Category Archives: Ecological

Mobile Communications – The Big Question Part 2

What to believe?

Whilst researching for my previous article covering the climate change impact of mobile communications, I came across further research which claims that mobile communications enables an overall reduction in Mega tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year (mtCO2e/yr).

Very odd.

My previous article presented facts that appeared to prove that the ever-increasing use of smartphones and mobile technology communications was responsible for contributing millions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

It would be useful to define mobile communications at this point. It covers quite a wide range of systems including mobile telephone networks, public Wi-Fi networks, Wide Area Networks, and Satellite networks.

To be fair, most of the carbon footprint was directly related to the extraction of materials and the subsequent production of the technology itself. The remaining contribution was as a result of the use of the equipment and the supporting infrastructure, such as powering data processing centres and the associated communications networks.

The research appeared to take no account of the societal changes caused by the use of such disrupting technology, and the reduction in the carbon footprint of mobile communications.

The counter arguments presented in this article are as convincing and fact-based as the arguments that mobile communications are climate change’s bad guys.

According to a report commissioned by The Carbon Trust, the use of mobile communications actually leads to an abatement of the carbon emissions generated by the use of that technology – approximately five times as much carbon emissions are abated as the emissions generated.

That’s quite a factor.

Use of mobile communications in the EU and the USA is currently enabling a reduction of about 180 million tonnes of CO2 equivalence per year – an amount greater than the annual carbon emissions generated by the Netherlands.

Part of the UK Mobile Communications Network

So how does this pay-off happen?

A significant percentage of the total reduction in COe – about 70%, is generated by what is known as Machine to Machine (M2M) systems.

Mobile communications have enabled our infrastructure to become “smart”.  

“Smart” buildings are fitted with several types of systems, such as those that monitor occupancy levels and turn lighting on or off as needed, and control heating, ventilation and temperatures according to programmed levels. Sensors fitted throughout the building communicate wirelessly to the controller to enable precise control of energy use and therefore costs.

In some cases, several buildings may be communicating with a server-controller located remotely, and if this is the case, it is likely that the internet or the cellular communications system may be the data carrier.

This type of technology is not limited to just commercial premises.

Flick through some of the glossier housing magazines, and you will find references to “smart homes”

Smart homes are designed and built to encompass the latest control systems. Many household systems may be configured and controlled using nothing more than a standard smart phone using simple software.

Owners of a smart home may be able to control heating, unlock or lock doors, operate lighting, close or open curtains, respond to the doorbell, play music, or switch the TV on or off.

A Typical Smart Home kit, with Heat Control, Lighting, Doorbell and Power Sockets

Some systems will have algorithms that learn the users tastes and preferences and will detect when the house has become un-occupied, and will back off the heating, and control lighting as needed.

This is often accomplished by the detection of system-recognised mobile phones. When the mobile phone(s) leaves the home for more than the programmed time period, the system decides that the house is now un-occupied.

When the homeowner leaves work and gets within a predefined distance or time from home, the phone will autonomously communicate with the house, and the system can put the heat on, close the curtains, put the lights on, and be playing music on the owners’ arrival.

So, whilst data is being exchanged (at an environmental cost) the more intelligent use of power and energy compensates for this. In the world of commerce and business the savings may be truly on an industrial scale.

Local Authorities also benefit from M2M communications and are able to control street lighting and municipal lighting based on pedestrian or vehicular activity. Street lights may be able to communicate with each other and be able to adjust to lower light levels when there is no detected activity. This not only conserves energy, but also prevents light pollution from degrading the night time landscape.

Smart Street Light, fitted with LEDs and clearly showing communications antennae. And Three Pigeons

Some towns have introduced smart refuse bins, which communicate their fill state to the local authority waste processing system. This enables real-time assessment of refuse collection requirements and enables collections to be scheduled only when needed. This has the net effect of making the collection of household waste much more efficient, saves money, and reduces the number of truck journeys made.

A Smart Refuse Bin, capable of sending it’s status to the Waste Collection System

Furthermore, intelligent use of M2M enabled traffic signals can change sequencing according to traffic levels and ease delays, in turn reducing the emissions levels from vehicle exhausts. In the future, as vehicles become internet enabled, they will be able to communicate directly with both the infrastructure and each other, leading to more efficient use of the road system, lowering fuel requirements and hopefully reducing accidents.

Traffic Signal capable of interacting with other signals at other junctions to improve traffic flows.

Mobile Communications has really come of age with faster, secure networks that have enabled a huge number of individuals to work at home.

According to the Office of National Statistics (UK) in January 2014 there were about 4.2 million people working remotely – an impressive 14% of the UK’s workforce. That’s a good few cars and their associated emissions taken off the road.

With growth in the self-employed “gig economy” the number of people working from anywhere (WFA) is bound to have expanded, which is good for the environment, and better for both the employer and the employee[1]

Working From Anywhere – All that’s needed is a Tablet or a Laptop and an internet connection
Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

Using mobile communications, it is possible to attend meetings remotely, using systems such as Skype, which are sophisticated enough to enable delegates to share their computer screens with other team members working at the office or from home.

Mobile comms also cuts down on wasted paper, saving trees. Simple smartphone-based apps enable an employee to submit their expenses remotely, simply taking photos of receipts, and submitting them electronically.  This reduces postage costs, as well as saving paper and time.

The rapid acceptance of smartphones and their associated technologies, has also stimulated behavioural changes in people’s personal lives.

Today, an average person may unwittingly reduce their carbon footprint by using video calling to talk to friends and family. In many cases this saves a time consuming drive to each other’s homes.  It’s not quite the same as visiting, but enables better use of time, and again, takes another polluting journey off the road network.

Mobile comms also impacts on the provision of healthcare.

Individuals with serious and chronic health problems will often require frequent visits to hospitals and clinics in order to monitor their conditions, or to discuss their symptoms with a healthcare professional.

Personal Health Monitor linked to a Smartphone

Smart phones and wearable technologies such as smart watches and fitness trackers are already beginning to enable a far more consistent capture of healthcare data. Suitable software programme can then transmit this over the mobile networks to the individual’s doctor.

Wearable Technology is getting evermore sophisticated…

Whilst this may not have a huge impact at current levels, as this become more accepted in the medical community, it will save journeys to hospitals, for both patients and visitors. It also enables patients to be potentially cared for at home rather than in hospital, which reduces consumption further.

Even agriculture and forestry benefits from the use of mobile communications.

Arable farmers may make use of smartphone and laptop-based systems to monitor crop conditions and target which areas of fields may require dressing with fertiliser. Natural fertiliser is an animal by-product which subsequently releases methane into the atmosphere.

Smartphone App to pre- plan an Aerial Survey conducted by a Drone linked to the Smartphone itself!

Applying less fertiliser and targeting it where it’s needed is far more effective and eco-friendly than just applying a regular amount onto a crop that may not need it. This also saves runoff from fields polluting the water table – so a double benefit!

Animal farmers are already using smart apps that monitor the health of pregnant cattle, and herds may be monitored by GPS trackers – all enabled by mobile communications. This allows farmers to reduce veterinary call-outs, and simplify herding journeys, saving both time, money and the environment.

Moo Monitor – A mobile based animal health monitor.

Having researched the information from both sides, my personal jury is still out on this subject. It has to be borne in mind that the report produced by the Carbon Trust was supported and funded by EE, BT, Telefonica (Who own O2 in the UK, and provide mobile comms globally) and Vodafone.

I am, however, a firm supporter of reducing traffic wherever and however possible, and working remotely using mobile comms is an obvious way to do this.

Go Well…


[1] A key takeaway from our research is that if a work setting is ripe for remote work – that is, the job is fairly independent and the employee knows how to do their job well – implementing WFA (working from anywhere) can benefit both the company and the employee” The Harvard Business Review

Mobile Communications – the Big Question

If, like me, you have embraced new technology, you will, in all probability have a smart phone. It is likely that you will also own either a tablet computer, or a laptop. Some of you may also have a smart watch as well.

The smartphone has invaded all our lives, and research suggests that there are more than 79 million active mobile phone subscriptions. A recent report by xxx shows that Smartphones have penetrated 71% of the UK market – about 57 million units, all of which are sophisticated handsets capable of streaming video, internet surfing, emailing, and even making telephone calls and humble texting.

Business has been quick to see the potential in such technology, with banks and financial institutions offering account access via self-contained mobile applications – “Apps” in common parlance.

With a smartphone and the correct apps, it is possible to buy railway tickets, check bus times, take photos or video film, and plan a route to walk, cycle or ride.

Smartphones are also able to monitor health, run a diary, shop online and remotely control domestic systems such as heating, lighting and manage solar power generation systems.

Not bad for a device that’s smaller than a reporter’s notebook![1]

Mobile communications are not just limited to cellular telephones, but also incorporates laptops and tablets, and as any customer of a high street coffee shop will attest to, enables work to be conducted just about anywhere where there is an internet connection.

Work isn’t just limited to processing documents. I have been unlucky enough to be seated next to a very loud woman who was conducting a Skype meeting with her team from the normal genteel environment of Costa Coffee in Haslemere. Not only is this rude and inconsiderate, but she was also revealing an awful lot about her company and its confidential details.

I digress…

For the price of a coffee, it is possible to hook into a reasonably stable Wi-Fi connection, and work for an hour or two, writing and responding to emails, conducting research, and creating reports and presentations.

No commuting either – so its got to be ecologically sound to either work from home, or from the local coffee shop.

So, you would think.

Its not quite as simple as that though, but to be fair, it never is.

Have you ever thought about the invisible carbon footprint generated by mobile communications?

Let’s forget, for a moment, the environmental costs of producing a smartphone in the first place. Concentrate purely on the actual communicating

 

In order for your simple SMS text message to be sent, the message must be digitised and transmitted over the cellular telephone network. Your phone sends this using microwave frequencies to the nearest cellular base station. These are easily recognisable as they normally have several antennae mounted upon a mast.

At the base of the mast, is a small building that contains all of the necessary electronics systems to enable the mobile elements of the network to interface with the Public Switched Telephone Network.

The message then has to be processed by one or more data centres, and forwarded back out into the network for onward transmission over the cellular network to its intended recipient.

All of this infrastructure consumes power, and has to be resilient enough to provide secure, continuous and reliable service 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

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Photo Credit E S Wales – Cellular Base Station

The same system supports mobile voice calls.

So – you want to read your emails in the coffee shop?  Surf the web?

Emails require multiple data servers, and more computer communications centres, all of which consume massive amounts of power.

Maybe as you glug back your vente white americano you want to order that item on Amazon, or eBay…

More data servers, more computer communications centres, but now with the addition of financial data processing centres, with yet more power-hungry servers.

Here are some sobering facts.

Data Centres and Communications networks together with other parts of the infrastructure were responsible for in the region of 215 mega tonnes of CO2e/yr back in 2007. By then end of 2020 this will have risen to about 764 mega tonnes of CO2e/yr, with data centres accounting for about 33% of the total contribution.

The entire carbon footprint of Canada in 2016 was about 730 MtCO2e/yr! 

According to research conducted by McMaster University,[2] the relative contribution to climate change from information and computer technologies (ICT) is predicted to grow from 3.5% (2007) to about 14% by 2040.

Quite shocking when compared with global transport’s contribution of 23%! (World Health Organisation figures)

Relative emissions generated as a result of smartphone use has risen from 4% in 2010 to an expected 11% by this year.

Absolute emissions (which include the production footprint; manufacturing energy, mining energy for extracting rare metals and gold and end user activities) from these much loved ‘phones will therefore jump from 17 mega tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) to 125 Mt-CO2e/yr in the same period! That’s a massive 730% growth.

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Take out the production emissions, and we are looking at 12.5 mega tonnes of CO2 per year just to use our smartphones.

Our Mobile operators (In the UK, EE, O2, Vodafone, Three) have an unintended impact on emissions. Many of their mobile plans encourage their customers to upgrade to a new phone every couple of years.

I resisted this in the past, and kept my old iPhone 6 for almost five years before I decided to change phones. I would have kept it longer, but the 16GB memory was full, and the software was in danger of becoming unsupported by Apple.

Encouraging and incentivising customers to change phones when their previous model was more than adequate is a good model for enhancing a corporation’s profit, but the negative impact on our environment is unsupportable.

There is only a limited number of ways that we, as a society can stop this.

At a societal level, State intervention and Corporate Governance must ensure that all data centres are powered solely by renewable sources of energy.

As individuals, we must take a bit more responsibility.

It’s all very well for climate change protestors to exhort us all to ditch our cars, and to stop using plastics.

Equally important is not buying a new product unless the old one is either worn out, damaged beyond economic repair, or no longer supported by the manufacturer or network requirements.

Upgrading to a new phone every time one comes out is nothing but technological vanity.

Remember too, if you must upgrade, then recycle your old phone.

Shockingly, less than 1% of all smartphones are being recycled.

 

Despite this, for the time being, Life’s Good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] iPhone XR dimensions 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm 174gm

[2] Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi

 

Tyres – The Invisible Ecological Menace

We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.

We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.

Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.

However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Tyres.

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Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.

Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.

We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.

So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre?  Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.

Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 18.10.01

Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.

Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.

It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system[1]. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.[2]

It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.

Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!

Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.

Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.

Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.

It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.

What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?

Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.

We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.

We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.

This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!

On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 17.52.54

It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!

Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.

Maybe we should drive less distances?  Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?

I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.

It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.

However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.

Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.

The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?

Answers on a postcard please…

 

[1] Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018

[2] UK Government Funding for Research into Tyre Tread Erosion and Pollution

 

Is the Spirit of Flower Power still alive?

Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee.  Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.

A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.

Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.

The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.

In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.

These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.

I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?

The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.

Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.

Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.

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The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”

At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.

This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.

The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.

Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.

At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.

So, what of the Hippie dream now?

Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.

Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly.  More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.

Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.

Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.

I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.

In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.

However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.

Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.

Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.

I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.

These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.

Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…

 

Perhaps we should…

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARE YOUR CLOTHES RESPONSIBLE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?

The gloomy sky overhead Haslemere made it seem darker and colder than it was. A depressing midweek afternoon, with both Christmas and the New year landmarks disappearing over the rear horizon.

Costa Coffee was almost empty, and I shared the place with one Barista and the branch manager, both of whom were courteously ignoring me, and conducting a desultory, spasmodic conversation related to their respective family Christmases.

Christmas, as always, these days, was a mixed bag of news, but one item did catch my attention. A lot of media coverage was being dedicated to criticising the time-honoured Christmas jumper.

It seems that such jumpers are environmental disasters, and the bombardment of negativity made it almost feel as if the green lobby were deliberately greenwashing Christmas. In some cases, this leads to “green fatigue”, and I heard a lot of comments that bemoaned the continual media attention focused on environmental issues. I must admit, that I too “switched off”.

The net result is that, as usual, my interest was piqued, and I immediately fired up the laptop, and started researching the environmental impact of the garment industry.

What I discovered is interesting, yet shocking.

The fashion and garment industry is simply huge. It is worth US$ 1.3 trillion, and employs about 300 million people. It greedily consumes 60% of all textiles produced.

Approximately 5% of all EU household expenditure is for clothing and footwear, (80% clothing, 20% footwear) about 12.6kg per person.

EU research also revealed that more than 30% of the clothes hiding in European wardrobes had not been used for at least a year.

According to a report published by Worldbank[1] the garment industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions!  That is more than the combined annual Global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) for Aviation and International Shipping[2], yet the media focus is nearly always focused on the transport sector.

Consider this; annually the garment industry uses 93 billion cubic metres of water – that is enough to satisfy the annual consumption needs of about five million people!

This is not just the water used for manufacturing garments, but also includes the irrigation requirements of the cotton and fibre crops.

Dyeing material and treatments during manufacturing contributes to 20% of worldwide wastewater generation.

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Polyester, one of the most popular fibres for clothing is made from fossil fuels, and is totally non-biodegradable. It does have the benefits of being tolerant of washing at lower temperatures, has a low water footprint, dries quickly, needs virtually no ironing, and it can be recycled into new fibres.

Now the downside. Recent studies have shown that just one domestic washing load of polyester clothing can discharge in the region of 700,000 microplastic fibres in the waste water, which subsequently release toxins into the marine environment, which eventually contaminate the human food chain.

This in itself is an appalling situation!

To put this into perspective, it takes about 3800 litres of water to make a pair of jeans. This equates to an equivalent CO2 emissions equivalent of about 34kg!

a machine sewing a jean

Photo Credit to © Jrstock

Garment production is resource-greedy, and materials used all have an impact on our world. For example, we are exhorted to wear natural products rather than synthetic, but perversely, natural products are the most un-eco-friendly – cotton contributes to excessive water consumption. The production of wool also adds significantly to methane emissions[3].

So, manufacturing clothing currently has a high environmental cost.

You may buy that pretty dress, or that cool shirt, or yet another pair of denim jeans. Do you think of the hidden environmental costs when you buy it?

Globally, clothing is massively under-utilised – and usage of clothing has slumped by about 36% compared with just fifteen years ago. Some items are discarded after just seven to ten wears. This is appalling!

An article in the Daily Mail reported that many women had adopted a throw away “wear it once” mentality related to clothing. The report suggested that much of this was due to the peer pressure exerted through social media in not wanting to be photographed or “tagged” wearing the same item more than once.

Model walk the runway at Fashion Show. Legs of model on catwalk runway show event.

Photo Credit to © Zoran Kompar 1 –

The associated costs are high and that’s not just from an ecological perspective. Globally, customers are wasting an estimated US$ 460 billion per year on waste and un-needed replacement.

Less that 1% of textile materials recovered from clothing is reused for clothing. Most of what is recovered is simply shredded and then used for lower purposes such as furniture stuffing, insulation, and cleaning cloths.

Unused clothing is often just dumped into landfill as refuse. There are high costs associated with the disposal of clothing, and to put this into perspective, the UK spends approximately £86 million per year to process and dispose of it.

This is also driven by the relatively new fast fashion culture. In the past, most clothing designers would launch their collections on a seasonal basis, but now many lower cost clothing stores offer new designs far more frequently, sometimes as often as weekly!

The fashion chain Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year, and H&M between 12 and 16.[4]

Very often fast fashion is made from very cheap materials – almost planned obsolescence and often fails quite quickly.

The consumer is almost led to believe that clothing is virtually perishable goods and are seen as disposable in the same way as a cigarette lighter.

The pressure on consumers, both from social media and commercial retailers to refresh their wardrobes has led to a state where the average person buys 60% more clothing today than they did in 2000.

In 2000, 50 billion new garments were made globally. In just twenty years, this has doubled, according to research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Significant environmental impact occurs during consumer use. Throughout the lifecycle of the clothes, they will be laundered many times, using water, chemicals and energy. Each time they will shed microplastics into the water system. They will then, in many cases, be tumble dried, and then ironed and pressed, using yet more energy.

So, what can be done?

Firstly, the old linear manufacturing system has to change. Linear systems simply take raw products, and through subsequent processes, manufacture a garment. The garment is sold, used, washed, used and then discarded.

A new circular economy needs to be created, where the discarded garment is collected, processed, recycled and remanufactured.

Clothing designers need to embrace a new concept of reducing waste at every stage of production. Products should be designed to have multiple life cycles using materials that are tailored to their intended subsequent uses.

Manufacturers should be considering materials such as bio-based polyesters (which use starches and lipids sourced from corn, sugar beet and plant oils) and man-made Cellulosic (MMCs) made from dissolved wood pulp. New products such as Lyocell (Tencel) made of cellulose from Eucalyptus which grow quickly and require no irrigation or pesticides must be rapidly incorporated into the manufacturing chain.

Retailers should also introduce much more effective labelling with tags clearly stating the item’s sustainability and emissions information, and better and more intuitive washing and care instructions.

Secondly, consumers need to make a significant change in mindset.

They need to be encouraged to make small behavioural changes such as reducing the temperatures at which they wash clothing, always washing a full load wherever possible, avoiding tumble drying wherever possible. and buying clothes made from ecologically friendly fibres.

Unwanted clothes should always be donated to charities rather than discarding them into landfill.

Dare I also say that clothes should be washed less frequently, airing them instead, and avoid any unnecessary ironing.

Instead of fast fashion, “Slow Fashion” should be adopted – buy fewer clothes of better quality, and keep those for longer.

New Ideas such as a clothes sharing economy. Why buy clothes, when you could lease them, or rent them for a pre-determined time?

High Tech solutions may be just around the corner – with Artificial Intelligence working with advanced three-dimensional printers that would simply produce a custom item of clothing instantly and on the spot. No overproduction or distribution and warehousing costs there eh?

So – maybe you should make a cup of coffee, and go and check your wardrobe.

I just checked mine, and I seem to have quite a lot of clothes cluttering up my life which haven’t been used for a year.

I only own 8 items of footwear – and that includes 2 pairs of hiking boots, a pair of motorcycle boots and a pair of dress cowboy boots. Two pairs of deck shoes, and two pairs of work Chelsea boots. All of them are regularly cleaned and maintained, so replacement is rare.

I now have to fill a number of bin bags to take a trip to the charity shop.

So – Buy cheap, buy twice!

Together all of us making a small difference, makes a big difference.

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Worldbank

[2] 2.5% International Shipping; 2% Aviation

[3] European Parliament Briefing “Environmental Impact of the Textile and Clothing Industry©2019

[4] European Parliamentary Research Service

do you really want to take that carribean cruise?

Many of us believe that we are intelligent, caring beings, and as such, we make decisions to consciously avoid damaging our environment. Many of us have tried to change our lifestyles, and now frequently walk or cycle around our local district. We try to buy organic Fairtrade[1] products, and attempt to live in a sustainable manner.

It’s not always that simple though, is it?  Despite a seismic shift in our thinking we are still guilty of inadvertently creating damage to our home.

It’s easy to bandy about statements about our carbon footprint and boast about our hybrid cars, and our quest for low airmiles vegetables and fruit, but is that enough?

We all look forward to taking a vacation. A two-week respite from our daily labours. An annual opportunity to travel to some exotic and idyllic destination to unwind, decompress and relax.

Significant adverse publicity has demonised road transport and air travel, to the point that those of us that are sensitive to our ecological impact are reluctant to use our cars or air transport for anything other than necessity travel.

So, what of our alternatives?

Many of us are now fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to book a cruise and float around azure blue waters for a fortnight of self-indulgent luxury.

But how many of us think about the environmental impact of cruise ships? It’s a natural tendency to assume that due to the high passenger occupancy of cruise ships they are eco-friendly.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Let’s look at a few facts about the cruise ship industry.

The world’s largest cruise company is the Anglo-American company The Carnival Corporation and Public Limited Company.

This monolithic organisation is the largest global cruise company, in terms of annual passenger carrying, revenue and the overall size of its fleet.

Started in 1975 with one ship, (The Mardi Gras) it now owns 10 cruise lines, operating over a hundred vessels and has a 49.2% share of the global cruise market[2].

In 1996, they launched the world’s largest ship, the 101,000 tonne Carnival Destiny.

Ever increasing demand led to the commissioning of the Carnival Dream in 2009 with a gross tonnage of 128,000 tonnes.

By 2012 the Carnival Vista launched at 133,500 tonnes.

If you thought that was large – then think again. Currently, the world’s largest cruise ship is now the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s flagship. This monster weighs in at 228,000 tonnes, and at maximum occupancy can accommodate 8,800 people. (6,880 passengers, 2,200 crew).

However, by 2012, the reputation of the cruise industry was already being tarnished. At the same time as the Vista was being launched, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that an investigation had revealed that P and O (A subsidiary of Carnival) paid their ship-borne staff a basic salary of just 75p per hour[3] when the UK National Average wage was £15.25 per hour!

According to its own website, the organisation now employs 37,400 staff with 33,500 of those being ship based.

Whilst the cruise industry has a sparkling shop window, its underbelly reveals some profoundly ecologically damaging practices. In 2017, Princess Cruise lines were fined $40M US for illegally dumping oil into the oceans, and the intentionally covering it up.

It’s easy to assume that the economy of scale makes cruising environmentally friendly.

However, cruise ships are very poor advocates of low impact travel.

To put this into perspective, The Oasis of the Seas, weighing 225,282 tonnes, will burn just over 11,000 gallons of low quality high-sulphur fuel oil at its cruising speed of 22.6 knots.[4] This is an eye watering gallon for every twelve feet travelled!

A smaller ship (138,000 tonnes) using the same type of diesel engines that only operate at about 30% efficiency, (rated at 75,600Kw[5]) will burn about 6,640 gallons of low-grade oil per hour.

Maritime low-grade heavy oil fuels are incredibly damaging, with a very high sulphur content – far higher than the amount of sulphur and particulates found in car exhausts.

Bearing in mind that cruise liners take passengers to many world heritage sites, the inadvertent collateral damage could be huge, with many implications for the historic cities visited.

Cruise line marketing often focuses on the beautiful destination to which passengers may be taken – unspoilt beaches, remote island chains and ancient port cities. with fresh sea breezes and clean air.

The reality is somewhat different, with the cruise industry complacently burning the dirtiest fuel in some of the world’s most fragile environments such as the arctic.

Shipping currently accounts for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions.

It has been one of the slowest transport sectors to accept that it has a problem, and it was only in April 2018 that its first sector-specific emissions reduction target was set – to reduce emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020.

To place this into context, shipping has been linked to 400,000 premature deaths attributed to cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer each year.[6] The shipping industry is also a regular contributor to marine pollution, and that’s not just limited to oil and debris discharged at sea.

The industry also sends many of its old ships to be broken for scrap – many to under-developed Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India[7]

The ship breaking yard at Alang (located in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat off the Gulf of Cambay) was set up in 1983 on a small scale along a 10-km (6 miles) stretch of sandy beach. The tidal, geographical, and climatic features make Alang an ideal ship breaking location.

ship-breaking-2017-mts-1000x640

These types of location, whilst excellent for the convenience of breaking up old hulls, are highly inappropriate sites for the delicate marine eco-systems, bringing the risks of routinely leaking hazardous and toxic materials into the sea during the process of breaking.

Furthermore, according to data from the Gujarat Maritime Board, there have been over two hundred deaths over the years caused by fires and other accidents.

A research paper written by Dr. Maruf Hossain and Mohammad Islam of the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong[8] details the extent to which highly dangerous materials are leaked into coastal waters, and the impact it has on marine life, and on human health via the food chain.
It makes for sombre reading.

According to the Friends of the Earth, during 2014, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of human sewage into the seas.

The US EPA stated at the time, that an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 domestic swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “greywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

That’s a bit of an eye opener isn’t it?

Now consider on top of that, every cruise ship passenger generates 3.5 kg of rubbish every day, some of which will find its way into the azure blue waters that you went there to see in the first place.

fullsizeoutput_1461

Since then the industry has made some progress, and new cruise ships of the future may well be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which offers much lower sulphur emissions, and is therefore an improvement in this respect to the heavy oil currently used.

However, LNG isn’t the panacea to the problems of emissions. A recent report by Transport and Environment (T and E) states that LNG-powered cruise ships will not deliver sustainable tourism, as its potential widespread use will lock the industry into using fossil-based fuels for decades.

Recently, the port city of Barcelona announced that it would encourage the handling of cruise ships powered by LNG. The first LNG ship arrived in Barcelona earlier this year and was refuelled with LNG from a special barge. Barcelona hailed this as a big step forward in sustainable tourism.

This is not the case according to research conducted by T and E, which demonstrates that LNG used in shipping may generate 9% more greenhouse gases than the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.

So, even if all cruise ships were to be powered by LNG, the ecological implications are still serious.

So, maybe it’s about time that we re-considered our holidays.

Maybe it’s time to holiday locally, without creating a massive carbon footprint by flying and cruising?

[1] The Fairtrade Foundation

[2] Wikipedia

[3] UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2011

[4] 26 miles per hour

[5] 101,382 Horsepower

[6] Transport & Environment Annual Report, 2018

[7] See Data from Shipbreaking Bangladesh

[8] Ship Breaking Activities and its Impact on the Marine Environment.

Jungle Reset – Dateline Malaysia and Borneo

The Fourth Parallel North, or Four North, runs round the globe just above the equator. Tracking it from the Greenwich Meridian, it heads East into Africa, passing through the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon , the Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, and through Lake Turkana in Kenya, from where it routes through Ethiopia, and Somalia, crossing the Indian Ocean, passing through the Maldives and through the island of Sumatra. Crossing the Straits of Malacca and bisecting the Malaysian peninsular, it then streaks off over the South China Sea, over the third largest island in the world, Borneo, from where it crosses the Pacific, over Micronesia, eventually making landfall at Malpelo Island in Colombia. It then sneaks through Venezuela, the town of Roraima in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, then crosses the Atlantic making the west coast of Africa just south of Cape Palmas in Liberia.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, if you are a regular reader of my not too regular posts, you will know that I am partial to a good cup of coffee, and instead of writing in my usual haunt of a local branch of Costa Coffee, I am sitting pretty much on the fourth parallel, on Mabul Island.

To be precise, and for those that really want to know, my position is 4°14’48”N 118°37’52”E. This is the Scuba Junkie Diving Resort, and I am slurping absolutely delicious coffee from a plastic mug, whilst contemplating life.

Since coming to Malaysia for a long break, I have taken in the sights in Kuala Lumpur, visiting Chinese Temples, and Muslim Mosques; I have eaten in fabulous street restaurants in Penang, (Try the Kapitan Indian Restaurant in George Town for a real treat) and from Hawker Stalls in Jalan Alor. I have stared out over the multifaceted city of Kuala Lumpur from the observation deck of the KL Tower, watching it disappear into the mist shrouded Malaysian Peninsular.

I have seen the struggling species of orang-utans, and seen the excellent work being done by the folk at the Sepilok sanctuary. I have been close to the wonderful yet so endangered Sun Bears too.

I have stayed in the Bornean Jungle, been privileged to see elephants, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, giant kingfishers, silver leaf monkeys, herons, egrets, huge butterflies.

I have visited remote caves inhabited by swiftletts and horseshoe bats, and watched in wonder in the darkness, at the life that crawls through the inches deep carpet of droppings; Cockroaches, beetles, venomous millipedes, centipedes, spiders, crabs and even small flying lizards.

I have witnessed tropical sunsets, and towering thunderheads, illuminated from within by lightening spikes that compete with the dying orange globe of the sun, as it dips slowly into the South China Seas.

I have observed first hand, the abject poverty of the sea gypsies, and the living conditions that are their lot.

So now I sit here contemplating.

Looking around me at the slender Malay people, emphasises my decreasing height to weight ratio, I am definitely under tall for my 94 kilos. Back calculating, I see that I should be a shade over 2.08 metres tall, or about six feet ten in real money. Well, that’s never gonna happen.

So. I have to shed some of my blubber. I have to stop the regular uptake of alcohol, and get a bit more active – more riding my bicycle, and more walks. I have to also modify my work life balance. I have been sitting in possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I have been worrying about work for two weeks and wondering how I will cope on my return to the office.

Clearly this is not acceptable. Something has to be done. But what?

I need to address the work/life balance. Coming to 4 North has initiated a reset, Clear Alt Delete at a personal level. So, work less, laugh more, maybe earn less, but be time rich.

I may never own my own jet, but I have a sweet little microlight, on a rural farm strip, so I need to readjust my aspirations and expectations, and spend less time focused on working, and more on regaining my fitness, and enjoying doing not a lot.

Its going to take some careful planning, but the journey is beginning.

I wrote this about two years ago. Since then, I am pleased to say that I now weigh a trifling 89 kilos, so I only need to grow by another 2 cm and I am good to go! I also decided to retire from my previous role, and do something more enjoyable. Now I just have to shed a further 9 kilos. Well. Everyone needs a challenge, right?

A Smooth Skin Can Save Serious Money

Non-Stick Vehicles
A good way to save money

Every woman knows that unblemished skin is essential to looking good.

In modern vehicle aerodynamics, not only does a smooth skin look good, but it can also save large amounts of money for the owner or operator.

The aviation industry has been aware of the importance of a smooth finish for many years, and has developed many ways of reducing skin friction. Flush rivets and streamlined fairings go a long way to increasing achievable airspeed and reducing drag (and therefore fuel burn).

The latest generation of transport aircraft now increasingly use composite materials such as carbon fibre to construct airframe components. Such materials offer two main advantages – a high strength to weight ratio, combined with the ability to be joined using high technology adhesives rather than rivets.

However, an aircraft in line service becomes dirty over time, and the dirt particles accumulate to cause a breakdown in the airflow over the wing surface, thus increasing drag. Paint finishes also start to blemish and break down, causing further erosion of the erstwhile smooth finish.

This is where the relatively new science of Nanotechnology offers significant improvements to aerodynamic performance.

Nanotechnology is defined as “The manipulation of matter at an atomic or molecular level.” The standard unit of measurement is the nanometre, which is defined as being one billionth of a metre. To put this into context, an atom of Helium measures about 0.1 nanometres!

Developments in this field have enabled the production of commercially available coatings designed to bond to a vehicle structure, forming a perfectly smooth coating which prevents the accumulation of dirt and debris and helps to shed water, and protect paintwork.

The process for applying the nano-emulsion is simple.

Firstly, the airframe is thoroughly cleaned, and then treated with an acidic solution which has the effect of positively polarising the surface. This enables the nano-emulsion to completely bond with the structure.

The final stage is applying the coating itself. Once cured, the coating is fully bonded to the surface.

The fully cured coating is extremely thin – 100 times thinner than a human hair, and the total weight of the treatment adds just four ounces (113g) to the weight of the aircraft.

It is estimated that a treated aircraft will return a fuel saving of somewhere between 1% and 2%!

A number of airlines have been quick to evaluate these products. In 2011, EasyJet, grasped the opportunity to run trials, and had eight of their aircraft treated with the nano coating.

A carrier such as EasyJet’s fuel bill will represent about 40% of its total costs, and be in the region of £750,000,000 ($1,185,000,000) per year. A 1.5% saving on this figure is a massive £11.25 Million per year. As fuel prices only ever go up, these figures are just a start.

There are also additional hidden savings, as treated aircraft will need washing and repainting less frequently.

Another significant saving may be made on the amount of green taxes incurred by the operator. In Europe, these taxes are quite high, and a drop in fuel burn results in a proportional reduction in greenhouse gases.

Recently, British Airways announced that they are conducting a trial on a Boeing B777-200, and is hoping to see cost saving in excess of £100,000 in the year long evaluation.

This technology is not just limited to aircraft operators. The coating is equally effective in a marine environment, and coating ship hulls will improve hydrodynamic qualities.

Road vehicles can also benefit from improvements to their aerodynamics and haulage operators with a large fleet may well be able to enjoy cost savings as well.

So our womenfolk were right all along. Smooth is essential!

Can Underpants Contribute to Sustainability?

My Mother always used to tell me when I was a child, that I must wear clean underwear every day. Her justification for this advice, was that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if I had an accident, and got taken to hospital. Strange logic, maybe, but I grew up with the healthy habit of wearing clean underwear every day.

 

This offers two benefits to society.

 

Firstly, it reduces the chances of body odour, and secondly, ensures that any bacteria and microbes that accumulate in the old under-crackers are reduced to a much lower level that they would be if one were to wear them for days on end.

 

Having said that, the wearing of clean underwear every day takes its toll on the environment.

 

A report conducted by Yates and Evans[1] found that 12% of domestic electricity demand, and 13% of mains freshwater demand in UK homes was for laundering.

 

Further reports suggest that an average washing machine will consume 17,160 litres of water per year, and given that the average household uses their machine 270 times per year, that’s a massive 63 litres every time the machine is used!

 

Apparently, according to the UK’s Daily Mirror[2], the average UK man owns 13 pairs of underpants in total, buys new pants once every six months spending an average of £20.75 a year on them. Interesting?  Maybe not, but stick with me…

 

Now the same article also goes on to explain that shockingly, 10% of my fellow men wear their shreddies for seven days before washing them. YUK! Un-hygienic for sure, and probably not likely to make you irresistible to the ladies!

 

Society is stuck on an unsustainable track – The garment industry manufactures clothing, we buy it, use it, wash it, use it, wear it out, throw it away, and then buy more, and so the cycle goes on.

 

Interestingly, the textile industry is one of the major contributors to pollution and the generation of CO2. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation the textile industry’s share of the carbon “budget” will increase from 2% in 2015, to 26% by 2050.

 

Manufacturing textiles is also greedy of other resources. In 2015, the manufacture of textiles consumed 98 million tonnes of oil. By 2050, this will have increased to 300 million tonnes, (always assuming there will be any left by then!)

 

A chilling by-product of manufacturing clothing, is the addition of an estimated 23 million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the world’s oceans.

 

We should be doing all that is possible to reduce the amount of new garments that are coming into existence.

 

I am not advocating that we extend the use of underpants creatively with a wearing pattern such as day one right side out, day two inside out, day three back to front etc., but there is a new alternative.

 

But there is hope.

 

Organic Basics is a Danish company that has been developing sustainable fashion, and designing clothing that impacts far less on the environment.

 

By using silver thread within the construction and weave of their range of pants and socks, they have extended the wear to wash interval hugely – and laundering a pair of pants just twice a month is now possible!

 

This is all down to the use of silver, which kills 99.9% of bacteria, and is used as an anti-bacterial filter by NASA in space travel.

 

The garments are made from 100% recycled materials most of which is recovered from post-industrial waste such as fibre, yarns and waste from weaving companies. Furthermore, they are fully approved by Bluesign, an organisation supporting a sustainable textile industry.

 

However, sustainability does come at a cost – in this case two pairs of men’s Silvertech® Boxers costs a whopping €56.00 (£48.56 as at 24/01/2019) so this may put them out of reach of many individuals.

 

There is light at the end of the tunnel though. A recent study by Nielsen showed that 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for ethically sourced and sustainable products. In the case of millennials, this rises to 73%.

 

So, the question remains –

 

Will my Mother’s advice still hold good?

[1] Dirtying Linen: Re-evaluating the Sustainability of Domestic Laundry (2016) University of Manchester (UK)

[2] Daily Mirror, 21/04/2016

Electric Taxi – A New Brand New Era in Green Aviation Practice

.Ask anyone in the street about pollution and noise, and most folk will immediately talk about the road transport industry, or, if like me, they live near a major airport, then they would probably refer to the airlines.

Over the last fifty years, air travel has opened up a whole new dimension to travellers. Whether travelling on business, or taking the family away, air travel enables people to reach some of the remotest parts of our planet.

During the early and mid parts of the 20th century, air travel was expensive, and only those travellers with access to a large amount of disposable wealth could afford to fly. 

This was in part caused by the relative lack of supporting infrastructure, but the size of aircraft was also a limiting factor.

The biggest direct operating cost for any airline is that of fuel, and the current smaller aeroplanes were unable to offer the economies of scale necessary to place flying within the reach of the average man. 

To put this into perspective, in the early 1960s, the workhorse of the sky was the Boeing B707, which had a seating capacity of about 140. 

On the 22nd January 1970 Pan Am introduced the very first Boeing 747-100 into service. This aeroplane changed the face of aviation forever.  With its massive seating capacity, of more than double that of the 707, the costs for air travel fell dramatically, and even the poorest backpacker could save enough money to make a transatlantic or transpacific flight.

Over the years, developments of the 747 have continued, and as an example, a British Airways 747-400 will carry 345 passengers over vast distances.

But there are always other factors.  The 1973 oil crisis made fuel costs escalate rapidly, and a number of airlines went out of business. Those that survived recognised the need for newer far more fuel efficient aircraft.

Aircraft manufacturers rose to the challenge, and many new aeroplane were developed, constructed from much lighter materials, including polymers and carbon fibre materials. 

Engine manufacturers have developed cleaner, quieter and far more fuel efficient engines, and new software driven control systems enable aircraft to fly far higher, out of the worst of the weather, and at altitudes where engines are even more frugal.

Sadly, this is still not enough.  The global energy crisis continues, and international concern with  climate change is driving fuel costs upwards.

Airlines are looking to save costs wherever they can.  Most airlines will defer operating the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) until shortly before boarding, and some airlines have established a policy that requires aircraft to be taxied with one engine shut down.

The economics of this are sound, and saving may be made.

According to Airbus Industrie an Airbus A320 fitted with CFM56 engines will burn 250kg of fuel conducting a twenty minute average taxi time. A single engine taxi of the same duration will burn a reduced amount of 190kg.

Using IATA fuel data, jet fuel (Jet A-1) costs £0.3613 per kilo so a single engine taxi will cost the operator £68.65.  Two engines £72.26. This is doubled effectively, as the aircraft also has to taxi in after landing, which again, will take an average of twenty minutes.

Throughout 2014 fuel prices fell by an average of 42.8%, so it is reasonable to assume that they could rise again by the same amount, giving taxi costs of between £98.03 and ££103.19. 

A very simple costing taking into account British Airways fleet of 105 Airbuses, assumes that each aircraft flies 5 sectors a day (5×2 taxies = 10 x 20 minutes x 105) that’s a massive 350 hours of taxiing. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 12.5kg/min = 262,500 kg = 262.50 tonnes!

Now the figures look very different. In the above example, fuel currently costs £361.25 per tonne.  

£94,828 to just taxi around the airfield. Remember this is just a single days operation for one short haul fleet. 

Operators will be very keen to both minimise taxi times, and to reduce costs as much as possible during taxiing.

Airbus have been working on a new self propelled taxying system for the Airbus A320 series, known as eTaxi.

This system utilises a powerful air cooled electric motor that drives the main landing gear wheels via a self contained gearbox.

Powered is provided by the APU generator. The eTaxi motor has sufficient power and torque to enable the aircraft to be reversed off the parking stand, and then taxied to the holding point for the departure runway. At this point, the engines may be started.

Naturally, current procedures and checklists would have to be amended and modified to reflect the use of eTaxi to ensure continuation of current ground movement safety.

The eTaxi system offers many benefits.  Airbus’s own studies have shown that even greater fuel savings may be made than by using single engine taxying. 

Using the AP/eTaxi and a single engine for taxying equates to a fuel burn of 140kg, and full electric taxying only 40kg for the same 20 minute taxy.  

 Using the same fleet data as before, the savings are considerable. 

350 hours x 60 = 21,000 minutes @ 2kg/min = kg = 42.00 tonnes!

With fuel in our example currently costing £361.25 per tonne, 42 tonnes costs £15,172.50, a massive daily saving of £79,655.50!

Naturally,  there is a weight penalty for the eTaxi equipment, consisting of motor, gearbox, wiring harness and software and control equipment, but Airbus Industrie quotes this as being about an extra 400kg, and over a 500nm sector, this would require an additional fuel burn of 16kg.

Overall the use of eTaxi with both engines shut down, and including a 5 minute engine warm up and a 3 minute engine cool down, will offer a trip fuel saving of about 3% on a typical A320 sector of 700nm. 

So, the airline accountants will be happy with the considerable direct financial savings.  However, there are many other associated benefits by using an eTaxi. 

During taxying operations, aircraft frequently have to stop, accelerate, turn and hold in position.  This places wear on the brakes, and incurs fuel penalties every time that the thrust levers are opened to recommence taxying.  

As eTaxi is a direct drive system, the normal wheel brakes become redundant, the braking being delivered through the gearbox itself.  

 Environmentally, eTaxi makes a lot of sense.  The use of clean electricity for ground movements will significantly reduce the amount of NOx (Nitrogen Oxides such as Nitric Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide) and CO (Carbon Monoxide) found in the local atmosphere.  Noise levels will also be significantly reduced. 

An additional benefit is a reduced exposure to the risk of the engine ingesting foreign objects, and extending the time between mandated engine inspections and checks.  

Bearing in mind that the biggest cost for an airline is fuel. Last year British Airways spent £3.5 Billion pounds on fuel. Most large national carriers will be spending about the same.  The figures are almost too large to contemplate. 

It would appear then, that any additional costs in retrofitting such devices to an existing fleet will pay for itself many times over, and any airline that specifies new deliveries without this option are potentially wasting millions.

Facts from Airbus Industrie publication FAST 51

Fuel costs from IATA Fuel cost analysis 2015

BA fleet data from http://www.ba.com

BA Fuel costs data from http://www.iag.com

Mark Charlwood©2015. Mark Charlwood is the owner of the intellectual property rights to this work. Unauthorised use is not permitted. If you want to use this article please contact me for permission. Thank you.