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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

All of the great environmentally friendly ideas that caught my eye this past week:

Atmospheric Harvesters

The home of the future won’t just be covered in solar panels.  It’ll also have its very own atmospheric harvester enabling it to generate its own drinking water, even if its located in an arid climate with little to no humidity.

As Engadget puts it, “As climate change continues to wreak havoc upon the Earth’s weather patterns, formerly lush locales like the American West are finding themselves increasingly parched. Perhaps nowhere is that abrupt arridization more pronounced than in Cape Town, South Africa. Since 2015, the region has suffered severe droughts and the coastal capital of 4 million people has struggled to maintain a steady municipal water supply.

Cape Town narrowly avoided Day Zero earlier this year, when the city’s taps were projected to run dry, but the city is expected to face another critical shortage in 2019. The situation has become so dire that officials are seriously considering importing icebergs to augment the water supply. But why try to tow 70,000 tons of ice 1,200 miles up from Antarctica when modern technology can suck the humidity we need out of thin air?”

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Recycling CO2 Faster Than Plants

A new process for Synthetic Photosynthesis could process the overwhelming quantities of carbon dioxide currently poisoning our atmosphere faster than plants.  Like twice as fast.

According to Futurism, “Once the technology is successfully transplanted into living plants, we would be in for faster, less energy-intensive CO2 fixation. Its applications include developing systems to create carbon-based feed for cattle, and perhaps even designing desirable chemical products. The obvious impact is better CO2 processing, which may contribute to stabilizing its presence in our atmosphere.”

 

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Choose Water Bottle 

British scientist James Longcroft claims to have invented a water bottle capable of decomposing in just three weeks.  If he’s right, this could have a huge environmental impact as plastic water bottles are one of the leading causes of ocean pollution.

According to Science Alert, “The outer lining of the bottle is made out of recycled paper donated by businesses, while the waterproof inner lining is made with a composite material Longcroft has developed himself.  All the constituents of the bottle can fully decompose within three weeks when left in water or landfill, and can be eaten by sea creatures, the company told Business Insider in a statement.”

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A group of researchers have announced plans to sequence the genome of nearly every living thing on planet Earth.  If you thought the Human Genome Project was ambitious you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The goal of the Earth BioGenome Project is to sequence the genome of eurakyotes i.e. everything that contains a nucleus.  Which is pretty much everything (plants, animals, etc.) with the exception of bacteria.

This is quite the undertaking.  And an expensive one at that.  It took nearly $5 billion and 13 years to sequence the human genome.  Doing the same thing for the rest of life on Earth would seemingly take forever and be too expensive to pull off.  And yet here we are.  With a goal of $4.7 billion and ten years.  How is that even possible?

In a word: motivation.  For we are talking about creating new drugs, generating new sources of food, counteracting Climate Change, and doing a host of other things that may very well determine the future of the species.  When the stakes are this high you don’t take no for an answer.

To start out, just think about what this project could mean for drug discovery alone.  Considering that we’ve only scratched the surface of discovering drugs in nature this research could open up a myriad of possibilities.

According to Futurism:

“So far, scientists have only sequenced the DNA of .2 percent of all known eukaryotic species. That’s helped scientists discover and understand a number of medications that exist in nature, from morphine to aspirin. What kinds of potentially life-saving compounds remain hidden in the other 99.8 percent of un-sequenced species (or in the estimated 10 million to 15 million unknown species)?”

But that’s not all.  In addition to drug discovery there are plenty of other benefits that this project could have as well.  Such as helping researchers, “hone in on new sources of food to nourish the planet’s growing population and new resources for helping us take care of its soil, air, and water.”

A good example of this would be cockroach milk.  It’s said that the milk from the Pacific Beatle Cockroach contains 3x as much protein as milk from cows.  Sequencing the genome of everything would help us determine if there’s something else out there that would work even better.  Perhaps with 30x the protein.  Or 200x the protein.  Until we get in there and conduct the research we just don’t know.

It’ll be quite the undertaking for sure.  But as the researchers state in their inaugural paper it’ll be worth it:

“The greatest legacy of the EBP will be the gift of knowledge — a complete Digital Library of Life that contains the collective biological intelligence of 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history.  This knowledge will guide future discoveries for generations and may ultimately determine the survival of life on our planet.”

Amen to that.

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Is the Earth BioGenome Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Some of the greatest discoveries of all-time have happened by accident.  The Microwave.  Play-Doh.  Viagra.  The list goes on and on.  And now there’s a new entrant: plastic eating enzymes.

When it comes to serendipitous inventions, plastic eating enzyme doesn’t sound that sexy.  On face value it pales in comparison to the Pacemaker or even the Slinky.  But when you consider how important it’s job is (cleaning up the ocean) it takes the cake.  Especially when you consider that the great Pacific trash pile is now twice the size of Texas.

According to CNET, “The creation of the enzyme came by accident when the team, led by Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth, UK, tweaked a bacterium they had discovered in a waste dump in Japan in 2016. The bacterium had naturally evolved to eat plastic, and the scientists inadvertently made it even better at breaking down polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, the plastic used for drink bottles. The break-down process starts in a matter of days, not the centuries it can take in the ocean.”

Considering how much plastic there is that needs to be cleaned up this is great news.  Proving the old adage, that when it comes to science, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

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Is a plastic eating enzyme the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill. The FBI raiding Trump’s lawyer.  The chemical attack in Syria.  With so much going on its easy to lose sight of scientific breakthroughs when they happen.  But this latest one you’re going to want to hear about.  Because it could change everything.

That’s right.  We may have a way to combat Climate Change, to cure diseases, to engineer vaccines, to do it all.  To do anything we want to do when it comes to manipulating the natural world.  Because we can now control the process by which proteins are made, allowing us to make new ones that aren’t found naturally.  New ones with the ability to solve any problem we want.

The New Zealand Herald quotes the lead doctor on the project, Effie Fan, to explain how it works.

‘Everything in nature, from humans to bacteria, is made of proteins, and through evolution proteins can change in a certain way to solve certain problems – like making people immune to a disease,’ [Dr. Effie] Fan explained.

‘But evolution is a slow process, and there are some problems – like cancer, viral epidemics, and climate change – that we don’t have time for nature to solve on its own. The goal of our field of science is to manipulate proteins in the lab to solve these problems soon.’”

For my money this is one of the most exciting fields of science out there.  Right up there with CRISPR gene editing and Synthetic Biology.  A field of science with unlimited potential.  With the ability to speed up evolution and fix anything and everything that ails us.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

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A new method of creating proteins could solve Climate Change and all other natural world issues.

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I’ve been hyping up wonder material Graphene for years.  Waiting for that moment when the light weight, stronger than steel graphite offshoot would go mainstream.  Well.  That moment is finally here for we now have a remarkable product that could quickly and easily revolutionize society in a simple and straightforward manner.  Say hello to your new best friend, Graphair – a water filtration system unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

As Engadget puts it:

“Every year, millions of people around the world die from drinking unclean water. Now, researchers have developed a process that can purify water, no matter how dirty it is, in a single step. Scientists from Australian research organization CSIRO have created a filtration technique using a graphene film with microscopic nano-channels that lets water pass through, but stops pollutants. The process, called ‘Graphair’, is so effective that water samples from Sydney Harbor were safe to drink after being treated.

And while the film hails from graphene, Graphair is comparatively cheaper, faster and more environmentally-friendly to make, as its primary component is renewable soybean oil, which also helps maximize the efficiency of the purifying technique’s filter counterpart. Over time, oil-based pollutants can impede water filters, so contaminants have to be removed before filtering can even begin, but using Graphair removes these pollutants faster than any other method.”

Having a water filtration system that works this well is a real game-changer.  Just think about what this would mean for the developing world.  Just think about what it would mean in a climate change ravaged future that could leave large swaths of the population facing water shortages.  The widespread fear that wars in the future will be fought over access to clean drinking water are now just that – fears that will never materialize into reality.  For that very reason Graphair could very well be one of the most important inventions of all time.  And it’s all thanks to Graphene.  The wonder material that never ceases to amaze.

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Is Graphair the Greatest Idea Ever?

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No matter the industry new ideas are often met with swift resistance.  Rather than embrace change our default reaction, hard-wired into our brains by millions of years of evolution, is to greet change with anger, to reject it, to cling to what is known and familiar, to what is safe.  History is littered with examples of innovations that were simply ahead of their time, rejected outright by those in power, fearful of the revolution that a controversial new idea would bring about.

Climate change deniers are proof of this phenomenon which makes it really hard to bring about vital change in the energy sector.  Thanks to this reality our move away from a reliance on fossil fuels is going to be a slow burn, not a quick fix.

Luckily, there’s a new biofuel on the horizon that could help with the transition since it’s essentially a renewable version of an existing product.  Instead of replacing coal with something else, we’d just replace it with a better version of coal.  Everyone wins, those open to change and even those among us who are more close-minded, desperate to hold onto what they’ve always been told to believe.

According to Science Alert, “This ‘instant coal’ biofuel brings the high energy efficiency of coal without the usual damaging side-effects – such as deep mining to collect it, and resulting pollution from burning it and releasing impurities. What’s more, it doesn’t take eons to form underground, and is instead made from agricultural waste including wood and plants. That means we’ve potentially got a never-ending source of the stuff, according to the team developing it at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI), part of the University of Minnesota Duluth.”

In other words, we’re talking about creating an abundant artificial coal made out of plants that would replace existing coal, thereby eliminating mining operations and saving the planet in the process.  Hopefully, as this research continues to develop it will be met with less and less resistance once everyone realizes how much of a no-brainer decision it is to switch.

Image result for instant coal biofuelIs Instant Coal the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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As wildfires continue to devastate thousands of acres in California it’s become increasingly clear that we need better firefighting tools.  Something that we could use to put out dangerous fires or even prevent them from forming in the first place.  The latter is where the Firesound drone comes in.

As the BBC puts it, “The Firesound is a firefighting flying saucer. The bright yellow, meter wide, autonomous disc is designed to patrol parks and forests, constantly looking for danger using smoke sensors and thermal cameras. Unlike UFOs from 50s B-movies, however, it won’t shoot out the kind of laser beams that might spark a forest fire.  Instead the Firesound will blast low frequency sound waves to extinguish small fires before they can spread.”

Essentially what Firesound does is use sound waves to move oxygen away from the fire, thereby removing its fuel source, and effectively starving it.  It’s an effective, low-cost method, that could wind up saving lives, property, and the environment and it comes to us from Charles Bombardier, the same designer behind the Antipode, the high speed airliner capable of traveling at Mach 24 and traveling from New York to London in just 11 minutes.

The Firesound can do a lot more than just put out fires though as it can also be used as a surveillance tool to help locate people who are missing.  Or, as Bombardier suggests, it could also be configured to provide wi-fi connectivity to a stranded camper so that they can signal for help.

Unfortunately, the Firesound wouldn’t be much help in fighting a large scale fire that is already burning out of control.  It also, may not be much help in preventing them either, considering that it’s just a prototype for now.  Hopefully it does wind up becoming a real product because the people of California can use all the help they can get.

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Is Firesound the Greatest Idea Ever?

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