If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



California Dreaming

by Rudy M. Baum
February 22, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 8

On my way to this year's Informex conference in San Francisco, I spent two days with one of my oldest friends, T. D. Passmore, whom I've known for 45 years. He picked me up at the San Francisco airport in the early afternoon on Friday, and we drove directly to Lake Tahoe to ski at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort on Saturday.

We had a great day of skiing. On Sunday, both of us felt a bit creaky from the previous day's exertions, and we decided on a change of plans. Instead of skiing, we would drive up the eastern side of the Sacramento Valley to Chico to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., the Mecca of craft brewing.

Passmore drove. The eastern side of the Sacramento Valley is rich, rolling countryside with abundant water provided by the Yuba and Feather Rivers and their numerous tributaries. The land is intensively cultivated, primarily with orchards: peaches, pears, nuts, and even some olives.

As the miles rolled past, I realized just how technologically sophisticated agriculture has become in the U.S. I think many people have a view of farming that is 50 or more years out of date. The precise planting of carefully hybridized fruit and nut trees; the sophisticated irrigation systems; the application of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides all contribute to making agriculture a high-tech industry that is as far removed from traditional farming as my BlackBerry is from a rotary telephone.

As we drove, I realized that all of what I was seeing was possible in a world where fossil fuels were burned only sparingly, where the sun and nuclear power provided most of our energy, where the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was decreasing, not increasing. We know how to do this; we lack only the will to do it because the availability of cheap fossil fuel—cheap because we externalize the cost of CO2 pollution—has made us intellectually and technologically lazy.

We made a slight detour to visit Oroville Dam, which blocks the Feather River about 9 miles east of Oroville. It is a massive structure, more than a mile long and, at 770 feet high, the tallest dam in the U.S. Lake Oroville is now only at about 40% capacity, due to a decade-long drought that has nothing to do with global climate change.

We reached Chico around 2 PM and easily found the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. I had a pint of their Torpedo IPA and Passmore, a pint of Brown Ale while we waited for a table. We wound up eating excellent fish and chips at the bar with another pint of ale each. Then we took a self-guided tour of the facility.

Sierra Nevada has committed to operating in as green a manner as possible. The building roofs are covered with solar cells, and the parking lot has a solar array above it. The solar cells provide the brewery with 1.4 MW of electricity. Four 250-kW fuel cells round out the power supply to the brewery. The solar cells and the fuel cells provide the majority of the facility's electrical needs. Sierra Nevada also captures CO2 from its fermentation operations, recycles, and has an aggressive program of water conservation. This is how we will produce everything in the future, I thought to myself.

On Sunday evening, I checked into the Marriott, and on Monday morning I began preparing for C&EN's reception that evening and the meetings I had scheduled. On Tuesday, I heard on the news that President Obama had signed an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to build the first new nuclear reactors in the U.S. in more than 30 years, taking another important step toward energy sanity (see page 8).

Informex is in full swing as I write this on my flight back to Washington, D.C. The mood I gathered at the C&EN reception and in various conversations I had during the two days I was in San Francisco was a positive one. Those in the fine and custom chemicals industry in general seem to believe that the worst of the Great Recession is behind them, and that the industry will see real growth in 2010. For Senior Editor Rick Mullin's first take on this year's Informex, see page 8. We'll have a longer report on the conference by Senior Correspondent Ann Thayer in the March 8 issue.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.