Sunday, 29 November 2009

The great climate change science scandal

Leaked emails have revealed the unwillingness of climate change scientists to engage in a proper debate with the sceptics who doubt global warming
Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor
The storm began with just four cryptic words. “A miracle has happened,” announced a contributor to Climate Audit, a website devoted to criticising the science of climate change.
“RC” said nothing more — but included a web link that took anyone who clicked on it to another site, Real Climate.
There, on the morning of November 17, they found a treasure trove: a thousand or so emails sent or received by Professor Phil Jones, director of the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.
Jones is a key player in the science of climate change. His department’s databases on global temperature changes and its measurements have been crucial in building the case for global warming.

What those emails suggested, however, was that Jones and some colleagues may have become so convinced of their case that they crossed the line from objective research into active campaigning.
In one, Jones boasted of using statistical “tricks” to obliterate apparent declines in global temperature. In another he advocated deleting data rather than handing them to climate sceptics. And in a third he proposed organised boycotts of journals that had the temerity to publish papers that undermined the message.
It was a powerful and controversial mix — far too powerful for some. Real Climate is a website designed for scientists who share Jones’s belief in man-made climate change. Within hours the file had been stripped from the site.
Several hours later, however, it reappeared — this time on an obscure Russian server. Soon it had been copied to a host of other servers, first in Saudi Arabia and Turkey and then Europe and America.
What’s more, the anonymous poster was determined not to be stymied again. He or she posted comments on climate-sceptic blogs, detailing a dozen of the best emails and offering web links to the rest. Jones’s statistical tricks were now public property.
Steve McIntyre, a prominent climate sceptic, was amazed. “Words failed me,” he said. Another, Patrick Michaels, declared: “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud.”
Inevitably, the affair became nicknamed Climategate. For the scientists, campaigners and politicians trying to rouse the world to action on climate change the revelations could hardly have come at a worse time. Next month global leaders will assemble in Copenhagen to seek limits on carbon emissions. The last thing they need is renewed doubts about the validity of the science.
The scandal has also had a huge personal and professional impact on the scientists. “These have been the worst few days of my professional life,” said Jones. He had to call on the police for protection after receiving anonymous phone calls and personal threats.
Why should a few emails sent to and from a single research scientist at a middle-ranking university have so much impact? And most importantly, what does it tell us about the quality of the research underlying the science of climate change?
THE hacking scandal is not an isolated event. Instead it is the latest round of a long-running battle over climate science that goes back to 1990.
That was when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the group of scientists that advises governments worldwide — published its first set of reports warning that the Earth faced deadly danger from climate change. A centrepiece of that report was a set of data showing how the temperature of the northern hemisphere was rising rapidly.
The problem was that the same figures showed that it had all happened before. The so-called medieval warm period of about 1,000 years ago saw Britain covered in vineyards and Viking farmers tending cows in Greenland. For any good scientist this raised a big question: was the recent warming linked to humans burning fossil fuels or was it part of a natural cycle?
The researchers set to work and in 1999 a group led by Professor Michael Mann, a climatologist at Pennsylvania State University, came up with new numbers showing that the medieval warm period was not so important after all.
Some bits of the Atlantic may have been warm for a while, but the records suggested that the Pacific had been rather chilly over the same period — so on average there was little change.
Plotted out, Mann’s data turned into the famous “hockey stick” graph. It showed northern hemisphere temperatures as staying flat for hundreds of years and then rising steeply from 1900 until now. The implication was that this rise would continue, with potentially deadly consequences for humanity.
That vision of continents being hit by droughts and floods while the Arctic melts away has turned a scientific debate into a highly emotional and political one. The language used by “warmists” and sceptics alike has become increasingly polarised.
George Monbiot, widely respected as a writer on green issues, has branded doubters “climate deniers”, a phrase uncomfortably close to holocaust denial. Sceptics, particularly in America, have suggested that scientists who believe in climate change are part of a global left-wing conspiracy to divert billions of dollars into green technology.
A more cogent criticism is that there has been a reluctance to acknowledge dissent on the question of climate science. Al Gore, the former US vice-president turned green campaigner, has described the climate debate as “settled”. Yet the science, say critics, has not been tested to the limit. This is why the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia is so significant.
Its researchers have built up records of how temperatures have changed over thousands of years. Perhaps the most important is the land and sea temperature record for the world since the mid-19th century. This is the database that shows the “unequivocal” rise of 0.8C over the last 157 years on which Mann’s hockey stick and much else in climate science depend.
Some critics believe that the unit’s findings need to be treated with more caution, because all the published data have been “corrected” — meaning they have been altered to compensate for possible anomalies in the way they were taken. Such changes are normal; what’s controversial is how they are done. This is compounded by the unwillingness of the unit to release the original raw data.
David Holland, an engineer from Northampton, is one of a number of sceptics who believe the unit has got this process wrong. When he submitted a request for the figures under freedom of information laws he was refused because it was “not in the public interest”.
Others who made similar requests were turned down because they were not academics, among them McIntyre, a Canadian who runs the Climate Audit website.
A genuine academic, Ross McKitrick, professor of economics at the University of Guelph in Canada, also tried. He said: “I was rejected for an entirely different reason. The [unit] told me they had obtained the data under confidentiality agreements and so could not supply them. This was odd because they had already supplied some of them to other academics, but only those who support the idea of climate change.”
IT was against this background that the emails were leaked last week, reinforcing suspicions that scientific objectivity has been sacrificed. There is unease even among researchers who strongly support the idea that humans are changing the climate. Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: “Over the last decade there has been a very political battle between the climate sceptics and activist scientists.
“It seems to me that the scientists have lost touch with what they were up to. They saw themselves as in a battle with the sceptics rather than advancing scientific knowledge.”
Professor Mike Hulme, a fellow researcher of Jones at the University of East Anglia and author of Why We Disagree About Climate Change, said: “The attitudes revealed in the emails do not look good. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organisation within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.”
There could, however, be another reason why the unit rejected requests to see its data.
This weekend it emerged that the unit has thrown away much of the data. Tucked away on its website is this statement: “Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites ... We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (ie, quality controlled and homogenised) data.”
If true, it is extraordinary. It means that the data on which a large part of the world’s understanding of climate change is based can never be revisited or checked. Pielke said: “Can this be serious? It is now impossible to create a new temperature index from scratch. [The unit] is basically saying, ‘Trust us’.”
WHERE does this leave the climate debate? While the overwhelming belief of scientists is that the world is getting warmer and that humanity is responsible, sceptical voices are increasing.
Lord Lawson, the Tory former chancellor, announced last week the creation of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank, to “bring reason, integrity and balance to a debate that has become seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist, and all too often depressingly intolerant”.
Lawson said: “Climate change is not being properly debated because all the political parties are on the same side, and there is an intolerance towards anybody who wants to debate it. It has turned climate change from being a political issue into a secular religion.”
The public are understandably confused. A recent poll showed that 41% accept as scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man-made, while 32% believe the link is unproven and 15% said the world is not warming.
This weekend many of Jones’s colleagues were standing by him. Tim Lenton, professor of earth system science at UEA, said: “We wouldn’t have anything like the understanding of climate change that we do were it not for the work of Phil Jones and his colleagues. They have spent decades putting together the historical temperature record and it is good work.”
The problem is that, after the past week, both sceptics and the public will require even more convincing of that.

Climate change: Gulf stream collapse could be like a disaster movie

Scientists predict an ice age could be provoked in a matter of months
Robin McKie, Science Editor
The Observer, Sunday 29 November 2009
The next Ice Age could take only weeks to engulf Britain. Scientists say the last great disruption to the Gulf Stream 12,800 years ago took only a couple of months to trigger a massive plunge in temperatures across Europe.
"It was as if Europe had been shifted 20 degrees north and Ireland moved to Svalbard," said Bill Patterson of Saskatchewan University.
In the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, an Ice Age was set off in a single day when the Gulf Stream was disrupted. "That is silly," said Patterson. "It couldn't happen that quickly. However, previous estimates that it would take decades to switch off the Gulf Stream are not backed by our work. It could happen in a couple of months."
The Gulf Stream carries tropical heat from the Caribbean to northern Europe but is already being disrupted by meltwater pouring from the Arctic as global warming intensifies. One day it may switch off completely, say scientists.
Such an event occurred 12,800 years ago when a vast lake – created from melting glaciers at the end of last Ice Age – overflowed and poured into the north Atlantic, blocking the Gulf Stream. Europe froze – almost instantly, said Patterson.
His team analysed mud samples from Lough Monreagh in Ireland and discovered layers of white sediment made up of calcite crystals from algae. "Then abruptly the sediment turned black. This stuff contained no biological material." In other words, all life in the lake had been extinguished in less than three months. "It was very sudden," added Patterson, "and it could happen again."

Climate change denier Nick Griffin to represent EU at Copenhagen

BNP leader who believes climate change activists are 'cranks' will be member of European parliament's delegation
Toby Helm
The Observer, Sunday 29 November 2009
Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National party, is to represent the European parliament at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, which opens next week.
Last night politicians and scientists reacted furiously to news that the far-right politician and climate change denier should be attending the summit on behalf of the EU.
Griffin, who was elected to the European parliament in June, confirmed last night that he would attend as the representative of the parliament's environmental committee. World leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, are hoping to forge a new global agreement to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Without such a deal, scientists warn that world temperatures will increase by more than 2C by the end of the century, triggering ice cap melting, sea-level rises, widespread flooding, the spread of deserts and devastating storms.
In a speech in the parliament last week, Griffin denounced those who warn of the consequences of climate change as "cranks". He said they had reached "an Orwellian consensus" that was "based not on scientific agreement, but on bullying, censorship and fraudulent statistics".
"The anti-western intellectual cranks of the left suffered a collective breakdown when communism collapsed. Climate change is their new theology… But the heretics will have a voice in Copenhagen and the truth will out. Climate change is being used to impose an anti-human utopia as deadly as anything conceived by Stalin or Mao."
Griffin will be one of 15 representatives chosen to speak on behalf of the EU in Copenhagen. The shadow climate change secretary, Greg Clark, condemned the move last night. "It is utterly ridiculous that someone who doesn't even believe in climate change should be seeking to represent Europe in Copenhagen. The BNP does not command the support of the people of Britain, let alone of the rest of Europe," he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "Membership of the European parliament's delegation to Copenhagen is a matter for the European parliament. Its delegates do not represent the UK government or its views. Nick Griffin will not be part of the UK delegation."
Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons environmental audit committee, said the decision to choose Griffin showed the "bizarre way" the parliament operated. He added: "If the future prosperity of the human race, in the face of climate change, depends on the contributions of people like Nick Griffin, there is little hope for any of us."
Professor Alan Thorpe, chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, said Griffin's claim that thousands of scientists dispute the existence of man-made global warming was simply not true. "The intergovernmental panel on climate change draws on the views of most of the world's leading climate scientists and they have been quite clear that the evidence shows, with a high degree of certainty, that human activities are now having a substantial effect on the climate. It is simply not the case that there is a substantial number who do not accept a link."
Bob Ward, of Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said: "Griffin denies the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. This appears to be driven by a dogmatic strand of right-wing ideology that opposes any form of environmental regulation, usually hidden behind the dishonest claim that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy."
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman and a former MEP, said the European parliament always divided up positions on such delegations according to the parliament's political balance. "Griffin was bound to get something at some stage. It is just a shame they didn't send him to Iceland instead."
Critics say Griffin addresses environmental issues when he believes he can use them to advance anti-immigration policies. His party claims that it would improve Britain's transport infrastructure and reduce carbon dioxide levels by reducing the number of immigrants in Britain using roads, cars, trains and buses.
Gerry Gable, publisher of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, said Griffin once tried to win over environmentalists in the 1980s. "His core beliefs – that the white race is being threatened by an invading minority – are the so-called principles that have run through his nasty career."

Western lifestyle unsustainable, says climate expert Rajendra Pachauri

Ahead of the Copenhagen summit, leading scientist and IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri warns of radical charges and regulation if global disaster is to be avoided

James Randerson
The Observer, Sunday 29 November 2009
Hotel guests should have their electricity monitored; hefty aviation taxes should be introduced to deter people from flying; and iced water in restaurants should be curtailed, the world's leading climate scientist has told the Observer.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that western society must undergo a radical value shift if the worst effects of climate change were to be avoided. A new value system of "sustainable consumption" was now urgently required, he said.
"Today we have reached the point where consumption and people's desire to consume has grown out of proportion," said Pachauri. "The reality is that our lifestyles are unsustainable."
Among the proposals highlighted by Pachauri were the suggestion that hotel guests should be made responsible for their energy use. "I don't see why you couldn't have a meter in the room to register your energy consumption from air-conditioning or heating and you should be charged for that," he said. "By bringing about changes of this kind, you could really ensure that people start becoming accountable for their actions."
Pachauri also proposed that governments use taxes on aviation to provide heavy subsidies for other forms of transport. "We should make sure there is a huge difference between the cost of flying and taking the train," he said. Despite the fact that there is often little benefit in time and convenience in short-haul flights, he said people were still making the "irrational" choice to fly. Taxation should be used to discourage them.
He dismissed suggestions that the actions he was advocating were insignificant next to the decisions that would be made at the UN's climate summit which opens in Copenhagen in seven days' time. "In a democracy, governments will ultimately respond to what the people want," he said. "If the people have a strong desire which can be demonstrated through their actions, as well as their vote at the time of elections, you can bring about a major shift in policy."
Pachauri caused controversy last year by advocating, in an interview with the Observer, that people should eat less meat because of the levels of carbon emissions associated with rearing livestock. He is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech at the opening session of the Copenhagen summit.
He said the opening bids from China and the US on emissions – announced last week – had given hope that a deal could be reached in Copenhagen, even if some details would have to be filled in later. "I think it provides momentum to the whole negotiations," he said.
Pachauri was speaking to the Observer before a public discussion at the Wellcome Collection in Euston with the philosopher AC Grayling yesterday. It will be broadcast by the BBC World Service on Wednesday.
He said that he also believed car use would have to be "curbed": "I think we can certainly use pricing to regulate the use of private vehicles." He added he was a supporter of former London mayor Ken Livingstone's plan to increase the congestion charge to £25 for the most polluting vehicles. The proposal was dropped by Boris Johnson and the charge currently stands at £8. Pachauri also denounced the practice in some restaurants of providing iced water to customers who had not ordered it. "It is just an enormous amount of waste that we don't even think about," he said.
Ultimately, Pachauri said the value shift that was needed would take a generation to take hold. "I think the section of society that will make it happen is essentially young people. I think they will be far more sensitive than adults, who have been corrupted by the ways we have been following for years now."

Carbon trading: One burning question, no easy answers

Does carbon trading herald the green shoots of recovery — or add fuel to the fire of global warming?
Richard Girling
A few weeks ago, in central Mozambique, I stood in a clearing of blackened tree stumps in a landscape of weeds. This was a classic example of “slash-and-burn” agriculture, in which dirt-poor farmers constantly move on from depleted fields to hack new ones out of virgin forest.
A few miles away, thanks to a carbon-trading scheme, another community of farmers was working differently. Through a few simple agricultural techniques they were able to go on cropping the same land year after year. They had surplus food to sell, some burgeoning rural industries providing jobs, a health clinic and a school in which every child sat at a solar-powered computer linked to the internet. And they were planting hundreds of thousands of trees, all sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.
The principle of carbon trading, or “offsetting”, is that it doesn’t matter where in the world you cut emissions of greenhouse gases, as long as they are cut. So companies are given limits — “caps” — on how much they are allowed to emit. If they go over those limits they must buy “carbon credits” from cleaner companies; in other words, they pay other companies to be greener.
Fans of carbon trading say it works. Creating a market means, in theory, that companies can sort it out between themselves and meet global targets cost-effectively. Opponents argue that the worst polluters can simply pay to go on blackening the sky until the coal runs out.
The European Union has had an official emissions-trading system (ETS) since the Kyoto agreement in 2005. Each country has a national allowance to distribute among its companies. But the effectiveness of the market as an emissions regulator depends on the price of carbon, which reflects supply and demand.
If the price is high, then companies have an incentive to cut their emissions. If it isn’t, they don’t. The system therefore will work only if the “cap” is set at a relatively low level and the supply of carbon credits is limited. This is not what has happened. Firstly, the cap is much too low. Secondly, far too many permits were handed out.
This will have two damaging effects: the system will fill up with permits that can be bought and sold with zero impact on emissions; and continuing oversupply will further depress the trading price. For much of European industry, it will be business as usual.
This is even worse than it sounds, for it removes the incentive for companies to invest in low-carbon technologies. Without such investment, the EU risks long-term reliance on the same old carbon-intensive polluters it is supposed to be discouraging. And unless the EU can convince the rest of the world that it is cutting emissions, the likelihood of an effective global agreement will melt away like Arctic ice.
Lord Stern, the author of a government-commissioned review on the economics of climate change, argues that if carbon trading could be enforced, it would not only put a limit on emissions but also generate private-sector finance for low-carbon initiatives in developing countries, helping their economic growth. Rich polluters would literally be rewarding greener projects overseas.
This is exactly what I was witnessing in Mozambique. Income from the sale of carbon credits was being passed directly to local farmers. Mothers and babies who might have died were alive and healthy. There were well-attended schools, clean drinking water, a nascent cash economy, trees that were still standing, and fields that were ringed with new planting.
Unfortunately, under the Kyoto agreement, projects such as this are excluded from official carbon-trading schemes, so its credits have to be sold on the voluntary market instead. Given that deforestation is responsible for 20% of carbon emissions, there is a powerful argument for bringing agri-forestry, and forest protection, within the scope of whatever deal is done at Copenhagen. Yet opposition is fierce. Environmental campaigners argue that carbon trading lets polluters go on building coal-fired power stations just by buying a few cheap offset credits in the developing world.

20 proven ways to save the earth

Tackling climate change may be daunting but it is entirely feasible using existing technology

Charles Clover

1 Solar power
Spain is leading the way with solar power. The PS10 solar tower is already in operation near Seville, producing electricity with the aid of more than 600 large movable mirrors called heliostats. The country’s largest solar-power station, which will store heat for up to 15 hours in molten salt, is under construction in Cadiz. It will be operational in 2011. Heat-generated steam will drive a turbine that will power 25,000 homes.
2 Carbon capture and storage
Coal and waste materials are burnt in permanently-running power stations that provide electricity, heat and sometimes hydrogen. The carbon dioxide this creates is captured and sent, safely, to be disposed of in disused oil wells and aquifers. Carbon capture and storage has been practised in the North Sea by the Norwegian company Statoil since 1996. EU leaders have promised around 12 pilot projects attached to coal-fired power stations by 2020.

3 Smart meters
Home electricity is likely to be managed increa-singly by smart meters to cut wastage. The Italians are leading the way. Some 85% of households have one; there are more in Italy than in the US.
4 Wind power
The government’s Climate Change Committee estimates that wind power could provide 30% of Britain’s energy by 2020. Offshore wind power is the key to that and the UK is already the world leader in installed offshore wind. The next development is likely to be wind farms on floating platforms anchored in deeper water. The first floating turbines were inaugurated 10 kilometres off the Norwegian coast in June 2009.
5 Nuclear power
Thanks to its reliability, nuclear power is already enjoying a renaissance with 53 reactors under construction in 13 countries, notably China, South Korea, India and Russia. A series of applications to build reactors, offering safety improvements on existing designs, is being made in the UK; the government may introduce a carbon tax to cover the nuclear industry’s unpredictable costs. A repository to contain Britain’s existing legacy of nuclear waste, however, remains 25 years off.
6 Solar panels that heat water have long been used in sunnier parts of the world and are becoming more economic in UK.
7 Personal Rapid Transit
By the 2030s, many more vehicles will be powered by mains electricity or fuel cells run on hydrogen produced by renewable or nuclear energy. Personal Rapid Transit, based on existing technology, will eventually bring driver-less trains to our cities. Prototypes have been tested at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.
8 Carbon trading
New financial mechanisms, funded by carbon trading, are likely to be set in place in Copenhagen in December to tackle the destruction of the tropical forests such as the Amazon.
9 Wave power
Britain has the potential to dominate the global wave-power market, with 25% of wave technologies being developed here. Two different snake-like devices that move up and down with the waves offer the best prospects. Pilot wave farms are in operation off Portugal and Scotland. Wave power is 15 years behind wind power in being commercialised so it is unlikely to make a significant contribution to the national grid before the mid-2020s.
10 Eco aircraft that resemble “flying wings” have been designed by the Royal Aeronautical Society and shown to be up to 25% more efficient (picture 4, above). Boeing has been looking at the propfan, which promises 35% fuel efficiencies over current jet engines.
11 Tidal power
Existing technology, such as the La Rance tidal power plant in Brittany or the proposed Severn barrage, is expensive — but although the barrage is environmentally damaging, it could, in theory, supply 5% of the national grid.
12 Solar roofs that generate electricity should become more attractive to home- owners next year due to a new tariff that reimburses them for surplus energy they produce.
13 Solar electricity-generating cells
Where roof space is limited, transparent cells that can be fitted to windows have been invented by Konarka, a Massachusetts company.
14 Reversible heat pumps
Many homes in the countryside that have enough land are already using these pumps, which use the ground or local aquifers as heat stores; heat is dumped in summer and recovered from them in winter. These offer substantial savings on using gas.
15 Second-generation biofuels such as algae are known to yield up to 100 times the energy per hectare as corn, soy or sugar cane crops. Some 12% of annual global jet fuel is likely to be derived from algae, or pond scum, by 2030, according to the Carbon Trust.
16 LED bulbs give up to 95% savings on traditional lightbulbs. Far better ones can be expected. Philips Research have developed a non-mechanical means of electrically adjusting the size and shape of a beam of light.
17 Combined heat and power
In Denmark, high-density urban homes take hot water from specialised municipal power stations. There are many more opportunities to use more waste heat produced in IT and power generation.
18 Air travel can increasingly be replaced by better video conferencing.
19 Breakthroughs in existing technologies could change everything. Better batteries are a number-one priority if electric cars are to go from 40 miles between charges to 400. Lithium-air batteries offer the best hope of storing energy in cars.
20 Solar reflectors could generate solar power in space and beam it back to collectors on Earth in the form of microwaves.

Tata snubs Lord Mandelson over electric car loan

Dominic O’Connell

The Indian conglomerate Tata has snubbed Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, rejecting a £10m loan for a technical centre in the Midlands.
Mandelson announced the loan last month, saying that Britain was backing Tata’s research into electric cars. The money was awarded as part of his Automotive Assistance Programme (AAP), a scheme that was designed to help the car industry over the worst of the recession and foster investment in new technology.
Senior motor industry sources said that Tata, one of India’s biggest business empires and the owner in Britain of Jaguar Land Rover and Corus, the steelmaker, has in the past few days told the government that it doesn’t want the money. It has decided it can get better terms from commercial lenders, the sources said.
This year Tata and Mandelson were involved in tortuous negotiations over aid for Jaguar Land Rover. Tata, which bought the carmaker from Ford last year for £1.3 billion, asked the government for a £500m loan guarantee when vehicle sales slumped. After lengthy talks, Tata eventually decided not to accept a government offer, saying it could find better terms elsewhere.

Jaguar Land Rover is considering whether to close one of its three UK plants as part of a plan to cut costs.
The £10m government loan was designed to bolster a £25m investment by Tata Motors, the Indian group’s car-making subsidiary, in its European Technical Centre, which is based at the University of Warwick.
The money will be used to develop an electric version of one of its existing models. Tata declined to comment yesterday, while Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the loan was still on offer.
The Warwick technical centre was set up in 2005 to develop technology to be used in Tata cars manufactured in India and give the group access to European automotive talent.
It is working on a European version of the Nano, the affordable so-called “people’s car”, which was introduced in India last year.

KLM biofuel flight fuels hopes for green airlines

Airlines have high hopes for a new range of biofuels

Dominic O’Connell

At Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport last Monday a gaggle of aviation executives, politicians and journalists trooped aboard a KLM jumbo jet for a flight to nowhere.
The trip was uneventful — the plane and its 40 occupants circled above Holland for a couple of hours before landing where it took off. However, in a small way, it was historic. It was the first flight by a biofuel-powered airliner to carry passengers.
In fact, the plane was only partly powered by biofuel. One of its four engines ran on a 50:50 blend of biofuel and normal aviation fuel. The biofuel was made from camelina, an inedible green shrub.
Despite the limited experiments to date — Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand and a clutch of other carriers have run test flights without passengers — airline executives are thrilled with biofuels.

Their industry is a target for politicians and environmentalists in the crusade against carbon dioxide emissions and the prospect of a fuel that will allow the industry to grow while reducing its emissions is enticing. “In the decades ahead, the airline industry will be largely dependent on the availability of alternative fuels in its drive to lower emissions,” said Jan Ernst de Groot, KLM’s managing director.
The bright new era of biofuels is still some way off, however, and some experts doubt whether it will ever arrive. The technical challenge of making a biofuel that can replace aviation fuel has largely been cracked, but the new product has yet to be certified for commercial use, and large quantities are unlikely to be available even in the medium term.
Without significant changes to aircraft engines and other systems, biofuels will have to be used in a blend with conventional fuels — probably a 50:50 mix, as with last week’s flight.
Much of the research has been funded by the Pentagon. America’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency began work in 2006 to reduce the “military’s reliance on oil to power its aircraft, ground vehicles and non-nuclear ships”.
The agency gave research contracts to several private groups, including one $7m (£4m) award to UOP, a division of Honeywell, the technology group. UOP has provided the fuel for most of the test flights to date, including the Air New Zealand and KLM trials.
It has exceeded expectations. “The initial results show a technical performance that is better than traditional kerosene,” said Bill Glover, head of environmental strategy at Boeing, the aircraft maker.
UOP was already well advanced with production of biodiesel for cars, lorries and other vehicles. It then applied existing refining techniques to make a fuel able to satisfy the stringent demands of aviation — in particular on flashpoints and freezing temperatures.
“The technology is already used in other types of refining,” said Jennifer Holmgren, director of renewable energy and chemicals at UOP. “The trick is in getting high yields from the vegetable feedstock.”
The UOP process can use a number of vegetable oils, but interest is focused on camelina and the equally inedible jatropha, which can be grown on marginal land not being used for food crops.
Depending on the amount of fertiliser needed, the whole biofuel cycle — growing, refining, transportation and use in aircraft — should produce 60% to 80% less carbon dioxide than conventional fuel.
Holmgren said she expected the fuel to be approved for commercial use by the end of next year. UOP is talking to a number of potential licencees about building refineries, the first of which could be open in two-and-a-half years, she said.
Industry groups have set an initial target to produce 600m gallons a year by 2015. This would still be only a fraction of the total needed. The world’s airlines now burn some 85 billion gallons of aviation fuel every year.
Even using the most optimistic estimates of yield, making that much biofuel from camelina or jatropha would need an acreage about three times the size of the UK.
The big hope for the future is algae. Boeing thinks yields from algae could be measured in thousands of gallons an acre, rather than the 150-200 possible from plants. Airline executives say the likely strong demand will result in biofuels being made from a number of different feedstocks.
Appetite will be accelerated by the introduction of carbon trading schemes, under which airlines will have to pay for emissions.
European airlines will be part of a scheme from 2012, and there are moves to create a global trading system. Jonathan Counsell, head of environment at British Airways, said: “When airlines have to start paying for their carbon there will be a real economic incentive to use the fuels.”
Air New Zealand plans to obtain 10% of its fuel from alternative sources by 2013. Rob Fyfe, chief executive, said his airline wanted biofuels to pass three basic tests: the right price, no displacement of food crops or water resources, and direct substitution for conventional aviation fuel.
“We have no interest in biofuels unless we can prove to ourselves that they reduce carbon dioxide emissions across the whole life of the product,” he said. “We want to show that we are the world’s most environmentally-sustainable airline. That fits exactly with the clean, green New Zealand message.”
BA said it has no plans for test flights but is working with Rolls-Royce on an extended ground test on a range of biofuels that should generate valuable data to help with the fuel’s certification for commercial use.
Green Idea
The hemp plant may have a role to play in cutting the carbon dioxide emitted by the building industry. Its fibre is being used as an additive in construction blocks.
Oxford-based Lime Technology, maker of a range of sustainable building products, including thermally efficient wall materials, has created the Hemcrete brand.
The company grows its own hemp in Suffolk.
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