with Gov. Matt Blunt.

"Childers said odor agents ((("odor agents"?))) are installing new monitoring devices to collect data and try to determine where the smell is coming from. (((I like it that this is such a big mystery. Have the crew of "The X-Files" been alerted?)))

"The process should take about 45 days.

"'The governor said he wants this done,' Childers said. (((Imagine being governor and reading that confidential 'odor-agent' report. "They're burning liquid turkey guts under high pressure." "Oh.")))

"'We don't want to jeopardize a technology that could eventually be very important to really our whole country. Everybody said they want to work together.'

"Appel blamed a handful of vocal critics in town for most of the complaints, and said that some of the smell could be coming from other plants.

"But Appel said he didn't want to make excuses for the plant's problems.

"'We never built one of these plants and we didn't know what to expect when we pressed the gas pedal all the way to the floorboard,' he said."

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