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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Everyone’s attention right now is focused on the Atlantic Ocean and rightfully so.  Hurricane Florence is no joke.  Larger than the state of North Carolina and wider than the difference from Boston to Philadelphia, this tremendously wet behemoth of a storm has a chance to be the most devastating domestic hurricane in recorded history.

But over in the Pacific Ocean looms an even larger threat.

As Smithsonian puts it:

“Halfway between Hawaii and California, an enormous mound of garbage measuring twice the size of Texas floats in the Pacific, menacing the marine ecosystem and steadily accumulating man-made debris. This isle of plastic, better known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGB), is made up of roughly 1.8 trillion pieces of detritus, and it shows no signs of breaking down anytime soon.”

Thankfully, there is a plan being put in place to try and counteract the GPGB.  The largest environmental endeavor in human history.

“…the Ocean Cleanup project—an ambitious $20 million campaign spearheaded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat—aims to stop the patch in its tracks by ensnaring offending debris in a 2,000-foot-long free-floating boom, or barrier. Slat and his team launched a test drive of their device on Saturday, Christina Caron reports for The New York Times, and if all goes well, they will move on to the GPGB by mid-October.”

People opposed to Slat’s plan claim this this giant floating barrier will be harmful to marine life.  But isn’t the alternative, doing nothing while garbage piles up, even worse for marine life and the entire ocean ecosystem as a whole?  I for one am in favor of Slat’s plan, or any plan for that matter, that aims to clean up the environment and make the world a better place.

Now if only we could do something about those damn hurricanes.

Is the Ocean Cleanup Project the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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Millions of people around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water.  Chemist Omar Yaghi aims to change that through his incredible invention that is able to generate clean drinking water out of thin air.  Cactus style!

As TechCrunch reports:

“Yaghi is a chemist, and has created what’s called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, that’s eager both to absorb and release water.

It’s essentially a powder made of tiny crystals in which water molecules get caught as the temperature decreases. Then, when the temperature increases again, the water is released into the air again.

“[Omar] Yaghi demonstrated the process on a small scale last year, but now he and his team have published the results of a larger field test producing real-world amounts of water.

They put together a box about two feet per side with a layer of MOF on top that sits exposed to the air. Every night the temperature drops and the humidity rises, and water is trapped inside the MOF; in the morning, the sun’s heat drives the water from the powder, and it condenses on the box’s sides, kept cool by a sort of hat. The result of a night’s work: 3 ounces of water per pound of MOF used.

That’s not much more than a few sips, but improvements are already on the way. Currently the MOF uses zicronium, but an aluminum-based MOF, already being tested in the lab, will cost 99 percent less and produce twice as much water.

With the new powder and a handful of boxes, a person’s drinking needs are met without using any power or consumable material. Add a mechanism that harvests and stores the water and you’ve got yourself an off-grid potable water solution.”

This technology could be a real game-changer for those who live in arid climates or drought stricken areas.  Hopefully, the research will continue to progress and get to the point where it is able to produce vast quantities of water cheaply.

mofbox

Soon we’ll be able to generate water from thin air just like a cactus!

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Even if you don’t believe in Climate Change you’ll love this next idea.  For scientists from Harvard University have figured out a way to extract gasoline from thin air!  That’s right.  Soon we’ll be able to create a perpetual source of energy, by turning our waste, carbon dioxide, into the actual fuel source that we’ll be using to create even more carbon dioxide.  A vicious cycle but one that will help to clean up the environment, or at least not make it any worse.

As the Atlantic puts it, “Their research seems almost to smuggle technologies out of the realm of science fiction and into the real. It suggests that people will soon be able to produce gasoline and jet fuel from little more than limestone, hydrogen, and air. It hints at the eventual construction of a vast, industrial-scale network of carbon scrubbers, capable of removing greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.

Above all, the new technique is noteworthy because it promises to remove carbon dioxide cheaply. As recently as 2011, a panel of experts estimated that it would cost at least $600 to remove a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The new paper says it can remove the same ton for as little as $94, and for no more than $232. At those rates, it would cost between $1 and $2.50 to remove the carbon dioxide released by burning a gallon of gasoline in a modern car.

‘If these costs are real, it is an important result,’ said Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science. ‘This opens up the possibility that we could stabilize the climate for affordable amounts of money without changing the entire energy system or changing everyone’s behavior.’”

That last sentiment is a very important one.  For all the talk we do about wanting to reverse Climate Change and save the environment very few us actually change our lifestyles.  A-list celebrities still take private jets to weekend getaways and we still drive everywhere we go, rarely walking or carpooling.  A solution that saves the environment without asking anybody to do anything differently is the best of both worlds.  Hopefully it’s enough to get us to save the one and only world we know.

A small bottle of yellowish liquid on a tree stump

Is fuel made from water and carbon dioxide the Greatest Idea Ever?

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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.”

Image result for longcroft water bottle

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.

Image result for earth biogenome project

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.

Image result for plastic eating enzymes

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.

Image result for climate change

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

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