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How to make green steel

CultureLab: How to make steel go green – with songs!.

Michael Marshall, environment reporter

greensteel2.jpg

This is something you don’t see every day: a substantial, carefully-researched book on how to reform our manufacturing industries, paired with an album of songs on the same theme.

Let’s start with the book. Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open tackles a particularly thorny question: how can we cut our greenhouse gas emissions to a safe level, without shutting down essential industries? It focuses on steel and aluminium, which between them account for 28 per cent of all industrial emissions, although later chapters briefly consider cement, paper and plastics as well.

This is a follow-up book to David MacKay’s much-vaunted Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. Both feature academics from the University of Cambridge carefully working out how we can transform an emissions-heavy sector of the economy.

The eight authors, led by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen, first take a close look at how steel and aluminium are produced from their respective ores, asking “how much can the metals industry do to clean up its act?” The answer they come up with: “plenty, but nowhere near enough”.

So they take a second approach, asking whether we can redesign the things we make to use less metal, use them for longer, and recycle their components when they wear out. This also offer plenty of options. Reassuringly, when the two approaches are combined the total emissions cuts are substantial.

 

Some of the ideas they come up with are so simple, I wondered why no one thought of them before. For instance, the average fridge lasts about 10 years, and gets thrown out when the compressor fails. This is a small part, but it takes a lot of work to replace so it’s cheaper to buy a new fridge. If fridges were redesigned so that the compressor was easy to replace, they would last far longer. “You shouldn’t have to buy two fridges in your lifetime,” they say.

Of course, this is another example of a solution for climate change that involves huge numbers of people taking concerted action. The problem is people’s disinclination to get off their backsides.

It’s quite a technical book, so it may not have much popular appeal, despite its nicely chatty style. But for policy-makers trying to cut emissions, and anyone in manufacturing, it should be required reading.

And so to the album, a collaboration between Allwood and soprano Adey Grummet, which is much better than it has any right to be. Worthy music on eco-conscious themes can sound like Spinal Tap’s Listen to the Flower People, but With Both Eyes Open actually contains a couple of good tunes.

The strongest songs get away from the details of materials science and become universal. The opening track, You Gotta Start, is an up-tempo number extolling the virtues of having a go, even when you don’t know exactly what you need to do. It’s not just about sustainability.

Similarly, the title track is a passionate call to arms, urging people to move away from blind consumerism. The closing line – “the stuff of life is life and not just stuff” – is better and more relevant than anything Coldplay will write next year.

Given how specialist the subject matter is, I’m not sure how many people the album will really appeal to. Of the 12 songs, I only expect to keep the two I’ve highlighted on my MP3 player. Unfortunately, the rest just restate ideas from the book in a slightly less clear way.

I worry that the album will give people, particularly policy-makers, the impression that the book is somehow flaky and not worth paying attention to. That would be a crying shame, because the book’s lessons are clear, well-supported, and vital.

Book information
Sustainable Materials: With Both Eyes Open
by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen
UIT Cambridge
Free online or £31.82

Will the Thailand floods drown the hard drive?

Will the Thailand floods drown the hard drive? | ExtremeTech.

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There’s fresh news on the imminent hard drive shortages the IT industry is facing, and it isn’t particularly good. Asus’s CFO, David Chang, has warned that the company’s supplies of HDDs will run out by the end of November.

“Substitutes for HDD are very few, so if the situation persists, not only notebook production will be affected but also desktops, and other component shipments will also drop,” Chang told Reuters. Retail prices on HDDs are already skyrocketing. The 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3?s price has risen to $79 at Newegg, up from $69 not two weeks ago. It’s now the only 1TB drive south of a Benjamin. WD’s Caviar Green series is now up to $109 with high performance drives like the Caviar Black all the way back to $169 for a 1TB model.

Hitachi’s Deskstar 7K3000, which debuted this spring at $180 for a 3TB drive, is now selling on Newegg for a cool $399. Consumer prices are being driven by speculation, though its impossible to say if Newegg or the drive manufacturers themselves are responsible. Between the two, Newegg seems the more likely suspect. Raising HDD prices immediately may win the HDD manufacturers greater profits in the short term, but it erodes the crucial cost/GB ratio between HDDs and SSDs. Even at current retail prices, there’s still no real subsitute for a hard drive. At a certain point, however, customers will stop preferring large capacity drives at purchase, and begin opting for smaller SSDs, possibly with plans to pick up a USB 3.0-powered external once HDD prices fall again.

WD Factory, Thailed

The best way to keep that from happening is for the HDD manufacturers to keep as tight a reign on OEM costs as possible. Thus far, the price spikes here have been more modest; Asus reports jumps of 20-40 percent on certain models. Drive sourcing could become a major problem in the months to come as this type of shortage provides explosively fertile ground for a gray market in HDDs and HDD components. OEMs on razor-thin margins are going to be under enormous pressure to keep costs low, and aren’t likely to ask too many questions when it comes to securing drives.

Thailand, meanwhile, has no quick relief to offer. The government has stated that it hopes to have factories up and running again in three months, though it will take still more time for swamped industrial complexes to return to full output.