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Useable materials from waste PDF Print E-mail
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The waste in your body might not be as much of a waste as you think. At a meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers have announced that they are working on a way to extract tons of valuable metals from sewage.

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology earlier this year found that the waste from 1 million Americans might contain metal (including gold, silver, titanium, lead, and zinc) worth up to $13 million. With nearly 320 million people living in the United States, that's a substantial goldmine--if scientists can figure out how sift the valuables from the sludge.

Kathleen Smith from the U.S. Geological Survey is working with several cities to analyze the solid waste for precious metals, to see exactly how much and what kinds of metals might be found at wastewater treatment plants. In some places, the concentration of gold is about the same as the amount found in a natural mineral deposit.

How does gold get into solid waste to begin with? "There are metals everywhere," Smith says in a press release, "in your hair care products, detergents, even nanoparticles that are put in socks to prevent bad odors."

Getting them back out again will be the tricky part. Smith and her colleagues are looking into leachates, chemicals that can draw metal out of rock. Leachates are generally terrible for the environment, but Smith and other researchers hope that if they are only used in wastewater treatment plants that those dangerous side effects might be contained.

"In the other part of the project, we're interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys," Smith said.

So sometime in the future, if you say "my cellphone is a piece of crap," you might be more accurate than you care to know.

EU future climate policy PDF Print E-mail
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The European Commission has outlined its plans for climate and energy policy until 2030.

The Commissioners want a binding target to reduce carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels.

Renewables will need to provide 27% of EU energy by 2030, but while the target will be binding at EU level there will be no mandatory targets for member states.

The policy proposals are subject to review by heads of government.

Green groups have said the new targets lack ambition and the 40% emissions cut is "dangerously low".

This wide ranging White Paper will have a significant impact on the way Europe generates its power from 2020 onwards.

The Commission wants to give clarity to investors in renewable energy while at the same time maintaining their leadership role in global climate negotiations.

A critical part of that is the headline figure on emissions cuts. The target that was set for 2020 was 20% but the EU as a group had almost reached the goal by 2012.

Some countries including the UK urged the Commission to propose a bigger target of 50% by 2030, others held out for 35%.

Climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that, given the economic climate, the 40% target was a significant advance.

"A 40% emissions reduction is the most cost-effective target for the EU and it takes account of our global responsibility," she said.

"If all other regions were equally ambitious about tackling climate change, the world would be in significantly better shape."

Officials emphasised that the 40% target would have to be achieved "through domestic measures alone", meaning that member states couldn't offset their reductions by paying for carbon cutting in other countries.

Binding targets

The move was welcomed by investors. According to the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, who's members manage 7.5 trillion euros, the new target was a good first step.

"A 40% emissions reduction target is the minimum necessary to keep Europe on course for a low-carbon economy as outlined in the EU's 2050 Roadmap," said chief executive Stephanie Pfeifer.

"Achieving this target is well within member state capabilities and crucial for long-term policy certainty."

Despite this, many environmental campaigners were unhappy.

Brook Riley from Friends of the Earth said the target would make the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change, defined as going above 2C, difficult to achieve.

"We say 40% is really dangerously low. This goal means there's about fifty-fifty chance of going over 2 degrees of global warming," he said.

As well as the headline cut in emissions, the other key plank of the White Paper is renewable energy.

The 2007 targets required 20% of all energy to come from solar, wind or other renewable sources.

  EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard has been criticised by green groups

Germany, which is in the middle of a huge transition to solar and wind, was keen to see these binding targets continue after 2020.

Others, including Poland, Spain and the UK, were keen on greater flexibility in the energy mix. The UK was keen to use nuclear energy as a way of meeting its own emissions reduction goal.

The result is a proposal for a binding target across the EU to provide "at least 27%" of energy from renewable sources.

"It is not just an aspirational thing, it's not just a nice intention, it is a binding target we are proposing," said Ms Hedegaard.

But crucially, there are to be no binding targets for individual member states.

Sensitive issue

The Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that shale gas was changing the energy landscape in a dramatic way.

There would be no binding EU wide regulations, he said. Instead the EU would set minimum core principles for fracking on environmental safety and health.

There would be a scoreboard for each member state to show how they were meeting the requirements.

"It's a good demonstration of the role the EU should play, setting the cross border rules for environmental health and safety but not meddling in the energy mix that is to be chosen by member states," he said.

This part of the package will have been well received in the UK and in Poland as both countries believe that shale gas will play an important part in providing energy in the future.

The White Paper also details a plan for fixing the EU emissions trading scheme. The price of a tonne of carbon has fallen dramatically in recent years as a result of an oversupply of permits on the market. The Commissioners now argue for a new system that would automatically adjust the supply.

Another element that will upset green campaigners is the proposal to drop the 6% target for greenhouse gas emissions cuts from transport fuels, from 2020.

Nusa Urbancic of campaigning group Transport & Environment believes this move will lead to the end of the Fuel Quality Directive, which she says is a major disappointment.

"The Commission is using the climate and energy package as an excuse to quietly scrap the FQD - the best EU law aimed at lowering emissions from transport fuel," she said.

"This is good news for oil companies and Alberta, with its high-carbon tar sands, but bad news for Europe in our move towards a more sustainable transport system."

All of the proposals put forward by the Commission will now be reviewed by the European Council in March. It is not expected that formal legislative proposals will be agreed before 2015.

Petrol from Air PDF Print E-mail
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A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.

Experts tonight hailed the astonishing breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis.

The technology, presented to a London engineering conference this week, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide before "electrolysing" the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide.

Hydrogen is then produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier.  

The company, Air Fuel Synthesis, then uses the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol which in turn is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.

Company officials say they had produced five litres of petrol in less than three months from a small refinery in Stockton-on-Tees, Teesside.

The fuel that is produced can be used in any regular petrol tank and, if renewable energy is used to provide the electricity it could become “completely carbon neutral”.

The £1.1m project, in development for the past two years, is being funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists who believe the technology could prove to be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy.

While the technology has the backing of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it has yet to capture the interest of major oil companies.

But company executives hope to build a large plant, which could produce more than a tonne of petrol every day, within two years and a refinery size operation within the next 15 years.

Tonight Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) officials admitted that while the described the technology as being “too good to be true but it is true”, it could prove to be a “game-changer” in the battle against climate change.

Stephen Tetlow, the IMechE chief executive, hailed the breakthrough as “truly groundbreaking”.

“It has the potential to become a great British success story, which opens up a crucial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

“It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market.

“The potential to provide a variety of sustainable fuels for today’s vehicles and infrastructure is especially exciting.”

Dr Tim Fox, the organisation's head of energy and environment, added: “Air capture technology ultimately has the potential to become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change.”

Peter Harrison, the company’s 58 year-old chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph that he was “excited” about the technology’s potential, which “uses renewable energy in a slightly different way”.

“People do find it unusual when I tell them what we are working on and realise what it means,” said Mr Harrison, a civil engineer from Darlington, Co Durham.

“It is an opportunity for a technology to make an impact on climate change and make an impact on the energy crisis facing this country and the world.

"It looks and smells like petrol but it is much cleaner and we don't have any nasty bits."

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.

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