Archives for category: Renewable energy

Localise West Midlands recently commissioned a video which highlights four local projects that stimulate local economies and decentralise economic power. It was filmed, produced and edited by Susan Jones, Redhead Business Films with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

After seeing the video people who want more information should go to the LWM blog which has details of the four projects and the people involved.

The new Midland Metropolitan hospital ‘anchoring prosperity in the community’ hopes that one of its retail units will be taken by a social enterprise; it would not only sell locally produced goods but act as a “concierge” type service for busy staff and visiting families, to access the services they need from local businesses. It would aim to make stronger links with local people and help towards regenerating local neighbourhoods, Ladywood, Soho and Smethwick in the same way as Citizen Home in the Jewellery Quarter.

Inclusive business support ecosystems in Balsall Heath: Citizens UK and the Centre for Research on Ethnic Minority Entrepreneurship have been working together with business people in Lozells, Small Heath and Sparkbrook to achieve better engagement with support agencies, aiming to generate an inclusive business support ecosystem in these areas. 

Energy Capital is about collaborative sector development, in which energy innovation delivers on the needs of real people and the environment, with locally owned businesses involved at every level. RentE Cars is one of the local businesses that is taking advantage of electric car charging innovations.

Social care, rather than being a problem, can be a positive force for inclusive economics that could help the West Midlands Combined Authority achieve its stated aims of sharing prosperity more widely – as a report by NEF for LWM outlines. Crossroads Care is an example of a locally accountable and adaptable enterprise delivering social care and economic opportunity.

Localise West Midlands explores better ways to do economics – creating an economy which is lively and diverse & in which more people have a stake – meeting local needs with local resources.




Climate Action Network West Midlands invites you to the official launch of our exciting Big Lottery Funded project.

It’s a free public event for anyone in the region interested in sustainable community development and climate change. Hear some inspirational speakers on whole systems approaches to “green cities” and community development, followed by workshops to agree priorities for the project.

The project goals are to support and encourage better links and communication between community / environmental groups and activists in order to increase engagement in climate change at community level in the region.

The meeting will start with short presentations on:

  • aspects of community development
  • transition to renewable energy at whole-city level
  • an outline design of a web portal to support the “circular economy”.
  • an overview of the project and our crowdfunding campaign for a community-level climate action fund.

After a question and answer session with the speakers, there will be a “World Cafe” style workshop to discuss priorities for the project.

Climate Action Network West Midlands (CANWM) is a free and open network of groups and individuals. List:

Membership is open to anyone in the region who wants to support the international and UK goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. 


31 Jan 2018 – 18:00 to 21:00


The Studio, 7 Cannon St., Birmingham B2 5EP

For more details about the project or to offer expertise and information, please contact Jules Todd FRSA or email



Procedure for booking: 

Please click the link below


After the launch on 31st Jan, there will be six themed workshops at the John Lewis Community Hub (above New St Station):

  • Feb 28, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 1: Transport
  • Mar 28, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 2: Food
  • Apr 25, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 3: Energy and Resources
  • May 30, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 4: Housing
  • Jun 20, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 5: Employment
  • Jul 25, 2018 5pm to 7:30pm  Workshop 6: Education

October 2018 – date and venue to be confirmed – End-of-Project Conference

There’s some more information and links to background papers here:–towards-the-1.5-0c-target-for-global-warming





Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.


Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.






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.






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.






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:

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? 





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.




David Lowe (Commercial Boat Operators Association) sends news of a noteworthy event, which preceded the ‘Hydrogen and Fuel Cells into the Mainstream’ Conference, covered on this site in February.

The programme brought together 11 European micro FC-CHP manufacturers into a common analysis framework to deliver trials across all of the available fuel cell CHP technologies. Fuel cell micro-CHP trials will be installed and actively monitored in dwellings across the range of European domestic heating markets, dwelling types and climatic zones, which will lead to an invaluable dataset on domestic energy consumption and micro-CHP applicability across Europe.

By learning the practicalities of installing and supporting a fleet of fuel cells with real customers, ene.field partners will take the final step before they can begin commercial roll-out. An increase in volume deployment for the manufacturers involved will stimulate cost reduction of the technology by enabling a move from hand-built products towards serial production and tooling.

The ene.field project brings together over 30 utilities, housing providers and municipalities to bring the products to market explore different business models for micro-CHP deployment.

It is the largest European demonstration project of the latest smart energy solution for private homes, micro-CHP. Up to 1,000 households across Europe will be able to experience the benefits of this new energy solution. The five-year project uses modern fuel cell technology to produce heat and electricity in households and empowers them in their electricity and heat choices. It is co-funded by the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking  and brings together 27 partners, including 10 European manufacturers who will make the products available across 11 European countries.

“A step change in the volume of fuel cell micro-CHP deployment in Europe and a meaningful step towards commercialisation of the technology”.




npw-coverAllan Leighton, Chair of the Canal & River Trust, in his foreword to the C&RT’s Northern Powerhouse Waterways prospectus (cover, left), outlines the potential of the region’s waterways as a resource for all to use, a contribution to competitive, resilient and congenial cities and routes to sustainable growth.

There are proposals to provide an alternative to road freight by upgrading fifty miles of commercial waterways to the EuroClass II standard and developing the inland Port of Leeds to create a corridor from the Humber to Leeds.

With relatively low levels of investment our waterways could be brought back into use as an essential part of our freight transport network.

CRT also recognises that waterways have a significant role to play in building energy and environmental resilience and supporting the transition to low carbon economies.

Waterways can contribute to the low carbon economy. The water flowing through the City Regions via the Northern Powerhouse Waterways contains enough thermal energy to produce around 200MW of energy. This energy can be extracted using water-sourced heat pumps to provide an incredibly efficient form of heating and cooling, reducing electricity demand and balancing electricity supply.


A number of businesses now use this low carbon energy source to heat and cool their buildings. The Hepworth, Wakefield (above), on the waterfront of a length of the Calder which has been ‘canalised’, is using this energy source to heat and cool its art gallery building.

Waterways provide an important wildlife route and mitigate habitat loss, also assisting the genetic exchange of plants.

With careful design waterways can provide sustainable options for drainage from future developments that would otherwise not be viable due to flood risk concerns. The managed nature of canal water levels, and the ability of waterways to accept surface water run-off, could also assist flood mitigation measures.

Will the Midlands Engine work with C&RT to Increase the use of our waterways for commercial purposes by waterborne freight and of our towpaths and riverside paths for recreation or travelling to work? Such a partnership could make a valuable contribution to improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions – a key consideration as air quality in Birmingham is exceeding legal limits, causing chronic ill-health, loss of productivity and substantially increasing the NHS’ workload.