Friday, February 02, 2018

Manifesto 2018

Here we are back again - finally.
Yes it's Friday. It's 2nd February and here is the first episode of the Sustainable Futures Report  for 2018.
I'm Anthony Day. 
Welcome to my podcast, welcome to my patrons, and a special welcome to Catherine Weetman of Rethink Solutions, my latest patron. Thanks for your support, Catherine.
As promised, this episode will be my manifesto for the coming year. I've been away and we've had a bit of a family crisis since I got back–largely now resolved–hence the delay in getting back into the routine.
While I've been away I've been reading. I've read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything followed by her latest: No Is Not Enough. I've read George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage and I picked up Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury to read on the plane. Plenty of food for thought.
In the News - Climate Change
First, let's look at some of the news stories which have come up since I last spoke to you. Last week I was asked to do a interview for Talk radio. They wanted to know about the new report which indicated that the effect of man-made climate change would not be as bad as expected. I tracked it down to a report in the journal Nature by a team from Exeter University. What they had actually said was that they thought that apocalyptic climate change which might occur as a result of 6°C warning had a less than 1% chance of actually happening. In fact anything over 4.5 degrees was extremely unlikely. They concluded that there was a 66% chance of warming falling in the range of 2.2° to 3.4°, with the most likely outcome of 2.8°. While they said that the ultimate worst-case scenario was extremely unlikely they reminded us that the Paris Agreement target was 2°, and anything above 1.5° was considered dangerous. So their work certainly didn't mean that we could slow down our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
Drought in Cape Town
When we got to the interview, which was with Eamon Holmes on his Drivetime show, he wanted to talk about the difference between apocalyptic and dangerous climate change and then moved on to ask me about the drought in Cape Town, South Africa. As it happened I had not heard about the drought at that stage, so could not offer any detailed insights beyond suggesting that they should use solar power to run desalination plants, tell everyone to use as little water as possible and ultimately distribute water only from tankers or standpipes in the street. I've since done my research and the situation in Cape Town looks pretty desperate. Apparently they have had two years of drought and the reservoirs are down to less than 30% of capacity. The city authorities first said that the taps would run dry on 21st April but they are now saying that this will happen on 12th April. They have lowered water pressure and cut off water altogether at certain times. People have been told to use not more than 87 litres of water per day, shortly to be reduced to 50 L. They have been asked to spend not more than two minutes in the shower. Not many people are taking any notice. Desalination plants are under construction. I'm told they will take two months to complete but that sounds extremely quick to me. People are stockpiling fresh water. Warehouses full of plastic water carriers are selling out daily. They are preparing for a black market in water as things get worse. It will be interesting to see if the authorities can deliver the remaining water fairly across all areas of the city, and avoid unrest and violence. 
It’s currently high summer in Cape Town and the average rainfall in February is 20mm or less than an inch, climbing to 100mm, about 4 inches, in July. That gives an annual total of 780mm or 31 inches. Compare that with Sydney, Australia, another coastal city on the same latitude as Cape Town. There they expect an average of 126mm in February, with a peak of 140mm or 5.5 inches in June, but the average total for the year is 1300mm, 51 inches, nearly twice as much. Strangely Manchester in the UK - famous for rain - only gets 34 inches (870mm) while London gets just 22 inches, (560mm) , which is less than Cape Town gets. Maybe it’s the fact that temperatures are so much lower and evaporation is less that makes droughts less frequent and less severe in the UK.
That’s the vagaries of climate, but we’re now witnessing the vagaries of climate change. Cape Town is the first major city in the world to face catastrophic drought. The fear is that it will not be the last.
And meanwhile Paris in France faces floods.
Plastic Planet
Blue Planet ll, David Attenborough's latest documentary, was the most watched programme of 2017 in the UK. In particular, the final episode which showed how discarded plastic was causing havoc to marine life has caught the public imagination. There are calls for an end to plastic packaging or even to ban the sale of water in plastic bottles. The UK bottled water market, including glass bottles, is worth £2.4 billion.
A new initiative was announced last week by the Water Council - a network of shops of all types where you can refill your water bottle free of charge. Actually it’s not new at all - regular listeners to the Sustainable Futures Report will remember that I reported on this in July. There’s an app which shows where your nearest refill point can be found. Just search for Refill. I understand that Starbucks, Costa and Premier Inns have agreed to be part of the network, although their locations don’t yet appear on the app. They should have a sticker in the window, though.
Some consumers have written to the media to say how they are unwrapping their purchases at the supermarket and leaving the wrapping behind for the supermarket to deal with. Yes, something must be done, but like with most sustainability issues the solution isn't that simple. Plastic packaging is attractive to manufacturers and distributors because it is cheap, it is light, it can be transparent, it is waterproof, hygienic and reduces waste by protecting the product from damage in transit. It’s possible to print on plastic, so there’s no need for an additional paper label to show the product description or instructions for use. Some people claim that paper should be used instead, but it’s not as versatile as plastic. It’s not transparent, it collapses when wet and can be less hygienic. And while paper can be recycled, both the production and the recycling processes involve large amounts of water and harsh chemicals. At least much more paper than plastic is recycled. In the UK plastic recycling varies from town to town, and much plastic that could be recycled goes to landfill or incineration. 
A Cunning Plan
We’ve recently seen the publication of the DEFRA 25-year plan, which has been promised for at least the last two years. That’s the UK’s Department for  the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 
It’s a very wide-ranging document with lots of good ideas for clean air, clean water, protecting plants and wildlife, dealing with climate change and reducing pollution and waste. There’s a plan to plant a new Northern Forest across the width of England. We'd prefer an upgraded railway, but that's another story. Yet another story is the high-speed rail link HS2, which will apparently destroy some 30 ancient woodlands along its route, but that’s for another day.
Commentators were quick to point out that no legislation to make all the good things in the DEFRA plan happen was announced. Launching the report, the prime minister said the government was committed to working to a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by end of 2042. Avoidable is a bit of a weasel word. She said that the 5p surcharge for plastic bags would be extended to all shops, not just the large ones, and the government would work with supermarkets to introduce a plastic-free aisle. Frozen food supermarket Iceland said it would eliminate plastic packaging from its own-brand product range by 2023. 
Small not necessarily Beautiful
The public is most aware of the plastic which litters the beaches and the ropes and nets and bottles which ensnare the fish and the turtles and the dolphins and the seals, and the plastic drinking straws which impale them. Plastic is an unseen killer as well. It can exist as micro-particles from detergents and cosmetics or it can break down into micro-particles from larger plastic fragments. These particles are absorbed by fish and sea creatures, displacing their food and poisoning them. Particles can float on the surface of the sea, absorbing other pollutants, and then they can sink down into the ocean carrying poisons to levels where they never normally penetrate. Even if we stop plastic pollution now, as we must, this pollution will remain for decades to come. 
Dirty Wheels
One source of pollution that we hardly ever think about is tyres. Tyres wear over time and it’s estimated that some 600,000 tonnes of tyre dust are shed by motor vehicles in the US alone. That dust is washed into the gutters, into streams and eventually into the oceans. What’s the solution? Well there are other materials that could be used, but they are, unsurprisingly, more expensive. And a tyre is a highly complex product. It needs to provide grip for braking and steering in all weathers, its design will directly affect fuel consumption and its design will also affect noise levels. In these days of ultra-quiet engines, most vehicle noise comes from the tyres. It’s a tall order for a material to meet all these requirements, be affordable and be environmentally friendly as well. Another difficult problem, but one we must solve.
VW Shoots Other Foot
Of course cars in general are a major source of CO2 and other pollution. However Volkswagen have attempted to rebuild their reputation by carrying out tests which involved exposing monkeys in sealed cages to diesel fumes. BMW and Daimler were involved as well. That went down well in the press.
Don’t Cook!
But don’t worry about cars. An academic paper now claims that microwave ovens could be just as bad. The study, carried out at Manchester University, used life cycle assessment (LCA) to estimate the impacts of microwaves, taking into account their manufacture, use and end-of-life waste management. Altogether, the research team investigated 12 different environmental factors, including climate change, depletion of natural resources and ecological toxicity. They found, for example, that the microwaves used across the EU emit 7.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. This is equivalent to the annual emission of 6.8 million cars. This will be linked partly to the electricity used by the ovens and partly to the energy consumed in the manufacturing and distribution process. Another important factor was that microwave ovens are frequently discarded long before the end of their useful lives. Consumers may just want a new one to match a new kitchen, or one with more functions.
Researchers are now planning to extend their work to examine other white goods like fridges and washing machines.
Don’t eat!
But there’s more! Apparently sandwiches are a serious source of pollution. Yes, it’s those people at Manchester University again. Professor Adisa Azapagic, from the university’s School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Sciences, said: ‘Consuming 11.5 billion sandwiches annually in the UK generates, on average, 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 eq, equivalent to the annual use of 8.6 million cars.’ Writing in the journal Sustainable Production and Consumption, the team said: ‘The estimated impact from ready-made sandwiches ranges from 739g CO2 eq for egg & cress to 1,441g CO2 eq for the bacon, sausage & egg option.’ Ready-made all-day breakfast sandwiches are the worst offenders. Sandwiches loaded with eggs, bacon and sausages have the highest carbon footprint of the meal deal world – generating 1,441 grams of CO2 eq. That’s the same amount of pollution that would be produced by driving a small car for 12 miles.
Don’t DrinkTea!
And somebody’s just discovered that there’s plastic in teabags!
The trouble with these scary headlines is that they just make people want to switch off. Should I stop driving? Stop making my healthy porridge in the microwave? Stop eating shop-bought sandwiches? Stop drinking tea? It’s all too hard. 
It’s more than tempting for the average consumer to say, “Let’s just assume that the scientists have got it wrong and carry on as normal. After all, my one sandwich can’t make a difference, can it? And I don’t drive an awful lot.” And look at the Australians. (I was there last month.) They put plastic straws in every drink, their supermarkets put your shopping in plastic bags without a thought or a surcharge and with petrol at the equivalent of 85p per litre they all drive really big cars. Having said that, I did visit an open-air food market in Fremantle, which had the stated objective of avoiding all plastic. My meal came on a cardboard tray with wooden cutlery and my coffee in a recyclable cup. Have a look at 
Maybe the responsible approach is to start from the opposite direction. Instead of cutting out cars, microwaves, teabags and sandwiches, analyse your carbon footprint. How is your personal carbon footprint built up? How can you modify your lifestyle to reduce it? Of course there are multiple ways of measuring carbon footprints. It’s time for an international standard. Should you consider carbon offsets? Patron Catherine Weetman draws my attention to Cool Effect Carbon Credits. There’s a link on the blog. On that page there’s a number of articles, including a justification for carbon offsets. Personally I’m not convinced. What do you think?
Catherine has sent me a lot more links for carbon footprinting. I’ll report on them in a future episode.
Winning the Carbon War
I heard from Jeremy Leggett last week. He says: ‘In a report entitled "Climate Change and The Insurance Industry", Lloyd's of London was advised as follows in February 1993: “It would behove the industry to look very closely at where all capital is invested. Fossil-fuel-related operations should be eschewed, and solar energy and energy-efficiency projects favoured.” ‘I remember that well,’ says Jeremy, ‘I wrote the report, and presented it at Lloyd's, before a large audience of worried-looking reinsurers.’
That was 1993.
On 21st January 2018 Lloyd's finally decided to divest from coal, the most dangerous fossil fuel in terms of climate change.
‘An issue arises here,’ says Jeremy, ‘By delaying a quarter of a century enacting what is surely such an obvious self-protection measure, how much damage has Lloyd's done to investors who have placed their trust in them, in the interim, when it comes to weather-related disasters?’ 
More on Solar
If you’re interested in solar energy there’s a TED Talk you should see. Search for Amar Inamdar, or find the full link here:
Where I go from Here
I promised you my manifesto. As I said to start with, I’ve read a number of important books over the last few weeks and they have influenced my thinking. No time to review them in detail here: I'll aim to do that next time. The overall message is that climate change is increasingly urgent and therefore it is urgent that we find ways of influencing our governments, our leaders and global corporations. I make no apology if future episodes of the Sustainable Futures Report have a more overt political tone. 
I’m just about to start researching for a Phd at Leeds Beckett University. It will take me 4 or 5 years. The actual topic of the thesis will be refined over the initial six months or so, but my objective is to examine why the denialists with their fantasies get much more attention from governments and policy-makers and the public than do scientists with their peer-reviewed research. I hope I shall be able to find a way of doing something about that and I hope I shall be able to do it before it's too late.
The other thing which is taking much of my time at the moment is the Smart Sustainable Cities Convention, which will take place in Leeds, UK, on 21st March 2019. I'm the director, so my initial task is to recruit sponsors–going well so far–and then to invite speakers and facilitators. Then I need to attract the delegates. I shall be marketing the event across the whole of Europe. Don't worry, we won't be leaving the EU until the week after the convention. The intention is that this event will be held annually in different cities across Europe, but for the moment I'm concentrating on this first event in Leeds. You can find more information on the website which is at
With all these things going on I'm having to take hard decisions about the Sustainable Futures Report. Initially at least I will be reducing the frequency to one episode per month. So the next edition will be on Friday, 2nd March. In between the monthly episodes I may have items from other speakers, so if you have a message to share please send me a 100 word summary of what you'd like to talk about and we'll discuss it. If we agree, you can then either send me an audio file that I can publish, or a script which I can read and record. Give it some thought. My aim is to please my listeners. After all if I don’t, everyone will stop listening.
Bye for Now
And this is where I stop this episode. Thank you for listening (reading) and if you are, thank you for being a patron. And if you're not you can join this exclusive band by going to and signing up to contribute anything from $1 per month towards my expenses in publishing and hosting the Sustainable Futures Report, like Catherine and all the others did. (Sorry it’s not in £ sterling, but it’s an American site)
That’s it.
I’m Anthony Day.
I'll be back on 2nd March. Maybe before. 
Have a great February

Bye for now.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Touring the Archive

Find the podcast here.

Happy Christmas! 

Well very nearly. This is the final Sustainable Futures Report for 2017. The next episode will be in mid to late January 2018. This is for two reasons. The first is that I am travelling a bit between now and then and the other is that I have just been accepted by Leeds Beckett University to research for a PhD in sustainability. It's a part time course, but it will still require considerable work. I'm going to have to weigh things up and see whether or not it is compatible with continuing to do the Sustainable Futures Report on a weekly basis.
This year I have published 43 episodes and I thought you might not have caught up with them all. With all the time you’re going to have over Christmas and New Year it's an ideal opportunity to have a look through the archive. In fact if you go into the archives you’ll find it goes right back to 2007 with about 200 separate episodes.

You might also want to watch this TED Talk...

... which Catherine Weetman brought to my attention. There are so many good things on TED Talks that it’s horrendously difficult to find the time to watch enough of them. This one is called: “Got apocalypse fatigue? How to have a real conversation about global warming.” It’s by psychologist Per Espen Stokes, and it’s well worth the 15 minutes.

Let's look what I've covered in 2017.

 If you've listened to this you've obviously found where all the audio files are. If you are going through iTunes you will actually find there is more detail about each individual episode on WWW.SUSBIZ.BIZ . And of course the text of nearly every episode, containing the links to my sources, can be found at . I've put the links in for your convenience and also to help me remember where I got my stories from.

I’m quite proud of some of my titles. 

Greenwash Backwash Backlash - Keep on Keeping Left - Islands of Dreams - The Only Way is Ethics - How Smart is your Meter? - Baby it’s Coal Outside. These episodes covered a wide range of issues. Was I right to attack Greenpeace over their criticism of HSBC financing palm oil? A courier company plans its routes in the UK to maximise the number of left turns because this minimises delay and minimises fuel consumption. (It’s right turns in other countries which drive on the right) Then there are plans to build an island in the North Sea to be the central point for the cables coming from all the wind farms, and what are the business ethics of dealing with global warming and sustainability? How Smart is your Meter? Well, at the second attempt, our supplier has now installed a working smart meter in our house, monitoring our gas and electricity consumption and giving us a constant read-out. Some say that the whole of the UK smart meter programme is ill-conceived, over budget and technologically lacking. Sounds like another episode on that will be coming up. Energy has had wide coverage, from the US decision to promote coal at the recent COP 23 climate conference in Bonn, continuing comments over the Hinckley C nuclear power station, likely to be the single most expensive object in the world, and I've also spoken about transport–everything from HS2 the UK's high speed rail system to electric cars and just a couple of weeks ago hydrogen powered cars.
I have talked about weather and climate change, about plastic pollution and waste, about insecticides and bees. My most popular episode came in June, called “Who's afraid of the big bad Trump?” We've certainly moved on since then. Not sure how happy we all are with the direction of travel.

That's just a very brief summary of topics covered. 

If you go to you can search for your favourite keywords and find the episodes of most interest to you.
And I'm going to leave you to go and do just that. Before that, let me wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and let me thank my patrons whose contributions have helped me cover some of the costs of running this podcast throughout 2017.

If you would like to be a patron... 

pop over to and find out all about it. Well, this is the season of giving after all.
And that's it for now.
I’m Anthony Day, that was the Sustainable Futures Report and I'll be back with you all next year.

Friday, December 01, 2017

The Copper Opportunity

Hello again. This is Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, 1st December. Not long till Christmas! 
Last week I spoke about hydrogen, the lightest, simplest and one of the most common elements in the world, and one that could be vital to our low carbon future. This week I'm going to talk about copper, another element which will be equally important as we rely less on fossil fuels and more on electricity. Next week I have an interview with George Monbiot, but more about that later.

First let's talk about copper.

Anthony Day (ACD): Well, my guest today is Fleming Voetmann, who is Vice President of Public Affairs for the International Copper Association. Welcome, Fleming!
Fleming Voetmann (FV): Thanks so much. Thanks for having me.
ACD: OK, can you start off just by telling the listeners exactly what the International Copper Association is and what its objectives are?
FV: Absolutely. So, we represent the entire copper industry – that meaning everything from the mining of copper to the production of copper products and also the recycling industry, which is quite significant. So, you can really say it’s the entire value chain of copper. And the aim of the industry is, of course, to work on the interests of the industry – so that is both in terms of technology development, market development, but also, you could say, in tag team with government in Washington and Brussels and Beijing and other places around policy issues, regulatory issues that would impact the copper industry. 
ACD: Right, I see, and no doubt, promoting the sale, development, and use of copper. 

Low Carbon

FV: Yeah, and you could say that the big thing for our industry, of course, is that transitioning towards a low-carbon future. And for us, you could say, one thing is, it’s the right thing to do. But for us, it’s also a really, really good business case. Basically since Thomas Edison and, you know, his peers back in the 1880s rolled out the electricity grid. Copper has been very essential to modern life and goes in everything we would use, whether it’s electricity, you know, powering different kinds of functions – housing, heating, cooling – but when you move into low-carbon future, you’re actually going to use significantly more copper. So, McKinsey estimates about 40% more copper is needed in the low-carbon future. So, to kind of simplify it for the listeners, one of the reasons is that if you take a combustion engine car, and you now go to an electric vehicle, you actually end up using approximately four times more copper. So, for obvious reasons, we support that transition into low carbon, and we’re also committed to actually help that transition. 

Electric Cars

ACD: Right, ok – well, there’s been a lot in the press and the media recently about the electric car. The copper, presumably, goes into the motors, but it also goes into the transmission network because we need all these charging points. And the current grid is just not up to that. Is it?
FV: No, absolutely not. So, you could say the car itself – the powertrain, the cables, the wires, and, of course, it’s the charging infrastructure and so on which is quite essential.

Air Conditioning

ACD: Yeah, ok. You also mentioned on your website about air conditioning. This is copper tubes rather than copper wires.
FV: Yeah. You could say that copper is the best conductor of electricity but it’s also the best conductor of heating and cooling. So, I guess historically a lot of the development in the world, in the United States and Europe, of course, we had a lot of heating demand, but also a lot of air conditioning and how the world develops with what you could say hundreds of millions of people who were in poverty in China, Southeast Asia, moving into the middle class, which is a good thing to lift them out of poverty – that’s the part of the world where in the future you’ll see a big demand for air conditioning, but also refrigeration of food and other essentials. So, you see good development there but that also just requires that you can say some of the other things that other people might take for granted – where there’s air conditioning, refrigeration, and so on – that we talk about maybe close to a billion new people in the middle class. And that requires, of course, that we provide it to them. But we also need to provide it to them in a sustainable fashion. And they shouldn’t make our mistakes. That’s also a key thing into that sort of sustainability challenge that we have in front of us.
ACD: Yeah, an interesting thing is, of course, the other side of it is that if we are actually going to move to electricity for heating, and I think we probably will, then there may well be a lot of scrap copper pipes coming out, which will be recycled because…
FV: Hopefully.


ACD: I believe that something between two-thirds and three-quarters of all copper that’s ever been mined is still in use because it’s been recycled.
FV: That’s correct. 
ACD: How does your industry actually support and encourage recycling?
FV: You could say you have, you mentioned the buildings and stuff like that that hopefully is around for a very, very long time so that might take a lot of time before it’s recycled. What may be recycled today is the installations from the 1950s and the 1960s. So, what’s important for us is, you could say, that that is actually collected so it doesn’t end up in a landfill to begin with, and then our members, of course, are looking at sort of maximizing and getting the most out of their copper, but also trying to eliminate any kind of contaminations that were due to whatever environmental practices we had in the past. Lead is one thing, mercury, and so on. But then, the other huge business, of course, is – one thing is the buildings, and they’re hopefully a many hundred years – but the other thing is dealing with electronic waste. So, where people today are buying a phone, and, you know, 18 months later they need a new phone; they buy a computer, and two years later, they need a new computer. And there we also need to optimize how we collect and recycle all the materials. A couple of our members in Europe – Boliden in Sweden, Aurubis in Germany – they’re they world’s two largest recyclers of electronic waste. And we’ve recycled a lot of waste, but there’s still a lot of waste out there that could be recycled and that for sure shouldn’t end up in a landfill and it’s actually quite a good business case to recycle that. So, that’s one of the things that we work with the industry, but also work with policymakers – whether that’s in Beijing, Brussels, or elsewhere – to kind of facilitate and actually get that recycling going.

Design for Recycling

ACD: Right, now do you work with people like the phone and computer manufacturers to assist them to design things so they can be more easily recycled? Because that’s really one of the foundations of the circular economy. If you can’t take it to bits, then you can’t recycle it, in many cases.
FV: No. That’s a huge challenge. Are we there yet? I think no. We’re absolutely not there yet. I still figure there’s way more room for improvement when it comes to design for recycling, right? And of course one of the main points there is the batteries themselves. So, yes, that’s definitely something we talk with the electronics industry about. That’s something we talk with the auto manufacturers about, that you need to design for recycling. That would simply make it more environmentally friends, and of course often also a better business case. We try and eliminate whatever toxic materials that could be entwined into some of these products, so we’re doing ok, but there’s still room for improvement with the sort of design. 

Mining for More

ACD: Now, looking at the infographic on your website, which talks about the circular economy, it suggests that a third of global demand is met through recycling. But that means that two-thirds has to come from virgin material, if you’d like. And some people are already talking about peak copper – in other words, the fact that as you search for more and more, the ores are of lower and lower grade, you have to dig out more and more material. But global demand is steady, if not increasing. So how are you going to sort that problem out?
FV: Sure, so I think there are a couple positive attributes of the global copper research. We estimate – or rather, the U.S. Geological Service has estimated this resource for about 200 years. And you’re right that you could say that the quality of some of the copper ores is less than what it was maybe 50-100 years ago. But of course, at the same time, the production mechanisms also become more and more efficient. So, it becomes complicated, but of course, you know that the efficiency also goes up. So, I still think that there’s reason to be fairly optimistic, that you still have an abundance. Because I think that’s important because in addition to that is that you have copper mining literally all over the world in all of the continents. I think that’s equally important. Of course, you need the abundance, but you also want to avoid any geopolitical risks, and I think that’s a huge benefit of copper. You have Chile, of course the world’s largest mining country, other countries in Latin America, you have copper mining in Europe, you have copper mining in the U.S., in Asia and Africa. So, there’s an abundance and you avoid some of those geopolitical risks to your supply chain. 

And the Environment?

ACD: On the website, again, you talk about environmental conditions and concerns. You talk about copper pollution. You talk about bio availability, and you admit that in some cases copper can actually get to a level where it poisons plants and organisms. But equally, I think I’m right that copper is essential as a trace element to help some plants actually grow. I think, I know environmentalists listen to this, and I’m sure they’re going to have some questions. And I don’t think they’re going to be so concerned with the contamination from copper itself. It’s the byproducts of the actual refining, and extraction and smelting.
FV: Sure.
ACD: Now, the trouble is, of course, this has been going on for hundreds of years. There’s a case in point – there’s a refinery in Peru, which you probably know about. It’s Arroya. It’s been there a hundred years. It’s gone bankrupt, and nobody will touch it because during the hundred years, the contamination is absolutely immense. I’m quite sure you do an awful lot these days to prevent that level of contamination in new minings, but there’s this legacy problem, and obviously people are going to be very concerned that extraction is a dirty business.
FV: Yeah, absolutely. So I think a couple of points to that. I think absolutely there is a legacy of how people were operating in the 1920s and 1950s and the 1960s. And in all fairness, there’s also been huge improvements ever since. We, every year, do a survey among our members and see how much money do they invest in making their operations more sustainable, and that follows simply just the accounting rules set out by GRI and others and so on, and it’s around $20 billion every year. $20 billion they spend on that. And of course, a lot of that has to do with environmental regulation, labor safety, and so on. So, I think, $20 billion, that’s a lot of money that goes into it. And there’s a constant improvement of all of that. Some of the factories you go to Hamburg, you have Aurubis, we said before is one the world’s largest recycler of electronic waste, they are in the middle of the Hamburg city. The city, of course, was very different a long time ago. Now, all of the sudden, they’re in the middle of the city. That, of course, means they every year invest a lot of money in you can say reducing any kind of air pollution, but also noise, water, whatever. So there’s just been a development over the decades of, you know, when you started the business it was outside the city. All the sudden you’re inside the city. And you want to develop with the cities, right? I’ve visited a lot of these mines. I visit a lot of the production sites. I’m quite impressed with what they do. Is there still work that needs to be done? Absolutely. And, you know, they continue and are very committed to doing that. One of the dilemmas that I think would be to your listeners is of course is that also some of our members are the big multinational companies that maybe years ago a lot of people were slightly unhappy about, but one of the advantages they have of being the multinationals is that they are held accountable in many different jurisdictions across the globe by people like yourself, by the NGOs, and by other people. And that has an enormous advantage because they need to pay attention. And of course they have the leverage of being large scale, so one improvement they do at one mine in the world is easier for them to transfer that know-how to another mine in some other part of the world – whether it’s air pollution, whether it’s water recycling, and so on, and so on. But I think there’s a lot of progress being made out there, and they will continue to do that. 

Sustainability Report

ACD: Ok, well that’s good news. Can we expect the industry – or your organization, perhaps – to publish a sustainability report? An annual report? 
FV: Yeah, we do that actually already. So we have on what’s called, we have what is the equivalent of a sustainability report in there with 10 different indicators. The listeners can go into and have a look at those different indicators. So we have about I think 5 years we’ve done the indicators so people can also track progress over time. The good news is, for example, when you come to labor conditions, working safety, you see improvement year by year. Water recycling you see significant improvement on that. Investments in sustainability goes up. The only weak spot we have, in all fairness, is actually energy and carbon emissions. And the other is of course what some people say is the most important – and that’s just in full disclosure – is absolutely one of the biggest challenges that we have. That we are an energy-intensive industry. And we are very much dependent on the host country – so to say the regions we’re in, what kind of energy mix they have. Because some of the mines might have on-site production and a lot of them are sourced from local grid. So there, you can say our carbon emissions are often a reflection of whatever the decisions of the surrounding societies have made. 
ACD: Right, yes. Because I imagine you use quite a lot of energy, and while you might be able to put up solar panels and wind turbines you’d need a lot for the sort of things you’re doing.
FV: That’s true.
ACD: But, what about the water aspect? Because, from my limited knowledge, water is a major component of the refining process. You actually use electrolysis, don’t you? You use sulfuric acid. What happens to the sulfuric acid afterwards?
FV: So the sulfuric acid is a byproduct that’s actually sold today for – well, one of the applications would be for fertilizers. The water recycling is in our sustainability indicators, and the water recycling goes up year by year. And a lot of the sites have very, very high rates of water recycling. And, again, that’s the right thing to do but it’s simply also a good business case and it’s kind of the commitment they have to the local communities because a number of big mines are located in areas where water is a scarce resource.
ACD: Exactly.
FV: So that also means that if you look at Latin America today, some of the mines are in areas that are basically desolate – where water is simply scarce. So, water recycling is strategy #1. The second strategy is desalination. And there, of course, you know with desalination, which is great, but the challenge with desalination is that it is again energy intensive. So that puts more pressure on than if we need to convert to renewable energy and we need to be even more innovative in the desalination process, but also how do we handle that? And there are things, you know – there are opportunities in front of us also to work with the local communities – the farmers who need the water, they might be closer to the ocean, so they might get the desalinated water so they don’t have to pump it all the way to the mine. Then the mine can use a little bit more of the local water. There’s many ways to do that, but again the key to it is try to work with the local communities to figure out how do we do that. But water is really, really important.
ACD: Yes, so in summary, then, are you confident that industry is going to be able to meet the challenge of this move to – well, basically – a move to a greater usage of electricity?
FV: Yeah, I think so. I think the – again, you know, there is abundance. There is copper in many places all over the world, you know. So you could say some of the issues that you may have on other materials – that could be like phosphate, or others – where you know the abundance might be in a few countries here. We work in quite a number of countries. I think that’s a huge, huge advantage. There’s still also a pretty significant untapped potential for recycling. We see that with all of the electronic waste – the amount of electronic waste is just going up. But there is also iPhones and computers that unfortunately end up in a landfill where they shouldn’t end up. So let’s start recycling them. And there, I think there’s a number of countries across the globe that can improve on actually the collecting of all that waste. So there again there’s an untapped potential and actually a pretty good business case for that. 

The Future

ACD: But all in all, you’re optimistic about the future.
FV: I’m super optimistic only because I think, again, the world is going to need copper, and my members are very committed to providing it but also providing it in a very sustainable fashion. And again, you know, that also comes from – I think it comes from a very good relationship with the NGOs and with loads of environmentalists is that we want electric vehicles, we want wind and solar energy. But we only want it if it’s produced sustainably. So we have good alignment of our interests here. We want to facilitate that low-carbon transition, but we also know that we need to deliver on that sustainability all the way back to the mine sites.
ACD: Fleming, that’s been a very interesting conversation. Thank you very much for your time. I’m sure it will lead – I hope it will lead to some responses and questions when we broadcast this, but that’s great. Thank you.
FV: Excellent, thank you so much.

And finally...

That was Fleming Voetmann, who is Vice President of Public Affairs for the International Copper Association. You can find out more at and those recycling companies he mentioned are Aurubis in Germany,, and Boliden in Sweden,
Next week, as I mentioned at the start, we have an interview with George Monbiot. He’s an author and campaigner on environmental, sustainability and political issues. He’s written eight books and there’s a new one just out, and he’s a regular columnist for The Guardian newspaper. That’s next week - Friday 8th December.
For now that’s all from the Sustainable Futures Report. If you like what I do please don’t forget and don’t forget to listen next week.
I’m Anthony Day.

Bye for now.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Lighter than Air

Is Hydrogen the Fuel of the Future?

It's Friday. It's 24th November. I'm Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report. Thank you for listening wherever you are in the world, and listeners to the last episode were in 40 different countries; predominantly the UK and the United States, but increasingly in Australia, (G’day - I’ll be there next month), regular listeners in Canada and a big hello to my one listener in the Cayman Islands. Maybe that's my bank manager on holiday. Thank you to my patrons. More about patrons at the end of this episode, and thank you to all those who have got in touch with suggestions and ideas.

This week I'm going to talk about hydrogen. The big question is, 

“Is Hydrogen the Fuel of the future?”

The first supplementary questions are, “What will the fuel of the future look like? What characteristics must it have? What are we going to use it for?”

What characteristics must our fuel of the future have? 
There are several undesirable characteristics of the fossil fuels that provide much of our energy at present, which is why we are considering moving away from them. The principal reason is pollution. Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide when burnt; carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to climate change, or what some would prefer to call the climate crisis. Fossil fuels also emit particulates, which is really a fancy name for soot: microscopic fragments which pollute the atmosphere, which we all inevitably breathe in and which can cause long-term lung damage and disease. 
Energy Density
There’s no doubt that fossil fuels have desirable characteristics which we would like our fuel of the future to share. For example, petrol and diesel are energy-dense, which means that just a small volume can contain enough energy to do a significant amount of work. It’s been calculated that one gallon of gasoline contains the energy-equivalent of between 2 days and 2 weeks of human labour, (depending on what the human is doing, and there is a very wide range of estimates - links on the blog.) Nevertheless, all that energy is concentrated in one container which anyone could carry. 

I hesitate to say that fossil fuels are cheap, but at least they are affordable. Our ideal fuel must compete on price or show very clear advantages to justify a higher cost. Our ideal fuel must not emit greenhouse gases, particulates or other pollutants like sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide, and depending on the application, it must be at least as energy-dense and portable as fossil fuels.

What about storage?
Coal, petrol, diesel and gasoil can all be relatively easily stored at ambient temperature and ambient pressures. Of course the right sort of container is needed to prevent leakage, fires or explosions, but this is all relatively low-tech. Natural gas is more demanding in that it has to be delivered by pipeline at carefully controlled pressure, but the national gas grid is well established and runs safely and reliably without any of us thinking about it much.
At this point I think we should talk about electric batteries which are becoming an increasingly important method of storing energy. There is a tremendous amount of research going in to improve batteries, but at the moment they are not nearly as energy dense as petrol or diesel. They also require conflict minerals in their manufacturer: materials that come from war-torn failed states, some of them with child miners guarded by child soldiers. And once the batteries reach the end of their lives there is much more than an empty metal tank to recycle. Let’s look at production and distribution. 
How will our ideal fuel measure up on that?
Oil has a long-established supply chain between refineries and consumers. Industries can be served by rail tanker or pipeline. Home heating fuel is delivered by road tankers. Petrol stations are far less numerous than they used to be, but most motorists live within a mile or so of their nearest one. The other side of the refinery, the upstream side, can be more problematic. Crude oil can be delivered to the refinery by ship or by pipeline but the ultimate source of the oil is increasingly controversial. While new techniques mean that more oil can be recovered from reserves than was previously possible, oil companies have been forced to exploit wells in increasingly hostile environments like the Arctic regions and the deep oceans. It's not always successful, and BP's Deepwater Horizon is only one example of things which have gone spectacularly wrong. 
The oil and the gas markets have been revolutionised by the spread of fracking in the United States. By injecting high-pressure water into the crevices in shale and oil-bearing rock, producers have been able to extract oil and gas. Not without controversy. Many claim that there are risks of polluting the water table and drinking water supplies. They claim that fracking for natural gas can release fugitive methane emissions, and methane is a significantly more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. (Some say 20 times as bad, some say 120 times.) Some countries, like France and Scotland have put a total ban on fracking. In England preliminary drilling has taken place and protesters have been arrested. It is expected that the Secretary of State will shortly give approval for production to start. Apparently the decision has been held over, because it was not considered to be a good idea to announce the approval during the recent COP 23 climate conference in Bonn.
Our ideal fuel should not cause GHG emissions from the production process, and ideally should be distributed using existing pipelines and tankers.

Using it
According to Wikipedia, 20% of energy is used in residential and commercial buildings and a further 26% by transport. The remaining 54% is consumed by industry.
Our ideal fuel should serve all those needs.
How does Hydrogen measure up?

First of all - is it clean?
Hydrogen releases energy either in an internal combustion engine - like the engine of a petrol car - or in a fuel cell. The internal combustion engine is attractive, because it’s existing technology and only needs a modification to the fuel delivery system. There's a company in the United Kingdom which will convert to your road vehicle all your stationary engine to run on hydrogen. For some reason they're based in Shetland, equidistant from Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Norway. Hydrogen burnt in an internal combustion engine is very clean. The process produces pure water and very low levels of nitrous oxides.
The fuel cell is a completely different technology from the internal combustion engine. It is fed with hydrogen and produces electricity, some heat and pure water. The most important difference between the fuel cell and the internal combustion engine running on hydrogen is that the internal combustion engine is about 20 to 25% efficient, whereas the fuel cell is closer to 60% efficient. Carmakers BMW and Ford have produced internal combustion engined cars running on hydrogen but Toyota has chosen to go with fuel cells. A small company in Wales, UK, has developed a fuel cell car with some quite innovative ideas. I strongly recommend you watch the video. Search for riversimple hydrogen cars, or find the link on the blog at  
What about energy density?

Liquid hydrogen has a very high energy density. This is great for space rockets where it has been used successfully to blast them into orbit. The problem with using liquid hydrogen in other applications is that it boils at 20° Kelvin which is about -253°C. It takes vast amounts of energy to cool hydrogen to this level and masses of insulation to keep it cool.
Toyota’s Mirai fuel-cell car takes 5kg of hydrogen and needs to store it at 700 bar (that’s around 10,000psi) to reduce it to an acceptable volume. That gives a range of around 300 miles or just under 500 kilometres. Commercial vehicles; lorries, buses, trains can all use hydrogen. They can use bigger storage tanks which will still be much smaller in relation to the payload than that in a passenger car. Stationary engines or static fuel cells have far less constraint on space for fuel storage, so the tanks can be bigger and can operate at lower pressure.
Storing and distributing hydrogen  
Storage and distribution are an issue. There are only three public hydrogen filling stations in the UK at present, although more are planned. The existing infrastructure of tankers and pipelines used for oil and natural gas can certainly not be used for hydrogen. [Unless the iron gas mains have been replaced with plastic] According to Wikipedia, “Hydrogen poses a number of hazards to human safety, from potential detonations and fires when mixed with air to being an asphyxiant in its pure, oxygen-free form.[126] In addition, liquid hydrogen is a cryogen and presents dangers (such as frostbite) associated with very cold liquids.[127] Hydrogen dissolves in many metals, and, in addition to leaking out, may have adverse effects on them, such as hydrogen embrittlement,[128] leading to cracks and explosions.[129] Hydrogen gas leaking into external air may spontaneously ignite. Moreover, hydrogen fire, while being extremely hot, is almost invisible, and thus can lead to accidental burns.”
The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy publishes guidance on hydrogen storage and related challenges.

Hydrogen production
There are two main processes for the production of hydrogen. The first is extraction from natural gas. Natural gas is principally made up of methane and the chemical formula is CH4, which means one carbon atom to four hydrogen atoms. Stripping out the hydrogen leaves the carbon which reacts with oxygen in the extraction process and produces CO2 or carbon dioxide. Thus a hydrogen engine or fuel cell can be almost completely clean in operation, but the CO2 emissions have been released at the point of hydrogen production. It's a similar argument to electric power. Electricity is totally clean at the point of use, but it may have come from a polluting power station.
The other process is electrolysis, which involves passing an electric current through water. Water is H2O, two hydrogen atoms to one of oxygen, and the process splits them apart. There are no greenhouse gas emissions, but electrolysis is not very efficient and the hydrogen produced can contain as little as 40% of the energy in the electricity used. This may make sense where there is excess renewable electricity, but it is a very inefficient use of electricity produced by a traditional gas, coal or nuclear-power station.
What it costs
The currently UK pump price makes the fuel cost per mile comparable with a petrol or diesel car, although hydrogen is significantly more expensive than gasoline at the pump in the US. Are very few hydrogen cars on the road at present, but the Toyota Mirai is on sale at £65,000. That's about US$85,000. It's an expensive car although it's designed to be a luxury car and is still less expensive than the Tesla Model S, their pure electric vehicle. At this stage Toyota prefer to lease the Mirai rather than sell it outright. Interestingly the River Simple hydrogen car company in Wales is planning the same approach.
In summary,
How does hydrogen measure up?
  • It’s almost totally clean and emission-free at the point of use.
  • The cost of fuel is currently about the same per mile as petrol or diesel.
  • A hydrogen car can be refuelled as quickly as a petrol car and much faster than an electric car.
  • Current methods of production are either very inefficient produce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There is no distribution infrastructure at present, apart from three vehicle filling stations in the UK, and similarly small numbers in the United States and in some European countries.
  • Hydrogen cannot be distributed using existing tankers or pipelines. These must be built specifically for transporting hydrogen.
On balance, hydrogen doesn’t look like a good idea, but there’s a whole lot more to this story.
Hydrogen Council
Apart from Toyota; BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan and many others are all working on hydrogen fuel cell cars. These companies are members of the Hydrogen Council and so are Shell, Total, Statoil, Mitsubishi and other major corporations. At COP23 in Bonn last week they claimed that hydrogen could power between 10 and 15 million cars by 2030. Clearly they expect the problems to be overcome. The Nikola Corporation is launching its hydrogen-powered Nikola One truck, with a million miles free hydrogen fuel. Do look at their website - - it’s very detailed.
There is promising research into new methods of extracting hydrogen cleanly from natural gas. It has been known that metallic catalysts can trap the carbon and prevent it from reacting to become CO2. The problem is that the surface of the metal soon becomes coated with carbon and absorption stops. Now scientists have developed a process which involves bubbling natural gas through a molten metal catalyst. The hydrogen is released and the carbon floats to the surface of the metal as a solid.
Other researchers have developed a solar-powered electrolysis system using cheaper materials for the electrodes and incorporating super-capacitor storage. No data is available yet on the efficiency of this process.
In Japan researchers have found a compound which allows them to create hydrogen from water using near infra-red light.
In January, in Brussels, Belgium, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Energy Summit takes place. Sadly I can’t go. Over two days, followed by site visits, they will be talking about
Overview of the actual hydrogen and fuel cells market
Latest technologies involved in the renewable sources
Policy and regulations
Power-to-gas solutions
Decarbonisation of the energy sector
Hydrogen storage improvements
Security aspects in hydrogen production, storage and distribution
Monetisation advice and partnership
Hydrogen mobility applications
Integration and standards

One of the conference partners is Hydrogenics, a Canadian company with branches across the world. They were also involved in last week’s Hydrail Symposium staged in Toronto. The Ministry of Transportation and rail operator Metrolinx invited industry leaders to take a look at how hydrogen fuel cell technology could potentially electrify the entire Ontario rail network. Without overhead wires. There was a live web cast of the event and the archive recording is still available on the website. Links to this and many other things that I've covered in this episode are on the blog at as always.
The Hydrogenics company offers a whole range of energy solutions involving hydrogen. A link to their website is below.
And finally,
And this is a very important part of the hydrogen story. I'm coming closer to home, to Leeds in West Yorkshire in United Kingdom.
Leeds City Gate - H21 is a plan to establish a hydrogen economy in Leeds. 
Let me quote from the Executive Summary of the report:

“The H 21 Leeds City Gate Project is a study with the aim of determining the feasibility, from both a technical and economic viewpoint, of converting the existing natural gas network in Leeds, one of the largest UK cities, to 100% hydrogen.
The project has been designed to minimise disruption for existing customers and to deliver heat at the same cost as current natural gas to customers.
The project has shown that:
  • The gas network has the correct capacity for such a conversion
  • It can be converted incrementally with minimal disruption to customers
  • Minimal new energy infrastructure will be required compared to alternatives
  • The existing heat demand for Leeds can be met via steam methane reforming and salt cavern storage using technology in use around the world today
The project has provided costs for the scheme and has modelled these costs in a regulatory finance model.
In addition, the availability of low-cost bulk hydrogen in a gas network could revolutionise the potential for hydrogen vehicles and, via fuel cells, support a decentralised model of combined heat and power and localised power generation.”

Now that’s a vision!
Is hydrogen the fuel of the future? 
What do you think? 
I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

And that's it for another week. I'm Anthony Day. Thank you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report. By the way, I told you last week that I was going to commission some researchers to write articles for this podcast. I asked them to write about hydrogen. You should have seen the rubbish I got. It might have suited an encyclopaedia. Come to think of it, that's probably where they got it from. No, as usual, I have written and researched all this myself. If you like it please get in touch and let me know. If you don't like it please get in touch and tell me why. 
Next week we are in December and next week’s Sustainable Futures Report will be devoted to another element: this time it’s copper. The week after that, 8th December, we have an interview with George Monbiot which you certainly shouldn't miss. After that I'm going to take some time off until after Christmas. I expect you'll want some time off too.
If you're thinking of Christmas presents, well why don't you sign up as a patron of the Sustainable Futures Report? Just go to  where you’ll find all the details. I'm grateful to all my current patrons and their contributions to covering the expenses of running this podcast. You know who you are. Thank you all - wherever you are in the world.
And yes, that is it for this week. Have a great week.
 I will catch up again on 1 December. 
This is Anthony Day. 
That was the Sustainable Futures Report. 
That's all for now.

Hydrogen Production
Energy Density
Cars and road vehicles


Fuel Cell v Internal Combustion Engines

Organisations, Conferences and Plans