Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

August, 2012:

A reit one way to fund a third runway, but it’s unlikely to be accepted

Jake van der Kamp
Aug 26, 2012

I have the answer to funding of the new third runway at the airport. It’s a simple idea, won’t cost the taxpayer a dollar and we can still include all the fancy bits that will help keep pink dolphins pink.

What we shall do is take the ancillary income of the airport and float it on the stock market as a real estate investment trust (reit). It would yield easily enough money to pay for the luxury version of the third runway with a good dollop of cash left over.

To see how it could be so, just look at the table taken from the airport’s latest accounts. Retail licences and advertising revenue are by far the largest component of revenue. That’s the maze you have to traverse to get to your flight, shops full of overpriced things you would probably wouldn’t buy, but are irresistible to the cousins across the border.

Now add the airside service support franchises. These provide a very consistent stream of income and there is no reason that we cannot capitalise them and include them in our reit.

I don’t know what other terminal commercial revenue comprises but it’s commercial and so in the pot it goes. Finally, there is real estate revenue. It’s not explained, but I assume this item comprises net rental income, not development profits. It’s reit material.

We are now at an annual revenue stream of HK$7.48 billion. The interesting thing is that there are almost no costs to deduct. I suppose we could take inamortisation on the portion of the terminal building occupied by the shops but that’s small. We are really looking at net revenue.

Now let’s float all this in a reit that we advertise as yielding 5 per cent a year. It would value this income stream at just a sneeze short of HK$150 billion and HK$130 billion is the maximum figure anyone has yet proposed for construction of that third runway.

Now the questions. Would people buy it?

You bet they would. Line me up. I would have some in a flash, would just jump for a big blue- chip asset that returns me 5 per cent a year of hard cash in my hands. There is nothing like it to be seen in this town.

I would readily take 4 per cent, given that this would be an inflation-proof investment. If the prices of retail goods go up, so will retail rents, right in tandem, and the reit’s income will rise without further investment.

Unfortunately, we cannot sell all of this reit to the public. We shall have to leave at least a third in the airport authority’s hands or else it will see no post-flotation benefits in a reit and just cheat the reit holders whenever it can. But no matter, we shall still raise HK$100 billion in the reit and the rest can easily come from a bond issue.

Second question: would the Airport Authority consider it ?

Of course not. Don’t be silly. The airport authority is a captive prisoner of the airlines and they’d howl in protest. They have it all their way. The airport operates at a loss on air operations. Only the shops and other commercial operations bring it back into profit.

But somehow – don’t ask me how – the airlines have fooled our government into thinking that shopping malls and air transport are the same business and it should all be looked at as one till. The airport shops hollow out the business of shops in town but that’s ignored.

If my reit proposal were adopted, this sweet deal for the airlines would be exposed and they would have to pay a fair market rate for using our airport.

It will never happen. Sorry for wasting your time.


Singapore outflanks HK on air quality

Island state raises the bar for public health, and battle for competitiveness
Kristie Wong
SCMP Aug 25, 2012

Hong Kong is set to lose more of its competitive edge to regional rival Singapore after the island state pledged to introduce new air quality standards which are much tougher than those proposed for the city.

The National Environment Agency of Singapore said the state would adopt the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines as a target to be achieved by 2020. The agency said the new target would enable the state to “achieve a high standard of public health and economic competitiveness”.

Both cities reviewed their air quality objectives in 2009 but while Singapore took a leap in adopting an aggressive target, Hong Kong has said it will introduce new targets only by 2014.

Singapore’s new objectives aim to lower the annual average level of suspended particles to 20 micrograms per cubic metres of air, while Hong Kong’s target for the same pollutant is 50.

To achieve its aims, the Singapore government plans to set new emission standards for vehicles and reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from oil refineries and power stations through the use of natural gas and lower-sulphur fuels.

There have been several warnings that pollution will harm Hong Kong’s competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign companies – most recently from a Swiss business school that ranked Hong Kong as the most competitive economy but said factors including costs and pollution threatened its position.

Professor Wong Tze-wai, from Chinese University’s school of public health, said it would be difficult for Hong Kong to adopt similar guidelines to Singapore’s at this stage but its proposed new objectives were too modest. “Even though Singapore has more favourable topographical features, like more flat land and more rainfall, it is no excuse for Hong Kong to not set higher objectives to improve air quality.”

Friends of the Earth senior environmental affairs officer Melonie Chau Yuet-cheung said that, unlike Hong Kong, Singapore did not neglect public health concerns.

The Environmental Protection Department said the WHO allowed authorities to take into account local circumstances before adopting its guidelines as legal standards.

China: trends in hazardous air pollutants from MSW incinerators

Temporal trend and spatial variation characteristics of hazardous air pollutants emission inventory from municipal solid waste incineration in China

Hezhong TIANJiajia GaoLong LuDan ZhaoKe Cheng , and Peipei Qiu

Environmental Science & Technology

Publication Date (Web): 24 Aug 2012 (Article)

DOI: 10.1021/es302343s


A multiple-year emission inventory of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) including particulate matters (PM), SO2, NOX, CO, HCl, As, Cd, Cr, Hg, Ni, Pb, Sb, and polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/Fs), discharged from municipal solid waste (MSW) incineration in China has been established for the period 2003-2010 by using best available emission factors and annual activity data. Our results show that the total emissions of NOX, SO2, CO, PM, HCl, Sb, Hg, Pb, Cr, Ni, Cd, As, and PCDD/Fs have rapidly amounted to 28471.1 metric tons (t), 12062.1 t, 6500.5 t, 4654.6 t, 3609.1 t, 69.5 t, 36.7 t, 9.4 t, 4.4 t, 2.8 t, 926.7 kg, 231.7 kg, and 23.6 g TEQ (Toxic Equivalent Quantity) by the year of 2010, respectively. The majority of HAPs emissions are concentrated in the eastern central and southeastern areas of China where most of MSW incineration plants are built and put into operation. Between 2003 and 2010, provinces always rank at the top three with largest HAPs emissions are: Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Jiangsu. To better understand the emissions of these HAPs and to adopt effective measures to prevent poisoning risks, more specific field-test data collection are necessary.

Incinerating paradise

The waste incinerator plan for Shek Kwu Chau features a 150-meter-tall chimney beside the secluded island. The Environmental Protection Department recommended building a waste incinerator in Shek Kwu Chau to solve Hong Kong’s pressing waste problems. (Photos by Doug Meigs / China Daily)

Shek Kwu Chau is an idyllic, almost pristine island on the southern edge of Hong Kong waters. Few people actually live there, though the island provides a quiet retreat for recovering substance abusers. But the tranquility of the place is soon to disappear. The island has been chosen as the site for a new waste incinerator.

It’s 20 minutes by ferry from Cheung Chau to Shek Kwu Chau, a picturesque island in the southernmost part of Hong Kong territory. It’s off-limits to most people. Visitors need special permission from SARDA — the group that operates a big drug rehab center on the island. So, I felt privileged to have been invited to the island now swept up in a battle over government plans to build a giant waste incinerator.

Most of those on the ferry are staff and recovering addicts.

Among our fellow passengers is longtime Cheung Chau resident Martin Williams, He’s an avid naturalist, writer and an opponent of the incinerator. He wears a field scientist getup, floppy safari hat and hiking sandals.

Williams had visited Shek Kwu Chau a few times before, tagging along with US biologist James Lazell, who had discovered two snakes known to exist only on the island — Hollinrake’s Racer and a subspecies of Jade Vine Snake.

“The island has some unique wildlife. Lots of things: bugs, snakes, lizards, sea eagle nests, and the big one is the finless porpoise, which uses Shek Kwu Chau for breeding,” he says.

Upon arriving at the island, Williams steps onto the pier and immediately admires the clarity of the water— “much better than Cheung Chau,” he says, pointing at small schools of corral fish.

The island’s superintendent, Patrick Wu, is waiting. He offers a hearty greeting at the pier. He is a retired corrections officer, dressed in casual business attire-short-sleeved shirt and khakis.

Shek Kwu Chau is laden with intriguing relics of the past.

At the end of the pier we pass through a giant Chinese city gate, past a mural depicting a scene of Qing Dynasty officials dumping opium, and then a menagerie filled with peacocks. Buildings fashioned with Neoclassical and Baroque facades give way to pagodas and shrines. There is a Roman bath, a Taoist temple, a Buddhist temple and a Christian Church. There are white statues of martial artists striking kung fu poses, standing in contrast to emotive female and male nudes reminiscent of Renaissance masters.

The air here is notably fresh.

Tourists would love the place, if it weren’t restricted.

Only family members of recovering addicts, and a few locals from Cheung Chau who visit the graves of ancestors buried here, make occasional trips on the twice-daily ferry.

The island is part of Hong Kong’s largest drug rehab facility, managed by the government-funded Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Users (SARDA).

The superintendent ushers us into his white SUV with the license plate “SKC 1”. He cruises the narrow road meandering up and around Shek Kwu Chau’s dual peaks.

More than 10 buildings appear scattered throughout the thick trees and overgrowth. A total population of nearly 250 lives on the island — that’s 50 staff and 200 rehab clients.

Compared to the island’s residents, we are all overdressed, in the sweltering heat. Most of the rehab clients are half-naked and barefoot. All are men, aged from their early-20s through middle-aged. There’s a work crew deepening the reservoir. Some are walking dogs, part of an animal therapy program. Everybody is sweating profusely.

What has drawn the scientist and superintendent together in common cause was the decision of the Town Planning Board, rezoning adjacent waters to allow construction of a massive grate incinerator. Hong Kong, hard pressed to find a solution to its massive waste problems, plans to burn 3,000 tons of waste here every day. A 150-meter-tall tower is planned to be built on an artificial island. The reclaimed land on which the tower will sit, will cover over the habitat of the finless porpoise, a species that the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List identifies as “vulnerable”.

The isolation of the island is helpful for the therapy of recovering addicts. Some may experience withdrawal pangs. They can suffer here amid the quiet and solitude, away from the distractions of the busy city.

It was the isolation of the island that drew the attention of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD), when staff began seeking a site to build a waste incinerator.

Environmentalists responded with fierce opposition to the Shek Kwu Chau plan.

While most criticism for the incinerator hinges on environmental concern. SARDA’s position is different. The organization is more worried about its clients, the recovering addicts.

“Drug abusers tend to be quite passive and don’t think very highly of their own status. If you move an incinerator there, they might feel like it’s because they’re rubbish. I’ve heard that sentiment expressed,” says May Cho, a SARDA assistant superintendent of social service, who joined China Daily on the fast ferry from Central to Cheung Chau for the connecting boat.

Today, amid legal challenges, the incinerator project has been “officially” stalled for months.

In favor of Shek Kwu Chau, an alternative site for the incinerator had been passed over — at the Tsang Tsui Ash Lagoons — a barren part of Tuen Mun, situated beside a power station, landfill and existing infrastructure. According to the EPD’s Environmental Impact Assessment, the more-expensive island reclamation option carried more ecological risks, but lower risk of damaging air quality of the neighbors.

The Legislative Council on Environmental Affairs rejected funding for the proposed Integrated Waste Management Facilities in April, and the Court of First Instance accepted an application for a Judicial Review of the EPD’s Environmental Impact Assessment in June.

While the legal battle drags on, management of Shek Kwu Chau’s rehabilitation center hangs in limbo. They await a decision of the judicial review, which will open hearings on November 14. The island’s superintendent says his organization has shared its concerns with the EPD, only to receive assurances that the incinerator technology does not pose a health hazard.

May Cho is a former social worker for SARDA. She used to commute to the island daily and fondly remembers walking past the island’s dragonflies, before she took a promotion to SARDA’s Wan Chai headquarters. Williams says a nearby incinerator would disrupt the island’s insect life, too.

Wu explains SARDA’s concerns while continuing our tour of the island: “There could be air pollution, the smell of garbage, noise pollution, and even light pollution when the plant is lit up at night.”

The EPD actually predicted the incinerator would become a tourist attraction, drawing about 300 visitors a day to the artificial island. Wu bristles at the prospects, “That’s the last thing I want.” After all, the island is restricted.

Incinerator construction is estimated at five years. Once it goes into operation, the disruption of the island’s peaceful serenity would be even greater.

“The noise would be terrible,” says Wu. “Even the motor of a small boat passing nearby is very clear. Who knows how noisy five years of construction will be. They say, ‘Oh, it’s all right, (the construction crews) won’t do it at night time.’ So they will only do it in the daytime? Well, most our clients sleep during the daytime when they are undergoing detoxification, then they suffer insomnia and walk around at night.”

Wu says SARDA communicated its concerns to the EPD, and the department went ahead with obtaining rezoning permission anyway.

SARDA began operating in Hong Kong in 1961. It opened the Shek Kwu Chau facility in 1963. It has three additional rehab centers around Hong Kong.

Before SARDA began managing the island, Wu said it was like the uninhabited “backyard” of Cheung Chau. It also contains the grave of a British captain’s wife who died at sea in 1845.

Wu gives credit to JB Hollinrake (a superintendent from 1972-1990) for defining the peculiar flavor of the architecture, which appears a surreal hodgepodge of classic Western and Chinese influences.

The late Princess Diana of Wales even visited Shek Kwu Chau twice while in Hong Kong. Wu says he believes the princess’ parents had some relation to Hollinrake’s family. A free standing archway, with plaques and photos on either side, commemorates her visit near the sculpture garden.

Wu laments that no drug rehab facilities are comparable to Shek Kwu Chau in Hong Kong or abroad. He once visited Bath in England just to see their ancient Roman baths. “I think ours are more spectacular,” he says with a big grin. He knows the island’s kitsch is only part of Shek Kwu Chau’s irreplaceable formula for success.

“You are a free man on the island,” he beams. “Unlike other rehab facilities — where the client will be locked up in a building, here, you can walk along the trail, or go to other houses to visit. This is a community, and it would be very difficult to find a replacement.”

We continue driving and stop at the buildings nearest to where the incinerator island would appear.

Laundry is hung up outside a small white-washed dormitory building. A herd of goats is rummaging for scraps. Some of the men come outside to say hello.

Samuel, a 35-year-old from Mei Foo, says he has four months left on the island. “It’s not good to destroy the environment here. It’s hard to find air as fresh as this.”

Williams points at some small boats and construction workers. “That drilling platform is doing a seabed exploration ready for the incinerator island.” The ocean opens before us. The Soko Islands appear small on the horizon.

The EPD proposed a 300-acre marine reserve across the waters to mitigate the loss of porpoise habitat. He wonders if the artificial island construction and subsequent waste-laden barge traffic would have already ruined the area for the marine mammals.

Wu is interested in conserving the local natural environment, but his professional obligation is ensuring the center maintains its ability to rehabilitate drug addicts.

SARDA has served as custodian of Shek Kwu Chau for half a century. He says they don’t have any plans to abandon their work on the island now.

He drives us down the mountain and we board a ferry headed back to Cheung Chau. The boat departs, and after a moment, the remote island has shrunk back onto the horizon, off-limits once again

Dr. William Suk, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on World Health Organization Report “Persistent Organic Pollutants: Impact on Child Health” -Scientific Knowledge Supports Worldwide Effort to Minimize POPs Exposure

Cancer Action News Network
Donald L. Hassig, Producer

Loving the Earth Environmental Revolution

Dr. William Suk, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on World Health Organization Report “Persistent Organic Pollutants: Impact on Child Health” -Scientific Knowledge Supports Worldwide Effort to Minimize POPs Exposure

Beginning in the first part of the 20th century, industrialized economies throughout the world have released into the environment a group of chemicals referred to collectively as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These releases have gradually led to global food supply contamination. Evidence of serious harm resultant from POPs exposure has been accumulating in the scientific literature for several decades. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report titled, “Persistent Organic Pollutants: Impact on Child Health”. This WHO public health policy guidance document calls for a worldwide effort to minimize the exposures that children receive to POPs.

Dr. Suk provides background on the genesis of this report. He answers the highly important question, “What must be known about exposure to a chemical substance and disease outcome before the public health system decides that the substance constitutes a health hazard?” It is the existence of a large body of scientific knowledge describing serious damages to health that brings consensus among public health professionals that exposure to a substance or group of substances must be viewed as a health hazard. Such a body of scientific knowledge now exists for POPs.

I ask Dr. Suk what he thinks about prioritizing populations residing in the vicinity of POPs contaminated Superfund Sites for first efforts in POPs exposure minimization educational outreach by governmental public health entities. He states his agreement with this strategy. Dr. Suk goes on to express his belief that the WHO is the right agency for conducting this type of educational outreach.

Cancer Action NY is currently working with the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sister agencies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop POPs exposure minimization educational outreach to populations residing in the vicinity of POPs contaminated Superfund sites. We are making steady progress and look forward to beginning to create much increased awareness on the subject of POPs exposure minimization in populations at several Superfund sites, including: upper Hudson River Superfund site, GM Powertrain Superfund site and the Titawabassee River Superfund Site.

The effort to minimize the quantity of harm to human health that results from POPs contamination of the global environment is taking shape and Cancer Action NY is taking a leadership role in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Conversation Network is showing itself to be a wonderful conduit for this work.

The unedited interview is available at the URL found below.

Donald L. Hassig, Director
Cancer Action NY
Cancer Action News Network
P O Box 340
Colton, NY USA 13625

Critic’s elevation a good sign

SCMP Lai See 23 Aug 2012

Last week, we wrote that Christine Loh had accepted an invitation by C.Y. Leung to join his administration as undersecretary for the environment. We gather that she has weathered the steely glare of Beijing and an announcement is imminent, possibly today.

Her appointment, we understand, will be one of about four or five undersecretary positions that will be announced. As we indicated earlier, Loh’s appointment will give Leung’s administration, which is looking somewhat ragged at present, a welcome lift.

It is a signal that this government intends to do something serious about the environment, principally Hong Kong’s dirty air.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, for reasons best known to himself, chose to do nothing about the problem, which unsurprisingly is getting worse. Loh presumably has CY’s support in this, and it should go a long way to making the city a better place to live in.

This is surely no bad thing, and it remains a puzzle as to why Tsang was so reluctant to act.

Psst … cat’s out of the bag on that HK$130b runway

Jake van der Kamp
Aug 23, 2012

An interesting document from the Airport Authority crossed my desk the other day. It reveals a grubby little secret that third-runway boosters would love to keep dark.

It is dated July 12 and was written by the authority’s deputy director of projects, Kevin Poole. It makes perfectly clear that the real reason our airport is congested is that the airlines find it convenient to operate much smaller aircraft there than they did at the old Kai Tak airport.

It means all those mainland tourists who we thought were bringing us so much money are actually going to cost us HK$130 billion in the construction of a third runway. The airlines make more money by flying them in on smaller aircraft.

Mr Poole has a talent for expressing his thoughts succinctly. On the principle that no knife is so sharp as the one on which you cut yourself, I shall thus quote him directly:

“Regarding traffic forecasts, it has been noted the growth in passenger demand included in HKIA Master Plan 2030 (MP2030) exceeds that of the design capacity as listed in the 1992 New Airport Master Plan (NAMP) by about 10%.

“This has led some to believe that the airport may not truly be reaching its saturation point, and that the excess capacity for flight movements will be used predominantly for private jets.

“The discrepancy between the forecasts is mainly because many of the working assumptions adopted in the early 1990s were based on the operating environment of Kai Tak Airport, which was highly constrained and fully stretched.

“At the time it was natural for airlines to maximise each valuable slot by deploying the biggest aircraft possible. The 1992 NAMP therefore assumed that wide-bodied aircraft would comprise over 80% of aircraft movements, resulting in a high average passenger load forecast of more than 300 people per aircraft.

“The new airport at Chek Lap Kok provided more runway capacity, allowing airlines to increase their flight frequencies and service to secondary destinations. This has enabled HKIA to develop into an international and regional aviation hub but it also led to the deployment of more narrow-bodied aircraft (mostly less than 200 seats).

“Since 2000, the average passenger load per aircraft has decreased to about 190. In other words, it will take 437,000 aircraft movements instead of the 278,000 originally estimated in the NAMP to serve 87 million passenger trips.

“In addition, from 1997 to 2010 the percentage of wide-bodied freighters decreased from 84% to 67% in favour of medium-sized aircraft. Therefore, moving 8.9 million tonnes of cargo will take 108,000 aircraft movements instead of the 66,000 forecast by the NAMP.”

Quite a difference, isn’t it? We need 57 per cent more passenger aircraft movements in order to get the same number of passenger trips, and 64 per cent more cargo aircraft movements to move the same amount of cargo.

There is an old transport planners’ adage at work here – traffic expands to fill the space available to it. Our experience at Chek Lap Kok has proved it. Airlines are like stray cats. Feed a few hungry ones and you don’t get a few well-fed ones. You just get more hungry ones.

Now don’t get me wrong about this. If cargo operators take the view that having more space available at Chek Lap Kok allows them to bring in small feeder aircraft, that might otherwise use Guangdong or Shenzhen airports, fine, more power to them. Let commercial sense rule.

But for the life of me, I cannot understand why they should then expect the Hong Kong public purse to pay for their private benefit. That’s commercial sense, too, on our part as taxpayers. If the airlines want it, let them pay for it, particularly when it’s more a matter on their part of convenience than of real need.

I propose a test of just how much commercial sense it really makes for the airlines to use smaller aircraft. Let’s tell the Airport Authority to raise all the money it needs for a third runway off its own resources alone and make the airlines pay for it through higher landing fees.

It’s my guess that the airlines would very quickly find it convenient to revert to bigger aircraft and the congestion problem would be much less imminent than it now appears.

Meanwhile, my thanks to Mr Poole for putting down in black and white what was meant for whispers behind closed doors.

Invitation- International Conference on Solid Waste 2013: Innovation in Technology and Management (Hong Kong Baptist University)

Sent: 21 August, 2012 15:51
To: arcpe – icsw
Subject: Invitation- International Conference on Solid Waste 2013: Innovation in Technology and Management (Hong Kong Baptist University)

Invitation for ICSWHK 2013

Dear Sir/Madam,

Further to the great success of the first International Conference on Solid Waste 2011, we are glad to inform you that Sino Forest Applied Research Centre for Pearl River Delta Environment, Hong Kong Baptist University is going to organize the second conference, “ International Conference on Solid Waste 2013: Innovation in Technology and Management” which will be held on5-8 May 2013 in Hong Kong. The International Conference aims to bring together various stakeholders from academia, industry, government and non-government organizations worldwideto deliberate on issues pertaining to solid waste management. It will comprise seminars, poster presentation, workshop and field trip. You are cordially invited to join us!

Call for Abstract

You are invited to submit abstracts for oral and poster presentation, the deadline for submission is 30 November, 2012.

We will offer two awards for outstanding presenters:

1. International Young Waste Researcher Award

2. Best Poster Award

Financial Aid

Partial and Full Financial Aid in the form of registration and accommodation reimbursement will be available for selected participants, who are going to submit an abstract by 30 November, 2012 and register for the conference . Priority will be given to those who are going to present a paper, attend the conference, coming from developing countries and/or having a student status.

Interested parties can apply through the Conference Secretariat: ( .

Journal publication

All accepted abstracts and papers will be published in conference proceedings. Selected papers from the conference will be considered for publication in a special issue of SCI-listed journals. ( Last year we published the selected papers in a special issue of “Bioresource Technology” and “Environmental Technology”.)

Please kindly visit our Conference website at for more details. You may also wish to check out more details of our last conference at .

The conference brochure is also herewith attached for your kind perusal. Please contact our Conference Secretariat if you need more information.

You are welcome to distribute this invitation notice to relevant faculty members/post doctoral students/colleagues or any interested parties for participation.

We are looking forward to seeing you in our Conference!

P.S. Please accept our apologies if there is any case of double-mailing of this email.

Yours faithfully,

Conference Secretariat


Sino-Forest Applied Research Centre for Pearl River Delta Environment (ARCPE)

Hong Kong Baptist University

Tel: (852) 3411 2537

Fax: (852) 3411 2095


Email: (,

Download PDF : ICSWHK_HKBU_leaflet

MIT News Release – Teaching a microbe to make fuel

For Immediate Release
MONDAY, AUG. 20, 2012

Contact: Sarah McDonnell, MIT News Office
E:, T: 617-253-8923

Teaching a microbe to make fuel
Genetically modified organism could turn carbon dioxide or waste products into a gasoline-compatible transportation fuel.

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A humble soil bacterium called Ralstonia eutropha has a natural tendency, whenever it is stressed, to stop growing and put all its energy into making complex carbon compounds. Now scientists at MIT have taught this microbe a new trick: They’ve tinkered with its genes to persuade it to make fuel, specifically, a kind of alcohol called isobutanol that can be directly substituted for, or blended with, gasoline.

Christopher Brigham, a research scientist in MIT’ biology department who has been working to develop this bioengineered bacterium, is currently trying to get the organism to use a stream of carbon dioxide as its source of carbon, so that it could be used to make fuel out of emissions. Brigham is co-author of a paper on this research published this month in the journal Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology.

Brigham explains that in its natural state, when the microbe’€™s source of essential nutrients (such as nitrate or phosphate) is restricted, €œit will go into carbon-storage mode, essentially storing away food for later use when it senses that resources are limited.

“What it does is take whatever carbon is available, and stores it in the form of a polymer, which is similar in its properties to a lot of petroleum-based plastics,” Brigham says. By knocking out a few genes, inserting a gene from another organism, and tinkering with the expression of other genes, Brigham and his colleagues were able to redirect the microbe to make fuel instead of plastic.

While the team is focusing on getting the microbe to use CO2 as a carbon source, with slightly different modifications the same microbe could also potentially turn almost any source of carbon, including agricultural waste or municipal waste, into useful fuel. In the laboratory, the microbes have been using fructose, a sugar, as their carbon source.

At this point, the MIT team,” which includes chemistry graduate student Jingnan Lu, biology postdoc Claudia Gai, and is led by Anthony Sinskey, professor of biology, have demonstrated success in modifying the microbe’s genes so that it converts carbon into isobutanol in an ongoing process.

‘We’ve shown that, in continuous culture, we can get substantial amounts of isobutanol,€ ” Brigham says. Now, the researchers are focusing on finding ways to optimize the system to increase the rate of production and to design bioreactors to scale the process up to industrial levels.

Unlike some bioengineered systems in which microbes produce a wanted chemical within their bodies but have to be destroyed to retrieve the product, R. eutropha naturally expels the isobutanol into the surrounding fluid, where it can be continuously filtered out without stopping the production process, Brigham says. “We didn’t have to add a transport system to get it out of the cell,” he says.

A number of research groups are pursuing isobutanol production through various pathways, including other genetically modified organisms; at least two companies are already gearing up to produce it as a fuel, fuel additive or a feedstock for chemical production. Unlike some proposed biofuels, isobutanol can be used in current engines with little or no modification, and has already been used in some racing cars.

The work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, Energy (ARPA-E).

Written by David Chandler, MIT News Office

If you would rather not receive future communications from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, let us know by clicking here.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue Building 11-400, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307 United States

Green group picks up recycling at your door


Of course, this should be legally mandatory for all households and businesses to recycle, then we don’t need the landfills or daft incinerator ………………….. wake up please, ENB

Green group picks up recycling at your door
For a low monthly fee, non-profit venture will come to your home once a week for collection
John Carney
SCMP Aug 19, 2012

An innovative, non-profit-making recycling programme hopes to transform the way waste is recycled in the city, while also helping the disadvantaged.

HK Recycles’ plan is simple and straightforward. You sign up for their service online, they provide you with hard, non-woven bags for your recyclables, then once a week they come and collect it from you. And recycling collectors will be hired almost exclusively from the city’s marginalised groups. Initially collections will be every Friday, but as the project expands more collection days will be added. The first collections will be on August 31.

The project has started operations in Causeway Bay, Admiralty, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town, with about 50 households already signed up. There is a small cost involved. Customers pay HK$100 for the first month, then HK$80 per month after that. Credit cards can be used.

The company only employs five people at the moment, but founder Brian Mak has big ambitions.

“By the end of next year, we hope to have 1,000 customers. We’re going to recycle more than 300-400 pounds [136-181kg] in our first month alone,” he said. “With 1,000 people signed up, our goal is to have recycled 1 million pounds by the end of next year. We only expect to break even financially, but that’s not why we’re doing it.”

Their good intentions don’t stop here. Currently the organisation is working out employment agreements with two main groups: Harmony House, a charity that helps battered women and victims of domestic abuse, and cleaning women in a local cleaning collective. Many women in both groups are single mothers with a history of physical abuse.

Mak explained HK Recycles was first and foremost a social enterprise, and aside from being environmentally focused, it aimed to contribute to the community by creating employment opportunities for those who needed them most. He hoped to employ about 30-50 people from marginalisedbackgrounds.

“By providing employment for people who would otherwise not be employable and paying above-market wages, our hope is to equip and empower these people,” he said. “To help them overcome tough personal conditions and give them the confidence and resources needed to flourish in Hong Kong.”

HK Recycles also intends to donate a percentage of the revenue it makes from recyclables to charities and community groups in the region.

For details visit http:// or e-mail