US to impose steel and aluminium tariffs
US President Donald Trump has announced his administration will impose 25% tariffs on imports of steel and 10% on aluminium in an effort to protect domestic steelworkers and to ensure a domestic industry for security reasons. Mr Trump made protectionism a pillar of his presidential campaign, but during his presidency to date has not acted a great deal on such measures – until now. The announcement was welcomed by domestic steel and aluminium producers (whose share prices rose), but criticised by other sectors in the economy, including auto-makers, who will be affected either by increased material costs or retaliation from trade partners. The foreign minister of Canada, which supplies the US with 16% of its steel demand, said that “Should restrictions be imposed on Canadian steel and aluminium products, Canada will take responsive measures to defend its trade interests and workers,” while the Brazilian industry ministry said it would also consider action. China and the EU would both said they would consider tariffs on US agricultural produce (even though the EU already imposes tariffs on steel imports from China, Ukraine, Russia, Brazil and Iran). The White House is yet to finalise the details of its plans, but will announce them early this month.
France imports large volumes of electricity to cope with cold snap
France has been forced to import large amounts of electricity from its neighbours, as the unusually cold weather in Europe increased demand for heating. France is the most electricity reliant country in Europe in terms of heating, with around a third of homes heated with electric radiators, and as Reuters reports, each extra degree the temperature drops, electricity demand increases by 2,400 MW. Last week, France was expecting to import 3,500 MW from Germany and Belgium, 2,300 MW from Spain and 1,500 MW from Switzerland, taking up around 7,000 MW of the estimated 9,500 MW available for purchase.
German researchers cast doubt on use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as means of achieving climate goals
An article in Nature magazine by German researchers has cast doubt on the scale at which bioenergy with carbon capture and storage could be deployed worldwide. The negative emissions technology involves burning biomass then capturing and storing the resulting CO2 geologically, and is seen as one means by which the world may avert the worst of climate change, but the research has found that large-scale deployment would lead to grave problems with freshwater availability along with problems regarding land use, biodiversity and fertilizer use. The researchers developed a model which excluded the use of lands currently being used for food or feed production, then examined the impacts of BECCS on five ‘planetary boundaries’ – climate change and biosphere integrity, land-system change, biogeochemical flows and freshwater use (of which all but freshwater use have already been ‘transgressed’). The model showed that less than 0.1 gigatonnes of CO2 per year could be reduced from the atmosphere per year without pushing the planetary boundaries for biosphere integrity, land-system change, biogeochemical flows and freshwater use into a state outside of their uncertainty ranges. This amount is well below the 0.6-4.1 gigatonnes per year projected to be required by mid-century; however, the researchers acknowledge that better quantification of planetary boundaries, or use of residues rather than the woody or herbaceous biomass plantations assumed, may alter the picture to some extent.
Graphene not yet living up to its promise
The Financial Times has run an interesting article on how the sheen appears to be coming off graphene. The relatively new material promised to be stronger than steel while being light and flexible, as well as conductive, and was described as a ‘wonder material’ capable of ushering in something of a new industrial revolution. In the power industry, one tested application was as a coating on condensers to improve their thermal efficiency, with the potential to increase overall plant efficiency by a substantial 2-3%. The problem is that the material is proving reluctant to bond to others, and although some commercial applications have been found (for instance in sunglasses, fishing rods, bicycle tyres and some inks), the Financial Time’s survey of a handful of graphene-based companies shows that most have seen their share price drop substantially since launching. The future is therefore looking somewhat doubtful for graphene, though it may be that some additional breakthrough may revive the wonder, or that expectations in regards to timeframes have been too high, as an entertaining article in the New Yorker points out.
Mitsubishi Hitachi wins its largest ever turbine order by capacity
Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems has won a huge contract to supply eight turbines for two combined cycle gas-fired power plants to be built in near Bangkok in Thailand. The plants are being constructed under a joint venture between Japan’s Mitsui & Co and Thailand’s Gulf Energy Development Public Company Limited, and the Japanese connection may have been an influence in Mitsubishi Hitachi receiving the contract, though more influential might have been the expected final plant efficiency of 63%. The company itself credited its win to the high environmental performance of its equipment (which of course is strongly related to efficiency). The two plants are to have a combined generation capacity of 5,300 MW, each having four units, and the order is the largest in Mitsubishi Hitachi’s history in terms of capacity. The contract value is US$918 million (€753 million).
British company Oracle Energy wins permission to build coal-fired plant in Pakistan
Oracle Energy, a UK-based company, has received approval to build a 700 MW coal-fired power plant in Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province, and is to partner with Chinese state-owned companies Sichuan Provincial Investment Group and PowerChina International Group to build it, provided the Chinese companies decide to go ahead. The project will be the first half of a large 1,400 MW project which will power a coal mine in the Thar Desert coal field. Presumably, this will enable more coal to be mined for domestic consumption for residential and industrial use.
Former Tata Steel arc furnace in South Yorkshire to restart under new owners
Last month saw the restart of an arc furnace in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, UK, which had been bought by Liberty House from Tata Steel in 2017. Tata made the sale after enduring very low steel prices for a prolonged period, brought about by a lack of demand and a surfeit of cheap supply, mostly from China. Since then, however, prices have risen somewhat again, helped by an EU crackdown on ‘Chinese dumping’ (as referenced in the opening story), giving the incentive for the restart of the Rotherham plant. Sanjeev Gupta, the CEO of Liberty House, told the Financial Times “The occasion makes a very powerful statement that steel does have a future in Britain and that is very good news for the whole of our manufacturing and engineering sector.” Many in Britain will be hoping this proves true.
Praxair and Linde to sell a range of assets to smooth regulatory path to merger
Praxair Inc and Linde AG, the industrial gas companies, are looking to sell some of their European and North American assets in order to gain regulatory approval (both in the US and in Europe) for their reported US$52 billion (€42 billion) merger. Linde is the world’s largest industrial gas company by revenue, and Praxiar third, and the two companies have been in merger discussions since August 2016. In order to satisfy anti-competition regulators, the two companies believe they will need to sell assets valued up to US$8 billion (€6.5 billion), although it is not a given that regulators will accept this. Various bidders have already expressed an interest, including Air Liquide, Air Products & Chemicals, Messer Group, and Taiyo Nippon Sanso Group, as well as some private equity companies. Such a range of buyers is good news for Praxair and Linde, who have given themselves until October to achieve regulatory approval.
Australian power company AGL to upgrade Bayswater plant turbines
Australian power producer AGL has announced plans to upgrade its coal-fired Bayswater Power Station, in the state of New South Wales, by replacing the turbines and associated equipment in a AUD$200 million (US$156 million/€127 million) project. Bayswater became fully operational in 1986 and has four 660 MW units; with the new Toshiba turbines, AGL hopes to squeeze 100 MW more from the station, a 3.8% efficiency increase. The company was at pains to stress that greenhouse gas emissions would not rise as a result of the project, AGL having positioned itself as more of a clean-energy company, making headlines last year in its rejection of the federal government’s request that it extend the life of another of its coal-fired plants, Liddell, which is due to close in 2022. The upgrade to Bayswater is expected to take place between 2019 and 2022 if approved by the NSW government. In September last year, the Australian Energy Market Operator released a report which stated that coal-fired power plant closures were creating “increasing and unacceptable risk that there will be insufficient capability in the system”, but an increase of 100 MW is unlikely to do much to reduce that risk.
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