Best of our wild blogs: 6 Nov 12

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [29 Oct - 4 Nov 2012]
from Green Business Times

Raffles Science Institute Guest Lecture Series
from Raffles Science Institute

The Night I Smelt Like Vinegar
from Macro Photography in Singapore

brown-throated sunbird @ chek jawa - Nov2012
from sgbeachbum

Sungai Buloh (October 27)
from Rojak Librarian

New Campaign to Reduce Food Waste in Singapore
from Green Future Solutions

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Pasir Ris woodland to make way for school

Neo Chai Chin Today Online 6 Nov 12;

SINGAPORE - Efforts by some Pasir Ris residents to save a woodland at the junction of Pasir Ris Drive 3 and Elias Road have hit a wall, with development plans for an international school set to go ahead, according to the Ministry of National Development (MND) in two letters addressed to a resident last Tuesday.

The site was among those included in a request-for-interest exercise announced in April, said the letters sent via email and signed by Strategic Planning Manager Loo Jian Sheng for the ministry's Permanent Secretary.

"The request is to meet the demand for places for such schools that play an important role to support international businesses and investments growing their activities and creating economic opportunities and jobs in Singapore," he wrote.

The site was chosen to provide a "good distribution of such school sites islandwide", and is of sufficient size "while minimising impact on surrounding developments".

In July, some residents banded together to form the Pasir Ris Greenbelt Committee to save the woodland, about the size of two football fields and home to bird species including the endangered Changeable Hawk Eagle and critically endangered Oriental Pied Hornbill.

Over 1,200 residents from Pasir Ris Heights and neighbouring HDB blocks signed a petition and engaged the authorities through their Member of Parliament Teo Chee Hean. They also submitted a 217-page document making their case to preserve the forested area.

Mr Loo said the National Parks Board had recorded no rare plant species, 35 bird species and 35 butterfly species at the site between 2004 and 2012 - species also present in other parts of Singapore.

"While there are some bird species of potential conservation importance … NParks notes that not all of these bird species are nesting on site and are likely using the site as part of their overall home range for foraging. There is a realistic chance of these birds nesting at alternative sites," he added. The grounds are, therefore, "not sufficient to call for a detailed environmental impact assessment" that would defer development plans.

However, the school will be encouraged to retain the mature trees to form a natural buffer between the low-rise houses at Pasir Ris Heights and the teaching blocks of the school.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority and other agencies have also worked to minimise the impact of development on the neighbourhood, wrote Mr Loo. The school will be accessed via a new road directly off Pasir Ris Drive 3, while the agencies are working to ensure traffic management measures are in place.

Some residents expressed disappointment at the response and felt their research report had not been taken seriously enough by the authorities.

Mr David Christie, a resident and member of the Greenbelt Committee, said flyers would be distributed to explain the outcome to all residents who had signed the petition and their feedback collated, before the next course of action is decided.

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Nights in city centre hotter due to growing urbanisation

Grace Chua Straits Times 6 Nov 12;

MORE built-up space means the city centre is staying warmer at night, according to research by a Singapore scientist.

And the effect is spreading to previously less-developed areas that are now urbanising, such as Tampines, Punggol and Pasir Ris.

It could even affect rainfall over the city, said National University of Singapore atmospheric science expert Matthias Roth, who conducted the study. His work - a review of research from the past four decades - is not yet published but likely to appear in a scientific journal early next year.

The urban heat island effect refers to hard, flat surfaces such as streets and buildings becoming hotter during the day and staying warmer at night than forested areas.

Human activity, such as cars being driven and heat from air-conditioning vents, also contributes to the effect, said Associate Professor Roth.

Greater urbanisation in downtown Singapore means that in the last 40 years, the difference in night-time temperatures between the city centre and undeveloped areas has doubled.

Today, urban areas can be up to 7 deg C hotter at night than rural areas such as Lim Chu Kang, compared to 40 years ago, when the difference was about 3.5 deg C. That is under windless conditions. If there are strong winds or rain, the gap is smaller.

This is the first time temperature differences in areas have been quantified for Singapore, said Prof Roth. He added that study also helps put current research into context.

Average night-time temperatures have also gone up, according to Meteorological Service statistics. From 1982 to 1991, night temperatures measured 26.3 deg C. From 1992 to 2001, it was 26.6 deg C, followed by 26.8 deg C, from 2002 to 2011. As nights get warmer, people are more likely to sleep with the air-con on, thus increasing energy and fossil fuel use, said Prof Roth.

Average daytime temperatures are up as well. From 1982 to 1991, it was 28.6 deg C. Between 2002 and 2011, it rose to 29.1 deg C.

Urbanisation can affect rainfall patterns in ways that are still being studied, said Prof Roth. For example, higher temperatures create more updraft, which may lead to the formation of more clouds.

Now, Prof Roth is carrying out a more detailed study of how urban heat islands in Singapore vary by place and season.

But he said that simply "keeping a few trees here and there" may not help to mitigate the effect. "You need medium-sized parks and nature areas," he said.

Natural ventilation is also very important for Singapore, he added. For instance, void decks allow natural ventilation at ground level as the wind can flow through.

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Malaysia sea turtles: When science, patience and humanity combine

Maizatul Ranai New Straits Times 5 Nov 12;

NEXT month is the busiest hatching period for the hawksbill turtle eggs. This means long shifts and extra work for a group of experts in Glory Beach Resort in Port Dickson, as they keep a close watch on the eggs stored in its protected hatchery.

The hatchery, which has been operating for three years, is a breeding ground for hawksbill and green turtles, species which certainly need a helping hand.

While the establishment of the hatchery is aimed at tackling the alarming decline in the country's sea turtle population, it also allows some Port Dickson folk to earn instant cash.

Eggs are collected along the sandy beach and sold to the hatchery at RM2 to RM3 each. The hotel has been receiving up to 700 to 800 eggs on a monthly basis, thanks to elderly couples who pass by for a morning walk, concerned hotel guests consisting of tourists and locals alike, as well as schoolchildren who make collecting eggs a fun routine to meet their hankerings for luxury ice-creams.

After all, it is not about giving and claiming rewards for a deed that matters, but tenacious conservation efforts from both sides which deserve accolades.

Being the only recognised body in Negri Sembilan to be given the mandate to manage and rehabilitate turtles in the country, Glory Beach Resort initiated the 20ft by 8ft hatchery turtle hatchery centre in September 2010.

As of today, the hotel has been making a tremendous achievement, with a 74 per cent hatching rate while 3,500 hawksbill turtles have been successfully released into the sea.

Apart from the role of residents and guests in rescuing the eggs from poachers, the centre has also bought 3,000 turtle eggs from Malacca yearly.

Turtle conservation used to create headlines and gripped the public years ago. Of late, however, people have largely been ignorant and the issue seems to be swept under the rug.

The path to conservation was then fraught with the open selling and consumption of turtle eggs, the use of fishing gear which hurt the vulnerable creatures and never-ending issues of people littering on nesting beaches and polluting the turtles' habitat.

Many people have done all the aforementioned and more, without a twinge of guilt, while environmentalists are going all-out for survival of the species.

While walking on the beach of Tanjung Gemuk last week, in hopes that I could contribute to be part of the doers in the cause, I was greeted by an elderly man in his 60s.

Speaking in thick Negri Sembilan dialect, he rambled about picnic litter before touching on how the ancient reptile is on the brink of extinction, before I could even ask.

According to him, one could see or hear turtles coming up for air in the waters off Port Dickson during the 1980s.

"Sekarang ponyu pun dah merajuk, tompek kotor bonar!" he said. (Now even the turtles refused to come up as the beach is dirty and filled with trash)

He said the feeling of seeing and hearing the splash of water and turtles gulping air while they dove back into the sea was priceless and often gave him goose bumps.

"Now, you try and ask the kids if they know how many types of turtles are there. I bet they could memorise eccentric car names or the recently-launched gadgets much better," he said with a smirk.

I found that to be true.

It is high time the Federal Government banned the sale of turtle eggs for consumption. Sold at RM4 each, they are expensive and very high in cholesterol.

Eating the eggs to me is akin to an act of treason, next to using fishing gear which are especially dangerous for baby turtles.

There should also be more conservation funds so that the responsible parties could employ a very high-technology approach in the effort, such as the installation of tracking devices on baby turtles to monitor their movements in the ocean.

It all boils down to regeneration efforts, by a combination of science, patience and humanity which is being adopted by Glory Beach Resort.

It is a commendable, timely move that will potentially bring about a positive impact.

Turtles are the kind of animals that need extra care. While animals such as cats and dogs can lick their wounds to clean them out, turtles are unable to do that, even for a cut flipper.

We want to give our children an up-close encounter with the turtles, not only by recognising the creatures through their gadgets.

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Malaysia: floods worsen in Johor, Selangor, Perak and Malacca

Floods in four states force evacuation of 2,968
SK Thanusha Devi and Rahmat Khairulrijal New Straits Times 5 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: Flood situation in four states worsened with the number of evacuees increasing rapidly from 1,908 this morning to 2,968 as at 5pm today.

Heavy rain in Johor, Selangor, Perak and Malacca has forced authorities to set up 31 evacuation centres.

Johor has 1,497 evacuees in 18 centres in the state, with Batu Pahat the worst hit district with 1,344 victims.

Selangor recorded 1,119 victims, relocated at seven centres while Perak has 250 people evacuated to three centres.

Malacca which was also hit by floods with 104 victims has set up three centres.

The Meteorological Department said the wet season which was said to be worse than the previous one is expected to last until early March.

Malaysian Armed Forces Mobilised For Flood Relief
Bernama 5 Nov 12;

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 (Bernama) -- The Malaysian Armed Forces is on standby to mobilise its personnel to areas affected by floods, said Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

"The brigades and battalions in Johor are prepared. But we have not received a request from the Johor government yet," he said during a press conference at Parliament Monday.

He was commenting on the National Safety Council portal update which stated that 1,284 flood victims had been evacuated to flood relief centres in Batu Pahat and Kluang as of 3 pm today.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department has forecasted an unpredictable rain phenomenon due to constant changes in wind directions, for the whole of November nationwide.

The Armed Forces was also coordinating with the Social Welfare Department, Fire and Rescue Department, Civil Defence Department, district offices and other relevant agencies, he added.


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Nearly 50 percent of Indonesia`s damaged coral reefs rehabilitated

Antara 5 Nov 12;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - About half of the damaged coral reefs in Indonesia, which accounted for approximately 67 percent of the total coral reef population in the country, have been rehabilitated, according to Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Sharief Cicip Sutardjo.

"We have carried out rehabilitation efforts in cooperation with the World Bank since five years ago, under the Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (Coremap)," he stated in Boalemo district, Gorontalo province, on Monday.

Sharief said the damaged coral reefs recovered fast, adding that the rehabilitation process was not easy.

"The program is in line with the government`s plan to develop a `Blue Economy' in order to support the national economic growth," he noted.

The Blue Economy plan focuses on sustainable exploitation of Indonesia`s maritime potential to maximise the nation`s economic growth.

Indonesia has also established cooperation with Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste to protect the Coral Triangle region.

"It`s like the Amazon of Brazil, the maritime Amazon is located in Indonesia," Sharief said.

The Coral Triangle program is also supported by Australia and the United States. (*)

Editor: Heru

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A Dam Conundrum: Xayaburi Project Could Help Laos And Thailand, Hurt Cambodia And Vietnam

Jacey Fortin International Business Times 5 Nov 12;

Officials in Laos announced that construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam will begin with a kickoff ceremony at the construction site Wednesday.

Protests from human rights activists and environmental groups have delayed the project for 18 months, but the joint Laotian and Thai project is apparently too lucrative to put off any longer.

The dam is nominally spearheaded by the Laos-based Xayaburi Power Company, but it is financed almost entirely by three Thai enterprises, according to Bloomberg: Ch. Karnchang Pcl (CK), PTT Pcl (PTT) and Electricity Generating Pcl (EGCO).

Nearly all of the energy produced by the facility will be purchased by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, a state-owned enterprise.

The revenues could have a big impact in Laos, which suffers high rates of poverty and depends on foreign aid to augment its meager GDP of about US$8.3 billion. Laotian officials hope that Xayaburi will be just the first of several dams built on the central vein of the Mekong River; future facilities may do more to generate energy for domestic use.

But the project’s critics demand more research to ensure that the dam does not endanger the tens of millions of people who rely on the Mekong River for their livelihoods.

Not So Fast

The Xayaburi controversy essentially pits Laos and Thailand, which stand to benefit most from the dam, against Cambodia and Vietnam, which are further downriver and will suffer the environmental consequences of the deal.

Adding insult to injury, the four countries are members of the Mekong River Commission, or MRC, an organization meant to encourage collaboration on any river projects. The Commission issued a report last year recommending that the Xayaburi project be delayed so that the necessary research could be carried out, and Laos has said it would abide by that agreement.

But Laos had evidently never stopped planning for the facility, and this week’s announcement marks the official decision to bring those plans out into the open.

Viraphonh Viravong, deputy minister of energy and mining, told reporters on Monday that the concerns outlined by the MRC had already been adequately addressed. Investors have spent about US$100 million to modify the dam’s design, he said, making it more ecologically sound.

“We can sense that Vietnam and Cambodia now understand how we have addressed their concerns. We did address this properly with openness and put all our engineers at their disposal. We are convinced we are developing a very good dam,” he said to BBC.

But critics, including not only Vietnamese and Cambodian officials but also internationally based environmental groups, charge that those modifications are untested and inadequate -- especially since the waters of the Mekong River are the lifeblood of thousands of Southeast Asian communities.

All Downriver from Here

The 2,700-mile Mekong River begins in China’s Tibetan Plateau and trickles south through the mountainous Yunnan Province. From there, the Mekong swings through Laos. It demarcates the country’s western border in two spots, separating it from Myanmar and then Thailand. Continuing southward, the river crosses Cambodia and finally Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.

The Mekong River Basin is teeming with life; it is one of the world’s most spectacular biodiversity hotspots. Its myriad species of fish and other water-dependent creatures like frogs, snails and turtles constitute the main source of animal protein for human consumption in the region, and are therefore integral to the survival of many rural communities in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

According to the most recent “State of the Basin Report” from the MRC in 2010, the people of the Lower Mekong Basin -- the land along the portion of the waterway that lies south of China -- consume nearly 3 million tons of fish from the river and its tributaries every year. In addition, farmers from Myanmar to Vietnam rely on the river to irrigate their farms, helping them to produce everything from rice to coffee to sweet potatoes.

Thousands of small dams already exist on the Mekong’s many tributaries, but a large facility on the main waterway is far more risky. If not executed carefully, it could have dire consequences for the millions of people who rely on the river’s robust ecosystem.

“Dams are a barrier to fish migrations up and down rivers, and mainstream dams in the middle and lower reaches of the Mekong could affect more than 70 percent of the basin’s catch,” said the MRC report. The lack of fish, combined with lower agricultural productivity across the region, could lead to “reduced production, substantial economic cost and social deprivation.”

But while the people who live in and around Lower Mekong Basin currently enjoy well-irrigated farms and plenty of fish, they also suffer a dire lack of energy -- and this is central to the argument of those who support the Xayaburi Dam.

A Weighted Exchange

Southeast Asia has experienced steady economic growth over the last several years, but the resultant rise in energy demand -- especially for electricity -- has been woefully underserved. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are increasingly reliant on fuel imports, which, even combined with domestic production, leave tens of millions of households with no electricity at all.

Hydropower could change that. It is a domestic solution that has the added benefit of being environmentally friendly, if properly executed.

“Hydropower is regarded as an indigenous renewable energy source with limited carbon emissions,” says the MRC report. “Increasing its use could boost the region’s contribution to climate change mitigation, through reducing dependence on fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) that today account for up to 80 percent of total electricity generation.”

It is no wonder that Laos is eager to forge ahead with its Xayaburi plans. Hydropower electricity generation is the best bet for independent economic development in this poverty-stricken country; its 6.3 million people have plenty to gain, especially with Thailand as a dependable consumer.

But in the end, success depends on execution -- and Laos’s competency as a steward of this project is questionable. The national one-party government tends to exercise heavy-handed control over commerce, despite ongoing liberalization. It is also steeped in corruption.

In the worst-case scenario, that the Xayaburi dam will not only disrupt the livelihoods of tens of millions of people downstream; it could also fail to deliver the expected economic benefits to the Laotian society as a whole.

But it does not seem that Viraphonh is losing sleep over either of these risks.

"I am very confident that we will not have any adverse impacts on the Mekong river," he said to the BBC. "But any development will have changes. We have to balance between the benefits and the costs."

Laos approves Xayaburi 'mega' dam on Mekong
BBC News 5 Nov 12;

Laos has given the go-ahead to build a massive dam on the lower Mekong river, despite opposition from neighbouring countries and environmentalists.

A formal ceremony marking the start of full construction at Xayaburi would be held on Wednesday, the government said.

Countries downstream from the $3.5bn (£2.2bn) dam fear it will affect fish stocks and the livelihoods of millions.

The announcement came as leaders from Asia and Europe began a two-day meeting in the Laos capital, Vientiane.

Landlocked Laos is one of South-east Asia's poorest countries and its strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, says the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Bangkok.

Xayaburi is being built by a Thai company with Thai money - and almost all of the electricity has been pre-sold to Thailand, our correspondent says.

Countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam point to a report last year that said the project should be delayed while more research was done on the dam's environmental impact. Up to now, Laos had promised not to press ahead while those concerns remained.

Four dams already exist in the narrow gorges of the Upper Mekong in China but until now there have been none on the slower-moving lower reaches of the river, our correspondent says.

Laos deputy energy minister Viraphonh Virawong said work on the Xayaburi dam itself would begin this week, and hoped it would be the first of many.

"I am very confident that we will not have any adverse impacts on the Mekong river," Mr Viraphonh told the BBC. "But any development will have changes. We have to balance between the benefits and the costs."

Mr Viraphonh said he believed that concerns about fish migration and sediment flow had been addressed thanks to modifications to the original dam design costing more than $100m.

Sediment will be allowed out of the bottom of the dam periodically through a flap and lifts, and ladders will help the fish travel upstream.

"We can sense that Vietnam and Cambodia now understand how we have addressed their concerns. We did address this properly with openness and put all our engineers at their disposal. We are convinced we are developing a very good dam," Mr Viraphonh said.

There was no immediate reaction from Cambodia or Vietnam, whose prime ministers are in Laos for this week's Asia-Europe summit.

Under the terms of a longstanding agreement on the Mekong, there must be consultation between countries on any development on the river.

Environmental campaign group International Rivers said Laos' promise to cooperate with neighbouring countries had never been genuine.

"The project has always continued on schedule and was never actually delayed," the group's Southeast Asia policy coordinator, Kirk Herbertson, told the BBC. "Construction on the project is continuing now because the wet season has ended, not because the environmental studies are completed."

He said experts agreed it was doubtful that fish passages could work on the Mekong and "on the sediments issue, Laos is also jumping to conclusions".

"Laos is playing roulette with the Mekong, and trying to pass its studies off as legitimate science."

Laos pushes ahead with Mekong dam and risks destroying the region’s lifeblood
WWF 6 Nov 12;

Gland, Switzerland – The Lao government’s determination to plow ahead with construction of the controversial US$3.5-billion Xayaburi hydropower dam in northern Laos puts the mighty Mekong River’s spectacular biodiversity, rich fisheries and livelihoods - vital to nearly 60 million people - in grave danger, warns WWF.

Despite fierce opposition from neighbouring countries, and some concerns raised this week by delegates attending the Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM 9) in the Lao capital, Vientiane, Laos’ Deputy Minister of Energy and Mining, Mr Viraphonh Viravong, announced that Laos will hold a ground-breaking ceremony at the dam site on Wednesday, 7 November. Mr. Viravong also told a group of journalists, “It [Xayaburi dam] has been assessed, it has been discussed the last two years. We have addressed most of the concerns.”

Criticism of the Xayaburi project has been mounting over the past year, with concerns centred on the serious gaps in data and failures to fully account for the impacts of the dam, particularly concerning fisheries and sediment flows.

“Laos appears to be recklessly intent on forging ahead with construction before the agreed impact studies have been completed,” said Dr Li Lifeng, Director of WWF’s Freshwater Programme.

“If the region’s governments fail now to reaffirm their concerns on Xayaburi, they risk resting the future of the Mekong on flawed analysis and gaps in critical data that could have dire consequences for millions of people living in the Mekong River basin.”

In June 2010, Thailand’s electricity utility, EGAT, signed an initial agreement with Ch. Karnchang to purchase over 95 per cent of the Xayaburi dam’s electricity, and at least four Thai banks have expressed their interest in providing loans to the project, despite the acute environmental and social costs, and the uncertainties surrounding the financial return of the project.

“Thailand has a huge stake in the project and should not turn a blind eye to the potentially devastating consequences the project will wreak on their neighbours, and their own people,” added Li. “Thailand must take responsibility and join calls to stop the dam construction and cancel its power purchase agreement until there is regional consensus to build the dam.”

Laos’ actions fly in the face of the decision last December by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to delay building the dam on the Mekong mainstream pending further studies on the sustainable management of the Mekong River, including impacts from mainstream hydropower development projects. However, no timeline has yet been set for when the further studies will be completed.

A recent review of the dam development identified uncertainties and weaknesses with the proposed fish passes, and confirmed the Xayaburi project will block part of the sediment flow and that important gaps in knowledge concerning the sediment aspects remain.

The Lao government and Ch. Karnchang agreed to spend an additional US$100 million on modifications to the dam design in an attempt to mitigate the adverse impacts, but experts warn this will fail to solve the problems given the remaining gaps in key data and science, and the clear risks associated with using unproven technologies.

“Laos expects its neighbours to trust that the clear risks associated with this project will somehow be resolved while construction moves ahead,” added Li. “In pushing ahead with their Mekong dam experiment, Laos is jeopardizing the sustainability of one of the world’s great river systems, and all future transboundary cooperation.”

As the first dam project to enter the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) formal consultation process, the Xayaburi project will set an important precedent for 10 other dams proposed for the lower mainstream of the river.

"The Asia-Europe meeting brought together about 50 Asian and European leaders in Laos this week under an umbrella of “Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity.” But few voices of concern were raised about a project set to spread instability throughout the region and undermine development goals. The international community must not remain silent on Xayaburi," added Li.

WWF urges Mekong ministers to defer a decision on the dam for 10 years to ensure critical data can be gathered and a decision can be reached using sound science and analysis. WWF advises lower Mekong countries considering hydropower projects to prioritise dams on some Mekong tributaries that are easier to assess and are considered to have a much lower impact and risk.

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Pressure builds for better oil spill clean-up technology

Chris Wickham PlanetArk 5 Nov 12;

With oil becoming scarcer and more expensive, the economics of the industry may finally tip in favor of one of the most neglected areas of its business - the technology for cleaning up oil spills.

Despite efforts by scientists to find new and more effective ways to deal with spilt oil, there has been little fundamental change in the technology in the two decades since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster that spilled 750,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

But as oil companies push into the environmentally pristine Arctic and deeper waters elsewhere, the pressure on them to demonstrate they can quickly mop up spilt oil will increase.

Big spills like BP PLC's 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico usually trigger a flurry of research, much like the acceleration in weapons technology in wartime, but history shows that industry and government enthusiasm quickly fades.

That loss of momentum could prove expensive. BP has already spent $14 billion on clean-up operations, paid out over $8 billion in claims and is offering a further $7.8 billion in settlement to those affected by the disaster.


A pair of materials researchers from Pennsylvania State University have come up with a novel gel that can absorb 40 times its own weight in oil and forms a soft solid that is strong enough to be scooped up and fed straight into a refinery to recover the oil.

The polymer developed by Mike Chung and Xuepei Yuan only interacted with oil in tests and the swelled gel contained no water, which solves the sticky problem of separating spilt crude from the water it pollutes.

Chung says existing absorbers like straw, and even corn cobs, can only hold about five times their own weight. They also pick up water along with the oil and become waste that has to be buried in special landfills or burned.

The Penn State scientists estimate their polymer gel could be produced on a large scale for $2 a pound, which is enough to recover more than five gallons of spilled oil worth roughly $12 based on a barrel price of $80.

"Had this material been applied to the top of the leaking well head in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 spill, this... could have effectively transformed the gushing brown oil into a floating gel for easy collection and minimized the pollution consequences," the scientists said in their research paper on the new material.

Rival teams have applied nanotechnology to the problem to produce ultra-lightweight sponges that are oleophilic and hydrophobic - they love oil but repel water.

Daniel Hashim and colleagues at Rice University in Houston have found a way to turn carbon nanotubes - atom-thick sheets of carbon rolled into cylinders - into a sponge material that sucks up oil and can either be squeezed or burned to remove it. In either case the fire-resistant sponge can be re-used.

Hashim told Reuters he has some seed capital from companies and individual investors to develop the technology but there are plenty of hurdles ahead.

Aside from the need to develop a system to deploy the sponge material into an oil spill, "the most significant barrier is equipment cost associated with the scale-up process," he said.

If those hurdles can be overcome, the material could be useful in the Arctic because it retains its sponginess even in extreme cold.

Even celebrities are getting in on the act. In June this year, a U.S. jury ruled in favor of actor Kevin Costner in a lawsuit in which fellow actor Stephen Baldwin accused him of cheating in a multimillion dollar deal to sell oil clean-up devices to BP after the Gulf of Mexico spill.


Some industry insiders are candid about the problem. Writing in the Journal of Petroleum Technology in September, Michael Cortez, BP's manager of oil spill response technology, and his deputy Hunter Rowe warned the research push since the Gulf disaster could be short-lived.

The industry has ramped up funding to improve response technology after other major spills, they said.

"In all instances, however, after a few years of progress, conditions changed in the industry because of oil price volatility and other economic events, and spill response technology development and funding returned to previous levels."

More than twenty years after Exxon Valdez, when BP's Macondo well spewed out an estimated 5 million barrels into the sea, the flotilla attacking the slick was still using floating booms to contain it, specially adapted ships that pick it up by skimming the surface of the water, and controversial chemical dispersants.

There have been advances, not least in the gadgetry for tracking and imaging spills and deploying the ships. The booms are better designed, the skimmers are more efficient and the dispersants less toxic. Some in the industry think this is enough.

"We believe the current technology we have more than meets the need," said Simon Henry, finance director of Royal Dutch Shell, when asked by Reuters whether the company was increasing research spending as it pushes exploration into the Arctic.

Shell, which is Europe's top oil company, was forced to suspend the hunt for oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska this year after a giant metal box designed to help contain the oil in the event of a well blowout, was damaged during tests.

"We put most of our effort into ensuring there isn't a spill in the first place," said Henry, adding that a series of barriers, including the blowout preventer that sits on the sea floor at the well-head, are there to guard against "a very, very unlikely event".


Cortez and Rowe from BP argue that exploration in harsher and more remote environments calls for more cutting-edge spill response technology.

"The key to closing technology gaps and enhancing current technologies is to prevent the sense of urgency from being diminished," they said in their journal article.

Scientists are busy coming up with answers but in the end it will be the will of the oil industry and pressure from governments that determines how far and how fast these new technologies are taken up.

As for the novel oil-absorbing gel, Mike Chung is still waiting for the industry to call.

"There is a lot of interest in Petrogel technology for oil spill cleanup and recovery, but not from major oil companies," he told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Andrew Callus)

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Unprecedented world carbon emissions cuts needed by 2050: PwC

Nina Chestney PlanetArk 6 Nov 12;

The world will have to cut the rate of carbon emissions by an unprecedented rate to 2050 to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees this century, a report released by PwC on Monday showed.

PwC's annual Low Carbon Economy Index report examined the progress of developed and emerging economies towards reducing their carbon intensity, or their emissions per unit of gross domestic product.

Global temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Almost 200 nations agreed in 2010 at United Nations climate talks to limit the rise to below 2 degrees C (3.6 Fahrenheit) to avoid dangerous impacts from climate change.

Carbon intensity will have to be cut by over 5 percent a year to achieve that goal, the study said. That compares with an annual rate of 0.8 percent from 2000 to 2011.

"Because of this slow start, global carbon intensity now needs to be cut by an average of 5.1 percent a year from now to 2050. This rate of reduction has not been achieved in any of the past 50 years," it added.

Climate scientists have warned that the chance of limiting the rise to below 2C is getting smaller.

Global carbon emissions went up over 3 percent in 2011 to a record high, according to the International Energy Agency.


Even if the 5 percent rate is achievable in the long term, decarbonisation will not be ramped up immediately, meaning that future cuts would have to be far more.

"Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation would still lead to emissions consistent with 6C warming by the end of the century," said Leo Johnson, PwC partner for sustainability and climate change.

"To give ourselves a more than 50 percent chance of avoiding 2C will require a six-fold improvement in our rate of decarbonisation."

According to the study, European Union countries had the highest rates of decarbonisation, with Britain, France and Germany all cutting carbon intensity by over 6 percent in 2010-2011.

"The irony is that a key reason for lower energy use was the milder winter in the region. Both the UK and France also witnessed increased generation in low-emissions nuclear power, whereas Germany's exit from nuclear is reflected in its relatively lesser decline in emissions," PwC said.

The United States experienced a 3.5 percent decrease in carbon intensity in 2011, mostly due to a shift to shale gas from coal in its fuel mix and more efficient vehicles.

Decarbonisation in China and India in the last decade seems to have stalled, while Australia's carbon intensity grew by 6.7 percent last year and Japan's was up 0.8 percent.

Although major economies have promised to cut carbon dioxide emissions, the pledges combined are insufficient to meet the 2C target, PwC said.

It questioned whether some of the pledges can be met due to economic pressures.

Nations will meet in Qatar at the end of this month for the next round of U.N. climate talks when they are supposed to discuss ways of ramping up their climate targets.

(Editing by Jane Baird)

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