Mexico-sized algae bloom in the Arabian Sea connected to climate change

March 21, 2017 by  
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Talk of climate change probably evokes images of rising sea levels or hotter temperatures, but what about algae blooms ? Scientists have made a direct connection between an algae bloom in the Arabian Sea, which has blown up to the size of Mexico, and climate change. The massive bloom has been captured from satellites . 30 years ago, algae in the Gulf of Oman could barely be seen. Now, twice a year, microscopic organisms of the species Noctiluca scintillans turns the gulf green as it sprawls throughout the Arabian Sea towards India. Scientists say conditions produced by climate change are allowing the algae to thrive. Columbia University researchers have even traced the algae blooms to ice melting in the Himalayas. Related: Florida declares state of emergency due to gigantic algae bloom Satellite technology has also allowed researchers to connect algae with greater levels of water and air pollution . NASA ocean carbon and biology projects manager Paula Bontempi told the Associated Press satellite images of the algae are beautiful, like a Van Gogh painting, but in person the algae is smelly and ugly. She said, “We know that our Earth is changing. It may be in a direction we might not like.” The phenomenon threatens local ecosystems ; algae has been known to paralyze fish . The United Nations’ science agency says in rare cases algal toxins have killed humans. Oman faces unique threats from the algae bloom. There, algae can clog pipes at desalination plants providing as much as 90 percent of fresh water for the country. Fisheries in the country could also be harmed by the algae bloom; in 2008 an eruption of a different type of algae beached 50 tons of fish, which were starving for oxygen and rotted along the coast of Oman. Saleh al-Mashari, the captain of a researcher vessel, said this algae bloom has already caused damage. He told the Associated Press, “The fish are migrating. They can’t get enough air here.” Ahmad al-Alawi, a marine ecologist, said blooms are getting larger and lasting for longer periods of time. He said the blooms displace zooplankton, which are the base of the local food chain . Via Phys.org Images via Tristan Schmurr on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Mexico-sized algae bloom in the Arabian Sea connected to climate change

Students use rice husks to build affordable homes in the Philippines

March 17, 2017 by  
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Rice husks used to be considered a waste product good for nothing but fire or landfills, but now enterprising companies are beginning to realize their potential as a sustainable building material . A group of students from the Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering at University of California used waste rice husks to manufacture termite-resistant composite boards with help from a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and build affordable housing in the Philippines. In addition to protecting rice during the growing season, rice hulls can be put to use as building material, fertilizer, insulation material or fuel. The students at Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering used it to manufacture boards ideal for building relief shelters and affordable housing. The Husk-to-Home team developed the project by environmental engineering student Colin Eckerle who has been working on it since 2014. However, the rice husk boards last longer. The students received a two-year grant by EPA which will pay for manufacturing equipment and space and allow the team to go into full-scale production of the boards. In the design, the rice husks—a waste product of rice milling– replace commonly used woodchips. They are a great alternative to plywood, bamboo and coconut wood. Eckerle claims the board will cost about $7 for a 4 ft. x 8 ft. board—the same as the plywood boards currently used by IDEA. A recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE), also a waste product , binds the rice husks together and provides strength and resistance to humidity. Related: Modules Made from Material Waste Form Furniture, Walls and Rooms “While it has taken a lot of trial and error to get a material that is strong and consistent enough to build homes with, we have finally reached a point where we can produce a prototype board that is comparable in terms of strength to commercially available particleboard,” Eckerle said. “Our tests have shown that termites will not eat rice husk or our building material, which will increase the lifespan of the houses in the Philippines ”. + Bourns College of Engineering Lead photo by C IAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via Flickr

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Students use rice husks to build affordable homes in the Philippines

New experimental architecture school to be built near reclaimed area of Aarhus, Denmark

March 17, 2017 by  
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For over 50 years, the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark has been housed in a not-so-temporary location. But now the experimental school is about to get a major upgrade in a beautiful, sustainable new facility designed by Vargo Nielsen Palle , ADEPT , and Rolvung og Brøndsted . Not only is the school designed to inspire students, but to engage the local community as well. The new Aarhus School of Architecture is meant to be an experimental laboratory serving as a bridge between students and the city, with facilities for learning and community use. It’s right next to Aarhus’ Green Wedge, a reclaimed area once used for industrial purposes that was transformed into an open landscape. Passive and active ventilation clear the air inside, and optimized daylight conditions ensure an excellent working space inside the 139,930-square-foot building. Related: LEED Gold-seeking Santa Monica science facility uses architecture to teach students about sustainability Flexible spaces comprising workshops , studios, and public areas offer opportunities for experimentation inside the industrial structure. Vargo Nielsen Palle said in a statement, “When given the right tools and opportunity, people engage their surroundings…The school should not just be an institution for architecture – it should continue this open laboratory, sharing its tools and programs with the public to create opportunities for the informal evolution of architecture.” Aarhus School of Architecture rector Torben Nielsen said, “It is a powerful project that interweaves with its surroundings…It will be a factory for architectural experimentation that will set the stage for cooperation with the city, the profession, and our neighbors – just as we wanted.” Vargo Nielsen Palle, ADEPT, and Rolvung og Brøndsted designed the school together with engineering companies Tri-Consult and Steensen Varming . They won an international competition entered by heavy hitters like BIG and SANAA . The new school is expected to be complete in 2020. + Vargo Nielsen Palle + ADEPT + Rolvung og Brøndsted Via Aarhus School of Architecture Images courtesy of Vargo Nielsen Palle, ADEPT, and Rolvung og Brøndsted

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New experimental architecture school to be built near reclaimed area of Aarhus, Denmark

New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight

March 2, 2017 by  
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A small red-crested dinosaur from the Late Jurassic era could help us unlock the origins of flight, now that we have a better idea of what it looked like. Using high-powered lasers, scientists from the University of Hong Kong have illuminated previously invisible soft tissues of the foot-tall Anchiornis , providing, for the first time, a detailed outline of the avian-like creature. The quantitative reconstruction of Anchiornis , which was first discovered in northeastern China in 2009, show that the animal possessed drumstick-shaped legs, long forearms connected by wing-like membranes, foot scales, and a slender tail. “The detail was so well lit that we could see the texture of the skin,” said paleontologist Michael Pittman, who described the discovery in a paper published in Nature Communications this week. These traits, Pittman added, could help us understand how dinosaurs eventually took to the skies as birds. As a field of science, paleontology is riddled with mysteries. The skeletons scientists dig up from the ground are seldom complete, and soft tissues like organs, muscle, or skin almost never survive into the present. On the rare occasion that tissues have endured the test of time, they’re unobservable with the naked eye. Related: Scientist finds dinosaur tail trapped in amber and it is covered with feathers That’s where a technique known as laser-stimulated fluorescence comes in. By bouncing wavelengths of light aimed a fossil sample in a dark room, Pittman and his team were able to manifest high-fidelity features that offer clues to how Anchiornis attempted, or even achieved, aerodynamic flight 160 million years ago. Anchiornis didn’t necessarily fly, of course. Even modern birds with wing folds, like the weka of New Zealand , never escape the pull of gravity. Nevertheless, the research remains vital to our understanding of where birds came from, since they appeared around the same time, Pittman said. “What our work does underscore,” Pittman told National Geographic , “is the broad extent to which bird-like dinosaurs were experimenting with their anatomy and functional capabilities before we had the first unequivocal gliding and flying birds.” + Nature Communications + University of Hong Kong Via National Geographic

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New details of feathered dinosaur could elucidate the origins of flight

Go way, way off grid at this amazing tiny house Airbnb in Oaxaca

March 2, 2017 by  
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Located near Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Tiny Casa is an ultra tiny Airbnb cabin perfect for those looking for a completely off-grid getaway . Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”, the compact concrete casita is a simple one-bedroom, one-bath retreat surrounded by complete serenity. Raw concrete covers the tiny Airbnb escape on the interior and exterior. Sliding wooden shutters are used to cool the house in the hot summer months, and they open up to stunning panoramic views of the natural surroundings. Related: 8 inspiring tiny Airbnb homes for a taste of living small Although the casita only offers the basics in terms of amenities, it comes with a lovely outdoor pool and is just steps away from a pristine stretch of beach. Visitors can also make use of a pizza oven and read the day away in the swinging hammock . The owner says that the simple, austere ambience of the home, which was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, is meant to bring people back to the basics of simple living , “Casa Tiny is a place to escape from society. Enjoy a simple life for a couple of days, a week or a month in this minimal, low-impact, isolated abode.” + Casa Tiny Airbnb Via Gardenista  

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New material made from fiber-reinforced hydrogels is 5 times tougher than steel

February 28, 2017 by  
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Researchers at Hokkaido University in Japan have created a flexible, eco-friendly material that’s five-times stronger than carbon steel. The “fiber-reinforced soft composite” made by combining polyampholyte hydrogels with woven glass fiber fabric creates a bendable material that’s extremely durable. The material’s uses are manifold, but perhaps most exciting is for bearing the load of artificial ligaments and tendons. Hydrogels have been used for a variety of applications in the past , from wound dressings to soft robots, but up until recently the hydrophilic polymer chains have been too soft for much else due to the fact that they’re largely made up of water. But when woven together with glass fiber fabric, they create a material that’s not only stronger than steel, but according to researcher Dr. Jian Ping Gong, also environmentally friendly. Related: Harvard team creates extremely stretchy gel to replace damaged cartilage in joints “The fiber-reinforced hydrogels, with a 40 percent water level, are environmentally friendly,” says Dr. Jianinnovation. “The material has multiple potential applications because of its reliability, durability and flexibility. For example, in addition to fashion and manufacturing uses, it could be used as artificial ligaments and tendons, which are subject to strong load-bearing tensions.” While the material is made largely from water and glass, it gains its strength from the dynamic ionic bonds between the fiber and hydrogels. The team found that a combination of polyampholyte gels, a type of hydrogel they developed earlier, and glass fiber fabric with a single fiber measuring around 10?m in diameter produced a strong, tensile material. Testing revealed that the material is 25-times tougher than glass fabric, 100-times stronger than hydrogels alone, and five-times stronger than carbon steel. Via Hokkaido University Images via Hokkaido University

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Duke University researchers use light to convert carbon dioxide to fuel

February 24, 2017 by  
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What if the carbon dioxide building up in our atmosphere could be put to good use as fuel ? For years chemists have chased a catalyst that could aid the reaction converting carbon dioxide to methane , a building block for many fuels – and now Duke University scientists have found just such a catalyst in tiny rhodium nanoparticles . Duke University researchers converted carbon dioxide into methane with the help of rhodium nanoparticles, which harness ultraviolet light’s energy to catalyze carbon dioxide’s conversion into methane. Rhodium is one of Earth’s rarest elements, but according to Duke University it plays a key role in our daily lives by speeding up reactions in industrial processes like making detergent or drugs. Rhodium also helps break down toxic pollutants in our cars’ catalytic converters. Related: Scientists create a new kind of matter called time crystals The fact that the scientists employed light to power the reaction is important. When graduate student Xiao Zhang tried heating up the nanoparticles to 300 degrees Celsius, the reaction did produce methane but also produced an equal amount of poisonous carbon monoxide . But when he instead used a high-powered ultraviolet LED lamp, the reaction yielded almost entirely methane. Jie Liu, chemistry professor and paper co-author, said in a statement, “The fact that you can use light to influence a specific reaction pathway is very exciting. This discovery will really advance the understanding of catalysis.” The scientists now hope to find a way to employ natural sunlight in the reaction, which Duke University says would be “a potential boon to alternative energy .” The journal Nature Communications published the research of seven scientists from Duke University’s chemistry and physics departments online this week. Via Duke University Images via Chad Scales/Duke University and Xiao Zhang/Duke University

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Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

February 21, 2017 by  
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No discussion of a post-carbon future can be complete without raising the specter of nuclear power. Although it’s a contentious subject, any concerns about large-scale adoption have been largely rendered moot by the fact that the world’s uranium deposits are finite—and dwindling. Stanford researchers are convinced, however, that the solution may lie in seawater, which contains trace amounts of the radioactive metal. “Concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, a materials scientist who co-authored a paper on the subject in the journal Nature Energy . “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.” Wind and solar power are gaining traction, but some experts say that they’re still too intermittent to be truly reliable in the long term. “We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former U.S. secretary of energy who championed seawater extraction research before he left the Department of Energy for Stanford. A co-author of the paper, he noted that nuclear power currently accounts for 20 percent of U.S. electricity and 13 percent worldwide. A practical way of extracting uranium from seawater, he added, could go a long way to bolstering the energy security of countries that rely on nuclear power but lack uranium reserves of their own. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs,” he said. Related: Uranium extracted from the oceans could power cities for thousands of years Although many have attempted to harness the oceans’ uranium before, previous efforts have failed to yield sufficient quantities in a fiscally meaningful way. Till now, anyway. Uranium doesn’t bob freely on the waves, of course. In seawater, the element combines chemically with oxygen to form positively charged ions called uranyl. Building on years of prior research, the Stanford team refined a technique that involves dipping plastic fibers containing a uranyl-attracting compound called amidoxime in seawater. When the strands become saturated with the ions, the plastic is chemically treated to free the uranyl, which can be refined for use in reactors – much like you would do with ore. By tinkering with different variables, the researchers were able to create a fiber that captured nine times as much uranyl as previous attempts without becoming saturated. Sending electrical pulses down the fiber collected even more uranyl ions. “We have a lot of work to do still but these are big steps toward practicality,” Cui said. + Stanford University Via Engadget Top photo by apasciuto

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Uranium from seawater could provide an "endless" supply of nuclear energy

New super-thin film acts like "air conditioner" for buildings

February 13, 2017 by  
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Engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a thin, artificially structured “metamaterial” that can cool objects without the use of water or energy. The film works to lower the temperature of the surface beneath it through a process known as “passive cooling,” meaning that it vents the object’s heat through thermal radiation while bouncing off any incoming solar energy that may negate those losses. As described last week in the journal Science , the glass-polymer hybrid material could provide an “eco-friendly means of supplementary cooling” for thermoelectric power plants, which require colossal amounts of water and electricity to keep their machinery chugging along at optimum temperatures. The film measures a lithe 50 micrometers thick, or just slightly more substantial than the aluminum foil you’d find in your kitchen. And, much like foil, researchers say it can be easily and economically manufactured by the roll for large-scale residential and commercial applications. “We feel that this low-cost manufacturing process will be transformative for real-world applications of this radiative cooling technology,” Xiaobo Yin, an assistant professor who co-directed the research, said in a statement. Buildings and power plants aren’t the only structures that could benefit, Yin said. The material could keep solar panels from overheating, allowing them to not only work longer, but harder, as well. Related: 3D-printed “Cool Brick” cools a room using only water “Just by applying this material to the surface of a solar panel, we can cool the panel and recover an additional one to two percent of solar efficiency,” said Yin. “That makes a big difference at scale.” Yin and his cohorts have applied for a patent as a prelude to exploring potential commercial applications. They also plan to create a 200-square-meter “cooling farm” prototype in Boulder sometime this year. “The key advantage of this technology is that it works 24/7 with no electricity or water usage,” said Ronggui Yang, a professor of mechanical engineering and a co-author of the paper. “We’re excited about the opportunity to explore potential uses in the power industry, aerospace, agriculture and more.” + University of Colorado Boulder Photo by Chris Eason

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New super-thin film acts like "air conditioner" for buildings

Stanford researchers pioneer world’s first affordable urea battery

February 13, 2017 by  
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Stanford University researchers have designed a new battery that could revolutionize renewable energy storage . Using urea , an affordable, natural and readily available material found in mammal urine and fertilizers, their battery is notably more efficient than past iterations. The battery, developed by Stanford chemistry professor Honjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell, uses an electrolyte made from urea – a material already produced in mass industrial quantities for use in plant fertilizers. Non-flammable and made with electrodes from abundant materials like aluminum and graphite, the battery presents a low-cost way for storing energy from many sources – including renewables . “So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance,” says Dai in a press release. “Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?” Dai and his team were the first to make a rechargeable aluminum battery in 2015, which charged in less than a minute, while lasting for thousands of charge-discharge cycles. And they’ve improved on both the performance and cost of their latest model, which is about 100 times cheaper than the 2015 battery, with a higher efficiency of 1,500 charge-discharge cycles and a charging time of 45 minutes. This is also the first time that urea has been used to make a battery. Related: MIT researchers invent ingestible battery powered by stomach acid Energy storage is a huge challenge for solar power and other renewables, as users need a reliable way to store power for when their systems aren’t producing energy. The batteries currently on the market, including lithium ion and lead-acid batteries tend to be quite costly and don’t last that long. But Dai and Angell believe their battery might be the solution to the conundrum of renewable energy storage. “It’s cheap. It’s efficient. Grid storage is the main goal,” says Angell. “I would feel safe if my backup battery in my house is made of urea with little chance of causing fire,” added Dai. The researchers have licensed their battery patents to AB Systems, a company founded by Dai, and a commercial version of the battery is on the way. They’re planning to work on increasing its life span down the road by further investigating its internal chemical processes. Via Stanford Images via Pexels , US Navy and Tea Horse Trade Guest House , Wikimedia Commons

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