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Green business awards launched in Zimbabwe

Posted on 14 May 2013 by Wallace Mawire

Zimbabwe anticipates to ignite its green economic revolution with the recent launch of the green business awards expected to be presented to outstanding winners in November 2013, according to Sebastian Zuze, Chairman of the awards. The awards recently launched in Harare under the theme:Greening the economy for sustainable national prosperity are an initiative of Xhib-it Events company and are meant to celebrate excellence in green practice,strategy and products, complimenting the Ministry of Environment’s efforts on greening the economy.They seek to recognize the most innovative,ambitious and effective initiatives by Zimbabwean business and individuals for achieving environmental sustainability and implementing smart business practice.

Launching the award, Zuze said going green is the idea of making sure that in any activity that is conducted by individuals,communities and business,the environmental impacts are assessed and minimized to ensure sustainability.

He added that the effects of not managing the environment include loss of bio-diversity and long term damage to ecosystems,pollution of the atmosphere and the consequences of climate change,damage to aquatic ecosystems,land degradation,the impacts of chemicals use and disposal,waste production and depletion of non-renewable resources.

“On the other hand, good environmental practice ensures increased productivity in our factories,reduction of waste, improved efficiencies,enhanced national image,better utilization of resources and development of environmentally friendly technologies,” Zuze said.   Through the awards, Zimbabwe seeks to explore various approaches to attain sustainable growth in the global market place.

“Goals for the awards are simple, but bold, to fill heads with practical knowledge,ideas,new trends,helping transform business as usual by partnering with extraordinary visionaries,forward thinkers,creative industry leaders and companies committed to building profitable and sustainable enterprises while solving some of the world’s toughest problems,” Zuze said.

Some of the award categories include;the overall green business award,the green leader award,the green entrepreneur award,the green supply chain award,the green building award,the green residential building award,the green energy award,the green professional services award,the green travel initiatives award,the waste to business resource award,the green retailer award,the green school/college award,the green SME award,the green manufacturer award,the green product award,the green innovation award,the green local council award,the green community award,the green healthcare award,the green entertainment and leisure award,the green communications award, the green financial institution award,the green corporate citizen award, the Minister of Environment’s award for environmental excellence, the minister of tourism’s award for eco-tourism excellence and the ministry of mines green mining award of excellence.

Awards chairman Zuze says many factors are impacting on local, regional and international trade.”Managing the environmental impact of manufacturing,mining and the activities involved during the provision of services to markets is assuming significance of enormous proportions especially in Zimbabwe,” Zuze said.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhema said threats to the environment in Zimbabwe are arising from the construction industry, infrastructure development, mineral resources exploration, waste disposal, packaging and branding, communications, natural resource consumption, energy and water consumption.

“The precautionary principle is therefore crucial to apply that business should operate in a way that does not threaten the future of our existence by continually seeking alternative means and ways of operations that are sustainable,” Nhema said.

Nhema added that his ministry envisions using platforms like the Green Business awards,the merging of business and the environment through behaviour change known as sustainable business or green business to present opportunities for new business that is future oriented.

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Forest products critical to fight hunger – including insects / New study highlights role of insects for food and feed consumption

Posted on 13 May 2013 by Africa Business

ROME, Italy, May 13, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ Forests, trees on farms and agroforestry are critical in the fight against hunger and should be better integrated into food security and land use policies, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today at the International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition in Rome (13-15 May).


“Forests contribute to the livelihoods of more than a billion people, including many of the world’s neediest. Forests provide food, fuel for cooking, fodder for animals and income to buy food,” Graziano da Silva said.


“Wild animals and insects are often the main protein source for people in forest areas, while leaves, seeds, mushrooms, honey and fruits provide minerals and vitamins, thus ensuring a nutritious diet.”


“But forests and agroforestry systems are rarely considered in food security and land use policies. Often, rural people do not have secure access rights to forests and trees, putting their food security in danger. The important contributions forests can make to the food security and nutrition of rural people should be better recognized,” Graziano da Silva said.


Frittered critters – wild and farm-raised insects


One major and readily available source of nutritious and protein-rich food that comes from forests are insects, according to a new study FAO launched at the forests for food security and nutrition conference. It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people. Insect gathering and farming can offer employment and cash income, for now mostly at the household level but also potentially in industrial operations.


An astounding array of creatures


With about 1 million known species, insects account for more than half of all living organisms classified so far on the planet.


According to FAO’s research, done in partnership with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, more than 1900 insect species are consumed by humans worldwide. Globally, the most consumed insects are: beetles (31 percent); caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent). Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. Beef has an iron content of 6 mg per 100 g of dry weight, while the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20 mg per 100 g of dry weight, depending on the species and the kind of food they themselves consume.


First steps for the squeamish


“We are not saying that people should be eating bugs,” said Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division, which co-authored “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security”.


“We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed,” Muller explained.


Farming insects sustainably could help avoid over-harvesting, which could affect more prized species. Some species, such as meal worms, are already produced at commercial levels, since they are used in niche markets such as pet food, for zoos and in recreational fishing.


If production were to be further automated, this would eventually bring costs down to a level where industry would profit from substituting fishmeal, for example, with insect meal in livestock feed. The advantage would be an increase in fish supplies available for human consumption.


Bugs get bigger on less


Because they are cold-blooded, insects don’t use energy from feed to maintain body temperature. On average, insects use just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kilo of insect meat. Cattle, at the other end of the spectrum, require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef.


In addition, insects produce a fraction of emissions such as methane, ammonia, climate-warming greenhouse gases and manure, all of which contaminate the environment. In fact, insects can be used to break down waste, assisting in the composting processes that deliver nutrients back to the soil while also diminishing foul odours.


Enabling policies lacking


However, legislation in most industrialized nations forbids the actual feeding of waste materials and slurry or swill to animals, even though this would be the material that insects normally feed on. Further research would be necessary, especially as regards the raising of insects on waste streams. But it is widely understood by scientists that insects are so biologically different from mammals that it is highly unlikely that insect diseases could be transmitted to humans.


Regulations often also bar using insects in food for human consumption, although with a growing number of novel food stores and restaurants cropping up in developed countries, it seems to be largely tolerated.


As with other types of food, hygienic production, processing and food preparation will be important to avoid the growth of bacteria and other micro-organisms that could affect human health. Food safety standards can be expanded to include insects and insect-based products, and quality control standards along the production chain will be key to creating consumer confidence in feed and food containing insects or derived from insects.


“The private sector is ready to invest in insect farming. We have huge opportunities before us,” said Paul Vantomme, one of the authors of the report. “But until there is clarity in the legal sphere, no major business is going to take the risk to invest funds when the laws remains unclear or actually hinders development of this new sector,” he explained.



Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

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City of Cape Town to share its water and sanitation vision and showcase facilities during African Utility Week

Posted on 10 May 2013 by Africa Business

“Demand will outstrip supply by 2019”

The City of Cape Town will showcase its world class water and sanitation facilities and share its strategic plans for the future of the City’s water services during next week’s African Utility Week and Clean Power Africa conference and exhibition.  As host city to this annual event, the City of Cape Town will welcome some 5000 power and water professionals to the CTICC from 14-15 May.

“Compared to other large municipalities in the country, the City of Cape Town is one of the best”, says Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, the producer of the African Utility Week’s water track in the conference programme.  “The water and sanitation department is extremely pro-active in how it manages the city’s water resources, from bulk water through to the waste water systems.  There is a clear, very strategic and long-term vision to plan for the expansion of the city and cope with subsequent growth.  For example, the Faure Water Treatment Plant has one of the most advanced control centres in the Southern African hemisphere and frequently hosts delegations from international water professionals.  We look forward to sharing the city’s vision, as well as a glimpse into its facilities, with African Utility Week delegates next week.”

Demand will outstrip supply by 2019
According to the City of Cape Town’s Director of Water and Sanitation: Phil Mashoko, they have estimated that demand will outstrip supply in 2019 and that other sources must have been developed by then.  Says Mr Mashoko:  “we are working closely with the Department of Water Affairs to prioritise the next sources.  Options include water demand management, Voëlvlei off river dam raising, waste water reclamation, desalination, Lourens River, Table Mountain Group Acquifer (ground water), Steenbras Dam raising and effluent re-use.”

Jaco de Bruyn, Head: Integrated Planning, Strategy and Information Management at the department will address the water track at the African Utility Week conference on ”Strategic plans for water services in Cape Town”. Says Jaco:  “I will discuss how we run the Water and Sanitation business within the operating boundaries given to us.  We do this by strategic planning linking the City’s Vision and Strategic Focus Areas to our own Balanced Scorecard, following a risk-based approach to resource allocation and continuous outcomes measurement, with strong attention given to customer, stakeholder and staff.  Also, by staying financially viable while maintaining the balance between first world city development and social responsibility towards the indigent.”

He continues:  “we also ensure that adequate water resources are available for the metropolitan area, eliminating wastage and pollution is prevented.  The department furthermore plans for reduced energy consumption and global warming long-term impact.  We integrate our planning with the role players within and external to the City, increasingly making use of efficiency and empowering technology, including hydraulic models, GIS, remote monitoring, automation, real time measurement.”

African Utility Week site visit
As part of the African Utility Week technical site visit tours on 16 May, the City of Cape Town’s Water and Sanitation Department is hosting a tour which will showcase the full range of its facilities, some of them state of the art, to enable water professionals to enhance their learning.  The tour includes:

  • Athlone Wastewater Treatment Works: Treated Effluent Project
  • Epping Industria: Water and Sanitation Department’s AMR project
  • Mandalay: Pressure Management Project:  This $1 million water pressure management system in Mandalay, Mitchells Plain ranks as the third largest in the world. The system will mitigate damage to household plumbing appliances and pipes created by excessively high water pressures in pipes supplying consumers.
  • Faure Water Treatment Plant: Water Treatment Processes and Turbine Installation:  Faure Water Treatment Plant is one of the most sophisticated plants of its sort in the Southern African hemisphere and the flagship of the Cape Metropolitan Council’s (CMC) water treatment facilities. It has a design capacity to process 500 megalitres per day, and currently sources and treats between 200 and 400 megalitres from Riviersonderend and Firlands pump stations at the Steenbras Dam and distributes it to reservoirs in the area.
  • Fisantekraal: Wastewater Treatment Plant:  Featuring enhanced control centre system and use of ultraviolet light disinfection technology.  The City had been faced with serious development constraints in the northern parts of the city because the Bellville and Kraaifontein WWTWs were running out of spare capacity. Fisantekraal, officially opened in November 2012, features the most innovative and up-to-date electrical, control and instrumentation technology. The plant is an advanced biological reactor works with automated inlet screening and degritters, surface aerated biological reactors, secondary settling tanks, sludge dewatering system (linear screens and belt presses) and final effluent disinfection system. This latest plant is one of 23 WWTWs in the city and has the potential to be expanded as the need arises.

The African Utility Week expo is free to attend if visitors register online beforehand and there are more than 60 free, CPD-accredited technical workshops on the exhibition floor.  These practical courses are complimented by 250 global solution providers and manufacturers, in particular water companies Bentley Systems, Aqua-loc, AquaTrip, DIEHL Metering, Elster Kent Metering, Kamstrup, WEG-Wise, SA Leak Detection and many more.

African Utility Week
For the past 12 years, the African Utility Week conference and exhibition has helped to facilitate discussions around the opportunities in the power sector and has assisted in African utilities providing electricity and water to all of Africa. Co-located is Clean Power Africa, Africa’s leading event where major stakeholders from the renewable energy sector get together and explore clean generation as a feasible solution to fulfil Africa’s electricity needs.

African Utility Week dates and location:
Exhibition & Conference: 14-15 May 2013
Pre-conference Workshops: 13 May 2013

Site Visits: 16 May 2013
Location:  CTICC, Cape Town, South Africa

Websites: ;

Communications manager:  Annemarie Roodbol
Telephone:  +27 21 700 3558
mobile:  +27 82 562 7844

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GulfSol 2013 set to address MENA solar power problems

Posted on 10 May 2013 by Africa Business

Solar power in the Middle East seems simultaneously logical with sun-scorched deserts everywhere, and illogical, all that oil, at the same time.

But several of the “Gulf monarchies,” all major contributors to the world’s oil supplies, are starting to set goals to cut back on consuming the hydrocarbons they produce in favor of sustainable, climate-friendly energy sources.

Abu Dhabi has a goal of getting 7 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and the state owned renewable energy company, Masdar, is reportedly set to announce that it will invest ‘up to £1 billion’ in alternative energy schemes alongside the UK’s Green Investment Bank (GIB). Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, is even more ambitious. The Saudi government hopes to just about double its installed electricity capacity by building 54 gigawatts of renewable energy (as well as 17.6 GW of nuclear power) by 2032, of which 41 GW will come from the sun. Qatar is also turning to renewables, with a plan on the table to get 10 percent of the electricity and energy used in water desalination from solar by 2018. Kuwait, too, has ambitions for 10 percent renewables by 2020.

To meet the goals that the UAE have set themselves means expertise will be needed from the international solar power industry to deal with the difficulties involved in desert construction including dust, high winds and transmission requirements.

To address this demand, GulfSol takes place 3-5 September 2013 at the DWTC.

“It is apparent that whilst the solar industry in other areas is struggling, right across MENA, the opportunities for companies to get themselves involved with the wealth of opportunities that are presenting themselves. Right now, nothing is hotter for solar than the Middle East” said Derek Burston, exhibition manager of GulfSol 2013.

“It is this reason that there has been a surge in space reservations at this year’s inaugural GulfSol exhibition. As the only truly dedicated solar and PV show, the exhibition provides the perfect opportunity for companies to present themselves to a high quality visitor base over a three day period”.

For more information on confirming your exhibition presence at GulfSol 2013, contact Derek Burston on or Ben Richardson on

To register to visit the event go to:

For more information on the event go to:

Fast facts about the solar power industry

It’s hip, it’s cool, it’s trendy and it’s green. Solar and wind power are increasingly becoming topics of conversation as the world shifts from filthy coal, oil and other fossil fuels, to the clean and renewable energy provided by the wind and the sun.

  • It would take only around 0.3 per cent of the world’s land area to supply all of our electricity needs via solar power.
  • Weight for weight, advanced silicon based solar cells generate the same amount of electricity over their lifetime as nuclear fuel rods, without the hazardous waste. All the components in a solar panel can be recycled, whereas nuclear waste remains a threat for thousands of years.
  • Solar and wind power systems have 100 times better lifetime energy yield than either nuclear or fossil energy system per tonne of mined materials
  • The amount of energy that goes into creating solar panels is paid back through clean electricity production within anywhere from 1.5 – 4 years, depending on where they are used. This compares with a serviceable life of decades.
  • The theoretical limit for silicon based solar cells is 29% conversion efficiency. Currently, polycrystalline and monocrystalline solar panels generally available have efficiencies anywhere from 12% to 18%. With the addition of solar concentrators, the efficiency of photovoltaics is eventually likely to rise above 60 per cent.
  • The Earth receives more energy from the sun in an hour than is used in the entire world in one year
  • Solar radiation and related energy resources including wind and wave power, hydro and biomass make up 99.97% of the available renewable energy on Earth
  • The first solar cell was constructed by Charles Fritts in the 1880s
  • The world’s largest wind turbine is currently the Enercon E-126 with a rotor diameter of 126 meters. The E-126 produces 6 megawatts, enough to power approximately  5,000 European households.
  • Global annual photovoltaic installations increased from just 21 megawatts in 1985, to 2,826 megawatts in 2007
  • Manufacturing solar cells produces 90% less pollutants than conventional fossil fuel technologies
  • The solar industry creates 200 to 400 jobs in research, development, manufacturing and installation for every 10 megawatts of solar power generated annually.

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Base stations’ ‘headlights’ often neglected factor – the right antenna tilt can improve network capacity by up to 20 percent and performance even more

Posted on 09 May 2013 by Africa Business

Bo Jonsson

Senior RF expert

CellMax Technologies

Bo Jonsson is the senior radio frequency expert at CellMax Technologies, a developer of ultra high-efficiency antennas for the global telecom market. Mr. Jonsson has more than 30 years of working experience with radio systems and more than 15 years in R&D designing fast hopping synthesizers, transmitters, receivers, filters etc. Bo Jonsson got his MSCE by 1987 and has held various titles over the years such as: RF-group manager, R&D manager, CTO, Systems expert, project manager and many others. See

We have had antennas since the days of Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian scientist who invented the radio a little over 100 years ago. So by now we should all know how to use antennas. But do we? With data replacing voice as the ‘killer application’ in the networks, antenna tilt – the angle in which the antennas are directed – becomes a serious issue and an area where many base stations today are clearly suboptimized.

The long narrow form of the typical array antennas gives them a fan-shaped radiation pattern, wide in the horizontal direction and relatively narrow in the vertical direction. There is usually a downward beam tilt, or downtilt, so that the base station can more effectively cover its immediate area and not cause radio frequency interference to distant cells. For good coverage and call quality, the signal must be strong in the desired radiation area, but drop of sharply where it is not needed or where it interferes with signals from other base stations.

You can compare with a car’s headlights: you want to see everything as clearly as possible in the direction you are travelling, but don’t want to waste energy by illuminating something irrelevant.

The most common antenna in a three-sector base station is the 18 dBi antenna with 65° of horizontal beamwidth and around 6.5° of vertical beam width. The 15 dBi antennas are still quite common, especially on the lower frequencies, with a vertical beam width of around 14°.

Most of the planning experience and rollout methods for mobile networks are based on these two antenna types. They are built on the assumption that there are interfering signals not in the adjacent cell, but further away. But in 3G and 4G systems, there is the interference mainly coming from the next cell; there are no longer any “transition zone” between service area and “disturbance area”.

So what does that mean in practice? Well, with data surpassing voice in new 3G and 4G mobile networks, interference is different and so must the antennas be to stay effective.

The efficiency of a cellular network depends on its correct configuration and adjustment of radiant systems: their transmit and receive antennas. One of the more important system optimizations task is based on correctly adjusted tilts, or the inclination of the antenna in relation to its axis. When the antenna is tilted down, we call it ‘downtilt’, which is the most common use. The tilt is used when operators want to reduce interference and/or coverage in some specific areas, having each cell to meet only its designed area.

With data being the networks’ new “killer application” instead of voice, a high carrier-to-interference ratio (C/I) is the key parameter for efficiency, data rate and general success. Carrier-to-Interference ratio (C/I) is the ratio of desired signal power in an RF carrier to the unwanted interference power in the channel. In voice, it was a waste to have very high C/I. But with data replacing voice in the networks we want to have high data rate all the way to the cell border. Basically, we would like to have a coverage that provides a constant signal level all the way to the cell border and there, suddenly, magically, drop to zero. This is of course not possible, but antennas with sharp roll-off can help us to get a lot closer to that ideal situation.

In most sites a sharper upper roll-off will provide higher C/I and less soft handover load. Both of which will increase performance and release capacity, often by over 10 dB in C/I improvement can be seen if the tilt is properly optimized with an antenna having a sharper roll-off curve and high efficiency.

This sounds too good to be true! Can you really improve network efficiency by just swapping the antennas and tilting them differently? Yes, you can. But it comes at a price. It requires both a very accurate tilt setting and a better understanding of how to use the very sharp cell border that these antennas give. Basically, it means that setting tilt after the scale on the tilt bracket is history. Half a degree makes a lot of difference. So, use a good digital leveler.

The conclusion is that most sectors would benefit significantly from an antenna with higher gain and a sharper upper roll-off curve than the standard 18 dBi can offer. Almost every site can perform better if the tilt is optimized better and more often. That is an easy and inexpensive way to improve the networks’ efficiency.

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Altaaqa Global And Caterpillar Inc Signs IPP Agreement

Posted on 25 April 2013 by Africa Business

About Caterpillar

For more than 85 years, Caterpillar Inc. has been making sustainable progress possible and driving positive change on every continent. With 2011 sales and revenues of $60.1 billion, Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. The company also is a leading services provider through Caterpillar Financial Services, Caterpillar Remanufacturing Services, Caterpillar Logistics Services and Progress Rail Services.

CAT, CATERPILLAR, their respective logos, “Caterpillar Yellow”, the “Power Edge” trade dress, as well as corporate and product identity used herein, are trademarks of Caterpillar and may not be used without permission.

About Zahid Group

Zahid Group represents a diverse range of companies, offering comprehensive, customer-centric solutions in a number of thriving industries. Some of those include construction; mining; oil & gas; agriculture; power, electricity & water generation; material handling; building materials; transportation & logistics; real estate development; travel & tourism; waste management & recycling; and hospitality.

About Altaaqa Global

Altaaqa Global, a subsidiary of Zahid Group, has been selected by Caterpillar Inc. to deliver multi-megawatt turnkey temporary power solutions worldwide. Altaaqa Global is able to provide large-scale turnkey temporary power solutions anytime, anywhere at extremely short notice. Altaaqa Global has state-of-the-art temporary power equipment and focused expertise to quickly deliver power projects of 20MW to 100MW and more.


Dubai, UAE Caterpillar Inc. has entered into an international power projects (IPP) agreement with Zahid Group, which recently formed a new subsidiary company, Altaaqa Global. As an IPP partner, Altaaqa Global will provide multi-megawatt temporary power solutions around the world, supported by partnerships within the worldwide Cat® dealer network.

L-R Front Row Fahad Y. Zahid & Bill Rohner; L-R Back Row Josh Eggert, Peter den Boogert, Stuart Levenick, Rick Rathe, Steven Meyrick


“We have been successfully serving our customers within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since our inception,” said Fahad Y. Zahid, Executive Vice President of Zahid Group. “In 2004, catering to local needs, we launched Altaaqa Alternative Solutions , which later became the world’s largest fleet owner of Cat Rental Power with over 750MW in its inventory. Through this IPP agreement, our new subsidiary, Altaaqa Global, will enable us to strengthen our position as a leading provider of turnkey temporary power solutions, now at a global level.”

“Zahid Group has demonstrated a proven track record of excellent customer service for more than 60 years,” said Bill Rohner, Vice President of Electric Power at Caterpillar. “Having them as a strategic partner will help expand Caterpillar’s evolving role in the IPP market.”

“Caterpillar’s global presence and Altaaqa Global’s temporary power expertise is a powerful synergy,” said Steven Meyrick, Managing Director of Altaaqa Global. “Bringing power to solutions is what we are offering. Bringing power where it is needed, when it is needed.”

“Our temporary power plants are mobile, easy to deploy and quick to install,” said Peter den Boogert, General Manager, Business Development of Altaaqa Global. “We can intelligently generate electricity within weeks in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific.”

Based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Altaaqa Global will provide fast-track and large-scale temporary power solutions from 20MW to 100MW and more, offering gas, diesel or dual fuel technology to various sectors such as oil & gas, power utilities, mining, government services, military, manufacturing and construction. The company aims to serve its customers with engineered solutions tailored to the specific requirements of each industry. Highly experienced Cat power generation consultants along with a specialized power generation team from Altaaqa Global are fully aligned right from the planning phase, ensuring that the technical and logistical aspects of projects are addressed both effectively and efficiently.

For more information, visit

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Standard Bank Group ranked the world’s 12th greenest bank

Posted on 23 April 2013 by Africa Business

Standard Bank Group has been ranked the 12th “greenest” bank in the world and the cleanest in Africa by Bloomberg Markets.

According to Bloomberg: “The biggest gain in renewable energy came from a newcomer: South Africa’s Standard Bank Group Ltd. ranked 12th after agreeing to underwrite $1.1-billion in government-approved projects, including $314-million for solar parks.

“As Europe scales back and the US regroups, such initiatives may become the seeds that sustain growth in the green landscape.”

This was the third annual ranking by Bloomberg Markets to assess the top 40 global banks based on their lending to clean-energy projects and reduction in their own power consumption and carbon footprints.

Alastair Campbell, Executive Vice President, Power & Infrastructure Finance, at Standard Bank Group, says Standard Bank Group’s entry to the rankings is the result of three years of behind-the-scenes work commencing from the government’s first announcement of the renewable energy programme and its subsequent evolution into the current renewable energy independent power producer (REIPP) programme.

“We have adopted a proactive approach to this strategic and socially important sector and actively sought out deals to underwrite. We’re delighted to have our commitment to the sector acknowledged with an international no.12 ranking,” he says.

He believes its ranking may yet improve, given Standard Bank’s commitment to government’s renewable energy programme “as the next two to three years will continue to be a time of intense activity not just domestically in South Africa but on the African continent.

Given that the government’s strategy envisages 3,725 MW being tendered in the first three years, it is clear that the scale is enormous: perhaps R60-70-billion of capital is required, of which the quantum of debt will be approximately 70%. The ranking was based on Standard Bank Group’s success in first round of the REIPP procurement process, backing a total of 11 wind and solar projects valued at R9.4-billion. In the second round the bank is participating in a further seven deals (out of 19) valued at R7.1-billion.

These deals have been awarded preferred bidder status and are due to close shortly. Mr Campbell says the bank is hoping that its market leader status will continue as the third window gets under way in August.

In the first round, Standard Bank provided comprehensive corporate and investment banking services to all its clients, including underwriting R9.4 billion worth of debt, providing interest and currency hedges, carbon trading credits, and corporate bonding and guarantee facilities. Its mandated clients comprised 338MW of wind and 235MW of solar photovoltaic (SPV), out of the combined 1416MW per year expected to be produced by all the projects, making it the largest funder of the 28 wind and solar power projects awarded in the first round.

“This leading position was made possible by our in-depth understanding of the sector and the South African market,” says Mr Campbell.

Bidding rounds are scheduled to take place annually until the initiall allocation of 3725MW has been awarded. Mr Campbell is confident that Standard Bank Group will play a meaningful role in each of the roll-outs. He says Standard Bank Group is already busy preparing financing packages to support the third bidding window.

To ensure its readiness for this multi-year process, Standard recently signed a R20-billion Funding Support Agreement for Renewable Energy Projects in South Africa with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the bank’s single largest shareholder.

“Furthermore, we believe that the procurement process that South Africa has run is likely to be used as a blueprint for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to follow in terms of renewable energy.” Says Mr Campbell. In addition to South Africa, general interest in countries such as Morocco, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana and Ghana are readying themselves for the roll-out of comprehensive renewable energy programs.

Bloomberg also looked at what banks were doing to reduce their own environmental impact, and here Standard Bank Group’s rating was boosted by various initiatives, particularly its new Rosebank building, rated five-star by the Green Building Council of South Africa.

“The Bloomberg ranking represents Standard Bank Group’s commitment to sustainability in every aspect of our business operations in South Africa and elsewhere, and is physically manifested in the structures we build. Our newer buildings are built to optimise energy efficiency,” says Mr Campbell.

How Bloomberg Markets ranks banks

To rank banks’ environmental records, Bloomberg Markets looked at their efforts to reduce their own waste and carbon footprints and at their investments in clean energy.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Bloomberg’s ESG Data group, which collects information on environmental, social and governance issues, gathered material from annual and corporate social responsibility reports, websites and other public documents. The teams conducted independent research and used surveys and telephone interviews to secure additional data and verify the accuracy of their findings.

The second consideration, reducing environmental impact, accounted for 30 percent of the score. It looked at reductions in air emissions and water use and at gains in energy efficiency.

Each data point is peer ranked on a scale of zero to 100. For example, in underwriting activities, the banks reporting the highest-dollar-value deals received the highest scores. Those scores were then multiplied by the weight factor assigned to that category to determine the overall value in the section. This was done for every grouping to determine a total score for the opportunity and environmental impact categories.

For more on Standard Bank Group’s sustainable business initiatives, see


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Posted on 17 April 2013 by Africa Business

  • 5 Ways Drones Could Help In A Disaster Like The Boston Marathon Bombing
    Plus three robots that are already saving lives.

    Yesterday, the President of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Michael Toscano told U.S. News: “Whether it is in response to a natural disaster or a tragedy like we saw in Boston, [unmanned aerial systems] can be quickly deployed to provide first responders with critical situational awareness in areas too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft to reach.”

    Is he right? Well, he’s not entirely wrong. Drones, like manned helicopters used by police and emergency responders, can hover, provide a great overall picture of action on the ground, and direct aid to where it’s needed. The trick is that, right now, drones don’t do that uniquely, which is what a sales pitch on their special capacity demands. Boston did in fact have a police helicopter flying overhead, and the problem of low fuel reportedly overheard on the police scanner is a problem that another helicopter could have solved just as easily. Drones aren’t particularly special in disaster relief-yet.

    As drone tech advances, we could soon see remotely piloted vehicles joining the ranks of police departments and emergency response organizations. Here are five drones that might save a life in a future disaster.

    1. The MQ-8C Fire Scout: This full-size, unmanned helicopter could ultimately replace police or medical evacuation helicopters. The crew compartment can, among other things, be converted to hold an EMS team for medical airlift, or extra fuel to stay aloft longer.

    2. Quadrotors: Drones like the Aeryon Scout provide a wealth of video coverage, spying on rooftops and moving in fearlessly to document a blast zone. (Of course, civilian smartphones did much of that work in Boston.)

    3. Swarm of Swiss robots: By emulating the patterns ants use to hunt for food, these swarming drones can efficiently scan a large area and then converge where they are needed-a strategy that requires an awful lot of manpower when it’s used by human search-and-rescue workers.

    4. Incredible HLQ: This quadrotor is designed to carry relief supplies to places people can’t access, or can’t access fast enough, during an emergency. It’s in development now after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

    5. The Pars Aerial Rescue Bot: While not strictly applicable to Boston, this Iranian lifeguard quadrotor could aid in disasters along coastal areas, flying through severe weather to rescue people from drowning.

    Flying machines aren’t the only rescue robots we can expect in the future. Unmanned ground machines also have a lot to offer. CHIMP, a monkey-tank-robot created by Carnegie Melon, is designed specifically to climb over rubble or up ladders to save people in collapsed buildings. DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, in which CHIMP is an entrant, has inspired several robots designed to take the place of humans in emergency situations.

    Three types of ground robots are already saving lives around the world:

    1. A whole fleet of earthquake-response rescue robots: These are currently at work in Japan, and they include the RoboCue victim-recovery bot.

    2. Talon: QinetiQ’s bomb-disposal robot made a name for itself fighting IEDs in the Iraq War. There’s also a police version available.

    3. The Land Shark EODS: This remotely controlled robot is used to detonate explosives safely away from people. Massachusetts State Police have at least one on hand.

    The future will certainly see more robots rushing to save lives, and undoubtedly some of those will be flying. The future promise of flying rescuers, however, should not distract us from the actual ground robots that are being used in Boston presently.


  • FYI: Can Humans Get High On Catnip?
    Samantha J. Kitty fiending for some catnip Evan Kafka via Suzanne LaBarre
    Related: Can cats get high on marijuana?

    While cats may feel effects from marijuana-no word on whether Sir Harry Paus actually likes the experience-“kitty pot” does not have a reciprocal effect on humans.

    In the late 1960s, some researchers reported catnip gave people a marijuana-like high, but it turned out they had simply mixed up the two plants. As veterinarian Arnold Plotnick of Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York wrote to me in an email, “Think about it… catnip is cheap and legal. If it had a significant effect on people, everyone would be smoking it.”

    Meanwhile, cats do feel effects from marijuana, but it may be scary for them. “Animals can’t understand they’re being intoxicated, therefore it can cause considerable anxiety,” says Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center in upstate New York.

    It’s not clear why the active chemical in catnip, nepetalactone, doesn’t affect humans, Kornreich says. Pot affects cats because like many mammals, including humans and dogs, cats have receptors in their brains for pot’s active chemicals, cannabinoids. Cannabinoid receptors make pets susceptible to feeling symptoms when they inhale secondhand smoke or, more commonly, accidentally eat their owners’ stashes. (It’s actually a bigger problem with dogs, he says, because dogs eat everything.)

    Kornreich has seen pets come into veterinary emergency rooms after marijuana exposure. “The pets are presented for anxiety, active heart rate, acting a little unusual,” he says. “They may react differently to sound and to being touched” perhaps because, like humans, drugs alter their perception.

    Kornreich urges pet owners to take their pets to a vet if this happens, adding that vets are not required by law to report marijuana they run into during their practice. Most veterinarians care more about making pets better, he says. “It’s more just focused on the well-being of the patient.”

    He also strongly discourages purposefully exposing a pet to marijuana. Fido and Kitty can’t consent to getting high. “I don’t think it’s right or fair to make that decision for an animal,” he says.

    If pot affects cats because they have cannabinoid receptors, does that mean people aren’t affected by catnip because they don’t have nepetalactone receptors? Scientists aren’t sure. “While it seems that this is a reasonable hypothesis to explain why humans don’t respond to catnip like cats do, I cannot find any studies that rigorously test it,” Kornreich says. While many brain receptors are common across different animals, many receptors also differ, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented for humans to lack a receptor present in cat brains.

    In cats, inhaled nepetalactone stimulates the olfactory bulb, the part of the brain that processes odors. The olfactory bulb then interacts with the amygdala, the brain region associated with emotion and decision-making, and hypothalamus, which controls a variety of bodily functions. From the hypothalamus, nepetalactone stimulates a sexual response in cats that are genetically predisposed to sensitivity to catnip. (About 20 to 30 percent of cats don’t seem to react to the plant.)

    Some insects seem to react to nepetalactone, too. Strangely enough, chemical companies are studying nepetalactone because it seems to repel mosquitoes, ticks and mites, like a kind of natural DEET. For the insects to change their behavior around nepetalactone, even if negatively, suggests that they have nepetalactone receptors.

    As for smoking catnip: not only does it fail to get people high, it can make them feel pretty awful. Too much catnip, whether smoked or drunk as a tea, could cause headaches and vomiting.

    Have a burning science question you’d like to see answered in our FYI section? Email it to


  • Audi Wants Its Cars To Predict Where Traffic Will Be
    Traffic Jam
    Side-stepping traffic by mining data

    At the GPU Technology Conference 2013 show in San Jose, Audi announced some of its plans for its Cars of the Future, The Register reports. One of the coolest ideas: cars that can predict where traffic will be, so drivers can avoid it.

    The amply named Predictive Traffic function would mine traffic records and current reports, including social media, as well as scheduled events like sports games that could bring cars to a standstill. The system, under Audi’s plan, could also predict a driver’s most likely destination based on their traffic history.

    Pretty neat! Along with that, Audi announced a concept for a reworked directions system that would operate in a “human-like” way, giving directions based on landmarks instead of streets. A Smart Parking feature would work similarly to the traffic-predicting system, but do it for parking spots: mapping out available spots and prices for those spots, rather than making you drive around in circles hunting one down.

    We don’t have too many details yet on exactly how these systems would work, but since Audi did make a self-driving car, hopefully we’ll see these projects come to life soon, too.

    [The Register]


  • Magnetic Brain Stimulation Removes Craving For Cigarettes
    Smoking Kills Challiyil Eswaramangalath Vipin via Wikimedia
    Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt!

    Scientists at Medical University of South Carolina temporarily blunted cigarette cravings among smokers by magnetically stimulating nerve cells in their brains. The procedure, called transcranial magnetic stimulation, is already approved by the FDA to treat depression, though its efficacy is controversial (it’s also been prescribed to stop people from lying and treat adult ADHD.)

    In the experiment, researchers randomly assigned 16 smokers to either a 15-minute session of high-frequency transcranial magnetic stimulation (in which coils placed over the forehead send magnetic pulses into the prefrontal cortex), or 15 minutes of sham treatment. The magnetic stimulation isn’t painful and doesn’t require sedation or anesthesia. The scientists told the volunteers not to smoke for two hours prior to the experiment.

    Before the treatment, the researchers showed the smokers both neutral images (such as mountain scenes) and images intended to provoke nicotine cravings (such as a person lightning a cigarette.) Then they asked the volunteers to rate how they felt about statements like “I would do almost anything for a cigarette now” and “I am going to smoke as soon as possible.” After the magnetic stimulation, the participants saw similar images and again rated how much they craved a cigarette.

    The researchers found that the participants who got the real magnet treatment expressed significantly less desire to smoke at the end of the experiment compared with those who got the fake treatment. In fact, the craving reduction was positively correlated with how nicotine-dependent the volunteer was, meaning that those who smoked the most saw the greatest decrease in cigarette craving after the magnetic stimulation.

    The authors of the study note that people trying to quit smoking would need several sessions of transcranial magnetic stimulation per day in order to see longer-lasting reductions in cravings. The paper appears in Biological Psychiatry.


  • Everything You Need To Know About Ricin, The Poison Mailed To President Obama
    Ricin (on Breaking Bad) via Breaking Bad Wiki
    Ricin is one of the most poisonous substances on Earth, it’s scarily easy to make, and somebody is mailing it to the President and at least one U.S. senator. What it is, how it works, and more, inside.

    Yesterday, an envelope addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, was found to contain a white granular substance that was identified as ricin. Today, a similar letter addressed to President Obama was found. These envelopes were intercepted off-site–they never got anywhere near their targets–but as a precaution, Capitol Police have shut down mail service until they can figure out what’s going on.

    In the meantime, let’s talk about ricin!

    How poisonous is it?
    Oh, man. Very. It’s dangerous in just about any way it gets into your system, though ingesting (eating) it is about the least dangerous way. Injecting or inhaling requires about a thousand times less ricin to kill a human than ingesting, and that’s a very small amount indeed. An average adult needs only 1.78mg of ricin injected or inhaled to die; that’s about the size of a few grains of table salt–which ricin resembles visually.

    How does it work?
    Ricin, a toxic protein, infects cells, blocking their ability to synthesize their own protein. Without cells making protein, key functions in the body shut down; even in survivors, permanent organ damage is often the result of ricin poisoning. It’s a highly unpleasant way to be poisoned: within six hours, according to the Center for Disease Control, victims who have ingested ricin will feel gastrointestinal effects like severe vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to serious dehydration. Then the ricin infects the cells of the vital gastrointestinal organs as they pass through the body, leading to the failure of the kidneys, liver, and pancreas.

    Inhalation of ricin has a different effect, since the ricin proteins aren’t interacting with the same parts of the body. Instead of gastrointestinal problems, you’ll develop a vicious, bloody cough, your lungs will fill with fluid, and eventually you’ll lose your ability to breathe, causing death. Injection, too, is different, depending on where you’ve been injected, but will generally result in vomiting and flu-like symptoms, swelling around the place of injection, and eventually organ failure as your circulatory system passes the protein around the body. Death from inhalation or injection usually occurs about three to five miserable, agonizing days after contact.

    Interestingly, there aren’t any immediate symptoms, and indeed there can be a significant delay before symptoms show themselves, up to a day or two.

    Exposure on the skin is generally not fatal, though it may cause a reaction that can range from irritation to blistering.

    That sounds…horrible. Is there an antidote, at least?
    Haha. No. The US and UK governments have been working on an antidote for decades–here’s a nice article describing the progression of one such antidote–but there isn’t one available to the public. The CDC’s website states bluntly, “There is no antidote for ricin toxicity.” There are some steps you can take if you get to a hospital immediately; for ingestion, a stomach pump can sometimes prevent the ricin from reaching the rest of the gastrointestinal system at its full force. But…that’s about it, really.

    How does it stack up against other poisons?
    Well, that depends on what your aim is. Ricin is much easier to produce than other popular biological weapons like botulinum, sarin, and anthrax, but it is not as potent as any of those, which limits its effectiveness as a weapon. It also is not very long-lived; the protein can age and become inactive fairly quickly compared to, say, anthrax, which can remain dangerous for decades. There were experiments back around World War I attempting to make wide-scale ricin weapons, packaging it into bombs and coating bullets in it, but these proved not particularly effective and also violate the Hague Convention’s agreements on war crimes, so the US discarded ricin.

    It’s much more effective, weapon-wise, as a close-contact, small-target weapon–by injecting, as with Georgi Markov, or by putting small particles into an aerosol spray and blasting a target. It’s also not contagious, which limits its effectiveness as a tool of biological warfare. But it’s considered highly dangerous partly because it’s still outrageously toxic and partly because it takes no great skill to produce.

    So it’s not hard to make?
    Well…no. Like, not at all. It’s made from the byproduct of the castor oil manufacturing process. You take the “mash” of the castor oil seeds, which contain around 5-10 percent ricin, and perform a process called chromatography. Chromatography is a blanket term for a set of techniques used to separate mixtures, usually by dissolving in liquid or gas. The US government has done its best to eradicate recipes for ricin from the internet, sort of; a patent was filed back in 1962 for ricin extraction, and the Patent Office took it off the publicly available server in 2004 for safety reasons. That said, the recipe is super easy to find; here at the PopSci offices, I’m blocked from listening to Rdio on my work computer, but I found a recipe to make an outrageously deadly poison in about a minute.

    The techniques involved are undergraduate-level chemistry, creating a slurry with the castor bean mash and filtering with water and then a few easily-found substances like hydrochloric acid.

    It comes from castor beans?
    Ricin is a highly toxic protein that’s extracted from the seed of the castor plant, often called a “castor bean” or “castor oil bean,” despite not technically being a bean. The castor plant is extremely common; it’s used as an ornamental plant throughout the western world, prized for its ability to grow basically anywhere as well as its pretty, spiky leaves and weird spiny fruits. It’s also an important crop; the seeds are full of oil, and castor oil is used for lots of legitimate purposes. It’s a common laxative, for one thing, and since it’s more resistant to high temperatures than other kinds of vegetable oils, it’s a nice alternative to petroleum oil in engines.

    Wait, but you can eat it? So how is this a poison?
    Ah, yes. Castor oil is perfectly safe, according to the FDA and your grandma, but ricin is not castor oil. Castor seeds are still poisonous; this study says that a lethal dose of castor seeds for adults is about four to eight seeds. But the oil itself does not contain ricin; the ricin protein is left behind in the “castor bean mash” after the oil is extracted from the seed. Poisoning from eating the seed itself is rare.

    Have there been cases of ricin poisoning in the past?
    You mean, beyond the several times it’s been featured as a major plot point in Breaking Bad? Sure! The most famous is probably the assassination of Georgi Markov in 1978. Markov was a Bulgarian novelist, playwright, journalist, and dissident, and was murdered by the Bulgarian secret service, with assistance from the KGB, by ricin injection. He was crossing a bridge when he was jabbed in the leg with an umbrella, which delivered a ricin pellet into his bloodstream. He died three days later of ricin poisoning.

    There are plenty of incidents of people arrested for attempting (or, more often, succeeding) to make ricin; it’s a pretty easy poison to make. In fact, there was even another ricin-in-the-envelope attempt made back in 2003–a person identifying as “Fallen Angel” sent letters filled with ricin to the White House, apparently as a result of some new trucking regulations (seriously). “Fallen Angel” was never found, but the letters were intercepted and did not cause any injury.

    How dangerous are these envelopes filled with ricin?
    The envelope strategy has more to do with potential ease of getting the poison close to targets than its strength as a delivery system. If you’re targeting the President of the United States, it’s easier and more anonymous to mail a letter than to try to get close to him with an umbrella modified for ricin-stabbing. But it’s not a great way to poison someone with ricin. Assuming the letter actually got into the target’s hands, of the three ways ricin can get into a person’s system (inhalation, injection, ingestion), only one–inhalation–is really possible, and it’s not that likely.

    Inhalation as a weapon is best accomplished through a mist, ideally delivered through an aerosol. But that’s not possible in a letter full of powder. It’s possible that small granules of ricin could be released into the air and inhaled when handling the letter, but it is not an effective way to poison someone. And whoever’s sending these letters evidently doesn’t know that the government set up an elaborate mail-screening system after the 2001 Anthrax scare.


  • Mystery Animal Contest: Who Is This Fuzzy Sniffler?
    Guess the species (either common or Linnaean) by tweeting at us–we’re @PopSci–and get your name listed right here! Plus eternal glory, obviously. Update: We have a winner!

    So, here are the rules: To answer, follow us on Twitter and tweet at us with the hashtag #mysteryanimal. For example:

    Hey @PopSci, is the #mysteryanimal a baboon?

    And then I might say “if you think that’s a baboon, perhaps you are the baboon!” But probably not, because this is a positive environment and all guesses are welcome and also this is not a very common animal so guess whatever you want!

    The first person to get it right wins! We’ll retweet the answer from @PopSci, and also update this post so your amazing animal knowledge will be permanently etched onto the internet. Show your kids! Your dumb kids who thought that was a baboon!

    Update: And the winner is…Logan Copeman, who correctly guessed that this is a viscacha (Lagidium viscacia, also spelled vizcacha)! Specifically, this is a southern or mountain viscacha, a rodent found in South America. Yep, rodent: the viscacha is not related to the rabbit family, though it looks similar; the rabbit belongs to an entirely different branch of the evolutionary tree, and the fact that the viscacha looks so much like a rabbit is an example of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution describes when two species not closely related end up adapting to their environments in the same way.

    The viscacha lives in the southern Andes mountains, and is closely related to the chinchilla. It’s sometimes known as a long-tailed rabbit, thanks to its long ears and fluffy coat. It moves similarly to a rabbit, on very strong hind legs, hopping around its mountain home to eat a variety of grasses, mosses, and lichens. It lives in colonies, like all members of the chinchilla family, which can widely range in size. It’s not particularly rare; it is sometimes hunted for its meat and fur, but is believed to be holding steady, population-wise. Hi viscacha!


  • EuropaCity Is The Ultra-Green Mall Of The Future
    EuropaCity BIG
    Imagine a mall. Now imagine a mall in the year 2150.

    The design firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), along with a few added team members (Tess, Transsolar, Base, Transitec, and Michel Forgue) have won first place in a competition to design an experimental “urban center” in France called EuropaCity. Located in Île-de-France, the wealthiest and most populous region in France, EuropaCity is intended to be a center of culture and retail, combining all sorts of experimental sustainable technologies.

    But as a design–and a pretty spectacular one at that–it’s best experienced through images. Click through to the gallery to see and read more about the proposal!

    Click to launch the gallery.


  • Nanosponges In Your Blood Could Soak Up Infections And Poison
    Nanosponge Engineers at the University of California, San Diego have invented a “nanosponge” capable of safely removing a broad class of toxins from the bloodstream, including toxins produced by MRSA, E. Coli, poisonous snakes and bees. The nanosponges are made of a biocompatible polymer core wrapped in a natural red blood cell membrane. Zhang Research Lab
    Mice who got nanosponge injections survived lethal doses of toxins.

    A newly invented “nanosponge,” sheathed in armor made of red blood cells, can safely remove a wide range of toxins from the bloodstream. Scientists at the University of California-San Diego inoculated some mice with their nanosponge, and then gave the animals otherwise lethal doses of a toxin–and the mice survived.

    This is especially interesting because a nanosponge can work on entire classes of toxins. Most antidotes or treatments against venom, bioweapons or bacteria are targeted to counteract a specific molecular structure, so they can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution; this nanosponge can.

    Scientists led by Liangfang Zhang, a nanoengineering professor at UCSD, worked with a class of proteins known as pore-forming toxins, which work just the way they sound: By ripping a hole in a cell membrane. These toxins are found in snake venom, sea anemones, and even bacteria like the dreaded drug-resistant Staph aureus. The proteins come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all work in a similar way.

    They designed a nanosponge to soak up any type of pore-forming toxins. It consists of a tiny (85-nanometer) plastic ball wrapped in red blood cell membranes, which basically serve as a decoy and soak up the poison. The plastic ball holds everything together, and keeps the protein away from its real cellular targets. The entire nanosponge is 3,000 times smaller than a full red blood cell. The devices had a half-life of about 40 hours when the team tested them on lab mice, according to a release from UCSD.

    They injected mice with 70 times as many toxic proteins as nanosponges, and the sponges still neutralized the poison and caused no visible damage to the animals, the team reports. Next up are clinical trials in animals, to verify that it works safely in a wide range of cases.

    The paper is in this week’s issue of Nature Nanotechnology.


  • Wearing A Kilt Could Make Your Sperm Stronger
    Temperature regulation is the key to fertility.

    Temperature affects how much sperm a man makes, so there’s been speculation that the freedom offered by a kilt can increase production. Turns out that that at least could be right: a new metastudy says wearing a kilt “likely produces an ideal physiological scrotal environment, which in turn helps maintain normal scrotal temperature, which is known to be beneficial for robust spermatogenesis and good sperm quality.”

    The study (PDF), published in the Scottish Medical Journal, reviewed the literature on the link between scrotal temperature and reproduction. We know sperm fares better in lower temperatures, and some researchers have suggested that restrictive clothing could negatively affect sperm production. Enter: the kilt, which author Erwin J.O. Kompanje describes thusly: “The Scottish kilt is a male garment that resembles (but is not!) a knee-length, pleated skirt.”

    The author hypothesizes that, based on past findings about temperature and sperm production, a kilt, specifically one worn in the undergarment-free “regimental” style, would be an ideal environment for sperm production. Kompanje searched through related research, focusing on statistics in Scotland and noting along the way that 70 percent of kilt-wearers choose to go regimental. Kilts (at least in Scotland or other countries where they’re more commonly worn) might also be psychologically valuable, increasing feelings of masculinity when worn. Kompanje goes so far as to write that a downturn in Scottish fertility is correlated with the frequency of kilts being worn, although he admits it’s still somewhat speculative until a randomized trial happens. Gentlemen, put on your kilts for science.


  • We Could Eat Trees: Scientists Turn Inedible Plant Cellulose Into Starchy Snack
    Turning plant byproducts into digestible carbs could feed more people.

    Someday, it will be be summer again and it will be time for fresh sweet corn. In the future, you might be able to eat the whole thing, cob and all.

    This weird possibility is courtesy of some scientists at Virginia Tech, who have transformed cellulose, a mostly indigestible polymer, into helpful, indispensable starch.

    Plants produce cellulose and starch, which are chemically similar, for very different purposes. Cellulose forms the cell walls of most plants, algae and even some bacteria, and we use it for anything from clothing (cotton is almost all cellulose) to paper to ethanol. Starch is a plant’s energy source, and it’s ours, too, in the form of tasty things like potatoes, wheat and corn. The difference between the two is a simple change in the hydrogen bonds that form the molecules.

    Animals like cows and pigs can digest cellulose thanks to symbiotic bacteria in their digestive tracts, but humans can’t. It’s important in our diets as source of fiber, in that it binds together waste in our digestive tracts. Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, set out to make it a food source.

    Since cellulose and amylose are both glucose chains, you would just have to rearrange their hydrogen bonds. This is anything but simple, although essentially Zhang and colleagues used chemistry. They worked with a series of synthetic enzymes to break down the hydrogen bonds in some plant material that would not otherwise be used for food, like corn cobs and leaves. The “enzyme cascade” enabled the cellulose molecules to reconfigure into amylose, which is a form of starch. A key ingredient in this process, a special polypeptide cap, is found in potatoes.

    The resulting product is not exactly the future of bread flour, but it can be used as a fiber source, or food-safe biodegradable packaging, perhaps. The remaining portion of the original material was treated with microbes to produce a form of glucose that can then be used for ethanol. The whole process didn’t require any unusual heat or chemical reagents, other than the enzymes themselves, so it would be easy to reproduce on larger scales, Zhang and his colleagues say.

    Cellulose is the most common carbohydrate–indeed the most common organic material–on the planet, so using it for food could be a superb way to feed millions of people, they argue.

    “There is an urgent need to use abundant and renewable nonfood agricultural and forest residues and dedicated bioenergy crops that can grow on marginal land and require low inputs,” they write. The paper appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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Zimbabwe’s new found diamonds, a curse or blessing for local communities?

Posted on 13 April 2013 by Wallace Mawire

When communities in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province in the Marange/Odzi region constituting Chimanimani, Marange, Buhera and Chipinge heard of diamond discoveries in their area they thought that their impoverished lives were going to improve.

Little did they know that things could turn to the worse.

A shocking report released by the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) following an investigation has unearthed rampant abuse of environmental ethical standards with potential negative consequencies on the livelihoods of the affected communities.

ZELA has released the report on the scientific investigation of the impact of Marange diamond mining operations on water quality in the Save and Odzi rivers including assessment of the health, environmental and livelihoods impacts, according to Shamiso Mtisi, a Projects Lawyer with ZELA.

Mtisi says the study of the impact of mining activities on the water quality of the Save and Odzi rivers was commissioned by the ZELA  in the period 5 – 13 July 2012.

“This followed widespread reports that water quality had deteriorated to the extent that most ecosystem services (potable water, livestock watering and irrigation) that used to be derived from these natural ecosystems had been lost,”Mtisi said.

The objectives of the study were to determine the water quality in the Save and Odzi Rivers and make appropriate conclusions about the state of the environment and the potential impacts on human health and livelihoods in the Marange diamond mining region.

Ten study sites were sampled and this included suitable reference sites  selected on each river outside the diamond mining areas to give comparison of the effects before and after mining discharges.

Twenty physical and chemical water quality parameters were measured; along with nine heavy metal elements and four microbiological parameters.

According to ZELA, the results were evaluated against established W.H.O. standards and Zimbabwe Effluent Standards.

ZELA reports  that the results of the study have shown large scale impacts that include siltation, chemical pollution and also heavy metal pollution.

“All these arise as by products of the mining processes,” Mtisi says.

He added that turbidity and total solids exceeded the environmental limits.

“Water of high turbidity (hazey, murky water) cannot be used as potable water, and the high total solids also imply that it cannot be used as irrigation water as well as this will damage infrastructure,”he said.    The ZELA investigation also revealed that downstream of mining activities the water has turned into a red ochre colour, thereby affecting the health of the river system.

“When in contact with the skin, the water and mud were itchy. It is most likely that the subsistence artisanal fishing that took place before is no longer possible at affected river sites, thereby impacting negatively on people’s livelihoods,” ZELA says.

The reports says similarly, pH was in the high alkaline range as well as C.O.D. These parameters are reported to be  indicative of some chemical pollution in the rivers. The pH that is alkaline (hard water) is reported to be corrosive and can damage plumbing equipment and clothes.

High levels of fluoride in the water are said to pose the risk of diseases such as dental and skeletal flourosis. Dental flourosis relates to the poor development of teeth, while skeletal flourosis is a bone disease caused by excessive consumption of fluoride.

Levels of heavy metals were reported to show high concentrations of iron, chromium and nickel in the water. The report notes that these elements are the major constituents of ferro-silicon, a chemical compound used in the diamond extraction process.

Chromium and nickel are potentially carcinogenic agents (cancer causing agents) and therefore they pose an immediate health risk to people and livestock. “The high levels of iron in water suggest that the local populations could be at risk of iron poisoning, as they exceeded stipulated W.H.O. standards. Dangerous levels of bacterial contamination (high total and faecal coliform counts) mainly of faecal origin, were detected in the water,”according to ZELA.

The investigation revealed that the exact sources could not be determined but the mines have to explain and show how their sewage is treated and disposed of in the mining area. It adds that this means sewage treatment facilities must be in place for evaluation.

ZELA says in the report that the presence of pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella also represents an immediate health risk for the local communities. A water quality index (WQI) was calculated for each of the river sites, and results showed that most of the river sites were classified as BAD water quality and the reference sites as MEDIUM quality.

According to ZELA the results of the study clearly show the environmental and potential health risks to people and their livelihoods as a result of poor mining practices in the Marange diamond region. “Access to this area is severely restricted, but the mines can only be exonerated if they allow independent studies to evaluate the environmental impacts arising from their mining activities,” ZELA says .

The organization has recommended that the necessary infrastructure to process all waste water from the mines should be put in place, and as part of their community responsibility, the mines must facilitate the clean up process.

“The problems of water quality and environmental degradation need to be addressed in the Marange area before there is irreparable damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods,” ZELA says. ZELA says in its report that mining, due to the nature of its operations, has been traditionally associated with problems of environmental degradation. In Zimbabwe, mining is a significant contributor to the country’s GDP like most countries in southern Africa.

The problems and economic losses associated with environmental degradation include damage to vegetation, health effects on livestock and humans, shortages of water in terms of quality and quantity. Thus, the long-term impacts on the health of livestock and humans ultimately depend upon the physical and chemical characteristics of pollutants and the exposure to such pollutants.

According to ZELA, like many other developing countries, a number of rivers in Zimbabwe are heavily polluted from anthropogenic activities which include industrial, sewage discharges and mining.

“The discovery of diamonds in the Marange region of Zimbabwe has translated the country into a mining giant. However, the pursuit of economic benefits must not be at the detriment of the natural environment upon which our biodiversity thrives as well as the livelihoods of millions of people who may not derive any direct benefits from mining activities,” says Mtisi.

The investigation has also revealed that mining by its nature, is a major environmental disturbance as it alters the landscape in many ways as minerals are mined and processed.

The two main complex processes involved include moving large quantities of earth thereby exposing toxic elements to the environment; and the processes of mineral extraction from the ore generates large amounts of liquid waste that must be disposed of.

In order to protect natural resources such as river courses, Zimbabwe has enacted legislation which include the Environmental Management Act and the Water Act (1998).

Communities in the Marange/Odzi region of Manicaland (Chimanimani, Marange, Buhera and Chipinge) have for long relied on the Odzi and Save Rivers for potable water, domestic chores, bathing, fishing and other ecosystem services such as reeds used for the basket making industry.

Irrigation schemes that draw water from the Odzi and Save Rivers in the Nyanyadzi, Tonhorai and Birchenough areas have been key to the sustenance of livelihoods of local Communities.

According to ZELA since the start of the diamond mining operations, the services that were derived from these rivers have slowly diminished as the water quality has progressively declined. “This is to such an extent that communities cannot use the water for drinking purposes anymore whilst coming into contact with the water and mud cause an itching of the skin,”ZELA says.

It adds that the use of ferro-silicon which is an alloy containing silica, iron, chromium, nickel, aluminium and calcium is suspected to be linked to the prevailing environmental problems. Downstream of mining activities the water has turned into a red ochre colour effectively affecting the health of the river system and ecosystem function.

“It is likely that the subsistence artisanal fishing that took place has been somewhat affected. There have been some studies on the Odzi River well before mining activities  but the sampling sites were situated well before the Marange area,” according to Mtisi.

The Odzi River is situated in the Save River basin, which is one of the seven basins/watersheds of Zimbabwe. It is the main river in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, where it originates at an altitude of 2500m in the Inyangani mountains.

According to ZELA, there are four mining companies operating in the Marange area namely: DMC, Mbada Diamonds, Anjin and Marange Resources.

“Communities have raised concern about effluent discharge from Anjin, Marange Resources and DMC mines,”ZELA says.

ZELA has concluded in its  investigation that the water quality of the Odzi and Save Rivers in an area where there is diamond mining has highlighted serious environmental problems that need to be urgently addressed.

It says the Save and Odzi rivers were already in a vulnerable state before the mining activities began mainly due to problems of siltation from the communal areas.

The start of mining ventures is reported to have resulted in large volumes of silt-laden water being discharged into the rivers.

“The problem of silt from mine washings is not a difficult one to deal with if the will is there. The mines need to construct tailings dams which act as sedimentation ponds. They should then discharge the water into the tailings dam and allow sediment to settle,” ZELA says.   Its adds that the water can then be pumped from the tailings dams and recycled.

The investigators have revealed that the levels of suspended silt in the rivers means the water cannot be used for irrigation as this would cause damage to pumps and other irrigation infrastructure.

“It is not fit for consumption by livestock and humans. The fluoride concentrations in the water, especially where there is strong influence of mine discharges, is of serious health concern (causes bone and teeth diseases) and needs to be investigated further,” Mtisi says.

The organization says the second major problem that was clearly identified was that of chemical pollutants being discharged into the rivers after the washings were done.

It says according to the technology that is being used, the ferro-silicone must be recycled after the diamond extraction.

It is said to be not clear why this is not being done but the results confirm large amounts of ferro-silicone are also being discharged with waste water into the rivers resulting in the problems of itchy skin and unusable water for irrigation and domestic use.

The metal concentrations especially that of chromium which is carcinogenic (cancer causing), are of particular concern being close to or higher than W.H.O. standards for drinking water.

ZELA says the problems of bacterial contamination in the water are of serious concern and pose an immediate risk of outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.

“Since it is not possible to gain access to the mining area and assess how mines dispose of their human waste, it will be prudent to make the assumption that they could also be contributing to the problem,” the investigators concluded.

It is also said to be obvious that the water quality problems in this region have far-reaching socioeconomic implications for the livelihoods of local communities and the mines must take full responsibility in accordance with the various legal instruments that protect the environment.

“There is need for a regular monitoring programme to be instituted to assess for seasonal changes in the water quality of these rivers,” according to ZELA.

According to ZELA’s Veronica Zano at a recent media workshop on promoting transparency and accountability in Zimbabwe’s extractive sector, her organization wrote to the mining companies concerned and only ANJIN responsed informing them on the need to practice sound environmental operations.

She also revealed that the study was conducted by ZELA in collaboration with the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and a group of local scientists in Zimbabwe. Zano also revealed that her organization also lodged a case with the High Court of Zimbabwe which is still pending on the issue in a bid to protect the livelihoods of the affected communities. It now remains to be seen whether the interests of making money will overcome people’s health concerns.

Photo 1. Site 1 on Odzi River near Nenohwe village (5 July 2012).

Photo 2. Site 2 on Save River near Nechishanye village but upstream of Odzi/Save confluence (5 July 2012).

Photo 3. Site 3 near Nechishanye village at the confluence of Odzi and Save Rivers (5 July 2012).

Photo 4. Site 5 at Bazeley Bridge upstream of Anjin Mine and Marange Resources discharge points (6 July 2012).

Photo 5. Site 7 on Save River River at Dune/Banda- Maundu Village in Buhera.

Photo credits: ZELA


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How the Western Cape’s largest electricity consumer saved R90 million in one year

Posted on 08 April 2013 by Africa Business

African Utility Week to give insight into large power users’ challenges

ArcelorMittal’s steel plant in Saldanha, the single largest electricity consumer in the Western Cape, participated in an Industrial Energy Efficiency Improvement Project that has resulted in an astounding R90 million energy bill savings in one year.  The upcoming African Utility Week in Cape Town from 14-16 May will give a unique insight into the challenges of large power users, including an exclusive site visit to ArcelorMittal’s Saldanha Works.

The Saldanha Works is a flat rolling integrated steel facility that produces 1.2 million hot rolled coil (HRC) per annum.  HRC from Saldanha is mainly exported, with approximately 20% sold on the local market.  There are three main areas within the plant – iron making (producing liquid iron and direct reduced iron), steel making that has two converter arc furnaces (CONARC), and rolling with a hot strip mill and a temper mill.

Energy management strategy
To save energy, water and waste at the plant, Saldanha launched a focused energy management strategy in 2010 says Dhesan Moodley – General Manager of ArcelorMittal’s Saldanha Works.  He explains:  “resources were allocated both in terms of people and capital expenditure.  Initially the potential was determined through an existing project list and doing an energy audit on the plant to determine further possible savings.  ISO 50001 was implemented and energy management is now part of our daily routines.  The energy saved in terms of baseline value of 160 MW was 10.6MW or 6.6% and the equivalent of R90 million in 2012.

Moodley says they also implemented various VSD (Variable speed drive) projects that delivered greater savings than expected.  “This has proved to be sound technology given the correct application.  We are also very proud of our waste heat project at the Roller Hearth Furnace where waste heat was used to replace a diesel heater at the Air Separation plant.  We have also done some optimisation projects at the water plant on pump systems that required no capital expenditure.”

Introducing savings easy
According to Moodley introducing energy savings is relatively easy.  He explains the main lessons the steel plant learnt: “You need to assign resources if you are really serious about energy savings.  You need to train people – a good technical person still needs to be trained in energy savings and the NCPC/ UNIDO program (supported by the DTI and DOE) is really an affordable way to train your staff to think and implement energy savings initiatives.   Introducing savings is relatively easy.  Sustaining these savings can be quite difficult especially if it is achieved by changing human behaviour.  You need to incorporate it in your management infrastructure and implement a system such as ISO 50001 to entrench and sustain such savings.”

Increased energy tariffs
Large Power Users are under increasing pressure with rising energy tariffs and the impending implementation of a carbon tax.   ArcelorMittal’s Saldanha Works, General Manager, Dhesan Moodley says the increased energy tariff and carbon tax is a significant risk for the plant.  He expands:  “we are focused on the export market, specifically in Africa and we are competing against China and India.  These countries do not experience any of the cost increases mentioned.  The viability of export facilities is at risk with these increases.  This obviously has significant potential impact on the economy, not just local, but also on the fiscal balance.”

A number of delegates at the upcoming African Utility Week in Cape Town from 14-15 May will be able to experience a unique site visit to the steel plant at Saldanha.  Moodley says their main message to fellow power professionals at the event will be that “once you start focusing on energy savings there are numerous opportunities to achieve savings.”

The site visit will include the following aspects of the plant:

–  RHF Flue gas capture to heat Diesel at the Air Separation Unit: This is a waste heat project which eliminates the requirement for diesel heating by using waste heat from another process to achieve the same results.
–  Optimisation of Compressed Air at ASU: Eliminating waste from the compressed air system.  The monitory value of mismanaged and misused compress air is often underestimated.
–  Water treatment plant System 1 and 14:  often there is low hanging fruit to achieve savings such as just switching off equipment and ensuring that a system is running at its optimum with as little waste as possible.  These are two examples of this principle.  Solid theoretical analysis, practical measurements and detail risk analysis and action plan to address risks are essential before any changes can be made.

The dates for African Utility Week are:
Exhibition & Conference: 14-15 May 2013
Pre-conference Workshops: 13 May 2013
Site Visits: 16 May 2013

Location: CTICC, Cape Town

Websites: ;

African Utility Week
African Utility Week brings together the entire ecosystem for the African water and power sector, from high level government representatives, utilities and municipalities, regulators and power pools to consultants, vendors, service providers and energy intensive power users for the purpose of sharing and determining the future development of Africa’s power industry.

Clean Power Africa
Clean Power Africa is Africa’s leading event where major stakeholders from the clean power sector get together and network. The event, co-located with the 13th annual African Utility Week, facilitates information exchange at the highest level and explores clean generation as a feasible solution to fulfil Africa’s electricity needs.

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