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Sustainability drive

China [ECO-CITIES]

China hopes the eco-city is about to come of age. The country’s new five-year plan places more emphasis on sustainability after more than a decade of often reckless industrialisation.

Eco-cities will be placed at the heart of future development. Dozens are planned, and the construction of Wanzhuang Eco-City, between Beijing and Tianjin, is underway.

“Conventional cities support economic growth,” says Stanley Yip of design firm Arup, which helped to plan China’s eco-cities. “Eco-cities take a different approach: we look at a city as part of a larger ecological process.”

Eco-cities slot into the planet’s natural cycles, using renewable energy, sustainable water resources and green transportation.

The mud slinging begins

Canada [OIL RESERVES]

Canadian environmentalists are making headway in their battle to halt, or at least hinder, the development of Alberta’s vast oil sands, the second-largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia. Their message is that the extraction process wreaks havoc on the planet.

The campaign has spread south to the US, Canada’s biggest oil buyer, where opposition has helped stall approval of a pipeline to Texas refineries. And a recent study links oil sands mining to neurotoxins in water. The Canadian and Alberta governments are investigating and will report back by early in 2011.

Road race

Global [ELECTRIC CARS]

The hunt for the best green set of wheels continues in 2011, with the world’s biggest car-makers set to launch new electric models. Problems with electric cars – low battery life, nowhere to charge the vehicle and slow speeds – are finally being overcome.

High-voltage offerings (coming your way in 2011):

  1. BMW Active E: The battery pack takes four and a half hours to fully charge and is expected to last for about 160km around city streets.

  2. Nissan LEAF: A five-door hatchback, which can go up to 160km on one charge in the city.

  3. Mitsubishi i-MiEV Electric: Comes with a lithium-ion battery, which powers a 63 horse-power electric motor and charges in 12 hours.

  4. Renault Z.E. series: The Kangoo Van Z.E. is the first of four zero emission vehicles to hit the road in the second half of 2011.

Golden age

USA [SOLAR POWER]

California and sunshine have long gone hand in hand. So it’s only natural that the Golden State will soon be home to America’s largest solar power plant. Construction has begun on a $220m (€158m) “mega solar power plant”, which will have a 45 megawatt capacity – enough to power 36,000 homes.

The plant is being built across three sites by the Japanese firm Eurus Energy Holdings – a joint venture of Tokyo Electric Power Company and Toyota Tsusho Corporation – and will be fitted with panels devised by electronics giant Sharp. Upon completion in June, the energy generated will be sold for the next 20 years to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

Sphinx effect

Egypt [CLIMATE CHANGE]

Move over Al Gore, a more mature figure is raising the hackles of climate sceptics: Egypt’s Grand Sphinx of Giza, at 4,500 years old, is making a late intervention into the debate about how planet Earth can adapt to rising temperatures.

Researchers in Cairo hope they can learn lessons from the pharaohs, believed to have fled to the Nile Valley after prehistoric climate change left swathes of the African savannah uninhabitable. With rising sea levels threatening the Nile Delta, it is thought the ideas could come in handy today.

“Egyptology must adapt to new approaches to reconstitute the environment,” claims Yann Tristant of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology.

Time to tap in

China [WATER]

Never mind territorial disputes and food scares. China seems prepared to trust Japan in one area: the quality of its water. Japan’s Tokai Corporation is exploring launching a water delivery service as early as next spring. Bottles of spring water from Mount Fuji would be delivered to the homes of rich Chinese. Good business, but perhaps not the most eco-friendly way to consume water.

Second wind

Global

The race to build the new generation of wind turbine – giant 10MW offshore machines twice the power of anything currently used – will pick up speed in 2011. British, US, Norwegian and Danish engineers are all hoping to be the first to design the turbine, which could transform the global energy market.

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