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Machines – More Efficient than People

25 Jun
energy efficiency

Carbon efficiency is a squeaky green offshoot of operational efficiency.

How automating manufacturing can reduce carbon emissions and boost efficiency

The ‘Internet of Things’ is far from being a future trend. It has already arrived in most sophisticated manufacturing and petrochemical plants, where temperature and pressure conditions must be kept at optimal levels at all times; and reactions and assembly lines are so multifarious that the potential for human error cannot be allowed to intercede.

Almost all machines in modern factories have a number of settings, or configurations. To adjust the all the settings manually could take a month, or more. If all components are linked to an overarching control system, the time taken is reduced dramatically, to a matter of days.

Nunzio Bonavita, business development manager for ABB Measurement Products, Italy, in his discussion of how automation increases efficiency, cites the example of the petrochemical complex in Termoli, Italy, where “complex chemical processes” are controlled by over 500 feedback control loops.

Bonavita states, “Manually re-tuning such a large number of loops would require six to eight months of highly-skilled (and rarely available) technicians.” But, that “After installing an Advanced Process Control Solution to provide control loop optimization and monitoring, a single engineer was able to re-tune the whole plant in just three weeks.”

He notes also that the self-adjusting functionality of the control devices meant that fuel wastage was minimised, and the plant’s overall consumption of methane was cut by more than 5%.

Another example is Qatar’s aluminium smelting complex Qatalum, near Mesajeed Industrial City. The 17-facility complex is one of the world’s largest, and also one of the most efficient aluminium smelters. All 17 plants are connected through an automated process control system.

A system this big really necessitates automated configuration: in total the network comprises more than 1,000 ‘nodes’, connection points and communication endpoints. The technical contractors brought in to install a unified control and monitoring system, ZMS Technology, used Hirschman’s Industrial HiVision network managing system (NMS).

The reported benefits of this programme are that it was compatible with a range of devices from different manufacturers and, describes ‘Automation World’ magazine, “The ability of the NMS to detect inconsistencies between parameter configurations reduced troubleshooting time.”

Additionally, it had the advantage common to all automated systems, which is that the history of configuration levels was documented, leaving a comprehensive log that could be scrutinised in the event of operational problems or just to find further efficiency gains.

A particular issue in the hot and arid Qatari climate is cable breakdown, and Qatalum often suffered from cable crimping and transmission errors as a result. An integrated control system can “dig down from the port to the switch and even to the cable to identify an area of potential failure.” Without the Industrial NMS capability, and what was the only solution in the olden days, was “to shut down a portion of the network and sending a process engineer to troubleshoot—a very expensive process,” reported ‘Automation World’.

The final way in which industrial network management systems make plant operators’ lives easier is by allowing for remote operational access – though internet security precautions are paramount. The 2012 incident at state-owned and state-of-the-art oil producers Saudi Aramco, where a malware attack enabled anti-government forces to spy on and even interfere with communication processes, provided a lesson for other facilities dependent on a computerised control system. Passwords must be continually updated and hardware disks brought on-site subject to checks.



French finance roundup: disgraced ex-trader to lecture at University of Chicago; interview with CEO of GDF Suez

28 Feb

‘Fabulous Fab’, from trader to condemned to lecture Economics (translated from Le Monde)

Fabrice Tourre, found guilty of securities fraud while he was a trader with Goldman Sachs, will teach economics at the prestigious University of Chicago.

fabulous fabAccording to ‘The Chicago Maroon’, the institution’s student paper and origin of the information, the Frenchman, aged 34 years and with a doctorate in economics, will give in the second semester several courses pertaining to “the elements of economic analysis”.

Nicknamed ‘Fabulous Fab’ – it was thus that he signed his emails – Fabrice Tourre was found guilty in August 2013 of securities fraud, over derivatives on ‘subprime’ property loans sold to investors just before the financial crisis in 2008.

“Guilty” for the 2008 Crisis

Accused by the American market rule-enforcers (the Securities and Exchange Commission) of having tricked investors and made illicit gains through the creation and the sale of complex financial products dependent on risky real estate investments, Fabrice Tourre had been judged “responsible” on six accusations out of seven, over the course of a widely publicised trial in New York.

At the time, the magazine The New Yorker wrote that M. Tourre was the “only Wall Street banker to have been declared guilty for the financial crisis” of 2008. Goldman Sachs was also pursued over the same affair, but it succeeded in negotiating a pay-off agreement of $0.5 billion

Record loss at GDF Suez, its CEO explains to the Monde (translated)

Gérard Mestralle, CEO of GDF Suez, announced on Tuesday 27 February the company’s 2013 results, heavily penalised by €14.9 billion depreciation of assets in the power stations and their gas storage facilities in Europe. The net result reached €3.4 billion, but with these depreciations factored in, the 2013 accounting period ended in a loss of €9.7billion.

gerard mestralletQ: The energy sector in Europe is undergoing an unprecedented crisis. How was that reflected in your results?

The 2013 accounts reflected my desire for a rapid and radical transformation of the group. Four branches acquitted themselves well or very well, but the fifth, Energie Europe, was struck by a fall in demand, the combination of low-price American coal and significant over-production in power generators.

Supported unanimously by the management board and the major shareholders like the state and Albert Frère, I have decided to pass all the toll onto the steel wool. And first to depreciate massively, to the height of €14.9 billion, the accounting value of certain of our assets in Europe, essentially the thermic power stations and the gas storage facilities. This action will not have any impact on the central funds of the group, which are in any case very solid.

Q: Do you believe that the sector’s crisis in Europe will endure?

Yes, these changes are enduring and profound. The overcapacity will continue. Even if the wild growth in renewable energy – above all in Germany, Spain and in Italy, – starts to sag, the new production capacity will come into action so consumption will stagnate or fall.

These last few years, we have closed or put into hibernation 11.5 gigawatts in gas power stations, the equivalent of 12 nuclear reactors! At the heart of 11 enterprises of the ‘groupe Magritte’, which has warned Brussells of the situation, there are more than 50 GW which were closed or frozen.

Q: Have you not discovered the problem a bit late?

No one, among all the countless politicians or from the Commission, had anticipated it. I was the first, in May 2013, to alert them and to say that they had moved too fast and too far into renewables. Honestly, France could not influence much: it had just 7GW of wind and of solar, while Germany had 70GW. That is to say, renewables will continue to develop. The energy transition is irreversible, and is anyway desirable.

Q: Has Brussells really responded to your demands?

On several big points, yes. The Commission intends to propose to the European Council a drop in greenhouse gas emissions of 40% by 2030. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel and François Holland have already declared themselves in favour of this objective. Brussells also wants to end the system of subsidies for renewable energy to create a level playing field.

Finally, the Commission has put back on track the market in carbon trading. It should arrive at a CO2 price level consistent with the 40% objective and give a signal to engineers to invest in production machinery which has low carbon emissions.

Q: What positive points emerge from the 2013 report?

There are many, despite these difficulties. Our turnover has reached 81.3 billion and EBITDA of €13.4 billion. The bare net result of €3.4 billion is near the top of the margin we had set. Our liquidity stands at €17.5 billion, of which €8.8billion is in our company account, our raw investments at €7.5billion.

The year was also marked by major commercial and industrial successes, with the rise in electricity production by the non-electricians, breaking into attractive markets (South Africa, Mongolia, India, Morocco..) and the strengthening of our positions in the gas supply chain (contracts and infrastructure) in Azerbaijan, the United States, in Mexico, in Brazil or in Uruguay, where GDF Suez is going to operate the largest offshore oilrig in the world.

Q: What is in store for 2014?

We have revised upwards all our financial targets. We completed our programme of debt payoffs at the end of 2013, more than a year ahead of time, leaving our net debt level at €30billion, 2.2 times lower than Ebitda, one of the most impressive ratios in the sector. We are determined to reward our shareholders. For 2013, we propose a dividend of €1.5 per share, some €3.6billion, the most significant leap in renumeration since Total. But in the years to come, we will distribute between 65% and 75% – rather than 100% – resulting in a minimum of € 1 per share, a total of €2.4billion.

Q: What are you going to do with your financial margins?

Finance the group’s development, hinged around our two strategic objectives defined by the management board in November 2013: be the leader in the energy transition in Europe and the energy provider of choice in strong growth countries. Over 2014 to 2016, our raw investments will sit between €9billion and €10billion on average per year. We will recruit 15,000 employees per year,  of which 9,000 will come from France.

Q: The energy transition, is it well underway in Europe?

It is on the march. We want to grow in all renewable methods producing heat or electricity: biomass, biogas, wind, solar, geothermic, marine energy… But also in energy services, where we retain the top position in France, in Belgium, in Italy and in the Netherlands. In Europe, where growth is stagnating, energy consumption is declining by 1% to 2% per annum, while the demand for energy services is expanding by 2.5%. And it’s that which we are targeting the most.

These service activities which deploy a network of 90,000 operators, we want to develop them strongly in regions of strong growth where we have already set down entrenched positions in electricity production, like in Asia, the Middle East and in South America. These countries have a powerful demand, either because they consume lots of energy, or they have dilapidated infrastructure. You have to integrate this market which is today fragmentary: with “only” €16billion in turnover, GDF Suez is the world number one in energy services.

Q: New horizons are emerging. In which other sectors will you invest?

The depression in Europe is more than offset by the rest of the world. Other than our energy services, GDF Suez will reinforce its independent electricity production, and gas infrastructure (terminals, pipes, storage), that we want to develop, merging the historic expertise of ex-Gaz in France with the know-how of Suez on an international scale. One last example, our Cameron project, a gas liquefaction plant in the US, which is going to receive the green light from the Obama administration.

At Davos, the charm offensive of Iranian president Hassan Rohani (translated from Le Monde)

25 Jan

(link to original article in Le Monde)

Is it going to become a regular habit? Four times after his presentation in front of the UN General Assembly, the Iranian president Hassan Rohani has successively stolen the thunder from his adversary, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this Thursday 23 january at the world economic forum of Davos, mounting a charm operation aimed at western businessmen, who are invited to invest in Iran.

Loudly applauded by an auditorium which, visibly, was eager to hear this speech, M. Rohani confirmed that “constructive engagement” was “one of the pillars” of the politics of his government, and that he meant to put it to work at one ambition: integrating Iran into the group of emerging economies. “Iran has the potential to be one of the ten foremost world economies in the next three decades,” he said. “Its economy is promising and can meet the other emerging economies.”

Normalising relations with Iran with the EU

The Iranian president supports that they renew commercial relations with the countries of the region, notably Turkey and Russia. The initiation of a nuclear agreement with Iran, which his country negotiated with the international community and over which he has a “strong and serious intention” to, through it, allow Iran to “normalise its relations with the EU.” With the United States, Tehran “has also embarked on a new stage these last months.” All this, he summarised, constitutes “a major change since the Islamic revolution.”

Reaffirming that his country had no military nuclear ambition, but that the Iranians “were not ready to abandon the technology” that enabled them to produce civil nuclear energy, the Iranian president also declared himself ready to participate in the collective effort for global energy security. Very at ease in front of an auditorium of over a thousand attendees of the forum at Davos, who he invited – “all” – to come to Iran, smiling pleasantly, his well-groomed beard and lively expression behind his neat glasses, M. Rohani was inarguably embarked on a charm offensive to give the impression that his country was from now on open to business, with a view to the lifting of sanctions.

In a conversation with a small group of journalists, sometime later, he even chatted about his Twitter account and swore that he did not tweet himself: he left this task to “his friends”. On foreign affairs in the region, however, he did not reveal anything, in his responses to the questions of Prof. Schwab, founder of the Davos Forum. In Syria, he proposes to “stop the bloodbath”, then to drive out “the terrorists come from elsewhere”. As for Israel, nothing is giving: when Professor Schwab asked him if he wanted better relations with “all” the countries of the region, without exception, M. Rohani clarified, with a large smile, “With all those which recognise us.”


Proceed with Prudence

For Vali Nasr, dean of the international faculty of Johns Hopkins University in Washington and specialist on Iran, the performance of M. Rohani at Davos consisted of “bypassing the nuclear question and putting the emphasis on integration of his country into the regional and global economy, which is a new direction.” This president wants to give an alternative image, analysed another expert, Iranian, who wished to remain anonymous. “He does not mix any ideology or revolutionary rhetoric into his speech. He has decided to use all possible occasions to address the world, and in particular to the Americans and Europeans.”

And Davos has provided him with a brilliant forum. A little later, the US Secretary of the Treasury, Jacob Lew, did however temper the potential enthusiasm that the Iranian president had stirred up, putting American companies on their guard. In an interview with the BBC, he urged them to “proceed with prudence” and not to launch themselves into Iran while the majority of sanctions were still in place.

Speaking at the same forum a few hours later, Benjamin Netanyahou knew that it would be more difficult to counter Hassan Rohani than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Israelian delegation to Davos was backed up by Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni. The Israeli prime minister delivered a superb advertisement for Israel, “nation of technological innovation”, but his smile slipped when he was question on the performance of the Iranian president. “Yes, he has changed his speeches,” he said, “but has not changed in his actions. He denounces foreign interventions in Syria? But we know that all of Iran is intervening in Syria, with its revolutionary guards on the ground!”

Food retailer Kroger joins Dow Jones Sustainability Index, for the conscientious investor

30 Sep

The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) will see a new addition to its lineup of ethically tested, high market cap global companies, as US firm Kroger joins the roster. Retail food chain Kroger, which produces its own food line and also operates 7326 ‘fine jewelry’ stores, announced its inaugural listing on 27 September.

Kroger’s president and CEO Rodney McMullen declared: “Inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index is an important mile marker and a sign of real progress for Kroger.” He continued modestly, “While we take great pride in the strides we have made to reduce our impact on the environment and to operate as good stewards in our communities, we have more work to do. We intend to continue pursuing our long-term sustainability goals with enthusiasm and determination.”

Firms like Kroger are assessed by the DJSI’s partner RabecoSAM, which questions a pool of 2500 of the largest world companies, based on free-float market cap, on several criteria. In 2013, a total of 1,831 were rated, with 818 completing questionnaires and 1,013 assessed exclusively using public information.

The first criterion is environmental, for which the assessment is based on the CDP framework, with the firm submitting figures on its greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, risks to its supply chain, and measures it is taking to remedy these. It is also assessed on its water usage and possible deforestation impact.

The CDP is a non-governmental body which collects information on the global corporate environmental footprint to “harness market forces to drive change.” The weight of its membership – at last count 81% of the top global 500 make detailed reports to it – means it enables cities and government to gain “awareness of where to make strategic changes in order to save money.”

As part of its submission, Kroger described how it was making progress towards the Environmental Protection Agency’s Zero Waste threshold of 90% in all its retail locations: to reach its goal, it said, it would increase the ‘diversion rate’ to 65% for all stores by the end of 2013, and to 70% by the end of 2015.

As part of its current 58% diversion rate, Kroger utilises processes like converting its waste to biogas through anaerobic digestion. At the Ralphs/Food4 Less distribution centre, it processes around 150 tons of food waste daily, which will offset more than 20% of the energy demand for the 650,000 square foot Ralphs/Food4 Less distribution centre, and reduce the net distance of truck trips by over 500,000 miles a year.

The other DJSI criteria incorporate stakeholder engagement, i.e. the extent of local or employee ownership and involvement; product stewardship; operational eco-efficiency, for which there are two possible denominators to standardize the environmental data provided, revenues and production volume. And finally, recent addition Financial Stability and Systemic Risk.

The evaluators explain, “The new criterion aims to measure both the ex-ante level of complexity, using the Financial Stability Board, (FSB) framework as a proxy and the ex-post receipt of state aid, still outstanding to date.”

Kroger takes a leading role in grassroots community work, as a founding partner of Feeding America, a nationwide outreach programme for those in food poverty. In 2012, it worked with over 80 local food banks to donate the equivalent of 200million meals. As regards product stewardship, it claims its implementation of a refrigerant management plan and improved fleet productivity has led to a 4.8% reduction in its overall carbon footprint.

Weighting the index – what kind of a punch does the USA pack?

DJSI evaluators take 600 or 800 of the largest companies in the distinct regions of the USA, North America, Europe, the Eurozone, Emerging Markets, and Asia-Pacific. Korea and Australia are treated as individual entities. The various geographical sets form separate funds as well as being aggregated for the DJSI World, ex-US and World Developed Composite indexes. The team selects the top 10 or 20% firms from reach region in terms of sustainability, and groups them into industry categories, appointing an industry leader for each one.

Nestle leads the ‘Food, Beverage and Tobacco’ group. Since recovering from the scandal surrounding its campaign to promote powdered milk as a breast feeding substitute several years ago, it has gone from strength to strength. Woolworths is fighting back from Australia, leading the ‘Food & Staples Retailing’ Group. French telecoms giant Alcatel-Laurent heads the ‘Technology Hardware & Equipment’ Group, and Switzerland’s Roche tops the ‘Pharmaceuticals Biotechnology & Life Sciences’ Group. Citigroup, headquartered in the US, was considered the most ethical among ‘Diversified Financials’.

Putting aside comparative virtuosity scores of the global heavyweights, it is interesting to see that the DJSI outperformed the Dow Jones today (27 Sep), at the start of trading at 9.34am GMT-4. While the Dow was down 157.41 (-1.03%), the DJSI World Developed Composite Index was -0.99%, and the North America Composite -0.50%.

Moving away from the ‘broad-market’ indexes to the DJSI Blue-Chips which select only the most profitable companies, the World ex-US 80 were up 0.16%; while the Japan 40 was up an impressive 0.36% and Asia Pacific had climbed 0.26%, as smart money continues to flow towards these highly liquid markets.

Most significantly, the NA ex call Index, a subindex which excludes gambling, tobacco, armaments and firearms, and adult entertainment (there are additional either/or options for these last two sectors), had fallen just -0.40% compared to the NA Composite’s -0.50%. An enduring testimony to the benefits of being a conscientious investor?

Prize-winning Invention from Finland Could Help End Offshore Gas-flaring

18 Mar

The newly patented GasReformer device can recycle waste gas emitted in oil production, and reuse it to power oil rigs. Wärtsilä claims that by using the GasReformer, and a dual-fuel engine which alternates between oil and associated gas, operators can cut the need for bunkered fuel oil by about 35–39 tons per day; so as well as drastically reducing CO2 emissions, it increases operational efficiency.

The device is aimed principally at offshore oil rigs, which have little capability of storing the associated (petroleum) gas produced from crude oil, when it is heated to make it less viscous, and easier to pump and handle. This associated gas is, if untreated, too volatile for use as fuel because it contains a lot of heavier hydrocarbons. Many oil production facilities burn off this waste gas, as the cheapest and easiest way of getting rid of it. This practice is known as gas flaring, and is not without negative environmental and social effects.

The Problem of Gas Flaring

Gas flaring is most prevalent in Russia, with Nigeria the second most culpable. It seems almost a criminal waste in Nigeria, where gas and electricity supplies are well below that necessary to meet demand. South Africa, which has a third of the population of Nigeria, generates more than 10 times as much as power. This being said, in September 2014 Nigeria publicly committed to tripling its natural gas production from 4 billion cubic feet (1.2 billion cubic metres, bcm) a day, to 11 billion cubic feet (3.45 bcm) a day. Gas treatment facilities will form part of the expensive, comprehensive new infrastructure.

Figures for gas flaring volume in 2013, derived from satellite data, are still a work in progress by the World Bank. But the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) public-private partnership, led by the World Bank, has reported that global volumes fell by by 20% between 2005 and 2011, from 172 bcm to 140 bcm. In 2011 Russia still burnt off 37.4bcm of ‘waste’ gas, which could have been reused with the necessary infrastructure. At the 2011 GGFR forum, Rachel Kyte of the World Bank claimed that in sub-Saharan Africa, purely for lack of equipment to store and treat it, the gas then flared was equivalent to half the total energy consumption.

Perhaps the most significant step taken to combat the practice is in Iraq, where a combined venture between Shell, Mitsubishi and Iraq’s South Gas Company, the special purpose venture ‘Basrah Gas Company’ launched in 2013 claimed to be “the world’s largest flares reduction project”. Compressors were leased to capture and process gas flared from three major oil fields in southern Iraq – Rumaila, West Qurna 1 and Zubair.

How does it Work Again?

The GasReformer reduces emissions by stabilizing gas rich in heavy hydrocarbons, converting it to a methane-rich product that can be reused in dual-fuel engines. The equipment ensures the methane number of any fuel gas is improved to 100 ± 5 by converting the heavier hydrocarbons to synthesis gas (H2 + CO), and finally to methane (CH4).This process is based on the established practice of “steam reforming,” which is performed in refineries and petrochemical plants: in this context, of deriving hydrogen from hydrocarbons. The GasReformer using the same catalytic process but different conditions (of heat and pressure).

The company Wärtsilä Gas Systems, Helsinki, has won the Offshore Technology Conference’s 2013 Spotlight on New Technology for its invention. The demanding selection criteria for the award, which state that a winning invention must be “original, groundbreaking, and capable of revolutionizing the offshore E&P industry”, reflects the product’s proven and significant benefits for offshore exploration and production.

See a list of the Offshore Technology Conference’s 2013 Spotlight on New Technology’s other winners here…

Director Wärtsilä Oil & Gas Systems Tore Lunde said: “The uniqueness of the GasReformer is in its ability to convert unwanted heavier fractions from the gas into methane. By turning otherwise waste gas into fuel, the system significantly lowers operating costs while notably enhancing environmental sustainability. In locations where flaring is prohibited, this is especially important.”



New appointments; and a German airfield’s transformation into a solar power plant

18 Jan

Award-winning advertising executive to advise private advisory and merchant bank OmniView

OmniView Capital Advisers (OCVA), a privately held investment advisory and merchant bank which has overseen over $1bn in debt and equity transactions, has appointed Jeffrey Devlin, an advertising and entertainment veteran, to its Board of Directors.

He is being promoted from his current position as OCVA’s Chief Marketing Officer.

Devlin has worked as Senior Vice President at Lintas Worldwide Advertising. He won over $70 million in accounts  at Doner Advertising where he served as Senior Vice President of New Business Development. His clients included major companies and organizations including the National Football League (NFL), Atari, The Coca-Cola Company, Intel, and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, of which he is a senior adviser.

Over his time working in the advertising industry, Devlin was heaped with plaudits and awards. The list includes 17 CLIO Awards; 16 Andy Awards for advertising excellence; 21 Telly Awards for outstanding commercials; four Effie Media Awards; and a shiny Gold Camera from the U.S. International Film Festival. His award-winning piece for Visa, Olympics, has a permanent place at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Jeffrey Devlin said, “I look forward to bringing an advertising and marketing perspective to the Board to help leverage the company’s innovative philosophy and maximize business development opportunities.”

Green Tower Project In Brandenburg finished before deadline, thanks to Trina Solar

Smart energy company Trina Solar supplied 61MW of Solar PV Modules for an energy generating scheme in the German federal state of Brandenburg. The rows of modules now extend for more than a kilometre along the converted Preschen airfield in Jocksdorf, Brandenburg.

“Selecting Trina Solar as our main module provider was a very good choice,” said Alfred Behrens, CEO at AB Unternehmensberatung & Beteiligungsgesellschaft mbH, who initiated the project. “Because construction advanced well ahead of schedule, we ordered an additional 5.5MW of modules, which Trina Solar was able to provide and deliver to the site in just three days. Delivery capacity like that is hard to beat. And in terms of product quality, Trina Solar is top-class.”

More than 252,000 multi-crystalline Trina Solar modules, each with an average output of more than 240Wp, have been installed on the former airfield in Jocksdorf. The PV park that now covers the former military field has been fully commissioned and is considered to be among the most efficient plants in the world. It provides clean solar power covering the annual energy needs of around 17,000 households.

Poland first to acquire new Dreamliners; UAE invests in processing toxic waste

17 Jan

$500m builds special relationship between Poland and US Ex-Im

Poland has become the first European country to acquire Boeing 787 Dreamliners, thanks to a $500m loan guarantee by Ex-Im.

The US Export-Import Bank has assumed responsibility for collecting on the loan to Polskie Linie Lotnicze LOT S.A. (LOT Airlines), on behalf of the American manufacturer. This arrangement falls under its Supply Chain Finance Guarantee program.

At the end of financial year 2012, Ex-Im Bank’s credit exposure in Poland totalled just $5.5m, so the deal is a significant financial leap. Yet the relationship is not without precedent; LOT was the first Central and Eastern Europe to operate American-manufactured aircraft after it was founded in 1928. It is the only airline to offer non-stop flights between Poland and the US.

“This landmark transaction brings American state-of-the-art aircraft to a competitive marketplace in Europe,” said Ex-Im Bank Chairman and President Fred P. Hochberg. “By leveling the playing field, the Bank’s financing benefits business in both America and Poland and supports thousands of jobs in the U.S.”

Bank estimates put the number of American jobs created from the deal at 2,500, according to data and methodology from the Departments of Commerce and Labor.

Nippon Export and Investment Insurance of Japan is co-financing the transaction. Apple Bank for Savings of New York extended the loan.

UAE’s Spectrum Draws on British IT Expertise to Help Automate its Environmental Innovations.

UAE-based multinational company Spectrum has commissioned a facility to treat incinerator bottom ash (IBA), toxic residue resulting from burning coal and waste in power plants.

IBA Green, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pioneer Exploration Inc (PIEX), professes to be dedicated to “designing disruptive innovations.”

President and CEO of IBA Green Angelo Scala commented: “IBA Green’s technology to treat and convert incinerator bottom ash into viable and environmentally responsible construction materials provides a safe and environmentally sensitive method of diverting what was previously hazardous material into commercially viable products, a good thing for any place in the world.”

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, (ECSSR) has formed a strategic alliance with the Chartered Institute of IT to consult on expanding technological infrastructure in the region. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is also participating in discussions.

In recompense, the ECSSR has offered to assist in helping the London-based Chartered Institute IT, in making a success of the 2013 International IT Conference. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Investigation, has also offered his patronage.

Head of the conference and President of the Oriental Section of BCS Dr. Al-Suwaidi said the group could aid expansion in many directions: “The experts in ECSSR have not spared emphasis in the search for ways of utilizing developments and employing them in economy, industry, agriculture, water, energy and renewable, and to accelerate the process of sustainable development in the UAE.”

Engineer Adel Alkaff Al Hashmi said: “We recognise the importance of the potential of ECSSR and its experience in organising international conferences and workshops, about everything to do with the IT sector.”

Pangea wants to bring natural gas to all global buyers, without discrimination.

Pangea LNG (Holdings, LLC) is seeking approvals necessary to build a liquefied natural gas export facility on Corpus Christi Bay in South Texas.

It has filed an application with the U.S. Department of Energy, seeking authority to export up to eight million metric tons per year of liquefied natural gas to all current and future countries with which the U.S. has a Free Trade Agreement. It intends to quickly file a similar application for LNG exports to any country with which the U.S. does not have a Free Trade Agreement.

Pangea has had the site under option since June. It is planning a separate pipeline project to link the LNG plant to the national gas transmission pipeline network in South Texas.

Its global portfolio of export facilities includes an offshore floating LNG liquefaction project in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

In brief….

Uranium Resources has appointed a new independent director, Mark K. Wheatley, bringing it in line once again with NASDAQ guidelines on corporate governance. He is currently a director of Xanadu Mines and Goliath Gold, and was a director of Gold One International until the end of 2012. He was previously a director of Uranium One Inc from 2005-10 and was CEO and then Chairman of Southern Cross Resources before it merged to become Uranium One.Image

Uranium still a risk; Black Stone expands its resources

15 Jan
  1. Dramatic news from Uranium Resources, which has announced a reverse stock split with a one-for-five ratio. The move, which will increase the price of each share by five times by reducing the total shares issued by the same factor, was necessary to enable it to meet the minimum bid request required to keep its NASDAQ listing. The decision was approved by 73.9% of its stockholders in a vote on Jan 14.

Uranium stocks have been earmarked by as generally undervalued in view of the expanding market for nuclear energy in 2013. However, the companies it suggests taking a strategic position in are Cameo, which it describes as a “profitable and well-known uranium producer”; and Denison Mines Corp for its large stake in the Athabasca Basin in Canada, which contains some of the world’s richest high-grade uranium deposits. Cameo is predicted by analysts to earn $1.38 in 2013. Denison, whose shares are trading at just over $1, might yield larger pay-offs in the long-term but have a less established record.


2. Colossal $1.4bn equity raised by Blackstone Minerals LP, one of the biggest privately held royalty and fee mineral owners in the US and headquartered in Houston, Texas.

As a result of a multi-stage exchange process, investors in institutional funds and co-investment vehicles exchanged diverse interests in Blackstone Mineral’s assets for $1.1bn in partnership units.

President and Chief Operating Officer Hallie A. Vanderhider stated: “Whether it was through an exchange or the purchase of new equity, our investors now own units in a large, diversified collection of oil and gas assets with attractive current yield and upside potential.”

In addition, Blackstone forked out $295m in cash for its own interests, a move Vanderhider lauded as representing the best deal for all sides: “those who wished either to sell their interests or remain in their existing investment vehicles have been able to do so.”

CEO Thomas Carter is quoted as saying the deal has given Black Stone “the critical mass to move quickly on significant mineral acquisitions without putting undue pressure on our balance sheet,” but the company has not issued any further details as to its future plans.

From its humble roots as a local family-owned business, Blackstone Minerals has grown to encompass 50,000 wells across 41 states.

Advising the deal was a Specified Investor Group (SIG), formed of Vinson and Elkins LLP who counselled on legal matters, and Tudor Pickering Holt and Co. as financial advisers.

Everything you wanted to know about fracking and its effects on the US water supply

12 Jan


According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 33 percent of technically recoverable natural gas resources in the United States are held in shale rock formations. It asserts that in one decade, natural gas from shale has grown to 25 percent of U.S. gas production, and will be 50 percent by 2035. Yet the extraction process, of pounding tons of pressurised water and chemicals at the shale to crack it open, has been accused by environmentalists of contaminating drinking water surrounding wells. Footage seems to show locals setting light to tapwater because of high levels of methane.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has released its initial report on Hydraulic Fracturing’s possible contamination of the water supply, and highlighted key points in a webinar last Friday. Nine major oil and gas companies have provided details from 350 well files, from 50 randomly selected  but geographically representative sites. Some Confidential Business Information (CBI, subject to state legislation) was necessarily protected. It has also conducted a comprehensive review of existing studies, as well as whatever has been recorded in federal and state databases, which has proven somewhat piecemeal.

Finally, it reviewed data compiled from FracFocus, an online repository of information regarding the chemical compositions of fracking fluids used in specific wells. This joint project from the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission has proved perhaps the most popular with oil and gas companies who seek to share selective disclosures.

Three of the participating companies, BJServices Company, Halliburton, and Schlumberger together performed approximately 95% of hydraulic fracturing services in the United States in 2003 (US EPA, 2004). The other six companies represent small and medium-sized companies performing hydraulic fracturing services between 2005 and 2009. Nevertheless, it is a lucrative industry.

The full list, together with their annual revenue for 2009 in millions, is as follows: BJ Services Company $4,122; Complete Production Services $1,056; Halliburton $14,675;  Key Energy Services $1,079;  Patterson-UTI Energy $782;  RPC $588;  Schlumberger $22,702; Superior Well Services $399;  Weatherford International $8,827.

These firms have contributed information on the chemicals most commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, which the EPA has cross-referenced with substances associated with the process already reported to the government, and monitored under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SDWA) or as Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAP). Top of the list is methanol, which is used in 342 products; ethylene glycol is also recognized as being a health risk, and is the fifth most widely used substance. Methanol is toxic, and when ingested can cause metabolic acidosis (excess acid), neurologic sequelae, which are the degenerative neurological symptoms also associated with lupus, and potentially death.

Hydraulic Fracturing Research Coordinator at the Office of Science Policy, Department of R&D, Jeannne Briskin, claimed that there were also unknown chemicals associated with the processs. While their chemical formula was the same, their structure or service numbers (CASRN) were often new to researchers. Because of the “different matrices which are often found in hydraulic fracturing situations,” they had recorded “1000 plus unique chemical substances either associating with fracturing or waste processes.”

Appendix A of the report contains the prurient information for all of the following: material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for each fluid product; the concentration of each chemical in each fluid product; the manufacturer of each product and chemical; and the purpose and use of each chemical in each fluid product.

Of the four regions selected for retrospective study, pre-existing federal and state databases have yielded varying degrees of information. The report states that “there is no central database in Texas on hydraulic fracturing-related spills. Oil and gas operators are required to report spills to the Railroad Commission,” but because the dataset does not include chemical spills the EPA did not pursue it. Of the reported chemical spills investigated by Texas’ Commission on Environmental Quality, the reports are entered into to the state’s Consolidated Compliance and Enforcement Data System. However, said the EPA, “the investigation and inspection reports in this database are not available electronically on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s website or at their Central Files Room.” Other attempts to access hydraulic fracturing-related reports by the Joint Groundwater Monitoring and Contamination Reports prepared by the Texas Groundwater Protection Committee were “unsuccessful in getting the relevant incident details.”

It was decided furthermore not to peruse Wyoming’s catalogue of incidents because of their failure to differentiate between their causes, meaning they were indistinguishable from other oil and gas incidents. Though the data is in this case publicly available. In New Mexico, release notifications are submitted to the Oil Conservation Division of its Minerals and Natural Resources Department which manages databases on spill incidents and water contamination. Investigators searched for the terms “acid in blowout”, “Frac tank”, “pit”, “Gelled brine (frac fluid), “natural gas liquids”, and “produced water.” They noted that the database does not list whether the company returned is engaged in fracking.

In Pennyslvania, the EPA tried to narrow database entries returned to those around the Marcellus Shale region which had not thus far, under inspection, resulted in violations of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Compliance guidelines (so as not to cover ground previously investigated.) Whatever information was gleaned was pooled, and supplements reports contributed by the participating companies. The nine key stakeholders were sent information requests, and asked to participate in several technical workshops.

Issues under discussion included: “What are the identities and volumes of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, and how might this composition vary at a given site and across the country?”. Or the less specific, “How effective are current well construction practices at containing gases and fluids before, during, and after fracturing?” The EPA inquired too about blowback: “What is currently known about the frequency, severity, and causes of spills of flowback and produced water?” and about the composition of backwaters, before and after treatment. The EPA notes that information concerning the composition of wastewater is organized according to geologic and geographic location, and time after fluid injection.


And to conclude this expose, here’s a choice taster from the report itself… Unfortunately we will have to wait till 2014 until all its findings have been reviewed by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board and a final conclusion can be reached. I’m sure you will all be waiting with baited breath.

As of September 2012, the 52 Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources: Progress Report December 2012 EPA had extracted, and continues to extract, the following available information from all of the well files:

  • Open-hole log analysis of lithology, hydrocarbon shows, and water salinity
  • Chemical analyses of various water samples
  • Well construction data
  • Cement reports
  • Cased-hole logs, including identifying cement tops and bond quality


Other data to be extracted includes the following:

  • Source of water used for hydraulic fracturing
  • Well integrity pressure testing
  • Fluid volumes injected during well stimulation and type and amount of additives and proppant used
  • Pressures used during hydraulic fracturing
  • Fracture growth data including that predicted and that observed
  • Flowback and produced water data following hydraulic fracturing including volume, disposition, and duration


The EPA is creating queries on the extracted data that are expected to determine whether drinking water was protected.


The results may provide, but may not be limited to, information on the following:

  • Sources of water used for hydraulic fracturing
  • Vertical distance between hydraulically fractured zones and the top of cement sheaths
  • Quality of cementing near hydraulic fracturing zones, as determined by a cement bond index
  • Number of well casing intervals left uncemented and whether there are aquifers in those intervals
  • Distribution of depths of hydraulically fractured zones from the surface
  • Frequency with which various tests are conducted, including casing shoe pressure tests and casing pressure tests

Bright future for SunPower, with Global Collaborations across the Renewables Industry

3 Jan

1. Electronics giant AMETEK, which makes $3.4 billion of sales a year, has made two international acquisitions to enhance its global product range: Sunpower, Inc and Crystal Engineering. The former brings new devices to AMETEK’s existing electronics catalogue; assimilation with the latter’s  products, which are similar to AMETEK’s should reduce unnecessary competition.

Sunpower is a privately held manufacturer based in Athens. It designs and builds cryogenic cooling technology and externally heated Stirling cycle generators. Its cryogenic coolers facilitate temperatures below -150°C, without resort to more expensive liquid nitrogen; this technology will form a part of AMETEK’S portable radiation identifiers. Its heat engines are used in energy-efficient combined heat and power generators.

Crystal Engineering, headquartered in San Luis Obispo, CA, builds pressure management devices: both portable digital pressure calibrators and digital test gauges. AMETEK CEO Frank Hermance said: “We share common products and markets with Crystal Engineering.” He foresaw a mutually beneficial cooperation: “Crystal’s products broaden our line of high-end temperature and pressure calibration instruments, while its product line benefits from the global reach and resources of our Electronic Instruments Group.”

2. Sunpower is making headlines for another reason, having just sold the world’s largest Solar Development to Mid-American Solar.

MidAmerican Solar, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Renewables, has acquired the 579-megawatt Antelope Valley Solar Projects (AVSP), two projects in Kern and Los Angeles Counties in the state of California. Together, the two combined projects will form the largest solar photovoltaic power development in the world, and create an estimated 650 jobs during construction.

“The Antelope Valley Solar Projects mark a historic milestone for the energy industry,” declared SunPower president of regions Howard Wenger. “We are delivering highly reliable low-cost renewable energy at a very large scale… and helping the state achieve its renewable portfolio requirement.”

The solar technology increases energy capture by up to 25 percent, utilising trackers which position the panels to track the sun during the day. SunPower will be the engineering, procurement and construction contractor and will operate and maintain the facility via a multiyear services agreement

President of MidAmerican Renewables Bill Fehrman said: “MidAmerican Renewables, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, has a total portfolio of more than 1,830 megawatts of owned assets, including wind, geothermal, solar and hydro assets. We are excited about these projects because they support our core business principle of environmental respect.”

SunPower has more than 1,000 megawatts of solar power plants operating worldwide, including the first 130 megawatts of the 250-megawatt California Valley Solar Ranch, which is still under construction in San Luis Obispo County, California.


3. Resource scarcity will be a key topic at the 12th Annual Responsible Business Summit, held in London 7-8 May. Discussions about supply chain management will also feature at the conference, organised by Ethical Corporation. Head of Sustainable Business at M&S, Mike Barry, said in Ethical Corporation’s end of year survey: “Extreme weather is going from a theory to a new reality. Middle class consumers will triple in the next 20 years with all the strain this puts on resources.” With the dual impact of both these factors, he asserted it was time the sustainability debate lost its “cosy” reputation and was taken seriously.