American fern inspires groundbreaking new solar storage solution

April 3, 2017 by  
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Energy storage has been a leading obstacle to widespread adoption of solar energy , but that may be about to change. A new nature-inspired electrode developed by two scientists at RMIT University in Australia could hold the key to drastically improved storage. Their electrode, which is based on patterns in the western swordfern, could boost the capacity of storage technologies by a staggering 3,000 percent. The groundbreaking electrode is made with graphene , and according to the university, could open the door to flexible, thin solar capture and storage technology. This would allow us to place a thin film on smartphones, cars, or buildings – enabling them to power themselves with solar energy. Related: Pocket-sized HeLi-on charger uses flexible, printed solar cells to power your phone The two researchers found inspiration for their prototype in the veins of the Polystichum munitum , a native western North American fern. Researcher Min Gu said in a statement, “The leaves of the western swordfern are densely crammed with veins, making them extremely efficient for storing energy and transporting water around the plant. Our electrode is based on these fractal shapes – which are self-replicating, like the mini structures within snowflakes – and we’ve used this naturally efficient design to improve solar energy storage at a nano level.” The electrode could be combined with supercapacitors , which have been combined with solar already but haven’t been widely utilized for storage due to limited capacity. But the scientists’ prototype can increase their capacity 30 times greater than current limits, according to Gu. The journal Scientific Reports published the research online the end of March. Paper lead author Litty Thekkekara said by using their electrode with a solar cell, we could develop flexible thin film solar, replacing the rigid, bulky solar cells that are limited in use. Smartphone batteries would become a thing of the past, and hybrid cars wouldn’t need charging stations, if scientists could build on this research to develop thin film solar. Via RMIT University Images via RMIT University

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NYC community gardens may wither under Trump’s proposed budget cuts

April 3, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts could mean the kiss of death for New York City’s community gardens . More than 500 of the communal spaces across all five boroughs depend on a program called GreenThumb , which is administered by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation . Initiated in the wake of the 1970s fiscal crisis, which resulted in the widespread abandonment of both private and public land, GreenThumb has turned hundreds of derelict lots into tillage. Most of its funding comes from federal Community Development Block Grants—the same ones the budget blueprint seeks to eliminate. Should the budget pass, GreenThumb risks losing $1 million a year out of a $2.4 million budget, according to WNYC . Related: Detroit nonprofit seeks crowdfunding for new East Side community garden “It would be devastating to GreenThumb, it would mean laying off a dozen workers or more, and it would be less money for supplies, for bulbs, for tools,” said New York City Councilman Mark Levine, who chairs the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee. Levine, WNYC adds, is working on securing more money for community gardens, as well as the restoration of jobs for 150 Parks department gardeners and maintenance workers. Via WNYC Photos by Unsplash

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NYC community gardens may wither under Trump’s proposed budget cuts

Manatees taken off the endangered species list – but that may not be good

April 3, 2017 by  
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Manatees are found in Florida yet beloved around the world for their plodding, languid behavior and slightly dopey appearance. Since the 1970s, clubs and groups have raised awareness and funds to protect these so-ugly-they-are-cute “sea cows”, which reside in shallow, slow-moving bodies of water. Citing a consistently growing population and successful regulations and efforts by the government and local community, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed West Indian manatees from the endangered species list last week. But that may not be a good thing. While “downlisting” these manatees from endangered to “threatened” might seem like a cause for celebration, some animal and environmental groups aren’t quite ready to break out the algae, grass, or mangrove leaves (preferred snacks of the species). The Save the Manatee Club, for example, is concerned about habitat destruction for the manatees and motorboat accidents and deaths as well as as a loosening or reversal of environmental regulations under the current administration. The US Fish and Wildlife Service purports that federal and state protections for manatees won’t change, but certain manatee-minded parties are pushing for a long-term manatee recovery plan that would address the boat- and habitat-related problems. Effects of climate change and chemical runoff ( leading, in the past, to toxic algal blooms ) are also continuing causes for concern. Related| How Climate Change is Killing Hundreds of Endangered Florida Manatees Manatees were put on the endangered species list in 1967. While manatee numbers dipped to a population of only a few hundred in the 1970s, their population has increased dramatically with more than 6,000 manatees counted for the past three years. A survey this year found a preliminary total of 6,620 manatees. Efforts including river habitat restoration and regulations targeting speeders in manatee zones are among the reasons for the manatee population’s recovery. Via CNN Lead image © Carlton Ward Jr. for Visit Florida , Wikimedia , flickr user USFWS Endangered Species

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Manatees taken off the endangered species list – but that may not be good

Timber Chimney House gives farmhouse vernacular a modern twist

April 3, 2017 by  
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Although the Chimney House is a thoroughly contemporary design, the home’s aesthetic pays homage to the area’s traditional farmhouse vernacular . Designed by Dekleva Gregoric Architects , the home in Logatec, Slovenia is clad in dark timber panels and it features a striking gabled roof . However, the heart of the design is a massive chimney that runs from the bottom floor to the roof, defining the home’s playful shape. The Chimney House is located on the edge of town and it’s designed to blend into the rustic area. The home is clad in traditional dark larch boards , and it draws inspiration from the traditional barns found throughout the area. However, the home’s monolithic shape gives it a strong modern character. Related: Three-storey chimneys funnel geothermal energy into award-winning Perth home A massive chimney with a wooden stove is located in the kitchen, which holds court as the center of the homeowners’ private and social life. The position of the chimney was central to the design, determining the layout of the interior spaces. The interior design is also a mix of old and new, with oiled oak paneling used for almost all of the surfaces. The slanted ceilings , which are covered in reinforced concrete, enhance the playful shape of the home. The large chimney reaches up through the interior to “break open” a linear skylight that runs the length of the roof’s apex, allowing optimal natural light to flood the home. + Dekleva Gregoric Architects Photography by Flavio Coddou

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