Sustainability

Current atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations likely commit to warmings greater than 1.5C over land
July 27, 2016 10:20 AM - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations already commit the planet to air temperatures over many land regions being eventually warmed by greater than 1.5°C, according to new research published today (27 July 2016) in the journal Scientific Reports.

The results of the new study have implications for international discussions of what constitutes safe global temperature thresholds, such as 1.5°C or 2°C of warming since pre-industrial times. The expected extra warming over land will influence how we need to design some cities. It could also impact on the responses of trees and plants, and including crops.

The research was carried out by scientists from the UK's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Exeter, UK.

The research team found two main reasons behind the result.

Rainforest greener during 'dry' season
July 26, 2016 04:28 PM - University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) via ScienceDaily

Although the Amazon Jungle may appear to be perpetually green, a University of Illinois researcher believes there are actually seasonal differences of photosynthesis, with more occurring during the dry season and less during the wet season. Understanding how a rainforest that occupies 2.7 million square miles of South America functions is crucial to the future health of the entire planet.

"With the potential negative effects of climate change, one key question we are trying to answer in the study of tropical ecology is how a tropical forest responds during a long-term drought," says Kaiyu Guan, an environmental scientist at the University of Illinois. "If we don't know their daily performance or their seasonal performance, what confidence can we have to predict the forests' future 20 years, 30 years, or longer?"

Silicon-air battery achieves running time of over 1,000 hours for the first time
July 26, 2016 03:48 PM - Forschungszentrum Juelich via ScienceDaily

Silicon-air batteries are viewed as a promising and cost-effective alternative to current energy storage technology. However, they have thus far only achieved relatively short running times. Jülich researchers have now discovered why.

In theory, silicon-air batteries have a much higher energy density and are also smaller and lighter than current lithium-ion batteries. They are also environmentally friendly and insensitive to external influences. Their most important advantage, however, is their material. Silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen: it is cheap and its reserves are practically inexhaustible.

Biological wizardry ferments carbon monoxide into biofuel
July 26, 2016 02:27 PM - Cornell University via EurekAlert!

Cornell University biological engineers have deciphered the cellular strategy to make the biofuel ethanol, using an anaerobic microbe feeding on carbon monoxide - a common industrial waste gas.

"Instead of having the waste go to waste, you make it into something you want," said Ludmilla Aristilde, assistant professor in biological and environmental engineering. "In order to make the microbes do our work, we had to figure out how they work, their metabolism."

Aristilde collaborated with her colleague Lars Angenent, professor of biological and environmental engineering, on the project. She explained, "The Angenent group had taken a waste product and turned it into a useful product."

To make biofuel from inorganic, gaseous industrial rubbish, the researchers learned that the bacterium Clostridium ljungdahlii responds thermodynamically - rather than genetically - in the process of tuning favorable enzymatic reactions.

Solar Impulse Just Completed Its Momentous Flight Around the World
July 26, 2016 10:28 AM - Aarian Marshall via Wired.com

Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Abu Dhabi today, becoming the first fuel-free plane to successfully circumnavigate the globe. OK, so the 22,000-mile trip took a minute: The solar-powered bird lifted off from the same city in March 2015. But despite a few setbacks, the plane and Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard (who took shifts with fellow flyer André Borschberg) touched down without incident.

Solar Impulse 2 is a seriously nifty machine. Its 236-foot wingspan makes it wider than a Boeing 747, but the thing is just 5,000 pounds. 17,000 rigid, photovoltaic panels charge four uber-efficient batteries, which make up nearly a third of the weight. Its four 17.4-horsepower motors definitely aren’t the fastest: The plane tops out around 90 mph, and traveled at an average of 38 mph across the Pacific. (Yeah, we’d honk at it on the highway, too.)

Marine carbon sinking rates confirm importance of polar oceans
July 25, 2016 03:52 PM - University of Washington via EurekAlert!

About the same amount of atmospheric carbon that goes into creating plants on land goes into the bodies of tiny marine plants known as plankton. When these plants die and sink, bacteria feed on their sinking corpses and return their carbon to the seawater. When plankton sink deep enough before being eaten, this carbon is taken out of circulation as a greenhouse gas to remain trapped in the deep ocean for centuries.

How much of this happens in different regions of the ocean would seem like an academic question, except during an era when humanity is spewing carbon dioxide into the air at record-high levels and wondering where all that carbon will go in the future.

A University of Washington study published this week (July 25) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses a new approach to get a global picture of the fate of marine carbon. It finds that the polar seas export organic carbon to the deep sea, where it can no longer trap heat from the sun, about five times as efficiently as in other parts of the ocean.

Global Economy Has Reduced Its Energy Intensity by One-Third Since 1990
July 25, 2016 01:41 PM -

The global economy is becoming less energy intensive, using fewer fossil fuels to power productivity and economic growth, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy. Global energy intensity — a measure of energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) — has decreased nearly one-third since 1990, the agency said. The U.S., for example, burned 5,900 British thermal units per dollar of GDP in 2015, compared to 6,600 BTUs in 2010.

Unlocking the secret to cheaper solar power
July 25, 2016 01:23 PM - American Institute of Physics (AIP) via ScienceDaily

As climate change garners more attention around the world, scientists at the University of Virginia and Cornell University have made critical advances in understanding the physical properties of an emerging class of solar cells that have the potential to dramatically lower the cost of solar energy.

Solar cells remain a focal point of scientific investigation because the sun offers the most abundant source of energy on earth. The concern, however, with conventional solar cells made from silicon is their cost. Even with recent improvements, they still require a significant amount of electricity and industrial processing to be manufactured.

In 2009, energy researchers turned their attention to a class of materials called "metal halide perovskites," or MHPs. They are sprayed on like paint onto solid objects, says Joshua Choi, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia. As the solution dries, the MHPs crystallize into a thin film that can be used to capture energy in a solar cell.

New lithium-oxygen battery greatly improves energy efficiency, longevity
July 25, 2016 12:31 PM - Massachusetts Institute of Technology via EurekAlert!

Lithium-air batteries are considered highly promising technologies for electric cars and portable electronic devices because of their potential for delivering a high energy output in proportion to their weight. But such batteries have some pretty serious drawbacks: They waste much of the injected energy as heat and degrade relatively quickly. They also require expensive extra components to pump oxygen gas in and out, in an open-cell configuration that is very different from conventional sealed batteries.

But a new variation of the battery chemistry, which could be used in a conventional, fully sealed battery, promises similar theoretical performance as lithium-air batteries, while overcoming all of these drawbacks.

The new battery concept, called a nanolithia cathode battery, is described in the journalNature Energy in a paper by Ju Li, the Battelle Energy Alliance Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT; postdoc Zhi Zhu; and five others at MIT, Argonne National Laboratory, and Peking University in China.

Soon solar will be the cheapest power everywhere
July 22, 2016 10:04 AM - Chris Goodall, The Ecologist

Solar is already the cheapest available power across large swathes of the tropics, writes Chris Goodall - its cost down 99.7% since the early 70s. Soon it will be the cheapest electricity everywhere, providing clean, secure, affordable energy for all.

Towards the end of last year, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden made a little-noticed remark. He said that solar would become the "dominant backbone" of the world's energy system.

He didn't give a date for his prediction, or indeed define what 'dominant' means, but he accepted that the sun will eventually provide the cheapest energy source across almost all of the world.

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