Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hydrogen Futures?

Find the podcast at from Friday 9th December

A special welcome to listeners in the US, and to the increasing number of listeners in France, Canada, Australia and Mexico. 

This week, a detailed look at the future of transport and sustainable transport in particular. News from OPEC and will they really drive the price of oil up? And while they are all pumping out the black stuff - less of it than before - the Chinese are digging out more of their black stuff - coal. The winter outlook for electricity supplies, is it as rosy as we thought? Some commentators predict that the UK and France could be in for a shock if it gets really cold in January. 

The Question 

First, sustainable transport. A friend of mine - let’s call him Michael J for the sake of argument - recently posted the following on social media and raised a lot of important questions.

“I believe I'm reasonably intelligent,” he says, “but there are two related issues that are troubling me.

“I'm a car driver, I love driving simply for the pleasure of driving and I love my cars - hence my classic Sunbeam Alpine. But I don't understand the following:

“First. I don't get driverless cars. I love the thrill of driving and the freedom to go where I want. If I want to be driven I either ask my partner to drive, use a coach or use the train. So why are we investing so much money in something that already exists namely the bus, the coach or the train? Those who think it is the future aren't real drivers.

“Second. Why are we investing so much in one future technology and not another? I mean electric cars and not hydrogen fuelled. Both cut emissions but one is environmentally unfriendly in the production of the batteries. Plus you can get a couple of hundred miles and then wait hours to recharge the batteries. The other is environmentally friendly…and you can refill in a few minutes and be on your way.
“The first is getting billions of government support and manufacturers’ investment whilst the second is getting relatively nothing. We all know Betamax was better quality then VHS but still the wrong one won out. 
“This is a far bigger matter and I hope we don't get this one wrong.
“Just wondering!”

Driverless Cars

Let’s look first at driverless cars, or Autonomous Vehicles (AVs), Michael. The big difference from buses, coaches and trains is that driverless cars will take you from door to door, not just from a station or stop somewhere near your start point to a station fairly near your destination. HS2, the planned high speed line from London to the Midlands and the North, is likely to be built in long straight lines to permit very high speeds. In some places this means that the stations will be built away from the cities they serve, so the time saved on the train will be offset by the need to change to another mode of transport to complete the journey to the final destination. I’ve even heard it suggested that AVs will make HS2 obsolete. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would certainly expect them to offer stiff competition to conventional buses, trains and coaches.

There are many other aspects to AVs, in terms of safety, availability, efficiency and privacy. I don’t think it will be long before AVs will be the only vehicles permitted into urban areas. People who live out in the country will either have to change vehicles at the edge of the city or to use cars with a dual driver/driverless capability. Driverless mode will be automatically switched on in urban areas. All new Tesla cars are now fitted with the hardware needed for driverless operation. Safety is a major advantage of AVs. Over 90% of accidents are currently caused by human error. With AVs the number of accidents is expected to fall by over 90%, and insurance premiums will drop dramatically as well. There is a current press campaign to increase the sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving or by using their mobile phones while driving. With AVs there will be no more boy racers in the wrong place and no more police pursuits. It will be perfectly acceptable to use the phone, play games, watch TV or just doze off on the way to work.  

AV availability means that you could use the car even after a heavy night out with lots to drink. It will just take you home. An AV could be used for the school run, carrying unaccompanied children. Of course there would need to be some contact with a control room for safety’s sake and some people will have a problem with the idea that someone will always know where you are and where you’ve been. However, with automatic numberplate recognition and more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other country in the world, we’re already well down that road in the UK.

Another aspect of availability raises the question of whether you need to own a car at all. In Europe the average car is parked and idle for over 90% of its life. A single car in a car club can meet the needs of 60 people. Yes, but if you join a car club do you want to walk in the rain to a collection point instead of stepping into your own car just outside your front door? But taxi firm Uber is investing heavily in robotics research. In the age of the driverless car you’ll just call up a vehicle on your smartphone and it will roll up at your door like a taxi, but without the taxi driver. And when you get to your destination you won’t have to park it. In cities a significant amount of congestion (and pollution) is caused by cars trying to find a parking space.

AVs will be efficient. They will all be part of a network and will all accelerate and slow down together with no risk of collision. Avoiding harsh braking and acceleration will reduce energy consumption and wear on tyres and brakes. Traffic lights will be unnecessary, because every car will “know” where every other car is going.

The driverless future is exciting - and total anathema for petrolheads. Invest in racetracks.

Electric or Hydrogen?

The other point that Michael raised was why electric cars and not hydrogen cars? Incidentally I don’t think it’s the government, certainly not the UK government, that’s funding research into either of these.

Several companies already have hydrogen fuel cell cars - including the Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell, Honda FCX Clarity, Hyundai ix35 FCEV and Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-Cell. In the UK you can buy a Toyota Mirai. It’s about the size of a Ford Mondeo, has a range of over 300 miles and can be refuelled in 5 minutes. Like all electric cars, because the hydrogen fuel cell drives an electric motor, maximum torque is available from rest, so its acceleration beats almost anything else on the road. In operation it is totally clean. The only emission is pure water. 

At the moment there are only eight hydrogen filling stations in the UK and if you run out of fuel you can’t top up from a jerrycan at the side of the road. The tank has to be filled at high pressure. The Toyota Mirai costs £66,000. Yes, of course this would come down if the car were mass produced, but there are a number of other problems with Hydrogen.

First, 95% of hydrogen is currently manufactured from methane, natural gas. The principal by-product is carbon dioxide, so while the process is cleaner than a diesel car it’s about as polluting as a petrol car. Hydrogen can be created by electrolysis, by passing a current through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen. It’s a very clean process but not very efficient as a significant proportion of the energy goes into waste heat. This is not a problem if you are using surplus electricity from a wind farm or solar array. Hydrogen is seen as a useful medium for storing renewable energy, and the inefficiency of the process doesn’t matter given that wind and sunshine are free. On the other hand, using electricity from coal-fired or gas-fired power stations for electrolysis makes the hydrogen expensive and creates CO2 emissions at the power station.

Hydrogen can be transported from the point of generation to filling stations by road or by pipeline. The pipelines typically need to be 50% larger than natural gas pipelines to allow an equivalent calorific value of the gas to be transported at safe pressure. Road tankers for hydrogen are also very different from oil tankers because of the high pressure involved. An alternative under consideration is for each filling station to produce its own hydrogen locally, from natural gas, petrol or some other hydrocarbon. This means that the source chemical - methane or petrol or whatever - will have to be delivered to each site, together with enough energy to power the conversion process. And what about the carbon dioxide (CO2) byproduct? Will that be stored on site and then collected and taken away? Carbon capture and storage has been promised for years but no-one has yet made it work on a commercial scale. If you take all these issues into account it makes sense to consider the alternatives.

Michael is very dismissive of electric cars because for one thing he says that they are “environmentally unfriendly in the production of batteries.” I’ll give you that one, Michael, until I have time to research the life-cycle of batteries. Don’t forget that hydrogen cars also have batteries - presumably smaller than electric cars but about the same as petrol hybrids. They are used to store the energy from regenerative braking and freewheeling. They also cope with the varying demand for power as the car is driving around, as the fuel cell will produce electricity at a constant rate. 

“You can get a couple of hundred miles [with an electric car] and then wait hours to recharge the batteries,” he says, "hydrogen is environmentally friendly…and you can refill in a few minutes and be on your way.”  Actually most electric cars still struggle to give you much over 100 miles. The BMW i3 is even available with an optional range extender, a motor-bike engine in the back to charge up the battery if you run out. However, although it will take all night to recharge an electric car from a domestic socket, electric car drivers tell me that fast chargers put back 80% in about 20 minutes. The Tesla Model S has a range of over 300 miles and its new compact model will have a range of over 200 miles. This won’t be enough for everyone, but even a 100-mile range is enough for the vast majority of daily commutes. And yes, a hydrogen car is environmentally friendly in use, but as we’ve seen, hydrogen production has the carbon footprint.

BBC Top Gear reports: “Four car industry giants, BMW, Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen Group, have confirmed that they are joining forces to deliver a fast-charging network for electric vehicles across Europe.
“The quartet is forming a joint venture to build a network said to total around 1,000 charging points, sited on major routes all across Europe. The statement talks of power levels ‘up to 350 kW’, which is significantly faster than anything currently available. Around 400 ultra-fast charging sites are planned initially, and the network will be based on the Combined Charging System (CCS), which suggests that this solution will become the industry standard going forward.

“The goal is to enable long-distance travel through open-network charging stations along highways and major thoroughfares, which has not been feasible for most BEV (battery electric vehicles) to date,” the jointly issued statement says. “The charging experience is expected to evolve to be as convenient as refuelling at conventional gas stations.”

Daimler has announced it will be building a €500 million battery factory in Germany, and I’ve heard that it will be marketing a domestic storage battery in the US. Sounds like it’s running to catch up with Elon Musk and Tesla.

Both BMW and Daimler have hydrogen vehicles, but maybe deep down they really believe that the future is electric.

Clean Air

Anything other than diesel, anyway, to improve our air quality. Greenpeace is on the case with a petition to Prime Minister Theresa May. 

Air pollution isn’t just dirty,” they say. “It is poisonous. Diesel cars produce Nitrogen Dioxide, one of the most toxic air pollutants in cities.
“4 out of 5 new diesel cars will be pumping out dangerous levels of Nitrogen Dioxide - some 15 times over the legal limit.
“UK’s High Court found the government guilty of underestimating how much diesel cars will worsen the pollution in our air.
“Alarming levels of toxicity in the air in the UK causes 40,000 deaths each year. Yet, the government continues to support dirty diesel despite the fact that safer and greener technologies are available.
“Sign the petition to tell Theresa May to cut diesel emissions - ban any new diesel cars from coming onto our roads and accelerate the shift to cleaner, greener road transport.”

Go to if you’d like to sign.

Ford doesn’t make cars in the UK any more, but it does build diesel engines. Bad news for Dagenham.

In addition to Barcelona that I mentioned the other day, now four more cities, meeting at the C40 Conference of Mayors in Mexico, have announced restrictions on diesel cars. Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City will all exclude diesel vehicles by 2025.

In the UK NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, has just opened a consultation on air quality. They urge drivers to drive as smoothly as possible and even recommend that speed bumps should be removed to make this easier. Bad air kills 25,000 people prematurely in England (the Greenpeace 40,000 figure was for the UK) and people should avoid sitting in rooms close to busy roads. If you would like to take part in the consultation go to 

Outlook for oil - and coal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and the rest of OPEC are still pumping oil, although less of it than before. For months they have been keeping production up in an attempt to keep the oil price down. They wanted to push it down to bankrupt the US shale oil producers and protect their own market share. It’s not really worked, and the low price has reduced their revenues. Saudi is particularly embarrassed and has had to spend from reserves. It’s a one-product state and without oil  revenues has virtually nothing. OPEC agreed last week, supported by non-OPEC producer Russia, to cut production. Cutting production is designed to push prices back up, hopefully to at least $60/barrel, and as of 8th December Brent Crude was trading around $53. The one-year forecast is $57. The key question is whether the OPEC agreement will hold. The temptation is for one or more of the 13 OPEC partners to increase production at the high price to try and boost revenues. If too many do this the price will fall back. Industry insiders believe that this is indeed what will happen. 

While OPEC produces oil, China is digging coal. Last week China was praised for holding to its commitment to the Paris Climate Change Agreement in the face of scepticism from the new US administration. This week the Seattle Times reports that 

China is scrambling to mine and burn more coal.

A lack of stockpiles and worries about electricity blackouts are spurring Chinese officials to reverse curbs that once helped reduce coal production. Mines are reopening. Miners are being lured back with larger paychecks - up as much as 50% this year. But maybe even that won’t be enough after last Saturday’s disaster which killed 32 miners. That’s in addition to the 21 who died in another mine last Tuesday and the 33 who died in yet another mine on 31st October. Disregard for safety standards appears to be widespread across Chinese industry. It’s the Chinese, of course, who will be building the UK’s next generation of nuclear power stations.

China’s response to coal scarcity shows how hard it will be to wean the country off coal. That makes it harder for China and the world to meet emissions targets, as Chinese coal is the world’s largest single source of carbon emissions from human activities.

Winter Outlook

Talking of electricity blackouts, there’s an update on the Winter Outlook. The latest report comes from ENTSOE, The European network of transmission system operators for electricity. They warn that while Europe in general is in a secure position, both the UK and France will be vulnerable to cold weather in December and January. According to Bloomberg,, temperatures falling to 1.5℃ on 8th December would be critical for the UK. Although we had frosts earlier in the week, 8th December saw an unseasonable 14℃ and temperatures were not expected to fall below 12℃ overnight. Still plenty of time for a cold snap before the end of January. The UK relies on imported electricity to deal with short-term winter peaks, much of it coming via the interconnector under the Channel from France. France has its own problems. I’ve mentioned the proposed Hinkley C nuclear station many times over the last year, and the station under construction at Flamanville in Normandy which uses the same design. Construction is held up there while the French Nuclear Inspectorate examines the integrity of the castings of the reactor vessel. Since they were made by the same foundry, there are also doubts about the integrity of the reactor vessels in many of France’s operational nuclear stations. They are being taken off line for extended maintenance, reducing the nation’s generating capacity and reducing the surplus available for export to the UK. France will make up its shortfall by importing electricity from neighbouring countries and will be able to pass some on to the UK. ETSOE believes that in normal and severe conditions Europe should be able to cover demand. Short-term wholesale electricity prices are nevertheless reaching record levels.

That’s it for this week. We’re already up to 22 minutes, so I’ve had to hold over the item on Smart Cities and cybercrime but I’ll cover that next time. I’m off now to interview Clive Wilson about the Sustainable Development Goals.

Book Me!

Yes, this is Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report, part of the Better World Podcast Collective and brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and you can find me via

For now, until next week’s Sustainable Futures Report, have a good week and goodbye.

CSR is not Sustainability

Published as a podcast at on 2nd December.

This week I've been talking to Tim Balcon who is the CEO of IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. IEMA is the world's largest association for sustainability professionals with a membership of some 15,000. Its tagline is “Transforming the World to Sustainability”. 

I last spoke to Tim some two years ago and he agreed to give me an opportunity to catch up and see how things have changed since then.

Listen to the interview at where you will also find links to the recording on iTunes and Stitcher.

To find out more about IEMA - about careers, qualifications, training and events for yourself, or for your colleagues or for your organisation, go to

Next week there will be another Sustainable Futures Report. It will be about sustainable transport and any other sustainable news that’s hit the headlines between now and then. That’s the problem, though, getting this very important issue into the headlines. Any ideas?

The Sustainable Futures Report is brought to you without advertising, sponsorship or any form of subsidy. Bear me in mind if you need a conference speaker, host for your awards ceremony or webinar facilitator. Yes, I’m Anthony Day and you can find me via

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Beavering away!

Published as a podcast at on Friday 25th November.

The Sustainable Futures Report is a member of the Better World Podcast Collective at    

Hello and welcome to another Sustainable Futures Report. Yes it’s Friday 25th November and this is Anthony Day. Only four more pods until Christmas and the episode for 23rd December will have to keep you going until 6th January. In the last report for the year I’ll be looking back at the topics covered in 2016’s 37 episodes.

In the meantime, though, the message from Marrakech; Trump, the climate and the moon; is this wet week the time to look at natural flood defences, even bringing in beavers to dam the flow, or should we get a new roof from Elon Musk? Here in the UK the chancellor has just delivered his autumn financial statement - was there anything in it for sustainability? The question on everyone’s lips this week has been “Can you trust the news?” When it comes from the Sustainable Futures Report of course you can! And some bright spark has the answer to storing electricity.

Trump, Climate Change and COP22

As you know, President-elect Donald Trump is a climate change sceptic and has said that he would repeal Obama’s Clean Power Plan and withdraw from the Paris Agreement to limit climate change. The question was whether this would lead to the collapse of the agreement if the USA, the world’s second biggest polluter, decided not to take part. Last week I suggested that China and India and the rest of the world would still go ahead and it seems I was right. The news from COP22 in Marrakech, the latest UN ClimateChange conference, is good. China said that the global trend was irreversible while Russia committed to respect the treaty regardless of what others decided. No major country disagreed and the German State Secretary at the Environment Ministry announced that the whole of Germany would be fully renewable by 2050. Well, I say the news was good, but not everyone was happy. Campaign organisations including Oxfam were disappointed at the lack of financial commitment. Part of the Paris Agreement committed the richer nations to provide $100bn to help developing nations meet their climate targets, but campaigners complained that any excuse was made to delay, reduce or defer the payments. 

COP22 saw the launch of a new initiative, the “2050 pathways platform”. According to the UN Climate Change Newsroom, “The 2050 pathways platform will support countries… seeking to develop long-term deep decarbonisation strategies, including through the sharing of resources (including finance, capacity building), knowledge and experiences. It will also build a broader constellation of cities, states, and companies engaged in long-term low-emissions planning of their own, and in support of the national strategies. Essentially, it will be a space for collective problem-solving.”

Already, 22 countries, including both the US (for the moment) and the UK, have started or are about to start the process of preparing a 2050 pathway. 15 cities, 17 states, and 196 businesses have joined the 2050 pathways platform. Many others are expected to join. Let’s hope these financial commitments are met. 

So will the world go ahead without Trump’s America, or will he row back on his commitment to get out of COP21? He is very unlikely to release funds to help developing countries with climate change. He can block the Paris Agreement by cutting environmental  legislation like the Clean Power Plan, which he’s already committed to do. He has put a coal industry executive in charge of the energy department and he plans to lift restrictions on coal and to allow drilling to take place almost anywhere, both onshore and offshore. One saving grace is that at present natural gas is cheaper in the States than coal, so price will not drive generators to use more coal. Even so, a major nation which persists with fossil fuels will add a significant amount to atmospheric CO2, making it more difficult for the other nations to reduce the global total.

On the other hand more than 360 businesses have written an open letter this week to Donald Trump, President Obama, members of Congress and all the delegates to COP22, calling on them to continue U.S. participation in the Paris agreement. The signatories include DuPont, eBay, Nike, Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co. and Hilton as well as Starbucks, General Mills and Hewlett Packard. But not Amazon, Google, General Motors or Ford. Or any coal companies that I could spot.

The letter says: “We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy”

We call on our elected US leaders to strongly support:

  • Continuation of low-carbon policies…
  • Investment in the low carbon economy… 
  • Continued US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement…

“Implementing the Paris Agreement,” they say, “will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.”

Is Donald Trump determined to remain the only head of state in the entire world to reject the scientific consensus that mankind is driving climate change? I hope he doesn’t ask his friend Nigel, because I believe he’s a climate denier as well. And one of Donald’s advisors has suggested that any money earmarked for environmental programmes should be spent on travelling to the moon instead.

Find the full text of the letter at 

But hang on! Apparently Donald Trump has just said, in a conversation with journalists from the New York Times, that he’s rethought the matter. Asked if he thought human activity was linked to climate change he responded: “I think there is some connectivity. Some, something. It depends on how much.” He also said he would keep an open mind on whether he would pull the US out of the Paris climate change deal. Of course that doesn’t change the fact that he’s packed his administration with climate-change deniers.

Flooded Out

Here comes winter! Not many frosts so far in the UK but a lot of rain. Too much rain. People waking up to find their cars under water and water seeping into their homes. Trains cancelled because the ballast has been washed away from under the tracks. This time it wasn’t so much the North of England that got the floods, it was the South and South West. Even London got a lot of rain, so it really made the headlines! By the way, many of the people flooded out in the North last Christmas are still not back in their homes. Floodwater comes up and down in a few days, but the consequences take months to sort out.

These latest floods have been caused by exceptionally heavy rain. When it falls all at once, rivers, watercourses and drains cannot cope. The water builds up, spreads out and invades streets and all types of buildings. We’ve seen in the past that it can overwhelm electricity substations and telephone exchanges with widespread consequences. What’s to be done? “Dredging!” shout the correspondents to the popular press. That’s not really the answer. If the flow is 10 times normal, do we make the river 10 times as deep? Either you wouldn’t see it for most of the year, or the sea would flood in and fill it all up. And then it would silt up again. Flood barriers have an effect, but a major effect is to speed the water to flood someone else further downstream. They can also look unsightly and block the view of the river. Much of the solution to flooding depends on the management of the catchment area of each river. If the water in the tributaries can be slowed done so it takes longer to reach the main stream, then the size of the maximum flow further down can be reduced. Ideally the water should be held back at source for as long as possible before it enters any part of the watercourse. This can be achieved with natural flood control. Both Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom, and Floods Minister, Thérèse Coffey, have both recently supported the approach, but the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently told Friends of the Earth (FoE) that “there is no funding earmarked specifically for natural flood management”.

Pickering in North Yorkshire suffered perennial floods until natural flood management was introduced. Now it’s a whole lot drier. The scheme consists of a range of land management measures way beyond the town up towards the sources of Pickering Beck and the River Seven. First, bunds have been built to hold back flood water in slow-release ponds. Trees have been planted along river banks and in flood plains. Rough dams of tree branches have been installed to slow the water but let it gradually percolate through. These are the sort of dams that beavers build and I read that beavers are being introduced into England, though not as far as I know into Yorkshire yet. A significant contribution to river flow has been from channels dug to drain moorland. Many of these have been blocked which cuts off the water but also re-wets the peat. This is important because peat is a major long-term store of CO2, and if it dries out it crumbles and just blows away. Controlled burning is an established method of managing moorland and in future landowners will avoid burning right up to river banks, because water runs straight off burnt areas with no vegetation to hold it back.

Natural flood management can protect urban areas from flooding rivers, but with intense rainfall floods can be generated locally. Cities are full of flat surfaces - roofs, streets, carparks and so on which do nothing to hold back the water. A downpour can overwhelm the drains and cause localised flooding. What to do? If every building had a water-butt, the time taken to fill it would buffer the flow. The problem is making sure it’s empty before each storm. You could encourage the installation of green roofs - roofs covered with plants which trap the rain and also insulate the building below. The trouble is that you can’t have both a green roof and solar panels. Another solution is catchment ponds, but the problem in urban areas is finding space to put them. 

New Roof? Outlook Sunny

Whatever happens, make sure your roof is watertight. From next year, in the US at least, you’ll be able to buy roof tiles from Tesla, the electric car and storage battery company. CEO Elon Musk told the Tesla directors that these new tiles, which incorporate solar panels, would be cheaper than conventional tiles even without taking the value of the electricity generated into account. 
In the US asphalt tiles are commonly used and these will be many times cheaper than Tesla tiles. Tesla tiles will be cheaper than slates or clay tiles, and like them will last much longer than asphalt. And they will generate electricity.

And when you have generated your electricity, what do you do with it? Well you could store it in a Tesla Powerwall, a domestic battery unit available in the UK from February 2017. Although it could make you close to self-sufficient in electricity, it’s not cheap at over £6,000 for the basic 14kWh unit. You would have to put a high price on energy security to make it worthwhile. And you might want to wait for the next development in battery technology.

Changing the Battery

An article in New Scientist magazine for 12th November explains how batteries could move forward. At present, electric cars, phones, cameras and other portable gadgets generally use lithium ion batteries. This is because they have a high energy capacity in relation to volume, which is crucial as demand rises and electronic devices get smaller. The problem is that concentrating energy in a small space needs to be very carefully done to prevent it all leaking out at once and causing a fire or explosion. Battery fires have occurred in electric cars, electric buses, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 and even Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft. Incidentally, the word is that Apple iPhones have suffered similar problems to the Note 7. The batteries are of similar design and manufactured by the same subcontractors. Maybe the American press are less keen to report on problems with American products. All I can say is that my previous iPhone occasionally got very hot indeed for no apparent reason. Fortunately it never exploded.

Another way of storing electricity is to use a capacitor. Capacitors charge and discharge far more rapidly than batteries. It’s a capacitor that powers the flash on your camera. The problem with them is that for a given size a lithium-ion battery holds 1,000 times as much energy as a traditional capacitor. Now researchers using carbon nanotubes are developing ultra-capacitors. Still not big enough - and far too expensive - to replace batteries, they could work in tandem helping to meet short term peak demand and smoothing the demand on the batteries. Smoothing demand extends battery life and using a capacitor in tandem means that a smaller battery would be needed for a given peak output. Important for electric vehicles. Working with batteries, capacitors could smooth the output from renewables, which notoriously fluctuates. The whole area of energy storage is rapidly developing, which can only be good news for renewable energy and a low carbon future.

Financial News

This week’s Autumn Financial Statement 
from the UK’s chancellor of the exchequer (that’s finance minister to those of you listening in a country without a history) had few surprises. Time was when the merest details were strictly embargoed until the chancellor rose to speak. This time the details have been steadily leaked since last weekend. The word “sustainable” appears in the official document three times; each time in the context of sustainable finances. Not much detail on energy and low carbon.
  The carbon price floor has been frozen at £18/tonne (rising with inflation in 2020/21).

A Shale Wealth Fund has been set up to provide £1 billion to communities local to shale gas projects.

The statement promised to simplify the reporting process and reduce the administrative costs of the Petroleum Revenue Tax for oil and gas companies in order to aid the North Sea industry.

Yes of course, we need more fossil fuels.

I had hoped that the infrastructure section would contain a commitment to the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, but not a word. He did promise to upgrade east-west rail links, but in the south, not the north. Is it really more important to link Oxford to Cambridge (via Milton Keynes!) than to upgrade the line from Hull to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool? Fuel duty is still frozen, to the greatest benefit of those who drive the biggest, thirstiest cars. Surely he should have started increasing duty on diesel at least, in preparation for banning diesel vehicles from city centres in an attempt to improve air quality. The city of Barcelona has already published plans to ban a million cars from its streets by 2020. 
No change to former chancellor Osborne’s realignment of company car tax, which means that from next year cars with high emissions will be treated much the same as low-emission vehicles. Short-termism and shortsightedness. No change there then.

All the news, whether fit to print or not.

“Can you trust the news?” You’ve probably heard this story already as it’s been widely reported. Americans agonising over why Hillary didn’t win are blaming Facebook and the rest of social media. False claims, like “Pope Backs Trump”, were posted and apparently many people read the headline and shared the article without reading the text or stopping to think whether it might be untrue. As a result much false information, including spoof headlines from satirical sites, went viral and was accepted by many as truth. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, dismissed the notion that Facebook could actually influence anyone’s behaviour. But as many commentators have pointed out, if that’s true why would anyone want to advertise on Facebook?

In compiling the Sustainable Futures Report I do my best to verify the information I provide. Where possible I include links to sources in the text, which you can find at

And Finally...

And finally, September was not the hottest on record. Why is that newsworthy? Well the previous 16 consecutive months were all the hottest months on record. Even without a scorching September, 2016 will be the hottest year on record, hotter even than 2015 which was hotter than 2014 and so back for 15 consecutive hottest years. 

This is Anthony Day. That was the Sustainable Futures Report. Next week I shall be interviewing Tim Balcon, Chief Executive of IEMA, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. Provided the edit goes well I’ll bring that to you next Friday 2nd December.

Until then have a good week and I’ll talk to you again next week.

Bye for now!

An Interview with Manda Scott

Hello, this is Anthony Day with the latest Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 18th November. This episode is mainly devoted to an interview with author Manda Scott, but before we go into that here’s a couple of items of news. 

You’ll remember that there’s a group of American children
alleging in court that the Federal Government is violating their constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels. The government and the fossil fuel industry urged the court to dismiss the case but the judge refused so the appeal went to the next level. Last Thursday District Court Judge Ann Aiken rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs' constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Dr. James Hansen said, "This is a critical step toward solution of the climate problem and none to soon as climate change is accelerating.”

Like the recent ruling on Article 50 and Brexit by the High Court in London, this is a legal decision, not a political decision. Therefore, in spite of President-elect Trump’s denialism, there is probably not much he can do about it.

Nonetheless, Trump has appointed a prominent climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead his transition team at EPA. Ebell, who leads the Center for Energy and Environment at the right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, has warned against climate "alarmism" and called the agency's Clean Power Plan, issued in August 2015, “illegal." Oilman Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, has been  named as a potential candidate to lead the department of energy.

We can only stand and watch.

And so to the interview. This was recorded on 4th November, before the result of the American presidential election was known. Manda Scott studied to be a vet, has become a successful historical novelist and is now taking time out to study economics for the transition. In a wide-ranging interview we spoke about compulsory voting, where the money comes from, better selection of lawmakers, reframing ideas, the end of TINA and GDP growth, political tribalism, regenerative farming, subsidising fossil fuels, the sixth mass extinction, climate change denial and supply chains.

Unfortunately there is no transcript of Manda's interview but you can listen to it at

Oh, and after the main interview she gave me a sneak preview of what her next book will be about.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

All Change

This is the text of the podcast available on iTunes, Stitcher and at 

Hello and welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 11th November 2016. This is Anthony Day, and yes, the clip I played you last week was indeed of the next president of the United States. [“It’ll get a little cooler, a little warmer, like it always has for millions of years. It’ll get cooler, it will get warmer–it's called weather.”] 

This Week

This week, are we on the threshold of the greatest shake-up of environmental regulation we’ve ever seen? Last December COP21 resulted in the Paris Agreement. The United Nations now say that enough nations have ratified the agreement to make it legally binding. Legally binding on whom? Maybe we’ll learn more at COP22, which is now running in Marrakech. How are we actually going to achieve the emissions reductions that the Paris Treaty requires? Lord Stern says we’ll need net zero emissions. Does that imply geo-engineering? We’ll have a look at that. 

On the energy front, Lord Turner says that ultra-low-cost renewables are at hand and Iceland is digging deeper into its geothermal reserves.

Meanwhile the British government has responded to the court’s demand that it should do something about air quality (not quite so bad as in India) and DIF16, the latest Disruptive Innovation Festival is in progress. Finally, hear about the amazing expanding moped.

Yes, it's Trump

Yes, on the 20th of January 2017 the United States will inaugurate President Donald Trump. And what will he do then? He has already said that he will have a raft of presidential decrees which he will sign on his first day in office. There is a limit to what he can do it by presidential decree, although he can reverse decrees signed by his predecessor. Much of what he wants to do will be subject to approval by the House and the Senate, but both of those now have a Republican majority. We’ve heard that he’s a climate sceptic. We know that he plans to cut regulations on the coal industry and there’s no doubt that the House and Senate will support him on that. The United Nations announced that countries representing more than 55% of global emissions had ratified the Paris Agreement and therefore the agreement was now legally binding. It is difficult to see how this agreement will legally bind the new president of the United States. He’s said he will repudiate the Paris Agreement. He will not introduce legislation to reduce carbon emissions and he certainly will not contribute funds to poorer countries to help them meet their own climate change targets. Will China, India and the rest respect the Paris Agreement if the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases turns its back on it? Actually I think they will. Beijing’s smogs are legendary, but this week the Indian government closed schools for three days in Delhi. They closed a coal-fired power station and they told drivers to stay out of the city on alternate days, depending on whether their vehicle registration number was even or odd. They did this because the city was shrouded in thick smog which cut visibility and air pollution had reached 800 times safe levels. Action to overcome this is crucial. It is a serious health issue, particularly for young children who may never fully recover from its effects. It will take more than closing a power station for a few days or halving the level of traffic to achieve this, but whatever they do will cut down their greenhouse gas emissions.


The focus of COP22, currently in session in Marrakech, is on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. [COP22 is the 22nd Conference of the Parties within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] The objective of the Agreement was to reduce emissions to a level which would hold global temperature increases to no more than 2℃, but ideally 1.5℃. The actual commitments which delegate countries made in Paris was calculated to be insufficient, implying a rise of over 3℃ with dramatic consequences for the world.  

Negative Emissions?

Lord Stern produced his report on the economic consequences of climate change some 10 years ago. Speaking recently at the Royal Society he outlined his views on what the world should do now, starting from where it now is. Climate Change News reported the speech with the headline: “Lord Stern: we need negative emissions to avoid 2C warming”. If you read the speech in detail - and I strongly recommend that you do - you’ll find that while he did mention negative emissions he promoted zero emissions as a more realistic target. Read more here in Climate Change News: 

Here are some quotes from the speech that caught my eye:

“… if we go beyond warming of 2°C, to 3°C or more, we will create a climate that has not occurred on Earth for millions of years.
“That is far beyond the evolutionary experience of modern Homo sapiens, which has only been around for less than 250,000 years.
“Warming of 4°C or 5°C would likely be enormously destructive.”

And again,

“The milestone events of 2015 have set a new global agenda focused on three simultaneous challenges: re-igniting global growth, delivering the sustainable development goals, and driving strong action on climate change.
“At the centre of all three of these challenges lies sustainable infrastructure.
“Well-designed infrastructure can be pro-growth, pro-poor, and pro-climate.
“But it must be delivered with much greater urgency and scale.
“Delay is dangerous.”

He goes on:

“Sustainable growth requires strong investment.
If policy-makers provide clear direction for new investments, they can realise many significant benefits.
They can create new sources of economic growth, and lay the foundation for sustainable growth in the long term.
They can make our cities more resilient, more efficient, less polluted, and less congested.
They can make economic growth more inclusive growth, with for instance better access to jobs in more mobile urban populations, and more communities connected to decentralised power generation.
They can protect forests, land, ecosystems, water sources and biodiversity.”

And a telling statistic:

“The damages caused by air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels are immense, and of the order of US$3-4 trillion every year, according to an analysis published by the International Monetary Fund last year.”

There’s a lot more. Go to Climate Change News .com and read the whole thing.


Lord Stern may not have specifically promoted negative emissions, but according to Bloomberg the United Nations is actively considering geo-engineering to achieve this. 
Geo-engineering includes a range of technologies from carbon capture and storage (CCS) to mirrors in space. CCS would suck CO2 from the atmosphere, compress it and inject it into depleted oil wells where the theory is it would stay indefinitely. Mirrors in space could reflect back sunlight to reduce warming, sulphates in the upper atmosphere could generate clouds which would shade the earth and iron ore sprinkled across the oceans could stimulate organisms to grow and multiply and absorb CO2 in the process. The problem is that no-one knows with any certainty how any of these techniques will work, and what might happen if they went wrong. 

Dr. Phil Williamson of the University of East Anglia is co-author of a study released in February that concluded geo-engineering ideas were hazardous, costly or unrealistic.
“Risks of having local imbalances of climate are quite high, we’re not quite sure how it would turn out,” he said. “If you have a climate catastrophe, a flood or storm, the accusation will be that it resulted from your action in the atmosphere.”

Ecowatch  reports that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has concluded on the basis of this study that the chances of geo-engineering reducing global warming are "highly uncertain.” Many independent analysts have raised similar concerns. One report doubted that geoengineering could slow sea-level rise. Another said it could not arrest the melting of Arctic ice. A third study found that geoengineering would make things little better and might even make global warming worse.

Where does that leave us? If we intend to make radical reductions to global emissions we need to decarbonise the world’s transport fleet by converting it to electricity. Shipping and aircraft will be very difficult if not impossible to convert, and converting cars and commercial vehicles will take time and massive investment. We need to decarbonise space heating both at home and in industry. We could start reducing demand with insulation and encouraging people to accept lower temperatures. We need to decarbonise electricity generation and stop using fossil fuels - coal, gas and oil - in power stations. At the same time we’ll need to expand electricity generation to meet the new demands from transport and heating. Again, it will take time and investment. The key ingredient will be political will. There may not be much of that in the US now. There seems little sign of it in the UK. And in the rest of the world?

More about Renewables

Renewable energy is a proven path to low carbon electricity. A report commissioned by the Solar Trade Association has found that the cost of backing up solar generation and integrating it into the energy system is “negligible”. As battery technology advances in terms of storage capacity and costs fall, the problem of intermittency disappears. The combination of solar arrays with battery back-up means that supply can continue when the weather is cloudy. Of course this won’t work for extended periods of low light, but it should be able to smooth output on those days when fast-moving clouds can mean that sunshine and solar energy falling on the panels can double or treble in seconds, leading to a power surge. Equally batteries could maintain a constant supply when the sun goes back behind the clouds again. It is claimed that at sufficient scale the cost of intermittency for solar generation could be negative, meaning it would actually have a net benefit for the energy system.
Chair of the Energy Transitions Commission Lord Turner said: “[The report] confirms what an increasing number of analyses are now telling us – that we can build electricity systems with high shares of renewables such as solar and wind, using lower cost batteries, other storage technologies and demand management to deal effectively with intermittent supply.
“We should not be holding back from further renewables investment out of fear that we can’t keep the lights on.”


The Energy Transitions Commission is an international organisation funded by business and industry. Commissioners from all over the world include Al Gore and economist Lord Nicholas Stern.

Thor's Hammer

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal power stations. It stands on the juncture of two tectonic plates which causes substantial volcanic activity. Up till now geothermal power has been harvested by drilling down into hot rocks, injecting water and using the steam generated. This works at around 300℃. Thor’s Hammer, or the Iceland Deep Drilling Project (IDDP), aims to drill more than 4km into the earth’s crust and into the magma or molten rock which forms volcanic lava. At this depth they expect to find temperatures of 1,000℃ and at this temperature water becomes a supercritical fluid which can contain up to 10 times more heat than normal water. The plan is to pump this water to the surface and extract the heat - a not inconsiderable engineering challenge! Still, it will be renewable energy, with no carbon emissions. The population of Iceland is only 333,000, less than half the population of Leeds. There may be scope for exporting surplus electricity - indeed, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron spoke of an interconnector cable from Iceland to the UK. I wonder if Theresa May will pick it up the idea. Maybe when she’s finished sorting out Brexit. suggests that Brexit could certainly be a delaying factor.

Air Quality

And she’s also got to sort out the UK’s air quality problems. As reported previously, following action by legal pressure group ClientEarth the High Court ordered the government to take much stronger action to clamp down on the country’s air pollution crisis.  With 37 of the UK’s 43 urban zones in breach of legal nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits it’s clear that clean air zones will need to be introduced across most of the country. It seems that there will have to be much stronger action on diesel vehicles which we now know are far dirtier than we were led to believe, by VW and others. To ban private cars would be politically impossible, but expect older buses, taxis, coaches and lorries to be charged to enter city centres.

In the UK each year 96,000 people die from smoking, 3,674 from drug use, 1,732 from road accidents and 574 people are murdered. 
40,000 die from the effects of air pollution.

Read more at:

Whatever we do to meet the challenges of the future we’re going to have to think laterally, out of the box and so on. As I said in one of my presentations a while ago, business as usual is the road to ruin. The Disruptive Innovation Festival, DIF2016, is currently in progress and runs until 25th November. DIF2016 is an online, open access event that invites thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, businesses, makers and learners to explore the question “The economy is changing - what do I need to know, experience and do?”.

Alongside the 2016 main themes – System Reset, Regenerative Cities and The Future of Work – broader themes encompassed are; Design Innovation, Systems Thinking, Sharing Economy, Internet of Things, Regenerative Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, New Business Models, Materials and Energy and 21st Century Science. The event is coordinated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and involves organisations and universities across the world. Go to and find out more about anything from the circular economy and aspiring geeks to pioneering aquaculture and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing. Find all about it at 

Swansea Bay

A quick update on Swansea Bay. South Wales Evening Post reports “A LONG-AWAITED review into tidal lagoon energy has been delayed. It is due to recommend a final decision on the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon and was expected to be completed this autumn.

But a Government under-secretary, MP Jesse Norman, told the House of Commons today that the final report was now due by the end of the year.” I’ll watch out for it.


Recycling cycling

Finally an interesting item in Environment Times reveals that environmental regulations have teeth. At Leeds Crown Court Terence Solomon Dugbo was jailed for defrauding the electrical waste industry of £2.2m. He claimed that his company had collected and recycled 19,500 tonnes of household electrical waste in 2011, and he prepared a vast database of falsified paperwork to prove it. It took the Environment Agency nearly a year to go through it all, finding that it referred to vehicles, properties and streets that didn't exist. One vehicle was recorded as having made a journey carrying 991 TVs and 413 fridges. Further investigation revealed that this vehicle did exist, but it was a moped.

Mr Dugbo got seven and a half years.

Well, I hope you had a better week than he did. Mind you, if you’re in the US and you didn’t vote for Mr Trump maybe you don’t think so. But like us in the UK with Brexit, all you can do is roll with the punch.

And I’ll roll up again next week with another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. All being well it will be an interview, but no promises because although it’s recorded I haven’t edited it yet.

This is Anthony Day thanking you for listening, requesting your comments to, and wishing you a really good week. 

I’m off to a school to explain climate change to the students. See you next time!