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If you drive a petrol fuelled car it will be fitted with a catalytic converter. All modern petrol car exhausts manufactured from 1993 include a catalytic converter. This reduces harmful emissions of certain gasses, including nitrogen oxides, into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxides cause asthma and respiratory ailments, as well as being one of the main components of urban smog and acid rain.
Our Environment Agency (EA) polices manufacturing and processing companies to ensure nitrogen oxides, also referred to as NOx, are kept to a minimum. Coal fired power stations in UK have been closed down in the interest of reducing NOx and the metal sector of industry is carefully monitored and controlled by the EA. All of this is to be applauded, were it not just a drop in the ocean whenviewed from the overall production of nitrogen oxides world-wide.
It has transpired that probably the greatest producers of NOx are the giant cargo ships, which carry more than 90% of all that moves, from raw materials for mobile phones to South American coal for some of Europe’s power stations. The giant cargo ships themselves are floating power stations and it is reckoned that each one emits NOx equivalent to seven million cars. Put another way, it is claimed that it takes only 100 of the world’s biggest ships to emit as much nitrogen oxide pollution as every car on the planet.
In Europe air pollution causes around 50,000 premature deaths a year. In 2008 the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) realised that the emission of NOx from diesel engines on ships was a problem it could no longer ignore. Ships are on course to be the largest global source of this type of pollution by 2020. After two years of discussion members of the IMO agreed NOx limits for the engines on new vessels to come into force in 2016. Then in 2012 the IMO was called on to review the feasibility of the new measures. Russia produced figures saying they were unaffordable, hotly disputed by the US, which already has at least two container ships running on much cleaner liquid natural gas. Russia and China and Eastern Europe now want the introduction of the measures delayed until 2021. The IMO is considering a compromise date of 2019. It remains to be seen whether Russia can deploy the two-thirds majority required to delay the nitrogen oxides abatement measures when they come to a vote this spring. Sadly, new measures tend not to be agreed when anyone finds them inconvenient.
What does this mean for us on dry land? It is right that our industries should try and operate by producing the least air pollution possible. This is not only in the national interest, but also to protect our own workforce. It is also right that companies should be monitored by environmental officials,not only to protect the environment, but also to ensure an even playing field. We need to know that the competition is not flouting the rules for a financial advantage.
For those of us working in the metals sector, it is good to know that we emit only 5% of the total emissions, whilst the power generation sector accounts for a massive 76%. Compared to the big ships our emissions seem practically insignificant. However, there is no room for complacency, because in a perfect world we would not emit any harmful substances.By John Swain, Anopol Limited