Breaking News: Scientists Discover How to Generate Solar Power in the Dark

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IMAGE: FLICKR, JESSE! S?

The next big thing in solar energy could be microscopic.

Scientists at MIT and Harvard University have devised a way to store solar energy in molecules that can then be tapped to heat homes, water or used for cooking.

The best part: The molecules can store the heat forever and be endlessly re-used while emitting absolutely no greenhouse gases. Scientists remain a way’s off in building this perpetual heat machine but they have succeeded in the laboratory at demonstrating the viability of the phenomenon called photoswitching.

“Some molecules, known as photoswitches, can assume either of two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle,” MIT researchers said in statement about the paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry. “Exposing them to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time.”

To liberate that energy all you have to do is expose the molecules to a small amount of light, heat or electricity and when they switch back to the other shape they emit heat. “In effect, they behave as rechargeable thermal batteries: taking in energy from the sun, storing it indefinitely, and then releasing it on demand,” the scientists said.

The researchers used a photoswitching substance called an azobenzene, attaching the molecules to substrates of carbon nanotubes. The challenge: Packing the molecules closely enough together to achieve a sufficient energy density to generate usable heat.

It appeared that the researchers had failed when they were only able to pack fewer than half the number of molecules needed as indicated by an earlier computer simulation of the experiment.

But instead of hitting a projected 30% increase in energy density, they saw a 200% increase. It turned out that the key was not so much packing azobenzene molecules tightly on individual carbon nanotubes as packing the nanotubes close together. That’s because the azobenzene molecules formed “teeth” on the carbon nanotubes, which interlocked with teeth on adjacent nanotubes. The result was the mass needed for a usable amount of energy storage.

That means different combinations of photoswitching molecules and substrates might achieve the same or greater energy storage, according to the researchers.

So how would molecular solar storage work if the technology can be commercialized? Timothy Kucharski, the paper’s lead author and a postdoc at MIT and Harvard, told The Atlantic that most likely the storage would take a liquid form, which would be easy to transport.

“It would also enable charging by flowing the material from a storage tank through a window or clear tube exposed to the sun and then to another storage tank, where the material would remain until it’s needed,” Kucharski said in an email. “That way one could stockpile the charged material for use when the sun’s not shining.”

The paper’s authors envision the technology could be used in countries where most people rely on burning wood or dung for cooking, which creates dangerous levels of indoor air pollution, leads to deforestation and contributes to climate change.

“For solar cooking, one would leave the device out in the sun during the day,” says Kucharski. “One design we have for such an application is purely gravity driven — the material flows from one tank to another. The flow rate is restricted so that it’s exposed to the sun long enough that it gets fully charged. Then, when it’s time to cook dinner, after the sun is down, the flow direction is reversed, again driven by gravity, and the opposite side of the setup is used as the cooking surface.”

“As the material flows back to the first tank, it passes by an immobilized catalyst which triggers the energy-releasing process, heating the cooking surface up,” he adds.

Other versions of such device could be used to heat buildings.
Kucharski said the MIT and Harvard team is now investigating other photoswitching molecules and substrates, “with the aim of designing a system that absorbs more of the sun’s energy and also can be more practically scaled up.”

Source: The Atlantic 

High-Five! U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Dropping.

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U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 10 percent from 2005 to 2012, more than halfway toward the United States’ 2020 target pledged at United Nations climate talks, according to the latest national emissions inventory.

The report showed that emissions dropped 3.4 percent from 2012 to 2011, mostly due to a decrease in energy consumption and fuel switching from coal to natural gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday published the United States’ 19th annual emissions tally to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The United States uses 2005 pollution levels as its benchmark to measure emissions cuts, and has a target to lower emissions by 17 percent from that starting point by 2020.

Since 1990, the first year the United States kept the inventory, carbon dioxide emissions – largely energy-related emissions and the most prevalent greenhouse gas – rose just 5.4 percent.

Meanwhile hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), super greenhouse gases used primarily as refrigerants, saw a dramatic rise of over 309 percent.

The Obama administration has taken steps to reduce these emissions through bilateral and multilateral agreements with major polluters, including China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and India.

The EPA prepares the annual report in collaboration with other federal agencies and is subject to public comments.

A United Nations report released Sunday said that governments must act faster to keep global warming in check and that a radical shift from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy such as wind, solar or nuclear power would shave only about 0.06 of a percentage point a year off world economic growth.

The report, endorsed by governments, is meant as the main scientific guide for nations working on a U.N. deal to be agreed in late 2015 to rein in greenhouse gas emissions that have hit repeated highs this century, led by China’s industrial growth.

The Obama administration’s climate action plan, now being implemented, is expected to steer the United States to meet its 17 percent target by 2020. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Matthew Lewis)

Source: Huffington Post

Urban Composting: How To Turn Food Scraps Into Fresh Produce

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For most people, the word “compost” probably conjures up images of farmland, giant stinky piles of banana peels, and someone in a pair of overalls wielding a pitchfork. But recycling food scraps into nutrient-rich soil is surprisingly adaptable to city life — even somewhere as urban as the Big Apple.

To prove it, two design students created Hello Compost, a new non-profit that offers low-income populations throughout New York City the opportunity to exchange their leftover food scraps for fresh produce. The program is slated to launch a trial-size group of 60 households in September.

Hello Compost is an exciting development for NYC’s communities, and it also sheds some light on the growth of urban composting throughout the country in recent years. More than ever, people in a variety of living situations are thinking about food waste and how to change our food system from the bottom (of the trash can) up.

WHAT’S THE DEAL?

Luke Keller and Aly Blenkin, students at Parsons The New School for Design, dreamed up the Hello Compost concept as part of an academic thesis earlier this year. Right off the bat, they got in touch with Project EATS, a well-established NYC non-profit dedicated to enriching working-class areas via community-owned urban farms, farmers’ markets, and arts and cultural events. In March, the New York City Housing Authority granted Project EATS permission to temporarily store food waste at their farm site in Harlem. After a few meetings with Project EATS’ founder Linda Goode Bryant, Keller and Blenkin realized they were striving after the same goals: One, to create an urban composting system, and two, to invent some kind of community-based, non-monetary currency that would promote local farms and healthy eating.

Sounds great on paper, but compost is dirty, stinky, and kind of unsanitary in a tight apartment, right? Wrong: Hello Compost gives each participating household a freezable, odor-blocking bag (they come in small and large sizes to accommodate different lifestyles) that keeps your scraps in one place and odor-free. Each participant also gets a detailed set of instructions so they know what can and can’t be composted.

Full bags are brought to Project EATS, where the contents are weighed and exchanged for credits that can be used to purchase fresh produce from Project EATS’ farms and markets (The Hello Compost team is still figuring out the exact conversions of compost-to-credits and credits-to-dollars.).

The result is a win-win: Community members receive social support and healthy produce and local farms receive valuable compost with which to enrich their crops. Even beyond these benefits, Keller’s number-one priority is the environment. He wants to get food waste out of rapidly-filling landfills and help NYC communities participate in environmentally-friendly eating practices.

WHY IT MATTERS

Every week, many of us are probably guilty of looking in the fridge, opening up a container, giving the contents the “sniff test,” and deciding to toss the leftovers. It seems like no big deal, but every year our country produces over 35 million tons of food waste. According to 2011 statistics, 96 percent of those funky leftovers and scraps end up in a landfill or incinerator. And while most of us are throwing out food willy-nilly, a whopping 14.5 percent of American households are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from. There’s clearly a disconnect between our food supply and the food we waste, but how can we recalibrate our food system?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the best way to reduce food waste is to prevent it from happening in the first place: Buy less, store correctly, and use leftovers wisely. The next best thing is to use food waste — and one of the easiest ways to do so is through composting, which creates nutrient-rich soil that can be used to grow more food. The natural compounds derived from compost can also remove chemicals from runoff water and help restore wetlands and other habitats, among many other uses.

When it comes to food waste, New York City acts like a microcosm for the entire country. The concrete jungle produces up to 36,000 tons of trash each day, and more than 20 percent of that is food waste. Last year alone, the city government spent $336 million hauling and burying 1.2 million pounds of food waste in landfills throughout the Northeast United States. But NYC deserves some credit for working to reorganize its food systems: The NYC Department of Sanitation launched the city’s first composting program in 1993, and it’s been growing in leaps and bounds ever since. Today, the program has drop-off sites in four of New York’s five boroughs.

The Hello Compost program seems like a good way to test how composting programs can help stem food waste and provide food security to low-income families in New York. By providing working-class households with access to local crops and a way to dispose of food waste responsibly, Hello Compost and Project EATS are tackling two of the most difficult and persistent problems (excess waste and insufficient access to healthy food, a.k.a. “food deserts”) that plague the American food system. With any luck, these programs will serve as models that can be implemented throughout the country.

IS IT LEGIT?

It remains to be seen. Keller intends to use Hello Compost’s first 60-household cohort (which launches in September) as a trial run for the program. As of right now, Keller, Blenkin, and their friends at Project EATS don’t know exactly how communities will react to composting and the waste-for-credits currency system. But there’s hope in previous experiments: Keller mentioned already-established programs like CompostNow in North Carolina and the Food for Waste Programme in South Africa as inspiration.

The biggest challenge will be how to tie together the program’s many moving parts. For Hello Compost to succeed, it must create incentives for people to compost, promote the benefits of purchasing fresh produce, and connect those two activities to building a strong, healthy community. These aren’t easy tasks in the first place, and they’re compounded by challenges (such as size and expensive living costs) unique to New York City. On the bright side, Hello Compost and Project EATS are thinking ahead, which is a rarity in today’s culture of immediate gratification. All signs show that responsible waste management and local, fresh food are essential to maintaining healthy bodies and, equally importantly, a healthy planet.

Source: Greatist

That’s Outrageous! Over 24,000 Chemicals Found In Bottled Water

Which Ones of these Chemicals, Are Harming You?

German researchers have discovered endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), that could adversely affect development and reproduction, to be contained in 18 different bottled water products. Of the 24,520 suspect chemicals found to be present in bottled water, the one that showed consistent results and illustrated anti-androgenic and anti-estrogenic activity is di(2-ethylhexyl) fumarate (DEHF). Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with the hormone system, they can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, cardiovascular disorders, metabolic disorders and as mentioned earlier,  other developmental disorders.

This study comes from Martin Wagner and Jorg Oehlmann of the Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, and Michael Schlusener and Thomas Ternes of the German Federal Institute of Hydrology. They determined that bottled water could contain serious amounts of EDCs that should be a cause from concern.

Researchers used spectrometric simulation to narrow down their findings to DEHF as the only possible EDC giving rise to harmful activity. DEHF is also known as an anti-estrogenic compound, which means that another unidentified EDC must be present in the samples that showed anti-androgenic activity.

The authors employed a sensitive in vitro bioassay to characterize the total estrogenic burden leaching from plastics, including potential mixture effects and unidentified EDCs. Using a similar approach, a series of studies reported a widespread estrogenic contamination of commercially available bottled water.  Here, we combine biological and chemical analysis to identify putative steroid receptor antagonists in bottled water. Most of the products were potently antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic in the bioassays. Nontarget high-resolution mass spectrometry pointed towards maleate and fumarate isomers as promising candidates and subsequently enabled the identification of di(2-ethylhexyl) fumarate. Because its concentration is too low to explain the observed activity, other compounds must contribute. However, further maleate/fumarate isomers are not only biologically active but structurally highly similar to phthalates. Hence, we speculate these compounds might represent a novel, so far overlooked group of EDCs. An increasing number of in vitro studies reports the presence of EDCs in bottled water. With previous studies focusing on estrogenicity, the present work provides evidence for an additional contamination with steroid receptor antagonists. We detected antiestrogens and antiandrogens in the majority of analyzed bottled water products. Moreover, the antagonist activity was very potent. An equivalent of 3.75 ml bottled water inhibited estrogen and androgen receptor by up to 60 and 90 percent. Bottled water from six different countries has been found to contain estrogenic, antiestrogenic, as well as androgenic, progestagenic, and glucocorticoid-like chemicals. This demonstrates that a popular beverage is contaminated with diverse-acting EDCs.

What Can You Do?

The answer is simple, don’t drink bottled water!

Apart from that, you can purchase water filters that take out the chlorine and fluoride from your water if you choose, they aren’t that hard to find and if you do your research you can find some fairly inexpensive ones. If you’re interested, shoot us an email and we can help you out in your search. 24,000 chemicals is a lot of chemicals to be putting into your body. I’m not saying all of them are harmful, but who would want to take that chance? It’s not uncommon for us to taste some of these chemicals within the water that come from the plastic, especially if you leave the bottle in the sun for a short period of time.

Here is a very informative video that shares a lot more of what needs to be known about bottled water:

Source: CS Globe

Become A Green Driver, It’s Easy!

Vehicles are one of the most polluting entities that aids us,  even the Greenest ones pollute. From production to use, our cars degrade the world. They require mass amounts of material and energy to manufacture, and they expel carbon dioxide and fluid when they run. The drilling for oil disrupts the eco-system and the refineries pollute the air. And, even though the “Greener” vehicles are the lesser of the two evils, they still require water and energy to run. Nevertheless, our vehicles have become an almost necessity in our commute – they allow us to travel farther and quicker, and to be more efficient in our schedules and organized in our chores, and all it’s costing us is the environment. However, there are tiny practices that we can implement in our daily travels to help us lessen our footprint, below are ten.

10 Easy Ways to Be a Greener Driver:

  1. Drive safely: Avoid frequent stops and starts, speeding and acceleration – driving recklessly emits more CO2s than safe driving does.
  2. Cruise baby: Get better gas mileage by setting your cruise control on the highways.
  3. Clean your car: Remove unnecessary items from your car as the extra weight means more fuel use.
  4. Plan before you drive: Plan out your day and determine the quickest routes to get your chores done. Planning is a excellent way to save money and gas.
  5. Eco accessories: There are more sustainable options to almost all of the accessories you keep in your car. Seek out greener car matswheel coverssolar car battery chargers and natural car fresheners.
  6. Less air conditioning: Avoid using your air conditioner if possible, instead, use sun reflectors when your car is parked and roll down the windows to feel the breeze, or use solar powered car fans.
  7. Maintain your car: Use more eco friendly car oil and be certain that your engine is properly tuned and that your air filter is upgraded.
  8. Upgrade your gas sucker: Upgrade your older car to a newer one that gets better gas mileage. The greener cars are more sustainable and economical.
  9. Sell or donate your old car: There is value in old cars as many parts can be salvaged – tires can be recycled and metal components can be reused. The accessories can also be salvaged.
  10. Drive less: The best way to be a green driver is to drive less. Walk the shorter distances, car pool with your workmates or take public transportation if you can.

Source: Hug a Tree with Me

Yellowstone Takes On Another Sustainability Project

The National Park Service is tackling another Yellowstone sustainability project and seeking public input on changes to the existing energy conservation and renewable energy production systems at historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch.

Sustainable energy infrastructure improvements at the ranch are being proposed to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, replace and expand the existing photovoltaic (solar energy) system including storage batteries and related control equipment, and to install a new micro hydro turbine. Energy monitoring equipment would also be installed to monitor energy use and provide information for education purposes. The project will also provide for the ability to explore additional renewable energy technologies in the future.

The Lamar Buffalo Ranch is located approximately 10 miles from the nearest electric service and the existing solar energy system was installed in 1996.  Many of the components are at the end of their useful life and buildings are not energy efficient.  This project would increase the renewable energy available for use at the ranch and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the current fossil fuel-powered generator currently in operation. The project would also create a model for off-grid environmental stewardship and education in Yellowstone National Park.

Though frequently overlooked, the Lamar Buffalo Ranch is one of the oldest and most historic areas in Yellowstone National Park. The Lamar Buffalo Ranch Historic District consists of five structures including a barn, two residences, a bunkhouse, and corral constructed between 1915 and the 1930s. It began life as a stagecoach stop between Cooke City and Gardiner, and converted in 1907 to house the remaining Yellowstone bison herd — all 28 of them — and remained in that use until 1955. The building were constructed in 1915 and the 1930s (the bunkhouse was built at Soda Butte and moved in 1938. The facility is currently used by the Yellowstone Association for programs.

An EA will be prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  Comments may be submitted on the NPS’ Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) Web site at parkplanning.nps.gov/LamarEA.  They may also be hand-delivered during normal business hours to the Mailroom in the park’s Administration Building in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, or mailed to: Compliance Office Attn: Lamar Buffalo Ranch Sustainable Energy EA, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY, 82190.  Comments will not be accepted by fax, e-mail, or in any other way than those specified above.  All comments must be received by midnight MDT, May 9, 2014.

Source: Yellowstone Insider

Hacks For a More Sustainable And Fun City!

Sometimes all it takes is imagination, some stealth, and a little elbow grease to turn the mundane into something playful. Rotten Apple, an anonymous art project based in New York City, turns ordinary and forgotten city objects into usable, sustainable mini-hacks. Here’s how they describe where they land:

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Rotten Apple

So, how does that look on the ground? They added a seat on a hinge to a bicycle rack for a pop-down chair:

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Rotten Apple

They turned a forgotten newspaper kiosk into a cold weather clothing bank:

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Rotten Apple

And they left instructions on how to make a functional composting bin out of wood pallets left lying on the street:

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Rotten Apple

Although we don’t know who is behind Rotten Apple (the NYPD might not look too kindly upon mini chalkboards in subway stations or chessboards on fire hydrants), they do draw inspiration from eco-designer Victor Papanek, whose quote is included on their website:

Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical in the truest sense. It must dedicate itself to … maximum diversity with minimum inventory … or doing the most with the least.

Head over to the Rotten Apple site for more inspiration, including traffic cone planters and urban hammocks.

Source: Grist

Make Going Out In Nature a Family Affair

As a parent, worrying about our kids is part of our everyday – it goes hand in hand with parenthood. My worry list gets long, but my top two are their health and their happiness, and I bet it’s the same for you.

When it comes to your kids and nature, what worries you? If you’re like 65% of U.S. parents, it’s the fact that kids aren’t getting enough time outside.

The Nature Conservancy, with support from Disney, recently surveyed parents of kids between 3 – 18 in the U.S., Brazil, China, France and Hong Kong about kids and nature. This is the first global survey to capture how much time kids spend outside and parents’ perspectives on how much importance they place on nature.

My daughter Kareena enjoying some outdoor time at the beach. 

As it turns out, U.S. parents worry about getting their kids outside as much as they do about bullying, the quality of education and obesity. That is a big deal to me – nature is as important as these issues! Globally, this feeling is shared strongly by parents in Brazil and Hong Kong.  What’s more, 82% of U.S. parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development – second only to reading as a priority. The message is clear; to parents, nature is not just “something to do,” it is a crucial part of growth.

So are parents right to worry about this? The answer – according to numerous studies – is a resounding yes. Fact: kids need nature. Studies repeatedly show that time spent outside in nature leads to better health and improvement in the classroom. Unfortunately, the time kids spend in nature declines as they get older. In the U.S., preschoolers spend 12 hours a week outside, but teens? Less than seven. In other countries except Brazil, the weekly average is far smaller. Admittedly, this winter has really been a challenge to getting outdoors. That said, my daughter Kareena probably spends about eight hours a week outside walking the dog, recess, playing in a lot of snow and playing sports.

So what’s keeping our kids indoors? Parents in all countries cite competing demands on their kids’ time, such as homework, time spent on electronic devices inside, or other after-school activities. Similar to study findings, homework and lots of activities including singing, swimming, basketball and playing with her dog, her friends and her devices take up Kareena’s time. With all that going on and all our daily responsibilities, it can be tough to make getting into nature a priority. 

But, connecting with nature is a critical part of Kareena’s development, so my husband and I work to fit it in where we can.   Working in the conservation field, I also think about the future. 

If kids don’t connect with nature now, who will care for the environment and support conservation in the future? Direct experience with nature is the most highly cited influence on conservation values and inspiring environmental stewardship.

What excites me about these findings is that parents want to do something about it – it’s risen in our consciousness to take action. So what can we do?

First, let’s recognize that we are the primary gatekeepers to nature. According to the survey, children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member. Nature is not just good for children – it’s good for everyone.

Second, get connected. 75% of parents use online resources to learn about nature and the outdoors. Our  Nature Rocks Activity Finder gives parents ideas on where to go and what to do with kids of all ages and in all types of weather, and it works great on any mobile device.

Finally, pledge to get outside! Walk to school. Hike at a nature preserve, or plan a weekend of camping as a family. Make sure your kids see how much fun you’re having.

Are you part of the 65% of American parents that worry that your child doesn’t spend enough time outside? Do you have any tips or tricks to share to work in more outdoor time to our family’s over-scheduled life? 

Source: Nature Rocks