Friday, 27 February 2009

Toyota Prius tops Consumer Reports best value list

The Associated Press
Published: February 26, 2009

DETROIT: Consumer Reports magazine said the 2009 Toyota Prius Touring edition offers the best value for a new car.
The magazine's April edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, released results Thursday of its best cars of 2009.
Typically, the magazine offers a list of "top picks" in various car and light truck category, but given sagging consumer confidence during a recession, it added a "best car value" rating.
The ranking takes into account the total cost of ownership over five years, and weighs fuel costs, maintenance and repairs, insurance costs, depreciation, financing rates and taxes against the price and reliability of the vehicle.
"We're in a time where people are not buying the latest gizmo, they're looking for a more practical car," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports' auto test division. "Buyers are much more savvy. They're forgoing what they want for what they need."

Foreign automakers filled out all five best value categories — small car, family car, hatchbacks and wagons, small SUVs and midsize SUVs.
Champion said some Detroit automakers, such as Ford Motor Co. are making gains toward greater reliability, but are weighed down by older truck models.
"GM has done a lot on making some excellent vehicles, but unfortunately their reliability is very inconsistent, and that makes them much less desirable," he said. "Chrysler is in very sad shape, it missed the mark with a number of its new vehicles in terms of how they perform."
Consumer Reports still listed their "top picks" for 2009, which focus on reliability and road and crash test results. The Chevrolet Avalanche, the only domestic vehicle to make that list, was named the top pickup truck. The Hyundai Elantra SE, was the best small sedan, and the Honda Accord, the best family sedan.
The issue will also focus on used cars and offer maintenance tips as consumers opt to put off a new car purchase.
Reliability rankings are based on a survey of Consumer Reports subscribers who are asked if they have had serious problems with their vehicles in the past 12 months. Subscribers rated their experience on a total of 1.4 million vehicles.

Water 'more important than oil' businesses told

Looming water crisis could unravel world economy without radical action, investors told

Juliette Jowit, Thursday 26 February 2009 18.34 GMT
Water shortage will cause greater ruin than peak oil.

Dwindling water supplies are a greater risk to businesses than oil running out, a report for investors has warned.
Among the industries most at risk are high-tech companies, especially those using huge quantities of water to manufacture silicon chips; electricity suppliers who use vast amounts of water for cooling; and agriculture, which uses 70% of global freshwater, , says the study, commissioned by the powerful CERES group, whose members have $7tn under management. Other high-risk sectors are beverages, clothing, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, forest products, and metals and mining, it says.
"Water is one of our most critical resources – even more important than oil," says the report, published today . "The impact of water scarcity and declining water on businesses will be far-reaching. We've already seen decreases in companies' water allotments, more stringent regulations [and] higher costs for water."
Droughts "attributable in significant part to climate change" are already causing "acute water shortages" around the world, and pressure on supplies will increase with further global warming and a growing world population, says the report written by the US-based Pacific Institute.
"It is increasingly clear that the era of cheap and easy access to water is ending, posing a potentially greater threat to businesses than the loss of any other natural resource, including fossil fuel resources," it adds. "This is because there are various alternatives for oil, but for many industrial processes, and for human survival itself, there is no substitute for water."
In a joint statement, CERES' president Mindy Lubber and Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, urged more companies and investors to work out their dependence on water and future supplies, and make plans to cope with increased shortages and prices.
"Few companies and investors are thinking strategically about the profound business risks that will exist in a world where climate change is likely to exacerbate already diminishing water supplies," they say.
"Companies that treat pressing water risks as a strategic challenge will be far better positioned in future," they add.
The CERES report adds to growing concern about a looming water crisis. In the Economist's report, The World in 2009 , Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of food giant NestlĂ©, wrote: "under present conditions… we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel". And at its annual meeting this year the World Economic Forum issued what it itself called a "stark warning" that "the world simply cannot manage water in the future in the same way as in the past or the economic web will collapse".
CERES, which has members in the US and Europe, made recommendations, including that companies should measure their water footprints from suppliers through to product use, and integrate water into strategic planning, and that investors should independently assess companies' water risk and "demand" better disclosure from boards.

Why 'clean coal' is the ultimate climate change oxymoron

The people who told us for years that climate change was a myth now say it's all true – but something called 'clean coal' can fix it. This is pure and utter greenwash, says Fred Pearce

Fred Pearce, Thursday 26 February 2009 12.13 GMT

No clean-coal plant that buries carbon has yet been built.

Next week, Americans are being invited to take part in what could become the largest act of civil disobedience against global warming in the country's history. People are protesting at the coal-fired power plant that powers legislators on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Cynics may say it's about time Americans joined the action. The fact is that too many Americans have been bamboozled for too long by a campaign of disinformation about the science of climate change. Many still think the whole question of mankind's role in global warming is disputed in scientific circles (I expect the comments beneath this blog will soon demonstrate this point).
Hopefully, that science battle is slowly being won. But now the big greenwash is coming from another direction. Now, we have a technology battle. The people who told us for years how climate change was a myth now say it is all true – but something called "clean coal" can fix it.
It's hard to keep track of the differing organisations behind this. First there was Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Last year that merged with the Center for Energy and Economic Development to create the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). That body is now headlining as something called America's Power. The one thing they have got is money. Money to try and persuade us that coal is good, coal is green and coal is the solution to America's energy needs.
The ACCCE spent $38m last year buying TV, newspaper and magazine space to persuade Americans that coal can be clean and carbon-free. The money mostly came from its members in the coal mining, transportation and burning industries.
You don't see much coal in these ads, though in December its website did feature some singing lumps of coal called the "clean coal carollers". Sadly they went shy about that and the carollers now seem to be on indeterminate holiday leave.
The money doesn't all go into airtime and column inches, of course. According to SourceWatch, almost $1m goes to pay the salary of its president and chief executive officer Stephen L Miller.
But the big PR question, the one that must earn Miller his remuneration, is how to rationalise this oxymoron "clean coal". How to square this carefully created image with inconvenient facts about the fuel's huge carbon footprint – greater than other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
The genius is that they don't really try. Blink and you might miss it. That word "clean" is highly flexible. It can mean what you want it to mean. So for instance, ACCCE claims that modern coal power plants are "70% cleaner".
It sounds good. It sounds like coal really is cleaning up. Perhaps the greenies are behind the times. Call off the demo. But check more closely and you'll notice that the ACCCE doesn't mention which gases are covered by this claim. In fact, the industry has cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides under acid-rain legislation enacted years ago. That's what the 70% refers to. But it has not cut planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.
Its other key strategy is to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS). That is, the idea of catching carbon dioxide before it goes up the stack of a power plant, and burying it out of harm's way underground – forever. It promotes the idea and not the technology, because there is currently no such technology.
But ACCCE has faith. It doesn't argue that CCS can solve coal's environment problems. If it did, it might have to defend its case. Instead, it says "we believe that American can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits from using domestic energy sources like coal … In a word: we believe in technology." Good for them, but technologists generally rely on more than faith.
As I have reported here before, this technology is scientifically conjectural, especially at the storage end. And even on an optimistic view of its feasibility, it is at least two decades and several tens of billions of research and development dollars away from actual commercial operation on any scale. Don't take my word for it. Check out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's study on the matter. Or this study by the International Energy Agency. Bear in mind these reports were written before the US government last year pulled out of FutureGen, its only large-scale R&D programme for carbon-capture technology.
An industry confident of the technology's future might have been expected to plug the funding gap and keep right on going. But not so far. An analysis of ACCCE's members in December by the Center for American Progress found that their total investment in R&D for carbon capture and storage in recent years added up to a total of $3.5bn, compared with profits for one year of $57bn. Sorry, but belief isn't enough. Put up or shut up.
They should be laughed out of court. But what is most worrying is the political traction the clean-coal story is gaining. Sadly, President Obama may be part of the faith brigade. During the election campaign last year, he was quoted telling the people of Michigan that "you can't tell me we can't figure out how to burn coal that we mine right here in the USA and make it work."
It's not a great quote, but it's the best the ACCCE could come up with, and they have run ads with it.
The trouble with CCS right now is that it is being sold as an imminent fix when it is very far from that. And it is being sold as a reason to carry on supporting the coal industry. After all, the argument runs, if we pull the plug on new coal-fired power plants now, then how will they fund the R&D that could deliver clean coal one day?
That is a very dangerous argument indeed. It is the reason why Nasa climate scientist James Hansen is supporting the demonstration in DC, and insists that no new coal-fired power stations should be built unless and until all their carbon dioxide can be captured and buried forever.
Sadly, for too many policy-makers, the idea that we can have coal and tackle climate change at the same time is too good to miss. Sadly, it is too good to be true.
• How many more green scams, cons and generous slices of wishful thinking are out there? Please email your examples of greenwash to or add your comments below

Double Dutch for energy firm

Published Date: 26 February 2009

SCOTTISH and Southern Energy has won approval to construct an offshore wind farm in the Dutch part of the North Sea.
The company, which owns Scottish Hydro Electric, has obtained consent from the Dutch Government for it to move ahead with the 'Breeveertieen II' windfarm. It follows a similar consent for 'West Rijn' last month.The new consent means the company can now push ahead with securing financial support, which will see the creation of the largest Dutch wind farm.Paul Dowling, chief executive of Airtricity, Scottish and Southern's renewables division, said: "The Dutch market is an important new area for SSE's renewable development team and the 'West Rijn' and 'Breeveertien II' sites will give us the potential to become the leading offshore wind developer in Holland."

Support for concept of reducing the number of car trips

Published Date: 27 February 2009
By Alastair Dalton

THREE in four people plan to reduce car journeys because of concerns over climate change, according to a UK government survey.
The news coincided with Glasgow Airport's announcement that improved bus links are planned to cut the large number of "kiss and fly" journeys, where passengers are dropped off and picked up in cars.In the survey, those who said they were likely to reduce their car journeys planned to walk instead on short trips or to make fewer non-essential journeys.However, the respondents backed efforts to encourage people to make fewer car trips through public transport improvements, rather than by increasing motoring taxes. Nearly half of those polled also said air travel should be curbed to protect the environment.Officials at BAA Scotland, which runs Glasgow Airport, say "kiss and fly" trips posed a "significant challenge" to reducing emissions as they accounted for nearly a third of journeys to and from the airport.A statement said: "This is considered to be the most environmentally damaging form of accessing the airport, because it involves four car journeys."Officials plan to investigate why this practice is so popular before targets are set to reduce it prior to the planned opening of the airport's rail link scheduled for 2013. Overall the airport hopes to increase the proportion of airport journeys by public transport from 11 per cent to 15 per cent within three years, with solution such as new bus routes and bus and taxi lanes.

Green by nature

Leading article:Thursday, 26 February 2009

There is a cynical view of human nature which says that, while people might profess to be concerned about the state of the environment, they are not prepared to change their lifestyle in any serious way to preserve it.

The news that 3.5 billion fewer plastic bags were handed out by British shops last year is a powerful rebuttal of that argument. What lies behind this trend is a noisy public campaign calling for people to re-use their old bags rather than acquire new ones every time they go shopping.
The vast number of plastic bags in circulation has become a serious blight on the natural world, polluting the seas and choking wildlife. The public have been presented with the scientific evidence. They have accepted the link between their plastic bag use and environmental degradation. And a great many have altered their behaviour accordingly.
It's enough to make a cynic despair.

Scientists to stop global warming with 100,000 square mile sun shade

Scientists claim they can fight global warming by firing trillions of mirrors into space to deflect the sun's rays forming a 100,000 square mile "sun shade".

Last Updated: 7:33PM GMT 26 Feb 2009

Scientists say they can fight global warming by firing mirrors into space
According to astronomer Dr Roger Angel, at the University of Arizona, the trillions of mirrors would have to be fired one million miles above the earth using a huge cannon with a barrel of 0.6 miles across.
The gun would pack 100 times the power of conventional weapons and need an exclusion zone of several miles before being fired.
Despite the obvious obstacles - including an estimated $350 trillion (£244trn) price tag for the project - Dr Angel is confident of getting the project off the ground.
He said: "What we have developed is certainly effective and a method guaranteed to work.
"Tests are ongoing but we expect to be ready to launch within 20 or 30 years time. Things that take a few decades are not that futuristic."
Dr Angel has already secured NASA funding for a pilot project and British inventor Tod Todeschini, 38, was commissioned to build a scaled-down version of the gun.
He constructed the four-metre long cannon in his workshop in Sandlake, Oxfordshire, for a TV documentary investigating the sun shield theory.
He said: "The gun was horrendously dangerous. This was the first gun I'd ever built.
"I knew I could put it together safely but at the end of it all I didn't know what I was going to get.
"It was immensely dangerous. I was attempting to build a gun to produce 1,500G of force but it ended up creating about 10,000G and we had to turn the power down.
"Most weapons used by the army produce 100Gs of force so our gun was about 100 times more powerful.
"The main danger was electrocution because it used enough power to boil 44,000 kettles.
"If you were working with normal levels of electricity you could get a shock and be fine, but if you got a shock off this you would be dead - no question.
"We've proved it's possible to build a scaled-down version of the gun needed to get these lenses into the air so it's just a matter of scaling up the designs for the real thing."
If Dr Angel's sun shield is successful he says the mirrors will last 50 years before needing to be replaced.
"What you are talking about is a project which will stop global warming for centuries to come," he said.
"At the moment the sums involved sound huge but in the greater scheme of things it's a price worth paying.
"Over 50 years the mirrors will become damaged and therefore fresh lenses will need to be fired into space to ensure the shield is constant."
Dr Angel, who pioneers solar energy, is developing cheaper methods of making the lenses to bring the cost of the project down.
In the meantime researchers at the University of Victoria, Canada, are testing the sun shield theory by using computer simulations of the project.
Dr Angel's sun shield theory will feature on Ways to Save the Planet on the Discovery Channel at 7pm on Sunday.

Challenge for agencies getting U.S. funds for energy efficiency: Spend wisely - and fast

By Kate Galbraith
Published: February 26, 2009

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee: To the casual eye, the basement of Firehouse 9 in this city looks like a jumble of old hydrants, Dr Pepper soft drink cartons, rakes and random gear. To specialists in energy efficiency, the 1960s-era building is a mess of a different sort: wasteful hot-water heaters for the firefighters' showers, ancient refrigerators and outdated lights.
Wrapping up an elaborate energy audit, Knoxville is about to find out which of 99 city buildings are wasting the most energy. It hopes to begin repairs this summer, just in time to catch a tsunami of U.S. government stimulus money earmarked for unglamorous tasks like replacing light bulbs and fixing leaky insulation.
Knoxville's timing is excellent. It began the arduous work of cataloguing deficiencies before the stimulus bill passed, and it is well along in planning its next steps. But experts worry that other beneficiaries, especially cities, are not ready to oversee the huge sums of energy-efficiency money that are about to come their way.
The money in the bill is enough to pay for a tremendous expansion of efficiency efforts across the United States. But as with other parts of the stimulus package, the efficiency plan is creating tension between spending the money quickly, to get rapid economic stimulus, and spending it well, to do the most good over the long run.
"There's enormous opportunity here for expansion of energy efficiency in this country," said Lowell Ungar, the policy director for the Alliance to Save Energy, an advocacy group. "But there is certainly the potential for waste."

President Barack Obama signed the stimulus package into law on Feb. 17, hailing it as a shot of money big enough to help shake the economy from its lethargy while advancing many of his campaign priorities.
Accelerating the country's energy transition is at the top of his list. Many experts in the field agree with him that carefully chosen investments in efficiency will ultimately save more than they cost, by cutting energy bills.
At least $20 billion in the stimulus package is earmarked for programs like improving the efficiency of government buildings and the homes of poor people, and trying to find better ways to save energy.
That is far more, advocates say, than any stimulus package in history. Within a few months, the money is likely to start landing in the bank accounts of thinly staffed state and city agencies that are accustomed to scraping for a dime here, a dollar there.
Utah expects that its state energy office will receive $40 million for energy efficiency, renewable energy and related programs - a sum 123 times the size of the office's current budget, said Jason Berry, who manages the four-person unit. He is about to go on a hiring spree.
The package contains $5 billion to weatherize low-income homes through the U.S. Energy Department, enough to give the state programs that manage that work 10 to 30 times the money they received last year, said Christina Kielich, a department spokeswoman.
For advocates of this relatively obscure program, "it's like they finally got to the other side of the desert and it's pouring rain," said Seth Kaplan, a vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group.
The stimulus package also contains $4.5 billion to modernize U.S. government buildings and $2.5 billion for research into energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The biggest chunk, $6.3 billion, will be distributed by the Energy Department in grants to state and local governments, which can spend the money on things as diverse as thicker window panes for state legislatures and rebates for homeowners who change their light bulbs.
Homes and commercial buildings account for 39 percent of national energy consumption. Experts say that improving their efficiency will not only be cost-effective, but also will be a good way to reduce the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
But figuring out how to spend the money effectively - learning which university buildings need their doors caulked, for example, or which firehouse walls have insulation that is too thin - can involve time-consuming, tricky analysis by skilled technicians.
"People are very conservative about their buildings," said Donald Gilligan, the president of the National Association of Energy Service Companies, a trade group. "Nobody wants to put a failed technology into the school buildings or have the lights not work."
In Knoxville, a team of auditors hired by the city is spending six months peering into the grimy nooks of fire and police stations and even a convention center, where one employee referred to the downstairs boiler area as a "money-eating room."
Knoxville - which says the stimulus money may help accelerate or expand its program - hopes to reduce the city's energy bills as much as 25 percent, and the city is "definitely on the front end of the wave as far as efficiency and municipalities addressing efficiency," said John Plack Jr., a director of project development for Ameresco, which is conducting the Knoxville energy audit.
In the southeastern region of the United States, where Plack works, low electricity prices have often made saving energy an afterthought, unlike the situation in California and much of the Northeast. For example, Nashville, nearly 200 miles, or 320 kilometers, west of Knoxville, has not conducted an energy audit of its city buildings, though it hopes to use stimulus money to look through its fire stations and libraries.
"There's a lot of municipalities out there who are completely unaware this is moving forward," Kaplan said, referring especially to smaller cities. "They just don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with this."
The Energy Department, which is doling out most of the grants, has been assailed on Capitol Hill for delays in disbursing other types of assistance for clean energy.
Kielich said in an e-mail message that the department hoped efficiency grants would begin flowing to city and state energy offices within 120 days, and that it planned to begin disbursing weatherization money "expeditiously and responsibly."
On the receiving end, absorbing the huge increase in money for weatherization could be particularly challenging, said Ian Bowles, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts.
Though he says he believes it can be done, "the weatherization folks are going to have to quintuple their effort in order to put that money out," he said.
In some cases, the managers of efficiency programs may not need to look far to find ways to spend the money.
In Knoxville, the Community Action Committee, whose operations include helping poor people weatherize their homes, works from a building with a $14,000 utility bill each month - some of it because of an enormous skylight that lets in too much blistering Tennessee sunshine in the summer.
"It's embarrassing," said Barbara Kelly, executive director of the committee. "We do better for our clients than we do for us."

Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane

Reducing Gas in Livestock Could Help World Breathe Sigh of Relief Over Global Warming

PALMERSTON NORTH, New Zealand -- On a typical day, researchers in this college town coax hungry sheep into metal carts. They wheel the fluffy beasts into sealed chambers and feed them grass, then wait for them to burp.
The exercise is part of a global effort to keep sheep, deer, cows and other livestock from belching methane when they eat and regurgitate grass. Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and researchers now believe livestock industries are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to the United Nations.

Animal biologists in New Zealand are leading one of the most sophisticated efforts in livestock stomach research. Their goal? To reduce global warming by producing less gassy sheep. WSJ's Patrick Barta reports.
Plenty of people, including farmers, think the problem of sheep burps is so much hot air. But governments are coming under pressure to put a cork in it, and many farmers fear that new livestock regulations could follow. They worry that environmentalists will someday persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek to tax bovine belches. Some activists are urging consumers to stop buying meat and thus slow climate change.
All of which is breathing new life into the study of sheep stomachs. Researchers have tried just about everything, from changing the animals' diets to breeding new sheep they hope will be less gassy. They've concocted cocktails of clover, garlic and cottonseed oil to try to curb methane. They have even tried feeding the animals chloroform, which can stymie the production of gas if it doesn't kill the animal.
But sure as grass grows, livestock keep producing methane.
"We're at a very theoretical stage," says Simone Hoskin, a livestock expert from Massey University, an institution involved in the research going on in this grassy New Zealand town. "A lot of people think we are insane."
There was an earlier golden age of sheep stomach research -- in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. In those days, governments were looking for ways to improve animal digestion so livestock could produce more food for a hungry planet.
But as worries over food supplies waned, research tailed off. Scientists, as it happened, weren't all that thrilled about fishing around in animals' stomachs, which can contain up to 150 pounds of mushy meadow grass. "The stuff smells in a way you can't imagine," Ms. Hoskin says. "It really stays on you."
The root of the problem is that sheep, cows, goats and other so-called ruminants are unique in the way they digest their food. While that allows them to convert more energy from grasses, the process also generates hydrogen as a byproduct. Microbes known as methanogens convert the hydrogen to methane, which then leaves the animal through belching -- and to a lesser extent, flatulence -- and then floats into the atmosphere, where it helps to trap heat and potentially accelerate global warming. Humans emit methane, too, but not so much.
As awareness of the issue has grown, the U.S., U.K. and other countries have stepped up their research. But "there is no question that New Zealanders lead the world," says John Wallace, a scientist at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
That's partly because New Zealand prides itself on its environmental conscience. It is also, Kiwis say, from necessity: Their otherwise clean island is home to about 35 million sheep -- nearly 10 times the human population -- and millions of cows, deer and goats.

Patrick Barta/WSJ
Top to bottom, researchers rustle up sheep behind the lab in Palmerston North, New Zealand, then place them in a cart to be wheeled into sealed chambers to measure levels of the greenhouse gas methane the animals burp up.
As a result, roughly 48% of New Zealand's greenhouse gases come from agriculture, compared with less than 10% in such large, developed economies as the U.S. Agricultural leaders fear their livestock-heavy economy could be at risk if there's an international move to tighten rules on animal emissions.
Kiwis tried to get a leg up on the problem in 2003, when politicians proposed an emissions tax on livestock. Farmers thought they were getting fleeced and attacked what they called a "fart tax." The idea was tabled.
But livestock owners and scientists knew the issue wasn't going away. With the help of industry groups such as Meat & Wool New Zealand, they put up millions of dollars to finance a war on sheep emissions.
The group, the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, helped assemble eminent animal-stomach experts from around the world. They included Ms. Hoskin, who had spent much of her career working on such topics as the role of leafy turnips in deer grazing. It also included itinerant ruminant researchers from the U.K., Germany, Peru and Sri Lanka.
Much of the work occurs here in Palmerston North, a town north of Wellington surrounded by rolling hills and filled with some of the most sophisticated animal-emissions gizmos in the world. Chief among them: 10 "respiration chambers," which scientists use to measure burps under different experimental conditions.
Pumps circulate fresh air into the chambers. Researchers rustle up an animal -- often a sheep -- from behind a laboratory, and then wheel it into the chamber, where the bleating creature munches on grass. The concentration of methane in the air then usually increases. The cud chewer is oblivious.
"They love it here," says Cesar Pinares-Patino, a Peruvian scientist who helps run the chambers. The animals "can look at each other and be comfortable." Sometimes they stay in the chambers for days, he says.
The boxes help show what strategies are working. But scientists haven't achieved a breakthrough. Many of the dietary additives known to reduce methane -- cottonseed oil, for instance -- don't work well in the long run; sometimes they cost too much or the animals don't digest them well. Chloroform additives worked for a while, but the animals' stomachs adapted and started emitting again.
Researchers are particularly proud of one achievement, though: Using genome sequencing to draw a genetic map of one of the leading methanogens. Team members passed around a single-malt whisky when they finished that work in June. They say the breakthrough should make it easier to identify compounds that can attack the methanogens so methane isn't made in the first place.
"We now know our enemy," says Peter Janssen, a scientist who worked in Germany and Australia before returning to his native New Zealand two years ago to do livestock emissions research.
Some farmers elsewhere in the world are bemused. "I applaud them" for trying, says Eric Davis, a cattleman whose operation in Bruneau, Idaho, has more than a thousand head of cattle, and hence plenty of gas. But "I'm skeptical they'll come up with anything we can practically use," he says. Besides, "I still have a problem with whether methane is a problem."
Mr. Janssen admits his work would probably be "fringe science" if it weren't for all the interest in climate change. But he still thinks it will generate something useful.
"It could be two years, or it could be 20" before a solution to animal burps is found, he says. But someday, "it will suddenly show up. And then you will have it."
Write to Patrick Barta at

Climate-Change Research Gets Big Boost in Budget

Climate-change research would get a boost in funding under the budget as a result of a refocusing of resources at several agencies.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $1.3 billion for new weather satellites and climate sensors, as well as research into climate and ocean research.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would refocus its efforts on global climate research, a major change from the Bush years, when next-generation space flight programs were a priority. NASA's budget calls for a $1.5 billion increase over the next two years, with its fiscal 2010 budget totaling $18.7 billion, and it will be charged with developing new space-based sensors to "deploy a global climate research and monitoring system."
Research funding also would increase for the National Science Foundation, a change from years of flat budgets. The agency will be tasked with developing a climate-change education program for environmental scientists and engineers. The administration calls for doubling the NSF's basic research budget over the next decade, starting with $800 million more in 2009. That doesn't figure in the $3 billion it received from the recently passed $787 billion economic-stimulus package.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration proposes increasing the Commerce Department's budget by $4 billion in 2010 to pay for costs involved in conducting the 2010 census, including the hiring of half-a-million temporary workers. Congress already has approved $1 billion to fund the census in the stimulus package.
Write to Amy Schatz at

Carbon capture won't work until 2030, says energy boss

Tim Webb, Thursday 26 February 2009 10.16 GMT

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, has warned that coal plants fitted with carbon capture storage (CCS) equipment are unlikely to be ready to make big cuts in Britain's emissions before 2030.
The country's geology is not suited to the technology, which is expensive and unproven, he said. This meant it would take "at least 15 years and probably closer to 20 years" before companies were in a position to deploy the technology on a large scale.
This week, energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband confirmed reports in the Guardian that the government wanted to fund more than one CCS demonstration project to accelerate development of the technology. The government favours "post-combustion" technology which could be retrofitted to clean up existing coal plants to capture their emissions.
Centrica had been developing "pre-combustion" technology which can only be attached to new plants. Laidlaw said there was a risk that CCS technology is never retrofitted to a new generation of highly-polluting coal plants. "The risk is that it will never be technically feasible because the coal plants are too far from spent aquifiers [in the North Sea where the carbon can be stored], the costs are probably high and the technology can't be retrofitted," he said. "If you start from scratch it's a better solution."
The comments came as Centrica announced it was creating 1,500 mostly "green-collar" jobs to build wind farms and low-carbon power plants such as nuclear reactors and also to install energy-saving boilers and solar panels in homes.
Laidlaw said the jobs will be created over the next year as it gears up to invest £15bn by 2020 to build the equipment, as well as investing in new sources of gas supply and gas storage facilities.
The owner of British Gas, which announced it was cutting gas bills last month by 10%, did not commit to further price cuts. Last year British Gas increased gas bills by half, blaming soaring oil and wholesale energy prices. Since last summer's peak, energy prices have slumped by more than half.
Laidlaw said: "If we see wholesale gas prices continue to fall I would hope that by the end of the year we might be able to do further price reductions."
Laidlaw said negotiations were continuing with French-owned EDF Energy over buying a stake in nuclear generator British Energy. EDF signed an agreement in principle to sell a 25% stake in the company to Centrica when the French group bought British Energy last autumn. Since then power and share prices have slumped and some Centrica shareholders are understood to be urging Laidlaw to pull out of the deal.
Centrica announced that group profits for last year fell by a fifth to £904m because of higher taxes. It announced £1.4bn of writedowns on the value of forward contracts it had signed to purchase gas and electricity in the market. A slide in energy prices has left these costing more than current market rates.
Profits fell at the British Gas supply business because the company did not pass on the full increase in the wholesale cost of energy when prices were at their peak. This was offset by a rise in profits at Centrica's gas production arm, which benefited from higher gas prices.