UK government invests in low carbon automotive technology

The UK government recently announced a new strategy for growth and sustainability in the UK automotive sector. One of the major initiatives is a billion pound ($1.5 billion) investment over ten years in a new Advanced Propulsion Centre to develop, commercialize and manufacture advanced propulsion technologies in the UK. Half of the funding will come from industry and half from government. According to the government’s plan, by 2040 almost none of Europe’s new cars will be powered solely by a traditional petrol or diesel engine.

Elements of the program will include priority technology areas:

  • Internal Combustion Engines – reducing vehicle carbon dioxide emissions to near zero
  • Power Electronics & Electric Machines – new types of motors
  • Energy storage
  • Lightweight Vehicle and Power Train
  • Intelligent Mobility – new technologies that transform the operation of road vehicles and users’ relationship with them.

The strategy is clearly designed to maintain and grow the number of automotive industry jobs in the UK through conversion of the industry to a low carbon future. The government believes that the sustainability issues facing the auto industry provides the country with a “once in a lifetime opportunity to increase the UK’s global share of the automotive sector”. In addition to the R&D initiative, the government has also announced other incentives for the automotive sector and states that it will be encouraging the purchase of Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles.

The government expects that most of the funding for the APC will be spent on projects carried out in partnership with external organizations. The APC itself is anticipated to have only a small core staff.

The 86 page policy paper and a 15 page summary are available at

3D printers may pose indoor air pollution risk

Three dimensional printers, capable of building small models, prototypes, and one-off plastic parts are still mostly found in the world of technology geeks but rapidly reducing prices are bringing these devices within the reach of regular households and offices. It is therefore timely that a group of scientists led by Dr. Brent Stephens of the Armour College of Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, has looked at air emissions from these printers. According to a paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Environment, at least some of these printers emit ultrafine particles (UFPs) at concentrations that may be hazardous in confined spaces.

3D printers work by heating a plastic material and spraying it on to a platform in a manner somewhat similar to that of an inkjet printer, except that instead of applying one layer, as from an inkjet printer, the 3D printer applies layer upon layer, slowly, sometimes quickly, building up a three dimensional plastic model of whatever item it is programmed by a desktop computer to print. All kinds of software is now available to enable these devices to print such things as gear wheels, architectural models, parts for household and commercial appliances, and so on. Currently most printers are limited to smaller parts, up to about 20 cm in each dimension, but larger 3D printers will be available before too long.

Currently these printers generally use plastic resins from the families ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PLA (polylactic acid), heating the resins sufficiently that they can be sprayed from very fine nozzles. It appears to be both the heating, which causes slight decomposition of the plastic, and the spraying that give rise to the indoor air pollution concerns. UFPs are known to deposit in lungs and can lead to stroke, asthma,  and death. The level of UFPs emitted from 3D printers was found to be quite high. The scientists note that this first research is not conclusive regarding health risks from 3D printers but the research does indicate possible problems and more research is needed. In the meantime care should be taken when using 3D printers in indoor environments without adequate particle filtration and ventilation.

An abstract and the complete paper are available at

Cashmere sweaters may be harming snow leopards and other endangered species

According to an article in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal Conservation Biology global demand for cashmere wool is leading to destruction of habitat for snow leopards and other large mammals in Central Asia.

Cashmere is a very high quality wool that is obtained from certain types of goat. Much of the world’s supply of cashmere comes from, China but Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and other Central Asian republics are also important sources. The article by scientists from the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, the Snow Leopard Trust and the Nature Conservation Foundation of India, states that expansion of goat breeding in these areas is taking away habitat required by saiga, a critically endangered antelope, chiru, an endangered Tibetan antelope, Bactrian camels, snow leopards, the Mongolian wild ass, the Tibetan wild ass, Przewalski’s horses, and wild yak.

The study indicates that there are “striking yet indirect and unintended actions” linking the demand for cashmere to the decline of these at risk Asian species. The primary challenge is the expansion of goat ranching to provide supply of cashmere and the destruction of habitat that was previously available to these large at risk species.

Restraint of the demand for cashmere and, possibly, certification of cashmere from areas that are not impacting endangered species, may be appropriate industry responses. 

An abstract of the article (free) and a link to the full article (fee required) can be found at

Wild relatives of food crops have a potential value of $196 billion

The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens in the UK commissioned PwC to undertake a valuation of crop wild relatives, the wild non-extinct genetic precursors of plants that we use for food. CWRs have the potential to contribute beneficial traits for crop improvement, such as disease resistance or tolerance to drought. They are viewed as a significant source of biodiversity for crop production and their use in the breeding of new crop varieties is likely to prove important. Organizations around the world are working to establish seed banks through which the long term availability of these seeds of wild plants can be assured.

PwC  reports that case studies have demonstrated the benefits of using CWRs in the development of improved crop varieties and that this trend is likely to continue but CWRs face risk of extinction as a result of climate change and other factors. Kew reports that a wild precursor of the cultivated eggplant has already become extinct.

PwC Valuations has calculated that the current value of CWR benefits attributable to the whole of the crop production value chain, such as pre-breeding, breeding, and farming activities in commercial cultivars, was $68bn in 2010. The potential value is forecast to be as much as $196 billion.

It is not totally clear where this research may lead. Kew and other seed banks can obviously use it to encourage support for their activities. Plant breeders are likely to continue to use plants from the wild for conventional breeding and for resources for genetic modification without paying anyone for the rights to the material. However, patenting of wild plant material is controversial. GallonDaily is inclined to a view that wild plant and animal resources, including not only genetic resources but also such things as pictures of polar bears on cans of soda, should be held in a kind of global trust through which payments for use of those resources must be made. The revenue would be used to help ensure protection and preservation of the resources.

PwC ends its report with the recommendation that

Greater collaboration is required across all stakeholders in the value chain to ensure CWR benefits are maximised and both public and private sectors stand to benefit.

 It will be interesting to see how this goal is achieved.

To obtain the full report, register (free) at

More research on silver nanoparticles

Last October 18 we wrote about silver nanoparticles that “Silver is an environmental contaminant and the study reinforces that care needs to be taken in any use of silver as a disinfectant to avoid collateral environmental damage.”

A new report from researchers at Duke University and elsewhere indicates that our October report may have been at least a little bit of an understatement.

Silver nanoparticles are metallic silver in the form of extremely small dust particles. A range of nanoparticles are among the new tools being developed by researchers around the world. Nanoparticles often have properties that are different from, and sometimes more intense than, the macro scale materials from which they are derived.

The article from the Duke University team is entitled Low Concentrations of Silver Nanoparticles in Biosolids Cause Adverse Ecosystem Responses under Realistic Field Scenario. The team set out to study the environmental activity of silver nanaoparticles in sewage sludge applied to farm fields. The questions the team sought to answer were:

  1. What is the environmental fate of Ag (silver) under this exposure scenario?
  2. How do realistic additions of AgNPs (silver nanoparticles) affect plant productivity, microbial community composition, and microbially-mediated biogeochemical cycling?
  3. To what extent are the fate and biological impacts of AgNPs distinct in magnitude or direction from those of Ag+ (silver ions)?

The conclusions:

  1. An estimated 60% of the average 5.6 million tons of biosolids produced each year in the United States is land applied. Results show that biosolids amended with AgNPs at environmentally relevant concentrations and added to a diverse terrestrial ecosystem caused ecosystem-level impacts. Specifically, the AgNP treatment led to an increase in N2O fluxes, changes in microbial community composition, biomass, and extracellular enzyme activity, as well as species specific effects on aboveground plant biomass.
  2. While AgNPs may be transformed in biosolids through oxidation and sulphidation, they still had an impact on plants and microbes.
  3. Several species of plants take up Ag from AgNPs in soils, though the extent to which different plant species accumulated Ag varied greatly. Uptake and incorporation of Ag into plant biomass suggests the potential for transfer of Ag up the food chain.

The researchers point out that additional research is needed to better understand how silver nanoparticles interact with the environment and with various species. However, having seen several such research papers and presentations, GallonDaily will be bold enough to suggest that the vultures are gathering around the question of the environmental safety of silver nanoparticles.

The article by Benjamin Colman of the Department of Biology and the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology at Duke University, and others, is available at no cost at


Subway versus LRT debate ignores real issues

Residents of the Greater Toronto Area will be aware that Toronto City Council has just concluded a gruelling debate over whether to extend the subway into Scarborough or whether to build a Light Rail Transit line. In brief, it seems that the key issues are:

  • cost (LRT wins, meaning that more lines can be built for the same amount of money)
  • distance between stations (LRT has closer stations)
  • number of homes within walking distance of a station (LRT wins, hands down)
  • time taken for a journey (subway wins)

Of course, as with any political debate, many other issues, some real and some less so, intruded. A few council members, including the mayor, were convinced that LRT interferes more with vehicular traffic, apparently not understanding the concept of dedicated rights of way and grade separations (bridges).

GallonDaily believes that time taken for a journey may be the most important issue for the travelling public. No subway or light rain system in Canada provides for express trains. A one way trip on the Toronto subway from Scarborough to downtown Toronto is going to take more than an hour, with many trips involving a change of trains at a highly congested station. LRT will involve two changes of train and even longer than the subway. For most passengers on most days, driving their car will be quicker and a lot more comfortable.

A very intelligent alternative from the non-profit transportation advocacy group Transport Action Canada, formerly Transport 2000 Canada, has been almost completely ignored in the Toronto subway versus LRT debate. TAC is advocating what they call a “surface subway”, electric trains running at near subway frequencies on new track laid on existing railway rights of way. The authors of the report point out that this approach is quite common in Europe, with the London Overground and the Paris RER being systems with which readers may be familiar.

Overground systems (we prefer overground to the oxymoronic ‘surface subway’, though this term is no doubt designed to explain things to politicians who may not understand as much as they should about travelling on trains) are much cheaper than either subways or LRTs on new alignments, have more flexibility, allow for express trains, and deliver travellers to their destination more quickly and more comfortably than any other public transportation alternative. GallonDaily’s editor knows from experience that commuting on a subway for an hour or more one way is boring, frustrating, and uncomfortable. Commuting for the same amount of time on Toronto’s surface GO train system is not at all boring and is reasonably comfortable as long as the train is not too crowded.

The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area Regional Rapid Rail report,  prepared for Transport Action Ontario by Karl Junkin, describes in detail how an overground rail system could be implemented to provide a substantial improvement in public transit across the entire region, including Scarborough. Though the plans themselves are specific to the GTHA, the concepts are applicable to any large urban area contemplating the need for fast, comfortable and convenient public transit services.

The report can be found at

Dissolvable is not a solution to garbage

Ideas for products and packaging that dissolve in water at the end of their life come around as regularly as seasons and years. One of the most recent is cell phones, laptops and other gadgets that can be flushed down the sink or the toilet at the end of their life, thus reducing the amount of e-waste that goes to landfill.

The idea arises, at least in part, from a paper published last year in the journal Science by a group of US and international scientists and titled A Physically Transient Form of Silicon Electronics. The paper describes ways in which electronic devices might be made soluble, acknowledging that some aspects of soluble electronics are still at a theoretical stage. The scientists also propose that these “transient electronics” may have application to medical devices in situations where there is benefit in having the device disappear from the body once its role is complete.

From there, bloggers and journalists have translated the idea to personal and household electronics that could be flushed away when they are no longer wanted.

The idea that there is an “away” to which waste materials can be flushed or shipped shows how poor a job our schools are doing when it comes to science-based environmental education. There is no “away”. Garbage flushed away and poured into the sea is going to cause much more environmental harm than garbage stored in a landfill. Basic science teaches that ‘Matter can be neither created not destroyed’. If biodegradable, waste in water is as harmful to the atmosphere as waste that is sent to an incinerator. If made of metals, elements that cannot decompose, waste pollutes all water with which it comes in contact. If made of persistent (non-biodegradable) organics or inorganics, waste disposed of to water inevitably increases the amount of solid particles or dissolved contaminants found in lakes, rivers, and oceans.

Soluble electronics and soluble packaging are not a solution to our waste problems. They may have value for use in special applications but those applications must be quite limited if we are not to create a whole new level of serious pollution problems. The best solution for waste is not to create it in the first place. The second best is to recycle as much of our waste materials as possible. Soluble or not, solid waste materials except for human waste and toilet tissue, do not belong down the drain.

Research on public attitudes towards serious risks

Many of us will have considered how people show higher sensitivity to dread risks, rare events that kill many people at once, compared with continuous risks, relatively frequent events that kill many people over a longer period of time. A current example would be the current concern over aeroplane accidents and oil train accidents on one hand compared to road accidents, which in a year kill many more people in North America, on the other.

Researchers at the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition and the Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany,  have been studying this situation.

The researchers state that the different reaction to dread risks is often considered a bias: If the continuous risk causes the same number of fatalities, it should not be perceived as less dreadful. Their research tests the hypothesis that a dread risk may have a stronger negative impact on the cumulative population size over time in comparison with a continuous risk causing the same number of fatalities. This difference should be particularly strong when the risky event affects children and young adults who would have produced future offspring if they had survived longer.

Results show that dread risks affect the population more severely over time than continuous risks that cause the same number of fatalities, suggesting that fearing a dread risk more than a continuous risk is, on an evolutionary scale of time, an ecologically rational strategy.

This type of research should be of considerable value to those who communicate with the public about risks, accidents, and disasters. It is likely not acceptable, for entrenched anthropological reasons, to try to persuade people that plane crashes or train wrecks that only kill a few are not major disasters compared to the number of people dying on the roads or of serious diseases. Climate change, even though a potential global disaster for the human population, is a slowly evolving problem with little obvious impact on the size of the human population. That may explain why it is so difficult to get people engaged. The parable of the frog in the slowly warming pot of water may be as true for humans as it is for frogs.

The research,  Bodemer N, Ruggeri A, Galesic M (2013) When Dread Risks Are More Dreadful than Continuous Risks: Comparing Cumulative Population Losses over Time, is open source and available at

Mercury in product rules to be ratified in October

A new United Nations convention on mercury was finalized in January and is expected to be ratified in October of this year. Major emitters of mercury, such as some mining operations, incineration, non-ferrous mining and smelting, cement and concrete industry, and  iron and steel industries are likely already aware of the ways in which they may be affected by the convention but brandowners of imported products containing mercury may not yet be aware that import of the following items containing mercury is likely to be illegal after 2020:

  • Batteries, except for button zinc silver oxide batteries and button zinc air batteries with a mercury content less than 2%.
  • Switches and relays, with a few exceptions.
  • Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) for general lighting purposes that are less than 30 watts with a mercury content exceeding 5 mg per lamp
  • Linear fluorescent lamps (LFLs) for general lighting purposes.
  • High pressure mercury vapour lamps (HPMV) for general lighting purposes
  • Cold cathode fluorescent lamps and external electrode fluorescent lamps (CCFL and EEFL) for electronic displays:
    • (a) short length (≤ 500 mm) with mercury content exceeding 3.5mg per lamp
    • (b) medium length (> 500 mm and ≤ 1 500 mm) with mercury content exceeding 5 mg per lamp
    • (c) long length (> 1 500 mm) with mercury content exceeding 13 mg per lamp
  • Cosmetics (with mercury content above 1ppm), including skin lightening soaps and creams, and not including eye area cosmetics where mercury is used as a preservative  and no effective and safe substitute preservatives are available
  • Pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics 2020
  • Non-electronic measuring devices (with limited exceptions) in the following categories:
    • (a) barometers;
    • (b) hygrometers;
    • (c) manometers;
    • (d) thermometers;
    • (e) sphygmomanometer

The convention’s approach to restricting mercury emissions from industrial activities will be discussed in a future issue of Gallon Environment Letter.

The advance text of the convention, to be known as the Minamata Convention, can be found at

Environment: new threats emerging

It is useful for business to have a good understanding of emerging environmental threats. A new report from the European Environment Agency identifies and characterizes these, in many ways confirming reports from the last couple of years that have been summarized in GallonDaily. The report, Environment and human health, also identifies progress that is being made on previously identified environmental threats.  This progress is not only improving the health of the environment but is also improving human health and helping to increase life expectancy.

Among the emerging threats the authors report:

  • Global sales of products from the chemicals sector doubled between 2000 and 2009, and there is an increasing range of chemicals on the market, including substances affecting human health.
  • There is growing concern about ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals’, which affect the hormone system, found in a wide range of common products including pharmaceuticals, pesticides and cosmetics. Effects are not yet fully understood, but the chemicals may contribute to declining sperm count, genital malformation, impaired neural development, obesity and cancer.
  • The report highlights evidence showing the contribution of air pollution to cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and asthma and estimates that air pollution reduces each EU citizen’s life expectancy by an average of 8.5 months.  Recent studies of air pollution suggest that exposure in early life can significantly affect adult health, and the effect of air pollution on pregnancy may be comparable to that of passive smoking. Up to 95% of city dwellers are still exposed to levels of fine particulate matter (PM) above World Health Organisation guidelines, the report says.
  • In Europe, an increasing health concern in relation to water quality is pharmaceutical residues and endocrine-disrupting substances, which are not always fully removed by water treatment. Water shortages and water quality issues may be further exacerbated by climate change, the report says.
  • Noise can seriously harm health, affecting cognitive development, cardiovascular disease and sleep. Noisy areas are often those with high levels of air pollution, and each factor seems to augment the effect of the other.
  • Devices emitting electro-magnetic fields (EMF) such as mobile phones are sometimes considered a possible cancer risk, but there is no conclusive scientific evidence supporting this link. Available data are reviewed regularly by the Commission’s scientific committees. The next review will be published in the second half of 2013.
  • Nanotechnology applications might be an emerging risk, as little is known about the effects of nanomaterials in the human body. This will require an adequate assessment of potential risks, to guarantee the safe production of nanomaterials and their safe use in consumer products.
  • Green spaces seem to have multiple physical and mental health benefits. There are significant differences in access to these areas across Europe  – all cities in Sweden and Finland have more than 40 % green space within their boundaries, while at the other end of the scale all Hungarian and Greek cities have less than 30 % green space.

In a concluding section the authors state:

As human demand for the world’s natural resources increases and the environmental consequences become more and more manifest, it is imperative that we increase our understanding of the intricate links between environmental conditions and human health and well‑being. Effective governance in this policy domain relies critically on awareness of the complex systemic interactions, feed-backs and trade-offs involved.

The EU press release and a link to the full 85 page report can be found at