Powerful new Penn State battery turns waste CO2 into electricity

February 14, 2017 by  
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With so much excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, researchers from every corner of the globe are working on innovative ways to soak it up. Penn State University scientists have gone a step further with a powerful new battery that not only soaks up CO2, but also repurposes it to make more energy . Their pH-gradient flow cell battery is not the first of its kind, but it is the most powerful – take a closer look after the jump. In an article published by Environmental Science and Technology Letters , the Penn State researchers note the discrepancy between CO2 concentrations in regular air and exhaust gases created by fossil fuel combustion results in an “untapped energy source for producing electricity.” “One method of capturing this energy is dissolving CO2 gas into water and then converting the produced chemical potential energy into electrical power using an electrochemical system,” they write. While previous attempts to convert CO2 into electricity have been successful, the researchers say power densities were limited, and ion-exchange technology expensive. They said their ph-gradient flow cell battery is considerably more powerful. Related: Plants are keeping atmospheric CO2 levels stable, but it won’t last forever “In this approach, two identical supercapacitive manganese oxide electrodes were separated by a nonselective membrane and exposed to an aqueous buffer solution sparged with either CO2 gas or air,” they write. “This pH-gradient flow cell produced an average power density of 0.82 W/m2, which was nearly 200 times higher than values reported using previous approaches.” Engadget breaks this down for lay readers: “As ions are exchanged between the denser CO2 solution and normal air solution, the voltage changes at the manganese oxide electrodes in either tank. This stimulates the flow of electrons between the two connected electrodes and voilà: electricity.” They also report that the process can essentially be reversed to recharge the battery, and that Penn State was able to repeat this process 50 times without losing performance. For now, the researchers aren’t ready to scale their technology, but when they do, they envision it embedded in power plants, diverting atmospheric CO2, and slowly chipping away at one of the most epic challenges humans have ever faced: climate change . Via Engadget Images via Environmental Science and Technology Letters, Pexels

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Historic San Francisco church creatively reborn as loft apartments

February 14, 2017 by  
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Just across the street from San Francisco ‘s iconic Dolores Park is a striking dome-topped building with bold white columns lined up along its entrance. The imposing Neoclassical structure doesn’t look much like an apartment building, and for good reason: the building served as the Second Church of Christ, Scientist for the past one hundred years. A century later, the structure has been remodeled and creatively repurposed into a series of unusual and stunning private residences by developer Siamak Akhavan in partnership with HC Engineering and Modifyer . The original church was designed by architect William Crim in 1915 , who was also responsible for several other civic buildings that are still used in San Francisco today – including churches, temples, banks, and restaurants. The design for the Second Church of Christ, Scientist is Neoclassical, with traditional elements including large columns flanking the portico and a distinctive dome topping the building. Many major public buildings from this time period were constructed in the then-popular Neoclassical and Beaux Arts styles, featuring inspiration from the Greek and Roman period with additional aesthetic flourishes such as decorated columns, carved molding, and arched windows. ®Open Homes Photography By the early 2000s, the church’s congregation had been dwindling for years, making the cost and management of such a monumental property unsustainable. Several years prior to the residential conversation, the church had considered razing the historic building to build a few townhouses, which would have also financed the construction of a much smaller church. However, these plans never came to pass, and the property was sold by the church and subsequently permitted for conversion into a residence by 2013. ®Open Homes Photography The church looks much the same from the outside, retaining its historical significance to the neighborhood. However, the “Second Church of Christ, Scientist” lettering was removed and replaced with the building’s new name: ” The Lighthouse “. San Francisco Department of Planning The remodel includes several high-end three-bedroom townhouse units up for sale . Not for sale is the unusual penthouse suite , which hovers directly underneath the former church’s giant dome. In order to create living space and light, the dome was actually sliced off and then elevated several feet higher. The uppermost unit is set to be occupied by Siamak Akhavan, managing partner of The Lighthouse development team, and one of its principal designers. ®Open Homes Photography The units feature large, open floor plans with unique elements such as exposed brick walls and skylights that highlight original construction elements. ®Open Homes Photography The remodel made sensitive re-use of existing elements and incorporated materials from the original church building, including walnut paneling, entry doors, and brass chandeliers – plus original wooden church pews as seating. ®Open Homes Photography The remodel creatively works around the original steel frame structure by showcasing it in various rooms throughout the units. Because of its former life as a place of worship, the building features unusually high ceilings – up to 15-30 feet high in the living areas. + HC Structural Engineering, Inc. + The Lighthouse ®Open Homes Photography

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Historic San Francisco church creatively reborn as loft apartments

Scientists hatch crazy $500 billion plan to refreeze the Arctic

February 14, 2017 by  
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As governments make slow progress towards alleviating climate change and denial marks the Trump Administration’s approach to the global crisis, scientists have hatched a crazy $500 billion scheme to refreeze the Arctic . Led by physicist Steven Desch of Arizona State University , a team of 14 scientists concocted a plan to replenish Arctic sea ice using ten million wind-powered pumps. The strategy involves deploying millions of renewably-powered pumps to send water onto the surface of Arctic ice during the winter. In theory, that water would then freeze, thickening the ice before summer. Desch said the pumps could add around three feet to the current layer of sea ice . If the ice is thicker, he argued, it would last longer and reduce the danger of sea ice vanishing completely during the summer. Related: Total sea ice levels on Earth lower than ever before recorded The paper’s abstract states that the Arctic could be utterly devoid of summer sea ice by the year 2030. If that occurs, the ocean would absorb the sunlight it once reflected – so replenishing sea ice now is an imperative. The paper goes on to state that the 2015 Paris agreement won’t be enough to halt the consequences of global warming . Desch told the Observer, “Our only strategy at present seems to be to tell people to stop burning fossil fuels . It’s a good idea but it is going to need a lot more than that to stop the Arctic’s sea ice from disappearing.” The American Geophysical Union ‘s journal Earth’s Future published their study in late January. Via The Guardian Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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We might be descended from this horrifying sea creature with no anus

February 1, 2017 by  
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If you’re looking for new nightmare fuel beyond, oh we don’t know, the dissolution of democracy as we know it, meet Saccorhytus , a tiny H.R. Giger-esque monstrosity that scientists say could be our earliest-known ancestor. Going back some 540 million years, it’s also believed to be the most primitive example we have to date of a deuterostome — a member of a broad category of animals that includes everything from sea urchins to vertebrates like us. The species, which comprised an elliptical body no more than a millimeter long, a large mouth, and apparently no anus, is new to science. We were only made aware of this lurking horror in our evolutionary past because a group of academics unearthed about 45 microfossils in central China’s Shaanxi Province. While the original finds, which look like they’re frozen in mid-scream, are pretty horrifying in and of themselves, the artist’s reconstruction is the gift that keeps on giving. “We think that as an early deuterostome this may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves,” Simon Conway Morris, a professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at the University of Cambridge and a member of the team, said in a statement. “To the naked eye, the fossils we studied look like tiny black grains, but under the microscope the level of detail is jaw-dropping. All deuterostomes had a common ancestor, and we think that is what we are looking at here.” Related: Four-legged prehistoric snake offers clues about the reptile’s evolution Saccorhytus , the researchers speculate in the journal Nature , lived in what would have been a shallow sea during the early Cambrian period. It was so small that it probably lived between individual grains of sediment on the sea bed, where it hoovered up food with its capacious maw. Cone-shaped spouts on its body may have allowed it to disgorge any water it swallowed, much like gills on the fish we see today. If the creature had an anus, the scientists were unable to find it. Conceivably, Saccorhytus’s mouth went both ways. “If that was the case, then any waste material would simply have been taken out back through the mouth, which from our perspective sounds rather unappealing,” Conway Morris said. As long as it doesn’t show up to any family reunions, we’ll be OK. + University of Cambridge

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We might be descended from this horrifying sea creature with no anus

Smog-fighting music academy proposal uses an air purifier system as effective as 33,000 trees

February 1, 2017 by  
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The Polish city of Krakow has some of the worst air pollution in the world. In hopes of improving the city’s air quality, FAAB Architektura proposed a smog-fighting music academy fitted with a German air purification system that they say works effectively as 33,000 city trees. The music academy was designed as part of a larger “Krakow Music City” masterplan that envisions a largely car-free and environmentally friendly development atop a former military base. Located between Krakow and the Vistula River, the proposed masterplan is designed to blend into the natural landscape with its vernacular wooden lap panel cladding and use of energy-efficient technologies. Around 1,300 square meters of a Green City Solutions -developed air purification product would be embedded in the music academy’s moss-covered rooftops. The special moss culture converts air pollutants into biomass. Related: China’s crazy smog-sucking vacuum tower might actually be working The green-roofed buildings comprise an education wing, concert hall, and small guest building carefully placed around existing trees and designed to immerse students and visitors in nature. Ground heat exchangers would be used to reduce energy use. Rainwater would also be collected in an underground tank and reused wherever possible. FAAB Architektura submitted their proposal to a design competition hosted by Akademia Muzyczna w Krakowie , which will reveal the winning entry on March 31, 2017. + FAAB Architektura Via ArchDaily Images via FAAB Architektura

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The last time Earth was this hot was 125,000 years ago

January 23, 2017 by  
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Proving once more that climate change is a runaway problem, scientists just revealed that the earth is the hottest it’s been in 125,000 years. The last time global temperatures were this high, sea levels completely covered the land on which New Orleans currently sits. According to a new report in Science Magazine , today’s ocean surface temperatures are comparable to those dating back 125,000 years. Jeremy Hoffman and colleagues at Oregon State University studied chemical clues in 104 seafloor sediment samples taken from areas around the world. By comparing the samples, they were able to create a picture of what the climate actually looked like 125,000 years ago. Related; Scientists warn rapidly melting glacier in West Antarctica could cause serious global havoc Scientists regularly look to the last interglacial period to model how Earth’s rising temperature will affect sea levels. Sea levels rose 20 to 30 feet above their current levels, and the average global sea surface temperatures at that time were almost identical to the 1995 to 2014 average temperatures, according to the researchers. According to Science News, this new information will help scientists improve predictions about how our oceans will respond to climate change. + Science Magazine Via Science News Images via NPS Climate Change Response , Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade , and NASA

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The last time Earth was this hot was 125,000 years ago

Superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics found on US pig farm

December 9, 2016 by  
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Antibiotic resistance is a looming public health concern expected to kill up to 10 million people annually by 2050. Now, in the latest worrying development in the United States, Ohio State University researchers have found a bacteria resistant to last resort antibiotics, called carbapenems, on a pig farm that is barred from using them. The pig farm followed what the researchers describe as “typical US production practices” by giving their animals the antibiotic ceftiofur. Newborn pigs receive the antibiotic when they’re born, and when males are castrated, they’re given another dose. Ceftiofur is part of the cephalosporin family, but kills bacteria in a manner comparable to carbapenems. Related: ‘Nightmare’ bacteria found in the U.S. resists all known antibiotics The Ohio State researchers collected samples from the pig farm for five months to discover the superbug, Enterobacteriaceae , which Natural Resources Defense Council expert David Wallinga described in a blog post as “one of the nastier superbugs.” The journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy published the researchers’ study online this week. Study co-author Thomas Wittum told TIME, “How the [resistant bacteria] got onto the farm we really don’t know. But probably it was introduced from the outside from movements of wildlife, people, equipment, etc.” During the study the researchers didn’t discover the bacteria in the pigs, but Wittum told TIME they later did see the superbug in piglets and sows. He said, “…that is the concern: that it could happen on this or other farms .” What does this discovery mean for US agriculture? In 2012, the Obama administration established guidelines that will go into effect in January 2017. The guidelines would limit the use of antibiotics on farms, but they are voluntary. Meanwhile, according to Mother Jones, advisers to the new President-elect appear to be resistant to regulation when it comes to food production. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the bacteria found on the pig farm already kills as many as 600 people every year. Via TIME and Mother Jones Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Foster + Partners breaks ground on major transit-oriented project in downtown San Francisco

December 9, 2016 by  
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Foster + Partners has just broken ground on Oceanwide Center—a major transit-oriented development that will dramatically transform the heart of downtown San Francisco into a more walkable and interconnected place to live, work, and play. Designed in collaboration with Heller Manus, the mixed-use urban project is located in the city’s Transbay Area near Market Street and the financial district. The development will feature environmentally friendly design that includes adaptive reuse and LEED-seeking structures and systems. Despite its modern design, the Oceanwide Center will be skillfully woven into the existing urban fabric through the addition of 26,000 square feet of new public space to tie the building into the public realm. The urban project will also include two mixed-use towers: a 625-foot, 54-story residential and hotel tower, along with a 910-foot, 61-story residential and office tower along First Street. All together Oceanwide Center will provide 2.4 million square feet of new hotel, office, and residential space. Two historic buildings on First Street will be restored and revitalized. The First Street Tower can be seen as a visual beacon for the project with its eye-catching crystalline form that articulate the facades on the skyline. The interior features an open layout with offset cores. The structure is 30% lighter than traditional buildings with a central core of similar size, yet is designed for seismic stability. Its innovative MEP and vertical transportation systems are designed to meet LEED Platinum certification. The second mixed-use tower, which contains a new Waldorf Astoria hotel and is designed to LEED Gold standards, is located along Mission Street and will be clad in stone with unique ‘glass vitrine’ windows. Related: Foster + Partners unveil plans for a pair of hurricane-resistant high rises in Miami “I have always had a great fascination for San Francisco – a city with a youthful spirit has allowed it to constantly reinvent itself, yet retain a unique sense of urbanity,” said Lord Foster. “The Oceanwide Center encapsulates that essence – it is a pioneering example that combines spaces to live and work with a vibrant public realm in the heart of the city. The project now marks a major milestone with its groundbreaking, as the evolution of a sustainable model of high density, mixed-use development that I have always promoted.” The Oceanside Center is expected to be complete by 2021. + Foster + Partners Images via Foster + Partners

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New study finds PET bottles of five huge soda brands contain harmful heavy metals

October 7, 2016 by  
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The Indian government just delivered a blow to soda drinkers around the world. They commissioned a study that uncovered five toxins in the PET soda bottles of five major brands, all owned by either Coca Cola or PepsiCo . Heavy metals such as lead and cadmium are among the offending toxins. India’s Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) instructed the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Heath (AIIH&PH), based in Kolkata, to conduct the study. AIIH&PH found lead, antimony, cadmium, DEHP, and chromium in Pepsi, Coca Cola, Sprite, Mountain Dew, and 7UP. Coca Cola owns Sprite, and PepsiCo owns Mountain Dew and 7UP. The sugary drinks were all packaged in polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, bottles. Even worse, the researchers found as temperatures rose around the bottles, more toxins leached into the drinks. Related: Big Soda goes to war against proposed Soda Tax in San Francisco For their data, the researchers drew from four 600 milliliter bottles of each brand. In a Pepsi bottle, for example, they found 0.029 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of antimony, 0.011 mg/L of lead, 0.002 mg/L of cadmium, 0.017 mg/L of chromium, and 0.028 mg/L of DEHP. The Indian Express reached out to Coca Cola India, which did not provide an answer, and PepsiCo India for comment. A PepsiCo spokesperson said all their products “conform to Food Safety and Standards Regulations” and they wished to “emphatically reiterate” their products complied “with the permissible limits for heavy metals as laid down by these regulations.” There’s a problem with that – according to The Indian Express, “there are no permissible limits for heavy metals in cold drinks.” Indian government officials reportedly acknowledged India lacks standards for “safe plastic packaging” as some countries have. Exposure to heavy metals can lead to major health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cadmium and lead are two of 10 chemicals of ” major public health concern .” The other three offending toxins also can result in negative side effects. AIIH&PH conducted another study last year that found heavy metals in medicines contained inside PET bottles. Via The Indian Express Images via eddie welker on Flickr and PublicDomainPictures.net

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New study finds PET bottles of five huge soda brands contain harmful heavy metals

Shining lasers on human blood could help detect tumors

September 6, 2016 by  
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A team of University of Michigan researchers have discovered how to use lasers to see intricate cell structure and activity in human blood. Shining laser light on whole human blood combined with a fluorescent dye reveals incredible detail, according to the researchers, leading to hope the technology can improve how doctors monitor cell activity in the body, including how to identify tumors. The researchers, led by Biomedical Engineering professor Xudong (Sherman) Fan, tested out their technique by shining a laser into a cavity containing whole human blood mixed with Indocyanine green, a medical dye used in diagnostic tests. By examining the light reflected back at them, they discovered they could see changes happening to the cells all the way down to the molecular level. Related: Scientists reprogram E. coli bacteria to attack tumor cells The precise picture allows observers to see the even smallest changes and to tune out unnecessary background details. Even though the technique has only been used outside the human body, the researchers are hopeful it can be applied in the future to living tissue . Medical teams could be able to more accurately monitor cell activity in the body, as well as see how widely blood vessel-fed tumors expand when performing surgery to remove them. + University of Michigan Via Daily Mail Images via Pixabay , University of Michigan

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