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Blog » Energy & the Environment

 
     
 

16th November 2017

New helium-resistant materials could make fusion energy a reality

Researchers have found a way of protecting the materials in fusion reactors from degradation caused by helium, using nanocomposite solids.

 

fusion energy future technology timeline

 

Fusion is the process that powers the Sun. Harnessing it on Earth would provide unlimited clean energy. However, constructing a fusion power plant has proven to be a daunting task, in part because no materials can adequately withstand the conditions found in a reactor core. Now, researchers at Texas A&M University have discovered a way to use materials that may be suitable.

The Sun makes energy by fusing hydrogen atoms – each with one proton – into helium atoms with two protons. Helium is the by-product of this reaction. Although it does not threaten the environment, it wreaks havoc upon the materials needed to make a fusion reactor.

“Helium is an element that we don't usually think of as being harmful,” said Dr. Michael Demkowicz, associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “It is not toxic and not a greenhouse gas, which is one reason why fusion power is so attractive.”

However, if you force helium inside a solid material, it bubbles out, much like carbon dioxide bubbles in carbonated water.

“Literally, you get these helium bubbles inside of the metal that stay there forever because the metal is solid,” Demkowicz said. “As you accumulate more and more helium, the bubbles start to link up and destroy the entire material.”

Working with researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Demkowicz investigated how helium behaves in nanocomposite solids – materials stacked into thick metal layers. Their findings, recently published in Science Advances, were a surprise. Rather than making bubbles, the helium in these materials formed long channels, resembling veins in living tissues.

 

fusion energy future technology timeline

Credit: Texas A&M University

 

“We were blown away by what we saw,” Demkowicz said. “As you put more and more helium inside these nanocomposites, rather than destroying the material, the veins actually start to interconnect, resulting in kind of a vascular system.”

This discovery paves the way to helium-resistant materials needed to make fusion energy a reality. Demkowicz and his collaborators believe that helium may move through the networks of veins that form in their nanocomposites, eventually exiting the material without causing any further damage.

“Applications to fusion reactors are just the tip of the iceberg,” Demkowicz said. “I think the bigger picture here is in vascularized solids, ones that are kind of like tissues with vascular networks. What else could be transported through such networks? Perhaps heat or electricity or even chemicals that could help the material self-heal.”

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13th November 2017

Global CO2 emissions hit record high

After a three-year plateau, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have risen again, dashing hopes that a peak might soon be reached.

 

carbon emissions future timeline

 

Global carbon emissions are on the rise again in 2017 after three years of little-to-no growth, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project. It was previously hoped that emissions might soon reach a peak after three stable years, so the new projection for 2017 is an unwelcome message for policy makers and delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 23) in Bonn this week.

The research, published simultaneously in the journals Nature Climate Change, Earth System Science Data Discussions and Environmental Research Letters, reveals that human emissions of CO2 will reach 36.8 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2017, following a projected 2% rise in burning fossil fuels.

The figures point to China as the main cause of the renewed growth in emissions – with a projected growth of 3.5%. CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 0.4% in the US and 0.2% in the EU, smaller declines than during the previous decade. Increases in coal use in China and the US are expected this year, reversing their decreases since 2013.

 

carbon emissions future timeline

 

"Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three year stable period. This is very disappointing," said the lead researcher, Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK. "Time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2°C let alone 1.5°C.

"This year, we have seen how climate change can amplify the impacts of hurricanes with more intense rainfall, higher sea levels and warmer ocean conditions favouring more powerful storms. This is a window into the future. We need to reach a peak in global emissions in the next few years and drive emissions down rapidly afterwards to address climate change and limit its impacts."

This announcement follows recent news from the World Meteorological Organisation that the atmospheric CO2 concentration reached 403ppm in 2016 and is expected to increase by 2.5 ppm in 2017.

 

carbon emissions future timeline

 

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2nd November 2017

CO2 levels now highest in 3 million years

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has announced that concentrations of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere reached a record high of 403.3 parts per million (ppm) during 2016.

 

co2 levels future timeline

 

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016, according to the World Meteorological Organisation's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. The abrupt changes in the atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years are "without precedent", says the WMO, and the rate of increase in CO2 is nearly 100 times faster than during the end of the last ice age.

Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached 403.3 ppm in 2016 – up from 400.0 ppm in 2015 – caused by a combination of human activities and a strong El Niño event. Concentrations of CO2 are now 145% of pre-industrial (before 1750) levels.

"It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network," said Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO's global atmosphere watch programme, in an interview with BBC News. "The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998, and it was 2.7ppm; and now it is 3.3ppm. It is also 50% higher than the average of the last 10 years."

If CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane continue to rise rapidly, it has the potential to create "unprecedented changes in climate systems", leading to "severe ecological and economic disruptions," says the report.

The annual bulletin is based on observations from the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch Programme – a worldwide network that includes dozens of aircraft, ship and ground-based monitoring stations. These help to track the average level of greenhouse gases and serve as an early warning system for changes in the key atmospheric drivers of climate change.

 

co2 levels future timeline

 

Population growth, intensified agricultural practices, expansion of land use and deforestation, industrialisation and associated energy use from fossil fuel sources have all contributed to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the industrial era, beginning in 1750.

Since 1990, there has been a 40% increase in total radiative forcing – the warming effect on our climate – by all long-lived greenhouse gases, and a 2.5% increase from 2015 to 2016 alone, according to figures in the bulletin.

“Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, we will be heading for dangerous temperature increases by the end of this century, well above the target set by the Paris climate change agreement,” said the WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “Future generations will inherit a much more inhospitable planet. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and in the oceans for even longer. The laws of physics mean that we face a much hotter, more extreme climate in the future. There is currently no magic wand to remove this CO2 from the atmosphere.”

As shown below, the last time Earth had a comparable CO2 concentration was 2.5 million years ago, if using boron isotopes, or 3.5 million years ago based on alkenone proxies. Back then, in the mid-Pliocene, the first bipedals had emerged and recently begun using stone tools. Average temperatures were up to 3°C warmer than now, while the average sea level was up to 20 metres higher. The Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets had melted and even a chunk of the East Antarctic ice was lost.

 

co2 levels future timeline

 

A separate Emissions Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme, released on 31st October, tracks the policy commitments made by countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report analyses how these policies will translate into emissions reductions through 2030, clearly outlining the emissions gap and what it would take to bridge it.

"The numbers don't lie. We are still emitting far too much and this needs to be reversed," said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. "The last few years have seen enormous uptake of renewable energy – but we must now redouble our efforts to ensure these new low-carbon technologies are able to thrive. We have many of the solutions already to address this challenge. What we need now is global political will and a new sense of urgency."

"The 3ppm CO2 growth rate in 2015 and 2016 is extreme – double the rate in the 1990-2000 decade," said Prof Euan Nisbet, University of London. "It is urgent that we follow the Paris agreement and switch rapidly away from fossil fuels. There are signs this is beginning to happen, but so far the air is not yet recording the change."

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1st November 2017

New efficiency record for quantum dot solar cells

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a new world efficiency record for quantum dot solar cells, at 13.4 percent.

 

quantum dot solar cells future timeline technology

 

Colloidal quantum dots are electronic materials and because of their astonishingly small size (typically 3-20 nanometres in diameter) they possess fascinating optical properties. Quantum dot solar cells emerged in 2010 as the newest technology on an NREL chart that tracks research efforts to convert sunlight to electricity with increasing efficiency. The first lead sulfide quantum dots, illustrated below, had an efficiency of 2.9 percent. Since then, rapid improvements have pushed that number into double digits. Progress from the initial low efficiency came from better understanding of the connectivity between individual quantum dots, better overall device structures and the prevention of defects in each dot.

 

quantum dot solar cells future timeline technology

Atomistic model of colloidal lead sulfide (selenide) nanoparticle, also known as quantum dot. By Zherebetskyy [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

The latest development in quantum dot solar cells, however, comes from a completely different material. The new quantum dot leader is cesium lead triiodide (CsPbI3), and is within the recently emerging family of halide perovskite materials. In quantum dot form, CsPbI3 produces an exceptionally large voltage (about 1.2 volts) at open circuit.

"This voltage, coupled with the material's bandgap, makes them an ideal candidate for the top layer in a multijunction solar cell," explains Joseph Luther, senior scientist and project leader in the Chemical Materials and Nanoscience team at NREL. The top cell must be highly efficient but transparent at longer wavelengths to allow that portion of sunlight to reach lower layers. Tandem cells can deliver a higher efficiency than conventional silicon solar panels that dominate today's solar market.

 

quantum dot solar cells future timeline technology
NREL scientists Joey Luther and Erin Sanehira. Image courtesy of DOE/National Renewable Energy Laboratory

 

The multijunction approach is often used for space applications where high efficiency is more critical than the cost to make a solar module. The quantum dot perovskite materials developed by Luther and the NREL/University of Washington team could be paired with cheap thin-film perovskite materials to achieve similar high efficiency as demonstrated for space solar cells, but built at even lower costs than silicon technology – making them ideal for both terrestrial and space applications.

"Often, the materials used in space and rooftop applications are totally different. It is exciting to see possible configurations that could be used for both situations," said Erin Sanehira a doctoral student at the University of Washington who conducted research at NREL.

This latest advance, titled "Enhanced mobility CsPbI3 quantum dot arrays for record-efficiency, high-voltage photovoltaic cells," is published in the journal Science Advances.

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26th October 2017

Transparent solar tech represents 'wave of the future'

See-through solar materials that can be applied to windows represent a massive source of untapped energy and could harvest as much power as bigger, bulkier rooftop solar units, scientists report in Nature Energy.

Led by engineering researchers at Michigan State University (MSU), the authors argue that widespread use of such highly transparent solar applications, combined with the rooftop units, could meet almost 100% of U.S. electricity demand and would drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels.

“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” says Richard Lunt, a Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. “We analysed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar, while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics.”

 

transparent solar tech future timeline
Credit: Richard Lunt/Michigan State University

 

In 2014, Lunt's team pioneered the development of a transparent, luminescent solar concentrator. When placed into a window, it creates solar energy without disrupting the view. The plastic-like material can be used on buildings, car windows or other clear surfaces. The solar-harvesting system uses organic molecules to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. This material can be “tuned” to pick up just the ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths, which are then converted into electricity.

Moving global energy consumption away from fossil fuels will require innovative and cost-effective technologies such as this. Currently, only about 1.5% of electricity demand in the United States and globally is produced by solar. But in terms of overall electricity potential, the authors note that there is an estimated 5 billion to 7 billion square metres of glass surface in the United States. And with that much glass to cover, transparent solar technologies have the potential to supply up to 40% of energy demand in the country – about the same potential as rooftop solar units. “The complimentary deployment of both technologies,” Lunt explains, “could get us close to 100% of our demand if we also improve energy storage.”

 

transparent solar tech future timeline

 

At present, highly transparent solar applications are recording efficiencies above 5%, while traditional solar panels are typically 15 to 18% efficient. Although transparent solar will never be more efficient at converting sunlight to electricity than its opaque counterparts, it can get close and be applied to a lot more additional surface area, Lunt says. Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about one-third of their realistic overall potential, Lunt added.

“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”

 

 

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23rd October 2017

75% decline in flying insect biomass since 1989

Researchers in Germany have found a reduction in flying insect biomass of more than 75% in the last three decades, suggesting the possibility of large-scale ecological collapse.

 

insect biomass decline trend

 

The total biomass of flying insects decreased by more than 75% over 27 years in protected areas of Germany, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from Radboud University, Netherlands.

Insects play a crucial role in ecosystem functioning, pollinating 80% of wild plants and providing a food source for 60% of birds. Previous research has shown an overall pattern of decline in insect diversity and abundance, but has focused on single species or taxonomic groups, rather than monitoring insect biomass over an extensive period.

To gain a better understanding of the extent and underlying causes of insect decline, Caspar Hallmann and colleagues measured flying insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany. They found that the average flying insect biomass declined 76% (up to 82% in summer) in these dozens of locations during this period. Their results align with recently reported declines in vulnerable species such as butterflies, wild bees and moths, but also suggest a severe loss of total flying aerial biomass. The team believes, therefore, that the entire flying insect community may have been decimated in just a few decades.

 

flying insect biomass decline 1989 trend
Credit: Hallman et al, PLOS ONE.

 

The researchers found that this dramatic decline was apparent regardless of habitat type, and changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics were not able to explain the overall trend. They suggest that large-scale factors must be involved, and additional research should further investigate the full range of climactic and agricultural variables that could potentially impact insect biomass. The authors urge further investigation of causes for this decline, its geographical extent, and its potential impact on the ecosystem.

In the meantime, says co-author Hans de Kroon: "We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers."

Hallman states: "Since 1989, in 63 nature reserves in Germany, the total biomass of flying insects has decreased by more than 75%. This decrease has long been suspected, but has turned out to be more severe than previously thought." The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, he said. "All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred."

"Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth, [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline," said Prof Dave Goulson from Sussex University, UK, who contributed to the study. "We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse."

 

flying insect biomass decline 1989 trend

 

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12th October 2017

Scientists find way to genetically boost nutritional value of corn

Scientists at Rutgers University have found an efficient way to enhance the nutritional value of corn, by inserting a bacterial gene from E. coli that stimulates production of a key nutrient called methionine, an amino acid usually found in meat.

 

gm corn future timeline
Credit: NASA

 

A genetic discovery by Rutgers University could benefit millions of people in developing countries, such as in South America and Africa, who depend on corn as a staple. It could also significantly reduce worldwide animal feed costs.

“We improved the nutritional value of corn, the largest commodity crop grown on Earth,” said Thomas Leustek, study co-author and professor in the Department of Plant Biology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “Most corn is used for animal feed, but it lacks methionine – a key amino acid – and we found an effective way to add it.”

Methionine, found in meat, is one of the nine essential amino acids that humans get from food. It is needed for growth and tissue repair, improves the tone and flexibility of skin and hair, and strengthens nails. The sulphur in methionine protects cells from pollutants, slows cell aging and is essential for absorbing selenium and zinc. Worldwide, several billion dollars of synthetic methionine is added to corn seeds annually, but the process is costly and energy-intensive.

The scientists inserted an E. coli bacterial gene into the corn plant’s genome and grew several generations of corn. The E. coli enzyme – 3′-phosphoadenosine-5′-phosphosulfate reductase (EcPAPR) – spurred methionine production in just the plant’s leaves instead of the entire plant to avoid the accumulation of any toxic by-products. As a result, methionine in corn kernels increased by 57 percent. Tests on chickens at the university showed that the genetically engineered corn was nutritious for them.

In the developed world, including the U.S., meat proteins generally have lots of methionine. But in the developing world, subsistence farmers grow corn for their family’s consumption: “Our study shows that they wouldn’t have to purchase methionine supplements or expensive foods that have higher methionine,” said Leustek.

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10th October 2017

Vast energy potential of ocean-based wind farms

A study by the Carnegie Institution for Science finds that wind farms in the North Atlantic could, in theory, provide sufficient energy to meet all of humanity's current needs during wintertime.

 

wind farms energy potential future

 

There is massive potential for generating wind power in the open ocean – particularly the North Atlantic – according to new research from Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution for Science. Their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Because wind speeds are higher on average over ocean than over land, wind turbines in the open ocean could in theory intercept more than five times as much energy as wind turbines over land. This presents an enticing opportunity for generating renewable energy through wind turbines. But it was unknown whether the faster ocean winds could actually be converted to increased amounts of electricity.

"Are the winds so fast just because there is nothing out there to slow them down? Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?" Caldeira asked.

Most of the energy captured by large wind farms originates higher up in the atmosphere and is transported down to the surface where the turbines may extract this energy. Other studies have estimated that there is a maximum rate of electricity generation for land-based wind farms, and have concluded that this maximum rate of energy extraction is limited by the rate at which energy is moved down from faster, higher up winds.

"The real question is," Caldeira said, "can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?"

Possner and Caldeira's sophisticated modelling tools compared the productivity of large Kansas wind farms to massive, theoretical open-ocean wind farms and found that in some areas, ocean-based wind farms could generate at least three times more power than the ones on land.

 

wind farms energy potential future

Credit: Anna Possnera and Ken Caldeiraa

 

In the North Atlantic, in particular, the drag introduced by wind turbines would not slow down winds as much as they would on land, Possner and Caldeira found. This is largely due to the fact that large amounts of heat pour out of the North Atlantic Ocean and into the overlying atmosphere, especially during the winter. This contrast in surface warming along the U.S. coast drives the frequent generation of cyclones, or low-pressure systems, that cross the Atlantic and are very efficient in drawing the upper atmosphere's energy down to the height of the turbines.

"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," Possner explained.

This tremendous wind power is very seasonal. In the summer, such wind farms could generate enough power to cover the electricity demand of Europe, or possibly the United States alone. In the winter, however, North Atlantic wind farms could provide sufficient energy to meet the entire annual global energy demand of 18 terawatts. These wind farms would need to be spread across 3 million square kilometres, the authors calculate.

Wind power production in the open ocean is in its infancy of commercialisation. The huge energy resources identified by this study provide strong incentives to develop lower-cost technologies able to operate in deep water environments and transmit this electricity to land where it can be used.

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9th October 2017

Batteries that charge up to 20 times faster

A touch of asphalt may be the secret to high-capacity lithium metal batteries that charge up to 20 times faster than commercial lithium-ion batteries, according to Rice University scientists.

The laboratory of James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimetre demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density. This finding is reported in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano.

“The capacity of these batteries is enormous, but what is equally remarkable is that we can bring them from zero charge to full charge in five minutes, rather than the typical two hours or more needed with other batteries,” Tour said.

 

batteries future technology timeline
Scanning electron microscope images show an anode of asphalt, graphene nanoribbons and lithium at left and the same material without lithium at right. Credit: Tour et al.

 

The Tour lab previously used a derivative of asphalt – specifically, untreated gilsonite, the same type used for the battery – to capture greenhouse gases from natural gas. This time, the researchers mixed asphalt with conductive graphene nanoribbons and coated the composite with lithium metal through electrochemical deposition.

The lab combined the anode with a sulfurised-carbon cathode to make full batteries for testing. The batteries showed a high-power density of 1,322 watts per kilogram and high-energy density of 943 watt-hours per kilogram.

Testing showed another benefit: the carbon mitigated the formation of lithium dendrites. These moss-like deposits invade a battery’s electrolyte. If they extend far enough, they short-circuit the anode and cathode and can cause the battery to fail, catch fire or explode. But the asphalt-derived carbon prevents any dendrite formation.

An earlier project by the lab found that an anode of graphene and carbon nanotubes also prevented the formation of dendrites. Tour said the new composite is simpler: “While the capacity between the former and this new battery is similar, approaching the theoretical limit of lithium metal, the new asphalt-derived carbon can take up more lithium metal per unit area, and it is much simpler and cheaper to make,” he explained. “There is no chemical vapour deposition step, no e-beam deposition step and no need to grow nanotubes from graphene, so manufacturing is greatly simplified.”

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4th October 2017

Sydney and Melbourne could experience 50°C days within a few decades

Due to rising global temperatures, Australia's two biggest cities could swelter through 50°C days by the 2040s, a new study concludes.

 

sydney future global warming 50c

 

A new study led by the Australian National University (ANU) has warned that Melbourne and Sydney should prepare for 50°C summer days by the 2040s. Lead researcher Dr Sophie Lewis said the study assessed the potential magnitude of future extreme temperatures in Australia under Paris agreement targets of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

"Major Australian cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, may experience unprecedented temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius under 2 degrees of global warming," said Dr Lewis. "The increase in Australian summer temperatures indicates that other major cities should also be prepared for unprecedented future extreme heat.

"Our climate modelling has projected daily temperatures of up to 3.8 degrees Celsius above existing records in Victoria and New South Wales, despite the ambitious Paris efforts to curb warming."

Dr Lewis said immediate climate action internationally could prevent record extreme seasons year after year.

"Urgent action on climate change is critical – the severity of possible future temperature extremes simulated by climate models in this study poses serious challenges for our preparedness for future climate change in Australia," she said.

Dr Lewis said the record hot Australian summer in 2012 and 2013 was made more likely due to human-caused greenhouse warming, and such an event was expected to occur more frequently under future warming.

"One of the hottest years on record globally in 2015 could be an average year by 2025," she said.

Co-researcher Dr Andrew King from the University of Melbourne said the research team used a combination of observations and modelling to assess how the magnitude of record-breaking events may change in the future.

"Previous scientific studies have focused on how current temperature extremes have been impacted by climate change, or on how the frequency of these current extremes will change in the future," said Dr King from the School of Earth Sciences and the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of Melbourne.

"This study takes a different approach and examines how the severity of future temperature extremes might change in the future."

The research, supported by the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, is published in Geophysical Research Letters.

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21st September 2017

Electric bus goes 1,100 miles on a single charge

Proterra, a leading innovator in heavy-duty electric transportation, has announced a new world record for the longest distance ever travelled by an electric vehicle on a single charge at the Navistar Proving Grounds in New Carlisle, Indiana, US.

 

electric bus future technology timeline 1100 miles

 

Proterra’s 40-foot Catalyst E2 max, pictured above, travelled 1,101.2 miles (1,772.2 km) this month with 660 kWh of energy storage capacity. For the last three consecutive years, Proterra has demonstrated improved range and battery performance. Last September, Proterra drove 603 miles with 440kWh of energy storage, and in 2015, Proterra drove 258 miles with 257kWh of energy storage on a single charge. This year’s range marks exceptional performance improvements over prior years, and underscores Proterra’s commitment to innovation and accelerating the mass adoption of heavy-duty electric vehicles.

"For our heavy-duty electric bus to break the previous world record of 1,013.76 miles – which was set by a light-duty passenger EV, 46 times lighter than the Catalyst E2 max – is a major feat," said Matt Horton, Proterra's chief commercial officer. "This record achievement is a testament to Proterra's purpose-built electric bus design, energy-dense batteries and efficient drivetrain."

Beyond meeting transit agencies' range requirements, the Catalyst E2 max is poised to make a significant impact on the transit market because of its low operational cost per mile compared to conventional fossil fuel-powered buses. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, lithium-ion battery prices have dropped by roughly 72 percent since 2010, and the economics for batteries continue to improve. Between li-ion battery cost savings and improving vehicle efficiency, electric vehicles represent the most disruptive mode of transport today.

"Driven by the best cost savings-per-mile, we believe the business case for heavy-duty electric buses is superior to all other applications, and that the transit market will be the first to transition completely to battery-electric powered vehicles," said Ryan Popple, Proterra CEO. "Early electric bus adopters like our first customer, Foothill Transit, have paved the way for future heavy-duty applications, like motor coaches and commercial trucks. As we see incumbents and more companies enter the heavy-duty EV market, it's become very apparent that the future is all-electric, and the sun is setting on combustion engine technology."

 

 

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29th August 2017

A path to 100% clean energy by 2050

Engineers at Stanford University have published a detailed plan showing how 139 of the world's countries could be converted to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050.

 

clean energy technology 2050 future timeline

 

The latest roadmap to a 100% renewable energy future from Stanford University's Mark Jacobson and 26 colleagues is the most specific global vision yet – outlining infrastructure changes that 139 countries can make to be entirely powered by wind, water, and sunlight by 2050 after electrification of all energy sectors. Such a transition could mean less worldwide energy consumption due to the efficiency of clean, renewable electricity; a net increase of over 24 million long-term jobs; an annual decrease in 4-7 million air pollution deaths per year; stabilisation of energy prices; and annual savings of over $20 trillion in health and climate costs. The work appears this month in Joule, Cell Press's new publication focused on sustainable energy.

Moving the world towards a low-carbon future in time to avoid catastrophic global warming and to make countries self-sufficient in energy is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The roadmaps developed by Jacobson's group provide one possible endpoint. For each of the 139 nations, they assess the raw renewable energy resources available to each country, the number of wind, water, and solar energy generators needed to be 80% renewable by 2030 and 100% by 2050, how much land and rooftop area these power sources would require (only around 1% of total available, with most of this open space between wind turbines), and how this approach would reduce energy demand and cost compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

"Both individuals and governments can lead this change. Policymakers don't usually want to commit to doing something unless there is some reasonable science that can show it is possible – and that is what we are trying to do," says Jacobson, director of Stanford's Atmosphere and Energy Program and co-founder of the Solutions Project, a non-profit educating the public and policymakers about a transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. "There are other scenarios. We are not saying that there is only one way we can do this, but having a scenario gives people direction."

The analyses specifically examined each country's electricity, transportation, heating/cooling, industrial, and agriculture/forestry/fishing sectors. Of the 139 countries – selected because they have data publicly available from the International Energy Agency and collectively emit over 99% of CO2 globally – the study showed that places with a greater share of land per population (e.g. China, the EU, and the USA) are projected to have the easiest time making the transition to 100% renewables. Another finding was that the most difficult places to transition may be highly populated, very small countries surrounded by lots of ocean, such as Singapore, which may require an investment in offshore solar to convert fully.

The roadmaps predict a number of collateral benefits if such a transition is made. For example, by eliminating oil, gas, and uranium use, the energy associated with mining, transporting and refining these fuels is also eliminated, reducing international power demand by about 13%. Because electricity is more efficient than burning fossil fuels, demand should go down another 23%. The changes in infrastructure would also mean that countries wouldn't need to depend on each other for fossil fuels, reducing the frequency of international conflict over energy. Finally, communities currently living in energy deserts would have access to abundant clean, renewable power.

 

clean energy 2050 future technology
Credit: The Solutions Project

 

"Aside from eliminating emissions, avoiding 1.5°C global warming and beginning the process of letting carbon dioxide drain from the Earth's atmosphere, transitioning eliminates up to 7 million air pollution deaths each year and creates over 24 million long-term, full-time jobs by these plans," Jacobson says. "What is different between this study and other studies that have proposed solutions is that we are trying to examine not only the climate benefits of reducing carbon but also the air pollution benefits, job benefits, and cost benefits"

The Joule paper is an expansion of a 2015 roadmap to transition each of the 50 United States to 100% clean, renewable energy and an analysis of whether the electric grid can stay stable upon such a transition. Not only does this new study cover nearly the entire world, there are also improved calculations on the availability of rooftop solar energy, renewable energy resources, and jobs created versus lost.

The 100% clean, renewable energy goal has been criticised by some for focusing only on wind, water, and solar energy and excluding nuclear power, "clean coal," and biofuels. However, the researchers intentionally exclude nuclear power because of its 10-19 years between planning and operation, its high cost, and the acknowledged meltdown, weapons proliferation, and waste risks. "Clean coal" and biofuels are neglected because they both cause heavy air pollution, which Jacobson and co-workers are trying to eliminate, and emit over 50 times more carbon per unit of energy than wind, water, or solar power.

The 100% wind, water, solar studies have also been questioned for depending on some technologies such as underground heat storage in rocks, which exists only in a few places, and the proposed use of electric and hydrogen fuel cell aircraft, which exist only in small planes at this time. Jacobson says that underground heat storage is not required, but certainly a viable option since it is similar to district heating, which provides 60% of Denmark's heat. He also says that space shuttles and rockets have been propelled with hydrogen, and aircraft companies are now investing in electric airplanes. Wind, water, and solar can also face daily and seasonal fluctuation, making it possible that they could miss large demands for energy, but the study refers to a new paper that suggests these stability concerns can be addressed in several ways.

These analyses have also been criticised for the massive investment it would take to move a country to the desired goal. Jacobson says that the overall cost to society (energy, health and climate-related) of the proposed system is one-quarter that of the current fossil fuel system. In terms of upfront cost, most of these would be needed in any case to replace existing energy, and the rest is an investment that far more than pays itself off over time by nearly eliminating health and climate costs.

"It appears we can achieve the enormous social benefits of a zero-emission energy system at essentially no extra cost," says co-author Mark Delucchi, research scientist at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Berkeley. "Our findings suggest that the benefits are so great that we should accelerate the transition to wind, water, and solar, as fast as possible, by retiring fossil-fuel systems early wherever we can."

"This paper helps push forward a conversation within and between the scientific, policy, and business communities about how to envision and plan for a decarbonised economy," writes Mark Dyson of Rocky Mountain Institute, in an accompanying preview of the paper. "The scientific community's growing body of work on global low-carbon energy transition pathways provides robust evidence that such a transition can be accomplished, and a growing understanding of the specific levers that need to be pulled to do so. Jacobson et al.'s present study provides sharper focus on one scenario, and refines a set of priorities for near-term action to enable it."

 

 

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12th August 2017

U.S. Army lab discovers new energy source

Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Maryland have demonstrated a new nanomaterial powder that creates large amounts of energy by simply mixing it with water.

 

nanotechnology powder energy
Credit: U.S. Army Research Laboratory

 

The substance is described as a nano-galvanic aluminium-based powder. It creates a bubbling reaction that splits apart water – two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen.

"The hydrogen that is given off can be used as a fuel in a fuel cell," said Scott Grendahl, a materials engineer and team leader. "What we discovered is a mechanism for a rapid and spontaneous hydrolysis of water."

It has already been known for a long time that hydrogen can be produced by adding a catalyst to aluminium. However, this normally takes time and requires elevated temperatures, added electricity and/or toxic chemicals. By contrast, the nanomaterial powder seen here does not require a catalyst and is very fast. The team calculates that one kilogram of the powder can produce 220 kilowatts of energy in just three minutes, which is doubled if you consider the amount of heat energy produced by the exothermic reaction.

"That's a lot of power to run any electrical equipment," said Dr. Anit Giri, a physicist for the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. "These rates are the fastest known without using catalysts such as an acid, base or elevated temperatures."

As seen in the video, the team demonstrated a small radio-controlled tank powered by the powder and water reaction. They believe their discovery is dramatic in terms of future potential. It could be 3-D printed and incorporated into future air or ground robots. These self-cannibalising machines would feed off their own structures, then self-destruct after mission completion. It could also help future soldiers to recharge mobile devices for recon teams.

"There are other researchers who have been searching their whole lives and their optimised product takes many hours to achieve, say 50% efficiency," Grendahl said. "Ours does it to 100% efficiency in less than three minutes."

"The important aspect of the approach is that it lets you make very compact systems," notes Anthony Kucernak from Imperial College London, who was not involved in this particular study, but is an expert on fuel cell technology. "That would be very useful for systems which need to be very light or operate for long periods on hydrogen, where the use of hydrogen stored in a cylinder is prohibitive."

 

 

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11th August 2017

Smart windows could save 20% in energy costs

Researchers in the U.S. have created "smart windows" that rapidly change opacity, depending on how sunny it is. This new technology could cut utility costs.

 

 

Engineers at Stanford University have created dynamically changing windows that can switch from transparent to opaque in only a minute – and back again in just 20 seconds – a major improvement over dimming windows currently being installed to reduce cooling costs in some buildings.

The newly designed "smart" windows consist of conductive glass plates outlined with metal ions that spread out over the surface, blocking light in response to an electrical current. The results are described in the 9th August edition of the journal Joule.

"We're excited because dynamic window technology has the potential to optimise the lighting in rooms or vehicles, and save about 20 percent in heating and cooling costs," said Michael McGehee, a professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and senior author of the study. "It could even change the way people wear sunglasses."

 

smart windows technology costs
Credit: Barile et al./Joule 2017

 

The researchers have filed a patent for their new technology and have entered into discussions with glass manufacturers and other potential partners. However, more research is needed to make the surface area of the windows large enough for commercial applications. The prototypes used in the study are only about 4 square inches (25 square centimetres) in size. The team also wants to reduce manufacturing costs to be competitive with dynamic windows already on the market.

"This is an important area that is barely being investigated at universities," McGehee said. "There's a lot of opportunity to keep us motivated."

Commercially available smart windows are made of materials, such as tungsten oxide, that change colour when charged with electricity. But these tend to be expensive, have a blue tint, can take more than 20 minutes to dim, and become less opaque over their lifetime. The Stanford prototype blocks light through the movement of a copper solution over a sheet of indium tin oxide, modified with platinum nanoparticles.

 

smart window nanotechnology
  Credit: Barile et al./Joule 2017

 

When transparent, the window is clear and lets roughly 80 percent of incoming natural light pass through. When dark, the transmission of light drops below five percent. To test its durability, the researchers switched the windows on and off more than 5,000 times and saw no degradation in the transmission of light.

"We've had a lot of moments where we thought, how is it even possible we've made something that works so well so quickly?" McGehee said. "We didn't tweak what was out there. We came up with a completely different solution."

Perhaps in some future decade, with further advances in nanotechnology, smart windows could be developed that respond to sunlight in real time and instantly change colour – while being affordable enough to feature as standard in every building and vehicle.

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1st August 2017

New efficiency record for perovskite solar cells

Researchers in South Korea have announced a new world record efficiency of 22.1% for perovskite solar cells.

 

new solar record 2017
Credit: Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST)

 

Each year, the efficiency of solar power continues to inch upward, as new technological advances are made. Now, researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea, have announced the latest breakthrough in perovskite solar cells, which is published in the journal Science.

There are many different types of solar power. A major advantage of perovskite solar cells (PSCs) is that it is possible to make them with cheaper and more commonly available metals and chemicals, as opposed to the expensive raw materials used in other silicon substitutes. They also have more flexibility in terms of colour adjustment, enabling them to be fabricated in more aesthetically-pleasing ways on rooftops, for example. They can even be processed as additional layers on top of silicon panels, to improve the appearance of the more advanced and expensive panels.

The formation of a dense and uniform thin layer on the substrates is crucial for high-performance PSCs. The concentration of defect states, which reduce a cell's performance by decreasing the open-circuit voltage and short-circuit current density, needs to be as low as possible.

The research team at UNIST reports that careful control of the growth conditions of perovskite layers with management of deficient halide anions is essential for realising high-efficiency thin-film PSCs based on lead-halide-perovskite absorbers. In their study, they demonstrated the introduction of additional iodide ions into the organic cation solution, which are used to form the perovskite layers through an intramolecular exchanging process, decreasing the concentration of deep-level defects.

"This study can improve the current record efficiency of perovskite solar cells from 20.1% to 22.1%," says Professor Sang-Il Seok, from the School of Energy and Chemical Engineering at UNIST. "This will accelerate the commercialisation of low-cost, high-performance perovskite solar cells."

The energy conversion efficiency of 22.1% has now been officially certified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the USA.

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26th July 2017

The last surviving species on Earth may be tardigrades

Astrophysicists report that tardigrade micro-animals may be one of the most resilient lifeforms on Earth, able to withstand global mass extinctions due to astrophysical events, such as supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, large asteroid impacts, and passing-by stars.

 

tardigrade

 

The world's most indestructible species, the tardigrade – an eight-legged micro-animal, also known as the water bear – will survive until the Sun dies, according to a new collaboration between Harvard and Oxford University.

Although much attention has been given to the potential impact of astrophysical events on human life, very little has been published about what it would take to kill the tardigrade and wipe out life on our planet. The new research implies that life will persist for as long as the Sun continues to shine. It also reveals that once life emerges, it is surprisingly resilient and difficult to destroy, boosting the odds of life on other planets.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that the tiny creatures will survive the risk of extinction from all astrophysical catastrophes, and be around for billions of years – far longer than the human race.

Tardigrades are the toughest, most resilient animals on Earth – able to survive for up to 30 years without food or water, and endure temperature extremes of up to 150 degrees Celsius, the deep sea and even the frozen vacuum of space. The water-dwelling micro animal is only 0.5mm (0.02 inches) in size, but can live for up to 60 years. Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Harvard concluded that they could most likely survive all astrophysical calamities.

Three potential events were considered as part of their research:

 

Asteroids

There are only a dozen known asteroids and dwarf planets with enough mass to boil the oceans (2x10^18 kg), these include Vesta (2x10^20 kg) and Pluto (10^22 kg). However, none of these objects will intersect the Earth's orbit and pose a threat to tardigrades.

 

Supernova

In order to boil the oceans, an exploding star would need to be 0.14 light years away. The closest star to the Sun is 4.2 light years away and the probability of a massive star exploding close enough to Earth to kill all lifeforms on it, within the Sun's lifetime, is negligible.

 

Gamma-ray bursts

Gamma-ray bursts are brighter and rarer than supernovae. Much like supernovas, gamma-ray bursts are too far away from Earth to be considered a viable threat. To boil the world's oceans, the burst would need to be within 40 light years, and the likelihood of a burst occurring so close is again, minor.

 

gamma ray burst future timeline
Gamma-ray burst. Credit: NASA

 

"Without our technology protecting us, humans are a very sensitive species," said Dr Rafael Alves Batista, Co-author and Post-Doctoral Research Associate in the Department of Physics at Oxford University. "Subtle changes in our environment impact us dramatically. There are many more resilient species on Earth. Life on this planet can continue long after humans are gone. Tardigrades are as close to indestructible as it gets on Earth, but it is possible that there are other resilient species examples elsewhere in the universe. In this context, there is a real case for looking for life on Mars and in other areas of the Solar System in general. If Tardigrades are Earth's most resilient species, who knows what else is out there?"

"A lot of previous work has focused on 'doomsday' scenarios on Earth – astrophysical events like supernovae that could wipe out the human race," explains Dr David Sloan, co-author from the same department at Oxford University. "Our study instead considered the hardiest species – the tardigrade. As we are now entering a stage of astronomy where we have seen exoplanets and are hoping to soon perform spectroscopy, looking for signatures of life, we should try to see just how fragile this hardiest life is. To our surprise we found that although nearby supernovae or large asteroid impacts would be catastrophic for people, tardigrades could be unaffected. Therefore it seems that life, once it gets going, is hard to wipe out entirely. Huge numbers of species, or even entire genera may become extinct, but life as a whole will go on."

In highlighting the resilience of life in general, the research broadens the scope of life beyond Earth, within and beyond the Solar System.

"It is difficult to eliminate all forms of life from a habitable planet," explains Professor Abraham Loeb, co-author and chair of the Astronomy department at Harvard University. "The history of Mars indicates that it once had an atmosphere that could have supported life, albeit under extreme conditions. Organisms with similar tolerances to radiation and temperature as tardigrades could survive long-term below the surface in these conditions. The subsurface oceans that are believed to exist on Europa and Enceladus would have conditions similar to the deep oceans of Earth where tardigrades are found, volcanic vents providing heat in an environment devoid of light. The discovery of extremophiles in such locations would be a significant step forward in bracketing the range of conditions for life to exist on planets around other stars."

 

 

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24th July 2017

Carbon sequestration made 500 times faster

Researchers in California have reported how carbon sequestration in the ocean can be made 500 times faster, by simply adding a common enzyme to the process.

 

carbon sequestration 500 times faster
Scanning electron microscope image of calcite. Credit: Adam Subhas/Caltech

 

Scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of Southern California (USC) have found a way to accelerate the slow part of the chemical reaction that helps Earth to safely lock away, or sequester, carbon dioxide into the ocean. Simply adding a common enzyme to the mix can make the rate-limiting part of the process go 500 times faster. Their research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"While the new paper is about a basic chemical mechanism, the implication is that we might better mimic the natural process that stores carbon dioxide in the ocean," says lead author Adam Subhas, a Caltech graduate student and Resnick Sustainability Fellow.

The team studied calcite – a form of calcium carbonate – dissolving in seawater and measured how fast it occurs at a molecular level. For this, they used isotopic labelling and two methods for measuring isotope ratios in solutions and solids.

"Although a seemingly straightforward problem, the kinetics of the reaction is poorly understood," said Will Berelson, co-author and a Professor of Earth Sciences at USC.

Calcite is a mineral made of calcium, carbon, and oxygen that is more commonly known as the sedimentary precursor to limestone and marble. In the ocean, calcite is a sediment formed from the shells of organisms, like plankton, that have died and sunk to the seafloor. Calcium carbonate is also the material that makes up coral reefs – the exoskeleton of the coral polyp.

With atmospheric carbon dioxide levels having risen past 400 parts per million, ocean surfaces have absorbed more and more of that greenhouse gas. This is part of a natural buffering process – the oceans act as a major reservoir of carbon dioxide, currently holding 50 times as much as the atmosphere.

However, there is a second, slower, buffering process. Carbon dioxide is an acid in seawater, just like in carbonated sodas (which is part of why they dissolve your tooth enamel). Acidified water on the ocean surface will eventually circulate to the deep, where it can react with dead calcium carbonate shells on the seafloor and neutralise the added carbon dioxide. This process takes tens of thousands of years, however, and meanwhile, the ever-more acidic surface waters eat away at coral reefs. But how quickly will the coral dissolve?

 

coral bleaching

 

"We decided to tackle this problem because it's kind of embarrassing, the state of knowledge expressed in the literature," says Jess Adkins, Professor of Geochemistry and Global Environmental Science at Caltech. "We can't tell you how quickly the coral is going to dissolve."

Earlier methods relied on measuring the changing pH of seawater as calcium carbonate dissolved, and inferring dissolution rates from that (as calcium carbonate dissolves, it raises the pH of water, making it less acidic). Subhas and Adkins instead opted to use isotopic labelling.

Carbon atoms exist in two stable forms in nature. About 98.9% is carbon-12, which has six protons and six neutrons. The other 1.1% is carbon-13, containing one extra neutron. Subhas and Adkins engineered a sample of calcite made entirely of the rare carbon-13, and then dissolved it in seawater. By measuring the change in ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in the seawater over time, they were able to quantify the dissolution at a molecular level. Their method proved to be around 200 times more sensitive than comparable techniques for studying the process.

On paper, the reaction is fairly straightforward: water plus carbon dioxide plus calcium carbonate equals dissolved calcium and bicarbonate ions. But in practice it is more complex. "Somehow, calcium carbonate decides to spontaneously slice itself in half," explains Adkins. "But what is the actual chemical path that reaction takes?"

Studying the process in detail with a secondary ion mass spectrometer (which analyses the surface of a solid by bombarding it with a beam of ions) and a cavity ringdown spectrometer (which determines the 13C/12C ratio in solution), the researchers discovered that the slow part of the reaction is the conversion of carbon dioxide and water into carbonic acid.

"This reaction has been overlooked," says Subhas. "The slow step is making and breaking carbon-oxygen bonds. They don't like to break; they're stable forms."

Armed with this knowledge, they added the enzyme carbonic anhydrase – which helps maintain the pH balance of blood in humans and other animals – and were able to speed up the reaction by orders of magnitude.

"This is one of those rare moments in the arc of one's career where you just go, 'I just discovered something no one ever knew,'" says Adkins.

There is a long way to go before this process could be scaled up (perhaps via a system of pipelines, or underwater delivery drones?), but in the future it could play a part in restoring the health of our oceans.

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9th July 2017

China to build first "forest city" in 2020

The masterplan for an eco-friendly "forest city" in China has been revealed by Italian architecture firm, Stefano Boeri Architetti.

Known as Liuzhou Forest City, the project will be built north of Liuzhou, in a mountainous part of Guangxi Province, in an area that covers 175 hectares along the Liujiang River. The new green city, initially hosting 30,000 people, will feature various residential areas, commercial and recreational spaces, along with two schools and a hospital. It will include electric cars and a connection to Liuzhou through a fast rail line.

Liuzhou Forest City will be self-sufficient in clean energy, utilising geothermal and rooftop solar power. While this may seem impressive enough, an even greater innovation is the widespread use of vegetation covering every building, of all sizes and functions. A total of 40,000 trees (1.3 for every person) and almost a million plants of more than 100 different species will make this a true "forest city".

The diffusion of plants – not only in parks, gardens and along streets, but also over building facades – will greatly improve the air quality, decrease the average air temperature, and create barriers for reducing noise, while improving the biodiversity of living species, generating new habitats for birds, insects and other small animals that inhabit the Liuzhou territory. According to Stefano Boeri Architetti, the city will absorb 57 tons of dust and other pollutants each year, generate 900 tons of oxygen and sequester almost 10,000 tons of CO2 annually. For the residents, being surrounded by so much vegetation may have yet another benefit: studies have repeatedly shown that the presence of trees and plants can significantly improve mental health.

The architects hope that Liuzhou Forest City could serve as a model or template for other cities, both in China and around the world. Given the challenges faced by humanity, perhaps this style of architecture may become necessary, rather than optional, in the not-too-distant future. It would be interesting to see major world cities like New York, London and Paris being transformed into much larger forest cities.

 

Click to enlarge

  china forest city 2020   china forest city 2020   china forest city 2020  
             
  china forest city 2020   china forest city 2020   china forest city 2020  

Images credit: Stefano Boeri Architetti

 

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6th July 2017

Volvo Cars to go all-electric

Volvo Cars has announced that every car it launches from 2019 will be either electric or hybrid, marking the historic end of cars that only have an internal combustion engine (ICE) and placing electrification at the core of its future business.

 

volvo future electric cars 2019 2020

 

This announcement represents one of the most significant moves by any car maker to embrace electrification. It underscores how, more than a century after the invention of the internal combustion engine, electrification is paving the way for a new chapter in automotive history.

“This is about the customer,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and chief executive. “People increasingly demand electrified cars and we want to respond to our customers’ current and future needs. You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish.”

Volvo will introduce a portfolio of electrified cars across its model range, embracing fully electric cars, plug-in hybrids and mild hybrid cars. It will launch five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021, three of which will be Volvo models and two of which will be high performance electrified cars from its performance car arm, Polestar. Full details of these models will be announced at a later date.

These five cars will be supplemented by a range of petrol and diesel plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid 48-volt options on all models – one of the broadest electrified car offerings of any car maker. This means that there will, in the future, be no Volvo cars without an electric motor, as pure ICE cars are gradually phased out and replaced by ICE cars that are enhanced with electrified options.

“This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” said Mr Samuelsson. “Volvo Cars has stated that it plans to have sold a total of one million electrified cars by 2025. When we said it, we meant it. This is how we are going to do it.”

The announcement underlines Volvo’s commitment to minimising its environmental impact and making cities of the future cleaner. Volvo is focused on reducing the carbon emissions of both its products as well as its operations. It aims to have carbon neutral manufacturing operations by 2025.

 

 

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5th July 2017

Future pavements could generate electricity from footsteps

Imagine a city where simply walking on pavements and other flat surfaces can produce usable power. One company has demonstrated just such a concept in London's West End.

 

future pavement technology
Credit: PaveGen

 

PaveGen was founded in 2009 by Laurence Kemball-Cook, a graduate in Industrial Technology and Design from Loughborough University. For the last several years, his company has been developing a tile that converts kinetic energy from pedestrian footsteps into electricity, while collecting data about walking traffic patterns. The exact technology is being kept a trade secret, but is said to involve electromagnetic induction by copper coils and magnets.

For its latest project, PaveGen has worked alongside other tech companies to help transform Bird Street in central London. This has been turned from a previously underutilised outdoor space located off Oxford Street, into a haven of calm where visitors can relax and experience a high street of the future.

 

bird street london pavegen
Bird Street in central London, before and after. Credit: PaveGen

 

PaveGen installed a 10 sq m (107 sq ft) array of tiles at this location. Each footstep is able to produce an average of three joules – enough to play recordings of bird sounds during the day, while providing ambient lighting in the evening, for an immersive visitor experience. Bluetooth transmitters are also incorporated on the walkway, enabling passers-by to interact with branded apps – for example, rewarding users with discounts, vouchers and education resources for their steps on the PaveGen system. A data feed on the hourly footfall and power generation is available too.

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO and founder of PaveGen, commented: "With installations in Washington DC and vital transport hubs including Heathrow, being able to demonstrate how our technology can bring to life the retail shopping experience is a vital step for us. As retailers compete with online, technologies like ours make being in the busy high street more exciting and rewarding for people and brands alike."

 

pavegen

 

Joining PaveGen at Bird Street is Airlabs' ClearAir bench (pictured below), which removes nitrogen dioxide to create a large "bubble" of clean air. According to the Airlabs website, the volume of air filtered by this bench every day is enough to fill more than 100 double decker buses, yet only a small amount of energy is required to do this. The Airlabs clean air system has previously been demonstrated at three bus stop shelters in central London.

Also featured in the new-look Bird Street is coatings company Airlite, who created a paint that purifies the air from nitrogen dioxide, bacteria and other particulate matter. This reduces overall pollution by almost 90% and removes 99.9% of germs, moulds and odours. This coating was applied to the surfaces of the retail units.

With the integration of these green technologies, Bird Street demonstrates the potential for more sustainable destinations in busy urban environments. Pollution is currently a major problem in London, with levels of NO2 near Oxford Street at almost 60 µg/m3, compared to the World Health Organisation's recommended safe exposure limit of 40 µg/m3.

 

airlabs clean air bench bird street london
Airlabs' ClearAir bench. Credit: Airlabs

 

Steven Medway, Managing Director of Trading Environment, New West End Company, said: "Visitors to London's West End expect the ultimate shopping and dining experience and they won't be disappointed. Transforming Bird Street will bring a world first offer to the West End, a space where fashion meets technology with brands set to transform the future of retail as we know it."

Alex Williams, Director of City Planning at Transport for London, said: "It's great to see an innovative 'smart street' scheme delivered on Bird Street, the concepts and ideas of which could easily be adapted across London. I hope we can see further examples of this innovative 21st Century thinking in the future as we work to transform Oxford Street and the surrounding area to make it a world-class public space for all."

 

bird street london
Credit: PaveGen

 

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1st July 2017

Climate change will increase inequality in the USA

Unmitigated climate change will exacerbate inequality in the USA, with southern states losing up to 20% of their income by century's end.

 

climate change inequality usa 2100

County-level annual damages in the median scenario for 2080 to 2099.

 

Unmitigated climate change will make the USA poorer and more unequal, according to a study published yesterday in the journal Science. The poorest third of counties could sustain economic damage costing as much as 20 percent of their income if warming proceeds unabated.

States in the South and lower Midwest, which tend to be poor and hot already, will lose the most, with economic opportunity traveling northward and westward. Colder and richer counties along the northern border and in the Rockies could benefit the most as health, agriculture and energy costs are projected to improve.

Overall, the study – led by Solomon Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, Robert Kopp of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, Amir Jina of the University of Chicago, and James Rising, also of UC Berkeley – projects losses, economic restructuring and widening inequality.

"Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States," said Hsiang. "If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country's history."

 

climate change usa economic damage graph trend 2050 2100

 

The pioneering study used state-of-the-art statistical methods and 116 climate projections developed by scientists around the world to price the impacts of climate change the way the insurance industry or an investor would – comparing risks and rewards. A team of economists and climate scientists computed the real-world costs and benefits: how agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labour and coastal communities are likely to be affected by higher temperatures, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying hurricanes.

"In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit," said Kopp, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers. "Its exposure to sea-level rise, made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes, poses a major risk to its communities. Increasingly extreme heat will drive up violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air-conditioning costs, and threaten people's lives."

By 2100, economic damage in the poorest regions could be "many times larger" than the Great Recession and be permanent, according to the study, based on a projected rise of 3-5°C (6-10°F) above pre-industrial temperatures.

"The 'hidden costs' of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data," said Jina, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of economics at the University of Chicago. "The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s."

 

climate change usa economic damage graph trend 2050 2100

 

The study is the first of its kind to price warming using data and evidence accumulated by the research community over decades. From this data, the team estimates that for each one degree Fahrenheit (0.55°C) increase in global temperatures, the U.S. economy loses about 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product, with each degree of warming costing more than the last. This metric can help the country manage climate change as it does other systematic economic risks – for example, the way the Federal Reserve uses interest rates to manage the risk of recession.

"We could not have done this study without the ongoing revolution in big data and computing," said Rising, a Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley, describing the 29,000 simulations of the economy run for the project. "For the first time in history, we can use these tools to peer ahead into the future. We are making decisions today about the kinds of lives we and our children want to lead. Had the computing revolution come twenty years later, we wouldn't be able to see the economic hole we're digging for ourselves."

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30th June 2017

Rising seas could result in 2 billion refugees by 2100

Research by Cornell University suggests that rising sea levels will displace 1.4 billion people by 2060 and 2 billion by 2100.

 

future timeline rising sea levels 2060 2100
Credit: EQRoy

 

In the year 2100, up to 2 billion people – nearly a fifth of the world's population – could become climate change refugees due to rising ocean levels. Those who once lived on coastlines will face displacement and resettlement bottlenecks as they seek habitable places inland, according to Cornell University research.

"We're going to have more people on less land – and sooner than we think," said lead author Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell. "The future rise in global mean sea level probably won't be gradual. Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground."

Earth's ballooning population is expected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.8 billion by 2100, according to the latest UN report. Feeding that population will require more arable land even as swelling oceans consume fertile coastal zones and river deltas, driving people to seek new places to dwell.

By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to the paper. Geisler extrapolated that number to 2 billion by 2100.

"The colliding forces of human fertility, submerging coastal zones, residential retreat, and impediments to inland resettlement are a huge problem. We offer preliminary estimates of the lands unlikely to support new waves of climate refugees due to the residues of war, exhausted natural resources, declining net primary productivity, desertification, urban sprawl, land concentration, 'paving the planet' with roads and greenhouse gas storage zones offsetting permafrost melt," Geisler said.

The paper describes tangible solutions and proactive adaptations in places like Florida and China, which coordinate coastal and interior land-use policies in anticipation of weather-induced population shifts. Florida has the second-longest coastline in the United States, and its state and local officials have already planned for a coastal exodus, Geisler said, in the state's Comprehensive Planning Act.

Beyond sea level rise, low-elevation coastal zones in many countries face intensifying storm surges that will push sea water further inland. Historically, humans have spent considerable effort reclaiming land from oceans, but now live with the opposite – the oceans reclaiming terrestrial spaces on the planet," said Geisler. In their research, Geisler and Currens explore a worst-case scenario for the present century.

The authors note that the competition of reduced space that they foresee will induce land-use trade-offs and conflicts. In the United States and elsewhere, this could mean selling off public lands for human settlement.

"The pressure is on us to contain greenhouse gas emissions at present levels. It's the best 'future proofing' against climate change, sea level rise and the catastrophic consequences likely to play out on coasts, as well as inland in the future," said Geisler.

The article "Impediments to inland resettlement under conditions of accelerated sea level rise" will be published in the July issue of the journal Land Use Policy but is already available online.

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10th June 2017

Record-breaking year for renewable energy

As the price of installation continues to fall, renewable power has set another new record, with 161 gigawatts (GW) being added in 2016 – increasing total global capacity to more than 2 terawatts (TW).

 

renewable energy technology future timeline

 

Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) this week published its Renewables 2017 Global Status Report (GSR), the most comprehensive annual overview of the state of renewable energy.

The report finds that additions of installed renewable power capacity set new records in 2016, with 161 gigawatts (GW) added, increasing total global capacity by almost 9% over 2015, to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar PV accounted for about 47% of capacity added, followed by wind power at 34% and hydropower at 16%.

In a growing number of countries, renewables are becoming the least cost option. Recent deals in Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru and the UAE saw renewable electricity being supplied at $0.05 per kilowatt-hour or less. This is well below equivalent costs for fossil fuel and nuclear generating capacity in each of these countries. Auctions are increasingly able to rely only on the wholesale price of power, without the need for government subsidies.

 

renewable energy technology future timeline

 

The inherent need for "baseload" is a myth, according to the report. Integrating large shares of variable renewable generation can be done without fossil fuel and nuclear baseload with sufficient flexibility in the power system – through grid interconnections, sector coupling and enabling technologies such as ICT, storage systems, electric vehicles and heat pumps. This sort of flexibility not only balances variable generation, it also optimises the system and reduces generation costs overall. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the number of countries successfully managing peaks approaching or exceeding 100% electricity generation from renewable sources is on the rise. In 2016, Denmark and Germany, for example, successfully managed peaks of renewables-based electricity of 140% and 86.3%, respectively.

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for a third year in a row, despite 3% growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy. This can be attributed mainly to the decline of coal, but also to the rapid growth in renewable energy capacity and improvements in energy efficiency.

 

global emissions future timeline

 

Other positive trends include:

Innovations and breakthroughs in storage technology, which increasingly provide additional flexibility to the power system. In 2016, around 0.8 GW of new advanced energy storage became operational, bringing the year-end total to 6.4 GW. As shown in the graph below, grid-connected battery storage grew by 50% to over 1.7 GW.

Markets for mini-grids and stand-alone systems are evolving rapidly, and Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) business models, supported by mobile technology, are now exploding. In 2012, investments in PAYG solar companies amounted to only $3 million; by 2016 that figure had risen to over $223 million (up from $158 million during 2015).

"The world is now adding more renewable power capacity each year than it adds in new capacity from all fossil fuels combined," says Arthouros Zervos, Chair of the REN21. "One of the most important findings of this year's GSR, is that holistic, systemic approaches are key and should become the rule rather than the exception. As the share of renewables grows, we will need investment in infrastructure as well as a comprehensive set of tools: integrated and interconnected transmission and distribution networks, measures to balance supply and demand, sector coupling (for example the integration of power and transport networks); and deployment of a wide range of enabling technologies."

 

battery storage technology trend


Despite these encouraging trends, however, the energy transition is not happening fast enough. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, an even greater acceleration of clean tech will be required. Investment continues to be heavily focused on wind and solar PV – however, all renewable energy technologies need to be deployed in order to keep global warming below 2°C.

Transport, heating and cooling sectors continue to lag behind the power sector. The deployment of renewable technologies in the heating and cooling sector remains a challenge in light of the unique and distributed nature of this market. Renewables-based decarbonisation of the transport sector is not yet being seriously considered, or seen as a priority. Despite a significant expansion in the sales of electric vehicles, primarily due to the declining cost of battery technology, much more needs to be done to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is in place and that they are powered by renewable electricity. While the shipping and aviation sectors present the greatest challenges, government policies or commercial disruption have not sufficiently stimulated the development of solutions.

Fossil fuel subsidies continue to impede progress. Globally, subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power continue to dramatically exceed those for renewable technologies. By the end of 2016, more than 50 countries had committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and some reforms have occurred – but not enough. The ratio of fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy subsidies is 4:1. For every $1 spent on renewables, governments spend $4 perpetuating our dependence on fossil fuels.

Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of REN21, explains: "The world is in a race against time. The single most important thing we could do to reduce CO2 emissions quickly and cost-effectively, is phase-out coal and speed up investments in energy efficiency and renewables. When China announced in January that it was cancelling over 100 coal plants currently in development, they set an example for governments everywhere: change happens quickly when governments act by establishing clear, long-term policy and financial signals and incentives."

 

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  solar   wind  

 

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