Newly discovered catalyst offers solution for methane

January 25, 2022 by  
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Researchers have found and tested a catalyst that could convert methane gas into valuable compounds. A study in Nature Catalysis says the catalyst will be able not only to convert methane but also develop industrially vital compounds. These findings provide an option for combatting methane’s harmful greenhouse effects. The U.S. recently announced new emission restrictions due to the warming effects of methane. To make the matter more complicated, methane gas doesn’t easily break down into its constituent compounds. As a result, it continues growing in the atmosphere. Related: Methane leak data and campaign to cut emissions According to Yue Wu, one of the study’s lead authors, and his colleagues at Iowa State University, the discovery provides a solution that could be explored further. “The results provided a potential solution to this long-time challenge and represented the best stability, conversion rate, and selectivity to convert methane to ethane or ethylene, two main precursors for the modern petrochemical industry,” researchers wrote in a project summary. The catalyst in question is made up of two layers of platinum with each layer being as thin as an atom. The layers are deposited on two-dimensional metal carbide structures known as “MXenes” made out of carbon molybdenum and titanium. According to the researchers, the thin layers provide room for every platinum atom to be used as a catalyst to prevent the formation of residue that could cover and deactivate the platinum. As a result, only a small amount of platinum is required for the entire process. Wu says that his team has been studying the combination of carbon and metals for over five years with support from the Office of Naval Research. The researchers discovered that MXene surfaces are highly active and can absorb many molecules. When exposed to methane, the catalyst can convert it into ethane or ethylene. Both of these products are primary ingredients for petrochemical industries. “We had never seen carbide so active,” Wu said. “It’s usually very inert. It’s used, for example, for high-speed drill bits – the surface is hard and inert.” + Nature Catalysis Via Newswise Images via Li, Z., Xiao, Y., Chowdhury, P.R. et al.

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Newly discovered catalyst offers solution for methane

Solar panel technology breakthrough to increase efficiency

January 25, 2022 by  
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With the pressure on to save ourselves from global warming, we need more efficient  solar panels  like yesterday. But the next best thing is soon, and thanks to new developments in solar technology, solar panels may increase their efficiency by almost half by 2025. Still, that will only be about 35% efficient. Much of the sunlight that hits a solar panel can’t be turned into  electricity . Right now, the average solar panel is about 22% efficient at turning sunlight into usable energy. Only the most high-end panels — the really expensive ones used for spacecrafts and such — are more efficient. Related: Affordable solar homes are lifting homeowners out of poverty Silicon-based solar panels are finicky. They prefer shorter wavelengths in the red and yellow part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Longer light waves are too weak, and light waves in the blue and green end of the spectrum tend to bounce off the silicon panels. Worse, they can generate  heat  that degrades the panels. In 2014, a group of  researchers  at the University of Cambridge started trying to convert blue and green light waves into red ones so that solar panels could harness more power. The team, led by physicist Akshay Rao, hoped to boost efficiency to 35%. The University of Cambridge ran with the idea, using it to start a new company, Cambridge Photon Technology, with Rao as its scientific officer. “We’re trying to deal with this problem of how you improve solar PV performance and bring down costs significantly without throwing away the established silicon  technology ,” said David Wilson, head of business development at Cambridge Photon Technology, as reported by Nature. Of course, this is a complicated process. But put very simply, when light strikes photovoltaic material, it creates something called an exciton. This consists of an electron (negatively charged) and an electron vacancy (positively charged) connected by an electrostatic charge. But with the right material, an organic polymer semiconductor, the photon can split into two excitons with lower energy. Both of these can convert to electric current. “You’re preserving the total  energy  that comes in and out, but you’re making the silicon receive a higher photon flux in the portion of the spectrum that it’s good at converting into electricity,” Wilson said. By the end of this year, Rao hopes to have a working prototype that is 31% efficient. Watch for the 35% efficient panel sometime after 2025. Via CleanTechnica , Nature Lead image © Nature

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Solar panel technology breakthrough to increase efficiency

19th century Harlem house restored to be energy efficient

January 21, 2022 by  
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A 19th-century house, owners interested in passive house design and an architectural firm came together with a resulting blend of original elements married to modern innovations in a big-city row house. MESH Architectures led the design for this original Brownstone building in New York City . While the façade looks like others in the Harlem area, it’s been restored bottom to top. Walls and roofing are air sealed and insulated with ample blown-in cellulose insulation for energy efficiency . Related: The United States’ first Passive Plus House generates nearly all the energy it needs Inside, the cellar was converted into a home gym and media area. The main floor houses the kitchen and dining room that open into the back patio space. One floor up, the parlor level features the living room and library . The master bedroom and home office/guest room are located on the third floor, with four bedrooms on the fourth floor.  Each level was modernized with innovative HVAC systems that constantly filter air to provide fresh air for the residents. The systems are ultra energy-efficient, leaving behind a minimal environmental footprint.  Although brought up to date in terms of passive design standards, the team put significant effort into retaining elements of the original 1800s era home. The process involved repairing the extensive original woodwork around the windows, doors, stairs and fireplaces, while updating the home at the same time.  The hybrid interior design is seen throughout the space with fixtures that are a blend of new and historical. While the kitchen was completely remodeled for the modern era, some doors were recycled by relocating them in order to salvage them.  “This house is an integration of old and new. It is airy and clean, and it responds directly to the needs of a modern urban family,” said MESH Principal Eric Liftin. “We emphasized the social space of the kitchen/dining room/yard, while making a special effort to preserve the historical elements of the house. The house is full of recent building science technology, yet it feels like a serene, historic Harlem row house. We were happy to learn that the clients had already learned about passive house construction before we met them.” Although a row house by design, the retrofitting of energy-efficient technology stands as an example of what’s possible for home renovations in the name of zero-emission futures for both existing and new architecture.  + MESH Architectures  Photography by Frank Oudeman 

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Net-zero emissions area will be built on renewable energy

January 11, 2022 by  
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Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG) Oslo Science City is part of Oslo’s 2019 Strategy for the Development of the Knowledge Capital, a 1.4 million square meter hub that aims to house 150,000 scientists, entrepreneurs and students. The area will also contribute to the country’s shift to renewable energy. Oslo Science City was developed by not only Bjarke Ingels Group, but A-lab, mobility experts CIVITAS, design community COMTE BUREAU and advisors Dr. Tim Moonen/THE BUSINESS OF CITIES and Leo Grünfeld/MENON ECONOMICS. Related: Nearly 5,000 prefab concrete panels wrap BIG-designed “outdoor urban room” in France In central Oslo, home to 300 start-up companies, 7,500 researchers, 10,000 hospital employees and 30,000 students, a feasibility study has been underway to create an innovation district for Norway . The idea: to support 22% projected growth for Oslo by 2045, or about 1.6 million inhabitants. Oslo Science City plans to create an innovation district that aims to be a net-zero emissions area built on renewable energy and circular economic principles. “Our design for Oslo Science City seeks to strengthen and develop the existing communities and neighborhoods while expanding the area’s diversity through new spaces to live, work and share knowledge,” said Bjarke Ingels, founder and creative director of BIG. “To manifest the identity of Oslo Science City, the elements of the master plan are tied together in a continuous loop of welcoming multifunctional buildings and spaces that open out towards the streets and create an engaging urban environment.” Oslo Science City is designed to house Norway’s largest life sciences building for research and teaching, which will be completed by 2026. It will also have an expansion of the existing Oslo Cancer Cluster. Another research center called Climate, Energy and Environment will create a campus and center for research and innovation between the country’s leading research institute SINTEF , The Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology, the Norwegian Institute for Water Research and the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, among others.  Digitalization and Computational Science will be housed here too, which aims to foster collaborations between the Department of Informatics at the University of Oslo . In addition, there will be collaboration with The Norwegian Computing Center and Norwegian Artificial Intelligence Research Consortium, which explores artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. There will also be a Department of  Democracy and Inclusion, where new knowledge will be developed. It will be about the threats and solutions to strengthen democracy, the role of democratic institutions in a time of technological disruption, increased economic inequality and anti-democratic forces.  Oslo Science City aims to excel in planning processes as well. There will be efficient land use and densification kept in mind, along with increasing the amount of biomass in the area. Oslo Science City will include not only eco-friendly buildings, but a green corridor through the hub, extensive tree planting and emissions-free mobility solutions. + Bjarke Ingels Group Images via PLAYTIME and Bjarke Ingels Group

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Net-zero emissions area will be built on renewable energy

Ghost orchid among new plant species discovered in 2021

January 10, 2022 by  
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The ghost orchid grows in complete darkness in  Madagascar’s  dense forests. Instead of using photosynthesis, its nutrients come from symbiotic relationships with underground fungi. The orchid pokes its bloom through the forest floor for a single day to attract pollinators, possibly ants. This newly discovered orchid is one of the 205 new species named by the scientists of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and their worldwide collaborators in 2021. Of the world’s 400,000 named plant  species , 40% are threatened by extinction. Many probably disappear before they’re ever named. In the last decade, scientists have named about 2,000 new plant species every year. Related: What causes zombie plants? “It’s almost bewildering that we’re still discovering so many,” said Dr. Martin Cheek at RBG Kew, as reported by The Guardian. “But now is our last chance to find unknown species, name them and hopefully protect them before they become globally  extinct .” Many plants provide food and medicine to humans. Others serve us indirectly by being part of natural  ecosystems  and global biodiversity. Major threats to plant species include overexploitation, habitat loss, pollution, invasive species and climate change. Palm oil and mining are well known for ruining ecosystems. But less obvious human endeavors also threaten plants.  Aerangis bovicornu , a tree-dwelling Madagascar orchid, no longer survives in the wild, likely thanks to people harvesting geranium oil for aromatherapy. Other standouts among the newly named include  Nicotiana insecticid a, an insect-catching tobacco plant found near Western Australia. While tobacco is well known for killing people, this is the first tobacco species known to target flies, aphids and gnats. Scientists dubbed a primrose from Borneo  Ardisia pyrotechnica  because its bloom display resembles white fireworks. A group of Kew scientists named a tropical  tree  from Cameroon’s Ebo Forest Uvariopsis dicaprio after actor/environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. A member of the ylang-ylang family, the tree sports yellow-green flowers on its trunk. While the new finds are exciting,  scientists  feel they are racing against the clock to discover all of the planet’s amazing plant species. “Who knows how many thousands of plant species it will be revealed in future to have likely become extinct due to palm oil plantations,” said Cheek. “It’s sickening.” Via Kew , The Guardian , American Public Gardens Association Lead image via Big Cypress National Preserve

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Ghost orchid among new plant species discovered in 2021

Scientists develop biodegradable, antimicrobial food packaging

December 29, 2021 by  
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Scientists have developed biodegradable food packaging material that kills microbes that contaminate foods. The waterproof packaging uses a type of corn protein called zein, plus starch and other natural compounds. A team of scientists from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, U.S. developed the material. According to a study published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the new packaging material could help increase fresh foods’ shelf life by days. Lab experiments with the packaging showed its resilience when exposed to increased humidity or enzymes from harmful bacteria . The packaging releases natural antimicrobial compounds that can kill common fungi and bacteria such as E. Coli. Related: Artist 3D-prints biodegradable agar floral lamps Professor Philip Demokritou, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard Chan School, says that the new material could be instrumental in resolving the current food safety and waste problems. “Food safety and waste have become a major societal challenge of our times with immense public health and economic impact which compromises food security. One of the most efficient ways to enhance food safety and reduce spoilage and waste is to develop efficient biodegradable non-toxic food packaging materials,” said Demokritou. The material is designed to release the exact required amounts of antimicrobial to deal with any bacteria or humidity that may occur in the food. This ensures that the packaging can endure exposure to different environments . It also takes away the risk of the antimicrobials being ingested and affecting the normal digestion process. In one experiment conducted by the researchers, strawberries wrapped in the newly developed packaging stayed fresh for seven days before developing mold . On the other hand, fresh strawberries packaged in regular plastic boxes only lasted four days before developing mold. The researchers say that the material’s ability to extend shelf life can help prevent food waste. The material is also being championed as an alternative to plastic packaging, which is known to cause pollution issues. Professor Mary Chan, Director of NTU’s Centre of Antimicrobial Bioengineering and the lead author of the study, said, “This invention would serve as a better option for packaging in the food industry, as it has demonstrated superior antimicrobial qualities in combatting a myriad of food-related bacteria and fungi that could be harmful to humans.” + NTU Lead image via NTU and Harvard University

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Scientists develop biodegradable, antimicrobial food packaging

New study provides hope for restoring tropical forests

December 10, 2021 by  
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Tropical forests can grow back naturally and relatively fast, according to a new study. The  study , published in the journal Science, shows that most tropical forests can bounce back in about 20 years if left untouched. This revelation provides the world with hope in efforts to restore troubled forests . The study was conducted by a team of scientists from across the world. Researchers reviewed forest data from three continents in a multidimensional approach. Thanks to high precision modeling, they determined that most tropical forest aspects, including the soil , trees, and living organisms, can be restored to their natural state over time. Related: California fires killed nearly 20 percent of the world’s Sequoias The researchers say these findings prove it is not too late to correct the mistakes that have led to climate change . According to Lourens Poorter, a professor in functional ecology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the study’s lead author, the time needed to recover these forests is realistic and practical. The best news? Tropical forests could return to 78% of their old-growth status in 20 years. “That’s good news because the implication is that, 20 years…that’s a realistic time that I can think of, and that my daughter can think of, and that the policymakers can think of,” said Poorter The researchers noted that letting forests regrow is beneficial in many ways. Apart from mitigating deforestation’s side effects, it also helps restore and retain the forest’s original biodiversity. “Compared to planting new trees, it performs way better in terms of biodiversity , climate change mitigation and recovering nutrients,” said Poorter. The scientists looked at data from 77 sites across three continents in tropical zones. Over 2,275 plots of land in the Americas and West Africa were analyzed. Researchers looked at specific areas of the forest to determine the time required for their recovery. In their analysis, the experts found that the soil could recover in 10 years or less. Plant and animal biodiversity could recover in about 60 years. Overall, they found that it would take up to 120 years to recover biomass in some areas. The researchers are now urging policymakers to consider the option of protecting forested areas and allowing deforested lands to rejuvenate. “What we want to advocate is: ‘Please value those secondary forests, and in areas where you can, please let those forests regrow back again naturally,” Poorter said. Via The Guardian Lead image via Pixabay

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Renewables can power the world, according to new study

November 15, 2021 by  
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A recent study published in  Nature Communications  has found that renewables can meet most of the world’s energy needs. According to the authors, even the most industrialized countries that need a heavy power supply can rely on renewable energy, specifically wind and solar.   The study was led by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, to address concerns raised by critiques of renewable energy. As the world struggles to move away from fossil fuels , those opposed to the change have argued that renewables cannot reliably meet the energy needs of industrialized nations. Related: Solar program has customers saving money from renewable energy In response, the researchers behind the study analyzed the hourly electricity needs of 42 developed countries over the past 39 years. They found that wind and solar power could cover up to 80% of the energy needs of most developed countries without the need for heavy storage. The study further found that wind and solar could cover 72-91% of energy needs in most of the countries studied. With a boost of 12-hour battery storage, wind and solar could meet 83-94% of power needs in most countries. “Wind and solar could meet more than 80 percent of demand in many places without crazy amounts of storage or excess generating capacity, which is the critical point,” said Steve Davis, UCI professor of Earth system science. “But depending on the country, there may be many multi-day periods throughout the year when some demand will need to be met by energy storage and other non-fossil energy sources in a zero-carbon future.”  Researchers collaborated with experts from China’s Tsinghua University, the Carnegie Institution for Science , and Caltech. Although the authors agree that it will not be possible to phase out fossil fuels in a flash, they say that it can be done with consistent efforts from all stakeholders. “Historic data show that countries that are farther from the equator can occasionally experience periods called ‘dark doldrums’ during which there is very limited solar and wind power availability,” said lead author Dan Tong, assistant professor of Earth system science at Tsinghua University.  The scientists gave an example of a recent situation in Germany that left the country without solar for two weeks. In reference to such situations, they say that only small countries with high power demands such as Germany may be unable to meter their energy needs. “It comes down to the difference between the difficult and the impossible. It will be hard to completely eliminate fossil fuels from our power generation mix, but we can achieve that goal when technologies , economics and socio-political will are aligned,” said Davis. Via Newswise Lead image via Pexels

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Renewables can power the world, according to new study

Science Based Targets initiative calls on private equity firms to set climate goals

November 10, 2021 by  
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Six leading private equity firms sign up to the Science Based Targets initiative, as the group issues new guidance to help the sector decarbonize.

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Science Based Targets initiative calls on private equity firms to set climate goals

It’s a new day for ESG reporting and disclosure

November 10, 2021 by  
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The VRF and IFRS Foundation have joined forces.

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It’s a new day for ESG reporting and disclosure

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