Category Archives: Energy

Fossil fuels outbid by renewable revolution

Rapid progress in the solar and wind industries mean they are outcompeting fossil fuels in key markets − a renewable revolution.

LONDON, 30 April, 2019 − There’s a renewable revolution under way: the cost of wind and solar power is now undercutting fossil fuels across the world.

One recent week brought news of the world’s longest turbine blade, a monster capable of producing enough electricity on its own to power a small town. The fact that solar power in combination with batteries is now a cheaper way than gas to produce electricity in the United States is cheering news for those battling against climate change.

The single blade, 107 metres long, was produced at a factory in Cherbourg in France, the country most reliant on nuclear power. After tests the blade will power a 12-megawatt turbine, the largest in the world, situated off the French coast, and capable on its own of powering thousands of homes throughout its 20-year design life.

In the US the states of California and Arizona, where sunshine is plentiful, have solar plants incorporating battery storage that are now a better investment than gas over a 30-year period – even though the US has some of the cheapest gas in the world, because of fracking.

“This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry”

The key problem for solar power during its years of development has been that when the sun does not shine other generation systems have to be used. Advances in battery technology and in molten salt and other heat storage methods over the last 12 months mean that electricity can now be produced from solar power at any time of the day or night, obtaining the highest revenue returns at peak times.

American companies are now claiming that they can out-compete gas in any part of the country to produce peak-time electricity.

Across the world most new large solar farm developments are including energy storage facilities in their initial construction, either batteries, heat storage or electrolysis (passing electricity through water) to produce hydrogen.

In Scotland, surplus wind and wave power is being used to produce hydrogen for a number of schemes, including powering buses and ferries. But the hydrogen can also be sold to make more electricity at peak times, or to be fed into gas mains to top up natural gas supplies and reduce carbon emissions.

Cheaper than India

These developments in the US and France follow news that electricity produced by solar power is now about one-third cheaper than from coal plants in India.

This is forcing Indian coal plants to sell their electricity at lower than cost price, an unsustainable practice which threatens their future. Many coal plants are considered unviable even in a country desperate to increase energy production because of a national supply shortfall.

With more than 10 million people now employed in renewable energy industries worldwide, the sector is beginning to develop real political clout. This, plus the Extinction Rebellion protestors who have been causing disruption in London and other British cities and elsewhere, and the now worldwide schoolchildren’s strikes for the climate, is putting politicians under real pressure to change policies.

So far this does not appear to have affected President Trump and the Republican Party in the US, which still relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry for campaign donations, but many of the country’s coal plants are closing simply because they can no longer compete with cheap gas, wind and solar energy.

Prospects altered

The rapid development of offshore wind, spurred by ever-larger turbines which have both increased production and seen prices tumble, has changed the prospects of many coastal countries in their fight to reduce carbon emissions. Europe could now produce all its electricity from offshore wind.

The latest development by LM Wind Power in France shows how fast the industry is developing. It is only two years ago that the company was boasting about its eight-megawatt turbine blades, now able to generate half as much power again.

Lukasz Cejrowski, project director for the 107m blade at LM Wind Power, said: “The LM 107.0 P is one of the biggest single components ever built. This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry.”

Alexis Crama, vice-president of the company, said ever-larger and more reliable rotor blades captured more wind, and would ultimately deliver lower cost energy. − Climate News Network

Rapid progress in the solar and wind industries mean they are outcompeting fossil fuels in key markets − a renewable revolution.

LONDON, 30 April, 2019 − There’s a renewable revolution under way: the cost of wind and solar power is now undercutting fossil fuels across the world.

One recent week brought news of the world’s longest turbine blade, a monster capable of producing enough electricity on its own to power a small town. The fact that solar power in combination with batteries is now a cheaper way than gas to produce electricity in the United States is cheering news for those battling against climate change.

The single blade, 107 metres long, was produced at a factory in Cherbourg in France, the country most reliant on nuclear power. After tests the blade will power a 12-megawatt turbine, the largest in the world, situated off the French coast, and capable on its own of powering thousands of homes throughout its 20-year design life.

In the US the states of California and Arizona, where sunshine is plentiful, have solar plants incorporating battery storage that are now a better investment than gas over a 30-year period – even though the US has some of the cheapest gas in the world, because of fracking.

“This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry”

The key problem for solar power during its years of development has been that when the sun does not shine other generation systems have to be used. Advances in battery technology and in molten salt and other heat storage methods over the last 12 months mean that electricity can now be produced from solar power at any time of the day or night, obtaining the highest revenue returns at peak times.

American companies are now claiming that they can out-compete gas in any part of the country to produce peak-time electricity.

Across the world most new large solar farm developments are including energy storage facilities in their initial construction, either batteries, heat storage or electrolysis (passing electricity through water) to produce hydrogen.

In Scotland, surplus wind and wave power is being used to produce hydrogen for a number of schemes, including powering buses and ferries. But the hydrogen can also be sold to make more electricity at peak times, or to be fed into gas mains to top up natural gas supplies and reduce carbon emissions.

Cheaper than India

These developments in the US and France follow news that electricity produced by solar power is now about one-third cheaper than from coal plants in India.

This is forcing Indian coal plants to sell their electricity at lower than cost price, an unsustainable practice which threatens their future. Many coal plants are considered unviable even in a country desperate to increase energy production because of a national supply shortfall.

With more than 10 million people now employed in renewable energy industries worldwide, the sector is beginning to develop real political clout. This, plus the Extinction Rebellion protestors who have been causing disruption in London and other British cities and elsewhere, and the now worldwide schoolchildren’s strikes for the climate, is putting politicians under real pressure to change policies.

So far this does not appear to have affected President Trump and the Republican Party in the US, which still relies heavily on the fossil fuel industry for campaign donations, but many of the country’s coal plants are closing simply because they can no longer compete with cheap gas, wind and solar energy.

Prospects altered

The rapid development of offshore wind, spurred by ever-larger turbines which have both increased production and seen prices tumble, has changed the prospects of many coastal countries in their fight to reduce carbon emissions. Europe could now produce all its electricity from offshore wind.

The latest development by LM Wind Power in France shows how fast the industry is developing. It is only two years ago that the company was boasting about its eight-megawatt turbine blades, now able to generate half as much power again.

Lukasz Cejrowski, project director for the 107m blade at LM Wind Power, said: “The LM 107.0 P is one of the biggest single components ever built. This is an amazing achievement, not only for LM Wind Power and GE Renewable Energy, but for the entire wind industry.”

Alexis Crama, vice-president of the company, said ever-larger and more reliable rotor blades captured more wind, and would ultimately deliver lower cost energy. − Climate News Network

Chemists can turn carbon dioxide into coal

Chemists can now in theory turn carbon dioxide back into coal and light and heat homes with transparent wood. The world has ample energy-saving ideas.

LONDON, 18 April, 2019 – Australian scientists have found a way to take carbon dioxide and turn it back into something like coal.

It is as if they had translated the hundred-million-year process of making fossil fuel – a natural process powered in the Carboniferous Era by immense amounts of time, massive pressures and huge temperatures – in a laboratory in a day.

They used liquid metal catalysts – a catalyst is a compound that can midwife chemical change without itself being changed – to convert a solution of carbon dioxide into solid flakes of carbon.

And in a second reminder of the high levels of ingenuity and invention at work in the world’s laboratories, as chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers confront the twin challenges of climate change and efficient use of renewable energy, Swedish scientists report that they know how to make timber transparent and heat-storing. That is, they have a way of fashioning wood that can transmit light, and at the same time insulate the building it illuminates.

It may be some time before any huge-scale investment finds a way of taking the greenhouse gas from the air to convert it to solid carbon that can then be buried: for the moment, the surest way of soaking up the emissions from car exhausts and power station chimneys is to restore and protect forests.

“We’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable”

But researchers from Melbourne and Sydney report in the journal Nature Communications that they developed a liquid-metal electrocatalyst that transforms gaseous CO2 directly into carbon-containing solids at room temperature.

They charged their cerium-oxide and liquid gallium catalyst with an electric current and introduced it to a beaker of carbon dioxide dissolved in an electrolyte liquid, to collect solid flakes of carbon, of a quality good enough to be used, they say, to make high performance capacitor electrodes.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said Torben Daeneke of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, known as RMIT Melbourne.

“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable. By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable.”

Hard to accomplish

This would be a first step in safely storing what had once been the atmospheric carbon dioxide that – thanks to humankind’s profligate use of fossil fuels for 200 years – drives global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have been wrestling with the idea of carbon capture technology for years.

They have also been pointing out, for years, that the carbon dioxide from power station emissions could be captured and recycled as the basis for the organic chemical industry, or even for fuel..

None of the technologies explored so far is nearing commercial or large-scale production. But researchers go on trying to find new ways to save energy by making the most of natural materials.

Three years ago Lars Berglund of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm announced an optically transparent wood. He and colleagues took out the light-absorbing lignin from some balsa wood, treated it with acrylic and ended up with timber fabric that they could see through, somewhat hazily, but strong enough to bear a load.

New generation

And, his research colleague told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orlando, Florida in April, it can now do more. It can absorb and release heat, and it could even be made biodegradable.

It could be the fabric of a new generation of eco-friendly housing, with the addition of polyethylene glycol or PEG, a wood-friendly polymer that melts in the warmth, absorbing heat – but at night solidifies again, releasing heat. In effect, the timber becomes a solar battery.

“Back in 2016, we showed that transparent wood has excellent thermal-insulating properties compared with glass, combined with high optical transmittance. In this work, we tried to reduce the building energy consumption even more by incorporating a material that can absorb, store and release heat,” said Céline Montanari of the Stockholm institute.

“During a sunny day the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than the outside. And at night, the reverse occurs – the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.” – Climate News Network

Chemists can now in theory turn carbon dioxide back into coal and light and heat homes with transparent wood. The world has ample energy-saving ideas.

LONDON, 18 April, 2019 – Australian scientists have found a way to take carbon dioxide and turn it back into something like coal.

It is as if they had translated the hundred-million-year process of making fossil fuel – a natural process powered in the Carboniferous Era by immense amounts of time, massive pressures and huge temperatures – in a laboratory in a day.

They used liquid metal catalysts – a catalyst is a compound that can midwife chemical change without itself being changed – to convert a solution of carbon dioxide into solid flakes of carbon.

And in a second reminder of the high levels of ingenuity and invention at work in the world’s laboratories, as chemists, physicists, biologists and engineers confront the twin challenges of climate change and efficient use of renewable energy, Swedish scientists report that they know how to make timber transparent and heat-storing. That is, they have a way of fashioning wood that can transmit light, and at the same time insulate the building it illuminates.

It may be some time before any huge-scale investment finds a way of taking the greenhouse gas from the air to convert it to solid carbon that can then be buried: for the moment, the surest way of soaking up the emissions from car exhausts and power station chimneys is to restore and protect forests.

“We’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable”

But researchers from Melbourne and Sydney report in the journal Nature Communications that they developed a liquid-metal electrocatalyst that transforms gaseous CO2 directly into carbon-containing solids at room temperature.

They charged their cerium-oxide and liquid gallium catalyst with an electric current and introduced it to a beaker of carbon dioxide dissolved in an electrolyte liquid, to collect solid flakes of carbon, of a quality good enough to be used, they say, to make high performance capacitor electrodes.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said Torben Daeneke of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, known as RMIT Melbourne.

“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable. By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable.”

Hard to accomplish

This would be a first step in safely storing what had once been the atmospheric carbon dioxide that – thanks to humankind’s profligate use of fossil fuels for 200 years – drives global warming and potentially catastrophic climate change. Researchers have been wrestling with the idea of carbon capture technology for years.

They have also been pointing out, for years, that the carbon dioxide from power station emissions could be captured and recycled as the basis for the organic chemical industry, or even for fuel..

None of the technologies explored so far is nearing commercial or large-scale production. But researchers go on trying to find new ways to save energy by making the most of natural materials.

Three years ago Lars Berglund of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm announced an optically transparent wood. He and colleagues took out the light-absorbing lignin from some balsa wood, treated it with acrylic and ended up with timber fabric that they could see through, somewhat hazily, but strong enough to bear a load.

New generation

And, his research colleague told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orlando, Florida in April, it can now do more. It can absorb and release heat, and it could even be made biodegradable.

It could be the fabric of a new generation of eco-friendly housing, with the addition of polyethylene glycol or PEG, a wood-friendly polymer that melts in the warmth, absorbing heat – but at night solidifies again, releasing heat. In effect, the timber becomes a solar battery.

“Back in 2016, we showed that transparent wood has excellent thermal-insulating properties compared with glass, combined with high optical transmittance. In this work, we tried to reduce the building energy consumption even more by incorporating a material that can absorb, store and release heat,” said Céline Montanari of the Stockholm institute.

“During a sunny day the material will absorb heat before it reaches the indoor space, and the indoors will be cooler than the outside. And at night, the reverse occurs – the PEG becomes solid and releases heat indoors so you can maintain a constant temperature in the house.” – Climate News Network

Europe’s new nuclear plants hit more snags

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Cocoa fuel combats climate change

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

If you like chocolate you’ll love this: the same tree that provides your indulgent treat is helping to slow climate change, thanks to cocoa fuel.

LONDON, 14 March, 2019 – Sometimes the best solutions to energy problems – and to the fight against climate change – are the simple ones, like cocoa fuel.

Ghana is one of the world’s leading producers of cocoa – the vital ingredient in the multi-billion dollar international chocolate industry.

Cocoa beans are extracted from inside the pod husks of the cocoa tree. Husks are usually discarded during the production process.

Now, in a project led by specialists at the University of Nottingham in the UK, the plan is to use the husks as feedstock in bio-fuel energy installations.

“Ghana is the second highest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”, says Jo Darkwa, professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the people behind the Ghanaian project.

Filling the gap

“In the past, this waste material was under-utilised. However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that have only 15% electricity coverage at present.”

The plan is to design, build and put into operation small-scale bio-power electricity generation units that would burn cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. Each unit, which would include a gasifier, a small generator and a solar drier and pelletiser, would cost an estimated US$50,000.

Not only would the units help deal with Ghana’s chronic energy problems but it would also assist in the battle against deforestation, a serious problem for cocoa farmers.

Ghana’s population, now 30 million, is growing fast; about 80% of households in the country use wood as the main source of fuel for cooking and heating water.

As a result, Ghana’s forests are under considerable pressure, with severe consequences not only for wildlife and ecosystems but also for the climate.

“Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks”

Forests are an essential element in the fight against climate change; trees absorb or sequester considerable amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases and help prevent global warming.

“Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change”, Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network.

The aim is not only to build sources of sustainable energy; collection, treatment and processing of the pod husks would also create jobs and provide much-needed incomes in rural communities.

The specialists at Nottingham are collaborating on the project with the Ghana Cocoa Board and various other organisations in Ghana.

A prototype of the new bio-power unit is due to be installed and monitored at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology later this year. – Climate News Network

For offshore wind turbines size matters

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

As turbines grow in size and costs tumble, offshore wind turbines, both floating and fixed to the seabed, have vast potential.

LONDON, 7 March, 2019 − Offshore wind power is set to become one of the world’s largest electricity producers in the next decade as costs fall and turbines grow in size.

Up till now turbines standing on the seabed near to the coast in Europe have been seen as the most promising technology for offshore wind farms. But the success of floating machines that can be deployed in deeper water has meant many more coastal communities can benefit. Japan and the US are among the countries with the greatest potential.

The speed with which the industry has grown in the last decade has defied all expectations. Large turbines used to have a two to three megawatt output, but now the standard size is 7.5 megawatts and turbines capable of generating up to 10 megawatts are in the pipeline.

As a result the output of one offshore turbine is thirty times greater than with the first ones deployed in 1991 − and the cost has fallen to half that of new nuclear power.

This, coupled with experience showing that the wind blows more steadily out to sea and produces far more consistent power than turbines on land, has led many more countries to see offshore wind as a major potential source of renewable energy. The turbines have shown themselves to be robust even in extreme storm conditions.

“Previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates”

Production has just begun from the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the North Sea, where construction started only in January 2018 and which began feeding power ashore in England 13 months later. The project is enormous, all four phases covering nearly 2,000 square miles, and will produce up to 6 GW of power, the same as five large nuclear power stations.

Apart from the sheer size, the plan is to have the whole development completed by 2025, before the partly-constructed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in the West of England will start up, and providing return on capital for the investors years before its nuclear rivals.

While the market for turbines fixed to the seabed is expected to continue to grow very fast, it is floating turbines that will be the next big player. These are again huge machines, taking advantage of the steadier
winds out to sea, and not needing expensive seabed foundations.

It took 15 years for the Norwegian state oil company Statoil, now rebranded as Equinor to emphasise its partial move to renewables, to develop the first offshore wind farm 15 miles of the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Outrunning expectations

There are five turbines with blades 175 metres long and a counterweight extending 78 metres below the surface, which is chained to the seabed. The turbines started feeding into the grid in October 2017 and output was soon exceeding expectations.

The fact that it was Statoil that designed and developed the floating turbines is significant. The offshore wind industry uses many of the skills developed by offshore gas and oil ventures and provides an investment opportunity for oil majors under pressure to diversify and show they have green credentials.

A report, Wind Power to Spare, produced last year by a research and campaigning group, Environment America, showed that there was enough potential wind power just off the US east coast to provide more electricity than was currently used in the region’s maritime states – plus enough for powering electric cars and for providing heating for the entire population of the eastern coastal states in the future.

Since the report was published developers, looking at the success of Europe in exploiting this resource, have shown an escalation of interest. The same is true of Japan, where the nuclear industry remains in deep trouble as a result of the Fukushima accident in 2011, with many of its reactors not expected to restart.

Potential ignored

Back in Europe, where offshore wind was first developed, manufacturers are eyeing up potential new markets both in the North Sea and elsewhere. France for example has no offshore wind farms but could deploy hundreds of floating turbines.

Research suggests that water depths in the North Sea are ideal for floating turbines. If half the area available could be covered in turbines they would make enough electricity to power the whole EU four times over.

That prediction is made by Equinor. It also estimates in the same report that by 2030 Japan could have 3.5 gigawatts of floating wind power, France 2.9 GW and the US 2 GW, with a further 1.9 GW in the UK and Ireland.

This would make a significant contribution to reducing the world’s burning of fossil fuels, particularly since previous estimates of the growth of renewables, at least wind and solar power, have always been underestimates. − Climate News Network

Off-the-shelf nuclear reactors seek buyers

The nuclear industry’s fierce fight for survival is leading several countries to develop smaller, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors.

LONDON, 5 March, 2019 − As costs escalate, several countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned plans for large reactors. But the industry is adapting, seeking to reinvent itself by mass-producing small off-the-shelf nuclear reactors instead.

If nuclear enthusiasts are to be believed, the world is on the edge of a building boom for a range of new reactors designed to produce electricity, district heating and desalination.

The idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as they are known, has been around for years. But an in-depth analysis, a so-called White Paper produced by a UK newsletter, the Nuclear Energy Insider, says the technology is reaching take-off point in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, the US and the UK.

Unlike their big cousins, which are falling out of favour because they take more than a decade to build and often have massive cost overruns, the concept behind small modular reactors is that the parts can be factory-made in large numbers to be cheaply and rapidly assembled on site. So far this is only theory; currently the industry is at the prototype stage.

The idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object

The idea is to place the SMRs close to where they will provide power so that if necessary they can provide district heating as well as electricity, or − if on the coast − seawater desalination. They can also be deployed on barges and towed to remote locations to provide power for island communities or military installations where ordinary grids cannot reach.

The Russians have already launched one of these, which Greenpeace immediately dubbed “The Floating Chernobyl” and “The Nuclear Titanic”. Opinions are divided about the safety of SMRs. Supporters point out that icebreakers and submarines powered by small reactors have been at sea for decades.

The Russians say the plants will provide electricity for up to 100,000 people in remote Arctic regions but so far, despite being open to offers for some years, Rosatom, the state nuclear company, has not yet had a rush of orders.

While factories for small reactors sound as innocuous as the mass production of cars, the idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object. It seems unlikely that a reactor placed close enough to a city to provide district heating would not raise objections, from some citizens at least.

Cost dilemma

Another consideration is cost. The theory is that once the first prototypes are deployed and have proved they work, the cost of future models will tumble as they are mass-produced. SMRs vary in size from about 30 megawatts (around the same output as four large offshore wind turbines) to 300 megawatts, and they can be deployed in groups like wind turbines to provide as much power output as required.

What has not been tested is whether there would ever be enough orders for any one sort of small modular reactor to justify setting up a factory to produce dozens of them. This is the only way to get the unit cost down sufficiently to compete with renewables, which are continuing to get cheaper and already dominate the market.

None of these doubts seems to assail the industry. According to the White Paper, the International Atomic Energy Agency has information on 50 possible SMR designs, with Argentina, Russia and China all expected to start up their first prototypes this year or next. Both Canada and the US are already going through the licensing and construction of prototypes and expect to have them operational by 2026.

Military links

Although it is not mentioned in the White Paper it is clear that at least in the US, UK, China and Russia there is a close relationship between the development of SMRs and the military need for nuclear-powered submarines − and, in the case of the US and Russia, icebreakers. The technology for both is very similar and the personnel to operate them need similar training and expertise.

Next month in Atlanta in the US the world’s SMR enthusiasts, including governments and the many companies developing and hoping to market SMRs, are gathering to hear the latest developments. The meeting is to be held on 2 and 3 April.

Participants include speakers from the US Department of Energy, the chief strategist for the US Army, and one from  the UK government’s department of business, energy and industrial strategy. Their task is to tell the conference how their governments are planning to deploy SMRs.

The UK is running a workshop so that attendees can “hear directly from the UK government on how they are ensuring that the UK becomes one of the top global destinations for SMRs”, according to the conference brochure. − Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s fierce fight for survival is leading several countries to develop smaller, off-the-shelf nuclear reactors.

LONDON, 5 March, 2019 − As costs escalate, several countries with nuclear ambitions have abandoned plans for large reactors. But the industry is adapting, seeking to reinvent itself by mass-producing small off-the-shelf nuclear reactors instead.

If nuclear enthusiasts are to be believed, the world is on the edge of a building boom for a range of new reactors designed to produce electricity, district heating and desalination.

The idea of small modular reactors (SMRs), as they are known, has been around for years. But an in-depth analysis, a so-called White Paper produced by a UK newsletter, the Nuclear Energy Insider, says the technology is reaching take-off point in Argentina, Canada, China, Russia, the US and the UK.

Unlike their big cousins, which are falling out of favour because they take more than a decade to build and often have massive cost overruns, the concept behind small modular reactors is that the parts can be factory-made in large numbers to be cheaply and rapidly assembled on site. So far this is only theory; currently the industry is at the prototype stage.

The idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object

The idea is to place the SMRs close to where they will provide power so that if necessary they can provide district heating as well as electricity, or − if on the coast − seawater desalination. They can also be deployed on barges and towed to remote locations to provide power for island communities or military installations where ordinary grids cannot reach.

The Russians have already launched one of these, which Greenpeace immediately dubbed “The Floating Chernobyl” and “The Nuclear Titanic”. Opinions are divided about the safety of SMRs. Supporters point out that icebreakers and submarines powered by small reactors have been at sea for decades.

The Russians say the plants will provide electricity for up to 100,000 people in remote Arctic regions but so far, despite being open to offers for some years, Rosatom, the state nuclear company, has not yet had a rush of orders.

While factories for small reactors sound as innocuous as the mass production of cars, the idea of siting nuclear reactors close to residential areas has not been tried in practice, at least not in democracies where voters have the right to object. It seems unlikely that a reactor placed close enough to a city to provide district heating would not raise objections, from some citizens at least.

Cost dilemma

Another consideration is cost. The theory is that once the first prototypes are deployed and have proved they work, the cost of future models will tumble as they are mass-produced. SMRs vary in size from about 30 megawatts (around the same output as four large offshore wind turbines) to 300 megawatts, and they can be deployed in groups like wind turbines to provide as much power output as required.

What has not been tested is whether there would ever be enough orders for any one sort of small modular reactor to justify setting up a factory to produce dozens of them. This is the only way to get the unit cost down sufficiently to compete with renewables, which are continuing to get cheaper and already dominate the market.

None of these doubts seems to assail the industry. According to the White Paper, the International Atomic Energy Agency has information on 50 possible SMR designs, with Argentina, Russia and China all expected to start up their first prototypes this year or next. Both Canada and the US are already going through the licensing and construction of prototypes and expect to have them operational by 2026.

Military links

Although it is not mentioned in the White Paper it is clear that at least in the US, UK, China and Russia there is a close relationship between the development of SMRs and the military need for nuclear-powered submarines − and, in the case of the US and Russia, icebreakers. The technology for both is very similar and the personnel to operate them need similar training and expertise.

Next month in Atlanta in the US the world’s SMR enthusiasts, including governments and the many companies developing and hoping to market SMRs, are gathering to hear the latest developments. The meeting is to be held on 2 and 3 April.

Participants include speakers from the US Department of Energy, the chief strategist for the US Army, and one from  the UK government’s department of business, energy and industrial strategy. Their task is to tell the conference how their governments are planning to deploy SMRs.

The UK is running a workshop so that attendees can “hear directly from the UK government on how they are ensuring that the UK becomes one of the top global destinations for SMRs”, according to the conference brochure. − Climate News Network

Chernobyl’s legacy imperils many thousands

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

More than 30 years after it exploded, Chernobyl’s legacy still casts a baleful shadow over hundreds of thousands of lives.

LONDON, 25 February, 2019 − The risk of an accident with civil nuclear power may be small, but when an accident does happen the impact may be immense, as a new book on Chernobyl’s legacy makes clear.

The nuclear industry promotes its technology as a key way of battling climate change. A nuclear reactor can supply vast amounts of energy; compared with coal, oil or gas-fired power plants there are few or no emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

But nuclear energy does have considerable drawbacks. A nuclear power plant costs many billions of dollars to build – and is even more expensive to decommission at the end of its working life.

Nuclear power plants have been around for decades, yet the problem of how to deal with vast stockpiles of highly dangerous waste is still there – a poisonous legacy for future generations.

And then there is the safety factor.

At 1.23 on the morning of 26 April 1986, engineers at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in western Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus, were carrying out a routine turbine and reactor shut-down test.

“As far as the engineers were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode”

There was a sudden roar. “That roar was a completely unfamiliar kind, very low in tone, like a human moan”, said one of those present in the plant’s central control room.

Then there was a loud blast. Nobody knew what had happened; some thought there’d been an earthquake.

In his recently published study of events at Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy– now a professor of history at Harvard, but in 1986 a Ukraine resident – says no-one believed a nuclear reactor had fractured. Chernobyl used the latest Soviet technology. A nuclear accident was inconceivable.

The nuclear industry today, whether in Russia, China or the West, is similarly confident of its safety. “As far as they (the engineers) were concerned, the reactor and its panoply of safety systems were idiot-proof. No textbook they had ever read suggested that reactors could explode.”

Yet explode it did. A build-up of steam destroyed the reactor’s casing; a concrete structure weighing 200 tonnes that mantled the reactor was blown through the roof.

Obsessed with secrecy

Vast clouds of radiation escaped into the atmosphere, blown by winds first northwest over Belarus and on over much of Scandinavia and to as far away as the hills of Wales. Later the winds changed and carried the radiation east, over Ukraine itself.

Plokhy’s book is not the first on Chernobyl, but it is billed as the most up-to-date and extensively researched.

He details how the nuclear industry, which grew out of and alongside nuclear arms programmes, has always been obsessed with secrecy – in what was the Soviet Union, and elsewhere.

In 1957 there’d been a serious nuclear accident at a Soviet nuclear plant at Ozersk in the Ural mountains. The American military learned of the incident but decided not to disclose it to the public in the West.

“Both sides had a stake in keeping it under wraps so as not to frighten their citizens and make them reject nuclear power as a source of cheap energy”, says Plokhy.

Reports suppressed

The Soviet authorities at first denied – both to the West and to their own citizens – the scale of the disaster at Chernobyl. The KGB – the Soviet intelligence service – cut phone lines so people could not communicate what had happened, and toned down or suppressed scientists’ reports.

Several KGB agents succumbed to radiation poisoning as they crawled in bushes round the Chernobyl plant, guarding visiting officials against assassination attempts.

While many top officials showed scant regard for their own citizens’ safety, there were also many acts of great bravery. Divers swam through radioactive waters at the plant in order to manipulate submerged valves, knowing they would die as a result.

Scientists, firemen and helicopter crews did their work despite absorbing often lethal levels of radiation. Young conscripts in the Soviet military – most unprotected and not knowing what danger they were in – did much of the clean-up work at the plant.

Engineers working at Chernobyl became scapegoats for the explosion. Some were imprisoned. Some committed suicide. Others died of radiation sickness.

Frightened into silence

Plokhy says a combination of factors was to blame There were short cuts in construction at the plant. There was pressure to increase energy quotas. Testing procedures had not been followed. There were serious design faults.

Scientists and engineers frightened of losing their jobs knew there were faults but were reluctant to contradict their superiors.

The Soviet Union crumbled. There was a rush in the West to fund safety measures at Soviet-era reactors.

“The directors of the nuclear power companies in the West were in panic: another accident in the East could damage the reputation of nuclear power in the West beyond repair and potentially put them out of business.”

While deaths as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl were few, hundreds of thousands of people in what was the old Soviet Union have developed or are in danger of developing cancers and other diseases as a result of the explosion. Many thousands of square kilometres of land have been contaminated.

Unsafe for 20,000 years

Chernobyl is shut down and a giant metal sarcophagus now covers the fractured reactor.

The land around the plant will not be safe for human habitation for at least another 20,000 years. The costs of the explosion run into hundreds of billions of dollars.

Plokhy says we’re still just as far from taming nuclear reactions as we were in 1986; he questions whether safety measures will be followed completely in countries like Egypt, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, at present involved in nuclear programmes.

“Are we sure that all these reactors are sound, that safety measures will be followed to the letter, and that the autocratic regimes running most of these countries will not sacrifice the safety of their people and the world as a whole to get extra energy and cash to build up their military, ensure rapid economic development, and try to head off public discontent?

“That is exactly what happened in the Soviet Union back in 1986.” − Climate News Network

Chernobyl – History of a Tragedy. By Serhii Plokhy. Penguin Books

UK urged to remove carbon from gas

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

Ambitious Danish island ends fossil fuel use

A small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − Climate News Network

 

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

A small Danish island ends fossil fuel use by combining ambitious aims with ensuring that local people have a say in cleaner replacements.

LONDON, 11 February, 2019 Tackling climate change is urgent. It’s too urgent to be feasible, say some critics. But as one Danish island ends fossil fuel use, its story shows it  may be time to think again.

In five years, by 2023, the UK Met Office says, global warming could temporarily rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the target agreed by 195 governments in 2015. So the world needs to switch fast from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The island of Samsø, off Denmark’s east coast, has wasted no time. Between 1998 and 2007 it abandoned its total dependence on imported fossil fuels and now relies entirely on renewables, mainly wind and biomass. It’s been singled out as the world’s first 100% renewable island by the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), which says Samsø can teach the world some vital lessons about changing fast and radically.

In 1997 Samsø, with 4,000 inhabitants, entered a Danish government competition to develop a model renewable energy community, aiming to prove that the country’s target of reducing carbon emissions by 21% was achievable.

Samsø’s winning proposal was based on strong community engagement and a cooperative ownership strategy. It showed how to make renewables a social, economic and energy success.

“Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible”

With wind power now projected to be Europe’s biggest energy source by 2027, the RTA says, one essential element in making it work successfully is how it is managed − and Samsø is a trailblazer.

What the islanders did was straightforward enough. By the year 2000 they had installed 11 wind turbines, covering their electricity needs. A further 10 offshore turbines were erected in 2002, generating enough energy to offset emissions from their cars, buses, tractors and the ferry to the mainland. Three-quarters of their heating and hot water now comes from biomass boilers fuelled with locally grown straw.

Samsø’s transition, the Alliance says, proved that a wholesale shift to renewable energy was possible with existing technology and limited government assistance.

Nowadays, residents are producing so much more clean energy than they need (and exporting what they don’t use) that, in effect, they have an average annual CO2 footprint of minus 12 tonnes per person, helping their fellow citizens to lower their emissions too (the average Dane emits 6.2 tonnes of CO2 a year, the average Briton 10 tonnes).

Active buy-in

Samsø, the argument runs, proves the effectiveness of setting ambitious targets – and meeting them. The Alliance says Samsø’s transition is impressive because it was achieved with the active buy-in (both figuratively and financially) of the local community.

Winning hearts and minds was crucial. People often oppose on-shore wind turbines as a visual intrusion, a blot on the landscape. So the transition organisers, Samsø Energy Academy, worked out how to include the islanders as the turbines’ owners.

They had a simple principle: if you could see a turbine from your window, you could sign on as a co-investor, meaning that anyone living with the technology had a stake in it and stood to.benefit

With so many islanders having a direct stake in the turbines there is now near unanimity that the renewable transition has been good for Samsø. Of the 11 onshore turbines, nine are owned privately by local farmers and two by local cooperatives. Five of the offshore turbines are owned by the municipality, three privately and two cooperatively by small shareholders.

Sceptical island

Before the transition began Samsø had relied mainly on oil, with its electricity generated in coal-fired power plants on the mainland. The potential for renewables had not been explored, and there was deep scepticism towards them. A lack of opportunities for education and work had led many young people to leave the island.

The islanders embraced the transition, but not because of climate change. Instead, most looked to its potential to provide jobs, strengthen the local economy and secure greater energy independence.

Key to Samsø’s success, the Alliance believes, was the insistence on transparency, consultation, and starting from what people wanted. From the start there was full disclosure of information, with the master plan published in the island’s library and information shared through the local newspaper and discussed in detail at regular community meetings.

Samsø’s long tradition of agricultural cooperatives also helped to ensure strong local engagement. There was ample time for discussion and decision-making, which helped to build confidence and a strong sense of collective ownership of decisions.

Listening to doubters

Sometimes the organisers’ focus on flexibility and committment to meeting local expectations came at a price. One site planned for an onshore turbine, for example, aroused concerns from birdwatchers, church members and holiday home owners.

So the plans were changed, even though this meant choosing another site where turbine installation was more difficult and less energy could be generated.

The Alliance says: “This meant that the community felt genuine ownership over the siting of the wind turbines, which helped to dispel any negative feelings around them.”

It draws another lesson from Samsø, too. The transition to 100% renewables was achieved, the RTA believes, because the Danish government had an ambitious mission, which everyone wanted to realise:

It says: “Policy-making is too often limited to what is do-able in the short-term; establishing an ambitious mission can help reframe a problem, making the impossible possible.” − Climate News Network

 

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Energy from greenhouse gases is possible

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network

Laboratories can make energy from greenhouse gases, power smartphones with their own radiation, and cut shipping costs naturally. And each could become reality.

LONDON, 8 February, 2019 – Researchers have found ways to realise a modern version of the medieval alchemists’ dream  not turning base metals into gold, but conjuring energy from greenhouse gases, exploiting abundant pollutants to help to power the world.

Korean scientists have developed a sophisticated fuel cell that consumes carbon dioxide and produces electricity and hydrogen – potentially another fuel – at the same time.

Researchers based in the US and Spain have devised a nanoscale fabric that converts electromagnetic waves into electrical current.

The dream is that a smartphone coated with the fabric could, without benefit of a battery, charge itself from the ambient wi-fi radiation that it exploits for texts, calls and data.

German scientists have taken a leaf from nature’s book and applied it – so far in theory – to bulk cargo shipping. Salvinia molesta, a floating fern native to Brazil, isolates itself from water with a thin sheath of air. If the large carriers could adopt the Salvinia trick and incorporate a similar layer of air in the anti-fouling coating on the hull, this would reduce drag sufficiently to save 20% of fuel costs.

To the Urals

And in yet another demonstration of the ingenuity and innovative ambition on show in the world’s laboratories, another German team has looked at the large-scale climate economics of artificial photosynthesis – a system of semiconductors and oxides – that could draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and deliver stable chemical compounds.

To take 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year would demand a forest that covered all Europe as far as the Urals. But to do the same job, a commercial forest of “artificial leaves” would require a land area about the size of the German federal state of Brandenburg.

All these ideas are ready for further development. None is so far anywhere near the commercial market.

But all are evidence that chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists have taken up the great climate challenge: how to power modern society without fuelling even faster global warming and climate change that could, ultimately, bring global economic growth to a devastating halt.

And, as many researchers see it, that means not just by-passing the fossil fuels that drive climate change, but actively exploiting the ever-higher ratios of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere, or soon to emerge from power station chimneys

“The best thing now would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper”

Scientists at UNIST, Korea’s National Institute of Science and Technology, report in the journal iScience that in collaboration with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US they have already developed a hybrid sodium-carbon dioxide system of electrolytes that converts dissolved carbon dioxide to sodium bicarbonate and hydrogen, with a flow of electric current.

Efficiency is high – with 50% of the carbon dioxide exploited – and could be higher. And their test apparatus so far has run in stable fashion for 1000 hours. The system uses a new approach to materials to exploit something in the air everywhere.

And that too is exactly what researchers in the US have done: they report in the journal Nature that they have fashioned a flexible sheet of ultra-thin material that serves as what they call a “rectenna”: a radio-frequency antenna that harvests radiation, including wi-fi signals, as alternating current waveforms, and feeds them to a nanoscale semiconductor that converts it to direct current.

So far, the rectenna devices have produced 40 microwatts of power: enough to fire up a light-emitting diode, or power a silicon chip.

“We have come up with a new way to power the electronics systems of the future – by harvesting wi-fi energy in a way that’s easily integrated in large areas – to bring intelligence to every object around us,” said Tomás Palacios, an electrical engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and one of the authors.

Magic carpet

The waterweed Salvinia molesta exploits bubbles to keep itself afloat but out of the water: it literally rides in the water on a little magic carpet of air. The hydrophobic plant is regarded as an invasive pest, but the way it harnesses air to keep itself afloat and on top of things provides a lesson not just for evolutionary biologists but for engineers.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have been looking at the problem of the global shipping fleet: cargo freighters burn 250 million tonnes of fuel a year and emit a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, much of it because of the sheer drag of moving a hull through the waves. So anything that reduces drag saves fuel (which accounts for half of all transport costs).

The German scientists report in the Philosophical Transactions A of the Royal Society that their experiments with hull coatings based on the lessons of Salvinia could in the medium term cut fuel costs by up to 20% and on a global scale reduce emissions by 130 million tonnes a year. If the same coating discouraged barnacles as well, the saving could reach 300 million tonnes – 1% of global CO2 output.

To keep global warming to the promised level of no more than 1.5°C, an ambition signed up to by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, global fossil fuel emissions will have to reach zero by 2050.

Right now, nations are adding 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. So there is pressure to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

Huge economy

German scientists report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they did the sums and calculated that to take 10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere using the machinery supplied by 3 billion years of evolution would require new forest plantations that stretched over 10 million kilometres. This is about the size of continental Europe.

But supposing artificial leaf systems developed in laboratories could be further developed on a massive scale? These leaves would draw down carbon dioxide and deliver it for permanent storage or for chemical conversion to plastic or building material.

If so, then efficient synthetic photosynthesis installations could do the same job from an area of only 30,000 square kilometres.

“These kinds of modules could be placed in non-agricultural regions – in deserts, for example. In contrast to plants, they require hardly any water to operate,” said Matthias May of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, one of the authors. It would of course come at a formidable cost – about €650 bn
or US$740 bn a year.

“The best thing now,” Dr May said, “would be to drastically reduce emissions immediately – that would be safer and much cheaper.” – Climate News Network