Fueled by chocolate: Ghana’s newest biofuel

April 26, 2019 by  
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Researchers in Ghana are testing a system that will turn cocoa into biofuel  — but don’t worry — it uses the green waste produced during harvest, so you can still eat all of the chocolate! The project is funded by the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and will be tested in Ghana, one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa. Chocolate is a multi-billion-dollar international industry, with the bulk of cocoa coming from Africa. “Every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks,” says Jo Darkwa , professor of energy storage technologies at Nottingham and one of the project team leads. Husks are typically discarded during harvest after the beans are extracted. Usually, the husks are left to decompose on the cocoa plantation while the beans head to fermentation and drying facilities before they are turned into chocolate. Now, researchers have developed a system that will use the husks as feedstock to generate biofuel. The husks are processed into pellets, or bricks, that can burn in generators and produce “green” electricity. Related: Cargill announces plan to reduce deforestation from cocoa “Feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable biofuels and become an important energy supply for rural areas that only have 15 percent coverage at present,” explained Professor Darkwa. The many benefits of cocoa fuel This initiative is not only an innovate green technology, it also has other secondary benefits: Increase access to electricity If successful, the project could contribute to the Ghanaian government’s pledge to ensure 100 percent of Ghanaians have access to electricity by 2030. Reduce deforestation and improve climate and human health Currently, 80 percent of households in Ghana use wood as their main source of fuel for cooking and heating water. This practice not only leads to widespread deforestation in order to harvest wood, but indoor air pollution from wooden stoves is one of the top four leading risk factors for death worldwide. Create jobs If successful, the biofuel system would need workers to collect, transport , treat and process cocoa pod husks, which would create additional jobs and provide income for rural communities. Cocoa as chocolate, cocoa as compost Since it is the beans that are used to make chocolate, the husks are simply bio-waste, and therefore the biofuel system would not take away from farmers ’ profits in any way— in fact it would augment the profitability of the entire cocoa pod. However, cocoa pod waste is an important source of nutrients for cocoa trees. During harvest, ripe cocoa pods are collected and piled throughout the plantation. When the farmers are ready to extract the beans, the pods are cracked open and usually left in a heap to decompose. When husks biodegrade, they are an incredibly rich source of nutrients that help trees grow, improve soil quality and reduce plant disease. Studies show that the decaying pods host beneficial fungi and microbiotics, so will farmers and their crops be losing out on natural fertilizer if they ship their husks off to biofuel systems? Farmers with the capacity to do so might collect and bring the husks to an on-site composting location, but most small farmers do not have the capacity to process or evenly distribute the nutrients from the pile of decomposing husks and rely on nature to take its course. Farmers who do maximize the use of the compost may prefer to continue to do so, however those without that ability now have the option to profit from electricity generation instead. Testing the system in Ghana and the world “Undoubtedly, provision of sustainable energy services through cocoa pod husks would go a long way towards improving the quality of lives and thus alleviate poverty in rural communities as well as fight against climate change,” Professor Darkwa told Climate News Network . The project team is expected to test a prototype of their system at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in July 2019. The plan is to design, build and operate a small-scale bio-power electricity generation unit that burns husks in a gasification system. Each system includes a gasifier, small generator, solar drier and pelletizer and costs approximately US $50,000. If the prototype is successful, the system could be replicated in other countries following additional feasibility studies. Via Climate News Network Images via Flickr ,  dghchocolatier

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Fueled by chocolate: Ghana’s newest biofuel

Climate change is wreaking havoc on Italy’s olive harvests

March 8, 2019 by  
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Italy is facing a major climate change crisis as the country’s olive harvests continue to decline. Italy’s olive industry has witnessed a 57 percent decrease in olive production, and according to a leading climate scientist, extreme weather is at the forefront of the crop shortage. Olive tree farms across Italy have been devastated by weather-related events this past year, including heavy rainfalls, unpredictable frosts, droughts and powerful winds. All of these weather patterns coincide with what climate scientists have predicted would happen in the event of global warming . Related: Biodiversity decline puts food supply at risk “There are clear observational patterns that point to these types of weather extremes as the main drivers of [lower] food productivity,” Professor Riccardo Valentini explained. Valentini noted that below-zero temperatures are not common in Italy, and extremes like this were foretold through climate change models. Research from the United Nation’s climate change panel also predicted similar weather patterns and indicates that the worst is yet to come. When it comes to olive trees, any abrupt change in temperature can have a devastating effect on the harvest. Valentini explained how a day or two of freezing temperatures can harm the trees and hurt their development. After they have experienced extreme weather , the trees never fully recover and are more susceptible to disease and pest infestations. As a whole, temperatures in Italy and the surrounding Mediterranean have gone up by around 1.4C over the past century, while rainfall has decreased by a staggering 2.5 percent. The changes in weather have cost the country over 1 billion dollars in olive production. Government officials are scrambling to come up with a viable solution but have yet to offer any resources for farmers in the region. Italy is not the only country affected by the changes in weather. The European commission recently predicted that olive harvests in Portugal will decline by around 20 percent this coming year. Greece will take a much larger hit with a decline of around 42 percent. All signs point to a continually increasing problem for European countries, as putting a stop to climate change is proving to be an intricate issue. Via The Guardian Images via vpzotova

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Climate change is wreaking havoc on Italy’s olive harvests

Scientists invent a solar panel that produces hydrogen

March 7, 2019 by  
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Scientists in Belgium have invented a solar panel that produces hydrogen as a source of fuel to heat homes. Using moisture in the atmosphere, the solar panel converts sunlight into hydrogen gas, producing about 250 liters of gas every day. The team of scientists, lead by Professor Johan Martens, have been developing their hydrogen solar panel for the past 10 years. When they first started, they were only able to produce small quantities of hydrogen gas, but now the gas bubbles are visible the moment they roll the panel out under the sun. Related: California approves rule to require solar panels on new houses “It’s actually a unique combination of physics and chemistry,” Martens explained. “Over an entire year, the panel produces an average of 250 liters per day, which is a world record.” According to CleanTechnica , Martens estimates that 20 solar panels could provide enough energy and electricity to heat up a home and still have some to spare for the following year. The team is still not ready to build the panels for commercial use, but they are getting ready for a trial run at a home in Flanders. If the tests are successful, the researchers are planning to expand their trials to an entire neighborhood. Being an extremely combustible gas, hydrogen can be dangerous if not handled correctly. While the general public may have some concerns about using hydrogen as a heating source, the Belgium-based scientists said it carries the same risks associated with natural gas. The hydrogen produced by the solar panels is stored in an oil tank that is installed near the home. While this technology is certainly promising — and produces zero carbon emissions — the cost of the solar panels, storage tanks and furnace, plus installation, is a big unknown. That said, the upfront cost may be high, but homeowners would pay off the system over time, especially if they no longer relied on city electricity or natural gas. There is no word yet on when the hydrogen solar panels will be available on the market, but the scientists are very optimistic about the upper limits of this technology. + KU Leuven Via CleanTechnica Image via H. Hach

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Scientists invent a solar panel that produces hydrogen

This tool measures children’s connection to nature

January 21, 2019 by  
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Scientists at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Auckland have created a 16-part questionnaire for parents called the CNI-PPC (Connected to Nature Index-Parents of Preschool Children) to identify how well children in Hong Kong are relating to nature. One of the densest urban areas on Earth, Hong Kong poses challenges for kids when it comes to connecting with nature , and the scientists are hoping to develop a tool to inspire policy changes and interventions that will help strengthen interactions between kids and their natural surroundings. The questionnaire, created by Dr. Tanja Sobko of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Hong Kong and Professor Gavin Brown of the University of Auckland, identifies four ways in which children usually develop a relationship with nature: “enjoyment of nature, empathy for nature, responsibility toward nature and awareness of nature.” Related: Solar-powered school will teach children how to grow and cook their own food Nearly 500 families with kids between the ages of two and five participated in the study, and they all responded to the 16 questions. After the families responded to the CNI-PPC, the researchers then measured the answers against a well-known child behavior measurement, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. The results told us something we already know — the more time kids spend in nature , the happier they are. “Parents who saw their child had a closer connection with nature had less distress, less hyperactivity, fewer behavioral and emotional difficulties and improved pro-social behavior,” the  University of Hong Kong press release said . “Interestingly, children who took greater responsibility toward nature had fewer peer difficulties.” When a child grows up in an urban environment, without access to parks and green spaces , it can have lasting consequences. Children who lack access to the natural world can develop “nature-deficit disorder” or “child-nature disconnectedness,” and this can lead to a deterioration of mental and physical health. The CNI-PPC is the first tool of its kind that “measures nature-related attitudes and awareness” for children in a highly urbanized Asian city. + University of Hong Kong Via TreeHugger Image via University of Hong Kong

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This tool measures children’s connection to nature

Revolutionary solar paint creates endless energy from water vapor

June 15, 2017 by  
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Researchers at  RMIT University in Melbourne have created a revolutionary new  solar paint that can be used to produce endless amounts of clean energy. The innovate paint draws moisture from the air and splits it into oxygen and hydrogen. As a result, hydrogen can be captured as a clean fuel source. The paint contains a recently-developed compound that looks and feels like silica gel — commonly used in sachets to absorb moisture and keep food, electronics, and medicine dry — but acts like a semiconductor. Additionally, the synthetic molybdenum-sulphide material catalysis the splitting of water atoms into hydrogen and oxygen. The researchers’ discovery was recently  published  in Science Daily. Lead researcher Dr. Torben Daeneke elaborated on the invention, saying, “We found that mixing the compound with titanium oxide particles leads to a sunlight-absorbing paint that produces hydrogen fuel from solar energy and moist air.” According to colleague Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh, hydrogen is the cleanest source of energy on the planet and can be used in fuel cells in addition to conventional combustion engines as an alternative to fossil fuels . Because of this, it is accurate to say that the development of the solar paint will have grand implications. Related: Mercedes Benz Unveils Hybrid Car Powered by Solar Paint In fact, because Titanium oxide is the same white pigment commonly found in wall paint when it is combined with the new material, the solar paint can “convert a brick wall into an energy harvesting and fuel production real estate,” said Daeneke. This means there is no need for filtered or clean water to feed the system. And, any location that has water vapor in the air — including remote areas — can produce fuel. “This system can also be used in very dry but hot climates near oceans. The sea water is evaporated by the hot sunlight and the vapour can then be absorbed to produce fuel,” said Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh. “This is an extraordinary concept — making fuel from the sun and water vapour in the air.” Via Science Daily Image via UnderstandSolar

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Revolutionary solar paint creates endless energy from water vapor

Baltimore’s floating trash-eaters have intercepted 1 million tons of debris

February 21, 2017 by  
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Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel sound like characters on a children’s program, but they are actually solar- and hydro-powered trash interceptors cleaning up Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. As cute as they are effective, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel have wide googly eyes, a snail-like shape, and the ability to suck up plastic bags , Styrofoam containers, cigarette butts, and other debris. The initial trash wheel prototype was created by local sailor and engineer John Kellett, who approached the city about trying to find a water pollution solution after watching debris floating in the Inner Harbor on a regular basis. After a little trial and error and a promising but inadequate first trash wheel, Kellett gained the support of the Water Partnership of Baltimore , a non-profit that supports environmental legislation and aims to make the area a green, safe, and friendly destination for both humans and animals. Mr. Trash Wheel, who has his own Twitter account, is the result of their union: he uses solar panels and the river’s current to turn a waterwheel, which then activates a conveyor belt. The  trash , which gets pulled in by floating containment booms, gets tangled and lifted by rotating forks before going up the conveyor belt and being deposited into the dumpster. Once the dumpster is full, it gets towed to a transit station, and Mr. Trash Wheel continues on his trash munching ways. But Mr. Trash Wheel doesn’t have to clean up the Inner Harbor’s water all by himself. Image © John Kellet, Clearwater Mills and Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore  Related: Baltimore’s solar-powered water wheel devours up to 50,000 pounds of harbor trash each day After Mr. Trash Wheel’s success, Kellett and the Water Partnership raised funds for a female garbage gobbling counterpart: Professor Trash Wheel. Professor does her work in another part of the Inner Harbor, but both trash wheels are in high demand, especially after rain or thunderstorms. Most of the debris they pick up actually comes from illegal dumping, trash chucked from cars, and cigarette butts stubbed out on the ground as opposed to from people directly littering into the river itself, but the flow of the area’s watershed eventually brings the trash into Professor and Mr. Trash Wheel’s territory. Mr. Trash Wheel has picked up more than a million pounds of trash from the Jones Fall River since it was rolled out in 2014, with the trash wheels filling an average of 70-100 dumpsters worth every year. 300,000 plastic bags , six thousand glass bottles, and nine million cigarette butts as well as more exotic offenders including a live ball python make up the waste that is removed from the waterway. The trash gets burned to generate electricity with plans to increase recycling capabilities in the future. In order to continue their progress and to stay in line with the Water Partnership’s goal of making the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020, the city is hoping to add an additional trash wheel or two in the future and to serve as a model for other cities and areas with water pollution issues. Kellett is also looking into other potential trash wheel sites, including Rio de Janeiro, Honolulu, and Denver. While the ultimate goal is for trash wheels (even charming, googly-eyed ones with Twitter accounts) to become obsolete due to better environmental regulations and practices, expect to see more of these effective and playful floating trash devices in harbors and waterways near you. Via National Geographic Lead image © The Waterfront Partnership

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Baltimore’s floating trash-eaters have intercepted 1 million tons of debris

World’s largest CO2 sink stores 27,000 grams of carbon per square meter

January 16, 2017 by  
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Natural areas that capture and store carbon on Earth are becoming an increasingly precious resource, and researchers may have found the mother of all of these in an unlikely place – a small bay in Denmark they claim holds a world-record amount of carbon . According to Phys.org , seagrass and underwater meadows have the capacity to store large amounts of carbon dioxide that has garnered the attention of scientists looking to find ways to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. While meadows of this kind of seagrass are found throughout the world, scientists have pinpointed one meadow in Denmark, which they say is the most efficient. The meadow is located in a bay called Thurøbund on the island of Thurø in the South Funen Archipelago of Denmark , a place where Professor Mariann Holmer of the University of Southern Denmark says has special conditions that add to its carbon capturing capabilities. Related: Breakthrough technology turns coal plant CO2 into baking powder Many seagrass meadows around the world have been investigated. Recently, I was part of a study investigating and measuring carbon storing capabilities of 10 seagrass meadows in the Baltic Sea. No place comes even close to Thurøbund,” says Professor Holmer . “It is a very protected bay—and also very productive. So the seagrass thrives and when the plants die, they remain in the meadow. They are buried in the sediment, and in this process, their carbon content gets stored with them. In Finland, the seagrass grows in open coast areas, which means that the dead plants are much more often washed out to sea, taking the carbon with them. Once the carbon has been taken out to the sea, it is unclear what happens to it.” To put it into perspective with some numbers, Thurøbund stores 27,000 grams of carbon per square meter, and the highest numbers found in other locations around the world have never been more than 10,000 to 11,000 grams per meter squared. Via Phys.org Images via Arnaud Abadie and James St. John , Flickr Creative Commons

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World’s largest CO2 sink stores 27,000 grams of carbon per square meter

Critics outraged by UK plan to build 1.8 mile tunnel under Stonehenge

January 16, 2017 by  
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One of Britain’s most well-known archaeological landmarks could soon have a tunnel carved below it. The government unveiled plans for a 1.8 mile tunnel running under Stonehenge as part of a $2.4 billion infrastructure investment, hoping to slash traffic plaguing the area. But not everyone is happy with the government’s plan; some experts believe a tunnel could destroy undiscovered artifacts. The British government is planning a $2.4 billion investment for the country’s A303 road, hoping to upgrade it into a “high quality, high performing route” that will improve trips for millions of people, according to the Department for Transport’s statement on the project. Part of the upgrades include a tunnel passing beneath the famous site. Officials say the tunnel would slash congestion and bolster the local economy. Related: Archaeologists reveal fresh details about 4,500-year-old “New Stonehenge” English Heritage , the charity managing more than 400 historic sites, backs the tunnel. UNESCO , which in 1986 designated Stonehenge as a World Heritage Site, say they could get behind the idea, but have not yet viewed final plans. Historian Tom Holland fears a tunnel could destroy the key historical site. He told CNN, “Recent finds show this place is the birthplace of Britain, and its origins go back to the resettlement of this island after the Ice Age. It staggers belief that we can inject enormous quantities of concrete to build a tunnel that will last at best 100 years and therefore decimate a landscape that has lasted for millennia.” Local chamber of commerce president and Amesbury Museum chairman Andy Rhind-Tutt is also against the tunnel, saying it won’t even really improve traffic and will “put a time bomb of irreversible destruction on one of the world’s greatest untouched landscapes.” The public can comment on the tunnel plan until March 5, and the government plans to announce the preferred route later in 2017. Construction could start in 2020, according to a Highways England spokesperson, and could be completed in four years. Via CNN Images via Good Free Photos and Pixabay

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Critics outraged by UK plan to build 1.8 mile tunnel under Stonehenge

New man-made diamonds turn nuclear waste into long-lasting batteries

November 29, 2016 by  
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Researchers have found a way to use diamonds to convert nuclear waste into long-lasting batteries . A team of physicists and chemists at the University of Bristol discovered the new technology, which transforms thousands of tons of troublesome nuclear waste into lab-grown diamond batteries capable of generating a small amount of electricity. The diamond batteries, like the precious gems they are based on, could last essentially forever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6ME88nMnYE Ushering in what researchers are calling the “Diamond Age” of battery power, the technology developed by the University of Bristol team uses man-made diamonds formed from nuclear waste, plus a small amount of radioactive energy, to create a low-current battery durable enough to outlast human civilization. The team unveiled their discovery on Friday at a sold-out lecture at the Cabot Institute. While traditional batteries require wires and coils to operate, the diamond-based battery needs only to be placed near a radioactive source in order to begin generating small electrical currents. The lack of moving parts makes the battery far more durable than its conventional counterparts. Related: Recycled diamonds provide an ethical choice for glittering milestone gifts Additionally, the diamond batteries could help dispose of nuclear waste in a safe, permanent way, while resulting in usable energy that does not produce greenhouse gas emissions or require supplemental fuel. “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation,” said Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University of Bristol’s Interface Analysis Center. “By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy .” Early prototypes of the battery rely on nickel-63 as the radiation source, which is encased within the man-made diamond, but the team is testing other options to boost efficiency and output. Next on the list is the addition of carbon-14, a radioactive version of carbon which can be easily harvested from graphite blocks. The United Kingdom currently stores around 95,000 metric tons of graphite blocks, so the utilization of carbon-14 in diamond batteries would greatly reduce the cost and risk of storing that particular form of nuclear waste . Via New Atlas Images via Michelle Tribe/Flickr and University of Bristol

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New man-made diamonds turn nuclear waste into long-lasting batteries

Modern meets rustic in the Hemmingford House built from natural materials

November 29, 2016 by  
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A new home has sprung from the ruins of an old farmhouse in the countryside south of Montreal. SIMARD architecture blends old with new in the recently constructed Hemmingford House, a contemporary cottage built along old fieldstone foundation walls of the previous farm building. The boxy facade handsomely pairs locally sourced slate with untreated cedar planks for a rugged appearance that pays homage to the landscape. The 3,500-square-foot Hemmingford House is distinctly modern dwelling with rustic touches woven throughout. The untreated cedar siding recalls old timber barns and will develop a patina similar to a weathered fence. Locally quarried slate cut into blocks and stacked in brick-like strata complement the wooden facade. The old fieldstone foundation walls were preserved as paving stone edging that lead visitors to the main entrance. “All these contextual cues influenced the site layout and architecture of this private residence designed for a couple who left their home in the city for a life on the country,” write the architects. “The house unfolds to the surrounding landscape.” Related: Historic Belgian farmhouse renovated into a modern solar-powered home Large windows open up the interior to natural light and views of the countryside. Slate and timber are used in the interior for continuity with the facade. The communal areas are located on the ground floor, while the bedrooms are placed on the upper level. An elegant glass-bottomed bridge in the airy double-height entryway connects the two bedrooms. + SIMARD architecture Via v2com Photography by Stephane Brugger

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Modern meets rustic in the Hemmingford House built from natural materials

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