Electric cars are already less expensive to own and operate than gas-guzzling vehicles, according to study

December 4, 2017 by  
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Exciting news for electric car fans: a new study shows that EVs already cost less over four years than diesel or gasoline-fueled cars in Japan, the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States. Four researchers at the University of Leeds came up with the discovery after scrutinizing the total price tag of ownership including insurance, fuel , maintenance, taxation, purchase price and depreciation. And although the low cost is aided by government support right now, in a few years EVs are expected to be the least expensive option without subsidies. EVs are already cheaper to operate and own in the markets the researchers looked at: California, Texas, Japan, and the UK. They said this lower expense is an important factor propelling the surge in EV sales. Electricity is less expensive than diesel or petrol, and maintenance costs are lower, as pure electric cars have simpler engines. Related: Stanford study says fossil-fueled cars will vanish in 8 years as ‘big oil’ collapses Study co-author James Tate of the University of Leeds told The Guardian , “We were surprised and encouraged because, as we scale up production, [pure] electric vehicles are going to be becoming cheaper and we expect battery costs are going to fall.” Hybrid cars tend to be slightly more expensive than gas-fueled cars, as they tend to draw lower subsidies. The researchers said people are basically forking out money for two engines in one car. Japan is one exception, as it provides higher subsidies for plug-in hybrids. In Japan and the UK, pure electric cars get a sales subsidy of around $6,729. In the US, the subsidy is around $8,748. Tate told The Guardian an EV like the Nissan Leaf could be as cheap to operate and own as a petrol car sans subsidy by 2025. The journal Applied Energy published the study online in November. + Applied Energy Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 , 3 )

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Electric cars are already less expensive to own and operate than gas-guzzling vehicles, according to study

Affordable new device uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity

November 27, 2017 by  
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Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have advanced the field of hydrogen power by creating a hybrid device that uses solar energy to produce hydrogen and electricity in a cost-effective manner. “People need fuel to run their vehicles and electricity to run their devices,” said Richard Kaner, lead author of the study and a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Now you can make both fuel and electricity with a single device.” The new invention is a significant step forward in the quest to harness the power of hydrogen as a fuel source, particularly in transportation. “Hydrogen is a great fuel for vehicles: It is the cleanest fuel known, it’s cheap and it puts no pollutants into the air — just water ,” said Kaner, “and this could dramatically lower the cost of hydrogen cars.” In addition to positive and negative electrodes typically found in battery systems, the UCLA device includes an electrode with the ability to either store electrical energy or use it as a catalyst for water electrolysis, the process by which hydrogen and oxygen atoms are split from a water compound. To increase the device’s efficiency, the researcher team maximized the surface area upon which water makes contact. This additional surface area then allows greater production of hydrogen as well as increased energy storage. Related: New nanomaterial pulls hydrogen from seawater to power fuel cells Although commercial production of hydrogen has often proven to be costly and carbon intensive , the usage of ever-cheaper and clean solar power could change the game. The materials used in the UCLA device to create hydrogen, such as nickel, iron, and cobalt, are also significantly cheaper and more abundant than precious metals like platinum typically used in the process. Finally, the device, powered by the sun, is designed to be accessible even in isolated areas, thus increasing the viability of hydrogen as a fuel source for vehicles on long trips. Although the current model can be held in the palm of one’s hand, the principles behind the device may be applied at a greater scale. Via New Atlas / UCLA Images via Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

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The rapid disappearance of 5 billion passenger pigeons shows no population is safe from extinction

November 21, 2017 by  
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Five billion passenger pigeons once spread across North America in flocks so big that they could block out the sun and spread for hundreds of miles. Then, in just a few decades, they were gone. Now, scientists have found the cause for their devastating decline, and it reveals how fragile even large populations of animals can be. A new study shows that passenger pigeons have existed since the Ice Age in massive populations. But as large as their numbers were, they lacked genetic diversity. This allowed them to adapt quickly within the population, but it also meant that when a new threat came along – in this case humans – they couldn’t adjust quickly enough. While hungry humans are the main cause of their decline, the genetic shift caused by the shift from massive groups to small groups sped up the decimation of pigeon populations. Related: The sixth mass extinction is killing off wildlife 100 times faster than “normal” “We often think of large populations as a safeguard against extinction ,” said the study’s co-author, University of California, Santa Cruz biologist Professor Beth Shapiro. “What this study shows, however, is that we must also consider the longer-term natural history of a species when making decisions about their extinction risk.” Via The Independent images via Wikimedia  and DepositPhoto

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New NASA tool shows which melting glaciers will affect coastal cities

November 17, 2017 by  
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NASA has developed a new tool  that individuals and communities can use to determine the precise impacts that sea level rise will have on individual coastal cities . This newly accessible information will enable scientists and policymakers to have a more complete understanding of the consequences of climate change in specific areas. “This study allows one person to understand which icy areas of the world will contribute most significantly to sea level change (rise or decrease) in their specific city,” said Eric Larour, one of the study’s authors, in an interview with CNN . While most coastal communities around the world understand the imminent risks to their survival from sea level rise , this tool allows them to plan more precisely for the future. Current projections estimate that coastal communities will face a sea level rise of one to four feet, depending on location. Since the impact of melting sea ice will be felt differently in different places, it is important for communities to have as precise and accurate information as possible. NASA’s new tool, developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, incorporates the rotation of the Earth and gravitational variables to more precisely identify how specific bodies of melting ice will impact certain communities. Related: Boston outlines its plans to adapt to rising sea levels To create this tool, researchers conducted a study in which they analyzed data for 293 coastal cities to calculate local sea level rise and the glacial source of this newly liquid water. Glaciers farthest away from a particular city tended to be the most responsible for its sea level rise, due to gravity. “Ice sheets are so heavy, that when they melt, the gravity field is modified, and the ocean is less attracted to the ice mass,” said Larour in an interview with CNN . “This means that locally, close to the ice change itself, sea level will decrease.” Larour hopes that this new tool will empower local communities to make informed decisions as they prepare for unfolding impacts of climate change . + NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Via CNN Images via NASA and Depositphotos

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How volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Alaska affected ancient Egyptians

October 24, 2017 by  
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Volcano eruptions could have helped precipitate unrest in ancient Egypt , according to a new study. An international team of researchers led by Joseph Manning of Yale University discovered volcanic eruptions in northern latitudes can impact the flow of the Nile River . Ancient peoples depended on Nile River flooding to irrigate crops, and if that flood didn’t happen, there could have been political or economic consequences. The researchers connected historical analysis with paleoclimatology – what Yale described as reconstruction of global climates in the past – to make the startling find. Volcanoes in Russia, Greenland, Iceland, or Alaska could have disrupted the daily lives of people in ancient Egypt. While volcanic eruptions weren’t the sole cause of unrest, the researchers think they did play a role. In years with volcanic eruptions, the Nile didn’t flood as much, which Manning said led to social stress. He told The Washington Post, “It’s a bizarre concept that Alaskan volcanoes were screwing up the Nile, but in fact that’s what happened.” Related: The world’s mightiest river is dying Manning and colleagues took an interdisciplinary approach, scrutinizing ancient papyri and inscriptions for descriptions of Nile flooding, and combining that historical information with climate modeling of big 20th century volcanic eruptions and yearly Nile summer flood height measurements between 622 and 1902. Manning told The Washington Post, “It’s an indirect response, but because of atmospheric circulation and energy budgets, we find that large volcanic eruptions cause droughts .” He described the Nile and Egypt as sensitive instruments for climate change , and said the research was important in today’s debate on climate change. The study offers new insight into how climatic shocks impacted societies in history. Manning said in a statement, “There hasn’t been a large eruption affecting the global climate system since Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991…Sooner or later we will experience a large volcanic eruption, and perhaps a cluster of them, that will act to exacerbate drought in sensitive parts of the world.” The journal Nature Communications published the study online this month. Five other researchers, from institutions in Ireland, California, and Switzerland, contributed to the work. Via Yale University and The Washington Post Images via Michael Gwyther-Jones on Flickr and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr

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Denmark fires up its Copenhill power plant, with ski slopes set to open next year

October 24, 2017 by  
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Six years ago, Bjarke Ingels Group unveiled plans for a ski slope power plant that could provide the city of Copenhagen with electricity, hot water, and a steady stream of recycled materials. It’s a wild design, and we never thought it’d see the light of day – but fast forward to 2017, and Copenhill is nearly complete. The waste-to-energy plant is currently operational, and by the end of next year it will be topped with 30 rooftop trees, the world’s tallest artificial climbing wall, and a 600-meter ski slope. Inhabitat recently traveled to Copenhagen for a first look inside this landmark building – hit the jump for our exclusive photos. When it officially opens next year, the Amager Bakken waste-to-energy plant will process 400,000 tons of waste annually to provide 160,000 homes with hot water and 62,500 homes with electricity. The new plant replaces the aging Amager Resource Center, and it’s able to produce 25% more energy while cutting CO2 emissions by 100,000 tons per year. Despite the fact that the plant effectively burns trash, its emissions are remarkably clean thanks to advanced filtration technology – the air in the plant’s vicinity is actually healthier than in Copenhagen’s city center. The plant will also enable the city to salvage 90% of the metals in its waste stream, and it will yield 100,000 metric tons of ash that will be reused as road material. Did we mention that it’s designed to blow enormous smoke rings? BIG Project Manager Jesper Boye Andersen told Inhabitat that “The completion date is after summer 2018, we are still pushing for the smoke rings, and we have proven that the technology works.” The building’s facade is made up of staggered metal planters that vary in size and shape to carefully control solar exposure. When it rains, each planter will drain into the one below it to sustain a flourishing vegetated wall. Copenhill’s roof will made from an artificial turf material, and it will be open to skiers and snowboarders all-year-round. In addition to the ski slope, the roof will feature a cafe, a running path, and the world’s largest artificial climbing wall, which will measure 86 meters tall by 10 meters wide. According to recent estimates, the total cost of the plant will be 4 billion DKK (about $632 million). It was financed by five nearby municipalities that will benefit from the energy, hot water, and other resources it produces. + BIG + Amager Resource Center Inhabitat was invited to Denmark by Visit Copenhagen , which paid for meals and lodging for 3 days

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40% of China’s factories shuttered in pollution crackdown

October 24, 2017 by  
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Is China at last cracking down on factory pollution ? The country’s Ministry of Environment inspectors have charged, fined, or reprimanded officials from over 80,000 factories in 10 provinces in the last year, according to NPR. One estimate indicates around 40 percent of the country’s factories have been at least briefly shuttered. Whole industrial regions have been temporarily closed in China, while inspectors conduct surprise inspections. They’ve cut gas and electricity to discover which businesses are adhering to the country’s environmental laws, and which aren’t. Some companies have moved their entire supply chains over to Bangladesh or India to keep up with orders. Related: Beijing creates new environmental police force to crack down on smog Michael Crotty told NPR in his almost 20 years in China, he has never seen a crackdown like this. He’s the president of MKT & Associates, which exports textiles from the country. He said the crackdown reminds him of America post-Clean Water Act in the 1970’s. He told NPR, “At that time, we in the textile business saw many dyeing and printing houses shut down because they couldn’t comply with the regulations. We’re seeing a similar process taking place here in China, and it’s much, much bigger. The disruption is larger.” MKT & Associates general manager Archie Liu estimated 40 percent of factories have been at least briefly closed in the flurry of inspections. Shanghai-based environmental lawyer Peter Corne told NPR emissions are now watched in real time, and fees are slapped on factories when they discharge more than allowed by law. He said implementation will be different – accomplished not by the environment ministry, which will only be monitoring, but the tax bureau. This is key because according to Corne, the country’s tax bureaus are supported by rigorous laws that tend to be aggressively enforced. Crotty said Americans shopping during the holidays could see higher prices due to the pollution crackdown in China – but that’s a small price to pay for a cleaner environment . Via NPR Images via Depositphotos

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Stanford sodium-based battery could be more cost-effective than lithium

October 18, 2017 by  
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The quest for the best battery is of vital importance as the world transitions to renewable energy . Now a Stanford University -led team has designed what they think might offer a cheaper alternative to lithium – a sodium -based battery. While it’s not the world’s first sodium ion battery, the Stanford design costs 80 percent less than a lithium-ion battery , and it is capable of storing the same amount of energy . Lithium-ion batteries may currently reign supreme, but according to Stanford, sodium-ion batteries could compete in terms of cost-per-storage. They said lithium costs around $15,000 per ton to mine and refine, while the “widely available sodium-based electrode material” they utilized in their new battery costs a fraction of that at $150 per ton. It’s a significant difference as materials comprise around one quarter of the price of a battery. Related: Researchers successfully made a battery out of trash Stanford chemical engineer Zhenan Bao said in a statement, “Nothing may ever surpass lithium ion in performance. But lithium is so rare and costly that we need to develop high-performance but low-cost batteries based on abundant elements like sodium.” The sodium-based electrode is made up of a positively charged ion, sodium, and a negatively charged ion, myo-inositol. You may not be familiar with myo-inositol, but Stanford says it’s in baby formula, and derives from rice bran “or from a liquid byproduct of the process used to mill corn.” Like sodium, it too is naturally abundant. While the researchers think they have shown sodium-based batteries can be cost effective compared to lithium ion batteries, they aim to keep working on the design . They’ve optimized the charging cycle and cathode, according to Stanford, but engineer Yi Cui says optimizing the phosphorous anode could improve the battery. The journal Nature Energy recently published the study online . Stanford University engineers collaborated on the project with a researcher from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory . Via Stanford University and New Atlas Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Mysterious giant hole cracks open in Antarctica

October 11, 2017 by  
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A giant hole the size of Maine or Lake Superior has suddenly appeared on the surface of Antarctica and scientists are not quite sure how it came into being. “It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice,” said atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. The sudden emergence of this hole, for the second year in a row, has confounded scientists, whose access to the site is limited. “This is hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge,” said Moore. “If we didn’t have a satellite, we wouldn’t know it was there.” Known as a polynia, the observed phenomenon occurs when open ocean water is surrounded by solid sea ice, leading to changes in the surrounding ice and below. This particular polynia has been known to scientists since the 1970s, though they were unable to fully investigate in the past. “At that time, the scientific community had just launched the first satellites that provided images of the sea-ice cover from space,” said Dr. Torge Martin, meteorologist and climate modeler. “On-site measurements in the Southern Ocean still require enormous efforts, so they are quite limited.” Related: New Antarctic farm will grow produce despite temperatures of -100 degrees F This is the second year in a row in which the reported polynia hole has opened in Antarctica, “the second year in a row it’s opened after 40 years of not being there,” according to Moore. While some may feel that climate change is behind this unusual occurrence, Moore cautions further study before drawing any conclusions. However, climate change certainly can influence the structure of sea ice and polynia. “Once the sea ice melts back, you have this huge temperature contrast between the ocean and the atmosphere ,” said Moore explained. “It can start driving convection.” This can result in polynias, fueled by warmer water rising to the surface, lasting longer than previously observed. Regardless of its origins, the reported polynia offers additional information for the study of climate. “For us, this ice-free area is an important new data point which we can use to validate our climate models,” said Moore. “Its occurrence after several decades also confirms our previous calculations.” Via Motherboard Images via  meereisportal.de , Jeff Schmaltz/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response/Jesse Allen/NASA , and  MODIS-Aqua via NASA Worldview; sea ice contours from AMSR2 ASI via University of Bremen

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The entire world could be powered by one deep-sea wind farm

October 10, 2017 by  
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What if the world’s energy problems could be solved with one deep-sea wind farm ? A new study, conducted by the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, California, suggests it could. Scientists determined that if a renewable energy project the size of India were to be constructed in the ocean, enough electricity could be generated to fulfill the energy needs of every nation on earth. In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doctors Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira wrote: “On an annual mean basis, the wind power available in the North Atlantic could be sufficient to power the world.” The duo noted that wind speeds are on average 70 percent higher over the Earth’s oceans than on land. In order to generate the equivalent of all energy used today, a deep-sea wind farm would need to span three million square kilometers. On land, the concept would never work. This is because when more wind turbines are added to a farm, the combined drag from the turning blades limits the amount of energy that can be obtained. As a result of this effect, electricity generation for large wind farms on land is limited to about 1.5 watts per square meter . In the North Atlantic, however, the limit would be much higher — more than six watts per square meter. Related: The world’s biggest offshore wind farm is being built in the UK The Independent reports that this is possible because more heat pours into the atmosphere above the North Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the problem of “ turbine drag” is essentially overcome. Said Possner, “We found that giant ocean-based wind farms are able to tap into the energy of the winds throughout much of the atmosphere whereas wind farms onshore remain constrained by the near-surface wind resources.” During the summer, the output from the vast North Atlantic wind farm would drop to one-fifth of the annual average. Despite this, enough energy would still be generated to meet the electricity demands of all countries in the European Union . The scientists added that a deep sea wind farm would have to operate in “remote and harsh conditions,” where waves heights often reach more than 3 meters. If these hurdles were overcome, political and economic challenges would need to be tackled next. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via The Independent Images via Wikimedia Commons [1] , Wikimedia Commons [2] , Wikimedia Commons [3] and Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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