Monday, 25 August 2008

Sitting on a fortune in black gold, but is this too high a price to pay?

Published Date: 25 August 2008
By Rob Gillies

THE largest dump truck in the world is parked under a massive mechanical shovel waiting to move 400 tonnes of oily sand.
Each Caterpillar 797B heavy hauler – three-storeys high, with tyres twice as tall as the average man – carries the equivalent of 200 barrels of heavy oil, worth £12,500 at today's prices."It's like sitting on your back porch and driving your house," said Todd Dahlman, the manager of Shell Canada's Muskeg River open-pit oilsands mine in Alberta's Athabasca region.Shell, which has 35 of the huge loaders working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has ordered 16 more – at £2.7 million each – as it expands its open-pit mines. Shell, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Canada's Imperial and other companies plan to strip an area of 55,000 square miles that could yield as much as 175 billion barrels of oil. Daily production of 1.2 million barrels from the oil sands is expected to nearly triple to 3.5 million barrels in 2020. Overall, Alberta has more oil than Venezuela, Russia or Iran. Only Saudi Arabia has more.High prices are fuelling the Canadian province's oil boom. But the amount of energy and water needed in the extraction process has raised fears among scientists and environmentalists."Their projected rates of expansion are so fast we don't have a hope in hell of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Dr David Schindler, an environmental scientist at Alberta University.Oilsands operations, including extraction and processing, are responsible for 4 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, and that is expected to triple to 12 per cent by 2020. Oilsand mining is Canada's fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and one reason it reneged on its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Producing a barrel of oil from sands is said to result in emissions three times greater than a conventional barrel of oil.Brian Maynard, of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, admits: "Industry has to improve its environmental performance."But Dave Collyer, Shell's chairman in Canada, said world demand meant oil companies had to exploit unconventional sources of energy. "You have to consider the environmental impact in a broader context," he said. "There is significant economic benefit from the development of oilsands. The oilsands represent a very secure, reliable, long-term source of supply."David Suzuki, Canada's best known environmentalist, cautioned against accepting the argument that the oil industry would develop safer techniques, such as carbon capture storage, noting that the time and money needed for such methods could not be predicted."They say, 'No, no, we're going to do research and really clean up our act'. You can't give these guys permission to go ahead on the promise that something is going to happen in the future," he said.Many say the environmental ramifications are too dire to ramp up oilsands production. They claim Canada's boreal forest, one of world's largest intact ecosystems, is being torn up to make way for the mines and that too much water is being taken from Alberta's Athabasca river.There are concerns, too, about the tailing ponds that sit next to the river. They contain waste from the separation of oil from sand and take up 50 square miles of northern Alberta. Jeff Short, a scientist who studied the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, said if one of the ponds spilled into the river, "it would be the equivalent of several hundred Exxon Valdez oil spills". A flock of 500 migratory ducks died recently after landing in one of the ponds.

Controversial energy source on agenda for White House

QUESTIONS about developing Alberta's oilsands have seeped into the US presidential campaign and the debate in Canada and the US over keeping down the price of petrol.
The Bush administration sees Alberta as a reliable source of energy that will help reduce reliance on Middle East oil.David Wilkins, the US ambassador to Canada, said the oilsands would define the relationship between the two countries for the next ten years."We are blessed by the fact that our friend and neighbour is also our number-one supplier of foreign oil," Mr Wilkins said.However, the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's top energy adviser said oilsands emissions were "unacceptably high" and may run counter to Mr Obama's plan to shift the US away from carbon-intensive fossil fuels."The amount of energy that you have to use to get that oil out of the ground is such that it actually creates a much greater impact on climate change, as well as using much more energy than even traditional petroleum," Jason Grumet said.Mining oilsands was also criticised by American mayors at their annual conference in June. They alleged that the oil sands mines damage Canada's boreal forest – boreal refers to the earth's northern zone – and slows the transition to cleaner energy sources in the US.John Baird, Canada's environment minister, warned that Washington would lose energy security if it did not take Alberta's oil."If American mayors want to send their money to unstable, undemocratic countries in the Middle East instead of to Canada, that will be their call. If they want to pay a premium for Iranian, Saudi, Iraqi oil that will be their call," Mr Baird said.

First mass US crossing for hydrogen cars completed

Sunday August 24 2008
By Bernie Woodall

LOS ANGELES, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Hydrogen fuel cell cars from nine automakers completed a 13-day cross-country trip this weekend, in the first such mass U.S. crossing for vehicles powered by a zero-emission technology still in its infancy.
As firsts go, the event, which ran from Portland, Maine, to to the Los Angeles Coliseum, probably would not qualify for the record books. There were stretches without hydrogen fueling stations when the vehicles were carried on flatbed trucks, the longest from Rolla, Missouri, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
But then one of the goals of the "Hydrogen Road Tour '08" was to demonstrate the need to build more fueling stations if the nascent technology is to develop, said Paul Brubaker, administrator for research and innovative technology for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
There are about 60 hydrogen stations in the United States, and only two are open to the public without prior arrangement.
The industry- and taxpayer-sponsored tour stopped in 31 cities in 18 states. Backers included two hydrogen producers, Air Products and Linde, which hope to become household names if hydrogen becomes a key to transportation.
Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of major tour supporter California Fuel Cell Partnership, said fueling stations will develop first in big cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C.
"There's a lot of curiosity about these vehicles," Dunwoody said near the finish line in Los Angeles on Saturday. "As we got to Allentown, Pennsylvania, people lined up and cheered."
The partnership she heads is based near California's capital, Sacramento, and funded by public and private funds.
"There's a hunger out there for clean, safe vehicles," Brubaker said. "The common refrain everywhere we went was 'Where do we get these cars.'"
For most people, the answer is nowhere soon. Honda Motor Co has begun leasing about 200 FXC Clarity fuel-cell autos in Southern California and General Motors Corp is testing about 100 fuel-cell Chevy Equinox SUVs on the road.
But those deployments, as well as the autos in the road tour, are experimental, since the technology is not ready for showrooms. Carmakers have spent billions on their development in hopes of capitalizing on a public desire to buy cleaner cars and a U.S. push to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
The United States consumes about a quarter of the world's oil, and imports 70 percent of its crude. Cars and trucks consume 44 percent of oil used in the country and contribute about a fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 makes up nearly 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Even in a best-case scenario, automakers will only sell about 2 million electric vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells by 2020, a study by the National Research Council found.
Cars on the tour came from Honda, GM, Toyota Motor Corp, Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Daimler AG, Hyundai Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co, and Volkswagen AG.
Linde and Air Products showed off their hydrogen-making machines to the public and at times refueled the autos.
The idea for the tour originated with Brubaker when he watched a Ken Burns documentary, "Horatio's Drive," at the same time that he was reading a biography of Dwight Eisenhower.
The Eisenhower biography mentioned the future president's cross-country trip as a young man, when he noticed long stretches without paved roads. When he was president in the 1950s, Eisenhower started the U.S. interstate highway system.
Burns documented the 1903 drive of Horatio Nelson Jackson who, on a bet, crossed the country in a 20-horsepower Winton car hoping to be the first to make the trip in an automobile. His journey from San Francisco to New York took 64 days. (Editing by Braden Reddall)

British solar plane sets record by flying non-stop for three days

A British built plane powered entirely by solar power has set a world record for an unmanned flight by staying in the air for more than three days.

By Joanna Corrigan
Last Updated: 1:02PM BST 24 Aug 2008

The Zephyr-6, created by UK defence and research firm QinetiQ, flew continuously for 82 hours, 37 minutes.

Solar panels glued to its wings and in-built lithium batteries that store power from the sunlight ready for when it is dark allow the unpiloted plane to run day and night.

The flight beats the current official world record of 30 hours, 24 minutes set by the US robot plane Global Hawk in 2001 and the Zephyr's own previous record of 54 hours.

However, it will remain unofficial because the Federation Aeronautique Internationale which sanctions all record attempts was not involved.

The record was broken at the end of last month above the US army's Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. Britain's Ministry of Defence was also involved in the tests.

America is looking for new technology to help support its troops on the ground. It is likely the unmanned plane will also be used by the UK once it is ready.

Chris Kelleher, from QinetiQ, said: "We think Zephyr is very close to an operational system - within the next two years is what we're aiming for.

"The principal advantage is persistence - that you would be there all the time. A satellite goes over the same part of the Earth twice a day - and one of those is at night - so it's only really getting a snapshot of activity. Zephyr would be watching all day."

The 30kg plane has an 18-metre wingspan, looks like a giant model aircraft and is launched by hand.

But sophisticated technology means that once it is in the air, it can be guided remotely up to around 60,000ft and then flown on autopilot and via satellite communication.

Silicon solar modules no thicker than sheets of paper stuck to the plane's wings generate the power needed to make it fly and the lithium batteries power it at night.

Hampshire-based QinetiQ are now working with aerospace giant Boeing on a defence project that would see the biggest solar-powered plane in history take to the sky.

The firm is also looking at civilian uses for the unmanned craft and recently completed the first flight for agricultural monitoring, in partnership with Aberystwyth University.

QinetiQ says it has broken unmanned flight record

The Associated Press
Published: August 24, 2008

LONDON: An ultra-lightweight plane built from carbon fiber and powered using paper-thin solar panels has broken the world record for longest-lasting unmanned flight, its manufacturer claimed Sunday.
QinetiQ Group PLC said its propeller-driven "Zephyr" aircraft flew for 83 hours and 37 minutes, more than doubling the official world record set by Northrop Grumman's "Global Hawk" in 2001.
The flight also went longer than a previous excursion by the Zephyr, which Qinetiq claims clocked up 54 hours of continuous flight last year.
However both the Zephyr's reported flight times are likely to remain unofficial because they did not meet criteria laid down by the world's air sports federation, the body responsible for measuring and verifying air and space records, QinetiQ spokesman Douglas Millard said.
"We were concentrating more on the flight than the record," he said.

No one at the Lausanne, Switzerland-based federation could immediately be reached for comment.
The 66 pound- (30 kilogram-) plane was launched by hand on July 28 in the Arizona desert in the U.S. and flown by autopilot and via satellite to an altitude of more 60,000 feet (18,000 meters), QinetiQ said. Drawing on the power of the sun during the day, the plane stayed aloft at night using rechargeable lithium-sulphur batteries. Its more than three-day flight began on July 28 and was witnessed by U.S. and British defense officials, the company said.
QinetiQ said the Zephyr, which is funded by a host of U.S. and British military agencies, had potential applications in the fields of reconnaissance and communications.
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Schemes to offset carbon 'overpriced and unfair'

By Cahal Milmo, Chief ReporterMonday, 25 August 2008

Britain's booming carbon offset industry is riddled with inconsistencies and clashes of interest that have caused a "crisis of legitimacy" which threatens to dissuade consumers from contributing to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, leading academics claim today.
The rapid growth in the offsetting market, which last year more than doubled it global income to in excess of £165m from individuals and companies paying to reduce the impact of activities such as flying, has produced an unregulated and at times overpriced industry. There are wide disparities in the way the amount of carbon dioxide produced is calculated and the charge demanded from consumers.
An authoritative study by Omega, a coalition of experts on aviation and the environment based at leading British universities, found the potential benefits of offsetting in mitigating some of the effects of climate change were being undermined by a failure to produce uniform prices, and difficulties with proving how much CO2 is saved by schemes in developing countries.
The report, obtained by The Independent, found dramatic differences in the prices that consumers were paying to offset some of the most heavily used international routes. The cost of offsetting a flight from London Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle varies from 31p to £12.95, while a return trip from London to Sydney ranges from £15 to £78.
Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University concluded offsetting should be considered a "last resort". The study said: "Offsetting schemes are now widely acknowledged to be problematic responses to the challenge of climate change. Most significantly, in offsetting schemes, commercial advantage and environmental benefits have become entangled to the extent that a crisis of legitimacy has occurred.
"Offsetting schemes are conceptually problematic: they have arisen not from attempts by environmentalists and climate scientists to design an appropriate response [to climate change], but from politicians and business executives trying to meet the demands for action while preserving the commercial status quo."
Since its advent less than a decade ago, voluntary carbon offsetting has become one of the most popular – and lucrative – methods for the public and businesses to contribute to efforts to mitigate global warming but it has been dogged by allegations of ineffective spending of donated money, profiteering and poor quality control.
Millions of air travellers have paid a sum based on the amount of CO2 generated by a flight which is then channelled into a project designed to recover that CO2. Schemes range from planting trees, now widely considered to be an unreliable method of carbon sequestration, burning animal methane to funding clean-burning stoves and low-energy light bulbs in the developing world.
The worldwide market grew from £60m in 2006 to £165.5m in 2007, with the UK industry worth in excess of £50m. Experts believe a fully fledged voluntary carbon offsetting market could eventually be worth £18bn globally.
The Omega study claimed such progress is being undermined by a lack of transparency in the schemes available. Researchers said there was an urgent need for a single "carbon calculator".

New CO2 emissions treaty is imminent

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 24 August 2008

Climate negotiators have made unexpected headway towards a new international treaty to combat global warming, easing a logjam that has held up progress for years.
Representatives of rich and poor nations, meeting at a conference in Accra, Ghana, are nearing consensus on a way to control emissions of greenhouse gases from rapidly developing countries such as China and India, under a treaty which will take effect afterthe Kyoto protocol expires in 2012.
The US has refused to join any arrangement that does not also tackle these emissions, but the rapidly industrialising countries have refused to accept the overall reduction targets that would be imposed on the rich nations which have been responsible for most of the pollution to date.
But now agreement is beginning to coalesce around a plan that would instead oblige developing nations to set targets for specific, highly polluting industries such as cement, steel, and aluminium.
"Something quiet but dramatic is happening", says David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defence Council. "People are now talking about the same idea in the same language."

Red faces at department's green HQ

Robert Booth
The Guardian,
Monday August 25 2008

The headquarters of the government department responsible for slashing buildings' carbon emissions has emerged as among the least energy-efficient.
The 10-year-old glass and steel offices of the communities and local government department in central London have been granted an F rating for energy efficiency - the second worst possible under a new labelling initiative. The revelation is likely to be embarrassing to ministers because they drew up the rules requiring the energy use of all public buildings above 1,000 square metres to be prominently shown from October in what will be known as Display Energy Certificates.
The labelling system runs from A to G, in the same way as the energy ratings stickers that now appear on cars and fridges. Cars with an F rating include the Lexus RX 4x4 SUV and the BMW 7 series saloon.
Department officials said inefficient heating and ventilation systems and an unexpectedly high occupancy at the headquarters, Eland House, are behind the poor result. They are aiming to improve its efficiency to a D rating, more akin to a two-litre Volvo S80 diesel.
An earlier assessment of the building's design, but not its fuel consumption, suggested it should achieve a C rating.
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, which advises the government on energy efficiency, said: "It supports our argument that these certificates should be rolled out to all buildings, because without the label nobody is going to do anything about it."
Eland House proved less green than the Natural History Museum, a 128-year-old building with single-skin brick walls, drafty single-glazed windows and exhibits that require constant heating and lighting. It has an E rating and is set to pin up its certificate in the entrance this week.
"Our rating for Eland House tells us we must clearly do better to make a difference to our energy performance," the department said. "We are now acting on recommendations from our advisory report to help us improve future ratings." Heating and cooling equipment is likely to be replaced with more efficient models.

Can a dose of recession solve climate change?

Subverting the growth-at-all-costs model is appealing but not politically feasible
Larry Elliott, economics editor
The Guardian,
Monday August 25 2008

Britain has just suffered its weakest period of growth since the recession of the early 1990s. The economy "ground to a halt" in the second quarter of the year - the worst performance since the first quarter of 1992. The signs are that the news will get even more grim in the second half of this year.
Note the deliberate use of language. In the world of conventional economics, countries suffer periods of weak expansion but enjoy spells of strong growth. When the economy fails to grow that is axiomatically a worse performance than when it does. It is "grim" news that Britain may fulfil the technical definition of recession - two consecutive quarters of negative growth - in the second half of 2008.
This may strike some as a strange way of looking at things. Sure, the global economy is slowing. But what's so bad about that? Is it, in fact, bad news that the world economy will no longer grow at its recent rate of 5% a year? And if the answer to that question is "no", wouldn't it be good news if this modest retrenchment was turned into a full-blown slump? Indeed, why stop there? Shouldn't those who fear for the future of the planet pursue something akin to the Great Depression of the 1930s?
It's an interesting thought. Logically, if the obsession with growth at all costs has increased emissions to the point where rising temperatures pose a threat to mankind's existence (as many experts believe) then a prolonged period of slow or negative growth will limit the damage to the environment. At the very least, it would provide a breathing space to come up with an international agreement on how to tackle the problem.
There are many reasons why it is not quite as simple as that. My rudimentary understanding of the science of climate change is that concentrations of greenhouse gases have been building up over many decades, and you can't simply turn them off like a tap. Even a three- or four-year 1930s-style global slump would have little or no impact, particularly if it was followed by a period of vigorous catch-up growth. On a chart showing growth since the dawn of the industrial age 250 years ago, the Great Depression is a blip. Similarly, Britain's trade deficit always comes down in recessions because imports go down, but then widens again once the economy returns to its trend rate of growth.
Politically, recessions are not helpful to the cause of environmentalism. Climate change is replaced by concerns about unemployment and stimulating growth. To be fair, politicians respond to what they hear from voters: Gordon Brown's survival as prime minister depends on how well his package of economic measures is received, not on what he does or doesn't do to limit greenhouse gases.
Looking back, it is clear that every advance in the green movement has coincided with period of strong growth - the early 1970s, the late 1980s and the first half of the current decade. It was tough enough to get world leaders to make tackling climate change a priority when the world economy was experiencing its longest period of sustained growth: it will be mightily difficult to persuade them to take measures that might have a dampen growth while the dole queues are lengthening.
Those most likely to suffer are workers in the most marginal jobs and pensioners who will have to pay perhaps 20% of their income on energy bills.
Hence, recession does not offer even a temporary solution to the problem of climate change and it is a fantasy to imagine that it does. The real issue is whether it is possible to challenge the "growth-at-any-cost model" and come up with an alternative that is environmentally benign, economically robust and politically feasible. Hitting all three buttons is mightily difficult but attempting to do so is a heck of a lot more constructive than waiting for industrial capitalism to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
Richard Douthwaite, author of the Growth Illusion in the 1990s, has come up with one possible way forward, which he calls Cap and Share. His analysis begins with three propositions - firstly that there needs to be a ceiling on carbon emissions at their current level; secondly, that rising oil and gas prices are leading to windfall gains - so-called economic rents - for oil producing countries and energy companies; and thirdly, that this redistribution of wealth will have the same sort of detrimental impact on the global economy and its tottering financial system as the first wave of petro-dollars from the Opec countries in the 1970s and early 1980s.
According to Douthwaite, most oil fields were developed on the assumption of oil prices at $20 (£10) a barrel. Last year, the cost of crude averaged $64 a barrel, and Douthwaite estimates that half of the $1,975bn paid for oil last year was a "scarcity" rent to fossil fuel producers. That represented a loss of income of $150 to each person on the planet. Oil prices look certain to average well over $70 a barrel in 2008, and at $120 a barrel, Douthwaite says oil producers would be making excess profits worth around 6% of global output.
"The problem with that is that the producers are not buying and consuming anything like that part of the world's production," he added. "Instead, they are either lending the rent out through the wholesale money markets or using it to buy stakes in banks or property in heavily oil dependent countries."
Douthwaite's idea is that everybody should get their fair share of the rent that derives from the scarcity of fossil fuels. There would be a new world energy agency with the task of cutting carbon emissions and it would do so by issuing permits for the amount of CO2 it believed consistent with this objective. These permits would be scarcer than the supplies of fossil fuels, which would raise their price. Consumers would realise their share of the economic rent from the sale of such permits to the oil producers. People in the poorest parts of the world, with low energy consumption, would gain most.
The proposal is certainly an alternative to the "growth-at-all-costs model" and has definite economic attractions - the avoidance of a slump caused by the ferocious squeeze on energy consumers. Whether it is politically feasible is another matter. Douthwaite believes his scheme may be considered hopelessly utopian. Sadly, he may be right.
· Cap & Share: Richard Douthwaite

Experts weigh 'planetary emergencies'

By Andrew C. Revkin
Published: August 24, 2008

ERICE, Sicily: This ancient hilltop town, ripe with Roman, Greek, Norman and other influences, has hosted a very modern gathering: a conference on global risks like cyberterrorism, climate change, nuclear weapons and the world's lagging energy supply.
More than 120 scientists, engineers, analysts and economists from 30 countries were hunkered down here for the 40th annual conference on "planetary emergencies." The term was coined by Antonino Zichichi, a native son and a theoretical physicist who has made Erice a hub for experts to discuss persistent, and potentially catastrophic, global challenges.
The participants presented data showing that the boom in biofuels was depleting Southeast Asian rain forests, that bot herders - computer hackers for hire - were hijacking millions of computers, and that the lack of progress on handling nuclear waste was both hampering the revival of nuclear energy and adding to terrorism risks.
The meetings, ending Sunday, were sponsored by the Ettore Majorana Foundation and the Center for Scientific Culture here and by the World Federation of Scientists in Geneva. Both organizations are led by Zichichi with what the physicist Richard Garwin, a longtime Erice conference participant and expert on nuclear weapons, affectionately called "imperious" zeal.
Zichichi, 78, controls every aspect of the sessions, including the seating in the seminars. His goal is to foster what he calls "a science without secrets and without borders," mixing disciplines and cultures, and to laud veterans and emerging talents in the hope of propelling breakthroughs.

In a session on information security, Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union, warned that pervasive computer use, while offering the prospect of a global "knowledge society," also made billions of individuals into potential superpowers. "Every single brain on earth is equal and can trigger an attack," he said.
Jody Westby, chief executive of Global Cyber Risk, a consulting company based in Washington, warned that governments were not doing enough to anticipate attacks. She said that the United States, while investing heavily in classified work on communications networks, had only one small program doing advanced research on the vulnerabilities in the private networks that handle the brunt of government communications and information management.
In a workshop on the northward spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, participants discussed the growing gap between wealthier and poorer nations in dealing with health risks.
After presentations on recent outbreaks of the tropical chikungunya virus in Italy, Baldwyn Torto of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi suggested that too much of the discussion had been focused on girding Europe against further outbreaks. A better approach, he said, would be to attack such diseases in the tropical spots where they originate.
The daunting nature of the problems did not seem to blunt the experts' determination to look for answers.
"What option do I have?" said Richard Wilson, 82, a Harvard physicist and an expert on nuclear power and environmental risk. "I could go down to Hilton Head and take a little club and knock a ball around the course, but I don't find that a very attractive thought."

More manufacturers adopt the green mantle

By Maggie Urry
Published: August 25 2008 03:00

Wiseman is by no means alone in looking at ways to save money while becoming more "green" in its business. A number of other companies are investing in technology intended in one way or another to reduce fossil fuel usage.
This month Diageo, the international drinks group, announced a plan to invest £65m in a "bioenergy facility" at its distillery in Cameronbridge, in Fife. Diageo has yet to gain planning approval but the intention is that the facility will combine an anaerobic digester and a biomass boiler. The digester will capture the methane gas - a powerful greenhouse gas - produced by decomposing organic matter such as wheat, barley and yeast from the distillery. Then the biomass boiler will use the dried solids from the digester as a fuel.
Diageo calculates it will cut the carbon dioxide emitted from the distillery by 56,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 44,000 cars off the roads.
Tate & Lyle, the sweeteners group, is installing a £20m biomass boiler at its Thames cane sugar refinery in east London that is due to be completed by March next year. The boiler will generate 70 per cent of the refinery's energy needs, cutting its CO2 emissions by the same proportion. The carbon footprint of the sugar produced will be reduced by an estimated 25 per cent.
Initially the boiler will use wheat-husk as its feedstock, but it was designed to be capable of using other by-products from crops. The group is also installing a similar boiler at a new corn wet milling plant it is building in Iowa. The Thames refinery already sells energy to the National Grid and once the boiler is working it will contribute to the drive to lower the nation's carbon footprint.
British Sugar, the UK sugar beet refiner, is also tackling environmental concerns. At its Wissington site in Norfolk it makes bioethanol from sugar beet to replace petrol used in cars.
The factory uses waste from the beet in aerobic and anaerobic digesters, which in turn produce biogas used as fuel for a combined heat and power plant. Hot water needed for the refining process is then used to heat 11 hectares of glasshouses where British Sugar grows tomatoes. The cooled water then irrigates the plants.
Its nursery is the largest grower of classic salad tomatoes in the UK producing 70m a year between April and November.
Since tomatoes use CO2 in photosynthesis, the glasshouses also take the CO2 from the power plant, saving emissions into the atmosphere.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Nuclear waste containers likely to fail, warns 'devastating' report

Environment Agency reveals thousands of holders do not meet basic specifications for storage and disposal
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 24 August 2008

Thousands of containers of lethal nuclear waste are likely to fail before being safely sealed away underground, a devastating official report concludes.
The unpublicised report is by the Environment Agency, which has to approve any proposals for getting rid of the waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.
The document effectively destroys Britain's already shaky disposal plans just as ministers are preparing an expansion of nuclear power.
It shows that many containers used to store the waste are made of second-rate materials, are handled carelessly, and are liable to corrode.
The report concludes: "It is cautious to assume a significant proportion will fail." It says computer models suggest up to 40 per cent of them could be at risk.
Britain's leading expert on nuclear waste yesterday called the report "devastating" and Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative environment spokesman, said he would write to ministers to urge them to "make changes to ensure public safety". He added: "Such a warning from the Environment Agency must be taken extremely seriously. The failure of just one container could prove catastrophic."
The report says that "tens of thousands" of containers of immensely dangerous waste, bound in concrete, are simply being stored above ground, mainly at Sellafield, while the Government and the nuclear industry decide what to do with them. On present plans it is assumed they will remain there for up to another 150 years before being placed in a repository underground. It will take another 50 years to fill the repository, which will then remain open for another 300 years, while the waste is monitored, before being sealed up and buried.
Officially, containers are designed to last for the full five centuries before the repository is closed. But the Environment Agency report questions whether this is "realistic" and says there is an "absence of robust arguments which demonstrate that this target is achievable in practice".
It suggests that the containers are not made of the kinds of stainless steel best able to resist corrosion and questions whether the types used are "fit for purpose over an extended time period".
It reveals that their internal surfaces are not treated to remove vulnerabilities to corrosion, and that some have seals "that are not expected to be durable over periods of hundreds of years". It also discloses that some operators have touched the steel drums with their bare hands, although the rules require gloves, depositing sweat that can also lead to corrosion.
Tens of thousands of containers already in store have been produced to less exacting specifications, which do not even attempt to make them safe for the necessary 500 years. The report adds that the implications of this do not seem to have been "fully considered". Some 17,000 containers in storage contain a kind of nuclear waste that reacts with cement and so is expected to fracture the concrete encapsulating it within 140 years.
Computer models show, the report says, that 40 per cent of the containers could fail within 1,000 years, and that under "certain scenarios" this timescale could shrink to "less than 200 years". It concludes: "It is not clear how package integrity during storage can be assured over the extended timescales now being suggested."
Yesterday, Professor Gordon MacKerron, who until recently chaired the Government's official Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, called the report "devastating". He said that it should prove a "nail in the coffin" of proposals to keep the waste accessible for hundreds of years. He said: "If we are going to dispose of the waste, this should be done as quickly as reasonably possible."
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will consider the report this week.

Fire halts Spain's Vandellos II nuclear plant

Sunday August 24 2008

MADRID, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Spain's 1,000-megawatt Vandellos II nuclear plant was halted on Sunday after a fire in its electrical generator, Spain's Nuclear Security Council said.
The fire at the plant near the northeastern port of Tarragona started at 8:49 a.m. local (0649 GMT) and was extinguished by 10:30 by firefighters, the council said in a news release.
The plant could be closed for several weeks, newspaper El Pais quoted the council's assistant emergency manager, Eugenio Gil, as saying. The council was not available for comment, nor was any spokesman at Vandellos.
Vandellos is 72 percent owned by Spain's second-largest power company, Endesa, while top utility Iberdrola has the remaining 28 percent.
"At this time the plant is halted and stable," the council said, adding that the incident had had no effect on workers or the environment. (Reporting by Jason Webb; editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Braden Reddall)

British Energy's largest investor presses for its merger with Centrica

· Tie-up with British Gas owner 'obvious solution' · City says EDF will have to pay more than £8 a share
David Teather
The Guardian,
Monday August 25 2008

The biggest shareholder in British Energy is pressing the nuclear power generator to merge with Centrica, the owner of British Gas, it emerged yesterday.
Invesco, which owns a 15% stake in British Energy and a 5% stake in Centrica, told a newspaper that a merger between the two would be the "obvious solution" for the future of the companies.
Neil Woodford, the head of investment at Invesco, has already taken his proposal to both companies and is stepping up his campaign to broker a deal by meeting tomorrow with the Shareholder Executive in Westminster, which manages the government's assets. The government still owns 36% of British Energy and will be instrumental in any deals over the nuclear firm's future.
British Energy came within a whisker of agreeing terms for a £12bn takeover by the French utility √Člectricit√© de France but the deal was blocked by two leading shareholders, including Invesco, who argued that the price of 765p a share was not high enough.
Woodford believes that EDF could still play a role. He told the Sunday Telegraph: "A combination of British Energy and Centrica solves the problems facing both companies today. Together they can work out a joint venture with EDF to build nuclear sites."
EDF has said it remains committed to building new nuclear generators in Britain but it remains unclear whether British Energy and the French utility can break the current impasse. At its results two weeks ago, British Energy only said that it was continuing to hold advanced discussions.
Centrica confirmed shortly after the EDF deal was scuppered that it might revive proposals to merge with British Energy, creating a company worth £22.5bn, first mooted at the beginning of the year.
The British Gas owner is keen to get involved in nuclear power and had looked at the prospect of an all-share offer for British Energy but the proposals were put on ice when it appeared that one of the big European utilities might come in with a cash bid.
When the EDF bid did emerge, Centrica agreed to invest as a junior partner and was thought to be planning to take a 25% stake.
In a statement issued in the first week of August, Centrica said that in the event of the EDF deal falling apart it would consider a number of options regarding British Energy.
It said they might include long-term power contracts, working in partnership with the firm on new-build projects or "a possible merger of Centrica with British Energy, if terms could be agreed and all parties are fully supportive".
The government preferred the EDF bid because it preferred to take cash rather than shares. But there is now a suggestion that Centrica could revise its offer so that cash is offered to the government and shares to other investors.
Analysts reckon that the state-controlled EDF would need to make a bid of more than £8 a share to win the backing of British Energy shareholders and possibly as much as £9 - a far stretch from its initial approach of less than £7.
British Energy two weeks ago said profits had fallen from £253m to £129m in the three months to the end of June, the first quarter of its financial year.
It blamed lower output and the higher cost of remedial work at two nuclear stations for the decline. But the company said it was encouraged that the role for nuclear new-build within Britain's energy policy was now firmly established.
British Energy owns eight nuclear power stations and one coal-fired plant. Problems at a number of the nuclear plants have forced it to cut output although the company claims to have made "good progress" in resolving the issues that have dogged the plants.

British Energy investor wants Centrica merger

Published: August 24, 2008

LONDON: British Energy's largest investor, Invesco, wants a merger between the nuclear power generator and utility Centrica , The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
British Energy would not comment on the report.
The paper said Neil Woodford, head of investment at Invesco which owns a 15 percent stake in British Energy, said a merger was the obvious solution to the future of both companies.
"Together they (British Energy and Centrica) can work out a joint venture with EDF to build nuclear sites (in Britain)," he told the paper.
On August 4, Centrica said it might revive plans to merge with British Energy after French power group EDF's 12 billion pound bid for the nuclear power company stalled.

However, a government spokesman told Reuters at the time that the preferred option remains a takeover by EDF.
The government, which owns about 35 percent of British Energy, gave the green light in January to new nuclear power stations to help cut carbon emissions and reduce reliance on energy imports.
This sparked takeover interest in British Energy, which lacks the expertise to build new plants but whose land is viewed as the best site for new developments.
(Reporting by Dan Lalor; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)