Sunday, 27 September 2009

Secrets of the black lagoons

There could be money in the ash that pours from power stations

Not far from the Fiddler’s Ferry power station in Cheshire, four lagoons of fetid, black liquid lie eerily still. They are not nature’s work.
More than 15m tonnes of ash lie in the watery dumps, the byproduct of nearly four decades of coal incinerated in the plant’s furnaces.
Amid the controversy over cutting carbon emissions from the dirty business of producing power, the process’s other main waste product has largely been forgotten.
Each year about 6m tonnes of ash is produced by Britain’s power stations. Half is used as low-grade filler in construction materials such as asphalt and breezeblocks, but the rest is dumped in landfill or stored in lagoons such as those at Fiddler’s Ferry, near Warrington.
Philip Michael, 62, spent his career in the mining and power industry and always felt that it could be converted into something useful — and profitable. Nine years after co-founding a company to utilise the waste, he looks to have achieved that goal.
Rocktron, his Bristol-based firm, has developed a plant adjacent to Fiddler’s Ferry that makes the sludge and fresh ash into high-tech additives for use in water filters, car components and ultra-lightweight paint for aircraft. Scottish and Southern Energy, which owns Fiddler’s Ferry, put up £30m to finance the plant.
John Watt, 74, a geophysicist and co-founder of Rocktron, is in talks with firms in China, India and America about building similar plants. “Nobody has ever done this before. It is a world first,” he said. “We have applied a mining industry solution to a global environmental problem.” Rocktron has patents for a process that takes dirty ash through a series of steps using reagents, centrifugal force and water separation to break it into five constituent parts. The most useful is microscopic glass beads, which are sifted out through pores as small as 1,000th of a millimetre wide. Once stripped of surface impurities such as salts, they can be used in complex plastic components and paints.
Companies including Ford are interested because of the potential to cut the weight of vehicles and thus increase fuel efficiency.
The pure carbon found in the ash can be used in water filters, while magnetically charged particles can help to shield complex electronics from electromagnetic interference. Larger glass spheres can be used as fillers for cement. “Nothing is wasted,” Michael said.
He began developing the reactive agents to sift out carbon and other usable materials from ash more than 20 years ago while working at a power station in Berlin. Back in the UK in the 1990s, he mortgaged his house to build a demonstration plant. It worked but he could not get the Central Electricity Generating Board to back a larger plant.
His work dovetailed with that of Watt, a geo-physicist who had been developing the higher end additives from ash.
The two met in 1998 and founded Rocktron two years later but were turned down by 53 banks — not that they’re counting — before Scottish and Southern Energy offered support in 2007.
“You can imagine the despair at times. Ten years is a long time to be living off the Salvation Army,” Watt joked.
Watt estimates that there is more than 100m tonnes of ash in landfill and lagoons in the UK alone.

Mercedes says electric car development limited by battery life

Mercedes' head of research and development dampens hopes of a fully electric future.

By Andrew EnglishPublished: 7:00AM BST 26 Sep 2009
Limited range will continue to dog battery car development says Dr Thomas Weber, head of research and development at Daimler Benz.
"It will not be possible to build a range of more than 250 miles for the next 20 years," he says.
Weber thinks that this will put a hold on the popularity of battery electric cars, even though pending inner-city emissions regulations will force car makers to build them.
Mercedes is working on three versions of its B-class, with battery electric, fuel-cell electric and hybrid petrol/electric alternatives which give ever increasing ranges – the first of these, a lithium-ion battery model, has a range of 90 miles and will be on sale in 2012.
Weber says that fast-charging stations will be required to get around the limitations of battery cars and increase their appeal. He thinks that high-current, public charging stations will be able to speedily charge the latest lithium-ion cells with little effect on the battery's longevity.
"Within five years, I can see a full recharge capability in maybe half an hour," he says, "but the infrastructure is the key to bringing all these advanced technologies to market."
Mercedes-Benz unveiled an electric version of its SLS last week, which has a range of about 150 miles.
Weber says the cost of the electric SLS would be about €200,000 (£181,284) and that production is under consideration. "We are looking at limited numbers," he adds.

China’s carbon-trading pledge signals new world order

New initiatives from biggest polluter will have knock-on effect for European efforts to go green
Tricia Holly Davis

CHINA is ready to police its greenhouse gas emissions for the first time by giving its official blessing to a domestic emissions-trading scheme.
The blueprint for the programme will be published by the National Development and Reform Commission early next year. Details of the proposal emerged after President Hu Jintao’s declaration at the United Nations climate change meeting last week that China would achieve a “notable” reduction in emissions over the next decade.
Hu’s move, revealed last week by The Sunday Times, fell short of hopes that China would cap the emissions of energyintensive industries, as Europe has done. However, the creation of a voluntary emissions-trading policy, alongside the carbon reduction plans, signals that China is taking the first steps towards tackling its enormous quantity of emissions.
The emissions-trading scheme could bring significant changes to the world’s existing carbon markets. Until now, China has been a seller of carbon credits, allowing western companies and nations to offset their emissions by buying up the credits generated by environmental schemes in China. Now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases is likely to emerge as a big buyer of the credits, with the price of carbon expected to leap as a result.
The market in China is virtually nonexistent at the moment. Only one company, Shanghai-based Tianping Auto Insurance, is known to have purchased credits to offset its emissions. Demand is expected to increase thanks to the initiatives announced by Jintao at the UN conference in New York last week.
“If experimenting with this sort of scheme convinces China they have less to fear from an emissions reduction target or cap, it will be easier to do a global deal with them,” said Henry Derwent of the International Emissions Trading Association.
Carbon credits are earned through the creation of projects that help to reduce a nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. These range from small-scale energy-efficiency initiatives to larger-scale renewable power generation. Companies buy and sell credits as a way to offset their own environmental impact.
China is a dominant global supplier of credits to nations that are subject to emissions caps under the 1997 Kyoto climate change protocol. New Energy Finance, a clean-energy consultancy, estimates that China earns about £2.75 billion a year from the sale of offsets to the EU and Japan.
The potential value for a domestic trading market in China is about £125 billion a year, nearly twice that of the entire global carbon trading market, according to Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency. This is because the country’s rapid economic expansion means it will continue to produce large amounts of emissions. China is currently on track to account for a third of global emissions by 2030.
The China Beijing Environmental Exchange, a government-licensed carbon-trading platform, last week launched China’s first voluntary emissions trading standard. The “Panda” standard will certify domestic environmental projects across a variety of industries, including forestry and agriculture. This is likely to lead to the creation of a number of offsetting projects and new projects mean new investment opportunities.
“For international business, it is absolutely clear that China is where the opportunities lie,” said Guy Drury at the CBI’s office in Beijing. His enthusiasm was shared by Sir Andrew Cahn, chief executive of UK Trade & Investment, who said: “All British businesses need to be aware of the scale of these opportunities.”
Michael Wilkins, of Standard & Poor’s observed that if China’s role as a big supplier for carbon projects were substantially redirected to satisfy domestic demand, this could lead to a shortage and increase their price in Europe.
That would be good news for the environment, because a higher carbon price would make firms more likely to invest in greening their own operations at home rather than buying offsets abroad.

Ministers just don’t know the damage they’re doing

Jonathon Porritt

Between now and 2020, most of the planned carbon dioxide savings are to come from decarbonisation of electricity and from energy efficiency, according to the government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan, published in July.
The proposed scale of the change is mind-boggling. Some 40% of all electricity is expected to come from low-carbon sources by 2020. Of this, at least 30% will be from renewable energy sources. (It’s just over 5% today.) Success will depend on large-scale construction of wind turbines, both on- and off-shore.
It’s a high-risk strategy, so you would have thought the government would want to use every policy tool at its disposal. Far from it.
Its main weapon is the renewables obligation scheme. This requires generators to produce a minimum percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. But the industry is falling short. Last year, the obligation in England and Wales amounted to 7.9% of electricity from renewables but only 5.1% was delivered. If that trend continues, we will reach 14% by 2020 — not even halfway to the target.
If the supply side isn’t working, why not ramp up customer demand? Until recently, this was encouraged, and many consumers (including big companies) paid a premium for green power.
Last year, however, the government began telling householders and business customers alike that, even though they had binding contracts to buy renewable electricity, often at a premium, they should consider it to be no different to “grid-average” electricity — that is, no different in carbon terms from the rest of the power on the grid. The rule is included in the new guidelines on carbon reporting for firms, which become mandatory by 2012.
Many blue-chip companies, such as B&Q, Barclays, BT, M&S and Vodafone, have not only placed contracts for renewable electricity but have set and published targets for CO2 reduction that depend on green tariffs as part of a mix of carbon-reducing measures.
Some companies, including Aviva, the insurance giant, say they will no longer pay a premium for green tariffs. What’s the point, if it’s just counted as grid-average?
A word of warning. Any firms unaware of this muddle will still find electricity companies more than happy to charge a premium for renewable electricity even though the government says it doesn’t exist. One would have thought Ofgem, the regulator, would step in, but it’s no more interested in this than it is in many other aspects of renewable energy.
The government’s stance is based on three factors. First, its view that customer demand, even where a premium is paid, doesn’t incentivise more investment in renewables. Second, that because renewables receive a subsidy raised through a hidden levy in our electricity bills, the benefits should be shared by all customers. Third, that renewables are already accounted for in the “grid-average” carbon intensity and treating them separately would amount to “double counting”.
I have some sympathy for the government’s position, yet I fear it will lead inexorably to the demise of the green electricity market. If the rules don’t change, even the most committed of green companies will simply buy the cheapest electricity, irrespective of how it’s been generated, as will government departments, local authorities, hospitals, schools and so on.
Given how much of a stretch the targets are for 2020, this is plain stupid, and I find it mystifying that ministers seem to have no clue about what they’ve done.
The author chaired the Sustainable Development Commission for nine years until July. He has also been director of Friends of the Earth

A sudden whiff of optimism amid the CO2 in the air

Charles Clover

The circus is coming. Seventy days to go and already all the hotel rooms in Copenhagen are taken for December’s climate change conference. People are even planning to stay in Malmo, Sweden, and travel in by train. The conference organisers are wondering how they can handle a record 540 applications for side events. Meanwhile, the world’s airlines’ fuel use is about to revert to pre-recession levels to get thousands of delegates to the festivities — which are, ironically, all about cutting carbon dioxide emissions.
It seems an apt time to consider what progress the human race is making towards safeguarding its habitat from dangerous changes brought on by its own activities. Between the signing of the United Nations climate treaty by George Bush Sr in 1992 and Copenhagen, many lungfuls of hot air have been expended on the need to tackle climate change. The reality is, as Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, put it last week: “The world’s glaciers are melting faster than human progress to protect them — or us.”
If you were a cynic, you would conclude that the best efforts of politicians to date have been far too little to avert degradation of the planet. Although rivers, nationally, can improve, as we saw from an Environment Agency report last week, when it comes to the global commons — the air, the seas and often the forests, which aren’t really owned by anyone — there always seems to be a reason to back the vested interests while claiming to be doing the green thing.
Last week’s most galling example of green cynicism was offered by Nicolas Sarkozy, who told us in July he could not stand by and allow Europe’s most endangered fish, the bluefin tuna, to become extinct. Yet last Monday France sided with the European Union’s Mediterranean nations and blocked a ban on the tuna trade. Sarkozy’s volte-face seems uniquely snake-like because it happened so soon after the president had promised the opposite. But one should not forget other brazen examples of duplicity. A prime one is our own government’s admission that it could not meet its manifesto commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2010, because the steps it would have to take might damage its chances of re-election.
Cynicism in politics is contagious and has haunted climate politics since the United States repudiated the Kyoto climate treaty in 2001. But optimism can be contagious, too, and this looks like the best time for optimism for at least a decade. The statement by Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, that China will curb the growth in its emissions could be the first sign that the tectonic plates of the post-Kyoto political world are shifting.
Because China is a developing country, Hu only has to promise to curb the rate of growth of carbon emissions, rather than cut the existing total, to be seen as a player in these negotiations. Those are the rules and that is what he has done. The United States has always tied its participation in a climate treaty to parallel action by its competitors, the Chinese. The good news is that now, at last, the conditions under which America could sign a post-Kyoto treaty are being met.
Other encouraging signs are the number of senior people who are going to Copenhagen. Tony Blair stayed at home and sent John Prescott to Kyoto. Bill Clinton did the same, dispatching Al Gore. But this December Gordon Brown is booked to go to Copenhagen and while Barack Obama hasn’t yet mentioned attendance, at least that means there is a chance he will be there. Even more encouragingly, Obama’s negotiators are up to speed with a complex plot, when many feared they would not be.
Another reason for hoping there might be a sensible outcome at Copenhagen is that an astonishing level of consensus exists across the world on the structure of a long-overdue agreement to avert the destruction of the tropical forests. If the United States enters the global carbon trading system in Copenhagen, there will be massive sums of money available to buy up areas of forest to prevent deforestation. Just imagine what would happen if every company in the US economy had to buy carbon credits on a global market as a matter of course. That’s some pot of money.
Could the world be slouching towards a time when its politicians will no longer be cynics over saving the environment? Certainly there is still a way to go. The proposed cuts in emissions thought possible in Copenhagen are way below the levels needed to prevent a “dangerous” 2C rise in global temperature.
If a global deal was done, who knows what might happen? All sorts of breakthroughs, technological and financial, would ensue. What matters most at Copenhagen is the inclusion once again of the United States in a global effort to tackle climate change — and it is there to be grasped. If that were to happen, we could all afford to be a little more optimistic.

Obama chooses his words to dodge any deeds

Irwin Stelzer: American account

Veni, vidi, dixi. That about describes President Obama’s week. Five, count them, five Sunday morning talk shows, a comedy talk show on Monday, followed by talks at an international conference on climate change, at the UN General Assembly to apologise for America's sins before he moved into the Oval Office, at a session on nuclear disarmament, at the Security Council, and at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. To be followed by talks with the Iranians, on their terms, later this week.
On the global warming front the president for once used his ability to disguise policy with rhetoric in a constructive way. He promised an end to American obstruction to international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and then refused to sign on to legally binding international treaties to do just that. Instead, he laid out his plans to subsidise green energy, and encourage a shift from the oil-based internal combustion engine to electric cars.
Never mind that he failed to mention just where all that new electricity would come from, or that much of the subsidy money would be wasted. A small price to pay for avoiding the sort of binding commitments that might slow the economic recovery. This year has seen a sharp drop in CO2 emissions, largely because shuttered factories don’t produce any — or anything else, including jobs. And jobs win elections, emissions reductions do not.
On the trade front the president and his G20 partners, representing about 90% of world GDP and almost that large a portion of world trade, and set to replace the G8 as the important policy body, once again extolled the virtues of free trade before rushing home to adopt still more protectionist measures. Obama’s decision to load a 35% tariff on low-end tyres imported from China pleased the steelworkers’ union (to which tyre makers belong), to ban Mexican trucks from US roads pleased the teamsters’ union, and to allow Buy American provisions in the stimulus package pleased the construction unions. But not his G20 partners, who fear that a wave of protectionism is about to roll over US trade policy as other unions ready their pleas for protection.
Not that the other members of the group come with clean hands: China continues to undervalue its currency and make it hard for US firms to crack its markets, and the EU maintains barriers to the industries in which America has a competitive advantage — aircraft, audio-visual products and agriculture. The outlook is not bright for free trade.
Nor are the prospects for the rebalancing of the world economy looking anything other than grim. All parties to these international soirées are agreed that China and Germany, among others, must rely less on exports, and Americans must cut their consumption of imported goods to reduce the flood of dollars hitting world markets.
But China refuses to do more than talk about creating a social safety net that would persuade its citizens they need not save as much as 50% of their income, and can safely spend on their factories’ output. And it has no intention of allowing the value of the renminbi to rise. And Chancellor Angela Merkel had made it clear that she will do nothing to persuade Germany’s consumers to spend more: she plans to rely on its export industries to fuel its economic recovery.
Meanwhile, instead of applauding US consumers for finally increasing their savings rate from zero to 5% of income, the government is inducing them to spend. Cash-for-clunkers brought a spate of spending on cars; tax rebates encourage the purchase of homes; banks are pressured to increase lending; and interest rates are kept so low that a $10,000 money market account earns about 86 cents per month. Not a strong inducement to save for a rainy day.
The bright spot comes in the consensus that is forming about the future of the financial sector. Bank pay is to be restructured in a more or less sensible direction, with bonuses more in shares than in cash, and based on long-term performance rather than short-term gains. Required bank capital is to be related to the risk profile of the institution, those too big to fail will have to have proportionately more capital than their smaller competitors, and neither compensation nor dividends will be allowed to deplete needed capital.
There won’t be an all-powerful global regulator (good thing), but there will be greater co-ordination of regulations and an attempt by high-taxing countries to put what they call tax havens out of business. Every country’s economic policies will be subject to “peer review” to check its sustainability, but luckily there is no mechanism with which the inevitable attacks on the US market system can become effective. Contrary to most pundits, God, not the devil, is in the details. He is too busy to attend to international money changers, so we will see whether the finance ministers can convert these principles into workable regulatory and policy tools.
Finally, there is some good news on the exit strategy front. Politicians are naturally cautious about withdrawing the various stimulus measures when unemployment remains high. In America, without government support there would be no mortgage market, and in Britain without government support there might be no banking sector. But at least in America there is more than mere talk of exit strategies. Treasury secretary Tim Geithner is withdrawing some of the props he and his predecessor placed under money funds and banks, and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has begun to pull back on interventions designed to keep interest rates near zero.
Banks have begun to repay their government loans, and raise capital from private investors. With banks loaded with commercial property loans that will not be repaid, and defaults on consumer credit cards and home mortgages still well above historic levels, problems remain. But the G20 members have reason to congratulate themselves that the threat of systemic failure has passed, due in part to their co-ordinated actions, and in part to natural economic forces that do, after all, end cyclical downturns.
Irwin Stelzer is a business adviser and director of economic policy studies at the Hudson Institute

10:10 climate campaign gathers momentum

Actors, councils and big business sign up to movement to cut carbon emissions by 10%
Damian Carrington and David Adam
The Observer, Sunday 27 September 2009
The mobile phone giant O2, Manchester city council and In the Loop actor Peter Capaldi have become the latest big names to sign up to the 10:10 climate change campaign.
The campaign, supported by the Observer and the Guardian, requires participants to cut their carbon emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 and has grown rapidly since it was launched on 1 September at London's Tate Modern. It now has 20,000 individuals signed up, along with almost 1,000 businesses, 500 other bodies such as schools and hospitals, and Gordon Brown and his entire government and the shadow cabinet.
The 10:10 organisers hope that, by demonstrating that so many people want action on global warming, they can pressure Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, into committing the whole country to a big emissions cut and to deliver a strong global treaty at UN talks in Copenhagen in December.
Film-maker Franny Armstrong, who founded 10:10 and directed the eco-documentary The Age of Stupid, said: "We couldn't be more delighted that 10:10 has been so enthusiastically taken up across every sector of UK society. It's also looking like it will soon go global, as we're getting inundated with groups wanting to set up 10:10 Australia and 10:10 USA and everywhere in between.
"I think everyone can see that the time for talking is over and that, by joining 10:10, they are joining forces with everyone else who is ready to start getting on with actually solving the problem."
Ronan Dunne, O2's chief executive, said: "Joining 10:10 both underlines our commitment to reducing our carbon footprint even further and gives us access to a wealth of advice on how to help us achieve this. We urge other UK businesses to join." O2, which has 20 million customers and 11,000 employees, is also undertaking annual green audits by environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and will aim to improve the energy efficiency of its transmitter network, which accounts for 80% of its energy use.
Other new business recruits include two FTSE-100 heavyweights, the insurance company Aviva and the commercial property company Land Securities, as well as estate agents Knight Frank, pollsters Ipsos MORI and consulting engineers Atkins.
Manchester City Council is the biggest local authority to join 10:10. It follows 27 others, including Oxford, Coventry, Wirral and five London boroughs. Richard Leese, Manchester city council's leader, said: "Cutting our emissions by 10% in one year is a bold target, but we are confident we can achieve this, sending a message to other organisations that it is possible to make substantial reductions."
The new recruits to 10:10 join a formidable array of politicians, including Ed Miliband and 120 other MPs. Other notable supporters include the Royal Mail, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, the Cheshire police force and celebrities such as designer Stella McCartney.
What you can do
■ Pledge to cut your own emissions at
■ If you run a company, sign it up. If you work for a company, write to your bosses and ask them to join.
■ Help 10:10 spread its message by offering financial support at
■ Read more on the 10:10 campaign, the huge response so far and how to sign up at

How you can make your mortgage go green

By David Black
Saturday, 26 September 2009

While more people are now recycling their waste or shopping ethically, ecological considerations have not made much progress in mortgages. The average lender pays little more than lip service to green issues and, sometimes, not even that.
Green, or "ecological", mortgages are not yet widely available and the credit crunch has further delayed their expansion. But there are some notable players, principally the Ecology Building Society.
In terms of asset size, the Ecology – with £86m of assets at the end of 2008 – is only the 49th largest building society out of 52. However, in terms of ecological considerations, it is certainly doing far better than its peers.
Jon Lee, lending development officer at the Ecology, says: "Properties that the Society will lend on have to meet certain standards of ecological quality, or carry with them a strong case ecologically in terms of planned refurbishment, renovation or conversion.
"It's not just about encouraging efficiency in new build, but also about making the best of the stock of housing we already have by improvements."
There are a variety of ways that a property might be considered eco-friendly, including the use of materials from renewable sources or reclaimed bricks from a demolished property; the installation of solar panels or heat recovery systems to reduce energy and resource usage; and the use of water recycling and non-petrochemical based paints and finishes to minimise pollution.
Some of the other "green mortgage" providers concentrate on offsetting carbon imprints rather than promoting ecologically friendly enhancements to housing.
The Norwich & Peterborough Building Society will plant 40 trees if someone takes out one of its three green mortgages, which comprise two four-year discounted products and, for self-build properties, a five-year fixed rate mortgage.
The Co-operative Bank funds Climate Care projects on behalf of its mortgage customers. These projects, such as the re-forestation of the Kibale National Park in Uganda and the provision of more efficient cooking stoves in Cambodia, are designed to reduce carbon dioxide and help offset the emissions by their mortgage customers. The bank calculates what a fifth of the emissions are for the average property in the UK, and, for each mortgage taken out from its entire range of mortgages, will make a donation offsetting that emission amount.
Beyond that, many banks and building societies have corporate strategies unrelated to their individual products. For example, the Chelsea Building Society reduced its energy consumption by 15 per cent in 2008, which equated to a reduction of 577 tonnes of C02.
For the borrower, one of the downsides facing the more widespread use of green mortgages is the small number of lenders that offer such products. This means the choice available may not always be as competitive in terms of interest rates payable as non-green mortgages. This downside can be minimised, in terms of offsetting carbon imprints, by using the no-fees broker London & Country Mortgages, which will plant 50 trees in Africa for each mortgage taken out through them. The advantage of London & Country is that it can advise on all the mortgages available through intermediaries and this massively expands the choice of mortgages available.
An expansion in the number of providers offering either green or carbon offset mortgages will happen, but the worldwide financial malaise has been responsible for stalling any such growth during the past couple of years. When such financial restrictions ease we are likely to see more providers offering green mortgages. However, without government intervention it is likely to remain a niche area for the immediate future.
David Black is a banking analyst at Defaqto.

Greenhouse effects: E-Cloth

Tony Juniper
Over recent decades, the amount of chemical pollution discharged into the air, sea and rivers from industry has been cut dramatically. At the same time, however, the quantity and variety of chemicals used in our homes has mushroomed — much of it in the form of cleaning products.
These can find their way into the environment by various means: via the drains, or what is left on packaging when it is sent to landfill. Manufacturing them also requires energy and natural resources. In addition, our increased exposure to chemicals (and modern superclean homes) may at least partly explain the recent rise in allergies.
One product that could cut down the need for cleaning products is the E-cloth, which works without detergent. The general-purpose cloth will remove dirt, grease and bacteria from all hard surfaces, including stainless steel, glass, marble, ceramic, granite, chrome, wood and plastic. All you have to do is moisten it with water and, when you’ve finished, wash it out and use it again. The manufacturer guarantees it for 300 washes; a separate polishing cloth is used to remove any smears and is especially good on glass.
We find it particularly good on the stainless-steel panel at the back of the cooker, and for removing limescale from various surfaces in the bathroom — including the glass shower screen.
A variety of E-cloths are available, depending on the job at hand. There are packs designed for kitchens and bathrooms, and packs for windows.
The manufacturers say that every square centimetre of E-cloth has nearly half a million fibres, each of which is 1% of the width of a human hair. The edges of these break down and pick up the dirt and grease.
The multipurpose E-cloth costs £4.88 (£13.69 for a pack of four).
If, as the manufacturers suggest, you cut cleaning-product use by 90%, this could save you up to £100 a year. Even if it’s less than that, it means fewer chemical products being made and less chemical residue discharged into the sewers — which has to be a good thing.
Tony Juniper is an environmental campaigner and former director of Friends of the Earth;

The man behind Green & Black’s chocolate wants to save the planet – with charcoal

Craig Sams made his fortune – and changed our eating habits – with Green & Black's chocolate. Now he has his sights set on saving the Earth... using soil. Rhiannon Harries meets the eco entrepreneur at his kiln to find out how
Sunday, 27 September 2009


Booking my ticket to Hastings to visit Craig Sams, I notice a link on the train operator's website that allows me to check the carbon footprint of my trip. It's a fitting start to a journey to meet one of the foremost pioneers of the green movement – not least because the latest endeavour of the man who brought the macrobiotic diet to Britain and made organic chocolate one of the most fashionable foodstuffs of the past decade is an ambitious global carbon-capturing initiative that may hold part of the answer to climate change.
Sams, now 65, decamped to the Sussex town from west London full-time with his journalist wife Josephine Fairley, 52, eight years ago, as they were slowly disentangling themselves from Green & Black's, the enormously successful organic, Fair Trade chocolate brand they founded together in 1991. In the time that Sams and Fairley owned the company, they managed to change the taste of a nation, convincing consumers weaned on insipid milk chocolate that the bittersweet delights of their rich, cocoa-heavy offering were a more sophisticated, not to mention ethical and healthy, choice.
For some, the multi-million-pound sale might have been the beginning of a comfortable retirement, but neither is the sort to rest on their laurels. Long before the deal was completed, the pair was already knee-deep in a new project, Judges, an organic bakery in Hastings Old Town, which was soon followed by the Wellington Square wellness centre, turning the seaside town into something of a healthy-living destination.
"I still think that introducing the macrobiotic diet with my brother through our shop and restaurant and Seed – a journal of organic living – was the most important thing I ever did," Sams says of his wide-ranging influence. "But ultimately we haven't been anywhere near as successful as McDonald's. And that's depressing. Mind you, nobody ever subsidised brown rice and vegetables, yet the organic market keeps on growing, because people really do care about these issues." '
Home is a three-storey Georgian town house, a few hundred yards up the winding street on which Judges sits. Its gorgeously imperfect interior is stuffed with objects and furniture that suggest a life well lived. It is not, however, the kind of place one would necessarily expect Britain's premier green couple to inhabit. Colourful and cluttered, there is none of the austerity that one might imagine to be the reality of saintly eco-living.
But then, a large part of the success Sams and Fairley have had might be attributed to the combination of exactly this brand of bohemian glamour with an area that sometimes risks being perceived as worthily dry.
Nebraska-born Sams' groovy, counter-culture credentials go back to the 1960s, when he and his brother Gregory opened Seed, the UK's first macrobiotic restaurant and shop, on London's Portobello Road, attracting a mixed crowd of hippies and wealthy Holland Park denizens.
Around the same time, Sams imported a few hundred Afghan coats that he had spotted on his travels in Asia to sell on Chelsea's King's Road. Among the first takers were the Beatles, and the rest is fashion history. His gift for anticipating, if not creating, the zeitgeist is almost preternatural.
Later he would bring organic peanut butter and baked beans to the consumer market with his Whole Earth Foods range, and transform the British Soil Association from a sleepy, minor charity into the UK's leading organic organisation in his exceptional three-term tenure as chairman.
Fairley has also led what might be considered a pretty extraordinary life. Made Britain's youngest magazine editor at 23 (at Look Now, a women's title), she has carved out a career as a highly respected beauty journalist and author in an area of the industry not known for its candour or integrity.
She also happens to have been best friends with the late Paula Yates, and remains close to Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches and Pixie – Yates' three daughters with Bob Geldof – and Tiger Lily, whose father was the singer Michael Hutchence.
On the morning I visit, the Sams-Fairley household is a hive of activity, although I get the impression that this is just an average day by their standards. As Sams makes tea for us in their cosy kitchen ("soya or non-homogenised cow's milk?"), two willowy young girls and an even willowier young man swirl through the kitchen, making breakfast and proffering almond croissants from Judges. One of the girls is Fairley's assistant – the couple both work from home – and the other two, it transpires, are Peaches Geldof's flatmates, over from New York.
Sams takes it all in his stride. Handsome, tall and tanned in an unconsidered, outdoorsy way, if you didn't know who he was you might take a stab with Hollywood actor or a former rock star – although he has aged far better than the excesses associated with either career would have allowed.
On the contrary, he is a flesh-and-blood advertisement for macrobiotic living. He swims in the sea daily in all but the coldest months and tells me he hasn't seen a doctor since 1965 – the year some friends converted him to the macrobiotic principle of eating less and from lower down the food chain.
He is charismatic in an unselfconscious way, but his laid-back manner belies a fierce intellect and an ability to range engagingly across lofty ideas and practical minutiae, which become apparent when we sit down in Sams' back garden to discuss the latest commercial venture firing his imagination, Carbon Gold.
Set up in partnership with the former music promoter and Sams' fellow eco-entrepreneur Dan Morrell, Carbon Gold is a company with a bold plan to get farmers around the world transforming their agricultural waste – which would otherwise be burned or left to rot, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – into a type of charcoal known as "biochar". Produced by heating plant matter in the absence of oxygen, biochar is essentially a stable form of raw carbon, which can be used to fertilise soil.
Simply as a low-cost, organic means of regenerating degraded farmland, it represents an exciting development. But it is its potential as a means of sequestering carbon, reducing carbon-dioxide emissions and slowing climate change that could have the greatest impact on the future of the planet.
The project is the crystallisation of something that has been on Sams' mind, both consciously and subconsciously, for many years: "I was born on a farm," he explains. "When my great-grandfather first ploughed that land in Nebraska, there were 40 to 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare; there are now five. When I went back there to visit at 12 years old, I remember being appalled to see these huge gullies where hills had been eroded – gaping holes where there had been soil. Back then I didn't understand what soil was, but soil is carbon. And all that carbon was just being ploughed away."
Sams' eureka moment arrived decades later, around the time of the Green & Black's sale, when he read about an ancient technique used by pre-Columbian native Americans to enrich the poor soils of the rainforest in Charles ' C Mann's 1491, a history of the Americas before the arrival of the Italian explorers. That practice was the production and burial of biochar, and its legacy can still be witnessed today in the Amazon basin in the form of swathes of fertile, black earth known as terra preta.
"Suddenly, I thought, 'Golly!'" recounts Sams, full of renewed enthusiasm at the memory. "Instead of organic farmers putting 10 tonnes of compost onto an acre and 90 per cent of that going back into the atmosphere as CO2 in five years' time, and the remaining 10 per cent being gradually lost with every ploughing, here is a way that you can take 10 tonnes of biomass [plant material], reduce it to carbon, put that in the soil and most of it will stay there for an indefinite period.
"I had already got into the idea of re-carbonisation of soil in the mid-1990s when I took Whole Earth organic corn flakes carbon-neutral by planting trees, which was primitive but genuine, and we discovered that the carbon footprint of our corn flakes was much lower simply by virtue of them being organic. We found that the carbon content of the soil they were farmed on increased incrementally every year, whereas the carbon content of non-organically farmed soil decreases incrementally.
"Then I read the book and it knitted it all together and I suddenly saw that this was a very elegant way to draw together all these threads. It ramped up the potential not just for organic farming, but for all agriculture to reverse the loss of carbon from soils."
The beauty of the scheme, as Sams sees it, is that it could turn the futuristic concept of carbon capture and storage into a low-tech, low-cost reality that can be rolled out to every corner of the earth. "Our view is that small is beautiful and lots of small-scale processing of biomass is the way forward," he says. "We've looked at all the technologies out there and we found that actually you can get a biochar yield of up to 35 per cent of your biomass with very simple, cheap technologies that you can put all over the place – so it would be fine for cocoa farmers or olive growers, for example.
"It's not big, shiny steel stuff – the units cost a few thousand pounds or less, and it's lower-temperature technology that is cleaner and much easier for a farmer to operate. You don't need a degree in engineering to keep it from exploding or catching fire. So that's why we've chosen this route."
Later in the day I see the rough-and-ready reality for myself at the kiln that Sams and Morrell have built in a clearing near the former's smallholding on the outskirts of Hastings. An unprepossessing brick structure chugging out steam, it certainly doesn't look like the future of Earth might depend upon it, but it's here that two of Sams' employees have been gathering data and perfecting the efficiency of the technique.
We return reeking of smoke and I can see why Fairley has chosen not to get involved in Carbon Gold, concentrating instead on her latest books – a re-edition of The Green Beauty Bible and a new title called Beauty Steals.
"It's man make fire," she laughs. "I think it is a brilliant idea, it's genius, and it is weird having Craig do something that I am not involved in, but in this case I really don't think I bring anything to the party. Except maybe a damp rag."
Sams has no such reservations as he proudly scoops up handfuls of the fine black powder for me to inspect. The previous weekend his charcoal even took centre stage at a dinner party as the special ingredient – replacing squid ink in a risotto nero.
Sams and Morrell are now pinning their hopes on December's UN climate talks in Copenhagen, which will determine whether biochar is officially recognised as a way of cutting carbon emissions under the Kyoto protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. If so, it will eventually lead to its qualification for carbon credits, as part of a global carbon-trading scheme that allows countries such as the UK to sponsor carbon-reduction schemes to offset their own emissions.
Although Sams is confident that the Carbon Gold business model stands up on its agricultural value as a fertiliser alone, biochar's inclusion in the carbon- trading scheme would be a huge economic incentive for farmers around the globe to adopt it along with other organic practices. It's a move that Sams considers essential in battling climate change. "The biggest single cost of industrial farming is its contribution to global warming, and up until 1980, half of all greenhouse-gas emissions came from agriculture. Since then they have gone up; it's just that industrial emissions have gone up faster [which is why the focus of the world's media has been there]."
Biochar is not without its critics, however. Nick Rau, an energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, tells me that "although there is potential there, we are advising an approach of absolute caution in the face of what might be another fake solution, of the sort we've seen with biofuels".
The two main problems as Rau sees it are a lack of long-term research into the area and, as in the case of biofuels, the possibility that commercial interests might lead to vast areas of land being given over to cultivating dedicated crops for the production of biochar, threatening food production and access for indigenous peoples.
Sams, who has long been staunchly opposed to bio- fuels, rules out the possibility of dedicated biomass cultivation. "The potential to do that is there, but we're nervous about it," he says. "If you start driving people off the land to produce super-fast-growing bamboo for biochar, it all becomes very counter-productive. And our crunching of the numbers shows that at that sort of scale you need a disproportionately high capital investment."
He admits that research is still in its early stages, but points out that from Iowa to New South Wales, "any university that has an agriculture department is now working within its area on applications of biochar for agriculture". Carbon Gold itself already has two projects under way – one at Sams' kiln and the other in Belize – and two weeks ago 12 PhD students began work on biochar-related subjects at the University of Edinburgh's UK Biochar Research Centre.
Of course, a little controversy should hold no fear for a man whose attempts to popularise healthy, sustainable eating were initially met with a Reader's Digest cover that screamed, "The Hippie Diet That's Killing Our Kids".
"Everything I have ever done has had an element of controversy about it," reflects Sams sanguinely. "You weather that kind of criticism. Gandhi said that when you come up with a new idea first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they abuse you, and then they do what you are doing."
In 2005 Sams sold Green & Black's, somewhat controversially, to confectionery giant Cadbury for a reported £20m. I ask whether the decision to sell the company felt contentious in a slightly different way, since it was a move perceived by some as a surrender to the status quo rather than a break away from it – and whether he feels that his credibility has since suffered as a result.
"Oh, I'm sure it did. You know, capitalist, sold-out, millionaire – I have had the word 'millionaire' used as an epithet now a couple of times. It's as relevant as blonde or dyslexic, but it is somehow acceptable.
"When we sold to Cadbury, the happiest people were our cocoa farmers because they'd had this relationship with a company who they knew had had shaky times and now they were in bed with the world's biggest confectionery company, who had agreed to honour all our agreements and could do so in a much more precise, professional way.
"That was my emotional satisfaction if you like, not the fact that we were an upstart company kicking Cadbury in the shins – although I guess there was an element of that. You engage with the world, and if you don't, you marginalise yourself, which satisfies the people who want to see you marginalised."
It is the same philosophy which underpins Sams' belief that the popularisation – for which he is partly responsible – of organic and Fair Trade products as a kind of trendy, bourgeois lifestyle accessory is a positive development rather than a frivolous distraction from a serious issue.
"If somebody buys a bar of Green & Black's because it tastes good or because they want to flash it at a dinner party, that's fine. At the end of the day, as long as the product is authentic, the benefits find their way through to the producers and the environment. Lots of things that are groovy are also extravagant and unnecessary, and I would rather people got their self-esteem from shopping at Daylesford and Whole Foods than buying a Ferrari.
"Softly softly, catchee monkey. Every little incremental lifestyle change makes a difference. It's like the idea of meat-free Mondays – you can't exhort people to make a complete lifestyle change over night, but once they realise, 'Hey, it's Tuesday and I'm still alive,' it's not such a challenge after all."
The small changes make a big difference for Sams, but with Carbon Gold, the possibility of solving the planet's greatest problems begins on an infinitesimal scale. Listening to him wax lyrical about the evolution of soil funghi and bacteria that he has been learning about in his biochar research, it's as gripping as if he were imparting the secrets of the universe. Probably because that is exactly how he sees it.
"Kenneth Williams once played a gardener in a radio comedy series whose response to everything was, 'The answer lies in the soil.' But if you really drill into it and ask 'The answer to what question?', then that question is, 'What is the meaning of life?' It's not like people haven't understood bits of it already, but now that I am into it, it's as exciting to me as discovering the new world was for Christopher Columbus."
In the excitement stakes, charcoal and soil might not be up there with chocolate, afghan coats or even brown rice, but if Craig Sams finds them thrilling now, it might not be too long before the rest of us discover a similar fascination.
'The Story of Green & Blacks: How Two Entrepreneurs Turned an Ethical Idea into a Business Success', by Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley, is published by Random House at £8.99

Home insulation project to ease global warming heading for meltdown

Published Date: 27 September 2009
By David Maddox
A HIGH-profile campaign at the heart of the Scottish Government's campaign to bring down damaging carbon emissions is in meltdown just six months after it begun, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Questions about the Home Insulation Scheme have shown that government officials believe that it will now take 66 years to bring all Scotland's homes up to a minimum standard – 25 years after it is supposed to have reduced CO2 emissions by 80 per cent. They also show that the Scottish Government will miss UK targets to insulate new homes and no house will be insulated until the middle of winter in December.The scheme was set up with an initial £15 million in the last budget to kickstart provision of insulation to homes across Scotland and was supposed to provide help for 90,000 homes over the next two years. It was finance secretary John Swinney's cut-price response to a Green proposal for a £1 billion scheme to insulate all homes free of charge over a decade, replicating a successful scheme by Kirklees Council in Yorkshire.The rejected Green scheme would have reduced emissions by 5.85 per cent every year, helping Scotland reaching its tough national target of 42 per cent by 2020. Ministers now admit that their programme will at best achieve 0.7 per cent of reductions a year.The Greens' scheme would have also supported 4,700 jobs and saved households an average of £340 a year in heating costs.The dispute between the two parties on the scheme was one of the reasons that the budget was dramatically voted down at the first attempt in February.And in the end Swinney only offered £15 million for it and made it a loans scheme instead of one which was free of charge.At the time the Greens claimed that the SNP's scheme would fail because it maintained barriers of people having to pay and ask for insulation which stopped many homes being adapted.Now they claim their worst fears have come true with written answers revealing the scheme is in chaos.Civil servants have admitted they have only found £750,000 of the £15m match funding to pay for the scheme and the loans scheme has not been set up after six months of waiting.Ministers have also admitted that more than one third of the £15m of government money will go on administration and not all the remaining £9.5m will be spent on energy efficiency measures. Scottish ministers also admit they will not meet the UK government's 2015 target on insulation.Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "We always feared that the Scottish Government's scheme was being set up to fail, but the flaws with it are now clearly on a scale beyond even our worst fears. It seems that ministers are more concerned about justifying their political decision not to support Green proposals than actually providing insulation to cut people's bills."Their scheme makes just a seventh of the investment we proposed, but it's fourteen times less effective at cutting carbon and cutting people's bills."He added: "Ministers promised parliament that their scheme would entice a matching £15m from partner organisations, but they now admit that just a twentieth of that will actually arrive. Will they now at least make up the difference?"MPUMinCharsCutOff:210 PageLength:3034MPUPositionFromStart:250 MPUPositionRange:1000hasVideoOrImage:False--->