Oil Futures Rise By 5% On Brighter COVID Vaccinations Outlook, Chinese Data

(Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Oil futures rose by around 5% in European trading on Wednesday (April 14) on a brighter outlook for COVID vaccinations, better Chinese economic data and an assertion by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that crude market "fundamentals look decidedly stronger."

At 12:33pm EST, the Brent Oil June contract was up 4.77% or $3.04 to $66.71 per barrel, while the West Texas Intermediate May contract traded at $63.24 per barrel, up 5.08% or $3.06. That's after overnight data from China suggested crude oil imports jumped by 21% in March year-on-year, albeit from a low base recorded in the same month last year.

The data arrived in step with a rising rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in major economies including the United States and United Kingdom, despite fresh concerns over the rollout of Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

However, in its monthly report published on Wednesday, the IEA said market fundamentals were improving. While the Paris-based think-tank said caution was merited, the "massive overhang in global oil inventories that built up during last year's COVID-19 demand shock is being worked off, vaccine campaigns are gathering pace and the global economy appears to be on a better footing."

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ERCOT Emergency Warning Shocks Texans On Mild April Day

UNITED STATES - APRIL 10: Power lines stretch along along a highway near Alpine, Texas on Saturday, ... [+] April 10, 2021. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

It is not the kind of notification Texans expect to receive on a mild April day. Late Tuesday afternoon, officials at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sent out a tweet containing the following message:

To be clear, that “stalled cold front” dropped the high temperature up in Amarillo all the way down to [checks Weather.com to be sure] 62 degrees. Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, way down at the southern tip of Texas, the temperature in Brownsville at the time ERCOT sent out its emergency message was 83 degrees, a pretty average temperature for that area at this time of year.

Ok, but what about storms that “stalled cold front” might have created? Again, according to the weather services and radar, the front only created some mild storms across a limited swath of northwestern Texas. No hail, no tornados, not much lightning. None of the severe conditions one might expect to cause issues on the Texas electricity grid. In fact, Tuesday appears to have been one of the very rare April days when, in all the vastness of Texas, not one square inch of land experienced severe weather of any kind.

Yet, ERCOT felt the need to send out a notice of potential emergency conditions, citing a “stalled cold front” as the partial reason. That really doesn’t seem to hold much water. Or, as former Texas Governor Ann Richards might say, ‘that cat don’t flush.’

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California Fracking Ban Dies In Committee

 A bill that would have banned fracking in California failed to make it out of committee Tuesday without enough Democratic support, dashing the hopes of progressives and environmental groups that the state would outlaw the practice.

Pump jacks at the Belridge Oil Field and hydraulic fracking site which is the fourth largest oil ... [+] field in California. Kern County, San Joaquin Valley, California.

Universal Images Group via Getty Images

SB467 would have banned new hydraulic fracturing permits starting in 2022, prohibited fracking altogether by 2027 and enacted a 2,500-foot buffer zone around existing wells, preventing them from operating near schools, homes and healthcare facilities.

The bill would have banned other oil extraction methods such as acid well stimulation treatments, cyclic steaming, steam flooding and water flooding.

The bill fell one vote short of making it out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee after four Democratic state senators abstained, effectively killing the bill this session. 

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How Appalachia Can Survive A Post-Industrial America

Buildings stand in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. A narrow win in ... [+] Pennsylvania helped decide the presidency for Trump in 2016, ending a two-decade-long winning streak in the Keystone State by Democratic presidential candidates. Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden leads the president in Pennsylvania by 4.3 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics' average of recent polls. Photographer: Justin Merriman/Bloomberg

© 2020 Bloomberg Finance LP

Pittsburgh epitomizes the industrial revolution. It also typifies Appalachia’s resilience: Steel mills and coal mines had been bustling industries with high-paying union jobs. But the collapse of those sectors forced the city to reinvent itself. And now Pittsburgh is known as a high-tech hub, attracting the biggest corporate names and providing an exquisite quality of life. 

Can the entire region undergo such a transformation? “Reimagine Appalachia” is planning for it — an organization that is trying to equip parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky with the skillsets to thrive in a 21st Century economy. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan has copied, in part, its blueprint. But the federal plan would pay for and train workers to run wind and solar projects, build electric vehicle charging stations, and create energy efficient homes and businesses. 

Most immediately, though, the resources would go to reclaiming abandoned coal mines and capping old oil and gas wells. In Pennsylvania alone, for example, as many as 500,000 abandoned oil and gas wells exist — sites that are not only blights but that also continue to emit greenhouse gas emissions. Part of Biden’s overall $2 trillion infrastructure proposal would help fund Reimagine Appalachia’s vision, which would cost about $23 billion and create at least 243,000 new jobs. 

“It will take a skilled workforce,” says Rick Bloomingdale, president of Pennsylvania’s AFL-CIO, during a conference on Monday sponsored by the Atlantic Council. “It will take development and training. It will take science and technology. This region has some of the best universities in the country. We can create a corridor around Appalachia. We can build real opportunities. We can combine academic and worker resources along with natural resources that will put our people to work.”

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Greening Of Electrical And Transport Sectors – What The Numbers Mean For The Future Of Oil And Gas.

A woman with a face mask is seen in a vehicle at a gas station in Plano, Texas,

Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

The snowball has begun to roll, and renewable energies like wind and solar are increasing rapidly. It’s hard not to notice if you are challenged to pass one of those giant wind turbine blades being trucked along the highway.

In President Biden’s proposed budget, just out, he has inserted a big chunk of money aimed at arresting climate change and including spurs for renewable energy. For example, the Energy Department would increase by about 10% overall, but with $8 billion (an increase of 27%) directed at a new generation of electric vehicles, nuclear reactors, and other alternatives to burning fossil fuels.  

The cost of solar and wind generators has come down a lot in the past decade, and the price of batteries for storing electricity has been halved in the past couple of years.

The case for renewables to replace fossil energies to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere has received a lot of attention, with a goal to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

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Nuclear Sub Club: Do Rising Powers Like India Really Need Nuclear Attack Submarines?

Indian Navy personnel stand on an Indian Navy submarine during the International Fleet Review in ... [+] Visakhapatnam on February 6, 2016. India kicked off a major display of maritime might, with ships from 50 navies converging on the country's east coast, as New Delhi seeks to boost its leadership in the region. Ninety ships including from the US, French, British and Chinese navies are taking part in the international fleet review in the Bay of Bengal -- a ceremonial inspection and parade of boats and crews. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

India’s plan to build nuclear-powered attack submarines could be bad news for China. A fleet of  nuclear attack subs – among the most lethal weapons on Earth – prowling the Indian Ocean could  threaten Beijing’s growing naval presence in the region.

Or, a fleet of nuclear subs could be a boondoggle that drains India’s limited military resources. Even some Indian experts believe the Indian Navy would be better off buying cheaper diesel-electric subs more suitable for missions such as coastal defense.

All of which raises a question for emerging powers such as India, which has the seventh-largest economy on the planet. Are the prestige and capabilities of nuclear subs worth the cost?

For now, the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi favors the nuclear option. Within the next two months, the government is likely to approve a plan to build three nuclear-powered attack subs, followed by another three later on, according to the Times of India.

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Japan Will Release Radioactive Fukushima Water Into The Ocean, And Why That’s O.K.

Tanks of water at Fukushima that have been scrubbed of all radioactive materials except mildly ... [+] radioactive tritium, and which can be slowly released to the ocean with no environmental harm.

Getty Images

Japan will soon begin releasing 250 million gallons of Fukushima nuclear plant water into the Pacific Ocean. And that’s exactly what they should do.

The Japanese government has decided to release treated radioactive water that has been accumulating at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. This despite opposition from fishermen and consumers in neighboring countries such as China and South Korea.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is expected to start discharging the mildly-radioactive water in 2023, a major development following over seven years of discussions on how to discharge the water used to cool down melted fuel at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said his government made the final decision after meeting with Hiroshi Kishi, head of the national federation of fisheries cooperatives, who continues his organization's unwavering opposition to the plan.

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Covid Vs Coal: Has The Pandemic Accelerated Europe’s Green Energy Transition?

A bucket excavator mines lignite coal near Elsdorf, Germany. Because maintaining electricity output ... [+] from coal-fired power plants during prolonged periods of reduced demand is costlier than from renewables, energy companies prioritized reducing their electricity production from coal-fired plants first.

Getty Images

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hammer communities around the world, energy researchers in Europe have been looking at another development caused by the outbreak: a drop in carbon emissions and an acceleration of the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity.

Parallel to the human and economic costs of the virus, which has now killed almost three million people, reduced energy demand over the past year caused a 7% drop in emissions across Europe’s 10 richest nations, or 36.7 million fewer tons of CO2. That’s roughly equivalent to shutting down the entire global aviation industry for two weeks. The figures offer hope that the EU could achieve its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The findings were released today by Finnish energy firm Wärtsilä, along with a scorecard that ranks countries according to CO2 reductions. The list shows Austria cut emissions the most in percentage terms, reducing national CO2 output by 29%, helped by the closure of the country’s last coal-fired power plant in April 2020.

But in terms of sheer tons of carbon reduced, Spain and the Netherlands made the biggest cuts, each lowering emissions by 10.2 million tons of CO2 over the course of a year. Spain achieved this by closing no less than seven coal-fired power plants, while the Netherlands imported a larger proportion of low and zero carbon electricity from neighbors such as Germany.

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Russia Is Trying To Restore a Giant Nuclear Battlecruiser—It’s Not Working Out

'Pyotr Velikiy' in 1997.

Russian navy

The Russian navy for nearly a decade has been trying to double, from one to two, its active fleet of huge, nuclear-powered battlecruisers.

It’s not going well. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which starved Russian shipyards of funding and forced the navy to lay up three of its four Kirov-class battlecruisers, still is wreaking havoc on fleet planning.

Since at least 2013, the Russian navy has been trying to refurbish and upgrade Admiral Nakhimov, the third-in-class of the 827-foot Kirovs. If and when Admiral Nakhimov is ready, she’ll join her younger sister Pyotr Velikiy in service with the Northern Fleet.

Two older Kirovs, laid up for decades, could head for the breakers this year.

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Don’t Count On EVs To Solve Climate Change

HEFEI, CHINA - APRIL 07: The Nio's 100,000th production vehicle ES8 rolls off the assembly line at ... [+] the JAC-NIO production base on April 7, 2021 in Hefei, Anhui Province of China. (Photo by Zhang Dagang/VCG via Getty Images)

VCG via Getty Images

Cognitive dissonance, the ability to believe contradictory things simultaneously, is getting a real work out amongst energy transition analysts and advocates, as on the one hand they are told “Electric Cars Closing in on Gas Guzzlers as Battery Costs Plunge” (Bloomberg 12/16/20) while also hearing “Tesla TSLA Raises Prices—Again” (autoweek.com, 4/12/21). It sounds like the debate between those who say the environment is terrible and those who say it’s improving: both can be true while appearing contradictory.

Because the point is that car prices and costs are not always identical when talking about electric vehicles. For one thing, manufacturers like Tesla receive significant income from selling pollution credits; Tesla made $1.4 billion in 2020, roughly twice its annual profits. The admittedly simplistic implication is that the company is not covering its costs from selling cars and needs higher prices to do so, even as battery costs are coming down.

Which is interesting because the above-mentioned Bloomberg story reported, “But researchers say that price premium will disappear once battery packs reach $100 per kilowatt-hour — a tipping point BNEF expects to occur in 2023, according to its 2020 Battery Price Survey.” If battery prices are so close to making EVs competitive on cost with ICE vehicles, then EV prices should be going down, not up.

The concept of a ‘tipping point’ where consumers will become indifferent to the choice between propulsion types is also misleading: as prices come down, the car will become more competitive, but not suddenly competitive. Consumer preference is not a step function but a curve and a curve that will be empirically visible only as prices evolve. The idea of competitiveness at $100 kwh is a guesstimate, and probably a bad one, as I discussed in an earlier column. Enthusiasm For Electric Vehicles Still Appears Excessive (forbes.com)

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European Wind Powers Up To €43 Billion In 2020 On Growing Decarbonization Focus

Off-shore wind park of windmills generating green renewable electric energy 20 kilometers away from ... [+] the Dutch coast between the Netherlands and the United Kingdom during dusk sunset time, with clouds and ships over the horizon of the sea. The wind turbine generators create sustainable green energy from the wind power, jet stream of air in the atmosphere, the park installed in the North Sea as seen from Oosterschelde in Zeeland in the Netherlands on April 10, 2021 (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

On the back of corporate demand and increased non-recourse bank financing, the European wind sector saw investment in 20GW of new capacity, 13GW in the EU itself with the remainder in geographical Europe. This broke down into 13GW of onshore and 7GW off, and showing a 70 per cent increase in investment.

The news came in the latest report from WindEurope, Financing and investment trends 2020. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, this was the second highest amount invested in the wind sector to date. And given that the year of highest investment was 2016, where developers rushed through to take advantage of the last of the available feed-in tariffs, this is a huge step for the sector.

Capacity gap

There is still a significant capacity gap, with the European wind industry needing to add 27GW to achieve European Commission goals of 55% renewable energy by 2030. WindEurope chief executive said that the sector expects to be able to roll-out capacity growth of 15GW over the next few year, leaving a gap of around 12GW of capacity.

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Topsy-Turvey Trade World Strikes Again: New Top 2021 Export? Natural Gas

A Cheniere Energy liquefaction facility on Corpus Christi Bay in Texas. Natural gas for the ... [+] first-time ever is the United States' top-ranked export by value.

© 2021 Bloomberg Finance LP

The United States has a new most-valuable export: Natural gas.

For most of the time I have been writing about U.S. export-import trade, there was only one No. 1, aircraft. Boeing BA basically has dominated U.S. exports for years and years, its only competitor globally the European consortium Airbus.

There was a brief interlude, from 2011-2013, when gasoline and similar petroleum products surpassed the aircraft category, but it was short-lived.

The bigger picture, the story from 30,000 feet, is that there has been enormous turbulence in U.S. trade over the last two years.

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Will Nuclear Energy’s No-Carbon Quality Outweigh The Fukushima Accident?

The cooling towers of Exelon Corporation's Limerick Generating Station nuclear power plant are seen ... [+] in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, November 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The global community has witnessed Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima — nuclear accidents that have left many skeptical. But energy experts and climate hawks say those events are rare, noting that hundreds of reactors have been operating for decades without incident.

Safety is always the paramount concern. Now, though, the focus is shifting to low-carbon investments. And the Biden Administration reasons that advanced nuclear energy plants have added safety features and increased efficiencies. Greater investment and favorable policies are thus worthwhile. That is especially true if demand rises because the transportation sector and the home heating industry use more electricity instead of oil and natural gas. As such, President Biden has his eye on enacting policies to ensure that most electricity is produced using sustainable and low-carbon sources, referred to as the Clean Energy Standard.

“The no-carbon future we need is seen as being powered by renewables,” says Mike Shatzkin, co-founder of ClimateChangeResources.org at an event Friday on the future of nuclear energy sponsored by Our Energy Policy. “Nuclear energy, carbon capture, and batteries must have massive breakthroughs. But only nuclear can significantly complement renewables. Battery storage is measured in hours and carbon capture is nowhere near large-scale implementation. We need to be working on all three. Time is too tight. The consequences too dire.” 

The symposium zeroed-in on safety. But it also delved into the nuclear waste dilemma, next-generation nuclear technologies that also include smaller reactors, and being able to deliver nuclear power plants on time and on budget. 

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How Oxy’s New Carbon Venture Could Become A True Game-Changer

Vicki Hollub of Occidental Petroleum photographed in May 2017 for Forbes.

Tim Pannell/The Forbes Collection

For decades, the oil and gas industry has engaged in the use of carbon dioxide as a tool for the stimulation of oil production from depleting conventional reservoirs. The process has involved the injection of large volumes of CO2 into these discrete reservoirs to raise formation pressure and force more oil to the surface.

As the climate science community has increasingly focused on CO2 as a greenhouse gas and oil companies have come under mounting pressure from ESG-focused investors to make a difference in the climate change realm, companies have begun to realize that if the exit avenues can be properly sealed off, these formations are capable of storing trillions of gallons of CO2 into perpetuity. The beauty part is that such reservoirs exist today all over the country, and are most bountiful in Texas, along its Gulf Coast and across the vast Permian Basin.

As I noted in February, integrated companies like ExxonMobil and Oxy have been big players in this carbon capture, utilization and sequestration (CCUS) game for many years now, with Exxon able to accurately state it has been responsible already for capturing 40% of all the CO2 that has ever been captured on earth. Exxon is so excited about the potential for the future that it has established an entire new business unit dedicated to devising and mounting profitable CCUS ventures in the years to come.

Obviously, the potential for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere expands dramatically if mankind can find scalable ways to reuse it in other ways. To achieve this objective, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures formed a partnership with Cemvita Factory, a Houston-based company that has developed a photosynthesis-based process that enables it to take CO2 from any source and convert it into a wide array of products.

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Houston, We Have A Problem. Oil Reserves Have Fallen Below 10 Years

Big oil has a big problem. It’s running out of oil.

Years of under-investment in exploration and a decline in project development has blown a hole in the reserves of the major international oil companies (IOCs), a group that includes ExxonMobil, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell.

The sun is setting on big oil as reserves continue to deline. Photo Saul Loeb AFP via Getty Images.

AFP via Getty Images

Since 2015 the average reserves of the oil majors has fallen by 25% to now stand at less than 10 years of annual production.

Reserves in the ground is a critical measure of an oil company with a decline seen as a negative by investors.

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The Pandemic Isn’t Over, But Its Emissions Reduction Is

The windmill enjoyed an advantage over the coal plant in 2020, but coal is staging a comeback. ... [+] (Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images)

dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Carbon emissions in the first two months of 2021 were higher than in the first two pandemic-free months of 2020, according to a developer of a timely new emissions tracker.

“I can tell you that, nationwide, emissions are 3 percent higher already in the first two months of 2021 than they were in the first two—which were unaffected by the pandemic—of 2020,” said Steven J. Davis, an earth system scientist with the University of California Irvine. “We’re bouncing back.”

The world had always relied on annual emissions calculations—often arriving several months after the end of each year—until Davis and two colleagues—Zhu Liu from Tsinghua University in China and Philippe Ciais from the Laboratory for Sciences of Climate and Environment in Paris—spent their lockdowns developing a way to gather emissions data more quickly.

“The idea here was to move away from these annual energy statistics toward something that could give us a clearer picture about how energy use was changing in what we would call near real time, so maybe within a week or two of the actual emissions,” Davis said last week in a webinar hosted by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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Why Gas Prices Rise Nearly Every Spring

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 01: Prices of gasoline per gallon are displayed at a gas station ... [+] on October 1, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Although it wasn’t strongly emphasized in the recent discussions on the rise in gasoline prices, those prices to rise nearly every spring. But why does it happen?

There is no question that it does happen. If you check the history of gasoline prices at the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) website you can see that gasoline prices almost always rise between January and May. In fact, this happens about 90% of the time.

Last year was an exception because of the plunge in energy demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but prior to 2020 gasoline prices had risen in the first five months of the year for more than 20 years in a row.

Many factors influence gasoline prices, but there are specific reasons behind the seasonal changes.

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Let’s Mess With Texas’ Power Market—And Make It Stronger

Bill Magness, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), right at ... [+] table, testifies as the Committees on State Affairs and Energy Resources hold a joint public hearing to consider the factors that led to statewide electrical blackouts, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Austin, Texas. The hearings were the first in Texas since a blackout that was one of the worst in U.S. history, leaving more than 4 million customers without power and heat in subfreezing temperatures. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

By Peter Hartley, Jim Krane, Michael Maher, and Ken Medlock

The mysterious causes behind February’s disastrous power failures are finally becoming clear, but important questions remain. 

Grid operator ERCOT’s April 6 preliminary report pins much of the blame on sheer unpreparedness of the state’s energy and power generation infrastructure, mostly for cold weather.

But the report also contains revelations that should give Texas legislators reason to pause their proposed remedies until the full causes of the crisis are understood.

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Murban Oil Futures Post Daily Trading Record Of 14.5M Barrels Following Launch

Oil terminal at Fujairah, United Arab Emirates (Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Trading in Murban oil futures – the world's first futures contract predicated on the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company's (ADNOC's) flagship onshore crude – has gotten off to a flying start, according to data released by the Intercontinental Exchange.

In a statement, the market infrastructure provider said that a record 14,419 Murban crude oil futures contracts traded on ICE Futures Abu Dhabi (IFAD) on Wednesday (April 7), marking its highest daily volume since the contracts launched on March 29. That's equivalent to over 14.4 million barrels of Murban crude oil.

Overall, a total of 38,712 contracts have traded on IFAD in the week to Thursday (April 8). The figure includes 34,202 ICE Murban crude oil futures contracts, and 4,510 Murban-related cash settled derivatives.

Meanwhile, JPMorgan Securities became the latest to join the ranks of IFAD’s 26 exchange members and 19 Clearing Members, with 38 firms having traded on IFAD since the launch.

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The dirty secret of so-called 'fossil-fuel free' buildings

Hanging plants smother the walls of a new office block proposed for Salford, giving it the look of something from an abandoned post-Covid city, reclaimed by nature. The ivy-covered tower, designed by Make Architects, has been trumpeted as “fossil-fuel free”, set to run on 100% renewable energy and reach net zero operational carbon, with tenants enjoying the “biophilic” benefits of dangling foliage. But not everyone is convinced.

“It’s strange to see something described as ‘fossil-fuel free’ when it is made of concrete, steel and glass,” says Joe Giddings, coordinator of the Architects Climate Action Network (Acan) campaign group. “The production of these materials entails burning a huge amount of fossil fuel.

“The climate emergency is not a game and we can’t just spin our way through it. We need to think about where our materials come from, how they’re made and interrogate the whole supply chain – from construction to demolition and reuse.”

In the race to reach net zero carbon by 2050, a commitment to which the UK is legally bound, Acan sees the biggest unchallenged obstacle as the energy consumed by construction. Much is made of the proposed energy efficiency of buildings once they are occupied, but so far very little attention has been paid to the carbon emitted in getting them built, and eventually dismantled – from extracting raw materials and manufacturing components, to the toxic byproducts of demolition leaking out in landfill.

Acan estimates that this “embodied carbon” accounts for up to three-quarters of a building’s total emissions over its lifespan, a proportion that is only going to grow as the energy grid becomes increasingly decarbonised with the rise of renewables. With the built environment contributing about 45% of the total carbon emitted in the UK, the embodied energy of construction has become the vital element to focus on.

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