Carbon Engineering cuts cost of carbon capture to less than $100 per ton

June 8, 2018 by  
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Carbon Engineering, a British Columbia -based company that has the financial backing of Bill Gates, has released a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates how the company’s technology is capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of less than $100 per ton. This price represents a significant drop from current costs, which can run as high as $600 per ton. “This is a real step forward, and it’s not just our company saying it,” Carbon Engineering co-founder David Keith told BBC News . “I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic saviour which it isn’t, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn’t, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way.” Rather than storing the captured carbon, Carbon Engineering uses it to create a synthetic fuel with hydrogen , which is pulled from water using renewable energy. “What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon neutral fuels, in that sense we are just another emissions-cutting technology, there is no net removal from the atmosphere,” said Keith. The company claims that its fuel has a major advantage over traditional sources of biofuel due to its far less intensive water and land production requirements. Related: Bio-inspired membrane captures 90% of CO2 in power plant emissions While Keith has admitted that there are “hundreds of ways in which we can fail,” the technology developments at Carbon Engineering are promising. “Although direct air capture cost of around $100 per ton is still somewhat steep, in our current situation where sticks and carrots for similar technologies are sorely lacking, the cost can only be brought down through further development and streamlining of individual technologies and conjugated processes,” Edda Sif Aradóttir, who has worked on a project in Iceland that turns captured carbon into rock, told BBC News . Carbon Engineering’s latest announcement is a reminder that the biggest obstacle to taking serious action against climate change is political. “The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions,” said Edda. The technical solutions to climate change are already available but national legislations do not provide enough incentive or obligations for them to be applied at a large scale. This must change quickly if we are to [fulfill] the Paris agreement.” Via BBC News Images via Depositphotos

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Carbon Engineering cuts cost of carbon capture to less than $100 per ton

Uranium-contaminated groundwater found throughout India

June 8, 2018 by  
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A new study from Duke University reports that uranium contamination in groundwater from aquifers is common in 16  Indian states. While much of the uranium contamination is natural in its origin, groundwater-table decline and nitrate pollution from agriculture also contribute to the widespread public health problem; high levels of uranium in drinking water have been linked to chronic kidney disease. “The results of this study strongly suggest there is a need to revise current water-quality monitoring programs in India and re-evaluate human health risks in areas of high uranium prevalence,” study co-author Avner Vengosh told Phys.org . “Developing effective remediation technologies and preventive management practices should also be a priority.” The research team gathered its data from 324 wells in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, as well as 68 previous studies on groundwater geochemistry in the same areas. Uranium is often found naturally in rocks , which, under varying environmental conditions, allows it to more easily seep into surrounding water. Much of the gravel, clay and silt that are found in India’s aquifers were brought there through the weathering of the Himalayan mountains, the rocks of which contain high levels of uranium. As India’s aquifers are over-harvested to support agricultural industry, oxidation of these rocks enable uranium to escape and contaminate its surrounding environment. Related: 26,000 tons of radioactive waste sits at the bottom of Lake Powell Although the World Health Organization has established an interim safety standard for uranium content in drinking water , a similar regulation has not been adopted by the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specifications. “One of the takeaways of this study is that human activities can make a bad situation worse, but we could also make it better,” Vengosh said.”Including a uranium standard in the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specification based on uranium’s kidney-harming effects, establishing monitoring systems to identify at-risk areas and exploring new ways to prevent or treat uranium contamination will help ensure access to safe drinking water for tens of millions in India.” + Duke University Via Phys.org Images via Nithi Anand (1, 2)

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Uranium-contaminated groundwater found throughout India

Olafur Eliasson unveils his first building, a sculptural stunner in Denmark

June 8, 2018 by  
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The prolific Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson has unveiled his first building—a sculptural castle-like mass that rises from the waters in Vejle, Denmark. Dubbed Fjordenhus (Fjord House), the solar-powered structure was created as the new headquarters for holding and investment company KIRK KAPITAL and features both green roofs and solar panels. The project was created under Studio Olafur Eliasson’s new international office for art and architecture, Studio Other Spaces, which was founded in collaboration with architect Sebastian Behmann and will execute similar large-scale experimental architectural and public space projects in the future. Located next to the man-made Havneøen (The Harbour Island), Fjordenhus comprises four intersecting cylinders that rise to a height of 28 meters. The historic harbor warehouses and silos in the area inspired Fjordenhus’ curved facade and brick cladding. Inside, the building is organized around circles and ellipses, from the curved windows and furnishings to the round vestibules and spiral staircase. The double-height ground floor will be open to the public and partly flooded by water. The KIRK KAPITAL offices are located in the upper three floors, while the top of the building is decked out with a green roof and solar panels. “In the design team, we experimented from early on with how to create an organic building that would respond to the ebb and flow of the tides , to the shimmering surface of the water, changing at different times of the day and of the year,” said Olafur Eliasson in a statement. “The curving walls of the building transform our perception of it as we move through its spaces. I hope the residents of Vejle will embrace Fjordenhus and identify with it as a new landmark for the harbour and their city.” Related: Olafur Eliasson launches a gorgeous and affordable handheld solar phone charger In addition to custom furniture and lighting, the contemporary building also incorporates site-specific artworks by Eliasson. The Fjordenhus officially opens to the public on June 9, 2018. + Olafur Eliasson Images by Anders Sune Berg

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Olafur Eliasson unveils his first building, a sculptural stunner in Denmark

Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades

June 4, 2018 by  
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Climate change disproportionately impacts the Arctic, where rising global temperatures wrought by the burning of fossil fuels have brought rapid, fundamental changes to places like Alaska. In a new study published in Global Change Biology , researchers conclude that 67,000 square miles of land in Alaska, 13 percent of the total land, have been affected over the past three decades. The land has been impacted by what the study calls ‘directional change,’ in which a location has experienced fundamental change in its ecology from historic levels. For example, some areas have become greener and wetter and others have dried out as glaciers shrink and wildfires rage across the state. Even trees have shifted, with treelines moving farther north to adjust to a warming Arctic. To study the drastic changes in Alaska , scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey used satellite and aerial imagery integrated with field data to create a mapping algorithm that assesses the level of change throughout the state. The study analyzed 540,000 square miles of land, noting the various kinds of changes in different Alaskan ecosystems. Near the tundra, the environment is becoming greener as trees and other plants spread beyond their traditional northern border. Meanwhile, interior forests are drying out, resulting in increased and more intense wildfires, which the researchers conclude is the greatest factor in Alaska’s ecological change. “What impressed me [was] how extensive and influential the fires were,” study co-author Bruce Wylie told Earther . Related: One-third of the world’s protected areas face ‘shocking’ human impact Climate change has also disrupted the state’s historic water patterns. Melting permafrost has led to depressions, allowing wetlands to form in unusual places. This has also exacerbated erosion along the coasts, which are being tested by an ever-shorter season of sea ice. The comprehensive study of these varied changes may be helpful as scientists and policymakers plan for Alaska’s future. “Now with this study we have spatially explicit interpretations of the changes on the land, with specific drivers identified and attributed to the changes,” NASA carbon cycle scientist Peter Griffith told Earther . However, there is still so much more to learn. The study’s results, limited by available technology and resources, do not tell the whole story. + Global Change Biology Via Earther Images via Depositphotos and USGS

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Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades

Flawed recycling results in dangerous chemicals in black plastic

May 31, 2018 by  
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Unsafe recycling of electronic waste has resulted in the distribution of dangerous chemicals into new products made out of black plastic . Published in Environment International , a new study documents the presence of bromide and lead in 600 consumer products made out of black plastic and clarifies its potential negative impact on human and ecological health. “There are environmental and health impacts arising from the production and use of plastics in general, but black plastics pose greater risks and hazards,” explained study lead author Andrew Turner in a statement . “This is due to the technical and economic constraints imposed on the efficient sorting and separation of black waste for recycling, coupled with the presence of harmful additives required for production or applications in the electronic and electrical equipment and food packaging sectors.” Although black plastics compose fifteen percent of domestic plastic waste in the United States , they are particularly difficult to recycle. As a result, hazardous chemicals that were originally used as flame retardants or for color are being processed back into new products. “Black plastic may be aesthetically pleasing, but this study confirms that the recycling of plastic from electronic waste is introducing harmful chemicals into consumer products,” explained Turner. “That is something the public would obviously not expect, or wish, to see and there has previously been very little research exploring this.” Related: Biotech company Nanollose could offer plant-free alternatives for the textile industry Of particular concern is black plastic’s wide usage in food service, with the majority of black plastic being used in food trays or packaging. The black plastic also risks poisoning marine life as its dangerous chemicals seep into the ocean through microplastics. However, the presence of dangerous chemicals, such as the potentially cancer-causing bromine, is not limited to food products; it is also found in plastic jewelry, garden hoses, Christmas decorations, coat hangers and tool handles at high, and possibly even illegal, levels. Given the health risks, the industry must reform. “[T]here is also a need for increased innovation within the recycling industry to ensure harmful substances are eliminated from recycled waste and to increase the recycling of black plastic consumer products,” said Turner. Via Ecowatch Image via Depositphotos

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Southern California is losing its clouds, increasing the risk of more intense wildfires

May 31, 2018 by  
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The elevated summer temperatures in California  are causing decreased levels of the low-atmosphere clouds that were once common throughout the southern coastal regions of the state. A new study has found that because these clouds are dissipating from the increased heat, the region is now facing an increased risk of wildfire . “Clouds that used to burn off by noon or 1 o’clock are now gone by 10 or 11, if they form at all,” bioclimatologist and study lead author Park Williams told Phys.org . Due to a warming climate and an expanding urban heat island, cloud cover is trapped in a positive feedback loop where less clouds mean higher temperatures, and higher temperatures mean less clouds. Published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters , the new study concludes that there has been a 25 to 50 percent decrease in low-lying summer clouds since the 1970s. “ Cloud cover is plummeting in southern coastal California,” said Williams, “and as clouds decrease, that increases the chance of bigger and more intense fires.” The low-lying stratus clouds in the area typically form in the early morning in a thin, wet layer of coastal air that exists between land and drier air masses. The increased heat from climate change and the urban heat island effect has caused the clouds to dissolve earlier in the day, leaving little cover during the hottest parts of the afternoon. Related: The growing wine industry is threatening California’s Napa Valley To study the changes in cloud cover, Williams and his team analyzed hour-by-hour cloud data gathered by California airports over the past several decades. The data was then compared with vegetation moisture data from the U.S. Wildland Fire Assessment System. This comparison enabled the team to conclude that the decreased cloud cover has led to an increased wildfire risk. “Even though the danger has increased, people in these areas are very good at putting out fires, so the area burned hasn’t gone up,” Williams explained. “But the dice are now loaded, and in areas where clouds have decreased, the fires should be getting more intense and harder to contain. At some point, we’ll see if people can continue to keep up.” +  Geophysical Research Letters Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Scientists uncover giant canyons under the ice in Antarctica

May 29, 2018 by  
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Researchers have discovered three large canyons frozen beneath the ice of Antarctica , each of which is hundreds of kilometers in length. The canyons, which move through tall mountains that lie beneath the snowy surface of the southernmost continent, were discovered through radar and may serve a key function in Antarctic ice flow. “These troughs channelize ice from the center of the continent, taking it toward the coast,” study co-author Kate Winter told the BBC . “Therefore, if climate conditions change in Antarctica, we might expect the ice in these troughs to flow a lot faster toward the sea. That makes them really important, and we simply didn’t know they existed before now.” The three canyons are the Patuxent Trough, the Offset Rift Basin and the Foundation Trough, the largest of the three, which is more than 350 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. The bottom of the Foundation Trough is buried beneath two kilometers of ice. All three canyons are located beneath and across the high ice ridge known as the ice divide that runs from the South Pole toward West Australia. This divide is similar to other continental divides, such as those found in North America , in which water, or ice, flows toward different bodies of water based on which side of the divide it falls. Related: Scientists dash to explore Antarctic ecosystem hidden by ice for 120,000 years These newly-discovered canyons have altered scientists’ understanding of Antarctica’s future in a warming climate . “People had called this area a bottleneck,” study co-author Tom Jordan said . “The thought was that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to collapse, then ice could flood out from the east. But the mountains we’ve found effectively put a plug in that bottleneck.” The data, much of which was unobtainable through satellite imagery, was gathered using radar and sensors attached to planes that surveyed the continent from above. “Remarkably, the South Pole region is one of the least understood frontiers in the whole of Antarctica,” researcher Fausto Ferraccioli said. “Our new aerogeophysical data will … enable new research into the geological processes that created the mountains and basins before the Antarctic ice sheet itself was born.” + PolarGAP Project Via BBC Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Scientists uncover giant canyons under the ice in Antarctica

California man files lawsuit against Monsanto for allegedly hiding dangers of glyphosate

May 23, 2018 by  
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In a monumental trial, DeWayne Johnson will soon become the first person to face Monsanto in court for an alleged cover-up of the cancer-causing dangers of its herbicide products. Johnson, a father of three and resident of California , has cancer, which he believes was caused by his exposure to Monsanto-produced chemicals in his work as a groundskeeper. Though Monsanto has denied it, studies have demonstrated a link between glyphosate , the active ingredient in Monsanto herbicides, and cancer. Last week, presiding Judge Curtis Karnow issued a ruling that allowed for the consideration of evidence with regards to whether Monsanto knew about the dangers of its products and systematically concealed it, as well as the specifics of Johnson’s case. Johnson’s lawsuit, which will be filed on June 18th in San Francisco county superior court, is part of a larger legal fight against Monsanto. Approximately 4,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto alleging that the failure to disclose the dangers of its chemicals has led to  cancer . The soon-to-be-filed lawsuit says that Monsanto “championed falsified data and attacked legitimate studies,” while engaging in a “prolonged campaign of misinformation,” which caused harm to the public. “We look forward to exposing how Monsanto hid the risk of cancer and polluted the science,” Michael Miller, Johnson’s lawyer,  told the Guardian . “Monsanto does not want the truth about Roundup and cancer to become public.” Related: California adds Monsanto’s glyphosate to list of chemicals known to cause cancer Monsanto claims there is no evidence that glyphosate is carcinogenic. “Glyphosate-based herbicides are supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health and environmental effects databases ever compiled for a pesticide product,” Monsanto said in a statement . “Comprehensive toxicological and environmental fate studies conducted over the last 40 years have time and again demonstrated the strong safety profile of this widely used herbicide.” Monsanto will soon have to defend this position in court, not only in California, but also in St. Louis, Missouri , where Monsanto was founded. Via The Guardian Images via Chafer Machinery , Avaaz and Mike Mozart

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Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the ocean, is plagued with plastic

May 21, 2018 by  
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Point Nemo is so remote that those on the International Space Station, hundreds of miles above Earth, are usually the closest humans to this isolated place. Located nearly 1,700 miles from the nearest island, Point Nemo is the oceanic point farthest from land on our planet. Despite its secluded location, Point Nemo is plagued with plastic pollution. Sea vessels participating in the eight-month-long worldwide Volvo Ocean Race took seawater samples from Point Nemo, which contained up to 26 microplastic particles per cubic meter. In 1992, survey engineer Hrvoje Lukatela discovered Point Nemo by using a computer program to determine the planet’s most remote oceanic point. The isolated Point Nemo is also one of the most lifeless areas of the ocean due to its proximity to South Pacific Gyre current, which pushes away nutrient-rich water. Turn The Tide On Plastic , the Volvo Ocean Race  team that gathered the seawater sample from Point Nemo, collaborates with Sky Ocean Rescue to raise awareness of plastic pollution and organize action to reduce it. The plastic-contaminated samples, which were gathered during leg seven of the race from New Zealand to Brazil , represent the first instance in which Point Nemo water has been assessed for plastic content. Related: The isolated Pacific graveyard where spaceships go to die The seawater was first analyzed by Dr. Soren Gutekunst of the GEOMAR Institute for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany . “This means that even if I put a plastic bottle in the River Thames, maybe at some point I will find microplastics from this bottle down in South Africa ,” Gutekunst told Sky News . While the news of plastic pollution in even the most remote locations is concerning, the level of pollution is still far below that of areas such as the Mediterranean or the South China Sea, which contain the highest levels of microplastic pollution. + Volvo Ocean Race Via The Guardian and Sky News Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the ocean, is plagued with plastic

Bitcoin is expected to consume enough energy to power Austria by the end of 2018

May 18, 2018 by  
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Though bitcoin ‘s value may rise and fall dramatically, the energy required to produce bitcoins seems to be ever on the rise. Researchers estimate that the bitcoin network may consume as much as 7.7 gigawatts of energy , the equivalent of the electricity required to power Austria. If the value of bitcoin continues to rise, the entire bitcoin network may one day consume up to five percent of the world’s energy. A new study published in the journal   Joule  predicts that bitcoins use up to half a percent of the world’s total energy supply. Critics question the study’s assumptions and claim a lack of sufficient evidence to determine future bitcoin energy consumption with such precision. Regardless, bitcoin’s rising price could come with significant environmental costs. The bitcoin network primarily consumes energy through “mining” of the cryptocurrency, which occurs by running a computer program and time-stamping bitcoin transactions. These transactions take place on the blockchain, the networked account system behind cryptocurrencies. “The main problem is that the energy consumption primarily relates to how agreement on the underlying blockchain is reached,” blockchain specialist and study author Alex de Vries  told Gizmodo . “Mining makes it a big competitive lottery where the winner — every 10 minutes — gets to create the next block for the blockchain. The built-in reward for this process is fixed, so it motivates participants to constantly add new machines to the network to get a bigger slice of the pie — the more computational power, the more you win.” Related: Bitcoin mining powers Canadian man’s innovative aquaponic garden In his study, de Vries focused on determining the cost of maintaining the network after bitcoin mining becomes unprofitable. “In essence I’m taking an economic point of view to figure out where energy consumption is heading. Previous work typically looked at available hardware, and produced results that only said something about the current consumption,” de Vries said. “My findings were based on the current conditions, so bitcoin doesn’t need to increase in value for the conclusion to hold.” Some experts disagree with de Vries’ methods and conclusions. “A major limitation of de Vries’ model is that it depends on guessing bitcoin’s future price as well as the cost of electricity to miners,” bitcoin investor  Marc Bevand told Gizmodo . “In the paper he assumes bitcoin maintains its current level at approximately $8,000 and electricity costs $0.05 per kWh. If either bitcoin goes up or electricity costs plummet, the energy consumption should increase, and vice versa.” Though the endeavor to determine the future of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies continues, it seems clear that the environmental impact of bitcoin may be steep. Via Gizmodo Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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