UA engineering professor Kimberly Ogden talks about making fuel from algae, carbon sequestration and other strategies to combat climate change ahead of her Feb. 29 talk in the UA College of Science spring lecture series.
Then we talk with two authors, Tom Prezelski and Megan Kimble, as part of our ongoing preview of the Tucson Festival of Books.
ere’s a transcript of the show:
Hello, everyone. I’m Tucson Weekly senior writer Jim Nintzel, and we’re here to talk Zona Politics. Today, we are once again highlighting the U of A College of Science Spring Lecture Series on Climate Change. Joining us in the studio are Dr. Kimberly Ogden, UA professor of chemical and environmental engineering, who has been studying how to turn algae into fuel. Dr. Ogden will discuss “Carbon Sequestration: Can We Afford It” as part of its Spring Lecture Series at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 29, at Centennial Hall. Dr. Ogden, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Ogden) Thank you. Thanks for having me.
(Nintzel) You do a lot of work with biofuels such as algae Tell us a little bit about how that works and where the resource is at this point.
(Ogden) Well, at the University of Arizona, I lead up a program that’s collaborative with one of the government labs, specifically Northwest Labs and New Mexico State University and Texas A&M, but the U of A is the lead institution and our goal right now for the research is to understand if we can grow algae or cultivate algae outside, 24-7, 365 days a year to be able to make fuel The Department of Energy is our funding source for that. And WE also if you don’t want to make fuel when fuel is only $30 a barrel right now, oil is, and you can also use the algae to make food.
(Nintzel) And how do you make fuel out of algae?
(Ogden) So, when you take an algae cell, you grow it up and it’s a lot more dense than like what you’d have in your swimming pool, but you still have a lot of water with it. You have to separate the water from the biomass and then you take the biomass and you can either convert all of the biomass into a fuel, or you could separate it, and you could take the protein part and do something else for protein with it, and take the sap or the lipids and turn that part into fuel only.
(Nintzel) And you have algae beds at the campus farms up there on Campbell and Roger?
(Ogden) Yes, correct. They’re kind of past the greenhouses. They’re hidden a little bit, which is okay. They’re a little bit out of the way.
(Nintzel) And how far along is this technology in terms of being able to produce a lot of fuel from algae?
(Ogden) So, there’s been a lot of push since around 2009 is when people started to invest in it again, that’s when oil was really costly, and there was quite a bit of investment in it, and I think since 2009 to about now we’ve brought the cost down of making fuel from, like, hundreds of dollars a gallon to $10, or $7 to $10 dollars a gallon is probably where we’re at righ6 now, so it’s getting closer to reality.
(Nintzel) Well that’s tough to compete with a $1.50 a gallon of gas.
(Ogden) Yes, of course it is. It is. But we’re getting closer. From $200 to $7 is not so bad.
(Nintzel) Well, that’s a good jump. right there. What got you interested in being a chemical engineer and in particular this field of study?
(Ogden) Well, I guess when I was in high school, I didn’t know what engineering was. A lot of kids don’t. And math was pretty easy for me, so when I got to college I just tried it out. I kind of like fell into it, and I think the reason that I stayed with it was because I always had really good mentors. It was all about someone that really mentored me and said, “You know you can do this. You can do whatever you want. And then you can go to graduate school and try whatever you want.” And then I just kind of got interested in the bio aspects of it, so I do I’ve done a lot of bioreactors throughout my career. Reactors to make pharmaceutical products, to clean up waste streams and now to make fuel (?). That’s what I do. Kind of a reactor person
(Nintzel) The title of your Feb. 29 talk is “Carbon Sequestration: Can We Afford it?” What is carbon sequestration?
(Ogden) So there are a lot of different ways that people have thought about trying to take carbon, take it out of the atmosphere in some way. And most of the carbon dioxide that we make today comes out of power plants or, like, cement plants What people would like to do, one of the technologies, is essentially take what comes out of the top of the power plant and concentrate the carbon dioxide and then pump it underground. Why are they sequestering it? They’re kind of sequestering it way deep in the earth, and leaving it there That’s one option.
(Nintzel) And the second part of your talk title is “Can we afford it?” So, can we afford to do this?
(Ogden) So it depends on how much you want to pay to do something like this. So the problem was pumping carbon dioxide underground id you have to, just like we pump our water from the Colorado River. It’s kind of costly to do those things So it would probably, just to pump the carbon dioxide underground, it would increase our utility bills by 20 or 30 percent. If we would need to increase, we would need 20% or 30% more energy just to take the CO2 underground. Then we’d all be paying that much more in our utilities.
(Nintzel) And, is this being done anywhere at this point?
(Ogden) There are a couple of (?) to make sure that it’s unsafe if you’re going to put the CO2 underground, you don’t want to just start doing that everywhere. You need the right geology to be able to do that. And there are, there is a test site per region across the united states so that metal is where the Department of energy groups that has actually their funding from people who actually do these types of studies and make sure that it would work out okay.
(Nintzel) You know, a lot of people watching may not really understand the problem that CO2 is. Can you explain it in a nutshell why it is increasing the heat on the planet?
(Ogden) Essentially as we put more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, a lot of times it builds up in the particular atmosphere, and then the sun’s rays, the heat around the earth, is kept inside the atmosphere, and it either is sunk into the oceans or it warms up the atmosphere around it.
(Nintzel) You’ve been doing the biofuel stuff what about solar energy as a viable alternative. The use is growing but it still represents a tiny fraction of what we use here in the United States.
(Ogden) Yeah, solar …. I don’t think there’s one answer for our energy future. We want to use a suite of clean technologies in the future. You know, battery-powered cars and things like that, and switching from coal to natural gas, and solar is one of the system They’re not going to use solar in Alaska in the winter, right, but solar in Tucson is a really good idea most of the time. So, in sunny climates and so forth where solar has a lot of potential … and you see across Tucson a lot more solar going You know, a lot of service strips are putting solar over their parking lots and things like that. The challenge is balancing things with solar for the power companies. The power companies have to be able to balance, when you’ve got solar energy or wind energy and then when you don’t have it, but you have to make it up with other electricity, and there’s a lot research in grid management and things, and Tucson Power’s really electric power. TEP is great, you know, really working with the university working with the city and everybody else to put more solar in our system, on our grid.
(Nintzel) And, what about nuclear energy?
(Ogden) So, there’s a lot of nuclear promise. The scare, of course, about nuclear is, you know, when you have a tsunami or whatever, what a nightmare. Or Chernobyl. You know those are nightmares. But the technology is getting better and better, and safer and Idaho National Labs is one of the groups that has like these modular nuclear reactors, now. They’re small, depending on how much you need. You can stack them together and they’re a lot safer, and they understand them a lot more. And, Arizona has one nuclear plant that, Palo Verde plant, and you know, it’s running safe. It has no It can’t discharge anything. So they recycle and re-use their water and everything on that plant, within that facility and it’s great. So there, you know, we’ve made a lot of progress to make nuclear a lot safer. There’s still always going to be a waste-disposal issue. “Where are we going to put the waste.” So that’s going to be an issue.
(Nintzel) That’s an expensive process, too. To find a safe and secure location for the nuclear waste. Right. If we don’t take some steps to address climate change, what do you see happening?
(Ogden) I don’t like to be a gloom and doom person. It’s just not my personality. I like to solve problems, but I think you know, if things start to, if the earth continues to heat up and things, we’ll see changes in our ecosystem, you know. We’ll have issues related to energy, water and food, being able to look at supply, I mean we already have some issues with that as we have we’re looking at more and more populations. As things get more mixed and there are more problems with that energy, water, food nexus as they’re talking about, now, and being able to supply all of those things where we need, and Arizona particular we’re, we can get drier and have more and more problems, you know, having enough water for everybody.
(Nintzel) What advice do you have for people who are thinking about pursuing a career in science or engineering?
(Ogden) Oh stick with it. It’s great. Keep taking your math in high school. Whether you like it or not. I think working in technology in science and engineering, you know …. I’m an engineer. I love what I do. I like being a chemical engineer and so, as we keep moving forward, if you’re a problem solver, and so, if you can have any niche in …. ideas and like to solve problems and things like that and, you know, try to be an engineer and you’ll, like I’ve moved from bioreactors from pharmaceuticals and now biofuels just because I have a skill set that allows me to move around and solve problems in eco chemicals.
(Nintzel) Fantastic. So the talk is “Carbon Sequestration: Can We Afford It?” It’s going to be Monday February 29 at Centennial Hall at 7 p.m. Thank you so much for joining us here on Zona Politics. We will be right back with author Tom Prezelski.
The U of A Festival of Books returns in March, so we’re talking with a few local authors over the next few weeks. Today, we’re welcoming Tom Prezelski, author of Californio Lancers: The 1st Battalion of Native Cavalry in the Far West, 1863 to 1866. Tom, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Prezelski) Thanks, Jim.
(Nintzel) So what is this book all about?
(Prezelski) Well, in the Civil War they recruited a battalion of about 300 340 Mexican-American cavalrymen for the Union Army, to basically support the forces in California during the Civil War.
(Nintzel) What got you interested in this period of history.
(Prezelski) Well, when I was in college I took a class from Dr. Harwood Hinton in Arizona history and when he covered the Civil War he just kind of off-handedly said that somewhere near Tubac, there were these Mexican-American cavalrymen that had been recruited in California and were armed with lances. And I thought that was kind of an unusual story. We don’t hear about lances in the American Army very much. We don’t hear about Mexican-American soldiers in the Civil War very often. So I thought … that kind of fascinated me. It took me several years to get around to actually doing the research about it, but it turned out to be a very strange story full of some very strange people.
(Nintzel) And you mentioned the lances. That’s an unusual weapon of choice. Why did they choose that?
(Prezelski) Well, because traditionally, Mexican irregular cavalry carried lances. A lot of officers in the American army were very impressed with the skill that Mexicans had with lances, particularly in California. They were still using lances in the militia in California up until the time of the Civil War so it wasn’t unusual to think of Californio carrying lances back then. It was unusual to have lancers in the American Army. It was something kind of outside the American tradition, but it was certainly well within the Mexican-American tradition.
(Nintzel) You have a lot of outsized-personalities in this book Maybe none more than Captain Jose Ramon Pico. Who was this guy, and tell me some of your favorite stories about him?
(Prezelski) Oh, Pico. Yeah, Pico’s a really unusual character. He’s really hard to, it’s really hard to figure out what’s going on with him. In the photo I used of him he’s wearing a colonel’s uniform. It turns out the uniform was actually borrowed for the photo and he never gave it back to the guy who owned the uniform. There are actually letters back and forth “I want my uniform back.” He was rather careless with the finances of the company. He ends up getting in a lot of legal trouble over that. The general in charge of California has to bail him out of that. My favorite story about Pico was when they sent several native cavalrymen across the border when they were stationed in Arizona, they sent several native cavalrymen across the border to Magdalena basically to try to get some deserters back. They weren’t concerned so much about the deserters. They just wanted the horses and the guns they took with them. And Pico was not someone who was a diplomat and he basically starts threatening the imperialist officials in Mexico saying, you know, they don’t recognize the imperial government they have no business talking to him, and he came very close to starting a war with France as a result of that. And then on the way back they didn’t manage to get any of the weapons or anything back from the French, but on the way back, he sighted some Apaches in the hills and decided, “Hey, we’ve got to charge these guys.” So they charge up the mountain, and he loses control of his horse and ends up shooting himself in the foot, which kind of ends his active career in the army. He spends most of the rest of the time on sick leave. But it’s kind of interesting because he’s supposed to be the greatest person in California and he falls off his horse.
(Nintzel) And shoots himself in the foot.
(Prezelski) And shoots himself in the foot, literally.
(Nintzel) That did not go well. You tell about these great letters as well. Really interesting. One of the letters: “Dear Aunt, If you were not so lazy I would write to you more.” Talk about this correspondence
(Prezelski) Oh, the correspondence ends up being the most fascinating part of the whole story because mostly they’re complaining. Complaining about fleas. Complaining about the weather. Complaining about there being no tobacco; that they have to use pipe tobacco when they roll their cigars. But the fascinating thing is that they code switch. They’re writing to their relatives in California, and they’re going back and forth between English and Spanish, which is something that I grew up with, being from a Mexican-American family, so then people switch back and forth and I thought that was really fascinating that they were doing it then. Also, some of the slang they’re using– they’re calling people “cholo,” things like that. I mean, those are words we think are you know, within the last several decades, but they’re actually much older than that.
(Nintzel) Long time. You used to be a state lawmaker. You’re back at work up there. Do you miss it?
(Prezelski) Sometimes, but then I get my wits back about me and realize it’s really tough up there.
(Nintzel) They do have a lot of work to get done up there. Alright. The book is “Californio Lancers.” You will be at the Book Festival this year.
(Prezelski) Yes, I’m on two different panels.
(Nintzel) Excellent. Alright, we will be with author Megan Kimble. Edible Baja Arizona editor Megan Kimball will be among the authors at this year’s Tucson Festival of Books. Last year, I talked with Megan about her new book, “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food,” which chronicles her twelve months of avoiding processed foods. Here’s the trailer for her book followed by a second look at our interview.
(Megan in video) I’m Megan Kimble and I’m the author of “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.” A little over three years ago I set myself a challenge: one year without processed food. This challenge took me on a journey into my kitchen and through our food system. There were a lot of reasons why I stopped eating processed food, but the three main reasons were environmental, economic and health. So, what makes food processed? Part of what makes something like produce processed is how it’s grown. You have two melons side by side. They look the same, but a study shows that 60% of conventional produce even after it’s washed has pesticide residue. Another way produce is processed is how it gets to you. There’s an enormous infrastructure of cold storage that moves produce from places like Chile to places like Tucson or Montana, and that requires a huge amount of resources. On the other hand, consider a watermelon grown down the street. It goes into a farmer’s truck to a farmer’s market and maybe will sit in cold storage for a day before you get to it. So, you look at any ingredient label in a supermarket Soy Lecithin is an emulsifier that is on a lot of ingredient labels. Okay, so what is an emulsifier? What is soy lecithin? If you have to sit there and think about all these components, it’s probably processed. That sort of engineering creates a food that on the surface tastes very pleasurable, which tricks your body into eating more than it needs. Ultimately what I learned is that by opting out of our industrial food system in small ways, through our day to day choices, and by investing in our own communities, we can change our broken food system. Buy my book and learn how to be a part of the solution.
(Nintzel) My next guest is Megan Kimble, the editor of Edible Baja Arizona, and the author of the newly released book, “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming the Real Food.” Megan, welcome to Zona Politics.
(Kimble) Thanks. It’s good to be here.
(Nintzel) So this book is all about you taking one year off from eating any kind of processed food Where did the idea come from?
(Kimble) Right, well I had been reading all the stuff about food that many of us had read, you know, how sort of destructive our food system is to the environment, how unhealthy processed food is to our bodies and sort of trying to figure out a way in. At the time that I started this, I was a graduate student earning a graduate-student’s salary. I was in this tiny little apartment, so a lot of the scenarios about local food felt kind of inaccessible to me, and so it was an attempt to find a way in. What could I do in my own life having already limited time and money.
(Nintzel) When you’re talking about unprocessed food, you’ve got to figure out where to draw that line, and the book is really about how you figured out how to draw that line How did you do it?
(Kimble) Yeah, the book is a really an exploration because of course all food is processed. Cooking is a kind of process, so, at the beginning of my year I set up this framework that a food was unprocessed if I could theoretically make it at home. So, for example, you can make wheat berries. You can grind them up. In fact, I’ve got a little hand-crank grain grinder and ground them up into wheat flour. You could take that a step further and make refined white flour without bleach and chemicals and industrial machining. So that was the sort of framework. If I could imagine how a food was made, it was unprocessed. And so, what could you eat? I ate a lot of really delicious food, so I ate, you know cheese from the farmer’s market. I ate whole grains. I ate whole grain bread. I’m a member of the Tucson Community Support Agriculture Program so lots of fresh local vegetables. I drank wine and beer still. I tried to get it locally when possible, so I really ate kind of food, you know, food you know, food defined as so it really, once I set up that framework and figured out the things that I couldn’t buy at the supermarket any more, it became pretty easy.
(Nintzel) Of course, people need to read the book to find out everything about it, but what did you learn about food as you went about this?
(Kimble) Yeah. I mean one thing that I learned is how much crazy stuff is in our food once you start checking it turning it over and reading the ingredient label, it’s kind of shocking Sugar is in everything. There’s mustard and mayonnaise, often deli meats So I think just the processes of reading ingredient labels and trying to figure out what was in my food that alone changed by eating habits And then the other thing is just that because there’s such a wide spectrum of process, it’s kind of you know it’s really hard to decide what makes food too processed, and I think that’s such an individual decision that, you know, kind of trying to figure out for yourself people make decisions about that.
(Nintzel) And did you really end up slaughtering sheep?
(Kimble) I did end up slaughtering sheep. So the book is just about food and so you know I start with wheat, I do sugar, vegetables, salt. dairy, and I ended the year thinking about meat. I was raised by two vegetarians, so I kind of had to figure out a way into meat and how to figure out how I could eat it responsibly and locally and really understand what we killed and animals, and that’s really what meat is, and so I did this workshop with Bean Tree Farm, which is a local farm outside of Tucson, and along with, I think, eight other people slaughtered the sheep, and it was a really transformative experience, and to answer maybe the follow up question, it actually was really helpful and understanding what’s involved, and so now I actually feel fine eating a little red meat.
(Nintzel) Have you slaughtered any more sheep?
(Kimble) I have not, no It’s not a regular part of my life these days.
(Nintzel) A big background of the book is the issue of climate change, and how that, how the way we eat is really contributing to that and then, talk a little bit about that.
(Kimble) Yeah, I mean that was a huge part of how I got into food. I was really interested in the environment. You know when I was in college and saw “An Inconvenient Truth,” and like so many people I had the realization of “Oh no! We have to do something.” And so I learned that the food system entails almost 40% of the greenhouse gases that we do in the United States, and so it’s a huge contributor to global warming and climate change, and the way that we farm today modern cultures of corn and soybeans are really not very good for the environment, not to mention animal and meat production So, my attempts at eating food that not only was for my own body and my own health, it was “How do I participate in a food system that is more sustainable?”
(Nintzel) And what are the big things these days is this whole farm-to-table movement, and the growing awareness about the importance of fresh foods, local foods How has this become such a big thing now?
(Kimble) Yeah that’s a great question. I think a lot of people have the same realizations that I had, not only about the sort of larger food system and how large and incomprehensible it is for any one person to sort of engage with, and how really not transparent it is. I think that scares a lot of people It scares me, certainly, but also you know, people are realizing that food grown nearby tastes better. It’s just better food. You know, cheese made by a local cheese maker is fresher and the eggs are fresher, and so it’s just easier to eat healthy.
(Nintzel) And you talk also about the importance of just spending your money with local businesses and the economic impact of that.
(Kimble) Yeah that was basically the conclusion of my book, and I love the study by Local First Arizona, which is a local business coalition study says that everyone in the community of Tucson shifted just 10% of their spending to local business, collectively, we would pay $140 million in new revenue for the city. So what that means is that our consumer choices have an impact, particularly in the food system, you know there are a lot of local producers in Southern Arizona who are struggling to make ends meet and every consumer dollar helps them produce more food for our local foodshed. And so, I really believe in the power of money circulating through our community and make our community. It helps not only our local producers but also our firefighters and our roads and our city government, all of that has to do with how people in the community spend their money.
(Nintzel) And how do people get closer to the local producers of food If there are persons watching and thinking “How do I get connected to these folks? What’s the best way?
(Kimblel) Yeah, I mean, going to a farmer’s market is a really great way to start to talk to the people selling food, asking where is your farm? How did you grow it? What kind of foods are you producing? Joining a CSA is another great way. It gets producers a reliable source of income, and you get, I think it’s a really great thing for your buck, in terms of getting local food for not as much money and I think just sort of paying attention. Going to local grocery stores like the Food Co-op on Fourth Avenue, and trying to figure out who’s producing what in our foodshed.
(Nintzel) You are the founding editor of Edible Baja Arizona and as well as the author of this book, and for folks who are unfamiliar with what is the magazine all about.
(Kimble) Right. It’s a magazine all about local food. Our tagline is “Celebrating Foodways of Tucson and the Borderlands,” so we cover all of Southern Arizona across into Sonora, everything about food and culture and food production and all the things that are surrounding this particular foodshed. It’s a free magazine. We print 26,000 copies every other month. So our next issue coming out will be our July-August issue. which is the start of our third year, which is really exciting.
(Nintzel) So two years in business
(Kimble) And we’re growing. We’re a 200-page magazine and we started at 76 pages. Thanks to the sort of support we have in this community for local foods
(Nintzel) Certainly one of my favorite magazines here in town. What are people going to find in that next issue?
(Kimble) We’re doing a few stories on that issue of local food production, how producers may grow more sustainable businesses that are sort of more profitable and for their livelihood. Also, I’m writing a story about local food distribution, about farmers’ markets and CSA programs and how to get more local food to more people. We have a story about, so we cover things not only food, but water is usually important to growing food, obviously and so we have a story about the pulse flow which happened a year ago. This group worked to get water into the Colorado River Delta and so what are the impacts of that a year later. And then we have a lot of great profiles of local restaurants and chefs, and we have a gardening column in every issue. Essays, there’s lots of fun stuff, and beautiful photography by a great local photographer.
(Nintzel) And the publisher is Doug Biggers. What’s that guy really like. I hear he’s kind of a tyrant.
(Kimble) Doug’s wonderful.
(Nintzel) We’ll leave it there. Thanks for coming by, Megan. The book is “Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food” That is our show. If you missed any part of our show, you can catch it at zonapolitics.com Be sure to look us up on Facebook. Thanks again for watching.