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Gene-Editing Algae Doubles Biofuel Output Potential – Another leap forward for sustainable biofuels

Scientists have created a strain of algae that produces twice as much lipid as its wild parent, a substance that can be processed into a biofuel.

https://www.sciencealert.com/gene-editing-algae-doubles-biofuel-output-potential

By using a combination of gene editing tools, including the famed CRISPR-Cas9 technique, they identified and switched off genes that limited the production of lipids. Creating an alga that can pump out commercial amounts of sustainably obtained biofuels.

“We are focused on understanding how to maximize the efficiency of [lipid production] algae and at the same time maximise the amount of CO2 converted to lipids in the cells, which is the component processed into biodiesel,” Eric Moellering, lead researcher from company Synthetic Genomics Inc, told ScienceAlert.

Scientists have been trying to make the concept of using phototropic algae to produce bio-diesel a reality since the 1970s. In the past, it has been said that a new energy sector based on algal biofuels could guarantee transport fuel and food security far into the future.

Despite years of research, the best attempts until now have been limited to industrial strains which, although they have a really high lipid conversion rate, do not make sufficient amounts of lipid to make it commercially viable – limited by the fact it can’t grow very fast.

“Early in the [study] we posed the basic question, can we engineer an alga to produce more lipids while sustaining growth? This publication provides the proof of concept answer to that question is yes,” said Moellering.

In this new research, the team used CRISPR-Cas9, among other editing techniques, and identified 20 transition factors that regulated lipid production. By knocking out 18 of these, the team were able to double the lipid output compared to the non-modified algae.

But here’s the important bit: they were able to do so without stunting the alga’s growth rate. It grew at the same rate as the unmodified type.

The genetically modified algae produced up to 5 grams of lipid per metre per day, about twice as much as in the wild.

Another important metric is the total carbon to lipid conversion. This tells us how efficient the algae is at converting CO2 to lipids. In wild, unmodified alga the conversation rate is about 20 percent, but in the engineered alga it converted 40 to 55 percent of carbon to lipids.

It’s worth pointing out that this study was only performed at the laboratory scale but one of the researchers, Imad Ajjawi, also from Synthetic Genomics, told ScienceAlert that while they consider this a ‘proof of concept’, “they represent a significant milestone in establishing the foundation for a path that leads to eventual commercialisation of algal biofuels.”

Should this research graduate from the lab, bio-fuel production would no longer be reliant on sugars produced by land-grown crops like sugar cane and maize. Studies on the use of crop based biodiesel has shown that it could prove to be incredibly costly and damage our food security.

This research is another win for gene editing and the researchers have shown that new genetic editing tools sit at the centre of talking some of the world’s biggest problems.

“We have also developed the necessary genomic and genetic tools that will enable future breakthroughs to advance this field,” said Ajjawi.

The study has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

China’s premier unveils smog-busting plan to ‘make skies blue again’

Li Keqiang promises to intensify battle against air pollution as he unveils series of measures at annual people’s congress

The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, has promised to step up his country’s battle against deadly smog, telling an annual political congress: “We will make our skies blue again.”

China’s cities have become synonymous with choking air pollution in recent years, which is blamed for up to 1 million premature deaths a year.

Speaking at the opening of the national people’s congress in Beijing on Sunday, Li admitted his country was facing a grave environmental crisis that had left Chinese citizens desperately hoping for relief.

Li unveiled a series of smog-busting measures including cutting coal use, upgrading coal-fired power plants, slashing vehicle emissions, encouraging the use of clean-energy cars and punishing government officials who ignore environmental crimes or air pollution. “Key sources” of industrial pollutants would be placed under 24-hour online monitoring in an effort to cut emissions.

The premier vowed that levels of PM2.5 would fall “markedly” over the coming year but did not cite a specific target.

“Tackling smog is down to every last one of us, and success depends on action and commitment. As long as the whole of our society keeps trying we will have more and more blue skies with each passing year,” he said.

PM2.5 is a tiny airborne particulate that has been linked to lung cancer, asthma and heart disease.

Despite his buoyant message, Li’s language was more cautious than three years ago when he used the same opening speech to “resolutely declare war on pollution” and warn that smog was “nature’s red light warning against inefficient and blind development”.

There has been public frustration – and protest – against Beijing’s failure to achieve results in its quest to clean up the environment. Tens of thousands of “smog refugees” reportedly fled China’s pollution-stricken north last December as a result of the country’s latest pollution “red alert”.

Wei Song, a Chinese opera singer who attended Li’s speech, said it was inhuman to “achieve development goals by sacrificing the environment” and called for tougher measures against polluters.

“The government should increase the penalties in order to bankrupt the people and the companies responsible. Otherwise, if the punishment is just a little scratch, they will carry on polluting,” said Wei, one of China’s “three tenors”.

Zhang Bawu, a senior Communist party official from Ningxia province, defended China’s “much improved” record on the environment.

He claimed the number of smoggy days in Beijing was now falling thanks to government efforts and he said his province, which is building what could become the biggest solar farm on Earth, was also doing its bit.

Ningxia’s frontline role in a Chinese wind and solar revolution meant 40% of its energy now came from renewable sources, Zhang said.

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific seeks 80pc emissions reductions on some long flights with big switch to biofuels

Airline among world’s first to adopt fuels made largely from landfill rubbish

Cathay Pacific Airways has pledged an 80 per cent cut in the amount of climate-changing gases some of its longest flights pump into the Earth’s atmosphere, by betting big on biofuels.

The Hong Kong carrier will be one of the first airlines in the world to switch to cleaner jet fuels on an industrial scale.

The city is slowly strengthening its push to lessen its contribution to climate change, and the government aims to cut annual carbon emissions per person almost in half by 2030.

The aviation sector had avoided regulation until last year, when its governing body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, agreed a global deal to curb emissions growth by the end of the decade.

Cathay Pacific planes will use fuel made from landfill rubbish. Many of its flights from the United States, where the fuel is being produced, will be able to fly to Hong Kong using a half-half mix of biofuel and conventional fuel by 2019. It is on these trans-Pacific flights that the company expects the 80 per cent emissions reductions.

“Aviation biofuels will play a key role for Cathay and the aviation industry’s quest for lower emissions,” the airline’s biofuel manager, Jeff Ovens, said. “We are on the cusp of large-scale production of low-carbon jet fuel and are eager to use it.”

The high and notoriously unpredictable cost of fuel has forced the airline to control how much it uses. By – among other things – reducing aircraft weight, flying on more direct flight paths and only using one engine to taxi on runways, the company cut emissions and paved the way for the rethink of how it could further cut pollution.

“This is where biofuels come in,” Ovens said. “These fuels will have a lower carbon footprint than fossil fuels, and the pricing we have is competitive with traditional fuels.”

Aside from the carbon dioxide reduction, using the mixed fuel avoids emissions of other harmful gases, like methane, given off as rubbish – which will instead be used as fuel – naturally degrades in landfill.

Cathay Pacific passengers are unlikely to see a rise in fares, because the biofuel investments since 2014 have been absorbed into the company’s operating costs. But it is too early to tell whether the switch could lower ticket prices.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, undersecretary at the Environment Bureau – which spearheaded the government’s 2030 climate action report – said: “I think the world as a whole has come to embrace dealing with climate change, and you are seeing major industry sectors coming forward to say they need to do more.”

But she said the lack of global rules on the production, infrastructure and supply of biofuels made long-term policymaking harder. “I think that is further down the road than we are able to make policies on,” she said.

Roy Tam Hoi-pong, CEO of Green Sense, an environmental pressure group, said the airline’s climate effort was a “good start”.

He said: “As one of Asia’s biggest airlines, they can do much more.”

Airlines occasionally test biofuels, mainly with used cooking oil, but not landfill waste.

United Airlines has started running some domestic flights on biofuels regularly, but even then in small quantities.

The airline’s new batch of Airbus A350 planes – themselves 25 per cent more fuel efficient than their forerunners – flew from France to Hong Kong for delivery using a small amount of biofuel.

The airline’s partnership with a US-based renewable fuel producer is on track to help make its flights from the US to Hong Kong International Airport, starting from 2019, greener.

Fulcrum Bioenergy and Cathay Pacific signed an agreement in 2014, helping the airline meet its biofuel supply targets, with a purchase of 375 million gallons of biofuel over 10 years.

That fuel would be enough to supply Cathay Pacific’s 76 weekly US flights to Hong Kong for six months.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2066549/hong-kongs-cathay-pacific-seeks-80pc-emissions

CLP Power to tap methane from Tuen Mun landfill for electricity

The company is awaiting an environmental approval for its plan to build generators on the site; project will cost “more than HK$100 million”

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2065471/clp-power-tap-methane-tuen-mun-landfill

The larger of the city’s two electricity providers will seek approval for the installation of 14-megawatt electricity generating units powered by gas at a Tuen Mun landfill to expand its portfolio of “renewable” energy projects.

CLP Power managing director Paul Poon Wai-yin said the large amounts of flammable gases such as methane, produced from the decomposition of municipal waste, could be tapped for power.

About 7,300 tonnes of such waste is dumped in the landfill at the tip of Nim Wan daily.

Poon said the waste-to-energy conversion was a better source of renewable energy than solar or wind, which required massive amounts of land and investment, adding:

“On one hand it will help reduce [greenhouse gas] ¬emissions from landfills, and on the other, help replace the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity.”

Quince Chong Wai-yan, head of corporate development, said the new facility – estimated to cost “more than HK$100 million” – would have a minimal impact on tariffs due to its limited scale.

The project’s first phase comprises five units capable of generating enough electricity to power 17,000 four-person households for one year. A second phase will add two more units to the site.

A new climate change action plan released by the government last week set new emissions reduction targets for 2030. Authorities hope to achieve this by moving away from coal-fired power generation to natural gas and non-fossil fuels.

While the plan stopped short of a target for renewables, it highlighted a “3 to 4 per cent” capacity, to be realised between now till 2030. Poon said CLP was already on the way to help meet 1 per cent of this mark.

He stressed that the phasing out of CLP’s coal-fired units over the next decade would also be discussed with the government in negotiations for a post-2018 regulatory framework, expected to be completed by the end of the administration’s term.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Frances Yeung Hoi-shan said the facility would help reduce methane emissions, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But she said most green groups did not consider processed waste a “renewable energy” source. Yeung urged the government to require power companies to incentivise investments in sources such as solar and wind energy in the new regulatory framework.

The new action plan stated that tariffs and renewable energy certificates will be introduced as incentives in negotiations with CLP Power and HK Electric. But Poon did not provide details at a media briefing on Wednesday.

Impact assessments for CLP’s proposed units at the landfill have been completed and the company will apply for an environmental permit shortly. It hopes to begin operations of the first phase in the third quarter next year.

The Environmental Protection Department welcomed the project and said it would facilitate implementation.

How China has embraced renewable energy and Hong Kong hasn’t, and what’s behind city’s green power inertia

Summer 2016 saw record heat, and health problems from air pollution are rising, yet green energy projects have been shelved or denied funding; electricity firms lack incentives to go green, WWF says

Professor Johnny Chan Chun-leung is one of Hong Kong’s most eminent climate and energy scientists, and he is a very frustrated man. This month Beijing announced it would invest 2.5 trillion yuan (HK$2.8 trillion) in renewable energy technology by 2020 to establish the nation as world leader in sustainable and clean energy, and create 13 million jobs. Meanwhile, Chan and other respected scientists in Hong Kong are struggling to obtain financial support for their green energy projects.

Whereas China embraces wind, tide, solar and wave energy as essential tools to tackle climate change and its acute air pollution, attitudes in Hong Kong appear as fossilised as the fuel that provides 78 per cent of its energy needs.

Chan, chair professor of atmospheric science at the City University of Hong Kong’s School of Energy and Environment, outlined details of an innovative tidal turbine project at a conference on renewable energy last week, organised by the city’s Business Environment Council. Chan’s team has developed a system that can generate electricity even in low tidal streams, typical of the seas around Hong Kong. Though it is early days, trials staged at the Gold Coast Marina in the city’s Tuen Mun district produced encouraging results.

He now needs funding to scale it up, with a view to offering the city a viable green energy alternative, but his application to the Environment and Conservation Fund for HK$2 million was rejected. “The ECF told me today that I ‘did not demonstrate the merits and contributions of the proposed study to environmental protection’,” he says. “How ridiculous.”

It is not an isolated incident. Others complain privately that Hong Kong funding bodies are “overly risk averse” and are rarely enthusiastic about funding green energy research and development.

“I believe more can be done to promote local funding for R&D for all renewable energy components,” says Dr Walid Daoud, a solar energy expert from City University and another speaker at the council’s conference. Many believe these difficulties are just one symptom of a wider malaise when it comes to supporting green energy in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong performs badly in overall carbon emissions and renewable energy,” says Cheung Chi-wah, senior head of climate and footprint programmes at environmental campaign group WWF-Hong Kong. He notes that the city’s emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming have been rising steadily and are 23 per cent above their level in 2002. That was the same year the Hong Kong government published its first study of renewable energy, compiled by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. The report estimated that 17 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs could be supplied by solar power alone.

It also made a key primary recommendation that the government should set targets for renewable energy’s contribution to demand of 1 per cent, 2 per cent and 3 per cent for 2012, 2017 and 2022, respectively. Nearly 15 years later, with electricity consumption rising about 5 per cent a year, the city recording record-breaking temperatures last summer, and health problems due to worsening air pollution growing, very little has been achieved. Instead of the proposed 2 per cent target for 2017, the latest data shows that the proportion of energy used in the city that is produced by renewable means is still less than 1 per cent – far from the 17 per cent potential – and the targets have not even been implemented.

Indeed, by 2012 only 2.2 megawatts of solar photovoltaic panels, capable of meeting 0.01 per cent of Hong Kong’s energy needs, had been installed.

Hong Kong is also one of the few advanced cities in the world with no feed-in tariff scheme, or “net metering system”, in place. This means that, rather than small-scale green energy producers being paid for contributing any excess energy to the grid, they can only donate it.

Energy consultant Mike Thomas, of the Lantau Group, another speaker at the council’s event, thinks it is unhelpful to compare China and Hong Kong in terms of being “behind or ahead” because of the vast differences in the two economies’ scale, resources and political systems. He also believes Hong Kong is taking the right steps by implementing the government’s new fuel mix for energy supply by 2020, which consists of about 50 per cent natural gas, around 25 per cent nuclear power and more use of renewable energy sources. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel, but 30 per cent to 50 per cent cleaner than coal in terms of emissions.

“It is true that there is very little renewable energy, strictly speaking, but given the rabid debate about the use of green space for housing, I’m not sure that converting the hillsides to solar panels would appeal either,” he says. The issue of “low energy density” (the relatively high land area needed to produce 1 kilowatt of renewable electricity) is often cited by opponents of renewable energy in Hong Kong, which, including its 263 islands, has a land area of just 1,104 sq km.

Douad calculates the city would need to cover 20 per cent of its surface area with 10 per cent efficient solar panels to meet its energy needs, yet he remains a firm advocate of solar power.

“The 20 per cent is for the actual lateral 2D land use. However, we could also consider the vertical 3D of the urban landscape, using building walls as well as rooftops, sun-exposed roads and highways, sound barriers and water reservoirs,” he says.

While delegates at the council’s conference earnestly discuss the possibilities of using renewable energy locally, most leading cities have already embraced renewables and the smart grid – the use of digital technology to improve reliability, resiliency, flexibility, and efficiency – and have coherent policies in place to foster them.

Singapore is ramping up the use of solar panels through initiatives such as SolarNova, a government-led programme, and investing in green energy research via The Energy Research Institute. The city state is already seeing positive results. Figures for 2014 show that green energy sources contributed 3.7 per cent of total energy consumption (up from 2.4 per cent in 2005) and analysts expect that figure to top 5 per cent by 2020.

Hong Kong does have small-scale solar schemes designed for local consumption, and some government buildings generate solar power, but its approach to solar energy is piecemeal.

CLP Power, one of the city’s two electricity suppliers, commissioned its award-winning renewable energy power plant on Town Island in Sai Kung in January 2010, comprising wind turbines and solar panels, to supply the needs of the island’s drug rehabilitation centre, and says it has connected about 250 small-scale local schemes.

The other supplier, Hongkong Electric, says about 70 local use renewable systems have been connected to its grid over the past 10 years. It also operates a 1MW solar plant and the only wind turbine connected to Hong Kong’s power grid.

It might be imagined that geographical restrictions and a scarcity of available land would make harnessing offshore wind, wave and tidal power – as Chan proposes – more attractive, but there is little sign of progress on any of these. Detailed proposals from the electricity companies to build offshore wind farms were awarded environmental permits, but both schemes were shelved in 2013 and mysteriously disappeared from the local energy agenda.

“We are in the process of collecting wind, wave and other environmental data, along with a review of the engineering design, to complete the feasibility study,” a CLP spokesman says of its plan.

Hongkong Electric’s proposed wind farm in waters off Lamma Island was to supply 1.5 per cent of its total output. Asked about the proposal, a company spokesman says “field wind measurement has been going on since 2012”.

Cheung says no one in the industry understands why the company needs to collect five years of wind data. He suspects the real reason for offshore wind power being dropped is that the schemes of control both power companies have negotiated with the government, which regulate their profits on operations and investment, do not offer enough financial sweeteners for either company to proceed.

The current schemes of control are due to expire by end of 2018, and the government is negotiating terms with the companies to renew them. Cheung thinks it’s “a perfect time for the government to show its determination by introducing significant targets and incentives for energy consumption reduction and [renewable energy] development”.

One of the thorny issues that will need to be ironed out is tariffs. Hong Kong has some of the cheapest and most reliable power in the world (electricity costs about half what it does in New York). Although it is widely believed that greater use of green energy is essential, there is less agreement on who will pay for the higher prices or pick up the bill for integration of an intermittent power source to the grid.

While energy costs account for only 1.6 per cent of the average Hong Kong household’s budget, there is little commercial incentive for change and little political appetite for heaping extra costs on hard-pressed families.

There is more hope than expectation that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying will use his final policy address to announce Hong Kong will follow Beijing’s lead and reveal a bold new policy for renewable energy with defined targets, a credible strategy to achieve them, and support for home-grown innovations such as Chan’s.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2062467/how-china-has-embraced-renewable-energy-and-hong-kong-hasnt-and-whats

The Future of Gas in Decarbonising European Energy Markets

Download (PDF, 2.18MB)

End derogations for polluting coal plants

Effective regulation of air pollutant emissions from coal-fired power plants could prevent 20,000 premature deaths every year.

http://airclim.org/acidnews/end-derogations-polluting-coal-plants

Establishing and enforcing air pollution standards that are in line with the best available techniques, could reduce the annual number of premature deaths in the EU caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants from 22,900 to 2,600, according to a new study by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report was published in October, ahead of an EU technical committee meeting on the final draft of the large combustion plant (LCP) BREF document. The report called on the Commission and member states to remove derogations and other loopholes from the draft BREF document.

According to the authors of the report, current legislation is failing to deliver its intended health benefits because special exceptions have been granted that allow for emissions that are higher than the agreed minimum requirements of the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED). Currently more than half of the coal power plants in the EU have been granted permissions to pollute beyond the limits set in the IED, with serious implications for public health and the environment. The pollution from these plants alone was responsible for 13,700 premature deaths in 2013, which represented 60 per cent of all coal-related deaths in the EU, the report said.

Through the revision of the LCP BREF document, the EU and member states now have an opportunity to adopt improved environmental performance standards. By agreeing stricter standards and implementing effective emission limits on coal pollution, real progress can be made in improving the health of people across Europe.

The report also called on the Commission and member states to review the directive’s minimum binding emission limit values, and update them to reflect the levels set in the revised LCP BREF. Emission limits and monitoring requirements should reflect what is now technically possible to ensure that EU legislation serves as a driver towards improved environmental performance across the EU.

“The best available techniques we call for in this report are all tried-and-tested and were already being demonstrated under technically and economically viable conditions decades ago. The EU considers itself a world leader on environmental issues but when it comes to coal combustion, decision makers have their heads stuck in a dark cloud!”, says Christian Schaible, Policy Manager on industrial production at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Medical professionals have expressed support for the report; “Air pollution kills,” says Professor Bert Brunekreef of the European Respiratory Society. “Experts in lung health want to see immediate remedial action. Inaction cannot be justified when it is human health and lives that are at stake.”

As there are no techniques that completely eliminate emissions from the burning of coal and with coal power plants responsible for 18 per cent of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, the authors of the report conclude that truly lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud will require the complete phase-out of coal power.

“The health of European citizens cannot afford any further delay in enforcing new pollution standards. While the EU’s ultimate goal should be to commit to the complete phase-out of coal and to a transformation pathway to renewable energy and reduced energy consumption, the EU still needs to limit pollution from coal power plants with its deadly and costly impacts on people, health and the environment,” said Joanna Flisowska, Coal Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe.

Christer Ågren

The report “Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives” was produced jointly by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, WWF and Sandbag, and can be downloaded from: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B9LWbY1olzldSFF6TW1MZjBTUms

EEB press release on the outcome of the 20 October IED forum: http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm/news-events/news/now-the-talking-s-over-it-…

world gdp per region 2002

Obama puts Arctic Ocean off limits for drilling in last-ditch barrier to Trump

US Department of the Interior says ‘fragile and unique’ Arctic ecosystem at risk if drilling allowed, possibly by pro-fossil fuels Trump administration

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/18/obama-arctic-ocean-drilling-fossil-fuels-trump

Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out drilling for oil and gas in the pristine Arctic Ocean, throwing up a last-ditch barrier to the pro-fossil fuels agenda of incoming president Donald Trump.

The US Department of the Interior said that the “fragile and unique” Arctic ecosystem would face “significant risks” if drilling were allowed in the Chukchi or Beaufort Seas, which lie off Alaska. It added that the high costs of exploration, combined with a low oil price, would probably deter fossil fuel companies anyway.

“The plan focuses lease sales in the best places – those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure – and removes regions that are simply not right to lease,” said the interior secretary, Sally Jewell.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward.”

The move, announced as part of the federal government’s land and ocean leasing program that will run from 2017 to 2022, has been cheered by environmentalists who called for the Arctic to be put off limits for drilling to help slow climate change and avoid a catastrophic oil spill.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates a commitment to prioritizing common sense, economics and science ahead of industry favoritism and politics as usual,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana’s senior vice-president for the United States.

“The decades-long push to drill in the Arctic has put this unique and diverse ecosystem at risk, cost tens of billions of dollars and created significant controversy without providing the promised benefits. We now have the opportunity to put the old arguments behind us and work together toward a sustainable future for the Arctic region.”

The removal of the Arctic Ocean from federal leasing runs contrary to Trump’s vow to “lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks” to large fossil fuel projects and throw open vast areas of land and water to drilling. But even if Trump reverses the Arctic ban, the economics are still unfavorable for offshore drilling in the region.

Shell spent more than $7bn on its attempt to exploit oil and gas reserves in the Arctic after being allowed to do so by the US government despite a high predicted risk of an oil spill in the frigid ecosystem. The Anglo-Dutch company abandoned its drilling operation in September last year, having faced huge costs and fierce opposition from green groups.

Fossil fuel interests have eyed the Arctic as a huge new frontier for oil and gas riches, with rapidly melting sea ice making areas of the Arctic Ocean more accessible for drilling rigs. The Arctic holds about 90bn barrels of undiscovered oil and 30% of the world’s untapped natural gas.

However, the International Energy Agency has warned that the drilling in the Arctic is not yet commercially viable, while environmental groups have warned that opening up new fossil fuel development will push the planet over the precipice into catastrophic climate change.

The Arctic is at the forefront of global warming, with the region heating up at twice the rate of the rest of the planet. This summer, Arctic sea ice shrank to its second smallest extent ever recorded, with the annual winter regrowth occurring at a “sluggish” rate, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. On current trends, ice is returning at a slower rate than the record low experienced in 2012.

The new federal leasing plan also makes the Atlantic off-limits to drilling, another success for environmentalists and coastal communities that fought initial plans to lease areas to fossil fuel firms. But the plan does include 10 new sales in the Gulf of Mexico, the epicenter of US offshore drilling.

The federal government, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, currently manages around 3,400 active oil and gas leases in federal waters, covering an area spanning 18m acres.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the Arctic and demonstrates the growing strength of the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. But we also need to protect communities along the Gulf of Mexico,” said Marissa Knodel, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

“Unfortunately, Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants to return to the days of ‘drill baby drill’. That’s why President Obama must use his remaining days in office to permanently keep as much of our lands and waters from Trump and his oil cronies as possible.”

The Obama administration has pushed through a number of climate-related measures since the election of Trump, who denies climate change exists and has promised to withdraw the US from the international effort to tackle it. The president-elect also proposes cutting all funding for clean energy and to dismantle Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the main policy designed to cut emissions.

This week, the department of the interior unveiled regulations to slash fugitive emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas operations. The US was also the first nation to submit to the United Nations a plan on how it will reduce emissions, with the Obama administration setting a goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

John Kerry, the secretary of state, said this week that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president” and that international progress on the issue was unstoppable, despite the threat of US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

Businesses have also stated their support for the international climate effort, with more than 360 companies, including Levi’s, Kellogg’s and Nike, urging Trump to keep up American efforts to ward off dangerous global warming.

Oil chiefs under fire over ‘pathetic’ new climate investment fund

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/11/04/oil-chiefs-under-fire-over-pathetic-new-climate-investment-fund/

Oil giants including BP and Shell have been pilloried by climate campaigners after disclosing their annual contributions to a much-hyped new green investment fund would be less than BP chief Bob Dudley earned last year.

Mr Dudley and Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden were among industry heavyweights who appeared at an event in London to announce plans by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) to invest $1bn in “innovative low emissions technologies” over the next ten years.

Rather than investing in renewables, the fund’s initial focus will be on action to reduce methane emissions from gas production and on technologies to capture and either use or store carbon emissions, they said.

Environmental group Greenpeace pointed out the funding equated to just $10m (£8m) a year for each of the OGCI’s ten members, compared with Mr Dudley’s controversial 2015 pay package of almost £14m.

Charlie Kronick, climate adviser at Greenpeace UK, said it was a “pathetic offering” that would do nothing to combat climate change and “even fails as an effective example of PR spin”.

The OGCI, whose members also include Saudi Aramco, Statoil and Total, represents companies that together account for one-fifth of the world’s oil and gas production.

Mr Dudley stressed that the joint fund was just “a start” and was not the sum total of the companies’ efforts on green energy, which he said together amounted to “billions”.

“This is happening alongside all of the work we are doing individually as companies on the transition to a lower emissions world,” he said, adding: “Don’t worry, we’ve got it.”

The new fund could invest in start-up companies and also fund research and development programmes at universities, Patrick Pouyanne of Total said.

The fund could also then look at industrial energy efficiency and cutting emissions in the transport sector, but does not plan to invest in renewables like solar or wind.

“The energy mix of the world will evolve. We take it very seriously,” Mr Pouyanne said.

The companies wanted to “make real progress on these technologies because we need them”, he said. “It’s a matter for us of being able to maintain our business in the future and to develop it.”

Mr Dudley said that the investments were “the right thing to do” but that they would also make economic sense for the companies.

“We all absolutely realise the world will move to a low-carbon world, emissions will be an issue. Some places there will be prices on carbon,” he said.

Reducing methane emissions was “an essential licence for us to be able to advocate for natural gas”.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said the planned investment was a “drop in the ocean”.

“Shell’s capex budget for 2016 alone is $25-29bn, Saudi Aramco values itself at more than $2 trillion, and the cost incurred by BP following the Deepwater Horizon spill was $61.6bn,” he said.

Big Oil’s critics suggest that their business model is fundamentally incompatible with tackling climate change because climate science suggests much of the world’s existing fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground is to avoid dangerous extremes of global warming.

But Mr van Beurden said their valuations were driven by proved reserves that would last about a decade and that it was therefore “rather unlikely” that they would not be produced.

“If you take a longer-term view, we cannot burn all the hydrocarbons on the planet in an unmitigated way,” he said. “But there is no alternative to using some of the hydrocarbons for a very long time to come.”

Fuel from sewage is the future – and it’s closer than you think

Technology converts human waste into bio-based fuel

http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=4317

Sludge from Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment plant has been dewatered prior to conversion to biocrude oil at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Courtesy of WE&RF

Sludge from Metro Vancouver’s wastewater treatment plant has been dewatered prior to conversion to biocrude oil at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Courtesy of WE&RF

Biocrude oil, produced from wastewater treatment plant sludge, looks and performs virtually like fossil petroleum. Courtesy of WE&RF

Biocrude oil, produced from wastewater treatment plant sludge, looks and performs virtually like fossil petroleum.
Courtesy of WE&RF

RICHLAND, Wash. – It may sound like science fiction, but wastewater treatment plants across the United States may one day turn ordinary sewage into biocrude oil, thanks to new research at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest national Laboratory.

The technology, hydrothermal liquefaction, mimics the geological conditions the Earth uses to create crude oil, using high pressure and temperature to achieve in minutes something that takes Mother Nature millions of years. The resulting material is similar to petroleum pumped out of the ground, with a small amount of water and oxygen mixed in. This biocrude can then be refined using conventional petroleum refining operations.

Wastewater treatment plants across the U.S. treat approximately 34 billion gallons of sewage every day. That amount could produce the equivalent of up to approximately 30 million barrels of oil per year. PNNL estimates that a single person could generate two to three gallons of biocrude per year.

Sewage, or more specifically sewage sludge, has long been viewed as a poor ingredient for producing biofuel because it’s too wet. The approach being studied by PNNL eliminates the need for drying required in a majority of current thermal technologies which historically has made wastewater to fuel conversion too energy intensive and expensive. HTL may also be used to make fuel from other types of wet organic feedstock, such as agricultural waste.

What we flush can be converted into a biocrude oil with properties very similar to fossil fuels. PNNL researchers have worked out a process that does not require that sewage be dried before transforming it under heat and pressure to biocrude. Metro Vancouver in Canada hopes to build a demonstration plant.

Using hydrothermal liquefaction, organic matter such as human waste can be broken down to simpler chemical compounds. The material is pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch — nearly one hundred times that of a car tire. Pressurized sludge then goes into a reactor system operating at about 660 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and pressure cause the cells of the waste material to break down into different fractions — biocrude and an aqueous liquid phase.

“There is plenty of carbon in municipal waste water sludge and interestingly, there are also fats,” said Corinne Drennan, who is responsible for bioenergy technologies research at PNNL. “The fats or lipids appear to facilitate the conversion of other materials in the wastewater such as toilet paper, keep the sludge moving through the reactor, and produce a very high quality biocrude that, when refined, yields fuels such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuels.”

In addition to producing useful fuel, HTL could give local governments significant cost savings by virtually eliminating the need for sewage residuals processing, transport and disposal.

Simple and efficient

“The best thing about this process is how simple it is,” said Drennan. “The reactor is literally a hot, pressurized tube. We’ve really accelerated hydrothermal conversion technology over the last six years to create a continuous, and scalable process which allows the use of wet wastes like sewage sludge.”

An independent assessment for the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation calls HTL a highly disruptive technology that has potential for treating wastewater solids.

WE&RF investigators noted the process has high carbon conversion efficiency with nearly 60 percent of available carbon in primary sludge becoming bio-crude. The report calls for further demonstration, which may soon be in the works.

Demonstration Facility in the Works

PNNL has licensed its HTL technology to Utah-based Genifuel Corporation, which is now working with Metro Vancouver, a partnership of 23 local authorities in British Columbia, Canada, to build a demonstration plant.

“Metro Vancouver hopes to be the first wastewater treatment utility in North America to host hydrothermal liquefaction at one of its treatment plants,” said Darrell Mussatto, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Utilities Committee. “The pilot project will cost between $8 to $9 million (Canadian) with Metro Vancouver providing nearly one-half of the cost directly and the remaining balance subject to external funding.”

Once funding is in place, Metro Vancouver plans to move to the design phase in 2017, followed by equipment fabrication, with start-up occurring in 2018.

“If this emerging technology is a success, a future production facility could lead the way for Metro Vancouver’s wastewater operation to meet its sustainability objectives of zero net energy, zero odours and zero residuals,” Mussatto added.

Nothing left behind

In addition to the biocrude, the liquid phase can be treated with a catalyst to create other fuels and chemical products. A small amount of solid material is also generated, which contains important nutrients. For example, early efforts have demonstrated the ability to recover phosphorus, which can replace phosphorus ore used in fertilizer production.

Development of the HTL process was funded by DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office.