Climate is now main worry for conservation group

Climate is now main worry for conservation group

The devastating effects of a changing climate have become the biggest challenge faced by a leading protector of the UK countryside.

LONDON, 24 March, 2015 − The head of one of the UK’s best-known conservation groups says the greatest threat to its work is now climate change.

Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust, told BBC Radio that there is devastation of wild Britain and the creatures that live there. “Who would have thought that the house sparrow and hedgehog were going to become rare?” she said.

“For the future and we see this on our coastline, in our countryside, even in our houses climate change, we think, is the big threat to us.”

The Trust is the charity responsible for the care of countryside and historic houses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a separate body does the work in Scotland).

It is also one of Britain’s largest landowners, with 600,000 acres (250,000 hectares) and 700 miles (1,125 km) of coastline in its care, and more than 300 historic buildings − all held in trust for the future.

About 20 million people go to the Trust’s houses and gardens annually, but 200 million visit its upland, lowland and coastal sites.

Destruction of habitats

Dame Helen said: “The main challenge to our conservation purpose is the destruction of habitats, of wildlife − the fact that we see precious species 60% in decline.”

She suggested that, apart from climate, the other cause of that was intensive land management.

When it comes to recognising the risks of a warming world, Dame Helen is certainly well qualified. As a former leading civil servant, one of her last jobs before joining the Trust was to head the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which at that time had climate change as one of its responsibilities.

As part of its efforts to help address climate change, Dame Helen said the Trust would be getting 50% of the energy it uses in its houses and properties from renewable sources by 2020.

For example, she said, there would be “lots of hydro schemes across the country, lots of biomass boilers” as part of the renewable energy policy. The Trust aims to reduce its own energy consumption by about 20%.

It will also be working with its own tenant farmers, she said, “to try to make sure that land is farmed in environmentally-friendly ways that we get production, and also the bees and the butterflies”. Climate News Network

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Powerful wind blows through US energy sector

Powerful wind blows through US energy sector

Wind power in the US now generates enough electricity for more than 11 million homes, but it needs government support for further growth.

LONDON, 20 March, 2015 − The wind turbines are turning across America, and a major report by the US Department of Energy (DOE) says the wind energy sector now supplies 4.5% of the nation’s electricity.

Given the right energy policies and investment in infrastructure, that figure could increase to 10% by 2020 and to 35% by 2050, the DOE predicts.

That will not only benefit tens of thousands of workers who will be employed in one of the US’s fastest-growing industries. It’s also good news for the climate, and will help preserve increasingly precious water supplies.

“Deployment of wind technology for US electricity generation provides a domestic, sustainable and essentially zero carbon, zero pollution and zero water-use US electricity resource,” the DOE says.

Impressive growth

The rate of growth of wind power in the US has been impressive. In 2011 alone, nearly 3,500 turbines went up across the country. And the Natural Resources Defence Council says that a typical 250 megawatt wind farm − around 100 turbines − will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project.

The DOE says costs of wind power are dropping, while reliability and other issues are being sorted out. “Wind generation variability has a minimal and manageable impact on grid reliability and costs,” the report says.

Texas is the top wind power state, followed by Iowa, California and Oklahoma. At the end of 2013, the US had 61 gigawatts (GW) installed − up from 25 GW in 2009.

The aim is to increase those figures to 113 GW by 2020, to 224 GW by 2030, and to more than 400 GW by 2050.

The DOE says that if these plans are realised, the emission into the atmosphere of more than 12 gigatonnes of climate changing greenhouse gases (GHG) will be avoided.

“Pairing this homegrown resource with continued technology innovation has made the US the home of the most productive wind turbines in the world”

“Wind deployment can provide US jobs, US manufacturing and lease and tax revenues in local communities to strengthen and support a transition towards a low-carbon US economy,” the report says.

The trouble is that there is considerable resistance to wind power in parts of the political establishment. The DOE report – while not directly accusing Washington of standing in the way of progress on wind − does say that “new tools, priorities and emphases” need to be set in place in order to achieve wind energy targets.

These include an urgent need for a large-scale infrastructure programme in order to build wind power transmission lines.

The American Wind Energy Association, (AWEA), body that represents the industry, calculates that about 900 miles of transmission lines need to be put in place each year up to 2050 if the DOE is to achieve its wind power goals.

Tax policies to encourage wind development are also required. A special Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), which effectively gave subsidies to the wind industry of about $13 billion a year, was brought in 1992.

Receive subsidies

But when the tax credit came up for renewal in 2012, it was not retained in the tax code, and finally lapsed at the end of 2013, although the oil, gas, fracking and coal industries – all major GHG emitters − have continued to receive subsidies.

Political analysts say there is little likelihood that the PTC will be renewed by a legislature controlled by the Republican party – which is generally opposed to giving financial incentives to the renewable energy sector.

The elimination of tax breaks initially slowed growth in the construction of wind energy facilities, but the industry remains upbeat and says investors are still putting money into projects.

“The US is blessed with an abundant supply of wind energy,” the AWEA says. “Pairing this homegrown resource with continued technology innovation has made the US the home of the most productive wind turbines in the world.” – Climate News Network

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Serious doubts over Europe’s GHG reduction target

Serious doubts over Europe’s GHG reduction target

Europe has made substantial progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but its long-term reduction aims look unachievable, says a new report.

LONDON, 9 March, 2015 − The 28 countries of the European Union (EU) have set themselves a collective target of cutting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by between 80% and 95% by 2050, but  a major report just released says there’s little hope of achieving that goal.

Every five years, the European Environment Agency (EEA) produces a comprehensive study, and the latest says projected declines in GHG emissions are not nearly enough to reach the long-term target of decarbonising most of Europe’s economy by mid-century.

The report says there has been considerable progress in recent years on reducing Europe’s GHG emissions to 19.2% below 1990 levels. while, at the same time, gross domestic product across the EU has increased by 45%. EU per capita emissions fell from 11.8 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 1990 to 9 tonnes in 2012.

The trouble is that this progress is very unlikely to be maintained over the long term unless the entire EU economy is revamped and there are very substantial investments in renewables.

Hard part ahead

The cut in GHG emissions was largely achieved through economic restructuring in eastern Europe following the collapse of the old Soviet Union and associated states. Polluting energy and industrial plants were closed, and agricultural practices modernised.

The 2008 economic crisis also caused a dip in emissions, while EU policies aimed at achieving greater energy efficiency have also played an important role in reducing emissions.

That, in many ways, was the easy part. Now comes the big challenge: in order to achieve its long-term emissions reduction objective, Europe needs a wholesale reorganisation of its economy, says the EEA, and also needs to become less resource-hungry.

Fossil fuels still dominate energy production, accounting for 75% of energy supply in 2011 − the most recent year for which comprehensive statistics are available.

Progress achieved

“The EU will need to accelerate its implementation of new policies, while restructuring the ways that Europe meets its demand for energy, food, transport and housing,” the report says.

Short-term goals can be achieved, says the EEA, and the EU is on track to meet its target of producing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewables accounted for 11% of EU energy production in 2012 – up from 4% in 1990.

It is a similar story across much of the European environment. Progress has been made over recent years in improving water systems, waste collection and recycling, and in rehabilitating some ecosystems.

“In many parts of Europe, the local environment is arguably in as good a state today as it has been since the start of industrialisation,” the report says. “Reduced pollution, nature protection and better waste management have all contributed.”

Worsening air

At the same time, what the report refers to as Europe’s natural capital is being seriously degraded by the activities of agriculture, fisheries, industries and  tourism. Urban sprawl is also having a negative impact.

In some regions, ecosystems are in a dire state, and the EU is not on track to meet its 2020 target on halting biodiversity loss.

Air quality is a particular concern.  The EEA estimates that more than 400,000 people in Europe died prematurely in 2011 due to breathing in toxic fumes. In some areas, air quality is getting worse, not better. And land is under severe pressure.

The report says that “loss of soil functions, land degradation and climate change remain major concerns, threatening the flows of environmental goods and services that underpin Europe’s economic output and well-being”. −  Climate News Network

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Prices fail to reflect fossil fuels’ real costs

Prices fail to reflect fossil fuels' real costs

The price consumers pay for the fossil fuels we use are appreciably lower than their true cost to society, US researchers say, and by the same logic renewables are seriously over-priced.

LONDON, 8 March, 2015 − Forget the price of petrol at the pumps. The true cost of any fossil fuel is much greater if social costs are factored in, according to new research.

A climate scientist in the US reports in Climatic Change journal that American motorists get a gallon of gasoline for at least $3.80 less than it really costs, and the price of coal-fired electricity would quadruple if consumers had to pay the real price. In contrast, solar and wind power are much cheaper than they might seem.

Professor Drew Shindell, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has been calculating the economic entity called social cost − a measure of all the other burdens, charges, and impositions that arrive with a quantity of goods sold on the open market.

In particular, he has focused on all the health, climate and environmental problems that are linked to emissions from fossil fuels, biomass burning, and agriculture.

Harder to quantify

All these exact a price from society as a whole, but the motorist or the tractor driver or the industrialist doesn’t pay for the harder-to-quantify costs of air pollution, healthcare, falling crop yields, lost work and school days, or higher insurance premiums against flood and other weather extremes.

The US government has already proposed “social cost” accounting to price the emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from fossil fuels at $37 per metric ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The purpose of such notional values is to help planners work out which steps are likely to be the most cost-effective.

Other scientists have already suggested such calculations are far too low. One recent study suggested the true figure should be six times higher. Another has pronounced the governmental basis for its calculations as flawed, and a third team has suggested that no matter what the cost of action, the price paid for doing nothing would be higher.

“We are making decisions based on misleading costs”

The new study is yet another attempt to provide a framework for economic calculations that reflect the new reality of climate change.

“We think we know what the prices of fossil fuels are, but their impacts on climate and human health are much larger than previously realised,” Prof Shindell warns. “We are making decisions based on misleading costs.”

Potent pollutants

His new economic models include damage from potent but short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and aerosols, as well as longer-lived greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide. He also challenges the US Energy Information Administration’s estimated generation costs of 10 cents per kilowatt hour for coal, 13 cents for solar energy, eight cents for wind power and seven cents for natural gas.

“Not surprisingly, the US has seen a surge in the use of natural gas, the apparent cheapest option. However, when you add in environmental and health damages, costs rise to 17 cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas and a whopping 42 cents for coal,” he says.

“There is room for ongoing discussion about what the value of atmospheric emissions should be. But one thing there should be no debate over is that the current assigned price of zero is not the right value.” – Climate News Network

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Waste-to-energy revolution boosted by biobattery idea

Waste-to-energy revolution boosted by biobattery idea

New processes to turn waste products into renewable energy that can power cars, planes and turbines are rapidly being developed across the world.

LONDON, 4 March, 2014 − Competition to make bio-fuels out of waste products that would otherwise have to be dumped is creating a fast-growing, worldwide industry.

And a German research organisation now believes it has perfected a system called a “biobattery” for turning a vast range of waste into energy.

The drive for better technology has been spurred on by criticism that the first generation of bio-fuels used productive land that should be used for food crops, rather than to grow plants for ethanol and other fuels.

That inspired scientists and governments to find ways of using everything from human waste to algae to power planes, cars and to make electricity.

So many new companies have sprung up to exploit this new market and try to gain big backers for their projects that there is even a daily internet news site, BiofuelsDigest, just to keep up with developments.

Political decision

Germany has been the leader in Europe because it has made the political decision to phase out nuclear power and replace it with renewables.

Biofuel plants are a key part of this revolution because the gas they produce is used to make electricity to balance out the shortfall when solar farms and wind turbines are not producing enough power.

There are already 8,000 plants in operation in Germany, with an electrical output of 3.75 gigawatts in total − the equivalent roughly to three nuclear power plants. Some of these are the first generation that use food plants to make fuel, and so remain controversial.

However, the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Energy and Safety Technology (UMSICHT) in Germany has developed the  biobattery, which uses sewage sludge, green waste, production residues from the food industry, straw and animal excrement to create electricity, heat, purified gas, engine oil and high quality biochar (a form of charcoal).

“We can utilise a number of raw materials that would otherwise have to be disposed of,
often at great cost”

The scientists at UMSICHT, a research organisation that claims to be the leader in Europe for turning ideas into commercial ventures, believe that they can efficiently produce electricity and even marine and aviation fuel from the process.

They built a pilot plant, which they say is cheap to set up and can be scaled up without the need for large capital resources. The other advantage is it saves the cost of disposing of material that would otherwise be waste.

“We can utilise a number of raw materials that would otherwise have to be disposed of, often at great cost,” says Professor Andreas Hornung, director of UMSICHT at the Institute’s branch in Sulzbach-Rosenberg.

“The plant converts more than 75% of the energy efficiency into high quality energy sources in a robust, continuous process. The efficacy can be improved even more if mobile latent heat accumulators are used.”

To make all this work efficiently, the biobattery is a series of environmental technologies bolted together in one complex. They include biogas plants, thermal storage, carburettors and engines to produce electricity.

At the heart of the system is a process called “thermo-catalytic reforming”, which turns organic material into carbon. This is then processed to make oil, gas or coke.

Biobattery developed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

The biobattery developed by Fraunhofer

The process is continuous, feeding raw material in one end and mixing it up without oxygen with a continuous turning screw. The material is heated up to break it down into charcoal and gases. These vapours are then heated up again and cooled down to create bio-oil and water. The remaining gas is purified and collected.

The liquid, gaseous and solid products can be re-used in various ways. The oil can either be processed into marine and aviation fuel or used in a combined heat and power plant, as can the gas, to produce electricity and heat. The separated process water, which contains numerous short-chain biodegradable carbon compounds, can be fed back into the biogas plant to increase the methane yield. The biochar is ideal as a soil conditioner.

A number of pilot projects have been set up in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to test whether the system is economic in practice. The gas and other fuel produced are already being used commercially.

Tax imposed

The construction of bio-plants using waste that would otherwise have been sent to landfill is being driven across Europe by a landfill tax imposed by the European Union to encourage local authorities to re-use waste, recycle it, or use it as fuel.

It already cost £80 a tonne in the UK to dump waste, and it will rise to £82.60 next month. This has caused many landfill sites to shut.

The amount of waste going to landfill in the UK has dropped from 100 million tonnes in 1997 to the current figure of 30 million tonnes. Landfill companies are now separating elements of the waste so it can be recycled or processed into a variety of fuels.

This bio-revolution has been possible only because the landfill tax makes the alternative of disposing of the waste so costly that it is more economic to turn it into fuel.

The new German bio-battery and a host of other inventions pushing their way onto the market mean that the cost of electricity produced by the technology will continue to fall, as wind and solar energy have already done dramatically in the last 10 years. – Climate News Network

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Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

Energy giant’s bleak outlook is 25% rise in CO2

The British-based oil and gas supermajor BP says it expects global emissions of carbon dioxide to rise by a quarter in the next 20 years.

LONDON, 24 February, 2015 − It may come as a shock, as governments ponder how to tackle climate change, to learn that the world is moving rapidly in the wrong direction.

But BP, one of the world’s six biggest oil and gas companies, says it thinks that, on present trends, emissions of CO2 will be 25% greater within two decades than they are today.

The prediction is published in BP’s Energy Outlook 2035, which it says is its best effort “to describe a ‘most likely’ trajectory of the global energy system”.

Global consumption

Some of the company’s other projections are hardly less startling. It thinks, for instance, that global energy consumption will be 37% greater by 2035 than it is today, with more than half the growth coming from India and China, and virtually all of it from countries that are not members of the OECD − the 34-member group of highly developed countries.

Global energy intensity − which measures the energy efficiency of a country’s economy − in 2035 is expected to be only half of what it was in 1995, and 36% lower than in 2013.

The lower the energy intensity is, the less it costs to convert energy into wealth. Even so, global energy use per person is projected to increase by 12%, as growing numbers of people demand higher living standards.

Renewables are expected to grow faster than any other energy source, by 6.3% annually. Nuclear power, at 1.8% a year, and hydro-electric power (1.7%) will grow faster than total energy use.

Among fossil fuels, natural gas is expected to grow fastest, with oil marginally ahead of coal. By 2035, China and India will together account for 60% of global demand for coal.

The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable

In a guide to its Energy Outlook, BP (formerly British Petroleum) says it thinks fossil fuels will provide most of the world’s energy needs by 2035, meeting two-thirds of the expected increase in demand by then.

But it is renewables − “unconventional fossil fuels”, and gas, which is the least polluting fossil fuel − that will provide the largest share, while coal grows more slowly than any other fuel.

This, the Outlook says, will be the consequence of slowing industrialisation in emerging Asian economies and of more stringent global environmental policies.

To that it might have added the growing pressure for investors to steer clear of putting their money into fossil fuels, for fear that they could be at risk from a robust and rigorously-enforced global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Dudley, BP’s chief executive, writes: “The most likely path for carbon emissions, despite current government policies and intentions, does not appear sustainable.

Scale of challenge

“The projections highlight the scale of the challenge facing policy-makers at this year’s UN-led discussions in Paris. No single change or policy is likely to be sufficient on its own.

“And identifying in advance which changes are likely to be most effective is fraught with difficulty. This underpins the importance of policy-makers taking steps that lead to a global price for carbon, which provides the right incentives for everyone to play their part.”

There are already signs that senior officials involved in the UN negotiations recognise the need to dampen expectations surrounding December’s talks in Paris.

The executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, said on 3 February that changing the world’s model of economic development would “not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change. . . It just does not occur like that. It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.”

If BP’s Outlook proves correct, that process may be even longer and tougher than many expect. − Climate News Network

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New ideas give energy boost to wave power

New ideas give energy boost to wave power

Scientists and engineers in Scandinavia reveal new plans to harness the huge potential of waves to produce commercially viable renewable energy.

LONDON, 22 February, 2015 − All along the coasts of Europe where the Atlantic waves crash onto the shore there are experimental wave power stations producing electricity.

Now engineers in Norway and Sweden − two of the countries trying hardest to develop this technology − have announced “breakthroughs” in their methods, which the inventors believe will make wave power competitive.

At present, most wave power stations are small-scale. All of them work, but making them commercially viable to compete economically with other renewables and fossil fuels has so far eluded their inventors.

The latest Norwegian experiment has been installed in a redundant fishing vessel in the Stadthavet area of West Norway, an area designated for renewable energy testing.

Bicycle pump principle

Like all the best ideas, it is simple. “In principle, it works almost like a bicycle pump,” explains engineer and project manager Edgar Kvernevik, of Kvernevik Engineering AS.

The makers have installed four large chambers in the vessel’s bow. As the waves strike the vessel, the water level in the chambers rises. This creates an increase in air pressure, which in turn drives four turbines – one for each chamber.

The pitch of the vessel also contributes by generating additional air pressure in the chambers when the wave height is large. The design of the chambers is such that they work in response to different wave heights, which means that the energy is exploited very effectively.

“The plant thus produces electricity with the help of what is called a fluctuating water column,” says Kvernevik, who has spent much of his working life designing and building vessels.

Our aim is to . . . produce hydrogen at a competitive price – based on an infinite resource and involving no harmful emissions”

“All we have to do is to let the vessel swing at anchor in a part of the ocean with sufficient wave energy. Everything is designed to be remotely-controlled from onshore.

“This floating power plant has also been equipped with a special anchoring system, which means that it is always facing into the incoming waves. This ensures that the plant is in the optimal position at all times.”

A former fishing vessel converted to a wave power plant. Image: Sintef

A former fishing vessel that has been converted to a wave power plant.
Image: Sintef

The turbines on the deck of the vessel continue to work regardless of whether the chambers are inhaling or exhaling air as the wave runs past the vessel.

In the same area, which has a high average wind velocity, researchers have been studying the idea of floating wind turbines.

The project is now looking at combining wind turbines and wave power plants on the same vessel and using the electricity to create hydrogen gas – a way of storing the energy.

“We see this project as a three-stage rocket,” Kvernevik says. “The first stage is to test the model we have just built to make sure that electricity generation can be carried out as planned.

Production plant

“Next, a hydrogen production plant will be installed on board the vessel so that the electricity generated can be stored in the form of hydrogen gas.

“We have high hopes that hydrogen will be the car fuel of the future. Our aim is to work with others to produce hydrogen at a competitive price – based on an infinite resource and involving no harmful emissions.

“The plan is then to construct a plant with a nominal capacity of 1000kW (1MW). We will do this by installing five production modules similar to the current plant, either on a larger vessel or a custom-built barge. Finally, we will build a semi-submersible platform designed to carry a 4MW wave power plant with a 6MW wind turbine installed on top.”

The Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (MARINTEK) is one of the project partners that have contributed towards the development of the wave power plant.

Reliable source

Meanwhile, a Swedish company claims to have cracked the problem of scaling-up wave energy with a gearbox that generates five times as much power per tonne of device at one third of the cost.

One of the obvious problems with wave power is the height and timing of the waves, making it difficult to convert the power into a reliable energy source. But CorPower Ocean’s new wave energy system claims to produce three to four times more power than traditional systems.

The new system that helps to solve this problem is based in a buoy that absorbs energy from the waves − a scaled-up version of a heart surgeon’s research into heart pumping and control functions.

Patrik Möller, CorPower’s chief executive, says the wave energy converter – in contrast to competing systems − can manage the entire spectrum of waves.

He says: “We can ensure that it always works in time with the waves, which greatly enhances the buoy’s movement and uses it all the way between the wave crest and wave trough and back in an optimal way, no matter how long or high the waves are.”

The buoys are compact and lightweight and can be manufactured at a relatively low cost. A buoy 8 metres in diameter can produce 250-300 kilowatts in a typical Atlantic swell. A wave energy park with 100 buoys can generate 25 to 30 megawatts. – Climate News Network

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Rice serves up double measure of biofuel and fodder

Rice serves up double measure of biofuel and fodder

An inexpensive process developed in Japan will allow farmers to produce their own tractor fuel and cattle feed in one simple step.

LONDON,12 February, 2015 − Japanese scientists have found a potential answer to the biofuel dilemma that if you grow crops for energy, you have to sacrifice crops for food.

They report that they can now ferment rice to deliver ethanol, while making silage for cattle feed –and that it can all be done on the farm without need for any expensive off-site processes.

Mitsuo Horita, of the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba, Japan, and colleagues write in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels that they used a process of solid-state fermentation known to temperate zone farmers everywhere: grass or cereal is harvested, compressed, sealed, and fermented in the absence of oxygen.

Pickled product

The outcome is a pickled product that is both nourishing and palatable to cattle during the winter months − and a mix of liquid hydrocarbon products that must be disposed of in ways that won’t pollute water supplies or harm fish and wildlife.

The Japanese research team packed harvested whole rice plants with yeast and enzymes into bales wrapped in impermeable film.

Sugars and starch in the rice were converted by the yeast into ethanol, which could then be drained and distilled for fuel. And at the end of the process, the bale still contained nourishing silage.

For each bale, after six months of fermentation, the researchers collected 12.4kg of pure ethanol, or alcohol − which is about 10 times more than anyone could expect from traditional silage fermentation. The bales also leaked effluent ethanol at the rate of about 1.7kg a bale.

“Our system simply builds upon traditional processes already used by farmers for producing silage for animal feed”

Biofuels are often seen as a solution that creates more problems. Will increased “green energy” mean high grain prices? Will specialist biofuel crops escape from the farms and cause wider problems for the environment? Could biofuels be more efficiently made from waste, or from natural sources not for the moment of any commercial value? This new approach sidesteps some nagging questions.

“Generally, the bottlenecks in second-generation biofuel production include the need for large facilities, bulky material transport, and complicated treatment processes, all of which are costly and consume a great deal of energy,” Horita says.

“What we’ve now demonstrated is a complete and scaled-up system that shows its potential in a practical on-farm situation. Instead of a complicated process requiring special facilities, our system simply builds upon traditional processes already used by farmers for producing silage for animal feed.

Zero waste

“It results in a high yield of ethanol, while producing good quality feed, with zero waste.”

In effect, the team has delivered fodder and tractor fuel in one step.

Fermentation takes longer than usual, but no extra energy needs to be supplied for the process, and the alcohol drawn off contained no insoluble particles, and so would make it easier to handle.

The researchers used a vacuum distiller to get at 86% of the baled alcohol, but they concede they must do more to improve both the yield and the recovery of the ethanol.

Meanwhile, they point out, they have shown the way to an on-farm fuel system that could help farmers in the developing world, and which exploits the same field for food and fuel at the same time. − Climate News Network

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Solar lamps offer brighter future for African families

Solar lamps offer brighter future for African families

A major milestone on the road to ridding Africa of polluting and dangerous kerosene lamps has been passed with the sale of solar lights reaching 1.5 million.

LONDON, 9 February, 2015 − Many of the 600 million people who are still without electricity in Africa rely on home-made kerosene lamps for lighting − putting themselves in danger from fire, toxic black smoke, and eye damage.

But cheaper solar technology is being offered that can provide long-lasting light and additional power to charge telephones and other electric devices, without the need for an electricity grid connection.

The campaign to eliminate the kerosene lamp was begun by SolarAid, an international charity that seeks to combat poverty and climate change.

It set up an African network to sell these devices in 2006, with the aim that every kerosene lamp will be replaced with solar power by the end of the decade. So far, with 1.5 million solar lights sold, about 9 million people have benefited from its scheme.

Saves money

The charity says that a solar lamp saves money because buying the kerosene uses about 15% of family income, whereas a solar kit − bought the for as little as $10 dollars − produces light for more than five years.

The risk of a kerosene fire is also removed, along with the indoor air pollution, and the lamps allow children to study at night. One kerosene light produces 200 grammes of carbon dioxide a year − an unnecessary contribution to climate change.

SolarAid set up SunnyMoney, a social enterprise that sells the lights via school networks and local businesses. Selling the lights, rather than donating them, keeps money in local communities, provides employment, and allows the profits to be ploughed back into extending the scheme.

“Most companies would not miss 5% of their profits, and the gains are enormous”

Currently, the organisation has East Africa networks in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda, and is expanding to adjoining countries.

There are a range of lights and chargers offered from a variety of manufacturers, each with a two-year replacement warranty and up to five years battery life.

The cheapest, at $10 dollars, is a study light that gives four hours of bright light after a day’s charge, while the more expensive models offer light for up to 100 hours, charging for up to two phones at a time, and radio charging. The most expensive, which cost around $140, are ideal for small businesses.

SolarAid began life in 2006 when the British company SolarCentury, one of Europe’s leading solar companies, began donating 5% of its profits to the charity.

SolarCentury’s founder, Jeremy Leggett, says that the charity benefited by £28,000 in 2006, but the company’s increased profits mean that the figure will be nearly £500,000 this year.

Solar’s reputation

“We were the first in the field back then, but now there are many solar lights of all kinds on the market,” Leggett says. “Most of them very good, although there are some ghastly cheap products that do not last, which can harm solar’s reputation.”

He says the company donations had been matched with other corporate and government aid. Ironically, even Total, the oil company, is now selling solar lights at its petrol stations.

Leggett believes that the market is growing so fast that there is a good chance of SolarAid reaching its goal of getting rid of all kerosene lighting in Africa by 2020.

He is hoping to build on his idea of donating 5% of corporate profits to climate change and poverty alleviation charities, and is launching a “5% club” of enlightened businesses prepared to do the same.

“Most companies would not miss 5% of their profits, and the gains are enormous,” he says. “In my company, the programme is a great favourite with staff and gives everyone a feelgood factor. Compared with other similar companies, we retain staff longer because they feel their work is more worthwhile.” – Climate News Network

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Asia powers into the forefront of solar revolution

Asia powers into the forefront of solar revolution

China has now overtaken the European Union as the largest new market for solar power as the industry becomes one of the fastest growing in the world.

LONDON, 2 February, 2015 − Solar power is on course to overtake nuclear as a primary source of electricity production as the price of photovoltaic (PV) panels continues to fall.

Mass production in China and Taiwan has helped to increase the extraordinary growth of the solar power across the world and has led to an 80% reduction in the cost of panels since 2008.

Europe, and particularly Germany and Italy, led the way in solar installation, but Asia and the US are now catching up fast.

The African continent, which has the most potential to benefit from solar power, has been slow to adopt the technology, but is now embracing its possibilities. While investment in small domestic installation continues, there has been a big increase in utilities creating large solar farms.

World market

These are the main trends outlined in a detailed PV Status Report for 2014, released by the European Union. The report, which assesses the state of the world market and its growth in individual countries, says that despite the fact that subsidies for fossil fuels still massively exceed those for renewable, it is wind and solar power industries that will continue to grow and the price will come down.

Developments in renewables continue to be encouraging, particularly electricity storage from solar. Using ion-lithium batteries, new technologies are being deployed to store surplus electricity generated during daylight hours, for use during evening peak periods.

On a domestic level, this makes economic sense because the cost of generating electricity at home with solar panels is now cheaper than buying it from the grid in many countries. Being able to store your own power for use at night will save money, as well as reducing peaks in national demand.

Battery storage

On a larger scale, the report gives examples of wind and solar generation power stations combined with battery storage, which are being tried successfully in China.

Solar is now the renewable of choice, overtaking wind. In 2013, solar energy attracted 53.3 % of all new renewable energy investments, a staggering $111.4 billion (€82.5 billion).

While the report gives detailed figures for individual countries only for 2013, it says that the growth of the industry continued in 2014, although it varied depending on the policies of individual governments.

Solar PV electricity is now the cheapest electricity option for more than one-third of the African population

In 2013, the leading country in renewable energy investment was China at $54.2bn (€40.2bn), followed by the US at $36.7bn (€27.2bn) and Japan at $28.6bn (€21.2bn).

The growth in Japan and other parts of Asia is partly spurred by the nuclear accident at Fukushima in March 2011, which made the safe and reliable option of solar more attractive.

In Europe, the pace of investment fell, with the UK being the only EU country where it increased.

Investments in 2013 were used for installing 87 gigawatts (GW) of new clean energy generation capacity, bringing the total to 735 GW, and thus capable of producing more than 1700 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity − or 70 % of the electricity generated by nuclear power plants worldwide.

Vast resources

The report says: “Despite Africa’s vast solar resources and the fact that in large areas the same photovoltaic panel can produce on average twice as much electricity in Africa than in Central Europe, there has been only limited use of solar photovoltaic electricity generation up until now.”

But according to the latest study, solar PV electricity is now the cheapest electricity option for more than one-third of the African population.

Until recently, the main application of PV systems in Africa was in small solar home systems. Since 2012, however, major policy changes have occurred, and a large number of utility-scale PV projects are now in the planning stage.

Overall, the (documented) capacity of installed PV systems in Africa had risen to more than 600 MW by the end of 2013 − a tenfold increase compared with 2008. In 2014, the installed capacity is expected to more than double.

Currently, the two biggest markets are South Africa and Algeria, but all African countries are either potential or emerging markets. – Climate News Network

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