Light-manipulating algae could boost solar power technology

October 19, 2017 by  
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You probably learned about diatoms , a prolific type of algae , back in grade school. But you may not have learned these single-celled organisms, which are inexpensive and can be found in different types of water and even tree bark, can manipulate light . Now scientists are putting them in organic solar cells to enhance their energy efficiency. Could diatoms hold the key to better solar power ? A research team from Yale University , Princeton University , Lincoln University , and the NASA Glenn Research Center is utilizing them in organic solar cells, a lower-cost alternative to conventional solar cells . The so-called jewels of the sea have a nanostructured silica or glass skeleton, and study lead author and Yale Ph.D. student Lyndsey McMillon-Brown said, “They help trap and scatter light for the algae to photosynthesize, so we’re able to use something directly from nature and put it in a solar cell.” Related: Ancient Marine Diatoms Could be Used to Make Biofuels, Electronics and Health Foods Organic solar cells usually suffer from a design issue: they need to have thin layers, so their efficiency is restricted. Nanostructures that trap and scatter light can help overcome that issue – but are typically too expensive for production on a large scale. Not so with cheap diatoms. The researchers put the algae – abundant in nature – right in the solar cells’ active layer. They saw the same electrical output levels even as they cut the amount of material necessary for the active layer. The team employed a grinding process because at first the diatoms were too big for the active layer. They think they could obtain even better results by utilizing different species and tailoring them to the correct size. McMillon-Brown’s focus is biomimicry ; she said, “We’re always on the hunt for new patterns in nature because we believe that nature solves all our engineering problems – we just have to find the solutions.” The journal Organic Electronics published the research online this month. Via Yale University Images via Depositphotos , Wikimedia Commons and Yale University

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Solar-powered skyscraper with worlds tallest ceramic facade unveiled for Dubai

October 19, 2017 by  
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UNStudio and Werner Sobek have unveiled plans for a new Dubai skyscraper guaranteed to turn heads with its twisted form and a ceramic-tile façade said to be the world’s tallest. Sculptural and functional, the beautiful Wasl Tower will cut down on energy costs with its use of solar panels and optimization of natural light. Hotel group Mandarin Oriental will operate the mixed-use skyscraper that will comprise a 250-room five-star hotel along with offices, residences, and public spaces. Located near the Burj Khalifa on the Sheikh Zayed Road, the 300-meter-tall Wasl Tower stands out from Dubai’s rigid and cold metal-and-glass skyline. The sinuous and asymmetric skyscraper will use a programmed lighting system tucked behind the facade’s fin-shaped ceramic tiles—angled to provide shade and let in filtered natural light—and make the building look as if it were breathing at night. The lights will be powered with solar panels installed atop the car park. Related: Dubai to expand massive solar park to include world’s tallest solar tower Glazing runs up along the full-height of the building like a curved, open seam and houses outdoor balconies and greenery in a “vertical boulevard” that culminates in a top-floor infinity pool. Seventeen elevators will service the building and its diverse stacked programs. “As the project strongly relates to and interconnects with Dubai’s urban experience, the aim is to make a visit to the Wasl Tower as attractive and contemporary as possible,” said UNStudio founder Ben van Berkel. “”As such, a dedicated concept of health, comfort and well-being throughout was developed for the building.” Wasl Tower is slated for completion in 2020. + UNStudio + Werner Sobek Via Dezeen

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Greening the Earth could fight climate change as efficiently as cutting fossil fuels

October 18, 2017 by  
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Planting trees, revitalizing soil, and other natural environmental actions could prove as effective in fighting climate change as ceasing all oil use across the planet, according to new study published by an international team of scientists in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” said the team in a statement. Protection of carbon-storing peatlands , sustainable land management, reforestation, and other natural solutions could account for 37 percent of all emissions reductions required under the Paris Agreement by 2030. Perhaps most astoundingly, a complete re-greening of the planet would have as much of a positive impact on climate change mitigation as completely stopping the global burning of oil for fuel. The estimates of the potential benefits from natural climate change solutions are about 30 percent higher than that predicted by a 2014 UN panel of climate scientists. In the recently released study, scientists conclude that more sustainable management of natural resources and the environment could result in 11.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of China’s yearly emissions, by 2030. Trees are particularly important to this system, as they act as carbon banks while they are alive. After they die, trees decompose and this carbon is slowly released back into the atmosphere. More trees and more resilient forests means more potential carbon storage, among other health benefits. Related: Megacities could save $505 million a year thanks to trees Although the current plans from governments across the globe are insufficient to avert a 2 degree Celsius global temperature rise, the new study offers hope for alternative solutions. “Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems ,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. Unfortunately, the planet is rapidly running out of time before catastrophic climate change upends the world as we know it. “If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature ,” said Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. You heard it here: get out there and start planting trees. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos

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Inferno rages through North California, killing at least 10 people

October 10, 2017 by  
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For the past several days, 15 ferocious wildfires have been burning across at least 119,032 acres throughout Northern California . The inferno has claimed the lives of at least 10 people, a number that is expected to grow, and has torched over 1,500 homes and businesses. The scenic Wine Country counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino have been particularly hard hit. After igniting on Sunday night, the fires multiplied quickly due to the pervasive dry conditions in the area and strong winds of up to 50 MPH. In response to the raging flames consuming all in its path, 20,000 people were evacuated, many without much notice, into safer areas. In Sonoma County , the city of Santa Rosa, with a population of 125,000, has suffered serious damage. Seven of the 10 casualties from the wildfires have occurred in Santa Rosa. “That number’s going to change,” said Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano. Given the ongoing search and rescue operation, “it’s just logical,” he said, that more people trapped by the fire will be found. Local landmarks destroyed by the fires include The Fountaingrove Inn and Round Barn, and sections of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. “I’m lucky,” said Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey. “My house is fine. My family is fine. My city is not.” Related: Over 82,000 people evacuated as wildfire engulfs Southern California While Santa Rosa may have endured the most casualties so far, the most powerful fires are burning in Napa County. “I have friends fighting off fires with hoses in the hills, said Alison Crowe, winemaker for Garnet Vineyards & Picket Fence Vineyards in Napa Valley. “Thankfully a lot of my friends got out last night.” Although Crowe has not been ordered to evacuate her home in downtown Napa and the main route out of town remains open, she and her neighbors are concerned. “It’s scary,” Crowe said. “We feel surrounded.” Via CNN Images via US Department of Agriculture and Glenn Beltz

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"You had to live it to believe it" – hundreds of polar bears rush to feast on one whale carcass

October 2, 2017 by  
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When a bowhead whale washed ashore at Wrangel Island in Russia , the polar bears were ready. Between 150 and 230 bears gathered to eat the carcass, and tourists captured the experience on camera. As there are around 26,000 of the animals on Earth, almost one percent of the world’s polar bears, according to Gizmodo, assembled for the feast. The polar bears dined on the whale carcass on Wrangel Island. While polar bears feeding on whales may not be that strange, Gizmodo points out what was unique was that so many people were present to witness the event. A tourist ship passed by as the bears were feasting. Related: Snow-free images of Arctic polar bears show the harsh reality of climate change Heritage Expeditions founder Rodney Russ said his group counted more than 150 polar bears, while Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve said conservative estimates put the number of polar bears at more than 230. Bears of all ages and sexes were present. According to a Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve news release, scientists were aboard the tourist ship, and an international scientific group monitoring bear populations in Chukotka – where Wrangel Island is located – and Alaska were told of the event. Russ wrote in a blog post, “You had to live it to believe it, even now there are people pinching themselves to make sure it really happened…there are no words to describe it.” Polar bears aren’t endangered , but are listed as vulnerable , a step below endangered, on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species . The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said some populations are stable, some appear to be on the rise, and others are decreasing. The loss of sea ice could seriously impact the animals. WWF said global polar bear numbers could fall 30 percent by 2050. Via Gizmodo , Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve , and Heritage Expeditions Images via A. Gruzdev

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"You had to live it to believe it" – hundreds of polar bears rush to feast on one whale carcass

Volcanic eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung will cool Earth’s temperature

September 26, 2017 by  
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When Bali’s Mount Agung erupts in the near future, which could come at any moment, climate watchers may notice a slight shift from the seemingly endless global temperature rise . Ever so slightly, global temperatures will drop in the wake of the eruption. While this may sound like good news, it will only serve to temporarily cool down the planet. If Mount Agung’s most recent eruption offers any insight, the global temperature drop from the imminent volcanic activity should be approximately 0.1-0.4 degrees Celsius, as it was in 1963. Although this may not seem like much, even a small change in global temperature can make a significant difference on climate. For example, during the most recent Ice Age, the planet’s global temperature was only 5 degrees Celsius cooler than it is today. The significant cooling that should follow Agung’s eruption is the result of its spewing ash and sulfur dioxide into the air. When the sulfur dioxide reacts with the water vapor in the atmosphere, it becomes sulfuric acid. Accumulation of these droplets creates an atmospheric haze, which blocks the Sun’s ultraviolet rays from reaching the Earth, which causes the global cooling. Though the haze can remain in the atmosphere for years, its effects are short lived. “They’re small enough that they can stay up there for a while … but eventually they get rained out,” said Richard Arculus, Emeritus Professor in geology at the Australian National University. “These are short-term effects, not like the enduring, year after year injection of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels — which keeps accumulating.” Related: NASA considers puncturing Yellowstone supervolcano to save life on Earth Though the cooling effects may be significant, and brief, you are unlikely to notice any major temperature change on the ground. However, it is not unheard of for volcanic eruptions to cause disruptive changes to the planet’s climate. For example, the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia resulted in what has become known as the Year Without Summer, during which Europe and the Northeast United States suffered from major crop losses due to unseasonable frost and lack of sunlight sufficient for plants . Via Australian Broadcasting Corporation Images via Martin Garrido , Jonathan Lin , and Flickr/unukorno

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Man builds ultra-efficient green home as a love letter to the environment

September 26, 2017 by  
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Many people may be in love with our beautiful earth, but Maryland resident, Ed Gaddy is straight up infatuated. Recently featured in the Baltimore Sun , the eco-warrior has spent seven years fulfilling his dream of building an ultra-efficient home. Designed in collaboration with friend and architect Miche Booz , the home’s many sustainable features were hand picked by Gaddy to reflect his fervent commitment to environmental preservation , creating an architectural “love letter to the environment” in the process. Gaddy first purchased the 1.22-acre lot located in Clarksville, Maryland in 2010. The property is just a mere 10-minute walk to his office, eliminating the need for a car. Gaddy told the Baltimore Sun that his initial objective was to build a beautiful three-bedroom home that was self-sustaining . Before breaking ground however, he and Booz decided to shoot for the impressive goal of achieving all three of the major sustainability certifications: LEED , Living Building Challenge , and Passive House . Related: This stunning passive home in Seattle is 51% more energy-efficient than its neighbors “The three certifications reflects his commitment and passion for this particular subject,” Booz said. “I would say it bordered on a fixation, and a good one. It’s his way of contributing to what he considers a crisis on the planet. He was all in — financially, emotionally and intellectually.” To start the project, the home had to be orientated to take advantage of optimal sunlight during the day, warming the interior in the winter months and shading the interior during the summer heat. High-efficiency windows were installed throughout the home to avoid air loss. All of the construction materials in the design were selected for their zero or low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Additional finishings like paint and tiles, along with the flooring, were chosen for their durability or potential for future recycling such as the kitchen’s stainless steel countertops. The appliances in the kitchen and bathroom are the highest rated in terms of efficiency. For water conservation , the bathrooms were equipped with toilets that use less than a gallon per flush and waterless urinals were also installed. Point-of-use water heaters in both the bathrooms and the kitchen reduce the time it takes to run hot water to the faucets. As far as energy generation, the home is equipped with a solar array and there’s a heat recovery ventilator that transfers heat and cold throughout. According to Gaddy, they also installed top-of-the-line heat pumps, but the structure’s 18-inch thick, three-layer insulation ensures they are rarely necessary. Outside, almost as much detail was put into landscaping as was the home design itself. The lot was landscaped to reduce runoff and a collection system directs rain to a large underground cistern for greywater use . Native plants were planted in the raised garden beds, and they put in a vegetable garden, along with cherry, apple, walnut and peach trees. Thanks to this amazing sustainable profile , Gaddy’s dream home has achieved two of the three green certifications so far. It has been certified as LEED Platinum, as well as a Net Zero Energy Building by the International Living Future Institute. They expect to receive the Living Building Challenge certification soon. The Passive House classification has been denied to Gaddy due to a small hitch concerning a failed airtightness test. Gaddy is currently working on fixing the issue and will hopefully achieve that certification soon. So, what is your love letter to the environment? + Miche Booz Via Baltimore Sun Photography by Algerina Perna via Baltimore Sun  

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Sea turtles appearto be bouncing back from the brink of extinction

September 22, 2017 by  
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Good news! Despite man-made catastrophes and the unwelcome effects of climate change , populations of sea turtles appear to be making a comeback. Comprehensive analys published in the journal Science Advances  reveals that even small populations (which normally have a tough time reviving their numbers) are “bouncing back.” However, most sea turtle species are still listed as “vulnerable” or “endangered,” which is why conservation efforts must continue. The analysis was led by Antonios Mazaris , an ecologist at Aristotle University in Greece , and a team of international researchers. He and his colleagues analyzed data on sea turtle nesting sites around the world over periods ranging from six to 47 years. They evaluated each site separately and then combined those findings with standardized individual sets to look for changes. It was discovered that most populations of sea turtles are reviving after historic declines. One species that is not thriving is the leatherback sea turtle which can be found in the Eastern and Western Pacific. This finding supports previous assessments made by the International Union for Conservation of Nature , which lists six out of seven sea turtle species as vulnerable , endangered or critically endangered. Related: Sea turtle is rescued after being dragged onto a beach and beaten for selfies The researchers think the sea turtle populations are rebounding because the threats to the species are more tangible. For instance, sea turtles are most likely to be poached on accident by fisherman or intentionally by those who seek to sell their parts as “aphrodisiacs” and/or “delicacies.” By addressing these concerns and enforcing conservation measures which have been in place for decades, the public is more likely to advocate for their protection. While this recent analysis is positive news , research is still lacking. More information needs to be gathered on male to female ratios, for instance. In the paper, Mazaris advises “cautionary optimism.” He also says commends conservation efforts which have persisted for the past 70 years, and says the “long term efforts need to be supported.” + Science Advances Via New York Times Images via Pixabay

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Houston Bike Share offers free bicycles to people who lost cars to Harvey

September 14, 2017 by  
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Houston Bike Share is distributing free bicycles to those who lost their vehicles in Hurricane Harvey . When the powerful storm dumped a record amount of rain on the Houston area, damaging at least 100,000 homes and killing more than 70 people, it also destroyed hundreds of thousands of cars. Many of those who lost their vehicles are still paying for them, which makes purchasing a new car difficult. Through its program Keep Houston Rolling , in partnership with  BikeHouston , Freewheels Houston and Rice Bikes , Houston Bike Share aims to provide access to alternative transportation to those who need it. Houston is a car city, as is clear in its infrastructure and its local culture. “I love driving my car, I’m never going to get rid of it,” admitted Carter Stern, executive director of  Houston Bike Share . “But I ride my bike to work three to four days a week, and that’s great. I [view] the mobility in a city less as a binary decision and more as giving people a healthy ecosystem of options.” In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, access to bikes could make a difference for those who currently are immobile without their vehicles. “It’s a way for us to put a dent in some of the issues that are going to be facing Houston in the aftermath of the storm,” said Stern. Related: China’s largest bike share launches air-purifying bicycles for 20 million citizens Although Keep Houston Rolling is serving an immediate need in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it may have a sustained impact on how the city views and supports biking as a transportation mode going forward.  “When I go to city meetings or talk with the community, there’s a lot of skepticism around using a bike for utilitarian purposes, not just for fun,” said Stern. “But once you start using it to go to the store or go to work, you realize it’s healthy, it’s easy, it’s good, it’s relaxing.” Via Fast Company Lead image via Pixabay , others via Houston Bike Share and Brandon Navarro

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Hurricane Jose strengthens to an "extremely dangerous" Category 4

September 8, 2017 by  
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Hot on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is yet another natural disaster, Hurricane Jose. The “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane is located east of the Leeward Islands and is forecasted to transit west-northwest into the Atlantic Ocean in the coming days. This is the first time in history two hurricanes with 150-plus mph winds have been recorded at the same time. According to the National Hurricane Center , Jose has sustained winds near 150 mph.  As a result, Antigua, Barbuda and Anguilla, St. Martin, and St. Barthelemy — islands that were just battered by Hurricane Irma — are now on a Hurricane Watch as of Friday at 11 a.m. When Irma passed over Barbuda, a tiny Caribbean island of 1,800 residents, 95 percent of the buildings were destroyed, said Prime Minister Gaston Browne. Cuba and south Florida are now preparing for the destruction Irma is expected to unleash. Related: This image of Hurricane Irma from space will blow your mind This is the first time on record two hurricanes with 150-plus mph winds have been recorded at the same time, said Colorado State University meteorologist  Philip Klotzbach . And, it turns out humans deserve most of the blame. For years, scientists have warned that unsustainable habits would exacerbate climate change , resulting in melting glaciers, rising sea levels , and worsening natural disasters due to increased precipitation and a few other factors. The only silver lining from this situation might be that the events inspire more people to invest in sustainable initiatives. + National Hurricane Center Via CNN Images via National Hurricane Center, Pixabay

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Hurricane Jose strengthens to an "extremely dangerous" Category 4

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