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Archive for the ‘environmental issues’ Category

Electricity sources and electric vehicles

A meta-analysis was recently published in the journal Sustainability on the emissions involved in producing battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and the number of kilometres it takes for a BEV to break even with fossil-fuel vehicles (diesel and petrol) in different European countries. Existing studies were reviewed in order to perform the analysis.

The difference is astounding. The key is the source(s) of electricity used in each country for making the batteries.

Although BEVs are simpler in structure and require less maintenance than fossil-fuel vehicles, they have slightly higher emissions than petrol and diesel vehicles in the manufacturing process. The scientists in this study performed life-cycle assessments of the production cycle and estimated the distances of intersection points (DIPs, measured in thousands of km) before a BEV breaks even with fossil fuel cars.

They discovered that BEVs had to be driven for 34,000 km in Iceland before they became more carbon-friendly than diesel cars, but in the UK they had to be driven for 244,000 km before they break even with diesel cars in terms of emissions. Together with Cyprus and Greece (309,000 and 312,700 km respectively), the cars would probably have reached the end of their lifetime before the break-even point is reached. It is assumed that a car’s lifetime is around 183,894 km, as in all the studies they reviewed this was the average distance driven over a vehicle’s physical lifetime.

In some countries (Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Malta) the situation is so bad that “BEVs would never intersect with the compared diesel vehicle at the current electric grid emission intensity due to the use-phase emissions of the BEV being higher than those of the diesel vehicle”. The authors attribute this to the energy mix in the country concerned: for instance, in Poland 80% of the electricity comes from coal. Besides Iceland, the other countries which come well out in this analysis are Norway, France and Sweden.

For petrol cars, the DIP is lower. Iceland still comes best out, with a DIP of 18.9. The figures are lower for all countries, with the same countries coming worst out.

For those who can read Icelandic, Fréttablaðið also reported on this, but to a lesser degree.

It would be interesting to see the same analysis done for hydrogen-fuelled cars and vehicles using methane as fuel. But especially in regard to hydrogen.

CarbFix becomes a competitive option for CO2 mineralization in Icelandic basalt

In my first article for Energy Monitor, I describe the potential and economics of using the CarbFix procedure for capturing CO2 at point sources, dissolving it in water and injecting it into Icelandic’s porous basalt bedrock where the divalent metal cations of magnesium, iron and calcium in the bedrock react with the dissolved CO2 to form mineral carbonates and fill up pores in the bedrock. These minerals are stable for thousands of years.

In economic terms, the process is on a par with buying carbon credits: the net cost of capturing, dissolving and re-injecting CO2 in Hellisheidi using the CarbFix technology is about $US 25 [€21] per tonne, whereas emission credits cost around $29.5 (€25) per tonne – and are likely to increase in price as time goes on.

In collaboration with Swiss company Climeworks, CarbFix is also going to scale up its Direct Air Capture (DAC) prototype on Hellisheidi, from 40 tonnes per year to 4000 tonnes per year. This will make it the largest DAC project that will capture CO2 for geological storage. But it comes at a price – Climeworks say that their DAC projects in other countries cost $US 600-800 (€507-676). Undoubtedly the price will come down in due course, but at the moment it is unlikely to be important until later this century. Still, it has huge potential, as DAC plants can be set up anywhere.

Iceland will need to buy carbon credits next year for its heavy industry, according to the Environment Agency. But the heavy industries are also looking into the feasibility of using CarbFix for their emissions, so perhaps carbon credits will not be necessary.

Note that the Energy Monitor article was shortened considerably. For instance, this came out:

“Because geothermal plants such as Hellisheidi typically emit the irritant gas hydrogen sulphide (H2S) at the same time as CO2 and the CarbFix system allows other gases to be captured concurrently with CO2, both gases are captured and injected underground at the Hellisheidi plant.”

And here is more that came out:

Iceland (pop. 368,000) gets all of its electricity from renewable sources: geothermal, hydroelectric and wind. Of these, only geothermal power emits CO2, and its emissions are negligible when compared to electricity produced by fossil fuels. About 80% of Iceland’s electricity is used by heavy industry and last week the Environment Agency announced that Iceland would have to buy carbon credits next year, at the end of the Kyoto agreement.

The Environment Agency says that CO2 emissions from ferroalloys and aluminium smelters amounted to 1705.87 ktCO2 in 2019 while preliminary data from the Agency shows that total CO2 emissions for 2019 were 3618.13 ktCO2, excluding LULUCF, international aviation and navigation. Speaking unofficially, as the figures have not been announced publicly, Nicole Keller from the Agency says: “We have calculated that Iceland will need to buy approx. 4000 ktCO2 worth of credits. We do not have any figures for the cost associated with it, though. This is being looked at by a working group under the ministries.”

And more:

The CarbFix team say that they have been operating at an industrial level since 2014 and capture about 33.4 tonnes of CO2 a day or 12,000 tonnes annually.

The CarbFix website shows running totals of the CO2 injected, both on a daily basis and since the project was started on an industrial scale in 2014. By 16 November, over 71,750 tonnes had been injected during the last six years.

On a global scale, the total number of CCS facilities in various stages of development is now 59, with an annual capture capacity of more than 131 million tonnes. Of these, 21 facilities are currently in operation, 3 under construction, and 35 in various stages of development. Two of the large-scale facilities are connected to power plants, Petra Nova Carbon Capture in the USA (whose CCS operations have currently been suspended due to COVID) and Boundary Dam CCS in Canada (capacity 1 Mtpa), with the remainder 19 being in industrial applications. The CarbFix plant is not regarded as a large-scale facility because its capacity is small in global terms.

On a global scale, Iceland could theoretically accommodate over 400 GtCO2 in its active rift zone – far more than Iceland would ever be able to use. And for that matter, far more than the 107 GtCO2 that the International Energy Agency predicts will be in storage in 2060.

Iceland’s CarbFix CCS scheme hopes to reduce carbon emissions from large-scale industry

I’ve just had an article published in BBC Future about how the CarbFix version of CCS (carbon capture and storage) can potentially be used to reduce CO2 emissions from large-scale industry, which in Iceland’s case consists of three aluminium smelters, a silicon metal smelter and a ferro-silicon plant.

The CarbFix method is adapted for Iceland’s porous, permeable basalt rock. Instead of taking thousands of years for mineralization to take place underground, with CarbFix it only takes 1-2 years. The procedure has been used to capture both CO2 and hydrogen sulphide from the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant, where CarbFix is in operation, but potentially it could be used for other gases. Read the article to find out more!

A great deal of emphasis in CCS has been put on Direct Air Capture, which is also discussed in the article. Part of the reason for the expense is the need to capture and fix small concentrations of target gases, which is more challenging. A small DAC system is now in operation at Hellisheidi.

Using funds from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, the four-year Geothermal Emission Control (GECO) project is investigating the use of CarbFix in Germany, Italy and Turkey near geothermal fields as well as Iceland. As the bedrock in these countries is not basalt, the initial groundwork involves carrying out background studies of potential injection sites, such as the potential of different rock types to mineralize CO2 and permeability. Injection is due to start in 2021.

Emissions from Iceland’s power plants are minimal compared to those in other countries. Nevertheless, Landsvirkjun, Iceland’s national power company that operates three geothermal power stations, is going to build a gas capture plant at one of its geothermal plants, Krafla, using CarbFix to capture the CO2 that is emitted, and in so doing intends to work towards becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

Because BBC attracts a global audience, my editor wanted me to include information on the processes involved in  conventional CCS as well, which I did. Currently, there are 2 large-scale power plants with CCS in operation, but the number of large-scale CCS facilities globally number 21: 2 of these are in power, while the remaining 19 are in industrial applications. I was originally given misleading information on the number of large-scale CCS plants operating, but after the article was published I was told the correct figures (see above), with which my editor says she’ll amend the article (she hasn’t done so yet).



Social impact assessment important in accessing perceptions of projects

Iceland’s environment ministry has just held a symposium on social impacts of energy projects in Iceland, in particular in relation to new power plants envisaged as part of the 4th Master Plan for Nature Protection and Energy Utilization. Key speakers were a couple now living in the Netherlands: an academic from the University of Gröningen, Frank Vanclay, and his practitioner wife, Ana-Maria Esteves, who works with the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA).

Much of the symposium was related to social environmental assessment itself, irrespective of country. So for instance when a fracking project is announced, there might be impacts from vehicle noise of various types, exhaust fumes, increased accident risk, injury or even death, costs of road repair from increased traffic, and changing character of the town (less peaceful, etc.). These are balanced by the potential for local income from spending by drivers, plus other services for drivers.

Everything is social, Frank said: landscape analysis; archeological and heritage impacts; community, cultural and linguistic impacts; demographic and economic impacts; gender issues; health and psychological impacts; political issues such as human rights; resource issues, and indigenous issues. Social impacts depend on project characteristics, as well as characteristics of the community, individuals and any proposed mitigation. Impacts cannot be measured in advance, but social impacts should be done before environmental impacts. Speculation starts as soon as there is even a rumour of a proposed development, he says. If there is no consensus, projects should not proceed.

As an activist, I found his slide on the different types of protest interesting.


Ana said that “the purpose of benefit-sharing is to retain part of a project’s economic benefits in the region where the project is located”. These may be voluntary or non-voluntary, monetary or non-monetary. Who decides, who distributes, who benefits? And how do people perceive negative aspects?

The Icelanders who spoke brought up local issues. Birna Björk Árnadóttir from the Planning Agency brought up the case of a proposed hydropower plant, Hvalár, in an isolated region of northwest Iceland where people have been divided into two factions: proponents (mainly locals) who say “this is our project, let us decide” and opponents, who say “to whom do the fjords belong”?

In line with some of what Ana said earlier in the symposium, developers of this project have promised various benefits for the local villagers.

In terms of social impact assessments for power plants, the following should be covered: access to electricity and electrical safety, population changes, land use, employment, property value, fringe benefits and perks, public health, cultural heritage, and tourism and recreation. Employment weighs heavily in the assessments, whereas tourism and recreation are usually the most-researched factors.

In Iceland, social impact assessment has only been carried out with large projects such as construction of the dam and aluminium plant in East Iceland. Given the proximity of the currently non-operating silicon metal smelter in Helguvik, south-west Iceland, to local communities, it would have been better if a social impact assessment had been carried out there first. Stakksberg, the company set up by Arion Bank to see to the amendments and potential sale of the smelter, could still decide to carry out a social impact assessment for the project – but I doubt they will.



Ban on heavy fuel use in the Arctic edges closer

A ban on heavy fuel oils (HFOs) in the Arctic could be expected in 2022/3, according to the Clean Arctic Alliance which held a seminar in the run-up to Iceland’s annual Arctic Circle Assembly.

A draft methodology for analysing impacts of a ban on HFO for the use and carriage as fuel by ships in Arctic waters was agreed at a February meeting of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEP72) held a meeting in April at which it was decided to move forward on developing an HFO ban in the Arctic. A ban already exists on HFO use in the Antarctic.

Out of eight Arctic states that are pushing for a ban, only Canada and Russia have not yet supported it – though they haven’t opposed it either – but Russia has been making suggestions and Canada wants a study done on the impact of a ban on coastal communities. They basically have not made their position clear.

Nevertheless, an important step will be achieved in January 2020 when sulphur content in fuel will be limited to 0.5%, down from 3.5%. Currently, most vessels use HFO with a sulphur content of 2.7%.

In Iceland, sulphur content of shipping fuel within 12 nautical miles of land must be limited to 0.1% from January 2020. However, HFO will be permitted if scrubbers are used. Anywhere outside of this area comes under the jurisdiction of the IMO. The reduction “will solve some problems but not all”, according to Árni Finnsson from the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, which organised the seminar.

Currently, 76% of fuel used in the Arctic is HFO. Vessels that spend long periods at a time in the Arctic are especially likely to be using the fuel. Some ships are fitted with scrubbers, which are designed to remove sulphur, but if vessels are using open-loop rather than closed-loop scrubbers – as 80% of boats do – the resulting effluent is also polluting.

Lighter fuel blends are being developed, but as these are mixed on board, HFO will still have to be carried, with the potential of oil spills that are hard to clean in the Arctic.

The Clean Arctic Alliance, a global body consisting of 18 organisations, is pushing for the use of the lighter distillate fuels, which already meet emission requirements for sulphur. When distillates are used, particulate filters could be installed to reduce black carbon emissions by over 90%. The Alliance points out that between 2015 and 2017, there was a 30% increase in the number of HFO-fuelled ships and 50% increase in black carbon emissions from HFO use.

Particulate filters cannot be used with HFO, as HFO contains too much carbon. The warming impact of black carbon in the Arctic is three times higher than over the open ocean.

“The ocean has been absorbing large quantities of emissions, equivalent to 20-30% of CO2 emitted by human activity since the 1980s. We need to achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” says Dr Sian Prior from the Clean Arctic Alliance..

Most of the area around Svalbard is already subjected to an HFO ban.

This blog was originally written for ENDS Europe.

Nordic push for plastics circularity in electrical and electronic equipment

According to a new report published by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM), emphasis should be put on developing and implementing circular design principles into electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) as 80% of environmental pollution and 90% of manufacturing costs are the result of decisions made at the product design stage.

Using recycled plastic in an electrical/electronic product could reduce the environmental impact of a single product by over 20%, they say, while up to 50% of the 1.2 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) plastics in the EU could be recycled instead of the current 20%. If all WEEE plastics in Europe were recycled, estimated CO2 emission reductions would account for over 2.5 million tonnes per year.

The authors suggest targets for circular electrical and electronic equipment (CEEE) akin to those in the EU plastics strategy, which stipulates 50% recycled plastic content in packaging material by 2025 and 55% by 2030.

Sector-wide circular design principles can be achieved by setting up a roundtable that brings companies and value-chain actors together, whereby both parties could learn from each other. The authors point out that incorrect markings on plastics have resulted in a situation where recyclers do not trust the markings on plastics, which means that different types of plastics are not separated even when technologically possible.

They say that ultimately, the goal should be to design and set up a system that enables circulation, i.e. taking products back and reprocessing material back to the same product over and over again. At the moment, the focus is on recycling valuable metals, “but as the world is moving towards circularity and the amount of EEE is growing fast, plastics need to be used in a more circular fashion”.

In terms of legislation, requirements for using recycled content would speed up the market transition towards circularity. Requirements for circular design principles – especially reparability, upgradability, modularity and ease of disassembly (RUMED) – could be first encouraged in the form of sector-wide principles and gradually formulated into requirements. Removing existing barriers, such as transporting e-waste across borders within the EU, is equally important.

Note that I originally wrote this up for ENDS Europe Daily, but articles there can only be accessed by subscribers.