Sunday, 8 March 2009

There's gold in those green hills

THERE can be no doubt that the green sector is attracting funding like never before as governments and investors around the world commit billions to eco-businesses and “clean” technologies in the fight against climate change.

Barack Obama, the new American president, indicated a sea-change in his country’s thinking on the environment when, in his inaugural address, he promised to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”. As part of a fiscal-stimulus package the American government is pledging $50 billion (£35.5 billion) of funding for clean energy and carbon-reducing programmes.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a Silicon Valley venture-capitalist, has more than tripled the amount earmarked for clean-technology companies, reserving a third of its new $700m investment fund for clean-technology start-ups.

In January this year, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, announced a £4.5 billion economic regeneration package that included £1.1 billion for carbon capture and storage test projects in Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland. The new technology aims to trap carbon emissions from big industrial polluters and bury them underground in saline aquifers.

This comes on top of other EU environmental projects, such as its £25m Eco-innovation fund for proven technologies in materials recycling, sustainable building and waste reduction.
In Britain, the government claims £50 billion will be spent on green technologies between 2008 and 2011, thanks to direct government spending, fiscal support and private investment responding to new energy-efficiency regulations. This includes £23.2 billion allocated to public transport and low-carbon and electric vehicles.

The Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform ( and the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs ( launched a £400m Environmental Transformation Fund last April to help develop low carbon and energy-efficient technologies.

And non-governmental bodies like the Carbon Trust (, which usually funds proven technologies in partnership with private-sector investors, has so far invested £10.8m in 12 firms that have managed to raise £110m in total. It usually makes investments of between £500,000 and £2m at a time.
However, all is not so rosy in the private sector. The British Venture Capital Association ( said about three-quarters of all venture-capital investments were under £2m, with the average size of early-stage investments proving to be very erratic over the past nine years. In 2000 the figure was £1.7m, but this fell to £600,000 in 2003. It rose to £1.9m in 2006, before falling to £865,000 in 2007.
Cleantech Group, an American research firm, has found that European venture-capital investment in clean-technology companies was only a third of the $3.7 billion that American venture-capital companies committed in 2008. This is a big fall from two years ago when European investment was two-thirds as much as in America.

According to Library House, another research group, British venture-capital investment in clean-technology businesses grew from £407m in 2006 to £958m in 2008, but Nesta, the independent National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (, believes there is still a serious funding gap for early-stage technology businesses. It is calling for a new £1 billion fund of funds to help bridge this gap.

The message for eco businesses is that the best source of financial help, especially during an economic downturn, is the public sector. Venture capital is likely to remain the junior partner while the global recession continues.
Matthew Wall

Tchenguiz sells $150m green assets

THE property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz has quietly been unwinding his portfolio of “green” investment funds and technology companies.
His Consensus Group has in recent weeks sold $150m (£106m) worth of holdings from what was once a $450m portfolio.
The Iranian-born investor told The Sunday Times that the sales were being carried out to “take advantage of market opportunities . . . as well as to increase liquidity”.

Pioneer's windmills to hit the streets as councils see the light

Published Date: 08 March 2009
By Terry Murden

MINI windmills will be installed on street lights in some areas of Britain in a deal due to be signed with a Scottish wind energy pioneer.
David Gordon, chief executive of Glasgow-based Windsave, is understood to be involved in negotiations with three local authorities in England which would see up to 250,000 lights on mainly rural roads and motorways fitted with turbines.The deal
would greatly reduce local authority bills, particularly on lights which are on roads that may have a low level of traffic at night.When the wind is only slight, the lights will automatically kick in to the traditional electrical grid supply.Negotiations are also under way to seal a similar deal with authorities in the United States.Gordon has also struck his biggest ever contract, a £19m deal to provide wind power turbines to South Africa.His firm will provide the mini-turbines for homes being built in new townships on the outskirts of Cape Town.The South African government is keen to encourage the green energy alternative in outlying areas.The first shipments will be sent out later next month and will continue over three years. It will create 100 jobs for Livingston Precision Engineering in West Lothian, where the turbines are manufactured. Gordon believes that if the street lighting contract comes off, it would add another 50 jobs."Many people think of wind power as farms of giant turbines sprawling across the hillsides or out to sea, but this technology is at a micro level, one home and business at a time."He said the domestic product had been on the market for some years but there had been a delay in the planning process.His plans are being financed from internal resources and from key shareholder RAB Capital. Gordon said he was hoping to introduce other institutional shareholders to Windsave to help finance the firm's expansion.He had once talked of floating the company and said this remained an option depending on market conditions.The latest orders and interest are a major breakthrough after years of developing the technology, he said.

How I Made It: Martin Dix, Founder of Current Cost

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009
Lig ht bu lb showed homeowners how to save electricity

IF 10 people were asked to guess how much it costs to power a 100 watt light bulb left on for a year, the chances are they would all come up with different answers. It was questions such as these that inspired Martin Dix to create a monitor that records how much electricity a household uses — and what it costs.
The youngest of five children, Dix was born in Yorkshire but his family moved around a lot as his father worked in sales. Dix went to three secondary schools as a result, and left at 15 without qualifications.
He did, however, love science. He said: “I remember making this mood switch when I was 14 that changed the lighting
in my bedroom, and put on Simon and Garfunkel at the same time, in the vain hope that I would have a girlfriend to impress at some point.”
Dix got an apprenticeship with an engineering firm but by the age of 21 felt he needed a change and became a lab technician. In the 1980s he turned landlord, buying his first house in Harrogate by putting the deposit on his credit card and letting out rooms. With the money he made he started up a small business adapting Japanese imported cars for the British market.
He managed to turn his business into a franchised network but when the government introduced a single vehicle test that was impossible for his Japanese cars to pass, he closed the firm.
Dix spent the next two years doing temporary odd jobs, such as DIY repairs, building work and landscape gardening. Then on New Year’s Day 2004 he suddenly had his big idea — the household electricity monitor. “It was about allowing people to still enjoy their usage but illustrating where the waste was,” he said.
Key to his idea was reaching as many people as possible — and not just those already committed to saving energy. Dix decided to create a monitor that would be cheap enough for energy companies to give away to their customers.
He said: “One could create a device that the early adopters in green issues might wish to buy, but I always felt that those people were probably already doing the right things, such as getting energy-
saving light bulbs and turning off water. Also not interesting to me were the people who didn’t give a damn, because they were never going to change. So for me the real idea was how I could make a difference to the middle 80% of people.”
To test his theory, Dix started asking people if they knew how much it would cost to power a light bulb if you left it on for a year. “If I asked people what a pint of beer or a litre of petrol cost, they would know immediately,” he said. “But they didn’t know about the cost of a light bulb, so I got every answer between £2 and £200. What the real answer was didn’t really matter, it was that people didn’t know.” (The answer is about £80.)
Excited by his discovery, Dix flew to China — paying for the trip with his credit card — to see if the monitor he wanted to make could be manufactured cheaply enough there to make his business model work. It could, but back home he was unable to drum up interest from people he had hoped would invest in his venture.
“Most of the people I went to see just didn’t get it,” he said. “Despite my field trip they felt it would be too expensive or that the energy companies would have no interest in getting people to reduce the use of their core product.”
Dix persevered, though, believing that his monitor would appeal to the energy companies as a way of meeting the obligations laid down by the Kyoto protocol on climate change. He found two partners and they put in £5,000 each. In 2005 Scottish and Southern Energy gave them a £250,000 grant to make 5,000 Current Cost units so it could test them over a year.
Just two months into the trial the results were so positive that Scottish and Southern Energy started to order more monitors. Last year Eon, another energy company, began to order monitors too.
The monitor works by recording the amount of electricity that comes through the electricity meter, calculating how much that costs in pounds and pence, then displaying it on a screen that can be placed in the kitchen or elsewhere in the house. The device tracks electricity as it is used, which means it can show instantly when usage goes up or down.
Dix, who has a 50% stake in the business, has now sold 400,000 monitors and Current Cost will have a turnover of £6m this year.
Now aged 48 and divorced with two children, one of whom works for the company, Dix is motivated by more than making money. “It is great, but I think for me it is making a difference to somebody that is incredibly rewarding,” he said. His aim now is to create a whole range of monitors for different types of homes.
He is clear about the secret of his success. “Recognising what I am good at and doing that to the best of my ability — but, equally importantly, recognising what I can’t do so well and getting other people in to fill those gaps.”

Green Pioneer: Lord Borwick

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009
The Old Etonian who turned the white van green has big plans for expansion

IF things are grim for the motor industry in general, they are worse for vanmakers, who have been hit by falling retail sales and a slump in demand for goods vehicles.
But as Birmingham-based LDV, the commercial-vehicle company, faces closure, another producer of delivery vans a few miles down the road in Coventry is looking forward to a year of profit and expansion.
Admittedly, Modec occupies a niche market — it specialises in small vans that can be used in city centres for deliveries to shops and supermarkets as well as for courier services. Because they are battery powered, they are low polluting and cheap to run. Modec says its vans cost 15p a mile compared with a typical conventional van, which costs about 37p per mile.
The results speak for themselves. This year Modec is opening an American joint venture to sell electric vans in the Mid-West and predicts that here in Britain it will go into profit for the first time.
The firm employs 80 workers but this will rise as manufacturing is ramped up.
“Last year we made more than 100 electric vans. This year we are set to produce 400,” said its founder, Lord Borwick. In 2010 he expects to sell 1,200.
Electric vans come into their own for city-centre deliveries of light goods. In long-distance runs the advantage disappears because of the need for recharging.
But Borwick plays to his vehicles’ strengths and never tries to pretend they are all-rounders. “There are many vehicles in the delivery business in London that never go out of the city, so there is a market for an electric local-delivery vehicle,” he said.
The company’s first customer, in 2005, was Tesco, which bought 15 vans in a deal worth £450,000. Today, it is producing vehicles for the likes of express-delivery firms UPS and Fedex, which between them have ordered more than 20 vans at about £30,000 each.
The genesis of Modec can be traced back to Borwick’s time as chief executive — and later chairman — of Manganese Bronze, which makes London black cabs. During his time at the helm the company investigated making a green taxi.
“I tried to make a zero-emission taxi but it didn’t work,” said Borwick. “Taxi drivers have got wealthy and have moved out to the countryside. Most of them commute 50 miles before they switch their lights on.”
And even if taxis had a shorter daily journey, London cabs have limitations on their size because they need a tight turning circle, yet they also need space for passengers and luggage. “If you have a tonne of battery, you’ve not got much room for anything else,” said Borwick.
Undeterred, when he left Manganese Bronze in 2003 he set to work planning his next venture. “We realised we could, instead, make a zero-emission commercial vehicle,” he said.
The following year he started up Modec. Last year the company reported a turnover of about £4m.
Educated at Eton, Borwick inherited his title last year from an uncle. Besides his role at Modec, he is deputy chairman of the British Lung Foundation and chairman of Route2mobility, which funds wheelchairs and scooters for disabled people. He ploughed £30m of his own money into Modec at the initial stages.
Borwick is planning further expansion as the trend for clean vehicles gathers pace. “Everybody worldwide is interested in low emissions,” he said. “Of the last 100 vehicles we’ve sold, every single one has gone abroad. We think the market in Europe overall could be about 300,000 vehicles a year.”
The American market excites him most. “When I started the business I was sure that America wouldn’t be interested in Modec, but I was totally wrong,” he said. “I am now sure the American market will be our biggest. We’ve received a lot of interest there.”
He has already arranged to set up a plant in the American Mid-West with a joint-venture partner. It should be operational later this year. He believes America will become the company’s largest market by 2010.
A key to further success and the uptake of electric vehicles on a wider scale will be better battery technology. Although hugely improved from a few years ago, batteries still lack the range and power to run everyday vehicles.
Modec’s vans are sold separately to the lithium-ion battery pack (which is leased to buyers) and must be charged overnight (a full charge costs £5).
Borwick hopes that as technology improves, owners of his vans will be able to upgrade their battery pack for a better version. “In five years, the van you bought today could have a 200-mile range,” he said.
One of his motivations for starting the business was financial reward, but the green entrepreneur in him also gets a buzz from the knowledge that he is helping to reduce pollution. The company claims that even when run on electricity generated from traditional coal-power stations, its vans are still far cleaner than any diesel equivalent. Using green electricity from renewable sources means the vans can have a zero-emission delivery system. A Modec van could save nine tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by replacing a diesel vehicle.
And by locating Modec in Coventry, Borwick has already given a boost to the flagging West Midlands automotive industry.

Making money from fresh air

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009
How one UK firm used a £75,000 grant to create a way of recycling waste heat

Think of energy efficiency and you are likely to think first of clean green power for transport or for industry. But in the developed world, nearly half of all the energy we use is consumed by the buildings in which we live, work and store things.
This surprising statistic was the starting point for E-Stack, a company that sprang from a research project at Cambridge University. From a study of low-carbon buildings it developed a natural ventilation system that is now making
life more comfortable for hundreds of office workers and schoolchildren as well as saving up to 50% of the energy consumed by traditional ventilation systems.
“If you care about the energy problem, there are two things you can do,” said Shaun Fitzgerald, co-founder of E-Stack. “You can start generating energy from clean, alternative sources — which requires new infrastructure and takes time — or you can radically reduce the demand, which should be much quicker. We started from a research programme that was looking at that second option.”
It’s one thing to establish facts like these through academic research, but quite another to turn the conclusions into a marketable product. So although the initial five-year research into low-energy buildings had been well-funded by BP and through a partnership between Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, once Fitzgerald and his co-founder Andy Woods had formed a company in 2006 they needed help to convert their theories into a business and apply their techniques to larger spaces.
How to turn your idea into a working proposition is a question faced by all entrepreneurs at some point, and that was where the Carbon Trust came in. The trust was set up by the government in 2001 to fund and accelerate the development of technologies that promise to make a substantial reduction in carbon emissions.
Fitzgerald and his team had to present the experimental proof of their technology and outline the market for their “stacks” — units in which incoming cold air is mixed with warm internal air, thus reducing the need for energy-greedy radiators. Low-energy fans are built in to ensure circulation when necessary.
Once convinced of the scheme’s viability, the trust came up with a £75,000 applied-research grant. This funded further laboratory tests and monitoring of a prototype ventilation system. “We spent most of that money paying for the time it takes to set up a system like this,” said Fitzgerald.
Once the prototype was developed, the need for a control system became apparent. E-Stack used part of its Carbon Trust funding to develop a programmable controller that is sensitive to external temperature, internal temperature and concentration of carbon dioxide. This enables ventilation to be automatically adjusted to maintain air circulation and a constant temperature.
“We filed patents for a system that brings the air in winter into the building at a higher level and mixes it with the warmer interior air to avoid cold draughts. In summer it’s fairly simple: you open the windows to bring the air in at a low level and let it circulate and leave at a higher level,” said Fitzgerald. “If you need a fan, you can use one that consumes just 45 watts, no more than it takes to power a light bulb.”
E-Stack started marketing its units early in 2007 and delivering and installing them last year. From start-up to market in less than two years is quick by any standards, and would not have been possible without the combined support of the private and public sectors.
The company remains based at a Cambridge science park and now has a team of seven permanent employees, all highly qualified engineers. A manufacturing plant has recently been opened in Ely, Cambridgeshire, where the stacks are produced in standardised units.
A single stack is required for a medium-sized open-plan office or for a classroom of up to 30 children but for larger spaces the ratio decreases, offering the potential for greater energy savings. Four units are sufficient for a hall capable of holding 200 to 300 people and a single control unit can handle several stacks. The system has been successfully tested at Unity College, a secondary school in Northampton. Similar installations are planned for a theatre in Worcester and for a factory in Peterborough.

The toxic sea

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009

Each one of us dumps a tonne of carbon dioxide into the oceans every year, turning them into acidified soups — and threatening to destroy most of what lives in them
Richard Girling

They are calling it “the other CO2 problem”. Its victim is not the polar bear spectacularly marooned on a melting ice floe, or an eagle driven out of its range, nor even a French pensioner dying of heatstroke. What we have to mourn are tiny marine organisms dissolving in acidified water.
In fact we need to do rather more than just mourn them. We need to dive in and save them. Suffering plankton may not have quite the same cachet as a 700-kilo seal-eating mammal, but their message is no less apocalyptic. What they tell us is that the chemistry of the oceans is changing, and that, unless we act decisively, the limitless abundance of the sea within a very few decades will degrade into a useless tidal desert.
In every way — economically, environmentally, socially — the effects of ocean acidification are as dangerous as climate change, and even harder to resist. It has been a slow dawning. Until recently, marine scientists have had little luck in engaging the public or political mind. The species most directly at risk — plankton, corals, sea snails, barnacles and other stuff that most people have never heard of — seemed as remote from our lives as cosmic dust. But now at last “the other CO2 problem” may have found a mascot of its own — the tiny but colourful clownfish, winsome star of the Disney classic Finding Nemo. In the film, Nemo gets lost. Now it turns out that real clownfish might lose their way too.
In early February, the American academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) carried a paper titled “Ocean acidification impairs olfactory discrimination and homing ability of a marine fish”. The sombre language concealed a stark message. What the researchers had found was that clownfish larvae in acidified water were unable to detect the odours from adult fish that led them to their breeding sites. The implications were obvious. If the fish don’t breed, the species will not survive, and what is true for one species must be true for others. In time, the world’s fishing fleets will be less a food resource than a disposal problem.

What’s happening is this: the oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. As most climate scientists and governments now agree, human activity — most importantly, burning fossil fuels — has intensified CO2 in the atmosphere, causing long-term climate change. The good thing is that the seas have absorbed a lot of the gas and so have slowed the pace of atmospheric warming. The bad thing is that CO2 reacts with sea water to make carbonic acid.
Since 1800, humans have generated 240 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, half of which has been absorbed by the sea. On average, each person on Earth contributes a tonne of carbon to the oceans every year. The result is a rapid rise in acidity — or a reduction in pH, as the scientists prefer to express it — which, as it intensifies, will mean that marine animals will be unable to grow shells, and that many sea plants will not survive. With these crucial links removed, and the ecological balance fatally disrupted, death could flow all the way up the food chain, through tuna and cod to marine mammals and Homo sapiens. As more than half the world’s population depends on food from the sea for its survival, this is no exaggeration.
This is why 155 marine scientists from 26 countries recently signed the Monaco Declaration, identifying the twin threats of global warming and ocean acidification as “the challenge of the century”. It is, nevertheless, a challenge they have taken up only recently.
“The whole scientific community was caught with its pants down,” says Jason Hall-Spencer, research lecturer at Plymouth University, who was one of the signatories. The term “ocean acidification” was coined only in 2003 — by odd coincidence the same year Finding Nemo was released and 35,000 people died in the European summer heat wave — though, unlike global warming, it has not had to face the opposition of truth-deniers. Verging on panic in 2005, the Royal Society published a 68-page report in which it calculated that acidification had increased by 30% in 200 years. If we went on as we were, it said, this would rise to 300% by 2100, making the seas more corrosive than they had been at any time for hundreds of millennia. In every practicable sense, the damage was irreversible. “It will take tens of thousands of years for ocean chemistry to return to a condition similar to that occurring at pre-industrial times,” the Royal Society said.
It is a truism that might have been minted for the Darwin bicentenary. A species once lost is gone for ever. You can’t rewind evolution, or reinvent fish. We are not talking about dispossessing our children, or even our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are talking so many generations into the fog of geological time that we might not even be talking about the same species. We are certainly not talking about low-lying countries protected by coral reefs, such as the Maldives. In future they will not be studying the marine environment: they will be part of it.
Doomy stuff like this, of course, is nothing new. The “warmists”, as the deniers like to call them, have been telling us for years that our rate of consumption is unsustainable and that future generations will pay a terrible price for our carelessness. If you don’t want to believe in climate change, you can argue that forecasts created by computer modelling are “theoretical”. Or you can confuse the long-term graph of “climate” with the short-term spikes of “weather”. Look, there’s a snowflake! Global warming can’t be happening!
But acidification permits no such equivocation. It is demonstrable, visible and measurable, and there is nothing theoretical about how it is caused or what it does. All the same, until now there has been one significant shortcoming.
As with the clownfish, it has been easy enough under laboratory conditions to see how individual species respond to acidity. What is much less easy is to observe the effects on entire ecosystems.
This problem has now been cracked by a team from Plymouth led by Jason Hall-Spencer, who scanned the world for a location where the sea conditions expected in future were already happening naturally. They found it in the Bay of Naples, just off the holiday island of Ischia.
The sea bed here is chalk. Deep geological activity converts some of this into carbon dioxide and forces it up through volcanic vents into the water. In and around the neighbourhood of these vents, the result is a perfect “gradient” of pH levels from the normal 8.1 all the way down to 7.4 (remember: the lower the pH, the higher the acidity). To non-scientists, the giving or taking of a few decimal points can look undramatic. To experts they mark the difference between life and death. The 30% increase in acidity during the industrial age is reflected by a drop in pH of just 0.1. On current trends, it will plummet by another 0.4 points to hit an unprecedented low of 7.7 by 2100. By 2300 it could be down to 7.3.
Few species living in the sea have experienced conditions like these at any time throughout their entire life on Earth. With pH as low as this, it is at least questionable that land creatures emerging from the primal swamp could have evolved into the bony specimens that roam the Earth today. And it is certain that the pace of environmental change is far too fast for evolution to keep in step. As a recipe for life on Earth, it is about as efficacious as nuclear war. Experiments have shown that the tipping point at which shell growth ceases comes at a pH of 7.8. This is the level which, on current trends, will be the global norm before the end of the century, and it is the level at which the Plymouth team has focused its attention.
Given all the dire warnings, the first visual impression at Ischia is something of a surprise. There are plenty of fish. Is it, then, a false alarm? Could the world’s scientists have got their statistical knickers in a twist and jumped to a false conclusion? Will life just go on as normal? Alas, no. The acidified water is a small zone in a wider sea. There is no barrier. The fish are just visitors. They come to feed on the soft-bodied algae that survive in the altered conditions, then they swim away again. What they don’t do is breed — which is exactly what the Nemo research predicts.
“Fish breed naturally at a pH of 8.1,” says Hall-Spencer. He believes the sensory loss observed in clownfish is only one part of the story. “Losing the sense of smell,” he says, “is not likely to be the only effect. It’s much more likely to be one impairment among many. Eggs in these conditions cannot develop normally.”
Shelled creatures in the Ischian waters are visibly suffering. Sea urchins thin out and disappear as the acidity increases; so do corals, limpets and barnacles. Sea snails straying into the zone have thin, weak shells, and produce no young. There is another important absentee, too — the coralline algae (seaweed with a chalk skeleton) that glues coral reefs together. Without it, reefs become weakened and fall apart.
In just a few decades, if the output of carbon dioxide does not abate, this will be the condition of all the world’s oceans. Many if not all commercially fished species, including shellfish, will suffer. So, too, will coral reefs, whose disintegration will leave low-lying coasts in the tropics unprotected from the rising seas and fiercer storms that climate change will unleash. By some calculations reefs will have vanished by 2065, and nobody expects them to survive into the 22nd century.
Nature, however, will continue to abhor a vacuum. Species that disappear will be replaced by alien invaders. Shelled and vertebrate creatures will be replaced by the soft and the blobby. Celebrity chefs, if they survive as a species, will be teaching us how to stuff jellyfish. The plant species that thrive around the volcanic vents in the Bay of Naples are alien to the Mediterranean, laying the foundations of an entirely different ecosystem.
Already, says Hall-Spencer, similar changes are occurring along the southern coasts of England. Oyster farmers and ships discharging ballast water have accidentally introduced Japweed, Sargassum muticum, a fast-growing brown seaweed that clogs beaches and harbours. Originally a native of southeast Asia and Japan, it is unfazed by low pH and almost impossible to eradicate. As in the classic case of the grey squirrel ousting the red, the invasive alien expels and replaces the natives.
“It perturbs the ecosystem and drives out things that should live there,” says Hall-Spencer. Plants are the base of the food chain, so everything in the water depends on them directly or indirectly. With the professional caution of the scientist, he declines to speculate on which species will be the first to disappear, but acknowledges that many creatures have little hope of survival.
To reprise the old Star Trek mantra, there will be life here, but not life as we know it.
Various ideas have been put forward to mitigate the damage and downgrade the outcome from fatal catastrophe to expensive nuisance. It will take some doing. One idea is “ocean fertilisation”, which involves adding iron to the water to stimulate a plankton bloom. The plankton then absorb atmospheric CO2 before sinking into deep water and locking the poison away.
Another scheme from the top shelf of academic fantasy is “ocean sequestration”, which involves sinking waste carbon into the deep ocean where, at depths in excess of 3.5 kilometres, the gas will solidify into crystals. A possibly more viable option is “geological sequestration”, though it is one that will whiten environmentalists’ hair. It involves “capturing” gas from industrial plants and injecting it into exhausted aquifers or worked-out oilfields, where it can be stored in the rock. Capacity is not a problem — the North Sea alone could hold as much as 800 gigatonnes, which is approximately 1,600 times the UK’s entire annual output of industrial carbon dioxide. Neither is the idea merely theoretical. The Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil pumps a million tonnes a year into a saline aquifer.
But the risks quite literally are incalculable. What happens if there is a leak? Drilling and extraction in the oilfields may well have caused subsidence and cracking in the rock. The idea makes no sense unless storage is safe, secure and “permanent” — which, in the case of CO2, means somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years, or about the same as some nuclear waste.
There is, of course, a fourth option, the simplest and yet hardest of the lot — changing the way we live. Carbon-reduction targets need to be more than just green baubles on the faraway policy tree. Greed has driven us to a level of over-consumption that threatens our health, melts the economy and progressively poisons the planet. Unless we can get a grip on ourselves, constrain our appetites and halt the mismatch between consumption and resources, the future is an empty ship sailing upon an empty sea.
Richard Girling’s new book, Greed: Why We Can’t Help Ourselves (Doubleday, £12.99), is published on March 26. It is available at the BooksFirst price of £11.69, including p&p. Tel: 0870 165 8585

£700m waste project for Manchester

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009
Dominic O’Connell and Danny Fortson

MANCHESTER is close to clinching a deal to build a £700m waste-to-energy scheme that will be the largest of its kind in Europe.
Lenders to the much-delayed project are putting the final touches to financing agreements, with some sources expecting an announcement this week.
Four banks – Bank of Ireland, BBVA, Lloyds and Sumitomo Mitsui – are providing the bulk of the funds, with additional contributions from the Greater Manchester Waste Disposal Authority and the European Investment Bank, according to Reuters Project Finance International, the authoritative industry newsletter.
The scheme will be operated by Viridor, the waste-management arm of the Pennon utility group, which is working in a joint venture with Laing. The pair have a 25-year concession, which they expect will generate more than £3 billion in turnover over the life of the deal.

When the project is running, 1.3m tonnes of waste a year will be processed, with some of the energy going to fuel a power station specially built for Manchester.
The plant will be built and operated by Ineos, the private chemicals group, which will use the heat for its petrochemicals complex.

TV series in counter-carbon offensive

The Sunday Times
March 8, 2009

WITH a job that involves international air travel, car chases and generally blowing things up, Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorism agent played by Kiefer Sutherland in the American television drama 24, must leave a big carbon footprint. But the show itself has just become the world’s first carbon-neutral TV production.
For the seventh series, now on Sky 1, Imagine Entertainment and 20th Century Fox, the producers, claim to have cut carbon emissions associated with the show by 43%. This was done by sourcing green electricity, using biodiesel for vehicles, replacing traditional lighting with low-energy bulbs and electronically distributing scripts that were previously printed.
To cancel remaining emissions – 1,239 tons of carbon dioxide – carbon offsets were purchased.
Not content with going green themselves, the producers are also screening ads during the show’s American run to promote climate-change debate. The first featured Sutherland, who employed gentler powers of persuasion than those used by his Bauer alter ego.