Biofuels from Seaweed

E. coli, best known for causing serious food poisoning, has been bioengineered to digest all the sugars found in seaweed and produce bioethanol and other useful products. The researchers estimate that seaweed farms along 3% of the world’s coastlines could produce 60 billion gallons (about 227 billion litres) of ethanol a year, using this technique. It is unlikely any accidental release of engineered E. coli could damage seaweed growing in the sea, as the microbes are not suited to the ocean environment.

Posted in Biofuels, Oceans

How Much Carbon Does Urban Green Space Store?

Image from
A recent study has calculated the amount of atmospheric CO2 that has been captured by a new green belt in Leipzig, Germany. The footprint ranges from 29 to 218 tonnes of CO2 sequestered per hectare depending on the level of mortality among the trees and their rate of growth. If the area was given over to lawn without trees it would be a source of increased atmospheric CO2. The city would need an area of green belt about 33 times its size to mitigate all its emissions.

Posted in Carbon footprint, Forests

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)

A recent study from EASAC (the European Academies Science Advisory Council) examines how far CSP can help the EU reach its target of all electricity being produced with zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. It concludes that CSP could make a significant contribution to this target but four problems need to be overcome:
1. Costs – currently 2-3 times higher than fossil fuels but are expected to come down.
2. Location – Plants are most effective in hot, dry locations but they currently need large amounts of water.
3. Infrastructure – grid lines will have to be improved between Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.
4. Security – in protecting these lines and plants.

Posted in Energy, solar

Earth Overshoot Day

Image from Global Footprint Network
In 2011, Earth Overshoot Day, the approximate date our demands on nature for a given year exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish, fell on September 27. In 2010 it was 21 August so surely this is this good news? Unfortunately not. The information to calculate such a date is complex and factors are given weights according to how important they are conceived to be making the date an estimate. Yet this estimate is increasingly accurate as more evidence goes into calculating it. Research suggests that since 2001 the date has moved forwards three days each year.

Posted in Sustainablity

James Hansen

James Hansen
Photograph from
James Hansen was in the UK this week to receive the prestigious Edinburgh Medal for his contribution to science. In his lecture he argued that taking action on climate change is on a par with ending slavery. Hansen was one of the first scientists to study the effects of climate change and in 1981 he wrote a paper in Science which has recently been evaluated in RealClimate and found he underestimated global warming by 30%. In a soon to be published paper he argues for a global levy on fossil fuels to save the planet from extreme weather events.

Posted in Climate change

Denmark To Run Country Entirely on Renewables by 2050

The Avedore Power Plant -
Denmark has announced that by 2020 a third of its energy will come from renewable energy and by 2050 it will be 100%. Remarkably this has support across the country’s political spectrum.

Posted in Denmark, Renewables | 2 Comments

Paradox of green.

Article: New York Times

Rare earth elements such as dysprosium are increasingly relied upon in the production of so-called ‘green’ components and products.  Much of the supply of these rare earth elements comes from China. The image above of dysprosium comes from this Chinese trader.

There is increasing demand for such rare earth elements for all type of ‘green’ products or their components, from the magnets within wind turbines to the manufacture of low energy light bulbs.  These elements come almost entirely from China, from some of the most environmentally damaging mines in the country, in an industry dominated by criminal gangs. It is difficult to trace whether a traded element comes from a legal or an illegal source.

A close-knit group of mainland Chinese gangs with a capacity for murder dominates much of the mining and has ties to local officials, said Stephen G. Vickers, the former head of criminal intelligence for the Hong Kong police who is now the chief executive of International Risk, a global security company. 

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued a draft plan last April to halt all exports of heavy rare earths, partly on environmental grounds and partly to force other countries to buy manufactured products from China. In Washington, Congress is fretting about the United States military’s dependence on Chinese rare earths, and has just ordered a study of potential alternatives.

Licensed and illegal mines alike sell to itinerant traders. They buy the valuable material with sacks of cash, then sell it to processing centers in and around Guangzhou that separate the rare earths from each other.  Companies that buy these rare earths, including a few in Japan and the West, turn them into refined metal powders.

Vestas, a Danish company that has become the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, said that prototypes for its next generation used dysprosium, and that the company was studying the sustainability of the supply. Goldwind, the biggest Chinese turbine maker, has switched from conventional magnets to rare-earth magnets.

Developers hope to open mines in Canada, South Africa and Australia, but all are years from large-scale production and will produce sizable quantities of light rare earths. 

“This industry wants to save the world,” said Nicholas Curtis, the executive chairman of the Lynas Corporation of Australia, in a speech to an industry gathering in Hong Kong in late November. “We can’t do it and leave a product that is glowing in the dark somewhere else, killing people.”

Posted in 'Green' investments, Business, Buying Green, China, Energy, Mining, Pollution, Technology, Wind power | Tagged ,