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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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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Helping Out: the Latest Lifestyle Trend

Every so often, I write about a current or emerging lifestyle trend that isn’t only able to influence our own personal choices but also to shape the culture we engage with. In fact, this is one of my favorite topics to write about. It’s certainly my life goal to stay trendy and support sustainability at the same time, and I love spreading the word about it. Here are some of the lifestyle trends that I’ve previously written about and remain beloved to me:

1. Sustainable fashion

Making your wardrobe eco-friendly isn’t really as difficult as it sounds. The key, as I often point out in other aspects of daily life, is to organize. From your old ones, pick your favorite and essential clothing items then decide on what you don’t need. Go on to sell or donate them. Whatever you do, don’t throw stuff away!

As for shopping for new items, be aware of your sources. Do your research in advance. Shopping local is usually a good way to support the community. Avoiding items that might have come from animal cruelty is a good principle. At the end, I guess it’s a matter of principle and knowing which fashion companies mirror yours.

2. Food choices — organic, local, and balanced

Sustainability, though it is also seen in other aspects of daily life like fashion, most often comes up in conversations about food choices. So it’s safe to say updating your lifestyle means supporting sustainable food production. Millennials, they say, are effecting some big changes in the food industry: they opt out of GMOs, go organic, and support local. And I believe those are very good choices. Now more than ever, people are encouraged to produce their own food by growing their own gardens and such.

However, in addition to sustainable, what should food choices be if not healthy? Research says that a Mediterranean or a plant-based meal plan can give us the most health benefits. So don’t go for those heavily advertised crash diets. Choose the most balanced — thus sustainable — one for your body as well.

3. All-around mindset

Here’s the thing. Doing healthy things and following lifestyle trends without reflecting on why you do them could suffice, but they cannot ensure  long-lasting effects on your well-being. What’s really important is how you think about your life and how you let that process manifest into actual decisions. Some things that really helped me be more conscious of my choices are lagom and mindfulness. Lagom has helped me achieve balance in my daily life — from arranging my apartment furniture to reducing my work-related stress. Mindfulness has helped me embrace my mental illness, commit to a self-care regimen, and even seek help when I need it.

Now you may ask, why am I listing all of these things? It’s because I want to reflect further on what makes a certain lifestyle trend so important to me. And I’ve been thinking, in the end, it’s all about kindness, isn’t it? Sustainable fashion is all about being kind to the earth. Sustainable food choices is about being kind not only to the environment, but to your own body as well. Certain mindsets like lagom and mindfulness are about being kind to yourself and the people that you love and that love you.

I realize, maybe the next thing that I want to commit to is being kind beyond my self and my inner circle. So here’s another lifestyle trend that I believe should go viral:

4. Kindness, kindness, kindness.

Maybe it’s not even simply the latest lifestyle trend, maybe kindness is a more timeless choice that we need to make chic now. After all, it even has some amazing health benefits. So go outside and volunteer. Help out a stranger in need — whether he is in a medical emergency or simply needs a ride home — because you don’t know what impact it will make on his life. And for the matter, you don’t know what impact it will make on the world. Maybe one little favor can push someone to pay it forward and eventually end up creating an entire culture of helping other people out.

Sustainable fashion or food choices make us feel good, but what can make us feel better than being compassionate to others? And in the way that choosing organic for your salad today can be great for the environment, helping someone out may end up making the world better. Now that’s chic.

Final tip: you can actually use technology to start on this kindness lifestyle. Use the BeepBeep Nation app in reaching out to those who need your help, and learn more about the EMINENT token to get started. And hey, honestly, helping out has never been this trendy.

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42 Food Giants Pledge to Ax Plastic

2018 gave us a lot of eco-friendly changes in the food industry: Pepsi debuted reusable bottles for flavored beverages, Dunkin Donuts ditched foam cups from their packaging, even McDonald’s followed suit with foam cups and plastic straws. I hate to say that this environmentalist trend among food giants has reached its peak with the good news I bring now, but it does feel like a culmination of sorts.

A total of 42 food companies in the UK — composed of retailers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and brands — have pledged to ax single-use plastics by 2025.

Together, the signatories represent roughly 80% of the plastics sold in UK supermarkets. The initiative . . . has set a series of goals to cut wasteful packaging over the course of the next seven years. For starters, the initiative will ensure that 100% of plastic packaging must either be recyclable, compostable, or reusable in order to make it onto supermarket shelves. Some supermarkets have gone even further and declared that plastic packaging will no longer be used on fruits and vegetables.

The signatories include UK brands like Asda, Nestle, Lidl, Coca-Cola, Aldi, PepsiCo, Unilever, Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, Sainsbury, and many others. Besides ensuring the elimination of single-use plastics, the pledge also covers recycling. The current recycling rate is 30%, and the participating food giants seek to bump it up to 70%.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who is backing the pact, said in a statement: “Our ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste will only be realized if government, businesses, and the public work together.”

In addition to bringing super chic eco-bags to the supermarket, well, I guess I just have to remember this pledge to feel less guilty when buying those apples.

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Concrete Can Withstand High Magnitude Earthquakes

If a bamboo building can withstand several sorts of natural disasters, surely, any other structure can. Unfortunately, it isn’t really the case — until, maybe, now. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are testing a type of concrete that can resist high magnitude earthquakes.

Researchers at . . . UBC have created a fiber-reinforced concrete called eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC), that can withstand high seismic activity. The engineered material combines “cement with polymer-based fibers, fly ash and other industrial additives,” according to a university press release.

Simply adding a 10-millimeter layer of the material to existing walls is enough to make it practically impenetrable. But the strength to withstand high magnitude earthquakes — up to a magnitude 9.0! — isn’t the only fantastic feature of the material. It is also linked to sustainability efforts. Considering that normal concrete contributes to nearly 7% of carbon emissions, using mostly fly ash or a coal combustion byproduct definitely earns EDCC points. Hopefully, it will lessen the damages caused by the cement industry to the environment.

“This UBC-developed technology has far-reaching impact and could save the lives of not only British Columbians, but citizens throughout the world,” said Melanie Mark, the minister of advanced education, skills and training in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant. “The earthquake-resistant concrete is a great example of how applied research at our public universities is developing the next generation of agents of change.”

In the near future, EDCC will also be used for strengthening home structures and blast-resistant buildings. A proud salute to public universities making a difference!

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Yellow Peas Are The New Milk

In the food industry, nothing is what it seems. At Ava Winery, wine is grape-less. Popular distillery Misadventure and Co. is producing vodka made with food waste. Ripple is not far behind, introducing an entire line of dairy products made with yellow peas.

“The food system represents 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, and dairy is one-quarter of that,” said [co-founder Neil] Renninger… “The impact is massive. More than beef, more than chicken, dairy is actually the largest contributor to emissions by volume. That challenge scratched my sustainability itch.”

Since its launch, Ripple has sold a healthy 2.5 million bottles of plant-based products. Renninger and partner Adam Lowry admitted that most plant food “sucks” because the industry doesn’t spend enough time doing research to create better food items. To be honest, I couldn’t agree more.

“Their idea of innovation is a brand extension . . . We saw huge potential for impact—a lot of white space in the world of food innovation through technology.”

Yellow peas, Ripple’s ingredient of choice, isn’t strongly flavored and is relatively inexpensive to grow. It also provides a sufficient amount of protein, significantly more than almond milk does. Eliminating 3.5 pounds of carbon emissions per 48-ounce bottle, Ripple has a lot to brag about.

“It’s not that we have the only pea milk on the market; what makes us unique is that, thanks to technology, we have the purest plant protein in the world,” says Renninger.

And with its pea milk currently coming in five different flavors, I can’t imagine Ripple is going out of business anytime soon.

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