Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The cement that eats carbon dioxide

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a "significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2," says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

The new cement, which uses a different raw material, certainly has a vast potential market. Making the 2bn tonnes of cement used globally every year pumps out 5% of the world's CO2 emissions
- more than the entire aviation industry. And the long-term trends are upwards: a recent report by the French bank Credit Agricole estimated that, by 2020, demand for cement will increase by 50% compared to today.

Making traditional cement results in greenhouse gas emissions from two sources: it requires intense heat, and so a lot of energy to heat up the ovens that cook the raw material, such as limestone. That then releases further CO2 as it burns. But, until now, noone has found a large-scale way to tackle this fundamental problem.

Novacem's cement, based on magnesium silicates, not only requires much less heating, it also absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it hardens, making it carbon negative. Set up by Vlasopoulos and his colleagues at Imperial College London, Novacem has already attracted the attention of major construction companies such as Rio Tinto Minerals, WSP Group and Laing O'Rourke, and investors including the Carbon Trust.

The company has just started a £1.5m project funded by the government-backed Technology Strategy Board to build a pilot plant. If all goes well, Vlasopoulos expects to have Novacem products on the market within five years.

Jonathan Essex, a civil engineer at the building consultancy Bioregional who also sits on the environment and sustainability panel for the Institution of Civil Engineers, welcomed Novacem's ideas to tackle the carbon impact of cement. "In the UK the climate bill commits us to reduce CO2 emissions, and every sector should play its part. The construction industry
needs to take greater responsibility for its own environmental impact." Essex said that, if Novacem can make their cement at a competitive price, the next step could be to take even more CO2 emissions out of the process by using renewable energy to fire the furnaces.

According to Novacem, its product can absorb, over its lifecycle, around 0.6 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of cement. This compares to carbon emissions of about 0.4 tonnes per of standard cement. "From that point of view, it's attractive," said Rachael Nutter, head of business incubators at the Carbon Trust. "The real challenge is what is the supply chain, who do you need to partner with to take it to market? The million-dollar question is what are the applications of it? If it ends up as decorative applications such as floor tiles, it's quite interesting but not as much as if you get into load-bearing structural stuff."

Previous attempts to make cement greener have included adding more aggregate to a concrete mixture, thereby using less cement. But this still does not tackle the problem of the carbon emissions from making the cement in the first place. Other systems use polymers in the mix, but none have yet made a significant impact on the market.

full article

Monday, 29 December 2008

When does an appliance reach its eco break-even point?

In the manner of a game show, I'm calling this week's ethical dilemma 'scrap or save'. Given that the new year sales are likely to feature tons of cheap-as-chips white goods, scrap seems the obvious conclusion. Except that the smart eco (and fiscal) thing to do is to wait until your current appliance has reached its break-even point - the juncture at which it becomes less efficient to keep it running than to replace it with a new one, factoring in all the resources needed to make and transport it. Unless you're an expert on lifecycle cost analysis, you'll need to make an estimate here. In the 'current climate' where energy prices are high, energy efficiency is the consumer's best bet. Therefore the payback period for installing a more efficient appliance is shorter than usual. Add in the fact that your old machine will be recycled (now EU law) rather than dumped in landfill, and give or take the vagaries of the global recyclates market, white goods are stuffed with metals such as copper cooling lines that can be recovered and reused, this also brings forward the break-even point.

Fifteen years is the usual break point for boilers and fridges. This may sound arbitrary, but remember energy labels for household appliances didn't even exist before 1992/93. They've encouraged manufacturers to prioritise energy efficiency (and lately, resource use), making it the new competitive advantage.

In short, if your washing machine looks like it belongs on Antiques Roadshow, you are missing out on €10bn-worth of innovation (the amount manufacturers are estimated to have ploughed into energy-efficiency research and development over the past 10 years). This translates into cash savings in the home: the Energy Saving Trust ( estimates that replacing an energy-inefficient fridge-freezer with a energy-saving version will save you around £34 a year. However, energy labels need a makeover - too many appliances are A grade. Certainly the best appliances are now so way over the standards required for A that they need to be followed by a line of plusses. Two new schemes are now vying to become the energy label of choice: a calibrated A-G that offers a less generous idea of what constitutes an A grade, or - preferred by the European Manufacturers of Household Appliances group - a numerical system that specifies the eco nuances of water saving and steam drying. When you opt for a new model, avoid deferring all eco responsibility. Researchers have found consumers get complacent once they buy a top-flight appliance - for example, the consumer who washes single socks at 90C in their eco-efficient washing machine. Buy the most eco-efficient appliance you can afford and use it well. Then you'll have the save of the century.

full article

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Doctor used 'human fat to power car'

A Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who claims to have turned fat, extricated in liposuction, into biofuel for his car has skipped town after US officials raided his surgery in an investigation into his procedures.

Dr Craig Alan Bittner, who runs the Liposculpture clinic on Rodeo Drive, said that he had created “lipodiesel” with his patients’ excess subcutaneous fat.

The cosmetic surgeon told that he used the blubber to power two cars including his four-wheel-drive Ford.

Dr Bittner is under investigation by the California Department of Public Health because it is illegal in the state to use human medical waste to power vehicles.

In addition, WIRED magazine cast doubt on Dr Bittner’s claim that he used the lipodiesel to power his girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator – which it said does not have a diesel model.

It said the whole scheme could be a hoax inspired by the film Fight Club, in which Brad Pitt’s character Tyler Durden uses waste from liposuction to make soap.

Dr Bittner left a message on his clinic’s website on November 20 to tell clients he was moving to South America to volunteer at a small clinic “where I can help those most in need.”

full article

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

'The time of cheap gas is coming to an end'

Russian premier Vladimir Putin sent shivers down the spines of Western consumers today with a chilling warning that gas bills are set to soar.

To ram home the point, he oversaw the setting up of a new international Opec-style 'cartel' of gas producers - unofficially led by Moscow - which critics fear will seek to fix output and prices paid by users.

'Costs of exploration, gas production and transportation are going up - it means the industry's development costs will skyrocket,' said Putin.

'The time of cheap energy resources, cheap gas is surely coming to an end.'

It was the second day in succession that the Kremlin hardman entered the fray in what Western diplomats increasingly see as a policy of 'gas imperialism', holding consumers to ransom because there are often no other available sources of cheaper energy.

On Monday, his government warned that gas supplies to Britain and the rest of Europe could be disrupted during the New Year as part of a battle by Moscow to force its neighbour Ukraine to pay off debts and accept a huge hike in prices for the future.

full article

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

ScottishPower to Cut Energy Bills for Ages 60 and Over on Welfare Benefits

ENERGY provider ScottishPower has announced a new social tariff for its most vulnerable customers.

The firm said it will offer annual savings of up to GBP211, available from January and the social tariff will be open to customers who are aged 60 or above and in receipt of a social welfare benefit.

The saving was announced with a range of measures, including spending GBP10m on the tariff programme over the next 14 weeks - which will help an estimated 230,000 customers this winter.

ScottishPower said the tariff was part of a GBP240m investment over the next three years in social measures and energy efficiency programmes that will deliver "a comprehensive range of fuel poverty and energy efficiency initiatives that will help lift customers out of fuel poverty and reduce bills".

Willie MacDiarmid, ScottishPower's retail director, said: "The social tariff is an important part of our combined approach to help our most vulnerable customers.

"We believe discounted prices, together with access to energy efficiency measures and benefits health checks, will provide customers with a sustainable approach to address each element known to contribute to fuel poverty - the cost of fuel, the energy efficiency of the property and the household income.

full article

Friday, 12 December 2008

We must turn up the green heat of technology

The idea of being able to solve both our economic problems and climate change by building a low-carbon economy is enormously attractive. But it looks as though some countries had their Green New Deal years ago.

Take wind power, a huge growth area. We don't make a single wind turbine in Britain. We import from Spain, Germany and Denmark, which got the wind in their sails long ago and now have 90 per cent of all the industry jobs. Or nuclear. We have only one postgraduate nuclear engineering course - at Manchester University. Our nuclear engineers are as few and ageing as our nuclear plants. The consensus seems to be that any new plants will be built mostly with French and American components, and French labour.

Even solar energy is dominated by Germany, where nearly half a million houses have solar roofs because its Government pays above-market rates for individuals selling power back to the grid. You can argue about the specifics of the subsidies. But they have given Germany a market lead. Britain has ambitions to becoming the leading exporter of carbon capture and storage technology. But the kind of demonstration plant it wants to build is already being constructed in China.

Wave and tidal power are a better bet: Britain has some of the world's leading marine engineering companies. Bain & Co, the consulting firm, thinks that the UK could create 2,100 tidal jobs by 2020. That is a trickle, though the export potential must be higher. Offshore wind might generate 57,000 UK jobs, according to Bain - but the Danes are ahead of us there too.

Behind the audacity of hope lies the prosaic reality that green jobs in Britain may be few, at least in the short term, and most will require the kind of brawn that is needed to insulate people's homes, not the kind of brain that generates high-value exports. We still have clever designers and scientists, but someone else is making the kit. John Rose, the chief executive of Rolls-Royce, said recently that we have acted “as if innovation and creativity were not words appropriately associated with manufacturing”. Britain thinks of itself as “post-industrial” - but the energy revolution will involve enormous amounts of manufacturing, which we should be part of.

Britain is behind the green curve for two reasons: lack of funding and lack of clarity for investors. In a paper published this week by the think-tank Policy Exchange (of which I am a trustee) Dieter Helm, Professor of Energy at Oxford, argues that Britain's energy policy is no longer fit for purpose. Britain's liberalised energy markets were created in the 1980s when we produced more oil and gas than we needed. The main objective was to bring prices down. Today we need energy supplies to be secure and low-carbon - not something that the liberalised market will naturally create. Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said this week that the Government must be more interventionist. He is right. But the Government needs to stop dithering on regulation and set a clear price for carbon - the price of pollution - beyond 2020. That will give businesses the certainty they need to invest in green technology.

full article

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Ten ways to cut your energy bills

Energy companies say they may pass on the price reductions, but not until spring at the earliest – and even then, cuts may only be in the order of 10pc. This will hardly make a dent in the punishing 47pc price increases seen so far this year in gas bills and the 29pc rise in electricity costs, which have added £381 to the average household bill.


This is the easiest way to cut bills, yet latest figures just released by energy watchdog Ofgem show that more than a third of households have never switched suppliers for any type of fuel.


One-in-20 of us never checks their bills and so could be in for a nasty shock.

Estimated bills – where the meter has not been read – can hit householders in two ways. Either they pay too much, effectively giving their energy supplier an interest-free loan, or they have a shock when a massive bill arrives that they struggle to pay.


Almost 6m British households who pay their energy bills by direct debit are in credit to their gas supplier by an average of £79. However, before everyone rushes to ask for a refund – there is a reason for this.

Energy price rises mean that householders need to build up an even bigger credit in the summer months to cover the extra costs of winter heating bills.


Some energy-saving measures, including turning off lights when you leave a room and not heating an empty home, are obvious. However, others may be harder to identify.

Go online and fill in a free Energy Savers Report at and find out how to cut your energy bills by up to a third. For free energy advice, talk to your supplier or visit or call your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre on 0800 512 012.


The biggest energy savings come from insulation, as nearly 50pc of all the heat lost in the average home is through the roof and walls. A further 20pc is lost through ventilation and draughts and a fifth through window panes and frames.

Installing 270mm (10 inches) of loft insulation can save up to 15pc on your heating costs and cavity wall insulation can save up to £160 a year on heating bills. Every energy supplier has been mandated to help customers improve energy efficiency and many give discounts to customers towards the cost of insulation.

In addition, there are also grants (under the Warm Front scheme in England, Warm Deal in Scotland and Warm Homes in Northern Ireland) for cavity wall and loft insulation. Visit,, or for details.

Pensioners over 70 and anyone on income or disability-related benefits can claim up to £2,700 of energy efficiency improvements (or £4,000 if oil central heating is recommended). The over-60s can receive £300 towards central heating installation if they do not have any or their current system is inoperable.

Even those who do not qualify for government help can save by using low-cost insulation. Fitting a jacket to a hot water tank can cut wastage by three-quarters – a cash saving of around £40 a year – and insulating hot water pipes can save a further £10 a year.

Other low-cost measures include installing draught excluders on doors, windows and letter boxes and it costs nothing to close curtains at dusk and shut windows when the heating is on.


"Energy efficiency advice is beginning to filter through to consumers," said a spokesman for npower. "Gas consumption has fallen by around 12pc as a result. Electricity is the next biggest challenge."

Paying to keep electrical items on standby when they are not in use is unnecessary waste and accounts for 8pc of the average household's electricity bill. So much of modern technology – from the TV and DVD player to games consoles – is left permanently switched on, wasting an average of £37 a year.


Heating and hot water account for around 60pc of the average fuel bill and unless your boiler is relatively new it is unlikely to be running as efficiently as it could.

Replacing an old gas-guzzling boiler that is 15 years old with a new highly-efficient condensing one along with some heating controls could save around £275 a year in a three-bedroom semi. A lower cost option is to install heating controls and room thermostats so that empty rooms are not heated and each room is temperature controlled.


If you are replacing any electrical item from a lightbulb to a washing machine – or a games console or new TV for Christmas – check its energy efficiency. All products must carry a rating.

There are two logos to look out for: Energy Saving Recommended – this is on the most energy-efficient products. The EU energy label – this grades products from A (for the best) to G (for the worst) for energy use. For fridges and freezers there is a new A++ rating.

Also consider size. The bigger the appliance, the more electricity it is likely to need.


Buy a monitor to record energy usage – it is the easiest way to see how much each appliance costs to run. Turn off everything that is not essential and see instant savings.


Soaring energy bills have led to a resurgence in real fires – even in urban areas. Sales of wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves are up 40pc on last year, according to the Solid Fuel Association (

Smokeless fuel will keep you in compliance with the rules in a smoke-control area and those worried about green issues should bear in mind that wood as a fuel is considered carbon neutral in that it is only releasing the CO2 captured by the growth of the tree. An efficient multi-fuel fire (half wood and half smokeless fuel) also produces less carbon dioxide than a gas condensing boiler.

Green fuels, such as the Green Dragon logs made as a bi-product of oil-seed rape, are proving increasingly popular. The briquettes burn three times as long as wood and give off twice the heat (

Stoves are more efficient than open fires, which send most of the heat up the chimney. Before using a fireplace ensure the chimney is swept and is lined, if you are having an open fire. Wood-burning stoves, which can cost £1,000, must be fitted by a HETAS qualified fitter (

full article

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

‘Green’ hotel aims to cut energy use by 80%

The 20-room Premier Inn Tamworth in Staffordshire aims to reduce energy use by 80% against a standard hotel through new approaches to heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation.

Features include:

*Ground-source heat pumps use the earth’s natural energy to cool and heat rooms and provide hot water.
*Toilets flushed with recycled water from showers and baths will save 20% of the hotel’s entire water usage and will provide 100% of the hotel’s toilet water usage
*Sustainable wool from British sheep used in the walls to create efficient thermal and acoustic insulation
*Low energy Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting with motion sensors to ensure lights are only on when needed to give an energy saving of 80%.
*Solar panels will heat bath water

Staff will be trained to understand the technologies behind the design and to help with minimising everyday energy and water consumption, such as in washing, water usage, excessive heating or cooling.

Guests, who will pay from £53 a night, will be able to see the energy saved as part of a visual display in the hotel lobby, as well as learn about the technologies that have gone into the new building.

The property being seen as a flagship site for the company to trial the best green technologies available, to see which are viable for their hotels in future.
full article

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Fleeced by the power giants

Power companies are under increasing pressure to pass on the benefit of the plummeting price of oil.

Watchdogs are angry that domestic energy bills have continued to rise sharply since the summer even though wholesale prices have nearly halved.

Millions of families are desperate for gas, electricity and heating oil bills to fall as their household incomes are squeezed elsewhere.

Despite falling inflation, families still face rising food costs and hefty council tax increases next spring.

And pensioners, who already spend a major proportion of their cash on heating their homes, are seeing their savings income slashed by interest rate cuts.

Yesterday oil closed at below 45 dollars a barrel, more than 100 dollars below its July peak, and experts predict that it could drop as low as 25 dollars.

David Hunter, of energy consultants McKinnon & Clarke, said the 'big six' firms - British Gas, E.ON, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern, EDF Energy, and npower - enjoy a 'stranglehold' on the power market, and claimed: 'The market isn't working.'

He insisted the firms should have room for 'double digit' cuts as soon as next month.

Mr Hunter said: 'It is clear there will be room for reductions in prices, and there will be huge political pressure for them to act.'

Gas and electricity prices are inextricably linked to the price of oil, and utilities say it takes time to pass on lower wholesale costs to customers because they buy power and gas several months in advance.

But the cost of wholesale gas and electricity has tracked the fall in oil prices.
full article

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Scheme to help homes save energy

Plans to equip 40,000 homes with energy saving equipment aimed at cutting bills and creating jobs, have been unveiled by the assembly government.

The £12m programme is also designed to tackle child and fuel poverty in the Heads of the Valleys area.

Leighton Andrews, deputy minister for regeneration, said it was anticipated the 15 year initiative would attract millions of pounds of investment.

It is hoped the measures will make the area Europe's first low carbon zone.

The programme aims to install sustainable energy measures into 40,000 socially owned homes, have 65,000 homes assessed for energy efficiency and 39,000 energy reduction measures implemented.

It is hoped this will result in the reduction of domestic energy bills of £1.7m and reduce emissions of at least 139,200 tonnes of CO2 a year.

Mr Andrews said the programme was designed to tackle fuel poverty and create a new industry base in the region linked to job creation, skills development and the development of local businesses in the sector.

Details of the first round of investment and the first low carbon town will be unveiled in the New Year, he said.

"Energy costs have a disproportionate impact on household income in deprived areas and less money spent on fuel bills means more money available to spend in the local economy," said Mr Andrews.

A pilot project in Ebbw Vale saw the United Welsh Housing Association getting help from the programme to fund the installation of a range of measures to tackle carbon emissions in 28 new homes.

Exhaust air recovery heating, under floor heating, rainwater recycling and thermal water heating systems have been among the measures introduced.

The pilot will test the effectiveness of these systems.

Further projects have been undertaken with Rhondda Cynon Taf Homes and Bron Afron Homes to introduce energy-saving technologies including solar power during the refurbishment of existing homes.

Leighton Andrews said these projects formed part of the wider economic and social regeneration of the Heads of the Valleys region.

"They are taking forward several strands of our environmental theme with the ultimate aim of adding value to the fuel poverty and economic regeneration agendas," he said.

"These projects are leading the way in delivering a step change in the economy of the region."
full article

Monday, 1 December 2008

Climate change targets will push up energy prices

Household electricity bills will rise by a quarter over the next decade to pay for sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the Government's climate change advisor has warned.

Lord Turner recommended the UK reduce output of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming by more than a third in the next 12 years.

He admitted the cuts will be tough, shrinking the economy by one per cent by 2020 and demanding big changes in consumer behaviour.

The biggest impact will be on energy prices which are expected to rise by 25 per cent for the average family, pushing 1.7 million people into fuel poverty.

Britons will also notice a change in everyday life. It is estimated 40 per cent of cars will be plug-in hybrids or electric, smart meters that ensure more efficient use of electricity will be installed in every home and the cost of "carbon heavy" goods and services that use a lot of energy are likely to go up.

The key points

  • Power

+ Renewables will have to generate at least a third of electricity, with the majority of growth in the short term expected in onshore and offshore wind.

+ Nuclear will form part of the mix, with the possibility of new stations being built in the future.

+ Coal will continue to be used but will only be viable in the long term if technology is developed to store the emissions underground.

  • Transport

+ Cost of flights expected to go up as airlines face penalities for producing emissions.

+ Increased use of public transport through Government policy to cut carbon.

+ At least 40 per cent of cars will be hybrid plug-ins or completely electric as taxes increase on polluting cars and new technologies come online.

  • Agriculture

+ Increased use of feed additives that increase productivity of cattle but decrease methane produced.

+ Reduced use of fertiliser by using organic alternatives or different plants.

+ More energy efficient machinery for example hybrid tractors.

  • Consumer

+ People will be expected to eat less “carbon intensive” meats like beef and lamb.

+ Carbon heavy products such as vegetables transported from abroad will increase in price with energy prices.

+ People will be expected to turn off lights and cut down on air conditioning or heating as electricity becomes more expensive.

full article