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Breakthrough solar cell captures CO2 and sunlight, produces burnable fuel
July 28, 2016 03:01 PM - University of Illinois at Chicago via EurekAlert!

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have engineered a potentially game-changing solar cell that cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel, using only sunlight for energy.

The finding is reported in the July 29 issue ofScience and was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. A provisional patent application has been filed.

Unlike conventional solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity that must be stored in heavy batteries, the new device essentially does the work of plants, converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into fuel, solving two crucial problems at once. A solar farm of such "artificial leaves" could remove significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and produce energy-dense fuel efficiently.

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Putting the sloth in sloths
July 21, 2016 07:19 AM - Terry Devitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Although most of the terrestrial world is covered in trees, there are precious few vertebrates that make the canopy their home and subsist solely on a diet of leaves.

Tree sloths are among the most emblematic tree-dwelling mammals. However, they are best known for their pokey demeanor rather than the fact that they spend the majority of their lives in trees munching leaves. But the slow motion lifestyle of tree sloths, according to a new study, is the direct result of the animal’s adaption to its arboreal niche.

“Among vertebrates, this is the rarest of lifestyles,” says Jonathan Pauli, a University of Wisconsin—Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and the senior author of a report to appear in the August 2016 edition of the American Naturalist. “When you picture animals that live off plant leaves, they are almost all big — things like moose, elk and deer. What’s super interesting about arboreal folivores is that they can’t be big.”

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SPOTLIGHT

The double-edged sword of wildlife-friendly yards

CENTRAL ORNITHOLOGY via EurekAlert!

Hundreds of millions of birds are killed in collisions with windows each year in the U.S. alone, and although high-rise buildings tend to be the biggest individual culprits, the vast number of suburban homes across the continent means that even a few deaths per house add up fast. A new study in The Condor: Ornithological Applications examines the factors that affect window collision rates at homes and shows that yards that are more attractive to birds are also the sites of more collisions.

Working with Alberta homeowners who collectively contributed more than 34,000 days' worth of collision data, Justine Kummer of the University of Alberta and her colleagues found that the presence of a bird feeder, whether a house was in an urban or rural area, and the height of the vegetation in the yard were the most important predictors of collisions. Of Alberta's 421 bird species, 53 were represented in the data, mostly common urban species.

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