Archive for the ‘Energy and the environment’ Category


June 10, 2012

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The Geopolitics of Climate Change

June 3, 2012

Interesting talk by Gwynne Dyer, author of Climate Wars:

Climate change milestone: CO2 levels reach 400ppm in the Arctic

June 2, 2012

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports a worrying new milestone for CO2, the main global warming pollutant. Arctic monitoring stations now show 400 parts per million (ppm) of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere.

The global level now stands at 395ppm (see video below), and is expected to reach the Arctic level in the very near future. Scientists believe the maximum “safe” limit for a stable climate is around 350ppm.

On current trends, CO2 levels could reach 800-1000ppm by the end of this century – potentially resulting in 6°C of global warming.

Biodiversity declines as global consumption reaches all-time high

May 16, 2012

• We are consuming 50 per cent more natural resources than our planet can sustainably produce

Ever-growing demand for resources is putting huge pressure on the Earth’s biodiversity, threatening our future security and well-being, according to the Living Planet Report 2012, released yesterday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The biennial survey of the Earth’s health, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Global Footprint Network, was launched from the International Space Station by WWF Ambassador and Dutch Astronaut, André Kuipers.

“We only have one Earth. From up here I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report,” said Kuipers from his European Space Agency mission. “While there are unsustainable pressures on the planet, we have the ability to save our home, not only for our benefit, but for generations to come.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• The global Living Planet Index (LPI) has declined by up to 30% since 1970.
• It is currently taking 1.5 years for the Earth to absorb the CO2 and regenerate the renewable resources that people use within one year
• 2.7 billion people live in areas which have severe water shortages for at least one month of the year
• The per capita “ecological footprint” of a high income country such as the USA is currently six times greater than a low income country such as Indonesia
• The UK has risen four places from 31st to 27th place in the report’s global consumption ranking
• The top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person are: Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the USA, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Ireland

According to the global Living Planet Index, declines in biodiversity are highest in low income countries – demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are suffering the impacts of wealthier countries’ lifestyles and resource demands.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK: “In the UK, rather like the calm at the eye of a storm, we don’t yet see much of the impact of our daily lives on the environment. But we can’t ignore the damage being done elsewhere in the world by the whirlwind consumerism of wealthy countries.

“We’re now in the danger zone, exceeding the planetary boundaries for natural capital. If we continue to use up our planet’s resources faster than it can replace them, soon we’ll have exploited every available corner of the Earth.”

Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London said: “This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity.”

This year’s Living Planet Report has been released to coincide with the Rio+ 20 Summit, taking place in Brazil from 20-22 June.

In 1992, world leaders came together to put in place systems to ensure that we tackled climate change and addressed falling biodiversity levels. Twenty years on from the last Earth Summit, this meeting is a key opportunity for global leaders to renew their commitment to creating a sustainable future.

“With every day of inaction, we limit the choices for future generations,” said David Nussbaum. “If we keep running down the stock of natural capital, we’ll hand them a world less able to sustain life and absorb environmental shocks. Since the original Earth Summit, we’ve taken some steps forward, but the pace is glacial. So Rio+20 needs to elevate the urgency of action on the scale needed: now is our chance to reflect whether the future we’re creating for our planet is the legacy we want to leave for future generations.”

WWF is calling on the public to show that they care about the planet’s future in advance of Rio+20. To join in with the campaign, visit:

Asteroid Mining: Science or Fiction?

May 14, 2012

The goal – trillions in riches from asteroids – has now been verified. But what obstacles and milestones stand along our 20 year path? In this video, astronomer and sci-fi author David Brin lays out some preliminary points to consider.

First “microsubmarines” to clean oil spills

May 9, 2012

Scientists are reporting successful development and testing of the first self-propelled “microsubmarines” designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities. The report concludes that these tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil spills, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Different types of microengines are being developed, including devices that could transport medications through the bloodstream to diseased parts of the body. But no one has ever shown that these devices — 10 times thinner than a human hair — could help clean up oil spills. There is an urgent need for better ways of separating oil from water in the oceans and inside factories to avoid spreading oil-contaminated water into the environment.

The team developed so-called microsubmarines, which require very little fuel and move ultrafast, to see whether these small engines could help clean up oil. Tests showed that the cone-shaped microsubmarines can collect droplets of olive oil and motor oil in water and transport them through the water. The microsubs have a special surface coating, which makes them “superhydrophobic,” or extremely water-repellent and oil-absorbent.

“These results demonstrate the potential of the superhydrophobic-modified microsubmarines for facile, rapid and highly efficient collection of oils in oil-contaminated water samples,” say the researchers. The full report appears in the journal ACS Nano.

Asteroid mining plans revealed by Planetary Resources, Inc.

April 24, 2012

Planetary Resources, Inc. announced today its plan to mine Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) for raw materials, ranging from water to precious metals. By developing cost-effective exploration technologies, the company aims to initiate prospecting missions targeting resource-rich asteroids that are easily accessible.

Mining from asteroids could deliver huge benefits to humanity – potentially adding trillions of dollars to global GDP. Asteroids are rich in resources, and these could provide a sustainable supply to the ever-growing population on Earth.

A single 500-metre platinum-rich asteroid contains the equivalent of all the Platinum Group Metals mined in history. “Many of the scarce metals and minerals on Earth are in near-infinite quantities in space. As access to these materials increases, not only will the cost of everything from microelectronics to energy storage be reduced, but new applications for these abundant elements will result in important and novel applications,” said Peter Diamandis, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, Inc.

Additionally, water-rich NEAs could serve as “stepping stones” for deep space travel, providing fuel and water to orbiting depots. Accessing these resources in space would revolutionise exploration, making it dramatically more affordable.

“Water is perhaps the most valuable resource in space. Accessing a water-rich asteroid will greatly enable the large-scale exploration of the solar system. In addition to supporting life, water will also be separated into oxygen and hydrogen for breathable air and rocket propellant,” said Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Of the approximately 9,000 known NEAs, more than 1,500 are energetically as easy to reach as the Moon. The capability to characterise NEAs is on the critical path for Planetary Resources. To that end, the company has developed the first line in its family of deep-space prospecting spacecraft, the Arkyd-100 Series – Leo. This spacecraft will be used in low-Earth orbit and help to prioritise the first NEA targets for the company’s follow-on expeditions by the Arkyd-300 Series – Rendezvous Prospector.

Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer, said “Our mission is not only to expand the world’s resource base, but we want to increase people’s access to, and understanding of, our planet and solar system by developing capable and cost-efficient systems.”

“The promise of Planetary Resources is to apply commercial innovation to space exploration. They are developing cost-effective, production-line spacecraft that will visit near-Earth asteroids in rapid succession, increasing our scientific knowledge of these bodies and enabling the economic development of the resources they contain,” said Tom Jones, Ph.D., veteran NASA astronaut, planetary scientist and Planetary Resources advisor.

Planetary Resources, Inc. is financed by industry-launching visionaries including Google CEO Larry Page and Ross Perot, Jr. Among the company’s advisors is the movie director and explorer James Cameron.

  • Eric Schmidt, Ph.D., Executive Chairman of Google and a Planetary Resources investor: “The pursuit of resources drove the discovery of America and opened the West. The same drivers still hold true for opening the space frontier. Expanding the resource base for humanity is important for our future.”
  • K. Ram Shriram, Founder of Sherpalo and a Planetary Resources investor: “I see the same potential in Planetary Resources as I did in the early days of Google.”
  • Charles Simonyi, Ph.D., Chairman of Intentional Software Corporation and a Planetary Resources investor: “The commercialisation of space began with communications satellites and is developing for human spaceflight. The next logical step is to begin the innovative development of resources from space. I’m proud to be part of this effort.”

Asteroid mining company to be unveiled?

April 22, 2012

A group of billionaires, together with former NASA scientists, have announced Planetary Resources, Inc., rumoured to be the first asteroid mining company in history. They claim it will “add trillions of dollars to global GDP” and “help ensure humanity’s prosperity”.

The company is backed by Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, James Cameron, Charles Simonyi and other big names. It will be officially unveiled at a conference call on Tuesday 24th April.

Video by NewsyScience:

Surviving Progress

April 11, 2012

Technological advancement, economic development, population increase – are they signs of a thriving society? Or too much of a good thing? Based on the best-selling book A Short History of Progress, this provocative documentary explores the concept of progress in our modern world, guiding us through a sweeping but detailed survey of the major “progress traps” facing our civilization in the arenas of technology, economics, consumption, and the environment.

Featuring powerful arguments from such visionaries as Jane Goodall, Margaret Atwood, Stephen Hawking, Craig Venter, Robert Wright, Michael Hudson, and Ronald Wright, this enlightening and visually spectacular film invites us to contemplate the progress traps that destroyed past civilizations and that lie treacherously embedded in our own. Leading critics of Wall Street, cognitive psychologists, and ecologists lay bare the consequences of progress-as-usual as the film travels around the world – from a burgeoning China to the disappearing rainforests of Brazil to a chimp research lab in New Iberia, Louisiana – to construct a shocking overview of the way our global economic system is eating away at our planet’s resources and shackling entire populations with poverty.

Providing an honest look at the risks and pitfalls of running 21st Century “software” (our accumulated knowledge) on 50,000-year-old “hardware” (our primate brains), Surviving Progress offers a challenge: to prove making apes smarter was not an evolutionary dead end.

Battery switch stations could revolutionise the electric car industry

April 9, 2012

Better Place is a venture-backed American-Israeli company based in California, which aims to develop new infrastructure to boost the electric vehicle industry. According to Shai Agassi, the company’s founder and CEO, his vision was inspired by Klaus Schwab at the World Economic Forum, who asked: “How do you make the world a better place by 2020?”

Though they are clean and green, a major issue for electric cars is their limited range and the time needed to recharge batteries, which can be up to several hours. This “range anxiety” has dissuaded many potential buyers until now.

To get around this problem, Better Place has been promoting the idea of battery swapping. Using an automated system, a spent battery can be ejected and replaced with a fully charged one, saving the delay of waiting for the vehicle’s battery to charge up. The driver can remain in their car while the battery is swapped, with the process being completed in less than a minute, which is actually faster than refueling a conventional petrol car.

With networks of battery switching stations in and around cities, drivers would potentially have electric cars with unlimited ranges for long distance trips.

Better Place is partnering with governments and businesses around the world to accelerate this transition to sustainable transport. Retail customer deliveries of Renault’s Fluence ZE – the first electric car to operate in the Better Place network – are scheduled for the second quarter of 2012. The first battery switch stations have already been deployed in China, Denmark and Israel, with plans for additional networks in over 25 regions around the world.