Three scientists at the University of Manchester have shared their findings in a journal whose title we had not been aware of, but are glad to know is looking out for us all:
Science of the Total Environment is an international journal for publication of original research on the total environment, which includes the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and anthroposphere.
Since most readers of our pages likely use this type of oven on a daily basis, it seems worthy of a moment to read their findings as abstracted below:
Authored by Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Joan Manuel F.Mendoza & Adisa Azapagic
130 M microwaves in the EU consume 9.4 TWh of electricity annually.
First LCA for microwaves to estimate the environmental effects of EU regulation
Standby Regulation will reduce impacts by 4–9% by 2020; WEEE Directive by ~ 0.3%.
Decarbonisation of electricity will reduce most impacts by 6–24% by 2020.
Eco-design regulation for microwaves should be developed to reduce resource use.
More than 130 million microwaves are affected by European Union (EU) legislation which is aimed at reducing the consumption of electricity in the standby mode (‘Standby Regulation’) and at more sustainable management of end-of-life electrical and electronic waste (‘WEEE Directive’). Continue reading
Free parking and charging stations for electric cars in Oslo. Norway offers generous incentives that make the vehicles cheaper to buy, and other benefits once they are on the road. Credit Thomas Haugersveen for The New York Times
Norway’s public policy that puts environmentalism front and center stands in stark contrast to the obvious deconstruction of protections in this country.
Sales of electric and hybrid cars in Norway outpaced those running on fossil fuels last year, cementing the country’s position as a global leader in the push to restrict vehicle emissions.
Norway, a major oil exporter, would seem an unlikely champion of newer, cleaner-running vehicles. But the country offers generous incentives that make electric cars cheaper to buy, and provides additional benefits once the vehicles are on the road.
Countries around the world have ramped up their promotion of hybrid and electric cars. As China tries to improve air quality and dominate new vehicle technology, the government there wants one in five cars sold to run on alternative fuels by 2025. France and Britain plan to end the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars by 2040.
Norway is ahead of the rest of the world. Continue reading
Models of stain-fighting enzymes, displayed on clothes in a washing machine. Credit Carsten Snejbjerg for The New York Times
We’ve been highlighting mycological innovation since the early days of this site, and our enthusiasm has yet to wane. The range of fungi-power will never cease to amaze.
A Danish biotechnology company is trying to fight climate change — one laundry load at a time. Its secret weapon: mushrooms like those in a dormant forest outside Copenhagen.
In the quest for a more environmentally friendly detergent, two scientists at the company, Novozymes, regularly trudge through the mud, hunting for oyster mushrooms that protrude from a fallen beech or bracken fungi that feast on tough plant fibers. They are studying the enzymes in mushrooms that speed up chemical reactions or natural processes like decay.
“There is a lot going on here, if you know what to look for,” said Mikako Sasa, one of the Novozymes scientists.
Their work is helping the company develop enzymes for laundry and dishwasher detergents that would require less water, or that would work just as effectively at lower temperatures. The energy savings could be significant. Washing machines, for instance, account for over 6 percent of household electricity use in the European Union.
Enlisting enzymes to battle dirt is not a new strategy. Over thousands of years, mushrooms and their fungi cousins have evolved into masters at nourishing themselves on dying trees, fallen branches and other materials. They break down these difficult materials by secreting enzymes into their hosts. Even before anyone knew what enzymes were, they were used in brewing and cheese making, among other activities. Continue reading
Biomethane is an age-old concept in much of what is frequently called the “developing world”, so it’s difficult to overstate the irony of “1st world” adoption. That said, it’s heartening to read of more projects aimed at maximizing poo’s full potential.
A long winding road climbs into a gathering dusk, coming to an abrupt dead end in front of a house. Here, a solitary flickering flame casts out a warm glow, illuminating the nearby ridge line of the Malvern Hills.
Below the light sits a mysterious green contraption resembling a cross between a giant washing machine and a weather station. This is the UK’s first dog poo-powered street lamp, and it is generating light in more ways than one.
The idea seems simple enough: dog walkers deposit the product of a hearty walk into a hatch and turn a handle. The contents are then broken down by microorganisms in the anaerobic digester, producing methane to fuel the light, and fertiliser…
…Humans have used animal dung as fuel since the neolithic period, and have known how to get flammable gas from decaying organic matter since the 17th century. Small-scale anaerobic digesters are commonplace in many developing countries, while larger plants producing heat and electricity from animal manure and human sewage have long been used in the west.
Yet the energy in most excrement still goes to waste. Continue reading
At Opal Springs Water Company in Oregon, raw water is prepared for shipping to the company Live Water. Credit Leah Nash for The New York Times
Closing out 2017, a note on water. Nellie Bowles wrote this story, Unfiltered Fervor: The Rush to Get Off the Water Grid, for the Food section of the New York Times. It could just as well have been in either the Science or the Tech section.
One new technology allows anyone, in dry or humid climates, to produce and store their own drinking water. The story is in the Food section presumably because it is a luxury for the improvement of your drinking pleasure; but the implications for natural resource management are interesting. And what about the projects that societies have embarked upon, forever, to determine ever-better ways to distribute necessities like water?
A standard residential SOURCE array is made up of two panels: one primary panel and one additional panel with array sizes designed to meet your drinking water needs.
A standard array averages 4-10 liters each day or 8-20 16.9oz standard water bottles, depending on sunshine and humidity.
Each panel is 4 feet x 8 feet (1.2m x 2.4m) and a standard array contains 2 panels.
Each panel holds 30 liters in a reservoir where it is mineralized and kept clean for optimal taste and health. Standard arrays have 60 liters of water storage capacity.
SOURCE utilizes solar power and a small battery to enable water production when the sun shines and water delivery on cloudy days or at night.
The story includes several technologies that seem worth knowing about:
Battery technology is the thing. It seems to be a holy grail that environmentalists and technologists can agree on for helping us, humans who want a habitable planet for generations to come, mitigate climate change. And occasionally it is at the core of short term fixes. Once the dust has settled on 2017, and we are looking back on stories that were on the positive side of long term impact on the planet, this story will probably get more attention. For now it seems like a footnote at the end of the year to note that this Tesla scheme actually seemed to work:
Last spring, Elon Musk made a daring bet. He claimed he could build and install the world’s largest grid storage battery in South Australia within 100 days of the date a contract was signed or the system would be free. The contract was signed on September 29. Installation was completed by the third week of November. On December 2, the giant 129 MWh system was activated. Continue reading
By The New York Times
Thanks to the New York Times for this success story from a small country in Africa that has been working its way steadfastly to global leadership, quietly but surely for the last decade-plus. Eliminating plastic bags from a country seems impossible, until you read how it was done:
GISENYI, Rwanda — They are sometimes tucked into bras, hidden in underwear or coiled tightly around a smuggler’s arms.
They’re not narcotics or even the illegally mined gold and diamonds that frequently make it across the border into Rwanda. But they are, at least in the eyes of Egide Mberabagabo, a watchful border guard, every bit as nefarious.
The offending contraband? Plastic bags.
“They’re as bad as drugs,” said Mr. Mberabagabo, one of a dozen border officials whose job it is to catch smugglers and dispose of the illicit plastic he finds. Continue reading
The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters
The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.
After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?
In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.
New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.
The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.
In fact, 11% were more inclined to purchase renewable energy. Continue reading
The bees’ home at the Javits. Beekeeping was illegal in New York until 2010 when the ban was lifted. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of bees, both environmentally and agriculturally. So we’re suckers for happy bee stories, especially urban bees. Kudos to the New York City Board of Health for lifting the Giuliani-era ban against urban bee-keeping, not to mention the Javits Center green-roof sustainability project!
Let us begin not with the who, which was several thousand bees and a bunch of people in anti-sting gear that looked like spacesuits, or the what, which was harvesting honey. Let us go directly to the where.
It was not a bosky setting that would bring to mind the Robert Frost poem about good fences and good neighbors, but the south roof of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s Far West Side. Here the neighbors are the unfinished towers of the Hudson Yards development. They ring what has become an urban meadow — the south roof, mostly covered by 6.75 acres of kaleidoscopic sedum. It is yellowish green. It will turn red in time for Christmas.
The bees have been in residence since spring. The first 12,000 came from California, transplanted in a three-pound container that looked like a shoe box with screens on both sides. They were placed in wooden hives, which look like stackable drawers. There were 60,000 to 80,000 by midsummer.
The accommodations are typical of urban apiaries. Liane Newton, the director of nycbeekeeping.org, who tends them, described her role as “convincing them they live in a tree trunk when they live in a file cabinet.”
Her persuasion seems to have paid off. “They made cells for closets, cells for babies, cells for storing pollen,” she reported one morning last week. “One amazing thing about bees is they have this architectural inclination.” Continue reading
The first geothermal energy plant in South America is in Cerro Pabellón, Chile, 14,760 feet above sea level, surrounded by volcanoes. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
Chile’s near catastrophe with hydroelectric energy, averted in part thanks to the efforts of friends in the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign, made us wonder whether Chile’s path to a greener future would be straight and narrow. Thanks to the New York Times and Ernesto Londoño we think we have strong evidence helping us with the answer:
CERRO PABELLÓN, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.
A worker inspecting solar panels in the Atacama Desert in Chile, one of the driest and sunniest places on Earth. The sun is so strong there that workers must wear protective suits and slather on thick layers of sunscreen. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.
Wind turbines in the Atacama Desert and other turbines along Chile’s 2,653-mile coast contribute to power to national grid. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times
Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.
But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.
So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate changecommitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations. Continue reading
The design company Ecovative makes a variety of packaging materials using mycelium fungus. Credit Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
Thanks again to Stephanie Strom for a story about ecology that surprises:
For the environmentally conscious eater, they are among the most inconvenient truths: Too much food goes to waste. Too much packaging comes with the food. And too much of the packaging is made to last for ages.
Now there may be a single answer to all three problems: using excess food to make the packaging. Continue reading
Considering the coffee farming and roasting operation, not to mention all the coffee served at Chan Chich Lodge; also considering the constant search for new options relevant to ecologically sensitive operations, this catches our attention. Thanks to Anthropocene and Prachi Patel:
The world produces almost 10 million tons of waste coffee grounds every year. Researchers have now discovered an efficient way to turn that waste into a green fuel. Their simple one-step process, outlined in the Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, would save time and the cost of producing biodiesels from coffee. Continue reading
Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images
We link to the occasional food trend article when it matches something we are working on, whether it is the Chan Chich Lodge culinary program or the food production at Gallon Jug Farm. This article, Whole Foods Would Look a Lot Different If It Were Science-Based, almost lost me with the first sentence, an annoying cliche within a sappy first couple paragraphs, but there is a useful case made starting soon after. We are dealing with these very questions so I can suggest the majority of the article starting after the jump:
Whole Foods used to be my idea of grocery heaven. Once upon a time, I shopped at the California Street location in San Francisco — it was light and airy with produce for miles. I knew the cheesemonger. I had philosophical conversations with the butcher. I stared longingly at the Le Creuset bakeware. The soap aisle smelled like lavender. Heaven.
But eventually, I fell out of love. Or, to be more specific, I changed my mind about organic food after reading the research: It turns out organic isn’t more nutritious or even necessarily better for the planet. So I pretty much stopped shopping at Whole Foods altogether. Continue reading
This exciting project came to our attention a little over a year ago, and we’re excited to see that it’s going full steam ahead!
What’s up with fish?
The world’s population is growing rapidly, and the global demand for animal protein—from fish to poultry, beef, and pork— is growing with it. But there’s a problem: animal feeds are made from wild-caught fish like anchovies and sardines. These fish are caught using highly destructive fishing methods that result in unintentional by-catch and the destruction of coral reefs. One third of global fish catch doesn’t go towards direct human consumption; it goes to feeding animals. As a result, more than 85% of the world’s fisheries are exploited. We are feeding fish to other animals, and it doesn’t make sense.
Meanwhile, the world’s population is increasing rapidly and is projected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050. We desperately need a new way to feed a growing population that is not at odds with the health of our oceans.
Meet the black soldier fly.
Open-ocean aquaculture could reduce environmental concerns associated with aquaculture in coastal waters. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries.
We’re always looking for well-balanced discussions on innovative but occasionally controversial forms of food production. Open ocean aquaculture is an example, and we appreciate the Food & Environment Reporting Network for offering just that, suggesting that many of the environmental concerns with aquaculture are mitigated by using deep water locations.
President of the New Orleans–based Gulf Seafood Institute, Harlon Pearce knows better than anyone that wild fisheries alone can’t supply U.S. consumers’ growing demand for fish. Which is why he’s doing his best to bring everyone to the table to achieve one goal: farming the Gulf of Mexico. Continue reading
On a day often reserved for gags and laughs, we instead repeat, without much cheer but plenty of conviction, two of our favorite words: entrepreneurial conservation. Two opinion pieces today highlight the role of both government and market forces as vehicles of environmental protection. When government must take action, as John D. Leshy and Mark Squillace point out, there is a law that allows the President of the United States to protect nature in the public interest. That law is endangered, and it is not okay, these model mad legal scholars remind us. They also point out that markets have tended to follow and reward the actions Presidents have taken to protect natural monuments in the last 111 years since that law was enacted.
A former Mayor of New York City, who also has credibility when it comes to market forces, reminds us in another editorial that with or without a President’s leadership we can still make progress on our environmental commitments. But only if all the rest of us are fully on board, and ready to shake things up when needed, providing all the more reason for each of us to keep all these model mad examples fresh in mind. If you only have time for one quick read at the moment, make this the one: