Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Compost heaps could produce biofuel

Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Last Updated: 6:01pm BST 09/09/2008

The humble compost heap could hold the key to providing 10 per cent of the UK's transport fuel needs, scientists have said.

The researchers from Guildford screened thousands of different wild types of bacteria, looking for one that could survive high temperatures and that liked feeding off a wide variety of plant based materials.

Compost heap: a bacteria strain was found to produce ethanol when its metabolism was slowed down
Eventually they found a suitable strain and altered its metabolism so instead of producing lactic acid as it broke down compost, it produced the useful renewable fuel ethanol.
The new strain of bacteria can break down straw and agricultural plant waste, domestic hedge clippings, garden trimmings and cardboard, wood chippings and other municipal rubbish into ethanol.
The Society for General Microbiology's Autumn meeting heard the new strain of bacteria allows ethanol to be produced much more efficiently and cheaply than in traditional yeast-based fermentation, which is based on the beer-brewing process and forms the basis for most current commercial bioethanol production.
Some seven million tons of surplus straw is available in the UK every year.

Turning it into ethanol could replace 10 per cent of the gasoline fuel used in the country.
"The bioethanol produced in our process can be blended with existing gasoline to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, help tackle global warming, reduce dependence upon foreign oil and help meet national and international targets for renewable energy," said Paul Milner, fermentation development manager of TMO Renewables Ltd, based in Surrey Research Park, Guildford.

Obama tells U.S. farmers he backs ethanol mandate

Wednesday September 10 2008
By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama told farmers on Tuesday that he backs the federal requirement to use ethanol as a way to reduce reliance on oil imports.
The alternative fuel, distilled mostly from corn (maize), is popular in farm country, particularly the U.S. Midwest. But sky-high grain prices and rising food prices have led to suggestions to relax the so-called renewable fuels standard.
Federal law calls for use of 9 billion gallons of ethanol as motor fuel this year.
A week ago, the Republican National Convention called for an end to ethanol mandates, in line with the views of its nominee, John McCain.
"I've long been a strong supporter of the RFS," Obama said during a brief telephone call to members of the National Farmers Union. "I am strongly committed to advancing biofuels as a key component of reducing our dependence on foreign oil."
Besides providing home-grown fuel, ethanol creates jobs in rural America, said Obama, who supported more rural economic development. The jobless rate in rural areas is well above the U.S. average.
Both candidates support development of fuel ethanol from cellulose, found in grasses and woody plants. McCain says he would end "mandates, subsidies, tariffs and prices supports that focus exclusively on corn-based ethanol" and let the free market identify the best alternative fuels.
Ethanol is most popular in the Midwest, also the largest corn-growing region. Some Republicans, like Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, say they support ethanol and disagree with their party platform.
A nationwide poll of farmers in late May found they split equally whether ethanol was good or bad for agriculture with roughly one-fourth undecided. Dan Miller, editor of Progressive Farmer magazine, which commissioned the poll, said livestock producers may be skeptical because the ethanol boom resulted in sharply higher feed costs.
In questioning 3,000 rural Americans, the poll showed 50 percent supported McCain, 34 percent backed Obama and the rest favored other candidates or were undecided. The margin between McCain and Obama was twice as large as the split between Republican and Democratic leanings. Rural Americans tend to be social and fiscal conservatives. (Reporting by Charles Abbott; editing by Carol Bishopric)

Vattenfall fires up clean coal plant

The Associated Press
Published: September 9, 2008

BERLIN: Energy provider Vattenfall AG fired up its carbon-capture lignite plant Tuesday, the latest effort in the industry's attempts to generate electricty by burning coal while burying greenhouse gases deep underground.
The 30-megawatt pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe — in the Lausitz region of eastern Germany — is intended to capture and bury up to 100,000 tons (90,719 metric tons) of carbon dioxide in the next three years. The carbon dioxide will then be injected 3000 meters (almost two miles) below the surface about 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of the plant instead of being released in to the air.
Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming.
This €70 million (US$99 million) project is the first of its kind, said spokesman Damian Mueller.
It couples lignite, or brown coal, with oxyfuel technology that burns the coal with pure oxygen, turning the product into nearly pure carbon dioxide ready to be injected into the ground. The CO2 will be stored or could potentially be put to industrial use, such as helping pump natural gas from the ground.

If the technology works, the Swedish-based company intends to build two large scale demonstration plants in Germany.
"We are very convinced that this technology will have a future," said Mueller said. "We are concerned, too, that nobody — China or India — will stop burning coal."
HE said the goal was "to provide this new technology in a few years for China and India and the world."

Vattenfall fires up CO2-free power station

By Chris Bryant in Spremberg, Germany
Published: September 10 2008 03:00

Vattenfall, the Swedish energy group, yesterday fired up a carbon-capture plant in eastern Germany, marking the first step towards a commercially viable coal-fuelled power station that does not emit carbon dioxide.
The 30MW pilot plant is capable of producing electricity from lignite -
so-called brown coal - for only about 25,000 homes but the company says the €70m ($99m) project is an important milestone on the road towards widespread use of carbon-capture technology.
The pilot project is, however, on a very different scale from the power stations that would need to be fitted with carbon-capture and storage technology to make a significant difference to greenhouse gas emissions.
The carbon dioxide produced at Schwarze Pumpe will be transported by tanker to the Altmarkt region in Saxony-Anhalt, where it will be stored in an airtight bore hole.
The carbon capture and storage process, whereby carbon dioxide is separated at the power plant, transported and buried underground - so it will not have to be transported over long distances - has long been seen by the energy industry as a means to make coal a viable climate-friendly fuel, at least in the near-term.
By 2015, Vattenfall aims to build a 500MW plant at Jänschwalde, Brandenburg, but it is by no means the only company researching carbon capture and storage.
Germany's Eon is among the companies to have entered a UK government competition promoting the use of carbon capture technology. Meanwhile, Italy's Enel has committed to spending €320m by 2012 on the technology and is considering a project near Venice.
StatoilHydro, the Norwegian oil company, has been storing carbon dioxide under the North Sea at its Sleipner field for more than 10 years.
However, the experience of BP, the UK oil group, has underscored the complexity of these projects. In May the company abandoned plans for a plant in Australia because it discovered geological problems that made the long-term storage of carbon dioxide unfeasible. The company also pulled out of a similar project last year, at Peterhead in Scotland.
Yet BP has a joint venture with Rio Tinto for two carbon capture projects in California and Abu Dhabi. It has also a tie-up with Statoil and Sonatrach, the Algerian energy group, whereby CO2 is stripped from natural gas and pumped underground.
The €1bn cost of constructing a commercial plant and disagreement about the best technology to use, means that so far only small-scale power-plants have been built. Energy companies
also say the technology will only become economically viable if the price of tradable CO2 emission certificates increases.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Electricity grid almost full, say green power bosses

Published Date: 10 September 2008
By Jenny Haworth
Environment Correspondent

SCOTLAND'S renewable targets will not be met unless the "woeful" electricity grid system is urgently improved, energy company bosses warned yesterday.
The grid network which transports electricity across Scotland is almost full, and must be expanded to enable the renewables industry to grow, according to directors at Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) and ScottishPower Renewables.The controversial plans to expand the Beauly to Denny transmission line will be key, they argue.Dr Keith Maclean, head of sustainable development at SSE, told The Scotsman that without this expansion, the targets of 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020 will not be met. "It's as simple as that," he said. "Without enough capacity in the transmission network, we won't be able to connect enough renewable projects."Beauly-Denny is the key to unleashing sufficient capacity to meet the 2020 targets."Currently, 115 Scottish renewable schemes, totalling nine gigawatts, are waiting in a queue to plug into the grid before they can transmit electricity.Some already have planning permission but have to wait many years to connect. The 21-turbine Drummuir wind farm by energy company RES was granted permission in 2005 but cannot connect until 2016 due to the backlog.The warnings came on the day of a major energy conference in Edinburgh, hosted by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry.Jim Mather, the energy minister, announced at the Scotland's Energy Future Conference that 5.5 gigawatts of renewable schemes are now operating or have planning permission in Scotland – more than enough to meet the Scottish Government's targets of 31 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2011.However, Keith Anderson, director of ScottishPower Renewables, told the conference: "It's all very well consenting renewable projects... but we need to be able to connect them to a grid system. The current grid system is woeful for what we need in the future. It needs huge levels of investment and it needs to happen very, very quickly."A decision is expected on the Beauly-Denny line next year, and one renewable industry insider said the wait was "ridiculous".Jason Ormiston, chief executive of Scottish Renewables said the Beauly to Denny powerline was the "keystone" and described it as "a real test of political support for renewables".The plans to replace the Beauly to Denny transmission line have attracted more than 18,000 objections, many on environmental grounds.Last night, a Scottish Government spokesman agreed the grid system "places significant barriers towards meeting our renewable energy ambitions."

Political parties accused of letting green agenda slip

The main political parties have let the green agenda slip in the past year despite environmental threats increasing, a report by the UK's major green groups said today.

By Daily Telegraph Reporter Last Updated: 1:34AM BST 10 Sep 2008

The Fit for the Future study, which analysed the green performance of all three parties over the past year, said many politicians believed the economic downturn made action on the environment less of a priority.
But the review by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Friends of the Earth, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust and WWF said the public had not abandoned green issues - and MPs should not either.
The only way out of the downturn was an ambitious climate change strategy that addressed energy, transport, land management, housing and the economy, the second annual review of the parties' performance said.
The three parties must drastically improve their green performance in the run-up to the next election, the environmental organisations urged.
Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance, said on behalf of the groups: "None of the three main parties are currently showing the vision and courage to prepare the UK for the challenges ahead.
"There is no long-term route to prosperity and security unless our political leaders tackle climate change and protect the natural environment.
"In a time of rising fuel and food costs, the need for an ambitious approach to environmental policy has never been clearer."
The Labour Government's approach to the environment had become "incoherent and contradictory", the report said.
On the upside, the Government had introduced the Climate Change Bill and a draft strategy on renewable energy but there were concerns about the failure to rule out a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, Kent, and Gordon Brown's trip to Jeddah to plead for higher oil production.
The Government won praise for protecting the natural world through measures such as the Marine Bill, avoiding a badger cull and protecting Lyme Bay from damaging fishing practices.
But the green groups said the Government should have used rises in fuel prices to push through a reduction in the UK's dependence on fossil fuels, and criticised the "inadequate" action on biofuels.
The Conservatives came under fire for an "increasingly alarming" gap between their green aspirations and commitments, and for failing to mention the environment or climate change in their statement on priorities for a future government following the May elections.
The party was also criticised for its negative attitude to green taxes and for sidelining its quality of life review which set out a green agenda, but they did win support for saying no to dirty coal.
Even the Liberal Democrats, traditionally strong on the environment, have seen their lead on green issues "wane" at points during the year.
But they were applauded for Nick Clegg's commitment to making the UK energy independent and zero carbon by 2050, a move which was described in the report as "brave and bold", and for strengthening the Climate Change Bill.
The report called on all the parties to say yes to meeting targets to source 15% of energy from renewables by 2020 and to valuing the natural environment.
It also said they should introduce a "massive uplift" in energy efficiency through public investment.
And the parties should say no to unabated coal power stations and to expanding Heathrow or Stansted airport.

United Nations raises temperature in the office to fight climate change

Tom Leonard in New York
Last Updated: 6:01pm BST 09/09/2008

The United Nations has been attempting to cut global warming by raising the summertime temperature inside its New York headquarters and forcing occupants to wear lighter clothes.
A month-long experiment approved by the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to raise the thermostat throughout much of the building from 72 to 77 degrees was so successful that it may become a more long-term policy, said the UN.
Diplomatic dress codes were relaxed as many male staff got rid of their jackets and ties, and women chose sleeveless outfits. Temperatures in the often windowless conference rooms, where most of the negotiating goes on were set slightly lower at 75 degrees.

The initiative, designed to show the UN was serious about curbing energy use that contributed to global warming, saved about 30 million pounds of steam used in the glass-fronted 1952 building's cooling system.
A UN spokesman said this was the equivalent of 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, or 710 transatlantic return flights.
"In view of these concrete results, the secretary general has decided to expand the Cool UN initiative until September 15," said the spokesman.
A similar wintertime project is already under discussion and officials believe they could save $1 million annually if the temperature changes throughout the year.
However, the thermostats will be on full when world leaders descend on the 39-storey building for their annual ministerial meeting later this month.
UN officials previously said that the deciding factor in whether the arrangement becomes permanent would be its effect on productivity.
Some diplomats welcomed a more uncomfortable room temperature if it discouraged colleagues from dragging out interminable and ultimately fruitless negotiations late into the evening.
However, others warned that diplomats without suits were not taken seriously and that warmer temperatures encouraged delegates' minds to wander, apparently making them less willing to compromise.