Archives for category: Energy

Reading Christian Wolmar’s article: ‘Rail’s dirty secret’, recalled last year’s  question on this site: ‘How many lungs and hearts will be damaged by air pollution before action is taken?’

There is concern about the levels of diesel-generated air-pollution on Grand Central (New Street) platforms experienced by travellers like Professor Rex Harris (Birmingham) whose work includes the promotion of a hydrogen fuelled transport system for rail and waterways.

Professor Thorne’s student monitoring air pollutants at Grand Central

Research conducted by Professor John Thorne (Birmingham) found almost seven times the annual average EU limit of particulate matter on one platform.

The TV programme Dispatches then visited New Street Station with its own monitors and found “high levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates on one of the platforms… way above EU annual limits”. Network Rail told the programme it wanted the station to be a “safe and healthy environment” and that in the coming years it “will shift to less polluting electric trains”. Wolmar writes:

In the Rail Engineer, Malcolm Dobell wrote about a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive he saw four years ago; a team from Birmingham University had designed, constructed and entered a fuel cell powered one-fifth scale locomotive in the Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ Railway challenge.

He reported that Alstom’s new train, the Coradia iLint (above), which runs on hydrogen power rather than diesel, has had its first successful test run. It is the first low floor passenger train in the world to be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell.

The hydrogen used for the test runs is the by-product of an industrial process, which is reasonably reused as a waste product, but because Germany has invested heavily in wind turbine technology as part of its energy mix, it will also be able to use the energy generated by the wind turbines to make hydrogen when electricity demand is low.

As Dobell mentioned, the Birmingham Centre for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Research undertook a cross-disciplinary venture with a number of Birmingham Energy Institute academics and Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, to design and construct the UK’s first practical hydrogen-powered locomotive.  The Centre’s website adds that there will be a requirement for such autonomously powered trains to serve non-electrified lines.

Hydrogen-powered locomotives, cars and boats, emitting only steam and condensed water, Dobell comments, are better for the environment, more pleasant for passengers and less disruptive to communities.

Time for change.

 

 

 

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Congratulations to the Compagnie Maritime Belge (CMB), one of the oldest Antwerp ship owners, which has built the first commercial ship that runs on hydrogen and produces zero pollution.

CMB currently sources its hydrogen from the chemicals industry but wants to get it through electrolysis powered by renewables in the future.

Bloomberg reports that the Hydroville passenger shuttle can operate on compressed hydrogen as well as regular fuel oil and has recently been certified to operate as a seagoing vessel by Lloyd’s Register. CMB will expand the technology to engines on cargo ships after initial testing.

“There’s a very strong commitment to decarbonize shipping from countries such as China, Japan, and a group of European nations,” said Tristan Smith, a lecturer at University College London’s energy institute and a former naval architect. “Hydrogen is one of the most cost-effective ways to do this. It’s proven, it works in the energy system and it’s easy to combust in ships.”

Cargo shipping is too energy intensive for electricity to be an option. “Even with the world’s biggest battery, we wouldn’t be able to sail a full day,” said Roy Campe, research and development manager at CMB. “Our trips usually take two or three weeks.”

The shipping industry, estimated to produce as much as 3% of the world’s emissions, was not included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. But the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, is to impose rules that limit the amount of sulphur emissions from ships from 2020. There are also talks about adding a carbon tax.

“We’ve had one in Birmingham since 2006!!!!”: Professor Rex Harris

The Ross Barlow is powered by a combination of a metal hydride solid-state hydrogen store, a proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, a lead acid battery stack and a NdFeB permanent magnet electric motor (project leader: Professor Rex Harris). The ongoing development of The Ross Barlow is one of the hydrogen and magnets research interests of The Hydrogen Materials Group at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

 

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Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including London, Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters, using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

In Birmingham? As David Bailey tweeted whilst working in Venice:

https://twitter.com/dgbailey/status/855495899115638784/photo/1

MBNA are trying to reduce the environmental impact of their boats currently using diesel fuel. Change is on its way:

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

Will the council and/or a Birmingham entrepreneur see the potential of waterway transport from the Soho Loop development?

Artist’s impression

Will Soho Loop’s new canal-side community be able to travel from their ‘variety of energy efficient homes’ to work or visit the city centre a mile away, by a cleaner quieter form of transport? 

 

 

 

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West Midlands New Economics Group meeting:

5-7pm on Thursday 31st August at the John Lewis Community Hub, available to community groups.

It is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over New Street station (lift and escalator). The hub is immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

A draft of the presentation, LOCALISM & REGIONALISM, opens:

“With the gradual yielding of a collective to an individualist social ethos; with the hollowing out of local government power; with the weakening of trade union influence; with the decline of local and community newspapers … both individuals and nuclear families feel powerless before the Westminster run state . . .

“Meanwhile, modern states feel constrained before the imperatives of the neoliberal market. We are told that there is no alternative to ‘growing the economy’ – even though local jobs continue to be lost and goods once produced locally are imported over great distances . . .” 

‘Woody’ Woods, the author, has sent known contacts the draft of the intended presentation. He suggests that a fuller title would be: “Exploring Localism and Regionalism as roads to our empowerment.”  

 

Details of his earlier essay and book are given on the Planet Centred Forum website.

 

 

 

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The sketchy reports on the dispute about the refuse collection changes on the BBC and Birmingham Mail websites have been supplemented by welcome information from Jacqui Kennedy, Corporate Director for Place.

She explained that this action is being taken because the council is facing significant financial challenges following six years of cuts to local government funding.

Taking refuse collection ‘in-house’ – dispensing with 200 expensive agency staff

Jacqui continued: “It is extremely important that we move away from relying on expensive agency staffAt the moment 200 out of 595 employees in refuse collection are hired from agencies. We intend to replace agency staff with up to 246 full-time staff employed directly by the council. All of these new permanent employees will enjoy the associated benefits that come with working for the council such as pension, holiday entitlement and sick pay”. The Mail adds that overtime will also go and the number of binmen will be increased by 152.

Agreement with the unions is sought as waste collection crews will be required to shift from a four day week of just over nine hours per day to a five day week of just over seven hours per day. Joint development of the detailed plans needed to make these proposals work is important.

Jacqui points out that over 40% of material in our bins is food waste. Last year, UK households wasted around 20% of all the food they buy – but there has been a 17% reduction since 2007, according to Food Waste Facts.

Visitors to this site come from many British regions and other countries – last week’s stats (right). A Gloucestershire reader recommends their food waste collection which began in 2016. Though some Birmingham gardeners already compost such material, other residents could make good use of a similar facility.

A Stroud newspaper recorded in 2016 that two weeks into the scheme 232 tonnes of food waste from 52,000 residents had already been collected – more than the weight of a blue whale.

Even the most careful householders have eggshells and orange peel to place in the small kitchen food waste bin provided – and the less careful dispose of ‘leftovers’ and unused, decaying food. These are emptied into a larger bin (right) kept outside. The bins are collected once a week and taken to an aerobic digester. In a few weeks it is turned into gas used in the grid and the residue is put on the fields as fertiliser.

“A great example of the renewable circular economy”, according to Green councillor Simon Pickering.

 

 

 

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A scientist recently asked in a private email message: “Just how much of a scientific rationalist is Jeremy Corbyn? As far as I know he has never distanced himself publicly from his climate-denialist brother Piers”. He was recommended to read Corbyn’s reports Protecting our Planet & Environment and Energy and to see his video (snapshot right):

It has welcome input from the excellent Alan Simpson, a former Nottingham MP, about the Robin Hood energy co-operative.

More recently Kate Aronoff in the Guardian sees hope for real progress on climate change lying in its appeal to the interests of the 99% (our term, replacing her use of ‘populism’).  

It’s one of history’s greatest “us v them” scenarios, pitting a handful of oligarchs and profit-hungry fossil fuel CEOs against the rest of humanity”.

She continues: “The brand of climate denial that informs Trump and the Republican party line is the result of one of the global elite’s most effective projects yet. It’s been multinational corporations funding the campaign to cast doubt on scientific consensus. ExxonMobil, for instance, has poured at least $33m into such efforts since the Kyoto protocol was launched in 1997”.

Despite this long-running disinformation campaign, Kate notes that the majority of voters in every state support the United States’ participation in the agreement” and today we read about the critical response from some major industrialists and about several US states deciding to ‘go it alone’ after the president refused to be part of the Paris accord. Representatives of American cities, states and companies are preparing to submit a plan to the United Nations pledging to meet the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Paris climate accord, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement. The group (to date) includes 30 mayors, three governors, more than 80 university presidents and more than 100 businesses. Read more in the New York Times.

Kate points out – as Hines, Green New Deal convenor has long asserted, that any reasonable solution to climate change will require massive amounts of job creation, putting people to work doing everything from installing solar panels to insulating houses to updating the country’s electric grid to nursing and teaching, jobs in two of the country’s already low-carbon sectors.

She quotes climate scientist Kevin Anderson, who said earlier this year that shifting to a low-carbon society within the timeframe we have is an absolute agenda for jobs, “You are guaranteeing full employment for 30 years if we think climate change is a serious issue. If we don’t, we can carry on with structural unemployment.”

Her tactical advice: “Don’t chide Trump and the rest of his party for denying climate change when they pull out of the Paris agreement. Chide them for denying millions of Americans the well-paying jobs and stable future they deserve”.

Corbyn summarises: “A Labour government, under my leadership, will deliver an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies, championing community-owned renewable energy”.

 

 

 

Deeply troubling? Is this democracy? Is this sovereignty? 

Should not political decisions be taken in the interests of the 99% ?

The Guardian article refers to troubling revelations by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and notes that the Electoral Commission is now investigating the role played by US billionaire Robert Mercer in our EU referendum – adding ruefully, “But if it discovers any breaches of the rules, the penalties are feeble”.

Journalist George Monbiot goes on to highlight the use of ’dark’ money that does not seek to influence elections directly, but to change the broader political landscape.  

He explains that dark money is funding used, without public knowledge, by front groups and some thinktanks which resemble ‘covertly funded lobbyists’. The research group Transparify ranks these “thinktanks” by their openness about their funding and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute and Policy Exchange are rated as “highly opaque”. But though they refuse to reveal their sponsors, they are often invited to speak by the BBC – in the Today programme, Question Time, (IEA’s Jamie Whyte on 5-Live today) and other media.

Monbiot cites the tobacco industry, which has sponsored the IEA since 1963 – a fact only revealed when a legal settlement forced open its archives. Last week the IEA published a report critical of the UK’s smoking ban and tobacco packaging law which was covered in the media, but with no reference to the institute’s funding-related bias.

Though the Conservative Party manifesto outlines a plan to “lead international action against climate change”, it also pledges to ensure oil and gas plays a “critical role” in UK energy provision. 

Ben Chapman in The Independent points out that the Electoral Commission files show oil and gas corporates’ donors to the May government including:

  • Ayman Asfari, the chief executive of Jersey-registered oil and gas firm, Petrofac, who gave £90,000 in December.
  • Ian Taylor, chief executive of the world’s largest oil trader, Vitol. He has personally given the Conservatives £47,000 since Ms May won the party leadership in July last year, adding to hundreds of thousands he had previously donated.
  • Former Vitol partner Matthew Ferrey has also given £124,000 to the Tories since last July. He has now set up his own investment company which invests in the sector.
  • Alexander Temerko, Ukrainian-born former deputy chairman of the Russian Yukos Oil Company, who has donated £63,800.
  • Amjad Bseisu, the Palestinian-born boss of energy company EnQuest who previously worked for Petrofac has given £28,500 to the Tories under Ms May, while
  • Abdul-Majid Jafar, chief executive of United Arab Emirates-based Crescent Petroleum, gave £28,000 in December.

The Independent article records accusations made against some of those listed, a legal case pending and a conviction and Monbiot ends:

“Why has there been no effective action on climate change? Why are we choking on air pollution? Why is the junk food industry able to exploit our children? Because governments and their agencies have rolled over and let such people make a mockery of informed consent. Now the whole democratic system is sliding, and the Electoral Commission is neither equipped nor willing to stop it. There’s an urgent, unmet need for new laws to defend democracy”.

 

 

 

 

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Local author Christine Parkinson, who will be speaking about the United Nations’ role in addressing climate change, is a biologist who worked in medical research before coming to this city where she has co-founded regeneration projects, the most well-known being the Jericho Employment Project based in Balsall Heath.

Her latest book: “Three Generations Left? Human Activity and the Destruction of the Planet”, outlines how so-called progress has combined with a host of other factors, including free trade, a market economy, population increase and the development of a super-rich minority owning most of the wealth of the planet, to bring about global warming and climate change which could lead to a loss of many species and mass human extinction before the end of this century.

Her target audience is aged 15-18 and any adult new to the subject.

It is quite constructive, despite its title and her positive recommendations for change were recently posted on an economic and political website and the West Midlands New Economics Blog.

A former deputy head’s response was: “I sat and read for the whole afternoon. All the time saying how much I agree with this and how it should be reading matter for every sixth former in the land!”

A UNA reviewer called her book a wake-up call, continuing: “A succession of well-researched and wide-ranging facts substantiate its warning. She addresses readers who are likely to remain sceptical of her predictions, piling fact upon fact, ending with the entreaty, “Look at the evidence”, and adding:

“However sceptical the reader may be, a close consideration of the evidence set out by Dr Parkinson must surely cause such a reader to reconsider his or her opinion”.

“Three generations Left” can be ordered direct from the publishers, using this link. Any profits from the sale of this book will be used to fund the work of Dr Parkinson’s son Ben, amongst slum children in Uganda.  Last year was a difficult one for this project (Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network), due to the devaluation of the pound post-Brexit.

 

 

 

 

BFOE’s community share offer closes on June 2nd

Birmingham Friends of the Earth own The Warehouse in Digbeth, operating it as a not-for-profit business whilst campaigning for the improvement of the local environment. They want to raise investment capital to refurbish their building, which will lead to an increase in the financial, social and environmental value of that space:

  • there will be more space to let that is of a higher quality; this will allow them to increase the amount of space they provide and to maintain or increase the amount they charge per square foot for that space;
  • they will be looking to exceed the legal requirements (Building Regulations Part L) for conserving energy in their building by installing more insulation and more efficient glazing;
  • and they will be more accessible to wheelchair users and people with limited mobility and offer more community meeting facilities. The work will also allow them to reduce administration costs and focus more on meeting their social goals.

See the video and read the well-produced share offer summary complete with plans. Then:

  1. Invest! If you are able to please invest whatever you can between £250 and £10,000. If you have some money in an ISA earning 0.5% interest it could be doing a lot of good. If you know you are going to invest, please do so as soon as possible as this helps them to demonstrate it’s a viable prospect with gathering momentum
  2. Tell everybody you can about it – when you’re campaigning and in your everyday life. Friends, relatives, colleagues, rich uncles – there are a lot of people that would like the chance to make an ethical investment, the challenge they have is getting the word out to enough people. It’s not a donation so they’re not asking people to give them their money, it’s an investment
  3. Support the social media campaignshare, like, retweet anything you see about the share offer – this will help them to reach as many people as possible.

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Employees at Blythe Valley Park in Solihull can now use a free shuttle bus from Solihull and Birmingham International to and around this business park. The colourful, eye-catching shuttle bus service is operated by Solihull-based transport service provider LandFlight, formerly known as Silverline. It runs 16 daily shuttles, each accommodating up to 60 people, between the park and the two rail stations.

Deborah Fennell, park manager at Blythe Valley Park, said: “This bus service not only helps us reduce our collective carbon footprint but also ensures that parking demands continue to be met without impacting on the space and facilities we can offer businesses. By providing complimentary and convenient connections between the park and nearby rail stations, we encourage visitors and employees at the park to use public transport for their commute.”

The owners of the park, IM Properties, introduced this service to encourage park employees to commute via public transport. Approximately 2,700 people working for the park’s 24 companies and more will come on as site continues to develop.

Water taxi used in Leeds, advocated for use between Icknield Port and the congested, polluted Birmingham city centre:

Canal or riverside business and industrial parks are able to take another measure to reduce air pollution and ease traffic congestion by extending the use of water buses for passengers, already operating in a number of cities (above), and larger vessels for bulky freight (below).

In Trafford Park which has transport links by road, rail, water and air, businessman Graham Dixon advocates using Manchester’s waterways rather than clogging up the road network with cargo. He has welcomed the first arrival – a 2300 tonne ship, RMS Duisburg, which brought two large silos from Germany, bound for a Manchester factory.

Dixon’s ultimate vision is for Esprit’s Trafford Docks which he has re-opened and refitted, to be busy once again, bringing bulk goods such as road salt, aggregates, grain and biomass via the Manchester Ship Canal into Manchester. This would remove many lorries from the surrounding roads, reducing congestion and pollution.

As he said: “If one ship brings 3000 tonnes of freight up the canal, that’s over 100 lorry journeys removed from the roads, requiring only the first and the final few miles to be carried by lorry instead of potentially hundreds of miles.”