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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New Zealand To Test Humanitarian Emigre Visas

While environmental groups are tackling climate change on a grander scale, startups are handling smaller projects. Though it’s clear that innovations like Off Grid Box and SkyCool are making an impact, change can’t come quickly enough. To assist Pacific islanders displaced by natural disasters, New Zealand hopes to distribute refugee visas.

“There might be a new, an experimental humanitarian visa category for people from the Pacific who are displaced by rising seas stemming from climate change,” [said] James Shaw, New Zealand’s climate change minister… “and it is a piece of work that we intend to do in partnership with the Pacific Islands.”

The country is recovering from the repercussions of denying sanctuary to two deposed Tuvalu families. It seems the 1951 refuge convention, which defines a refugee as someone at risk of persecution, is making room for climate change as a legitimate oppressor.

“The lives and livelihoods of many of our Pacific neighbors are already being threatened and we need to start preparing for the inevitable influx of climate refugees,”

In the coming years, New Zealand will also up its refuge quota to 5,000 per annum. Looks like a storm of change has come.

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U.K. Installing Water Vacuums To Collect Waste

Technological advancements such as swimming robots and metallic glass have helped to alleviate water pollution. Despite this, consumers are polluting lakes and oceans quicker than we can restore them. To combat unreliable waste management, Indiegogo creators are taking “Seabins” to the U.K.

The Seabin’s creators say that each unit can collect around 1.5kg of waste a day and hold up to 12kg until it’s full. That amounts to 20,000 plastic bottles or 83,000 plastic bags a year.

At a plump price tag of £3,000, the Seabin is a splurge, but perhaps a necessary one. It functions simply and efficiently and is hardly a struggle to transport.

It houses a combination of a large natural fibre net and a dock-based pump (fed by the hook-like metal pole). This only collects debris floating on top of the water and sucks in surface oils, ensuring fish are safe.

Throw a few dozen Seabins into the Pacific and I’d say oil spills could be the least of anyone’s worries. It’s two thumbs up for this clever device.

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P&G Launches Recycled And Ocean Plastic Bottles

When it comes to recycled packaging, cosmetics brand LUSH is practically a veteran. It has repurposed 27 tons of ocean plastics and made donations to conservation groups. Now, manufacturing company Procter and Gamble is following suit, launching Fairy Ocean Plastic bottles made entirely from recycled materials.

As many as 320,000 of the 90% recycled and 10% ocean-plastic bottles are set to be released in the UK in 2018, with the overriding aim of raising awareness of the issues of growing ocean plastic levels.

As a leading brand, Fairy will likely have a significant impact on consumers and competitors alike. To ensure the success of Fairy products, P&G has also partnered with recycling group TerraCycle.

“The issue of ocean pollution is a pertinent one, we hope other brands will be inspired to think creatively about waste and make the circular economy a reality.” [said Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle.]

With plastic waste projected to outnumber fish by the year 2050, P&G hopes that Fairy will stunt the process. If anything, it will prevent some 8,000 tons of plastic from reaching landfills. It’s a start!

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Australia Pledges $500M to Protect Great Barrier Reef

Australia has been making waves in the environmental newsfeed this past year with some fantastic headlines: its energy sector powered 70% of the country’s homes using only renewable sources, a huge permaculture farm fed dozens and dozens of families with only organic produce, and even without human help, a supposedly extinct species of insectivore suddenly showed up. But this Sunday, Australia made just about its biggest wave yet.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull pledged more than 500 million Australian dollars for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef — the greatest single investment that this reef or any other coral ecosystem in the world has ever received.

[T]he Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a national non-profit . . . will use the money to counter water pollution, combat coral-eating starfish, increase public awareness, boost reef monitoring, and improve the environmental impact of surrounding businesses . . . The funds will also be used to expand reef restoration efforts, including trialling new techniques that can breed corals resistant to high temperatures and light stress.

For a while now, the Great Barrier Reef, which hosts about 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish, is known to be in great danger. Its damage — including coral bleaching and ocean acidification — can be traced to climate change as a consequence of burning fossil fuels, harmful coastal development, and continuous fishing despite the already-present negative effects. A 2016 study even said that more than 90% of the reef has already been affected by coral bleaching.

However, Australia’s environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, is confident that “the right plan and the right investment” will help secure what he describes as a “remarkably resistant” reef . . . “The more we understand about the reef, the better we can protect it . . . Millions of dollars will go into science and to better data management and to be able to test the impacts on the reef.”

Of course, we must inevitably mull over the damage humans have caused the beautiful coral ecosystem in the past decades, but it seems to have been resilient in maintaining itself and in forgiving us. Perhaps the millions of dollars pledged to its protection can finally help us start to make up for the damage and deserve its forgiveness. I honestly can’t help but hope it’s better late than never for us and the Great Barrier Reef.

 

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Endangered Giant Turtles Are Escaping Extinction

Some animals, such as wild tigers in Kazakhstan, are making a comeback thanks to environmental groups. However, others, like the humble sea turtle, are escaping extinction all on their own.

Massive efforts to save the egg-laying turtles by changing fishing nets and creating protected and darkened beaches are working, said . . . Antonios Mazaris, an ecology professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

“There’s a positive sign at the end of the story,” Mazaris said. “We should be more optimistic about our efforts in society.”

Before, endangered giant turtles had a difficult time with their survival due to hunting, fishing, habitat destruction, and pollution, among other things. In fact, only one of seven sea turtle species isn’t endangered. Mazaris recently found that of 299 sets of turtle populations, 95 increased. That’s serious cause for some… shell-ebration.

“Sea turtles are bellwethers. They’re flagships that we use to tell the story of what’s going on in the oceans… And that’s why people should care about turtles.”

Thanks to new fishing practices and allocated nesting hubs, the population of previously endangered giant turtles now increase by 10 – 15% annually. The Ridley sea turtle species had formerly seen a drop of roughly 38,000, and this initial devastation of turtle populations may have been our own doing. However, our awareness and action are also partially to thank now.

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Germany Offers Free Transport To Fight Pollution

The best things in a sustainable life come free. Whether solar power or library books, the end goal is the same. Protect the planet. Educate. With an extensive amount of waste and pollution looming over the globe, Germany has had enough. To cut rising costs of living and minimize emissions, nation is offering free public transport.

“We are considering public transport free of charge in order to reduce the number of private cars,” three German government ministers wrote in their recent letter to the E.U… “Effectively fighting air pollution without any further unnecessary delays is of the highest priority for Germany.”

Though it hasn’t topped the list of most polluted countries in Europe, Germans remain among the 400,000 that succumb to air pollution every year. Expenses are tricky, but are encouraging other forms of eco-traveling.

The free public transport plans would be complemented by other measures, such as car-sharing schemes or expanded low-emissions zones within cities.

Sure, a crowded subway may not sound ideal — but let’s hope Germany has its reigns on that as well.

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London Crossrail To Generate Energy From Wind

Wind energy is nothing new, but it’s definitely improving. In fact, it’s powering homes in Australia and Denmark at pleasantly surprising rates. Now that other nations are catching onto its sheer efficiency, they’re brewing up other ways to utilize it. For Moya Power in London, it’s all about being creative. The pilot project will collect energy from tunnel drafts caused by speeding trains using simple plastic sheets.

“If we all live in cities that need electricity, we need to look for new, creative ways to generate it,” says [mastermind Charlotte] Slingsby… “I wanted to create something that works in different situations and that can be flexibly adapted, whether you live in an urban hut or a high-rise.”

Considering the constant movement of  countryside families into cities, urban landscapes are demanding greater volumes of energy. As the war against fossil fuels continues to be precarious, alternative energy is very much welcome anywhere.

The yield is low compared to traditional wind power plants and is not able to power whole cities, but Slingsby sees Moya Power as just a single element in a mixture of urban energy sources.

Realizing that subway tunnels might be the windiest parts of an otherwise gloomy city now makes a lot of sense. Who knew?

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China Assigns Military Troops To Plant Trees

As we all know, the joys of tree-planting exist beyond activist groups. Anyone can join in on the fun — from entire villages to drones. Even your not-so-usual suspects can be pretty eager to give back. Such is the case with 60,000 Chinese troops, all of whom are reforesting 84,000 square kilometers of land.

The armed police force has a specially designated forestry branch to patrol and exercise jurisdiction in forested areas such as the northeastern Greater Khingan mountain range – dubbed ‘China’s green lungs’ – in Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia provinces.

China’s current forest coverage lies at a measly 21%, which the People’s Liberation Army hopes to bump up to 23 by 2020. In this year alone, the Chinese government aims to overlay an ambitious 6.66 million hectares of land.

Heavily polluted Hebei province, which encircles Beijing, has pledged to raise its total forest coverage to 35% by the end of 2020, and the bulk of the troops pulled back from the frontlines will be dispatched there.

China is notorious for its dense amounts of smog and futile efforts to combat them with jars of air. Perhaps this route, along with other air purification methods, may be the best one to take.

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