Monday, 15 March 2010

Wood is 'most environmentally-friendly' building product

14 March 2010
Research into building materials has revealed the wood is the most environmentally-friendly substance for many household projects.
Conducted by the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association, the study found that throughout its lifespan natural wood creates the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in its lifecycle.
The material also allows for ease of recycling and energy recovery opportunities.
These can reduce the methane gas emissions which come from landfill disposal of building substances.
Green consultant John Wagner told Building Products: "As green building regulations become the standard in building, consumers who previously favoured more 'maintenance-free' materials as their siding and decking products of choice will need to consider alternatives such as western red cedar to help lessen their environmental footprint."
Defining the most ecological materials and products available could help reduce any detrimental effect which British homes have on the environment.
Posted by Mark Stephens

Carbon-capture powerstation planned for Hunterston

Melanie Reid

Plans for a “green” coal-fired power station in Ayrshire, the first in the UK with carbon capture technology, are to be lodged with the Scottish government today. Environmentalists are outraged by the scheme which, if it gets the go-ahead, will the first new fossil-fuel power station in Scotland since 1973, when Lognannet in Fife was built.
The 1.6 gigawatt plant, proposed by Ayrshire Power, is seen as a test of the Scottish government’s energy policy, which is fiercely anti-nuclear and pro- renewables but which critics say ignores the realities of future demand for power.
If permission is granted, the site, at Hunterston, will be the first in the UK to have an experimental carbon capture and storage facility. The company claims that this will capture 90 per cent of carbon from the plant and reduce consumption by up to 25 per cent.
Carbon capture and storage technology turns carbon dioxide into liquid using chemicals, enabling it to be stored underground. The new facility could meet the energy needs of three million homes, Ayrshire Power said.

Juliet Swann, of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “Carbon capture and storage is potentially a way to reach a low-carbon future. However, the carbon benefits are not yet proven and it should be demonstrated on existing plants first, not least so we can share the technology with the world and in doing so repay our debt to them for supplying us with so much of our dirty energy.”
The governmentis to ensure that the information needed for a full assessment of the proposals is available before putting the plans out for consultation.

Energy efficiency 'best way to beat fuel poverty'

Published Date: 15 March 2010
A DRIVE to increase energy efficiency in UK homes is the best way to solve long-term fuel poverty, according to a study to be released today.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report said fuel poverty increased over the past five years, despite government targets to eradicate the problem by 2016.Current moves to tackle fuel poverty were "out of date", with a review of the strategy and the setting up of an independent fuel poverty commission required as part of a longer term solution, it said.The IPPR said the government's Home Energy Management Strategy, published last week, did not go far enough to improve the energy efficiency of homes or give enough consideration to the issue of fuel poverty.While short-term measures were needed to help the poorest pay for their heating during the cold snap, longer-term measures focusing on fuel efficiency were a more sustainable and cost-effective way of tackling fuel poverty, it said.The report also calls for greater use of technology including smart meters, micro-generation technologies and community-scale heating, and a review of how fuel poverty programmes are paid for.IPPR co-director Carey Oppenheim said: "We need to focus on making UK homes more green and more fuel efficient so it is more affordable to heat homes."

SunEdison to Build Europe's Largest Solar Power Plant in Rovigo, Italy

Posted on: Sun, 14 Mar 2010 06:53:42 EDT
Mar 14, 2010 (Al-Bawaba via COMTEX) --
SunEdison, a division of MEMC Electronic Materials, Inc. (NYSE: WFR Quote Chart News PowerRating), received final approval from the Italian government to develop and construct a 72 Megawatt (MW) photovoltaic solar power plant in Northeastern Italy, near the town of Rovigo. When completed, this is expected to be the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant in Europe. Power generation will begin in the second half of 2010 with final completion expected by year end. In the first full year of operation, the system will generate sufficient energy to power 17,150 homes and avoid 41,000 tons of CO2 - the equivalent of removing 8,000 cars from the road. SunEdison will jointly develop the project with financing partner Banco Santander. Additional financial partners are expected to join the project for final ownership. "SunEdison is focused on enabling the growth of global solar markets through strong capabilities in project finance, engineering, low-cost procurement and operations and maintenance services," commented Carlos Domenech, President of SunEdison. "Veneto is taking decisive action to advance the use of clean, renewable energy sources," said Renzo Marangon, government official of the Veneto region. "At the same time, this project is expected to create over 350 local construction jobs and build expertise in advanced energy technologies. We expect Rovigo to serve as a European model for large-scale, alternative-energy projects." "A critical element of our approach is working closely with the right partners," added Pancho Perez, General Manager for Europe and MENA region at SunEdison, "including developers, suppliers and contractors. For the Rovigo project, we selected Isolux Corsan, a large-scale infrastructure construction company with a strong track record in utility-scale solar plants." "We are pleased to be selected by SunEdison to construct the largest PV solar plant in Europe. We are looking forward to extending this partnership beyond Italy," said Luis Delso, President of Isolux Corsan. At 72 megawatts, this solar-power plant will be the largest in Europe. Currently, the largest facility is a 60MW solar farm in Olmedilla, Spain
, followed by a 50 MW in Strasskirchen, Germany, built by MEMC through a joint venture agreement.(C) 2010 Al Bawaba (

Genetic Mapping Of Algae Biofuel Species

Posted on: Saturday, 13 March 2010, 08:38 CST
Botryococcus braunii algae contributed to existing petroleum deposits
Using green algae to produce hydrocarbon oil for biofuel production is nothing new; nature has been doing so for hundreds of millions of years, according a Texas AgriLife Research scientist.
“Oils from the green algae Botryococcus braunii can be readily detected in petroleum deposits and coal deposits suggesting that B. braunii has been a contributor to developing these deposits and may be the major contributor,” said Dr. Timothy Devarenne, AgriLife Research scientist with the Texas A&M University department of biochemistry and biophysics. “This means that we are already using these oils to produce gasoline from petroleum.”
It’s not just a gee-whiz science trivia, Devarenne said. B. braunii is a prime candidate for biofuel production because some races of the green algae typically "accumulate hydrocarbons from to 30 percent to 40 percent of their dry weight, and are capable of obtaining hydrocarbon contents up to 86 percent of their dry weight.
"As a group, algae may be the only photosynthetic organism capable of producing enough biofuel to meet transportation fuel demands."
Devarenne is part of a team comprised of other scientists with AgriLife Research, the University of Kentucky and the University of Tokyo trying to understand more about B. braunii, including its genetic sequence and its family history.
“Without understanding how the cellular machinery of a given algae works on the molecular level, it won't be possible to improve characteristics such as oil production, faster growth rates or increased photosynthesis,” Devarenne said.
Like most green algae, B. braunii is capable of producing great amounts of hydrocarbon oils in a very small land area.
B. braunii algae show particular promise not just because of their high production of oil but also because of the type of oil they produce, Devarenne said. While many high-oil-producing algae create vegetable-type oils, the oil from B. braunii, known as botryococcenes, are similar to petroleum.
“The fuels derived from B. braunii hydrocarbons are chemically identical to gasoline, diesel and kerosene,” Devarenne said. “Thus, we do not call them biodiesel or bio-gasoline; they are simply diesel and gasoline. To produce these fuels from B. braunii, the hydrocarbons are processed exactly the same as petroleum is processed and thus generates the exact same fuels. Remember, these B. braunii hydrocarbons are a main constituent of petroleum. So there is no difference other than the millions of years petroleum spent underground.”
But, a shortcoming of B. braunii is its relatively slow growth rate. While the algae that produce 'vegetable-type' oils may double their growth every six to 12 hours, B. braunii’s doubling rate is about four days, he said.
“Thus, getting large amounts of oil from B. braunii is more time consuming and thus more costly,” Devarenne said. “So, by knowing the genome sequence we can possibly identify genes involved in cell division and manipulate them to reduce the doubling rate.”
Despite these characteristics and economic potential of algae, only six species of algae have had their genomes fully sequenced and annotated, Devarenne said. And B. braunii is not one of the six.
Devarenne and his colleagues have done some of the groundwork in better understanding B. braunii and sequencing its genome.
They are working the Berkeley strain of the B race of B. braunii, so named because it was first isolated at the University of California at Berkeley. The team has determined the genome size and an estimate of the B race's guanine-cytosine content, both of which are essential to mapping the full genome, he said. There are also races A and L of B. braunii, but they were not looked at by the team.
Guanine-cytosine bonds are one of base pairs composing DNA structure. Adenine-thymine is the other possible base pair.
"Genomes with high guanine-cytosine content can be difficult to sequence and knowing the guanine-cytosine content can help to assess the amount of resources needed for genome sequencing," Devarenne said.
The team determined B. braunii’s genome size to be 166.2 ± 2.2 million base pairs, Devarenne said. The size of the human genome is about 3.1 billion base pairs. That of the house mouse is also about 3 billion base pairs. But the B. braunii genome size is larger than any of the other six previously sequenced green algae genomes.
The team also looked at the phylogenetic placement of B. braunii – where it belongs in the family tree of similar algae species. Though they knew from the work of other scientists that the B race of B. braunii was distinct from other races of B. braunii, there was some question that the genetic samples of the B race used in a previous study by other scientists might be contaminated by another algal species.
To check this, they used a process called reverse transcription to isolate genes from a pure culture of the B race of B. braunii, and then mapped those genes to confirm the relationship of the B race to other races of B. braunii.
“Our results support the original Berkeley DNA sequence used for phylogenetic placement was from a contaminating algae,” Devarenne said. “And our study places the B race of B. braunii in the correct location on the ‘algal family tree’.”
The actual genome sequencing and mapping will be performed by DOE’s Joint Genome Institute.
“We’ve submitted genomic DNA from B. braunii for JGI to use in sequencing, but that hasn’t begun yet,” he said.
Devarenne’s research partners include: graduate student Taylor L. Weiss, Texas A&M department of biochemistry and biophysics; Dr. J. Spencer Johnston, Texas A&M department of entomology; Joe Chappell, University of Kentucky department of plant and soil sciences; and Shigeru Okada, the University of Tokyo graduate school of agricultural and life sciences.
The results and methods of their study will be published online in the Journal of Phycology, an international journal of algae research, this summer.
By Robert Burns, Texas AgriLife Research

Ian McEwan's Solar: it's green and it should be read

At last, global warming inspires good fiction. And scientists are the rightful heroes

Nick Cohen
The Observer, Sunday 14 March 2010

Gossip columnists long ago supplanted the literary editors in media hierarchies, and a writer must be grateful if the press greets the publication of his or her book with anything so quaint as a discussion of its literary merit. When Martin Amis released The Pregnant Widow in February, he discovered that the big issue for journalists was not how he expressed his ideas but whether he had upset Anna Ford. The former newsreader proved she is not at her best when the autocue is off by accusing him of smoking in the hospital room where her husband was dying in 1988 – he didn't, apparently – and of being a neglectful godfather to her daughter, a charge that even if true had nothing to do with his book.
After this, Ian McEwan must be grateful that Angela Rippon is not greeting the publication of Solar by announcing that he stood her up on a date in 1976, or that Fiona Bruce is not telling the papers he snubbed her at a dinner party during Blair's first term.
The "story" about McEwan nevertheless remains as irrelevant to his fiction as the babbling about whether the atheist Amis was a good godfather. Inspired by the Sunday Times, the pack has decided that McEwan is satirising a voyage in which he accompanied Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and other enlightened artists to see the effect of global warming in the Arctic.
McEwan does indeed acknowledge his debt to the Cape Farewell expedition, and includes a scene in which the cynical hero contrasts the idealistic conversation of his progressive companions when they are together at dinner with the naked selfishness with which they steal each other's gloves, scarves and helmets in the ship's boot room. "Four days ago the room had started out in orderly condition, with all gear hanging on or stowed below the numbered pegs," says Michael Beard. "Finite resources, equally shared, in the golden age of not so long ago. Now it was a ruin… How were they to save the Earth when it was so much larger than the boot room?"
As scoops go, however, the hacks' effort was five years late – and so did not even qualify as yesterday's news. When he returned from the Arctic in 2005, McEwan made the contrast between the highmindedness of the dinner table and the low scramble for petty advantage in the boot room in a speech you can still find on the internet. More pertinently, he understands that the contradiction is at the heart of contemporary environmental concerns. Far from mocking fears about climate change, McEwan is struggling to find a way to write them.
Opposition to global warming has been a good cause which has failed to inspire good fiction. I do not claim encyclopaedic knowledge, but Solar is the first novel I have read to tackle it successfully. The difficulty was that there appeared to be no space for any emotion except despair. If Europe slashed its carbon emissions, would America reciprocate? Even if it did, how could you persuade one billion Chinese consumers not to buy cars or hundreds of millions of Indians and Africans to abandon self-enrichment? The campaign against climate change ran against the grain of human nature.
McEwan has found a way out by turning to the pioneering green thinkers James Lovelock and Stewart Brand, who have been begging environmentalists to stand their old opposition to technology on its head. They want them to see nuclear power, mega-cities and GM food as innovations that can slow down emissions. To put it another way, they hope to use 21st-century science to limit the damage caused by 19th and 20th-century science.
McEwan tells me that he prefers technicians to humanities graduates who spout apocalyptic predictions. He sniffs in some the same fanaticism that inspired millenarian religion, communism and fascism, and suspects they want to compensate for the knowledge of the inevitability of their own deaths by imagining that the species will go down with them.
The optimism – and it may be a false optimism – new technologies bring allows McEwan to create a protagonist who is not an impossibly righteous hero or the gritty survivor of a coming catastrophe but an all too fleshy adulterer and glutton. Michael Beard is a Nobel Laureate whose glory days are long gone. He steals the work of an equally lecherous colleague, who dies, appropriately, by slipping on a polar bear-skin rug. Beard realises the robbed research could create a new source of clean energy and goes on a slob's progress through the arguments against global warming as he tries to cash in.
When his American business partner wonders if the denialists of the Tea Party movement may be right, Beard delivers a devastating account of the arguments for manmade global warming, which ends with the unanswerable point that in the unlikely event of the vast majority of qualified scientists being wrong, we'll be hitting peak oil soon and will need alternative energy anyway. He neatly illuminates the link between Palinism and postmodernism by forcing Beard to endure an audience at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, which bellows that his so-called science is nothing but a "social construct" designed to preserve the "hegemonic arrogance" of the "white male elite". My colleagues should note that McEwan shows that the ICA rather than the Cape Farewell project has been the true butt of satirists ever since Amis invited its relativist crowd to raise their hands if they thought they were morally superior to the Taliban and only one third did. ("So many?" I hear you gasp. Yes, I was surprised too.)
The novel's burning question comes when Beard asks an audience of City investors, "How can we slow down and stop while sustaining our civilisation and continuing to bring millions out of poverty? Not by being virtuous… For humanity en masse, greed trumps virtue. So we have to welcome into our solutions the ordinary compulsions of self-interest, and also celebrate novelty, the thrill of invention [and] the pleasures of ingenuity."
McEwan attempts the difficult trick of blending raucous comedy with science and politics. I think he pulls it off magnificently. But given the current state of British criticism, I accept that you may want to hear what the newsreaders have to say before deciding for yourselves.

Prepare for the fourth transport revolution

Britain needs it and can afford it. There is no reason to hold back high-speed rail
Andrew Adonis
In the 18th century Britain developed a canal network to support the first flourishing of an industrialised manufacturing sector. In the 19th century we pioneered the railways and in the 20th we built a national motorway network.
I am setting out detailed proposals for the 21st-century transport revolution — high-speed rail — in a parliamentary statement today. There will be full public consultation, but before that, let me address the three main arguments put by those who say it’s the wrong project, in the wrong country, at the wrong time.
The first charge made is that high- speed rail is simply not suited to a country like ours; that our cities are just too close together to benefit. In fact, three of the pioneers of high- speed rail are Japan, the Netherlands and South Korea, all medium-sized countries with concentrated population centres. The most heavily used section of Japan’s Shinkansen (indeed, the most heavily used high-speed rail line in the world) is only just over 300 miles long, from Tokyo to Osaka. The Dutch high-speed line, which opened in December, links Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels — a distance of 120 miles.
Even in larger countries, the most successful high-speed lines connect cities as close to, or closer to one another, than those in Britain. The first and most heavily used French TGV line connects Paris to Lyon, a distance of about 265 miles, comparable to the distance from London to Newcastle. In Germany the principal high-speed line is between Frankfurt and Cologne, a distance of about 110 miles; about the same as from London to Birmingham.

High-speed rail is not just about speed. Other countries have used new networks to transform connections between main cities, and we could do so, too. In Britain we suffer from — without quite realising it — the limitations of the Victorian rail network with its three separate and poorly interconnected main lines from London to the North. These have survived largely unchanged to the present day, each with its own separate London terminus.
So let’s put the argument for British exceptionalism to bed. Britain’s economic geography makes it well suited to high-speed rail. The capacity and connectivity between its largest conurbations could be transformed by a relatively short network of high-speed lines.
The second charge is that coming out of a global recession, on the eve of an election, is no time to be planning for the long term. This too is nonsense. As the Second World War blazed away the British Cabinet was constantly addressing issues of reconstruction. In the National Archives at Kew are the papers of the Reconstruction Problems Committee of the War Cabinet, which in 1943 began serious planning for a future motorway network.
My predecessor, the Minister of War Transport, took to heart that famous Whitehall poster: he kept calm and carried on. Months after El Alamein he introduced a memorandum on postwar highway policy with these words: “It is important soon to settle, at least in principle, the policy to be pursued as to the development of our highway system after the war. There will be a great revival and growth in the volume of road traffic, and it will be necessary to provide for this.” The memo included a map of a possible future motorway network that bears a striking resemblance to the network of today — though it took until 1959 for the first stretch at Preston to be opened, and another 30 years beyond that to complete today’s network.
If our wartime predecessors had the foresight and the vision to plan for the future, then we’ve got no excuse now. A high-speed rail network in Britain will not evolve organically out of nowhere. It will only happen if governments have the foresight to start planning now.
I was also amused to note that the minister in 1943 faced the British exceptionalists of the day who held that, while the new Italian autostrada, German autobahnen and American freeways were all very well, they couldn’t possibly work in the UK.
The third charge is that high-speed rail may be a nice idea, but it’s simply unaffordable and a pipe dream. A new high-speed rail network would be expensive, and over the decades ahead would require significant public investment. But most of these costs would not start to be incurred until the end of this decade.
Construction would not start until after the Crossrail scheme is completed, ie, from 2017. As Crossrail and other significant capital projects such as the Olympic Park show, an average annual expenditure rate of about £2 billion during construction can be accommodated.
Further work must now take place on the costs and funding options for high-speed rail. In funding a new line the Government is determined that a fair balance should be struck in terms of the contributions made by those who will benefit from it. These could include third-party contributions and Public Private Partnerships, as was done so successfully with Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
High-speed rail has a transformational role to play at the heart of Britain’s transport infrastructure. I want this to be a national project, not a party project — one the whole country can get behind.
Andrew Adonis is Secretary of State for Transport

We climate scientists are not ecofanatics

If the IPCC has a fault, it is that its reports have been too cautious, not alarmist
John Houghton

In the UK only about 26 per cent of the population believe the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is man-made. Many feel they are being steamrollered into believing something false or flakey that will make them poorer or stop them flying.
Given this dangerous mood of scepticism, it is no surprise that the IPCC — the body that represents the integrity of climate-change scientists across the world — is being attacked.
Let’s be honest, sometimes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does get it wrong. It was an error to include a poorly sourced claim in its 2007 report about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting; but this mistake was marginal — it did not influence any of the IPCC’s main conclusions or appear in the summaries of the report. The great body of the IPCC’s work represents science at its best — and it needs defending from its detractors.
The IPCC is not a self-selected group of scientists with a political agenda. It was founded in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme with a mandate to produce accurate, balanced assessments about human-induced climate change.
I was chairman or co-chairman of the Science Working Group from 1988–2002, through the first three IPCC reports. About 70 scientists from around the world attended the first meeting of the group near Oxford early in 1989. We had no preconceived agenda regarding our conclusions. In fact, a number of attendees argued that not enough was known about human-induced climate change to produce any significant report. However, we agreed that we would identify carefully what we knew with reasonable certainty, estimate the uncertainties and distinguish it from what we were much more uncertain about. This doesn’t exactly mark us out as a bunch of ecofanatics.
The IPCC is too big an organisation to be captured by an ideological cabal or fall foul of group-think. It draws in scientists from every discipline from many different nations. Climatologists from Benin rub shoulders with scientists from the West, and from Saudi Arabia and other petrol-states for whom belief in global warming is against their immediate interests.
The IPCC process also makes it impossible for green propaganda to be slipped in. The IPCC has published four reports — in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. Each contains three volumes covering science, impacts and mitigation; in 2007 each volume was about 1,000 pages long. Their main content is a detailed review of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers. But a report from Greenpeace or any other campaigning body would not be included because the science would not be considered robust enough.
Each chapter of an IPCC report goes through three reviews. The first is by expert scientists. The second involves a wider international community of climate scientists and others with an interest (including industrial and green NGOs) and the third is by national governments. Report summaries are scrutinised sentence by sentence at an IPCC plenary meeting over three or four days. These scientific meetings can become intense. I recall one that got bogged down over whether the words “appreciable human impact” were justified by the evidence. We clapped with relief when we agreed on “discernible human impact”.
A further myth is that the IPCC is alarmist. In truth, it’s far easier to find what now looks like excessive caution in IPCC reports. For instance, the 1990 report stated that increases in greenhouse gases were causing global warming but added that, because of natural climate variability, this warming could not be clearly detected in the observed record. As warming has continued at about the rate projected by the reports, each subsequent report has in general shown increasing confidence in its conclusions. Let me give you another example: the 2007 report declined to estimate the possible effect of accelerated melting of ice caps, as it considered no reliable estimates were available at that time.
A third myth is that the IPCC has refused to recognise that there has been no significant increase in global average temperature in the past decade or so. Sceptics cite this as evidence against human-induced global warming. But the level of natural year-to-year variability in the temperature record shows that a decade is too short a time to establish a change in the long-term trend. It is also known that a substantial part of the recent variability is down to the El NiƱo-Southern Oscillation, a massive climate pattern in the Pacific. The Pacific sector has certainly been cooler than elsewhere during the past decade.
Perhaps there is a criticism that can be made of IPCC scientists: they have been too slow publicly to defend their integrity. They have not been willing or able to hit the airwaves or make their case in newspapers. But scientists are now faced by powerful lobbies who are working to distort and discredit the science behind climate change. We scientists have facts on our sides — we must not be afraid to deploy them.
Sir John Houghton is former chief executive at the Met Office