Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Symphony Environmental Technologies

the degradable plastics and waste-to-energy group, said that it had reduced its first-half pre-tax loss by 84 per cent to £200,000, from £1.1 million last time, and added that trading was in line with its expectations

Solar Integrated Technologies

the maker of photovoltaic roofing systems based in Los Angeles, said that it has won a contract from Korowatt, to provide integrated photovoltaic roofing systems for a warehouse owned by PP-realit in the Czech Republic. The project is expected to be completed this year.

China to become world's largest investor in green energy

Malcolm Moore in Shanghai
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 16/09/2008

China is on the verge of becoming the world's largest investor in green energy as it struggles to reverse the catastrophic effect its industry has wreaked on the environment.

Last year, China spent £6 billion on renewable energy projects, just slightly short of Germany, the world leader. This year, the Communist Party has vowed to redouble its efforts.

Iron and steel works in Shandong - the province is to cut energy use by 22 per cent
Li Junfeng, an energy expert at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said that in terms of the "overall scale of renewable energy development", China already leads the way.Greenpeace believes China can shortly produce half of its energy from renewable sources."The task is tough and our time is limited," said Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, earlier this year."Government at all levels must give priority to emission reduction and bring the idea deep into people's hearts," he added.
Wu Changhua, an expert at the Climate Group, a pro-business environmental NGO, said there had been a sudden realisation in Beijing that China needed a "new path" to prevent environmental disaster.
"When I started environmental lobbying 18 months ago, people asked me what I was doing. Now there is intense mainstream attention," she said.
"The awareness about the environment is very high. There are daily articles in the state media. Although I hate to put it this way, many Chinese are now rich enough to put the environment ahead of development."

China's economic miracle has blackened its huge cities, poisoned its water resources and ravaged its countryside. Last year, China overtook the US in carbon dioxide emissions. Sixteen of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China.
Tens of thousands of pollution-inspired riots every year have helped drill home the message. The Ministry of Public Security has listed pollution among the top five threats to China's peace and stability. Two years ago, the government publicly admitted that the Chinese landscape was "chu mu jing xin" or "whatever meets the eye is shocking".
Its solution is a combination of stringent environmental laws, severe punishments for provincial governors who fail to clean up the mess and a reliance on a thriving market for renewable technology.
The Urumqi-based Goldwind, the world's largest wind turbine maker, has seen 100 per cent growth in each of the past eight years. China is also the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels and has pioneered a new solar hot-water heating system that is now seen everywhere from Beijing airport to the refugee camps of Sichuan.
"It is widely believed that wind power will be able to compete with coal generation as early as 2015," said Mr Li. Presently, coal accounts for 70 per cent of China's power generation.
The target for installed wind power has been raised to 10 gigawatts by 2010 after the previous five gigawatt target was met three years early.
Critics point out, however, that China is unlikely to produce more than three per cent of its power by wind in the next few years.
Nevertheless, the government has pledged that 15 per cent of its energy will come from renewable sources by 2020, and has threatened dire punishments for insufficiently-motivated bureaucrats.
Sixty per cent of the performance evaluation of officials and the heads of the country's giant state-owned corporations will be based on environmental achievements, said Xie Zhanhua, vice-minister of the NDRC. Previously, the only criteria that counted towards a promotion was the ability to deliver economic growth.
Zhou Shengxian, the minister for environmental protection, warned 21 provincial governors that they would be held personally accountable if they failed to clean up China's major lakes and rivers.
Ms Wu said the Climate Group was briefing both senior politburo members on strategy and local governors on how to tow the Party line. "The cities want practical advice from us on what to do," she said.
In the countryside, thousands of surveyors are measuring the precise amount of fertiliser and pesticides being used by farmers. China uses more than three times as much fertiliser per hectare as the US. Livestock excrement and sewage is also being recorded to produce a comprehensive rural map.
Zhang Fentong, at the Ministry of Agriculture, said more than 1,000 "clean" model villages are being developed which can dispose of 90 per cent of their waste in a sustainable way.
Critics point out, however, that China's green revolution is failing to keep pace with its booming industry, which needs more and more power to keep it going.
Dr Erica Downs, China energy fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that while there was a strong message about the environment coming from Beijing, the poor management of the energy sector was derailing the country's efforts.
A new energy management body has recently been set up but Dr Downs said it was "unlikely to substantially improve energy governance. The changes are tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."

Mud, glorious mud: Homes made of earth

Warm in winter and cool in summer, earth is the perfect material for green construction. No wonder it's making a comeback, says Graham Norwood
Wednesday, 17 September 2008

If walls could talk: a cob house in construction by Kevin McCabe

Winnie Brimacombe-Nelissen may have a home dating back to 1598 but it is made from a building material that is enjoying a distinctly 21st-century revival: mud. Her six-bedroom farmhouse near Crediton in Devon is built from cob, a mud-based mix first used for construction in north Africa in the 11th century. Some 300 years later it had become the standard building material in the UK and remained so until industrialisation made manufacturing bricks cheap.
Those cob houses that remain today are mainly found in the Vale of Glamorgan and the Gower Peninsula, across Ireland and in south-west England. Winnie's home is a Devon longhouse. "The walls are thick, made of mud, dung and straw, and have the odd crack, which you would expect, given their age," she says. "They are extremely efficient. Because the property is listed, we can't fit double glazing but we have an evening fire and the walls retain heat. In the summer, even on very hot days, we can keep doors shut because the walls are cool."
Hundreds of years ago, when cob was first "discovered" as a building material, the mud and straw was trampled by oxen before being pitchforked into place and then trimmed after drying for up to nine months.
Today's builders use cement mixers, but otherwise apply the material in much the same way – and they insist it is the perfect material for green construction.
"There's nothing more sustainable than cob. It's natural, it hasn't been processed and it's produced on-site," says Adam Weissman, one half of the team behind Cob in Cornwall, a Helston-based building firm. He and his wife, Katy Bryce, have built cob homes and extensions, but more than half of his work is repairing and maintaining period houses in the South-west.
"Most are between 200 and 400 years old so that's highly sustainable in itself," says Adam. "If there are problems, they tend to date from the Sixties and Seventies, when owners put cement render on walls. Some haven't looked after roofs and that has allowed water to seep in."
The couple work with Cornish schools to explain the secrets of cob and also run three courses a year to teach people how to use it. He says: "Attendees are from 16 to 70. Most want to know how to look after their own cob home."
Britain's first brand-new cob home for three quarters of a century was built in Devon in 1997 by Kevin McCabe. In 2005 another cob new-build, this time in Worcestershire, won the Royal Institute of British Architects' sustainable building of the year award. At least six more cob homes are being built in different locations across the UK.
The material's chief drawback is its propensity to dampness. Most old cob houses, and all new ones, carry coats of flexible "breathing" lime plaster. But in the past, some owners have used a cement render that was inflexible and cracked as the walls "moved" slightly. As a result, water penetrated the surface.
"It's been a problem. People want an old home and get a survey of somewhere we find for them. But they then worry when they're told it's got cob walls, especially when they're told exactly what cob is," explains Nicola Oddy of Stacks, a property buying agency.
Now, however, a synthetic substitute for mud is being tested. It is called Tradical Hemcrete and is a "light" concrete made from hemp plants. It is only 50 per cent of the cost of cob, it takes a fraction of the time to make and is claimed to be even more thermally efficient. It is thought that this material might attract volume builders to use it in some mainstream housing schemes – until now they have spurned cob, mainly on cost and image grounds.
But for owners of period cob properties, there is nothing to beat the original material. The same goes for the visitors who have been learning about the cob at Winnie Brimacombe-Nelissen's home in Devon, which she uses as a bed and breakfast (details on www. "When I tell them what cob is, some visitors are a little alarmed, especially when we explain that cob walls still move a as the mud 'breathes'.
"But the walls are thick enough to use as seats and that intrigues many people who stay with us," says Winnie. "We like our mud, and we wouldn't change it for the world."

Eco-town's green benefit exaggerated, ASA rules

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs CorrespondentWednesday, 17 September 2008

The Government has admitted exaggerating the environmental credentials of a planned eco-town.
In an advert seeking the public's views on 5,000 proposed homes near Lichfield in Staffordshire, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) claimed the development would be built on a brownfield site. But the department later admitted that most of the Curborough eco-town would swallow up open countryside.
The Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint about the Government's claims. But it dismissed a complaint about claims in the advert that up to half of the development would be affordable housing. Although no decision had been made, the ASA said the Government has promised that between 30 and 50 per cent of eco-towns will be affordable housing.
The Government announced 15 potential sites for eco-towns with environmental features such as cycle lanes in April. Developers pulled out of the Curborough eco-town in July, following fierce local opposition.
The ASA said: "The DCLG acknowledged that the documentation was factually inaccurate and the majority of the proposed site was on greenfield land and only partly on the site of the former Fradley airfield. They believed an error had been made in preparing the consultation document, which was repeated in the subsequent ad."

Eco tree houses - the homes of the future

Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
Last Updated: 5:01pm BST 16/09/2008
Tree houses grown specifically for modern living could be the eco-homes of the future.

Scientists from the US and Israel have developed the trees that can be shaped into the structure of innovative homes.

The ingenious tree houses naturally provide shade and can also be used to process waste and reduce carbon emissions.
The researchers at Tel Aviv University and a branch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are confident the first prototype home could be ready in just ten years.
Plantware, the organisation behind the technology, have already built bus-shelters, park benches and traffic lights using the advanced techniques of airoponics, where plants are grown without soil.
Now they have built a model for a tree house to be used in cities.

The extraordinary structure is build from actual tree roots that are grown to be mallable and then hardened into a structure like steel girders. The houses can be equipped with solar panels and wind turbines to generate electricity and even convert human waste into valuable nutrient for the living tree.
Different species of trees could be chosen for different environments so for example, willows could be used in England and giant American redwoods in California.
However at the moment the tree homes would be prohibitively expensive to all but a few.

AMD: a newly built campus with a host of green features

By Dan Ilett
Published: September 17 2008 03:00

Old buildings have problems when it comes to technology and helping the environment - after all they were hardly built with the modern day in mind - but newer buildings should cater for both factors.
When chip maker AMD started to build a new campus three years ago in Austin, Texas, it set itself the ambitious target of giving the building the "wow factor" while keeping the environmental impact to a minimum.
"The campus was designed to fit the needs of its employees and the local environment," says Craig Garcia, director of corporate services and project manager for Lone Star, as the campus is called.
"[We] assembled a diverse team of internationally recognised architects, engineers, ecologists and sustainable design experts.
"The team embarked on an intensive design process known as a 'charrette' and created a site plan based on three key tenets - limiting site impact, protecting water quality and using innovative sustainable design."
Some $270m later and AMD has signed a 10-year contract with Austin Energy for 100 per cent renewable power for Lone Star.
You might be forgiven for thinking that an IT company would want to use as much IT as possible to control such a building - perhaps simply because it has become expected that technology firms will have the latest versions of everything.
But AMD appears to have taken sustainable design to heart, using recycled materials, local manufacturing and wood grown in ecologically maintained forests.
"Most of the design features integrated into the building were one-time investments, such as bamboo floors or concrete walls, and do not require monitoring and maintenance from IT or any other operations team," says Mr Garcia.
"Green teams help educate employees about integrating environmentally friendly choices into their everyday actions and source new ideas for how employees can minimise their footprints."
But he adds that AMD also uses the latest technology in its products to help the environment: "Besides constantly improving facility operations, AMD designs energy efficiency features into products that result in lower emissions from the generation of electricity consumed during the product's useful life.
"Most recently, we introduced advanced quad-core technology, for energy-hungry data centres. Designed to beat pre-existing benchmarks, it boosts performance of AMD processors up to 70 per cent without any increase in energy-consumption."
Impressive campus features include a 1.1m gallon underground water tank that siphons rainwater from the roof. This is stored and is, in turn, used to irrigate the site's enormous landscape and to cool the building.
Another spokesman adds: "We don't have what you'd call a data centre. We have a cold room for servers that run business operations. But we have data centres offsite.
"There are a number of things in the design of the building that save energy though. The windows are designed to let more daylight in so we don't need as much lighting.
"We have a cooling system that uses less electricity, but the trade-off is that it uses more water. That's why we've got the 1.1m gallon water tank to collect the rain."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

You must be choking as city misses targets on air quality

Published Date: 16 September 2008

MORE than three-quarters of Edinburgh's most polluted streets are failing to meet European air quality targets.
Latest council figures show emission levels across the Capital are getting worse, with just three of the city's 14 air quality management areas on track to meet EU targets on air quality by 2010. And pollution has got so bad in other parts of Edinburgh that council officials have recommended that West Port and Great Junction Street are also added to the list of sites monitored for emissions. A series of measures, including giving lorry drivers maps to steer clear of pollution hotspots, are set to be introduced.In 2006, seven out of 13 areas monitored were failing to meet minimum EU air quality levels. Among the new additions to this are Queen Street and sections of Roseburn Terrace and North Bridge. Long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide can affect lung function and increase the risk of respiratory symptoms such as bronchitis, especially in children. In 2010, the EU targets on air quality become mandatory, and the council faces being hit by fines of thousands of pounds. An air quality action plan drawn up by city officials recommends rejecting a £10 million package of mandatory measures, such as the low emission zone scheme in London where buses and lorries pay a charge if their vehicles don't meet emissions targets. Instead, officials have recommended a series of voluntary codes for bus, lorry and taxi firms. This will include encouraging bus and freight operators to switch to cleaner vehicles, but also providing maps to keep lorries away from the polluted areas. City leaders will also look into buying "greener" council vehicles if the new air pollution strategy is approved by councillors next week. Councillor Robert Aldridge, the city's environment leader, said: "There is currently a national trend that shows nitrogen dioxide levels are not falling in line with predicted emissions in many cities in the UK, with more than 200 councils having to declare air quality management areas. "Edinburgh has the air quality problems that you would expect for a city of its size and we know that the main factor is emissions from road traffic, in particular buses and lorries. "We've been tackling this and the agreement we have with Lothian Buses to reduce emissions from its buses will be extended to other operators. We'll also be working with freight companies to do the same, especially for 'hotspots'."When asked if he thought Edinburgh would meet the EU targets by 2010, Cllr Aldridge said: "I am not sure if we will, but clearly Edinburgh is not alone in this regard. Banning vehicles is not realistic because the traffic will find other ways and you will just displace the problem."The EU annual average objective for nitrogen dioxide is 40 micrograms per cubic metre. However, a number of the city's busiest roads regularly exceed this, including West Maitland Street and Palmerston Place where levels often reach 86 micrograms. Among the other streets set to fail to meet EU targets by 2010 are Torphichen Place, Princes Street, Roseburn Terrace, North Bridge and Gorgie Road.

National Carbon Footprint Day

The Home Ecologist: A national carbon footprint day will help us all to show we can make a difference
Wednesday, 17 September 2008

I had been thinking for some time about how to get more people emulating what I have achieved with my own carbon-negative home and low-carbon lifestyle. Although the climate crisis and ecological destruction are the obvious concerns underpinning my actions, I was trying to pinpoint what maintained my commitment to reducing my environmental footprints?
Then I realised one of the chief drivers maintaining my momentum was that as I wrote about my annual footprints, I was publicly accountable for them. It had also engendered a personal competition with myself, as to whether my carbon and environmental footprints were lower than the previous year's. So how I could convince everybody else in the country to do likewise and came up with the idea of an annual National Carbon Footprint Day, when everybody could record their environmental readings and see how much progress they had made. To make this easy for people, I am launching the National Carbon Footprint Day website, where people will be able to pledge to measure their annual carbon footprint and can record their five key environmental readings. These are their electricity, gas (or coal/oil), mileage, water and flights.
They will then receive an email reminder every National Carbon Footprint Day which will contain their previous year's readings and a reminder to take their new readings. They can then use a carbon footprint calculator to calculate how much CO2 their direct energy consumption was responsible for.
To my delight I found that 2 October is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, a good date for the world's first annual National Carbon Footprint Day. Gandhi's maxim urging us to be the change we want to see in the world, underpins of my message. One major reason why we have not successfully halted the climate crisis is that not enough of the messengers, journalists, politicians or environmentalists have lived our message. If someone is publicly calling for urgent action to reduce our emissions but they have a large family, numerous long-haul flight holidays or drive a larger car than they need, their audiences will pick this up and think it can't be all that urgent.
So this new National Carbon Footprint Day is a wake-up call for all of us to start putting our climate crisis houses in order. I am delighted that comedian Marcus Brigstocke and prominent environmental politician Jenny Jones, former Deputy Mayor of London have agreed to be the patrons. So please log on to www.nationalcarbonfoot today and make your carbon footprint pledge. Who knows, maybe next year it will have become the world's first International Carbon Footprint Day. We CAN do something!
Donnachadh McCarthy runs an eco-auditing consultancy and is author of "Easy Eco-auditing" (www.

Energy security 'more important than climate change'

Report warns that UK must extend the lifespan of coal and nuclear facilities to plug the predicted shortfall in electricity supply, but is dismissed as 'naive' and 'overstated'
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent,
Wednesday September 17 2008 00:01 BST

Securing the country's supply of electricity is more important than tackling climate change, a new report from energy analysts has claimed. It warned that the UK's economy could be wrecked if there was no action to plug the energy shortfall predicted for the next decade, with businesses going bust and hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs.
But the report, led by Ian Fells, emeritus professor at the University of Newcastle and a veteran energy policy analyst, has been dismissed as "naive" by Greenpeace, and "overstated" by the energy secretary John Hutton. Environmentalists argued that the report's recommendation for new coal-fired power stations went against the advice of scientists and that the rest of the world was forging ahead with renewables.
The report said the government had to consider extending the lifespan of the UK's ageing coal and nuclear power stations to meet the impending shortage. Otherwise, Fells warned, the UK would be be hit by repeated power cuts that would shut down public transport, reduce hospital services and cause chaos in supermarkets and offices. "Electricity is the life blood of civilisation. Without it we spiral down into anarchy and chaos."
Fells criticised proposed renewable energy schemes as being too optimistic in their promises and highlighted a long-term need for new nuclear power stations and coal-fired stations that were ready to fit carbon-capture technology to maintain future energy security in the UK.
The impending energy gap will be caused by the closure of the UK's ageing nuclear and coal-fired power stations over the next decade. The report estimates the UK will lose a third of electricity generating capacity in this time. Candida Whitmill, a co-author of the report, said: "Nuclear will not be ready, renewables will not be able to cope. Gas is getting politically and geographically dangerous to rely upon. Security of supply must take priority over everything including climate change."
Fells said the situation was like "watching a slow-motion train crash" because government plans to plug the energy shortfall, such as rolling out huge wind farms, were impractical and filled with wishful thinking. Successive governments, said Fells, had failed to come up with any solutions and criticised the current UK energy policy as "not fit for purpose", warning that there could be severe consequences for the economy. "We had a power cut in 2003 for about 12 hours in the City of London – the consequential loss was about £700m because everything stops. All your IT stops, the stock market doesn't work."
Fells, who has long been a proponent of nuclear power, said that the upcoming crisis required some "unpalatable" short-term fixes. "We will have to keep current nuclear power stations going long past their sell-by date. We will probably have to keep coal-fired stations that are coming to the end of their life. And that's no good for the environment." He also advocated building new gas-fired power stations that could be built quickly to shore up the supply and said that the controversial coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth in Kent would also be needed, though he said this should be made ready to fit technology to capture carbon dioxide and store it underground.
Greenpeace chief Scientist Doug Parr criticised Fells' report for its "long standing love affair with the technologies of the 20th century, but as time goes by [Fells'] fetish for coal and nuclear power looks increasingly naïve. All over the world jobs are being created in the renewable energy sector, but Britain has been left behind for too long by the negative, white flag approach to climate change that this report represents. By proposing projects such as new coal fired power stations and the large scale conversion of coal to liquid fuel for use in aeroplanes, Fells has finally lost the backing of the scientific community."
Responding to the report, energy secretary John Hutton said: "Ensuring we have enough clean and secure energy is a national priority and fundamental to our future existence and prosperity. Ian Fells overstates the risk of the energy gap, but he also understates what the government's already doing to secure our future supplies and increase our energy independence - such as a tenfold increase in renewables, a renaissance of nuclear energy in the UK, and backing clean coal technology."
He added: "That's not to underestimate the task we've got on our hands. Securing future energy supplies for the UK is a matter of national security and so we're not going to rule out any radical options. That's why we keep our energy infrastructure under constant review, and will continue to take the tough decisions needed to ensure that we have reliable energy supplies in the decades ahead."
Fells' report also suggested laying transmission lines to Norway, Germany and Denmark and also an additional line to France. "That would mean we were properly connected up to Europe. That would add a great deal of comfort and security, provided there was someone there to make decisions." Greenpeace have backed a similar North Sea grid proposal.
Over the longer term, Fells wants the UK to build more nuclear power stations and also give the go-ahead for the Severn Barrage, a tidal generation system that could produce up to 5% of the UK's electricity needs. He defended his point that energy security was more important than climate change: "You can't go on doing all the right things environmentally speaking if the whole of your system has crashed - it's more important."