Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Blade snaps off huge wind turbine

The incident at Whitelee wind farm happened on Friday
An investigation is under way at Europe's largest onshore wind farm in East Renfrewshire after a 150ft blade snapped off a turbine.
The incident, at about 0200 GMT on Friday, led to Whitelee wind farm, near Eaglesham, being temporarily shut down.
ScottishPower Renewables, which runs the site, said the cause was unknown but mechanical failure and a lightning strike were being considered.
A safety check on all 140 turbines should be completed by Friday.
The damaged turbine was automatically shut down after sensors alerted the wind farm's 24-hour control room to the problem.
All turbines at the site were then taken offline while engineers began an inspection.
'Highly unusual'
By Tuesday morning 65 turbines had been inspected and returned to operation.
A full inspection of the wind farm is expected to be completed by 26 March.
Keith Anderson, managing director of ScottishPower Renewables, said: "This type of incident is exceptionally rare and highly unusual.
"However, the safety of our people and the public is our first priority.
"While the investigation into the cause of the incident is ongoing our engineers continue to conduct an internal and external examination of all turbine blades at the wind farm."
The Whitelee wind farm currently has 140 turbines. Approval has been granted for a further 39 turbines.
The wind turbines, which are built by Siemens, are about 360ft high.

Qteros, UMass get biofuels patent

March 23, 2010 11:20 AM
By Erin Ailworth, Globe Staff
Qteros Inc. in Marlborough and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have patented the fermentation method they use to make biofuel, a plant-based alternative to gasoline, using the so-called Q Microbe.
According to the company, the Q Microbe allows Qteros to streamline the process they use to breakdown plant material into sugars that can then be turned into ethanol, making that fuel easier and cheaper to produce.
"The Q Microbe technology offers numerous important advantages over other ethanol-producing microorganisms, which we believe provides the operational foundation for profitable, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production," Qteros chief executive John A. McCarthy Jr. said in a statement today announcing the patent, which he said "underscores the significance and the unique nature of our technology."
Being able to produce ethanol cheaply and on a large scale is a challenge faced by those in the biofuel industry. Many hope that their products will one day compete with oil-derived gasoline, cutting the nation's dependence on foreign oil and offering an environmentally-friendly way of powering vehicles and other gasoline-driven machinery.

Seafarers' Scourge Provides Hope for Biofuel Future

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2010) — For centuries, seafarers were plagued by wood-eating gribble that destroyed their ships, and these creatures continue to wreak damage on wooden piers and docks in coastal communities.
But new research by scientists at the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre at the Universities of York and Portsmouth is uncovering how the tiny marine isopod digests the apparently indigestible.
By examining genes that are expressed in the guts of gribble, the researchers have demonstrated that its digestive system contains enzymes which could hold the key to converting wood and straw into liquid biofuels.
In new research, a team headed by Professor Simon McQueen-Mason and Professor Neil Bruce at York, and Dr Simon Cragg at Portsmouth reveal that the gribble digestive tract is dominated by enzymes that attack the polymers that make up wood. One of the most abundant enzymes is a cellulose degrading enzyme never before seen in animals.
The research is published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (PNAS).
Unlike termites and other wood-eating animals, gribble have no helpful microbes in their digestive system. This means that they must possess all of the enzymes needed to convert wood into sugars themselves.
Professor McQueen-Mason, of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) in the Department of Biology at York, said: "This may provide clues as to how this conversion could be performed in an industrial setting."
The scientists at York are now studying the enzymes to establish how they work, and whether they can be adapted to industrial applications. Perhaps one day soon seafarers will be sailing the seas on ships powered with biofuels produced with gribble enzymes.
Duncan Eggar, BBSRC Bioenergy Champion, said: "The world needs to quickly reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and sustainably produced bioenergy offers the potential to rapidly introduce liquid transport fuels into our current energy mix."
The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is a £26M research investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and has six research programmes at universities and research institutes.

Carbon capture industry a UK jobs and cash boost

The carbon capture and storage (CCS) industry could be worth up to £6.5 billion a year and create 100,000 jobs by 2030, the government says. It made the claim as it revealed Yorkshire and the Humber are to be the UK's first Low Carbon Economic Area (LCEA) for CCS. Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, said: "CCS presents a massive industrial growth opportunity for the UK. "We have a strong, established and skilled workforce in precisely the sectors needed to get CCS deployed at scale. "And we have some of the best potential sites in all of Europe for CO2 storage under the North Sea. "Coal is the most abundant worldwide energy resource but it is also the most polluting, so there is no solution to climate change without CCS." CCS involves the capture of harmful fossil fuel emissions, which are then moved offshore to be stored under the seabed. Yorkshire and the Humber have been chosen because of the region's high concentration of industries emitting carbon dioxide, nearness to North Sea storage sites and local expertise, it was revealed. LCEAs were introduced last July (2009) as part of the government's Low Carbon Industrial Strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions. They are intended to focus national, local and regional agencies on promoting low carbon industry growth. The designation would be a boon for the area Mr Miliband claimed in last Wednesday's (March 17) announcement. "Yorkshire and Humber is well placed to see the benefits from the jobs that investment in CCS can bring, other regions will too," he said. "For the UK economy as a whole these benefits could be worth up to £6.5 billion a year, sustaining jobs for up to 100,000 people, by 2030." The government also announced Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has been awarded £6.3 million to fund a trial carbon capture project at its coal-fired power plant in Ferrybridge, Yorkshire. It hopes to make the UK a global leader in CCS. For more details on the UK's CCS scheme clicking here. David Gibbs

Voinovich, Rockefeller working on carbon capture bill

It's a work in progress, but GOP Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio says he's agreed with Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia on "legislative language" to spend up to $850 million over 15 years on capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions.
While many environmental activists deride the idea of "clean coal," Voinovich, Rockefeller and other lawmakers from states dependent on coal-generated electricity say it isn't possible to do away with using the material for power anytime soon. Thus, they say more research into capturing, storing and perhaps using carbon dioxide emissions is needed.
“We must protect manufacturing states that rely on coal for electricity, like my home state of Ohio which relies on coal for over 85 percent of its energy," Voinovich said.
“Our energy policy must have its foundation in protecting jobs and boosting our economy. Carbon capture and sequestration technology has the potential to grow our economy and move our energy policy in a positive direction,” Rockefeller said.
Stands on climate change legislation and so-called cap and trade plans to tax utilities and manufacturers that exceed emissions limits and give credits to ones that come in under limits tend to run along regional, not partisan lines, with coal-state lawmakers such as Voinovich and Rockefeller often banding together in bipartisan groups. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio also has been skeptical of cap and trade proposals.

Bill Bryson warns litter is 'trashing' Britain

The British countryside it being 'trashed' by litter, according to Bill Bryson, who suggested dropping rubbish should be as unacceptable as refusing to wear a seat belt.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 24 Mar 2010

Bill Bryson said people should be ashamed of dropping litter Photo: BBC
The best-selling author and president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said nearly £800 million is spent every year clearing up litter in Britain.
Yet the majority of people who drop drinks cans and sweet wrappers can be persuaded to put their litter in the bin.

He called for a new advertising campaign, similar to the one in the 1970s that followed the seat belt laws, that makes it clear dropping litter is not acceptable.
"We need a more effective programme of persuasion, more money spent on adverts, much the same way as the seat belt laws where important messages were brought across to people. If we have an effective advertising campaign most people can be persuaded to do the right thing. It is saying to people you have a wonderful country. Why trash it?"
The American-born travel writer, who has written a series of books about Britain including Notes on a Small Island, suggested adverts should be amusing.
"The underlying message is it is a wonderful country, you should look after it. They have shown 85 per cent of people who drop litter are willing to reduce the amount or eliminate it. Also you have to make it easier. We need more litter bins."
The amount of litter dropped in Britain has risen 500 per cent since the 1960s, with cigarette butts, chewing gum and fast food waste the major problem. It is estimated 30 million tonnes of litter is dropped every year, or 1.3 million bits of litter every weekend.
The Government, local authorities and major companies including Wrigley's, CocaCola and McDonald's are discussing ways to reduce litter from fast foods and snacks. Ideas include putting more bins around restaurants and organising litter picks in busy areas.
But ultimately Mr Bryson said it was up to the individual to take responsibility and the focus should be on persuasion through a series of adverts on television, in newspapers and on the internet.
"It is not the companies responsible. They have a certain amount of responsibility but if you see a McDonald's cup on the street it is not really McDonald's fault, it is the fault of the people who put it there," he said. "It is not exclusively a British problem but it is bad enough here. Partly because people do it without thinking. If you stop them and ask them to put it in the bin they know they should be ashamed of themselves."
CPRE are also calling for bottle deposit schemes to encourage people to bring back empty bottles or cans to the shops and more training for local authorities enforcement officers so people who drop litter or fly tip are fined.

France shelves carbon tax plan

France's government put on hold a key carbon tax plan as workers held mass strikes over pensions and jobs, turning up the heat on President Nicolas Sarkozy after an election humiliation.

Published: 7:00AM GMT 24 Mar 2010
The government shelved the proposed carbon tax, one of Mr Sarkozy's key reforms, a day after the president replaced a top minister in a reshuffle after his UMP party's defeat by Left-wing rivals in regional elections.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in the streets and teachers, train drivers and other public workers stayed off work to protest job cuts and plans for pension reform.

The president has vowed to press on with changes to state pensions. But the carbon tax, a major plank of his environmental policy touted as France's leading contribution to anti-global warming efforts, was put on hold.
Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement that the government still aimed to implement a carbon tax but this could only be done "in common with other European countries" and France would push the EU to take a common position.
The UMP leader in parliament, Jean-Francois Cope, said after a meeting with Mr Fillon that the tax will not be introduced in July as planned "unless there is a European accord."
The plan would have made France the first big economy to tax harmful carbon emissions, aiming to encourage French consumers to stop wasting energy. But business lobbies feared it would penalise French industry.
Mr Fillon said the tax would have to work at a European level so as "not to harm the competitiveness of French companies," according several UMP deputies who met with him in parliament.
"The decisions we take on sustainable development must be better co-ordinated with all European countries so as not to deepen our competitive disadvantage with our neighbour Germany," they quoted him as saying.
The strikes on Tuesday disrupted train services and schools while angry public sector employees marched in Paris, Marseilles, Bordeaux and other French cities, police and organisers said.
France's biggest union, the CGT, said 800,000 people took part in protest marches held in dozens of cities across the country, while police put the figure at 380,000.

Green investment bank may be announced in the budget, but what would it deliver?

Financial and environmental experts give their views on how it should be set up, and what its financial resources should support, Tuesday 23 March 2010 13.39 GMT
A green investment bank or fund is expected to be unveiled in Alastair Darling's budget tomorrow. But there is little clarity on how it would operate, or what it would invest in. The idea has been studied by a range of financial and environmental experts, so the Guardian asked a panel of experts two questions:
1. How should it most effectively be set up?
2. What should it use its financial resources to support?
Sean Kidney, chair of the Climate Bonds initiative
1 - We have some great models in the world: the European Investment Bank, KfW in Germany, Caisse Depots in France. It needs to be run at arms-length from government and have a brief to judiciously use the limited funds available from the government to mobilise the private finance we need to transform our energy system. But above all it must be focused on the engineering of investment in energy and related areas to achieve a transformation to a low-carbon economy.
2. First it must kickstart debt markets for energy efficiency overhauls in this country. That's the low hanging fruit of carbon emissions cuts, where we reduce our power bills while buying time to transform our energy system. To cut emissions we need very big investments to be made; but despite evident economic benefits, things are moving very slowly. It's just too complicated or marginal for most people and businesses. Second is renewable energy which, driven by innovation and mass manufacturing, is getting cheaper every year. Over the next 10 years we have to replace more than half of our old power plants, and we need to make sure we do so with clean energy. A green investment bank can use climate bonds to capture those future savings to pay for a rapid build-out of clean energy now. This could break the logjam for deployment of climate change mitigation.
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK1. First of all, the bank needs to be up and running quickly. Our European neighbours have already begun the upgrades necessary for the transition to a low carbon economy. Second, the bank will need to provide low interest loans which are guaranteed by the government. Some of the required capital can be raised from the sale of public assets, but we must also consider bolder ideas such as directing publicly owned banks, such as RBS, to invest in this scheme. Over the longer term the government should use tax revenues from carbon intensive industries to fund this bank and help kickstart the clean, renewable technologies that will secure Britain's prosperity in the 21st century.
2. It must be clear that only low carbon projects like offshore wind farms, ports and advanced electricity grids will benefit from financial support. It is vital that this project is not used as a fig leaf to divert attention from a carbon intensive, business-as-usual approach in other government departments. Industry experts predict that up to £37.5bn is needed each year to upgrade our creaking energy system. If it delivers, this new bank can help secure this investment, creating thousands of new jobs, fighting climate change and securing Britain's energy supplies for good.
Tom Burke, founding director of sustainable development consultants E3G
1. The trick to establishing a successful green investment bank is get its distance from the Treasury right. Being either too close or to distant will see its initiative crushed. It must be established by statute to secure its independence and its public purpose must be defined with great clarity to ward off subsidy seekers. The majority public shareholding should be equally split between the department of energy and climate change, to reflect its responsibility for carbon budgets, and the Treasury.
2. A green investment bank should focus exclusively on funding infrastructure. The foundations of a low carbon energy system are smart grids, high speed rail links and electric vehicle charging networks - the platforms for a wide range of technologies. They are to 21st century competitiveness what the motorways were to the 20th century. The private sector will not build this infrastructure on time and to scale without public participation. The green bank's task is to lower the cost of capital for this infrastructure not to be an extra pocket to feed nuclear or renewable technology subsidy seekers.
Tom Murley, chairman of the British Venture Capital Association's Energy, Environment and Technology Board
1. A Green Investment Bank should be set up as an independent agency similar to the KfW Bank in Germany or the European Investment Bank. Its purpose should be to invest in sectors, companies and projects, originated and vetted by the private sector, filling funding gaps where private sector capital is not available or addressing specific market failures. While it should be a consultee on low carbon and renewable energy policy, it should be independent of policy formation.
2. The bank should invest in support of the government's long term renewable energy, energy efficiency, low carbon and energy security targets. This would include a range of investments, from debt for large offshore wind projects to potentially investing in venture capital funds backing new innovative technologies. It should seek commercial returns on investment, so as not to displace private capital and to provide returns that can be reinvested in other companies and projects.
Andrew Simms, policy director at the new economics foundation
1. The banking failure laid bare the private sectors' veiled dependence on the public sphere in bad times. But, a publicly owned Green Investment Bank will be proactive, not just there to pick up the pieces of mistakes made elsewhere. It should provide affordable credit, capital and guarantees, and in the process leverage further investment, but only to groups, companies and initiatives that will help push a rapid transition to a low carbon economy. Capital can be raised from a mixture of bonds, carbon taxes, the redirection of resources held in other part public owned banks and "green" quantitative easing. Working mostly at a large scale, the Green Investment Bank will need a network of more local, sister banks able to provide capital for smaller scale initiatives.
2. The priority will be to finance a new low-carbon infrastructure for Britain. From new and renovated low-energy building stock, to a new multi-scale, multi-technology renewable energy power system, to a clean, efficient, transport network with a hugely enhanced role for mass public transit, the bank would be instrumental in rewiring the nation for a low-carbon, high well-being future. In essence, it will help to write a national insurance policy against a future of high and volatile fossil fuel prices, geo-political insecurity and carbon constraints due to global warming.
Chris Goodall, author
1. The German state investment bank KfW is an attractive model. This entity lent €60bn last year, almost half of which went to companies involved in environmental protection of one form or another. It raises money on the international capital markets but its conservative policies and long-term perspective have meant it has been able to continue supporting smaller companies and environmental projects throughout the last two difficult years. If implemented here, our equivalent should be located outside London, have lending offices spread across the UK and offer private individuals a chance to invest in its activities.
2. In 2009 KfW put about €9bn into building refurbishment. Its activities have been geared towards helping property companies and social landlords improve the poor insulation standards of post-war German housing and commercial property. It has helped improve many hundreds of thousands of homes, providing more comfortable accommodation that it is much cheaper to run. KfW's lending has also created an effective and flexible eco-refurbishment industry. This has improved employment and skills, particularly in the less prosperous eastern parts of the country. We should copy the German emphasis on housing renovation as a primary activity of the bank, rather than let the UK entity focus on risky venture capital investments.
James Cameron, vice chairman, Climate Change Capital
1. It is crucial that this institution is set-up rapidly, has a clear low carbon mandate, and is funded at a level commensurate with the scale of the financing challenge we face. It should be set up to catalyse private sector investment and transcend political cycles. Given Britain's fiscal situation, it should sit off the government's balance sheet and have the task of delivering our low carbon transition in a cost-effective way for consumers and business. One of its key objectives should be enabling pension funds to deploy capital in low carbon infrastructure.
It could do this by issuing asset-backed green bonds, for example, to improve Britain's energy efficiency or build offshore wind farms. However, there is no need to build a huge physical institution. The institution could be capitalised by existing banks, including the state-owned ones. Government expenditure via the Carbon Trust and other relevant quangos could be used as well. Funds raised by selling government assets, as suggested by the chancellor, might be used successfully, but this could take more time than we have.

Port upgrade for offshore wind may be 'surprise' in budget's green plans

Chancellor tipped by Greenpeace to reveal details of upgrade in north-east alongside plans for green investment bankRead the expert view on the green investment bank

David Adam, environment correspondent, Wednesday 24 March 2010 07.00 GMT

The creation of a new "green infrastructure" bank in today's budget has been widely trailed, but campaigners say Alistair Darling may have another eco-friendly rabbit up his sleeve: the upgrade of a new port in the north-east to service the offshore wind industry.
Thousands of offshore wind turbines are planned by the government to meet EU targets on renewable energy, and Greenpeace says it expects the port decision to be announced with that in mind.
The campaign group called it "good news for Britain's competitiveness". Few ports currently have the capacity to service the heavy machinery needed to construct and maintain industrial-scale wind farms. Countries such as Germany have already invested heavily in ports and other offshore wind infrastructure.
Greenpeace also welcomed the plans for the green bank, which is expected to be funded with £1bn raised by the government sale of state assets such as the High Speed One rail link and the Student Loans book. The money would be channelled into low interest loans and other financial help for companies building green energy projects such as wind farms. Greenpeace said it was important that this money be earmarked for low-carbon investment only, to prevent it being siphoned into projects to build airport runways, roads and coal-fired power stations.
Ben Stafford, head of campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "This budget may clarify where the chancellor's axe will fall. All parties are talking about ring-fencing particular budgets, such as schools and hospitals, but this suggests cuts will be deeper elsewhere."
He added: "The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) currently accounts for less than 0.5% of total government spending, and the Department of Energy and Climate Change for about 0.3%. In the grand scheme of things, this is small change lost down the back of the Whitehall sofa. At a time of growing threats to the environment and the countryside from development, climate change and simple neglect, it would be remarkably short-sighted for any political party to advocate trimming these budgets even further."

British company recruited to lead China's efforts to clean up its economy

International Synergies selected as 'sophisticated dating agency' to help share UK's experience of improving energy efficiency and waste reduction
Jonathan Watts in Tianjin, Tuesday 23 March 2010 17.40 GMT

A British company was recruited today into a pioneering role in China's efforts to clean up and decarbonise its economy.
International Synergies, a Birmingham-based firm, has been asked to share the UK's experience of improving energy efficiency and reducing waste with one of the biggest industrial powerhouses in China.
Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, a zone in north-eastern China with a GDP of about £30bn pounds a year, aims to reinvent itself as the Silicon Valley of low-carbon technology.
But first it must deal with the legacy of dirty and inefficient smoke-stack industry and low-cost manufacturing.
To reduce emissions and waste, Tianjin has teamed up with the European Union to fund one of China's first "industrial symbiosis" programmes.
In the initial four-year stage, it aims to bring 800 companies together, reduce 365,000 tonnes of landfill waste and 99,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.
Though relatively small in scale, the organisers hope powerful backing from Tianjin and the EU will enable the programme to be replicated on a national scale.
The programme aims to find efficiency gains between companies. By identifying and sharing needs, the waste of one firm can become the fuel or recycled raw materials of another. Chimney steam can be diverted to heat greenhouses. Unused meat and bone from cattle rendering can be burned as fuel for cement production.
"It's like a sophisticated dating agency," said Peter Laybourn, the head of International Synergies. "We bring companies together that would not normally be introduced to one another."
Since 2002, he said, the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme that he helped to start in the UK has reduced 30m tonnes of carbon dioxide, trimmed landfill waste by 35m tonnes and created 8,770 jobs.
"If we can achieve that in the UK, think what fantastic potential there is in China," he told a packed audience in Tianjin.
China has long been criticised for using a great deal of energy and raw materials for a relatively small economic gain, though this is largely because it is a late developing economy that produces many of the world's most polluting and energy-intensive goods.
"There is still a big gap in industrial efficiency between China and developed countries," said Zhang Jun, the deputy chair of the Tianjin Area.
As the EU and other partners unveiled a new low carbon centre in Tianjin, he said it was in the region's interests to adopt and adapt know-how from overseas.
"This is important for our image, for our competitiveness," he said. "If we do this well, we can develop and nurture a low-carbon industry with implications for the world."
Not everyone is happy about this. In an echo of cold war fears of the space race, US politicians and commentators have recently expressed concerns that China may take the lead in low-carbon technology and dominate the future of the power industry.
But representatives from the EU, which provided 80% of the funding for the Tianjin project, said China's rapid transition to a low carbon economy was in the world's interest.
"This is the new industrial revolution," said Johan Cauwenbergh, minister counsellor of the EU. "The transition to a low carbon economy won't be easy, but the longer we postpone taking the necessary steps, the more it will hurt later."
The representative of the United Nations expressed hope that the new project will produce verifiable results that can convince the outside world of the potential for change.
"The world is in desperate need of successful models to reduce carbon emissions," said Edward Clarence-Smith of the UN Industrial Development Organisation. "We hope this project can be replicated throughout China and to other developing countries."
The political subtext of the programme is an attempt to convince China – the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter – that it can benefit from efficiency improvements and the promotion of clean technology.
"We very strongly want to get across the message that there is no contradiction between economic growth and low-carbon development," said Alistair Morgan, commercial counsellor of the British Embassy. "We hope more regions in China will implement the industrial symbiosis model and enjoy the major benefits of sustainable development."