Trains, boats and planes: Kim Jong-un’s modes of transport

Kim Jong-un arrives in DalianDon’t call it Air Force Un – the aircraft’s official designation is “Chammae-1”

A mysterious North Korean aircraft stationed at China’s Dalian airport was the subject of much speculation on 7 and 8 May.

The plane was eventually confirmed to be that of leader Kim Jong-un, who it turned out was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coastal city.

Mr Kim’s increasing international engagement has given the wider world a view of how he travels, with each visit showcasing a different form of transport.

Kim Jong-un arrives in DalianKim Jong-un was afforded a guard of honour on his arrival in Dalian

Aircraft – just an Ilyushin

Kim Jong-un’s China visit this week marks his first confirmed international flight since assuming power, but media reports suggest he has previously used his private jet for travel within North Korea.

The aircraft that flew him to China was a Soviet-made long-range aircraft, the Ilyushin-62 (Il-62). The North Korea watchers at website NK News say it is called “Chammae-1”, named after a local species of hawk.

The North Korean IL-62 jet on final approach to Incheon before the Winter Olympics in South KoreaThe IL-62 jet was used to transport North Korea’s delegation to the Winter Olympic opening ceremony earlier this year

The white exterior of the plane is emblazoned with North Korea’s official name in Korean on two sides, with the national flag next to the text. The tail features a red star inside red and blue circles.

The aircraft has modern interiors, and Kim has occasionally been photographed working and holding meetings on board.

Kim Jong-un inspects Pyongyang from the air in 2015Smoking is allowed on the Supreme Leader’s personal aircraft

The Chammae-1 was in the spotlight in February when it carried Pyongyang’s high-level Olympics delegation, including Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong, to South Korea.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the flight used the identification number “PRK-615”, possibly a symbolic reference to the 15 June North-South Joint Declaration signed in 2000 by the two countries.

Kim Jong-un at the controls of an AN-2 biplaneThe North’s leader, seen at the controls of a Korean Air Force biplane, is thought to have an interest in flying

Kim has also been seen using a Ukrainian Antonov-148 (AN-148), featuring state airline Air Koryo’s logo, in a 2014 documentary aired by state-owned Korean Central Television (KCTV).

Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung avoided air travel, reportedly due to a fear of flying. Kim appears to have no such issues, and in 2015 state media even carried footage of him piloting a “homegrown” light aircraft and sitting at the controls of an AN-2 military biplane.

Kim Jong-un's train on the way to Beijing in March 2018The appearance of a green train with a yellow stripe on the way to Beijing caused a frenzy of speculation

Big train

When Kim Jong-un visited Beijing in March this year, he used a “special train” believed to be the same as the one used by his father for international travel until his death in December 2011.

Footage of the “dark green train with (a) yellow stripe” used by Kim Jong-un for his China visit went viral on China’s Sina Weibo social network at the time, sparking comparisons to Kim Jong-il’s train.

In November 2009, conservative South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo said that Kim Jong-il’s armoured train featured around 90 carriages. The train had conference rooms, audience chamber and bedrooms, with satellite phones and televisions installed for briefings.

According to North Korean news reports, Kim Jong-il died aboard his official train while on his way to an inspection visit outside Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju meet officials aboard the North Korean leader's trainThere’s plenty of room aboard Mr Kim’s train, but only if you are a fan of coral-coloured armchairs

Commenting on KCTV footage of the train in 2011, a source told Chosun Ilbo that the predominantly white furniture appeared to be “custom-made by foreign artisans using top-quality materials”.

Kim Jong-un’s train features similar furniture, but the sofas and armchairs now appear to be a luxurious coral colour.

State media reports indicate that both father and son used the train to hold meetings during their international visits.

Kim Jong-un stands in front of his Mercedes Benz car in BeijingMr Kim’s Mercedes did the taxi work on his visit to Beijing in March

Won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?

During his visit to Beijing, Kim reportedly used his personal Mercedes-Benz S-Class to travel within the city.

According to South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, the car was specially transported on board the leader’s train.

The paper reported that the car, manufactured in 2010, cost roughly 2 billion Korean won ($1.8m).

Kim Jong-un's Mercedes car flanked by bodyguards at the Inter-Korean summit
 There was no room on board Kim’s Mercedes for his flock of bodyguards at the Inter-Korean summit

Kim’s favoured S-Class model was prominent during the 27 April inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom, when he drove across the border with bodyguards running alongside.

His convoy at the summit was also reported to feature a private toilet car, used by the leader to answer the call of nature while travelling.

This was also mentioned in a 2015 report by Seoul-based website DailyNK, which said that a customised bathroom is built into one of the cars of Kim’s convoy of armoured vehicles.

Kim Jong-un travels by boat to inspect island-based military unitsWith hints of Duran Duran’s Rio video, only the Supreme Leader gets a cushion on this boat

Mystery yacht

State media in North Korea has shown Mr Kim riding variously on boats, a submarine, buses and even a ski lift.

He is also rumoured to use other forms of transport, but these are yet to be seen in his excursions abroad.

When state media published photos of his visit to an army-run fishing station in May 2013, NK News observed a yacht in the background.

There was no clear confirmation that the yacht, estimated to cost $7m, belonged to Mr Kim, or even how it was imported despite international sanctions on luxury goods.

Kim Jong-un walks past a lauxury yacht during a 2013 inspection visitWho in North Korea could possibly own a luxury yacht of that size?

Given the price, however, many international media outlets singled out the nation’s ruler as the most likely owner.

In June 2015, Washington-based Radio Free Asia reported that a researcher had spotted a new helipad at Kim’s lakeside villa in South Pyongan province.

The researcher, working at the US-Korea Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, suggested that the helipad may be used by Mr Kim’s family or visitors.

Kim Jong-un rides a ski lift at Masikryong Ski ResortKim Jong-un has a solitary cigarette while enjoying a ski lift ride at North Korea’s Masikryong ski resort
Kim Jong-un on a submarineMr Kim rides one of his navy’s elderly ex-Soviet submarines
Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju take a midnight bus ride around Pyongyang earlier this yearFares please: Kim Jong-un and his wife Ri Sol-ju take a midnight bus ride around Pyongyang earlier this year

Reporting by Shreyas Reddy, additional material by Alistair Coleman

Costa Rica to ban fossil fuels and become world’s first decarbonised society

Costa Rica’s new president has announced a plan to ban fossil fuels and become the first fully decarbonised country in the world.

Carlos Alvarado, a 38-year-old former journalist, made the announcement to a crowd of thousands during his inauguration on Wednesday.

“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Mr Alvarado said.

“We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

Symbolically, the president arrived at the ceremony in San Jose aboard a hydrogen-fuelled bus.

Last month, Mr Alvarado said the Central American country would begin to implement a plan to end fossil fuel use in transport by 2021 – the 200th year of Costa Rican independence.

“When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate … that we’ve removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he promised during a victory speech.

Costa Rica already generates more than 99 per cent of its electricity using renewable energy sources, but achieving zero carbon transport quickly – even in a country well-known for its environmental commitment – will be a significant challenge, experts say.

Jose Daniel Lara, a Costa Rican energy researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, said completely eliminating fossil fuels within just a few years is probably unrealistic – though the plan will lay the groundwork for faster action towards that goal.

“A proposal like this one must be seen by its rhetoric value and not by its technical precision,” Mr Lara said.

Oscar Echeverría, president of the Vehicle and Machinery Importers Association, said the transition away from fossil fuels in transport cannot be rushed as the clean transport market is so far undeveloped.

“If there’s no previous infrastructure, competence, affordable prices and waste management we’d be leading this process to failure. We need to be careful,” Mr Echeverría said.

But economist Monica Araya, a Costa Rican sustainability expert and director of Costa Rica Limpia, which promotes renewable energy and electric transport, said that in a country already rapidly weaning itself off fossil fuels, focusing on transport – one of the last major challenges – could send a powerful message to the world.

“Getting rid of fossil fuels is a big idea coming from a small country. This is an idea that’s starting to gain international support with the rise of new technologies,” she said.

Costa Rica’s push towards clean energy faces no large-scale backlash, in part because the country has no significant oil or gas industry.

But demand for cars is rising, as is use of other transport systems, and that may prove one of the biggest challenges in meeting the new goal, Mr Lara said.

According to data by the National Registry – the country’s records agency – there were twice as many cars registered as babies born in 2016.

Transport is today the country’s main source of climate changing emissions. According to the country’s National Meteorological Institute, 64 per cent of Costa Rica’s emissions come from energy use, and more than two thirds of that is from transport.

According to data from the State of the Region report, put together by a council of Costa Rica’s university leaders, public transport has struggled to meet the transport needs of the country.

As a result, demand for private vehicles has risen dramatically, with the car industry growing 25 per cent in 2015 alone, making Costa Rica one of the fastest growing auto markets in Latin America, according to the report.

The centre-left Mr Alvarado beat his Christian conservative rival and namesake Fabricio Alvarado, whose campaign had largely centred on his opposition to same sex marriage, with 60 per cent of the vote in second-round elections, and took office on 8 May.

No relief as crude prices to rise by 20% in 2018: World Bank

The World Bank has projected a 20% jump in global prices of energy commodities — crude oil, gas and coal — this year, indicating a continued squeeze on fuel consumers in India and raising the prospect of cramping the government’s social spending ability as it heads back to the people for another mandate.

According to the Bank’s April commodity markets outlook, oil prices will average $65 a barrel through 2018, 22% higher than the average price of $53 in 2017, due to the combined effect of production cut by Opec and Russia — the largest exporter outside the grouping of 14 oil exporting countries — and an uptick in demand.

This is not good news for India, which imports 80% of its crude requirement. Already pump prices are at multi-year highs as Brent hovers near $74 a barrel. Brent holds a big sway over the overall cost of India’s crude purchase since it has 28% weightage in India’s oil basket.
Crude-gfx-ed

Though the global benchmark crude slipped 1% on Wednesday as apprehensions over US sanctions on Iran eased a bit after Tuesday’s talks between the US and French presidents, other factors contributing to high oil prices still remain at play.

The government expects the oil import bill to rise 20% from $88 billion in 2017-18 to $105 billion in the current fiscal, at an average crude price of $65 per barrel. This is 64% higher than $64 billion in 2015-16 when prices were practically in a free fall.
Falling oil prices reduced subsidy burden and helped improve macro-economic parameters such as CAD (current account deficit) and kept inflation in check, prompting RBI to lower interest rates in August 2017.

The government also used this window to mop up additional resources for welfare schemes by cumulatively raising excise duty by Rs 11.77 per litre on petrol and Rs 13.47 on diesel between November 2014 and January 2016.
In October 2017, the tax was cut by Rs 2 a litre as protests became louder over rising pump prices since August 2016 on the back of a rebound in crude. The situation looks familiar as demand for another tax cut grows louder. But that’s only a small problem.

The larger issue is that high oil prices can upset the government’s maths, more so if it is forced to cut excise. Though the government does not buy oil or gas, their high prices become a drag on the rupee as forex outgo increases.

The subsidy bill too goes up. These factors trigger higher inflation and limit the legroom for government spending needed to push growth.
Source: TNN

Blockchain Is About to Revolutionize the Shipping Industry

  • Maersk, APL, Hyundai race to build paperless cargo system
  • Adoption of blockchain could generate $1 trillion in trade
Gantry cranes at the Port of Long Beach in California. Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

Globalization has brought the most advanced trading networks the world has seen, with the biggest, fastest vessels, robot-operated ports and vast computer databases tracking cargoes. But it all still relies on millions and millions of paper documents.

That last throwback to 19th century trade is about to fall. A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S and other container shipping lines have teamed up with technology companies to upgrade the world’s most complex logistics network.

The prize is a revolution in world trade on a scale not seen since the move to standard containers in the 1960s — a change that ushered in the age of globalization. But the undertaking is as big as the potential upheaval it will cause. To make it work, dozens of shipping lines and thousands of related businesses around the world — including manufacturers, banks, insurers, brokers and port authorities — will have to work out a protocol that can integrate all the new systems onto one vast platform.

Should they succeed, documentation that takes days will eventually be done in minutes, much of it without the need for human input. The cost of moving goods across continents could drop dramatically, adding fresh impetus to relocate manufacturing or source materials and goods from overseas.

“This would be the biggest innovation in the industry since the containerization,” said Rahul Kapoor, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Singapore. “It basically brings more transparency and efficiency. The container shipping lines are coming out of their shells and playing catch-up in technology.”

The key, as in so many other industries, from oil tankers to cryptocurrencies, is blockchain, the electronic ledger system that allows transactions to be verified autonomously. And the benefits wouldn’t be confined to shipping. Improving communications and border administration using blockchain could generate an additional $1 trillion in global trade, according to the World Economic Forum.

APL Ltd., owned by the world’s third-largest container line CMA CGM SA, together with Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Accenture Plc, a European customs organization and other companies said last month that they’ve tested a blockchain-based platform. South Korea’s Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. held trial runs last year using a system developed with Samsung SDS Co.

Containers are loaded onto automated guided vehicles during testing at Port of Long Beach in California in 2015.

Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

The shipping paper trail begins when a cargo owner books space on a ship to move goods. Documents need to be filled in and approved before cargo can enter or leave a port. A single shipment can require hundreds pages that need to be physically delivered to dozens of different agencies, banks, customs bureaus and other entities.

Trail of Roses

In 2014, Maersk followed a refrigerated container filled with roses and avocados from Kenya to the Netherlands. The company found that almost 30 people and organizations were involved in processing the box on its journey to Europe. The shipment took about 34 days to get from the farm to the retailers, including 10 days waiting for documents to be processed. One of the critical documents went missing, only to be found later amid a pile of paper.

“The paperwork and processes vital to global trade are also one of its biggest burdens,” according to Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, which has teamed up with International Business Machines Corp. to enable real-time tracking of its cargo and documents using blockchain. “The paper trail research that Maersk did uncovered the extent of the burden that documents and processes inflict on trade and the consequences.”

That plethora of paper processors has been one of the reasons shipping has lagged behind other industries in moving to electronic forms. The variety of different languages, laws and organizations involved in moving cargoes in the past made standardization a slow process.

An illustration of the Great Tea Race of 1866 between the clipper ships Taeping and the Ariel.

Source: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Instead the industry has relied on advances in transport technology and cargo handling to improve efficiency, with the great Clipper sailing vessels replaced by steamships and then modern oil-powered leviathans – the largest ships on the oceans. In the 1850s, it took more than three months to move chests of tea from southern China to London. Today, that journey would take about 30 days.

The biggest change came in the 1960s, when the industry adopted the standard-size steel boxes in use today, replacing the wooden crates, chests and sacks that stevedores had hauled on the docks for centuries.

With these containers sometimes holding products from different suppliers, and ship cargoes sometimes ending up with thousands of customers in dozens of countries, the transition to a uniform electronic system presents major challenges.

“Not all stakeholders are looking at deploying the same blockchain solution and platforms,” APL said in response to questions. “This can pose as a challenge if stakeholders are expected to trade via a common platform or solution.”

Workers handle cargo at the Royal Victoria Dock in London in the 1930s.

Photographer: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images via Getty Images

And the shipping lines will also need to persuade the ports and other organizations involved in cargo trading to adopt their systems. Maersk said Singapore-based port operator PSA International Pte. and APM Terminals, based in The Hague, Netherlands, will use its platform. APL and Accenture said they plan to pilot their product by the end of this year. Accenture said it has tested its technology with other pilot shipments that range from beer to medical supplies.

The cost savings could be visible in the companies’ financial statements in about two years, Kapoor of Bloomberg Intelligence said.

“Shipping needs to stop thinking about itself as this standalone middle sector,” said K D Adamson, chief executive officer of Futurenautics Group. “It needs to start thinking about how the different elements of shipping fit into other ecosystems.”

World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden

The world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks driving on it has been opened in Sweden.

About 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail has been embedded in a public road near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.

Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in the transport sector.

The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable.

Energy is transferred from two tracks of rail in the road via a movable arm attached to the bottom of a vehicle. The design is not dissimilar to that of a Scalextric track, although should the vehicle overtake, the arm is automatically disconnected.

The electrified road is divided into 50m sections, with an individual section powered only when a vehicle is above it.

When a vehicle stops, the current is disconnected. The system is able to calculate the vehicle’s energy consumption, which enables electricity costs to be debited per vehicle and user.

The “dynamic charging” – as opposed to the use of roadside charging posts – means the vehicle’s batteries can be smaller, along with their manufacturing costs.

A former diesel-fuelled truck owned by the logistics firm, PostNord, is the first to use the road.

Hans Säll, chief executive of the eRoadArlanda consortium behind the project, said both current vehicles and roadways could be adapted to take advantage of the technology.

In Sweden there are roughly half a million kilometres of roadway, of which 20,000km are highways, Säll said.

“If we electrify 20,000km of highways that will definitely be be enough,” he added. “The distance between two highways is never more than 45km and electric cars can already travel that distance without needing to be recharged. Some believe it would be enough to electrify 5,000km.”

Building the eRoadArlanda: the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.

At a cost of €1m per kilometre, the cost of electrification is said to be 50 times lower than that required to construct an urban tram line.

Säll said: “There is no electricity on the surface. There are two tracks, just like an outlet in the wall. Five or six centimetres down is where the electricity is. But if you flood the road with salt water then we have found that the electricity level at the surface is just one volt. You could walk on it barefoot.”

National grids are increasingly moving away from coal and oil and battery storage is seen as crucial to a changing the source of the energy used in transportation.

The Swedish government, represented by a minister at the formal inauguration of the electrified road on Wednesday, is in talks with Berlin about a future network. In 2016, a 2km stretch of motorway in Sweden was adapted with similar technology but through overhead power lines at lorry level, making it unusable for electric cars.

Germany to fight pollution with free public transportation

Commuters board a Regio train at a railway station in Berlin.

KRISZTIAN BOCSI /BLOOMBERG
Commuters board a Regio train at a railway station in Berlin.

When the discussion turns to the rising costs of living in many global cities, one factor rarely goes unmentioned: public transport fees.

New Yorkers only spend about $116.50 per month on average, compared with up to $200 in London.

Many Germans, however, might soon have to spend a whooping $0.

The country of parental leave, short work weeks and Lederhosen may soon embark on a bold, new experiment: making public transport free.

For a start, residents of five middle-sized cities are expected to benefit from the scheme this year, but it could eventually result in the end of bus or subway tickets across the country.

The plans are included in a letter the German government sent to European Union officials, and was obtained by a number of news agencies and media outlets.

So far, experiments with free public transport have usually been short-lived.

When Paris was plagued by thick smog in 2014, authorities responded with an unprecedented idea – banning half of all cars and making public transport free.

But the measures only lasted one week. Limited experiments with free public transport were eventually also stopped in Portland and Seattle.

Germany’s latest, and more radical plans are similarly supposed to solve the lingering problem of air pollution in German cities, which recently prompted the threat of major EU fines.

More than 130 cities in Europe are currently affected by “life-threatening” air pollution, according to the European Commission.

They are believed to be responsible for about 400,000 deaths each year in the European Union.

And even though Germany is far from being Europe’s most polluted nation, the topic is taken more seriously here than in most other places which have repeatedly breached EU limits on nitrogen dioxide and fine particles.

In Germany, the topic also gained renewed attention after the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal became public in 2015, which implicated the car manufacturer in having engaged in a deliberate effort to make its products appear more environmentally friendly than they were.

In Germany’s capital Berlin, where standard monthly public transport tickets now carry the name “eco-ticket,” those revelations have triggered an unprecedented willingness to confront the country’s powerful car lobby.

“We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three German government ministers wrote in their recent letter to the EU, according to AFP.

“Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany.”

Those plans would be costly, as many German transport companies currently finance about 50 percent or more of their earnings through ticket sales.

Instead, under the new scheme, the government would be expected to jump in to shoulder the burden, which would ultimately make public transport an almost fully tax-funded system.

The free public transport plans would be complemented by other measures, such as car-sharing schemes or expanded low-emissions zones within cities.

In Germany – a nation where cars drive on autobahns without a speed limit – the move might convince many vehicle owners to take the subway instead, the government hopes.

But it could also overburden public transport networks in major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg or Munich that are already bustling during rush hours.

The plans, some fear, would result in an exponential rise in associated costs because of costly network expansions.

And would money alone be sufficient to get Germany’s public transport ready for the possible influx?

Berlin’s new airport, for example, was supposed to open six years ago.

It’s now set to welcome air travellers by 2020.

The never-ending saga of the airport continues to highlight the country’s struggle with large-scale infrastructure projects – or perhaps this is all part of an ingenious plot to force Germans to book environmentally-friendly trains instead of polluting planes.

How Bill Gates aims to clean up the planet

It’s a simple idea: strip CO2 from the air and use it to produce carbon-neutral fuel. But can it work on an industrial scale?
An artists impression of what Carbon Engineering’s ambitious direct air capture plant in Squamish, British Columbia could look like.
 An artists impression of what Carbon Engineering’s ambitious direct air capture project would look like when completed. Photograph: Carbon Engineering

It’s nothing much to look at, but the tangle of pipes, pumps, tanks, reactors, chimneys and ducts on a messy industrial estate outside the logging town of Squamish in western Canada could just provide the fix to stop the world tipping into runaway climate change and substitute dwindling supplies of conventional fuel.

It could also make Harvard superstar physicist David Keith, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and oil sands magnate Norman Murray Edwards more money than they could ever dream of.

The idea is grandiose yet simple: decarbonise the global economy by extracting global-warming carbon dioxide (CO2) straight from the air, using arrays of giant fans and patented chemical whizzery; and then use the gas to make clean, carbon-neutral synthetic diesel and petrol to drive the world’s ships, planes and trucks.

The hope is that the combination of direct air capture (DAC), water electrolysis and fuels synthesis used to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels can be made to work at a global scale, for little more than it costs to extract and sell fossil fuel today. This would revolutionise the world’s transport industry, which emits nearly one-third of total climate-changing emissions. It would be the equivalent of mechanising photosynthesis.

The individual technologies may not be new, but their combination at an industrial scale would be groundbreaking. Carbon Engineering, the company set up in 2009 by leading geoengineer Keith, with money from Gates and Murray, has constructed a prototype plant, installed large fans, and has been extracting around one tonne of pure CO2 every day for a year. At present it is released back into the air.

But Carbon Engineering (CE) has just passed another milestone. Working with California energy company Greyrock, it has now begun directly synthesising a mixture of petrol and diesel, using only CO2 captured from the air and hydrogen split from water with clean electricity – a process they call Air to Fuels (A2F).

Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher of Climeworks.
 Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher of Climeworks. Photograph: Julia Dunlop/Climeworks

“A2F is a potentially game-changing technology, which if successfully scaled up will allow us to harness cheap, intermittent renewable electricity to drive synthesis of liquid fuels that are compatible with modern infrastructure and engines,” says Geoff Holmes of CE. “This offers an alternative to biofuels and a complement to electric vehicles in the effort to displace fossil fuels from transportation.”

Synthetic fuels have been made from CO2 and H2 before, on a small scale. “But,” Holmes adds, “we think our pilot plant is the first instance of Air to Fuels where all the equipment has large-scale industrial precedent, and thus gives real indication of commercial performance and viability, and leads directly to scale-up and deployment.”

The next step is to raise the money, scale up and then commercialise the process using low-carbon electricity like solar PV (photovoltaics). Company publicity envisages massive walls of extractor fans sited outside cities and on non-agricultural land, supplying CO2 for fuel synthesis, and eventually for direct sequestration.

“A2F is the future,” says Holmes, “because it needs 100 times less land and water than biofuels, and can be scaled up and sited anywhere. But for it to work, it will have to reduce costs to little more than it costs to extract oil today, and – even trickier – persuade countries to set a global carbon price.”

Meanwhile, 4,500 miles away, in a large blue shed on a small industrial estate in the South Yorkshire coalfield outside Sheffield, the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC) is experimenting with other ways to produce negative emissions.

The UKCCSRC is what remains of Britain’s official foray into carbon capture and storage (CCS), which David Cameron had backed strongly until 2015. £1bn was ringfenced for a competition between large companies to extract CO2 from coal and gas plants and then store it, possibly in old North Sea gas wells. But the plan unravelled as austerity bit, and the UK’s only running CCS pilot plant, at Ferrybridge power station, was abandoned.

The Sheffield laboratory is funded by £2.7m of government money and run by Sheffield University. It is researching different fuels, temperatures, solvents and heating speeds to best capture the CO2for the next generation of CCS plants, and is capturing 50 tonnes of CO2 a year. And because Britain is phasing out coal power stations, the focus is on achieving negative emissions by removing and storing CO2 emitted from biomass plants, which burn pulverised wood. As the wood has already absorbed carbon while it grows, it is more or less carbon-neutral when burned. If linked to a carbon capture plant, it theoretically removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Known as Beccs (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), this negative emissions technology is seen as vital if the UK is to meet its long-term climate target of an 80% cut in emissions at 1990 levels by 2050, according to UKCCSRC director Professor Jon Gibbins. The plan, he says, is to capture emissions from clusters of major industries, such as refineries and steelworks in places like Teesside, to reduce the costs of transporting and storing it underground.

“Direct air capture is no substitute for using conventional CCS,” says Gibbins. “Cutting emissions from existing sources at the scale of millions of tonnes a year, to stop the CO2 getting into the air in the first place, is the first priority.

CO2 solidified into carbonate minerals after being injected into basalt formations at Hellisheiði geothermal power plant in Iceland.
 CO2 solidified into carbonate minerals after being injected into basalt formations at Hellisheiði geothermal power plant in Iceland. Photograph: Sandra Ó Snæbjörnsdóttir/OR

“The best use for all negative emission technologies is to offset emissions that are happening now – paid for by the emitters, or by the fossil fuel suppliers. We need to get to net zero emissions before the sustainable CO2 emissions are used up. This is estimated at around 1,000bn tonnes, or around 20-30 years of global emissions based on current trends,” he says. “Having to go to net negative emissions is obviously unfair and might well prove an unfeasible burden for a future global society already burdened by climate change.”

The challenge is daunting. Worldwide manmade emissions must be brought to “net zero” no later than 2090, says the UN’s climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That means balancing the amount of carbon released by humans with an equivalent amount sequestered or offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.

But that will not be enough. To avoid runaway climate change, emissions must then become “net negative”, with more carbon being removed than emitted. Many countries, including the UK, assume that negative emissions will be deployed at a large scale. But only a handful of CCS and pilot negative-emission plants are running anywhere in the world, and debate still rages over which, if any, technologies should be employed. (A prize of $25m put up by Richard Branson in 2007 to challenge innovators to find a commercially viable way to remove at least 1bn tonnes of atmospheric CO2 a year for 10 years, and keep it out, has still not been claimed – possibly because the public is uncertain about geoengineering.)

The achilles heel of all negative emission technologies is cost. Government policy units assume that they will become economically viable, but the best hope of Carbon Engineering and other direct air extraction companies is to get the price down to $100 a tonne from the current $600. Even then, to remove just 1% of global emissions would cost around $400bn a year, and would need to be continued for ever. Storing the CO2 permanently would cost extra.

Richard Branson and Al Gore at the 2007 launch of the $25mVirgin Earth prize for carbon capture solutions, as yet unclaimed.
 Richard Branson and Al Gore at the 2007 launch of the $25mVirgin Earth prize for carbon capture solutions, as yet unclaimed. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Critics say that these technologies are unfeasible. Not using the fossil fuel and not producing the emissions in the first place would be much cleverer than having to find end-of-pipe solutions, say Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and Glen Peters, research director at the Centre for International Climate Research (Cicero) in Norway.

In a recent article in the journal Science, the two climate scientists said they were not opposed to research on negative emission technologies, but thought the world should proceed on the premise that they will not work at scale. Not to do so, they said, would be a “moral hazard par excellence”.

Instead, governments are relying on these technologies to remove hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. “It is breathtaking,” says Anderson. “By the middle of the century, many of the models assume as much removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by negative emission technologies as is absorbed naturally today by all of the world’s oceans and plants combined. They are not an insurance policy; they are a high-risk gamble with tomorrow’s generations, particularly those living in poor and climatically vulnerable communities, set to pay the price if our high-stakes bet fails to deliver as promised.” According to Anderson, “The beguiling appeal of relying on future negative emission technologies is that they delay the need for stringent and politically challenging policies today – they pass the buck for reducing carbon on to future generations. But if these Dr Strangelove technologies fail to deliver at the planetary scale envisaged, our own children will be forced to endure the consequences of rapidly rising temperatures and a highly unstable climate.”

Kris Milkowski, business development manager at the UKCCSRC, says: “Negative emissions technology is unavoidable and here to stay. We are simply not moving [to cut emissions] fast enough. If we had an endless pile of money, we could potentially go totally renewable energy. But that transition cannot happen overnight. This, I fear, is the only large-scale solution.”

Trump to unveil $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

WASHINGTON (AP) 12 Feb 2018 — President Donald Trump on Monday will unveil his long-awaited infrastructure plan, a $1.5 trillion proposal that fulfills a number of campaign goals, but relies heavily on state and local governments to produce much of the funding.

The administration’s plan is centered on using $200 billion in federal money to leverage local and state tax dollars to fix America’s infrastructure, such as roads, highways, ports and airports.

“Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and — where appropriate — tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” Trump said at last month’s State of the Union address.

Trump has repeatedly blamed the “crumbling” state of the nation’s roads and highways for preventing the American economy from reaching its full potential. Many in Washington believe that Trump should have begun his term a year ago with an infrastructure push, one that could have garnered bipartisan support or, at minimum, placed Democrats in a bind for opposing a popular political measure.

But the administration chose to begin with health care and relations with Democrats have only grown more strained during a turbulent, contentious year. The White House, now grappling with the fallout from the departure of a senior aide after spousal abuse allegations, may not have an easy time navigating a massive infrastructure plan through a polarized Congress. It just grappled with two federal government shutdowns and will soon turns its attention to immigration.

Administration officials previewing the plan said it would feature two key components: an injection of funding for new investments and help speed up repairs of crumbling roads and airports, as well as a streamlined permitting process that would truncate the wait time to get projects underway. Officials said the $200 billion in federal support would come from cuts to existing programs.

Half the money would go to grants for transportation, water, flood control, cleanup at some of the country’s most polluted sites and other projects.

States, local governments and other project sponsors could use the grants — which administration officials view as incentives — for no more than 20 percent of the cost. Transit agencies generally count on the federal government for half the cost of major construction projects, and federal dollars can make up as much as 80 percent of some highway projects.

About $50 billion, would go toward rural projects — transportation, broadband, water, waste, power, flood management and ports. That is intended to address criticism from some Republican senators that the administration’s initial emphasis on public-private partnerships would do little to help rural, GOP-leaning states

Early reaction to the proposal was divided.

Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, saluted Trump “for providing the leadership we have desperately needed to reclaim our rightful place as global leader on true 21st-century infrastructure.”

“When ports are clogged, trucks are delayed, power is down, water is shut off, or the internet has a lapse, modern manufacturers’ ability to compete is threatened and jobs are put at risk,” said Timmons. “There is no excuse for inaction, and manufacturers are committed to ensuring that America seizes this opportunity.”

But a number of Democrats and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pushed the administration to commit far more federal dollars, funded by tax increases, or by closing tax loopholes. And environmental groups expressed worry about its impact.

“President Trump’s infrastructure proposal is a disaster,” said Shelley Poticha, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It fails to offer the investment needed to bring our country into the 21st century. Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews.”