Archive for the ‘Earth/Science’ Category

Green energy overtakes fossil fuel investment, says UN

June 11, 2009

Green energy overtook fossil fuels in attracting investment for power generation for the first time last year, according to figures released today by the United Nations.

Wind, solar and other clean technologies attracted $140bn (£85bn) compared with $110bn for gas and coal for electrical power generation, with more than a third of the green cash destined for Britain and the rest of Europe.

The biggest growth for renewable investment came from China, India and other developing countries, which are fast catching up on the West in switching out of fossil fuels to improve energy security and tackle climate change.

“There have been many milestones reached in recent years, but this report suggests renewable energy has now reached a tipping point where it is as important — if not more important — in the global energy mix than fossil fuels,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme.

Article here.

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9,000-year-old brew hitting the shelves this summer

June 11, 2009

This summer, how would you like to lean back in your lawn chair and toss back a brew made from what may be the world’s oldest recipe for beer? Called Chateau Jiahu, this blend of rice, honey and fruit was intoxicating Chinese villagers 9,000 years ago—long before grape wine had its start in Mesopotamia.

University of Pennsylvania molecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern first described the beverage in 2005 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences based on chemical traces from pottery in the Neolithic village of Jiahu in Northern China. Soon after, McGovern called on Sam Calagione at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del., to do the ancient recipe justice. Later this month, you can give it a try when a new batch hits shelves across the country.

The cloud with no name: New Cloud Formations Seen Worldwide

June 11, 2009

Whipped into fantastical shapes, these clouds hang over the darkening landscape like the harbingers of a mighty storm.

But despite their stunning and frequent appearances, the formations have yet to be officially recognised with a name.

They have been seen all over Britain in different forms – from Snowdonia to the Scottish Highlands – and in other parts of the world such as New Zealand, but usually break up without producing a storm.

Article here.

Colorado makes it legal for homeowners to harvest rainwater

June 11, 2009

In the eyes of the law, Karl Hanzel was a water thief. Colorado homeowners who captured and stored water that fell onto their own roofs were considered to be stealing because that water technically belonged to the owners of streams and aquifers beneath the homeowners’ properties. If caught, they faced fines up to $500 a day.

Article here.

One Fifth of World’s Population Can’t See Milky Way At Night

June 11, 2009

“Light pollution has caused one-fifth of the world’s population — mostly in Europe, Britain and the US — to lose their ability to see the Milky Way in the night sky. ‘The arc of the Milky Way seen from a truly dark location is part of our planet’s natural heritage,’ said Connie Walker, and astronomer from the US National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona. Yet ‘more than one fifth of the world population, two thirds of the US population and one half of the European Union population have already lost naked eye visibility of the Milky Way.'”

Article here.

Caribbean reefs ‘flattened’ in just 40 years

June 11, 2009

In just 40 years, the Caribbean’s spectacular branched corals have been flattened. Research reveals that the corals have been replaced by shorter rival species — and points to climate change as at least partly to blame.

Most of the reefs have lost all the intricate, tree-like corals that until the 1970s provided sanctuary for unique reef fish and other creatures, as well as protecting coastlines by sapping the energy of waves.

Coral diversity is important for both the many species that swell on reefs and for coastal protection, says Jennifer Gill of the University of East Anglia and a member of the research team.

She and her colleagues analysed data over the past 40 years from 500 surveys of 200 Caribbean reefs. They say that the flattening process took place in two main phases. Firstly, in the late 1970s, a condition called white-band disease swept through the reefs, killing 90 per cent of the most spectacular tree-like elkhorn and staghorn corals.

The second phase, in 1998, saw many of the remaining tree-like corals being wiped out during a massive bleaching event, probably driven by global warming.

Different corals — fast-growing but short-lived “weedy” species — then took over the reefs, outcompeting most of the remaining tree-like corals. The researchers found that flat reefs now cover 75 per cent of the Caribbean, compared to just 20 per cent in the 1970s.

Periodic table gets a new element

June 11, 2009

The ubiquitous periodic table will soon have a new addition – the “super-heavy” element 112.

More than a decade after experiments first produced a single atom of the element, a team of German scientists has been credited with its discovery.

The team, led by Sigurd Hofmann at the Centre for Heavy Ion Research, must propose a name for their find, before it can be formally added to the table.

Scientists continue the race to discover more super-heavy elements.

Professor Hofmann began his quest to add to the periodic table in 1976.

The fusion experiments he and his colleagues carried out at the centre have already revealed the existence of elements with atomic numbers 107-111.

These are known as “super-heavy elements” – their numbers represent the number of protons which, together with neutrons, give the atom the vast majority of its mass.

To create element 112, Professor Hofmann’s team used a 120m-long particle accelerator to fire a beam of charged zinc atoms (or zinc ions) at lead atoms. Nuclei of the two elements merged, or fused, to form the nucleus of the new element.

These very large and heavy nuclei are also very unstable. They begin to fall apart or “decay” very soon after being formed – within a few milliseconds, in this case.

This releases energy, which scientists can measure to find out the size of the decaying nucleus.

But such experiments produce very few successful fusions, and scientists need increasingly powerful accelerators to run experiments for longer and find the elusive, unstable elements.

This is why it took such a long time for element 112 to be officially recognised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

Its discovery had to be independently verified, and so far only four atoms have ever been observed.

IUPAC temporarily named the element ununbium, as “ununbi” is derived from the figures “one one two” in Latin; but Professor Hofmann’s team now has the task of proposing its official name.

He is currently keeping the shortlist under wraps.

San Francisco to Toughen a Strict Recycling Law

June 11, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. — San Francisco, which already boasts one of the most aggressive recycling programs in the country, has raised the ante, vowing to levy fines of up to $1,000 on those unwilling to separate their Kung Pao chicken leftovers from their newspapers.

The Board of Supervisors passed new recycling and mandatory composting rules on Tuesday in a 9-to-2 vote. The city already diverts 72 percent of the 2.1 million tons of waste its residents produce each year away from landfills and into recycling and composting programs. The new ordinance will help the city toward its goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2020, said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment.

Under the new ordinance, residents will be issued three mandatory garbage bins: a black one for trash, a blue one for recyclables and a green one for compost.

Garbage collectors who spot orange peels or aluminum soda cans in a black trash bin will leave a note reminding the owner how to separate his trash properly. Anyone found repeatedly flouting recycling protocol will be issued fines of $100 for small businesses and single-family homes and up to $1,000 for large businesses and multiunit buildings. The city has put a moratorium on all fines until 2011 while residents learn the ropes.

Article here.

Glass windows coated with world’s tiniest working solar cells

May 30, 2009

New Energy Technologies has announced that the Company is continuing to further advance the development of its tinted transparent glass SolarWindows capable of generating electricity by coating glass surfaces with the world’s smallest known organic solar cells.

New Energy’s SolarWindow technology uses an organic solar array, which achieves transparency through the creative use of conducting polymers which have the same desirable electrical properties as the world’s most commercially popular semiconductor, silicon, yet boast a considerably better capacity to ‘optically absorb’ photons from light and generate electricity.

The Company’s ultra-small solar cells measure less than ¼ the size of a grain of rice, are fabricated using environmentally-friendly hydrogen-carbon based materials, and successfully produce electricity, as demonstrated in a published peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy of the American Institute of Physics.

“Our use of these new, readily available and easy-to-apply ultra-small solar cells marks an important advance over the early research and development of our transparent photovoltaic SolarWindow technology, and directly addresses numerous commercial and technical limitations posed by conventional materials, including thin films, polycrystalline solar cells, and silicon,” stated Mr. Meetesh V. Patel, Esq., President and CEO of New Energy Technologies, Inc.

“I’m particularly impressed by the potential application of this technology in areas where direct exposure to sunlight is limited or unavailable, since these ultra-small solar cells have demonstrated a special ability to generate electricity in both natural and artificial light conditions.”

Unlike other solar technologies, New Energy’s ultra-small solar cells generate electricity not only from the visible light spectrum found in sunlight but also by using the visible light found in artificial light, such as fluorescent lighting typically installed in offices and commercial buildings.

Commercially, while the majority of today’s solar cells can only be installed where direct sunlight is available, New Energy’s ultra-small solar cells can be installed anywhere that direct sunlight or artificial lighting such as fluorescent systems emit visible light.

Ultra-Small Solar Cells: Generating Electricity on Transparent Glass

New Energy’s SolarWindow technology makes use of ultra-small solar cells which allows for the fabrication of solar arrays on a broad range of substrate materials such as glass, plastic, and even paper. Made of natural polymers which can be dissolved into liquid for easy application, these ultra-small solar cells do not require expensive and complicated high-temperature or high-vacuum production techniques common to other solar coatings.

Article here.

World’s first battery fuelled by air?

May 30, 2009

“Scientists say the revolutionary ‘STAIR’ (St Andrews Air) battery could now pave the way for a new generation of electric cars, laptops and mobile phones.

The cells are charged in a traditional way but as power is used or ‘discharged’ an open mesh section of battery draws in oxygen from the surrounding air.

This oxygen reacts with a porous carbon component inside the battery, which creates more energy and helps to continually ‘charge’ the cell as it is being discharged.

By replacing the traditional chemical constituent, lithium cobalt oxide, with porous carbon and oxygen drawn from the air, the cell is much lighter than current batteries.

And as the cycle of air helps re-charge the battery as it is used, it has a greater storage capacity than other similar-sized cells and can emit power up to 10 times longer.

Professor Peter Bruce of the Chemistry Department at the University of St Andrews, said: “The benefits are it’s much smaller and lighter so better for transporting small applications.

“The size is also crucial for anyone trying to develop electric cars as they want to keep weight down as much as possible.

“Storage is also important in the development of green power. You need to store electricity because wind and solar power is intermittent.”