Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for April, 2018

Hunting whales for iron supplements

Kristjan Loftsson, the man behind Iceland’s fin whaling activities, has announced that he and his whaling company, Hvalur, will hunt fin whales again this summer, starting around June 10. The quota for the year is 161 animals, plus 20% of the unused quota from last time.


No whales have been caught for the last two years, ostensibly because of problems with chemical analysis of whale meat in Japan which Loftsson now puts down to the use of obsolete technology in Japan that gives conflicting results. He hopes that this will be less of a problem in the future.

This year, it seems that only part of the whale meat will be sent via a roundabout route to Japan. During the last two years, it turns out that he has been working with Innovation Centre Iceland (ICI) on the development of food supplements – yes, you read correctly – from fin whale meat, and with the University of Iceland on how to process gelatin from whale bones and blubber.

Whale meat is apparently high in haem iron, a form of iron that is only found in meat, poultry, seafood and fish and is absorbed better by the body than non-haem iron found in vegetables or the inorganic (non-haem) iron that is used in food supplements.

Meat from marine mammals in 8-10 times higher in haem iron than beef. The WHO say that over 30% of the world’s population are anaemic, many due to iron deficiency. This is particularly true for developing countries, children and women of child-bearing age. Loftsson clearly hopes he is doing the world a great favour by killing whales and producing iron supplements. Hmm. I don’t think it’s that easy. Absorption of non-haem iron can be increased by consuming vitamin C at the same time.

Loftosson and ICI are mapping the concentration of haem iron as well as  that of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and trace elements in fin whale meat. They are also studying ways to handle the meat with a view to storage, transport and intake. It is assumed that the meat will be stored frozen but will be dried and finely ground before use in food supplements.


Electric cars on the rise in the Nordics

I went to the annual meeting of Orkustofnun, the Icelandic National Energy Authority, last week. Interesting. Two of the talks focused on electric vehicles (EVs) in the Nordic countries. A comprehensive report on EVs in the Nordic countries can be downloaded here.

Sweden and Iceland have both seen great growth in electric cars, but Norway is still the leader. However, publicly available chargers have not increased in line with the sale of electric vehicles. Though the majority of electric vehicle owners charge up their cars at home – 75% in Norway and 85% in Iceland – publicly available chargers are vital for those who travel long-distance and for holiday-makers who hire cars. The EU aims for one charger for every 10 EVs by 2020, and 4 million EVs on the road by 2030 which could save 8 megatonnes of CO2 equivalents. Denmark and Finland have already reached this target and Sweden is not far behind. Norway and Iceland, however, still have some way to go.

Exemptions on registration taxes are common in the Nordic countries. This helps to make them more attractive to consumers. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are preferred in Sweden, Iceland and Finland whereas battery electric vehicles are most popular in Denmark and Norway.

A recent survey showed that 43% of Icelanders would consider buying an EV in the future. Iceland is now installing more charging points, so it is now possible to drive around the island in an electric car without worrying about running out of battery. Because Iceland’s electricity is 100% renewable, the CO2 output of an EV in Iceland is virtually none.

Nevertheless, 40% of new cars in Iceland are bought by car rental firms. Icelanders then buy these cars as nearly-new a year or two later. These companies have been reluctant to take on vehicles using alternative fuels such as EVs, and thus the supply of these cars in the near future is likely to be limited.

Silicon smelter in North Iceland still not in operation

The PCC silicon metal smelter at Bakki, near Húsavik in North Iceland, was supposed to be started up in mid-December. Start-up was then delayed until January, then February, and then the end of March. Now it’s April 1 and there is still no sign or mention of start-up. However, their (Icelandic) webpage says that the final stage of development will start after Easter, and should not take more than two weeks. It will end with the initial start-up of one of the furnaces.

Considering that the initial start-up was supposed to have been in December, it sounds like the plant would not have been completely built by then. Which doesn’t bode well for the operation, in my opinion.

Meanwhile, in Reykjanesbaer, the nearest town to what was once United Silicon’s silicon metal smelter, town councillor Fridjon Einarsson says that local residents should have the final say if the plant gets bought by another company with a view to getting it operational once again. He says that local residents should not be experimental animals for heavy industry, and that most residents nowadays work in tourism so heavy industry is not needed from an employment point of view.

No mention has been made recently of whether the Thorsil silicon metal plant will be built. It has an operating licence and is designated to be built on a site opposite the plant once operated by United Silicon.

Update, April 21: The first furnace was switched on yesterday. The idea is to gradually increase the heat and then put raw material into it.

Update, April 26: Though the Icelandic media reported that the furnace had been switched on, it now appears that it wasn’t – or if it was, it was switched off again. The news pages on the site are annoying as they are not dated (except the URL gives the date away), but the latest news, from Monday, says there has been another delay and they are waiting for spare parts to arrive. They now say that it will be the end of this week or even after the weekend. Ho hum!

Update May 1: PCC announced yesterday that they would begin heating the first furnace that evening.