How we can turn plastic waste into green energy

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Anh Phan, Newcastle University

In the adventure classic Back to the Future, Emmett “Doc” Brown uses energy generated from rubbish to power his DeLorean time machine. But while a time machine may still be some way off, the prospect of using rubbish for fuel isn’t too far from reality. Plastics, in particular, contain mainly carbon and hydrogen, with similar energy content to conventional fuels such as diesel.

Plastics are among the most valuable waste materials – although with the way people discard them, you probably wouldn’t know it. It’s possible to convert all plastics directly into useful forms of energy and chemicals for industry, using a process called “cold plasma pyrolysis”.

Pyrolysis is a method of heating, which decomposes organic materials at temperatures between 400℃ and 650℃, in an environment with limited oxygen. Pyrolysis is normally used to generate energy in the form of heat, electricity or fuels, but it could be even more beneficial if cold plasma was incorporated into the process, to help recover other chemicals and materials. Continue reading

CMA appeal rulings show regulation of electricity market is changing for the better

Professor Phil Taylor, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, considers the impact of the recent ruling by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the Northern Powergrid appeal against Ofgem’s 2015-2023 electricity distribution price control. 

A new era of regulation has dawned in the energy market, following the recent CMA ruling on appeals against Ofgem’s recent price controls. The Northern Powergrid appeal is the first time a distribution network operator has appealed a judgement by Ofgem, and the CMA ruling is hugely significant. From now on, network operators and suppliers will feel more able to challenge the regulator to justify its decisions and demonstrate a strong evidence base for the approach it takes.

What is more, the judgement also demonstrates the need for a technically competent regulator. The ground for complaint that was upheld by the CMA, relates to Ofgem’s calculations of the potential savings available to Northern Powergrid and other distribution network operators through the use of smart grids and other technological innovations. At present, this remains something that is not well understood outside academia.

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Sir Joseph Swan: A Pioneer Ahead of His Time

Tuesday 27 May 2014 marks the centenary of Sir Joseph Swan’s death. The inventor, pioneer and scientist was an icon of the North East, and his outstanding contribution to modern technology is still relevant today.

To celebrate the occasion, a special exhibition, ‘Sir Joseph Wilson Swan: a shining light of his time’, organised jointly between Newcastle University and the National Trust, on Swan’s life and legacy will open at Cragside House and Gardens and will run until  2 November.

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Sustainable Retrofitting – the Passivhaus way (Part 2)

Dr Jennifer Hazelton, a Research Co-ordinator in Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) at Newcastle University, recently stayed in a Passivhaus bed and breakfast. In the second post of a two part series, she speaks to the owners, Adam Dadeby and Erica Aslett, about their experience of the renovation process.

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Sustainable Retrofitting – the Passivhaus way (Part 1)

Dr Jennifer Hazelton, a Research Co-ordinator in Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability (NIReS) at Newcastle University, recently stayed in a Passivhaus bed and breakfast. In the first post of a two part series, she speaks to the owners, Adam Dadeby and Erica Aslett, about their experience of the renovation process.

Continue reading