Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

Electric cars becoming a reality?

Shortly before Christmas a colleague of mine photographed a busy electric charging point in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Hooked up to the charging point are a Chevy Volt (Opel Ampera in the EU) and a Fisker Karma. Many such charging poles have appeared in London in recent years but I have yet to see anything approaching a “real car” actually using them. On the rare occasion that a charging pole is being used the vehicle is typically the “golf buggy” style electric car, such as the G-Wiz. But if this picture is any indication of a trend, something is certainly happening in the Netherlands.

I did find some data on electric car uptake in the Netherlands on another blog site. As of September, there were some 5000 registered vehicles. But the originator of that data now shows nearly 7000 vehicles by the end of November. This is a growth rate of about 10% per month!!

The Energy Mix

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) held its annual company delegate conference in Switzerland this week. For the WBCSD Energy and Climate team the event marked the launch of the latest WBCSD publication “The Energy Mix”. This is a document that started life back in the middle of last year, originally as a response to the reaction from a number of governments to the events in Fukushima. The initial aim was to inform policy makers on the implication of sudden changes in energy policy, such as the decision by the German government to rapidly phase out the use of nuclear power. But as the work got going, the document took on a number of additional dimensions. Many have been covered in previous postings on this blog, but the document does a nice job of bringing a lot of information together in a crisp fold-out brochure format (at the moment the PDF is in regular page format, so the fold-out aspect is rather lost through this medium).

Sitting behind this effort is the WBCSD Vision 2050 work which charts the necessary pathway to a world in 2050 which sees “Nine billion people living well within the means of one planet”. A number of key themes are explored in “The Energy Mix” brochure:

  1. The risk of carbon lock-in, in other words current and “on the drawing board” infrastructure and related emissions being sufficient to consume the remaining global carbon budget (related to a 2°C temperature goal) within the normal remaining lifespan of those assets.
  2. The need for clear energy policy framework to guide the necessary changes over the coming decades.
  3. The importance of carbon pricing within that framework.

The document uses some fifteen vignettes to illustrate a variety of points. For example, to illustrate a) that policy can make a difference and b) it takes a long time, but c) its still very hard to reduce emissions by a big amount, take the case of France. Back in the 1970s the government intervened in the energy system and have progressively forced the construction of substantial nuclear capacity and a national high speed rail network, operating in combination with (like the rest of the EU) high transport fuel taxes. While these measures were not originally intended to reduce CO2 emissions, they are nevertheless compatible with such a goal and could just as easily be the route forward for a country. France now gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear and has one of the best rail systems in the world, yet emissions have only fallen by 28% in 40 years. Economic growth and population growth continue to eat into the gains made, which might argue for yet further measures in the longer term. However, French emissions on a CO2/GDP basis are about 60% less than in the USA. With a very low CO2 per kWh for power generation, France would be in an excellent position to further decarbonize if electric cars entered the vehicle population in significant numbers. Interestingly, the car company with perhaps the worlds most progressive electric vehicle production programme also happens to be French. 

 The key message on the required policy framework is a pretty simple one – cover the key sectors and focus on the elements of the technology development pathway (Discover, Develop, Demonstrate, Deploy). The resulting grid looks like this:

 Filling in the boxes results in something that looks like this:

The framework shouldn’t be a big surprise, many of the elements are alive in the EU (but not so well in all cases- such as the carbon price).

The new WBCSD Energy Mix document can be downloaded here.

Where to now for aviation?

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Last week’s first commercial flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner potentially marks the beginning of a new era for the aviation industry. Its composite construction and 20% better fuel efficiency (than the 767) continues a long term trend of improvement by Boeing. But the numbers behind this essential global industry are daunting, albeit with impressive strides forward such as the 787.

Revenue Passenger Kilometres (RPK) have more than doubled since 1990 and the Boeing Current Market Outlook for the period 2011 to 2030 has RPK growth rates surging ahead in many parts of the world at well over 5% p.a. such that by 2030 RPK in the Asia Pacific area alone is nearly 4 trillion. Globally, 2030 traffic is forecast to be about triple that of today.

Total CO2 emissions (Source: IEA) have risen as well, but since 1990 the growth has been “only” 50%, compared with the more than doubling of activity. This points to the impressive jumps in fuel efficiency, with the Dreamliner delivering yet again.

The chart above gives an indication of the improvements achieved by plane type. I wasn’t able to locate actual efficiency figures, so the chart has been derived from the fuel capacity, passenger carrying capacity and range of various aircraft plotted against the year of release for the aircraft in question. Clearly the trend has been strongly down, starting with the Boeing 707 in the 1950s. But how much further can this impressive trend extend? Airlines are also pressing hard to increase efficiency of their legacy fleets by taking steps such as reducing weight, incentivizing passengers to do the same with their baggage, optimizing schedules and pushing air traffic control and airports to improve landing, takeoff and taxiing procedures.

But if air traffic is to triple in just 20 years, efficiency will have to jump by even more than it has to date to deliver any sort of sustainable service. Increasing Kerosene (Jet A1) demand will not only put pressure on crude oil demand, but will also pressure the yield of kerosene from the barrel. This will require refiners to become more inventive in the processing of crude oil and could well point to even higher energy demand by refineries to make more transport fuel from the barrels of crude available. It may also point to an even faster turnover of the fleet as airlines scramble to upgrade to the next generation of fuel efficient aircraft – planes such as the 787 Dreamliner, A380 and upcoming A350 series from Airbus.

Many airlines are now starting to experiment with biofuels and new production processes such as Fischer-Tropsch based Gas-to-Liquids with its high kerosene yields will add to the aviation fuel pool. But revolutionary step change airframes that might make up a future Boeing 800 or Airbus 400 series are unlikely to impact this 20 year picture, they just won’t be here in time or in sufficient numbers to make a difference (the Dreamliner was first mooted in the late 1990s). The2030 die is now largely cast with what we have and know about.

The challenge of an absolute reduction in CO2 emissions from aviation is also an unlikely prospect given the above figures. Yet by 2030 global emissions need to have peaked and be showing real falls. Although aviation may well continue to show impressive efficiency improvements and could have introduced biofuels into the mix by 2030, sheer demand will probably mean a rise in emissions. This then puts more pressure on other sectors to reduce, such as power generation and road transport.

Given that the US Administration has lodged a commitment with the UNFCCC to reduce US emissions by 17% by 2020 (relative to 2005), the question remains as to how this might be accomplished. Clearly there is no overall national plan or legislative approach, which therefore means the Administration is largely relying on a range of existing serendipitious (from a CO2 perspective) policies, state action such as in California and possibly some good fortune (e.g. the dash to gas now taking place as shale gas production increases) to achieve the goal. In a recent post prompted by the remarks of the US Ambassador to Australia that it was “absolutely realistic” to believe the US would meet its target, I estimated that it was theoretically possible for this to be true, based primarily on natural gas backing out coal in the power generation sector and revised CAFE standards reducing consumer gasoline demand. 

Since then the Administration has reached agreement with the vehicle manufacturers on even tougher CAFE standards, as announced at the end of July.

 JULY 29th 2011, WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama today announced a historic agreement with thirteen major automakers to pursue the next phase in the Administration’s national vehicle program, increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. The President was joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo – which together account for over 90% of all vehicles sold in the United States – as well as the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the State of California, who were integral to developing this agreement.

This therefore seemed like a good opportunity to do a bit more analysis of the third green bar on the diagram above which represents the potential drop in CO2 emissions in the transport sector. The focus below will only be  on cars and light trucks (i.e. largely households and small businesses), but of course further opportunity also exists with the recently announced proposal for trucks.

August 9th, 2011 Bloomberg – U.S. truck makers will improve tractor-trailer fuel economy by about 20 percent by 2018, saving $50 billion in fuel costs over five years and decreasing carbon- dioxide emissions, President Barack Obama said. The administration’s plan – the first attempt to regulate the efficiency of heavy-duty trucks, including city buses and garbage trucks — will save 530 million barrels of oil, according to a statement from the White House today.

Our model assumes the rigid application of the new CAFE standards through to 2025, but based on the EPA “Window Sticker” numbers which more closely reflect what a given vehicle might actually achieve when in service. For example, instead of using the CAFE standard for cars in 2025 which ranges between 46 and 61 mpg, we used 38.5 mpg and similarly for light trucks (30 mpg vs. CAFE range of 30-50 mpg). We have also assumed a total fleet growth over the period 2010 to 2025 from some 250 million to nearly 300 million vehicles, but have kept miles driven per vehicle a constant at just over 11,500 per annum. The model scraps at the oldest (and least efficient) end of the fleet and starts from 1990 where we assumed a homogenous fleet. The model does not currently include biofuels or the impact of electrification, so this is purely the impact of CAFE on a standalone basis.

Starting in 2009 with total fleet CO2 emissions at 100, the model shows that by 2020 emissions have fallen to 85, and then 75 by 2025. Our calculated fleet emissions for 2009 are 1.21 billion tonnes CO2 (vs. IEA 1.45 billion tonnes for all road transport, including trucks and buses, in 2008), so this change represents a reduction by 2020 of 180 million tonnes of CO2 per annum against a US total GHG emissions of some six billion tonnes per annum in 2005.

This matches well with the original assumptions in the chart above. As noted in the original post, this is an important contribution to US emission reduction efforts between now and 2020.

Thanks to my colleague Alex Ratcliffe for developing the supporting spreadsheet.

Could California suffer the EU-ETS problem?

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As I have noted in recent posts, the EU Emissions Trading System is suffering a decline in fortune. The price has been relatively low since the onset of the financial crisis, driven in part by a decline in industrial activity linked to the recession, but also to continuous overlaying of policy by both Member States and the Commission. Examples of the latter include the UK price floor proposal and the draft Energy Efficiency Directive from the Commission.

The next cab out of the ETS rank looks to be the California cap-and-trade system. Recently Point Carbon reported that:

 “California carbon allowances (CCAs) for 2013 delivery were bid at $16.75/t this week [NB: About 2-3 weeks ago] on news that companies would not have to surrender allowances to cover their 2012 emissions, market participants said.”

California emissions in 2008 (the last full GHG inventory) were as follows:

The total is 427 million tonnes against an allowance allocation in 2020 of 334 million tonnes. At least on first inspection there appears to be the necessary scarcity to ensure a robust carbon price

But California also has multiple policy approaches which operate in the same space as the cap-and-trade system. For example, by 2020 California is required to supply 33% of its electricity from renewable sources. In the transport sector, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires a 10% reduction in the carbon footprint of transport fuels by 2020, achieved through electrification, changes in the well-to-tank emissions of the fuel (e.g. through lowering refinery emissions) and substitution of gasoline with alternatives such as ethanol.

Many scenarios could play out here and the level of nuclear power will be critical, but these two policies alone could see emissions drop to 360-370 MT by 2020, removing much of the scarcity driving the carbon market.

Since the election of Governor Brown there is already talk of an even higher renewable energy requirement and there are other existing policies as well (Renewable Portfolio Standard, various energy efficiency standards, CHP requirements, vehicle efficiency measures).  In addition, what is not factored in here is California’s share of the overall drop in US emissions since 2008 as a result of the recession. But on the upside, at least from a carbon market perspective, is the compression of the whole trading period by one year as a result of the delay in implementation.

A back of the envelope analysis today indicates that the California system probably won’t see an allowance surplus through to 2020, nevertheless much of the apparent scarcity is removed by multiple policies operating within the cap-and-trade space. This means that the carbon market becomes a shorter term compliance mechanism rather than a longer term investment driver. It functions only as a check on the other policies.

Rather, investment is driven by mandates and standards on the back of a specific, predetermined design outcome for California’s future energy system – almost certainly a higher cost solution for the energy consumer, but with the same environmental outcome as the cap-and-trade would deliver if left to function on its own.

An electric Hummer in London – sort of!!

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Saturday afternoon in Bond Street is a great place to see all manner of Aston Martins, Maybachs, Lamborghinis and just possibly a Bugatti Veyron. But the car that was turning heads last Saturday was a downsized electric Hummer. In fairness this isn’t quite a car, the website refers to it as the MEV HUMMER HX™ , the only proportionally correct licensed resort vehicle on the market. But it was still turning heads.

100% Renewables in my Lifetime

Very recently WWF released a new report which argues the case for a near 100% renewable energy system by 2050 (I remain optimistic with regards my longevity) as a solution to the environmental issues and resource depletion associated with the current energy mix. This would also eliminate the need for a shift to nuclear and the use of CCS as potential means to reduce emissions. The report is supported by an analysis produced by Ecofys, a Dutch consultancy focusing on sustainable energy solutions.

A paper along similar lines by researchers based at Stanford and the University of California, Davis, was given media coverage in Wired Magazine on almost the same day. This paper looks at the feasibility of a renewable energy end-state, rather than tackling the timeline in which it could be implemented. A key focus of the paper is the grid interconnection required to support such an energy system. In the abstract the authors state;

. . . we discuss methods of addressing the variability of WWS [wind, water, sun] energy to ensure that power supply reliably matches demand (including interconnecting geographically dispersed resources, using hydroelectricity, using demand-response management, storing electric power on site, over-sizing peak generation capacity and producing hydrogen with the excess, storing electric power in vehicle batteries, and forecasting weather to project energy supplies), the economics of WWS generation and transmission, the economics of WWS use in transportation, and policy measures needed to enhance the viability of a WWS system. We find that the cost of energy in a 100% WWS will be similar to the cost today. We conclude that barriers to a 100% conversion to WWS power worldwide are primarily social and political, not technological or even economic.

Assuming that such an outcome is achievable (and I imagine that many would contest this, but not here, not now), then the real focus has to be on the timeline.

In a 2009 post I explored the impact of a “trillion tonne” carbon budget on the energy system. Today (mid-February 2011), according to the researchers who put forward the idea, we have consumed some 545 million tonnes of the budget. With emissions today from fossil fuel use, cement production and land use change running at some 10 billion tonnes carbon per annum and including a global plateau in emissions for the next 10 years before reductions really start in earnest, society would have to reduce this to zero by 2090 to come in on a trillion tonne budget, assuming a linear decline. To have a 75% chance of keeping within a 2°C temperature rise, the budget drops to 750 billion tonnes (from a trillion) and the end date becomes 2041. In the latter case, a 2050 goal becomes very important.

But 2050 presents an immensely challenging timeline to transform the global energy system. For example in 2005, for a World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) publication called Facts and Trends to 2050, I developed a simple model to illustrate the rate at which alternative fuel vehicles would have to be developed and deployed to completely replace the global fleet by 2050. WWF/Ecofys have done this by shifting to an all-electric fleet in their study. We assumed the availability of a zero emissions vehicle from 2010, with 200,000 units produced in that year and growing at 20% per annum thereafter until all production globally is switched. That doesn’t occur until about 2040, with full substitution on the road being a 2055-2060 outcome. But it is now 2011 and although there is a potentially viable electric vehicle (the Nissan Leaf) available, production this year is set for a maximum of 4,000 units per month. We need five Nissan Leaf type production lines this year and adding 2 per annum through to 2015, then 3 per annum and so on to get to 30 major production lines by 2020 and 200 by 2030.

 

 The power sector will be equally challenging, but there is some room for optimism. The WWF / Ecofys report has global wind energy rising from 1.2 EJ/annum in delivered power in 2010 to 7.2 EJ/annum by 2020 and 15.6 EJ/annum by 2030. This means some 80,000 5 MW turbines will have to be added globally over the next 10 years, or about 40 GW per annum. According to the World Wind Energy Association, global capacity rose by nearly 40 GW in 2010. But as noted in the Stanford paper, grid development must match this as the interconnection requirements to overcome the problems of intermittency and supply / demand balance, especially in a world without fossil fuel backup, becomes essential. Storage development and deployment also becomes paramount as renewable energy use grows, yet this technology remains in its infancy, at least on a large scale. As noted in a December 2009 post, development and deployment of a new technology is a multi-decade effort and there is almost no evidence in history that gives confidence this can be otherwise. Many sectors of industry are supporting major effort to get CCS up and running, yet after 10 years of effort only a handful of modest projects exist globally and there is no single example of what is actually needed, a large scale CCS project linked with coal fired power generation.

A further major feature of the WWF report is the assumption that energy use peaks in 2020 then falls back to below 2000 levels by 2050, all while 9 billion people enjoy access to energy and an increasingly comfortable lifestyle. This is delivered through a massive improvement in energy efficiency in every sector of the global economy – one that far outstrips current year on year improvements. Not only will strict efficiency mandates be required, but society will also have to avoid the inevitable rebound effect (Jevons Paradox) that is bound to happen in many sectors that become super efficient.

As the report notes, all this requires a comprehensive global policy framework with high carbon prices, significant support for technology development, tough building codes, efficiency mandates and so on. The EU is perhaps the most developed in this regard, but the policy framework in place today has taken 10 years to implement and is not fully functional. With a carbon price at €15 its effectiveness is also being questioned. Gaps remain as well. Internationally, the Kyoto Protocol was agreed nearly 15 years ago with a framework that positively encourages carbon markets, a price on carbon and carbon price incentive instruments to help developing countries get going. Yet it is clearly faltering and almost certainly won’t be built on, rather, a more national based architecture is emerging. But allowing that to bed down over a further 15 years isn’t conducive to a 30-40 year timeline to actually complete the whole job.

The WWF / Ecofys report outlines a particular pathway forward for addressing global emissions – there are certainly many others. But all will require a focus on policy and social change that collectively we are not even close to reaching.

So much is now written about electric car development and particularly the push in China for this mode of transport that I now have expectations of seeing something on the street, but the reality is different.

Such is the story in Shanghai, where I am attending the Annual Council Meeting of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). This is a remarkable city, with a Maglev train that travels at 431 km/hour to and from the airport (sadly only at 300 km/hour in off-peak times when I happened to use it), vast (and somewhat empty) highways, a first rate underground transit system and an almost brand new financial centre, built around the third tallest building in the world. But no electric cars (that I saw).

Nevertheless, electricity is making inroads into the personal transport system. Electric motorbikes are everywhere and appear to be in the majority when compared to conventional gasoline motor bikes. A simpler and presumably cheaper version of this is the electric assisted pedal bike. These are all eerily silent vehicles, gliding along the road at modest speed. The only warning the pedestrian gets is the horn or, somewhat too late, the sound of rubber on bitumen rolling along.

An extensive report on the scale of the industry and the technology behind these vehicles has been produced by Argonne National Laboratory in the United States. Key findings of the 2009 report are as follows:

  • In 2006, 20 million E-bikes were made in China. At present, China has 50 million battery-operated bicycles on the road, of which a very small percentage operate on Li-ion batteries. The rest of them use lead acid batteries. In China, about 2,500 companies produce electric two- or three-wheeled vehicles. All of the large companies producing electric vehicles (EVs) have E-bike models that are powered by Li-ion batteries, but the performance-to-price ratio for those E-bikes is still not compatible with that for E-bikes powered by lead acid batteries.
  • There are 10,000 enterprises, both large and small, involved in the Chinese national production of electric bikes. Small and mid-sized companies accounted for 35% of total national bike production in 2007. Most of the E-bikes use lead acid batteries, yet in 2007, the entire industrial production of Li-ion batteries for electric bicycles had surpassed 100,000 ETWs. In 2007, China exported about 395,000 electric bicycles; exports to Japan, the United States, and the European Union (EU) numbered 203,300, which was 58% of production.
  • As an example, Shenzhen BAK Battery Co., Ltd. (BAK), produces 600,000 cells per day for cell phones, 150,000 cells (18650 type) per day for notebooks, and 20,000 polymer Li-ion battery cells per day for electric vehicles and electric bikes. Li-ion power batteries for E-bikes are still in the research stage; these batteries use four 2.5-A•h cells in parallel and then 11 cells in series to make a 10-A•h, 36-V battery pack. The range is 45–50 km per charge. BAK has patents for protective boards for the Li-ion battery pack. The positive material is LiFePO4.

What is visibly missing is the conventional bicycle (but there are some), once the primary mode of transport in China. I assume that as Chinese city centres have deurbanized to make way for office and industrial developments and urbanization has moved further out, the distances involved for daily transit of the population have defeated cyclists.

Meanwhile, all that is seemingly missing in Shanghai is appearing in London, of all places. With inner-London boroughs reurbanizing, bicycles are back in force, recently further supported by the city bikes provided by London Transport. Electric cars are just starting to appear and recharging infrastructure can be found in a few inner city streets and in some shopping mall carparks. I recently even rode on a trial electric bus service from Paddington Station to Bank, provided as an extension of the Heathrow Express rail service.

What to do with sulphur?

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I was fortunate to be invited to attend CIGI 10 just outside Toronto, Canada. The annual “deep dive” policy discussion is held by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a policy think-tank founded by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion (a.k.a. Blackberry) and this year the focus was the global governance around the climate. While there was much discussion on bilateral vs. multilateral, UNFCCC or G20 and so on, one particular discussion focused on the role of sulphur in the atmosphere.

The discussion started with the current reality of sulphur being artificially pumped into the troposphere through the worldwide use of High Sulphur Fuel Oil (HSFO) in ships (and of course from other sources such as coal fired power stations not fitted with scrubbers). The combustion of this fuel powers much of the worlds ocean going fleet and the sulphur leaves the ship through the funnel. HSFO contains some 3.5% sulphur, so a modern container ship travelling from Shanghai to Southampton via the Suez Canal will eject about 30 tonnes of sulphur into the atmosphere, along with some 3,000 tonnes of CO2. The CO2 of course adds to the growing accumulation of this gas in the atmosphere, but the sulphur remains in the atmosphere for just a few weeks in aerosol form before dropping out. Nevertheless, as a result of all the marine activity and other sources of sulphur, there is a net suspension of sulphur in the atmosphere above us. The result of this is that it cools the atmosphere by scattering incoming radiation, offsetting some of the warming impact of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

But sulphur also has a negative effect in terms of local and regional air quality so the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has moved to limit sulphur in marine fuel. A recent analysis by Winebrake et al (2009) discusses the climate impact of the marine fuel sulphur specification reducing to 0.5% globally – a potential end goal of the current IMO limits. Whereas the global annual average cooling effect of shipping is currently some -0.6 W/m2 (compared to the current additional radiative forcing from post-industrial CO2 now approaching 2 W/m2), this is shown to reduce to -0.3 W/m2 in the case of a global 0.5% sulphur specification – in other words, another 0.3 W/m2 of warming.

But this was just the start of the discussion. The real issue was the potential role of sulphur in deliberately managing the global temperature – a practice more commonly referred to as geoengineering. Trying to do this at sea level and injecting sulphur into the troposphere has far less impact than doing the same in the stratosphere. For the same amount of surface cooling, approximately one twentieth the amount of sulphur is required at 25,000 metres because the half-life of the aerosol suspension is some 18 months at that height, rather than just the few weeks seen in the low atmosphere.

An indicative calculation has shown that a fleet of 150 aircraft injecting sulphur into the stratosphere on a continuous basis could potentially offset the warming associated with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. The cost of this is estimated to be no more than $10 billion per annum and perhaps quite a bit less.

So began the real debate – the implications of being able to manage atmospheric warming for an amount so small that even some individuals could undertake the experiment, or perhaps a group such as the small island states in defense of their territory. For major emitters this would be a paltry sum, far less than some of the direct mitigation options. But if such a practice were undertaken, what then for the global endeavors to reduce emissions? Would we just give up trying? And while some amount of cooling might be achieved, phenomena such as ocean acidification would continue. Who should decide on such weighty issues and what if one nation or group of nations decided to conduct the practice unilaterally? One participant asked if the practice might even be in breach of Article 2 of the Framework Convention.

In the short time we had there was of course no resolution to the issues raised, but it was suggested that a global aerosol management framework was as important to the climate discussions as the greenhouse gas framework slowly being formulated or the CFC framework that exists under the Montreal Protocol. But no such framework is seriously under discussion. I won’t be so bold as to suggest answers to the questions raised, or even to attempt to list the dozens of other ethical and moral questions raised by this topic. But it certainly did provide a lively start to the Sunday morning portion of the conference!

Food for thought

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Sitting on a beach in Italy with my family leads to all sorts of bizarre conversational directions. My 15 year old son and I were filling some time by challenging each other to estimate things based on scant information and assumptions. Having just figured out that the volume of the ocean was some 1.4×10^21 litres (we were surprisingly close as it turned out) we turned our attention to the number of boxes of Cornflakes sold in the UK each week (yes, this is going somewhere).

Assuming a population of some 60 million of whom 60% eat breakfast cereal and of those 10% eat Cornflakes, we ended up with 3.6 million servings a day. If an average box lasts 10 days then that comes to some 2.5 million boxes per week.

The next challenge was to estimate how much energy is used in just moving Cornflakes from the point of production to the point of purchase in the UK. We started by assuming that an average distribution truck (accounting for both big supermarket and smaller shop distribution) would have a capacity of 4 x 2 x 2 metres or 16 m3. If a box is 40 x 25 x 7 cms or 7000 cm3 then a truck could carry about 2000 boxes. That means 1200 truck loads of Cornflakes per week.

We then assumed that on average a purchase point is no more than 100 miles from a production point so that the average box of Cornflakes travels 50 miles at a minimum (I suspect it may be somewhat higher than this). If an average truck gets 10 miles per gallon then moving Cornflakes in the UK consumes 6000 gallons of fuel per week or about 150 barrels of oil (about 10p for each customer per year). That adds up to some 8000 barrels per annum which in turn adds nearly 3000 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

None of this may sound much, but don’t forget that we are just moving Cornflakes (no other cereal) from the point of production to the point of purchase in the UK only ! One tiny aspect of our lives.

Food for thought !