Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
10 MARCH 2004
Professor Sir David King, Mr Nick Grout, Mr John
Holmes and Mr Simon Crabbe
Q120 Lord Crickhowell: The second part of
my question was: what can the EU do really to get the kind of
scale of research? That is not, I suspect, a question of funding
from the EU.
Sir David King: No, it is not. The answer to
that is to draw attention to the carbon emissions trading scheme,
which we know will come into play on 1 January 2005. It is imminent.
I was delighted when Prodi made a statement which was the clearest
possible support for the trading scheme. I think some of our partners
in Europe were beginning to wobble a bit and Prodi said, "We
will not back down in the fight against human-induced climate
change. The Kyoto Protocol represents a significant first step
towards realising the goal of stabilising atmospheric levels",
and so on. Prodi has provided leadership on these issues. Our
expectation, and we are working within the UK Government very
strongly towards this, is that trading will in fact come into
place in 2005. That trading, I suggest, is an important part of
this because we need the economic drivers for the R&D that
will be required to develop these disruptive technologies that
will displace the carbon-based technologies.
Chairman: We have a witness coming in
two weeks' time to talk to us specifically about carbon trading
and how it will develop.
Q121 Lord Crickhowell: I take the point
that that practical action to reduce the CO2 and so on will stimulate
its own industrial research. You lay great emphasis on the UK
research programme, and quite rightly on the work of Hadley and
Tyndall and the National Energy Research Centre staff and so on.
I hope there are comparable efforts going on in other European
countries. My question is: is it right that it all should go separately
perhaps and in competition or can the EU co-ordinate a more effective
total research programme in any way?
Sir David King: There is no doubt in my mind
that the European Union can and does co-ordinate that sort of
action. I think that the networking interaction across national
boundaries in the European Union is improving year on year, and
not just in these fields of research. I really think there has
been a massive transformation over the last 10 years in interaction
across European boundaries, largely driven by mobility funding,
which leads to people at post-doctoral level moving from one country
to another. That carries the skills base and all the knowledge
transfer that is required in the process. I do think there has
been this transformation. Perhaps I could just inject in here
that I have just completed an analysis of the scientific wealth
of nations taking us up to 2002. The European Union on my analysis,
based on citations, is now level-pegging with the United States
in terms of scientific output. I think that is very largely due
to this networking across boundaries driven by the Union.
Q122 Lord Livsey of Talgarth: May I quote
to you from your memo to us about budgets for research where you
say: "It is disappointing that the budget for research, technology
development and demonstration type activities in the area of sustainable
energy systems has been cut from that available under the Fifth
Framework Programme . . ." You have underlined that this
morning. Could you tell us, therefore, what are the most important
areas of R&D funding for the EU to support as opposed to individual
Sir David King: The current emphasis is very
much on solar energy and the hydrogen economy: hydrogen fuel cells,
hydrogen production. There is no European-wide emphasis on a piece
of research that is proving very fruitful in the UK, which is
in tidal turbines and in wave transformation. I do think that
the European Union needs to broaden its emphasis to include these
new and unforeseen energy resources. At the moment, we do have
a listing I think of six areas that the EU is funding, and it
would be useful to see that broadened. Of course, I believe that
the UK development of tidal and wave energy power is going to
give us a very significant economic advantage because we have
several companies coming through there. This could be a more significant
renewable source of energy, particularly for the UK but for other
countries as well, than, for example, wind power. Wind power is
intermittent. The moon is rather reliable. Tidal energy is there
for the taking 24 hours a day.
Q123 Lord Livsey of Talgarth: Could you
make a case, particularly in the area of tidal power, for the
new set-up as it will be in the EU after the elections to increase
the budget of the EU; and would that be the area that you would
favour for the budget increase of the EU?
Sir David King: Yes, it is. It is one area I
would favour. We are currently preparing the British position
for the negotiations on Framework Seven. The idea is that we should
get ahead of the game. We are preparing our position. By July
this year, we will have crystallised that position. We are going
to send a document out for consultation generally in the country,
but this means that over the summer we will sort out precisely
what the British negotiating position is and then I would be able
to answer you more clearly. Off the cuff, my remark is that I
would like to see increases in those areas.
Q124 Earl Peel: Sir David, is pretty clear
from the evidence that we have received to date that there is
reluctance, which I suppose one can understand in political terms,
to try and deal with other causes of climate change, such as transport.
I am just wondering what your opinion is about the possible technical
solutionsand you have already made reference to hydrogen-fuelled
vehiclesand how these might be able to play a part in actually
reducing transport emissions; what is the likely timing of such
technologies; and what are the possible constraints to their introduction?
Sir David King: The first thing is to welcome
any technological development that results in a reduction of emissions
from road vehicles because that really is the largest source of
emissions. For example, the Toyota Prius is advertised as a car
that will emit on average 100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
That is a very substantial reduction over the normal vehicle,
which is about 250. We have an agreement with the Japanese and
Korean car manufacturers to invest in car manufacturing that will
lead us to low emission technology cars. I think all of this is
welcome and I do not think we can say that in the marketplace
there is no single right answer. What R&D must do is provide
a whole menu of possibilities for the marketplace to play with.
In the long run, my belief is that the development of fuel cell
technology provides the best opportunity for the transport system
to come on line. We have got a long way to go because the current
cost of a hydrogen fuel cell driven motor vehicle is high, simply
because of the platinum loading on the fuel cell membranes. The
amount of platinum going into each vehicle is quite high, and
this provides an expense and there is a question mark eventually
about the provision of the amount of platinum required worldwide.
Platinum reduction, incidentally, in fuel cells is a British speciality.
The current leader is Johnson Matthey in the UK. Just developing
the answer, I do think we have to support all sorts of technologies
that will lead to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
Q125 Chairman: You say you have agreements
to investigate this with Japanese and Korean car manufacturers,
but what about European car manufacturers?
Sir David King: My apologies. I should have
said that they are included. I have just returned from Japan.
Q126 Lord Carter: The technology that you
mention, as you say, is for the long run but of course there is
a simple technology which is immediately available, which is the
use of biofuels. There is a debate, as I am sure you know, at
the moment within government between the Department of Transport,
Defra and the Treasury on this subject. I actually moved an amendment
at the Committee Stage of the Energy Bill, which is before the
House at the moment, to probe the issue of a renewable transport
fuel obligation. I understand that the oil companies are prepared
to consider this. What is your view?
Sir David King: Biofuels will in future be added
to petrol so as to increase the amount that comes in from that
area. Of course, there will be a reduction in cost in taxation
to encourage this. I do think, once again, that we need this broad
menu approach. Biofuels across Europe is seen to be a big step
forward in this way. We do have to recall just the one limitation
here, and this is around the question of land use. If we are moving
away from farming for food production, then biofuels might be
a good way to move into land use.
Q127 Lord Carter: There are very large areas
at the moment which have nothing growing on them at all, which
are in set-aside and could be used for biofuels?
Sir David King: Biofuels are considerably smarter
that set-aside, yes.
Q128 Earl Peel: May I just go back to clarify
a point on the question that I asked? On this question of constraints
that may exist at the moment, do you feel there are constraints
that are preventing new technologies from developing? Do you think
there is anything that the EU or governments could be doing to
encourage and enhance?
Sir David King: I think that is a very good
question because if there are such constraints, then we ought
to be trying to remove them. We have been working at creating
incentives, but your question is a little different from that.
Q129 Earl Peel: You have to look at both
sides of the coin?
Sir David King: Yes, you have to do that. I
have no top-of-the-head answer to that question.
Q130 Earl Peel: Perhaps you would like to
give it some thought and come back to us?
Sir David King: Yes.
Q131 Lord Lewis of Newnham: The big disadvantage
of using hydrogen is that very often in the generation of it you
are still producing CO2 but it is at a point source rather than
at a diffuse source and so you are more in control of it. How
far are people actually doing this? How far are they recovering
or dealing with the CO2 that is being produced in producing hydrogen
and things of this nature?
Sir David King: Your question is related to
sequestration of carbon dioxide. We are supporting carbon dioxide
sequestration research and one of the big technological programmes
in the United States is looking into carbon dioxide sequestration
as a means of keeping their coal mining business going in the
light of carbon dioxide emission reduction. If I interpret your
question as meaning "what chance is there of having a safe
sequestration process that will also be economic?", I would
have to say that I think the judgment is still out. The use of
dried up oil wells has been posed. Economically, this is very
good if you are using carbon dioxide to press out the last oil
from the oil well; you put it under pressure and then you are
pumping the carbon dioxide in and sealing it up. The cost, however,
if you are not benefiting from the oil coming out, may be a significant
deterrent in that kind of sequestration. There are also questions
to be asked about the possible leakage of the carbon dioxide back
out. It would be very good for inorganic chemists to look at sequestration
in such a way that we put it into the solid state, Lord Lewis.
Q132 Lord Lewis of Newnham: In fact, you
can go to carbon dioxide hydrate systems, which are pressurised
systems, which of course are solids. The difficulty there is that
that may be providing you with a problem in future, just as the
methane hydrate is a problem for the future. As you were referring
to in the Gulf Stream situation. The question that worries me
is that the people in Norway have actually sequestrated CO2 very
effectively in using the natural gas and removing CO2 but of course
their real drive for this was the carbon tax. They were able to
recover their money very quickly by reducing the amount of CO2
that they were having to pay for and so the reduction there was
driven by taxation. The real problem I have here is this balance
between the economic side of it and the scientific side of it.
Sir David King: I think the only answer to this
is going to be when the carbon trading comes into place, we will
know the cost of carbon dioxide emissions and you then know whether
carbon dioxide sequestration is going to be economically viable
or not. If it is not, then we have to look at economic alternatives.
I think that the question of hydrogen production is one of the
most interesting questionshydrogen production without CO2
production. Electrolysis is an obvious way forward. Then the question
is: how do you produce the electricity? The smart way to do it
is with nuclear fusion power. You may know I am spending quite
a lot of effort in getting an international fusion project off
the ground. With fusion you are running an energy source at high
temperature, a temperature sufficiently highit is above
800o centigradethat you dissociate water thermally and
so you produce hydrogen and oxygen. As a by-product of the electricity
production, you get hydrogen production as well. You can do the
same with nuclear fission power as well.
Q133 Chairman: Just on that, I notice in
your written evidence you talk about the development of ITER,
testing the feasibility of fusion power generation. This is a
European project, is it not? Does it look good at this stage?
Sir David King: ITER is the single subject that
I have probably spent most time on over the last three years.
This is a project which was originally a joint project between
the European Union, Japan, Russia and the United States. The United
States then backed out of the agreement in 1999 and the project
just continued with those three partners: Russia, Japan and the
European Union. The joint European TORUS in Oxfordshire at Culham
is the major output of that programme to date and JET at Culham
has now produced everything for which it was designed. Your question
is: is this a viable way forward? I think that JET has demonstrated
that we have viability and ITER is the next stage on from JET,
which is a much larger fusion power project, that will produce
ten times as much power out as in. If I say to you that the two
material inputs for the energy here are lithium and deuterium
from sea water, the lithium in your mobile phone plus the water
in your bath would provide enough energy to keep all of your energy
requirements going as an individual for 120 years using the fusion
power station. That is the promise of the fusion power station,
it is that we would have enough lithium and deuterium to provide
the energy resource needed for the world for at least 2,000 years.
It is a project that I think is well worth funding and we are
moving on to this international phase of the project. I have been
travelling round the world very heavily to get back-up for it,
and we now have the United States back on board and, in addition,
China and Korea. It is now the biggest ever science and technology
international project that the world will have seen. The total
building cost will be around
5 billion. The big argument at the moment is where
it should be sited. Should it be in Japan or the European Union?
Q134 Chairman: How very interesting. Is
lithium a light metal?
Sir David King: Yes, and essentially lithium
when struck with neutrons produces tritium. Two times tritium
gives lithium, so if you split the lithium you get tritium. You
surround the plasma with a lithium blanket; the neutrons produced
in the plasma, which is just operating as the sun does, hit the
lithium blanket; this produces the tritium which keeps the whole
thing going and you feed deuterium in to keep it going as well.
Down at Culham they have had it operating. It burns at 100 million
degrees centigrade, so it is quite hot. It generates therefore
enough heat to drive electricity power, but also to split water,
so that you get hydrogen out of this as well. My expectation would
be fusion power stations, unless we increase funding very substantially,
in about 35 years' time. In terms of the global warning scenario,
that is certainly not too soon.
Q135 Baroness Billingham: In your memorandum
you refer to something you have already touched on: The Environmental
Technologies Action Plan for the European Union. You have
already talked about some of the technologies contained in it.
I wonder if you would like to expand upon that because it does
seem to me to be at the core of some of the things we are looking
at in this inquiry.
Sir David King: Yes. I am going to kick off
by saying that this is an issue that Defra lead on. My job here
in government is to oversee work in government departments, and
if a department is doing well, I stand back and leave it to do
it. Defra is doing this. If you are going to see a senior person
from Defra, please do ask him that question. The idea in the EU
Environmental Technologies Action Plan is to provide horizontal
transfer of information. Again, it is this knowledge transfer
process, so that each country benefits from what the other is
doing on this environmental technologies platform. I think that
is the major action plan. It does focus on hydrogen and fuel cells
and on solar photovoltaics. Those are the two technologies that
currently are the focus of that horizontal knowledge transfer
Q136 Lord Carter: Among all the technologies
that you have mentioned, which sound extremely exciting, are any
of them dangerous?
Sir David King: That is a very good question.
One of the major advantages of the fusion project is that the
ash of the process is non-radioactive. The ash is helium gas,
so all that emerges from the process is helium gas and helium
gas escapes into the outer atmosphere. It has no deleterious effect.
Q137 Lord Carter: Could it explode or blow
up or something?
Sir David King: If it should blow up, and again
this is a major advantage of this, the plasma running at 100 million
degrees centigrade sounds dangerous because it is hot but it is
a very low density plasma. The big problem of JET has been to
stabilise the plasma. The plasma literally goes unstable. It is
contained within a magnetic field. The sun has the advantage of
gravity, holding it together. We cannot make an object that big
but gravity holds it together here and so we have to use magnetic
forces. This plasma literally just moves around in an unstable
fashion and the instabilities have to be corrected with the magnetic
field, but it always, at the moment, goes unstable fairly quickly,
and then it just pops and cools down in a matter of microseconds.
Equally, if, for example, there was an explosion and the thing
split open, before it had broken open, it would be totally cold.
It does have really distinct technological advantages. However,
I would have to tell you that these neutrons that split the lithium
also will interact with the steel container and will convert it
into radioactive material. You do produce radioactivity in the
container. We are working in a materials programme on finding
materials with very short half-lives; these are low mass material
such as germanium and silicon based materials, so that at the
end of the lifetime of a fusion power station, you leave it until
it has cooled down, and then you can dismantle it easily.
Q138 Lord Crickhowell: We have been hearing
in fascinating detail about what I call high technology, but one
of the things that keeps coming up in our general inquiry across
the whole operation of policy is the question of data reliability
and monitoring. So much of EU policy depends on monitoring of
information and a good deal, I suspect, of the work in which you
are involved depends on reliable data. It is a subject that Lord
Lewis has referred to. Have you particular concerns or are there
ways in which you think we could across Europe get more reliable
data? Am I right in thinking that it is very important to the
progress that we make in the scientific field as well as in the
effective implementation of policies that we do it on the basis
of sound data?
Sir David King: You are absolutely right, and
you are right that we should worry about it. Of course, when data
needs to be gathered, the Commission sets off the process and,
on the whole, I think that works pretty well. For example, if
we want to know how each country in Europe is doing in terms of
renewables on the electricity grid, that was a question your Committee
asked, there has now been a detailed report and so we have country-by-country
analysis, including the new states coming on board. I do think
the Commission has got in process a system of data gathering that,
in my experience, eventually produces the answer. The key word
there is "eventually".
Q139 Baroness Maddock: Continuing with European
policies, a lot of emphasis has been put on reducing carbon dioxide,
but of course another part of the Kyoto Protocol was looking at
other greenhouse gases, and they list five, as I understand it,
in one of the annexes. How important do you think this is and
what should we be doing in the EU to reduce these other gases?
Sir David King: I think it is very important.
The greenhouse gases include all of the non-homonuclear diatomics,
if I can use that phrase, and so nitrogen and oxygen do not absorb
in the infrared but any larger molecule will absorb in the infrared,
and it is infrared absorption that we are talking about. So we
do have to worry particularly about methane emissions, sulphur
dioxide emissions, NOx emissions and substitutes for CFCs, which
are now becoming worrisome greenhouse gases. Just to put it in
context, though, the major forcer is carbon dioxide and there
is another factor of carbon dioxide emission which we really have
to take into account, and this is why much of the focus of attention
is on it: the retention of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is
very long term. In other words, if we should go up to 550 parts
per million and then stop all carbon dioxide emissions, it will
stay at 550 parts per million, whereas if we reduce methane emissions,
it will come down again in a relatively shortperhaps 20
to 40 yeartime scale. There are differences and good reasons
for focusing on carbon dioxide, but per molecule, methane is a
more serious greenhouse gas and so we do have to worry about it.
Part of this is that perhaps we ought to move to being more of
a vegetarian society, since it is animal food production that
is a big part of methane production.