Fossil fuels and renewables both under pressure from soaring energy demands

November 13th, 2018 no comment

The World Energy Outlook 2018 report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that oil markets are entering a period of renewed “uncertainty and volatility” which could result in a “supply gap” in the early 2020s.

It also found that natural gas is expected to overtake coal as the world’s second-largest energy source after oil by 2030 due to a drive to cut air pollution and the rise in liquefied natural gas (LNG) use.

Elsewhere, the report found that energy from solar PV is expanding rapidly, but other low-carbon technologies are being hampered by inaction from governments.

“Governments will have a critical influence in the direction of the future energy system,” the report states. “Under current and planned policies, energy demand is set to grow by more than 25 per cent to 2040, requiring more than $2tr a year of investment in new energy supply.”

The IEA said that energy demand would grow by more than a quarter between 2017 and 2040 assuming improvements in energy efficiency usage. Without such improvements the increase in demand could rise by twice that much.

It also warns that reducing carbon emissions is made more difficult due to energy infrastructure that is already “locked-in”.

In particular, coal-fired power plants, which account for one-third of energy-related CO2 emissions today, represent more than a third of cumulative locked-in emissions to 2040.

The vast majority of these are related to projects in Asia, where average coal plants are just 11 years old on average, with decades left to operate, compared with an average age of 40 years for plants in the United States and Europe.

China, already the world’s biggest oil and coal importer, is soon expected to become the largest importer of gas and net imports would approach the level of the European Union by 2040, the IEA said.

Although it is the world’s third-biggest user of natural gas behind the United States and Russia, it has to import about 40 per cent of its needs as local production cannot keep pace.

Emerging economies in Asia would account for about half of total global gas demand growth and their share of LNG imports would double to 60 per cent by 2040, the IEA report said.

“Although talk of a global gas market similar to that of oil is premature, LNG trade has expanded substantially in volume since 2010 and has reached previously isolated markets,” it said.

LNG involves cooling gas to a liquid so it can be transported by ship.

The United States would account for 40 per cent of total gas production growth to 2025, the IEA said, while other sources would take over as US shale gas output flattened and other nations started turning to unconventional methods of gas production, such as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Global electricity demand will grow 2.1 per cent a year, mostly driven by rising use in developing economies. Electricity will account for a quarter of energy used by end users such as consumers and industry by 2040, it said.

Coal and renewables will swap their positions in the power generation mix. The share of coal is forecast to fall from about 40 per cent today to a quarter in 2040, while renewables would grow to just over 40 per cent from a quarter now.

A report yesterday found that finance was lacking to connect the last 1.1 billion people to electricity networks worldwide. 

Electrification targets in developing countries struggling due to global underfunding

November 12th, 2018 no comment

The ‘Energizing Finance: Understanding the Landscape 2018’ report analyses finance flows for electricity and clean cooking access in countries across Africa and Asia with the most significant access gaps.

An annual investment of $52bn (£40bn) is needed to meet universal electrification research suggests, yet finance commitments for electricity in the 20 ‘high-impact’ countries – representing 76 per cent of those without electricity access – has barely increased, averaging just $30.2bn annually.

Meanwhile, funding to expand cleaner, more energy-efficient cooking has declined, said SEforALL in a report that compared financing levels in 2015 and 2016 with the preceding two-year period.

More than a quarter of the annual investment in 2015 and 2016 – $8bn per year – was for grid-connected fossil fuel plants, double the spending on them in 2013-14 and something “the global community may be concerned to note”, it added.

China provided a fifth of that fossil-fuel expansion money, despite its ramping investment in renewable energy generation domestically. 

“The good news is that renewables offer us a powerful opportunity to provide reliable and affordable clean electricity both through the grid and off-grid”, said, Rachel Kyte, SEforALL CEO.

“The bad news is that we are not yet seeing a strong enough project pipeline or sufficient levels of public investment that will crowd in private finance to seize this moment of falling prices for revolutionary technology. Even more worrying is that at the same time we’re seeing incremental increase in funding for renewable energy, investments in coal increased. Coal is not an answer to energy poverty.”

She added that the funding uptick for electric power was “nowhere near sufficient for us to reach the goal, or to meet the needs, or to make these communities resilient in the face of climate change impacts”.

In seven developing countries, including Nigeria, Malawi, Sudan and Afghanistan, investment in electrification dropped by 50 per cent or more in 2015-2016 compared to 2013-14, with sub-Saharan Africa as a whole receiving less money.

India, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Kenya garnered 86 per cent of investment in 2015-2016 for expansion of electricity access among the 20 countries studied.

Within that, the same four received the most money for new coal-fired power plants, which often do not help the poorest where they are not connected to the power grid, the report said.

The study looked at both international and domestic sources of funding, averaged over two years.

Government seeking to acquire smart energy finance vehicle

November 12th, 2018 no comment

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), entered talks with the fund, Salix Finance Limited, to which it supplies the majority of its funding – and the entirety of which is public money – early in the summer, as parliament slated its earlier reform of another public investment fund, the £12bn Green Investment Bank, which it sold off last year. And while the Department has refused to state its purpose, it opened negotiations over Salix’s future as it started implementing recommendations of its Green Finance Task Force, to make private finance a bigger part of its efforts to transform the national infrastructure to use energy efficient technologies, to cut carbon emissions and meet its legal commitments to reduce global warming.

Annie Sheppard OBE, CEO of Salix, told E&T it had entered talks with the secretary of state for BEIS, Greg Clark MP, the fact of which had been buried at the bottom of financial accounts it published on 25 July with no more explanation than that they concerned its ownership.

“We are in discussions with government about the future of the company and its ownership,” Sheppard told E&T. “I am not allowed to disclose what the secretary of state’s purpose might be.

But she said: “The secretary of state is looking to see if the current board of Salix would consent to the secretary of state taking ownership of Salix as a company. Why the secretary of state would wish to do that is really something you should be putting to BEIS, and the Scottish parliament and the Welsh parliament.”

The reason was “absolutely confidential”, she said. But she added that she did not believe it would lead to Salix becoming a profit-led body.

Salix, a company limited by guarantee that is therefore required to reinvest any profit it makes back into the business, said in its accounts in July, “Management are currently in discussions with BEIS and the Scottish and Welsh governments concerning the ownership of the company. It is not anticipated that this will have any impact on the day-to-day operations of the company”. Negotiations had started after the close of its financial year on 31 March, it said.

Salix had committed £692.1m of funding for public bodies to invest in green transformation projects since it was founded by the last Labour government in 2004, according to its financial statement, and had paid about £0.5bn of funds put up by BEIS, and the Scottish and Welsh governments. Its projects, with such bodies as local councils, school and hospitals, were making annual energy savings worth £160m-a-year, and annual CO2 reductions of 0.8m tonnes.

The fact that its loans were interest-free were the key to Salix’s success, the current government said in a review of its investments through the fund, on 31 July. But so was the fact that it was wholly-funded with public money. Public bodies were wary of private financiers. And they didn’t want the savings they made with their energy-efficiency investments to be split, to become profit for privateers.

The Green Investment Bank (GIB), which raised about 10 per cent on loans it made with joint-public-private funding, meanwhile struggled to make investments in energy efficiency projects, said Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, in May.

BEIS sold off GIB last year to cut public debt because it could not longer afford to fund it, the National Audit Office wrote in a report about the sale last December. The government had set it up to persuade private financiers to put money into green projects, “to correct a market failure”. It attracted £2.5 of private money for every pound of public money it put up.

The idea that there is a lack of funds to make green investment has led calls for government schemes to draw more upon private finance. BEIS’ Green Task Force, like the NAO and BEIS itself, made statements about huge sums of money the country needed to invest in green technology, in order to meet international commitments to address the planet’s man-made climate crisis.

BEIS had estimated in 2011 that it would need to invest £30bn a year, and up to £50bn a year by 2020, according to an unpublished report the NAO cited in December. It was not clear whether it was short. But its task force report said local authorities had £30bn of green projects “stuck in the valley of death” for want of capital funding to get them started. It cited a 2014 report that the world would need to invest $90tn in green schemes between 2015 and 2030 to solve its climate problem.

The task force’s solution, for the government to team up with financiers in the City of London to build a public-private investment scheme, would be an opportunity as well, for the UK to get some of that huge global market in green finance. UK should “seize the chance” its financial centre offered, it said, to address “a problem faced by  governments across the globe, which was “connecting sufficient capital to sustainable infrastructure projects”.

“A more active partnership between the public and private sector is needed to .. mobilise private sector investors to invest in green infrastructure,” it said.

BEIS review of Salix, which it now calls the Public Sector Energy Efficiency Loan Scheme, said any lack of take-up of its fund from local authorities was attributed to a lack of awareness, and that one of the reasons for its success was that it had been established long enough for it to become well known.

A spokesman for BEIS said it had “no firm plans” for the future of Salix and it would not comment further on the negotiations.

Government seeking to acquire smart energy finance vehicle

November 12th, 2018 no comment

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), entered talks with the fund, Salix Finance Limited, to which it supplies the majority of its funding – and the entirety of which is public money – early in the summer, as parliament slated its earlier reform of another public investment fund, the £12bn Green Investment Bank, which it sold off last year. And while the Department has refused to state its purpose, it opened negotiations over Salix’s future as it started implementing recommendations of its Green Finance Task Force, to make private finance a bigger part of its efforts to transform the national infrastructure to use energy efficient technologies, to cut carbon emissions and meet its legal commitments to reduce global warming.

Annie Sheppard OBE, CEO of Salix, told E&T it had entered talks with the secretary of state for BEIS, Greg Clark MP, the fact of which had been buried at the bottom of financial accounts it published on 25 July with no more explanation than that they concerned its ownership.

“We are in discussions with government about the future of the company and its ownership,” Sheppard told E&T. “I am not allowed to disclose what the secretary of state’s purpose might be.

But she said: “The secretary of state is looking to see if the current board of Salix would consent to the secretary of state taking ownership of Salix as a company. Why the secretary of state would wish to do that is really something you should be putting to BEIS, and the Scottish parliament and the Welsh parliament.”

The reason was “absolutely confidential”, she said. But she added that she did not believe it would lead to Salix becoming a profit-led body.

Salix, a company limited by guarantee that is therefore required to reinvest any profit it makes back into the business, said in its accounts in July, “Management are currently in discussions with BEIS and the Scottish and Welsh governments concerning the ownership of the company. It is not anticipated that this will have any impact on the day-to-day operations of the company”. Negotiations had started after the close of its financial year on 31 March, it said.

Salix had committed £692.1m of funding for public bodies to invest in green transformation projects since it was founded by the last Labour government in 2004, according to its financial statement, and had paid about £0.5bn of funds put up by BEIS, and the Scottish and Welsh governments. Its projects, with such bodies as local councils, school and hospitals, were making annual energy savings worth £160m-a-year, and annual CO2 reductions of 0.8m tonnes.

The fact that its loans were interest-free were the key to Salix’s success, the current government said in a review of its investments through the fund, on 31 July. But so was the fact that it was wholly-funded with public money. Public bodies were wary of private financiers. And they didn’t want the savings they made with their energy-efficiency investments to be split, to become profit for privateers.

The Green Investment Bank (GIB), which raised about 10 per cent on loans it made with joint-public-private funding, meanwhile struggled to make investments in energy efficiency projects, said Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, in May.

BEIS sold off GIB last year to cut public debt because it could not longer afford to fund it, the National Audit Office wrote in a report about the sale last December. The government had set it up to persuade private financiers to put money into green projects, “to correct a market failure”. It attracted £2.5 of private money for every pound of public money it put up.

The idea that there is a lack of funds to make green investment has led calls for government schemes to draw more upon private finance. BEIS’ Green Task Force, like the NAO and BEIS itself, made statements about huge sums of money the country needed to invest in green technology, in order to meet international commitments to address the planet’s man-made climate crisis.

BEIS had estimated in 2011 that it would need to invest £30bn a year, and up to £50bn a year by 2020, according to an unpublished report the NAO cited in December. It was not clear whether it was short. But its task force report said local authorities had £30bn of green projects “stuck in the valley of death” for want of capital funding to get them started. It cited a 2014 report that the world would need to invest $90tn in green schemes between 2015 and 2030 to solve its climate problem.

The task force’s solution, for the government to team up with financiers in the City of London to build a public-private investment scheme, would be an opportunity as well, for the UK to get some of that huge global market in green finance. UK should “seize the chance” its financial centre offered, it said, to address “a problem faced by  governments across the globe, which was “connecting sufficient capital to sustainable infrastructure projects”.

“A more active partnership between the public and private sector is needed to .. mobilise private sector investors to invest in green infrastructure,” it said.

BEIS review of Salix, which it now calls the Public Sector Energy Efficiency Loan Scheme, said any lack of take-up of its fund from local authorities was attributed to a lack of awareness, and that one of the reasons for its success was that it had been established long enough for it to become well known.

A spokesman for BEIS said it had “no firm plans” for the future of Salix and it would not comment further on the negotiations.

Transparent film cools buildings by rejecting 70 per cent of solar heat

November 9th, 2018 no comment

To battle the summer heat, office and residential buildings tend to crank up the air conditioning, sending energy bills soaring. It’s estimated that air conditioners currently use about 6 per cent of all the electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost of $29bn.

The new heat-rejecting film is able to remain highly transparent below 32 degrees Celsius but when the temperature rises beyond this acts as an autonomous system to reject heat.

The researchers estimate that if every exterior-facing window in a building were covered in this film, the building’s air conditioning and energy costs could drop by 10 per cent.

The film is similar to transparent plastic wrap, and its heat-rejecting properties come from tiny microparticles embedded within it.

These microparticles are made from a type of phase-changing material that shrinks when exposed to temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius or higher. In their more compact configurations, the microparticles give the normally transparent film a more translucent or frosted look.

Applied to windows in the summer, the film could passively cool a building while still letting in a good amount of light.

Nicholas Fang, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, says the material provides an affordable and energy-efficient alternative to existing smart window technologies.

“Smart windows on the market currently are either not very efficient in rejecting heat from the sun, or, like some electrochromic windows, they may need more power to drive them, so you would be paying to basically turn windows opaque,” he said. “We thought there might be room for new optical materials and coatings, to provide better smart window options.”

After some research into reducing the energy consumption of buildings, Fang’s team found that a significant portion of a building’s heat comes through windows, in the form of sunlight.

“It turns out that for every square metre, about 500 watts of energy in the form of heat are brought in by sunlight through a window,” Fang said. 

The team uses a material made from poly (N-isopropylacrylamide)-2-Aminoethylmethacrylate hydrochloride microparticles.

These microparticles resemble tiny, transparent, fibre-webbed spheres and are filled with water. At higher temperatures the spheres essentially squeeze out all their water and shrink into tight bundles of fibres that reflect light in a different way, turning the material translucent.

“It’s like a fishnet in water,” Fang says. “Each of those fibres making the net, by themselves, reflects a certain amount of light. But because there’s a lot of water embedded in the fishnet, each fibre is harder to see. But once you squeeze the water out, the fibres become visible.”

In previous experiments, other groups had found that while the shrunken particles could reject light relatively well, they were less successful in shielding against heat. Fang and his colleagues realised that this limitation came down to the particle size: The particles used previously shrank to a diameter of about 100 nanometres—smaller than the wavelength of infrared light—making it easy for heat to pass right through.

Instead, Fang and his colleagues expanded the molecular chain of each microparticle, so that when it shrank in response to heat, the particle’s diameter was about 500nm, which Fang says is “more compatible to the infrared spectrum of solar light.”

The researchers created a solution of the heat-shielding microparticles, which they applied between two sheets of 12-by-12-inch [30x30cm] glass to create a film-coated window. They shone light from a solar simulator onto the window to mimic incoming sunlight and found that the film turned frosty in response to the heat. When they measured the solar irradiance transmitted through the other side of the window, the researchers found the film was able to reject 70 per cent of the heat produced by the lamp.

Going forward, the team plans to conduct more tests of the film to see whether tweaking its formula and applying it in other ways might improve its heat-shielding properties.

Interview: Sarah Beacock, CEO, Nuclear Institute

November 8th, 2018 no comment

“The biggest thing to have happened in the nuclear industry in quite a while,” says Sarah Beacock, “is the UK government’s ‘Nuclear Sector Deal’. It’s given the industry a shot in the arm.”

Part of the UK’s overall Industrial Strategy, the £200m sector deal states its top-line aim as “to secure the UK’s diverse energy mix and drive down costs of nuclear energy, meaning cheaper energy bills for customers”, while also focusing on “innovation to develop the technology and skills needed to maintain the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading nuclear countries”. This, says Beacock, CEO of the Nuclear Institute, the sector’s professional body, has been welcomed by the industry with a mixture of “enthusiasm and a certain amount of cynicism”.

While she is keen to point out that industry targets are “very sensible”, there’s also a feeling that the industry has heard it all before, such as when former Defence Secretary Lord Hutton spoke on the future of the industry a decade ago. “Ten years ago, the industry went through a phase of promise,” says Beacock, “but maybe without the delivery.” Yet when the £18bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power station was given the green light in 2016 “that was probably the most positive time in the industry’s history in recent years. Certainly on the new-build side. What this means is the industry really has something to work towards again.” She says she still meets people who doubt Hinkley will happen, but with construction under way, “it’s going to create real added value to the chain of provision of energy – and it’s going to create a lot of jobs”.

The government is now, according to Beacock, getting behind Wylfa Newydd (Welsh for ‘new Wylfa’) on the island of Anglesey in north Wales. “I’ve been to visit Wylfa, and even though at the moment it looks like a big empty field, there’s a lot going on there.”

After Wylfa Newydd comes on stream, the development of Moorside in Cumbria was to have been next. But the project, close to the decommissioning nuclear reactor site at Windscale, “is still in a real state of flux”, says Beacock. “It’s disappointing that everything seems to have slowed down.”

She adds: “There’s a lot of existing value in the industry both domestically and internationally, and the Sector Deal is seen as a way to develop that. It is also committed to employment growth of 100,000 jobs.” Yet with the rate that the existing workforce is retiring, “we need to recruit people into the industry, particularly technical people, as quickly as possible. This is important, and there are a lot of good apprenticeships in nuclear to be found.”

Beacock notes that within the Sector Deal there is a gender diversity target for 40 per cent of workers in the civil nuclear sector to be women by 2030. She says this is seen as “possibly the biggest challenge in the deal. I talk to academics that tell me getting women into nuclear research and staying in research is an area we really need to tackle.” With 22 per cent of the industry currently staffed by women “that’s probably a lot better than other sectors – our membership is about 25 per cent women ­– so hopefully this is going in the right direction.”

When it comes to the government’s Grand Challenges, “the nuclear industry sees an opportunity to contribute to the ‘clean growth’ area, particularly in the decarbonisation of electricity. There’s a lot of expertise on the waste management side of things that we can also take advantage of. We are also looking at a 30 per cent reduction in costs. That’s probably the key target. It is still the issue of cost that stands in the way of ‘new nuclear’, and we are an industry that is acutely aware this needs to be addressed in order to present itself as more efficient and joined up. That will go hand-in-hand with the reduction of costs in waste management, because if you’re looking at the long-term life cycle that’s important, too.

“The industry has a very good supply chain and the advanced manufacturing work is employing a lot of people looking at cutting-edge developments for the future. The workforce we have is very skilled and it’s been there a long time and there’s a lot of history and experience there. Yet part of the challenge, as these people start to retire, is to transfer this expertise from the outgoing people to the young generation coming in to the industry.

“This is where the Nuclear Institute comes in. We can look at the mentoring process and knowledge transfer. Although the nuclear industry is looking to other industries scaling down to source new people, some skills we need are specialist. There is a lot of training required in areas such as safety and security. We’re also looking at a much higher-skilled industry than it has been in the past or compared with other industries.”

The Nuclear Institute is a licensed engineering body, currently in its tenth year, having been formed on 1 January 2009 following the merger of the British Nuclear Energy Society and the Institution of Nuclear Engineers. Serving professionals in the nuclear sector, Beacock says the organisation “has just been approved by the Society for the Environment to award Chartered Environmentalist. Professional standards and representing people who work at the heart of the industry is very much at the centre of what we do.” She goes on to say the Institute also “does a lot of outreach work in education to make the industry as attractive as it possibly can to future generations of engineers”. Beacock, who joined the NI after 15 years with the Energy Institute, latterly as skills and capability director, says she has now “fully made the transition from an energy person to a nuclear person. We are a small organisation, but we are doing everything we can to grow and develop.”

‘The UK’s nuclear industry is the oldest in the world, still working effectively and producing a lot of world firsts.’

Sarah Beacock CEO, Nuclear Institute

The Nuclear Institute has 2,500 members working in the industry, which Beacock concedes is “tiny compared with our potential market. We are aware of that. We haven’t presented ourselves well enough in recent years to our audience.” On the other hand, corporate connections within the institute remain strong “and we have a good level of engagement with big companies and regulators, which is one way we can feed into the professional development of the industry as a whole. To tackle key issues, we have a number of special interest groups, which help to provide collaboration across different parts of the industry. We have groups concerned with digital, security, project management, radioactive waste and so on. We also have a Women in Nuclear group and a Young Members group that has been very active for some time.” This helps the NI to “promote the industry across the board. I’m always asked why all speakers on panels at conferences are men; I think the industry is aware and it is adapting.”

Reaching a target of 40 per cent of industry personnel being women by 2030 is “critical to the development of the industry”. If the current ageing demographic of the workforce is to be addressed, in order to prevent the predicted skills shortage in the sector, the industry needs to be looking at school pupils and university students as a talent pool.

“One way in which the nuclear industry is quite fortunate is that, because it tends to be sited in remote locations, it is very community focused. What this means is that in places such as Wylfa and Sellafield, there is a lot of investment in community outreach on their own and in conjunction with the NI. We work at events such as the Big Bang Exhibition and the New Scientist Live event, but there are also local versions of these. I’ve met a lot of the apprentices at Horizon Nuclear Power and they are running at about 25 per cent female. So they’re not quite there yet, but I think this opens up a whole world of opportunity that girls in school probably haven’t thought about before.”

At this point, Beacock shows me the cover of the NI magazine featuring a full-page photograph of woman graduate engineers that had come through the National Skills Academy for Nuclear. “That does a lot of work to recognise apprentices, as does the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board. There are some very high-profile examples of how the industry is supported in terms of it encouraging new people, especially women into nuclear.”

Yet the question is, when nuclear energy has, to put it mildly, a public perception problem, how do you get the message across that this is an interesting career proposition? “We try to make our schools-related activities as practical as possible. We have quite a lot of kit. It’s what we call ‘big bang in a box’ that has bits of robots and various hand-held devices. We ask our young members to explain it all to children at our events. It’s about communicating basic things such as the use of remote vehicles for waste-handling, for example.”

Beacock says one of the questions circulating in the market is whether the sector deal is fit for purpose. “Well, we’ve got a mature industry in the UK. It’s the oldest in the world, still working effectively and producing a lot of world firsts. Sellafield is always doing projects that are cutting-edge. Trawsfynydd in north Wales is planned to be the most advanced thermal hydraulic centre in the world.”

Is this all good news or government whitewash? After all, there is a widespread assumption that much of the funding being made available isn’t new, but is simply repackaged from savings. “But the cost savings coming out of the deal are contributions to the overall funding and something that cannot be overlooked,” she responds. “It’s a case of the industry getting the benefits if it can make these efficiencies both in technology and the supply chain. So long as we can achieve those, we have a better chance of achieving high levels of investment and reaping the rewards. One of the things I’m trying to do for next year is to focus our activities around needs of the Nuclear Sector Deal in terms of skills development, supply chain development and cost reduction.”

Beacock said in her opening remarks that the sector deal was met with a mixture of enthusiasm and cynicism. So rather than asking whether it is fit for purpose, perhaps a more pertinent question would be how realistic it is in its optimism. Can we actually meet those targets that look so good in newspaper headlines?

“I think we will be able to. If we look at what the construction industry has achieved so far, and then take that across into the nuclear sector, we are already seeing awareness that there is the potential to make these changes. The Industrial Strategy certainly appears to be working in other sectors too and I think we are learning from those sectors already. But there is probably a degree of optimism in the plan, although it’s not really my place to judge any further than that. But what I do think is that it’s definitely a sensible thing to have targets in place and I also think that the industry is aware that it could be more efficient.”

Beacock states that another of her key objectives “is to tackle public understanding of the nuclear industry. Digging around in our archives I found a report from a decade ago, highlighting things we could do in terms of public engagement. While we do a lot at school, university and early career stages, we probably don’t do enough in terms of public perception.”

The problem for Beacock is “there’s always going to be anti-nuclear sentiment. What we need is to focus less on safety and security, which is traditionally what the public worries about. We need to inform the public that this is all in place and we know what we’re doing. We need to focus on the positive benefits of moving away from fossil fuels to something that can be much more sustainable long-term. From my perspective, having come from a non-nuclear energy background, the nuclear industry hasn’t really communicated that message outside of itself. If you ask the average person in the street how much of their electricity comes from nuclear, they might even be surprised that any of it did.”

Fujitsu launches artificial intelligence offshoot at Munich Forum

November 7th, 2018 no comment

The announcement was one of several at the Fujitsu Forum in Munich to feature AI developments. Fujitsu Intelligence Technology brings together the company’s AI work in Japan and around the world to run it from Vancouver, Canada. The area has many research institutions such as the University of Toronto engaged in AI and quantum computing research, as well as startup technology companies. The government there is pushing the country towards AI. “In Vancouver and across British Columbia, Fujitsu will have the opportunity to collaborate with our state-of-the-art universities and research facilities to discover new ways that artificial intelligence can help solve local and global challenges,” said John Horgan, Premier of the Province of British Columbia. “Before long, I anticipate that we will hear of exciting advancements and new technologies emerging from Fujitsu’s Vancouver facility.”

Fujitsu is involved in a research project led by scientists at The Riken Center in Japan to automatically detect abnormalities in fetal hearts using AI. This will help doctors to detect severe congenital heart abnormalities that need urgent treatment. Today, these account for about one in five newborn deaths but today’s ultrasound imaging detection can miss these conditions. Machine learning can help diagnostic systems to detect diseases faster and better than humans, but their rarity makes it difficult to find the right datasets. The Riken project has developed technology that can use smaller datasets, teaching AI using images of normal and abnormal hearts.

Fujitsu is also contributing AI technology to FinSec, a new collaborative European Union Horizon 2020 project, to analyse data to predict and spot security incidents both online and offline. Its imaging AI will analyse CCTV to spot unusual behaviour around sensitive areas such as banks. The AI algorithm will be used in ATMs by one of the project partners and could be used in other CCTV surveillance such as police and border patrols.

An AI project won this year’s Fujitsu Select Innovation Award at Fujitsu Forum. D.FI’s system, developed with the Fujitsu AI team in Paris-Saclay, automates the handling of thousands of tickets each month. It uses natural language processing to understand the context of tickets and ‘triage’ them. Tickets are qualified to 80 per cent accuracy, errors reduced and D.FI is also able to anticipate and prevent incidents or outages. It is now replicating the process to roll it out to customers.

Other Fujitsu AI projects include using it to brew better sake, treat diabetes during pregnancy, improve agriculture and insurance processing.

The announcement of the new AI company, at the Fujitsu Forum in Munich, Germany, is the latest in a corporate-wide restructure aimed at moving to a service-oriented business model and raising profit margins to 10 per cent. It is increasing its specialised sales force and employing more engineers worldwide but it is also taking cost-cutting measures.

“This involves a global reorganisation of our products business,” said Fujitsu president Tatsuya Tanaka. “Until now development and manufacturing have been split between our core company in Japan and subsidiary in Germany but we will now be consolidating these in Japan with the aim of speeding up decision making.” This means Fujitsu will close its European manufacturing plant in Germany as customers are no longer willing to pay a premium to support locally made products where they are commodity products. “Augsberg will close,” confirmed Tanaka.


Company president Tatsuya Tanaka at Fujitsu Forum in Munich

Company president Tatsuya Tanaka at Fujitsu Forum in Munich

Image credit: Fujitsu

“It was a very difficult decision here in Europe to propose the closure of the Augsberg facility. We have some brilliant people in that business,” explained Fujitsu Europe head Duncan Tait (pictured top). “We’ve had to make some difficult decisions in the area of the cost base and the decision about manufacturing in this country is one of them.”

Dr Joseph Rieger, European chief technology officer, said China is way ahead of the rest of the world in investing in both AI and quantum computing, but Germany is expected to publish its own AI strategy in December. He called on countries to follow the example of the Finland government in setting a target for 1 per cent of its population to complete a basic online course in AI.

At the Forum, Fujitsu Laboratories also launched the AI Solver to speed up physics-based simulations. It can solve processes that usually take several hours in just milliseconds. The company says AI Solver will reduce prototype and product failures in computer-aided engineering (CAE).

“While the advent of HPC and cloud computing has transformed the simulation process by reducing the associated hardware and software costs, we have not yet seen this translated into a significant reduction in the time taken to perform individual simulations,” said Dr Adel Rouz, CEO of Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe. “While in the short-term our technology targets traditional users of CAE such as designers, the potential applications go well beyond product design and include increasing the efficiency of smart devices, such as robots, when guided by real-time simulations rather than heuristics.”

Transportable bridges: how the Bailey Bridge idea has spanned the decades

November 7th, 2018 no comment

The modular, rapidly deployable Bailey Bridge has its origins in the years before the Second World War, when civil servant Donald Bailey came up with the concept, producing his original sketch on the back of an envelope in 1936.

His idea was largely ignored at the time, but then war broke out. An upgraded version of the First World War Inglis Bridge failed, as the new and improved military vehicles were too heavy. So on 14 February 1941, Bailey received a letter from the War Department telling him to prepare for a full-scale trial of his bridge design in May that year at the Experimental Bridging Establishment at Christchurch, Dorset.

Successful trials meant the Bailey Bridge went into production in July 1941 and was issued to the army that December. British, Canadian, Australian and US engineers used the system – its rapid rollout showed just how progressive and easy to implement it was.

The Axis Powers didn’t have this kind of trick up their collective sleeve, so the bridge’s contribution to the war effort was vital. As Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery put it: “Bailey bridging made an immense contribution towards ending World War Two … I could never have maintained the speed and tempo of forward movement without large supplies of Bailey bridging.

“Without the Bailey Bridge, we should not have won the war. It was the best thing in that line that we ever had.”

Ease of transporting hefty military hardware using the bridge essentially won the war. For example, the Battle of Remagen, where Allied forces captured the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine and pretty much shortened the war in Europe, is where the Bailey Bridge fully flexed its muscles.

Pontoon bridges were set up across the Rhine in Germany to aid the advance. The longest was called ‘Blackfriars Bridge’. It was 558m long and was built close to the Dutch border by the Royal Canadian Engineers of the 2nd Canadian Corps. After two days of construction – delays were due to heavy fog and hampered delivery of components – the floating section of the bridge was rated as Military Load Class 40; enough for 40-ton tanks to cross over safely.

The bridge used modular panel construction, so elements could be transported and assembled on site, according to the length needed. “At its peak, around 20,000 panels were produced each month during World War Two,” says Callum Skeat, military sales manager at Mabey Bridge, the company that took on and developed the Bailey Bridge. “Over the entire war, over 700,000 panels were produced; enough to stretch from London to Leningrad.”

It was light and quick to assemble – it usually took 24 hours – and was strong enough to carry the heaviest tanks over a 60m span.

“The simple deployment of the bridge hasn’t really changed since its first use in 1942,” says Skeat. “Original Bailey Bridges were built by hand and cantilevered [cantilevers, which are projecting beams or members supported at only one end, can hold a bridge up to 550m] over a gap using a light nose section dismantled on the far bank, and pushed out by rollers.”

The first span can be easily joined to other panels to form multiple spans. You just feed them across the gap on rollers until you have the bridge length you want.

So what made it so snazzy? Well, the First World War Inglis Bridge required building a bridge twice as long as you wanted, swinging it out over a gap on a pivot, and then you’d dismantle the bits of bridge you didn’t need. “This was a timely process, but the Bailey’s simple, robust and modular design meant it was infinitely more versatile and quicker to build. Plus, all parts could be assembled by hand, which was a revelation during the 1940s,” Skeat adds.

Over the last 75 years, its original design and improved descendants, such as the Super Bailey, Mabey Universal, Mabey Compact 200 (C200) and the Logistical Support Bridge (LSB) have provided access for communities and maintained and enhanced supply lines for the military.

Nowadays, steel panels are used instead of wooden timber, making the bridge more durable. Panels are galvanised, meaning they can last for over 50 years.

Only one site supervisor is needed to oversee installation, and a locally sourced and trained workforce can build the bridge. Pretty simple.

The Bailey concept played an important role over the years in development of civil engineering, providing critical connections and vital supplies to people around the world.

Most Mabey bridges are now used as civilian aids, helping children get to school, and assisting communities after natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes – when an earthquake occurred in Kashmir in Pakistan, as part of aid efforts the British government supplied around 30 C200s for emergency bridging.

Skeat says: “In 2016, more than £2.5m was invested to develop robots to support more efficient manufacturing of the Mabey Compact 200 (C200) Bridge, the most widely used Bailey successor. This reduced manufacturing time for the C200’s panels and chords by almost half, doubling production capacity as well as reducing manual handling elements in products, leading to enhanced safety.”

Bailey Bridges are not manufactured anymore, but some militaries still use them and their improved descendants. Skeat says: “The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind here. The original concept of the Bailey Bridge is still very much alive, and I doubt we’ll find a more flexible, quick and effective solution.”

Construction

Other transportable bridge types

Bailey Bridges are not the only ones that are easy to transport and assemble:

Truss bridge

Can be temporary and made of durable materials like steel. Its complexity means it can take up to three days to build, but it is versatile. Can handle heavy traffic and is useful when installed over water – can be resistant to rust and corrosion.

Crane mat bridge

Simple design and is constructed flat against the road. Can be made of wood or metal, and can hold construction vehicles’ weight. Easy to take apart and transport.

Pedestrian bridge

Mostly long and thin, with side rails. Designed for people, not vehicles. Easy to assemble and take apart.

Universal bridge

Long and wide, ideal for construction in rural areas. Can take weight of largest commercial vehicles.

Transportable bridges: how the Bailey Bridge idea has spanned the decades

November 7th, 2018 no comment

The modular, rapidly deployable Bailey Bridge has its origins in the years before the Second World War, when civil servant Donald Bailey came up with the concept, producing his original sketch on the back of an envelope in 1936.

His idea was largely ignored at the time, but then war broke out. An upgraded version of the First World War Inglis Bridge failed, as the new and improved military vehicles were too heavy. So on 14 February 1941, Bailey received a letter from the War Department telling him to prepare for a full-scale trial of his bridge design in May that year at the Experimental Bridging Establishment at Christchurch, Dorset.

Successful trials meant the Bailey Bridge went into production in July 1941 and was issued to the army that December. British, Canadian, Australian and US engineers used the system – its rapid rollout showed just how progressive and easy to implement it was.

The Axis Powers didn’t have this kind of trick up their collective sleeve, so the bridge’s contribution to the war effort was vital. As Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery put it: “Bailey bridging made an immense contribution towards ending World War Two … I could never have maintained the speed and tempo of forward movement without large supplies of Bailey bridging.

“Without the Bailey Bridge, we should not have won the war. It was the best thing in that line that we ever had.”

Ease of transporting hefty military hardware using the bridge essentially won the war. For example, the Battle of Remagen, where Allied forces captured the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine and pretty much shortened the war in Europe, is where the Bailey Bridge fully flexed its muscles.

Pontoon bridges were set up across the Rhine in Germany to aid the advance. The longest was called ‘Blackfriars Bridge’. It was 558m long and was built close to the Dutch border by the Royal Canadian Engineers of the 2nd Canadian Corps. After two days of construction – delays were due to heavy fog and hampered delivery of components – the floating section of the bridge was rated as Military Load Class 40; enough for 40-ton tanks to cross over safely.

The bridge used modular panel construction, so elements could be transported and assembled on site, according to the length needed. “At its peak, around 20,000 panels were produced each month during World War Two,” says Callum Skeat, military sales manager at Mabey Bridge, the company that took on and developed the Bailey Bridge. “Over the entire war, over 700,000 panels were produced; enough to stretch from London to Leningrad.”

It was light and quick to assemble – it usually took 24 hours – and was strong enough to carry the heaviest tanks over a 60m span.

“The simple deployment of the bridge hasn’t really changed since its first use in 1942,” says Skeat. “Original Bailey Bridges were built by hand and cantilevered [cantilevers, which are projecting beams or members supported at only one end, can hold a bridge up to 550m] over a gap using a light nose section dismantled on the far bank, and pushed out by rollers.”

The first span can be easily joined to other panels to form multiple spans. You just feed them across the gap on rollers until you have the bridge length you want.

So what made it so snazzy? Well, the First World War Inglis Bridge required building a bridge twice as long as you wanted, swinging it out over a gap on a pivot, and then you’d dismantle the bits of bridge you didn’t need. “This was a timely process, but the Bailey’s simple, robust and modular design meant it was infinitely more versatile and quicker to build. Plus, all parts could be assembled by hand, which was a revelation during the 1940s,” Skeat adds.

Over the last 75 years, its original design and improved descendants, such as the Super Bailey, Mabey Universal, Mabey Compact 200 (C200) and the Logistical Support Bridge (LSB) have provided access for communities and maintained and enhanced supply lines for the military.

Nowadays, steel panels are used instead of wooden timber, making the bridge more durable. Panels are galvanised, meaning they can last for over 50 years.

Only one site supervisor is needed to oversee installation, and a locally sourced and trained workforce can build the bridge. Pretty simple.

The Bailey concept played an important role over the years in development of civil engineering, providing critical connections and vital supplies to people around the world.

Most Mabey bridges are now used as civilian aids, helping children get to school, and assisting communities after natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes – when an earthquake occurred in Kashmir in Pakistan, as part of aid efforts the British government supplied around 30 C200s for emergency bridging.

Skeat says: “In 2016, more than £2.5m was invested to develop robots to support more efficient manufacturing of the Mabey Compact 200 (C200) Bridge, the most widely used Bailey successor. This reduced manufacturing time for the C200’s panels and chords by almost half, doubling production capacity as well as reducing manual handling elements in products, leading to enhanced safety.”

Bailey Bridges are not manufactured anymore, but some militaries still use them and their improved descendants. Skeat says: “The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind here. The original concept of the Bailey Bridge is still very much alive, and I doubt we’ll find a more flexible, quick and effective solution.”

Construction

Other transportable bridge types

Bailey Bridges are not the only ones that are easy to transport and assemble:

Truss bridge

Can be temporary and made of durable materials like steel. Its complexity means it can take up to three days to build, but it is versatile. Can handle heavy traffic and is useful when installed over water – can be resistant to rust and corrosion.

Crane mat bridge

Simple design and is constructed flat against the road. Can be made of wood or metal, and can hold construction vehicles’ weight. Easy to take apart and transport.

Pedestrian bridge

Mostly long and thin, with side rails. Designed for people, not vehicles. Easy to assemble and take apart.

Universal bridge

Long and wide, ideal for construction in rural areas. Can take weight of largest commercial vehicles.

Geothermal energy could be used to make desalinated water without the carbon cost

November 5th, 2018 no comment

With water shortages increasing and rising global temperatures exacerbating drought conditions, countries such as Saudi Arabia are turning to desalination plants to provide drinking water to their residents.

But the method requires a high amount of energy, which can limit the use of the process in many parts of the world.

“We’re searching the world right now for better methods, low carbon methods, to create energy,” said Thomas Missimer from Florida Gulf Coast University. “We want electricity that’s generated at base load — in other words, generated 24 hours a day without interruption. Geothermal is one of those types of energies.”

Geothermal energy generation comes in two forms, wet rock and dry rock. Wet rock is uncommon and is used in places like Iceland. It takes hot water from deep in the earth to provide the energy to move turbines and produce energy.

Dry rock geothermal potential is more wide-spread globally. Missimer suggests using these areas—regions like southern California, North Africa, and the Red Sea region — to heat water that can be used to produce energy.

Dry rock geothermal methods are currently being used in parts of the world for energy production, but Missimer says that the heat can be used in more efficient ways, especially with desalination.

Usually, geothermally heated water from the ground is converted to steam, that steam powers a turbine to create electricity, then the heated water is vented to the atmosphere while it’s still hot — still over 100 degrees Celsius in most cases. Instead of venting, the new process uses that hot steam in the desalination processes.

The first desalination process is multiple effect distillation (MED), which requires hot water (above 100 degrees Celsius), but the second process, adsorption desalination (AD), can be run on cooler water. As the steam moves through the system and cools, it is still effective for powering desalination.

“Now you have an efficient system where you have conserved the latent heat that you’ve captured in the ground through three processes: turbine electricity generation, MED and AD,” Missimer said.

At the end of the desalination process, Missimer says that distilled water and chilled water (from the AD process) are the final products. While the distilled water can be consumed, even the chilled water is reused—the cool water can be recycled through the plant to help with air conditioning.

Lastly, the researchers propose to store excess water in aquifers for later use, which Missimer says is a future energy saver. “By storing some of that excess water, you can use that water seasonally when more water is required and sort of even out the changes in demand to the system.”

The benefits of a system like this are broad: there is no carbon dioxide being produced at the plant, as it is all self-contained and powered by geothermal energy, rather than fossil fuels. It also has an economic benefit.

“If you look at the benefit to the place like Saudi Arabia, saving 6 million barrels of oil a day, at $100 a barrel — that’s a bloody fortune,” Missimer added.

The process is more effective than a solar-powered plant he said, because it can be run 24 hours a day, compared to just daylight hours.

While the idea hasn’t been put into practice at this stage, the individual parts of the plant and the technology have been around for a while and the researchers are aiming to make a working system soon.

“We’ve learned that sometimes you don’t need new technology to make advances,” Missimer said. “Sometimes it’s piecing together old technology in a constructive way to provide more efficient operation.”