Is Charcoal the answer?

I attended a Charcoal talk last night by David Hutchinson of the Yorkshire Charcoal Company at the University of Hull (Scarborough Campus)
on 4th December 2007

Apparently Charcoal has enormous historic significance.

  • Until it was discovered how to make coke, it was the only fuel suitable for smelting metals from their ores.
  • It’s long been used in medicine as a way of soaking up toxins.
  • Because it absorbs water, was used by the ancient Chinese as a hygrometer.
  • It’s role in agriculture helped solve the riddle of El Dorado.

Charcoal can be made from any organic material. Just heat it up in a restricted supply of oxygen and just about everything will be driven off except the material’s basic carbon skeleton. What you’re left with is almost pure carbon arranged in an open lattice work with an enormous surface area.

Because carbon atoms like to stick together, it’s really good at absorbing organic compounds (which by definition contain carbon). So, it’s a really good filter and is used in numerous applications from water treatment to the NBC suits worn by our troops in Iraq.

Tropical rain forest soils are very thin and the high rainfall tends to flush out any nutrients. The lost city of El Dorado, in the Amazonian rainforest, was a huge puzzle for archaeologists who, once they’d accepted that a major civilization had existed (with the one time residents killed off by diseases unwittingly introduced by European explorers) remained puzzled by how large populations could be supported on such poor soils. The clue lay in the so called dark earth “terra praeta”.

This soil was dark because it contained large quantities of charcoal. Simple experiments, by the archaeologist Bruno Glazer, showed that this dramatically improved the soil’s fertility.

It turns out that 8000 years ago charcoal was also being used as a soil improver in East Anglia.

In the present day we are faced with the challenge of climate change. Leave a bit of wood on the ground and it will slowly decay releasing all it’s carbon as carbon dioxide or methane. Turn the piece of wood into charcoal and the carbon that remains is fixed forever. The only way you can release it as carbon dioxide is to set fire to it. So, charcoal could play an important role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

For example, an essential part of woodland management is to thin the trees so that those that remain don’t grow too leggy. Some of these thinning’s are used, e.g. to make chipboard, but about half the world’s timber harvest ends up as waste. If this waste were converted to charcoal and used as a soil improver it would reduce dependency on fertilizers, improve water retention and provide a permanent carbon sink.
There are a number of current technological developments that are aimed at making charcoal production cleaner as well as more efficient. Kilns now exist that have very low emissions of pollutants and recover the energy from the gases that are given off. Further development, and widespread adoption, of these technologies could play an important role in

  • Improving soil fertility and quality without artificial fertilizers
  • Sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere, permanently
  • Cleaning up pollution from organic compounds (e.g. oil spills)
  • Providing rural employment as part of sustainable woodland management.

Surprisingly perhaps, these simple facts about charcoal are not well known; either among the general population or among decision makers in Government and elsewhere.

David proposes the establishment of a Charcoal Foundation that would help bring charcoal’s virtues to wider public attention, would bring together existing research and would help practitioners find markets for their products.

Figures for electricity and gas.

I forgot to mention the figures for electricity and gas.

Gas is sold in M3; the Kg’s Co2 per M3 is 2.2kg.

Electricity is sold in KW hr’s; the Co2 per KW hr is 0.43 KG.

UPDATED October 2008 some Green Organisations are suggesting using 0.57KG to reflect the change in the materials used to produce electricity in the UK.

How Much Carbon Used in Making Drinking Water?

I am building a spread sheet to analysis the carbon footprint for the power and energy usage of the hotel, an I finally got the carbon footprint for water from the kind people at Yorkshire water, every megalitre of water
(1000m3) produces 71kg of carbon and 261kg of Co2.

Hope this helps. If you need anybody out there is attempting to calculate the same.

What is KVA?

I received a warning from our electricity suppliers in late June 2007 saying that on more than one occasion our Maximum Demand (The maximum take of electrical power during one half hour period) has consistently exceeding our Authorised Supply Capacity (The amount of power available to your supply at any one time), for the Crown Spa Hotel.

What does that mean? well apparently this is the max KVA of which ours is 195, this is effectively the registered amount of electricity that we are allowed to take from the grid. In view of the impending 4th Floor roof development I have increase this from 195 KVA to 290 KVA, this should be more than enough.

Though the down side is that we have had to pay £10,000 for a new electrical supply. This can not be helped but it just shows the hidden costs of not reducing your power usage. The rate charged for each KVA is £1.14, this means if you over estimate your KVA then your electricity bill can be unnecessarily high, though if you underestimate it the supply company can refuse to supply any more electric until you change your habits, or build them a new substation!

UPDATED October 2009 I am now thinking of reducing the Max KVA value down as we are effectivly paying for something we do not need. The max power at any one time was 207 KVA Feb 2009, since then max Power demand has been consistenly below 190 KVA, even with the builders and the hotel being fully occupied over Christmas.

The Future's Bright, The Future's Green

I recently attended a conference in Wales entitled ‘The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Green’ which looked at the opportunities and challenges that are facing the future of conferencing in various venues.

There were a number of industry speakers who covered topics such as the impact and effects of business tourism on the environment, putting sustainable policies into action in destinations and venues, sustainable incentives, corporate social responsibility and increasingly stringent legislation.

The main theme that came through was that environmental impacts are now becoming a key factor for conference organisers when considering a destination and venue. We were given examples of how venues and destinations are adapting to this obligation by providing organisers with their environmental policies. Examples mentioned were Apex Hotels and the Gleneagles Hotel, whose environmental policy was apparently a consideration in winning the G8 Summit in 2005. One of the key speakers, Fiona Pelham from ‘Organise This’ explained that 68% of conference organisers now take environmental policies into consideration when planning conferences. Our personal experience has been mainly service and price, though times are changing.

With sustainable tourism becoming such an important consideration it is expected that more and more conference organisers and agencies will start to ask venues for their own green policies (Apparently The Scottish Executive will now only use environmentally accredited accommodation).

There are a number of agencies available that will help businesses look at their environmental impact. The Carbon Trust offer free loans for improving energy efficiency and can provide business surveys, design advice and free publications. One of the many benefits mentioned was that a 20% cut in energy expenditure can lead to the equivalent of a 10% increase in sales.

We Are Now Using Wax Printers

We have received 4 Xerox 8550 DN printers, these are network printers that use Wax instead of Toner. No more toner spills and the prints look really good. Xerox Wax Printer

UPDATED October 2008 We have been using these printers for some time; I really like them they are easy and cheap to repair when they go wrong and using the non-branded wax ink means they are far more cheaper to run. For example the maintenance kit is £65 and inks per print are around 50% less than toner. The previous Epson printer need a fuser at £250 and Photo conductor at £500 around 2 times per year for each printer, the wax printers cost £400 plus vat and use biodegradable wax! UPDATED October 2009, these printers have prooved to be much cheaper to run and I do recommend them!

We Now Have £100,000 Interest Free Loan!

The Crown Is now in receipt of a £100,000 interest free loan for the solar panels. Trouble is as soon as suppliers realise this the price goes up by more than the actual interest saving. This is very disappointing, I think we will be sourcing and paying for the panels directly from China. UPDATED March 2009 we will not be using the CT interest free loan, this is not the place to go into it but I have found a cheaper supplier whio is not on the approved list.

We Now Have Our Carbon trust Report!

Just received the Carbon Trust report we had our inspection in mid-May. We now have an action plan of things we need to tackle:

1. A Staff awareness programme. UPDATED Done October 2006

2. Installation of Optimum Stop Star Heating Control. UPDATED We have delayed this as we already zone by heating pump and have a similar manual system already. Due to the dimensions of the building some parts can be cold and hot at the same time on the same day due to wind of the sea and direct sunshine. We are looking for a more optimal solution.

3. Swimming Pool Heating Recuperation. UPDATED Unfortunately I was away on the day this are was inspected, unfortunately the consultant did not recognise the equipment as it is state of the art and already does this function.

4. Swimming pool RH control by dehumidification. UPDATED Unfortunately I was away on the day this are was inspected, unfortunately the consultant did not recognise the equipment as it is state of the art and already does this function.

5. Insulate Hot Pipe work. UPDATED Done October 2006

We Are Now Organised for Recycling!

We have just started to work with Scarborough and Filey Trust for Recycling; as an organisation we can now recycle the following items:

  1. Waste office paper – shredded in bin liners, separated from un shredded. Keep staples to a minimum, but the odd few is not a problem
  2. Plastic containers from cleaning fluids etc – remove caps and/or spray units. At present we cannot take the spray units but are investigating the caps. Please rinse if they have had anything hazardous in them. We are still awaiting details of how these need to be separated. Small milk containers from bedrooms to be kept separate.
  3. Printer/toner cartridges – please put into original box wherever possible. Still checking out the other consumables!
  4. Cardboard – flattened. boxes must be kept dry.
  5. Clean wood off-cuts – all except chipboard and MDF
  6. Tin cans (steel ) – rinse and remove any paper label.
  7. Plastic drinks bottles – caps removed, caps can be taken if bagged separately.
  8. Lids from glass bottles – separate steel from other metals if possible.
  9. Bedding, towels, surplus catering equipment etc.
  10. Metal drinks cans and ring pulls.

I am still waiting for them to come back to me on some of the more exotic. We are using bags in various colours to make life easier for sorting.

Though I still think, if only we weren’t sent so much crap with the things we buy, we wouldn’t have to recycle so much!

Carbon Trust Application Approved

We have just received our confirmation that our organisation qualifies to receive energy efficiency support from the Carbon Trust. Lets hope they send the right person. ; after all if you can’t do you generally consult!