GREENAIR NEWSLETTER 13 MARCH 2015
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NASA purchases Gevo’s renewable alcohol-to-jet fuel as part of performance testing programme
Thu 12 Mar 2015 – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has purchased Gevo’s renewable alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel for aviation use at its NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. NASA has been testing alternative aviation fuels at its Armstrong Flight Research Center in California to measure the atmospheric effects of their emissions at altitude and last year signed agreements with NRC of Canada and DLR of Germany as part of its Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) programme (see article). In January, Gevo announced the first supersonic test flight by the US Navy using a 50/50 blend of its fuel, which is currently undergoing scrutiny by fuel and aviation experts in efforts to have it certified for commercial aviation use (see article).
The ATJ fuel is manufactured at its demo biorefinery in Texas using renewable isobutanol produced at its fermentation plant in Minnesota. “Gevo’s patented ATJ fuel is a true drop-in fuel, designed to be fully compliant with aviation fuel specifications and provide equal performance, including fit-for-purpose properties and engine compatibility,” commented the company’s CEO, Dr Patrick Gruber. “It’s exciting to be working with NASA, a true leader in innovation worldwide.” He added the product could be delivered at scale and at a competitive cost.
As well as conducting tests on the atmospheric effects of alternative fuels at altitudes flown by commercial airliners, NASA has also studied their engine performance.
Last year, the Gevo ATJ fuel was evaluated and tested by Lufthansa under a blending study supported by the European Commission and as part of the certification process to have the fuel approved by fuel standards body ASTM International.
Investors in Gevo include Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Green Fund.
Gevo , NASA Glenn Research Center , NASA Access
New Airservices air traffic flow system reduces delays, fuel and emissions at four Australian airports
Thu 12 Mar 2015 – A system introduced by Australia’s air traffic organisation Airservices to reduce airborne delays for aircraft arriving at Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane airports is delivering annual fuel savings worth A$18.2 million ($14m) and reductions of 54,100 tonnes in aviation CO2 emissions. The system, known as Metron Harmony, has resulted in an annual saving of 8,700 hours in airborne delay time, or an average of 1.1 minute per flight arriving at the four gateway airports, according to a commissioned study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Australia. With a 60% increase in Australia’s air traffic expected by 2020, the report projects these savings to increase to 14,300 hours, or 1.3 minutes per flight, A$37.3 million ($29m) in annual fuel savings and CO2 reductions of 102,300 tonnes by 2022.
By using weather and scheduling information, the traffic flow system provides advice on the maximum arrival rates at airports and allows domestic aircraft participating in the programme to be held on the ground at the departure airport. Because of the reduced fuel burn and environmental impact, Airservices says this is preferable to aircraft being required to fly in holding patterns before landing.
The system, which cost A$18.8 million ($14.5m) to set up and a further A$60.5 million ($46m) in staff costs over a projected 10-year period, was introduced into operations at Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in 2012 and Perth in 2014. Its implementation forms the first stage of Airservices’ strategy to enhance the application of Collaborative Decision Making in air traffic management within Australia.
PwC said the results of the study and the positive feedback from stakeholders supported the continued roll-out of the Metron system across domestic airports, with it likely the benefits from the investment being increased still further.
The introduction of the system is one of a number of measures government-owned Airservices has introduced in recent years to drive fuel efficiencies, reduce emissions and enhance safety. Other initiatives include greater use of flexible air traffic routes and User Preferred Routes, which allow airlines to maximise their flight routes based on the prevailing weather and forecast winds.
Airservices Australia – Environment , PwC report (pdf) , Metron Harmony
Dr Fang Liu of China becomes the first-ever woman to be appointed Secretary General of ICAO
Wed 11 Mar 2015 – Dr Fang Liu of China has been elected by the ICAO Council as the new Secretary General of the UN civil aviation agency ICAO, so becoming the first-ever woman to hold the post. Her three-year term will start on August 1, succeeding Raymond Benjamin of France, who has held the position for two consecutive terms since 2009. Ahead of other candidates from Australia, India and the UAE, Dr Fang is only the second ICAO Secretary General from the Asia-Pacific region. Since 2007, she has served as Director of ICAO’s Bureau of Administration and Services, and has chaired a number of important internal committees. Between 1987 and 2007, Dr Liu held the posts of Legal Counsel, Deputy Director, Director and Deputy Director General in the Department of International Affairs and Cooperation of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
In these capacities, she was involved in the areas of international affairs and cooperation at bilateral and multilateral levels, including ICAO, aviation policy, international air transport regulation and development, and bilateral and multilateral air services negotiations for the Chinese government. She also served for four years as Chair of the Aviation Group for the region’s premier forum on Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
During her time at ICAO, Dr Fang has represented the Organization at the High-Level Committee on Management under the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination, and separately served as Chairperson of the Security Advisory Group and Vice-Chairperson of the Security Management Team for all UN organisations in Canada.
Fluent in Chinese and English and with a good command of French, Dr Fang holds a PhD in international law from Wuhan University and a background in in both international and air and space law.
As the incoming head of the ICAO Secretariat, Dr Fang takes over at a time when strong leadership will be required to bring about a successful agreement by Member States of a global measure to tackle international aviation carbon emissions by the time of the next Assembly later next year.
Founder criticises aviation industry for lack of interest as Solar Impulse takes off on round-the-world journey
Tue 10 Mar 2015 – After 12 years in the making, the solar-powered Solar Impulse aircraft took off yesterday from Abu Dhabi on the first stage of its maiden round-the-world flight. Weighing the equivalent of a small car but with the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the aircraft flew to Muscat in Oman before crossing the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad in India today – the longest distance ever flown by a solar airplane – on a five-month journey. During its 12 scheduled stops, the Solar Impulse team and its partners will organise events for governments, schools and universities to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies. Harnessing the sun’s energy to power anything heavier than a light aircraft is unlikely for the foreseeable future and so the Solar Impulse experiment has no immediate benefits for commercial aviation, although attempts are being made by scientists to extract liquid fuels suitable for aviation use from technologies powered by the sun.
Flown in rotation by Swiss aviators André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, who both started the project, the Solar Impulse 2 plane can fly day and night up to an altitude of 8,500 metres (27,800 feet) at speeds ranging from 50 to 100 km/h, and is powered by more than 17,000 solar cells covering the wing.
Abu Dhabi was chosen as the start and end point for the journey because of the participation by Masdar as the host partner. The research arm of Masdar is currently involved in a project with Boeing and Etihad Airways to produce sustainable aviation biofuels from seawater-tolerant salicornia plants in the UAE (see article).
The main partners of the venture are Solvay, Omega, Schindler and ABB, with support from many other companies and organisations, such as Google and the government of Monaco. Aeronautical partners include ICAO, IATA and French aerospace company Dassault.
Piccard told the BBC that he hoped the pioneering materials used in the construction of the aircraft could be used elsewhere, but said he wasn’t concerned that there had not been much interest from the commercial aviation sector in the Solar Impulse project. “They did not believe in what we were doing or that it was possible,” he said. “But that is normal. It wasn’t the people who were selling candles who invented the light bulb. If you want a paradigm shift, you need people from the outside.”
To coincide with the start of the round-the-world flight, Solar Impulse has launched the #Futureisclean initiative, which is supported by Prince Albert of Monaco, UAE Minister of State and Chairman of Masdar Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Sir Richard Branson, Christina Figueres of UNFCCC, Miguel-Arias Cañete of the European Commission and Al Gore. The aim is promote a clean technology future in the lead up to the UN climate negotiations in Paris later this year.
Solar Impulse , Future is clean
Germany fines aircraft operators $5.9 million as it publishes first Aviation EU ETS non-compliance list
Thu 5 Mar 2015 – Germany has become the first EU country to publish a list of aircraft operators that have not complied with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) in 2012, the first year of the aviation sector’s inclusion. According to the German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt), fines totalling €5,363,400 ($5.9m) have been levied on the 44 operators named. Most are small aircraft operators but two major German airlines, Air Berlin and Condor, have surprisingly found their way onto the list. The two carriers say this was due to small discrepancies in reporting and have received only small fines. Notable by their absence are Air China and Aeroflot, which both operated flights within the European Economic Area (EEA) during 2012 and so are still subject to the reduced scope of the EU ETS but whose governments have not permitted them to comply.
Under Article 16 of the EU directive that brought aviation into the EU ETS, EU member states must publish the names of aircraft operators they administer that are in breach of requirements to surrender sufficient allowances to cover their emissions but until now have not done so. For 2012, the allowances were required to be submitted by the end of April 2013 but nearly two years on, an unspecified number of airlines and smaller aircraft operators remain non-compliant.
The directive requires member states to issue penalties amounting to €100 for each tonne of CO2 emitted for which the aircraft operator has not surrendered allowances. The operator is still required to purchase and surrender the requisite number of allowances on top of the fine.
In order to surrender allowances, operators must open an account in the Union Registry, where the reported verified emissions data is recorded on the EU Transaction Log (EUTL). If the operator has complied up to this point and the emissions have been reported then working out the penalty for not surrendering is easy. However, difficulties arise if the operator has not reported its emissions and fails to respond to approaches from its appointed administering national Competent Authority, which then has to rely on data from Eurocontrol. Operators are then given time to appeal against estimated emissions, which can also add to the delay in enforcement.
Each member state will have transposed the directive into its national legislation differently so enforcement procedures and ‘naming and shaming’ reporting varies from state to state. What has been clear is a reluctance by states to publish publicly-available lists of non-compliant airlines, particularly those from outside Europe. Some argue this is because of political sensitivities as discussions continue at an international level to agree a global market-based measure that is intended to do away with Europe’s carbon trading scheme. The original full scope of the EU ETS, which was designed to encompass emissions from all flights to and from the European Economic Area (EEA), as well as intra-EEA flights, was fiercely and successfully fought by the major powers such as India, China, Russia and the United States.
Carriers from the United States that operate flights between airports in the EEA are largely complying with the reduced intra-EEA scope agreed by the EU institutions last year. However, Indian and Chinese airlines operating similarly within Europe are still refusing to comply on orders from their authorities, as well as the majority state-owned Russian carrier Aeroflot. India’s main airlines serving Europe, Air India and Jet Airways, report to the UK’s nominated Competent Authority, the Environment Agency, but neither appears to have complied with the regulations for 2012, although it is unclear if they operated any intra-EU flights in 2012. Under UK legislation, the names of EU ETS non-compliers are meant to be published by the end of each June but so far no list has appeared for 2012.
Both Aeroflot and China’s flag carrier Air China report to Germany but neither appears on the list just published by DEHSt. During the 2012 compliance period, Air China operated regular passenger flights between Athens and Munich, and Aeroflot carried out regular cargo flights between Frankfurt and Helsinki. DEHSt will not comment on individual cases but says non-appearance on the list may be due to a “definitive payment order” not existing, which essentially means the process has not been fully completed and so other names may be added to the list at a later date.
According to DEHSt, aircraft operators have been issued with tax penalties totalling €5,363,400 ($5.9m) for not meeting their 2012 obligations, with the largest fine amounting to €3,017,800 ($3.3m) and the smallest €80 ($88).
Airberlin, Germany’s biggest airline after Lufthansa, said it received a “comparatively small” fine of less than €1,000 ($1,100). “This was due to a marginal discrepancy between the number of allowances submitted to DEHSt and the actual emissions on a particular airport pair in 2012,” a spokesperson explained to GreenAir.
A spokesperson for Condor said the reason for its fine was due to technical problems concerning the transmission of data but confirmed all issues had been satisfactorily resolved.
Other names on the DEHSt list include US cargo carriers Ryan International and Evergreen International, although both have since ceased operations having filed for bankruptcy. Another US airline listed, World Airways, stopped operations a year ago but according to the EUTL surrendered the required number of allowances but possibly not until after the deadline.
Although it has not published a list, the French Competent Authority, DGAC, is understood to have recently started issuing non-compliant aircraft operators with fines. The Flemish authorities, whilst not having published any names, is believed to have fined Saudi Arabian Airlines around €800,000 ($880,000) some months ago.
According to the European Commission, over 100 non-EU aircraft operators carried out intra-EEA flights during 2012, most of which complied with the EU ETS, pointed out an official.
Update 11 March 2015:
Following approaches to the DEHSt, GreenAir has learned that some of the details that appear on their website, and therefore in the article, about penalties are misleading. In total, 60 aircraft operators have received payment notices or fines amounting to €5,363,400 ($5.9m) relating to non-compliance in 2012. The 44 operators listed on the website are deemed to be “definitive” and have received fines totalling €597,000 ($630,000), with the smallest fine €100 and the largest €203,600. The other 16 operators have been issued penalty notices totalling €4,766,400 ($5m) but are not yet definitive because they are being contested. The DEHSt cannot provide any details of these operators or the range of the fines until they are “legally valid”. The single fine of €3,017,800 ($3.3m) mentioned on the website relates to a fixed installation covered by the EU ETS and not an aircraft operator. The article states that Germany is the first to publish a list of non-compliant aircraft operators but in fact the Italian authorities have also published a list of 13 operators that failed to comply in 2012 (link here).
DEHSt – List of EU ETS non-compliant operators for 2012
COMMENTARY: Dealing with aviation’s carbon challenge in the lead up to the Paris climate summit
Fri 13 Mar 2015 – There is a considerable ‘wedge gap’ between the continuing growth of CO2 emissions from international air transport and their mitigation from technological and operational improvements and the use of alternative fuels. In a decision to address this gap, the ICAO Assembly in 2013 agreed that the Organization should develop a global scheme on market-based measures (MBMs) for consideration by its next Assembly in 2016 and intended implementation from 2020. The critical meeting of the UNFCCC to be held in Paris in December this year will review progress by ICAO and may provide new direction. Chris Lyle discusses this agenda and emphasises a need for more far-reaching and better directed efforts towards a meaningful price on air transport’s carbon emissions.
Given the transborder and ‘over high seas’ features of international air transport, global co-ordinating responsibility to “pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases” from aviation fuels was handed off by the UNFCCC to ICAO in 1997 through the Kyoto Protocol. For the aviation and shipping sectors – uniquely – emissions from international operations have not been included by the UNFCCC in national emissions inventories or targets.
The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties meeting (COP21) in Paris in December this year is expected to adopt a new legally-binding climate change agreement applicable to all 196 UNFCCC Parties to come into effect from 2020 and which may modify ICAO’s existing mandate.
Preceding COP21, a UN Summit in New York in September will be aimed at updating and replacing the largely successful Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 with Sustainable Development Goals post-2015. This will undoubtedly influence both ICAO and the UNFCCC, notably on the crucial issue of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR).
ICAO’s mitigation efforts
Over the years ICAO has reflected and even enhanced airline progress on the technical and operational front, including developments in sustainable aviation biofuels. At the same time, it has recognised that these technical, operational and biofuel instruments, albeit providing a significant alleviating contribution, will be in sum inadequate to reduce aviation’s emissions from current and projected levels. But the Organization has repeatedly failed to deliver on an emissions cap or any market-based measure, in essence pursuing improvements in efficiency rather than on sustainability per se.
There are two primary reasons for this. ICAO, with its theme of “unifying aviation”, has a natural tendency to protect and promote the aviation sector. Secondly, the issue of CBDR has been particularly difficult pending agreement on a framework for application of the principle by the UNFCCC given the context of the equal application provisions of ICAO’s founding Chicago Convention.
At the same time, ICAO’s global mandate pending achievement has actually been used by some of its members to halt national or regional action on market-based measures, notably Europe’s attempt to include intercontinental emissions in its flagship carbon trading scheme, the EU ETS. Meanwhile, ICAO continues to promote exemption from fuel tax for international flights, an indemnity still applied uniquely to this specific sector and almost universally.
So far, the best ICAO can do regarding MBMs, more than 17 years after being given its Kyoto mandate, is to follow industry and start, just last year, to consider a framework of carbon offsetting aimed at carbon-neutral growth of aviation from 2020. The Organization and some of its members, along with the aviation industry, are now devoting a great deal of resources to this critically misplaced objective. Aside from the necessity to reduce rather than to neutralise emissions, offsetting is a flawed instrument.
Offsetting is essentially an excuse by a polluter to continue to churn out emissions on the grounds that someone else will mitigate them. It also often lacks due diligence on effectiveness and requires costly management and administration. Furthermore, the ICAO framework would include a range of exemptions and not be legally binding or by any means universally applied in practice. Next month, ICAO is holding a series of ‘Global Aviation Dialogues’ (GLADs) on market-based measures around the world which will provide feedback on progress and hopefully lead to a more productive global MBM approach by the Organization.
Pending actual reductions in emissions, carbon offsets, despite their flaws, can assist to a limited extent in reducing climate change impact, provided they are of well-validated (gold standard) quality and preferably use the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. Given its Kyoto Protocol detachment, international aviation is not presently eligible for application of the CDM. Domestic emissions, being ascribed to national inventories, have been eligible since 1997. In February this year the CDM Executive Board did agree to development of a new emissions baseline and monitoring methodology which will expand the scope of application to aviation emissions projects, but international aviation remains ineligible (see article).
While accepting the concept of offsets, ICAO is concerned at the use of international aviation as a potential source of mobilisation of revenue for climate finance to other sectors, and the current negotiating text for COP21 calls on ICAO to develop a levy scheme to provide financial support to the UNFCCC’s climate Adaptation Fund – for which aviation may or may well not receive emissions credits. But ICAO seems to be missing the fundamental point that without real reductions in aviation emissions, albeit in the medium- to long-term, the air transport industry is simply not sustainable. It is not a tenable position for the industry – and by extension ICAO – to merely write out a cheque for carbon offsets to cover its excess emissions above the 2020 cap and then say “now leave us alone to keep on growing” and carry on emitting at a far faster rate than other sectors. Increasing emissions in one sector leads to a need for greater reductions in others; some of these, such as tourism and certain industries, are of course generators of air transport demand.
Somewhat surprisingly, ICAO continues to work in the aviation silo – and an opaque and secretive silo at that, with many meetings and documents being closed or restricted and even participation in the GLADs being by invitation only. Air transport makes a fundamental contribution to society, well beyond the sector’s borders, and in this broader context can appear more sustainable. For example, air transport may be more beneficially set against the collectivity of travel and tourism. Take the island nation of Seychelles. Tourism is the principal economic sector, predominantly dependent on long-haul international air transport. Tourism has enhanced the establishment of nature parks and marine protection areas. Partly in consequence, the country claims to be a net absorber of greenhouse gases, to balance against the emissions from travel to and from the country.
More generally, air transport represents about 1% of global GDP directly, but 2% of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions – more than the all-sector CO2 emissions from countries such as Canada or the United Kingdom. But emissions from travel and tourism, including air transport, are estimated to contribute about 5% in terms of global CO2 emissions, about the same percentage as the sector’s contribution to world GDP. At the same time, air transport represents 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from international tourism worldwide on average and a much higher proportion for many long-haul destinations. Changing towels in the hotel bathroom less frequently, or even having a 100% renewable energy supply for the hotel, is simply not going to crack it. Paradoxically, ICAO’s leitmotif for its environmental programme is “destination green” and not “travel green”.
Current UNFCCC context
Some guidance as to the context in which aviation will be placed in the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations may be gleaned from the following conclusions of recent major UN conferences:
- “Priority should be accorded to the special needs of Africa, small island developing States, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries” (Rio+20, 2013);
- “Sustainable tourism represents an important driver of sustainable economic growth and decent job creation, [and] can have a positive impact …. on the fight against poverty and hunger” (UN General Assembly 2014); and
- “Climate action should be undertaken within the context of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development” (UN Climate Change Summit 2014).
In the buildup process to COP21, UNFCCC is propounding a more globally inclusive approach to emissions mitigation commitments than through its founding Convention of 1992 and Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Rather than having emissions reduction targets binding under international law solely for developed countries, as a basis for a new global agreement all States, both developed and developing, have been requested to specify Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) well in advance of COP21 – by the end of March for those ready to do so, with a hard deadline of 1 October. The INDCs will be reviewed and assessed in aggregate and possibly adjusted prior to endorsement by COP21.
Indications from major developed country emitters at present are: United States, 26-28% below 2005 emissions levels by 2025; EU states and Switzerland (already filed) at least 35% below 2005 by 2030 (EU 40% and Switzerland 50% below 1990 by 2030); and Canada, 17% below 2005 by 2020. Against this, the ICAO/industry objective for aviation – which is not subject to the ‘Determined Contribution’ process – of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 on current estimates would be well over 50% above 2005 levels, with even that figure dependent on carbon offsetting from 2020. The ICAO process does of course already cover all its 191 member states and, in accordance with the principle of CBDR, commitments by developing countries are expected to be lower or, for countries such as those cited in the bullet points above, not required. As the prime example, China has simply indicated that its CO2 emissions will peak by 2030, although it will try for an earlier date.
Clearly, international air transport deserves special consideration because of the socio-economic contribution it generates and because, unlike surface-based transport and other industries, it has no mainstream alternative source to fossil fuel imminently on tap. But there is a fundamental need for some robust form of cap or market-based measure beyond carbon offsetting to apply to aircraft emissions pending real and vindicated reductions in absolute terms.
One way forward would be for COP21 to revert to the inclusion of international aviation emissions into national emissions inventories and commitments. While the existing framework of separation of aviation from the generic process may at this stage prove too entrenched for this to happen this year – particularly as the aviation industry is naturally very close to the ICAO process and sees the current ICAO path as a ‘get out of jail nearly free’ card – the approach is worth considering because of its several advantages.
Admittedly, the approach was rejected in 1997 and raises allocation issues, but these are by no means insuperable. For example, the emissions could be based on the “principal place of business” of each air carrier – a well established regulatory criterion in international aviation. If it is felt necessary to reflect the elemental root of the emissions, adjustments could be made to reflect the origins of the passengers and freight. Data for such an approach are well-established and largely available already.
Advantages of such an approach would include:
- a national imperative to balance out amongst various sources of emissions according to the situation of the State concerned, rather than attempting to do this for a single source at a disparate multinational level;
- application of the generic CBDR principles as agreed in Paris rather than a differentiated, complex and perhaps inconsistent application for aviation alone – indeed removing the perceived conflict between the uniform application provisions of the Chicago Convention and the UNFCCC principle of CBDR rather than having to get round it;
- each country taking into account in its emissions reductions the competitiveness of all its affected industries – including aviation at a generic company-wide level (as with the application of corporate taxes) – which would not only avoid conflict with Chicago provisions but would also avoid complex route-by-route competitive address;
- eligibility of international aviation emissions for the CDM; and
- homogenisation of domestic and international operations, which are difficult to separate in some cases.
The approach would also release ICAO from the MBM and CBDR aspects of its obligation, which take up a disproportionate amount of the Organization’s time and resources and for which it lacks both motivation and practical experience.
While clearly advantageous but accepting the above approach may not fly right now, as a ‘Plan B’ COP21 should at least set targets for reduction of emissions from aviation through ICAO, both in absolute terms and separately taking into account MBMs such as offsets or emissions trading. Indeed the current negotiating text for COP21 mentioned above states that “Parties agree on the need for global sectoral emission reduction targets for international aviation” (see article). While this text may well be amended or replaced in the process for COP21, it does provide the important signal that international aviation should not be given an almost free pass as a consequence of its segregation from national emissions mitigation commitments.
In the first instance, the primary means of addressing the absolute emission reduction targets would be to apply a long overdue effective price on air transport’s carbon to adjust demand and fund emissions mitigation. The atmosphere only understands one language and that is reduced emissions.
Chris Lyle, a former employee of British Airways and ICAO, is Chief Executive of Canadian-based Air Transport Economics. Over the past two decades he has been particularly engaged with the symbiosis between aviation and tourism, and their association with climate change. He can be reached at email@example.com.
A PDF version of this article can be downloaded here