Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Nerves of Steel

Nerves of Steel

Yesterday I went to hell. On a train.

I witnessed the birth of steel plate of the type that will be used to build B9 Ships.

In a dark, dangerous, filthy, oily, searing hot, screaming loud cathedral of a place. Molten steel rolled at shocking speed, emitting tornadoes of steam. Standing in full protective gear on a gantry above red-hot steel plate - an image burned into my psyche forever. A truly extraordinary experience.

And yet day in day out guys in full woollen suits (wool being the best fire retardant material - thanks sheep!) operate, perform and deliver in that dehumanised inferno. Making the steel that never satiates our lust for stuff.

Steel Plant

The safety gear gave me a weird sense of detachment - hard hat, glasses, ear plugs, gloves, boots. I was there, but only partially so. Maybe that’s how a steel worker survives that place.

Much of the steel made in Scunthorpe is used in infrastructural projects. Train lines, ship building, bridge supports, bomb proof barriers. And yet walking from my hotel to the plant in the morning the infrastructure in sunny (and it was) Scunny was collapsing. The ‘pavements’ were off-road hiking courses. Empty houses, deserted streets.

In 1972 26 000 people were employed in Scunny. Now it’s 4000 as a result of the Basic Oxygen Steelmaking (BOS) process which maximises economic efficiency.

How do 22000 people evaporate? The wonderful man, Ron Wilkins (get to his Open Garden this weekend if you can), our guide, has worked at Scunny for more than 40 years. At the outset of his career most of his family worked at the plant. Now it’s only him. His kids live elsewhere, where they can find work. Our communities break down.

Approaching the Tata Steel site I was struck by the scale. I learned that the Romans had established a mine on this site. Geography had gifted the place and just down t’road in Yorkshire in the Wolds limestone could be mined to make steel. The process became commercialised in 1860 - by relations of David Cameron.

Now it’s epic. A site with a 15 mile boundary enclosing mountains of steaming slag, piles of virgin ore, heaps of scrap for reprocessing (the content of B9 Ships’ steel plate at the outset will be 20% recycled), caterpillar trucks the size of houses, cooling towers and furnaces and rolling mills as far as the eye could see.

The good people we met do what they can - within the constraints of a profit-only paradigm - to re-use and recycle. Carbon monoxide is reused to produce energy. 1 million trees have been planted. Kingfishers flash across reclaimed mines and water sources. Dust is swept up (on an epic scale) and ore deposits re-used. A project to make the site energy self-sustaining was shelved because of the economic downturn.

The people we met at Tata Steel are proud - rightly so - of what they make and the human endeavour and ingenuity they deploy every hour to produce this great stuff.

We talked of them helping us build the flagships of the future, of bringing that abundance of human ingenuity to bear on the mega-problems facing our world today through collaboration and a re-engineered intention.

It is simply not possible to get 100% recycled steel to build B9 fossil fuel free ships today. But we can embark on an urgent journey together to make it possible before it’s too late. And there growing on the slag was part of the answer. Vipers Bugloss reclaiming the land. In that most hostile of environments. How do they do it? Adapt. Those plants ...nerves of steel!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Flags of Convenience - the cost of cheap

I lean back in my camping chair surveying the spread of crabs and lobster, salads, new potatoes, strawberries ...on the table before me and declare triumphantly, “Everything on this table came from this one tiny island.”

My husband mutters (for what else do husbands do?) staring pointedly at my glass, “Well, not quite everything, dear.”

The conversation rapidly descends into a take on Monty Python’s “what did the Romans ever do for us?”

“OK,” I concede, “everything except the wine.”

“And the lemons, olive oil in the dressing, the salt, the pepper, the bread...”

“Ah-ha” I shriek “the bread was made on Bryher.”

“But the flour wasn’t grown here.”

Note to self: If I get my time again don’t marry a pedant.

The following morning I watch the supply ship the Lyonesse Lady discharge her very mixed cargo of milk, butter, peaches, organic Yeo Valley yoghurts, Ecover washing up liquid, BBQ coal, wet suit accessories, tent water proofer ....I amble gratefully to the tiny, over flowing shop so I can get provisions for my familiar (almost all imported) breakfast. Still, I half-mutter to myself about the extortionate prices.

I recognise the little flag of convenience I have fixed in my consciousness. Sustainability isn’t actually as easy as I’d like to imagine. I tune my awareness to our holiday island’s dependency on shipping. How much of what we take for granted is carried by hardy seafarers across lumpy seas day in, day out.

Days later a ferocious Atlantic gale hits the island and takes the roof canopy off our tent. It’s a rude awakening. Our running repairs are good but this storm beats a bit of recycled guy rope and waterproofer and we sleep (or don’t) in wet sleeping bags. I cry and want to go home.

But we can’t. This storm is immense there is no link to the mainland.

It is time to wake up to our global dependency on shipping. 90% of world trade is moved by sea. Take a moment. Become aware. Food, energy, manufactured goods - everything gets here by sea.

The newly appointed CEO of Maerskline, Soren Skou said recently, “We have a huge challenge on oil prices; for that reason alone freight rates have to come up." He also said he intended to introduce ‘slow steaming’ (slowing ships down to reduce fuel costs) across the Maersk fleet, which has the net effect of reducing overall capacity. In short - less stuff at higher prices.

The International Chamber of Shipping is keen to stress how cheap and efficient global shipping is. After our collective sleepwalk into the Sub Prime Mortgage Dream I’ve become deeply suspicious about being told I can have it all.

How can shipping be so ‘cost-effective’?

It isn’t being gained through technological innovations and efficiencies deployed as a response to climate change legislation. Last week the International Maritime Organisation procrastinated - again - on making any real decision on significantly reducing emissions from shipping.

We all know which way oil prices are going and that fuel is an ever increasing proportion of operational costs of the ships delivering our stuff. How, then, can shipping manage the other operational costs so effectively? The flag of convenience - allowing a merchant ship to register in a sovereign state different to that of its owner - allows owners to avoid regulations covering health and safety, enabling them to employ ‘cost effective’ crews in sub-standard working conditions. This is pretty convenient for us because we’re looking the other way (muttering about rising prices.)

The storm’s going to hit. The combined impact of inevitable climate change legislation and rising oil prices will lead to rapidly reduced capacity within shipping and ever increasing cost. The things we take for granted will be scarcer. Fear roots itself in scarcity. Civil unrest is a very real potential outcome.

I’ve been told often enough I’m not living in the ‘real world’ when I urge that we explore the potential for renewable energy on ships.

Mitigating against volatility in fuel costs by deploying - free, clean - wind for up to 60% of journey time; breaking our dependency on fossils by powering an off-the-shelf Rolls-Royce engine with waste derived bio-gas for the remainder of the time seems like a real world solution for a real world already badly constrained by unpredictable liquid fossil fuel supply that is only set to get worse.

Putting 55m high sailing rigs on 21st century ships is going to make you look. We want you to look.

When we stabilise operational costs we can pay proper wages for dangerous and difficult work and make doubly sure on safety.

As a society we can no longer look away pretending it won’t happen to us. It is already happening. We need to start the transition.

This is what convenience in the 21st century looks like - the conveniences we’ve all become dependent upon - of being able to heat our homes (on imported energy) and have a cup of (imported) tea whilst staying in touch on our (imported) computers as we go in to an uncertain future.

Footnote: An interesting example of the real cost of cheap - the Deepwater Horizon rig was flagged in the Marshall Islands.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The People's Liberation Front of Judea or Climate Week Launch

The Life of Brian - the movie - is packed with great scenes. One of the most searing is when the People's Liberation Front of Judea confronts the Judean People's Front. A scuffle breaks out and someone shouts, "Stop! - we must focus on the real enemy". Everyone stops and realises their mistake and with a simultaneous dawning they spontaneously combine to rally against Liberation Front for Judean People. "No, no, no" "The Romans, the Romans are the enemy".

We don't have the luxury of time for infighting. Climate change is real and now.

During Climate Week thousands of events are being held reaching out to supermarket shoppers, to breakfast cereal eaters, to schools and offices across the country. We'll only make meaningful progress when the majority are on board and we are nowhere near that goal yet.

Maybe Climate Week could have chosen more appropriate sponsors but I don't suppose there was much choice of funding offers available to them. The work that Kevin Steele and his team have started is essential and overdue. I applaud their work.

Doing what's best for the future is going to mean some very tough decisions and forming some unpalatable relationships. It has to be a Big Tent and we all have to squeeze in and offer what we can.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Great Delusion

We’ve got Libya/Bahrain/Yemen on the one hand and the terrible Japanese earthquake on the other. The middle East situation might well have us fundamentally questioning our dependency on oil and the deteriorating condition of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant might make us wonder about the sanity of depending on nuclear.

Those of us in the renewable energy business are assuming that now everyone will recognise that what we’ve been banging on about for two decades makes sense. That the wide range of clean and reliable sources of renewable energy available will go some significant way to meeting our energy needs - if not all of our wants.

But seems we’re deluding ourselves.

Watching BBC Question Time last night and hearing the wide ranging justification for nuclear and entrenched opposition to renewables sent me to bed feeling miserable.

But I woke up curious. What is it that makes us all kid ourselves that we, and only we, are right? That’s the gap we have to bridge. How do we reach out to those “idiots” to ensure meaningful debate ensues?

In the renewable energy business we anticipate many exciting new job opportunities, economic prosperity and a fairer society being derived from inspired engineering and elegant design solutions that enable a transition to a clean and healthier future. We can’t get our heads round why people wouldn’t want that.

Maybe we need to communicate it better. Maybe the solutions to the energy crisis hurtling towards us aren’t all about engineering but are also about building relationships. Relationships with people we may find difficult. It’s time to get over it. And put the safety of our children ahead of our need to feel right at any cost.

Someone once asked me: would you rather be right? Or dead right?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Pope and Me

Monday Sep 20 12:08:00 BST 2010
The roads were empty of traffic but filled with police personnel. On reaching the control barriers I flashed my invitation and passport and was given access to Westminster Palace. I click clacked my way past the crowds wondering if they were wondering who on earth I was.

Westminster Hall is awesome. Really, this is an appropriate time for an overused word. Towering ceilings supported by ancient oak trusses and a thousand years of history to wade through to take ones plush seat.

That morning on the news I’d heard the Pope would be addressing ‘Members of Parliament and Civic Leaders’ at Westminster Hall. Knowing I certainly wasn’t an MP it’s weird to find myself in the category of ‘civic leader’. It’s made me curious about who I am, what I’m doing and how what I do can influence a wider agenda. For twenty years we’ve been nudging, coercing, persuading a vision to become reality; a vision of fossil fuel free sailing ships - graceful, powerful, effective; ships that will create manufacturing jobs in regions most in need of regeneration, that support the development of island economies and re-ignite, and, this is my most fervent hope, a sense of optimism and opportunity in response to recession and climate change.

I’m not a Catholic, indeed organised religion seems to me to have been responsible for more hate than love. Certainly I leaned towards the vocal, high profile opposition to the Papal visit but on receiving an invitation from the Foreign Office to hear the Pope’s address I was forced to explore my own ethics more deeply. In our work at B9 Shipping we believe we must engage whole heartedly with those we might judge to be our enemies in an effort to accelerate the speed of change. I believe it’s essential to find the common ground, a consensual way forward if we are to create a robust enough economy and society to withstand the future.

I found myself in agreement with many more of Pope Benedict XVI words than I had imagined I would. I have to say it was tough to catch every word and I am inordinately grateful that the speech is reproduced on the internet but I caught, and was touched by, key words and phrases.

Political and religious commentators have picked over the speech and shared it widely, emphasising the Pope’s rebuke against secularism. I’m not so sure we, as a society, are marginalising Christianity but I’m happy to talk about it. But I’m not sure it was the main and whole point of The Pope’s address.

I’m no expert in diplomatic speak but I was there and I’d like to know why no one is pointing to the Pope’s suggestion that collaboration should take place on environmental responsibility? Why are interpreters of the Pope’s message not picking up on his noting of this Government’s 0.7% GDP commitment to Overseas Development whilst being able to find ‘vast resources’ to prop up financial institutions deemed to be ‘too big to fail’?

This same question nags at me. I can’t get my head round it. Thankfully the Pope is more eloquent than I ...

“Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.

Now that resonates with me. And I just love that my grammar check has a problem with the composition of the sentence! It underlines that each of us has a voice and a view, that we can have courage and say what we feel even if we get our grammar wrong.  No matter how small we believe ourselves to be we must enter in to this national conversation. Everyone’s voice is crucial.

Naive? Foolish? - I don’t know - but I’m keen to find, and explore, the common ground that allows us to face the future and I certainly found more of that than I had anticipated at Westminster Hall last Friday.

Read the full speech here:

Envisioning the low carbon future at sea

Tuesday May 4 4:39:00 BST 2010
Envisioning the low carbon future at sea
And how B9 Shipping underpins its smooth and rapid transition

90% of the stuff we consume is carried by sea. Shipping has largely excluded itself from environmental scrutiny because often as not ships are registered in exotic unregulated locations and on an 'emissions per tonne carried' basis shipping looks like a pretty good way to shift goods. However, this relative effieicncy encourages a modal shift to sea transport which in turn leads to increased CO2 emissions from shipping.

Already shipping is responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions – as much as Canada or Germany. Modal shifts could see that increase to a projected 18% by 2050 in a business as usual model.[1]Furthermore bunker fuel – which is used in shipping – is more akin to tar than the refined stuff we put into our cars at the pump. So it’s dirtier and accounts for wider pollution problems in ports accounting for some 60,000 deaths every year. [2]
  Oil powered ships have to keep increasing in size to optimise economies of scale in the face of increasing fuel costs. B9 Ships are small (and beautiful) and have no dependency on fossil fuels but can get bigger as the design is developed in practice. Conventional ships are being forced to slow down to reduce both fuel consumption and emissions. As they do so and as B9 Ships evolve performance variances will converge. The fossil fuel free cargo ship, the B9 Ship, will be the favoured option for best value – both internally and externally.

Complacency in the shipping sector has been endemic and the failure at Copenhagen 2009 to address shipping emissions allows the industry to continue to drag its heels. As the realisation of the full effects of how Peak Oil impacts our global community urgently establishing global, reliable, affordable fossil fuel free transport infrastructure becomes critical.

B9 Shipping believes now is the time to act, and since all the technology is readily available and just needs bringing together in an innovative way, and since action results in commercial and social benefits, there‘s no impediment to just getting on with it. So let’s just do it.

[1]International Maritime Organisation
[2]   linter alia

Fog on the Tyne

Tuesday Feb 23 2:59:00 GMT 2010
It was foggy as we crossed the Tyne on the Metro to Pallion in Sunderland. Once the most productive shipbuilding region in the world the Wear is now a run down kind of place but full of warm-hearted, passionate people.
The Pallion Shipyard is a monument to the loss of engineering capabilities in the UK. An awesome covered shipbuilding facility with capacity to build several B9 Ships simultaneously and yet it’s lying idle, home now to a couple of tiny engineering outfits, a once noble ship, The Manxman, waiting to be broken up, and a small flock of pigeons.
But the North East of England has become one of the UK’s first low carbon economic areas (LCEA) and is focussing its energies on ‘ultra low carbon vehicles’. There can be nothing more ultra low carbon than a vehicle powered by wind – the most available and free resource, augmented by B9-biogas powered engines . So we eagerly anticipate that Pallion could be building ships again one day soon.
The fog is clearing and we are beginning to be able to make out exactly how UK PLC can build B9 Ships in multiple destinations around the country.
Upcoming B9 Shipping Presentations
David Surplus, MD B9 Shipping, is presenting a paper entitled
at the
Royal Institution of Naval Architects Environmental Sustainability Conference on March 10
and the following day he is presenting at
The Annual Marine Propulsion Conference a paper called

The Green Revolution in Action

Thursday Dec 3 11:38:00 GMT 2009

1000 jobs created and 200 000 tonnes of CO2 saved each year by enabling the emerging biomass power generation industry to achieve the 2020 targets set out in the recently published Renewable Energy Directive (RED). This is what results from B9 Shipping supporting just one niche market.
Remember in the last blog we asked how much CO2 we’d save if all of the 10,000 similar sized coasters currently operating across the world were replaced, over time, by a fossil fuel free B9 Ship? We’ve calculated that each 3000 tonne coaster operating on conventional bunker fuel emits 16 tonnes of CO2 per day. So if we assume they only operate 300 days a year (which is unlikely since it would be uneconomic to do so – but makes the maths easier!) then we’d save the planet 48m tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
When B9 identifies a challenge that needs urgent attention, like emissions from shipping, it looks to inspirational engineering solutions.
You will have by now seen the initial design for the new B9 Ship. Rob Humphreys has taken a 21st century view on the old square rig clipper ships. Ultra modern technologies developed in the offshore yacht racing arena have been incorporated into the best aspects from the time tested sailing vessels. So we’ve cleared any standing rigging off the deck to enable swift and easy load and discharge of cargo, the steel masts will be hollow to save weight and allow crew safe access to the spars and sails in the event of the need for repairs and, by including sophisticated technology, the whole rig can be turned in a moment to avoid damage or danger to human life in a sudden squall.  There’s a whole raft of other benefits but you get the drift!
Once the design is finalised and has been tested at the Wolfson Unit at Southampton University then we set to work building ships. 500 people will be needed to build the steel hulls for the ships required by this one industry alone - the biomass power generators - to meet RED target. The mast, sails and rigging development will need some 100 people, we’ll be safeguarding jobs at Corus steel mills and creating at least 5 new jobs in the Corus plasma cutting facility. The fitting out, management and administration requirements will employ another 100 or so people. 300 people will be needed to crew those ships. All of these people in new work have money to spend in the wider economy.
Once we truly embrace the need to solve environmental challenges, then we can find solutions. Einstein said “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. At B9 we know there is no option but to find solutions and we turn to inspirational engineering. This in turn creates jobs, stimulates economic revival and saves carbon. This is the Green Revolution in action. What’s not to like?

A Date to Remember

September 29th 2009 – a date to remember? We believe so.
For almost two decades we’ve been developing the concept of modern sailing cargo ships. In the same way a 19th century windmill evolved into a 21st century wind turbine we have long believed the same is true of sailing ships.
We have worked up detailed Business Plans and Feasibility studies over the years and no one ever found any significant impediment in either our technology or our commercial analysis. So why has it taken so long?
Increasingly we have (almost) all become acutely aware that climate change is the most important issue on our collective agenda. Without a planet upon which to live all other issues become meaningless. As we move towards the Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in December there is a heightened awareness of our collective responsibility to take global action.
After Kyoto the shipping industry was charged with making significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions but it failed to do so, citing the immense complexity of negotiation due to the international nature of the sector. We don’t underestimate how difficult it is to reach international agreement but we do recognise that we have no other option but to seek and find solutions to alleviate climate change. That’s what B9, as environmental entrepreneurs, are all about. It’s all too important to just throw our hands in the air and say, “Impossible!”
Shipping emissions are on the international agenda now and we have to find a way to reduce them come hell or high water – precisely what our species face if we fail.
B9 Ships offer a simple, straightforward solution for small coastal vessels based on bringing together proven technologies in innovative ways. Obviously 3000dwt vessels represent a relatively small section of international shipping but B9 Ships demonstrate that commitment and collaboration deliver results. And there are some 10 000 small coasters out there across the world – if each of them becomes a fossil fuel free B9 Ship we can only begin to estimate how many emissions will be saved – in fact that’s just the kind of thing B9ers like to do so check back and we’ll tell you!
We believe we are building the flagships for the low carbon future, a future where we explore and adopt fresh ways of working together bound by the common goal of reducing emissions.
  September 29th 2009, the day B9 Shipping project was formally announced and this website went live. And all of a sudden we’re powering ahead with support from all quarters and, at last, it feels like we’ve really got the wind in our sails.