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Peter Gorrie is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor who has covered environmental issues for more than 30 years, with a focus on climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy and the North.

The potential of biogas

Renewable natural gas could replace 16 per cent of diesel fuel used by U.S. truck and bus fleets.

Manure, sewage and food wastes could fuel buses and trucks and eventually help to power electric vehicles.

At least that’s the promise of a fledgling renewable-energy industry which, buoyed by recent regulatory rulings, appears set for rapid growth in the United States and, hobbled by minimal government support, is taking tentative first steps in Canada.

The potential comes from the biogas that’s produced when farm manure, human sewage, food leftovers, agricultural crop residues or other organic wastes are broken down by bacteria in oxygen-free or anaerobic conditions, releasing a methane-rich gas. This happens in engineered landfills, as well as specialized facilities known as anaerobic digesters, which are found mainly on farms and at wastewater treatment plants.

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A natural advantage

Evidence is mounting that exposure to plants, animals and other humans boosts health outcomes and productivity.

No matter where you are in Toronto’s new Bridgepoint Hospital you can observe a park or garden through large windows.

Gardens cover the grounds and a roof of the hospital, which serves patients who need long-term rehabilitation or disease management. Inside, walls are painted in green or the blue of nearby Lake Ontario. Nature themes dominate artwork.

The design aims to connect patients to the surrounding community and park, says Celeste Alvaro, a specialist in experimental social psychology who heads a team researching green features and their impacts.

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Trash turned into treasure

Industry-funded stewardship organization dabbles in venture investing.

Pushkar Kumar grew up in India, where, he says, plastic trash piled up everywhere. He understood the waste was actually a vast storehouse of energy and, with his father, a renowned chemical engineer, decided to learn how to recover it.

Their work began in a small garage. Now, with the younger Kumar in Canada, it has become GreenMantra Technologies, an ambitious startup aiming to solve one of the toughest problems of Ontario’s Blue Box recycling program – finding an economic use for plastic bags and film.

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Solving the EV riddle

The thousands of charging stations sprouting up across North America may be crucial to accelerating EV adoption.

Talk to anyone involved with electric vehicles (EVs) and odds are they’ll mention “chicken and egg.” It’s a modern take on the “which comes first?” puzzler: Without public charging stations, people won’t buy EVs, but why build infrastructure when so few are buying the vehicles?

So far, it’s governments that have made the biggest effort to solve the riddle, subsidizing charging stations as they have EVs. That, in turn, could transform the production and operation of stations into a profitable business.

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Greening the fleet

Carbon reduction is top of mind for government fleet operators, but cost savings are where rubber truly hits the road.

Office-products giant Staples has 53 electric trucks in its fleet doing direct deliveries to customers. Its experience with these zero-emission vehicles closely mirrors the progress of electric vehicles (EVs) and other alternative-fuel vehicles in corporate and government fleets.

The 22,000-pound Smith Newton trucks used by Staples cost 2.5 times more than an equivalent diesel-fuelled model. The trucks, built by Smith Electric Vehicles, represent just a tiny fraction of the 1,700-truck fleet that runs direct-delivery routes across the United States and Canada.

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