Friday, 17 April 2009

Greenwash: Four wheels good, two legs bad if you travel with P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries says it 'minimises environmental impact' but has a fares policy that discriminates against anyone who wants to come on board on foot rather than in a car

Fred Pearce, Thursday 16 April 2009 10.48 BST

P&O Ferries' prices don't live up to its green claims. Photograph: Mychele Daniau/AFP
Do you know anyone who will take a tonne of metal across the English Channel this summer for you, and not charge you a penny? It's not a trick question. There are a couple of companies who will not only take that metal for free but will pay you good money for the privilege – as long as the metal has four wheels and can drive on to the ferry.
One of them is P&O Ferries. The company is big on the environment. Its website says it has "taken a leading role in adopting practices that minimise environmental impact".
Except that it operates a fares policy that discriminates against anyone who wants to come on board on foot rather than in a car.
Last weekend, before the blockade of ferry ports by French fishermen began, I checked the company's website for the cheapest price to take four adults from Dover to Calais next week.
It turns out I could take all four across the channel for £25 provided we entered and left the ship in a car. But if we have the temerity to turn up without a car the price is £40. If we want to go to France on Wednesday evening, P&O will still take four in a car for £25 but it wants £56 to take four without a car. So the car will cost minus £31.
No, I can't work it out either. Do foot passengers smell? Don't we buy enough in the on-board shops?
P&O is not alone in its love of carrying cars. Its French rival Sea France will take my four-adult party from Dover to Calais on Tuesday morning for £9 less if we turn up with a car. LD Lines will also take four people cheaper in a car than without between Newhaven and Dieppe and between Portsmouth and Le Havre.
Worst of all, Norfolkline, which won the Guardian's best ferry company award in 2008, won't take foot passengers at any price, saying this means "fewer crowds in the lounges, bars and restaurants". Norfolkline claims to protect the environment by, among other things, "actively suggesting new transportation solutions to our customers" – such as always driving, presumably.
To avoid being ripped off or banned entirely, maybe my party of four could go by train. Surely train companies have the foot passenger's welfare at heart? I fear not. Our party can take a car on to the Eurotunnel train from Folkestone to Calais next week for as little as £67.
Eurotunnel doesn't take foot passengers, which is fair enough given you stay in the car on the journey. But if we hop up the road to the Eurostar passenger service from Ashford to Calais, the four of us will have to fork out at least £220. Different service, I know. But same tunnel. And more than three times as much. For not taking a car.
I first stumbled on this scandalous cross-channel discrimination a few years ago when I took my family on a camping holiday to Normandy. We booked with Canvas Holidays, and paid the combined ferry, tent and camp-site fees. Then they asked me for a car registration number for the ferry.
I must admit when they told me that without a car I couldn't go, because foot passengers did not qualify for the package-deal ferry fare, I blew a fuse. After ranting for about 10 minutes they made me a sensible offer.
Canvas Holidays has changed the rules a bit since. Checking the price for a similar holiday with the company this week, I see it will now take £50 off the price for anyone who wants to make their own travel arrangements. It's a step in the right direction.
But what if you go for the £50 off and make your own way across as foot passengers on the same ferry? That will set you back £96, so you are still £46 worse off than the family of four who drove on to the ferry. All for the privilege of not taking a vehicle.
Not every ferry company contributes to this madness. Sailing to the Isle of Man costs about a third as much without a car. Caledonaian MacBrayne, which runs the ferries to the Scottish islands, charges per person and then per vehicle on top.
But the ferries to Ireland generally make a surcharge for a fully laden car that is less than the price of a round of drinks in the bar. Likewise Brittany Ferries at quiet times.
SeaFrance is so keen to protect the oceans that, unless you opt out, they will take £2 off you for the Marine Conservation Society. "At SeaFrance, we care about the environment," the company says, "we continually seek to reduce the negative impacts upon the environment that may be caused by ourselves, our partners and our passengers."
Sorry, mes amis, you don't. You are ripping off green-minded foot passengers in order to bribe the one-tonne warriors to bring their cars with them to France and contribute to those very same negative impacts.
P&O takes the PR biscuit though. Its website boasts that, apart from paying for dolphin research and such things, it sponsors walking buses in Kent to ensure "fewer cars on the school run".
You couldn't make it up. It pays for kids to walk to school while at the same time paying adults to drive cars on to its cross-channel ferries. Bon voyage.
• Do you know of any green claims that deserve closer examination? Email your examples to or add your comments below

EPA Considers Higher Ethanol Mix

Allowing 15% Gasoline Blends Would Help Industry, but Poses Car-Warranty Issue

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opened the door to allowing higher mixes of ethanol in gasoline, a potential boon to farmers and the struggling ethanol industry, but opposed by auto makers whose consumer warranties typically are tied to the current EPA standard.
The agency Thursday said it is seeking comment on whether to allow ordinary gasoline to consist of as much as 15% ethanol, an additive that has been heavily promoted by farm states. For decades, the EPA has allowed gasoline to include up to 10% ethanol.
The EPA's move came in response to a petition filed last month by the trade group Growth Energy to allow motor fuel ethanol blends of as much as 15%, citing an Energy Department study that found "no operability or driveability issues" with blends as high as 20% ethanol.

Corn is loaded into a truck at a farm in Valley Springs, S.D. Higher percentages of ethanol mixed into gasoline would be a boon to farmers. About one quarter of all corn produced in the U.S. is used to make the fuel additive.

Most car warranties, however, have followed the 10% standard, which means consumers who use blends with greater than 10% ethanol could get stuck paying the bills if there's damage to fuel lines or other components unless auto makers agree to shoulder the costs.
Auto makers offer so-called flex-fuel vehicles designed to accept up to 85% ethanol fuels. But many current and older model cars aren't designed for ethanol concentrations above 10%.
Alan Adler, a spokesman for General Motors Corp., said if the EPA allows higher ethanol blends "we want to be sure that we're not on the hook for vehicles" that end up having problems with higher blends.
Earlier this year Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. recalled 214,500 Lexus vehicles sold in the U.S. that were vulnerable to corrosion problems in their fuel-delivery pipes when some ethanol fuels were used.
Pushing against the auto industry's objections are farmers, investors in ethanol-fuel start-ups, big agricultural commodities companies and some environmental groups that argue the U.S. would be better off substituting home-grown biofuels for foreign oil.
Currently nearly a quarter of all corn produced in the U.S. is used to make ethanol. That's up from about 12% in 2004. A higher blend ratio would help support corn prices.
"If we don't move that regulatory cap, without question grain supplies are going to grow and the next group looking for a bailout will be the American farmer," said Jeff Broin, chief executive officer of POET, one of the nation's largest ethanol producers, based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
An oversupply of ethanol has prompted a wave of bankruptcies and made the ethanol industry eager to expand its market. Ethanol producers are being squeezed as corn prices stay relatively high and as ethanol prices stay relatively low. Todd Alexander, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke LLP, estimates that some ethanol producers are losing up to 10 cents on every gallon of ethanol.
Another big ethanol producer, Archer Daniels Midland Co., based in Decatur, Ill., recently reported a loss in its ethanol business for its second quarter, ended Dec. 31. VeraSun Energy Corp. and Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings Inc. have both filed for bankruptcy protection. Pacific Ethanol Inc., which has counted Bill Gates as one of its star-studded investors, said recently in federal filings that it could run out of cash by the end of April if it can't restructure its debt or raise additional financing.
In response, pro-ethanol lobbyists have stepped up efforts to win more support from the government. An ethanol trade group hired retired U.S. general and former 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark to make its case for a higher blend. The industry also has turned to Congress, where lawmakers such as Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) have held meetings with EPA staffers, urging them to allow blends of 12% or 13% ethanol immediately -- something he argues the EPA could do now without going through a public comment process.
By law, the EPA has until Dec. 1 to decide.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at and Lauren Etter at

Alternative Fuel Folly


Every so often Washington throws out a controversy that brilliantly illustrates everything wrong with Washington. Consider the brewing outrage over "black liquor."
Barbara Kelley
This is the tale of how a supposedly innocuous federal subsidy to encourage "alternative energy" has, in a few short years, ballooned into a huge taxpayer liability and a potential trade dispute, even as it has distorted markets and led to greater fossil-fuel use. Think of it as a harbinger of the unintended consequences that will accompany the Obama energy revolution.
Back in 2005, Congress passed a highway bill. In its wisdom, it created a subsidy that gave some entities a 50-cents-a-gallon tax credit for blending "alternative" fuels with traditional fossil fuels. The law restricted which businesses could apply and limited the credit to use of fuel in motor vehicles.
Not long after, some members of Congress got to wondering if they couldn't tweak this credit in a way that would benefit specific home-state industries. In 2007, Congress expanded the types of alternative fuels that counted for the credit, while also allowing "non-mobile" entities to apply. This meant that Alaskan fish-processing facilities, for instance, which run their boilers off fish oil, might now also claim the credit.
What Congress apparently didn't consider was every other industry that might qualify. Turns out the paper industry has long used something called the "kraft" process to make paper. One byproduct is a sludge called "black liquor," which the industry has used for decades to fuel its plants. Black liquor is cost-effective, makes plants nearly self-sufficient, and, most importantly (at least for this story), definitely falls under Congress's definition of an "alternative fuel."
All of which has allowed the paper industry to start collecting giant federal payments for doing nothing more than what it has done for decades. And in fairness, why not? If Congress is going to lard up the tax code with thousands of complex provisions designed to "encourage" behavior, it shouldn't be surprised when those already practicing said behavior line up for their reward, too.
In March, International Paper announced it had received $71 million from the feds for a one-month period last fall. The company is on track to claim as much as $1 billion in 2009. Verso took in nearly $30 million from the operation of just one mill in one quarter of last year. Other giants are gearing up to realize their own windfalls. Wall Street has gone wild, pushing paper-company stocks up dramatically in recent weeks.
Happy as industry is to have this new federal lifeline in the middle of a recession, it is the only one smiling. Foreign competitors are screaming that the subsidy is unfairly propping up the U.S. industry in tough times. They claim the U.S. industry is ramping up production simply to realize more tax money. Canadian forestry firms are already demanding their government file a trade complaint.
In order to qualify for the credit, alternative fuel must be mixed with a taxable one. (The government might want to encourage alternative fuels, but not to the extent that it loses its gas-tax revenue.) This means that to qualify, the paper industry must mix some diesel with its black liquor. This has sent environmentalists around the bend. They have accused the industry of burning fossil fuels that it didn't used to burn, simply to get the tax dollars. (The industry has not been clear on whether it is, in fact, using more diesel.)
And then there's Congress, which is suddenly looking at billions more in red ink than expected. In 2007 it estimated a 15-month extension of the credit would cost taxpayers $333 million. It has since revised those numbers to take into account black liquor and is now figuring a one-year cost of more than $3 billion. Wall Street analysts are talking $6 billion. Senate Finance Committee bosses Max Baucus and Charles Grassley are reportedly aware of the issue, none too happy, and they are working to bar the paper industry from receiving the credit.
But this, in turn, has tossed up uncomfortable questions. The paper industry argues that if the government is going to be in the business of rewarding good behavior, it ought to do it equally. Is green policy only to be aimed at dirty or economically unviable actors? Is black liquor any less useful than ethanol or biodiesel, and if so why? If not, shouldn't Washington encourage its use? Isn't every green subsidy in fact the basis for a trade dispute? These are questions Congress has no interest in confronting, since it would expose the muddle that is its entire green-energy program.
All of this is highly amusing, if not surprising. Every government attempt to manage energy markets has resulted in similar disarray. Look at the havoc that came from the energy price controls, regulations and subsidies of the 1970s. Or look, more recently, at the ethanol fiasco, and the accompanying soaring food costs. Energy powers the economy. Mess with energy markets, and mess with everything else. When will Washington learn?
Write to

Space, the final frontier … and California's latest source of low-carbon electricity

• US company plans to put solar panels into orbit• Firm says radio waves will transmit power to earth

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 16 April 2009 21.00 BST

While the sun sets on earth, an orbiting solar farm could have a near-constant supply. Photograph: Corbis
It sounds like an idea drawn from the wilder shores of science fiction: a set of solar panels in outer space that would beam enough clean energy back to Earth to power half a million homes and could one day potentially help save the planet.
But a leading American power company is hoping to turn the stuff of speculative fiction into reality by supporting a project that would put solar panels into orbit.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which serves San Francisco and northern California, has agreed to buy electricity from a startup company claiming to have found a way to unlock the potential power supply in space.
The initial plan is for the firm Solaren Corp to provide some 200MW of electricity. Solaren, which is based in Manhattan Beach, California, says it will launch a satellite with an array of solar panels around 22,000 miles above the earth's equator using existing rocket technology, and then convert the power generated into radio-frequency transmissions. The radio waves would be beamed back down to antennae in Fresno, California and then converted into electricity and fed into the regular power grid, PG&E said.
Although spacecraft and satellites routinely use solar panels, the project marks the first serious attempt to take advantage of the powerful and near-constant supply of sunshine in space.
Though solar power advocates of solar power regularly extol its potential on land as solar panels become more efficient, it is a fraction of the energy resources thought to be available in space.
Orbiting solar farms are not new a new concept: Nasa and the Pentagon have been studying the technology since the 1960s. Critics argue that the major barrier is cost, because sending rockets carrying solar panels into space is so expensive.
The idea has also captured the imagination of screen writers, with Blofeld, the evil villain of James Bond movies, plotting to launch a giant death ray-emitting satellite into space that could hold the world to ransom.
But Solaren Corp, founded by a former spacecraft engineer, says it has developed a technology that would make it commercially viable within the next seven years.
The company had been in discussion with PG&E for 18 months before the company announced this week that it had agreed to buy 200 megawatts of electricity from Solaren starting in 2016. The deal has yet to be approved by California state government regulators and PG&E has not put any money into Solaren, but the promise alone has turned the notion of space based solar power from fantasy to reality.
Because sunshine in space is practically constant, apart from a few days around the spring and autumn equinoxes, the space-based solar panels could potentially produce a steady supply of electricity. The sunlight hitting the solar panels in space would be 10 times as powerful as the light coming to Earth via the atmosphere.
Solaren's founder, Gary Spirnak, did not give details of how the technology would work but said it was based on what is currently used by communications satellites, describing it as "very mature".
And there most definitely won't be any death rays, Spirnak joked, while not stroking a sinister white cat. He said the radio beam would pose no danger to people on the ground or even aircraft that fly through it. The satellites would project a large oval footprint on earth at the receiving point. They would also shut down automatically if the signal goes astray.
Daniel Kammen, professor in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, said: "The ground rules are looking kind of promising ... it is doable. Whether it is doable at a reasonable cost, we just don't know."
Others have paved the way. In 2008, John Mankins, a former Nasa expert on space solar power, proved it was possible to transmit solar power as radio waves when he beamed a signal between two Hawaiian islands 90 miles apart.
But Spirnak will face a challenge raising funds for his project during a recession. He said he was seeking in the low billions of dollars in investment, under $5bn. But that is still much higher than the usual $100m (£67m) to $200m costs for projects in renewable energy.

US power company to tap solar energy in space

Orbiting solar farms will be commercially viable within next seven years, says group

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 16 April 2009 14.26 BST

Ground-based solar installations require huge tracts of land, and cannot produce a constant supply of electricity. Photograph: OLIVIA HAMPTON/AFP/Getty Images
A leading American power company is hoping to turn science fiction into reality by supporting a project to set up solar panels in outer space and beam the electricity generated back to Earth.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which serves San Francisco and northern California, has agreed to buy electricity from a startup company claiming to have found a way to unlock the potential power supply in space.
The firm, Solaren Corp, says it will launch solar panels into orbit and then convert the power generated into radio-frequency transmissions, which will be beamed back down into a depot in Fresno, California. The energy would then be converted into electricity and fed into the regular power grid, PG&E said.
Although spacecraft and satellites routinely use solar panels, the project marks the first serious attempt to take advantage of the powerful and near-constant supply of sunshine in space.
Nasa and the Pentagon have been studying the idea of orbiting solar farms since the 1960s, and a number of private researchers have been looking at ways to tap into space-based solar energy.
But Solaren Corp, founded by a former spacecraft engineer, says it has developed a technology that would make it commercially viable within the next seven years to transmit electricity generated in space to a terrestrial power grid.
PG&E announced this week that it had agreed to buy 200 megawatts of electricity from Solaren starting in 2016. The deal has yet to be approved by California state government regulators and PG&E has not put any money into Solaren, but the promise alone has turned the notion of space based solar power from fantasy to reality.
"There is a very serious possibility they can make this work," said PG&E's spokesman Jonathan Marshall.
Unlike on earth, with its cycle of nights and days and where there can be clouds, sunshine in space is practically constant – aside from a few days around the spring and autumn equinoxes. That means the space-based solar panels could potentially produce a steady supply of electricity.
The sunlight hitting solar panels 200 miles in space would be 10 times as powerful as the light filtering down to Earth through the atmosphere. The satellite would then convert the energy into radio waves and beam them down to a receiving station on Earth. Spirnak did not give details of how this would work but said the technology was based on that now used by communications satellites, describing it as "very mature". He added that power losses via the radio-wave route are lower than transmission cables used on Earth. Another advantage of the plan is that it does not require large amounts of real estate. Ground-based solar installations require huge tracts of land.
Solaren has released relatively few details about the project. But Solaren's CEO, Gary Spirnak, said the company, a group of about 10 former satellite and aerospace engineers, was confident in the technology and timing behind the venture.
He argued that the science behind the orbiting solar farms was little different to that of communications satellites. "This is the exact same thing that satellites do every day. The basic technology is there," said Spirnak. "The bottom line is that this is not really a technology issue."
Daniel Kammen, a professor in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, agreed: the most daunting challenge to Spirnak is cost.
"The ground rules are looking kind of promising. Whether we can do it at scale, whether we can do it affordably, whether it is too much of a technological leap or not, those are all factors," Kammen said. "It is doable. Whether it is doable at a reasonable cost, we just don't know."
Spirnak argues that a confluence of recent events now make the project more commercially viable. The cost of rocket launches – though still prohibitive – has been dropping because of the commercialisation of space, making it cheaper to send up and service solar panels.
Spirnak will face a difficult task raising funds for his project though, especially in this time of global economic recession. He said he was seeking in the low billions of dollars in investment – much higher than the usual $100m (£67m) to $200m costs for projects in renewable energy.

Halfords buoyed up by Britons getting on their bikes to save money

Britons have taken up cycling to beat the recession
Zoe Wood, Thursday 16 April 2009 16.28 BST

Halfords said today the price battleground had shifted from supermarket aisles to cycle lanes as Britons got back on their bikes.
"Consumers are looking for bargains and there is greater transparency than ever before because of the internet," said David Wild, Halfords' chief executive. "The bike market was very competitive in the final quarter of last year."
Halfords, the UK's largest cycle retailer, has sold more than 1m bikes a year for the last two years, with sales buoyed up by commuters taking advantage of work incentive schemes, as well as the success of British cyclists at the Olympics in Beijing.
Wild said cycling had become more popular because of concerns about health and the environment as well as the recession: "The first two reasons will be relevant whatever happens to the economy, although that is particularly important today."
The strong bike market helped Halfords beat City expectations with profits of £92m in the financial year just ended. It said like-for-like sales in its leisure departments, which include bikes and accounts for a third of sales, were positive in the quarter but down 3.8% overall. Much of the dip was down to falling demand for gadgets such as satnavs, as motorists were forced to spend money on essential maintenance or decided to switch to two wheels.
In recent years Halfords' margins on satnavs were being squeezed in a competitive market place, but Wild said price deflation had slowed as European manufacturers such as TomTom, which imports from Taiwan, juggle buying in dollars and selling in pounds. Sam Hart, an analyst at Charles Stanley, warned the depreciation of sterling could become a bigger issue further down the line as many Halfords' products were sourced in dollars.
Despite the surge in popularity of cycling, Halfords has abandoned plans to open a chain of bike shops aimed at the high end of the market.

Efficient Drivers Cut Emissions, but Stir Up Hot Air

Eco-Motorists Slow Down, Coast, for Big Mileage Gains, but Their Strategies Might Drive Others on the Road Crazy

Cruising around this desert metropolis in her four-door pickup truck, Morgan Dresser doesn't look like an environmental trendsetter.
Recently, though, the 26-year-old did something revolutionary. She began "eco-driving" -- a technique that combines a racecar driver's skill with the proverbial grandmother's pace. By learning to drive all over again, Ms. Dresser estimates she has boosted her truck's fuel economy to 21 miles per gallon from 15, a jump of 40% that surpasses the mileage advertised by its manufacturer, Toyota Motor Corp. With that shift in behavior, she has done more to curb oil consumption than most people zooming around in the latest hybrid cars.
"Who would have thought a truck could get good gas mileage?" she says. "It's possible with any vehicle, big or small."
A new technique to curb fuel consumption is on the rise: "eco-driving." Eco-driving teaches drivers not to slam the gas pedal and brakes, but rather, learn how to maintain a more constant speed. Jeffrey Ball reports.
Green Driving 101

Even without futuristic technologies, drivers can achieve eye-popping fuel economy in their current cars with nothing fancier than their brains and some lighter feet. The idea is to maintain momentum much as on a leisurely bicycle ride: accelerating only gradually, coasting whenever possible and constantly adjusting speed to minimize the need to stop.
The challenge will be to get Americans, who love the open throttle as much as the open road, to ease up instead of variously slamming on the gas and the brakes. In the meantime, as early eco-drivers lower their own emissions, they are certain to raise some hot air from the impatient drivers around them.
"I've been honked at. I've been flipped off. I've been yelled at: 'Grandma!'" says Ms. Dresser, a former back-country firefighter. "I just laugh."
Trials in Europe, Japan and the U.S. are finding that drivers commonly improve their fuel economy upwards of 20% after deploying a handful of eco-driving techniques. Among them: Driving more slowly on highways, shifting gears earlier in cities and shutting off the engine rather than idling at long stops.
Technology still matters. A car that is lighter and loaded with the latest environmental hardware will use less gasoline than a car that is heavier and conventional under the hood.
But technology can't do it all. Hybrid-car makers have been deluged with complaints from buyers who aren't getting near the mileage the cars' stickers promise -- largely because even hybrids need to be driven gingerly to fully exploit their fuel-sipping technology.
"If you own a Prius and you drive it like a Corvette, you're not going to get the results they talk about," says Drew DeGrassi, president of Pro Formance Group Inc., a Phoenix-based company that teaches eco-driving.
Attempts to promote eco-driving have puttered along for at least a decade, mostly in northern Europe. In 1999, Germany began requiring that elements of eco-driving be taught in driver-education classes -- no easy thing in the land of the autobahn and the Porsche. About 800,000 new drivers get their licenses annually in Germany, and they are supposed to learn three basic eco-driving tips, says Jochen Lau, manager for road safety for the German Road Safety Council, an insurance industry-backed group that helps coordinate the curriculum.
First, watch the tachometer, not just the speedometer, and shift gears before the car's engine speed reaches 2,000 revolutions per minute to minimize how hard the engine has to work. Second, don't tailgate, because tailgating requires a lot of unnecessary braking and accelerating. Third, coast if an upcoming light is red, letting it turn green so there is no need to stop.
In the U.S., where 5% of the world's population consumes 23% of its oil, eco-driving has existed so far mostly as a tiny subculture. In "hypermiling," a quirky new competitive pastime, the winning drivers have surpassed 150 miles per gallon in mass-produced hybrids.
The basic hypermiling technique is the "pulse-and-glide," says Dan Bryant, a Houston-based competitor whose accomplishments include driving a Toyota Prius on an 844-mile trip around Texas last year on a single tank of gas. The driver slowly accelerates to about 60% of full throttle -- the point where a car's engine tends to operate most efficiently -- and then steps off the gas, coasting until the car's speed drops. At the right moment, before losing too much speed, the driver gently presses the gas pedal again.
Now, mainstream interest in eco-driving is ramping up. Last year, two technology companies that sense a new market in eco-driving software and hardware organized a test involving 240 drivers in Denver. One of their tips: Drive as if there is a hot cup of coffee in the cup holder at risk of splashing. Fuel economy, they say, improved an average of 10% across the group.
Auto makers are the most enthusiastic eco-driving promoters. Pressured to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles, they see eco-driving as a way to shift some of the responsibility away from themselves and onto their customers.
Ford Motor Co. has been promoting eco-driving for several years in Germany. Last July, Ford flew Mr. Lau and another German Road Safety Council instructor to Detroit to give an eco-driving lesson to Mr. DeGrassi and other drivers from Pro Formance, the Phoenix professional-driving company. A month later, Ford and Pro Formance staged an eco-driving test with 48 Phoenix-area drivers, who improved their fuel economy an average of 24%.
Among them was Ms. Dresser. She co-owns a laundry business that involves driving her pickup and a much bigger semi truck across the country. After she passed along the eco-driving tips to one of her semi drivers, his fuel economy jumped to 12 mpg from 8 mpg, a 50% increase.
Often, Ms. Dresser is tailgated by trucks whose drivers figure they can intimidate her into speeding up. She, too, used to be that kind of driver, "weaving in and out of traffic," she says, to get a few feet ahead. "People don't realize that you don't have to speed up just to sit" at the next traffic light, she says.
To help drivers make the change, car makers have begun rolling out technological aids, including dashboard gauges that display fuel economy in real time. The rationale is that, if consumers see how their behavior affects their energy consumption, they will be more likely to change.
Within the next two years, Nissan Motor Co. plans to start offering in the U.S. and Japan a feature that it calls the "eco-pedal" -- a sensor that, when the driver is accelerating too piggishly, pushes back against the driver's foot.
But Nissan realizes that slow and steady also is the rule when it comes to changing drivers' behavior behind the wheel. "Not every driver likes to be an eco-driver," notes Nissan's Kazuhiro Doi. So Nissan will include a switch that allows drivers to turn the eco-pedal off.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at

Testing environmental pollution liability rules take effect

New environmental liability rules could catch you out. Steve Coates from Allianz advises

By DoctorBiz Last Updated: 7:36PM GMT 16 Mar 2009

Q: I run a small waste management company in Yorkshire and I've heard that a new environmental liability directive came into force on 1 March. What are the implications for me and what precautions should I take?
A: The Environmental Liability Directive sets out requirements that member states must enact to prevent and remedy environmental damage, specifically damage to habitats and species protected by EC law. It aims to hold companies, whose activities have caused environmental damage, financially liable for remedying the damage.

The existing UK pollution liability regime, which includes the Environmental Protection Act 1990, already imposes significant responsibilities on polluters. The directive extends the liability of polluters beyond property damage and into areas of environmental damage and un-owned property such as rivers, countryside and wildlife.
If you or your workforce causes any environmental damage, the new directive imposes a wide range of responsibilities and will cost your company money if you are responsible for a pollution incident. Alarmingly, research commissioned by Allianz has shown that 77 per cent of businesses are unaware of the new law and its implications. It is therefore crucial that businesses talk to their brokers to fully understand the insurance cover that is required and make sure suitable cover is in place.
A proposal to make it compulsory for operators to take out insurance was not included in the final version of the directive. Instead, it suggests that member states encourage the use and development of insurance products or other forms of financial security. The implications are that traditional liability policies are ill-equipped to meet the challenges posed by the new legislation because of the different nature of directive's liability. Therefore, those companies in the UK who rely on existing public liability may find their policy does not provide the protection they require.
A standard public liability policy, for instance, will cover an insured party's legal liability to pay damages to a third party for accidental injury, damage to property, nuisance or interference with some other right. Although statutory clean costs and remediation are likely to be the most costly aspect of many pollution incidents, a standard public liability policy will not normally cover these costs.
Provision of cover via traditional third party liability insurance is difficult; some liability insurers might be willing to extend policies to cover certain directive liabilities, although a proper environmental liability policy will usually provide a more cost-effective solution.
Businesses need to take relevant steps to understand how their activities might expose them to the risk of pollution. Risks must be assessed and understood from which risk management techniques can be deployed to remove or reduce the risk. Insurance arrangements should be re-evaluated in the light of the more onerous responsibilities placed on businesses to ensure cover remains appropriate. Your insurance broker/adviser should be able to provide advice on cover available.
Steve Coates, head of Property & Casualty, Allianz

Engineers set to convert carbon dioxide into solid rock

Icelandic experts hope to dispose of 30,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas each year

David Adam, Environment correspondent, Thursday 16 April 2009 16.44 BST

The project will take CO2 produced by an Icelandic geothermal energy plant and dissolve it in water under high pressures. It will then pump the solution into layers of basalt about 400-700m underground Photograph: Paul A Souders/Corbis
Engineers in Iceland are set to convert carbon dioxide to solid rock as a way to tackle global warming.
The experts want to exploit the country's volcanic origins to dispose of up to 30,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas each year. They expect the gas to react with layers of volcanic rocks deep beneath the surface to form minerals that will lock the carbon pollution away for millions of years.
"This is a well-known natural process," said Holmfridur Sigurdardottir, project manager. "We are just trying to imitate what nature is doing."
The project will take CO2 produced by an Icelandic geothermal energy plant and dissolve it in water under high pressures. It will then pump the solution into layers of basalt about 400-700m underground, and watch what happens.
Laboratory experiments suggest the dissolved CO2 will react with calcium in the basalt to form solid calcium carbonate. Sigurdardottir said: "In the lab it takes a few days to a few weeks. We want to see what happens in the field and whether we can do it on the scale required."
The project, called Carb-fix, is a form of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Such schemes usually aim to pump the CO2 into deep saltwater reservoirs, where the high pressure is expected to keep the gas dissolved and trapped underground. Mineral storage offers a safer bet, Carb-fix says, because there is less chance of leakage.
Domenik Wolff-Boenisch from the University of Iceland, who works on the project, will tell the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna next week that "storage of carbon dioxide as solid carbonate in basaltic rocks may provide an ideal solution".
The project is scheduled to begin pumping down the dissolved CO2 in August, Sigurdardottir said. It will take about a year before the team knows whether the gas is converting to minerals as expected.

Budget will be last chance to change to low-carbon economy, Tories warn

George Osborne challenges government to invest in 10 ideas to help cut carbon emissions and create thousands of 'green' jobs

Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent, Thursday 16 April 2009 16.11 BST

Next week's budget will be the last chance for the government to kick-start the investment needed to meet the UK's targets for carbon emission cuts and to establish a sustainable low-carbon economy, the Conservatives claimed today .
In a speech to launch their party's green budget, shadow chancellor George Osborne and shadow energy secretary Greg Clark called on the government to invest in 10 ideas that they said would help cut carbon emissions and create thousands of new "green" jobs.
"The budget is not just an opportunity to help people now, it's also a chance to chart a new course for the future," said Osborne. "What's needed in next week's budget are policies that will not only help today, but also help tomorrow."
The ideas include a £6,500 allowance for every householder in Britain to make their homes more energy efficient and maximising renewable energy sources such as wave power, tidal power and biogas. The Tories also want to build an "internet" for electricity using smart grids that would allow demand and supply to be managed in an intelligent and environmentally friendly way. Longer-term, they call on government to fund at least three carbon capture and storage demonstration plants and consider funding a high-speed rail network in the UK to take the pressure off internal flights.
Osborne said that all recessions end and the government should think carefully what kind of recovery it wants. He said the Tory plan was "greener and more productive" and would create new jobs and sources of growth in the industries of the future.
John Alker, head of advocacy at the UK Green Building Council said: "With 27% of UK emissions coming from our housing stock, the Tories have recognised that tackling climate change starts at home. The plan to 'entitle' householders to a package of energy efficiency measures is a progressive and far-sighted policy. This scheme eliminates the upfront cost of energy efficiency and ensures householders save money on their bills from day one."
Clark said that one of the biggest sources of frustration for environmentalists was that the ambitions contained in the Climate Change Act have not been followed by urgent action from the government. "It's almost as if, since the act was passed in autumn last year the only real decision the government has taken is to approve the third runway at Heathrow which has taken us a step backwards. At a time when the Department for Energy and Climate Change is running 22 separate consultations – the time has come for the government to get on with it."
The Conservative green budget proposals were originally published in January in their paper, The Low Carbon Economy. That report outlined how the £6,500 would not be given to householders directly — instead energy companies would insulate homes at no cost to the people living in them, who would benefit from lower energy bills.
Other ideas include incentivising the National Grid to construct a new network of undersea direct current cables, enabling offshore renewable energy to be transmitted over large distance, such as from Scotland to the south east. The Tories also want to decentralise power production into small-scale local power plants by introducing feed-in tariffs. These guarantee a premium for electricity that is generated and fed into the national grid by consumers.
"As a result of failures of government leadership, British companies have less than 5% of the global market for green goods and services," said Osborne. "That's less than France, Germany, Japan or the United States. Government policies mean Britain is poorly prepared to take advantage of a market that is predicted to be worth hundreds of billions of pounds in the years ahead. Instead of leading the world on green technology, Britain is trailing far behind."
He also criticised today's announcement of an electric car strategy by the government, saying it did not contain any of the "crucial measures that are actually needed to make electric cars a mainstream reality. Nothing about building a smart grid that can manage the higher demand for electricity that will result if more people are driving electric cars."
The Tory budget plans include funding a national network of electric car charging points by giving energy companies incentives to invest early.
Osborne added: "The Labour plan … is like giving people a grant to buy an internal combustion engine, without bothering to set up any petrol stations."
The climate change and energy secretary, Ed Miliband, said: "The Tories' promises for a green recovery are a sham. Their promise of £6,500 for every household would cost at least £150bn and they have no way of explaining how it would be paid for. They just don't have the money to fulfil their clean coal pledge.
"Their ideas are pale shadows of our commitments: to smart meters, to feed-in tariffs and to support for low-carbon industries. The Tories want to cut back on public expenditure – yet in these proposals are uncosted spending plans. The Tories have no new ideas about how to tackle climate change or build a low-carbon economy. Their plans are either uncosted or reheated.
"This government, by contrast, is acting now to tackle dangerous climate change and create green jobs."

Toyota Prius hybrid owners convert their cars to plug-ins

• Six Prius dealerships in the US convert standard Priuses • Lithium-ion battery is installed in space for spare tire

Suzanne Goldenberg, Thursday 16 April 2009 12.30 BST

The major US automakers are not due to roll out their first electric cars until late 2010, but for those unwilling to wait, there is a new trend for DIY plug-in hybrids.
Owners of the popular Toyota Prius hybrid, which runs on petrol and a nickel-metal battery, have begun a slow-but-steady move towards converting their cars into plug-in vehicles. A few hundred Prius owners around America are believed to have taken the plunge.
Six Prius dealerships in the US now convert standard Priuses into plug-ins using commercially produced lithium-ion batteries.
The process is straightforward. The mechanics install a lithium-ion battery in the spot formerly reserved for the spare tire. They then drill a hole in the rear of the car to put in a plug point for charging. The battery has a range of 35 to 40 miles, and takes about five hours to recharge completely.
Prius owners have long had a reputation for trying to eke the maximum miles out of every drop of petrol – trading tips on the web. But the conversions began gaining a following in mid-2008 when prices at the pump rose above $4 (£2.68) a gallon.
With that in mind – along with moves into plug-ins from Chevrolet and Chyrsler as well as tax incentives from the Obama administration for hybrid vehicle owners – Toyota moved up the date for its roll-out of the first 500 purpose-built plug-in Priuses to later this year.
The cost of the conversions is prohibitive. Steve Rosenstock spent $10,900 converting his red 2008 model Prius to a plug-in – roughly half the cost of the entire car.
Rosenstock showed off his newly converted Prius at a renewable energy conference in Washington this week. On the open road, at constant speeds and in flat conditions, he has achieved mileage of well over 100mpg. That's a considerable increase in efficiency over the standard Prius model which gets around 60mpg on the motorway.
In terms of running costs, if the petrol engine never comes on, Rosenstock says it costs about 1.57 cents to run his Prius. If the engine does engage, it comes to 4 cents a mile.
Rosenstock, who works at the Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group for the US electricity industry, does not use the car to go to work and so does not charge it up regularly. He said there was no real increase in his electricity bills. Even so, he admitted he is unlikely to ever recover his investment.
"The first plasma TV cost $10,000. The first DVD player cost $1,000," he said. "I like being an early adopter in this case."

Where's the chemistry in electric cars?

You can't use a cardboard box on wheels as a penis extension, but other possibilities may arise from the electric car

Paul MacInnes, Thursday 16 April 2009 15.30 BST

Consider the following image: Jeremy Clarkson, in tight stonewashed jeans, leather waistcoat and not a lot else, reclining over the bonnet of a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. How does that mental picture make you feel? Does it make you feel hot? Does it get your crankshaft rotating? Well lap it up while you can. Because the age of the sexy car (not to mention the sexy auto-evangelist) is about to come to an end.
The news of the imminent electric car revolution may not be good for environmentalists, but it's even worse for petrolheads. Look at this gallery of cars handily rehashed by us Guardian web-types to accompany today's news. Just look at it. It's a collection of cardboard boxes on wheels. A collection of one-man tents that can go from 0-60 in under half a minute. Oh and the Tesla Roadster. At $100,000 a pop.
If the greenies and euroweenies have their way (check out this spiel from French electro automaker Lumeneo) the box will be here to stay. A box, with barely enough leg room for a 13-year-old girl on a growth spurt, possesses the winning virtue of using less power, thus making it easier to charge up – in just six hours! – and more feasible to put to market using current lithium-ion cell batteries.
(There are plans, of course, for bigger, more powerful electric cars – but they will rely on technology that doesn't exist yet, or in the case of the Chevy Volt, hybrid technology that still requires a "small" four-cylinder petrol engine, just in case the car drives more than 40 miles.)
So if Arnold's Schwarzenegger's emissions enforcer Dan Sperling is right and "Vehicle electrification is inevitable", a lot of middle-aged men will have to get used to no longer using their vehicle as a figurative extension of their penis. Or even a literal one. Though I'm struggling to imagine how that would work.
There's also the interesting problem of freedom. Cars, or at least the idea of them, are built around escape, of being able to drive off into the yonder, leave your cares behind and explore new possibilities. Latterly they have come to stand for even more than that; for the individual and their ability to assert their rights against the state.
But what happens if your battery runs out halfway across Route 66? That might dull the rebellious edge somewhat. And while schemes for systems of electric recharge stations are in the works, it's difficult to imagine how they might be implemented halfway up one of those winding mountain lanes so beloved of car ads. Are we, as commenter Gulfstream5 rather hilariously put it underneath today's Guardian editorial, set for an epidemic of people "getting stuck with flat batteries all over the place and having to be rescued"?
It would certainly be striking and would herald the death knell for the car as a symbol not just of sex but of rebellion too. This I would welcome and am excited by the possibilities that might arise from it. I look forward to Vin Diesel duelling with middle-eastern bad guys while on the 45 bus to Venice beach. Or Kid Rock composing an album of hymns to the masculine virtues of market gardening. Or, indeed, Jeremy Clarkson being out of a job.

U.K. to Offer Electric-Car Incentives


LONDON -- The U.K. government said Thursday it will offer consumers £2,000 to £5,000 ($2,998 to $7,495) to put towards buying electric and hybrid cars as part of a wider £250 million drive to promote more environmentally-friendly motoring.
In a joint statement, the U.K.'s Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform said the incentives would be available when the new cars arrive in showrooms, which is expected from 2011.
The government is beginning talks with the automotive industry and financiers to work out how best to deliver the incentive, the statement said.
"The scale of incentives we're announcing today will mean that an electric car is a real option for motorists as well as helping to make the U.K. a world leader in low carbon transport," Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said in the statement.
The strategy also includes plans to provide £20 million for charging points and related infrastructure to help develop a network of electric car cities across the U.K., the government said.
"Low carbon vehicles will play a key role in cutting emissions," Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said. "We want the British motor industry to be a leader in the low carbon future, and government must direct and support this, through what I call new industrial activism."
In a newspaper interview earlier this month, U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised an environmentally-friendly budget on April 22 to kickstart a "green recovery" -- including the mass introduction of electric cars on U.K. roads.
He outlined measures to make the U.K. a world leader in producing and exporting electric cars, hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles and lighter cars that consume less gasoline. Other green measures include relaxing planning laws to allow the building of more wind farms, the report said.
The U.K. government is also considering whether to follow many of its European counterparts by implementing a vehicle-scrappage plan that would offer consumers a financial incentive to swap their old car for a newer, less polluting model.
Write to Nicholas Winning at