Now this from Harvard University researchers: “bionic leaf 2.0,” which turns sunlight into liquid fuel, introduced in the academic journal Science earlier this month.
In what is called an artificial version of photosynthesis in plants, the study says the “bionic leaf 2.0” “aims to make use of solar panels for splitting molecules of water into oxygen and hydrogen. On separation of the water compounds, hydrogen is moved into a chamber for consumption by bacteria. A specialized metal catalyst and carbon dioxide in the chamber then helps generate a liquid fuel.”
Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University, and Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School, have developed a system that uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to produce liquid fuels. What’s cool about this is that using sunlight to convert it into liquid fuels would reduce the vast areas of land usually used for producing plants that generate biofuels. According to a study by the University of Virginia, about 4 per cent of the world’s farmland is currently under crops for fuel rather than crops for food.
The paper, whose lead authors also include postdoctoral fellow Chong Liu and graduate student Brendan Colón, is described in a June 3 paper published in Science.
“This is a true artificial photosynthesis system,” Nocera said in a Harvard Gazette article. “Before, people were using artificial photosynthesis for water-splitting, but this is a true A-to-Z system, and we’ve gone well over the efficiency of photosynthesis in nature.” While the study shows the system can be used to generate usable fuels, its potential doesn’t end there, said Silver, who is also a founding core member of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.
“The beauty of biology is it’s the world’s greatest chemist — biology can do chemistry we can’t do easily,” she said. “In principle, we have a platform that can make any downstream carbon-based molecule. So this has the potential to be incredibly versatile.”
The new system builds on previous work by Nocera, Silver, and others, which — though it was capable of using solar energy to make isopropanol — faced a number of challenges. Chief among those, Nocera said, was the fact that the catalyst used to produce hydrogen — a nickel-molybdenum-zinc alloy — also created reactive oxygen species, molecules that attacked and destroyed the bacteria’s DNA. To avoid that, researchers were forced to run the system at abnormally high voltages, resulting in reduced efficiency.
“For this paper, we designed a new cobalt-phosphorous alloy catalyst, which we showed does not make reactive oxygen species,” Nocera said. “That allowed us to lower the voltage, and that led to a dramatic increase in efficiency.” Read the rest of this entry »
Another reason — among many — not to vote for Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president. (Those words still sound absurd and bizarre, the world according to Dali or Pirandello.)
Reuters reported that Trump has chosen Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, one of the country’s most ardent oil and gas drilling advocates and climate change skeptics, to advise him on energy policy. North Dakota of course, has long been in bed with the U.S. shale oil and gas industries.
The Reuters report says Trump’s team asked Cramer, who has endorsed Trump, to prepare some white papers on his energy policy ideas, according to Cramer and sources familiar with the matter. “Cramer said in an interview that his white paper would emphasize the dangers of foreign ownership of U.S. energy assets, as well as what he characterized as burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will have an opportunity to float some of the ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 26, Cramer said,” according to Reuters.
The article also said the congressman is among a group of Trump advisers who recently met with lawmakers from Western energy states, who hope Trump will open more federal land for drilling, a lawmaker who took part in the meeting said.
“Kevin Cramer has consistently backed reckless and dangerous schemes to put the profits of fossil fuel executives before the health of the public, so he and Trump are a match made in polluter heaven,” Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
“Donald Trump’s choice of outspoken climate (change) denier Kevin Cramer to advise him on energy policy is just the latest piece of evidence that letting him get near the White House would put our children’s health and futures at risk,” said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“Trump might find that Cramer occupies gray spaces on energy and climate policy,” according to a Scientific American article. “The former utility regulator acknowledges that the world is on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he calls himself skeptical of the broadly held view by scientists and Democrats that warming could cause severe economic and physical damage.”
“I’ve been skeptical, but I don’t resist the reality that we’re heading toward or our goal is a more carbon-constrained world,” Cramer was quoted in the SA article. For example, he would tell Trump that the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s regulatory effort to decrease power plant emissions, should be rolled back. But Cramer seems to acknowledge that something else might have to take its place.
Image: Donald Trump – Caricature by DonkeyHotey via Flickr CC
Environmental Leader reported last week on a Securities and Exchange Commission ruling that ExxonMobil must allow its shareholders to vote on a climate change resolution.
That would be a first for the oil major, which has consistently denied or avoided shareholder votes on resolutions designed to determine the long-term impacts of its business decisions on climate, and perhaps force—or shame—it to make changes. If that all seems rather nebulous and, in the end, pointless—given Exxon’s business model (oil exploration and production)—it’s because it is. But it might be a small step in the right direction for a company that has lied (or covered up) for decades about what it knew about climate change and that continues to fund climate science deniers.
The latest resolution that shareholders will vote on at its annual meeting in May would force the oil giant to disclose how climate change would affect its business. According to the EL report, New York comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli co-filed the shareholder proposal in December, asking Exxon to publish an annual assessment of the long-term portfolio impacts of climate change policies. Read the rest of this entry »
And intelligent assets? A report from the World Economic Forum says the rapid and pervasive development of digital technologies, along with an understanding of circular economy principles, will drastically change life for the average urban citizen much sooner than we think.
WEF’s report, “Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the Circular Economy Potential,” defines the circular economy as a concept in which materials and products are kept at their highest possible value at all times. It’s all about connectivity: “The exponential growth of connectivity has had a sweeping impact on our society in the last decade. It is widely understood that this increased connectivity between people, products and systems can create significant new sources of value for citizens and economies,” the report says.
“As we look to the next decade, the prevalence of connectivity, through the Internet of Things and the creation of ‘intelligent assets’ will accelerate,” so the question is, how to harness technological advances to enable smarter economic growth, resource and food security, and an improved infrastructure.
The impending digital transformation the WEF envisions has the potential to redefine the very basis of the materials-reliant industrial economy, the report’s Executive Summary continues. “Enabled by intelligent assets, a new model of development gradually gaining independence from finite resource extraction is emerging. Can pervasive connectivity become the new infrastructure enabling effective material flows, keeping products, components and materials at their highest value at all times, thus enabling the coming of age of the circular economy? Such a system would generate, on top of business advantages, multiple benefits for users and society as a whole.
“It would be a system where shared and multimodal transport help citizens to quickly and safely navigate to their destination, even during rush hour. A system where assets are able to signal the need for maintenance before breaking down, and in which local farmers can monitor and regenerate the areas of their land at risk of degradation, while at the same time providing abundant and fresh produce.”
The rapid increase in the number of intelligent assets is “reshaping” the economy. “The number of connected devices is expected to grow to 25–50 billion by 2020, from around 10 billion today. A growing body of research indicates that this Internet of Things (IoT) offers a trillion dollar opportunity, brought about by improved production and distribution processes and, perhaps more importantly, a significant shift in the way products are utilized.” The surge in intelligent assets is expected to “irreversibly transform industries and societies, and when paired with circular economy principles, this transformation has the potential to unlock tremendous value opportunities.”
This circular economy would help “decouple economic value creation from resource consumption.” It encompasses four value drivers – extending the use cycle length of an asset, increasing utilization of an asset or resource, looping or cascading an asset through additional use cycles, and regeneration of natural capital – that can be “combined with one (or several) of the three main intelligent assets value drivers – knowledge of the location, condition, and availability of an asset.”
What’s at stake “is not incremental change or a gradual digitization of the system as we know it, but a reboot: pervasive connectivity rolled out at scale has the power to redefine value generation, whilst helping emerging economies bypass heavy upfront investments and material-intensive solutions.”
For example, WEF posits an ecosystem of intelligent assets-enabled services that could jointly “open widespread access to reliable, grid-free renewable energy. Solar panels could be provided as a service to individuals and businesses without access to the capital to buy solar panels themselves, through weekly online payments.”
It’s a rethinking of value creation and logistics delivery from a straight line to a digitalized circular perspective, a brave new world of extreme connectivity.
Singularity here we come.
Image: From the WEF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation
United Airlines has launched an initiative that will use biofuel to help power flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
And according to a Washington Post report, United eventually plans to expand its use of biofuels to all flights operating out of LAX. It’s a pretty big deal because while biofuel has been tested by several airlines, it’s the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations.
The renewable fuel used to power United’s aircraft is supplied by an LA refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP. In 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period. Read the rest of this entry »
And while we’re at it let’s get goats into the act.
But first, UCLA researchers are studying the use of the human feces as biofuels to power cars. David Wernick, graduate student of UCLA, notes that poop is an untapped resource that only gets flushed in toilets.
In the US, just counting animal manure, more than 1 billion tons of poop are produced yearly. But Wernick and his colleagues are also trying other materials to produce new kinds of biofuels such as sewage waste, plant matter, cellulosic matter and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Gizmodo reported
The UCLA team plans to engineer the bacteria in human waste by breaking down the proteins in excrement and other waste rich in protein such as wastewater algae and byproducts from the fermentation of beer, ethanol and wine. Wernick believes that the re-engineered bacteria, when it uses the protein to produce poo-based biofuels, would result is the vehicle running without a need to adjust its automotive parts.
BBC recently reported that fungi found in goat and sheep stomachs can break down vegetation in a way that may be useful for biofuel production. Most biofuel in the United States comes from crops such as corn, but growing corn takes a lot of land, and using it for biofuels may drive up food prices. So the industry is increasingly looking toward nonfood sources of biomass like grass and wood. In a study published in Science, researchers show that fungi isolated from the feces of goats and sheep can break down wood better than the standard processes in place. Plus, these fungi can change which digestive enzymes they produce in response to what they are eating, making them more flexible than traditional methods.
Renewable energy is all about looking at everything in new ways, including our own poop…oh, and goats.
Update on lithium ion batteries:
Starting on April 1, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will ban shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft due safety concerns. According to Lloyd’s Loading List.com, the decision is “binding on all (191) ICAO Member States and therefore the airlines which operate in those States.”
This is the latest in a national and international efforts to restrict shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo. Last month I posted that the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “safety alert” urging U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct “a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.” The FAA also issued a guidance to its own inspectors to help them determine whether airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo.
A few days after my most recent post on safe battery technology, Safe battery tech prevents “thermal runaway”, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “safety alert” urging U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct “a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.”
The FAA also is issued a guidance to its own inspectors to help them determine whether airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo.
FAA said in press release that battery fire testing has “highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion. Current cargo fire suppression systems cannot effectively control a lithium battery fire. As a result of those tests, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have advised airlines about the dangers associated with carrying lithium batteries as cargo and also have encouraged them to conduct safety risk assessments.”
The agency noted that hazardous materials rules currently ban passenger airlines from carrying lithium-metal batteries as cargo. Also, a number of large commercial passenger airlines voluntarily decided not to carry rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries.
“The safety risk assessment process is designed to identify and mitigate risks for the airlines that still carry lithium batteries and to help those that don’t carry them from inadvertently accepting them for transport,” FAA said.
The Safety Alert For Operators (SAFO) encourages airlines that previously conducted safety assessments to reevaluate them in light of new evidence from the agency’s recent lithium battery fire tests.
So…FAA, meet Stanford—and vice versa.
Image: batteries by bitslammer via Flickr