Portable fog-harvesting AQUAIR harvests clean drinking water from thin air

October 19, 2017 by  
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Water scarcity doesn’t just affect those in arid climates—areas in humid tropics also lack access to freshwater sources. National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) students in Taiwan tackle these water issues with AQUAIR, a portable fog-harvesting device that pulls potable water out of the air. Designed for use in remote mountainous areas in tropical latitudes, AQUAIR can be easily assembled with the addition of locally sourced materials with future aims of open source production. Though AQUAIR’s water collection system has widespread uses, NCKU design students Wei-Yee Ong, Hsin-Ju Lin, Shih-Min Chang, and Marco Villa created the workable prototype in response to Honduras’ water crisis. As the second poorest nation in Central America, Honduras is home to a large number of subsistence farmers and rural communities that lack access to clean water due to drought and groundwater contamination—issues also felt in rural mountainous Taiwan. Like most fog harvesting systems, AQUAIR collects water with a mesh waterproof fabric stretched across a bamboo structure to maximize airflow. The key to AQUAIR’s design is the fan and small centrifuge that use gravity—a 30-kilogram weight is attached to the structure—to draw collected water vapor down a tube and into a bucket. The collapsible structure can be assembled by hand, while locally sourced rocks and bamboo can be used for the weight and tensile structure, respectively. Related: Bowl-shaped roofs harvest rainwater and promote natural cooling in arid environments The design students plan to take their working prototype to Honduras in February where they’ll work together with the local community. “We also want the project to be easy to build and assemble, so the local people can easily access the parts or create their own versions of AQUAIR,” said Marco Villela. “We do not want the parts to be 3D printed, because the material is not strong enough, so the best and cheapest option would be to create a mold and use plastic or ABS injection techniques. In regards to the gears, we want to get more sturdy and durable gears, so while the cheaper parts of the system can be replaced, the gear box can last for as long as possible. The project is designed to be easy to assemble and disassemble, also if any part is defective, it is easy and cheap to replace.” AQUAIR recently received a Design Mark for innovation in environmental and humanitarian issues as part of the 2017 Golden Pin Concept Design Award . + Golden Pin Concept Design Award

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Portable fog-harvesting AQUAIR harvests clean drinking water from thin air

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

Switzerland’s NeighborHub wins first place in the Solar Decathalon 2017

October 14, 2017 by  
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This past week, eleven teams of students designed, built and presented futuristic houses at the Solar Decathalon 2017 . The competition took place in Denver , and though the challenge was simple it was by no means easy: create a super-efficient sun-powered building that seamlessly integrates green building technologies into its design. The winners of the highly-anticipated event were just announced this morning – and Team Switzerland’s NeighborHub took first place! For the first time in history, the winners of the Solar Decathalon won prize money. First place received $300,000; second place won $225,000; third place took home $150,000; fourth place won $125,000 and fifth through eleventh places each received $100,000. 1st Place: NeighborHub by the Swiss Team First place in the Solar Decathalon 2017 was awarded to the Swiss Team ‘s NeighborHub. The NeighborHub isn’t a home at all – rather, it is a collaborative community space. The team designed the eco-friendly space to serve as an educational resource, specifically for suburban neighborhoods. At the NeighborHub, residents can learn about seven sustainable themes: renewable energy, water management, waste management, mobility, food, material choices, and biodiversity. 2nd Place: reACT by University of Maryland The University of Maryland’s reACT House (Resilient Adaptive Climate Technology) took second place. It’s a smart, sustainable home that can adapt to different needs and environments . Not only is the self-sufficient home beautiful, it produces clean energy, clean water, and nutrient-rich foods — all the while automatically adapting to homeowners’ habits. 3rd Place: RISE by University of California, Berkeley, and University of Denver Students from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Denver collaborated to develop RISE . The affordable and sustainable abode is designed for urban infill lots in Richmond CA, and it can be stacked and expanded like building blocks. The prefab solar is home is incredibly flexible, with a scalable size, customizable floor plans, and moveable walls. 4th Place: SILO by Missouri University of Science and Technology Finally, fourth place was awarded to the Missouri University of Science and Technology for their SILO House (Smart Innovative Living Oasis) . The light-filled home combines high-tech, energy-efficient technology with traditional farmhouse vernacular. Best of all, this futuristic house lets you control all systems remotely via a smartphone. Related: 11 Solar-powered homes that show the future of architecture Each team presented an incredible futuristic home that incorporates solar and energy-efficiency technologies. Congrats to all of this year’s teams, and we can’t wait for the return of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathalon in 2019. + Solar Decathalon 2017 + Solar Decathlon Coverage on Inhabitat Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat

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Switzerland’s NeighborHub wins first place in the Solar Decathalon 2017

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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Mysterious giant hole cracks open in Antarctica

New nanomaterial pulls hydrogen from seawater to power fuel cells

October 4, 2017 by  
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Hydrogen can be obtained from seawater to power fuel cells , but the process is typically costly because of the electricity required. Researchers created a nanomaterial that can do the job more efficiently. According to the University of Central Florida (UCF), the advance “could someday lead to a new source of the clean-burning fuel .” UCF assistant professor Yang Yang has been working on solar hydrogen splitting for almost a decade. In the process, a photocatalyst sets off a chemical reaction with energy from light . But the photocatalysts don’t work as well in seawater – they don’t stand up well to salt and seawater’s biomass. Yang’s research team came up with a new catalyst that’s not only good for splitting purified water in a laboratory, but can better endure seawater and even harvest light from a broader spectrum. Related: Scientists develop new way to generate electricity via seawater Yang said, “We can absorb much more solar energy from the light than the conventional material. Eventually, if it is commercialized, it would be good for Florida’s economy. We have a lot of seawater around Florida and a lot of really good sunshine.” He said in many cases it’s better to use the sun’s energy to create a chemical fuel than to generate electricity with solar panels . Hydrogen gas can be transported and stored easily. UCF said it’s relatively cheap and easy to make the catalyst, which is comprised of a hybrid material. The journal Energy & Environmental Science published the research the end of September. Scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington and Tsinghua University in China collaborated on the study. Yang and his team plan to continue researching how to scale up the catalyst fabrication, and to work on splitting hydrogen from wastewater with the catalyst. Via the University of Central Florida Images via the University of Central Florida

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New nanomaterial pulls hydrogen from seawater to power fuel cells

The Puerto Rico nursery still up and running thanks to solar power

October 4, 2017 by  
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Solar power is helping flower grower Hector Santiago get back on his feet in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated much of the United States territory’s electricity grid . Six years ago, he sank $300,000 into 244 solar panels , and said everyone told him he was crazy because of the cost. Today, he has power and is rebuilding his nursery. Santiago’s Cali Nurseries , which sells decorative plants and poinsettias to firms like Cosco and Walmart, suffered tremendous losses during the storm. Hurricane Maria damaged plants and greenhouses , ripping off roofs and flattening trees. Santiago told The Washington Post his losses amounted to an estimated $1.5 million. Related: Puerto Rico electricity crisis sparks interest in renewable energy But he’s been able to begin rebuilding his Barranquitas farm with the help of electricity thanks his investment in solar energy. The storm damaged 25 percent of the photovoltaic panels, but there’s still enough energy to start rebuilding his operation. The power allowed him to keep pumping water from wells, as the business’ 19 employees cleaned up and repotted plants. Santiago was unable to get back to his farm for five days following the hurricane, and when he finally returned he found his employees hard at work, as they had been since the first day. He told The Washington Post, “I just started crying, I choked up, when I saw them working like nothing had happened. They give me the strength to not give up and to do whatever I have to do to continue with my business.” The devastation in Puerto Rico has resulted in an increased interest in renewable energy . Solar installation firm owner Henry Pichardo, who works out of Bayamon, said Hurricane Maria could boost his business by 20 percent per year. He said he’s been flooded with inquiries after the storm. He told Reuters, “People are going to become more conscious of how they are living, and invest more in solar.” Via Reuters and The Washington Post Images via Hector Alejandro Santiago Rodriguez on Facebook and Cali Nurseries on Facebook

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The Puerto Rico nursery still up and running thanks to solar power

Catholic churches to make massive divestment from fossil fuels

October 4, 2017 by  
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To mark the anniversary of the death of Saint Francis of Assisi, over 40 Catholic institutions have announced their imminent divestment from fossil fuels, the largest move of its kind by a faith-based organization. The announcement’s timing with Saint Francis’s feast day, October 4, seems fitting for a Catholic Church guided by Pope Francis . He has elevated environmentalism as a key tenet of his papal tenure and chose his title to honor Saint Francis, who is known for his love of the natural world and the poor. Although the specific amount of divestment has not been yet released, the number of participating Catholic organizations is over four times the previous record . In recent years, divestment from fossil fuels has gained in strength as a tool to combat climate change by denying financial support, through investments, to companies and organizations in the fossil fuel industry. The global fossil fuel divestment movement is estimated to be worth $5.5 trillion. “I hope we will see more leaders like these 40 Catholic institutions commit,” said Christiana Figueres, former United Nations climate chief who helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement, “because while this decision makes smart financial sense, acting collectively to deliver a better future for everybody is also our moral imperative.” Related: Nuns build open-air chapel to protest natural gas pipeline on their land The Catholic institutions that are participating in the latest divestment include the Archdiocese of Cape Town, the Episcopal Conference of Belgium and the German Church bank and Catholic relief organisation Caritas. The Italian town of Assisi, Saint Francis’s hometown, also divested from fossil fuels on the day prior to a visit from Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentolini. “When we pay attention to the environment, we pay attention to poor people, who are the first victims of climate change,” said Assisi Mayor Stefania Proietti. “When we invest in fossil fuels, we stray very far from social justice. But when we disinvest and invest in renewable and energy efficiency instead, we can mitigate climate change, create a sustainable new economic deal and, most importantly, help the poor.” Via the Guardian Images via Nicola/Flickr ,  Long Thiên/Flickr , and Christopher John/Flickr

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Catholic churches to make massive divestment from fossil fuels

VIDEO: 60,000-year-old preserved underwater forest discovered in the Gulf of Mexico

September 27, 2017 by  
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When Hurricane Ivan formed in 2004, it did more than devastate regions of the Caribbean and the United States’ coast. According to the new documentary “ The Underwater Forest ,” it also unearthed a fossilized forest of cypress trees which grew more than 50,000 years ago. Located 60 feet below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico , the underwater forest features trees which have intact bark and are still leaking sap. Journalist Ben Raines discovered the underwater forest after conversing with fishermen who reported “unusual” activity in the area. The preserved forest is expected to have been buried by sediment, which protected it from decomposition, as a result of the last ice age which occurred approximately 60,000 years ago. After Hurricane Ivan uncovered the forest, it transformed into a flourishing ecosystem. Said Professor Kristine DeLong, an LSU Department of Geography & Anthropology Associate, “Everything is in place in that ecosystem . It’s just been buried and preserved through time.” The trees were prevented from decomposing due to the presence of thick mud. Without oxygen , decomposition could not occur in the underwater environment. However, the Category 4 hurricane — which had 140-mile per hour winds and 98-foot-tall waves — changed that in 2004. Related: Report: meat industry responsible for largest-ever ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico Raines worked with scientists from Louisiana State University and the University of Southern Mississippi for the first samples and subsequent investigations. Using advanced sonar machines, the researchers discovered additional trees which are still buried approximately 10 feet below the sediment. The experts also used radio-carbon dating to discern the forests’ approximate age. Reportedly, the trees show signs of “stress events.” This indicates that the trees experienced a rapid decrease in growth, followed by a quick increase, then a swift, final growth decline. The experts agree that the trees soon after died around the same time. Due to pollution — which includes run-off and oil spills — the Gulf of Mexico is becoming more toxic every year. This newly-discovered ecosystem could provide a glimpse of the future of the Gulf coast, say the researchers. “It’s pretty rapid change, geologically speaking,” said paleontologist Martin Becker of William Paterson University. “We’re looking at 60 feet of seawater where a forest used to be. I’m looking at a lot of development, of people’s shore homes and condominiums, etc. The forest is predicting the future, and maybe a pretty unpleasant one.” + The Underwater Forest Via AL , Daily Mail Images via The Underwater Forest/Ben Raines

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VIDEO: 60,000-year-old preserved underwater forest discovered in the Gulf of Mexico

Flesh-eating bacteria in Australia might be spread by mosquitoes

September 25, 2017 by  
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Cases of infections from a flesh-eating bacteria seem to be increasing in Australia . The bacteria Mycobacterium ulcerans can bring about Buruli ulcers, non-healing sores that slowly grow bigger. The ulcers are already a huge health issue in West Africa , and now Australia seems to be experiencing more cases. Scientists aren’t quite sure how humans get infected – though they suspect either possums or mosquitoes . Victoria, Australia saw 89 reported cases of Buruli ulcers in 2014. In 2015, that number increased to 107, and in 2016 it was 182. Already, as of this month in 2017, there have been 159 reported cases, according to Allen Cheng, professor in infectious diseases epidemiology at Monash University , who wrote an article on the flesh-eating bacteria for The Conversation. Related: This billboard imitates human sweat to snare mosquitoes 32 countries in West Africa have seen cases of Buruli ulcers, which grow larger usually on arms or legs for weeks or months. Advanced infections sometimes result in amputation, and in the past people thought surgery was necessary to treat the ulcers. Now, most cases in Australia can be cured with antibiotics , and there’s a trial in Africa testing treatment with antibiotics. It’s not clear how people get infected, although Cheng said circumstantial evidence seems to point towards mosquitoes. The bacteria can be found in the insects, and infections often occur on exposed areas of the body where mosquitoes bite. But researchers also discovered possums, and their feces, seemed to be infected where there have been human cases. Cheng also pointed out that infections happen in areas of the world with different animal and mosquito species. He said early diagnosis is key; the infection is easier to treat before it spreads, but does grow slowly. He recommended asking a doctor about unexplained sores or lumps, especially if they persist for a long time. And even though we can’t say for sure if mosquito bites do spread the bacteria, Cheng recommended mosquito repellents and covering up skin as a way to try and prevent infection. Via The Conversation Images via Pixabay ( 1 , 2 )

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Flesh-eating bacteria in Australia might be spread by mosquitoes

New Japanese turbines harvest wave energy and protect coastlines from erosion

September 25, 2017 by  
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Surf’s up! Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan are working to create special turbines that harvest the renewable energy of waves while simultaneously protecting coastlines from erosion. To accomplish this, turbines would be anchored to the sea floor with mooring cables and placed nearby tetrapods, star-shaped concrete structures designed to reduce erosion, or natural barriers such as coral reefs. These structures have enormous potential to work together to both dampen the impact of powerful waves on shorelines and capture the seemingly endless oceanic energy. The wave turbine’s pairing with a solid, anchored structure could take advantage of preexisting infrastructure in Japan. “Surprisingly, 30% of the seashore in mainland Japan is covered with tetrapods and wave breakers,” said Professor Tsumoru Shintake, the lead researcher on the project. “Using just 1% of the seashore of mainland Japan can [generate] about 10 gigawats [of energy], which is equivalent to 10 nuclear power plants. That’s huge.” Each turbine would feature spinning blades attached to a permanent magnet electric generator, protected by a ceramic layer to keep seawater out. The energy captured from the waves would then be sent through a cable down the structure and back to shore for grid usage. Related: This carbon nanotube yarn generates power when pulled The turbines are designed with safety in mind. In order to avoid harming wildlife , the speed of the blades is calibrated so that any animal caught into them are able to harm. Similarly, the blades are flexible, like dolphin fins, to avoid cracking under powerful storms and swells. The support structure is also bendable. Each turbine is estimated to last for ten years before needing to be replaced, but its creators are thinking even further into the future. “I’m imagining the planet two hundred years later,” said Shintake. “I hope these [turbines] will be working hard quietly, and nicely, on each beach on which they have been installed.” Via New Atlas Images via  OIST

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