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November 25th, 2011:

Waste-To-Energy, A Tale of Two Nations

Nov. 25, 2011

On the face of it, Americans seem to love trash. Canadians, not so much, as the story of Plasco Energy Group highlights. The company is capitalizing on that apparently national desire to put trash in its place; in Canada’s case, diverting its municipal solid waste, or MSW, to waste-to-energy streams.

Plasco Energy is a “clean” technology company that converts post-recycled MSW from trash into treasure – the kind you can use to power a lightbulb or an all-electric radiant floor home heating system.

The system is called plasma gasification, which converts waste to a rough form of synthetic gas, or syngas. This is then transfered to a plasma arc chamber where the unrefined syngas is again heated, sometimes to temperatures as high as 25,000 degrees. Inert wastes (sand, gravel, dirt, etc.) are reduced to inert vitrified glass, and the technology also permits waste heat recovery for a truly “green” profile.

The conversion process can tackle any type of waste, from paper to plastic, at volumes of about 20 tons per hour per plasma reactor. The process is cleaner than incineration or other types of gasification, producing fewer emissions, with not even water vapor left on completion. This is in direct opposition to older MSW waste incineration facilities, which released both airborne toxic pollutants and aresidue of ash, often contaminated with heavy metals and dioxins that have to be disposed of in regulated landfills.

For Plasco Energy, the real treasure is Ontario, where – in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol – the provincial government pledged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2012 by establishing the Waste Diversion Act (2002) and implementing it via a fund.

Under provisions of the act, Plasco got a preferable pricing guarantee for the power it produced, and thus incentivized upgraded the Ottawa demo plant from 75 metric tons per day to 135 metric tons – a volume capable of supplying 4.2 megawatts of electricity to the Ontario grid.

Next, Plasco says, it plans to open a 300-metric-ton-per-day plant at an Ottowa landfill, which could come online at the end of 2013, providing provisions of the Waste Diversion Act aren’t altered or abandoned in Ontario’s increasingly divisive stand on “green” energy technologies.

It is this divisiveness that most recently brought out about 100 residents to question Alter NRG Energy’s (OTCBB: ANRGF) use of Westinghouse Plasma technology to build a plant at Dufferin County’s Eco Energy Park (DEEP). Still, how much real dissent did the meeting represent when one considers that the total population of Dufferin County is over 52,000?

But at least in Canada they are still talking. In the United States, efforts to clean up unsightly waste in an environmentally responsible fashion failed again when Boston-based gasification firm Ze-gen Inc. dropped its multimillion dollar plan for a plant in Attleboro as a result of local community group (Attleboro Residents with Important Safety Concerns, or @RISK) opposition. The plant was slated for completion at the end of this year.

The picture is largely the same across America, with citizens generating 249.9 million tons of trash per year – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the equivalent of 720 pounds per person, as compared to an average of 491.8 in the rest of the world) yet refusing to have a gasification plant in their neighborhood/municipality/ciy.

Where does this NIMBYism come from? For one thing, Americans have lots of landfills, remarkably effective trash compaction systems,low electricity prices (for now) and an aversion to MSW incinerators thanks to formerly highly polluting technology.

Then, too, notes Dr. Lou Circeo, a former Georgia Institute of Technology Research Institute researcher and now chief scientist at Applied Plasma Arc Technologies LLC (a private Atlanta consulting firm with close ties to the Georgia Tech), the problem may lie with the U.S. Department of Energy, which annually releases a study on new developments in MSW and the energy sector, but has yet to use the word “plasma” in their documents. Even though, Circeo adds, the U.S. has been vested in plasma gasifications technology for 40 years.

Unlucky eight as city chokes on air placing

Hong Kong Standard

Alice So

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hong Kong is the eighth worst among 566 cities worldwide when it comes to dangerous air pollutants, the Friends of the Earth claimed yesterday.

A recent World Health Organization survey of particulates called PM2.5 – very small but dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less – did not include Hong Kong.

However a survey by the green group found the city’s PM2.5 concentration in 2010 was 36 micrograms per cubic meter.

This was more than 20 times that of the cleanest city, Whitehorse in Canada, with 1.7 micrograms per cubic meter. As a result, this would put Hong Kong at 559 in WHO rankings.

“Ironically, Hong Kong as a world city cannot even regulate its ever-increasing roadside air pollution,” said Thomas Choi Ka- man, senior environmental affairs officer.

It also means Hong Kong is more polluted than developed cities such as Canberra, Sydney, Singapore, and developing cities like Manila, Sao Paulo and Lima.

“It is a hard-earned notoriety to be ranked more polluted than developing cities like Manila. Even Guangzhou is planning to regulate PM2.5 in 2016, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection,” Choi said.

Control measures are non- existent here, he said.

“The Environmental Protection Department should speed up efforts to replace diesel-run vehicles with electric ones, and ease heavy traffic by launching more low-emission zones,” said Choi, adding the government is too slow in tackling the problem.

The consultation on Air Quality Objectives Review has been going on for almost two years but there have been no amendments to its 1987 version.

Choi said Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged at a Legco meeting in May that objectives would be renewed next month.

PM2.5 is roughly one twenty- eighth the diameter of a human hair. It is so small that it can penetrate a mask, travel through the nose, and reach the heart and lungs.

Choi cited US studies that claim death rates from lung cancer increase by 8percent for every rise of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5

Greens put HK air ‘shame’ on the map

South China Morning Post- 25 Nov. 2011

CLEAR THE AIR SAYS: Clear the Air constructed this report by locating the WHO document the same day it was released then adding to the report Hong Kong EPD data for the past five years’ levels of PM2.5. The marked up report was passed to the Legco Panel on the Environment and later, to FOE amongst other green groups for their information.

The level of fine particles – specks of pollutants that can penetrate the lungs – in Hong Kong’s air is among the worst in more than 500 cities and at least 20 times that of the cleanest metropolis.

Only seven cities of 565 surveyed by the World Health Organisation have a higher level than that found in Central, which also has the greatest concentration of larger particles among more than 1,000 cities.

The annual mean roadside reading of fine particles in Central – 36 micrograms per cubic metre – is exceeded only by Dakar in Senegal, Zabrze in Poland, Accra in Ghana, Kuwait City, Mexicali in Mexico, Antananarivo in Madagascar, and Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

The roadside reading in Central was used as a benchmark to compare with the cities in the WHO report, which did not make clear how many readings were taken in each city, but some were roadside or general.

Friends of the Earth said it was “disappointing and shameful” that Hong Kong fared worse than developing cities. “Despite being a top class world financial hub, people in Central are breathing third-world-class air,” said Jo Chan Chun-yim, assistant environmental affairs officer of the green group.

The rankings, released by the WHO in September, did not include Hong Kong because fine particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns are not listed as a statutory air pollutant in the city.

But Friends of the Earth obtained data from the Environmental Protection Department showing the levels at the junction of Chater Road and Des Voeux Road Central was at least 20 times higher than the top ranking city, Whitehorse in Canada, with an annual average reading of 1.7. It was worse than Singapore with 19, Manila with 21, and Lima in Peru with 34.

Medical specialists have warned that the fine particles – a micron is one-millionth of a metre – can penetrate deep into the respiratory system and cause severe health risks.

In the same ranking exercise by the WHO for concentrations or larger particles, Hong Kong came 870 on a list of 1,100 cities.

Dr Lau Ngai-ting, from the environment division at the Polytechnic University of Science and Technology, said a single spot reading might not be indicative, while a comparison with another city might be too generalised. But this should not obscure the serious health concerns raised. “Given the heavy traffic and people flow at this localised spot, there is definitely a health impact since many people will be exposed to the pollution,” he said.

He said poor ventilation and dispersion of pollutants might also contribute to the pollution that was believed to be primarily caused by diesel vehicles, especially those that were old and poorly maintained.

Friends of the Earth said even more frustrating was that the government was aiming to introduce a new fine particle standard not matching its status as an advanced metropolis.

The Environmental Protection Department proposes an annual mean standard of 35 micrograms compared with the WHO’s 25, Thailand’s 25, Singapore’s 15 and Australia’s much more stringent eight.

Even this modest standard has yet to be formally introduced even though the public consultation on updating the 24-year-old air quality objectives ended two years ago.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged earlier to get the task done this year.

“Donald Tsang is going to look like Pinocchio, with his lies stretching his nose so long that he will no longer be able to cover it with a mask to shield the air pollution,” Thomas Choi Ka-man, the green group’s senior environmental officer said.

A department spokeswoman said the proposed standard, which referred to WHO guidelines, was a “very challenging” one. She said new air quality objectives would be introduced in this government’s term.

It’s definitely time for some ‘clear the air’ talks

South China Morning Post

Nov 25, 2011

The Environmental Protection Department had a letter published in yesterday’s South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583announcementsnews) in which it sought to “clarify” some of the air quality issues that we’ve raised over the past few months. The letter’s initial point is that “improving air quality sits at the heart of the government’s environment policy”.

If that is the case, you have to wonder why it is that the Ombudsman upheld a complaint earlier this year saying the government was dragging its heels over setting new air quality objectives (AQOs). It’s been two years since the government concluded its public consultation. The Ombudsman urged the government to set out a timetable and explain to the public the progress and difficulties. That would be an interesting exercise. Let’s see, problems of dealing with franchised bus companies, difficulties of getting environmental impact assessments approved for government infrastructure projects, and so on.

In its letter, the EPD produces a list of “improvement measures” without indicating how effective they have been. It makes great play of reducing the levels of sulphur dioxide, which it achieved by forcing the power companies to fit scrubbers. It’s now on the rise again, thanks to the marine sector. While it is good that it has been sharply reduced, it doesn’t impact on us as much as roadside pollution, which is getting worse. Many other measures have had a negligible impact.

The government tells itself air quality is not really a problem, since Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest rates of life expectancy. This, however, is a lagging indicator. At the other end of the scale, the number of children with respiratory complaints seen by paediatricians has risen dramatically. But fortunately for the government, they don’t belong to a functional constituency and can’t vote.

Choking: pedestrians cover up in Causeway Bay.

CO2 climate sensitivity ‘overestimated’

25 November 2011 Last updated at 15:48 GMT

By Jennifer Carpenter Science reporter, BBC News

The last glaciation saw ice sheets extend to almost 40 degrees north

Continue reading the main story

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Global temperatures could be less sensitive to changing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels than previously thought, a study suggests.

The researchers said people should still expect to see “drastic changes” in climate worldwide, but that the risk was a little less imminent.

The results are published in Science.

Previous climate models have tended to used meteorological measurements from the past 150 years to estimate the climate’s sensitivity to rising CO2.

From these models, scientists find it difficult to narrow their projections down to a single figure with any certainty, and instead project a range of temperatures that they expect, given a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial levels.

The new analysis, which incorporates palaeoclimate data into existing models, attempts to project future temperatures with a little more certainty.

Lead author Andreas Schmittner from Oregon State University, US, explained that by looking at surface temperatures during the most recent ice age – 21,000 years ago – when humans were having no impact on global temperatures, he, and his colleagues show that this period was not as cold as previous estimates suggest.

“This implies that the effect of CO2 on climate is less than previously thought,” he explained.

By incorporating this newly discovered “climate insensitivity” into their models, the international team was able to reduce uncertainty in its future climate projections.

The new models predict that given a doubling in CO2 levels from pre-industrial levels, the Earth’s surface temperatures will rise by 1.7C to 2.6C (3.1F to 4.7F).

That is a much tighter range than the one produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2007 report, which suggested a rise of between 2.0C to 4.5C.

The new analysis also reduces the expected rise in average surface temperatures to just over 2C, from 3C.

The authors stress the results do not mean threat from human-induced climate change should be treated any less seriously, explained palaeoclimatologist Antoni Rosell-Mele from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, who is a member of the team that came up with the new estimates.

But it does mean that to induce large-scale warming of the planet, leading to widespread catastrophic consequences, we would have to increase CO2 more than we are going to do in the near future, he said.

“But we don’t want that to happen at any time, right?”

“At least, given that no one is doing very much around the planet [about] mitigating CO2 emissions, we have a bit more time,” he remarked.

Whether these results mean that the global temperatures will be less responsive to falling CO2 is unclear. “I don’t think we know that, to be honest,” remarked Dr Rosell-Mele.

Gabriele Hegerl, from the University of Edinburgh, is cautious about the result in her perspective piece published in the same issue of Science.

She says that this is just one particular climate model, and “future work with a range of models would serve to strengthen the result”.

Climatologist Andrey Ganopolski, from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, went further and said that he would not make such a strong conclusion based on this data.

“The results of this paper are the result of the analysis of [a] cold climate during the glacial maximum (the most recent ice age),” he told BBC News.

“There is evidence the relationship between CO2 and surface temperatures is likely to be different [during] very cold periods than warmer.”

Scientists, he said, would therefore prefer to analyse periods of the Earth’s history that are much warmer than now when making their projections about future temperatures.

However, although good data exists for the last million years, temperatures during this time have been either similar to present, or colder.

“One should be very careful about using cold climates to [construct] the future,” he added.