Saturday, 31 January 2009

World's fastest electric car

The world's fastest electric car that can reach speeds of 208mph has been unveiled.
The eco-vehicle created by Shelby Supercars can accelerate to 60mph in just 2.5 seconds.
It is powered by a twin motor system, which produces a staggering 1,000 horse power and 800lb-ft of torque.
In contrast the current electric sports car flagbearer, the Tesla Roadster which was recently tested by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, produces 250 horse power.
Makers Shelby Supercars, who also manufacture the world's fastest production car, say the Ultimate Aero EV is powered by a 'revolutionary All-Electric ScalableB Powertrain'.
According to Shelby, it will be possible to fully charge the batteries in just 10 minutes from the mains, thanks to an on-board system it is calling 'Charge on the Run'.
Once the Ultimate Aero EV's batteries are charged it will have a range of between 150 and 200 miles.
The manufacturer expects to roll out pre-production versions of the vehicle, which has a three-speed automatic gearbox, by June.
full article

Thursday, 29 January 2009

diode (LED) bulbs that produce brilliant light but use very little electricity

A lighting revolution is on the way that could end at the flick of a switch the battle between supporters of conventional bulbs and the eco-friendly variety.
Cambridge University researchers have developed cheap, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that produce brilliant light but use very little electricity. They will cost £2 and last up to 60 years.
Despite being smaller than a penny, they are 12 times more efficient than conventional tungsten bulbs and three times more efficient than the unpopular fluorescent low-energy versions.
Even better, the bulbs fully illuminate instantly, unlike the current generation of eco-bulbs.
It is reckoned the bulbs, which were funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, could slash household lighting bills by three-quarters.
If installed in every home and office, they could cut the proportion of electricity used for lights from 20 per cent to 5 per cent a year. As well as lasting 100,000 hours, ten times as long as today's eco-bulbs, the LED bulbs do not contain mercury, so disposal is less damaging to the environment, and they do not flicker - a problem that has been blamed for migraines and epileptic fits.

Professor Humphreys says the LED bulbs developed at the centre are three times more efficient than the unpopular fluorescent low-energy bulbs
The Daily Mail revealed earlier this month that in the switchover to eco-bulbs, shops had stopped replenishing stocks of the traditional 100-watt incandescent version.
The move prompted panic buying among consumers. Whitehall claims the switch will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by five million tons a year - the amount produced by a typical one gigawatt power station.
The new bulbs could cut emissions by eight times that amount.
They use gallium nitride, a man-made semiconductor used to make light-emitting diodes. LEDs are already in use in bicycle lights, mobile phones, camera flashes and Christmas lights because they are relatively cheap due to their size and brightness compared to normal bulbs.
But until now the production costs have been too expensive for widespread use because the material had to be 'grown' on sapphire wafers, meaning a single household bulb would have cost £20.
Scientists at the Cambridge University-based Centre for Gallium Nitride solved that problem by growing it on silicon wafers.
A manufacturer, RFMD in County Durham, has begun work on production prototypes and the first bulbs could be in the shops within two years.
The head of the centre, Professor Colin Humphreys, said: 'This could well be the holy grail in terms of providing our lighting needs for the future.
'We are very close to achieving highly efficient, low-cost white LEDs.
'That won't just be good news for the environment. It will also benefit consumers by cutting their electricity bills.
'It is our belief they will render current energy-efficiency bulbs redundant.'
full article

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wood stoves are hot again

It has overtaken the Aga as the must-have lifestyle accessory – a wood-burning stove is becoming de rigueur in any stylish home, especially one that prides itself on its eco-credentials. Not only do they make a nice rustic detail in the corner of a room – or a contemporary, design-led centrepiece – they use a sustainable, nearly 100% carbon-neutral, source of fuel.

As energy bills soar and we enter a new age of frugality, overshadowed by concerns over the future supply of gas and electricity, wood is an increasingly attractive option: it costs about 1.6p per kilowatt hour, compared with 12p for electricity. David Knox, of Stovax, the UK’s largest manufacturer of wood-burning stoves, says demand was up by 50% in the last three months of 2008 compared with the same period the previous year.

“There has been a rise in demand countrywide, with a desire to return to organic living and to be independent of the grid,” he says. There are waiting lists for some of the company’s most popular models, which include the square, traditionally styled Stockton 5, which has a 4.9kW output and starts at £595 (01392 474056,

A secondhand stove can cost as little as £100, with prices rising to £5,000 for a brand-new, state-of-the-art model – Austroflamm’s slim, modern Glass Multi-Fuel Stove, also available from Stovax, starts at about £2,680. Although wood-burners work well when coupled with thermostatically controlled radiators, they are effective on their own: open fires may be romantic, but they waste up to 90% of the heat they produce. A stove in an enclosed unit, by contrast, “means that for every pound you spend on fuel, 88p of it is heating your home”, Knox estimates.Before ditching your energy supplier, however, there are a few things to consider. First, check if your home is in a “smoke control zone”; many UK cities and industrial areas restrict use of fires and stoves as a heating source. If you live in one (visit to find out), make sure your stove is Defra-approved. All new models must be installed by an approved fitter from Hetas, the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme.

You must install a chimney, if you don’t already have one, line an existing one or have a flue pipe built for the gases to escape; this can cost several hundred pounds. And the gases need to be discharged above the roof line, so it’s not practical to have a stove if you live at basement level.

What about getting hold of the wood? With the increased demand for the dense, seasoned hardwood logs that emit the most heat, there are reports of a forthcoming shortage. And unless you own your own woodland, you can forget hunter-gathering, even for fallen logs: the Forestry Commission advises that most woodlands and commons will have restrictions.“If you don’t have a sawmill near you, or a friendly farmer, find a good local supplier,” says Stuart Burgess, of the commission. Based in Herefordshire, Certainly Wood sources wood from local estates and delivers nationally. A bag costs £180 for 1.4 cubic metres (01981 251796,; 4.5 cubic metres should run a stove for a year.

Britain grows up to 1m tons of domestic firewood per year, and the government recently announced its aim to bring another 2m tons to the market by 2020 – enough to heat 250,000 homes for a year. Welcome news for those homeowners about to make the switch.
full article

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Pier-munching gribble may provide breakthrough for biofuels

A wood-boring crustacean that spends much of its time munching through the wooden supports that hold up piers could help provide the next breakthrough in green energy. The gribble uses enzymes in its gut to break down wood and scientists want to employ it to produce climate-friendly biofuels from natural products such as willow and straw.

The work will form part of a £27m project to make second-generation biofuels a commercial reality within 10 years. The new biofuels would not lead to a net release of carbon dioxide but also won't compete with land for edible crops. The money will come from the government-backed Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and a coalition of 15 industrial partners including BP and Ceres.

The cash is aimed at funding research to use plants more efficiently as fuel. The cell walls of plants are made of a complex sugar called cellulose, which is usually mixed with a polymer called lignin. Second-generation biofuels are made by breaking down the cellulose and fermenting it to produce fuels such as ethanol or butanol.

One of the major challenges for biologists is to find chemical enzymes that can efficiently break down cell walls which contain cellulose and lignin. The gribble, a tiny shrimp-like crustacean, seems particularly good at this task. "It's single-handedly responsible for gnawing away at several piers on our south coast and, within its intestinal tract, are enzymes that can unlock some of the polymers [in wood-based materials]," said Professor Katherine Smart, a plant scientist at University of Nottingham and one of the leaders of the project.

First generation biofuels are made from crops that store sugars and starches in their grains. "This has two main problems – it diverts away from the food chain but also it's very energy intensive to grow the crops," said Dr Angela Karp of Rothamsted Research. "You have to grow them every year and it requires a lot of nitrogen fertilisers to grow those grains."

Instead, the BBSRC money will be concentrated on waste materials from normal food crops – wheat straw, spent grain – and also plants that are not grown for food production but still produce a large amount of biomass quickly, such as willows and grasses

Smart said there was much to be done in improving the efficiency in extracting a plant's cellulose and then converting it into alcohol. "At the moment we can produce 19g of ethanol from 100g of straw. Based on the current amount of straw not used currently that means we have between 8-10bn tonnes of straw available in the UK for this kind of conversion. That could produce about a 10% of current use of petrol."

full article

Britain's first council house made out of... straw

Britain's first council houses made out of straw are to be built in a bid to cut costs and energy consumption.
The six semi-detached homes will be built from 500 bales but will be indistinguishable from normal homes because of their lime-washed walls.
At £60,000, the three-bed properties will cost £20,000 less to build than a conventional house.

They are being built as an 'experiment' by North Kesteven County Council, Lincs., to cut construction costs and meet energy consumption targets.
Marion Brighton, leader of the council, said straw with its exceptional heating properties had massive potential.
She said: 'It's all about affordability, sustainability and cutting down energy consumption. It's the first time it has ever been tried in the UK.
'The straw houses tick all the boxes - cost and energy efficiency. Also, we have a lot of straw in the area. It makes sense to make use of it.
'The properties will look similar to conventional council properties except the outer walls will be whitewashed with lime rather than red brick.
'We hope to continue building with straw and to encourage other councils to follow suit.'
Two semi-detached units each containing two three bed properties are due to be built in the village of Martin, Lincs., in April.
Construction of a further one semi-detached unit is set to start later in the year in Waddington, Lincs.
A spokeswoman for architects Amazon Nails, Todmorden, York., said household bills for the straw homes, said to have a lifespan of 100 years, will be low.
The houses will be on the National Grid but gas would only be supplied for cooking.
The straw walls will be airtight and superinsulated and natural light will be used to maximise warmth.
Each property will have a wood burning stove for the very coldest winter spells.

full article

Monday, 26 January 2009

How green are wood-burning fires?

It is hardly a secret: heating our house gives each of us a stonking great carbon footprint, what with domestic homes accounting for a quarter of the UK's total energy use. So what have the finely tuned, technologically thrusting innovators of this generation come up with by way of a low-carbon, renewable solution? Er, burning stuff in a fire, pretty much in the manner of our Victorian forefathers.

What this idea may lack in futuristic ingenuity it makes up for in increasing popularity. Householders are embracing open fires (not literally, which would be dangerous) and wood-burning stoves as a means of being greener, cheaper and feeling more secure about their fuel supply. Sales for wood-burning stoves are reported to be up by 40% on last year in the UK.

From an ethical standpoint we can a) be thankful that there's no longer a child-labour issue involved with today's chimney sweeps and b) celebrate the fact that new wood-burning stoves operate at around 75% efficiency (a traditional fireplace is just 10-20% efficient). According to the industry group, an open fire requires four logs for every one put in a wood burner.

However, bear in mind that when it comes to air pollution, a problem shared is still very much a problem. There is a distinct lack of consensus when it comes to air-quality management and domestic fires, but even the newest wood burners kick out particulate matter (tiny, easily absorbed particles, considered possible carcinogens and more readily associated with traffic pollution). Recently, Swedish researchers concluded that levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (chemical compounds, some of which have been identified as carcinogenic) were five times higher in homes with wood-burning appliances than those without. Proponents, meanwhile, argue that wood is cleaner than coal and oil, emitting no sulphur dioxide and destroying dioxins through heat.

full article

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Thermostat on low? The pipes are calling

Insurers are counting the cost of some of the coldest winter weather in a decade, with claims for burst pipes and tanks running at double the levels of last year. Families who have turned the thermostat down too low while away on a Christmas break have returned to homes wrecked by mains-pressure water pouring through ceilings and floors for days.

Many households are unaware just how high thermostats need to be to prevent freezing pipes. Halifax  recommends central heating is set at a minimum of 10 degrees.

Some modern boilers have a frost protection thermostat which turns on automatically if the temperature drops to a level that causes pipes to freeze.

Paradoxically, homes with proper loft insulation may be more at risk, as the heat from downstairs fails to penetrate upwards. A Norwich Union spokeswoman says: "Remember to remove the hatch to your loft so that warm air can circulate. This may appear environmentally unfriendly, or a little extravagant but it might mean the difference between a ruined home or a dry one when you return after a break."

Sainsbury's home insurance estimates that since 22 December, the UK insurance industry has received more than 13,000 home insurance claims linked to water damage under the category of "forcible/violent bursting", and it says the freezing weather has contributed to this.

It estimates the value of these claims is already close to £30m. Neil Laird, Sainsbury's home insurance manager, says: "There have certainly been more claims linked to water damage in recent weeks than we'd expect to see when the weather is milder. Temperatures have dropped to as low as -10C, and, with more cold weather predicted, we expect to see more claims linked to water damage.

• Insulate your pipes with preformed insulation, and replace the washers on any dripping taps - if the taps freeze, the pipe will get blocked.

• Know where your water valves are, and learn how to shut them off in case a pipe does burst.

• In very cold weather the heating will need to be on low, or set to come on a couple of times a day, especially if you're going away.

• Open the loft trapdoor on cold days to let heat in.

And do check your level of buildings and contents cover. Note, if you are away from your property on an extended break - typically more than 45 to 60 days - there is the risk your policy may not pay out.

full article

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Lights go out across Britain as recession hits home

Britain's days as the fastest growing economy in Europe were officially declared over yesterday as the deepest recession in a generation saw consumers turning off the lights and Poles returning home.

While official figures showed the economy contracting at its fastest since 1980, National Grid said demand for electricity had fallen over Christmas at homes and factories across the land, and Poland confirmed that thousands of its citizens were coming home from Britain and Ireland.

National Grid said it was cutting its forecast for electricity consumption this year because of the recession. The thousands of people being laid off each week and the hundreds of firms cutting production are reducing demand.

Industry has suffered most in this recession and made the biggest contribution to the slump in national output, which fell by a worse-than-expected 1.5% in the fourth quarter of last year compared to the third - or around 6% on an annualised basis.

As the economy had contracted by 0.6% in the July to September period, Britain now meets the most common definition of a recession - two consecutive quarters of shrinkage. But some analysts say the country fell into recession last April

full article

Friday, 23 January 2009

Climate shift 'killing US trees'

Old growth trees in western parts of the US are probably being killed as a result of regional changes to the climate, a study has suggested.

Analysis of undisturbed forests showed that the trees' mortality rate had doubled since 1955, researchers said.

They warned that the loss of old growth trees could have implications for the areas' ecology and for the amount of carbon that the forests could store.

The findings have been published in the journal Science.

"Data from unmanaged old forests in the western US showed that background mortality rates have increased rapidly in recent decades," the team of US and Canadian scientists wrote.

"Because mortality increased in small trees, the overall increase in mortality rates cannot be attributed to ageing of large trees," they added.

"Regional warming and consequent increases in water deficits are likely contributors to the increase in tree mortality rates."

Water woes

After ruling out a variety of other possible factors, including insect attacks and air pollution, the researchers concluded that regional warming was the dominant contributor.

"From the 1970s to 2006, the mean annual temperature of the western US increased at a rate of 0.3C to 0.4C per decade, even approached 0.5C," they observed.

"This regional warming has contributed to widespread hydrological changes, such as declining fraction of precipitation falling as snow, declining snowpack water content, earlier spring snowmelt and a consequent lengthening of summer drought."

full article

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Switch now or wait and see?

British Gas has become the first large energy supplier to break ranks and cut prices, taking 10pc off its standard gas tariff.

The cut will come into effect on February 19 and means that the average British Gas dual fuel bill will drop from £1,328 to £1,240, a saving of £88 a year.

However, experts said the cut nowhere near made up for recent rises in the cost of gas. British Gas increased its prices by 46pc in 2008. Some also advised consumers to wait and see whether other energy providers dropped their prices before switching to a cheaper tariff. It is expected that other providers are likely to announce similar cuts.

"Now that Britain’s biggest supplier has made the move, other suppliers will be under pressure to follow suit. We are sure to see a flurry of pricing announcements," said Ann Robinson, head of consumer policy at financial comparison site uSwitch.

However, she added that the cuts were likely to be "too little, and too late" to help consumers with this winter’s fuel bills.

The British Gas cut means that its WebSaver tariff, which is guaranteed to be 10pc below its ordinary tariff, will be the cheapest option for many customers across the country.

Gareth Kloet, head of utilities at website, advised customers to switch now, despite the expected price cuts. "We’ve waited too long for cuts," he said. "We’ve seen suppliers tinkering with tariffs, but this is really good news for customers."

His company provided the table (right, click to enlarge) of the best deals in each area of the country.

Watchdog Consumer Focus welcomed the price cut, saying British Gas had "done the right thing". "We will now turn the heat up on the other five companies that are keeping prices sky high," said chief executive Ed Mayo.

Meanwhile, Age Concern said that, unless there were further price cuts from all suppliers, "many of the poorest pensioners will continue struggle to pay their energy bills".

A spokesman for British Gas said: "Wholesale prices have come down enough for us to begin lowering prices for our customers. We'll continue to watch wholesale prices carefully and if they go down again significantly we will pass this on to our customers."

full article

British Gas is cutting its gas prices by 10%

British Gas said today it would cut residential gas prices by 10% next month, sparking hopes that the move will put pressure on other suppliers to follow suit.

The company, the biggest gas supplier to the UK residential market, said the move would benefit 7.5m households and save £84 on average household gas bills. The cut will not affect customers on fixed-rate deals or those who only buy electricity from British Gas.

Though some observers described the move as a welcome first step, there was disappointment the company had not gone further in reversing last summer's 35% rise in gas bills, which itself followed a 15% increase last January.

Phil Bentley, British Gas managing director, said wholesale gas prices had almost doubled last year and the market had been very volatile. "We buy gas months before it is used so we can make sure we always have enough for our customers, and can protect them from sudden rises in wholesale prices," he said.

Bentley said the company understood that energy bills represented a "significant cost" for customers. "This price cut will go some way towards helping customers manage their budgets and we will continue to do for them what we can, when we can."

British Gas rejected suggestions from some of the company's competitors that the price cut simply represented a "catch-up" move. It said British Gas had not cut electricity prices because wholesale prices had fallen more slowly and it had increased electricity bills by less than gas prices last year.

full article

Monday, 19 January 2009

Biofuel Carbon Footprint Not As Big As Feared

Publications ranging from the journal Science to Time magazine have blasted biofuels for significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, calling into question the environmental benefits of making fuel from plant material. But a new analysis by Michigan State University scientists says these dire predictions are based on a set of assumptions that may not be correct.
"Greenhouse gas release from changes in land use – growing crops that could be used for biofuels on previously unfarmed land – has been identified as a negative contributor to the environmental profile of biofuels," said Bruce Dale, MSU University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science. "Other analyses have estimated that it would take from 100 to 1,000 years before biofuels could overcome this 'carbon debt' and start providing greenhouse gas benefits."

But as Dale and his co-authors point out in their research, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, earlier analyses didn't consider a number of variables that might influence the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels.

"Our analysis shows that crop management is a key factor in estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with land use change associated with biofuels," Dale said. "Sustainable management practices, such as no-till farming and planting cover crops, can reduce the time it takes for biofuels to overcome the carbon debt to three years for grassland conversion and 14 years for temperate zone forest conversion."

The discrepancies between the time it will take biofuels to offer environmental benefits is due to the models used for each analysis, Dale explained.

"There are no real data on what actually happens as demand increases for land for biofuel production in one part of the world potentially leads to land clearing, because it is impossible to track these relationships in the real world," Dale said. "All the estimates are based on economic relationships and theoretical models with various data and assumptions. It's really one set of assumptions versus another set. The other scientists believe their assumptions are more reasonable, and we believe ours are more reasonable.

full article

Sunday, 11 January 2009

World’s first flying car prepares for take-off

Is it a car? Is it a plane? Actually it’s both. The first flying automobile, equally at home in the sky or on the road, is scheduled to take to the air next month.

If it survives its first test flight, the Terrafugia Transition, which can transform itself from a two-seater road car to a plane in 15 seconds, is expected to land in showrooms in about 18 months’ time.

Its manufacturer says it is easy to keep and run since it uses normal unleaded fuel and will fit into a garage.

Carl Dietrich, who runs the Massachusetts-based Terrafugia, said: “This is the first really integrated design where the wings fold up automatically and all the parts are in one vehicle.”

The Transition, developed by former Nasa engineers, is powered by the same 100bhp engine on the ground and in the air.

Terrafugia claims it will be able to fly up to 500 miles on a single tank of petrol at a cruising speed of 115mph. Up to now, however, it has been tested only on roads at up to 90mph.

Dietrich said he had already received 40 orders, despite an expected retail price of $200,000 (£132,000).

“For an airplane that’s very reasonable, but for a car that’s very much at the high end,” he conceded.

There are still one or two drawbacks. Getting insurance may be a little tricky and finding somewhere to take off may not be straightforward: the only place in the US in which it is legal to take off from a road is Alaska.

Dietrich is optimistic. He said: “In the long term we have the potential to make air travel practical for individuals at a price that would meet or beat driving, with huge time savings.”

full article

Saturday, 10 January 2009

China revs up hybrid war with first production plug-in car

The F3DM is a small four-door saloon equipped with an electric motor and a 1-litre petrol engine, both of which can drive the car.

With its batteries fully charged it can travel up to 60 miles on electricity alone. When the batteries become depleted the petrol engine takes over. And while the engine can charge the batteries, as in existing hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, the F3DM is intended to be recharged overnight by plugging into the domestic mains.

Initially, the F3DM will be sold in China's metropolitan areas starting in Shenzhen, the company’s home city. The price of 150,000 yuan (£14,400) is little more than half that of the Prius in the Chinese market. BYD expects to have several plug-in hybrid models on sale in Europe and America within three years.

The company says that the key to these products is its “iron battery”. This lithium iron-phosphate battery is related to the lithium-ion cells used in laptops and mobile phones (for which BYD is the world’s biggest supplier) but cheaper to produce, and smaller and lighter than those being adopted by other carmakers.

Toyota and Honda show their latest petrol-electric hybrids at the Detroit show this week but neither the new Prius (coming to the UK in the summer) nor the Honda Insight (on sale in March) are offered with the plug-in facility. The Japanese manufacturers remain uncertain about the safety and reliability of lithium batteries but Toyota expects to have a plug-in version of the Prius available next year.

Beleaguered General Motors will launch its plug-in electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, in 2010. Technically this is also a hybrid as it has a small auxiliary petrol engine, but that does not drive the car – it is there to charge the batteries to extend the car’s range.

full article

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Traditional 100 watt light bulbs to be phased out

Retailers have stopped stocking the bulb, which has been illuminating British homes for more than 120 years, and anticipate that they will have run out within weeks.

The withdrawal is part of a Government campaign, launched by Gordon Brown in 2007, to push people into buying fluorescent bulbs.

It is hoped the switch will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by around five million tonnes a year.

Low energy lightbulbs are small versions of the fluorescent strip lights found in offices and public buildings.

They use just a quarter of the energy of a conventional bulb. Replacing just one ordinary 100 watt can knock £7 a year off a household energy bill.

Under the voluntary ban, retailers have already stopped stocking 150 watt bulbs and agreed to stop replenishing stocks of 100 watt and 75 watt bulbs at the start of 2009.

By 2010 60 watt bulbs will start to be phased out and all incandescent bulbs will be banned by 2012.

A spokesman for Tesco, Britain's largest light bulb retailer, said: "All the 100 watt and 75 watt incandescent lightbulbs will be gone in the next couple of weeks."

However, there is concern that compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, making them dangerous to dispose of, and give off a harsh light.

full article

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Amazing discovery of green algae which could save the world

Melting icebergs, so long the iconic image of global warming, are triggering a natural process that could delay or even end climate change, British scientists have found.

A team working on board the Royal Navy’s HMS Endurance off the coast of Antarctica have discovered tiny particles of iron are released into the sea as the ice melts.

The iron feeds algae, which blooms and sucks up damaging carbon dioxide (CO2), then sinks, locking away the harmful greenhouse gas for hundreds of years.

The team think the process could hold the key to staving off globally rising temperatures.

Lead researcher Professor Rob Raiswell, from Leeds University, said: ‘The Earth itself seems to want to save us.’

As a result of the findings, a ground-breaking experiment will be held this month off the British island of South Georgia, 800 miles south east of the Falklands. It will see if the phenomenon could be harnessed to contain rising
carbon emissions.

Researchers will use several tons of iron sulphate to create an artificial bloom of algae. The patch will be so large it
will be visible from space.

Scientists already knew that releasing iron into the sea stimulates the growth of algae. But environmentalists had warned that to do so artificially might damage the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

Last year, the UN banned iron fertilisation in the Great Southern Ocean.

However, the new findings show the mechanism has actually been operating naturally for millions of years within the isolated southern waters. And it has led to the researchers being granted permission by the UN to move ahead with the experiment.

The scientist who will lead the next stage of the study, Professor Victor Smetacek, said: ‘The gas is sure to
be out of the Earth’s atmosphere for several hundred years.’

The aim is to discover whether artificially fertilising the area will create more algae in the Great Southern Ocean. That ocean is an untapped resource for soaking up CO2 because it doesn’t have much iron, unlike other seas.

It covers 20million square miles, and scientists say that if this could all be treated with iron, the resulting algae would remove three-and-a-half gigatons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to one eighth of all emissions annually created by burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

It would also be equal to removing all carbon dioxide emitted from every power plant, chimney and car exhaust in the rapidly expanding industries of India and Japan.
full article

Thursday, 1 January 2009

On yer bike

1. Everyone's at it

If you thought there were more cyclists on the roads recently, you'd be right – biking is booming. In London alone there has been a 91 per cent increase in the number of cycle journeys since 2000, with more than 500,000 trips a day. And, nationwide, Sport England's latest survey, for the 12 months to October 2008, showed 1.8 million of us cycle at least once a week, a significant increase on last year – and that doesn't include commuters. The survey showed recreational cycling is the second-fastest growing sport in the country (after athletics). Meanwhile, membership of British Cycling, the sport's governing body, has rocketed to a record high of 25,000, and new bikes are rolling out of shops at record speed – cycling shop Evans reported a 200 per cent increase in the sales of kids' and BMX bikes pre-Christmas.

. It's better than running.

Or swimming. Running is bad for your joints – marathon runners can lose a centimetre in height during a race. The smooth motion of pedalling makes cycling is much easier on your body. And because your bulk is supported by the bike, you can go for longer. If you ran as hard, you'd fall over. As for swimming – well, you can't swim to work.

15. The weather's good

There are few things more miserable than to look out of one's office window as clocking-off approaches to see streets that had sparkled in the morning sunlight drenched in rain. But, if you think about it, it doesn't rain that often everywhere. Last year Transport for London claimed the average cycle commuter in the capital would only get wet 12 times a year. That's ridiculous but, really, it's not as bad as you think.

16. It's a thrill

Going down Westerham Hill in Kent recently, I grabbed my drop handlebars with white knuckles, stood slightly raised on my pedals, lowered my head and resisted the urge to apply my brakes. Eyes watering, face red and heart racing, I looked at my cycle computer as the road flattened out. I had peaked at 49mph. It's the fastest I've gone on two wheels, and was terrifying, but there are few ways to replicate that kind of thrill. And then there's the buzz that comes with cycling in the city – weaving through rush-hour traffic is surely the finest way to wake up in the morning.

17. The government will pay

Under the Government's Cycle to Work scheme, employers who sign up buy bikes and safety equipment for staff, deducting the cost from their salaries. Because the employer can reclaim VAT and other taxes, you not only spread the cost of the bike but, depending on the scheme, can pay as little as half the price. Several cities have their own schemes. In Edinburgh, schoolboy called Tom Sparks had the bright idea to award points (which can be exchanged for gift vouchers) to pupils who bike to classes. The Scottish Government has invested £10,000 in Sparks' "pedals not petrol" campaign to help extend it across Edinburgh.

18. It's good for the heart

Cycling reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Cycling at a reasonable pace can burn the energy supplied by a chocolate bar or a couple of alcoholic drinks (about 300 calories), so a 15-minute commute five times a week could burn 11 pounds of fat in a year. Up the pace and stuff your face....

19. It's greener

With just a chain and a couple of cogs linking a rider's legs to the wheels, hardly any effort goes to waste. The energy efficiency of a bicycle has been estimated to be the equivalent of the average car doing 1,600 miles on a gallon of petrol.

full article