Friday, 7 November 2008

New thinking needed to cut farming's carbon emissions

Published Date: 07 November 2008
By Dan Buglass
Rural affairs editor

FARMERS have recently been in the firing line over their contributions to global warming and carbon emissions.
The UK government has set a hugely ambitious target of cutting carbon-related emissions by 80 per cent in 2050 from the 1990 levels. It can be done, according to James Graham, the chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS), the organisation that supervises the 80-plus rural cooperatives in Scotland, which have a collective turnover of about £1 billion.Speaking yesterday in Carnoustie at the annual SAOS conference, Graham said: "Many in the industry are questioning whether we can both increase production to feed a growing global population, whilst at the same time reducing the carbon footprint of agriculture."The work we have done over the last two years helps to demonstrate that a green, science-based approach to business is also a profitable route, and one that actually increase production."Dr Andrew Moxey a widely respected economist and analyst, gave a concise breakdown of just what farming contributes to a wide range of emissions. He said: "Methane from livestock accounts for at least 20 per cent, while nitrous oxide from fertiliser adds up to 26 per cent. But carbon dioxide from ploughing up grassland is the major contributor on 45 per cent."These figures have prompted many environmental proponents to argue that livestock farming should be massively reduced in order to save the planet. Only last week Michael Appelby, who has recently been appointed as a visiting professor in animal welfare with the Scottish Agricultural College, caused something of a stir in the farming community before an invited audience in Edinburgh.He said: "The livestock sector is responsible for 18 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but the problem is really created by the systems we use and we have to think about that carefully."Appelby went on to suggest that meat eating should become more of a "special event" as livestock already use a vast proportion on the world's resources. He added that he could see no logical reason for increasing the production of cattle, sheep and goats and that many of the current problems could be resolved through better management and enhanced levels of animal welfare.Graham clearly had some of those comments in mind when he cited several positive Scottish examples of a decidedly pro-active mood.He said: "First Milk, the largest dairy co-op in the UK, has worked with its farmer members to develop new cow diets that have raised yields by 15 per cent and cut methane emissions by approximately 20 per cent."We are also working with Angus Cereals – a new grain co-op, which is planning a £14 million grain processing centre next to Glencore Maltings at Glenesk. The group estimates a reduction of three million haulage miles, and reduced fuel use in grain drying, thanks to state-of-the-art equipment. "A carbon trust network project carried out by SAOS has also made it clear that the provision of precision farming equipment and expertise through machinery rings has the potential to both reduce fertiliser waste and the related emissions, whilst increasing financial productivity."On a less contentious note Brian Pack, who is to stand down as chief executive of the Inverurie-based ANM Group which posted an operating profit of £1.7 million, was presented with the prestigious Ed Rainy Brown Award for services to the agricultural industry.Rainy Brown, who died in 2003, was the chief executive of SAOS before moving on to take up a similar post with NFU Scotland.Jim McLaren, the president of NFUS, said: "Brian Pack is a towering figure in the Scottish agricultural sector. In the past 18 years he has been the driving force behind the ANM Group and its development into one of the largest and most progressive farmer-owned businesses in the UK

Energy policy caught in tussle

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Published: November 6 2008 20:47

The direction of Barack Obama’s energy and environmental policies as president was caught up on Thursday in a congressional power grab that could have a profound impact on the struggling US car industry.
Henry Waxman, a liberal Democratic congressman from California who strongly advocates action on climate change, is challenging John Dingell of Michigan, the dean of the House, in his role as chairman of its energy and commerce committee.

Mr Dingell’s office said it was ready for the fight, having locked up a “substantial number” of commitments across the Democratic caucus, including members from California.
“We are getting tremendous support,” his spokeswoman said.
“Members understand we need a strong, effective legislator who has the proven ability to address the complex issues facing our nation.”
The 82-year-old congressman, who recently had knee-replacement surgery, has long been the car industry’s most crucial ally on Capitol Hill, leading opposition to higher fuel-economy standards and resisting limits on carbon emissions.
Mr Dingell released a draft plan in October that he said would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent. Mr Waxman has a reputation for taking on chief executives and other corporate officials as chairman of the chief House oversight committee and is seen as an important ally of environmentalists.
Democrats traditionally respect the party’s hierarchy and Mr Waxman faces an uphill battle to unseat Mr Dingell, who has a close relationship with Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, and key members of the Black Caucus.
Mr Dingell’s relationship with Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, was strained last year because of her support of the creation of a global warming subcommittee that challenged his jurisdiction.
But some Washington insiders said Ms Pelosi would not have welcomed Mr Waxman’s move.
The Speaker has sought to project an image of a unified Congress fit to tackle national problems.
Mr Waxman’s challenge tells a different story: one of a liberal congressman seeking to usurp power from a moderate Democrat.
The Detroit Free Press, Mr Dingell’s hometown paper, pointed out that it had taken Democrats “less than 12 hours after a sweeping victory on election night to start fighting among themselves for power”.
In a letter to Democrats on Thursday in which he announced he was seeking another term as chairman, Mr Dingell put forward three priorities: healthcare, action on climate change, and food and drug safety.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Vestas expects 25% wind turbine boost next year

Obama election has helped renewables but Danish firm holding back recruitment due to economic turmoil
Terry Macalister, Thursday November 6 2008 13.41 GMT

Danish-built Vestas turbines at Tararua, New Zealand. Photograph: Mark Mitchell/Reuters
Vestas, the world's biggest wind turbine maker, is slowing down staff recruitment in the light of economic uncertainty but still expects to increase sales by more than 25% next year.
The Danish company said its third-quarter earnings rose from €102m (£130m) to €160m, slightly below City forecasts. It was on track for sales of €5.7bn for 2008 and €7.2bn for 2009.
Ditlev Engel, chief executive, said the election of Barack Obama was promising for green energy growth in America and global investment would increase its capital spend to €1.2bn next year.
Planned expansion of staff would be slightly reined in for the short term. "We are going to be holding back a little bit until we see how the (global) financial problems affect the wider picture," said Engel He said employee numbers had risen by 5,000 to 20,000 this year.
There has been a surge in demand for renewable energy due to fears about oil dependence and greenhouse gas emissions but Vestas shares, like other renewable stocks, have lost nearly 60% of their value since the end of August on fears the financial crisis and lower oil prices would cut growth.
Engel shrugged off the slump in crude values to little over $60 a barrel. He said it was clear that the long-term direction of a finite energy resource was upwards.
"You have to take the long-term view because there is so much volatility around. When we presented the second quarter results, oil prices were at over $140 per barrel," he said.
Governments were increasingly taking action to encourage the growth of clean power sources such as wind and solar. Vestas said it was greatly encouraged by Obama's success and said he needed to introduce plans that would give long-term certainty to renewables.
Engel said he was also encouraged by policy statements from Gordon Brown, the prime minister, and Vestas was scaling up operations in the Isle of Wight, a centre of research and development.
Shares in the company rose 1.2% on the Copenhagen stockmarket, having already risen strongly over the past 48 hours with political developments in the US.
Jacob Pedersen, analyst with Denmark's Sydbank, said: "The share price has halved over the last few months because of worry that people will simply stop buying turbines because of the crisis, and those are worries, I think, the results have put to shame."

Blow to Brown as BP scraps British renewables plan to focus on US

• Better rate of return across the Atlantic, says oil firm • Company to pull out of projects in India and China
Terry Macalister, Friday November 7 2008 00.01 GMT
The Guardian, Friday November 7 2008

BP has dropped all plans to build wind farms and other renewable schemes in Britain and is instead concentrating the bulk of its $8bn (£5bn) renewables spending programme on the US, where government incentives for clean energy projects can provide a convenient tax shelter for oil and gas revenues.
The decision is a major blow to the prime minister, Gordon Brown, who has promised to sweep away all impediments to ensure Britain is at the forefront of the green energy revolution. BP and Shell - which has also pulled out of renewables in Britain - are heavily influential among investors.
BP has advertised its green credentials widely in the UK and has a representative on the ruling board of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA). But it said difficulty in getting planning permission and lower economies of scale made the UK wind sector far less attractive than that of the US.
"The best place to get a strong rate of return for wind is the US," said a BP spokesman, who confirmed the group had shelved ideas of building an onshore wind farm at the Isle of Grain, in Kent, and would not bid for any offshore licences.
BP has enormous financial firepower as a result of recent very high crude oil prices. Its move away from wind power in Britain follows a decision by Shell to sell off its stake in the London Array project off Kent, potentially the world's largest offshore wind farm.
Shell gave the same reasons as BP for that move, saying the economics of UK wind were poor compared to those onshore across the Atlantic, where incoming president Barack Obama has promised to spend $150bn over 10 years to kick start a renewable energy revolution .
BP said about $1.5bn would be spent next year on US wind projects and the company expected to spend the $8bn up to the year 2015.
BP is still proceeding with some limited solar, biofuels and other schemes, but the vast majority of its time and energy is now being concentrated on wind. By the end of 2008, BP expects to have one gigawatt of US wind power installed and plans to have trebled this by 2010.
The BWEA shrugged off BP's decision. "The offshore wind market is evolving and getting stronger. Different investors will come and go at different stages of the development cycle. But whoever the players are, we know that the offshore industry will be generating massive amounts of electricity for the UK market in the next few years," said a spokesman.
Britain is not the only country to miss out on BP's largesse. The company said yesterday it was also pulling out of China, India and Turkey, where it had also been looking at projects.
BP had formed a joint venture with Beijing Tianrun New Energy Investment Company, a subsidiary of Goldwind, China's largest turbine maker. The two companies had signed a deal in January under which they planned 148.4MW of wind capacity in Inner Mongolia, China's main wind power region. BP had also started building two wind farms in India and was considering schemes in Turkey. It is now expecting to sell off the Indian facilities and halt work in Turkey.
Green campaigners have been highly sceptical about BP's plans to go "beyond petroleum" and feared that the company's new chief executive, Tony Hayward, would drop this commitment, started under his predecessor, John Browne.
The company has always insisted it remained keen to look at green energy solutions and has been investing in biofuels operations in Brazil. BP is also in the middle of a major marketing campaign, with huge posters on the London Underground boasting of its moves to diversify into wind and other energy sources.
The Carbon Trust, a government-funded organisation established to help Britain move from carbon to clean energy, recently published a major report warning ministers that the costs of building wind farms offshore was too high. There was speculation that BP was a major influence on that study, which proposed that turbines should be allowed to be placed much nearer to the shore.
The Crown Estate, which has responsibility for UK inshore waters, is still confident that a long-awaited third offshore wind licensing round in the North Sea will attract a record number of bidders. It has already registered 96 companies, although it has not released names and BP and Shell will clearly be absent.

Japanese industry set for a lithium rush as carmakers turn focus to green motoring

Leo Lewis, Asia Business Correspondent

Japan's largest automotive and electronics giants are poised to embark on a worldwide scramble for lithium - the material that could be required in bulk if the roads of the future are to be filled with electric cars.
Companies as diverse as Toyota and Panasonic could add mining or lithium-extraction operations to their portfolio of businesses as the technology that powers laptops and iPods is upgraded to drive the Chevrolet Volt, the Mitsubishi Miev and a dozen other electric cars that are on their drawing-boards.
The lithium-ion battery has recently emerged as a potentially critical stop-gap green technology as the motor industry gradually weans itself off the internal combustion engine. Although substantial advances have been made in the production of a commercially viable fuel cell vehicle, infrastructure issues - such as the lack of any network of hydrogen fuelling stations - mean it could be some decades before they enter the mainstream. Cars that can be plugged in and charged overnight, meanwhile, represent a more immediate development focus for the carmakers.
The impending rush to secure stable lithium supplies comes as large swaths of Japanese industry are suffering a crisis of confidence about their pipeline of raw materials. As a country that relies entirely on imports to feed its factories, companies now talk of building “upstream supply” in the form of investment in mines.

Panasonic, which stands to become the world's largest producer of lithium batteries if it completes its planned purchase of Sanyo, its local Osaka rival, has amassed a $10 billion (£6.2 billion) cash reserve for overseas acquisition.
A company spokesman said that while it had no concrete plans at the moment, purchasing an interest in a lithium production facility could “be thought of as one option”.
In addition to the emerging pursuit of lithium, Japanese trading companies have begun an energetic land-grab for other types of mines: bauxite, platinum and nickel are prime targets because of the huge demand from Japanese industry.
Stung by soaring prices earlier this year, motor companies have even begun to look at securing their own supplies of raw materials for steel production. Toyota Trading - an affiliate of the carmaker - has already bought part of a coking coal mine and admitted that further mine investments, including lithium, were a possibility.
Research by The Times suggests that at least ten leading Japanese companies have begun investigating ways of securing lithium supplies, or are mulling corporate alliances that would guarantee a degree of price stability. Some are considering outright purchases of existing lithium production facilities in Chile and Argentina, while others are looking at investing in planned lithium plants in China.
Global leaders in lithium-ion batteries, such as Sanyo and NEC Tokin, have unveiled improvements to the technology that have persuaded big carmakers, such as Nissan, to invest heavily in the development of next-generation electric cars.
Nissan's own electric car development team is aiming to design lithium batteries with three times the charge capacity of existing models, meaning that an electric vehicle could travel up to 500km on a full charge.

Vattenfall to expand UK wind presence

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: November 6 2008 23:28

Vattenfall is set to buy one of the UK’s biggest proposed offshore wind farms, in the latest step in its aggressive push into the British wind energy market.
The Swedish power company is in advanced talks with Christofferson, Robb and Company, an investment management company, for the rights to the Thanet wind farm, a 300MW farm set to be constructed off the coast of Kent.

Neither Vattenfall nor CRC would comment on Thursday on the proposed deal. The value is likely to be less than £50m, but if successful, Vattenfall will have to invest an estimated £800m to build the turbines.
This is Vattenfall’s third wind energy deal in the UK in the past two months.
In September, Vattenfall announced it would buy Eclipse Energy, a developer with a portfolio of six wind projects under development with a projected capacity of about 200MW, for £51.5m.
Last month, the company bought Amec Wind Energy, with a capacity of nearly 600MW, for £127m.
Vattenfall also operates the Kentish Flats offshore wind farm, comprising 30 turbines, each of 3MW capacity.
The Thanet project had been suffering delays as the costs of offshore wind farm construction have soared. There is a shortage of turbines and of the vessels needed to build the farms.
Climate Change Capital, a boutique investment bank specialising in carbon-cutting projects, has advised Vattenfall on its deals.
Interest in the UK’s offshore wind market has been increasing. On Monday, RWE said that it would pay £308m for half of the Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm, now under construction.
Separately, Mainstream Renewable Power, the Irish wind farm developer founded by Eddie O’Connor, former chief executive of Airtricity, said it had signed a deal to build wind farms in Chile.
In a joint venture with Andes Energy, Mainstream will construct 400MW of generating capacity, which would cost about $1bn (£630,000) to build.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Miniature solar cells power up

By Clive Cookson
Published: November 7 2008 02:00

Miniature solar cells - about a quarter the size of this 'o' - have been tested in the US as a power source for microscopic machines. Xiamei Jiang and colleagues at the University of South Florida made an array of 20 such cells, to show they could power a tiny sensor for detecting dangerous chemicals.
The miniature cells, described in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, are made of an organic polymer (plastic) rather than the silicon used for traditional solar cells.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Oil Majors Await Obama's Plan

Faced With Calls for Windfall-Profits Tax, Firms Talk Up Aid for Renewable Fuels

Anticipating a stronger emphasis on renewable fuels from President-elect Barack Obama, oil-industry executives say they want to see a substantial increase in federal research funding before they commit considerable muscle.

ConocoPhillips CEO James J. Mulva blames the credit crisis for slowing investment in renewable fuels.

During the campaign, companies were criticized for spending too little of their record profits on developing new fuel sources. But oil companies contend the technology for cleaner energy sources, such as plant-derived fuels, isn't yet ready for wide-scale deployment. Their money is better spent finding new supplies of fossil fuel, they argue.
ConocoPhillips said this week it is deferring an "aspiration" to become a broader energy supplier, and will remain focused on its traditional oil and natural-gas businesses.
"We want to live within our means," Chairman and Chief Executive James J. Mulva said in an interview, citing the credit crisis as part of the reason for postponing more investment in renewable fuels. "We would like to become more of a complete energy company. That strategy has not changed. The timing by which we would do it is going to take longer."
Mr. Mulva said ConocoPhillips took a hard look at diversifying into renewable fuels, as well as coal and nuclear, but only in the past few months decided against it. He said the government should use "more aggressive programs and more resources" to develop advanced fuel technology before throwing its weight behind any particular fuel sources. ConocoPhillips and other oil giants, which have large research operations, would be logical recipients of increased federal support. So far, none have said what amount of federal spending would be needed.
The Houston-based company earned $14.77 billion in the first nine months this year. Combined, the three largest U.S. oil companies -- Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips -- earned $71.2 billion during the same period.

ConocoPhillips doesn't plan to abandon current research efforts, Mr. Mulva said. Among them: studying how to turn coal into natural gas and produce biodiesel from animal fat. According to congressional testimony in May, ConocoPhillips said it spent about $150 million last year on research into renewables, about 1% of its capital budget.
Observers say ConocoPhillips and other oil giants are converging on a strategy for working with a new Democratic administration, which they believe is intent on pushing for environmentally-friendly fuels at the expense of traditional fossil fuels. It entails arguing for financial assistance in the form of research dollars, just as the coal sector receives aid for researching clean coal technology.
"It's political judo," said Kevin Book, an energy analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. "If you make a reasoned argument that your enemy can help you to your goals faster than you can get there by yourself, you might actually succeed. It's using the weight of political opposition to your advantage."
Kenneth Cohen, an Exxon Mobil vice president who oversees the Texas company's public affairs and lobbying efforts, said in an interview last week, before the outcome of the election was known, that the government should use tax policy and grants to speed up investigation of new fuel sources. He cautioned that the government should "avoid picking winners and losers" among fuels.
The argument for more study is criticized by those who see it as a delaying tactic. "We need to do a lot more than study at this point. We need to be moving aggressively," says Daniel Lashof, director of the National Resources Defense Council's climate center.
But the oil industry is protecting its pocketbook, arguing that until the market for renewables matures, the global economy needs oil and natural gas, and the federal government shouldn't take steps that could hurt fossil-fuel production. One such step could be the windfall-profits tax that Mr. Obama raised last spring as oil topped $100 a barrel.
On the whole, an Obama administration is expected to pursue policies that could hurt oil companies' profits. Industry analysts expect the new administration to consider climate-related surcharges on fossil fuels. It also could cap greenhouse-gas emissions and auction off so-called emission credits to finance research into alternative fuels.
Still, even oil-industry critics support some role for big oil in the growth of renewable fuels.
Write to Russell Gold at