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Hot 'new' material found to exist in nature

One of the hottest new materials is a class of porous solids known as metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs. These man-made materials were introduced in the 1990s, and researchers around the world are working on ways to use them as molecular sponges for applications such as hydrogen storage, carbon sequestration, or photovoltaics.

Now, a surprising discovery by scientists in Canada and Russia reveals that MOFs also exist in nature -- albeit in the form of rare minerals found so far only in Siberian coal mines.

The finding, published in the journal Science Advances, "completely changes the normal view of these highly popular materials as solely artificial, 'designer' solids," says senior author Tomislav FrišÄić, an associate professor of chemistry at McGill University in Montreal. "This raises the possibility that there might be other, more abundant, MOF minerals out there."

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Cornell scientists convert carbon dioxide, create electricity

While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.

"Carbon capture" technologies - chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere - is one approach. In a recent study, Cornell University researchers disclose a novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product - while producing electrical energy.

Lynden Archer, the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and doctoral student Wajdi Al Sadat have developed an oxygen-assisted aluminum/carbon dioxide power cell that uses electrochemical reactions to both sequester the carbon dioxide and produce electricity.

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Abu Dhabi project uses sand to store solar power

Researchers in Abu Dhabi are testing a pilot device that can store solar energy in sand to improve the efficiency of power plants and provide energy at night.

The technology, developed at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, uses gravity to drain sand from a higher basin into a lower one, heating up the sand grains with solar power during the transition. In the lower basin, the energy can be stored and withdrawn at low cost to provide extra energy if needed, for example during peak hours and at night-time.

"Two pilot models of the system have been tested in an effort to prove its efficiency and applicability on a large scale in big projects,” says Nicolas Calvet, an assistant professor at the Masdar institute’s department of mechanical engineering.  

 

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EPA On Board to Develop Emission Rules for Aircraft

The end of last month brought big news in the battle to rein in climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from airplanes pose a threat to human health and the environment and therefore are subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

The Act was originally passed in 1970 to combat air pollution in the form of airborne lead and mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates, and ground-level ozone — to name a few. It was updated in 1990 to include emissions that threaten the ozone layer, and again in 2009 to deal with emissions known to contribute to climate change.

This announcement now clears the way for the EPA to develop rules to regulate aircraft emissions, much as the agency has done for emissions from cars and trucks. Aircraft are responsible for roughly 12 percent of all U.S. transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, or a little over 3 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions.

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Antarctic sea ice may be a source of mercury in Southern Ocean fish and birds

New research has found methylmercury – a potent neurotoxin – in sea ice in the Southern Ocean.

Published today in the journal Nature Microbiology, the results are the first to show that sea-ice bacteria can change mercury into methylmercury, a more toxic form that can contaminate the marine environment, including fish and birds.

If ingested, methylmercury can travel to the brain, causing developmental and physical problems in foetuses, infants and children.

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A research project coordinated by UC3M helps reduce the cost of parallel computing

Heterogeneous parallel computing combines various processing elements with different characteristics that share a single memory system. Normally multiple cores (like the 'multicores' in some smart phones or personal computers) are combined with graphic cards and other components to process large quantities of data.

"We hope to help transform code so that it can be run in heterogeneous parallel platforms with multiple graphic cards and reconfigurable hardware," explains the project's coordinator, José Daniel García, an associate professor in UC3M's Computer Science department. "We've made significant improvements in both performance and energy efficiency, comparable to those that can be made with a manual development process; the difference is that with a manual development process, we need months of engineering, while with our semiautomatic process we can do the same tasks in a few days."

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Rice crops that can save farmers money and cut pollution

A new U of T Scarborough study has identified "superstar" varieties of rice that can reduce fertilizer loss and cut down on environmental pollution in the process.

The study, authored by U of T Scarborough Professor Herbert Kronzucker in collaboration with a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, looked at 19 varieties of rice to see which ones were more efficient at using nitrogen.

"We have this bucolic idea of agriculture -- animals grazing or vast fields of majestic crops -- but the global reality is it's one of the biggest drivers of environmental pollution and climate change," says Kronzucker.

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Changing Arctic Tundra Could Radically Alter Shorebird Breeding Grounds

A new study projects that global warming could dramatically affect the tundra breeding habitat of 24 shorebird species, with 66 percent to 83 percent losing most of their suitable nesting territories. Researchers modeled breeding conditions for these migratory shorebird species — some of which travel more than 10,000 miles from Antarctica or southern South America to breed in the Arctic — and compared projected 21st century conditions to the last major warming event more than 6,000 years ago. 

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Butterflies use differences in leaf shape to distinguish between plants

The preference of Heliconius butterflies for certain leaf shapes is innate, but can be reversed through learning. These results support a decades-old theory for explaining the evolution of the exceptional diversity of leaf shapes in passionflowers.

The tropical butterfly Heliconius eratodistinguishes between shapes, and uses them as a cue for choosing the plants on which to feed and lay eggs, shows new research by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The butterfly has an innate preference for passionflowers with particular leaf shapes, but can learn to overcome this preference in favor of other shapes, especially those that are the most abundant in the local flora. These preferences can promote the evolution of plant biodiversity.

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The US Is Finally Getting Its First Offshore Wind Farm

BUILDING IN RHODE Island isn’t easy. Hurricanes and tropical storms barrel through its quaint coastline towns, interrupting perfect summer weekends. Freezing winters bring blizzards that can shut down the entire state. And every season features corrosive salty winds, biting at the coast as if sent by a Britain still seething at the first American colony to declare independence.

But one company sees the state’s incessant wind as a utility. Deepwater Wind has partnered with General Electric Renewable Energy to build the first offshore wind farm in the United States, off the coast of Block Island. Hooked up to the grid by the end of 2016, the system could supply 90 percent of the tourist destination’s power within the next few years. But it hasn’t been easy. Designing and building spinning fans hundreds of feet tall that stay sutured to the ocean floor in the face of currents and wicked winds has taken almost three years of work.

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