Archive for the ‘Environment & Earth’ Category
By Aaron Mandell & Rob McGinnis
With its rapid economic growth and expanding population, China is ushering us into the future. It’s even beginning to lead the world in cleantech innovation, a pioneering shift with which the American entrepreneurial engine should compete. As we critically evaluate our domestic energy options in light of recent global catastrophes, we should take a page from China’s economic playbook: the twelfth edition of the Five-Year Plan, China’s master blueprint for economic growth.
The plan, released last month, reveals that China is diligently preparing for record breaking levels of water usage by setting stringent limits on energy consumption. In the last decade, China’s water reserves have dropped by thirteen percent. This has led the Chinese government to consider that water – more than anything else – will limit the supply of energy necessary for economic growth. Even the production of coal, China’s most important natural resource, is now constrained, as it is the single largest consumer of fresh water. This is the critical point in the energy-water nexus: the point at which energy production is constrained by water availability.
China, like many other countries around the world, is turning to desalination, which produces drinkable water from seawater. Over 524,000 tons of desalinated water are being produced in China every day. China has realized that desalination is the only viable, scalable solution for increasing fresh water supply. But to unlock desalination’s full potential, new fuel-efficient technology and improved affordability is needed.
Currently, the dominant technology in seawater desalination is reverse osmosis (RO). Over the last 30 years, RO technology has improved dramatically in energy use and cost. In 1980, seawater RO required approximately 8.1 kWh of electricity for each cubic meter of potable water (m3) it produced. By 2001, it had dropped to less than 3kWh/m3. Since then, improvements have been incremental. Current electricity use in seawater RO plants, including pretreatment, is approximately 3.73 kWh/ m3, with approximately 2.41 kWh/ m3 for the RO separation. The lowest demonstrated use for RO, excluding pretreatment, has been just below 1.6 kWh/ m3. This is a phenomenal achievement, as the minimum thermodynamic requirement for desalination of seawater is close to 1 kWh/ m3. The full potential of RO has been realized. Unfortunately, there is not much room for improvement.
An alternative desalination process called direct or forward osmosis (FO) uses membranes, as RO does, but instead of pressurizing seawater with electricity and forcing it through the membrane, FO utilizes the natural process of osmosis to reach the same goal. (At Oasys Water, we are developing FO technology called Engineered Osmosis®.)
In FO, a special solution of salts is used to generate osmotic pressure higher than that of seawater. This draw solution causes the water in the seawater to flow across a membrane. No hydraulic pressure is required. Low temperature heat is then used to recycle the special solution of salts, leaving only the fresh water behind.
The true economic value of forward osmosis desalination comes from the kind of heat that is used: waste heat. Steam from a power plant that is no longer useful to make electricity can be used to make fresh water from the ocean. The amount of electricity the power plant produces remains the same, as does the amount of fuel the plant consumes.
The electricity needs for forward osmosis desalination are very low, approximately 0.24 kWh/ m3(excluding pretreatment) in municipal-scale plants. With FO, fresh water can be produced from the sea using approximately one-tenth the fuel or electricity required by other desalination methods. FO desalination also dramatically lowers the total cost of water, since energy costs can be up to half of the total water cost of seawater RO.
There is a misconception that because RO uses fewer kilowatts of electricity than the kilowatts of heat that FO uses, a thermal approach to desalination like FO is not as efficient as RO. But FO uses low temperature heat that has no other purpose, while RO uses electricity or fuel that is costly, negatively impacts the environment, and could be used in other ways. Each cubic meter of fresh water produced in a typical RO seawater desalination facility requires the combustion of approximately 0.6 m3 of natural gas or 1.15 kg of coal, or the use of renewable electricity sources that would otherwise displace the use of this amount of fuel. Forward osmosis uses 90% less fuel than RO. FO offers a solution to the currently unsustainable exchange of fuel for water in desalination processes that are used today.
The role of desalination in supplying water for energy will continue to expand. To put our domestic water needs in perspective, look at the water footprint of the power industry, a sector that uses 40% of the United States’ freshwater. Using electricity generated from a natural gas combined cycle plant as a baseline, we consume 180 gallons of water per megawatt of electricity.
As we transition to cleaner alternatives, the options will be limited – biomass combustion consumes 1.7 times the amount of water per megawatt; nuclear power, two to four times the water; solar thermal, four to five times the water; and geothermal, eight times the water. Only solar PV and wind, both unreliable sources of base load power, require less water than natural gas.
Shale oil, regarded as the primary source of future domestic transportation fuel, requires two to five gallons of water for every gallon of refinery-ready oil produced. Increasing the number of sources of water through desalination is vital. Since more than 60% of our energy is wasted as heat, waste heat is the logical source of lower-cost energy to meet our water demand.
If China is an indicator of what is to come, then the U.S. should similarly expect – and be prepared for – the time when economic growth is slowed not by energy supply, but by water availability. We should ensure our national and personal security by investing aggressively in desalination and other alternative ways to increase our fresh water resources.
Source: Greentech Media
By Steven Edwards
Bolivia will this month table a draft United Nations treaty giving “Mother Earth” the same rights as humans – having just passed a domestic law that does the same for bugs, trees and all other natural things in the South American country.
The bid aims to have the UN recognize the Earth as a living entity that humans have sought to” dominate and exploit” – to the point that the “well-being and existence of many beings” is now threatened.
The wording may yet evolve, but the general structure is meant to mirror Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted in January.
That document speaks of the country’s natural resources as “blessings,” and grants the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution.
It also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activist and other groups, including the state.
“If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance?” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. “But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance.”
The application of the law appears destined to pose new challenges for companies operating in the country, which is rich in natural resources, including natural gas and lithium, but remains one of the poorest in Latin America.
But while Salon said his country just seeks to achieve “harmony” with nature, he signalled that mining and other companies may come under greater scrutiny.
“We’re not saying, for example, you cannot eat meat because you know you are going to go against the rights of a cow,” he said. “But when human activity develops at a certain scale that you (cause to) disappear a species, then you are really altering the vital cycles of nature or of Mother Earth. Of course, you need a mine to extract iron or zinc, but there are limits.”
Bolivia is a country with a large indigenous population, whose traditional belief systems took on greater resonance following the election of Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president.
In a 2008 pamphlet his entourage distributed at the UN as he attended a summit there, 10 “commandments” are set out as Bolivia’s plan to “save the planet” – beginning with the need “to end capitalism.”
Reflecting indigenous traditional beliefs, the proposed global treaty says humans have caused “severe destruction… that is offensive to the many faiths, wisdom traditions and indigenous cultures for whom Mother Earth is sacred.”
It also says that “Mother Earth has the right to exist, to persist and to continue the vital cycles, structures, functions and processes that sustain all human beings.”
In indigenous Andean culture, the Earth deity known as Pachamama is the centre of all life, and humans are considered equal to all other entities.
The UN debate begins two days before the UN’s recognition April 22 of the second International Mother Earth Day – another Morales-led initiative.
Canadian activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN debate: Nature Has Rights.
“It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” Barlow said of the campaign. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”
Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution – but the Bolivian law is said to be “stronger.”
Ecuador is among countries that have already been supportive of the Bolivian initiative, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.
By Eric Bloom
Supporters of energy efficiency often talk about the tremendous untapped opportunity to squeeze energy savings out of the existing building stock. This fact has been proven time and time again.
However, choosing the right measures that will achieve the deepest levels of efficiency in the most cost-effective way remains extremely difficult. In a recent survey that Pike Research conducted on behalf of Rocky Mountain Institute, 19 percent of building retrofit industry professionals indicated that auditing / benchmarking and selecting energy efficiency measures are the most challenging phases in the retrofit process to execute. Not to mention the fact that many in the retrofit industry cite a severe shortage of qualified energy auditors, particularly when it comes to the holy grail of retrofits, the investment-grade audit. And, with a growing number of new laws that will require them to provide energy bills to prospective tenants and buyers in major U.S. cities, large property owners are starting to consider ways to expedite the retrofit process in any way they can.
A new offering from start-up company Retroficiency is aiming to make retrofits easier for energy service companies and large commercial building portfolio owners and managers. The company’s energy efficiency identification and qualification (EIQ) platform systematically analyzes the potential benefits of thousands of commercial building energy efficiency measures.
The company developed its SaaS platform by leveraging information from tens of thousands of energy audits and demonstrated savings from energy efficiency measures. Using it, a commercial building owner can input the location, size, and a number of other basic building-related inputs to determine a suite of energy efficiency measures that will cut energy consumption in the building.
I recently had the chance to speak with Bennett Fisher, the CEO of Retroficiency, about the solution and how he thinks it will transform the industry. “We’re flipping the retrofit process on its head,” Fisher says. “Instead of saying, ‘Here’s what you should do to make your building more efficient,’ we can now ask, ‘How much energy do you want to save? We’ll help you get there.’” In other words, an energy or facility management company can say that it wants to cut energy consumption by 20 percent in all its facilities. The Retroficiency platform works backwards to select the best suite of efficiency measures to achieve those savings.
The idea definitely hits a nerve in the retrofit industry and others in the energy efficiency industry agree. Earlier this month, Retroficiency announced that it had raised $800,000 in angel funding. The round, led by World Energy Solutions, which has leveraged the Retroficiency platform to roll out a new product, the Virtual Energy Audit, will help Retroficiency further develop and commercialize its offering. “The world is changing from where it was ten years ago,” points out World Energy Solutions President and COO, Phil Adams. “It’s no longer just a question of paying your bills but of how you can maximize energy savings.”
Needless to say, Retroficiency’s offering represents an innovative new entrant in the energy efficiency space that will help tap the efficiency potential of the built environment.
Photo by Matt Bateman/flickr/Creative Commons
What you need to know about chlorine.
“Dear EarthTalk: I am very concerned about the amount of chlorine in my tap water. I called my water company and they said it is safe, just let the tap run for awhile to rid the smell of chlorine. But that just gets rid of the smell, perhaps, not the chlorine?” – Anita Frigo, Milford, CT
Thousands of American municipalities add chlorine to their drinking water to neutralize contaminants. “Chlorine, added as an inexpensive and effective drinking water disinfectant, is also a known poison to the body,” says Vanessa Lausch of filter manufacturer Aquasana. “It is certainly no coincidence that chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First World War.” The gas would severely burn the lungs and other body tissues when inhaled, and is no less powerful when ingested by mouth.
Lausch adds that researchers have now linked chlorine in drinking water to higher incidences of bladder, rectal and breast cancers. Reportedly chlorine, once in water, interacts with organic compounds to create trihalomethanes (THMs) – which when ingested encourage the growth of free radicals that can destroy or damage vital cells in the body. “Because so much of the water we drink ends up in the bladder and/or rectum, ingestions of THMs in drinking water are particularly damaging to these organs,” says Lausch.
The link between chlorine and bladder and rectal cancers has long been known, but only recently have researchers found a link between common chlorine disinfectant and breast cancer, which affects one out of every eight American women. A recent study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60% higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their breast tissue than cancer-free women.
But don’t think that buying bottled water is any solution. Much of the bottled water for sale in the U.S. comes from public municipal water sources that are often treated with, you guessed it, chlorine. A few cities have switched over to other means of disinfecting their water supplies. Las Vegas, for example, has followed the lead of many European and Canadian cities in switching over to ozone instead of chlorine to disinfect its municipal water supply.
As for getting rid of the chlorine that your city or town adds to its drinking water on your own, theories abound. Some swear by the method of letting their water sit for 24 hours so that the chlorine in the glass or pitcher will off-gas. Letting the tap run for a while is not likely to remove any sizable portion of chlorine, unless one were to then let the water sit overnight before consuming it. Another option to consider may be a product called WaterYouWant, which looks like sugar but actually is composed of tasteless antioxidants and plant extracts. The manufacturer claims that a quick shake of the stuff removes 100% of the chlorine (and its odor) from a glass a tap water. A year’s supply of WaterYouWant retails for under $30.
Of course, an easier way to get rid of chlorine from your tap water is by installing a carbon-based filter, which absorbs chlorine and other contaminants before they get into your glass or body. Tap-based filters from the likes of Paragon, Aquasana, Kenmore, Seagul and others remove most if not all of the chlorine in tap water, and are relatively inexpensive to boot.
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION?
Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it here or via e-mail. Read past columns here and check out the recent book Earthtalk: Expert Answers to Everyday Questions about the Environment
BP has turned to the web in an attempt to avert further criticism of its handling of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil leak.
The energy company is to follow up a $50m US TV ad campaign with global digital activity aimed at defending its role in the crisis.
It will spend up to $1m a month buying keyword search terms on Google and YouTube and has dedicated resources
to responding to queries and comments made on social-media sites.
President Obama recently criticised BP’s spending on TV ads, suggesting the money could have been better used to help ‘fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a bad time’.
Nonetheless, the company plans to continue running a series of campaigns informing the public of its efforts to clean up the oil.
The latest is a digital campaign that directs web users entering relevant search terms to a dedicated BP website. A sponsored link, running globally on Google, includes the message: ‘Learn more about how BP is helping.’
Similarly, searches on YouTube that include keywords such as ‘oil spill’ and ‘BP’ bring up a link to a video message from embattled BP chief executive Tony Hayward.
The activity, which also includes Flickr, Twitter and Facebook, is being implemented by Purple Strategies, a US agency that specialises in handling controversial public issues.
According to Giles Palmer, chief executive of Brandwatch, which measures companies’ online reputations, BP’s standing has been damaged by its poor management of the crisis. However, he believes that the company can still regain some of the trust it has lost.
“Imagine the celebrations around the world if we all felt part of the efforts to cap this leak,’ he said. ‘It could actually provide BP with an amazing platform to show just what it will do when the chips are down. This may be asking a lot, but it could happen.”
Meanwhile, BP has been targeted by environmental campaigners. Greenpeace placed a banner on the company’s London offices branding it ‘British Polluters’ and has launched a competition inviting the public to redesign BP’s logo.
Source: Marketing Magazine
BY PAUL STAMET
Paul Stamet’s Statement on Mycoremediation and its Applications to Oil Spills.
The BP oil spill has inflicted enormous harm in the Gulf of Mexico and will continue to do so for months, if not decades, to come. While we will need a wide array of efforts to address this complex problem, mycoremediation is a valuable component in our toolset of solutions. Mycoremediation has demonstrated positive results, verified by scientists in many countries. However, there is more oil spilled than there is currently mycelium available. Much more mycelium is needed and, fortunately, we know how to generate it.
Here is what we know about mycoremediation, based on tests conducted by myself, my colleagues and other researchers who have published their results. (See attached references.)
- More than 120 novel enzymes have been identified from mushroom-forming fungi.
- Various enzymes breakdown a wide assortment of hydrocarbon toxins.
- My work with Battelle Laboratories, in collaboration with their scientists, resulted in TAH’s (Total Aromatic Hydrocarbons) in diesel contaminated soil to be reduced from 10,000 ppm to < 200 ppm in 16 weeks from a 25% inoculation rate of oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium, allowing the remediated soil to be approved for use as landscaping soil along highways. (Thomas et al., 1999)
- Oil contains a wide variety of toxins, many of which are carcinogens.
- Mycelium more readily degrades lower molecular weight hydrocarbons (3,4,5 ring) than heavier weight hydrocarbons. However, the heavier weight hydrocarbons are reduced via mycelial enzymes into lighter weight hydrocarbons, allowing for a staged reduction with subsequent mycelial treatments.
- Aged mycelium from oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) mixed in with ‘compost’ made from woodchips and yard waste (50:50 by volume) resulted in far better degradation of hydrocarbons than oyster mushroom mycelium or compost alone.
- Oyster mycelium does not degrade keratin-based hair as it produces little or no keratinases, whereas other mold fungi such as Chaetomium species (which include some high temperature-tolerant leaf mold fungi) produce keratinases.
- Worms die when put into contact with high concentrations of hydrocarbon saturated soils, but live after mycelial treatments reduce the toxins below the lethal thresholds.
- Spring inoculations work better than fall inoculations as the mycelium has more time to grow-out. Bioregional specificities must be carefully considered.
- Amplifying native mushroom species in the bioregion impacted by toxic spills work better than non-native species.
- More funding is needed to better understand and implement mycoremediation technologies.
- Oil spills will occur in the future—we need to be ready for them! Read more…
Jean-Michel Cousteau, one of the world’s leading ocean explorers, has spoken of his “frustration at the human species” over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and called for it to become a catalyst for political, industrial and environmental change.
Describing the slick as “the worst oil accident anywhere on the planet”, the 72-year-old son of Jacques Cousteau, the pioneering underwater ecologist, said that the consequences for Man and nature would be monumental. “The sad side of the human species is that we talk a lot and take very little action until we have a catastrophe on our hands,” he told The Times.
“I don’t want to call this doomsday. I want to believe we can sit down with decision-makers and industry and government and convince them that there’s a better way to manage our life support system. We can do the good thing or we can keep destroying it.”
He added: “I hope that this is the kick in the butt that’s going to make our decision-makers change the way they operate.
“It’s also a kick in the butt for those industries that are making a huge amount of money to invest that money, not just talk about it as they all do, in renewable energy.”
Mr Cousteau’s father, who died in 1997, was a marine conservation trailblazer who raised awareness of the fragility of the planet and its oceans and the devastating effects of pollution, via 120 documentaries and more than 40 books. Jean-Michel Cousteau continues his father’s work through his California-based Ocean Futures Society, whose mission is to explore the seas and fight for their protection.
After witnessing the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster 21 years ago, in which 11 million gallons of oil leaked into the sea off Alaska, he had hoped for change. But a lack of regulation and oversight of the oil and chemical industry meant that a new disaster had been waiting to happen, he said.
Remnants of the slick could ultimately reach Europe by travelling in the Gulf Stream, he believes. “So BP, your oil is coming home,” said Mr Cousteau, who visited Louisiana last week. Read more…
Source: Common Dreams & Times Newspapers
With millions of gallons crude oil being spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the focus now is on shutting down the leak. However, in the cleanup efforts to come, “extreme caution” must be exercised so as not to make a bad situation even worse, says a leading bioremediation expert with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
“The concentration of detergents and other chemicals used to clean up sites contaminated by oil spills can cause environmental nightmares of their own,” says Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist in Berkeley Lab’s Earth Sciences Division who has studied such notorious oil-spill sites as the Exxon Valdez spill into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
“It is important to remember that oil is a biological product and can be degraded by microbes, both on and beneath the surface of the water,” Hazen says. “Some of the detergents that are typically used to clean-up spill sites are more toxic than the oil itself, in which case it would be better to leave the site alone and allow microbes to do what they do best.”
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by energy giant BP that exploded on April 20, is now estimated to be disgorging some 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. To contain the spreading oil slick and keep it from polluting the fragile ecosystems of the Gulf coast and the Mississippi delta, clean-up crews have deployed an array of chemical dispersants, oil skimmers and booms. They have also attempted to burn off some of the surface oil. Such aggressive clean-up efforts are fraught with unintended consequences, Hazen warns. He cites as prime examples the Amoco Cadiz and the Exxon Valdez disasters.
In 1978, an oil tanker, the Amoco Cadiz, split in two about three miles off the coast of Normandy, releasing about 227,000 tons heavy crude oil that ultimately stained nearly 200 miles of coastline. The spill-site was so large that only the areas of greatest economic impact were treated with detergents. Large areas in the more remote parts of the coast went untreated.
“The untreated coastal areas were fully recovered within five years of the Amoco Cadiz spill,” says Hazen. “As for the treated areas, ecological studies show that 30 years later, those areas still have not recovered.” Read more…
Source: Science Daily
I. Thou shall love and honor the Earth for it blesses thy life and governs thy survival.
II. Thou shall keep each day sacred to the Earth and celebrate the turning of its seasons.
III. Thou shall not hold thyself above other living things nor drive them to extinction.
IV. Thou shall give thanks for thy food, to the creatures and plants that nourish thee.
V. Thou shall educate thy offspring for multitudes of people are a blessing unto the Earth when we live in harmony.
VI. Thou shall not kill, nor waste Earth’s riches upon weapons of war.
VII. Thou shall not pursue profit at the Earth’s expense but strive to restore its damaged majesty.
VIII. Thou shall not hide from thyself or others the consequences of thy actions upon the Earth.
IX. Thou shall not steal from future generations by impoverishing or poisoning the Earth.
X. Thou shall consume material goods in moderation so all may share the Earth’s bounty. See Video…