First Solar Plane Voyage Around the World

After a pit stop in Oman Solar Impulse 2 sets off for Ahmedabad, India on 10 March 2015 Photograph: Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse

The strange rear profile you see in the photo above is that of the Solar Impulse 2, a two-ton plane (a Boeing 747 weighs 154 tons) with solar panels on its wings that made history this week as it completed a round-the-globe voyage over the course of roughly three weeks in flight. The Solar Impulse 2 and one of its pilots, André Borschberg, broke the record for the longest nonstop solo flight ever a few weeks ago, when Borschberg flew from Japan to Hawaii. Damian Carrington reports for The Guardian:

The final leg of the feat, aimed at showcasing the potential of renewable energy, was a bumpy one, with turbulence driven by hot desert air leaving the solo pilot, Bertrand Piccard, fighting with the controls.

The plane, which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and carries more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings, began the circumnavigation in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi. It has since crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans using no fossil fuel and has spent more than 23 days in the air.

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GPS Turtle Eggs to Track Poachers

Prototypes of Paso Pacifico’s fake eggs. The small balls on the outside hold the GPS transmitter which will then be fit into the larger shells, forming the inner ring of the photograph. Photograph: Eduardo Bone via The Guardian

Last time we mentioned sea turtles it was also in the context of protecting them from poaching. These threatened ocean species lay eggs on public beaches and certain people enjoy eating those eggs, or even the turtle meat itself. Thanks to a great project by USAID called the Wildlife Tech Challenge, there will soon be a potential means to tracking where poachers are selling the illegal turtle eggs, as Jeremy Hance reports:

“Every year millions of sea turtle eggs are taken by poachers for sale on the black market. Paso Pacifico’s solution has the potential to reveal the trade routes and destination markets for trafficked sea turtle eggs,” the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said.

The USAID recently awarded Paso Pacifico $10,000 for its idea through their Wildlife Tech Challenge, a contest to tackle wildlife trafficking through technological innovation. The Wildlife Tech Challenge is also supported by the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution, and TRAFFIC.

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Farm-to-Car Research by Ford Motor Co.

Photo of an agave plant by Stan Shebs via WikiMedia Commons

Plant-based plastics and the circular economy are both concepts that we like but have not seen enough of since their introduction into the discourse of sustainability and the collective fight against climate change. Below, Lauren Hepler from GreenBiz reports on Ford’s continued research in “farm-to-car” materials like soy-based foam and car parts reinforced by castor oil byproducts, rice husks, and other recycled waste, but we can’t forget that despite the carbon and petroleum saved by these changes, the use of gasoline as fuel is still the biggest problem:

With thick, spiky leaves that can grow up to 7 feet tall, so-called “blue agave” is a hearty plant that grows in high-altitude desert climates. The succulent’s claim to fame: being the essential ingredient in authentic Mexican tequila.

Luckily for distillers such as Jose Cuervo, agave grows well when cultivated in arid regions such as Southern Mexico. Still, with a processing volume of 200-300 tons per day, the company is often left with considerable waste from the 90-plus-pound plants — which is exactly what appealed to the company’s unlikely new business partner.

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Hydrogen Derived from Grass, Sunlight, and Nickel

A type of fescue grass in the UK, photo by T. Voekler via WikiMedia Commons

Another research university, another new chemical conversion. Yesterday we shared an innovative prototype system from Cornell to generate electricity, and today we learned via, “the global source for science news,” that hydrogen, a source of renewable energy, can be produced by the cellulose found in fescue grass during a chemical reaction with sunlight and a metal catalyst such as nickel, according to researchers from Cardiff University and Queen’s University in the UK:

It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen, which has enormous potential in the renewable energy industry due to its high energy content and the fact that it does not release toxic or greenhouse gases when it is burnt.

Co-author of the study Professor Michael Bowker, from the Cardiff Catalysis Institute, said: “This really is a green source of energy.”

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What’s the Longest Living Animal?

Some sea sponges can live for centuries, and are indeed animals. PHOTOGRAPH BY JAD DAVENPORT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

That’s a question National Geographic reader Mohamed Larbi Bahou asked the columnists of “Weird Animal Question of the Week,” and a question we hadn’t asked ourselves. Liz Langley answers Mohamed’s question – thanks to both of them for these interesting facts:

Some days it feels like it might be me.

Kidding aside, humans these days live pretty long lives: The average global life expectancy of someone born in 2015 is 71.4 years.

That’s not bad compared with some adult female mayflies, which live for under five minutes—just long enough to mate and lay eggs. Talk about speed dating.

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Cornell Research on Capturing Carbon to Generate Electricity

Architectures of metal/CO2 electrochemical cells as capture systems. (A) Secondary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where CO2 is concentrated by recharging. (B) Primary metal/CO2 electrochemical cell where captured CO2 is concentrated or converted to Cn (n ≥ 2) valuable products. Image and caption from Science Advances, W.I. Al Sadat and L.A. Archer

Several of our contributors have a Cornell background, and this new technology that can convert carbon dioxide to electricity through a simple series of chemical reactions is the product of a couple researchers at the School of Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineers. Prachi Patel reports for Conservation Magazine:

A new technology offers a one-two punch against carbon pollution. Researchers have made an aluminum-based battery cell that captures carbon dioxide and simultaneously generates a large amount of electricity. That means a way to mitigate carbon emissions while meeting increasing demand for energy.

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UK Starbucks to Trial Actually Recyclable Cups

© frugalcup

It turns out that only one in four-hundred paper coffee cups are recycled in the UK; the rest of the 2.5 billion cups used every year are thrown in landfills or turned into greenhouse gases via incineration. The main problem, apart from people simply not throwing the cups in recycling bins, is the plastic lamination on the paper that makes the cups more waterproof. A new cup being released this week, made by a company called Frugalpac uses a thinner film that can be more easily removed to recycle the paper, which itself is less chemically treated than conventional cups.

Starbucks in the UK has announced that it will trial these more easily recycled cups, and hopefully they’ll stick with it. Rebecca Smithers writes for The Guardian:

The cups will feature in a forthcoming television investigation by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. For his next War on Waste documentary, which airs on BBC1 on 28 July, the chef and campaigner has challenged major coffee shop chains to explain why more cups are not recycled and consumers not given better information about environmentally friendly disposal. But Starbucks, one of the UK’s largest coffee chains, is set to be the first retailer to test the product, saying it will trial the Frugalpac cup in some branches.

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Ants & Agriculture


Tiny nurse ants tending to white ant larvae are dwarfed by the queen ant in the upper right. All the ants feed upon protein-rich food produced by a white-grey fungus that they cultivate underground. (Karolyn Darrow)

Thanks to the folks at Smithsonian for this one:

Were Ants the World’s First Farmers?

A new study shows that a group of ants have been conducting a subsistence type of farming since shortly after the dinosaurs died out

By Jackson Landers

Humans have been practicing agriculture for about 10,000 years. But the attine ants of South America (which include the well-known leafcutters) have us beat by a long way.

According to a new paper co-authored by entomologist Ted Schultz, curator of ants at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, attine ants, which farm on an industrial scale similar to humans, have been carefully cultivating gardens with a complex division of labor to grow an edible fungus. Schultz’s team found that the ants have been doing this far longer than previously believed—up to 65 million years—and that we have much to learn from them. Continue reading

Library Law’s Legacy


The National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. Credit Pavel Horejsi for The New York Times

If you search this site for topics written about frequently, library might be among the top 10 topics, for reasons that many of those earlier posts would make clear. Today, a lovely short item from Eastern Europe, that makes us wonder:

Why Libraries Are Everywhere in the Czech Republic


PRAGUE — In the age of Amazon and the internet, the idea of going to a public library to borrow a book may seem ever more quaint and old-fashioned in many parts of the world, but one country, at least, is clinging to it tenaciously: the Czech Republic. Continue reading

Mountain Lions to Save Drivers and Deer from Collisions

Image: ©Brother Magneto/Flickr

It’s strange news, but a great sign of innovation that both helps a large keystone mammal come back from reduced population numbers and cull a troublesome species that is creating more and more road hazards every year. Brandon Keim reports for Conservation Magazine:

What’s one simple, inexpensive way to make driving safer?

Letting big predators live.

If mountain lions returned to the eastern United States, say researchers, their predatory habits would literally get white-tailed deer off the road, reducing collisions between drivers and deer by 22% over the next 30 years.

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“Watermelon Snow” = “Black and Bloom” = Melting Ice

Photo via

The last time we mentioned Greenland and melting ice sheets it wasn’t good news either; it rarely is. But any new research that can analyze how ice is melting faster than it could be is also helping figure out how we might reduce that rate of ice loss and ocean level rise. Alexandra Witze reports on algae and Arctic ice sheets:

Researchers are fanning out across the Greenland ice sheet this month to explore a crucial, but overlooked, influence on its future: red, green and brown-coloured algal blooms. These darken the snow and ice, causing it to absorb more sunlight and melt faster.

The £3-million (US$4-million) Black and Bloom project aims to measure how algae are changing how much sunlight Greenland’s ice sheet bounces back into space. “We want to get a handle on just how much of the darkness is due to microbes and how much to other physical factors”, such as soot or mineral dust, says Martyn Tranter, a biogeochemist at the University of Bristol, UK, and the project’s principal investigator.

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Bad News for a Few European World Heritage Sites

Protections have been weakened for Russian natural areas like the Western Caucasus. © WWF-Russia / Sergey Trepet

Last time we mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it wasn’t good news either, when many Sites were listed as “in danger.” The places newly at risk, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are often in the way of logging enterprises, often by the very governments who should be protecting the internationally recognized areas.  From the WWF:

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee today expressed concern over three sites facing severe pressures from harmful industrial activities, but failed to take bold action to protect them.

At the meeting, WWF objected to a sharp logging increase in the Polish portion of Bialowieza Forest World Heritage site, which also spans part of Belarus. The forest is one of Europe’s oldest, and is home to the most wild European bison, as well as lynxes and wolves. The government of Poland has argued that logging is necessary in order to combat a bark beetle infestation, a claim Polish scientists reject.

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Corn, Heritage & Conservation


Masienda / Facebook

Thanks to EcoWatch for this:

Heirloom Non-GMO Corn Is Helping Sustain Mexico’s Heritage and Farmers

It’s not often that a conversation inspires an idea leading to a project that improves people’s lives and potentially transforms an industry. But that’s what happened to Jorge Gaviria, founder of Masienda.

While serving as a host and translator at the G9 Chefs Summit at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York in 2013, Gaviria heard chefs discuss responsibly sourced ingredients. Continue reading

The Downside Of Roads


The density of transportation infrastructure in Europe. Credit: Marina Pinilla.

We enjoy a good drive as much as anyone, but we also have seen the impact they have over time in wilderness areas, and here is some unsurprising science from already developed regions to back up the concern:


Roads and railway lines are so ubiquitous across the European continent that it is becoming impossible to measure their ecological effects, according to a study published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study, researchers calculated the distances to the nearest paved road or railway line throughout 36 European countries, the first time that such calculations have been made comprehensively across the entire continent.

Nearly one-quarter of the land in Europe is within 500 meters of transportation infrastructure, half is within 1.5 kilometers, and virtually all is within 10 kilometers, they found. Continue reading

Jackfruit: Potential Meat Substitute?

A vegetarian restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, offers the Jack BBQ: jackfruit, onions, and kosher dill pickles served on sourdough bread. PHOTOGRAPH BY STEVE HEBERT, THE NEW YORK TIMES/REDUX

This question has actually already been answered here before. Last year, Rosanna wrote about the fruit, revolving around an article from The Guardian that featured a recipe for pulled pork but with jackfruit replacing the meat. Earlier that month, we had linked to an NPR segment that called them a “nutritional bonanza” that may help with the food crisis in developing countries. And the year before that, we had written another post calling the fruit a “mega food.” So when will that happen for good? Hopefully, soon! Stacie Stukin writes for NatGeo on the would-be fad-food:

When Annie Ryu first encountered a large, spiky orb called jackfruit, she was perplexed. “I thought it was a porcupine,” she says.

But when she ate it prepared in a curry, she was amazed at how meat-like it was in taste and texture. That was in 2011, when she was traveling in southern India as a premed student helping community health workers improve prenatal care. By 2014, she had waylaid her medical career to start The Jackfruit Company.

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Smithsonian Features Recycled Trash Sculptures

Image courtesy National Zoological Park

The plastics used in these colorful and eye-catching sculptures being shown at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo weren’t recycled in the way outlined yesterday, but rather were found by artist Angela Pozzi and her volunteers along the West Coast beaches that they traveled, picking up waste to raise awareness at a later date through their traveling art exhibit, “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.” The seventeen sculptures of marine wildlife are bombastic and full of character. Sabrina Greene reports for the Smithsonian Insider:

“The exhibit at the Zoo appears to be a wonderful success,” Pozzi says. “I have seen dozens of visitors stopping and looking closely, then entering into discussions and then really thinking about the marine debris issue. Besides raising awareness, one of our goals is for the public to start taking ownership of the problem and reevaluating their own plastic usage. We hope to spark positive changes in consumer habits. Every piece of plastic in our exhibit that we have picked up off the beaches, every single bit of it, was once purchased by somebody.”

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Concentrating Solar with Mirrors and Molten Salt

A tower of salt, surrounded by sunlight-sensing and -reflecting mirrors. Photo © SolarReserve

Two months ago we posted about non-photovoltaic solar power via a story from Scientific American, and this week they’re exploring the subject again, this time in the desert of Nevada with the first utility-scale “concentrating solar” plant that can provide electricity even at night. Concentrating solar involves storing heat from the sun rather than converting light into electricity, and apparently molten sodium and potassium nitrates can do this very effectively. Knvul Sheikh reports:

Deep in the Nevada desert, halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, a lone white tower stands 195 meters tall, gleaming like a beacon. It is surrounded by more than 10,000 billboard-size mirrors focusing the sun’s rays on its tip. The Crescent Dunes “concentrating solar power” plant looks like some advanced communication device for aliens. But the facility’s innovation lies in the fact that it can store electricity and make it available on demand any time—day or night.

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Old School Fromage

Cheesemaker David Clarke separates the curds and whey to make Red Leicester cheese at Sparkenhoe Farm in Upton

Cheesemaker David Clarke separates the curds and whey to make Red Leicester cheese at Sparkenhoe Farm in Upton, central England October 8, 2007. Red Leicester cheese had not been made in Leicestershire since 1956 until Clarke started producing his traditional, unpasteurised cloth-bound cheese using milk from his 150 pedigree Holstein Fresian cows. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)

Thanks to the Atlantic’s concern for our culinary well-being:

How Real Cheese Made Its Comeback

After decades of Kraft Singles, more Americans than ever are hungry for artisanal varieties of the past. An Object Lesson.


As a child, I was a picky eater. Except when it came to cheese. Continue reading

A Tetra Pak Social Experiment

The packaging company Tetra Pak, perhaps best known for its milk cartons, is also dedicated to eco-efficiency and recyclability of its materials. Recently, they put together a study with the participation of ten women who maintain lifestyle blogs while also being mothers. Tetra Pak wanted to explore the sense of happiness that comes from practicing a small renewable habit every day, like using reusable bottles, choosing renewable product packaging, switching one outdoor habit to an indoor one, and others. Here are their key takeaway points from a white paper they released:

1. Start small and start now. Don’t over plan or procrastinate. Choose a habit you can change today and begin. Immediate, incremental changes can quickly become more automatic and result in increased happiness.

2. Cues are the key. Choose a behavior associated with a situational cue and make it more renewable.

3. Make a pact with yourself. Like a New Year’s resolution, commit to a goal and set out to achieve it. A personal contract may help to solidify the commitment, i.e. “When I encounter situation X, I will perform behavior Y.”

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Reflections On Collecting Things


This exhibition, brought to our attention by a lengthy respectful review here, is the first time we have heard of this museum, but now that it is on our radar we stay tuned. This looks like our kind of show:

Object Lessons: The New Museum
Explores Why We Keep Things

Curators at the New Museum have created an exhibit with over 4,000 objects that examines the various ways we collect and own items.


We live in a sharing economy of collaborative consumption — services, not stuff. Crowdsourcing, peer-to-peer rentals like Airbnb: An interest, exemplified by millennials, in a temporary ownership of goods.

Apps, not objects. Continue reading