Head of Energy & Sustainability
Mustab AHMED

G7 Leaders’ (B3W) Initiative

Welcome to the latest edition of Footprints: With the G7 leaders committing to the “Build Back Better World (B3W) Initiative” to tackle global challenges and threats, including climate change, the wider implications of meeting zero carbon targets has never been so relevant. In this edition we therefore investigate the potential increased need to mine the sea bed if such targets are to be met, and the environmental implications of such actions. Also in an A-Z of Sustainability Speak special we answer the question of what actually is the upcoming COP 26.

Want to hear more from us on the hot energy & sustainability topics, including tips and recommendations on designing buildings for net zero carbon, then check out our new energy and sustainability “talking heads” videos on our website.

Increased Mining Activity Required to Meet Zero Carbon Targets

If zero carbon targets are to be met around the world, greater mining activity will have to be accepted, say resources experts, since the current availability of various essential metals and minerals cannot meet anticipated future demand.

Minerals such as cobolt, lithium carbonate, neodymium and dysprosium are essential for the production of batteries and components for the electric vehicle market, seen as an essential part of achieving zero carbon targets. But the 207,900 tonnes of cobolt alone that would be required to switch Britain’s 31.5 million petrol and diesel vehicles over to electric is twice the current annual world production of cobalt. To replace the 1.4 billion vehicles worldwide would require 40 times this quantity.

The ambition is a fully circular economy, in which demand can be satisfied by reuse and recycling; however, we are not yet at that point. Stocks of secondary supplies and recycling rates are inadequate to meet demand. Even for metals, such as aluminium and cobalt, for which end-of-life recycling is up to 70%, secondary supply still only accounts for 30% of their growing demand; in the case of lithium, recycling currently only accounts for 1% of present demand. Therefore, new sources must be found and extracted even if only in the short term.

Some believe answer lies in the sea, looking to mine the critical metals off the ocean floor. Billions of potato-sized rocks, known as “modules” which contain vast quantities of cobolt litter the underwater planes of the pacific and other oceans. But mining in such pitch black high pressure environments, sometimes up to 5km down, not only brings about technical challenges but great concerns on the effect to underwater ecosystems, not just in the area of mining, but even kilometers away where the plumes of silt and sand churned up by the mining are carried.

There are many initiatives being undertaken throughout the world, looking at how deep sea mining could be made less damaging. However, although measures can be made to reduce the impacts on the environment, they cannot be eliminated. It is also not just environmental groups that are voicing their objections, only last month a number of high profile companies such as BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung led their weight to calls for a moratorium – a temporary suspension until future consideration warrants lifting the suspension – on such mining proposals.

UK’s largest electric vehicle charging hub to be built in Oxford

What will be the UK’s largest electric vehicle charging subhub is being brought to Oxford later this year. Initially to feature 38 fast and ultra-rapid chargers with up to 10MW of power, it is said it will be the most powerful single site in Europe.

Fastned, Tesla superchargers and Wenea will provide the chargers, with Fastned, who are installing the first chargers claiming that its 300 kW chargers are capable of adding 300 miles of range to most electric vehicle in just 20 minutes.

The station itself, located at Redbridge Park & Ride, will be fully powered by renewable energy, partially from an integrated PV array, with power for charging via connection to the high voltage national grid and the utilisation of a 50MW hybrid battery to provide real-time grid balancing services and storage of the solar-generated power when not directly being utilised.

The £41 million hub is part of the Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) project to help tackle climate change and reduce air pollution and will save 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year once opened later in 2021, equivalent to taking over 2,000 petrol cars off the road, increasing to 25,000 tonnes by 2032.

The announcement of the new hub comes just after MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report urging the Government to do more to support the UK’s transition to banning new petrol and diesel car sales from 2030, including the increase in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Ban on home gas boilers by 2035

There have been various reports that the UK government is considering banning the installation of gas fired boilers by 2035, with the target date anticipated to be included in a new Heat and Buildings Strategy.

Although rumours that fines would be imposed on anyone not replacing their boiler with a heat pump by the 2035 cut off have been dismissed by government sources, controversial strategies such as having to replace your system in order to sell your home are apparently still under consideration.

The proposal to ban the use of gas boilers in newly constructed homes by 2025 was first hinted at from then Chancellor, Philip Hammond in 2019, but the proposals were then excluded from the subsequently published Future Homes Standard.

The use of gas fired boilers in new and perhaps more importantly the 25 million existing homes in the UK is seen as one of the major barriers in achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with estimates that they account for nearly 15% of carbon dioxide emissions. With the greening of the UK power grid meaning that carbon dioxide emissions associated with its use are now less than gas (with the ultimate target being zero emissions) heating systems that use electricity efficiently, such as heat pumps, are seen to be the answer.

However, it is not just that heat pumps are currently much more expensive to buy than a traditional gas boiler that are hindering its progress in the domestic heating market. They currently only really work at their optimum efficiencies at heating temperatures below what our traditional radiators operate at. Meaning existing homes would need to apply additional insulation to reduce the heat needed or replace existing radiators with much larger models to maintain the required output, all again adding cost.

Current heat pumps cannot provide instantaneous domestic hot water, requiring cylinders of stored hot water to gradually build up to the temperatures required for baths and showers. Although many homes have such hot water cylinders, many smaller homes utilise combination-boilers that provide instantaneous hot water without the need for storage. This again adds cost and requires space to be found for the cylinder. Space is also required for the external portion of the heat pump, the part of the system that “extracts” the heat from the surrounding air. Outdoor space which is precious, particularly to a country coming out of lockdown, and space which is non-existent in apartments.

Because of the unit price difference between gas and electricity supply, even an efficient heat pump currently available is likely to be more expensive to run than the gas boiler, the heat pump industry will therefore really need to focus on improving efficiencies or households will face increased running costs in addition to the initial capital outlay.

It is, and will likely remain for some time, a thorny issue, but bold steps are going to be needed to meet carbon commitments, and they are likely to be unpopular with many.


(Extract from Foreman Roberts Updated Guide)


COP26 is often mentioned in recent articles and news items when discussing sustainability and zero carbon targets, but what actually is it, when is it and what is hoped to be achieved by it? An A-Z of Sustainability Speak special:

The Conference of Parties, known as COP, is the decision-making body responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COPs objective is to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.

The COPs brings together 197 nations and territories that have signed on to the Framework Convention and helps governments to set their own climate change targets. Meeting annually since 1995, COP26 is the 26th conference. Hosted this time by the UK Government, it was postponed from November 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, is now going ahead in Glasgow from 1 -12 November 2021, with over 30,000 delegates expected to contribute.

This year’s conference is considered particularly important since a major aim is to finalise the rule book of the Paris Agreement, something which was unable to be reached at the last conference COP25, as well as moving the UN Climate Change process forward.

The Paris Agreement, named after the host city of COP21, was the first international climate agreement, whose key aim was to take action to keep global temperature rise in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius, thus limiting further climate change.

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