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Italian progress
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Italy will become the first country in Europe to legally require "advanced biofuels" in cars and trucks.

Made from waste, the new fuels are said to reduce the amount of land taken out of food production.

The world's first commercial scale plant making fuel from straw opened in Italy last year. 

From 2018, all fuel suppliers in the country will have to include 0.6% advanced biofuel in petrol and diesel.

The use of fuels made from crops has been a controversial issue across the EU in recent years. 

A Renewable Energy Directive, adopted in 2009, required that 10% of energy used within the transport sector came from renewable sources. 

Amid concerns that land was being converted from food production to grow crops for biofuels, the EU ultimately reduced this to 5.75%

At the same time, the European Parliament voted to require a 2.5% target for advanced biofuels by 2020.

However European Council of energy ministers diluted this to a non-binding goal of 0.5% much to the dismay of the biofuels industry.

Now the Italian government have given the enterprise a shot in the arm. 

A ministerial decree, requires 0.6% of all petrol and diesel contain advanced biofuels from 2018. This rises to 1% by 2022. 

Last year a commercial scale advanced biofuels plant was opened in Crescentino near Turin, with the aim of producing 75 million litres of bioethanol every year from straw and arundo donax, an energy crop grown on marginal land. 

The Italians recently announced plans to open three further plants in the south of the country. 

Novozymes, one of the companies involved in the Crescentino initiative welcomed the government's decision to make it legally binding on fuel suppliers to include advanced biofuels in their petrol and diesel.

"We applaud the Italian government decision to establish a national mandate for advanced biofuels - the very first of its kind in Europe," said Sebastian Søderberg, from the company. 

"After years of dithering and stalemate on biofuels policy in Europe, it is very encouraging that a large member state is ready to lead by example. 

"This is most needed to spark investors' interest, and should be a source of inspiration for the Council and the new Parliament to come together in adopting an ambitious, EU-wide mandate for advanced biofuels by 2020 and beyond," he added. 

In the United States, the Environment Protection Agency has reduced the level of advanced biofuels it requires for use in transport over concerns that it was increasing imports of fuel made from Brazilian sugarcane. Despite this, a number of new second generation biofuels plants have recently opened.

"This is quite an exciting time, things are finally starting to happen," said Chris Malins from the the International Council on Clean Transportation.

"This shows Italy taking a real leadership role in Europe. It will be an example and a signal to other countries that are interested in this." 

However while the new technologies are less likely to spur a shift from using land for food production, there are still questions over their long term sustainability. Farmers may decide to grow "waste" crops. 

"In and of itself the fact that you are using cellulosic technology doesn't get a way from land completely - there are still land use and sustainability questions , but there's no doubt that the concerns about impacting food markets are much much less with these technologies than it is with first generation fuels."

Major step in Tidal generation
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The first full-scale tidal generator in Wales has been unveiled in an attempt to reduce the UK's carbon emissions.

The device, an underwater turbine mounted on a free-standing base, will be installed in Ramsey Sound, Pembrokeshire.

Its backers say it will be among the world's first demonstration devices connected to the grid to generate green, renewable and predictable tidal power.

Energy generated by the 400kW demonstration device, which will be installed within weeks, will be used to power 100 nearby homes.

After a 12-month testing period, up to nine tidal devices will be installed off St Davids Head in Pembrokeshire to form a 10 megawatt array.

The DeltaStream device, developed by Tidal Energy (TEL) weighs 150 tonnes, and has a 52ft by 66ft (16 metre by 20 metre) frame.

Each turbine has a 49ft (15 metre) diameter rotor which is connected to a generator to produce electricity both the ebb and flood tides.

It does not require expensive drilling into the seabed, the company claims, and has features to minimise impacts on the environment.

'The imminent launch of DeltaStream, and the supply chain that now exists as a consequence of its development, marks the birth of the tidal industry in Wales,' said Tidal Energy's managing director Martin Murphy.

'We remain committed to leading the expansion of the industry and to the creation of green jobs by building on the wealth of expertise present in the UK and the country's plentiful resources.'

Strong tides and crashing waves can produce huge amounts of energy – and the UK, with its long coastlines, is in an ideal position to harness this power.

Tidal Energy received £8 million funding for the project from the European Regional Development Fund, and match-funded by majority shareholder Welsh renewables company Eco2, which will join forces with TEL to install the further devices.

Renewable Energy Association chief executive Dr Nina Skorupska said: 'Many of our ocean energy members are currently racing to deploy the first wave or tidal farm, with several of these types of devices instead of just one.

'When that happens the sector will move into mass production, costs will fall dramatically, and wave and tidal will be well on their way to becoming major players in the UK energy system.'

Overall, the marine energy industry has been forecast to be worth £6.1 billion ($10.3 billion) to the UK economy by 2035, creating nearly 20,000 jobs. 

UK scientific breakthrough
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Solar energy cells that are sprayed like paint could cut the cost of solar electricity, and accelerate the growth of renewable energy

Perovskite solar cells, considered one of the major scientific breakthroughs of recent years, could be made available in a spray can after the product was developed by scientists at the University of Sheffield.

This means that solar cells could be applied to almost anything; an electric car could generate energy from its coat of perovskite solar paint.

The term perovskite refers to a particular mineral crystal structure; a cross between an organic compound and metal.

These solar cells, their generation capability first demonstrated in 2012, are both cheaper and better for the environment than the silicon based alternative that dominates the industry.

The project’s lead researcher Professor David Lidzey said: “There is a lot of excitement around perovskite based photovoltaics.

“Remarkably, this class of material offers the potential to combine the high performance of mature solar cell technologies with the low embedded energy costs of production of organic photovoltaics.”

At 19 per cent efficiency, perovskite cells are almost twice as efficient as organic solar cells, but are 6 per cent less than conventional silicon cells.

“Using a perovskite absorber instead of an organic absorber gives a significant boost in terms of efficiency,” said Lidzey.

Alan South, Chief Innovation Officer at SolarCentury, one of the UK’s largest solar energy companies, said “Developing a viable solution in this area is an important part of the roadmap for yet lower costs and increased applicability. We're delighted to see this kind of research taking place in the UK.

 “However, part of what makes today’s silicon-based solar so successful is its bankability resulting from decades of service experience and a long-lasting warranty.

"So should you consider waiting for spray-on solar before you adopt the technology? We would say no. It’s unknown how long it will take for this kind of innovation to become mainstream and electricity price rises are real right now.”

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