Forget Carbon Capture – make Green Cement from Power Stations

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is one of those technologies, like first gen biofuels, that seem like a good idea at first sight but when you examine them you find do more harm than good

CSS is a means of mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming. The process is based on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources, such as fossil fuel power plants, and storing it in such a way that it does not enter the atmosphere, such as underground.  In theory 80-90% of emissions could be captured, and initially the IPCC was enthusiastic, estimating that between 10% and 55% of the total carbon mitigation effort until the year 2100 could come from CCS.

There are two huge problems though.  The first is that of ‘energy penalty’ – there is a 10 – 40 percent loss of the energy produced by a power station. Wide-scale adoption of CCS may erase efficiency gains of the last 50 years, and increase fossil fuel for power consumption by one third.  Though in theory you could still get 80-90% reductions in  CO2  emissions power costs would rise drastically and you would be increasing the point towards peak coal and peak gas significantly.  It just isn’t a feasible option, at least using current technologies.

But we should give up if you have power stations fed by biomass then with storage you can in theory achieve negative carbon.  That is technology that sucks carbon from the atmosphere and actually reserves global warming.  Ill be writing a lot about these ideas in coming weeks as it requires us to rethink the ideas about how we plan the utility networks in our cities, and the design of our cities; but the prize is great town planning really can save the world.

An alternative to conventional CCS but still embryonic approach is what is known as carbon recycling.  That is making use of the carbon to make things.  It can serve as a fuel and fertilizer foodstock – but there is an intriguing new process – use it to make concrete.

One of the first principles of ecological design is that if you have processes that cause problems with there outputs then avoid those problems by using it as an input into another process – use waste as a resource – form a closed loop process, as in nature.

Consider power stations, high energy input, high carbon output.  What is needed, on the output side of the problem, is a process that needs carbon as an input and would otherwise require vast amounts of energy to extract that carbon from nature.  There is a perfect process concrete.

Concrete is the most widely used material on earth apart from water, with nearly three tons used annually for each man, woman, and child. The manufacture of cement releases a terrifying 9kg of CO2 for every 10kg of cement produced.  Carbon dioxide emissions from a cement plant are divided into two source categories: combustion and calcination. Combustion accounts for approximately 40% and calcination 60% of the total carbon emissions from a cement manufacturing facility.  Estimates of global carbons emissions from concrete  vary between 5-7% of all emissions, but it is one of the fastest growing sectors due to rapid urbanisation and inefficient plants in China.   The impact is mitigated slightly as calcination causes concete to absorb carbon naturally over its lifetime.

Is there a way though to use the natural processes of calcification to extract carbon from power plant emissions?  According to Green Building Elements

California company Calera… is creating cement that actually reduces the amount of CO2 put into the air by power plants. Their location, across the street from a major Californian power plant, siphons smoke stack emissions from the power plant, runs the gas through oil rig or brackish water, and the salts and minerals from the water bond with the carbon dioxide in the gas to precipitate out limestone in much the same way that mother nature does it. What he gets is cement, hard aggregate for making concrete, and water that is already a step toward being purified for drinking thus reducing the time and energy needed to return it to a potable state. The cement can be used just like Portland cement

The process mimics the way corals, shellfish and other deep-sea creatures create their shells and skeletons out of calcium and magnesium in seawater. At the pilot facility, capture rates above 85% of carbon dioxide and SO2 have been achieved for coal combustion.  Also there is no net energy penalty as this is less than the sulphur scrubbers that need to be installed on power stations anyway.  A nice in hard water areas is soft water, as the calcinates that would otherwise fur our kettles are extracted.  Early tests show structural strength similar to conventional Portland cement.

No Safe Haven – Even Soros holding 75% cash

From Bloomberg

Keith Anderson, who runs the $25.5 billion Quantum Endowment Fund for Soros Fund Management LLC, has seen enough of choppy global markets.
In mid-June, Anderson told his portfolio managers to pull back on trades as the hedge fund’s losses hit 6 percent for the year, according to two people familiar with the New York-based firm. As a result, the fund is about 75 percent in cash as it waits for better opportunities, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the firm is private.
Soros and Moore Capital Management LLC are among hedge funds that have reduced the amount of money they’re investing in stock, bond and currency markets as they look for clarity on global events ranging from the debt crisis in Europe to China’s efforts to control inflation to the debate over the U.S. debt ceiling. About 18 percent of asset allocators, including hedge funds, are overweight cash, the highest level in a year and up from 6 percent in May, a Bank of America Corp. survey showed last month.
Even Anderson’s boss, billionaire George Soros, who made $1 billion betting against the British pound in 1992, is perplexed.
“I find the current situation much more baffling and much less predictable than I did at the time of the height of the financial crisis,” Soros, 80, said in April at a conference at Bretton Woods organized by his Institute for New Economic Thinking. “The markets are inherently unstable.

Now France Fears House Price Bubble

We have previously reported on here that France as theoretically the most overvalued house prices in Europe. Also because it has not yet had a property crash the liquidity of its banks is dramatically overestimated – in reality France is as much in the Merd as Italy.

From Marianne 2

With rising house prices of 8.7%, France is the third most overvalued market in the world. Beware of the crash, warns Laurent Pinsolle – deploring the tax breaks that have fueled the housing bubble.

Although prices continued to rise in Paris , the property market begins to show signs of reversal in France. The question is: is there a risk of a crash , as we experienced from 1991 to 1998?

France, European champion of the housing bubble

The Economist has indeed released its quarterly index of house prices, which showed that France displays the third highest increase with a rise in prices of 8.7%, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. The price increase has slowed considerably in China, 3.9%, as a result of numerous measures taken by the Beijing authorities . Many European markets (UK, Italy and Spain) are on the downside.

But the most worrying indicator is the assessment of prices relative to rents. It follows from this index that France is the third most overvalued market in the world behind Hong Kong and Australia. The prices are well above the 48% ratio of long-term rents. The Chinese market would be overvalued by 14%, Spain and Great Britain of 39 and 28% again, the United States have reached a certain equilibrium after a price decline of more than 30%.

Should we fear a real estate crash?

Parisian real estate market has characteristics concern: the price per square meter have increased by “only!” a thousand euros in six months , reaching a record high 235% higher than in 1998! Worse, in the meantime, the rates are raised to just over 3% to almost 4%, surpassing the full cost more to buy. Finally, the level of transactions have declined a classic sign of a market turnaround. In short, all indicators turn red .

Moreover, prices started to fall in some areas and even the Center for Strategic Analysis, which is part of the Finance Ministry , says, “their total outstanding credit (…) doubled between 1999 and 2010. (…) It now seems likely that expectations of rising house prices create a bubble on the French property market. ” If long-term rates continue to rise, then the housing market could turn around fairly violently.

More than ever, the economic situation seems unstable. Real estate markets of greatest risk. In fact, it is unfortunate to have to create as many tax deductions that only fuel the bubbles and thereby raise prices, wiping out state aid.

CPRE sets out Stall on NPPF

Press Release from Thursday

CPRE is calling on the Government to recognise, in the NPPF, that good planning is about far more than pushing new development. Often planners do most to promote economic growth by making England an attractive place in which to live, work and invest. They do this by safeguarding and promoting beauty in town and country, addressing climate change, and making effective use of previously built on (brownfield) land. This often means saying ‘no’ to the wrong development in the wrong places rather than a default ‘yes’ as Ministers seem to want.

Paul Miner, Senior Planning Campaigner for National CPRE, says: “At present, all that local authorities are hearing from the Government is ‘build, build, build’. This is like a real-life Imperius Curse from Harry Potter, which places the victim completely under the control of the person who casts the spell. Only someone with exceptional strength of will is capable of resisting it.

“With the repeated exhortations from government to approve development at almost any cost, it will take a very strong local authority to resist destructive planning applications. We look to Ministers to make clear that protection of the places people love won’t be overridden by their understandable desire to get the economy moving”.

Paul Miner concluded: “The UK has led the world in protecting the countryside for its own sake. A clear and concise planning framework is essential if communities are to get involved in planning the shape of their local areas, as we hope they will. But in cutting the number of words in planning guidance, it is essential that the Government does not reduce the protection it gives the countryside and other green spaces”.

The National Office of CPRE is today (Thursday, July 14th) publishing three key tests for judging the new National Planning Policy Framework.

Key tests

(1) Putting truly sustainable development at the heart of planning: Ministers have made it clear that they want to use the planning system to deliver economic growth and new housing and so the definition of ‘sustainable development’ within the NPPF has become pivotal. Local communities should be empowered to insist on strong links between new development, energy efficiency and sustainable forms of transport. And it should be made clear that the presumption in favour of sustainable development allows local authorities to refuse development when it would damage the quality of the natural environment or breach environmental limits.

(2) A presumption against building in the Green Belt and in favour of brownfield: previous government policy called for developers to look at brownfield land and derelict sites before considering greenfield sites and Green Belt land for development, with a presumption against building in the Green Belt. These policies have not featured in early drafts of the NPPF.

(3) Intrinsic value of the countryside: the Coalition Agreement committed the Government to the protection of areas that have been designated as important. While we welcome the protection of ‘valued landscapes’ we are concerned about the loss of a principle that the countryside should be protected for its own intrinsic character, beauty, heritage, wildlife and the wealth of its natural resources. Such a loss in protection would be particularly worrying as the Government’s own Natural Environment White Paper has set out a vision for protecting the countryside as a whole and making it better for nature.

Expect a big campaign that will have mps postboxes bulging.

Lister’s Policy Changes for London – Less Protected Wharfs, More Protected Views

Property week

Planning in London is to undergo a radical shake-up after mayor Boris Johnson’s new chief of staff [and Deputy Mayor for Planning], Edward Lister, said he would open up ring-fenced development sites and review protected views.

Speaking publicly for the first time about his new role last week, Lister revealed plans to cut the number of safeguarded wharves in the capital, a move that could open up riverside development sites to housebuilders looking to capitalise on London’s booming luxury residential market.

But Lister also aims to add further protections to the London Views Management Framework, less than a year after the framework was strengthened by the mayor. Experts suggest he could add further regulation around already heavily guarded views to the Tower of London, Greenwich Royal Naval College and the Palace of Westminster.

Johnson appointed Lister, the former leader of Wandsworth Council, as chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning in April, following the death of Johnson’s former chief of staff, Sir Simon Milton.

Lister has a history of campaigning on environmental and transport issues and played a lead role in forming the all-party alliance that defeated plans to expand Heathrow in 2010.

Removal of the protections of various wharves in certain boroughs have been welcomed by city planners, who believe this could free up land for luxury developments in Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets and Newham.

“The current policy is based on the acknowledgement that various wharfs have existed for generations and we should hang on to them,” said Roger Hepher, head of planning at Savills.

“Lister seems to be moving towards a more reactive policy, looking at the needs of London in the future and deciding it may be better to accept the loss of existing wharves while putting resources into developing them in more suitable locations.”

Changes to the view management framework follow persistent lobbying by UNESCO, which believes neither of London’s mayors have adequately protected world heritage sites.
Johnson commissioned amendments to the framework last July.

He has strengthened protection of 11 views between St Paul’s Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster – protected views that were cut by former mayor Ken Livingstone – and introduced two further protected views, from the top of Parliament Hill and from the bridge across the Serpentine in Hyde Park, to the Palace of Westminster.

Lister also said he was “enthusiastic” to push ahead with the Northern Line Tube extension to Nine Elms, but admitted there were “significant” challenges to co-ordinate the interests of developers and landowners.

Clinton ‘paint all roofs white’

Former President Clinton has taken up Stephen Chu and Art Rosenfelds idea idea to paint roofs white to save energy by lowering their albedo.

Look at the tar roofs covering millions of American buildings. They absorb huge amounts of heat when it’s hot. And they require more air conditioning to cool the rooms. Mayor Bloomberg started a program to hire and train young people to paint New York’s roofs white. A big percentage of the kids have been able to parlay this simple work into higher-skilled training programs or energy-related retrofit jobs. (And, believe it or not, painting the roof white can lower the electricity use by 20 percent on a hot day!)

Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white; every roof in Little Rock should be white. Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere! In most of these places you could recover the cost of the paint and the labor in a week. It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do. In the current environment it’s been difficult for the mayors to get what is otherwise a piddling amount of money to do it everywhere. Yet lowering the utility bill in every apartment house 10 to 20 percent frees cash that can be spent to increase economic growth.

Does that mean we have to paint slate roofs white – no the opposite in a cold climate its good that roofs absorb heat. It really depends on whether the energy load from cooling is likely to exceed the energy load from heating. There is much less need for a cool roof for pitched roofs. So Welsh slate cottages can stay with black roofs.

‘Please Sir May I Have Another’ The Development Plan Regulations Changes

The Government is consulting on changes to the Development Plan Regulations.

At last a proposed consolidation into one document, rather than the three composed of pieces cut out and pasted back in with pritt stick that so many practitioners have had to suffer with at the moment.

Many of the changes themselves come from some minor, but rather pointless, for the most part, changes in the localism bill.

A key change will be terminological.

[it] sets out a simple definition of development plan documents, without referring to complex ‘local development framework’ terminology such as ‘core strategy’ or ‘area action plan’, which made the process confusing for the public and business, and inflexible for councils.

An end to the three letter acronyms yippee. A story here. The reason why terms such as DPD arose was because ministers in 2004 dint like the work ‘plan’, the buzzword was ‘framework’ but lawyers told them that framework was too loose and woolly a phrase to put on an act of parliament or accompanying regulations. Hence the mess. Sooner or later we will need to reform the parts of the act referring to DPDs to have something like the one page simplicity we have in Wales.

So now we have a proposed regulation to state what must be a DPD – rather than the old ‘core strategy, site allocation, area action plan troika we currently have in reg. 7 The new reg 7 would state

A DPD is a document prepared by a local planning authority individually or in cooperation with other local planning authorities, which contains statements regarding the following—
(a) the development and use of land which the local planning authority wish to encourage during any specified period;
(b) the allocation of sites for a particular development or use;
(c) any environmental, social and economic objectives which are relevant to the attainment of the development and use of land mentioned in paragraph (a);
(d) strategic policies in respect of matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (c) above; and
(e) development management and site allocation policies, which are intended to guide the determination of applications for planning permission.

This would appear to be so broadly drawn as to preclude any SPD or site development brief. Do we really want to go back to the days of 400 page development plans trying to be ultra comprehensive?

The introduction refers to changes in the localism bill over inspectors reports

in the Localism Bill, we propose to remove the inspectors’ powers to impose changes. Inspectors will report to the local authority and identify
conflicts between the plan and national policy and regulatory process.
However, they will only be able to recommend modifications to overcome these issues if the council ask them to. In addition, councils can suggest their
own modifications for assessment by the Inspector during the examination, as well as making minor non-material changes themselves. The council is then
free to choose to accept the inspector’s modifications and adopt the plan, or resubmit a new plan. This approach will encourage a more collaborative
process as the examination becomes more recognised as a forum for mediation.

What this means in practice is that simply Inspectors will say look this plan is unsound it will need some changes, the LPA will suggest some changes, and if they are not good enough the inspector will suggest some more changes they should ‘voluntarily’ suggest – ‘please sir may I have another’. This is pretty much as it is at the moment with the one change that the inspector will not have the power to make drastic changes after the examination has closed. All changes have to take place within the examination process itself. This will probably mean examinations being more staggered than they are at the moment to enable inspectors to fully cogitate and digest issues. I can imagine that inspectors, for site allocation DPDs in particular, will schedule a last session a couple of weeks after what would otherwise have been the closing session, to suggest any changes required. With a six week period thereafter for consultation on changes the reform will probably add 3-4 months )at least) to the time taken to complete development plans – all to fulfil a rather ideological point in Open Source Planning.

The one other change of note from a first reading is specification of monitoring requirements in the absence of AMRs. This is useful. The requirement would be to:

Where a policy specified in a DPD or an old policy specifies an annual number, or a number relating to any other period of net additional dwellings or net additional affordable dwellings in any part of the area of the authority, the authority’s report must specify the number of dwellings built in the part of the authority’s area concerned—
(a) in the period in respect of which the report is made, and
(b) since the policy was first published, adopted or approved

The draft NPPF would remove the requirement for a trajectory so we are likely to see even more manipulation and dressing up of completion to target than we see at the moment. The favourite tactic at the moment is not to even compile a 5 year target from a development plan but some other convenient made up figure that has been nowhere near an examination.