This startup is turning waste plastic into the very roads we use every day

Posted on March 23rd, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Plastic is a problem. It’s a problem that Scottish startup MacRebur is taking on one mile at a time.


MacRebur is aiming to challenge three major world issues: Repurposing millions of tonnes of waste plastic, saving millions in the cost of road repairs and strengthening our existing roads. The idea for the startup was born when CEO and co-founder Toby McCartney - who happens to live on a road plagued by potholes himself (delete ‘himself’) - visited India and witnessed people melting down plastic they found on local landfill sites to repair potholes. While the method he witnessed on that trip wasn’t particularly environmentally practical, McCartney left with the idea of using waste plastic to replace and reinforce the roads here in the UK and beyond.

Both potholes and waste plastic are potentially hazardous - uneven road surfaces increase the likelihood of road accidents, whereas plastic lying dormant in landfill sites is harmful to our environment. Repurposing that waste plastic to work towards improving the safety of our roads whilst creating stronger, more resilient roads that will stand the test of time is at the heart of MacRebur, and their startup is hitting the road hard.

So how does it work?

While McCartney’s trip to India saw him witness waste plastic being crammed into potholes, doused in petrol and set alight, MacRebur’s approach to using plastic in new and existing road composition has a little more strategy and environmentally conscious thought behind it. Rather than simply filling holes with the plastic that may wear away faster than traditional road materials, MacRebur is pelletising a mix of waste plastics and adding them to existing road materials, strengthening the material used to fill potholes and create new roads.

Traditional road materials such as asphalt and bitumen are costly - road repairs are funded from the tax-payers’ purse, making innovation in this space in the greater interest of everyone and their neighbour. By adding the waste plastic pellets to the road the cost of producing the material is reduced, waste plastic is recycled effectively and the roads themselves will last longer - a win-win situation for all.

The company has conducted extensive testing into just how well these roads will perform, and has created road surfaces for lorry parks, airport runways and council roads. The company hopes that their expertise will help to change the way we build roads and recycle waste plastic in the UK, Europe and eventually worldwide, and as the 2016 winner of the Virgin Media Business Voom competition the company has gained national support for their venture. Its success in this competition has helped the team build their business from an idea to a tried and tested offering, and with its funding mission in full swing, the team seem to be on the right road to changing the way we travel for the better. 


Germany Converts Coal Mine Into Giant Battery Storage for Surplus Solar and Wind Power

Posted on March 21st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



 Germany is embarking on an innovative project to turn a hard coal mine into a giant battery that can store surplus solar and wind energy and release it when supplies are lean.

The Prosper-Haniel coal mine in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia will be converted into a 200 megawatt pumped-storage hydroelectric reservoir that acts like a giant battery. The capacity is enough to power more than 400,000 homes, Governor Hannelore Kraft said, according to Bloomberg.

Pumped storage planUniversity of Duisburg-Essen

Founded in 1863, the Prosper-Haniel coal mine produces 3,000,000t/y of coal and is one of the few active coal mines remaining in Germany. But the mine is slated for closure in 2018, when federal subsidies for the industry dry up.

Kraft said that the miners in the town of Bottrop will remain employed at the site as it converts to its new function.

Pumped-storage facilities are not a new idea, as such systems are already in operation around the world. However, this is the first time that a coal mine will be used as part of the infrastructure.

Engadget explained how such a facility would work:

Similar to a standard hydroelectric power plant, pumped hydroelectric storage stations generate power by releasing water from a reservoir through a turbine to a second reservoir at a lower altitude. Rather than releasing the outflow, however, the water is then stored in the lower reservoira until it can be pumped back up to the top reservoir using cheaper, off-peak power or another renewable energy source. In the case of the Prosper-Haniel plant, the lower reservoir will be made up of more than 16 miles of mine shafts that reach up to 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) deep. The station's 200 megawatts of hydroelectric power would fit into a mix of biomass, solar and wind power. It's not a perpetual motion machine, but the water stored in the surface reservoir will effectively act as as backup "battery" that could kick in and fill any gaps in the energy mix whenever the other sources fall short.

Germany's ambitious "Energiewende," or energy transition, aims for at least an 80 percent share of renewables by 2050, with intermediate targets of 35 to 40 percent share by 2025 and 55 to 60 percent by 2035. 

The country is well on track, as renewables supplied nearly 33 percent of German electricity in 2015, according to Agora Energiewende.

Germany has such an impressive renewable energy mix that last year, on a particularly windy and sunny day, so much power was generated that people were paid to use it.

And while that's good news for the environment and German consumers alike, renewable energy has a well known storage problem. The electricity produced by, say, wind turbines or solar panels must be used or else it's lost. On the flip side, renewables might not be able to meet demand on cloudy days with no wind.

Batteries, working as pumped-storage facilities, are a promising solution to this problem, since they store excess renewable energy on productive days and discharge it during energy shortfalls.

"We have a very sympathetic ear" to sustainable and cost-effective storage, Governor Kraft said in a March 14 speech in Dusseldorf.

More mines could be converted into industrial-scale storage facilities as North-Rhine Westphalia seeks to double the share of renewables in its power mix to 30 percent by 2025, Kraft said.


India Secures $500 Million For Dedicated Renewable Energy Transmission Project

Posted on March 21st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



India’s state-owned power transmission infrastructure developer has signed an agreement for $500 million in debt financing to set up dedicated transmission lines for renewable energy projects.

Last month, Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) reported that it signed an agreement to secure $500 million of debt funding from the Asian Development Bank. A large portion of these funds are expected to be used to set up transmission lines dedicated for the transfer of electricity generated from renewable energy projects.

The dedicated transmission lines will run from Rajasthan, which has the highest concentration of wind and solar power projects in north India, to neighboring Punjab and Haryana, agricultural states where the cost and availability of land to set up renewable energy projects is a constraint.

It is not immediately clear if this was a fresh agreement between the two entities or a follow-up of previously signed agreements. In late 2015, the ADB had announced plans to provide $500 million in government-backed loan and an additional $500 million in non-sovereign loan.

Germany’s KfW had also announced financial assistance worth €1 billion for this project. The latest funding will be used for setting up new direct current terminals in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Chhattisgarh.


The Power Grid Corporation of India has already started work on the green energy corridors project, having operationalized the second phase of the green corridor program, and allocated a transmission project in Andhra Pradesh, while completing the tendering process for projects in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. All these states have completed multiple auctions under their respective solar power policies.


North Sumatra eyes cooperation in tourism, renewable energy with South Korea

Posted on March 21st, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



The North Sumatra administration is exploring the possibility of teaming up with its counterpart, the provincial government of South Korea’s Jeju Island, to further develop tourism and renewable energy sectors.

North Sumatra Governor Tengku Erry Nuradi said Tuesday that his administration planned to adopt an eco-friendly approach on Samosir Island in Toba Lake and Nias Island while promoting tourism.

Both islands are considered as having similarities with Jeju Island.

“We plan to build an eco-friendly floating power plant in Toba Lake because it has been designated as a world tourism destination and UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] Global Geopark,” Erry said in Medan as quoted by

Apart from attracting South Korean investment to the power plant project, North Sumatra also expects the East Asian country to contribute to developing the province’s tourist sector as well as skilled labor in the hospitality industry.

During his recent visit to the country, Erry met up with Jeju Island Governor Won Hee-ryong to discuss the potential bilateral cooperation.

Also listed as a UNESCO global geopark, South Korea’s biggest island is home to half of all electric vehicles in the country.

“We agree with this renewable energy cooperation and we will carry out research as a follow up to the collaboration between these two provinces,” Won said. (lnd)


How an Indigenous renewable energy alliance aims to cut power costs and disadvantage

Posted on March 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Like so many of the Indigenous communities dotted across the Australian continent, the remote communities in north-west New South Wales are struggling. “These are not happy places,” says the Euahlayi elder Ghillar Michael Anderson.

Many of the 300 or so residents of Anderson’s hometown of Goodooga rely on welfare, he says. Exorbitant electricity bills – up to $3,000 a quarter for some households – further exacerbate the poverty. “We’re always at the end of the power line, so the service that is there is quite extraordinary in terms of cost.”

Many other communities rely on expensive, emissions-intensive diesel-powered generators to meet their electricity demands. “It’s a real problem and we need to make sure that we fix this,” Anderson says.

To that end, Anderson and 24 other Indigenous leaders have formed the First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance, which aims to tackle high power costs and entrenched disadvantage – along with climate change – by pushing for renewable energy in Indigenous communities.

The alliance, formed at the Community Energy Congress in Melbourne last month, will lobby government and partner with private enterprise and other community energy alliances to support Indigenous communities looking to transition to renewable energy.

Anderson, who is a member of the alliance’s seven-member steering committee, says the move is an important step towards self-sufficiency for Indigenous communities.

The renewable energy company 360 Energy Group, which is based in Melbourne, has stepped up with $10,000 and an offer of office space and knowhow to help get the alliance off the ground.

Its director, Michael Anthony, sees immense potential for renewables – such as solar or wind power generation combined with battery storage – to empower remote communities. Renewables, he says, can “provide communities with a really strong, consistent, stable power solution at about half the cost of [current] solutions”.

Whereas high energy prices often drive Indigenous people off their traditional lands, lower-cost renewables can help communities to thrive no matter how remote.

“We can build a power station where the community exists,” Anthony says, “so people are able to successfully live in the environment the way they want to live and have access to power which enables them to better determine their economic future.”


Only a handful of Indigenous communities have embarked on renewable energy projects in Australia. The Indigenous-owned and -operated company AllGrid Energy, for instance, has installed solar panels and battery storage systems to replace diesel generators in the Aboriginal communities of Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara in the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tableland. Within two months of the system being installed in May 2016, people were moving back to their homelands from Tennant Creek, the communities growing from just two permanent residents to about 40.

The Murrawarri elder Fred Hooper, also on the alliance steering committee, is hoping that Australian Indigenous communities can follow the lead of other Indigenous communities around the world. In Canada’s First Nations communities, for instance, renewable energy projects are becoming commonplace. “It’s very inspiring,” he says.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, from the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, Canada, has led the push for her own community of Little Buffalo – which lies at the heart of the Peace river oil sands – to adopt renewable energy after a 2011 oil spill just 10km from the township. A 20.8kW solar installation, built and operated by locals, now powers the community health centre. Additional projects are being planned to wean the community off the propane heating and coal-powered electricity that it relies on.

Laboucan-Massimo, who is a member of Canada’s Indigenous Clean Energy Network, has seen the benefits that alliances can provide. “It’s really important to share information,” she says, “because, when you’re dealing with companies, or utilities, it’s really good to know what’s being told to one community or what kind of deals are being offered.”

The First Nations Renewable Energy Alliance will go one step further, working with community leaders and acting as a conduit between the communities and the businesses they are dealing with. This is essential, says Anderson, to avoid predatory practices they have seen in the past, with companies “playing on the psychology of poverty” to gain advantage.

The alliance has drafted protocols and memoranda of understanding that will guide how companies engage with Indigenous communities for renewable energy projects.

While lowering the cost of energy is a high priority for remote Indigenous communities, the environmental credentials of renewables are also an important consideration, says Hooper. “One of the best things about renewable energies is that it’s relying on natural sun from the sky, wind that’s blowing across the landscape and other renewable energies are not raping our mother earth of the precious resources that she holds,” he says.

One of the next steps for the alliance will be to identify a community that can act as a test case for a renewables project. “Our experience is that if we can make it work for one community, it will work in every other community,” Anderson says.



Europe's renewable energy revolution

Posted on March 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



More than 2km down a dark tunnel deep inside a Norwegian mountain, a drilling machine is boring out holes in the rock. It’s part of a major project that will connect Britain to Norway’s huge hydroelectric power supplies, passing power lines through the mountain near Kvilldal, southwest Norway, before laying the world’s longest undersea power cable, 450km long, to Blyth in Northumberland.

It will take years to build, but when it is completed, the UK could import 1,400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 750,000 homes. It will also allow Britain to export any surplus wind energy back to Norway.

This is just part of a quiet revolution in renewable energy across Europe. An international power grid is gradually developing, using power interconnectors to trade surplus energy across national electricity networks, allowing big wind power producers in northern Europe, for example, to trade electricity with large solar energy generators in southern Europe.

The UK has already plugged into the network through interconnectors to Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and there is a proposal for a highly ambitious project to connect Britain to Iceland’s abundant supply of geothermal and hydroelectric power using a subsea cable around 1,000km long.

This international power grid gives more reliable supplies, helping to smooth out the intermittent power produced from renewables such as wind and solar energy. It also gives Britain more secure power sources as old nuclear and out-of-favour coal plants are shut down.

In theory, it could even bring the wholesale energy price down, thanks to the increased availability of cheap renewable power generated far away from where the main energy demand centres are.


Madison finance committee recommends resolution aiming for total renewable energy use

Posted on March 15th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Madison’s finance committee unanimously recommends committing up to $250,000 for a consultant that would help the city find ways to use more renewable energy sources and emit fewer carbon emissions.

The goal is to achieve 100 percent renewable energy and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions using a plan developed by a third-party expert. Madison’s 2017 capital budget already includes $750,000 for sustainability improvements, including renewable energy installations and energy efficiency upgrades.

“It is a moral issue,” Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, said. “It is a public health issue, and we are so close to actually taking some meaningful action on it.”


The finance committee's approval of the resolution follows the Sustainable Madison Committee's recommendation in December and hinges on the City Council's final approval.

Net-zero energy occurs when the total amount of energy used by a building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. Likewise, carbon neutrality refers to achieving a balanced amount of carbon released with the same amount offset by another renewable energy source.

Jeanne Hoffman, the city's facilities and sustainability manager, said the request for proposal would help the city analyze the decisions it makes in terms of energy use.

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“We already know in terms of city operations where our greenhouse gas emissions are coming from. We are tracking our energy. We are tracking our fuels,” Hoffman said. “It’s a decision of how aggressive we want to change our city operations from one that has carbon emissions in the types of fuels that we use to emissions that don’t have greenhouse gas emissions.”

The resolution calls for city staff to develop a plan by January 2018 that would include target dates to meet goals, interim milestones, budget estimates and estimated financial impacts.

Sustainable Madison Committee chair Raj Shukla said the resolution sprang from an energy work plan the City Council approved last June.

“It’s setting ambitious goals, mandating that the city government take the lead on those goals and providing resources to figure out how to do that and … setting up a constant process of evaluation,” Shukla said of the new resolution.

The original energy work plan was influenced by Madison Gas & Electric’s fixed fee hikes that began in 2015, RePower Madison Campaign Director Mitch Brey said. RePower Madison is a citizen group focused on energy planning.

“It’s promising to see Madison declare it’s intent get off of fossil fuels and go 100 percent renewable,” Brey said. “This local leadership is extremely important to ensure a healthy and prosperous community.”


Australia’s 100% Renewable Energy Grid

Posted on March 14th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Australia is posed to build an electricity network with 100 percent renewable energy, that is both affordable and secure, and that utilizes existing technology. The Australian National University has published a study detailing how a zero-emissions grid would work. The grid would rely on wind and solar technology, but the innovation comes from the pumped hydro storage, which would support the network. A move like this would eliminate the need for coal and gas power.

As many aging coal-fired power stations close (on which 2/3 of Australia’s electricity relies) demand for new types of energy is spiking. Professor Andrew Blakers at the ANU believes that wind and solar energy could be that replacement. The short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage (STORES) utilizes reservoirs at different altitudes to both store and generate power. This system would provide Australia with a cheap, stable, zero-emissions network that can support a larger share of renewable energy.

The details of the report estimate that wind and solar energy would contribute 90 percent of total annual electricity. Hydroelectricity and biomass sources would supplement the remaining 10 percent. This energy mix is based on the widely-spread wind and energy sources, and leverages the different weather system available in Australia. The pumped hydro storage system is the mechanism by which supply and demand will be managed, as these weather systems are notoriously unreliable at providing the appropriate amount of energy at any given time. The hydro-pump can store the energy produced during peak generation hours, and then distribute it as needed.

The publication by the ANU follows the announcement by EnergyAustralia (a private electricity generation company) last week that it will begin research into an off-river pumped hydro venture, to be located at the top of South Australia’s Spencer Gulf. As it stands, the majority of Australian land is not near a river to appropriately utilize hydro power, which is why this source has been largely ignored. However, the researchers at ANU are finding thousands of sites across north Queensland, down the Great Dividing Range, across South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia that are potential locations for the system. The hydro-pump stations do not need a river to be operational, making them much more feasible.

According to the study, this system would see energy costs drop from $93 per megawatt hour as it was in 2016 to $75 per megawatt hour by the 2020s. The government’s Renewable Energy Agency has invested $450,000 into the research, but acceptance across the board does not seem likely yet. Lack of bipartisan support for these types of energy projects and research could hinder the implementation of such a system in Australia any time soon.

However, we need not trust the ANU’s numbers alone. A recent report published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) supports the case for the shift to renewable energy. The report shows that the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) to build new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power is much more expensive than that to build new wind, solar, and combined-cycle gas infrastructure. The coal-fired power is anywhere from $34 to over $100/MWH more expensive than the aforementioned alternatives.

This is extremely important to Australia, as many coal-fired stations will reach their operating life-span within the next 15 years. They will have to close regardless of any environment or emissions-based concerns.


Component supplier for Apple pledges to go big on renewable energy

Posted on March 14th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Apple has announced that Ibiden, a Japanese component supplier, has pledged to power all its Apple manufacturing with 100 percent renewable energy.

In a news release on Wednesday, Apple described Ibiden as manufacturing products that helped "bring together the integrated circuitry and chip packages in Apple devices."

Ibiden is set to invest in over 20 renewable energy sites, including a floating solar photovoltaic facility, Apple said.


Apple is making a concerted effort to become a leader in sustainability. The tech giant says that in 2015, 93 percent of its energy came from renewable sources, while more than 99 percent of the paper used in its packaging is either sustainable or recycled.

"We're proud to partner with suppliers like Ibiden who recognize that renewable energy investments are good for the environment and good for business," Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president for Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, said in a statement.

"As we continue our push to power our global operations with 100 percent renewable energy, it is more important than ever that we help our manufacturing partners make the same transition to cleaner sources, and set an example for other companies to follow," Jackson added.


Pollution-fighting Vertical Forest buildings coming to China

Posted on March 8th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



China has pollution problems, and one Italian architect could have some answers.

The Chinese city of Nanjing is getting a Vertical Forest, a set of two buildings stylised with around 1,100 trees and a combination of over 2,500 shrubs and plants.

But it's not all about how it looks: The Nanjing Towers will absorb enough carbon dioxide to make around 132 pounds (60 kilograms) of oxygen every day, an official press release claimed. China's Vertical Forest is scheduled to be completed sometime next year.

At the time of writing, Nanjing has an air-quality index of 167, which categorises it as "unhealthy." For reference, Sydney and New York both have "moderate" indexes of around 60, while Londonsits at about 100, teetering between "moderate" and "unhealthy."

It'll be the third city to get a Vertical Forest, following ones built in Milan, Italy and Lausanne, Switzerland.

The towers will stand at 354 and 656 feet tall, respectively (that's 107 and 199 metres), reports Italian publication Living. The shorter tower will house a Hyatt hotel, while the taller one will be home to a museum, offices and an architecture school.

It won't stop here though, as Boeri has plans to build similar structures in Chongqing, Shijiazhuang, Liuzhou, Guizhou and Shanghai, according to Living.