Monday, 26 April 2010

Oil Spills Into Gulf After Rig Disaster

About 1,000 Barrels a Day Gush From Well on Seafloor as BP Rushes to Contain Damage
Associated Press
A boat with an oil boom tries to contain crude in the Gulf about seven miles from the explosion.
The oil well connected to a drilling rig that sank in the Gulf of Mexico last week after a fiery explosion is gushing crude oil, raising fears of a severe environmental hazard.
An oily sheen on Sunday covered 600 square miles, an area twice as large as the five boroughs of New York. The slick, which is spreading north, is about 70 miles south of the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
Efforts to shut off the well have been unsuccessful. The leak, which was discovered Saturday through information from underwater cameras, is still gushing 1,000 barrels a day from the seafloor.
The offshore accident has left BP PLC, the U.K.-based company that was exploring for oil on the rig, scrambling to contain both the spill and any potential damage to its reputation. BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward flew to the gulf coast on Friday to oversee the response.

BP has mobilized most of its senior management to deal with the oil spill, which is being seen as potentially the biggest crisis the company has faced since the explosion and fire at its Texas City, Texas, refinery five years ago that left 15 people dead and scores injured.
The fallout for BP and the oil industry could largely depend on the spill's severity and the extent of its ecological impact. An unknown amount of crude has already been released deep underwater, and it wasn't clear how quickly crews could disable the well. The Coast Guard hasn't offered any estimates of the total spill.
On Sunday the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the oil hasn't affected the Louisiana coastline, and was likely to remain offshore for three days according to current forecasts.
"We've no shoreline impact at this time," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said Sunday in a press conference. "Our overaching goal is to secure this well while the oil is as far offshore as possible."
Adm. Landry said the well wasn't completely open—and that if it was, the rate of outflow would be many times the current 1,000 barrels a day.
The job of shutting off the well is made all the more difficult by its location. Much of the critical equipment is under almost 5,000 feet of water on the seafloor. A well in such deep water was unthinkable in prior decades, but the industry has pushed the technological envelope in recent years in its search for new sources of oil and natural gas.
The spill comes as the industry is hoping to expand potentially lucrative offshore drilling into new parts of Alaska, the east coast of the U.S. and parts of the Gulf of Mexico long off-limits to the industry.
Late last month, President Barack Obama gave preliminary approval to expanded offshore drilling, although that legislation, expected this week, has slowed amid Washington wrangling.
University of California Santa Barbara Prof. Keith Clarke, who studied a 1969 oil spill off the Southern California coast, said: "Worst-case scenario would be loss of sea life, especially sea birds and marine mammals. Fishing could be significantly impacted. A great deal depends on how long the site leaks."
BP has deployed 32 spill-response vessels to skim off the oil slick and prevent it from reaching shore. About one-third of the world's supply of oil dispersant—about 100,000 gallons—is ready to be used, the company said. "Given the current conditions and the massive size of our response, we are confident in our ability to tackle this spill offshore," Mr. Hayward said in a statement.
Steve Benz, head of the Marine Spill Response Corp., said he was gearing up for the "single largest response effort in MSRC's 20-year history."
Since oil is lighter than water, the spilled oil is slowly rising from a mile deep.
Recovering oil in calm waters is a fairly easy task, says Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center, a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of New Hampshire. But the waters have been choppy in the past couple days, and authorities won't send out skimming boats and other equipment if emergency workers could be in danger.
The Coast Guard said Sunday that the weather was expected to improve on Monday, enabling oil-collection efforts to resume.
Rough seas also churn up the oil, mixing it up with water to form a sticky emulsion that can't be skimmed off the surface as easily. "It's almost like a fluffy, fluffy chocolate mousse," Ms. Kinner said. "That's really really difficult to gather up."
The initial efforts are aimed at using remote-controlled submarines to activate a 450-ton device on the seafloor that can clamp off the well.
The submarine tactic is continuing, but at the same time BP is bringing in another rig to drill down and intercept the existing well. It would then inject a dense fluid into the well to block it and prevent further spillage. BP officials said it could take two to three months for this to work.
The company is also looking at covering the underwater area with a giant dome to suck up the leaking oil and treat it on a ship.
The spill started when the rig, the Deepwater Horizon owned by Switzerland-based Transocean Inc. and contracted by BP, was putting the final touches on a well in 5,000 feet of water last week that had successfully encountered a deep reservoir containing tens of millions of barrels of oil. On Tuesday evening, a fire broke out.
Most workers evacuated but 11 are missing and presumed dead.
Some 36 hours after the initial well blowout, the rig sank to the bottom of the Gulf. Remote-controlled submarines were sent to the seafloor and sent initially hopeful reports that the well appeared to be sealed off. But further inspection over the weekend showed that the pipe still attached to the well equipment on the seafloor was gushing oil.
It is unclear how long the pipe has been leaking at the current estimated rate of 1,000 barrels a day, but the spill could have begun on Thursday, the Coast Guard said. "Our initial guesses are when the rig exploded and subsequently sank in the water, it bent that pipe over it completely to the bottom of the seafloor," said spokesman Erik Swanson.
Although there were no preliminary estimates on the amount of oil released so far, this appears to be the largest oil spill in the gulf for a decade at least. There were several oil spills associated with hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, but none that exceeded 2,000 barrels. The worst oil spill in U.S. history was the 260,000 barrels dumped into Prince William Sound in Alaska from the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
—Angel Gonzalez and Leslie Eaton contributed to this article.
Write to Russell Gold at, Guy Chazan at and Ben Casselman at

Major solar panel firms 'are misleading consumers'

Consumer group calls on industry to clean up its act after undercover investigation reveals high-pressure sales tactics
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Sunday, 25 April 2010

Solar power installers are bamboozling householders with high pressure sales tactics and misleading financial statistics, an undercover investigation by a consumer group has found.
Which? condemned most of the companies it came across as "cowboys" and cautioned that the Government would have to clean up the taxpayer-backed industry, vital for the battle against climate change, unless it improved its performance.
The consumer group launched its investigation after a rise in complaints about solar thermal firms. Undercover researchers rented a house in southern England and invited firms to quote for installing solar thermal systems, which use sunlight to heat tap water.
Of the 10 that exaggerated the financial savings that could be made, the double-glazing giant Everest subsequently admitted that its representative had made false claims – that its system could save 30 times more money than was possible.
Another firm, Ideal Solar Energy, wrongly claimed a solar scheme could halve gas bills and grossly misquoted energy supply statistics from the energy regulator Ofgem.
Which? said: "While these two companies concerned us the most, we received poor service and exaggerated claims of performance from nearly all 14 firms."
Its chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith, said: "Most of the firms in our investigation behaved like true cowboys – they promised huge savings that bore no relation to reality, and some really piled pressure on the homeowner to sign up immediately or risk losing a one-off 'special offer'."
He added: "The solar industry is too important to our long-term energy needs for things to drag on like this."
Neil McLoughlin, a trading standards officer who saw undercover footage of the Everest sales visit, said the precise nature of the quotation made the claim even more misleading and suggested the Everest may have broken the law on sales tactics by offering thousands of pounds off the price for making a decision "on the spot".
After being informed of the "sting", Everest said: "We're disappointed that our representative failed to use the sales support documentation provided and made claims he knew to be false."
In addition to boasting it could halve gas bills, Ideal successively dropped its originally quote of £8,690 to £5,860 and made a "pushy" phone call to the householder. It also misquoted statistics from energy regulator Ofgem about the proportion of a gas bill that goes on heating.
Ideal later defended its pitch, saying: "Like all retailers, we offer limited promotions on a selective basis" and added it instructed its sales agents not to specify savings to hot water bills.
Just one company, Southern Solar, was found to be helpful and provide sensible advice.
Last year, the OFT received 1,000 complaints about the solar panel industry – high for an industry with fewer than 100,000 installations in UK homes.
The Renewable Energy Association, a trade body which runs an assurance scheme for solar installers, said it was concerned by the report. A spokesman said: "We will be contacting Which? to follow up on their investigation, and take any action necessary against any of the companies which are members of our scheme."

Anger as Brazil approves Amazon rainforest dam

By Raymond Colitt and Denise Luna in Brasilia
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Brazil awarded a domestic consortium rights yesterday to build the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest amid criticism that the dam will be catastrophic for the environment.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is likely to face a prolonged battle over the Belo Monte dam that he has heavily promoted despite opposition from a range of critics, including Hollywood director James Cameron.
Government leaders say the project, due to start producing electricity in 2015, will provide power for Brazil's fast-growing economy, but environmentalists and activists say it will damage a sensitive ecosystem and displace around 20,000 locals.
State power regulator Aneel said a consortium including state electric company Eletrobras and a group of Brazilian construction firms – considered the weaker of the two consortia that participated – won the bid.
News of the outcome was blocked for two hours because of a last-minute injunction trying to halt the project on environmental grounds.
The results are unlikely to affect overall electricity rates in Brazil because most of the energy is already set aside for specific clients, with only a small remainder entering power markets.

Britain reaches milestone for renewable energy

By Emily Beament
Saturday, 24 April 2010
The UK has reached a milestone of installing 1 gigawatt (GW) of offshore wind farms – enough to power 700,000 homes. It was achieved this week as two new wind farms off the coast began generating electricity.
The UK now has 11 offshore wind farms, with a total of 336 installed turbines, according to the industry body Renewables UK. A further 4GW of offshore wind farms are being constructed or have planning consent and a total of 40GW are at various stages of development.

Maria McCaffery, chief executive of the organisation, said hitting the 1GW mark in 10 years was a "tremendous step forward". "The UK offshore wind industry has come of age. In the last 10 years we have built a brand new world-leading industry sector that will create long-term value for this country."
She said that in the first quarter of this year, £500m of private investment had been poured into offshore wind in the UK.
"The opportunity now for this country is to build on this position of global leadership to develop the industrial and service supply chain to provide the equipment and skills that will embed Britain's competitive advantage in marine renewables," Ms McCaffery said.

Obama's climate-change bill stymied by bipartisan quarrel

By Stephen Foley in New York and Enjoli Liston
Monday, 26 April 2010
Prospects for an early international agreement to tackle climate change have suffered a major setback, as a US plan to cut carbon emissions descended into partisan bickering.
Senior American political figures had promised to introduce a "cap and trade" energy bill today, paving the way for the kind of substantial international talks that failed to materialise at last year's Copenhagen summit, but the launch has been called off at the last minute.
Green groups expressed disappointment at the development, which supporters of the bill described as a "postponement", but the Republican Senator who had previously been on board stormed out on Saturday after what he called a betrayal by the White House.

Lindsey Graham said that President Barack Obama and Democrat leaders had decided to deprioritise the energy bill, and focus instead on trying to get an immigration reform bill passed. "This has destroyed my confidence that there will be a serious commitment and focus to move energy legislation this year," he said. "I will not allow our hard work to be rolled out in a manner that has no chance of success."
The Senator claimed a decision to prioritise immigration was a nakedly political attempt to mobilise the Hispanic vote for November's elections.
The White House, however, suggested Mr Graham's motives were also partisan. Larry Summers, the president's chief economic adviser, told CBS television's Face the Nation: "Even though immigration reform and energy reform are both crucial issues for the business community, there has been an enormous back-pressure against the kind of bipartisan co-operation that Senator Graham has engaged in, and that perhaps has made this a more complex situation, more difficult for him than it would otherwise be."
Senator Graham had been scheduled to help to unveil a bipartisan blueprint for energy reform today that would have introduce a limited cap and trade regime for utilities. He, Democrat John Kerry, and independent senator Joe Lieberman had been closing in on a compromise bill after months of talks aimed at forging a grand bargain linking emissions targets to incentives for nuclear and clean coal power and new offshore drilling permits.
Climate-change legislation has been stalled in Congress for months. The US has historically been the biggest producer of the carbon emissions responsible for global warming, although it has been surpassed by China. Although the House of Representatives passed a tough cap and trade bill last year after fraught negotiations with politicians representing coal-producing states, the Senate had made no progress.
It was that lack of progress that stymied the UN climate-change summit last December, because President Obama was unable to sign up to concrete targets for emissions reductions after the expiry of the Kyoto protocol in 2012. In the end, the summit offered only non-binding targets – with no guidance on how they should be achieved – and highlighted sharp disagreements between the US and China.
Environment ministers of the so-called Basic bloc – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – met in Cape Town at the weekend to look at how to fast-track a deal that would bind rich nations to cut emissions and reduce global warming. They said a legally binding global agreement to limit climate change needed to be completed by 2011 at the latest.
Senator Graham's participation in a US legislative effort had been seen as crucial to bringing on board the Republican votes needed for the measures to pass the Senate. His withdrawal is a serious blow.
But the White House promised to keep up pressure for progress in the Senate. Mr Obama's environment tsar, Carol Browner, said: "We have an historic opportunity to finally enact measures that will break our dependence on foreign oil, help create clean energy jobs and reduce carbon pollution. We're determined to see it happen this year."
Tom Picken, international climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said the delay means the US continues to be a "rogue state" in the climate-change consensus.
"What we are seeing in the US is a continuation of extremely negative influence on the UN climate policy, and this is the latest setback in what will be further poison to progress," Mr Picken said. "The US political and fossil-fuel lobbies are holding the world hostage by blocking meaningful progress. Crucially, international climate-change progress must continue within the official UN talks, with or without the US on board."

Volcano crisis: Sense vanishes in a puff of ash

The closure of our airspace casts a highly disturbing light on the way we are governed, says Christopher Booker.

By Christopher Booker Published: 6:51PM BST 24 Apr 2010

Last week, for the second time in a decade, a major crisis erupted out of the blue that cast a highly disturbing light on the peculiarly contorted way in which we are now governed. The Icelandic volcano shambles had striking parallels with the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001.
Both episodes involved a massive system failure in a complex new structure of supranational governance which was being put to the test for the first time, Both were made much worse by over-reliance on an inadequate computer model, which ended up causing unnecessary chaos and misery for hundreds of thousands of people and costing not millions but billions of pounds.

What turned that shower of abrasive volcanic dust from a drama into a crisis was the central flaw in a new international system for responding to such incidents, which was put in place only last September. As everyone now recognises, the emptying of the skies which plunged Europe's airlines into chaos was a grotesque overreaction to the reality of the risks involved.
Within two days, the amount of ash over northern Europe was at barely one per cent of the official danger level. But the authorities were locked by international rules into a rigid bureaucratic system, based on a computer model, which gave them no alternative but to close down air traffic for days longer than was justified. The real flaw in the system was that it made no provision for testing that crude computer model against actual real-life data, which could have shown that the computer was vastly exaggerating the risk.
Responsibility for responding to the Icelandic eruption lay with a bewildering hierarchy of national and international authorities, starting at the top with a UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), working down through the European Commission and Eurocontrol (which is not part of the EU), to national agencies, such as our own Civil Aviation Authority, the National Air Traffic Service and, last but not least, the UK Met Office, owners of the relevant computer model.
Under guidelines issued by the ICAO last September, as soon as the Met Office's computer simulation of air flows around Europe indicates that a particular wind-borne dust cloud might theoretically be a danger, it automatically triggers an exclusion zone for air traffic. What the computer cannot show is the density of the dust, and whether it thus poses a genuine hazard.
A properly designed system should have allowed for immediate sampling and monitoring of the ash cloud to see whether it was at the danger level. As a spokesman for the International Advisory Committee on Flight Safety put it, "military and transport aircraft should have been sent straight up to determine the nature of the ash cloud. The density and the make-up of the cloud is what matters, and that information has just not been available."
But somehow the need for this had been completely overlooked by all the international officials involved in devising the new system (which was endorsed on our behalf by the European Commission). Because no one had been made officially responsible for carrying out the relevant sampling, it then turned out that there were very few planes left in Europe specially equipped to do it (the only dedicated aircraft in Britain was sitting in a hangar being painted). It was thus left to the beleaguered airlines to carry out their own test flights, which they began to do last weekend, finding that the quantities of ash in the air were negligible.
With losses soaring towards £2 billion, the airlines, led by British Airways, acted to break the official blockade. BA's Willie Walsh told the authorities that he had 22 aircraft already in the sky, heading for Britain – and the serried ranks of officialdom buckled, rushing to explain that they had only been doing their jobs in acting by the rule book. It was, of course, that rule book which was at fault, because it gave exclusive authority to a computer model not up to the task.
This was reminiscent of what happened in 2001, when our Government tried to tackle the foot-and-mouth epidemic within a new straitjacket of EU directives. Instead of listening to those world experts who were urging it to contain the disease by vaccination, it handed over direction of the crisis to a computer modelling team with no experience of animal diseases, who came up with that truly disastrous policy of a "pre-emptive cull". The result was that millions of healthy animals were killed unnecessarily, the appalling damage inflicted on Britain's countryside was infinitely worse than it should have been, and the cost rose into billions.
It is especially ironic that a Met Office computer model was at the centre of this latest fiasco, and that, thanks to successive Government cuts over the years, it no longer has any aircraft capable of testing whether its model's data are reliable. Over the past 20 years, our Met Office has received some£250 million to allow its computer models to predict future climate change. If just a tiny fraction of that money had been spent on aircraft of the type that the Met Office used to have at its disposal to sample dust clouds, airlines and their customers might have been saved several times the sum the Met Office has frittered away on its obsession with global warming.

Wind farm planning applications ‘dealt with speedily in Britain’

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Wind farms are much easier to build in Britain than in most of the rest of Europe, according to a study that contradicts claims by the turbine industry that the planning system is too slow and needs to be reformed.
It takes an average of 26 months to win permission for a wind farm in Britain, compared with an average of 42 months across the EU. In France, it takes 29 months, Germany 30 and Spain 57, according to the EU-funded study by the European Wind Energy Association. Wind farm developers face the longest wait in Portugal, where the average wind farm takes 58 months from application to consent. Finland gives the fastest response, approving wind farms in only eight months.
Britain also has one of the least bureaucratic planning systems, with developers needing to contact an average of 15 authorities and organisations to obtain permission, it was reported. The EU average is 18. In Greece, applicants must contact 41 bodies.
The number of onshore turbines in Britain is due to treble in the next few years. There are 2,400 in use and planning consent has been given for another 2,100. Planning applications are being processed for more than 3,000.
Renewable UK, the wind industry’s trade body, wants wind farm applications to be approved in only 16 weeks, which it says is the typical period for permission to be granted to build a supermarket or housing estate.
A spokesman for the organisation said that the European study had not taken into account the success rate of applications. He said that only a quarter of wind farms were approved by local authority planning committees, though permission for others is granted on appeal. “Spain, which according to this league table is among the slowest, has five times more onshore wind capacity than the UK,” he added.
Offshore wind farms are much more likely to win approval, with Renewable UK announcing today that one gigawatt of generating capacity has been installed around Britain’s coast.
Renewable UK said there were 336 offshore turbines in 11 “farms”, producing enough power for 700,000 homes. Offshore turbines tend to be much larger than those onshore and the next generation will have a sweep larger than the London Eye.
Wind farm developers are planning to have installed a total of 8,000 offshore turbines by 2020, which will generate enough electricity to power most of Britain’s homes when the wind is blowing.

Where are the worthwhile green projects, ask investors

Tom Bawden
BRITAIN is struggling to produce commercially viable green companies, according to some of our top venture capital investors.
A dependence on government funding and a lack of management talent in “clean tech” businesses render many of them unworthy of investment, they warn.
Edmund Truell, the private equity veteran who raised £200m for a green fund last year at his new firm Curzon Park Capital, said he is struggling to spend the money.
Jon Moulton, founder of Alchemy Partners and Better Capital, has also warned of a lack of credible green ventures.

The concern is supported by new figures showing that Britain is attracting only 2.5% of the money being invested in green technology globally. The lack of investment comes in spite of a determination by Britain’s political parties to turn the nation into a hub for green jobs and business.
“There is a dearth of viable green companies to invest in because the sector has been featherbedded by government money, which has given it a sense of entitlement,” said Truell, a former chief executive of Duke Street Capital.
“Hundreds of companies have received soggy, government-backed initial investment — first-round seed funding of £1m to £2m. But a good 90% of them are not credible companies because they lack management teams with commercial expertise,” he said.
“Too many clean-tech companies are focused on the technology without considering whether it is something that can actually make money. It is a complaint of many venture capitalists and [fund investors] that there is an insufficient focus on commerciality,” said Truell. “First and foremost a new product has to be economically viable. If it happens to be green as well, that’s a bonus.”
Green investment funds have amassed $12 billion (£7.8 billion) to invest worldwide and are in the process of raising a further $26.7 billion, according to new figures from Preqin, the research firm.
New industry figures show that venture capitalists backed a record 180 green companies in the first quarter of 2010, investing a total of £1.2 billion. Only $48m of that money was invested in British companies, however, spread across 16 firms, according to data from Cleantech Group, a green investment research firm.
Moulton, who specialises in investments worth between £5m and £25m, is also struggling to find green companies worth investing in. “There are not a great number of good green opportunities out there. Some companies are given too much government funding and there is a tendency for penny packet stuff,” he said.
The claims have been backed by Tom Murley, chairman of the British Venture Capital Association’s Energy, Environment and Technology Group, who runs HG Capital’s €300m renewable-energy fund. “In an industry that has been supported by government handouts, there tend to be lots of big ideas that are not typically that commercial,” he said.
“In renewables we have a lot of people who see opportunities, have great designs and think it’s all going to work out in the end. But as we learnt in the dotcom era, that isn’t always the case.
“The key problem is lack of management talent. We have some brilliant guys with some great ideas but we just don’t have the first-class management teams in this sector. This is largely because it’s a new sector and it takes time to attract the talent,” he said.
A wave of investment in green technology companies is expected over the next decade. European early-stage, buyout and infrastructure funds dedicated to clean tech investments have $5.1 billion of cash to invest, of which about $3.1 billion is earmarked for the UK, according to Preqin, which provides data for the alternative investment industry.
Green funds are raising a further $10.9 billion for European investments, with about $3.1 billion destined for the UK, said Preqin. The figures refer only to dedicated green investment funds. Dozens of general fund managers are also planning to plough a portion of their cash into clean-tech investments.
The average clean-tech fund has promised investors an 18.5% annual return on their money, just below the 19.2% promised by the general funds, according to Preqin.
Since most green venture-capital funds have been raised since 2006, it is too early to tell how successful these kinds of investments will be.
The 2010 Preqin Private Equity Review concludes: “Target [returns] suggest that fund managers are expecting to generate high returns but it remains to be seen whether clean-tech funds will achieve these targets.”
The report defines clean tech as anything designed “to minimise any negative environmental impact and efficiently manage the Earth’s natural resources”.

Green pioneers: Modern alchemy turns air into fuel

Petra Cameron and Matthew Jones will extract carbon dioxide and convert it
Danny Fortson

PRODUCING petrol from air sounds like science fiction, but Petra Cameron and Matthew Jones, chemists at the University of Bath, have received £1.4m in taxpayer’s money to show that it can be done.
The pair are leading a team of 14 scientists that could one day make “air refineries”, which would pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and mix it with hydrogen to create fuel. The implications are mind-boggling. But Cameron and Jones speak about the project with the detachment of seasoned scientists.
“The basic idea is to take carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into chemicals, fuels and plastics that are today derived from hydrocarbons,” said Jones. “We think we can make good headway in the next year or so.”
It almost sounds easy.

It’s not. The process can be roughly broken down into two halves. The first revolves round sucking carbon dioxide out of the air. Jones and the team at Bath are developing powders, called metal-organic frameworks, to do just that. These can be engineered to act like sponges that bind with atmospheric carbon dioxide and not other elements such as nitrogen and oxygen that are in the atmosphere. The second part of the process involves coming up with a way to create hydrogen, the other element in hydrocarbons.
That is where Cameron and her colleagues come in. Creating hydrogen with today’s technology uses vast amounts of energy to strip it out of substances such as methane or else to power electrolysis to separate it out of water, which consists of hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Cameron said that algae, with the aid of chemical agents, could feed on light and the carbon dioxide captured in Jones’s powders to produce hydrogen biologically.
“We need a sustainable source of hydrogen,” she said. “Today that comes from [oil]. Algae fuel cells could be a source in the future.”
Jones is developing catalysts to convert the trapped carbon dioxide and the hydrogen into fuels.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of Research Councils UK, awarded the team £1.4m last month to get the project going. It has drawn together scientists from a range of disciplines at three universities — Bath, Bristol and the West of England.
Jones said: “Some of the technology is known and proven, but the key is to get it to produce fuel on a commercial scale.”
The concept is not new. Researchers in Japan and America are working on the same idea. The US Department of Energy has put millions into similar projects. The recent surge in the oil price has made alternatives to fossil fuels more attractive.
Does that mean that in future we could top up our petrol tanks with a few heavy breaths? “I don’t think so,” said Jones. “A more realistic possibility is that in 20 years we will have carbon dioxide refineries, just like we have oil refineries today.”

SNP biomass plant plans under attack

Scott Hussey
Plans to build a network of biomass power plants in Scotland as part of Alex Salmond’s green revolution could damage the environment and cost thousands of jobs, according to a new report.
A shortage of domestic wood means that millions of tonnes of timber will have to be imported to fuel the plants, which are a key element of the SNP’s renewable energy strategy.
In addition to the carbon footprint of importing wood, the independent study warns that the surge in demand from government-subsidised biomass plants is likely to squeeze Scottish timber-processing firms out of the market.
According to the report, commissioned by the Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor), demand for wood could exceed supply as early as next year — before the biggest biomass plants are built.
There are only a handful of the plants in Scotland, but more than a dozen are in the pipeline.
The biggest is a 225-megawatt plant in Hunterston, North Ayrshire. Others include four 100-megawatt plants at the ports of Leith, Rosyth, Grangemouth and Dundee. These four plants alone would burn four million tonnes of wood every year, almost half of Scottish timber production.
A subsidy of £8.1m was given to a 44-megawatt plant in Markinch, Fife, and £10m to a plant in Irvine, Ayrshire. The largest biomass plant in Scotland — and one of the UK’s largest — is in Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway. The £114m plant delivers 44 megawatts of energy and burns 475,000 tonnes of sustainable wood a year.
The report, by the Edinburgh-based firm John Clegg Consulting, concludes: “If new large users of British-grown wood and other wood fibre enter the marketplace, supported by subsidy, then it can only be at the expense of existing users, impacting negatively and disproportionately on sustainability, employment, carbon sequestration and mitigation of climate change.”
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of ConFor, which represents about 2,000 woodland owners and forest businesses across the UK, urged the Scottish government to reconsider its policy of subsidising biomass plants.
“Diverting wood from existing users to large-scale biomass plants will be bad for the environment and bad for jobs.
“By subsidising the dash to large-scale biomass, the Scottish government threatens to damage its own aim of a low-carbon economy — creating an artificial market that undermines its environmental and economic objectives. The policy will create a huge demand for wood that just isn’t there.”
Only 12% of Britain is covered by forest, the lowest proportion of any European country. About 20,000 workers are employed in Scotland in industries that use wood, such as saw-milling and wood-panel, paper and pulp manufacturing.
Tom Bruce Jones, joint managing director of James Jones & Sons, Scotland’s largest independent saw-miller, said there would not be enough domestic wood to meet demand once all of the biomass plants come on stream.
“The timber processing sector has invested more than £250m in Scotland in the past five years. As a company, we employ 550 personnel directly, and many hundreds more indirectly. We rely on secure long-term supplies of wood and, as can be seen from the report, there are not significant additional volumes available.”
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said biomass plants would make a “significant contribution” to achieving government targets.
The Scottish government, which is opposed to nuclear energy, has set a target of 31% of electricity supply to be generated from renewable sources by next year, and 50% by 2020.
A spokesman said: “We want to see a balanced use of wood that allows all who depend on it to continue to flourish, and make the maximum contribution to growing Scotland’s economy.”

Grassroots summit calls for international climate court

Cochabamba conference closes with call for rich countries to halve greenhouse gas emissions and set up a court to punish climate crimes

Andres Schipani in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Friday 23 April 2010 12.33 BST

Rich countries should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and set up a court to punish climate crimes, according to an international conference of grassroots climate groups and social movements in Bolivia.
President Evo Morales, who organised the gathering, also announced plans to mount a referendum of 2 billion people on solutions to the climate crisis within a year.
Speaking at the close of the four-day World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, Morales called on the UN to listen to the voice of the poorest. "The UN has an obligation to listen to its peoples and social forces. If the UN doesn't want to lose its authority, they should apply the conclusions of this conference. And if they don't, I am convinced that the peoples will apply their wisdom, recommendations and documents," he said.
The conference - which was attended by 30,000 people, according to the organisers, including NGOs, scientists, as well as union and government delegations - resolved to push for proposals that keep fossil fuels in the ground, protect indigenous rights, and reject plans to pay countries not to cut down forests through schemes like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd). "This alternative has to succeed because the alternative to Cochabamba is Copenhagen and Copenhagen came out with a so-called solution to climate change that in no way meets the severity of the climate crisis," said Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein.
"Here in Cochabamba you have one of the governments that is really negotiating for its own survival saying we can't afford to lose and you have all of civil society lining up behind that government and saying we don't want to negotiate away any country's survival, we refuse to be part of any negotiation like that," she said.
The united opposition to the forest conservation scheme Redd - under which countries earn carbon credits for keeping forests intact - will concern many rich countries who are depending on it to provide billions of dollars but must convince indigenous peoples of its value. "Redd is branded as a friendly forest conservation programme, yet it is backed by big polluters and climate profiteers. We cannot solve this crisis with out addressing the root cause: a fossil fuel economy that disregards the rights of Mother Earth," said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council.
Many delegates doubted if world leaders would pay much attention to the talks. "They may wish to deny that the peoples of the world have gathered in Cochabamba and brought forward real solutions to the problems of the world. But the reality is that the proposals coming out from here won't be ignored by anyone, they cannot wish it away," said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International.
The meeting has no direct bearing on the UN climate talks, but it has been set up as a venue for grassroots movements to put pressure on governments to act on climate change. "They cannot simply ignore that something happened here. This is better and more real than the Copenhagen accord that did not take off, this is the real forum for tackling the climate problems," Bassey said.
Jim Shultz, Harvard-educated and Cochabamba-based head of the Democracy Centre, cautioned that indigenous peoples would have to learn how to achieve change in rich countries. "Change is not going to happen by convincing people to unscrew one kind of lightbulb and put in another. It's not going to happen by getting people to just pick up their litter. It's going to happen because we as a planet relate in fundamentally different ways to the way we use energy... If people in the global south are serious about demanding political change from the global north then they need to get a lot more astute very quickly, about how political change in the north actually happens."
"Developed countries should take very seriously what happened here," said Angelica Navarro, Bolivian ambassador to the UN in Geneva. "This is real democracy. We are trying to bring a solution onto the negotiations table, coming from the people. If they don't listen I think it will be one of the biggest mistakes. Because this is coming from the grassroots, from people that are really suffering, that are at the forefront of the battle, it will be a mistake not to hear to their own people."

On the frontline of climate change

For many of North America's indigenous activists at the Bolivia summit, the fight against climate change is rooted in local issues

Joseph Huff-Hannon, Saturday 24 April 2010 11.00 BST
This week's massive climate conference in Bolivia played host to a geographically diverse group of diplomats from the US, well-versed in advancing tough negotiating postures, and working within a framework of international treaties often not worth the paper they're printed on. The US delegation didn't come from the state department, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the department of energy. Yet one delegate was given central billing in the inaugural event that kicked off the conference earlier in the week.
"We remain firm in our inalienable, sovereign rights," Faith Gemmill told a crowd of thousands that filled up Tiquipaya Coliseum on a sun-scorched morning, to a loud round of applause. "We the indigenous people of the north have survived colonial policies intended to terminate us, assimilate us, and displace us from our land. Despite this, we are still here! Indigenous people of Alaska and North America have given me voice to transmit this message to you."
Faith Gemmill is executive director of Redoil (Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands), an Alaska Native grassroots alliance formed in 2002 that organises around the impacts of oil and gas development on or near native land in Alaska. She was one of more than 20 indigenous representatives from North America who travelled to the Cochabamba, Bolivia this week for the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which ended on Thursday with a host of concrete proposals heavily informed by indigenous thinking on "living well" versus "living better", and influenced by the long and fraught histories of the impact of resource extraction on their traditional lands. The US government politely declined to send as much as a low-level observer to the historic summit, which drew more than 31,000 people from all over the world, and representatives from almost 50 governments.
"People have to make a choice, whether they want the Earth to continue to be here, or if life will disappear. It's a hard choice, and we're all involved in it," Carrie Dann tells me, a 75-year-old woman who travelled to Cochabamba from the Great Basin ("What non-indigenous people call Nevada," Carrie tells me), representing the Western Shoshone Defence Project. Carrie came to meet with other indigenous activists whose advocacy and activism against climate change is rooted in very local struggles. For Carrie, it's the Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian mining giant that is looking to mine a rich store of gold in Mt Tenabo – a sacred site for the Shoshone. The tribe has sued the US Bureau of Land Management, which approved the lease to Barrick, in an attempt to block the project.
"They were given the right to mine, but nobody knows what it's going to look like. It's a horrible destruction, it looks like a cancer on the earth. They keep extracting more and more for their people, eventually there won't be anything left."
One consistent premise that seemed to unite many indigenous activists from North America who travelled here was a desire to debunk many of the much-touted technocratic solutions to combat climate change – such as carbon offsetting.
"Including forests in the carbon market, it's a terrible idea. They want to offset emissions by planting or protecting trees," Jihan Gearon told me, an organiser with the Indigenous Environment Network, from Navajo country in the Southwest. "So corporations say, 'Great! we'll expand our emissions, but offset it by planting trees in the Amazon'. But in our network, which encompasses North and South America, we are seeing indigenous people displaced from their homes to 'protect' the land."
Another theme that came out of my many conversations with these North American diplomats was a deep historical analysis about who bears the brunt of extraction and energy development – including the resurgence of a nuclear industry that has successfully branded itself as form of "clean energy" that will be a key component in mitigating climate change.
"My homeland has one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world," Navajo activist and scholar Michelle Cook tells me. Although the Navajo nation, and the smaller Havasupai tribe whose ancestral lands run through the Grand Canyon, have long banned uranium mining, there is a encroaching on tribal lands. "People often don't realise how destructive nuclear energy is and how it impacts indigenous communities specifically. There is nothing clean about an energy source that gives people cancer, and causes irreparable harm to the land, water, and future generations."
If the raison d'être of the meetings here in Cochabamba was to advance the kind of genuinely ambitious solutions to combating climate change that many world governments failed to deliver on in the UN sponsored talks last winter, it also appears to have been a place for a diplomatic corps on the frontlines of the struggle against climate change to meet each other, compare notes, and fortify each other for what will likely be a long slog ahead.
"Our indigenous people are the third world of the north," said Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), sitting with me outside on the last day of the conference during one of the closing plenaries, echoes of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's long-winded oratory in the background. "We're working hard to break down the borders placed between our communities."

Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg vie for green vote with eco manifestos

Campaigners warn this is last chance to act on climate change

Damian Carrington, Sunday 25 April 2010 19.55 BST

Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg have gone on the attack today in an effort to win the environmental vote for what campaigners say will be the last parliament that can save the world from dangerous levels of climate change.
Both launched green manifestos, with Labour's saying the Liberal Democrat ban on new nuclear power would "endanger our energy security and climate change goals", while the Lib Dems condemned "a party that has had 13 years to deliver on the environment and failed".
The Lib Dems' key pledge was to set a target for a zero-carbon Britain. "We will set – and stick to – ambitious targets for a zero-carbon future," said Clegg. In the first year of a new government, the Lib Dems pledge to redirect £3.1bn from other spending programmes to stimulate the creation of 100,000 jobs in renewable energy and home insulation initiatives.
Their green manifesto also focused on air travel, promising to tax planes rather than passengers – meaning that empty aircraft or those carrying freight will be taxed – and to charge short-haul flights more if a low-carbon alternative is available. It promised new rail lines paid for by cuts in the major roads budget.
Clegg urged voters to "choose the only party that was taking a stand on saving the planet well before it became fashionable", noting his party's support for the 10:10 climate change campaign, which the Guardian supports.
The Lib Dem green manifesto says the target for a zero-carbon Britain could be offset up to 10% by buying credits from overseas projects. Labour sources said the pledge was an "empty gesture" because MPs have already voted for an 80% cut in emissions by 2050.
At the Guardian's environment hustings debate last week, Ed Miliband, the climate and energy secretary, went on the offensive against the non-nuclear pledge, describing it as a "big hole" in the Lib Dems' plans, and accusing the party of "ducking" difficult choices.
At the Labour manifesto launch, Brown made a pledge to give all pensioners over 75 who get pension credits a further £100 off their energy bills on top of the winter fuel allowance. "That is fairness in action," said Brown, echoing his campaign slogan.
Other new pledges concentrated on industrial policy. Labour has recently had some success in attracting wind turbine and electric car manufacturers to the country. The party said it would earmark 5,000 of the promised 67,000 apprenticeships for low-carbon trades. It also pledged to create low-carbon business zones in every region, following the existing marine energy hub in the south-west and the nascent electric car hub in the north-east.
Other possibilities include building on the nuclear industry already in the north-west and concentrating the development of new carbon capture and storage technology for coal power in Yorkshire and Humberside, close to the emptying North Sea oil and gas fields where the emissions might be buried. Labour also revealed a new estimate – 500,000 – for the number of electric vehicles its policies would see on the road by 2020.
Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem spokesman on energy and climate change, said: "Labour's environment manifesto is nothing more than a programme for another five years of failure. It continues with the fictitious claim that they will create 400,000 new jobs when the government's own figures say that their policies mean they can't do this, and continue their refusal to move the UK to a 42% emissions target by 2020 [from 34%]."
He added: "This country needs a low-carbon Britain, not just low-carbon zones."
Martyn Williams, parliament campaigner for Friends of the Earth, welcomed the extra £100 for pensioners, but said: "The difficulty is that Labour always tries to tackle fuel poverty by throwing money at people or by bringing fuel prices down, and not by ensuring that their homes are properly insulated."
The Conservatives made no new announcements today, and in the leaders' debate last Thursday, David Cameron was the only leader not to include climate change in his opening or closing statements. During the debate, Clegg called climate change the greatest challenge, a view echoed today by Brown.
The Lib Dem manifesto derided the Conservatives for "aligning themselves with climate change deniers in the European parliament", while Labour claimed that "the Tories would threaten our future energy security … through their widespread opposition [to wind farms]".
The Green party, whose leader, Caroline Lucas, appears to have a good chance of becoming the party's first MP, was identified as having the most ambitious manifesto by Friends of the Earth. But Clegg warned against voting for a party "that cannot make a difference in Westminster".
The commitments comparedLabour and the Liberal Democrats agree on many of the targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonise the UK's energy supply, most of which are already in UK or EU law. They also share the aim of making Britain's notoriously leaky homes and buildings much more energy-efficient and developing a high-speed rail network and a smart electricity grid. But sharp differences remain.
• Use industrial policy, which has seen wind turbine and electric car makers invest in the UK, to create 400,000 green jobs by 2015.
• Use "active government" – ie intervention – in markets to deliver a low-carbon energy sector.
• Up to £5,000 discount for electric cars and 100,000 charging points by 2015.
• Reduce aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050.
• Ban all recyclable and biodegradable waste from landfill.
• Back a third runway at Heathrow, but rule out any other new runway until 2015.
• Back new coal power stations without requiring that all their carbon emissions are captured and stored.
Crowd pleasers
• £100 extra towards energy bills for those over 75.
• Prosecution for a car owner if litter is thrown from it, plus seizure of cars used for fly-tipping.
• Treble the number of secure bicycle parking spaces at railway stations.
• Ban wild animals in circuses and maintain the fox-hunting ban.
Liberal DemocratsHeadliners
• Set target for a zero-carbon UK, but allow 10% of emissions to be offset overseas.
• Spend £3.1bn in the first year on a green jobs stimulus which will lead to 100,000 jobs.
• Tax planes, not passengers, to discourage empty flights, and tax short-haul flights more if trains or coaches are available.
• A road-pricing scheme, making motorists pay for their use, offset by scrapping the vehicle excise duty tax disc.
• Tax financial transactions and aviation and shipping emissions to help poorer countries moderate and adapt to climate change.
• Rule out a new generation of nuclear power on the grounds of expense – a "big hole" in electricity generation, says Labour.
• Scrap the new Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision-making to local people – risks delays to renewable energy projects.
• Unilaterally commit the UK to a 30% emissions cut by 2020, breaking step with the EU.
Crowd pleasers
• Cut rail fares and make Network Rail refund one-third of ticket cost if rail replacement bus services are used.
• £400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels.
• Double woodland by 2005 and policies to "increase tranquillity" in the countryside.
• Prevent "garden-grabbing" development by designating them as greenfield sites.

Day for the climate change question

The Guardian, Monday 26 April 2010
Over the past month supporters of the UK's leading environment and development organisations have been mobilising in key marginal seats (The debate, 23 April). In their thousands they have been "asking the climate question" of prospective parliamentary candidates, demanding bold and urgent action on climate change. This is an issue no prospective MP – or future government – can afford to ignore. Our organisations, the Ask The Climate Question coalition, have designated today as Climate Change Day. We hope and expect that all political parties will focus on climate change today and put this issue at the core of their election campaigns – for the first time in history.
Whichever party forms the next government will have an unprecedented opportunity – and responsibility – to tackle climate change. Success would mean thousands of new green jobs, a rapid shift to clean and secure energy supplies for the UK and protection of vulnerable people in poor countries from the impacts of climate change.
Stephen Hale Green Alliance
Barbara Stocking Oxfam GB
John Sauven Greenpeace UK
Loretta Minghella Christian Aid
Chris Bain Cafod
David Nussbaum WWF-UK
Matthew Frost Tearfund
Graham Wynne RSPB
David Miliband not only backs the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system of mass destruction (The election interview, 24 April), but along with his brother, energy secretary Ed, and Gordon Brown is a zealous supporter of expanding nuclear power. Last Thursday, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was the only one of the three party leaders in the television debate to reject new nuclear. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown strongly endorsed nuclear new build – and hence find themselves aligned with the BNP on backing nuclear.
Under a Brown or Cameron administration, not only would the nuclear power stations they support be owned by foreign companies – France's EDF Energy and Germany's E.On – but be built using foreign companies, of which the leading contenders are Areva (France) and Westinghouse (US-Japan). Not only ownership and operation will be foreign, but 100% of the uranium for the nuclear fuel will have to be imported – from Russia, Kazakhstan, Australia, Namibia, Canada or the US.
Brown criticised Clegg's opposition to nuclear, challenging him to "get real". The reality is that the two biggest political parties are aligned on nuclear energy, with opposition to this expensive and heavily subsidised technology coming from the Lib Dems, Green party and the Scottish Nationalists.
Dr David Lowry
Stoneleigh, Surrey