Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Jatropha-fuelled plane touches down after successful test flight

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Tuesday 30 December 2008 12.52 GMT

Air New Zealand plane flown on second-generation biofuel
The search for an environmentally friendly fuel for airplanes took a leap forward today with the world's first flight powered by a second-generation biofuel, derived from plants that do not compete with food crops.
An Air New Zealand jumbo jet left Auckland just before midnight GMT with a 50-50 mix of jet fuel and oil from jatropha trees in one of its four engines. The two-hour test flight, which took the Boeing 747 over the Hauraki Gulf, showed that the jatropha biofuel was suitable for use in airplanes without the need for any modifications of the engines. It forms part of the airline's plan to source 10% of its fuel from sustainable sources by 2013.
"At an emotional level, it was an exciting day today," said Air New Zealand's chief pilot, David Morgan, who was on the test flight. "We achieved everything we wanted to achieve and it as a significant milestone for the aviation industry, doing the very first jatropha-fuelled flight. We're thrilled."
The flight was completed as the US airline Continental announced its own plans to test second-generation biofuels: next week it will fly a plane over the Gulf of Mexico with fuel derived from algae.
Air travel contributes 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and is one of the fastest rising contributors to climate change, but the search for a greener alternative to kerosene jet fuel has been problematic. Airlines cannot use standard first-generation biofuels such as ethanol because these would freeze at high altitude. In addition, environmentalists argue that manufacturing biofuels can produce more emissions than they absorb when growing, and can also displace agricultural crops and push up the price of food.
Air New Zealand's biofuel was made from jatropha nuts, which are up to 40% oil, harvested from trees grown on marginal land in India, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania. The fuel was pre-tested to show that it was suitable for airplanes, freezing at -47C and burning at 38C.
The flight included a series of tests to assess how the biofuel-powered engine operated compared to the ones running on kerosene at different speeds and at different stages of a normal flight. "The flight was notable for the lack of any surprises – everything ran normally and as expected," said Morgan. "The fuel was indistinguishable from jet A1, a true drop-in fuel. You could not see a difference in the four engines."
Continental's forthcoming demonstration flight will use a mixture of jatropha-derived biofuel and fuel made from algae, supplied by the San Diego company Sapphire Energy, seen as leaders in the search to make useful oil from micro-organisms. In the first commercial test flight of biofuels in the US, one of the engines on a Boeing 737-800 will be filled with a 50-50 mix of biofuel and traditional jet fuel.
"One of the reasons we chose algae and jatropha is that both are not food sources and can be grown in arid regions and virtually anywhere," said Leah Rayne, managing director of global affairs at Continental. "So they do not compete with food crops for water."
She added that, although the jatropha and algae fuels did not require any modifications to current aircraft engines, it would take several years of test flights for the biofuels to be certified for general use by airlines.
Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace UK's climate change campaign, warned against overinterpreting the results of the test flights. When Air New Zealand announced its biofuel plans in November, he said: "We need a dose of realism here, because this test flight does not mean an end to the use of kerosene in jet engines. The amount of jatropha that would be needed to power the world's entire aviation sector cannot be produced in anything like a sustainable way, and even if large volumes could be grown, planes are an incredibly wasteful way of using it." Environmentalists argue that curbing flights is the only true solution.
The Air New Zealand and Continental planes are not the first to use biofuels: in February, Virgin Atlantic successfully tried a mixture of 80% jet fuel and 20% biofuel - made from coconut oil and babassu palm oil - in one engine of a Boeing 747 on a flight between London and Amsterdam.

Airlines step up search for viable biofuels

By Bettina Wassener
Published: December 30, 2008

HONG KONG: Despite plunging oil prices, airlines are intensifying their search for alternative fuels to make flying more affordable and environmentally friendly for the long haul.
An early test of the commercial and technical viability of one such biofuel took place Tuesday in the skies above Auckland. Air New Zealand, the main New Zealand carrier, staged a successful test flight using oil derived from jatropha, a weed that can grow in arid conditions and produces inedible oil. That means it need not encroach on land or crops used for feeding the world's swelling population.
For two hours, pilots tested the oil, in a 50-50 blend with conventional jet fuel in one of the four Rolls-Royce engines powering a Boeing 747-400 aircraft - the first test flight by a commercial airline using jatropha oil.
"Today we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," said Rob Fyfe, Air New Zealand's chief executive. The project has been 18 months in the works.
The results of the test flight - and two others by rival airlines in the United States and Japan in January - will be closely watched by an industry that is determined to wean itself from ultimately finite supplies of conventional crude oil and shift toward sources of renewable, low-emission fuels.

A big increase in crude oil prices - to more than $147 a barrel in July - provided a strong incentive for the industry to reduce its exposure to volatile oil prices as soon as possible.
But pressure to reduce carbon emissions also drove the search for alternatives. The International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, aims for its members to use 10 percent alternative fuels by 2017. The group also has the ambitious goal that airlines will be able to fly carbon-free 50 years from now, with the help of technologies like fuel cells and solar energy.
Such goals have ensured that research and development into greener flying have continued, despite the recent retreat in oil prices to $40 a barrel and despite shrinking demand as the global economy slows to a crawl.
Having conducted a series of tests Tuesday, Air New Zealand and its partners in the venture, the U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing, the British engine maker Rolls-Royce and the technology developer UOP, a part of the U.S. business Honeywell, will review the results "as part of our drive to have jatropha certified as an aviation fuel," said Captain David Morgan, the flight's chief pilot.
The hope is that the test results will lay the groundwork for jatropha to be available in commercially viable quantities in three to five years, executives of the companies said.
Virgin Atlantic in February became the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines.
Two more airlines are to test their concoctions in quick succession next month. Continental Airlines on Jan. 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha, the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source - and the first biofuel-powered demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner.
And Japan Airlines is planning a test flight Jan. 30 from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed.
Together, the tests will try out not only different sources of alternative fuel, but also their use in an array of different engine types used by the world's airlines.
With the use of ethanol facing increasing criticism - it has been blamed for corn shortages that have led to food riots in parts of the world - hopes increasingly rest on inedible crops, like algae and jatropha, which can be grown without drawing on forested or arable land.
Unlike biofuels made from crops like soybeans and corn, jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere - even in sandy, saline or otherwise infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 percent to 40 percent of its mass in oil, meaning it has higher yield per acre than many other plant oils, experts say.
Still, even the potential use of jatropha has not been free of criticism, with some observers fearing that farmers could be tempted to substitute edible crops for jatropha in the hope of getting better prices.
Algae may be free of this potential problem, but research into algae is not as far advanced, said an Air New Zealand spokesman, Mark Street, explaining the airline's decision to focus on jatropha.
Air New Zealand, which aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013, said the jatropha used on Tuesday's flight had been grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

NZ airline flies jetliner partly run on biofuel

The Associated Press
Published: December 31, 2008

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Air New Zealand has tested a passenger jet powered partially with oil from a plum-sized fruit known as jatropha, in efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and cut its fuel bill.
With its test flight Tuesday, the airline became the latest carrier experiment with alternative fuels, partly due to the threat of rising oil prices but also to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aviation, which are projected to rise by up to 90 percent by 2020 according to European Commission projections.
Air New Zealand said the two-hour flight from Auckland International Airport was the first to use what are known as second generation biofuels to power an airplane. Second generation biofuels typically use a wider range of plants and release fewer emissions than traditional biofuels like ethanol.
One engine of the Boeing 747-400 airplane was powered by a 50-50 blend of oil from jatropha plants and standard A1 jet fuel.
"Today, we stand at the earliest stages of sustainable fuel development and an important moment in aviation history," Air New Zealand Chief Executive Rob Fyfe said shortly after the flight.

Along with investing in new technology to replace outdated fleets and new designs that reduce weight and air resistance, the International Air Transport Association says airlines are experimenting with a range of plant materials in an effort to find the jet fuel of the future.
The association, which represents 230 airlines, said it wants 10 percent of aviation fuel to come from biofuels by 2017 as part of a broad climate change plan. Air travel now generates only 2 percent of global carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming, but the industry's high growth rate has raised concern about future emissions.
"There are very promising biojet fuels, and jatropha is one of them," association spokesman Anthony Concil said Tuesday, adding that the industry is also looking at switch grass, algae and salt-tolerant plants called halophytes.
Jatropha is a bush with round, plum-like fruit that has been found in parts of South America, Africa and Asia. Seeds from jatropha are crushed to produce a yellowish oil that is refined and mixed with diesel.
Tuesday's flight was a joint venture by Air New Zealand, airplane maker Boeing, engine maker Rolls Royce and biofuel specialist UOP Llc, a unit of Honeywell International.
In February, Boeing and Virgin Atlantic carried out a similar test flight that included a biofuel mixture of palm and coconut oil — but that was dismissed as a publicity stunt by environmentalists who said the fuel could not be produced in the quantities needed for commercial aviation.
Continental Airlines has said on Jan. 7 it will operate a test flight out of Houston using a special blend of half conventional fuel and half biofuel with ingredients derived from algae and jatropha plants.
Simon Boxer, of environmental group Greenpeace New Zealand, said it was inevitable that airlines would show greater interest in sustainable biofuels as travelers become more aware of the harm that air travel causes the environment.
But he said it wasn't clear whether jatropha was really sustainable. He questioned what the environmental impact would be if jatropha grew popular and more land and resources were needed to produce it on a commercial scale.
Ken Morton, a Boeing spokesman, said he expects more airlines will embrace biofuels as countries introduce emission taxes and emission trading schemes that will impact the industry.
"It makes a lot of commercial sense to invest in these biofuels," said Morton, who was on hand for the New Zealand flight. "Certainly, it is what the public wants."
Jatropha on first glance appears to have many of the attributes demanded from the industry.
It grows almost anywhere, so it wouldn't compete with food crops as corn-based ethanol does and has a lower freezing point than traditional biofuels like palm oil.
India appears to be most bullish on jatropha, with plans to plant 30 million acres (12 million hectares) by 2012. Already, the Indian government says it has successfully run dozens of trucks and buses on jatropha-based biodiesel and 18.5 million acres (7.4 million hectares) of jatropha saplings are growing along the country's railroad tracks.
While Air New Zealand heralded Tuesday's flight as successful, Group Manager Ed Sims cautioned that it will be at least 2013 before the company can ensure easy access to the large quantities of jatropha it would need to use the biofuel on all its flights.
"Clearly we are a long, long way from being able to source commercially quantifiable amounts of the fuel and then be able to move that amount of fuel around the world to be able to power the world's airlines," Sims told New Zealand's National Radio.

RWE gets link for new nuclear plant

Published: December 30, 2008

LONDON: RWE npower has secured grid connection rights for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa in north Wales and acquired options to buy farmland close to the existing nuclear power station, the company said on Tuesday.
The UK arm of German utility RWE has been granted permission to feed 3.6 gigawatts of electricity into the national grid at the site on the island of Anglesey but will consult with local people before making any firm plans, the company said.
"We are serious and committed to progressing new nuclear options. Anglesey's nuclear heritage means it has great potential as a location for new nuclear build," RWE npower Chief Executive Andrew Duff said.
Duff called on the government to clear the way for investment in other types of generation to avoid a looming shortage of power plants before new nuclear plants are built.
"Nuclear energy can provide clean, secure and affordable electricity supplies in the mid and long term, but the country also needs early and significant investment in a diverse mix of power generation in order to reconcile climate targets and security of supply," he said.

"Without major investment in UK energy infrastructure over the coming years, the UK faces shortages in the approach to 2015."
The government wants to replace ageing and state-built atomic energy facilities, like the Magnox power station at Wylfa which is due to close in 2010, with new nuclear reactors built and run by the private sector.
France's EDF, the world's biggest nuclear power operator which is already building a new plant in Flamanville, France, has said it plans up to four reactors in Britain.
EDF bought land near Wylfa early this year but has since said it would rather build at two sites owned by British Energy, a company it is in the process of buying.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren)

Taking Credit for Energy Efficiency

Thinking about energy upgrades for your home in 2009? The good news is that the array of federal and state incentives to make your home more energy efficient has never been greater. The bad news, of course, is that strapped consumers in a weak economy may not have a lot of cash or home equity to use to leverage the credits.
The past year's volatility in energy prices turned a lot of attention to alternative sources of home heating and electricity. To help spur interest in alternative energy, Congress extended and expanded federal tax benefits in October, with several new provisions set to take effect Jan. 1.
With a recession under way, many companies marketing alternative-energy systems or home-efficiency improvements aren't seeing a rise in demand for their offerings. "A lot of consumers are sitting on their wallets and waiting to see how things pan out. Whether it's Christmas presents or energy retrofits, there's not a lot of money being spent," says Steven Nadel, executive director of the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
But the extra tax savings make it worthwhile for energy-conscious homeowners to take a closer look, especially given continued uncertainty in natural-gas and heating-oil prices. Some states have sweetened the pot with rebates for energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. And with planning, taxpayers may be able to carry over some of the credits.
Solar Power
The most generous of the new provisions is a tax credit for installing home solar-power systems. Until now, the federal tax credit for residential solar systems was capped at $2,000. Starting Jan. 1, homeowners can claim a full 30% of their installation costs for new residential solar-power systems, with no cost cap. If you live in a state with a rebate program, such as California, Connecticut, New York or New Jersey, the state will kick in thousands of dollars more toward your installation cost.

According to Barry Cinnamon, CEO of solar-system installer Akeena Solar Inc., a three-kilowatt rooftop system in California would cost in the neighborhood of $24,000. State rebates would total $5,000, plus a 30% tax credit on the remaining $19,000 would get the upfront cost down to $13,300, he says.
"Now you're into a 6½-year payback period [for energy savings to pay off the system's cost], even if electricity costs don't go up," says Mr. Cinnamon. "The economics have never been better." But, he adds, "Commercial and residential customers don't have the money to borrow right now."
Savings in the Wind
Brand new in 2009 is a tax credit for small wind turbines for residential or business use. The small-wind credit is available this year for the first time since 1985, when it was phased out as part of a broader simplification of the tax code.
That credit isn't expected to have as large an impact on the market as the retooled residential solar credit -- it is limited to $1,000 per kilowatt, with a maximum credit of $4,000. The popular 10-kilowatt systems can cost from $50,000 to $60,000.
"It's not enough to move the market," says Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower Co. in Norman, Okla. "So far it has made the phones ring more, but it hasn't made the systems fly off the shelves."
Due to local permit issues -- the towers for the small turbines are usually 60 feet or taller -- small wind power is still practical only for homes that sit on an acre or more of property, Mr. Bergey says. The American Wind Energy Association doesn't recommend installation where wind speeds average less than 10 miles per hour.
Nonetheless, the new federal credit could sweeten the deal for homeowners in states with rebate programs for small wind turbines. New York and California offer up to $20,000 in rebates for a 10-kilowatt system.
Offsetting the AMT
Both the solar and wind residential tax credits can be claimed against the alternative minimum tax, also a new feature in 2009. That will help taxpayers with a lot of itemized deductions and tax credits get the full value of the energy tax credits.
Some planning may be called for to ensure that you have enough tax liability to make full use of the residential tax credit for solar or small wind systems, or a similar credit for geothermal heat pumps. Credit amounts that aren't used in the year the system is installed may be carried forward to the following tax year.
The tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, which use heat stored in the ground to warm or cool a home, is capped at $2,000.
Improvements to help your home better trap heat or cool air in 2009 could qualify you for an energy efficiency tax credit of up to $500. The tax credit is good for 10% of the cost of such activities as adding insulation, or replacing windows and external doors.
Newly installed high-efficiency furnaces, boilers, heat pumps and water heaters also are eligible for the 10% tax credit. But these credits, combined with any window and insulation credits, may not total more than $500 for the same home.
You're out of luck, however, if you made such improvements in the 2008 tax year. When Congress renewed the tax credit, it did so only from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2009.
Stove Credit
Congress added biomass stoves, such as those that burn wood pellets or corn for heat, as a new category of appliance eligible for the energy efficiency tax credit. Purchase of an eligible biomass stove in 2009 can qualify you for a $300 tax credit -- which still counts toward the overall $500 cap on home energy-efficiency improvements.
Wood-pellet and corn stoves are gaining popularity with consumers as a secondary heat source that can help save on gas or heating oil bills. Leslie Wheeler, communications director for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, says pellet-stove sales through the third quarter of this year were up 168% over 2007 figures. That increase reflects in large part the summertime rally in natural-gas prices that carried over into the fall.
Pending Guidelines
But a word of caution: The IRS is still in the process of penning guidelines for which specific models of wood-pellet and corn stoves will be eligible for the tax credit.
"Our retailers have been calling, saying, 'Which stoves qualify?' " says Ms. Wheeler. She says that once the IRS issues its regulation, expected in mid-January, manufacturers will be able to certify which of their products are eligible. The trade group will also post a list of qualifying stoves on its Web site,
More tax incentives could be on the way as renewable energy sources are expected to benefit from coming economic-stimulus legislation, and President-elect Barack Obama's energy policies in general. But Mr. Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says where the economics make sense, homeowners would be well-served to move ahead with energy improvements now. "I'd do it, I wouldn't wait to see if I can get a little more from Uncle Sam," he says.—Tom Herman is on vacation.

One in three Scots makes green resolution

Published Date: 31 December 2008
By Jenny Haworth

SCOTS are planning to lead greener lives in 2009, a new survey suggests.
More than 1,000 people in Scotland were asked whether they planned to make resolutions this Hogmanay to help the environment.Of those who said they planned on making a green New Year resolution, recycling more waste and using energy-efficient light bulbs were the most popular choices, each accounting for 34 per cent of those surveyed.A third of people questioned said they planned to walk more, and smaller numbers said they intended to drive less, cycle more and turn the heating down.It is the latest evidence that many Scots are becoming more concerned about their impact on the planet.At the beginning of 2008, The Scotsman launched its Let's Go Green Together campaign in conjunction with the Scottish Government.Already, thousands of people have signed up to pledges to lead greener lifestyles. These range from recycling more, to turning off the lights and getting involved in community initiatives to help the environment.Michael Russell, the environment minister, said: "To help prevent climate change and protect the environment for future generations, we all need to reduce the impact of the way we live."He suggested this year Scots should consider making a green New Year's resolution, and said taking a small step would make a huge difference. "It's great to see that so many Scots are already planning to go greener in 2009," he added."And the good news is that as well as helping the environment, being green can often save you money, too – something that's more important than ever during the current economic climate."The survey of 1,013 adults was carried out for the Scottish Government to inquire about people's resolutions for 2009.The most popular greener resolution among women was to recycle more, while men favoured switching to energy-efficient bulbs.Fifteen per cent of those surveyed said they would drive less, 16 per cent have vowed to cycle more and 25 per cent said they would turn the heating down.However, 29 per cent of those surveyed said they had no plans to recycle more, drive less, walk or cycle more, turn the heating down, or use energy-efficient bulbs.A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have always said there is more work to be done."But equally the 'Go Greener' campaign is encouraging people to take small steps."According to the survey, carried out for the Scottish Government by Scottish Opinion, people aged 45 to 54 were most likely to recycle more, with those over 65 least likely. And 7 per cent more women than men were likely to recycle more.Those aged 55 to 64 were most likely to drive less, and 25 to 34-year-olds were most likely to cycle more. Women were more likely than men to walk more in 2009, with 36 per cent saying they would, compared to 29 per cent of males in the survey.Over the past year, The Scotsman has highlighted the work of communities and individuals across the country as people make efforts to go green.These range from the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust's efforts to set up a scheme to use renewable sources to provide mains electricity on the island for the first time, to the Fife Diet, in which scores of people ate local food for a year.Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has published its draft climate change legislation.If passed by parliament next year, it will bring in targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.This would include emissions from international air travel and shipping from the start, prompting green groups to say it is the most ambitious in the world. There will also be annual targets to make sure progress is made.Our campaignLET'S Go Green Together was launched with ten pledges which The Scotsman urged people to sign up to.• Recycle household waste using locally provided facilities. • Turn the tap off when brushing your teeth. • Switch to using energy-saving light bulbs.• Leave the car more often and cycle, walk, share a car or use public transport. • Use rechargeable batteries, not disposable ones.• Re-use carrier bags when you shop. • Buy more seasonal and unpackaged food. • Hang your washing up to dry rather than using a tumbler dryer. • Organise or volunteer in an environmental project in your local community. • Pay back environmental impact of any flights you take and choose not to fly when there's an alternative.

Global warming: Reasons why it might not actually exist

2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved, according to the Telegraph's Christopher Booker. Sceptics have long argued that there are other explanations for climate change other than man-made CO2 and here we look at some of the arguments put forward by those who believe that global warming is all a hoax.

Last Updated: 1:51PM GMT 30 Dec 2008

Some icebergs are melting -but not necessarily because of mankind's actions Photo: REUTERS
Temperatures are falling, not rising
As Christopher Booker says in his review of 2008, temperatures have been dropping in a wholly unpredicted way over the past year. Last winter, the northern hemisphere saw its greatest snow cover since 1966, which in the northern US states and Canada was dubbed the "winter from hell". This winter looks set to be even worse.
The earth was hotter 1,000 years ago
Evidence from all over the world indicates that the earth was hotter 1,000 years ago than it is today. Research shows that temperatures were higher in what is known as the Mediaeval Warming period than they were in the 1990s.
The earth's surface temperature is not at record levels
According to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis of surface air temperature measurements, the meteorological December 2007 to November 2008 was the coolest year since 2000. Their data has also shown that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s but the 1930s.
Ice is not disappearing
Arctic website Crysophere Today reported that Arctic ice volume was 500,000 sq km greater than this time last year. Additionally, Antarctic sea-ice this year reached its highest level since satellite records began in 1979. Polar bear numbers are also at record levels.
Himalayan glaciers
A report by the UN Environment Program this year claimed that the cause of melting glaciers in the Himalayas was not global warming but the local warming effect of a vast "atmospheric brown cloud" over that region, made up of soot particles from Asia's dramatically increased burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Temperatures are still dropping
Nasa satellite readings on global temperatures from the University of Alabama show that August was the fourth month this year when temperatures fell below their 30-year average, ie since satellite records began. November 2008 in the USA was only the 39th warmest since records began 113 years ago.

Safety experts say cars should be fitted with speed limiters

Owen Bowcott
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Speed limiters should be fitted to cars and lorries on a voluntary basis to reduce carbon emissions and cut accidents, a transport advisory body has recommended.
The innovation - using satellite navigation technology to read the road's speed limit and adjust the vehicle's accelerator - was given a cautious welcome by the Department for Transport yesterday.
The report by the Commission for Integrated Transport and the Motorists' Forum claimed accidents involving injuries could be cut by 12% if the system was adopted universally - with a manual override system - and by more if the speed limiter was mandatory and always on.
The Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA) system has been tested in the UK over 355,000 miles of driving on roads where the speed limit was known.
Urging its adoption, Sir Trevor Chinn, chairman of the Motorists' Forum, said: "The UK has an enviable record on road safety but we still kill nearly 3,000 people on our roads each year. This report shows the potential substantial savings in injury accidents that could be achieved."
Using the system on urban roads with a 30mph limit could increase fuel consumption and emissions, because cars operate more efficiently above that speed, the study acknowledges. But there should be significant reductions on roads where the limit is 70mph.
The report recommends voluntary fitting and use of the device, suggests government vehicle fleets should be equipped first of all to encourage other drivers to join the scheme, and proposes that it should be provided for newly qualified drivers and those convicted of dangerous driving.
The DfT said: "It has the potential to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads ... our view [is] that it could be a useful road safety feature for drivers who wish to use it."
The technology is in its infancy and will require mapping of speed limits on every UK road. Automatic speed controls have frequently been greeted with suspicion.
The Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Norman Baker, said yesterday: "This is a well-meaning thought but one which could have dangerous consequences. Any attempt to control speed could mean that drivers might not be able to accelerate out of dangerous situations. This could make road safety worse."
The Institute of Advanced Motorists' director of research and policy, Neil Greig, added: "ISA may be able to ensure that all cars observe speed limits, provided that critical safety conditions are met and tested. However, even with these assurances, an understandable deep-rooted concern about Big Brother will have to be overcome."

Rainforest's chewing gum tappers go organic to get out of a sticky situation

Threatened industry hopes new product to be sold by Waitrose will be its Jo Tuckman in Calakmul
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Porfirio Baños takes the measure of the chicozapote tree that he is about to tap for its resin. He winds a rope around himself and the tall, straight trunk that stretches towards a glimpse of sky through the foliage above. He starts to climb.
"I started following my dad around the rainforest when I was 10 and working when I was 12," the 50-year-old says as he cuts through the bark with a razor-sharp machete. A bright white sap called chicle runs down the wound in the wood, prompting a smile. "I am a chiclero to my core."
The location is remote, the practice old, the tools rudimentary, and the chances to chat with spider monkeys high. But this is no world apart. Men like Baños were at the root of one of the great consumer phenomena of our time: chewing gum.
Produced only in the jungle that straddles the southern part of Mexico's Yucatán peninsula, northern Guatemala and Belize, chicle was the basis of chewing gum, from the little balls first sold in New York 140 years ago to the sticks included in GI rations during the second world war. Then in the 1950s came synthetic substitutes that shrank the industry to a shadow of its former self.
But just as it was beginning to look as if the chicle industry would fade away altogether, Mexico's chicleros may be on the threshold of a comeback: they are about to launch their own brand of certified organic chewing gum, which is expected to go on sale shortly in Waitrose.
A bonus of the new gum for Britain's local authorities is that it will be biodegradable and start to break down almost immediately after use, potentially saving councils millions in pavement cleaning bills.
The epic tale of chicle goes back to 1869 when a Mexican general called Antonio López de Santa Anna was living in exile on Staten Island trying to raise money. He enlisted a local inventor called Thomas Adams to test out his idea that chicle, long chewed by Mexican soldiers in unprocessed form, could be transformed into a lucrative rubber substitute.
When vulcanisation failed the general moved on, but Adams, left with a tonne of the stuff to shift, came up with what turned out to be a brilliant idea. He added sugar and flavouring, and chewing gum was born. Within a few decades the sap once used by the ancient Maya to clean their teeth had become a symbol of modernity. Michael Redclift, author of Chicle: Fortunes of Taste, calls it "the American product for the American century".
Alfonso Valdez caught the tail end of the chicle fever that invaded the still largely virgin jungle during the boom years. "The chiclero camps were like small towns and there were dances every weekend," the 69-year-old says, reminiscing about the communities accessible only by small plane and lots of walking. "Nobody dared leave before the season was over, and if they tried to walk out alone we would find their torn-up clothes and assume they'd been eaten by a jaguar." Valdez now runs a much more modest camp at the end of a logging track on the edge of the Calakmul rainforest reserve where Baños and another nine veteran chicleros have lived since July and will stay until February.
The job itself has changed little, with each chiclero fanning out into the forest at dawn alone and earning according to how much chicle they bring back to camp at night.
The price for the raw material is too low to attract local youths who prefer to look for dishwashing jobs in Cancún or New York. These may be the last of the chicleros.
The administrators of the chiclero co-operative developed Chicza Rainforest Gum as a last-ditch attempt to save the industry. They struck a deal with Waitrose last year, they say, after touting their product around European organic food fairs. They hope it will be in 100 stores early next year.
Waitrose says it is excited about the product. "We are extremely interested in the Chicza chewing gum," said confectionery buyer Matthew Jones. "It is a great product that is organic and sustainable so we are very excited about its potential in our stores."
Valdez, an ageing chain-smoking toothless charmer who says he has fathered 42 children, is optimistic despite the global recession: chewing gum was one of the few consumer goods to thrive in the Depression. There is the added incentive that it eventually turns to dust. The annual bill for cleaning pavements of gum in the UK is more than £150m.
Chicza's packaging, meanwhile, pushes the new gum as a saviour of a rainforest in danger. The chicleros see preserving the forest as part of their job. "We don't kill the trees like farmers do when they clear land to grow corn or graze cattle," says Roberto Aguilar, 60. "We leave a wound, it's true, but eight years after it is healed and producing chicle again."
Deadly fears
But these workers of the jungle do harbour two fears, and harbour them deeply: the poisonous snakes whose bite kills in hours, and the slip of a machete that can cut the rope holding them above ground. All have lost friends and family to both.
"He just said: 'I'm finished, look after yourselves'," Baños says, recalling his father's last words at the foot of the chicozapote tree he fell from six years ago. The hardened old chiclero allows himself a moment of pathos - but then he's off again, looking for another tree to climb.

Devon stands in for polar icecap

Steven Morris
The Guardian, Wednesday 31 December 2008

Dartmoor is to be the training ground for three explorers who are about to set out on a £3m scientific expedition to find out just how vulnerable the Arctic icecap is.
Polar veteran Pen Hadow is leading the team that in February will take radar measurements of the icecap. Their findings will be made available to next year's UN climate change conference and will hopefully help scientists calculate how long the dwindling icecap could last.
Hadow, and his team members Ann Daniels and Martin Hartley, are building up their stamina by dragging car tyres over the awkward terrain and clambering over the granite outcrops with heavy packs."We are using Dartmoor to help replicate the icescape that we will travel across," said Hadow. "The tors are as good as gyms." The team is also toughening up with mentally and physically punishing sessions at the commando training centre at Lympstone, in east Devon.
"We are going to be on the sea ice for about 100 days ... measuring the thickness of the ice and snow in temperatures as low as -50C," said Hadow. "Up to 12 hours a day pulling sledges of up to 100kg requires a huge physical effort."

How Green is Apple?

By BEN CHARNY Dow Jones Newswires

SAN FRANCISCO – Apple Inc.'s eye-catching logo - an apple with a bite taken from it - has come in many colors in the past. Now, the iconic computer company is trying to prove its commitment to the color green.
In recent advertising, the Cupertino, Calif., company presents itself as an environmental leader. Apple's Web site bills its new line of MacBook computers as "the world's greenest family of notebooks." It now makes iPods and iPhones free of polyvinyl chlorides and brominated flame retardant, and it's in the final stages of making all of its products without bromine and chlorine. Both chemicals have been criticized for creating toxic byproducts.
Competitors and environmentalists, however, say Apple's green efforts have less to do with cleaning up its products and manufacturing and more to do with marketing. In a recent blog posting, a senior executive at Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. said he was "surprised" by Apple's claims of environmental-friendliness. Environmental groups, like Greenpeace, point to surveys ranking Apple below other computer makers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard Co. in green practices.
"Apple is... guilty of using 'green' as a marketing ploy, rather than making green a core part of their business practices," said Stephen Stokes, vice president of business and climate change at AMR Research Inc.
Determining Apple's "green-ness" is difficult because much of the information reported to authorities, like the Environmental Protection Agency, is provided voluntarily. Both Apple and its detractors have ample data to make their cases. However, Apple's recent decision to highlight its environmental efforts leaves the company's eco-track record open to scrutiny and criticism at a time when green issues are coming to the fore.
Success in promoting its record could help Apple lure more consumers, who are increasingly considering the environmental impact of their choices, to the company's products. That could help Apple spur sales and its slumping share price, which has fallen 57% so far this year, far worse than Morgan Stanley Technology Index's 47% drop.
Apple declined to comment for this story, but Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in an October report on Apple's Web site that his company was committed to developing green practices.
"I'm proud to report that all of Apple's new product designs are on track to meet our 2008 year-end goal," Jobs wrote. Among those: eliminating polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants from all its products by 2009, and removing mercury and arsenic from its products' displays.
Apple also has taken steps to release more information about its environmental policies, which have helped its image. A recent survey by the Diffusion Group, a Dallas research company that studies the impact of green products on consumer decisions, found consumers view Apple as the world's greenest company.
"Chalk it up to effective marketing," said Michael Greeson, president of the Diffusion Group, of Apple's green reputation.
Still, eight of Apple's nine MacBooks - the computers it markets as the world's greenest family of notebooks - received the EPA's gold standard for meeting environmental soundness criteria. Those notebooks garnered an average of 19.5 per unit on 21 optional measures suggested by the EPA.
By comparison, eight notebooks made by Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc. (2357.TW) got the top rating, along with perfect 21 scores.
Dell and Hewlett-Packard, each of which submits more notebooks to the EPA for rating than Apple, also have products with gold ratings. Both companies have lower marks on the average optional measures. H-P, which has about 45 notebooks rated, averages 17.5. Dell, with 27 notebooks rated, averages 18.4.
But critics say Apple doesn't compare as favorably on other measures. For example, Dell and Hewlett-Packard report buying much more clean energy than Apple; Dell 58 times more, and Hewlett-Packard five time more, according to the latest disclosures the companies made to the EPA database.
Each company reports its figures differently so the numbers aren't directly comparable because the companies are of different sizes. Still, they suggest other computer makers are making greater strides toward green business operations than Apple.
Other companies also appear to be making more progress than Apple on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming. Hewlett-Packard reduced direct greenhouse gas emissions - one of three types that are tracked - by 25% over the years, according to data the Palo Alto, Calif., computer maker provided to environmental regulators. Over the same period, Apple reported a 3% reduction in "emissions" in its 2008 environmental update.
Apple wouldn't specify which emissions for this story.
Apple also has slipped in the EPA's Fortune 500 Challenge, which asks companies to buy more alternative sources of energy, like wind or solar power. As of October, Apple ranked 35th, one place lower than it did in January. Over the same period, Dell rose to 12th from 31st, while H-P rose to 21st place from 22nd.
In November, Apple also dropped to 14th on the Greenpeace corporate environmental scoreboard, though the company's overall score rose to 4.3 from 4.1.
The apparent difference between Apple's environmental record and its green rhetoric has prompted ire among some of its competition.
Earlier this month, Bob Peterson, who runs environmental affairs at Dell, blasted Apple's recent marketing campaign in a blog posting. He said he was "surprised" by Apple's claim and that at least two Dell notebooks have better environmental ratings than Apple's.
"We wish Apple would be more bold in making a difference than making ads," Peterson wrote.
Apple also declines to provide key details about its manufacturing process to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which collects data about corporate greenhouse emissions via annual questionnaires that are publicly available. Rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard answer most of the group's questions.
Apple largely leaves the questionnaire blank.
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