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Biofuels land worries PDF Print E-mail
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Fuel providers are compelled to add an increasing proportion of biofuel to diesel and petrol under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation. This year 3.23 per cent must be made up of biofuel and by 2020 that increases to 13 per cent.

However, the first annual report by the Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA) claims that fuel companies are exploiting a loop hole which means they are not required to disclose the origin of nearly half the biofuel supplied to filling stations in 2009.

Last year Esso reported the source of only 6 per cent of its biofuel while BP reported 27 per cent. Shell, the best performing of the main oil companies, only revealed two thirds of its biofuels origins.

Palm oil is the cheapest fuel to buy and is used by most companies to meet part of their biofuels obligation.

However, it is also the most damaging to the environment due to the CO2 released when forest is burnt down to create plantations.

The RFA said: "The large proportion of unknown previous land use is of concern. If even a small proportion of this was carbon-rich grassland or forestland, it could have substantially reduced the carbon savings resulting from the renewable transport fuels obligation as a whole, or even resulted in a net release of carbon."

Indonesia is the third largest CO2 emitter after America and China due to the expansion of the palm oil industry.

Oil companies can provide certified sustainable palm oil which is slightly more expensive but last year only 0.5 per cent of the 127 million litres of palm oil added to petrol and diesel came from sources approved by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international monitoring body.

The RFA report named Chevron, Murco and Topaz as failing to report any of the requirements under the RTFO.

Air for energy PDF Print E-mail
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Cars, homes and factories could be powered using the air we breathe in the future, according to engineers at a special summit.

British scientists developing the technology say normal air can be used to store energy by cooling it to 190C, turning it into a liquid.

When the liquid air is later warmed, it rapidly expands into a gas, creating high pressure that can drive the piston engine of a car, or generate electricity in a turbine.

Dr Tim Fox, of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers , which has organised the summit of experts, said: "We're coming out of the cave blinking on this one and we're only just getting an inkling of how great the energy storage benefits of liquid air could be."

One company, Highview Power Storage, has built a pilot plant next to a power station in Slough to prove the technology works.

At times of low demand for electricity, the plant uses the excess energy from the power station to suck air through refrigerator-style compressors turning it into a liquid, which it then stores in an insulated tank.

When consumer demand spikes, the energy is returned to the national grid. The tank, which stores 60 tonnes of liquid air, can power 6,000 homes for one hour.

The company's chief executive officer Gareth Brett told Sky News the technology is far cheaper than storing energy in batteries.

"The trouble with batteries is they are best suited to small applications like your laptop," he said.

"What we are talking about here is the national grid, which requires very large amounts of electricity to be stored.

"There are relatively few ways of doing that and we think with liquid air we have found one of the few technologies that is truly scalable to grid scale usage."

The technology could make wind turbines more viable, by storing excess production at high wind speeds, releasing it again in calm weather, he said.

Research by Imperial College suggests energy storage could reduce the number of power stations and national grid infrastructure needed, saving £10bn.

Engineering (Milan: ENG.MI - news) firm Ricardo is also developing a car engine fuelled by liquid air, based on a prototype built by inventor Peter Dearman.

Using a beer keg to store the liquid and copper pipes from a DIY store he generated enough power to drive his Vauxhall Nova.

"I've probably done 35mph. It probably would go faster but I haven't taken it out on the open road, so I've been limited on space," he said.

He said a liquid air car would overcome some of the problems with electric cars, which are expensive, use scarce materials in their batteries and are best suited to short distances.

"It's not the range of the electric car that is the problem, it's the recharging," he said.

"With liquid air you have the convenience of the petrol engine in that you can refill it quickly, simply by pouring it into the tank."

Power outages predicted PDF Print E-mail
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Britain risks running out of energy generating capacity in the winter of 2015-16, according to the energy regulator Ofgem.

predicted that the amount of spare capacity could fall from 14% now to only 4% in three years.

Ofgem said this would leave Britain relying more on imported gas, which would make price rises more likely.

The government said that its forthcoming Energy Bill would ensure that there was secure supply.

Ofgem blames the risk on coal-fired power stations being closed sooner than expected and EU environmental legislation.

The warnings come in Ofgem's first annual Electricity Capacity Assessment.

It comes three years after Ofgem's Project Discovery report, which warned that electricity shortages could lead to steep rises in energy bills.

It is now saying the highest risk of shortages would be sooner than expected because coal-fired power stations would be closing sooner than it had predicted in 2009.

The regulator said more investment was needed in building fresh generating capacity.

"The unprecedented challenges in facing Britain's energy industry… to attract the investment to deliver secure, sustainable and affordable energy supplies for consumers, still remain," said Ofgem chief executive Alistair Buchanan.

"Ofgem is working with government on its plans to reform the electricity market to tackle these issues."

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the government would respond to the report before the end of the year.

"Security of electricity supply is of critical importance to the health of the economy and the smooth functioning of our daily lives," he said.

"That is why the government is reforming the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity."

Energy UK, which represents the energy industry, said Ofgem was right to highlight the challenges it faces in the coming years.

"We must secure over £150bn of investment in the UK to replace aging power stations and infrastructure, keep the lights on and meet our carbon targets," said its chief executive Angela Knight.

"All while making sure that energy bills are affordable for the millions of homes and businesses that rely on the power supplied by our members."

Trade union Prospect, whose members include 21,000 professionals working in nuclear decommissioning and energy supply, called for government action to avert power shortages.

"This report highlights how imperative it is for the government to act now and introduce electricity market reform that ensures the programme of new nuclear build and other vital energy infrastructure projects, such as carbon capture and storage, are attractive enough to secure the long-term investment they require," said Prospect general secretary designate Mike Clancy.

Engineering shortages PDF Print E-mail
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The UK needs to increase by as much as 50% the number of science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) graduates it is creating, a report says.

The study, by the Royal Academy of Engineering, says 100,000 Stem graduates are needed a year just to maintain the status quo.

It argues the UK is already slipping down the international innovation league tables.

The UK has dropped to eighth globally in the number of US patents registered.

The report estimates 830,000 graduate-level Stem experts and 450,000 technicians will be needed by 2020.

In the UK some 23,000 engineers are graduating every year. But India is producing eight times as many, and China 20 times as many.

The report warns overall that the current pool of science, technology and engineering experts are already "stretched thin" and ageing rapidly. The median age of chartered engineers rises by 10 years for every 14 that pass.

UK firms are already having to recruit experts from abroad. 

The report adds that the requirement for 100,000 Stem graduates per year between 2012 and 2020 will not be met by newly graduating students alone, and calls for Stem experts to be trained through other routes.

"With only circa 90,000 Stem graduates each year (including international students who presently cannot obtain visas to work in the UK after graduation) and knowing from earlier analysis of Hesa [Higher Education Statistics Agency] data that a proportion of Stem graduates choose non science occupations (26% of engineering graduates for example) there are clearly too few UK Stem graduates to meet the need," it says.

Prof Matthew Harrison, director of engineering and education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said the shortage of Stem graduates was getting worse.

"In the last 10 years the general wage premium for graduates has been dropping, but over the same period the graduate premium for engineering has been going up.

"Engineering firms are crying out for engineers. They can't get the people they need. Although they have been very very vocal about the subject it has not translated into public policy yet."

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said it was working closely with industry and continue to look at various ways to support engineering at all levels, including engagement in schools, apprenticeships and postgraduate training.

"We have recently committed £3m to create up to 500 additional aeronautical engineers at masters level over the next three years, co-funded with industry," he said.

Methane reductions PDF Print E-mail
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World wide understanding of methane contributes to reducions in polluton 

Increased capture of natural gas from oil fields probably accounts for up to 70 percent of the dramatic leveling off seen in atmospheric methane at the end of the 20th century, according to new UC Irvine research being published in the journal Nature."We can now say with confidence that, based on our data, the trend is largely a result of changes in fossil fuel use," said chemistry professor Donald Blake, senior author on the paper.Methane has 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, although CO2 is filling the atmosphere in far larger amounts.

After decades of increases due to worldwide industrial and agricultural activity, the tapering off of methane from the 1980s through 2005 was remarkable. Scientists have long wrestled with the cause.Blake and his team, who have conducted the world's longest continuous methane and ethane sampling, said close scrutiny of their data shows that the major factor was most likely the trapping and sale of natural gas for use as a fuel source, which sharply reduced the skyward venting and flaring of methane from oil fields. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas.

"It used to just be burned off as a waste product," said lead author Isobel Simpson, a UCI research associate.

"The reason this is important is because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, second in importance only to carbon dioxide. We can't make real progress on climate change without tackling carbon dioxide, but bringing methane under control would certainly help."

Nuclear without radiation PDF Print E-mail
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A physicist in Italy claims to have demonstrated a new type of power plant that provides safe, cheap and virtually unlimited nuclear power to the world, without fossil fuels or radiation concerns.

The only hitch: Scientists say the method -- cold fusion -- is patently impossible. They say it defies the laws of physics.

Andrea Rossi doesn't seem to care. He said that his new device takes in nickel and hydrogen and fuses them in a low-grade nuclear reaction that essentially spits out sheer power, validating the strange science.

“With low energy, it's possible to give a heater a certain amount of energy and to get from the same heater a superior amount of energy,” Rossi explained. He claims he demonstrated the device, called an E-Cat, at the University of Bologna in Italy.

Rossi's claims have confounded the scientific community, many of whom have either dismissed the demonstration outright or have questioned whether the E-Cat really works. Several experts declined to comment or go on the record.

Nearly a century ago, in the 1920s, Austrian scientists Friedrich Paneth and Kurt Peters hypothesized a form of nuclear reaction that doesn’t produce radiation. And since then, the theory of cold fusion -- or "low-energy nuclear reaction," as its champions now call it -- has popped in and out the public's eyes, notably hitting the cover of Time magazine in 1989.

Jonathan Koomey, an energy consultant who has advised the EPA, said any extraordinary discovery requires extraordinary proof. He said the E-Cat must be verified by an independent study conducted by scientists who are allowed access to the machine’s inner-workings.

“[The E-Cat experiment] should be treated as a hoax until independent scientists are able to replicate these results,” Koomey said-- as one would treat claims that someone had defied the laws of gravity or found a major flaw in the theory of relativity.

Koomey explained that cold fusion defies the laws of thermodynamics. Energy requires an initial, consumable power source that erodes and breaks down -- it simply isn't self-sustaining.

But Sterling Allan, CEO of the alternative energy news agency Pure Energy Systems, said he attended Rossi’s demonstration and the E-Cat is self sustaining.

“What Rossi demonstrated was 470 kilowatts of continuous output in self-sustain mode -- meaning the output was enough to keep the thing running on its own,” he told FoxNews.com.

Allan hinted on his blog that an unnamed “customer” of Rossi's device is a military organization that starts with an N. Rossi said this customer measured and verified the test that Paul Swanson with the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems unit (SPAWAR) can vouch for the demonstration.

FoxNews.com spoke with a man at SPAWAR who identified himself as Swanson, and who said only that he was "not in a position to talk to the press." Several other sources within the Navy and the Pentagoneither declined to comment or did not return messages.

The Navy has long been interested in cold fusion research. At a 2009 meeting of the American Chemical Society, chemist Pamela Mosier-Boss of SPAWAR revealed what she and colleagues claimed was the first clear visual evidence that low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) devices work.

"To our knowledge, this is the first scientific report of the production of highly energetic neutrons from an LENR device," Mosier-Boss said at the time.

It's easy to see why the Navy could be interested. In a normal nuclear reaction, atoms collide to generate heat, but the resulting fission produces radiation that must be contained; exposure to even small amounts can be lethal. Rossi's reactor is different, containing about 100 of the small E-Cat machines.

“The heat is initiated by electrical resistance,” Rossi explained, a stage that takes about two hours. The reactors then produce another 479kWh of energy for another 3-4 hours without needing that initial electrical input -- the low-level nuclear reaction continues on its own.

“The test we made by the customer was to see if the process was working properly, and to control whether the energy was in an amount superior to the amount supplied to the system,” he said.

Rossi claims his company, Leonardo Corp., will produce the E-Cat machine, which he first demonstrated earlier this year at the University of Bologna. Proof of the experiment's success is that the customer will pay for the technology and start using it, he said.

As for the skeptics, Rossi said he needs to prove the experiment only to his customer.

“We have nothing to say, just to make plans that work properly and let those facts win against the skepticism,” he said.

Rossi says his company will soon start making the E-Cat in the U.S. Whether one will power your city soon is an open question.

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