Friday, 7 August 2009

Buick Bets On a Hybrid To Broaden Its Appeal

With a big hand from the government, General Motors Co. plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid Buick in 2011 that owners will be able to recharge by plugging into an electrical outlet.
GM originally intended to release the hybrid technology in a Saturn model, but it is selling that brand. Its decision to make the hybrid a Buick -- a brand that historically produced large sedans favored by older drivers -- illustrates the big challenge GM faces as it slims down after its exit from bankruptcy last month.
The crossover vehicle will use a gasoline engine aided by a battery and electric motor to boost its fuel-efficiency and -- unlike current hybrids -- should see a greater increase in gas mileage when owners charge up the battery pack, GM's new product chief, Tom Stephens, said Thursday. He declined to disclose a price for the new Buick or expected sales.
The technology is different from that GM is developing for the Chevrolet Volt, a compact car due next year. The Volt will be powered all the time by an electric motor and plug-in batteries, with a small gasoline engine used to recharge the batteries when they run down.
The Buick hybrid is expected to achieve in excess of 40 miles per gallon of gas, double the performance of a similarly sized model such as the Chevy Equinox in city driving.
The Volt, because it is supposed to drive up to 40 miles on battery power alone before the gas engine helps out, is expected to travel about 1,000 miles on a tank of gas.

To create the new Buick, GM said it will tap government funds aimed at jump-starting an electric-car industry. GM is 60% owned by the government after its bankruptcy reorganization.
The auto maker is in the process of shedding Pontiac, Hummer, Saab and Saturn and will go forward with Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.
To make the new formula work, GM will have to inject more excitement into Buick, expanding its appeal and widening its range of models to attract younger customers.
Along with the hybrid, which will be part of a new line of Buick crossovers, GM also now plans to produce an upscale compact car that will be sold as a Buick. The compact would put Buick into a segment of the market where it would compete with other premium small cars, such as the BMW 1 Series and Acura TSX.
The company plans to apply for a loan of about $500 million from the Department of Energy's $25 billion program to fund the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Most of that loan would be devoted to the Buick project, GM said. It will be GM's fourth application under the program and bring the total GM is seeking from the program to $11 billion.
The auto maker released a sketch of the new Buick at an industry conference in northern Michigan, and said the Energy Department would take the first 69 vehicles it produces.
GM and battery supplier Compact Power Inc. also plan to tap about $400 million in stimulus money the Obama administration has set aside for advanced battery production.
Mr. Stephens said government funding is "very important" to the production of the yet-to-be-named Buick and referred to the government as "our partner" on the project, saying the relationship will help minimize expected losses on the vehicle.
GM has offered hybrid systems on several models but none has generated significant sales. The Buick will go up against other plug-in hybrids and electric cars headed to the U.S. market.
Toyota Motor Corp. has been working on a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid. Nissan Motor Co. is aiming to launch an electric model called the Leaf that is also benefiting from federal loans.
Mr. Stephens and other GM managers are under pressure from the company's new board to rush the introduction of vehicles to try to halt a decades-long market share decline. He said GM's recent bankruptcy and the government's capital injection have allowed the company to speed up funding for new-product programs.—Sharon Terlep contributed to this article.
Write to John D. Stoll at

Could 'Spirit of Ecstasy' go electric?

Rolls-Royce says it is considering producing an eco-friendly model
By Sarah Arnott
Friday, 7 August 2009

The only emissions released by the Rolls-Royces of the future could be the puffs of cigar smoke from the fat cats in the back seat, after the famously conservative luxury car-maker admitted it could one day produce electric vehicles.
High-profile customers from Donald Trump to 50 Cent may not worry about their carbon footprint when ordering an eye-wateringly expensive, handmade Rolls. But even a brand obsessed with its history has to keep one eye on the future, and a diesel, hybrid or even full-electric Roller is not out of the questions, says Tom Purves, the boss of the BMW-owned Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. "An electric Phantom in many ways would perform as a Rolls-Royce should because it would be very quiet, with bags of style and no emissions," said Mr Purves. "BMW also has some of the most advanced diesel engines in the world, and in some ways it would be logical to apply that to Rolls-Royce because there is huge torque and we could make it quiet and so on."
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So far, an electric Rolls is nothing more than a possibility. "It is not clear yet whether electric cars are truly the answer," said Mr Purves. "Even hybrid technology is not necessarily in a form that is entirely appropriate."
But even countenancing the prospect is a major step for a brand identified so closely with traditionalists' dreams of old world opulence, powered by a massive petrol engine. There is certainly no pressure from Rolls-Royce drivers, who pay a minimum of £300,000 for their cars, and often twice as much. "Our customers are not bothered about what's under the bonnet, they are bothered about how it behaves," said Mr Purves. "But they do expect us to be at least contemporary, so if I take the view that the green agenda is nothing to do with us then we will have difficulties in the future." The reality is that Rolls-Royce will have to do something. With carbon emissions of more than 370 grammes per kilometre (g/km), the three-tonne Phantom is more than twice as environmentally unfriendly as the average car. And European legislation is on its way to mandate a ceiling of just 130g/km for new cars within the next few years.
In the meantime, Rolls-Royce is launching a new model, the Ghost, at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Nicknamed the "Baby Rolls", it is "substantially" more carbon-efficient than the Phantom, according to the company. "Each new car is a step forward, environmentally," said Mr Purves. A battery-powered Rolls-Royce is still several steps away, but a rechargeable Ghost may one day float silently out of the showrooms.

Drax coal supply in doubt after protesters sabotage Scottish mine equipment

The activists damaged a 6.5km conveyor belt which transports 200,000 coal each year from Glentaggart to Ravenstruther
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Thursday 6 August 2009 17.15 BST

Climate protesterstoday claimed to have disrupted the flow of coal from one of Scotland's largest opencast mines to the Drax power station in north Yorkshire by sabotaging an major coal conveyor belt.
The activists – who are believed to come from a Climate Camp, which opened earlier this week at Mainshill, the site of a planned opencast coalmine – damaged the conveyor belt at Glentaggart late yesterday, forcing the conveyor belt to be entirely closed down.
At 6.5km long, the conveyor belt is one of the longest in Europe and transports about 200,000 tonnes of coal each year from the Scottish Coal mine at Glentaggart to a dedicated railway depot at Ravenstruther. The company argues that the conveyor belt prevents about 30,000 lorry journeys a year. About 70% of Scottish opencast coal is sent south to power stations such as Drax in Yorkshire.
A spokesman for Scottish Coal said the conveyor belt would be out of action until tomorrow, but lorry traffic would now increase on local roads as a result of the damage. "The Glentaggart conveyor is used by Scottish Coal as a way of reducing the road transportation of coal," he said. "This reduction in road traffic responds to the wishes of the local community in Douglas."
Strathclyde police were unable to confirm whether they were investigating the incident.
The attack is the latest in a series of anti-coal protests by environment activists in Scotland, linked to last year's occupation at Kingsnorth power station in Kent and the stopping of a coal train near Drax, which lead to 22 people being convicted of obstruction last month.
Drax, one of the largest coal-fired power stations in Europe and the UK's single largest CO2 emitter, was the site of the first Climate Camp in 2006.
The Scottish protesters are now threatening to target prominent coal industry sites, including power stations, corporate headquarters and coal terminals as part of their campaign. Many are now being guarded by police, and the protesters claim police leave has been cancelled in central Scotland this weekend.
In December, six people were arrested, with four later fined £200, after protesters briefly shut down the Ravenstruther rail terminal used by Glentaggart. In February, activists targeted an opencast mine at Rosewell near Edinburgh by climbing on to diggers and trucks, but there were no arrests. Five people were arrested at Muir Dean opencast mine in Fife in March, owned by ATH Resources, after they clambered on an excavator.
Diarmaid Lynch, a spokesman for the Mainshill protestors, said: "Our understanding is that it was quite hefty damage. A whole section [of the conveyor belt] was taken down and will need repair." He added: "It was radical direct action against climate change, which is what needs to happen – it's part of what the camp is all about."
Mainshill, a forested area owned by the Earl of Home, son of the former Tory prime minister Alec Douglas-Home, near the village of Douglas, was approved for opencast coalmining in June. Scottish Coal plans to extract at least 1.7m tonnes of coal. It will be the fourth opencast site in the immediate area, and is a short distance from Glentaggart.

Occupiers of Vestas wind turbine factory face eviction tomorrow

Bailiffs serve six workers still occupying Vestas plant on Isle of Wight with warrant giving them 24 hours to leave
Rachel Williams and agencies, Thursday 6 August 2009 12.44 BST
Six men who have been barricaded inside Britain's only major wind turbine factory for more than two weeks have been warned they will be evicted tomorrow.
Bailiffs visited the Vestas Wind Systems plant, outside Newport on the Isle of Wight, to tape a warrant notice on a window facing into the building for the occupying workers to see. It gave them 24 hours' notice to leave and set an eviction deadline of midday tomorrow.
One of the six remaining occupiers, Ian Terry, said: "They had stuck it up nicely in a place we could see."
Vestas obtained a repossession order from Newport county court on Tuesday, more than a fortnight after 25 employees began a sit-in to try to save the factory from closure with the loss of more than 600 jobs.
Their action has seen trade unionists and climate change campaigners join forces to maintain a vigil outside the plant, where many protesters have set up a permanent camp.
A larger police presence was reported on the industrial estate today as the eviction notice was served, but so far the interaction between officers and campaigners has been good-natured.
The men remaining in the factory called on supporters to gather tomorrowmorning in advance of the arrival of the bailiffs.
Meanwhile some of those who left premises earlier in the week have travelled to the mainland to take their message around the country. A protest will be held tonight outside the department of energy and climate change in London.
Phil Thornhill, of the Campaign Against Climate Change, said: "Just when we need a huge expansion in renewable energy they are closing down the largest wind turbine factory in the UK.
"The government has spent billions bailing out the banks, and £2.3bn in loan guarantees to support the UK car industry. They can and should step in to save the infrastructure we are really going to need to prevent a climate catastrophe."

Quick climate changes fixes come with huge dangers, warn scientists

Hannah Devlin
Plans to reduce global warming by blasting jets of water into the atmosphere or placing mirrors in space could have devastating consequences, two climate scientists warn today.
They say that while such ideas may be highly effective, they could lead to severe droughts.
Susan Solomon, a climate scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Gabi Hegerl, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, caution against the entrepreneurial “we can fix this thing” approach and say that a calm, methodical inquiry is needed.
“We’re not against climate engineering but we need to understand the consequences better than we do now before rushing into such a massive experiment,” Professor Hegerl said.
They say in the journal Science that climate modelling has focused largely on temperatures and that current models do a poor job at predicting rainfall.
Increases in CO2 influence rainfall in two ways. A warmer climate means that more water evaporates from oceans and lakes, which would tend to result in more rain. However, the Earth’s blanket of CO2 traps heat which needs to escape from clouds for condensation to occur, meaning that although more water evaporates it takes longer for it to fall as rain.
Blocking incoming sunlight using mirrors or by seeding clouds, while leaving CO2 to build up could unbalance a delicate equilibrium.
“One of the attractions of climate engineering is the effectiveness and rapidity with which it could reduce warming, but it is also connected with considerable risks,” the authors write.

Cloud ships on course to beat climate change, says Copenhagen study

They sound like ideas from a Jules Verne novel, but giant engineering schemes designed to alter the climate offer the cheapest way of avoiding catastrophic global warming, according to a growing number of scientists and green-minded entrepreneurs.
Most of the schemes have been dismissed as impossibly expensive or impractical, such as the proposal to create a space sunshade by using rockets to deploy millions of mirrors in the stratosphere.
One relatively cheap solution, however, is gaining favour among many different groups and is endorsed today by an independent study that compares the costs and benefits of all the main ideas. A wind-powered fleet of 1,900 ships would criss-cross the oceans, sucking up sea water and spraying it from the top of tall funnels to create vast white clouds.
These clouds would reflect a tiny proportion, between 1 and 2 per cent, of the sunlight that would otherwise warm the ocean. This would be enough to cancel out the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide emissions. The ships would be unmanned and directed by satellite to locations with the best conditions for increasing cloud cover. They would mainly operate in the Pacific, far enough from land to avoid interfering with rainfall.
The idea has been circulating for a decade but until now has merely been one of many climate engineering pipedreams. A study commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, a think-tank that advises governments on how to spend aid money, found that the fleet would cost $9 billion (£5.3 billion) to test and launch within 25 years. This is a fraction of the $250 billion that the world’s leading nations are considering spending each year to cut CO2 emissions.
The Royal Society is expected to announce next month that cloud-forming ships are one of the most promising ideas.
The Copenhagen study also looked at a scheme to mimic the effect of major volcanic eruptions, which have a global cooling effect lasting a year or more. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 sent billions of tonnes of sulphur dioxide and other particles into the atmosphere. These formed a haze that shielded the sun’s rays and reduced global average temperature by about 0.5C.
The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 had an even more dramatic effect: 1816 became known as the year without summer.
Many scientists have proposed different methods of injecting particles, or aerosols, into the atmosphere, including using squadrons of air tankers, possibly based in the Arctic to focus on protecting the ice cap.
The study concluded that the scheme would cost $230 billion and would be much harder to control than cloud-producing ships, which could be switched off if shown to have adverse effects. The study dismissed the space sunshade idea after calculating that the costs of launching the mirrors would be $395 trillion.
“The space sunshade is really just science fiction but cloud whitening ships deserve serious scrutiny,” said Bjorn Lomborg, director of the think-tank. He argues that, although global warming is a huge problem, there might be better ways of addressing it then simply cutting CO2 emissions. “We need to have a debate about all of the options, not just the politically correct one of reducing CO2,” he said.
He is hosting a conference in Washington DC next month at which a panel of Nobel laureates will vote on the most cost-effective solution.
Rival teams of British and American scientists are seeking funding for sea trials of prototype cloud-forming ships. The Carnegie Institute has donated several hundred thousand dollars to the US team. The British team, led by John Latham, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Manchester, and Stephen Salter, an engineer at the University of Edinburgh, is working with a Finnish shipping company, Meriaura.

Climate change melting US glaciers at faster rate, study finds

US geological survey commissioned by Obama administration indicates a sharp rise in the melt rate of key American glaciers over the last 10-15 years
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Thursday 6 August 2009 18.09 BST
Climate change is melting America's glaciers at the fastest rate in recorded history, exposing the country to higher risks of drought and rising sea levels, a US government study of glaciers said today.
The long-running study of three "benchmark" glaciers in Alaska and Washington state by the US geological survey (USGS) indicated a sharp rise in the melt rate over the last 10 or 15 years.
Scientists see the three - Wolverine and Gulkana in Alaska and South Cascade in Washington - as representative of thousands of other glaciers in North America.
"The observations show that the melt rate has definitely increased over the past 10 or 15 years," said Ed Josberger, a USGS scientist. "This certainly is a very strong indicator that climate change is occurring and its effects on glaciers are virtually worldwide."
The survey also found that all three glaciers had begun melting at the same higher rate - although they are in different climate regimes and some 1,500 miles apart.
For South Cascade, the average surface loss rate grew to 1.75 to 2m a year from about 1m a year.
USGS researchers have been measuring the three glaciers for more than 50 years, drawing on photographs and a network of stakes driven into the glaciers to gauge the accumulation of snow during winter, and the resulting melt each spring. It is the oldest such record of glacier activity.
In a sign of the Obama administration's focus on climate change, this year's survey was promoted by the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who called it an important contribution to dealing with climate change. "This information is helpful in tackling the effects of climate change and it is exactly the kind of science we need to invest in to measure and mitigate the dangers impacts of climate change," he said.
Shrinking glaciers have led to a reduction in spring run-off which is intensifying the effects of drought in California and other states, especially later in the summer when other water sources dry up.
Glacier loss has also contributed to rising sea levels, which has put low-lying coastal areas - such as New Orleans - at greater risk of storm surges.

Greenwash: Ryman's carbon-neutral claims are paper thin

Industry insiders acknowledge that the stationer's claims about carbon-neutral paper are complex at best

Fred Pearce, Thursday 6 August 2009 10.33 BST
A beaming, clean-cut family with curly haired son sitting on dad's shoulders stares wistfully into the distance from the middle of a corn field. "An initiative for the future," reads the uplifting message on the packaging.
"All carbon emissions generated throughout the production and transportation of Report Carbon Neutral [office paper] to Europe are offset with the restoration of the Atlantic coastal rainforest."
This is Britain's first "carbon neutral" office paper from high-street stationers Ryman. The Report Carbon Neutral brand won top prize at the Stationery and Office Products awards in April.
Ryman's paper sounds green enough. The shop buys from a British paper marketer called A1 Paper that in turns buys from Brazilian paper giant Suzano. The paper hasn't been recycled, but the trees it is made from are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which was set up 15 years ago to recognise wood and paper produced without trashing forests.
Ryman says carbon emissions from manufacture and shipping the paper from Brazil are offset by planting trees in Brazil. And it boasts of an "independent" carbon audit to prove everything is above board. The company is promoting the paper as part of a strategy to turn its 240 UK stores carbon neutral by next March.
But. There must be a but. Industry insiders acknowledge that claims about carbon-neutral paper are complex at best and environmentalists in Australia and the US have recently debunked the whole idea.
The certified forests where the paper originates turn out to be rather controversial. Suzano, one of the world's ten largest paper and pulp companies, makes the paper from its 300,000 hectares of monoculture eucalyptus plantations, many of them in Piaui on the edge of Amazon, and Bahia on land that once formed part of the threatened Atlantic coastal rainforest.
Yes, most of those production forests are FSC-certified. But Brazilian green groups like the Piaui Environment Network and the Alerts Against the Green Desert Network claim the huge plantations trash the land, pollute rivers and displace poor peasant farmers from the land. They are "absolutely against the mission and meaning of the FSC," they said in a letter to the FSC in 2006, also signed by Christian Aid in Britain. By certifying the eucalyptus plantations the FSC "greenwashes a social and environmental tragedy", according to the Alerts Against the Green Desert Network.
The FSC's Alison Kriscenski agrees that certifying big plantations is controversial. "It divides our members, but the consensus is that plantations are essential to supplying demand for paper, so we want to have a positive impact by applying rules for granting certification." Suzano's plantations were certified by a local non-profit organisation called Imaflora. But she agreed there is no thorough research yet into whether certification had improved things in Brazil.
The FSC looks bedevilled by conflicts of interest. Last year's FSC Global Paper Forum was sponsored by none other than Suzano. Months later, the environment group Rainforest Alliance, one of the founders of the FSC, gave Suzano an award at a gala dinner for its social and environmental responsibility. Kriscenski insisted that the FSC has rules to make sure that its relationships with sponsors are not corrupting.
But she also pointed out that "FSC certification is not a guarantee that a forest is carbon neutral, and people should not use it to claim that." Odd that. Suzano, a major sponsor of the organisation, seems to be making precisely that claim when selling its "carbon neutral" paper from FSC forests. Although a close reading shows it restricts the claim to "production and transportation".
What about the other claim: that emissions from the paper's manufacture and transport are all offset? According to Paul Edwards at Sun Paper and Board, Suzano's UK subsidiary, the offsets do not include emissions from transportation or warehousing after the paper arrives at British docks.
And even the Brazil end is questionable. Ryman say its "independent audit" is done by "the Green Initiative" or Iniciativa Verde. What it doesn't mention is that this is the same organisation that has the contract with Suzano to plant the trees that offset the company's emissions. It can't be independent, then. Edwards says the Green Initiative is a non-profit body, but even so, this is still a business arrangement.
The Green Initiative is offsetting the carbon emissions by planting native trees (6.1 trees per tonne of Report Carbon Neutral paper) "on degraded riparian land" in Sao Paulo state. Good. But it only promises to maintain the site for two years. Even though the trees will take an estimated 37 years to absorb the promised amount of carbon.
What happens after the Green Initiative walks away? Edwards says the trees are on land protected by state law, but Brazil's forests are notoriously lawless. It is hard to be confident that the trees will stay in place long enough to soak up the CO2 and make Ryman's paper carbon neutral.
Perhaps I am being over-critical about a well-intended green initiative by a company big enough to make a real difference. Perhaps all those Brazilian NGOs are too. And Christian Aid. But we do have to hold people to account for their claims. Especially when, back on the high streets of Britain, Ryman is charging 80p more for this stuff than for its ordinary office paper.
• Do you know of any green claims that deserve closer examination? Email your examples to or add your comments below