Addressing and Absorbing Oil Spills

salvinia

Water lettuce and aquatic fern are misnomers for the type of task these plants might be used for in the near future. German researchers recently discovered that Salvinia molesta, an aquatic fern, and Pistia stratiotes, a type of water lettuce, have a specialized leaf anatomy that not only repels water and traps air, but also traps a lot of oil. The leaves of these plants are covered with tiny, hairlike structures called trichomes that allow the plant to float on the water surface and when dried, absorb more oil than two commercial oil absorbents used for oil spill cleanup, Duerex Pure and Öl-Ex.

[The] existing methods of dealing with oil spills all have significant drawbacks. Chemical dispersants and burning can spread toxins around, while environmentally friendly materials like sawdust and wheat straw absorb water in addition to oil, making cleanup messy and inefficient.

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Footstep by Footstep

soccer

This solar-powered football pitch in Lagos also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing. PHOTO: Edelman PR

There’s a host of ingenious solar projects impacting the developing world. Energy’s role in political, social, and economic development is being highlighted more than before and being energy-smart is the blueprint to a sustainable future. Clean energy is the way forward. And Lagos has an example. In the name of soccer.

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Design Lessons from History

Masdar city in the United Arab Emirates has attempted to combine some of the lessons learned from the past with modern technologies by increasing shaded areas, creating narrow streets and constructing a wind tower.

Masdar city in the United Arab Emirates has attempted to combine some of the lessons learned from the past with modern technologies by increasing shaded areas, creating narrow streets and constructing a wind tower.

Oil heartlands of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Iran’s coast will experience higher temperatures and humidity than ever before on Earth if the world fails to cut carbon emissions, according to a recent study. While air-conditioned homes and offices provide respite from the heat, architects are looking to history to find how civilizations battled the hostile conditions.

Historically, the inhabitants of the Gulf were either farmers living near oases in agricultural villages, Bedouins living in tents in the desert, or urban dwellers living in cities. Given the global trend toward urbanisation, it makes sense to take a closer look at how the latter group coped with the heat. Traditional buildings in the gulf’s cities and villages are designed to maximise shading, reduce thermal gain of the sun radiation, regulate building temperature and enhance air circulation. These effects are achieved through a clever combination of building materials, placement and design.

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“Holy Crab,” Bulbman

For most of August Xandari has been operating at full capacity. Since this past weekend the hotel has had fewer guests as families prepare for the new school year in Europe and the United States. In a way, it’s a relief, not only for me and my unrestrained desire to sing when I’m alone, but also for the auditory senses of the guests. I no longer bump into hikers during my treks along the waterfall trails and I avoid the embarrassment of having to “justify” my discordant singing. All in all, at least for a few days, no one has to put up with my singing…except maybe for an unexpected creature I found at “river view 2.”

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Strawberries and Earthy Smells

A group of thirteen 4th and 6th grade students from the school Centro Educativo Villa Azul came to visit Xandari on Wednesday morning. Unlike sustainability tours I’ve led before, I was dealing with a large, energetic bunch of jubilant preteens that get distracted easily. I had prepared for this occasion and made sure to add a recycling activity and a few tasty snacks (to “recharge the batteries” of course) at the end of the tour.

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Recycling the Core of Computers

This wooden computer chip could make recycling electronics a lot easier as it replaces most of the silicon with biodegradable cellulose. PHOTO: Co Exist

This wooden computer chip could make recycling electronics a lot easier as it replaces most of the silicon with biodegradable cellulose. PHOTO: Co Exist

A recent report from United Nations University (UNU) found that the world produced 41.8 million metric tons of e-waste in 2014 – an amount that would fill 1.15 million 18-wheel trucks. Lined up, those trucks would stretch from New York to Tokyo and back. Computers and smart phones are among the ditched items, which could top 50 million tonnes by 2017, UNEP estimates. Virtually all electronics contain toxic materials and a lot of this hazardous stuff is in the circuit board, including lead (in the solder), mercury (in switches and relays), and brominated flame-retardants. Some electronics, like smart phones and laptops, contain heavy metals like cadmium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, or arsenic, which have been shown to build up in our bodies and the environment. Also, the wires and cables that run through all this stuff are often coated with PVC, which contains toxic additives called phthalates.

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India’s First Carbon Neutral Film

What radical policy the government adopts and implements to leave a strong footprint in the paradigm of global climate remains to be seen but micro steps are already being taken by individuals in various other sectors. Carbon offsetting is entering mainstream conversations and niche spaces like film making are thinking green. The first example of a carbon neutral production was George Clooney’s Syriana (2005). And now, the unit of the Bollywood movie Aisa Yeh Jahaan,  starring Palash Sen and Ira Dubey among others and directed by Biswajeet Bora, has become India’s first ‘carbon-neutral’ movie.

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From Waste to Gourmet Mushrooms

Social entrepreneur Trang Tran is teaching Vietnamese farmers how to use rice straw as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give farmers a new source of income. PHOTO: Medium

Social entrepreneur Trang Tran is teaching Vietnamese farmers how to use rice straw as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give farmers a new source of income. PHOTO: TED

Rice straw burning is something that happens every harvest season, and it happens all around us. It’s been done for many years, and it’s considered the most convenient way of getting rid of waste. Straw is perceived as having no value — farmers just want to get it out of the way as soon as possible in order to prepare for the next crop. In Vietnam, 20 to 50 million tons of rice straw are burned annually, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Obviously this contributes to climate change, but the more immediate problem is that local people inhale the matter, causing serious health problems in communities — particularly in babies. Poor communities are most affected, and of course they have the least money for health care.

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The Underwater Greenhouse

The Orto di Nemo project—Nemo's Garden, as it's called in English—resides 30 feet under the waves, off the Noli Coast in in Italy.

The Orto di Nemo project—Nemo’s Garden, as it’s called in English—resides 30 feet under the waves, off the Noli Coast in in Italy.

Basil, strawberries and lettuce are being grown 30-feet underwater off of the Noli coast in Italy. A team of ‘diver gardeners’ have taken advantage of a surprising opportunity and have found that actually, a least on a  small scale, growing vegetables underwater can be highly successful. There are a number of advantages to growing underwater – a steady temperature, the absence of aphids and the atmosphere is CO2 rich. The products are grown in oxygen filled ‘bubbles’, which are tethered to the ocean floor.

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A Scooter That Charges Faster Than Your Phone

Ather Energy's e-scooter - S340 - is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

Ather Energy’s e-scooter – S340 – is powered by a battery that charges within an hour

India is the world’s second largest market for two-wheelers, and more than 14 million two-wheelers were sold last year. But electric scooters, so far, aren’t too big a part of that pie. When electric two-wheelers were first introduced nearly a decade ago, companies were betting big. They had a brief honeymoon period between 2008 and 2010, with sales more than doubling during that time. But all that dwindled once the government slashed its Rs22,000 ($346) subsidy for lithium battery packs in 2012. From selling 100,000 units two years ago, sales plunged to 21,000 units by 2014. But Ather Energy is bent on revising the trend.

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Travel Made Easy Through Air

An upcoming aerial ropeway might be the solution to Kolkata's traffic congestion issues

An upcoming aerial ropeway might be the solution to Kolkata’s traffic congestion issues

No, we are not talking flying here. But the Curvo, the world’s first non-linear aerial ropeway for second tier urban commutation. Pollution and traffic-free, the service, operational on electricity, would be on steel frames spreading at a distance of around 90-100 m running through the existing arterial and other roads to avoid congested streets of the city. There will be elevated stops at every distance of 750 m and the cars would be able to gain speed of about 4.25 m per second (12.5 km/hour) with the ability to carry an estimated 2,000 people every hour. Curvo is expected to be introduced in 18-24 months. The cabins will have an accommodation capacity of 8-10 persons.

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Spider’s Silk, Minus the Crawlies

Bolt Threads' technology was inspired by the spider, but it has broadened into a platform of programmable polymers: a protein material that can be tuned to create a nearly limitless array of properties PHOTO: Researchgate

Bolt Threads’ technology was inspired by the spider, but it has broadened into a platform of programmable polymers: a protein material that can be tuned to create a nearly limitless array of properties PHOTO: Researchgate

Welcome to the age of slow fashion. Fashion that’s got its sense and sensibility focused on sustainability. Slow fashion represents all things “eco”, “ethical” and “green” in one unified movement. It was first coined by Kate Fletcher, from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, when fashion was compared to the Slow Food experience. Carl Honoré, author of “In Praise of Slowness”, says that the ‘slow approach’ intervenes as a revolutionary process in the contemporary world because it encourages taking time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment. And now meet Bolt Threads. A company that started out to make spider’s silk sans the creepy crawlies. Have they succeeded?

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This Furniture Can Grow You Dinner

Spirulina is said to be the richest food in iron, 20 times higher than common iron-rich foods; and its iron is twice as effective than iron found in most vegetables and meats. COURTESY: Esse Spirulina

Spirulina is said to be the richest food in iron, 20 times higher than common iron-rich foods; and its iron is twice as effective than iron found in most vegetables and meats. COURTESY: Esse Spirulina

In the living room of the not-so-distant-future, you might have a glowing green blob of microorganisms next to your sofa instead of a lamp. A new line of photosynthetic furniture is filled with spirulina—a tiny, edible bacteria—that the designers imagine could help feed us without the incredible environmental footprint of conventional agriculture.

A new line of photosynthetic furniture is filled with spirulina… The custom glass bioreactors use waste heat, light, and carbon dioxide from a home to feed the spirulina inside. Periodically, someone can turn a tap, empty out the green sludge, and eat it.

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The ‘E’ word – E-waste

The StEP Initiative forecasts that by 2017, the world will produce about 33 percent more e-waste, or 72 million tons (65 million metric tons). That amount weighs about 11 times as much as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The StEP Initiative forecasts that by 2017, the world will produce about 33 percent more e-waste, or 72 million tons (65 million metric tons). That amount weighs about 11 times as much as the Great Pyramid of Giza.

By 2017, the global volume of discarded refrigerators, TVs, cellphones, computers, monitors and other electronic waste will weigh almost as much as 200 Empire State Buildings, a new report predicts.The forecast, based on data gathered by United Nations organizations, governments, and non-government and science organizations in a partnership known as the “Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative,” predicts e-waste generation will swell by a third in the next five years, led by the United States and China. The StEP Initiative created a map of the world’s e-waste, which is available online. [Infographic: Tracking the World’s E-Waste]

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Plastic Aplenty

Forty per cent of the small turtles travelling through Moreton bay were recently found to have consumed plastics and more than two-thirds of the endangered loggerhead turtle, too. PHOTO: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Forty per cent of the small turtles travelling through Moreton bay were recently found to have consumed plastics and more than two-thirds of the endangered loggerhead turtle, too. PHOTO: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Queensland – said to be Australia’s dirtiest state (discarded rubbish recorded at levels almost 40 per cent above the national average). Also home to Moreton Bay, the only place in the country where dugongs gather in herds and which has a significant population of the endangered loggerhead sea turtle. Over celebrating its coastal flora and fauna on World Oceans Day, the state and its leaders found themselves mulling a ban on single-use plastic in the area. Here’s why.

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A Ticket on the Eco-friendly Supersonic, please

Supersonic flight is one of the four speeds of flight. speeds up to five times faster than the speed of sound. PHOTO: NASA

Supersonic flight is one of the four speeds of flight. It has speeds up to five times faster than the speed of sound. PHOTO: NASA

Imagine flying at more than twice the speed of sound. At that speed, a London to New York flight lasts under 3.5 hours. And the last time that happened was in 2003, just before the supersonic Concorde ceased operating. More than a decade later, there are conversations on whether the supersonic culture can be revived. There are arguments for both sides and the latest is news about the talent at NASA working on making commercial supersonic flight eco-friendly.

Unless you have access to a F-22 fighter jet, you probably haven’t been able to fly faster than the speed of sound since the last Concorde flight in 2003. NASA wants to change this. The agency said that it is spending over $6 million to fund research into cheaper and greener supersonic travel. This isn’t NASA’s first attempt to bring back supersonic travel. It has been (literally) pushing the boundaries of flight for years. NASA’s predecessor was involved in building the first supersonic plane in 1946, and the agency has been working on concepts since 2006 with companies like Lockheed-Martin and Boeing that may one day lead to a new generation of planes that get you places very quickly.

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The (Eco-friendly) Sound of Music

Eco-friendly and environment-friendly – the terms have become all too familiar now. From being used at green summits and in corners where the gatekeepers of conservation meet, they’ve entered mainstream vocabulary. The words are a call-to-action, they are rules, and have come to define a way of life. What is interesting is to see how much of this ‘eco-friendliness’ is thoughtfully designed for use, innovated and improved upon, and finally marketed and delivered as utilities. Over being mere concepts and terminologies, how much of this ‘friendliness’ can be used on a day-to-day basis. Yes, we heard about how biking can power phones but let’s hear more.

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