Industry News Briefs

July 16, 2009 Headlines

Obama Administration Allocates $3 Billion for Renewable Energy Projects
Pace of Stimulus Contracting Picks Up
Drought-Stricken California Gives Desalination Plants a Fresh Look

Industry News

Obama Administration Allocates $3 Billion for Renewable Energy Projects
U.S. Department of Energy (07/09/09)

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Energy have announced an estimated $3 billion for the development of renewable energy projects around the United States. Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the program will provide direct payments in support of an estimated 5,000 bio-mass, solar, wind, and other types of renewable energy production facilities. “The renewable energy program provides another important avenue for the Recovery Act to contribute to economic development in communities around the country,” says Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “It will provide additional stimulus to economies in urban and rural America by helping to develop domestic sources of clean energy. This partnership between Treasury and Energy will enable both large companies and small businesses to invest in our long-term energy needs, protect our environment and revitalize our nation’s economy.”
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Pace of Stimulus Contracting Picks Up
Government Executive (07/09) Brodsky, Robert

State, local, and federal obligations for stimulus act projects nearly doubled over the month ending July 10, according to CEO Mike Pickett of Onvia, a technology company that tracks stimulus spending via the Web site. Speaking to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 8, Pickett said that was at that time tracking $90.7 billion in stimulus spending -- close to 22,000 projects -- compared to just $59 billion at the beginning of June 2009. "The good news regarding the nation's employment picture is that the pace of stimulus spending has accelerated dramatically over the last month," Pickett said. "There is 50 percent more stimulus spending in the pipeline now than there was one month ago." The figures reflect projects that a government agency or public entity has publicly reported, so they do not necessarily cover all the spending that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has released to contractors. Using the White House Council of Economic Advisors' macroeconomics job formula, Pickett estimated that stimulus contracts awarded thus far have created between 128,000 and 233,000 jobs.
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Drought-Stricken California Gives Desalination Plants a Fresh Look
Wall Street Journal (07/09/09) Shankman, Sabrina

Southern California is reconsidering desalination facilities out of a sense of desperation brought on by persistent droughts. Governments have resisted the concept because desalination plants would consume a great deal of energy, while environmentalists have balked because of the potential of damage to marine life. "Eventually, people will have to realize, it's either fish or children," says Carlsbad Mayor Claude Lewis, whose town will break ground on a $320 million desalination facility in 2010. The plant will be the largest such plant in the Western Hemisphere, and it will convert 50 million gallons of seawater into potable water every day. The facility would use water that flows via gravity from the ocean across an artificial lagoon and into the plant through 10 large pumps, and then fresh water would be filtered out, yielding enough water for 300,000 people per day. Other Southern California desalination projects are planned or underway in Orange and San Diego counties, and since January 2008 Orange County has been using a nearly $500 million groundwater-replenishment facility to recycle 70 million gallons of water daily. Fifty percent of Southern California's water comes from the Colorado River and the Sacramento River Delta, while the remaining half must be collected from groundwater, recycled or surface water, and imports from elsewhere in California. But a drought halved Colorado River exports in 2003, while Sacramento River exports have fallen by 40 percent since 2006. "We don't encourage people to put in a desalination plant unless they need one--unless they don't have any other options," notes International Desalination Association President Lisa Henthorne.

Cities Lose Out on Road Funds From Federal Stimulus
New York Times (07/09/09) Cooper, Michael; Palmer, Griff

The U.S. stimulus legislation allocated $26.6 billion for highways, bridges, and other transportation projects, but gave the states the last word on how to spend most of it. A study of 5,274 projects approved so far shows that the 100 biggest metropolitan areas in the United States are receiving less than 50 percent of the money from the largest cache of transportation stimulus funds. Hardly more than half of the stimulus money will be spent on "pavement improvement" projects, while about one-tenth will be go toward bridge repair or replacement and over 25 percent will be spent on widening roads or on new road or bridge construction. "If we're trying to recover the nation's economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas," argues Robert Puentes with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. "But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are." The 100 largest metropolitan areas account for 75 percent of the country's economic activity, and enormous traffic jams are one of the results. The Texas Transportation Institute issued a recent study estimating that traffic jams in 2007 cost urban U.S. residents nearly 3 billion gallons of wasted gas and more than 4 billion hours of lost time. "We have a long history of shortchanging cities and metropolitan areas and allocating transportation money to places where few people live," notes City University of New York professor Owen D. Gutfreund. Metropolitan areas stand to benefit from other pots of money in the transportation stimulus bill, including more than $8 billion for mass transit and $1.5 billion that can be awarded to projects of national or regional importance by the federal Department of Transportation.
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Adding Solar to Natgas Plants Is a Cheaper Way to Go Green
Investor's Business Daily (07/09/09) No. 63, P. A1; Howell, Donna

Looking to a model established by Prius manufacturer Toyota, utilities are relying on hybrid plants for a less costly method of clean and efficient energy production. Power manufacturers count on regulation to set a carbon cost on emissions and establish renewable energy mandates. Both components are included in the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation that recently sailed through the U.S. House. But independent solar plants are extremely costly. As a result, Florida's FPL Group and other facilities are beginning to add solar formations to their natural gas plants. It allows them to produce power with natural sunlight, maximizing their capabilities with traditional fuels, existing equipment, and federal incentives. A number of hybrid power initiatives in the Western United States and North Carolina are in the research and development process to see if the capital is available. Several California projects are in the process of obtaining permits.
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Modest Recession for Education Construction
Building Design + Construction (06/09)

Education-related construction spending saw steady but modest expansion through March, with education spending at or near the current building cycle's peak; it was down 9 percent year-to-date by comparison to 2008. Public education spending has risen 6.4 percent in the last year, but the private sector was down 0.4 percent. College construction spending rose 12.2 percent year-over-year, but the rise for K-12 spending was just 3 percent. The relatively modest recession in education construction is owed largely to the federal stimulus plan's nearly $200 billion in state and local government aid.
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Intelligent Compaction Is on a Roll
Engineering News-Record (07/13/09) Vol. 293, No. 2, P. 54; Van Hampton, Tudor

Research being conducted across the United States is building a case for intelligent compaction (IC), in which a soil or asphalt roller measures the stiffness or solidity of the underlying material and directs the operator on the next action to take. Some engineers doubt that a machine is actually intelligent unless it can function automatically without input from the operator to improve compaction quality. IC methods could potentially reduce compaction costs and make infrastructure such as roads last twice as long. Federal Highway Administration engineer Mike Adams says that "all the cards are in place" for nationwide IC deployments. IC in the United States is an offshoot of automated machine guidance, which stemmed from the expanded use of the Global Positioning System. Engineers say that thus far IC equipment is an outstanding tool for "proof" rolling. "We are trying to measure and predict how [roads] will behave when a truck runs over the material," says John Siekmeier of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "The roller is really a better simulation of how well that material will behave over the long term, over the itty-bitty, nuclear-density gauge."

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Announces More Than $20 Million to Repair Damaged Roads and Bridges
U.S. Department of Transportation (07/06/09)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced July 6 that the federal government is making available more than $201 million to states throughout the country to cover repair costs for highways and bridges blighted by a number of natural disasters. "Restoring transportation routes is vital for communities recovering from disaster," Secretary LaHood said. "It is the first step to getting peoples' daily lives back on track." As part of the Federal Highway Administration's emergency help program, a total of $201,490,146 will be distributed to 15 states, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and federal lands agencies to cover damages resulting from storms, floods, hurricanes, and other catastrophic events. Kentucky and Washington are slated to receive $27 million and $24 million respectively for storm damages incurred in January 2009. Louisiana will receive $16 million to cover damages from Hurricane Gustav.
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Rice Concrete Can Cut Greenhouse Emissions
Discovery Channel (07/07/09) Reilly, Michael

Rice husks, which are rich in the important concrete ingredient silicon dioxide, could help generate a boom in environmentally friendly construction thanks to a new way of processing the husks for concrete use. Researchers including Rajan Vempati of Texas' ChK Group have found a way to make rice husk ash that is nearly carbon-free by heating the husks to 800 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-free furnace. "The process emits some CO2, but it's carbon neutral. Any that we emit goes back annually into the rice paddies," Vempati said. According to Jan Olek of Purdue University, who did not take part in the study. "I think the reason rice husk ash has had difficulty making it into mainstream applications is it typically comes with quite a high carbon content. If properly prepared, it could be a very useful, good material for efforts to limit emissions of carbon dioxide in the concrete industry."
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Light + Strong Concrete = Tall, Green Buildings
Construction Week (07/08/09) Moores, Gareth

At a time when financial pressures are convincing many developers to build taller buildings, a pioneering type of concrete aggregate has the potential to make tall buildings more economical and more environmentally friendly at once, writes Gareth Moores of Lytag Ltd., one of the companies making such aggregates. Environmentalists in Europe have taken tall buildings to task as being unsustainable development, and at the same time, the construction industry has recognized that paying attention to sustainability is good business sense. Using a secondary aggregate to make lightweight concrete has two sustainability advantages: it avoids quarrying natural materials, since it can reuse industrial waste and byproducts, and it also cuts down on the amount of such waste that ends up in landfills. Moores's company Lytag produces a secondary aggregate called Lytag LWA, which is made of pulverized fuel ash produced as a waste product from coal-fired power plants. By comparison to traditional aggregate, concrete made with LWA can be as much as 25 percent lighter without reducing structural integrity, and the lighter weight of the concrete can also allow for greater spans and fewer columns. Architects, engineers, and contractors have been able to achieve shapes that would not be possible with heavier materials by using LWA in such construction applications as screeds, fills, precast concrete, and structural concrete, Moores writes. One world-famous skyscraper that has used LWA is Swiss Re's so-called "Gherkin" building in London, whose use of lightweight concrete not only enabled its trendsetting shape but also helped achieve its mandate to use recycled materials whenever possible. Besides Lytag, other companies around the world in the lightweight-concrete field include Bena German Emarati, Foam Lite Concrete, BASF Construction, Johnson Concrete, APEX Precast, RAK Precast, Saudi Concrete Products, Cellufoam Concrete Systems, Aercon AAC, Masa Group, Dubai Precast, EABASSOC, Allied Foam Tech, and Propump Engineering.
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Report Suggests Variety of Taxes to Pay for Water Trust Fund
Water Policy Report (07/06/09) Vol. 18, No. 14,

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) calls for a variety of taxes to help pay for the planned clean water trust fund, which would help fund wastewater infrastructure. The report is looking at various industries to raise tax revenue, including beverages, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and fertilizers, flushable products such as soaps and cooking oils, and water appliances and plumbing fixtures. The report was requested by House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee leaders and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the congressman expected to introduce the clean water trust fund bill this month. The recent infrastructure-funding boost in the stimulus package and other key legislation, however, may have dimmed the prospects for the trust fund to be created, particularly during this congressional session. "While my organization would love to see the enactment of a trust fund, when I put on my realism hat, I really have to wonder, with a trillion dollar deficit and climbing, whether we're going to get there," said Ken Kirk, director of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. With individual taxes on the different sectors, says the report, beverages would need to be taxed at 10.5 percent, fertilizers at 38.3 percent, flushable products at 15.8 percent, pharmaceuticals at 6.4 percent, and water appliances at 39.2 percent in order to raise the planned $10 billion.

AIA to Congress: FEMA, Communities Need to Plan Now for Disasters
American Institute of Architects (07/08/09)

As the thrust of the 2009 hurricane season approaches, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) called on federal legislators to ensure that FEMA and local governments have strategies in place to provide temporary shelter and rebuild blighted communities following major storms. Erica Rioux Gees, AIA, a Massachusetts-based architect, told the House Homeland Security Committee at a July 8 hearing that architects and other design experts are willing to help gauge the fallout from major storms, provide alternative solutions to FEMA trailers, and help neighborhoods plan for the future. "When the focus shifts from emergency response to making homes livable and workplaces functional, licensed building experts—architects, engineers, builders, and others—are often called to assist in evaluating post-disaster conditions and later to help in restoring a community," Gees testified. Gees, an AIA national Board of Directors member and current director of the AIA Massachusetts' chapter's disaster assistance office, provided several suggestions for disaster recovery: Temporary homes must be lightweight and durable; Congress should enact a "Good Samaritan" law to provide liability immunity to licensed engineers and architects during disaster recovery periods; FEMA and state and municipal emergency management departments must have ready partnership and response plans before a storm hits to help them to mobilize the post-disaster response as quickly as possible.
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Obama Administration Announces More Efficient Lighting Standards
Building Operating Management (07/09/09)

The White House has announced new national minimum energy efficiency requirements for light bulbs that will save more energy than any other standard ever issued by any presidential administration, reports the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The new standards will make millions of fluorescent tube lamps more efficient and phase out conventional incandescent reflector lamps. The standards, which will go into effect in 2012, will have little effect on the outward appearance or lighting performance of the affected light bulbs. The Department of Energy (DOE) reports that lighting uses nearly 40 percent of all electricity used in commercial buildings. DOE officials add that the new standards will save up to 1.2 trillion kilowatt-hours over 30 years, an amount roughly equal to the total consumption of all homes in the U.S. in one year.
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Bridge Reconstruction Improves Capacity
Construction Bulletin (07/06/09) Chang, Ivy

Fargo, N.D.'s 12th Avenue bridge over the BNSF railroad tracks, originally built in 1978, recently underwent a lane expansion that also addressed expansion joint and deck failures and chemical wear to concrete that the bridge had experienced over the years. The general contractors, a local firm named Industrial Builders, demolished the bridge in phases to maintain traffic. "We demolished the existing deck, removed and replaced some of the beams, and added onto the substructure to widen the bridge," said project manager Troy Erickson. Piles for abutments were driven about 100 feet into the ground, and piles for new piers were driven about 95 feet down, with additional support added under the approach so loads could be transferred to the area's prehistoric lakebed soil. Following the concrete pouring on the south half of the deck, the traffic was shifted and the north half of the bridge's deck was torn off. Contractors had to coordinate their schedule with the BNSF railroad so that rail traffic could be cleared by a flagger when construction neared the tracks. In all, the 682-foot bridge totaled $11.8 million in cost, consisting of 80 percent federal monies, 10 percent state monies, and 10 percent local monies.
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Single-Story Tilt-up Panel Design Considerations
Structural Engineer (06/09) Vol. 10, No. 5, P. 28; Smith, D. Eric

Tilt-up is widely used building method in the architectural, engineering, and construction (AEC) communities, but some may not know that tilt-up is a kind of precast concrete. Precast is defined as any structural concrete element that is cast in one position and moved to a different, final position, according to the American Concrete Institute's Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete (ACI 318-05) Section 2.2. One of the advantages of tilt-up construction is the greater level of inspection by the engineer and special inspector. Most forms tend to be broad and shallow, so they provide ample access for optimal quality control. Furthermore, ACI 318 7.7.3 enables the designer to use a smaller cover based on "plant conditions," which includes site-cast conditions when quality control provisions are fulfilled. Such larger design depth enhances strength and serviceability performance. Tilt-up concrete buildings frequently use tilt-up wall panels as load-bearing structural walls within a single-story or multi-story structures. As crane and erection technology improves, the size of panels are increasing as well. Today's panels can reach nearly 100 feet in height, according to the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, and technology is also available for stacking multi-story tilt-up panels on top of each other.
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