Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen

March 15, 2017 by  
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Everyone from startups to car companies as big as Toyota have seen the potential of hydrogen as a clean fuel source for vehicles, since its only byproduct is water. But hydrogen is often made with natural gas , which may be less polluting than oil but isn’t exactly clean, so six University of Cambridge scientists developed a way to make the fuel source using sunlight and biomass like leaves. The researchers created clean hydrogen with biomass as a starting point. They suspended biomass in alkaline water and added catalytic nanoparticles. In a laboratory, these components were placed in light mimicking light from the sun , and the nanoparticles got to work, using the light to begin the chemical reactions necessary to produce hydrogen from lignocellulose, part of plant biomass. The university notes the process is both sustainable and relatively cheap. The journal Nature Energy published their research online earlier this week. Related: Startup creates renewable hydrogen energy out of sunlight and water In the past, to turn lignocellulose into hydrogen scientists had to use high temperatures in a gasification process, but the Cambridge scientists say they could simply use sunlight in their method instead. Joint lead author David Wakerley pointed out biomass stores lots of chemical energy, but since it’s unrefined, it’s not feasible to just burn biomass in car engines, for example. He said, “Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful.” The scientists were able to make hydrogen with leaves, paper, and wood. Co-author Erwin Reisner said, “Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions. We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production. Future development can be envisioned at any scale, from small scale devices for off-grid applications to industrial-scale plants.” A United Kingdom patent application has already been filed for the process and thanks to Cambridge Enterprise , which helps academics bring their concepts to market, discussions with a possible commercial partner are ongoing. Via New Atlas and the University of Cambridge Images via Wilerson S Andrade on Flickr and the University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry

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Cambridge scientists use light and plants to make cheap, clean hydrogen

Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

February 21, 2017 by  
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No discussion of a post-carbon future can be complete without raising the specter of nuclear power. Although it’s a contentious subject, any concerns about large-scale adoption have been largely rendered moot by the fact that the world’s uranium deposits are finite—and dwindling. Stanford researchers are convinced, however, that the solution may lie in seawater, which contains trace amounts of the radioactive metal. “Concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, a materials scientist who co-authored a paper on the subject in the journal Nature Energy . “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.” Wind and solar power are gaining traction, but some experts say that they’re still too intermittent to be truly reliable in the long term. “We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former U.S. secretary of energy who championed seawater extraction research before he left the Department of Energy for Stanford. A co-author of the paper, he noted that nuclear power currently accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 13 percent worldwide. A practical way of extracting uranium from seawater, he added, could go a long way to bolstering the energy security of countries that rely on nuclear power but lack uranium reserves of their own. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs,” he said. Related: Uranium extracted from the oceans could power cities for thousands of years Although many have attempted to harness the oceans’ uranium before, previous efforts have failed to yield sufficient quantities in a fiscally meaningful way. Till now, anyway. Uranium doesn’t bob freely on the waves, of course. In seawater, the element combines chemically with oxygen to form positively charged ions called uranyl. Building on years of prior research, the Stanford team refined a technique that involves dipping plastic fibers containing a uranyl-attracting compound called amidoxime in seawater. When the strands become saturated with the ions, the plastic is chemically treated to free the uranyl, which can be refined for use in reactors – much like you would do with ore. By tinkering with different variables, the researchers were able to create a fiber that captured nine times as much uranyl as previous attempts without becoming saturated. Sending electrical pulses down the fiber collected even more uranyl ions. “We have a lot of work to do still but these are big steps toward practicality,” Cui said. + Stanford University Via Engadget Top photo by apasciuto

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Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

Officials declare world’s first famine in six years

February 21, 2017 by  
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Officials have declared the first official famine in six years – in South Sudan. And it is entirely manmade. The United Nations and South Sudanese government said 100,000 people are already suffering, and one million more are expected to face starvation soon. Food and Agriculture Organization representative Serge Tissot said, “Our worst fears have been realized.” The United Nations said war and economic troubles are to blame for the famine, which has been officially declared in some areas of the Unity state but also threatens other parts of South Sudan. High food prices also make it harder for hungry people to obtain sufficient sustenance. Head of the World Food Programme (WFP) in South Sudan, Joyce Luma, said the famine is man-made – three years of strife has affected farmers and impacted crop production. Tissot said, “Many families have exhausted every means they have to survive.” Related: Severe drought and El Niño have put 32 million southern Africans in peril According to the WFP and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 4.9 million people desperately need food in South Sudan – that’s over 40 percent of the entire population. But that number could rise to 5.5 million people, or 47 percent of the population, by the summer, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC). IPC’s report said acute malnutrition is a public health emergency in the country, as 14 out of 23 counties show Global Acute Malnutrition around or greater than 15 percent. UNICEF representative Jeremy Hopkins said they estimate over one million children are acutely malnourished in South Sudan. The report called for assistance, saying humanitarian help in 2016 was able to bolster and even improve food security in some areas. “It is of paramount importance that assistance not only continues in 2017, but scales up in the face of mounting food insecurity across the country,” the report states. But Luma warned there’s only so much assistance can do without peace in South Sudan. Via the BBC and the United Nations Images via European Commission DG ECHO on Flickr ( 1 , 2 )

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Officials declare world’s first famine in six years

Tiny TigerMoth Camper generates power while being towed

February 7, 2017 by  
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Taxa Outdoors’ tow camper, the TigerMoth , is a compact home on wheels geared towards traveling adventurers. The lightweight camper sleeps two, has LED lights, and even better, comes with a built-in electrical system that generates energy while being towed. The camper’s battery can store energy for at least seven days, making off-grid living easier than ever before. Although certainly compact, the camper sleeps two comfortably and thanks to its lightweight size of just 900 pounds, can be towed virtually anywhere. The unique side latch allows for easy access and the large window allows for amazing views and air circulation. Built with adventurers in mind, the small structure has a roof rack system for bikes or kayaks, a tongue-mounted toolbox, and a roof cargo deck for additional gear storage. Related: Traveling family renovates old school bus as both solar-powered home and hostel The camper’s tow vehicle connection recharges the battery while on the road, providing enough electricity for at least seven days of off-grid living . Although solar panels have to be ordered, the camper roof is pre-wired for installation. As far as the basic amenities go, the tiny camper can sleep two people comfortably and comes with LED lighting installed in the kitchen area and sleeping area. There is 5.5 square feet of countertop for food preparation or work space. Along with various hooks and bungees, two large cubbies provide extra storage space. + Taca Outdoors

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Tiny TigerMoth Camper generates power while being towed

Bill Gates warns against climate-change denial

February 7, 2017 by  
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Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently spoke out against denying climate change during a student question-and-answer session at Columbia University in New York City earlier this month. Joined by voluntary tax-information sharer and fellow monied person Warren Buffett , the Microsoft founder also called for greater innovation in clean energy. He said, “Certain topics are so complicated like climate change that to really get a broad understanding is a bit difficult and particularly when people take that complexity and create uncertainty about it”. And Gates is more than happy to put his money where his mouth is. In December, he and a team of investors said they would pump more than $1 billion into Breakthrough Energy Ventures , a fund that invests in technologies that will curtail the planet’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Related: Bill Gates pledges $2 billion to renewable energy research We need to find energy that’s “reliable, cheap, and clean,” he said, before promising that “the innovations there will be profound.” He added, “There are many paths to get to where we need to go”. Perhaps another billionaire we know should pay attention? Photo by DFID Via U.S.A. Today

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Bill Gates warns against climate-change denial

Fukushima radiation levels at highest since 2011 disaster

February 3, 2017 by  
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As cleanup efforts threaten to span decades, radiation levels inside a Fukushima Daiichi reactor are at their highest since the 2011 disaster. Inside reactor number two’s containment vessel, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) found levels of 530 sieverts per hour. As only one sievert can cause radiation sickness, some experts described the recent reading as unimaginable. The previous record in the same part of the Fukushima reactor was just 73 sieverts per hour, which doesn’t sound like much compared with 530 but is still higher than a fatal level. Five sieverts would be enough to kill half of the people exposed in a month, and 10 sieverts would be fatal after just weeks. The high radiation levels recently recorded serve as a reminder there’s still a long way to go with cleanup at the damaged nuclear power station; some people say it could take as long as 40 years. Tepco says radiation is not leaking from the reactor. Related: Japan builds controversial ice wall to solve groundwater issues at Fukushima The presence of the high radiation complicates cleanup. Tepco plans to send a remote-controlled robot into the number two reactor’s containment vessel. But the robot is only designed to endure 1,000 sieverts of radiation and thus will likely break down in under two hours. The company still thinks the robot could be useful as it could move around in varying levels of radiation. The company also said image analysis of the reactor revealed a three-foot-wide hole in a pressure vessel; melted nuclear fuel could have made the hole after the back-up cooling system failed in the tsunami’s wake. Late last year, in December, the government said they think it will cost 21.5 trillion yen, which is around $190 billion, to decommission the plant, clean up the area, store radioactive waste, and pay compensation. The hefty amount is almost double a 2013 estimate. Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons and IAEA Imagebank on Flickr

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Fukushima radiation levels at highest since 2011 disaster

Obama: The United States’ clean energy transition is ‘irreversible’

January 10, 2017 by  
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President Barack Obama just published an opinion piece in the journal Science , writing that the “trend toward clean energy is irreversible” – in other words, the transition to a low-carbon economy is Donald Trump -proof. The President-elect is skeptical of both climate change and clean energy and has nominated cabinet officials with similar views. However, Obama gives four reasons why he believes that renewables will continue to increase regardless of who sits in the Oval Office: the decoupling of emissions and economic growth, the private sector’s embrace of emissions reductions, the market moving toward cleaner electricity, and global momentum for climate action. “Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States and that continued participation in the Paris process will yield great benefit for the American people, as well as the international community,” Obama writes. “Prudent U.S. policy over the next several decades would prioritize, among other actions, decarbonizing the U.S. energy system, storing carbon and reducing emissions within U.S. lands, and reducing non-CO2 emissions.” Related: Elon Musk says Trump administration may be “positive on renewables” When Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20 he will inherit a booming domestic clean energy sector . Renewables accounted for a majority (50.5 percent) of new US electrical generation put into service in the first 11 months of 2016, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) monthly Energy Infrastructure Update. Solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, biomass and other renewables beat out natural gas, nuclear power, coal and oil combined with 9,655 megawatts of newly installed capacity. Trump will also be in the driver’s seat in the global clean energy race and the competition is fierce as China makes massive investments in renewables that are starting to pay off. China increased its foreign investment in clean energy by 60 percent to reach a record $32 billion, according to a new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. If Trump spurns investments in clean energy, China and the rest of the world could be looking at the US in the rear view mirror as they race toward a future powered by renewables. + Science Policy Forum: The irreversible momentum of clean energy Via Grist Images via Wikimedia 1 , 2

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Obama: The United States’ clean energy transition is ‘irreversible’

Trump fails to nominate leadership to secure US nuclear arsenal

January 10, 2017 by  
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A report published by Gizmodo on Monday made a troubling claim: The Trump transition team hasn’t lined up new leadership for the National Nuclear Security Administration – and they have not announced plans to keep the heads of the department until replacements can be been found. This means that the $12-billion-a-year agency entrusted with maintaining “the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile” is leaderless for the foreseeable future. While the Gizmodo report initially claimed that the Trump team asked NNSA director Frank Klotz and his deputy, Madelyn Creedon, to step down on Jan 20, the NNSA is pushing back against those claims . Instead, NNSA officials claimed “There have been no discussions between the president-elect’s transition team and any of NNSA’s political appointees on extending their public service past Jan. 20.” While Trump may not be technically firing the heads of the agency, it seems clear the department may simply be without leadership altogether for weeks or even months while any nominees go through a Senate confirmation process . Along with these high-profile roles, there are a number of smaller appointed roles that will need to be filled in the coming weeks. Related: Rick Perry tapped to run the Department of Energy – which he once promised to shut down There is a small sliver of silver lining to this story: the civil servants within the agency will still be able to serve in their regular roles, even without appointed leadership. While this affects the agency’s ability to secure funding or begin new programs, day-to-day operations will continue. Even if you feel ambivalent about maintaining America’s nuclear arsenal, it’s good to know it’s not going to be left completely unmonitored for months as the NNSA awaits new leadership. Via Gizmodo Images via Steve Jurvetson , Frank Trevino , and Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Trump fails to nominate leadership to secure US nuclear arsenal

Haunting Human Gyre made of over 200 underwater figures warns of climate change

January 10, 2017 by  
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A haunting sight awaits scuba divers on an Atlantic seabed. Over two hundred life-size human figures have been arranged in a circle to create the ‘Human Gyre,’ the last exhibit in Museo Atlantico , Europe’s first underwater museum officially completed this month. Located off the coast of Lanzarote, Spain, the artistic installation forms a complex reef for marine species to inhabit and speaks to the fragility of our ecosystem and our relationship with the natural marine environment. The monumental Museo Atlantico complex is the project of British artist Jason de Caires Taylor , who installed over 300 works across a dozen large-scale installations. Constructed around 14 meters underwater, the sprawling museum was created to promote conservation and education. The sculptures, made from environmentally friendly, pH-neutral inert materials, were specially created to double as artificial reefs and attract local fish species. The installations are made to last for hundreds of years and help raise awareness about the threats facing our world’s oceans and climate. Early works installed less than a year ago—construction began in February 2016—have already seen an increase of over 200 percent in marine biomass. Related: Haunting drowned figures send a chilling message in Europe’s first undersea sculpture museum Some of the hauntingly beautiful artworks double as political commentary, such as ‘Deregulated,’ which depicts suited businessmen in a playground-like environment to suggest that corporations are irresponsibly abusing nature as their play area. The life-size human figures used in the Human Gyre and in other installations are based on models of all ages and from all walks of life. “The artistic installation reminds us that we have evolved from marine life, and are all subject to the movements and will of the ocean,” says a statement in the museum press release. “The piece embodies our naked vulnerability to its inherent power, and our fragility in the face of its cycles and immense force. It provides the oxygen we breathe, it regulates our climate and it provides a vital source of nutrition to millions of people. A visit to Museo Atlantico may lead us to a closer understanding of our relationship with the natural marine environment and appreciate the need to value and protect this fragile ecosystem in order to save ourselves.” + Museo Atlantico Images via Jason de Caires Taylor

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Haunting Human Gyre made of over 200 underwater figures warns of climate change

China to spend $361 billion on renewable energy projects by 2020

January 6, 2017 by  
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China may still be one of the top polluting countries on the planet, but they’re trying to improve. The country’s National Energy Administration (NEA) announced an ambitious plan this week to invest $361 billion into renewable energy projects between now and 2020. This marks a substantial commitment to the shift away from coal , which has been a primary source of electricity (and pollution) in China for decades. The NEA said the energy plan calls for investments in wind, hydro, solar and nuclear power to produce around half of new electricity generation by 2020. China ’s renewable energy projects are not only an investment in the future of the Earth, but also in the nation’s economy. The NEA estimates the investments will create over 13 million jobs in the energy sector over the upcoming five-year period, which is likely to far surpass the number of jobs eliminated as the country shifts away from its heavy reliance on coal. While China had previously committed to tripling its solar power capacity by 2020, it now looks as though the country is positioned to boost current production by five times. Related: China plans to meet 2020 emissions goal by tripling solar power capacity The investments outlined in the NEA’s plan are on top of the $145 billion pledged by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s economic planner, last month. That figure is enough to build 1,000 major solar power plants, according to estimates from industry experts, but the NDRC plans to diversify its renewable energy investments. In its own five-year energy plan, the agency suggested $101 billion for new wind farms, $73 billion for new hydropower projects, and the remaining amount to be invested in tidal power and geothermal. These combined efforts solidify China’s role as the leading solar power producer on the planet, which it stepped into last year. Via Reuters Images via Land Rover Our Planet/Flickr and Wikipedia

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China to spend $361 billion on renewable energy projects by 2020

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