Low-cost solar absorber could supercharge solar power plants

April 6, 2017 by  
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One of the major challenges in developing solar panels has been creating photovoltaic cells which can absorb as much solar energy as possible – without overheating to the point that they begin to simply radiate energy back into the atmosphere. In the past, this has meant that commercially available solar cells only manage to convert about 30 percent of sunlight they absorb into energy. Researchers from Purdue University may have found a way to overcome this issue by modifying regular silicon wafers to more efficiently absorb the energy at higher temperatures than ever before. The new study, published in the journal Applied Physics Letters , outlines how silicon wafers can be coated with thin films of tantalum and silicon nitride to enhance their ability to absorb sunlight. The modified surface is then able to selectively absorb photons within a certain range on the light spectrum, while reflecting those that cannot be used. Related: Flexible new solar panel is almost 80% lighter than traditional panels The resulting solar cells can withstand temperatures up to 535 degrees Celsius without any performance or stability issues, converting a staggering 50 percent of sunlight into useable energy. This research has some interesting applications – for instance, the same film could be painted on the surface of mirrored parabolic troughs used in concentrated solar plants in order to make them even more efficient. While the film isn’t yet ready for any kind of commercial application, the authors of the study hope it will inspire others to try a similar experimental approach to enhancing solar absorption. Via Phsy.org Images via Purdue University and Shutterstock

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European electricity sector pledges no new coal plants after 2020

April 6, 2017 by  
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In another sign that the world is rapidly moving away from coal , the European electricity sector just announced a commitment to not invest in new coal-fired power plants after 2020. Every European Union country signed onto the initiative except for Poland and Greece. The Union of the Electricity Industry, otherwise known as Eurelectric , which represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of over €200 billion, reiterated its commitment to decarbonize the EU economy in line with targets set in the Paris climate agreement . Europe’s power sector is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. “The power sector is determined to lead the energy transition and back our commitment to the low carbon economy with concrete action,” said Eurelectric President and CEO of the Portuguese energy group EDP, António Mexia. “With power supply becoming increasingly clean, electric technologies are an obvious choice for replacing fossil fuel based systems for instance in the transport sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Related: China calls America selfish amid Trump attempt to revive coal Coal is already in decline as Europe continues making massive investments in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Last year, European coal emissions fell by an impressive 11 percent , according to an analysis published by the European Commission. The decrease of coal emissions is part of a long-term trend — since 2010, European coal’s generation emissions fell by 16 percent and overall power sector emissions fell by 19 percent. Across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has pledged to revive coal. However, US utilities, similar to their European counterparts, are moving away from coal in favor of natural gas and renewables. News agency Reuters contacted 32 utilities and the vast majority said that Trump’s actions would not impact their investments away from coal. “I’m not going to build new coal plants in today’s environment,” Ben Fowke, CEO of Xcel Energy, told Reuters. “And if I’m not going to build new ones, eventually there won’t be any.” Via The Guardian Images via Flickr 1 , 2

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Stickbulb’s new Boom LED lamp is made of reclaimed wood from NYC water tanks

April 6, 2017 by  
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Almost five years have passed since New York-based design firm Rux Design unveiled their revolutionary StickBulb lighting system , which was inspired by destroyed buildings. Now, the innovative designers are back with a new, bolder LED lamp called Boom that’s made out of reclaimed Redwood from dismantled NYC water tanks. Rux’s new Boom lamps were officially unveiled this week at the Milan Furniture Fair . The series follows up on the designer’s quest to repurpose materials from architectural destruction. Boom is made of reclaimed wood taken from dismantled NYC water tanks. Years of exposure to the harsh NYC climate on one side and water on the other has given the wood a rich, unique coloring. Related: 15 brilliant green lamps for a brighter future The reclaimed wood pieces are shaped to fit linear LED bulbs that are then connected to an elegant brass core. The lighted sticks shoot out at different lengths and emit light from different directions, creating a sense of “exploding light.” According to Stickbulb Co-Founder and RUX Founder Russell Greenberg, the team’s lighting systems take a revolutionary approach to green design : “Our fixtures are literally born from the destruction of architecture. We celebrate this energy and history in the form and function of our designs.” Boom debuted in a temporary exhibit at Archiproducts Milano on April 4th during Milan Design Week . + Stickbulb + Rux Design

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Stickbulb’s new Boom LED lamp is made of reclaimed wood from NYC water tanks

Trump properties rank among worst polluters in NYC

April 3, 2017 by  
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Nobody expected President Donald Trump , a man who once declared climate change a “hoax” by the Chinese government, to be a champion of the environment. Indeed, with proposed budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a plan to reverse his predecessor’s pro-planet policies, the opposite  has been true. So it should come as a surprise to no one that properties owned by Trump, as well as his consigliere son-in-law Jared Kusher , rate among the least energy-efficient in New York City, according to a new report by ALIGN , a coalition of labor and community organizations with an environmental bent. Trump International Hotel on Columbus Circle and Trump SoHo, the analysis found, use more energy than 70 to 79 percent of large hotels in the city, respectively. Even more egregious, Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue uses more energy than 93 percent of the city’s largest residential complexes. The Mayfair, a hotel-to-condo conversion owned by the Trumps, uses more energy than 98 percent of comparable multifamily buildings. The Kushner family–owned tower at 666 Fifth Avenue , living up to its numerically ominous address, uses more energy than 85 percent of large office buildings, the study noted. Related: Jared Kushner’s 666 tower by Zaha Hadid gets reimagined as the Eye of Sauron “Those folks are the biggest polluters of our city—we need to take them on and actually make sure that they reduce their emissions,” Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, told the Daily News . The bulk of the city’s carbon footprint stems from heating, cooling, and powering its soaring skyscrapers. While New York City has voluntary programs designed to reduce its emissions, Silva-Farrell thinks it’s time to administer mandatory rules. “We think that it is really important to require these kinds of owners to reduce their emissions and create clean air for our communities,” she said. “We believe that’s the only way they will do it.” Via the Daily News Photos by jcwillia1 and Michael Vadon

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Coca-Cola beverages are poisonous, Nigerian judge rules

April 3, 2017 by  
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Coca-Cola drinks clearly aren’t healthy – but one Nigerian judge recently ruled them poisonous. The lawsuit over Coca-Cola beverages made in a Nigerian factory said the sugary drinks had levels of sunset yellow food dye and benzoic acid, both carcinogens , that were too high and could be harmful when combined with vitamin C. Coca-Cola claims there’s no scientific basis for the ruling. European authorities flagged Coca-Cola products including Fanta Orange, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple, Sprite, Coca-Cola, and soda water for the two carcinogens, according to the lawsuit filed by businessman Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo against the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) and the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC). He says he was unable to sell Fanta and Sprite purchased from NBC due to the findings. Related: Artist boils down sugary drinks into sickly suckers that highlight the dangers of junk food Judge Adedayo Oyebanji said NBC must put written warnings on Sprite and Fanta bottles. The judge also said NAFDAC did not properly warn consumers of the perils of mixing vitamin C with benzoic acid and sunset yellow, and awarded them costs of two million Naira, or around $6,350. Coca-Cola, unsurprisingly, didn’t agree with the ruling. They told MUNCHIES, “Recent claims that The Coca-Cola Company’s Fanta and Sprite beverages are unfit for consumption when combined with vitamin C are inaccurate and unsupported by science . All our products are safe and strictly adhere to regulations in the countries where they are sold while complying with our Company’s stringent global safety and quality standards.” They mentioned a Medium post by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health addressing the issue. The post said Coca-Cola products made in Nigeria are safe to consume, and mentioned benzoic acid acts as a preservative to avoid growth of microorganisms which can thrive in the Nigerian climate. Via MUNCHIES Images via Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

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Coca-Cola beverages are poisonous, Nigerian judge rules

Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again

March 29, 2017 by  
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Thick layers of Dead Sea salt found 1,000 feet below the sea bed holds clues to our planet’s past – and a warning. The salt reveals during warm periods in Earth’s history, the region – the Dead Sea is bordered by Palestine, Jordan, and Israel – suffered from drought with no known precedent. The salt, scrutinized by an international team of researchers led by Yael Kiro of Columbia University , doesn’t just offer a history lesson, but a caution climate change could seriously dry the region again in the future. Crystalline salt from beneath the Dead Sea reveals 120,000 and 10,000 years ago, rainfall in the area was a fifth of modern levels. These dry periods were naturally caused. But human-caused climate change today could potentially dry the region – which is already struggling – more than we realized. Right now the Middle East’s fresh water per capita availability is 10 times less than the world average, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Related: Dramatic Video Captures Rebirth of the River Zin in Israel’s Negev Desert Back in 2010, scientists drilled 1,500 feet into the Dead Sea bed’s deepest part. They obtained a cross-section that provided 200,000 years of climate history in the area. Alternating layers of salt and mud showed dry and wet times. Only recently, however, did scientists analyze the core in great detail. The region suffered from what Columbia University called epic dry periods. Kiro said in a statement, “All the observations show this region is one of those most affected by modern climate change, and it’s predicted to get dryer. What we showed is that even under natural conditions, it can become much drier than predicted by any of our models.” The journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters published the research in an early online edition . Six other scientists from institutions in Israel and Spain also contributed to the study. Via The Guardian and Columbia University Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again

Michigan to replace thousands of Flint water lines in settlement

March 29, 2017 by  
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A judge approved a settlement with the state of Michigan today that will come as welcome news to thousands of residents: at least 18,000 homes in Flint will have their toxic water pipes replaced over the next three years. The state has committed $87 million to identify and replace any service lines containing lead or galvanized steel by 2020. The settlement marks the end of a lawsuit filed last year by Concerned Pastors for Social Action , the Natural Resources Defense Council , the American Civil Liberties Union and a resident of Flint, targeted at both city and state officials. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver has praised the agreement. The $87 million used to replace the pipes will come from a variety of sources. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which was passed by Congress last year, will provide up to $20 million in funds, with the state matching another $20 million. The state must also hold an extra $10 million in reserve, in case the repairs end up being more expensive than anticipated. The state will also cover the $895,000 the plaintiffs ran up in litigation costs. Related: 1,700 Flint residents sue the EPA over tainted water In the meantime , residents will have to either pick up bottled water from designated locations in the city, or they’ll have to install water filters on their taps. Though the filters have been shown to render the city’s water safe for human consumption, many residents are nervous and distrustful of anything that comes out of their taps (and with good reason). The lawsuit had asked that bottled water be delivered door to door throughout the city until pipe replacement was complete, but the judge shot down that request. Via Reuters Images via Pixabay and Paul Hudson

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Over 700 North American bee species are heading towards extinction

March 6, 2017 by  
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Life without honeybees would be less than sweet – it’d mean a lot fewer fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. But honeybees aren’t the only bees we need to worry about. The future of many Native North American and Hawaiian bee species is also in peril: a new study found that more than half of the region’s native bee species are declining , and nearly one in four native bee species is imperiled and at risk for extinction. Image © Dominik Scythe via Unsplash A new report by the Center for Biological Diversity entitled “Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian bees” outlines the importance of these native bee species by valuing their financial importance as well as their ability to help ecosystems thrive. As fruit-pollinators, native bee species are worth more than three billion dollars, yet their work pollinating wild flowers and plants is equally important in maintaining diverse and colorful flora. As if the information regarding known declining populations wasn’t cause enough for alarm, the author warned that this study and other bee studies simply don’t have enough data on thousands of native bee species – many of which are found in areas of “great environmental degradation” – to determine if they are at risk. Image © Jenni Peterson via Unsplash Related| This could be the United States’ first endangered bee species The study cites loss of habitat due to agriculture, heavy use of pesticides , climate change, and urbanization as large drivers of the native bee populations’ decline and endangerment. Lead author Kelsey Kopec said, “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.” The report includes case studies of five distinct bee species around the country that are in great peril, including the wild sweet potato bee, which is the only known species in the world in its genus, and the sunflower leafcutting bee, which is the largest and most distinctive leafcutting bee on the continent. While a casual eye might be tempted to group these bee species together, their unique habits and contributions to varied ecosystems highlight their individual importance and fragility. Via Time Lead image © Jenna Lee via Unsplash

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How to nail the rustic modern aesthetic with barn lights

March 6, 2017 by  
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We love the promises of modern design here at Inhabitat. The elegance and efficiency of modernism provides ease and comfort, clearing clutter and solving life’s little problems. However, overly minimalist interiors are often criticized for a lack of personality, warmth and comfort. Happily, we’ve found that you can have your modern cake and eat it too, by combining the best elements of modernism with tried-and-true vintage design classics that bring a necessary dose of familiarity, practicality and comfort into the home. A shining paragon of what we’d call Rustic Modern design is the humble and charming LED barn light . It’s the perfect marriage of the latest energy-efficient LED technology with the vintage aesthetic of the old-fashioned industrial lamp. It evokes a simpler time of family farms and Victory Gardens , and can bring warmth to an overly sterile space. From outdoor walkways to kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms, here are ten inspiring examples of how homeowners have used LED barn lights to add a dose of warmth and humanity to modern residential spaces, while lowering their energy bill. There’s a reason that the iconic ‘ barn light ‘ was the shape of almost every inexpensive utilitarian lamp for such a long time – the simple metal design makes for an extremely practical and durable task lamp. The funnel shape of the metal baffle blocks ambient light from escaping in all directions, reduces glare, and focuses the light downward toward a task. The gooseneck that is familiar element of wall-mounted barn lamps allows the light to be positioned where needed. And in outdoor settings the barn lighting prevents light pollution, making it easier to see a path at night. A company called Cocoweb has taken the increasingly sought after barn light aesthetic and merged it with the latest LED technology, providing a futuristic, energy-saving lamp in a charming vintage package. Cocoweb’s Barn Lights are eco-friendly, fully dimmable, low-energy and last for over 20 years without ever needing a bulb change. Energy-saving lighting has thankfully become less expensive and widely available everywhere over the years, but many LED lamps on the market tend to be futuristic. When designers are looking for an old-fashioned aesthetic, through vintage lamps or Edison Bulbs, that charming vibe often comes paired with a doozy of an energy hog. Edison lightbulbs, a.k.a incandescent bulbs and halogen lamps, are extremely inefficient and consume tons of energy, wasting most of their energy input in the form of heat instead of visible light. LED light bulbs are extremely energy efficient, but for the early part of their public career they’ve been mostly associated with futuristic, bluish, 2001-A-Space-Odyssey style lighting. But LEDs can certainly provide a warm glow and work with a more classic aesthetic as well, as exemplified in the above photo. (Yes, those cute vintage lamps are LED lamps). Barn lights in brass or cherry red put a bolder, more vibrant spin on rustic modern design, proving that ‘rustic’ need not be limited to a neutral color palette. These jade pendants add retro flare and stand out as a statement piece in this apartment’s dining room. As shown in the photo above, vintage-looking LED lamps can achieve a distinctly intimate and cozy feeling. These jade LED barn lights shine 1600 lumens for over 50,000 hours (or 20 years), and offer a delightful pop of color and a timeless feel when paired with wide plank flooring, wooden cabinetry and natural stone. This warm meeting room epitomizes modern rustic style. With clean lines, midcentury modern furniture and white walls, this space would feel ultra modern if not for the softening touches of these classic matte black oldage pendants and the vibrantly patterned throw rug underneath the coffee table. These outdoor vintage green gooseneck barn lights were combined with a white washed exterior and farmhouse furnishings, turning a modern patio into a more pastoral setting. The entryway in the above photo maintains a decidedly contemporary vibe, but the subtle matte black LED sconces add a more welcoming feeling. The durable weather-proof coating and MET-listed safety rating make these LED lights equipped for both indoor and outdoor use. These matte black barn light sconces work just as well in the indoors as they do in the outdoors. The barn lights from Cocoweb have over 5,000 combinations of arms, colors and shades to choose from, making it easy to customize for any style space. Especially when combined with a bit of wood, these subtle Blackspot pendants can upgrade even the most modern spaces to exude rustic charm. This bright country interior is quite minimalist and white, but is warmed with the curves and light of the barn light sconce, along with the light wood and plaid patterned furnishings. ABOUT COCOWEB Cocoweb has been operating out of Irvine, California for over 50 years. If you’re itching to start a renovation, the company’s fast and free shipping will deliver to your doorstep as quickly as one business day. And each fixture has a 30 day satisfaction guaranteed return policy and a 2-year warranty. Their Design Corner will connect you with a variety of recommended interior designers and contractors in your area, should you choose not go the DIY route. If want more inspiration and eye candy, check out the Cocoweb blog . + Cocoweb

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Cutting back sugar in your child’s diet can improve their health dramatically

January 28, 2017 by  
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Last year, a study in the journal Obesity revealed that cutting back on sugar for just 10 days can improve your child’s health. For 10 days, children in the study reduced their sugar intake by 28% without changing anything else in their diet. In just 10 days, diabetes markers, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides were lowered. The American Heart Association has jumped on that message, recommending that children under 2 not eat any sugar at all and kids above the age of 2 stick to just 2 tablespoons. image via Shutterstock

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