Green Steel On The Horizon

The steel industry produces around two billion tons of it each year, while emitting more than three billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Photograph by Christine Olsson / Alamy

The ratio of carbon dioxide produced, relative to steel produced, is surprising. The bigger surprise is how to improve that ratio:

The Promise of Carbon-Neutral Steel

A new manufacturing technique could drastically reduce the footprint of one of our dirtiest materials.

Steel production accounts for around seven per cent of humanity’s greenhouse-gas emissions. There are two reasons for this startling fact. First, steel is made using metallurgic methods that our Iron Age forebears would find familiar; second, it is part of seemingly everything, including buildings, bridges, fridges, planes, trains, and automobiles. According to some estimates, global demand for steel will nearly double by 2050. Green steel, therefore, is urgently needed if we’re to confront climate change. Continue reading

Orca On

The video above is the shortest, clearest primer we could find to explain how this machine technology works. With Orca now on we will get the chance to see how much promise this process holds for carbon capture’s machine approach versus the tree approach, which we now know needs some reconsideration:

World’s biggest machine capturing carbon from air turned on in Iceland

Operators say the Orca plant can suck 4,000 tonnes of CO2 out of the air every year and inject it deep into the ground to be mineralised

A worker on a CarbFix carbon injection well in Iceland in 2017. The company is involved in the new Orca plant designed to draw carbon dioxide out of the air and store it as rock. Photograph: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

The world’s largest plant designed to suck carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into rock has started running, the companies behind the project said on Wednesday.

The plant, named Orca after the Icelandic word “orka” meaning “energy”, consists of four units, each made up of two metal boxes that look like shipping containers.

Constructed by Switzerland’s Climeworks and Iceland’s Carbfix, when operating at capacity the plant will draw 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, according to the companies. Continue reading

The New Race In Wind Energy, Between Fixed And Floating Turbines

The world’s first floating wind farm 15 miles offshore of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland. The 30 megawatt installation can power approximately 20,000 households Photograph: Xinhua/Alamy

Wind, of all the alternative energy sources we pay attention to, requires vast areas for generation. So water has become the go-to place to place the turbines. It looks like the new race is whether to have the turbines fixed or floating:

Floating wind turbines could open up vast ocean tracts for renewable power

Technology could help power a clean energy transition if it can overcome hurdles of cost, design and opposition from fishing

In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output. Continue reading

Carbon Capture Closer

Fans draw air into Climeworks’ direct air capture plant in Zurich, Switzerland. CLIMEWORKS

Our thanks as always to Jon Gertner for this news.  Combining capturing carbon with other goals is not new, but it has been goal-setting elusive of significantly robust results; we are getting closer:

The Dream of Carbon Air Capture Edges Toward Reality

Next month, an industrial facility in Iceland will join a growing number of projects to remove CO2 from the air and put it underground. But major hurdles, including high costs, remain before this technology can be widely deployed and play a key role in tackling climate change.

Climeworks’ Orca plant under construction near Reykjavik, Iceland. CLIMEWORKS

In early September, at an industrial facility located about 25 miles southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland, the Swiss company Climeworks will mark the opening of a new project named “Orca.” At least in a conventional sense, Orca doesn’t actually make anything. It is comprised of eight elongated boxes that resemble wood-clad tanks. Each of these boxes — known as “collectors” — is roughly the size of a tractor trailer, and each is festooned with 12 whirring fans that draw a stream of air inside. Within the collectors, a chemical agent known as a sorbent will capture CO2 contained in the air wafting through. Continue reading

Making Dams Deliver More

The O’Shaughnessy Dam in Ohio is being repaired and will be providing power to the city of Columbus by mid-2023. CAMERA MEETS BEARD / SHUTTERSTOCK

Thanks to Yale e360 for this story by James Dinneen:

Can Retrofitting Dams for Hydro Provide a Green Energy Boost?

With the era of building big dams over in the U.S., a growing number of existing dams are being modified to produce hydropower. These projects, advocates say, avoid the damaging impacts of new dams and could generate enough renewable electricity for several million homes. Continue reading

Genetic Modification, In Moderation, Appeals

Levon Biss for The New York Times

Our work with coffee farmers in Costa Rica in recent years has convinced me that without hybridization there will not be much of a specialty coffee supply in the near future without it. Climate change and various pests essentially require it. On the other hand, I understand why genetic engineering causes fear. I have suffered mildly from that fear, but still read widely on the subject looking to allay those fears. The main appeal of the technology is obvious, and the reasons to be concerned are plenty, but here are some overlooked observations thanks very much to Jennifer Kahn:

Learning to Love G.M.O.s

Overblown fears have turned the public against genetically modified food. But the potential benefits have never been greater.

Bobby Doherty for The New York Times

On a cold December day in Norwich, England, Cathie Martin met me at a laboratory inside the John Innes Centre, where she works. A plant biologist, Martin has spent almost two decades studying tomatoes, and I had traveled to see her because of a particular one she created: a lustrous, dark purple variety that is unusually high in antioxidants, with twice the amount found in blueberries.

At 66, Martin has silver-white hair, a strong chin and sharp eyes that give her a slightly elfin look. Continue reading

Methane Leaks Plugged With Help From Above

Thanks to Public Broadcasting Service (USA) for this:

Satellites seek out methane leaks from pipelines, oil fields, landfills and farms

Satellite imagery shows a Russian gas pipeline (left) and highlights huge amounts of methane (right) being emitted from the pipeline on September 6, 2019. Kayrros and Modified Copernicus Data, 2019

The threat was invisible to the eye: tons of methane billowing skyward, blown out by natural gas pipelines snaking across Siberia. In the past, those plumes of potent greenhouse gas released by Russian petroleum operations last year might have gone unnoticed. But armed with powerful new imaging technology, a methane-hunting satellite sniffed out the emissions and tracked them to their sources.

Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, a growing fleet of satellites is now aiming to help close the valve on methane by identifying such leaks from space. The mission is critical, with a series of recent reports sounding an increasingly urgent call to cut methane emissions. Continue reading

Choices For Mining Lithium

The Salton Sea is one of numerous new mining proposals in a global gold rush to find new sources of metals and minerals needed for electric cars and renewable energy.

Thanks to the New York Times for this coverage of the choices surrounding how and where to mine a key ingredient of more efficient batteries–a consequential environmental question:

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.

“This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America,” Rod Colwell, the chief executive of Controlled Thermal Resources, said. “Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste. Continue reading

Engineering + Imagination = Worthy Of Second Guessing

The Loess plateau, in China, in 2007, left, and transformed into green valleys and productive farmland in 2019. Composite: Rex/Shutterstock/Xinhua/Alamy

The message from Elizabeth Kolbert’s book should sound relevant to you when you read the following:

‘Our biggest challenge? Lack of imagination’: the scientists turning the desert green

In China, scientists have turned vast swathes of arid land into a lush oasis. Now a team of maverick engineers want to do the same to the Sinai

Flying into Egypt in early February to make the most important presentation of his life, Ties van der Hoeven prepared by listening to the podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon – the story of how Nasa accomplished the lunar landings. The mission he was discussing with the Egyptian government was more earthbound in nature, but every bit as ambitious. It could even represent a giant leap for mankind. Continue reading

Ghana, Scaling New Solutions For Plastic Re-Use

An engineer inspects paving blocks made from recycled plastics in a suburb of Accra, Ghana. CRISTINA ALDEHUELA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In our Authentica shops we offer some artisanal approaches to plastic re-use, and have been fans of the concept since a visit to Ghana in 2013. But the plastic problem will not be solved this way because the level of re-use it is not at scale with the amount of plastic needing re-use. Thanks to Ann Parson fo showing a new potential demonstrated in Ghana more recently:

How Paving with Plastic Could Make a Dent in the Global Waste Problem

Roads in which waste plastic is melted down and mixed with paving materials are becoming more common around the world. Although for now they remain a niche technology, experts say the roads could become one of a diverse array of uses for discarded plastic.

A road running through Accra, Ghana’s capital, looks like any other blacktop. Continue reading

New Questions For Old Hills

Scenic beauty spot or potential hydropower storage facility? The Dovedale national nature reserve in the Peak District. Photograph: dianajarvisphotography.co.uk/Alamy

Thanks to the Guardian for giving us a different view on one possible part of a solution to the problem posed in yesterday’s post:

Powering up: UK hills could be used as energy ‘batteries’

Engineers explore using gentle slopes rather than steep dams or mountains to store electricity

Hundreds of hills across the UK could be transformed into renewable energy “batteries” through a pioneering hydropower system embedded underground.

Guardian graphic. Source: RheEnergise

A team of engineers have developed a system that adapts one of the oldest forms of energy storage, hydropower, to store and release electricity from gentle slopes rather than requiring steep dam walls and mountains. Continue reading

The Puzzling Fate Of Aging Dams

Engineers have found cracks in the 420-foot-high Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River in Southern Africa. DMITRIY KANDINSKIY/SHUTTERSTOCK

When we lived through the cross-border tensions that were dam-driven we thought cooler heads would eventually prevail. But, it has proven not so easy. And who knew there were 10,000 such puzzles out there? Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for raising our awareness:

Water Warning: The Looming Threat of the World’s Aging Dams

Tens of thousands of large dams across the globe are reaching the end of their expected lifespans, leading to a dramatic rise in failures and collapses, a new UN study finds. These deteriorating structures pose a serious threat to hundreds of millions of people living downstream.

Who would want to live downstream of the 125-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam, nestled in a seismic zone of the Western Ghats mountains in India? Continue reading

Making A Better Carbon Chain

Animation by Megan McGrew/PBS Newshour

Thanks to Isabella Isaacs-Thomas and PBS Newshour for a look at our carbon chain through the lens of a scientist determined to making that chain more sustainable:

How this chemical engineer is hacking plastic production to promote sustainability

The products many of us purchase on a regular basis — the water bottles, clothes and, perhaps especially in the era of COVID, take-out containers from our local restaurants — are often plastic, disposable and bound to outlive us for generations. But the enormous amount of plastic waste that humans leave behind is a logistical and ecological nightmare, and experts say potential solutions must be approached from multiple angles, both for the planet’s sake and for our own. Continue reading

Charismatic Mega-Batteries

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When we started this platform, from a base in south India, we were surrounded by charismatic mega-fauna. Even the squirrels were unusually beautiful and large. The purpose of the platform being to highlight stories of creative, entrepreneurial approaches to conservation as much as to raise awareness of environmental issues more broadly, there is a new form of mega charisma worth noting today. It may make a difference to the issues we have been pointing to since the first post nine years ago:

Climate emission killer: construction begins on world’s biggest liquid air battery

Exclusive: project will store renewable energy and reduce climate-heating emissions

Construction is beginning on the world’s largest liquid air battery, which will store renewable electricity and reduce carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants.

The project near Manchester, UK, will use spare green energy to compress air into a liquid and store it. When demand is higher, the liquid air is released back into a gas, powering a turbine that puts the green energy back into the grid.

A big expansion of wind and solar energy is vital to tackle the climate emergency but they are not always available. Storage is therefore key and the new project will be the largest in the world outside of pumped hydro schemes, which require a mountain reservoir to store water. Continue reading

Tech for Trees

[Photo: courtesy Flash Forest] One of Flash Forest’s prototype drones

And speaking of trees, here’s an example of small tech stepping in when political leadership wavers. The good news is there is ample room for both, and we hope that both systems receive the support they need.

Here’s to a billion trees!

These drones will plant 40,000 trees in a month. By 2028, they’ll have planted 1 billion

We need to massively reforest the planet, in a very short period of time. Flash Forest’s drones can plant trees a lot faster than humans.

This week, on land north of Toronto that previously burned in a wildfire, drones are hovering over fields and firing seed pods into the ground, planting native pine and spruce trees to help restore habitat for birds. Flash Forest, the Canadian startup behind the project, plans to use its technology to plant 40,000 trees in the area this month. By the end of the year, as it expands to other regions, it will plant hundreds of thousands of trees. By 2028, the startup aims to have planted a full 1 billion trees.

[Photo: courtesy Flash Forest]

The company, like a handful of other startups that are also using tree-planting drones, believes that technology can help the world reach ambitious goals to restore forests to stem biodiversity loss and fight climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that it’s necessary to plant 1 billion hectares of trees—a forest roughly the size of the entire United States—to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Existing forests need to be protected while new trees are planted; right now, that isn’t working well. “There are a lot of different attempts to tackle reforestation,” says Flash Forest cofounder and chief strategy officer Angelique Ahlstrom. “But despite all of them, they’re still failing, with a net loss of 7 billion trees every year.”

Drones don’t address deforestation, which is arguably an even more critical issue than planting trees, since older trees can store much more carbon. But to restore forests that have already been lost, the drones can work more quickly and cheaply than humans planting with shovels. Flash Forest’s tech can currently plant 10,000 to 20,000 seed pods a day; as the technology advances, a pair of pilots will be able to plant 100,000 trees in a day (by hand, someone might typically be able to plant around 1,500 trees in a day, Ahlstrom says.) The company aims to bring the cost down to 50 cents per tree, or around a fourth of the cost of some other tree restoration efforts.

When it begins work at a site, the startup first sends mapping drones to survey the area, using software to identify the best places to plant based on the soil and existing plants. Next, a swarm of drones begins precisely dropping seed pods, packed in a proprietary mix that the company says encourages the seeds to germinate weeks before they otherwise would have. The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought. In some areas, such as hilly terrain or in mangrove forests, the drones use a pneumatic firing device that shoots seed pods deeper into the soil. “It allows you to get into trickier areas that human planters can’t,” Ahlstrom says. Continue reading

Mutation as a Positive

Green plastic bottles ready for recycling

In addition to all the creative ways that people recycle and upcycle plastics, we appreciate when scientific collaboration is brought to the forefront, as in the example here. We thank Science Magazine for highlighting the story.

‘A huge step forward.’ Mutant enzyme could vastly improve recycling of plastic bottles

Recycling isn’t as guilt-free as it seems. Only about 30% of the plastic that goes into soda bottles gets turned into new plastic, and it often ends up as a lower strength version. Now, researchers report they’ve engineered an enzyme that can convert 90% of that same plastic back to its pristine starting materials. Work is underway to scale up the technology and open a demonstration plant next year.

“This is a huge step forward,” says John McGeehan, who directs the center for enzyme innovation at the University of Portsmouth and who was not involved with the work.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the world’s most commonly used plastics, with some 70 million tons produced annually. PET bottles are already recycled in many places. But the current approach has problems. For starters, recycling companies typically end up with a broad mix of different colors of the plastic. They then use high temperatures to melt those down, producing a gray or black plastic starting material that few companies want to use to package their products.

Instead, the material is typically turned into carpets or other low-grade plastic fibers that eventually end up in a landfill or get incinerated. “It’s not really recycling at all,” McGeehan says.

To get around this concern, scientists have searched for enzymes in microbes that break down PET and other plastics. In 2012, researchers at Osaka University found one such enzyme in a compost heap. Continue reading

Putting the Reuse back into Recycle

Thanks once again to YaleEnvironment360 for sharing valuable information.

Scientists Find Way to Fully Recycle Plastics Without Losing Quality

A team of Swedish scientists have found a new way to break down plastic so that it can be recycled into material the same quality as the original — a process they say could help shift the focus of the plastics industry to recycling and drastically reduce the amount of pollution that ends up in the world’s oceans.

The technique involves heating discarded plastic to around 850 degrees Celsius until it turns into a gas mixture. That mixture “can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic material of virgin quality,” Henrik Thunman, an environmental scientist at Chalmers University of Technology who led the new research, said in a statement. “Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on earth.” Continue reading

Gleaning Garbage From The Great Patch

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The floating boom skims up waste ranging in size from a discarded net and a car wheel complete with tire to chips of plastic with diameters as small as 1 millimetre. Photograph: AP

Some encouraging news from the big mess out in the middle of the Pacific:

Ocean cleanup device successfully collects plastic for first time

Huge floating boom finally retains debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, creator says

A huge floating device designed by Dutch scientists to clean up an island of rubbish in the Pacific ocean that is three times the size of France has successfully picked up plastic from the high-seas for the first time.

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Crew members sort through plastic on board a support vessel on the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: AP

Boyan Slat, the creator of the Ocean Cleanup project, announced on Twitter that the 600-metre (2,000ft) long floating boom had captured and retained debris from what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Alongside a picture of the collected rubbish, which includes a car wheel, Slat tweeted: “Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?” Continue reading

Mayors Mitigating Climate Change Impacts

(Credit: CarbonCure )

Interesting technology innovation for addressing climate change. We’re glad to hear that local level leaders have this on their radar.

How ‘green’ concrete can help cities fight climate change

The built environment produces over 40% of global CO2 emissions. U.S. mayors are taking the lead to cut emissions with CO2 mineralized concrete.

As cities look to cut carbon emissions in their construction sector, the use of low-carbon concrete over other alternatives could help them do just that.

“Green” or carbon dioxide (CO2) mineralized concrete has received support from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and private companies for its use in public projects as part of the national response to climate change. A resolution passed at this year’s USCM annual meeting in Honolulu urged its members to use the concrete over less environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Low-carbon concrete involves injecting recycled CO2 from industrial emitters like fertilizer and power plants into concrete. The CO2 then chemically converts into a mineral and gets embedded in the concrete, making it stronger and helping concrete producers use less cement for roads and buildings.

The built environment is responsible for over 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions and global building stock is expected to double by 2060. Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world due to its affordable and durable nature. And its key ingredient, cement, contributes to up to 7% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Companies like CarbonCure are helping lead that charge with CO2 mineralized concrete.

“The cliche really stands that cities are the laboratory of innovation,” CarbonCure CEO Robert Niven told Smart Cities Dive. “And cities are really committed to taking a leap on solving this climate change issue.”

Continue reading

The Logic of the Weave

The bamboo dome “had even more useful structural properties than I had envisaged,” Ms. Martin said. “Deployability, nice structural stability and highly portable.”Credit Gabriela Portilho for The New York Times

Limits often lead to creative solutions. That’s exactly what is happening in Brazil. Alison Martin is pushing the limits of what can be built from weaving bamboo and is helping to create more natural cityscapes. She is surprising even the computer engineers with the strength and shapes of her material, all without the use of nuts and bolts. This is a new way of combining nature and architecture. Her work is also helping to solve some of the problems created by elevated highways. These highways block out the sun and create “a fracture in the urban environment”.

With designer and artist Alison Grace Martin, architects and engineers are embracing “the logic of the weave.”

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — On a Tuesday afternoon in early July, Alison Grace Martin, the British artist and weaver, joined a steady stream of Paulistanos along the elevated freeway that curves through downtown São Paulo. The two-mile “Minhocão” (named after a mythic “gigantic earthworm”) was closed to cars that day. The only traffic was on foot and bikes, skateboards and scooters. Picnickers lounged on the median sipping wine. Children ran after soccer balls. A retriever chased a coconut; a pit bull peed on a pile of bamboo.

The bamboo — freshly cut and split into strips about 20 feet long — had arrived with Ms. Martin and engineer James Solly, who were leading an urban design workshop, “High Line Paulista,” inspired loosely by Manhattan’s elevated greenway. Their students for the week had carried the strips, which would be put to use in an experimental dome construction, like a barn-raising, but with bamboo.

Plans have long been in the works to turn the Minhocão into a park. Since its opening in 1971, the freeway has been the subject of controversy: a concrete scar that bifurcated neighborhoods, smothering residents with noise and pollution.

“It ripped apart the urban fabric,” said Franklin Lee, from São Paulo, and director of the workshop with his partner Anne Save de Beaurecueil. (The workshop is part of the Architectural Association international visiting school program.) In January, after years of discourse and debate, the mayor, Bruno Covas, announced that the freeway would eventually be deactivated, finally making way for “Parque Minhocão.”

Continue reading