Potential of Cheap Hydrogen Fuel Reemerges

Previously studied and developed sources of energy like solar panels have received much attention and are already improving environmental conditions in areas where they are now in use. For instance, the UK is installing free solar panels in 800,000 homes. Scientists are also constantly looking into alternative sources when the circumstances call for it, like using Hurricane Irma waste to generate power, addressing not only the need for energy but also the need for recycling.

And then sometimes, intriguing and novel lab research makes an appearance, as seen in the UC Berkeley team that trained cyborg bacteria to photosynthesize and produce solar fuels. An intriguing — though apparently not novel — study that reemerged recently is the search for hydrogen fuel. In the 1970s, scientists have already started the work, but found that the production of hydrogen fuel cost too much, so only minimal research has occurred.

This year, about four decades later, researchers have finally found a way to make hydrogen fuel cheap and thus viable for widespread use — through the help of ammonia.

Ammonia, a hydrogen-rich molecule, has recently surfaced as a source of the molecular hydrogen needed to generate electricity. Now, researchers have figured out how to extract that fuel and generate power without creating usual pollutants that come from using ammonia.

Publishing their results in the Journal of Catalysis, the researchers found that a new crystal composed of copper, silicon, and other metals can be used to facilitate faster ammonia combustion without causing any pollution. Using the newfound chemical, ammonia extracts hydrogen fuel with only one byproduct — di-nitrogen, one of the Earth’s safe atmospheric gases.

Ammonia used to be inaccessible in the production of hydrogen fuel because it combusted only at very high temperatures (which made the process tedious and expensive) and generated much toxic waste. But thanks to the study, its usage is now cheap and clean, offering huge potential for the widespread production of hydrogen fuel.

One of the biggest potential uses for hydrogen power is emission-free vehicles. That’s the goal of much of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s hydrogen power research, perhaps because cutting greenhouse gas emissions from our cars, buses, and trucks would make a huge dent in our overall emissions.

It is important to note that the study happened in a laboratory, and more research is necessary to see if the potential will really blow up once taken to a bigger setting. But perhaps more important: sooner or later hydrogen fuel may just prove to be another strong and valuable contender in the search for more sources of clean energy.

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“Infinitely” Recyclable Plastic Discovered by Chemists

The impact of plastic on our environment has been discussed a multitude of times by different stakeholders, and even as individuals merely living our everyday lives, one thing should have definitely become clearer in the past few years: it is incredibly damaging, especially to our oceans. As a response, the UN drafted a resolution involving 200 countries to cut millions of tons of plastic waste every year. The EU followed with a similar campaign that aims to make all packaging fully reusable or recyclable by 2030.

Perhaps something that could help with these initiatives is the constant innovation of what plastics are available to use. Recently, a team of chemists at Colorado State University created a new kind of recyclable plastic which theoretically be used “infinitely”.

“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” said [Professor Eugene Chen]. “It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialise in the marketplace.”

The material they created has similarities with the plastics we currently use in order to be as functional. These include strength, durability, and heat resistance. But one key difference in the chemical composition of the “infinitely” recyclable plastic is its ability to be easily converted back to the molecules that form its building blocks. Because the scientists see that this process does not need toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures, they promote the potential of the recyclable plastic for commercial use.

[C]ommenting on the new discovery, chemists Dr. Haritz Sardon and Professor Andrew Dove . . . wrote that such discoveries could “lead to a world in which plastics at the end of their life are not considered as waste but as raw materials to generate high value products and virgin plastics . . . This will both incentivise recycling and encourage sustainability.”

Tons of millions of plastic waste could seriously be avoided if there is widespread use of this “infinitely” recyclable plastic. Instead of increasingly causing the death of our oceans, perhaps plastic itself could live a new life again and again.

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Water Purifier Made of Paper is Almost 100% Efficient

As someone engaged in water research, it’s difficult to break records when there’s already news of an Indian startup producing water from thin air or an Australian team modifying a metal that can clean water super quickly. But that’s exactly what researchers at the University of Buffalo did when they tested out their innovative device that uses sunlight and black carbon-dipped paper to purify water — its nearly 100% efficiency rate appears record-breaking indeed.

“Our technique is able to produce drinking water at a faster pace than is theoretically calculated under natural sunlight,” said lead researcher Qiaoqiang Gan in a statement . . . “Usually, when solar energy is used to evaporate water, some of the energy is wasted as heat is lost to the surrounding environment . . . Our system has a way of drawing heat in from the surrounding environment, allowing us to achieve near-perfect efficiency.”

The sloping carbon-dipped paper is crucial to the device’s efficiency. The bottom edges of the water purifier soaks up water while its outer coating absorbs solar energy to facilitate evaporation. This makes way for the purification process. The structure seems simple enough. And according to the scientists, incredibly accessible too.

According to them as well, what set their device apart from those of other groups that try to develop a water purifier with solar tech is that they didn’t prioritize finding advanced materials such as carbon-based nanomaterials and other expensive metals. Instead, the researchers wanted to focus on creating something that was extremely low-cost yet efficient.

This is consistent with their ultimate goal, which is to make the water purifier device useful to regions that need it the most, including disaster-stricken areas. To achieve it, the researchers also made their own startup called Sunny Clean Water.

“When you talk to government officials or nonprofits working in disaster zones, they want to know: ‘How much water can you generate every day?’ We have a strategy to boost daily performance,” said Haomin Song, an electrical engineering PhD graduate, in a statement. “With a solar still the size of a mini fridge, we estimate that we can generate 10 to 20 liters of clean water every single day.”

I always knew writers like me could use our medium to promote causes like sustainability, water conservation, and the like. But who knew paper could literally purify water, especially at this speed and efficiency?

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Plant Pods Grow More Lettuce Than a 1/2 Acre Farm

I always encourage my friends to grow their own produce, not only to save up on their budget for grocery, but also to find healthier options and maybe even to develop a new hobby. I even wrote some tips for all of you who are interested in doing the same. Luckily, devices like this automated indoor system called OGarden are helping more people achieve their home gardening goals. And I’m happy to update your available choices with Aggressively Organic’s lettuce pods.

The Indiana-based company offers Micro Growth Chamber Systems that can grow more lettuce in a 10-by-10-foot room than an organic farm can grow on a half-acre. The systems use less water, too — a typical Aggressively Organic plant only requires watering once every few weeks.

The global situation of food production is currently not at its best form. In fact, it has to increase by 50% by the year 2050, so that all the people in the world may be sufficiently fed. Aggressively Organic’s answer to the world hunger problem is to inspire people to produce their own food, hence the innovation of the lettuce plant pods.

Whether you want to grow your own garden in your office or apartment, and whether you are an experienced or inexperienced gardener, their plant pods seek to make the process more convenient for you.

Aggressively Organic’s systems . . . [consist] of a foldable cardboard chamber, a liner, a coconut coir disc in which seeds are planted, reusable net cups to hold the plant, and a nutrient solution. There’s no electricity required . . . The system is extremely water efficient — it takes 25 gallons of water to grow a head of lettuce in the ground, but Aggressively Organic can produce the same amount of lettuce with 16 ounces of H2O.

I’m sure more home gardening innovations are in store for us in the next few years. While I wait for the next automated home gardening device or the next amazingly efficient lettuce plant pods, let me just enjoy this delish salad for dinner.

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Costa Rica to Eliminate Fossil Fuels by 2021

In recent years, there have been multiple known alternatives to using fossil fuels, and some countries have already began using them and lobbying for them. I dare say it’s now a matter of legislation and execution in various institutions so that they may all follow suit in this turn to renewable power. For instance, solar energy powers schools in Denmark, villages for the homeless in the Netherlands, and the entirety of Diu in India. Meanwhile, wind energy is to run millions of homes in the UK, some states in America, and about 70% of Australia.

And now, Costa Rica announced a pledge to become the first entirely decarbonized country in the world by 2021.

Carlos Alvarado, [Costa Rica’s new president and] a 38-year-old former journalist, made the announcement to a crowd of thousands during his inauguration on Wednesday.

“Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Mr. Alvarado said. “We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

The president even seems to live consistently to his words, arriving at the ceremony aboard a hydrogen-fuelled vehicle. In addition to decarbonization, the country has previously declared plans to entirely eliminate single-use plastics by the same year. That’s right — Costa Rica wants to lead a lot of environmental endeavors by 2021.

But what’s so special about the target date?

“When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate … that we’ve removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” [Mr. Alvarado] promised during a victory speech.

Right. By that time, Costa Rica will have celebrated its 200th year of independence. I suppose it’s part of the same push and momentum that they were able to gain a record in 2017 for producing more than 99% of the country’s electricity using only renewable sources.

Perhaps acknowledging that the history of the people is also the history of their land, Costa Rica wants to celebrate the anniversary of their independence with a healthier, greener, and cleaner environment.

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Recycling Robot “Daisy” Eats 200 iPhones an Hour

Technology nowadays strives to maintain its status as a life changer, with Apple adapting to people’s health-oriented lifestyles, a blockchain program providing social services to the homeless, and Google dabbling in environmentalism by being the biggest buyer of clean energy.

In keeping up with this trend, Apple now introduces its newest robot named “Daisy.”

The massive robot, which Apple says can tear apart iPhones at a rate of 200 per hour, is able to separate the various internal components of an iPhone and sort them into easy-to-access piles. Using this method, Apple say it’s able to recycle a greater volume of materials than it would if it used other methods, since more of the parts are maintained.

In 2016, Apple already announced the creation of “Liam,” a recycling robot which can take apart unwanted units of the iPhone 6. That one seemed to serve as an experimental prototype for “Daisy,” which can now chew up to nine different iPhone models, almost every model except for the iPhone X.

The announcement comes as part of a series of new environmentally-friendly announcements the company made to coincide with Earth Day. Apple also announced a new GiveBack program for making donations to Conservation International, and a new Apple Watch feature that will reward users who exercise outdoors on Earth Day.

Apple continues to prove itself a titan, apparently wanting to be at the top even of the environmental game.

It’s just a teeny-tiny bit ironic that a recycling robot will save the environment from electronic pollution, isn’t it? Seems like the trajectory of technology has a lot more surprises in store for us in the coming years.

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Shipping Industry Joins Fight Against Climate Change

All of us can participate, in our little ways, in the great battle against climate change. As I have written before, we need to take the task upon ourselves now more than ever. And while there are actions we can do just around our home, we also definitely need bigger stakeholders in the battle. As a momentous feat this 2018, the shipping industry is finally joining the fight.

For the first time, brokered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and effective over 170 member states, global shipping companies have agreed to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The agreement will require a revolution among ships, which are overwhelmingly fuelled by heavy oils at present. In future, they will have to not only be more energy-efficient, but also make use of cleaner energy, in the form of batteries supplying electricity, solar and wind electricity generation, and perhaps even a return to sail in some cases, or more controversially to nuclear power, as some warships already use.

As of the moment, shipping contributes only 2% of the world’s total carbon emissions, but this is no reason to be complacent, considering the ever-increasing need for transport due to globalization, as well as the ships’ use of carbon-heavy fuels like diesel.

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy adviser at the campaigning group Seas at Risk, said: “We have an important agreement and this level of ambition will ultimately require a sector-wide shift to new fuels and propulsion technologies. But what happens next is crucial. The IMO must move swiftly to introduce measures that will cut emissions deeply and quickly in the short term – without these, the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach.”

According to campaigners, to really carry out their goal and meet the objectives of the 2015 Paris agreement, shipping companies need to cut 70% of shipping emissions by 2050. However, that the shipping industry agreed to halve their current usage is already tremendous news.

The entire shipping industry is built on and relies on oceans, so let’s hope shipping companies finally start doing what’s best to protect them.

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Mutant Enzyme Created by Accident Eats Plastic

Let’s face it, no matter how many individuals choose to replace their styrofoam coffee containers with reusable cups and no matter how many soda companies exchange plastic bottles for reusable ones, the total amount of plastic generated globally is still a huge enough crisis to keep finding solutions to.

Lucky for us, a mutant enzyme that can break down plastic drink bottles was accidentally born to an international team of scientists.

The creation of the enzyme came by accident when the team, led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, tweaked a bacterium they had discovered in a waste dump in Japan in 2016. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and the scientists inadvertently made it even better at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the plastic used for drink bottles. The break-down process starts in a matter of days, not the centuries it can take in the ocean.

In 2017, it was found that a million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. A tragic pollution statistic. However, since the mutant enzyme naturally evolved to break down plastic components, scientists have found leads that it might soon be able to recycle clear plastic bottles into clear plastic bottles. Talk about evolution and resurrection.

“What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic,” McGeehan said. “It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.”

Sometimes, accidents can be beautiful. Especially when it is born in a lab and extremely  helpful for the environment.

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Aquatic Moss Makes Contaminated Water Drinkable

Algae used to be fashionable, what with eco-friendly biomass algae shoes and green chandelier air purifiers. Something that looks quite similar (though is biologically different), moss, used to be functional and innovative, with equally eco-friendly moss-covered tires that absorb moisture and expel oxygen.

But now moss is just plain genius and essential, as scientists in Sweden discover an aquatic one that purifies water contaminated with arsenic, enough that it even becomes potable.

Researchers at Stockholm University say the aquatic moss, warnstofia fluitans, which flourishes in northern Sweden, can rapidly absorb arsenic, removing as much as 82 per cent of the toxins within one hour in some tests.

Due to mining operations in this part of Sweden, wetlands and water sources used for drinking and for growing crops are often contaminated with arsenic.

Arsenic is known to be a waste product from mining. Mine tailings are often toxic and difficult to separate from waste deposits, and toxin concentrations often end up in water sources. This makes mining a major environmental issue.

“We hope that the plant-based wetland system that we are developing will solve the arsenic problem in Sweden’s northern mining areas,” said Maria Greger, associate professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University and leader of the research group.

The process of cleaning the contaminated water done by the aquatic moss is called phylofiltration. The researchers have also mentioned that sometimes this process takes no more than an hour, which is indeed very quick. If only more humans are inspired to be as quick to act in the name of the environment.

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Activists Demand Recyclable Cups From Starbucks

If Starbucks isn’t your go-to for mocha frappuccinos, you’re probably living on another planet. Known for its wide range of flavors and misspelling names, the coffee chain is the largest in the world. With coffee moguls inventing edible coffee capsules, Starbucks still needs to step up its sustainability game. At GeekWire’s annual summit, protesters demanded recyclable cups from the food giant, creating a Cup Monster made with Starbucks products.

“If Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is serious about transforming his company into a tech leader, he must first solve his company’s biggest environmental liability: the 8,000 [plus] cups that go into landfills every minute of every day,” said Stand.earth spokesperson Ross Hammond.

What makes Starbucks cups mostly un-recyclable is its inner plastic lining. While the company claims to incorporate post-consumer fibers into its cups, recycling methods vary among different states.

“It’s important to note that what is recyclable varies significantly by municipality and sometimes even by store. We pay local private haulers across the country to collect and recycle hot cups along with our other recyclable products, compost and trash.”

Extremely recyclable? Sort of recyclable? Regardless of how recyclable Starbucks thinks its products are, there is always room to be more eco-conscious.

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