South Korea to throw out any plans for new nuclear reactors

June 20, 2017 by  
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South Korea currently obtains around 30 percent of its energy from nuclear power , but with the election of a new president the country seems ready to shift away from that energy source to something a bit safer. President Moon Jae-In – who campaigned on a platform of phasing out nuclear energy – says he will toss out plans to build new reactors and won’t extend the lifespan of existing ones in the country. The 2011 Fukushima disaster in nearby Japan incited concern in South Korea, as many of the country’s nuclear plants were then getting old. According to the country’s new president, many of the plants are located dangerously near residential areas. He said a nuclear meltdown could result in unimaginable consequences. Add to that corruption scandals over state nuclear energy agencies during the last few years and public unease over several earthquakes in South Korea in 2016, since an earthquake sparked the Fukushima meltdown. Related: Finland’s Green Party says humanity must embrace nuclear power Moon echoed these fears when he said, “South Korea is not safe from the risk of earthquake, and a nuclear accident caused by a quake can have such a devastating impact.” South Korea is running 25 nuclear reactors right now. Many of them will expire between 2020 and 2030, leaving the decision to extend several of them or not in Moon’s hands during his 2017 to 2022 term. He campaigned on the idea of shutting down every single one – although that task could take decades. As he decommissioned the Kori-1, South Korea’s first nuclear reactor, Moon said in a speech, “We will dump our atomic-centric power supply and open the door to the post-nuclear era.” He’d like to move towards what he described as more environmentally-friendly and safer energy sources like solar power and wind power . He’s also pledged to promote a post-coal energy policy . During his campaign he said he’d abandon coal to help curb air pollution . Among the member nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Korea is home to the highest levels of small air particles. The country currently obtains around 40 percent of power from coal. Via Phys.org Images via IAEA Imagebank on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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New self-driving electric RoboBuses are launching in Finland this year

June 14, 2017 by  
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The world is becoming increasingly automated, and a new self-driving bus in Finland is evidence of this. Beginning in the fall of 2017, the Finnish capital will launch a new autonomous electric “RoboBusLine.” According to the City of Helsinki the line “represents a shift from an experimental phase to regular, scheduled public transit service with self-driving buses.” Not only will the self-driving vehicles reduce the costs of transportation and improve access to public transit – they will also reduce the amount of cars that are on the road and slash emissions. In August of 2016, the Sohjoa project (an EU-financed initiative by the six largest cities in Finland, Finnish universities and transportation authorities) launched two EasyMile EZ10 electric minibuses in Helsinki. Reportedly, the initiative is part of the EU-financed mySMARTLife program, in which European cities are encouraged to develop energy-efficient mobility to reduce energy consumption in cities by 10-15 percent. So far, the electric minibuses have been tested in real traffic conditions – and they will continue to be monitored in urban areas until August 2017. Each bus has an operator on board in case of an emergency and travels at about 7 mph (11 km per hour), learning the route and accruing knowledge as it transits . Said Sohjoa project manager, Oscar Nissin of Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, “We focus on a number of aspects including sensor technology, user experience, and how to complement overall public transit services with self-driving buses.” Once the self-driving trials are complete, the Finnish cities of Espoo and Tampere will launch the buses to shuttle passengers from Helsinki’s Mustikkamaa recreational Island to Helsinki Zoo. Project leader and Metropolia’s smart mobility program director, Harri Santamala, explained that the “RoboBus will allow us to test operation in everyday public transit conditions. It will be used to study the long-term operability of self-driving buses and customer behavior. Related: The world’s first self-driving grocery store just hit the streets of Shanghai Finland is an ideal location for a self-driving bus to launch, as the country’s law does not state that a vehicle has to have a driver. Additionally, autonomous buses could offer a solution to a persistent problem in Helsinki: transporting riders from a regular public transit stop to their homes. A press release says, “Automated, remote-controlled bus service could markedly reduce the costs of the last-mile service and improve access to public transit . The ultimate goal is to increase public transit use and so to reduce cars and needs to drive in the city.” Because the electric minus is in a competitive bid process, the route, its launch date, and schedule will be announced at a later time. + Helsinkin RoboBusLine Image via Helsinkin RoboBusLine

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New self-driving electric RoboBuses are launching in Finland this year

Researchers successfully made a battery out of trash

June 14, 2017 by  
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If there’s one thing that abounds on planet Earth , it is man-made trash . Fortunately, researchers have developed a method of using discarded goods to create sodium-ion batteries. Made from recycled materials and safer than lithium variants, the battery is the latest step in renewable energy storage. To create batteries out of trash, the scientists accumulated rusty, recycled stainless steel mesh. Then, they used a potassium ferrocyanide solution — the same solution used in fertilizers and in wine production — to dissolve the ions out of the rust layer. Ions such as nickel and iron then bonded with other ions in the solution. This created a salt that clung to the mesh as scaffolded nanotubes that store and release potassium ions. As Engadget reports , “The movement of potassium ions allows for conductivity, which was boosted with an added coating of oxidized graphite.” Related: ‘Instantly rechargeable’ battery spells bad news for gas-guzzling cars More often than not, lithium batteries are used for renewable energy storage. However, the type of battery is expensive and exists in limited amounts. Additionally, lithium batteries have been known to explode. Not only are the new sodium-ion batteries safer, they boast a high capacity, discharge voltage, and cycle stability. Developing the battery was step one of testing the concept. Now that scientists have successfully created renewable energy from trash, the battery can be improved upon to maximize its potential. Via Engadget Images via Pixabay

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These mini spherical reactors could help scale fusion energy by 2030

May 16, 2017 by  
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Scientists have long sought to replicate with fusion reactors the sun’s ability to produce energy through nuclear fusion . But it’s taking too long for Tokamak Energy , a UK-based company that wants to speed up the progress with mini reactors. Their small Spherical Tokamaks makes it possible to accelerate tests, which is difficult in other laboratories because of the specific conditions required; they hope to provide commercially-available fusion energy as soon as 2030. Nuclear fusion is difficult to replicate on Earth because it requires extremely high temperatures and pressures. Scientists have broken records on the path to fusion energy for all, but there’s still a long way to go; a recent record hit only 70 seconds of high-performance plasma operation , and that was still an exciting milestone. But Tokamak Energy thinks they could accelerate us closer to fusion energy with their mini tokamaks. Related: Germany’s massive nuclear fusion reactor is actually working Spherical Tokamaks can “achieve a much higher plasma pressure for a given magnetic field than conventional tokamaks,” according to the company, which they say means their smaller reactors are more efficient. The tokamaks’ small size also offers an advantage in contrast to other fusion reactors being developed around the world, which have cost billions of dollars. At the end of April this year, Tokamak Energy switched on their third reactor in five years. They hope the ST40 will hit 100 million degrees Kelvin – seven times hotter than the Sun’s center and required for controlled fusion – next year. The company is working to be the first to offer commercially viable fusion, in just a little over 10 years. When his company turned on the ST40, Tokamak Energy CEO David Kingham said, “We will still need significant investment, many academic and industrial collaborations, dedicated and creative engineers and scientists , and an excellent supply chain. Our approach continues to be to break the journey down into a series of engineering challenges, raising additional investment on reaching each new milestone. We are already halfway to the goal of fusion energy, with hard work we will deliver fusion power at commercial scale by 2030.” Via the BBC and Tokamak Energy ( 1 , 2 ) Images via screenshot

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Light-powered device can purify air and generate clean energy

May 10, 2017 by  
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5.5 million people died prematurely because of air pollution back in 2013 – and half of those people lived in India or China. Air pollution continues to plague people around the world today, but now researchers from KU Leuven and the University of Antwerp have found a way to transform that dirty air into energy . They designed an air purifying device able to fit in a person’s hand that only needs light to work. The groundbreaking device houses two small chambers divided by a membrane. In one chamber air is purified; in the other hydrogen gas is generated. Nanomaterials in the device act as catalysts to both break down pollution and produce the gas. Scientist Sammy Verbruggen of both institutions, who’s lead author on a study published recently about the device in ChemSusChem , said the hydrogen gas can be stored and used as fuel in the future. Related: 9-year-old girl sues Indian government for climate change inaction According to KU Leuven, the processes underlying the device are akin to the workings of solar panels: “The difference here is that electricity is not generated directly, but rather that air is purified while the generated power is stored as hydrogen gas.” The higher the concentration of pollutants in the air, the stronger the electrical currents, according to the researchers, which means cities like Los Angeles, Beijing, and Delhi could really benefit from the technology . Verbruggen emphasized to Mic their device is just first proof of the concept, but could open up options in the future. Verbruggen told Mic, “There’s still a lot of work to do to make this applicable to daily life. It’s not like we discovered the holy grail yet. But this is a new field of opportunities.” The scientists are working to scale up their device and improve their materials to draw on sunlight more efficiently to set off the reactions. Via Mic and KU Leuven Images © UAntwerpen and KU Leuven and via Pixabay

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Light-powered device can purify air and generate clean energy

Henning Larsen Architects unveils zero energy-targeted civic center for Toronto

May 10, 2017 by  
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Henning Larsen Architects has won a competition for Toronto’s new 500,000-square-foot Etobicoke Civic Centre. Designed in collaboration with Adamson Associates Architects and PMA Landscape Architects , the winning proposal will have a focus on sustainability and feature municipal offices, public gathering spaces, a library branch, recreation center, and a child care center. Build Toronto and the City of Toronto hosted the design competition and evaluated proposals on their environmental sustainability, flexibility, community identity, and pedestrian scale. The competition jury commended the winning team’s proposal for its “flexibility and an iconic design well suited for the community.” The winning design also demonstrates an ability to achieve a net zero target and builds on the context and history of the Etobicoke community. Related: Designers float plan to cover Toronto’s CN Tower with clip-on condos The proposed Etobicoke Civic Centre will break down the development’s large scale using different sized building volumes that help preserve a comfortable pedestrian-friendly scale. Site analysis and local thermal studies also informed building placement to protect against the summer solar heat gain and winter winds. Comfortable microclimates are improved further with green roofs and landscaping, and the total effect will prolong the comfortable outdoor season by up to five weeks, said Henning Larsen Architects. Via ArchDaily Images via Henning Larsen Architects

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Worlds largest offshore wind farm opens in The Netherlands

May 9, 2017 by  
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Dutch officials have increased the country’s clean energy repertoire with the world’s largest offshore wind farm . Opened on Monday, Gemini wind park has 150 wind turbines spinning approximately 53 miles (85 kilometers) off the northern coast of The Netherlands ; the project is capable of generating about 600 megawatts at full winds – enough to power 785,000 Dutch households. The wind park, which was conceived in 2010 and cost $3 billion (2.8-billion-euro), comprises a collaboration between Canadian renewable energy company Northland Power, wind turbine producer Siemens Wind Power, Dutch maritime contractor Van Oord and the waste processing company HVC. “We are now officially in the operational stage,” said Matthias Haag, the company’s managing director, in a press release.” This been “quite a complex” operation, Haag added, “particularly as this wind park lies relatively far offshore… so it took quite a lot of logistics.” Over the next 15 years, the Gemini wind park will be able to generate about 13 percent of the country’s total renewable energy supply or about 25 percent of its wind power . This, in turn, will meet the energy requirements of about 1.5 million people. Related: Scotland’s latest wind farm will help fund 500 new affordable homes Phys.org estimates that the wind park will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.25 billion tons. Fossil fuels continue to make up approximately 95 percent of The Netherland’s energy supply, according to a 2016 report from the ministry of economics affairs. However, by sourcing 14 percent of its energy from clean sources – including wind and solar – by 2025, the Dutch country will be en route to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Hopefully, the example The Netherlands has set will inspire other countries to follow suit in an effort to curb climate change . Via Phys

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Brilliant conductive wallpaper shows the energy running through your walls

May 9, 2017 by  
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What if your wallpaper provided power for your house? Working in collaboration with Brooklyn’s Flavor Paper , UM Project just unveiled an amazing line of conductive wallpaper that displays embedded circuitry instead of hiding it in your walls. The coolest part is that the funky wall panels rely on human touch to complete each circuit, allowing you switch on your lights and appliances in a whole new way. Related:Light Up Your Walls with Mestyle’s LED-Embedded Wallpaper The wall panels feature conductive, water-based ink circuits connected to metal strips and copper dots. One simple touch completes each circuit, turning connected electronics on or off. The wall coverings combine 2D and 3D elements to create one very unique design feature for homes or offices. The conductive wallpaper was recently showcased at the collective design fair during a NYCxDESIGN event. Although just a conceptual design at the moment, the innovative product could send some serious waves through the world of wall decor. + UM Project Conductive Wallpaper Via Uncrate Photography by Francis Dzikowski/OTTO

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Portland plans to replace diesel using waste methane from sewage

May 2, 2017 by  
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Portland is searching for alternative sources of energy in unlikely places – including the city’s sewage treatment plants. New infrastructure at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant will allow the city to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) for use in trucks, instead of diesel . The plan could allow Portland to slash their greenhouse gas emissions by 21,000 tons every year. Bacteria decomposing solid waste at the sewage plant produce methane , a greenhouse gas that can also be turned into a hydrocarbon fuel . The Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant has been capturing that waste methane since 2008, but, until now, have only been able to collect around 77 percent of it, which is used to generate electricity or sold. The other 23 percent is flared off, emitting climate change -inducing greenhouse gases. Now the city aims to recover 100 percent of the methane. Related: Portland commits to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050 The captured waste methane will be converted into RNG, replacing 1.34 million gallons of diesel fuel, according to the city. 154 garbage trucks a year are expected to run on that amount of energy. The whole project will cost around $12 million. City commissioner Nick Fish said in a statement, “We are creating a triple win for the public in terms of revenue, climate action , and cleaner air. The renewable natural gas we will produce is truly local and homegrown, a by-product of the waste from every Portland household that we can now repurpose.” The fueling station should be complete by the end of this year, and the fuel will be used in city trucks. Then in 2018 the city will start selling the fuel for distribution through utility company NW Natural . By reusing a waste product and cutting pollution , Portland expects to earn $3 million each year. Via The City of Portland and Autoblog Images via The City of Portland and Wikimedia Commons

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7 biggest threats to the environment – why we still need Earth Day

April 18, 2017 by  
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This Saturday is Earth Day , and while it’s a time to celebrate our planet, it’s also a prime opportunity to take a closer look at the serious environmental issues we’re facing and the solutions that need to be put in place to alleviate them. Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the damage we’ve done to the environment, especially when the effects have been hitting so close to home . If you want to make this Earth Day an opportunity to educate yourself about the problems, read on as we break down the 7 biggest environmental threats facing our society right now and how we might be able to solve them before it’s too late. Climate Change Climate change is first and foremost an issue because people can’t even agree on whether or not it’s an issue in the first place. Before we even get into the solutions, we all (regardless of political party) need to come to the realization that yes, climate change is real and yes, it is affecting us in ways that we can see and feel.  If you still believe that the freakish weather and heat waves we’ve been experiencing have nothing to do with climate change, you might want to ask your neighbor what he or she thinks because the majority of Americans say they believe global warming is causing these incidents . You might have noticed that the weather’s been hotter than usual , or you might have noticed a drought in your area or conversely, unusual storms. Furthermore, even small temperature changes are causing crops to die, decreasing the amount of food available. On top of all that, higher temps are causing the polar icecaps to melt, flooding certain areas and leading to an imbalance for wildlife. So we know the threat is real, but what can we do to prevent climate change from being exacerbated even more? Some small steps you can take in your own life are to use less electricity by turning off your lights when you don’t need them, driving less, switching to LED bulbs and eating less meat . On a more global scale, leaders have come to an agreement on how to curb the harmful greenhouse gases each nation emits into the atmosphere, and steps are being taken to plant more forests (which act as natural carbon sinks). Every bit helps, but in order for us to reverse the current course the Earth is on, the United States needs to commit to the Paris Agreement  and, along with the rest of the world, work towards a greener planet. Deforestation We mentioned planting more forests above, and sadly at a time when we need more forests, trees are being uprooted at an alarming rate.  Deforestation is a rapidly-growing problem in areas like Africa, Central and South America. Not only does this mean less trees, less cleansing oxygen, and the displacement of the wildlife, deforestation means a dangerous decrease in a natural fighter of global warming – the #1 threat to our Earth right now. Removing trees also leads to much drier climates, as trees extract groundwater to release into the air. Our tropical rainforests, which are crucial to stabilizing the climate and to human survival, are being chopped down at a breakneck pace – one and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second . Humans have already chopped down about 50% of the rainforests that once existed on the planet and at the current rate of destruction, we will completely destroy the rainsforests in the next 40 years . If rainforests are so important, why are they being destroyed so carelessly? Short-sighted governments and multi-national logging companies only see the forests as a way to make money by selling timber – they don’t consider the long-term effects . Luckily, deforestation is an issue that we as individuals can combat. By using recycled paper, we can decrease the need to cut down as many trees and by buying goods made with FSC-certified wood, we can show retailers that we don’t want them to support brands that obtain lumber irresponsibly. Last but not least, why not plant a tree or even a hundred trees like this man did . Pollution Pollution comes in many forms and no matter where you live, you’ve probably seen some form of it. From litter on NYC city streets to the smog that lingers over LA to the plastic trash that floats in the  Great Pacific Garbage Patch , the visible signs of pollution are more than evident. The main reason for why pollution has gotten so out of control is that our desire for more “stuff”  has led to our old stuff being thrown away at an alarming and unnecessary rate. For more information on this, watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff . This need for manufactured items also leads to the air and water pollution emitted from factories, which in many countries are highly unregulated. Looking at the bigger picture, government oversight and sloppy industrial practices on the part of big companies has also exacerbated our pollution problem. The first thing we can all do to reduce the amount of pollution in our streets, air and water is to make a mental change. Before buying a new product, ask yourself if you really need it or if you might be able to purchase it secondhand. It could make a big difference in the amount of trash we see in our landfills. Secondly, if you don’t already  recycle , get into the habit. If everyone adopted these easy principles, the world would be in a much better place. Loss of Biodiversity Each species has a role in our planet, and when one dies out, it can have catastrophic effects on the rest of us. We don’t want to get all “Butterfly Effect” on you but even a population dwindling can cause major problems for the human race. For example, with their role of pollination , the decline of the  bee population has a direct effect on both the environment and food production. Currently, many other animals are in danger of becoming extinct, either from being forced out of their habitats by man or by climate change. This particular problem is more difficult for individuals to combat but we can start by educating ourselves with the facts and donating to organizations like the World Wildlife Fund that facilitate the preservation of animals on the brink of extinction. This problem is also closely linked to deforestation and unchecked habitat destruction so by fighting those two issues, we can also slow down loss of biodiversity. Melting Polar Ice-Caps and Rising Sea Levels Climate change (are you seeing a trend here?) also contributes to another dangerous problem – melting polar ice-caps, which in turn causes rising sea levels. According to the NRCD , average temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast they are elsewhere and the ice is melting and rupturing. NASA satellite images reveal that the area of our permanent ice cover is shrinking at a rate of 9% every decade. At that rate, the Arctic could be totally ice-free in the summer season within decades. And if all of that ice melted, where would it go? You guessed it – our oceans. You might think that rising tides are only a problem for people in a few isolated areas, but major cities like NY and London could be underwater soon if we don’t do something soon. Manhattan alone has already dreamt up ways to deal with the potential rising tides over the next few years, but coming up with solutions after the fact is not enough. In order to reverse the melting of polar icecaps, we have to start at the root of the problem. See our section above on climate change to learn what you can do personally to keep global warming from continuing on its deadly course. Oceanic Dead Zones Along the coasts of heavily populated communities, scientists have found more and more dead zones – areas where depleted oxygen levels cannot support marine life. 146 dead zones were found in the world’s oceans, caused by high levels of chemicals in the waters. North America’s Gulf Coast has a high concentration of dead zones, which causes fish to become unable to reproduce. You might think that if you live on land, you won’t be affected by oceanic dead zones but if you eat seafood, seaweed, or care about air quality, you won’t want to ignore this issue. The good news is that dead zones can be reversed, though it is difficult. The  Black Sea dead zone disappeared in 1991 and 2001 due to the discontinued use of fertilizers. To find out more about how you can help with dead zone cleanups, visit Oceana.org . Explosive Population Growth It’s usually true that the more the merrier, but not when the human population is growing to a point that our society and systems can’t handle. Last year, the world population hit a whopping 7 billion , and while we welcome the newcomers with open arms, we also want to make sure that we don’t continue to put a strain on our water, food, well-being, space and sanity (yes, we’re talking about you, Tokyo subway system ). If everyone were more conscious of the fact that our limited resources need to be shared (how many times have you grabbed a fistful of paper napkins when you only needed one?), we could make living together, even with such a large amount of people) a lot more pleasant. Another example is our world food supply. Statistics show that we have enough food to feed everyone on the planet but we end up wasting so much (according to the  National Resources Defense Council , Americans waste a whopping 30 to 50% of all food produced) that others go without. While we might not be able to stop the population from growing, we can educate the people who currently live here and the new ones that are being born to make smarter choices and consume more responsibly. Images from Wikimedia Commons, Shutterstock, © James Cridland , @ Kevin Crejci , and @ No Minds Vision    

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