Tag Archives: Environment News

Artificial Leaf To Harness Sun’s Energy

 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have created an artificial leaf that could harness Sun’s energy and provide a potentially limitless source of energy by the process of photosynthesis, that green plants use to convert sunlight and water into energy.

The new device is a playing card sized silicon wafer coated on either side with two different catalysts. The silicon absorbs sunlight and passes that energy to the catalysts to split water into molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” he said. “One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.

The hydrogen and oxygen gases would be stored in a fuel cell, which uses those two materials to produce electricity, located either on top of the house or beside it.

“Nature is powered by photosynthesis, and I think that the future world will be powered by photosynthesis as well in the form of this artificial leaf,” said Nocera, a chemist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Read More at ScienceDaily

Photo Credits@

Spisharam

mickeyvdo

California’s First Molten Salt Solar Energy Project

A variety of fluids have been tested to transport the sun’s heat, including water, air, oil, and sodium, but molten salt was selected as best. Molten salt is used in solar power tower systems because it is liquid at atmosphere pressure, it provides an efficient, low-cost medium in which to store thermal energy, its operating temperatures are compatible with today’s high-pressure and high-temperature steam turbines, and it is non-flammable and nontoxic. In addition, molten salt is used in the chemical and metals industries as a heat-transport fluid, so experience with molten-salt systems exists in non-solar settings. [Source Wikipedia]

California has approved a new solar project that could revolutionize how we use energy from the sun – namely because it will be able to keep producing electricity even after night falls.
SolarReserve‘s Rice Solar Energy Project uses molten salt to store solar thermal energy. Since the salt will be able to reach temperatures over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and retain most of the heat it collects during the day, the plant will have the ability to keep churning out heat long after the sun goes down.

California has approved a new solar project that could revolutionize how we use energy from the sun – namely because it will be able to keep producing electricity even after night falls. SolarReserve‘s Rice Solar Energy Project uses molten salt to store solar thermal energy. Since the salt will be able to reach temperatures over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and retain most of the heat it collects during the day, the plant will have the ability to keep churning out heat long after the sun goes down.

Read More at Inhabitat.

Municipal Solid Waste To fuel from Green Power Inc

Energy from WasteThanks to a recent EPA ruling, Green Power Inc. will be commencing the building of municipal solid waste (MSW) to fuel plants for clients around the world, with $2 billion in contracts.

The US Department of Energy reports that in 2006 the US land filled 140 million tons of residual biomass (total MSW including inorganic was 170 million tons). According to Green Power Inc (GPI) this 140 million ton biomass resource has the potential of becoming 13 billion gallons per year (BGPY) of Fossil Free Fuel®, and offsetting 7% (nearly one month’s worth) of our imported crude.

In August of 2009, GPI was shut down by Washington state’s Ecology Department who said GPI had “not provided adequate compliance with the environmental air quality regulations.”  This was cleared on September 8, 2010 by an EPA ruling that support’s GPI’s claim and reverses Washington state’s Ecology Department’s claim that placed the GPI process in the class of incinerators, which it is not.

Sources:

Green Power Inc.

Pure Energy Systems News

Why Biodiversity Matters?

I read this interesting article in the Financial Times by Fiona Harvey titled “Bad for Biodiversity is Bad for Business”. It gave an interesting perspective to the argument in favor of development at any cost. United Nations has set aside this year as the International year for Biodiversity. The article says biodiversity is not an animal or plant issue, it is a human survival issue. Businesses in general tend to overlook the value of nature apart from Agriculture, Pharmaceuticals and food.

The article talk about 3 species which would not even capture our eye in any positive way.

The first one is the Gribble – teeny water dwelling wood boring insect, which was the scourge of many a sailor in his wooden ships of yore. No w scientists are hoping this insect could save the world! Wondering how? Enzymes from the gribble which help to digest wood are being investigated as a source for producing biofuels. If replicated scientists believe they can convert waste into biofuel!

The second one in the list is the Rosy periwinkle found only on the island of Madagascar. Locals believe it can cure diabetes, but scientists have found that it has substances which can help in fighting cancers, including childhood leukemia! Sad reality is that the plant is endangered in the wild though wildly cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

The third one is Pyrethrum, from the family of the common daisies. Pyrethrum native to the Balkans and surrounding areas have been found to possess the extraordinary quality of being toxic to mosquitoes and other insects! Now it is being grown commercially to make insect repellants.

The writer says these insects and plants are just a very small bit of what nature holds as answers to many of humankinds pressing problems. “They are living examples of the worth of biodiversity” says Peter Seligmann, Chief executive of Conservation International. He says “If nature gets cooked, we get cooked”.

The TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity) study conducted in India by led by the Deutsche Bank’s global market business to estimate the cost of degradation and neglect of natural environments found that preserving biodiversity in some areas most at risk of species loss would yield about $4000 Billion to $5000 Billion a year in benefits!

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

Nature’s benefits often provide the most sustainable, cost-effective solutions to meet human needs. Considering ecosystem services in policy making can save on future municipal costs, boost local economies, enhance quality of life and secure livelihoods. This approach also helps tackle poverty by revealing the distribution of scarce and essential resources and services.

In 2006 the 61st UN General assembly had taken a pledge to do everything possible to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and they have fallen behind. In this year’s meeting they will have to reset the goal and amp up the actions to make sure biodiversity loss is curtailed.

Some facts and thoughts on biodiversity and its importance:

  • For the first time since the Dinosaurs disappeared Humans are driving species to extinction faster than they can evolve say experts.
  • Just last year in the forests of Papau New Guinea the researchers from Conservation International identified 100 new species!
  • We took 10,000 years to turn from hunter gathers to farmers on land, now we wont need 10 years to do the same in the sea.
  • We cannot manage what we do not measure.
  • Humankind has still a lot to learn about the nature of value, and the Value of Nature.
  • Biodiversity is not just a luxury of the rich: but a necessity for the poor.
  • Investment in a functioning environment is often considered a luxury rather than life insurance. Why is it so?
  • The insights provided by a careful examination of the benefits of ecosystem services can significantly contribute to improved management in the realms of forestry, fisheries, agriculture, nature tourism and protection against natural hazards.

I am reminded of the John Muir quote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” To me that is how the world is, all interconnected by invisible threads- we never understand the depth of impact when one thread is broken until it is too late.

Species on the brink of being declared extinct

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 208 species as “possibly extinct”, more than half of which are amphibians. They are defined as species which are “on the balance of evidence likely to be extinct, but for which there is a small chance that they may still be extant”.

Kouprey (or Grey ox; Bos sauveli)

What: Wild cattle with horns that live in small herds

Domain: Mostly Cambodia; also Laos, Vietnam, Thailand

Population: No first-hand sightings since 1969

Main threats: hunting for meat and trade, livestock diseases and habitat destruction

Webbed-footed coqui (or stream coqui; Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti)

What: Large black frog living in mountain streams

Domain: East and west Puerto Rico

Population: Not seen since 1976

Main threats: Disease (chytridiomycosis), climate change and invasive predators

Golden coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus jasperi)

What: Small orange frog living in forest or open rocky areas

Domain: Sierra de Cayey, Puerto Rico

Population: No sightings since 1981

Main threats: Unknown but suspected habitat destruction, climate change, disease (chytridiomycosis) and invasive predators

Spix’s macaw (or little blue macaw; Cyanopsitta spixii)

What: Bright blue birds with long tails and grey/white heads

Domain: Brazil

Population: The last known wild bird disappeared in 2000; there are 78 in captivity

Main threats: Destruction of the birds’ favoured Tabebuia caraiba trees for nesting, and trapping

Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii)

What: White flowering shrub related to the coffee plant family

Domain: Island of Rodrigues, Republic of Mauritius

Population: A single wild plant is known

Main threats: Habitat loss, introduced grazing animals and alien plants

Source: IUCN and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. To mark the International Year of Biodiversity, the IUCN is running a daily profile of a threatened species throughout 2010. See iucn.org.

Will do a detailed write up on TEEB tomorrow.

Sources –

Financial Times

TEEB

UN Convention on Biological Diversity

UN International Year of Biodiversity

More Effort Needed to Save the World’s Forests

On the 4th of October 2010 the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United nations (FAO) released the Forest Resources Assessment 2010 at the start of the latest Biennial meeting of the FAO committee on forestry and World Forest Week. It is by far the most comprehensive report about the forests of the world with inputs from 233 countries worldwide and studies spread over a 20 year period from 1990 to 2010. Representatives from 100 plus countries have assembled at the FAO head quarters in Rome.

Documentation for FRA 2010 includes 233 country reports, available online. Complementing the main report will be a series of special studies on topical issues as well as a global remote sensing survey of changes on forest biomes between 1990 and 2005, scheduled for completion in 2011.

Most of the losses of forest happen in countries in the tropical region, while most of the gains take place in temperate and boreal zones. Furthermore, many emerging economies have moved from net loss to net gain of forest area. These results highlight the key role of economic development in reversing global deforestation.

Check out the percentage of forests worldwide:

The study concludes that the rate of deforestation, while still alarming in many countries, is slowing down at the global level, and that afforestation and natural expansion in some countries and regions have further reduced the net loss of forests.

In the main section of this report, results are presented according to the seven thematic elements of sustainable forest management:
• extent of forest resources;
• forest biological diversity;
• forest health and vitality;
• productive functions of forest resources;
• protective functions of forest resources;
• socio-economic functions of forests;
• legal, policy and institutional framework.

Key Findings:

  • Forests cover 31 percent of total land area i.e 4 billion hectares. The five most forest-rich countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) account for more than half of the total forest area.
  • Deforestation – mainly the conversion of tropical forest to agricultural land – shows signs of decreasing in several countries but continues at a high rate in others. In the last decade 13million hectares of forest was converted into agricultural land, which is lower than 16million hectares per year in the 1990’s (much higher than earlier estimates).
  • Large Scale Planting of trees has significantly reduced net loss of forest area world over.
  • South America and Africa have the largest net loss of forest.
  • An increase in forest area can also happen in two ways: either through afforestation (i.e. planting of trees on land that was not previously forested) or through natural expansion of forests (e.g. on abandoned agricultural land, a process which is quite common in some European countries).
  • Estimates made for FRA 2010 show that the world’s forests store 289 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in their biomass alone!!
  • On a global average, more than one-third of all forest is primary forest, i.e. forest of native species where there are no clearly visible indications of human activities and the ecological processes have not been significantly disturbed.
  • Close to 1.2 billion hectares of forest are managed primarily for the production of wood and non-wood forest products.
  • At the global level, reported wood removals amounted to 3.4 billion cubic metres annually in the period 2003–2007, similar to the volume recorded for 1990 and equivalent to 0.7 percent of the total growing stock. (In reality the numbers must be higher as firewood is not a monitored commodity).
  • Around 330 million hectares of forest are designated for soil and water conservation, avalanche control, sand dune stabilization, desertification control or coastal protection.

The FAO wants the world to take more action to preserve the existing forests, which means more awareness against logging and other human interferences in the remaining primary forests, planting more trees etc.

Source – If you have the time do check out the detailed FRA2010 Report HERE

Green Super Cars At Paris Auto Show

Carbon conscious and environment friendly people who loves cars can cheer. Auto makes went bold and displayed Green Super Cars at the Paris Auto Show. The term green doesn’t mean these 200+ MPH cars will suddenly see 50mpg numbers. The idea is to employ foward-thinking technology that will eventually trickle down to a green car for daily use. This is why supercars are so important.

jaguar_c-x75

The Green Supercars that were displayed are Porsche 911 GT3 electric hybrid and Jaguar C-X75.

Porsche 911 GT3 uses a 480HP flat-six gasoline engine for the rear wheels and twin 60 kW motors for the front.

Jaguar C-X75 have four 195HP electric motors at each of the wheels, powered by an extended range . Jaguar claims the vehicle can go 68 miles on battery power alone

Read More at CrunchGear.com

CNET

EPA Green Power Community Challenge

GPP

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is kicking off its national “Green Power Community Challenge,” a year-long campaign to encourage cities, towns, villages, and Native American tribes to use renewable energy and fight climate change. Purchases of green power help to prevent greenhouse gas emissions and also help accelerate the development of new renewable energy capacity across the United States.

To participate in the challenge, a local government must join EPA’s Green Power Partnership and use green power in amounts that meet the program’s purchase requirements. The local government must also conduct a campaign to encourage local businesses and residents to collectively buy or produce green power on-site in amounts that meet EPA requirements.

Green power is generated from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydropower. Green power resources produce electricity with an environmental profile superior to conven tional power technologies, and produce no net increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Challenge will begin on September 20, 2010. EPA will update the rankings in December 2010, March 2011, and June 2011. Communities will be able to review the standings and make changes to their purchases until September 1, 2011, when the final green power use is determined. Throughout the Challenge EPA will provide technical and outreach assistance to participants to help them increase their green power usage rates.

The winning GPCs will receive special recognition from EPA, including being featured on the GPP website and in a nationally released press announcement. The two winning GPCs will also receive awards and be featured in an outreach and media event.

More information on EPA’s Green Power Community Challenge: http://www.epa.gov/greenpower/gpcchallenge

More information about EPA’s Green Power Communities:
http://epa.gov/greenpower/communities/index.htm

World Carfree Day

carfree day

World Carfree Day is an annual celebration of cities and public life, free from the noise, stress and pollution of cars. Each year on September 22, people around the world organize events of all sizes to showcase alternatives to the automobile. The people behind the idea is  World Carfree Network.

World Carfree Network brings together organisations and individuals dedicated to promoting alternatives to car dependence and automobile-based planning at the international level and working to reduce the human impact on the natural environment while improving the quality of life for all.

For more details – World Carfree Network

Photo Credit – Green Light Go – The Birth of Cycle Chic Mikael Colville-Andersen

$10million X Prize Shared by 3 Ultra-efficient Cars

Progressive Auto Insurance the 4th largest Auto Insurance company in the US, got together with X PRIZE to inspire a new generations of super-efficient vehicles that help break our addiction to oil and stem the effects of climate change. The prize was $10 million which would be divided between the winners.

The main criteria for the winner of the ten million dollar cash purse was for the team to design a car that would win a long-distance stage race for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 miles-per-gallon energy equivalent, they could be entirely new or modified existing models. Primary importance was that they be production capable not merely conceptual.

On September 16th 2010 in Washington DC the Progressive Auto Insurance X Prize was awarded to 3 teams –

  1. Mainstream Class – Edison2 and it’s “Very Light car no:98” Winner of $5Million
  2. Alternative Side by side Class – Li-ion Motors “Wave2” Winner of $2.5Million

  3. Alternative tandem Class – Winterthur teams “X-Tracer” Winner of $2.5Million

The Very light car no:98 lives up to its name by keeping its weight to 830 pounds which is around 1/4th the weight of a normal car. It seats four and is built on a steel frame of mostly aluminum parts. The Edison2 team is aiming at producing it for a market price of 20,000$.

The Wave2, a two-seat electric car that gets 187 miles on a charge, and The X-Tracer Team’s motorcycle-like electric mini-car, the E-Tracer 7009, gets 205 miles on a charge. Both of those companies are taking orders for their cars. X-Tracer Team says the electric E-Tracer will be available to U.S. consumers next year.

The X Prize, which is funded by Progressive Insurance, gave 111 teams 30 months to develop their vehicles and then put them through driving, safety and efficiency tests. All of the winners are now eligible for a U.S. Department of Energy program that will help ready the vehicles for introduction to the U.S. market.

Read the Entire AP Article HERE

Check  out the Progressive Automotive X Prize Here

Why the Teams Think it is Important?

What caught my eye was the fact that all the winners were electric vehicles. May be in the not too distant future there will indeed be green cars. Live Green!

September 16th World Ozone Day

Today is the World Ozone day, on 19th December 1994 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 16 September the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date, in 1987, on which the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was signed. This commemoration around the world offers an opportunity to focus attention and action at the global, regional and national levels on the protection of the ozone layer. All Member States are invited to devote this special day to promotion, at the national level, of concrete activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the Montreal Protocol and its Amendment.

If you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s you might have heard about the hole in the Ozone layer. Which incidentally is not actually a hole, but an area in the ozone layer where ozone has been severely depleted; thereby allowing sun rays to pass through without much absorption or reflection. Each year for the past few decades during the Southern Hemisphere spring, chemical reactions involving chlorine and bromine cause ozone in the southern polar region to be destroyed rapidly and severely. The world reacted to this pretty much united by removing chloro-flouro carbons or CFC’s from spray cans, refrigerants etc. And the hole in the Ozone layer has been shrinking since 2006. By the end of 2009, the Montreal Protocol had resulted in the elimination of over 98 per cent of historical levels of ozone-depleting substances.

You can keep track of it on the NASA Website here.

Ozone Hole on the 12th of September 2010

Picture Courtesy NASA

The 2009 UN Climate Change Conference was held in Copenhagen on 16th September 2009 with the slogan “power Green Growth, Protect the Planet”. Countries agreed to work towards a common, long-term goal to limit global temperature rise to below 2° Celsius.

Climate Change and Actions to slow the Human impact

Climate change and global warming are divisive issues for many people still who remain skeptics in spite of what is happening around them. In some cases the belief is religious while in others it makes it easier to explain away our own reckless behaviors by putting it all on nature. Either way the reality is that there are visible changes happening all over the world from receding glaciers to mistimed monsoons, droughts etc… to stronger hurricane seasons.

Climate change is recognized as a major environmental problem facing our planet. Evidence is building that impacts are being felt in the form of melting icecaps in the polar areas and increased variability of temperature, rainfall and storms in virtually all regions.

Developed countries committed to establish and implement targets for greenhouse gas emissions, and a number of developing countries, including major emerging economies, agreed to implement nationally appropriate mitigation actions and to communicate their efforts every two years.

Countries also agreed on the importance of acting to Reduce emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), and to provide support for the most vulnerable to cope with climate change.

To support these priorities, countries pledged up to $30 billion a year for developing countries between 2010 and 2012, to be disbursed through a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

Countries also backed the goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020.

Environmental facts from the UNEP

  • Forests cover 30 percent of the planet’s total land area. The total forested area in 2005 was just under 4 billion hectares, at least one third less than before the dawn of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago.
  • The ten most forest-rich countries, which account for two-thirds of the total forested area, are the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States, China, Australia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Peru and India.
  • Six million hectares of primary forest are lost every year due to deforestation and modification through selective logging and other human interventions. More than one-third of all forests are primary forests, defined as forests where there are no clearly visible indications of human activity and where ecological processes are not significantly disturbed.
  • Primary forests shelter diverse animal and plant species, and culturally diverse indigenous people, with deep connections to their habitat.
  • Only 20 per cent of the world’s forests remain in large intact areas. These forests consist of tropical rain forests, mangrove, coastal and swamp forests. Monsoon and deciduous forests flourish in the drier and more mountainous regions.
  • Trees quite literally form the foundations of many natural systems. They help to conserve soil and water, control avalanches, prevent desertification, protect coastal areas and stabilize sand dunes.
  • Forests are the most important repositories of terrestrial biological biodiversity, housing up to 90 per cent of known terrestrial species.
  • Forest animals have a vital role in forest ecology such as pollination, seed dispersal and germination.
  • Trees absorb carbon dioxide and are vital carbon sinks.
  • It is estimated that the world’s forests store 283 Gigatonnes of carbon in their biomass alone, and that carbon stored in forest biomass, deadwood, litter and soil together is roughly 50 per cent more than the carbon in the atmosphere.
  • Carbon in forest biomass decreased in Africa, Asia and South America in the period 1990–2005. For the world as a whole, carbon stocks in forest biomass decreased annually by 1.1 Gigatonne of carbon (equivalent to 4 billion 25kg sacks of charcoal).
  • The loss of natural forests around the world contributes more to global emissions each year than the transport sector.
  • World population currently stands at 6.5 billion people. It is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2042.  The expansion of agricultural and industrial needs, population growth, poverty, landlessness and consumer demand are the major driving forces behind deforestation.
  • Most deforestation is due to conversion of forests to agricultural land. Global removals of wood for timber and fuel amounted to 3.1 billion cubic metres in 2005.
  • Worldwide, deforestation continues at an alarming rate, about 13 million hectares per year, an area the size of Greece or Nicaragua.
  • Africa and South America have the largest net loss of forests. In Africa it is estimated that nearly half of the forest loss was due to removal of wood fuel.
  • Forests in Europe are expanding. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, reported a net gain of forests in the past five years, primarily due to large-scale forestation in China.
  • Eighty per cent of the world’s forests are publicly owned, but private ownership is on the rise, especially in North and Central America and in Oceania.
  • About 11 per cent of the world’s forests are designated for the conservation of biological diversity. These areas are mainly, but not exclusively, in protected areas.
  • Around 10 million people are employed in conventional forest management and conservation. Formal employment in forestry declined by about 10 per cent from 1990 to 2000.

The theme for the celebration is “Ozone layer protection: governance and compliance at their best”.  Governments world over are encouraged to create programs or events to raise public awareness of the importance of protecting the ozone layer for present and future generations. These can include workshops, press conferences, competitions in schools, and university lectures by experts. The list of programs as conducted by different countries will be listed on the UNEP website.

Check out how countries world over are celebrating the World Ozone Day HERE

Sources for details – UNEP website

This is the symbolic representation of a ton of CO2 from the Copenhagen summit of 2009.

Check out Seal the Deal – website of the 2009 December UN Climate change meeting in Copenhagen