A French wine cellars updated facade doubles as housing for local bats

December 31, 2020 by  
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Bordeaux-based design studio MOONWALKLOCAL collectif d’architectes has recently crafted a new facade for a French wine cellar that doubles as shelter for local bats. Although contemporary in design, the new construction pays homage to its rural surroundings with its simple, gabled shape. Eleven bat nesting boxes have been discreetly integrated into one of the building’s timber-clad, gabled end walls. Simply titled the Bat Wine Cellar, the multifunctional project combines a low-maintenance yet beautiful facade with ecological purpose. The inhabitable facade of the contemporary wine cellar features 11 bat nesting boxes that run the width of the gabled end wall and are constructed of timber to camouflage them into the wooden exterior. To ensure a dark and safe environment for the bats, the architects created a small opening at the bottom of each box as well as ridges on the interior for the bats to hang upside down. Related: Dutch town helps out rare bat species by installing “bat-friendly” streetlights “Useful in the vineyards to regulate insect and butterfly populations, the future inhabitants of this place will have all the necessary comfort: darkness, warmth and height to protect themselves from predators,” MOONWALKLOCAL collectif d’architectes explained in a project statement. In addition to eliminating unwanted pests from the vineyards, the bats can also serve important pollination roles. The dark timber cladding takes cues from the local agricultural vernacular, which includes wood-clad sheds as well as tobacco dryers finished with tar and used oil that dot the rural Bordeaux landscape. The architects used the traditional Japanese wood charring technique of shou sugi ban to treat the wood, which takes on a handsome appearance. Although the process can be time consuming, charring the wood offers benefits such as resistance against rot and pests. As a result, the preserved cladding requires little maintenance. The Bat Wine Cellar project was completed in 2016. + MOONWALKLOCAL collectif d’architectes Images via MOONWALKLOCAL

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A French wine cellars updated facade doubles as housing for local bats

Will gene editing and cloning create super cows that resist global warming?

November 13, 2020 by  
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Livestock emit about 14.5% of all greenhouse gases , and now their gassy ways are coming back to haunt them. Dairy cattle are increasingly suffering from debilitating heat stress due to global warming. While vegan activists might suggest this would be a good time to lessen our dependence on animal products, scientists have another solution — use gene editing and cloning to produce a heat-resistant race of super calves. Heat-stressed cows eat less, produce less milk and find it hard to conceive. Sometimes, they can even die because of the heat. Heat stress costs the U.S. dairy industry alone at least $900 million a year. On many small farms in the developing world, families don’t have cows to spare. Related: Impossible Foods is testing revolutionary plant-based milk “ Rising temperatures and predicted longer and more intense periods of warm weather can only mean that the problems with heat stress and fertility will increase,” Goetz Laible, PhD, an animal scientist at New Zealand’s AgResearch, told Future Human . Because darker colors absorb more light and heat, Laible and a group of other scientists used genetic engineering to lighten the coats of Holstein-Friesian cattle. These are the iconic white cows with big black spots. The scientists used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to alter a pigmentation gene in cattle embryos. Then, they cloned the embryos and implanted them in 22 normal cows. Only two cows managed to carry their super calves to term. Unfortunately, one died almost immediately and the other lived to be only four weeks old. Laible attributed the deaths to common complications of cloning rather than to the gene editing. Acceligen, a Minnesota-based company, is experimenting with gene editing to give cows a “slick” trait. This is a genetic variant for a sleek, short coat which cools down cows in subtropical heat. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has helped fund this work, hoping to someday introduce these cows to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists are aware of the possibility of editing mistakes and what they call “off-target” effects of CRISPR. But one wonders exactly how much they’ve learned from the past, as documented in popular entertainment. Film classics like Them!, Night of the Lepus and The Killer Shrews all clearly demonstrate the potentially deadly off-target effects of science on ants, rabbits and shrews, respectively. While we wait for the technology to be perfected, it’s not a bad idea to stock up on oat milk . Via Future Human Image via Michael Pujals

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Researchers test seawater air conditioning as a renewable cooling alternative

October 20, 2020 by  
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A new study led by the International Institute of Applied System Analysis (IIASA) indicates that using seawater air conditioning is a greener alternative to conventional AC and could reduce cooling costs significantly. The study, which was published in the journal Energy Efficiency , was conducted to determine the pros and cons of seawater air conditioning (SWAC). The researchers behind the study say that there is a need to find renewable air conditioning alternatives to conventional options as global warming worsens . The study looks at the possibility of pumping deep seawater from 700-1,200 meters deep at the temperature of 3° to 5° Celsius to the coast, where it exchanges heat within a cooling system. The study now shows that just one cubic meter of seawater could provide cooling energy equivalent to that provided by 21 wind turbines. To better understand the pros and cons of SWAC systems, the researchers developed a computational model used to estimate the cost of cooling around the world. The model was also used in determining the possibility of using this approach in all parts of the world. Related: Cool ways to skip the air conditioning and still keep your home chill The results showed that while it is possible to use SWAC systems in many parts of the world, they would require heavy initial investments. But in comparison to conventional air conditioning, the research determined that SWAC would offer lower operational costs. Further, the study found that in some coastal cities and islands, the cooling costs would drop as much as 77% of the normal cooling costs via conventional AC. According to the study, the primary consumers of this technology would be airports, hotels and resorts among other establishments that consume high quantities of power. According to Julian Hunt, lead author of the study, SWAC systems have the potential of increasing efficiency over time. “We call this approach ‘High-Velocity Seawater Air-conditioning’,” Hunt explained. “This design configuration allows such projects to be built with an initial cooling load and expand the cooling load modularly through smaller additional capital costs.” While the study has established many positives of using seawater air conditioning, there are challenges that were identified. The systems would need to be handled and monitored carefully to preserve marine life and not disrupt the ecosystems. Hunt said, “While it does have its challenges, seawater air-conditioning is an innovative and sustainable technology that has great potential for expanding into a benchmark system for cooling in tropical locations close to the deep sea and will help fulfill our cooling needs in a warming world.” + IIASA Image via Dean Moriarty

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Birds are dying mid-air possibly due to climate crisis effects

September 17, 2020 by  
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The deaths of thousands of birds in the southwestern U.S. have sparked concern from scientists. This phenomenon has been described as a national tragedy by ornithologists, who suggest that it could be related to the climate crisis. The species of birds affected include flycatchers, warblers and swallows. Bird carcasses have been spotted in numerous places, including New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and Nebraska. According to Martha Desmond, a biology professor at New Mexico State University (NMSU), many of the cases show signs of starvation. The carcasses have little remaining fat reserves, and many of the birds appear to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight. Related: Migratory birds triumph over Trump administration “I collected over a dozen in just a two-mile stretch in front of my house,” Desmond said. “To see this and to be picking up these carcasses and realizing how widespread this is, is personally devastating. To see this many individuals and species dying is a national tragedy.” Many of the birds belonged to a group of long-distance migrants that fly from Alaska and Canada to Central and South America. These birds travel long journeys and have to make several landings for food before they proceed. However, the recent fires across the western states might have made it difficult for the birds to follow their regular route. If the birds moved farther inland to the Chihuahuan desert, they likely struggled to find food and water, leading to starvation. At the same time, the southwestern states have experienced drier conditions than usual, which might have reduced the number of insects on which the birds could feed. Scientists have also discussed the possibility that the wildfires and their accompanying smoke may have harmed the birds’ lungs. “It could be a combination of things. It could be something that’s still completely unknown to us,” said Allison Salas, graduate student at NMSU. “The fact that we’re finding hundreds of these birds dying, just kind of falling out of the sky is extremely alarming. … The volume of carcasses that we have found has literally given me chills.” Via The Guardian Image via Florian Hahn

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The smooth handfish is declared extinct

September 3, 2020 by  
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The International Union for The Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has officially declared the smooth handfish extinct. This news makes the smooth handfish the first fish species to be declared extinct in modern history. The smooth handfish belongs to a family of fish that get their name from their fins, which are shaped like hands. As opposed to swimming, the smooth handfish crawled with its hand-shaped fins across the seafloor. The handfish is among the most unique types of fish. Besides their bright, multicolored bodies, their awkward movement on their hand-like fins makes them stand out from other fish. According to the IUCN, there used to be 14 species of handfish. But after the organization updated its list of endangered species, the smooth handfish has been listed as an extinct species. The smooth handfish has not been seen since the year 1802, despite searches being conducted around the world. Related: We are in the sixth mass extinction, and it is accelerating The IUCN’s announcement marks the first time a fish species has been declared extinct in modern history, according to National Geographic . The unfortunate news now shifts focus on the other species in the handfish family. Alarmingly, seven types of handfish have not been seen since 2000 or earlier. This might mean that these species are also on the verge of extinction . The handfish is a special family of fish that is characterized by isolation. They do not associate with other types of fish and are usually localized in one place. “They spend most of their time sitting on the seabed, with an occasional flap for a few meters if they’re disturbed,” Graham Edgar, marine ecologist, told Scientific American . “As they lack a larval stage, they are unable to disperse to new locations — and consequently, handfish populations are very localized and vulnerable to threats.” While the fish stay on the seafloor, they are faced with many threats. Some of the threats include industrial runoff that affects the quality of seawater. Further, fishing and dredging along the seabed also threaten many fish, including the handfish. Invasive species also pose a threat to these unique creatures. The recent news of the smooth handfish’s extinction opens our eyes to the possibility of losing more precious species if actions are not taken to protect biodiversity . + IUCN Via Mic , National Geographic and Scientific American Image via Kenneth Lu

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New green technology could harvest body heat as energy

September 2, 2020 by  
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Scientists have created thermocells, energy-efficient devices, that can harvest excess heat and convert it into renewable energy . They hope to create portable batteries that could be applied to many types of surfaces to harvest excess heat — including clothing to utilize heat from the human body as energy. The group of 11 scientists who worked on this project published their study in the journal Renewable Energy . They are affiliated with The National University of Science and Technology in Moscow [NUST MISIS]. Related: MIT moves toward greener, more sustainable artificial intelligence Thermoelectricity is the type of electricity that is generated by temperature differences, called temperature gradients. These are found everywhere, including around the human body. While this is an area of green energy with untapped potential, previously developed thermocells have a low output power. But the scientists may have solved this problem. “We have shown the possibility of using a nickel oxide electrode based on hollow nickel microspheres in a thermocell,” said Igor Burmistrov, one of the study’s authors. “A record for aqueous electrolytes hypothetical Seebeck coefficient has been reached. In addition, we have found a nonlinear change in current-voltage characteristics, which is not typical for thermocells , which ensures an increase in the device’s efficiency.” The new thermocell appears to potentially be a safe and cost-effective way to generate renewable energy. The scientists are exploring the possibility of one day using this technology to create a supercapacitator that would stay charged for a long period of time. Even non-chemists who have a hard time grasping the exact process of how the thermocell works will immediately begin to ponder its applications. What if our body heat could power air conditioners? Could we charge our phones with body heat while we go for a run? The possibilities for a greener future are endless. + NUST MISIS Via CleanTechnica Image via Melk Hagelslag

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Michelin and GM are moving down the road with airless wheel prototype

June 21, 2019 by  
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The term, “Sustainable mobility” is likely to become increasingly more common as we work to identify ways for transportation to have less of an impact on the environment. This year, recognizable names Michelin and GM teamed up to deliver this message with the reveal of an airless wheel at the Movin’On summit for sustainable mobility. The Uptis prototype (Unique Punctureproof Tire System) is the product of a joint venture between the two companies with a common goal to introduce the airless wheels on passenger vehicles as early as 2024. To ensure long-term durability and safety, the product will endure intense testing starting with a fleet of test cars that will be monitored beginning later this year. The selection of Chevrolet Bolt EVs will hit the road in Michigan while being observed for performance. Related: These new airless 3D-printed bicycle tires never go flat The airless design eliminates the possibility of tire blowouts, which obviously adds a significant safety feature to vehicles on the road. In addition to safety, the simultaneous goal is to change the future of tire design for the sake of the planet. Currently, manufacturing and post-consumer waste from tires is a growing environmental concern. Michelin estimates that approximately 200 million tires worldwide are scrapped prematurely every year as a result of punctures, damage from road hazards or improper air pressure that cause uneven wear. However, this waste is diminished with a tire that doesn’t require air pressure and won’t go flat from a puncture. At the same Movin’On summit in 2017, the company outlined plans for the new design with four pillars of innovation: airless, connected, 3-D printed and sustainably made from renewable or bio-sourced materials. Two years later, the developed prototype is headed for the road. “Uptis demonstrates that Michelin’s vision for a future of sustainable mobility is clearly an achievable dream. Through work with strategic partners like GM, who share our ambitions for transforming mobility, we can seize the future today,” says Florent Menegaux, chief executive officer for Michelin Group. + Michelin Images via Michelin

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BIG unveils a sustainable floating city in response to rising sea levels

April 9, 2019 by  
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BIG and a coalition of partners have unveiled Oceanix City, a visionary proposal for the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community for 10,000 people. Presented at the first UN high-level roundtable on Sustainable Floating Cities, the conceptual design was created as a potential solution to the perceived threat of climate change and rising sea levels. Conceived as a “modular maritime metropolis,” Oceanix City is engineered for self-sufficiency with features from net-zero energy and zero-waste systems to a sharing culture. According to UN-Habitat, 90 percent of the world’s largest cities will be exposed to rising seas by 2050. As part of UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, BIG teamed up with MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, Mobility in Chain, Sherwood Design Engineers, Center for Zero Waste Design and other partners to propose Oceanix City. This is a 75-hectare floating city  that is meant to grow and adapt organically over time — from neighborhoods to cities — with the possibility of scaling indefinitely. To that end, Oceanix City uses a modular design with two-hectare modules serving mixed-use communities of up to 300 residents centered on communal farming. Larger 12-hectare villages comprise six neighborhood modules clustered around a protected central harbor accommodating social, recreational and commercial functions for up to 1,650 residents. For a city of 10,000 residents, six villages are connected around a larger protected harbor. Construction materials will be locally sourced whenever possible, and components would be prefabricated on shore and then towed to their final site to keep construction costs low and thus permit affordable housing. Related: How the world’s first floating city could restore the environment “The sea is our fate — it may also be our future,” Bjarke Ingels said. “The first sustainable and self-sustained floating community, Oceanix City, is designed as a human made ecosystem channeling circular flows of energy, water, food and waste. Oceanix City is a blueprint for a modular maritime metropolis anchored in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The additive architecture can grow, transform and adapt organically over time, evolving from a neighborhood of 300 residents to a city of 10,000 — with the possibility of scaling indefinitely to provide thriving nautical communities for people who care about each other and our planet.” + BIG Images via BIG

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Californias largest utility company plans massive sale of natural gas division

January 9, 2019 by  
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Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California ’s largest utility, is exploring the possibility of selling off a major part of the company, according to a new report. Thanks to the massive liability costs that they could be facing for their possible culpability in recent deadly wildfires, PG&E has a strategic plan called “Project Falcon” to cover costs and avoid bankruptcy. This plan would involve the company selling its natural gas division and then using the proceeds to pay the potential millions of dollars in claims from the wildfires . Anonymous sources recently told NPR that PG&E is also looking at selling critical real estate assets— like the company’s San Francisco headquarters. Last Friday the utility announced that they would explore “structural options” to put the company in the best possible position to meet customer needs and operational demands. They also revealed that they are searching for new directors for the board to “augment its existing expertise in safety.” “Safety is and will continue to be our top priority as we work to determine the best path forward for all of our stakeholders. PG&E remains fully committed to helping our customers and the affected communities recover and rebuild — and to doing everything we can to reduce the risk of future wildfires,” said spokesman Andy Castagnola in a written statement. Back in June, Cal Fire (California’s fire agency) determined that PG&E power equipment sparked at least a dozen major wildfires in 2017. And now, the agency is looking into whether or not the company sparked the November 2018 fire that ended up being the deadliest and most destructive one in the state’s history. Related: Thousands of animals have been displaced by California wildfires If Cal Fire determines that PG&E caused that fire , it could result in the company having to pay billions from legal action against them. Insurance companies Allstate, State Farm, and USAA have already filed lawsuits against the utility, and some equity analysts project that the damages from the recent wildfire could exceed PG&E’s market value and its insurance coverage. The California Public Utilities Commission would have to approve PG&E’s plan of selling their natural gas division. The regulatory agency has already expressed their concern about the utility’s inferior safety record, as well as their lack of transparency and past efforts to pass liability costs onto their customers. State Sen. Bill Dodd, who originally supported shielding PG&E from liability costs related to the 2017 fires, has now switched gears. “PG&E has demonstrated a pattern of poor management and illegal conduct that has shattered lives across California,” Dodd said in a statement. He also called for “systemic change, which must include change on the board of directors and in the executive suite.” Via NPR Images via skeeze

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New study finds glyphosate in kids’ cereals and snack bars

August 16, 2018 by  
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Bad news for anyone who likes to eat cereal, or granola bars, or anything that contains oats at all: a recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested 45 conventional oat products for the presence of glyphosate, and researchers found it in 43 of them.  And, of these 43 oat products, 31 had amounts of glyphosate that were far above the EWG’s Health Benchmark of safe ingestion amounts. The poisonous chemical may sound familiar since it’s the active ingredient in Roundup, the herbicide whose health risks Monsanto intentionally concealed from the public. Related: Court orders Monsanto to pay $289 million in cancer trial The World Health Organization has issued warnings about glyphosate in the past, stating as far back as 2015 that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” And yet, the majority of oat products tested for the study had glyphosate levels that exceeded 160 ppb, the maximum amount considered acceptable by the EWG. In fact, one popular brand of oats contained 1300 ppb. While organic oats did much better, 30 percent of samples using organic oats still tested positive for glyphosate, possibly due to Roundup drift from farms in the area or cross-contamination. Related: Beekeepers file a complaint against Bayer after glyphosate was discovered in honey Given the common use of oats in breakfast cereals, the study raises the possibility that millions of American children are being exposed to the dangerous chemical. “I grew up eating Cheerios and Quaker Oats long before they were tainted with glyphosate. No one wants to eat a weed killer for breakfast, and no one should have to do so,” commented Ken Cook, President of the EWG.  Calling for action on our part, he added, “it’s up to consumers to call on companies to rid their products of glyphosate.” + Environmental Working Group Via Treehugger

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