Saturday, 9 August 2008

Plan to use mushrooms to clean up oil contaminationBy

Clare Kendall
Last Updated: 5:01pm BST 08/08/2008
An anonymous British donor is funding a project which may help clean up the bespoiled landscape.

Amazonian Chernobyl - Ecuador's oil environment disaster
American biologists Jess Work, Brian Page and Ecuadorian fungus expert, Ricardo Viteri, are working to develop a mushroom that can 'eat' the toxic components in the soil and help reclaim the land.
The process, supported by American charity, The Cloud Institute is called mycoremediation.
It was pioneered in the US by mushroom advocate Paul Stamets who believes fungus could have a role to play in helping restore land damaged by pollution.
"Mushrooms are the world's great recyclers," said Mr Work. "They eat trash!
"Something they really love to eat is wood but wood and oil are made of the same thing, carbon. We know in the lab they will eat petroleum, we want to find them the best environment in the field. The question isn't 'does it work' it's about maximising effects.
"The decontamination task here is huge."
The technology they're developing isn't entirely new. Last November it was used in the clean up operation following the San Francisco oil spill but this is the first time it's been attempted in the tropics.
"We want to take it out of the lab and into the jungle!" said Mr Work.
In a shed just a few yards from one of the many oil pipelines which criss-cross Ecuador's jungle and which has brought so much misery to it's indigenous people, the team is cultivating oyster mushrooms.
"Oyster mushrooms are particularly versatile and aggressive," said Mr Page.
"We're starting with them but we want to find mushrooms which naturally like oil. If we could develop a strain of mushroom whose particular ecological niche was oil pollution and nothing else, that would be our dream!"
He added: "You can't just put the mushrooms in the oil and expect a miracle," he says, "You need to feed them too. We find sawdust is very good and also human hair.
"We had a hair delivery this morning and we have high hopes for it. It's very absorbent and the mushrooms love it. We're also doing trials with sugar cane husk, coconut shell and banana leaves."
Ricardo Viteri, the third party in the project, explained how the fungus breaks down the oil: "We define life by how it eats," he said.
"Mushrooms secrete enzymes to digest food outside their bodies, and then absorb the nutrients that the digestion process releases.
"The same enzyme mushrooms use to digest lignin, a main component of wood, is used to digest petroleum."
Mr Viteri is keen to point out that this is, at best, not a cure and that thousands of square hectares of polluted jungle cannot be restored.
"We're afraid people will think this is a miracle solution which it isn't," he said,
"We can't do anything about the oil pits in their raw state. Nothing in nature can deal with that but what we can do is make the soil resuseable after the bulk has been removed. Then people could regenerate their own 'patch'.
"This would be an amazing thing for the people here, to be able to remediate their own land."
The trio are currently keeping a low profile, unwilling to reveal their plans until the project is ready.
"We want to perfect our technique before we roll it out," said Mr Work. "We don't want to make promises and then not deliver."

Boris: no more energy for sustainability?

I knew the mayor would ditch some of his predecessor's more radical environmental plans, but he's pushing London back years

Jenny Jones,
Friday August 08 2008 08:00 BST

The new mayor of London has cancelled the biggest purchase order for hydrogen vehicles in the country and possibly the world. This dreadful decision will make the capital much weaker when facing problems in the very difficult times ahead.
This decision matters because hydrogen is potentially one of the best ways of storing and transporting energy from remote sources of renewable power, eg from Iceland, or wave machines off the Scottish coast. It isn't the answer to all our problems, but with oil likely to remain at over $100 a barrel, this is a technology that is worth giving a boost.
For the conservatives among you who don't believe me, then take this quote from the mayor himself, pictured three weeks ago handing out prizes to the winners of the schools hydrogen challenge:
Hydrogen is an exciting fuel of the future which is developing all the time, so it makes sense to encourage our young people to find out more so they can become the hydrogen pioneers of the next generation and help find solutions to the challenges we face today.
When Boris was elected, I had expected him to ditch some of the projects in the radical budget agreement (14 pages of excellent projects) between the previous mayor and the Greens on the London Assembly, but I assumed that the support for new technologies was a winner. With all the new mayor's talk about human ingenuity providing the solutions to the big environmental problems, I had him down as a techno-fixer. It now appears that this support for innovation only extends to nuclear power, which was the future back in the 1950s and is now a discredited, dead end technology.
The purchase of the 10 hydrogen buses will go ahead, as we are part of a European consortium of cities that want to encourage hydrogen through joint purchasing and the economies of scale. Hydrogen buses are one of the many environmental projects that were in the pipeline and have enough momentum to slip past the new gatekeepers at City Hall. I've seen several commentators naively praising Boris for increasing the cycling budget, setting up 10 low carbon zones, promoting hybrid taxis and financing more electric plug in points. In fact, all of these things are continuations of existing projects from Ken Livingstone's term in office.
However, this situation is unlikely to last. If the mayor is to meet his target of cutting 15% of the City Hall budget, then many projects designed to improve and protect London's environment will inevitably be axed. He has already ditched the £25 charge for gas-guzzlers and cut £400,000 from the groundbreaking scheme, which gives people advice on alternatives to using their car. He has not only dropped the part-pedestrianisation of Parliament Square, but also ditched the visionary 100 public spaces scheme. Despite urging Boris to think ahead and show some leadership, the Greens didn't even manage to get him to commit to the current proposal that all buses will be hybrids from 2012 onwards. Given the many complaints from Londoners about pollution from buses, a scheme that reduces pollution and fuel consumption by over a third should be a no-brainer.
A few months ago, I would have said with confidence that London was leading the world in finding new solutions to the huge transport and environmental problems we face. London had achieved zero traffic growth, during a time when both the economy and population was growing rapidly. Many of the best innovations had yet to mature and prove themselves, but we had the people and funding in place to make it happen. As we approached a new era of high energy prices and dealing with the threat of global warming, London was working out new ways of delivering traffic reduction and a shift to a genuinely sustainable transport system.
London was the future, once.

Wicks: All is lost on global warming without clean coal

Patrick Wintour,
Friday August 08 2008 16:41 BST

A dramatic warning that "all is lost on global warming" unless the world finds a new clean coal technology in the next few years has been made by the UK energy minister, Malcolm Wicks.
He insists in a Guardian interview that "the stakes are that high", as he seeks to justify pressing ahead with a new generation of coal-fired power stations starting at Kingsnorth in Kent, currently the site of a major protest.
With talk of divisions within the cabinet over the issue, the government is likely to give Kingsnorth the go-ahead, so long as it is carbon capture ready.
The as yet unproven technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is thought to be capable of cutting greenhouse gas emissions from coal stations by 90%, but Wicks admitted the EU was well away from its target of building as many as 12 demonstration projects.
Wicks justified going ahead with a new generation of coal-fired power stations on the basis that it was the only way that a demonstration project for CCS technology could be developed in the UK.
"If as some kind of gesture we said 'no' to new coal-fired power stations, we would be in a very difficult position of not being able to develop this technology ourselves. It requires some new coal-powered fire stations for the technology to develop."
He also argued India and China were due to increase coal-fired electricity "ginormously" over the next 20 years, so it was vital to develop the technology that would, in the medium term, clean their electricity.
"World demand for coal is projected to rise by 70% by 2030, an average annual rate of 2.2%, and the bulk of the rise will come from India and China.
"China is a nation built on coal, so the idea that if we showed some kind of lead and we in Britain say no to coal and China will say 'OK we will follow' is just daft."
"We are responsible for 2% of emissions worldwide, and we have a duty to tackle that," Wicks said.
"But the real gain here, the real challenge - and if we do not meet the challenge, all is lost on global warming, the stakes are that high - is to bring on clean coal technology and carbon capture and storage.
"Once we can develop those technologies, we can help the Chinese, the Indians and others to retrofit power stations and make CCS a component of new coal-fired power stations. That is the only way we are going to tackle this problem."
After much delay, Britain has opened a competition to build a demonstration project, but Wicks admitted key issues about funding the projects across the EU remain unresolved: "We are still on chapter one on this".
Ministers are under pressure from scientists, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and some of its own backbenchers to say it will withdraw the operating consent from Kingsnorth if by a fixed date - probably 2020 - the plant had failed to use CCS to capture 90% of its emissions.
But Wicks said such a condition would mean the plant was not built at all.
He said he preferred investments in CCS by the power companies to be driven by a higher carbon price emerging through the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
He pointed to the fall in profits for Drax power station as a sign that the ETS can push up the cost of using coal. But he conceded he did not know what level the carbon price might need to rise, adding there might need to be the backstop of a minimum floor for carbon price.
The energy minister makes an unlikely hate figure for the climate change camp pitched in Kent and implacably opposed to coal.
He is hardly didactic, respects the work of George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist and environmentalist, and even thought of going down to the camp to talk to some of the protesters. Even now he would still like to meet some of the leaders if it does not cause the police an extra security problem.
He also says he recognises the superficial immediate attraction of saying no to any more coal stations. But then he points to pitfalls.
"If we were to have a moratorium on coal-fired stations … we would therefore most likely become more dependent on gas.
"I don't want to exaggerate, but gas comes from some fairly unstable parts of the world and some not readily associated with human rights and democracy."
Coal is also is more reliable than nuclear and renewables, he argues.
The government is likely to make it a condition of the licence for Kingsnorth that the plant is CCS ready, a loosely defined term upon which ministers are consulting upon until September.
But there will be no obligation on Kingsnorth's owners to use CCS.
But why does the government not set a cut off point, such as 2020, by which time coal stations such as Kingsnorth would be shut if the clean coal technology was not in use?
This is the path chosen by the Republicans in California. It is supported by David Cameron, the Liberal Democrats, the Royal Society, the environmental audit select committee and reputedly some cabinet members.
Wicks is blunt. With these kinds of strings attached, he does not think E.ON would build the coal station, or the demonstration CCS station.
"I think if we did that at the moment, when we do not know 100% that CCS is going to work, the engineering has not yet been tested and no one is fully aware of what the costs might be, then that would put an end to coal-fired power stations and demonstration plant and people would build gas again."

An ecological leap of faith – eat kangaroo to save world

Published Date: 09 August 2008
By Lyndsay Moss
Health Correspondent

WHEN it comes to saving the planet, eating a kangaroo might not be the first idea to pop into the head of the average eco-friendly consumer.
But it is exactly what scientists in Australia are urging the public to consider in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.They say farming the marsupials instead of cattle or sheep would dramatically decrease methane emissions.Methane from the g
uts of grazing animals makes up about 11 per cent of Australia's greenhouse emissions. In comparison, kangaroos produce very little of the gas.But raising kangaroos instead of beef and lamb means supermarkets will have to be stocked with the meat of an Australian icon.Kangaroo meat has been growing in popularity in restaurants down under and in the UK. In the latest study, researchers from the University of New South Wales attempt to sell the case for changes in eating habits to help the environment.In the journal Conservation Letters, George Wilson and colleagues claim removing seven million cattle and 36 million sheep by 2020 and replacing them with 175 million kangaroos to produce the same amount of meat could lower greenhouse gases by 3 per cent a year in Australia.Methane's potential to warm up the planet is about 21 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. But it lingers in the atmosphere for only eight to 12 years, compared with around 100 years for carbon dioxide, so reducing it would cut the effect quickly.The researchers admitted turning one of the world's top wool and beef producers into a leading seller of kangaroo meat would not be easy."One of the impediments to change is protective legislation and the status of kangaroos as a national icon," they said.The kangaroo features on Australia's coat of arms, and it has become a children's favourite in shows such as Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "It is becoming ever clearer that eating less meat and choosing more environmentally friendly meat – such as kangaroo – can be a significant step to cutting carbon as well as improving health."FACT FILEKANGAROO tastes quite like steak, but if you eat it rare it has much more flavour, writes Tony Ginda. It is much lower in cholesterol than other types of red meat, which makes it healthier.We have the meat imported from Australia. We prepare it by brushing it with a little oil. It is then cooked under the grill.The most important thing is not to over-cook the meat as it will become very rubbery. We serve kangaroo with chutney and onions, or as a burger.• Tony Ginda is a chef at Walkabout restaurant in Glasgow, where kangaroo is on the menu.

Experts debate which is more deadly - carbon dioxide or radiation

Former miners' leader Arthur Scargill says he will spend two minutes in a room full of carbon dioxide if George Monbiot does the same in a radioactive room. Who would be better off?
Jenny Percival,
Friday August 08 2008 08:35 BST

Choose your poison. Arthur Scargill has offered to stand in a room full of carbon dioxide emissions for two minutes if environmental campaigner George Monbiot would do the same in a radioactive room.
The former general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers believes he would be less harmed than Monbiot. But is he right? Arthur Scargill
Dr John Emsley, a chemistry expert and science writer, agrees CO2 would be the better bet. "It's a nasty choice but at least in the CO2 room you wouldn't come to too much harm – it's not a toxic gas and we breath it in small doses all the time. Our own bodies even generate CO2. If there was a high level of CO2 you might pass out after 10 minutes because of a lack of oxygen but at least you'd live.
"Radiation on the other hand is much more sinister and, depending on the intensity and type, it could be deadly." George Monbiot
He cited the case of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in November 2006 after ingesting high doses of polonium-210, a naturally occurring radioactive material that emits highly dangerous alpha particles. But even polonium-210 need not be fatal, as long as it is not consumed or inhaled.
Professor Neil Barnes, a spokesman for the British Lung Foundation, said Scargill's challenge was "spurious" because high levels of CO2 could kill in a few minutes while high levels of radiation would also kill, but over a longer period.
The "more sensible" question to ask was whether coal-burning power stations or radiation from nuclear power stations were more harmful to health.
"If you look overall at the detriments to human health, then beyond doubt, coal-burning power stations pose a much greater threat," said Barnes, the professor of respiratory medicine at St Barts and the London hospitals.
Carbon dioxide was only harmful in very high concentrations, he said, whereas other products of burning coal such as sulphur dioxide created the pollution most damaging to health.
Effects ranged from minor respiratory symptoms like coughs and colds to chronic lung diseases such as emphysema, and for asthmatics a higher risk of being admitted to hospital. The greatest health problem was an increased risk of heart disease, said Barnes, because pollutants inhaled through the lungs caused the blood to become stickier.
"Add to this all the people that have respiratory diseases as a result of working in the mines – and Arthur Scargill is well aware of this since he campaigned for compensation for those affected – and coal-burning is almost certainly more damaging to health than nuclear power production."
So Barnes would, reluctantly, join Monbiot in the radioactive room.
As its title suggests, the Health Protection Agency, an independent body charged with protecting the health and wellbeing of the nation, would not sanction admission to either room.
"It's a hypothetical experiment on an emotive issue and it would never get approval on ethical grounds," said a spokeswoman.