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December, 2008:

Air New Zealand Holds Successful Trial Flight With New Biofuel Blend

Charlotte So in Auckland, SCMP – Updated on Dec 31, 2008

New Zealand’s national carrier is hailing a successful trial flight of a Boeing 747-400 jetliner using jatropha oil as proof that biofuels can be viable in future.

The trial, a joint programme with the aircraft maker, Rolls-Royce Group and Honeywell International’s UOP unit, tested a 50-50 blend of jatropha oil and conventional jet fuel in one of Air New Zealand’s four engines.

Just under two hours of flight tests were conducted over the Hauraki Gulf.

The first sustainable biofuel flight test took off in Auckland at 11.30am local time yesterday.

The two-hour flight test will provide data for civil aviation authorities.

Although oil prices were now more than US$100 below their July peak, the airline said the flight showed the commercial potential of the biofuel.

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe said the jatropha-extracted biofuel was still competitive.

“Biofuel could help to eliminate 40 to 50 per cent carbon footprint from the airline, which translates to US$20 million in savings a year,” Mr Fyfe said.

The European Union is implementing an emissions-trading scheme for air travel to and from and within Europe in 2012, to offset carbon emissions. Since jatropha absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during the growing process and produces less emissions upon burning, the airline could save money on the offset cost.

Air New Zealand had set a target of adopting biofuel in 10 per cent of its domestic flights in five years. Mr Fyfe said it would expand its use of biofuel to international flights if biofuel won international recognition.

Jennifer Holmgren, the general manager of renewable energy and chemicals at UOP, a Honeywell company responsible for the production of jatropha oil for the flight test, said large-scale production of the fuel would be achieved by 2012 when output topped 100 million gallons. It was estimated that the percentage of second-generation biofuel to jet fuel would amount to almost 3 per cent by 2012, Ms Holmgren said.

The biofuel does not compete with conventional food crops.

The jatropha plant grows in arid regions, and each seed produces as much as 40 per cent of its weight in inedible oil.

A Virgin Airlines test flight in February used a 20 per cent biofuel blend made from babassu nuts and coconut oil.

Continental Airways will test a jatropha-algae blend next month; Japan Airlines Corp will test a fuel based on the camelina oilseed next month.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg

Substation Uses 15pc Less Power With Roof Garden, Sun And Wind

Ng Yuk-hang, SCMP – Updated on Dec 26, 2008

Two windmills on the roof of a grey building in Marsh Road, Causeway Bay, might not mean much to the casual observer but they are clues to the unique character of what Hongkong Electric calls the “first green substation in Hong Kong”.

The Marsh Road substation, which came into use in August this year, serves Wan Chai, Admiralty and Central, including the Tamar site where the new government headquarters will be built.

Hongkong Electric said the project cost HK$100 million, of which 2 per cent was spent on environmentally friendly facilities.

The six-storey substation uses 15 per cent less electricity each year than traditional substations.

That amounts to 250,000 kWh, or the equivalent of a month of electricity used by 714 families, according to Tso Che-wah, the power company’s general manager for projects.

The British-made windmills and 16 solar panels provide enough energy to light the entire substation.

Meanwhile, the building uses light-emitting diode tubes and energy-saving 16mm fluorescent lights, which consume less energy, have a longer lifespan and lead to lower carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr Tso said the substation was characterised by its rooftop garden, whose plants helped to lower the interior temperature by 2 degrees Celsius – in turn saving 10 per cent of the energy used each year on air conditioning.

The plants are watered mainly by rain, which is collected and stored in a tank on the roof. That saved about 180,000 litres of water a year, Dr Tso said.

The substation had been built in an environmentally friendly way, he said. It used concrete that contained 5 per cent fuel ash, from the company’s power station on Lamma Island.

Further, the rooftop was paved with recycled plastic waste.

Inside the building, elevators are switched off if left unused for more than 30 minutes, while extra windows for ventilation in the corridors reduce the need for air conditioning.

The Marsh Road substation was built to “accommodate community development in the next decade”, Dr Tso said.

Hongkong Electric has about 40 substations on Hong Kong Island.

Some older substations had been renovated to include more environmentally friendly features.

For example, a rooftop garden was added to the Connaught Road zone station, which is next to the Harbour Building.

Future substations would all be green, according to Dr Tso.

Clean Coal Best Way To Fuel Asia’s Growth

Frank Ching, SCMP – Updated on Dec 23, 2008

As China this month celebrates 30 years of extraordinary growth, it is also keenly aware that it has had to pay a steep environmental price – in terms of the health of its people because of severe pollution of its air, water and land.

Pan Yue, deputy environment minister, wrote recently: “China’s reform and opening has achieved in 30 years the economic gains of more than 100 years in the west – yet more than 100 years of environmental pollution in the west have materialised in 30 years in China.”

That is to say, the pace of China’s environmental pollution matches that of its economic growth. China has now overtaken the United States as the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases.

That is not a record of which to be proud. To be sure, the developed countries, in particular the US and those in western Europe, have been responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. But China now contributes more than the US, and India is not far behind.

But the Earth is a vessel in which we all are journeying and we will all sink or swim together. Finger-pointing is not going to help: we need to reduce, as much as possible, the carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere by all countries.

There has been a lot of talk about switching from fossil fuels to non-polluting forms of energy such as wind, solar or nuclear power. However, in the foreseeable future, there is no alternative to fossil fuels and, in particular, coal.

Coal is abundant and cheap, and is going to be used anyway, so there is a compelling need to come up with technology to “clean” the coal. Such technology is now on the lips of politicians and scientists from Australia to Canada, and from China to the US. It is an idea whose time has come.

One example of the recognition of the need to use coal without polluting the air is the announcement in Hong Kong this month by Washington University in St Louis of its partnership with 24 premier research universities around the world, 17 of which are in Asia, including universities in the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“The consortium’s goal is to bring university researchers, industries, foundations and government organisations together to research clean coal technology,” Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University, said. “The results of such research could support the fast-growing economies of Asia to fuel further development while at the same time increasing the awareness of coal as an efficient and environmentally safe form of energy.”

At present, research into clean coal technology is going on in many developed nations. There is already some co-operation between China and the US. At the latest session of the strategic economic dialogue in Beijing earlier this month, it was announced that an “EcoPartnership” had been formed between Energy Future Holdings of the US and China Huadian. Both companies are pursuing the development of sustainable business models for “clean energy”, particularly clean coal.

China and Britain, too, have jointly launched a near zero emissions coal initiative that aims to capture and geologically sequester carbon dioxide generated by coal combustion. It is expected that a demonstration near-zero-emissions plant will be built in China by 2014.

Currently, researchers are focusing on ways in which coal can be burned without releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The thinking is that the carbon can somehow be captured and then safely stored in the ground permanently, or until science has progressed to the point that it can be disposed of in some other way.

Pooling efforts in a consortium should make the research more efficient. This is something that the world, not just China or the US, needs badly.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator.


Backing Bridge

SCMP – Updated on Dec 21, 2008

The Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge is a proposed series of bridges and tunnels that would connect the west side of Hong Kong with Macau and the neighbouring city of Zhuhai , on the west side of the Pearl River Delta and part of the mainland’s southern industrial powerhouse.

This is great for the region though there are many environmental issues that need to be resolved.

Our leaders should also think about their legacy, look to the future and make this bridge a world-famous showpiece.

Why not add windmills to the structural supports and also tide catchers? If this was done I can imagine this bridge becoming a large green power plant, a great help in an area which is already polluted. There would be new industries, jobs and a better quality of life.

Stephen Anderson, Macau

Energy Goals To Be Overhauled – Nuclear And Wind Power Expected To Get Far More Emphasis For 2020

Stephen Chen, SCMP – Updated on Dec 20, 2008

China’s midterm energy development goals are tipped to change radically early next year with a surge in nuclear and wind power plants.

As the central government pushes infrastructural projects to stimulate the economy, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is revising the 20-year road map it set for the energy sector last year, according to the influential 21st Century Business Herald.

The paper forecast dramatic expansion in the nuclear and wind sector as the country, under increasing pressure over greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, tries to shift from coal to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.

If the revisions are implemented, their energy targets would make the original goals look modest.

Last year, China said that by 2020, the country’s nuclear industry would produce 40GW, more than 40 times this year’s capacity and requiring annual growth of more than 20 per cent.

NDRC Energy Bureau director Zhang Guobao said in March that the commission was considering resetting the target at 60GW. But last month, another NDRC official said that the new target, expected to be released early next year, would be 70GW or higher.

The huge shortening in the timeline meant that construction of a large number of nuclear power plants that were supposed to be built after 2010 would have to begin next year, the paper said.

The possible projects include two new power plants in Yunfu and Shanwei in Guangdong; expansion of existing power plants in Zhejiang , Shandong , Liaoning , Jiangsu and Fujian ; the first power plant for Guangxi ; and some other projects proposed by some landlocked provinces in central China, it said, quoting a source who it said was knowledgeable about the new plan.

The new target will put enormous pressure on capital investment, technology and supplies of uranium-235. But the NDRC has reason to feel optimistic about meeting the goals because the central government has vowed to invest 4 trillion yuan (HK$4.55 trillion) to stimulate the economy in less than four years; and France and the US have already sold third-generation thermal technology to China.

One big missing element is China’s lack of enriched uranium, but Chen Xinyang , general manager of the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation, said the solution was to import it.

Mr Chen said the price of nuclear fuels had been driven higher by six major suppliers that controlled more than 80 per cent of the world supply, and after the September 11 terrorist attacks, some major shipping companies had stopped transporting nuclear fuel as controls on radioactive materials intensified.

“We solve the issue by making some long-term fuel supply contracts … and secured transport routes from Central Asia and Russia and across the ocean,” Mr Chen said. “By 2020, no matter whether the goal is 40GW, 60GW or more, we can guarantee enough supply.”

The paper also reported yesterday that wind power generation would also more than triple to a targeted capacity of 100GW by 2020. The new target is 10 times the capacity this year, but it is not unrealistic as China’s wind power generation has doubled since 2005, according to Qin Haiyan , secretary general of the China Wind Power Association.

But Mr Qin said China was still relatively inexperienced in building wind farms and had much research to do before construction begins.

On Other Matters …

SCMP – Updated on Dec 17, 2008

I refer to the letter by E. Delannoy (Talkback, December 9), criticising the MTR Corporation’s strategy on saving energy. He asked why it was “shutting down a number of escalators in stations at certain hours”, but still keeping the air conditioning at cold temperatures inside its carriages [from Tung Chung to Central]. I support his views on this issue for a number of reasons.

I wonder how much energy is saved by shutting off a number of escalators and compare that with how much is wasted by having air conditioning at such high levels over a long period on the trains. Air conditioning that keeps the temperatures so low inside MTR trains must consume a great deal of energy.

The fact is that passengers feel uncomfortable in the carriages when they are so cold. Therefore, one simple way to conserve energy would be for the MTR Corp to lower the temperatures.

It could also try to install a good ventilation system so it does not have to rely on air conditioning to provide a flow of air. I hope MTR Corp can look into these problems and rectify them.

Angel Chan, Tuen Mun

Hopewell Centre to Turn off Lights

SCMP – 12 December 2008

Decorative lights facing The Peak on the outside of the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai would be turned off each night after the Symphony of Lights to reduce light pollution, but those facing the harbour would remain on, Hopewell Holdings (SEHK: 0054) said. But all lights would remain on for special occasions, such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year and other important festivals.

Mainland Power Output Slumps 7.1pc As Plants Shut

SCMP – 12 December 2008

China’s power production slumped 7.1 per cent last month, the biggest decline in more than seven years, as factories shut because of reduced exports, preliminary data from the nation’s largest power distributor showed. Electricity output fell to 252.6 billion kilowatt-hours in November, according to statistics in an internal newsletter published by the State Grid Corp of China. That is the steepest drop since January 2001, data on the website of the National Bureau of Statistics shows. November is the second consecutive month in which electricity output has fallen. Production dropped 4 per cent to 264.5 billion kilowatt-hours in October, the first decline since March 2005. Bloomberg

TRUenergy Puts On Hold A$2b Plan

Bloomberg in Sydney – Updated on Dec 12, 2008

TRUenergy, the Australian electricity and gas supplier owned by CLP Holdings, said it had A$2 billion (HK$10.25 billion) of proposed investments that hinged on the design of the nation’s emissions-trading system.

The spending on gas-fired power plants would not proceed if the design of the carbon-trading plan meant the company was forced to write down the value of its existing coal-fired plant, affecting its ability to refinance debt, managing director Richard McIndoe said yesterday.

On Monday, Australia’s government will announce the details of the carbon-trading system, expected to start in 2010, and national targets for reductions in greenhouse gases.

The plans had the potential to shut down as much as 23 per cent of power generation capacity on Australia’s eastern coast, depending on the targets, the Energy Supply Association of Australia said in July.

“For any investor in the electricity sector this is a critical issue; if we’re given clarity and the level of transitional assistance that keeps us whole, then there’s a raft of new generation investments that’s ready to go,” Mr McIndoe said.

“If it’s not a positive outcome and it causes massive impairments, then frankly there are many other markets that we would invest in.”

All TRUenergy’s investments had been put on hold by the board pending the details of the trading system, Mr McIndoe said.

The company owns the 1,480MW brown coal-fired Yallourn generator in Victoria, which is the most polluting of the state’s five biggest plants after International Power’s Hazelwood site, according to a 2005 report by Environment Victoria and the Australian Conservation Foundation.

The plant emits about 14 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong in July proposed a one-off bonus to the most-affected coal-powered generators, without releasing details.

Australia’s power plants fuelled by brown coal, a more polluting variety of the fuel, might be the “worst sufferers” under the trading system, Fitch Ratings said on October 1.

The investments at stake comprised three potential gas-fired power projects each costing A$600 million to A$700 million, including an expansion of the Tallawarra plant that was expected to start operating this month in New South Wales, and two new power stations in Victoria over the next five years, Mr McIndoe said.

The board would also cut spending of as much as A$200 million a year at Yallourn, he said.

Degrees of Comfort

SCMP – Updated on Dec 12, 2008

Of the government’s initiatives to get us to be more environmentally responsible, perhaps the most effective has been the one espousing that office air conditioners be set at 25.5 degrees Celsius. It is a number many people seem to be aware of, as a quick straw poll proved. Whether the knowledge is put into practice is another matter, of course, but the fact that it seems the message has been widely disseminated is impressive. Here the praise must end, though: the information is only partly right.

This is one of those cases where authorities have only done half their job; 25.5 degrees is a summer setting, not applicable to the other nine months of the year. During colder weather, thermostats should be lowered according to the outside conditions. If outdoor temperatures are less than those inside, we are on average doing more environmental harm than good. Every extra degree of cold or heat raises usage – and fuel bills – by 10 per cent, after all.

The government announced in October 2004 that air conditioners in all public buildings should be set at 25.5 degrees during summer. It launched a “no freezing summer” campaign the following June to encourage the private sector to follow suit. The figure has since been frequently bandied about by officials, most emphatically by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in 2006 when he removed his jacket and trademark bow tie in front of legislators to promote his “Action Blue Sky” policy.

His clear message was that dressing more casually meant rooms did not have to be so cold. Less electricity would be needed, meaning lower bills and less pollution from power plants. It was a strategy that cost nothing to implement and would save money and the environment. Brilliant.

The rare image of a dressed-down Mr Tsang could well be the reason so many of us have “25.5” memorised. I am sure it flits subliminally through our minds whenever we drift near an office thermostat. A quick check, an adjustment if necessary, and the working environment is as it should be, we tell ourselves. We get back to our duties, satisfied that we have done our bit for Hong Kong.

Gerry McMahon, the director of the specialist building services company Facilities Analysis and Control, put the problem in a nutshell: attaining a 25.5 degree temperature in winter would, in most cases, mean heating a building to a point where the majority of people would feel uncomfortable. Ambient conditions naturally determined indoor temperatures, so when they changed, air conditioners should be adjusted accordingly. Some heating may still be required to achieve desired temperatures, but the notion of pushing the target up to 25.5 degrees in winter was ridiculous. Why waste energy in winter just because someone had decided the setting would save energy in summer, he rightly asked.

I have been unable to find out exactly where that 25.5 figure comes from. Authorities have attributed it to “overseas research”; I assume this means work done by the American Association of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, whose standards are widely accepted. To be fair, the government has suggested it for summer. It has not made clear, though, that it is inappropriate for mild or damp conditions – as Hong Kong generally experiences from the end of August to the start of June.

Lantau environmental campaigner Eric Spain has long argued that it is wrong to make firm rules. The only solution for comfort and economy should be indoor and outdoor sensors and controllers, to automatically ensure appropriate settings, he says. Based on extensive research, he suggests that depending on humidity, comfortable summer office temperatures are generally between 24 and 27 degrees and, during winter, 20 and 23 degrees. Public transport settings should be at the upper end of the scale during hotter, more humid months, and between 18 and 20 degrees at colder times because of air flows.

I can see the convenience of settling on the 25.5 figure. But authorities have done no one – or the environment – a favour by failing to make clear what should happen at other times of year.

Peter Kammerer is the Post’s foreign editor.