Archive | November, 2015

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Will the Paris Climate Meeting Make a Difference?

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Jerry

We know this September was the hottest it has been since the year 1880 and that 2015 promises to be the hottest year on record. We also know that the World Meteorological Organization has said that 2016 will be the first year when the carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere will average over 400ppm (parts per million). We have measured the 2015 ozone hole over Antarctica and know that it is the third largest ever observed. It is only eclipsed by holes in the years 2000 and 2006.

We know that planning for the climate change conference in Paris the nations of the world have committed to an amount of greenhouse gas emissions that go over the two degree Celsius limit. The two degree Celsius limit is believed necessary to keep the world’s average temperature at a safe level. They have committed to 2.7° C. The commitments now in hand converted to Fahrenheit are a 4.9° increase and are insufficient.

As a world, at the end of 2015, we will pass the average of one degree Celsius (or 1.8°F) warmer temperature measured since pre-industrial times. This places us as halfway to the 2°C level so frequently talked about.

Even while missing the two degree Celsius limit, cynics point out a number of reservations about the commitments. They first object that the commitments are not real. They were designed to solve other problems as a matter of expedience. These commitments are being repurposed to be for climate change.

The biggest case in point is the commitment from China. They claim the smog over Peking had become so bad the reduction they are committing to is really to eliminate smog in Peking. They point out that China has not cut back on its plans for additional coal fired power plants. They state that getting electricity for the entire country is their primary objective and they will not let this year’s commitment get in the way.

The cynics point out that commitments that span decades can easily be changed along the way. While optimists believe the freedom to change them means they will increase the commitments and achieve their goals earlier, the naysayers suggest they will only weaken commitments as the years pass. Critics say we cannot wait long enough to see because it will be too late to stop an additional rise in heat.

The final big criticism is that many of the commitments that have been made are conditional upon assistance the developed countries will provide to underdeveloped nations. Fully 25% of the world’s commitments are tied to receiving aide from developed nations. The underdeveloped nations are saying they will reduce their greenhouse pollution to a certain level if they receive a certain amount of help from a fund established by developed countries.

So far the potential donor nations must live up to providing the $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate financing to which they have committed. Unfortunately, in lots of areas nations are behind in living up to their commitments to fund various efforts. For example, the Congress of the U.S. for years was late in funding the United Nations.

A gross example is India that has committed to reduce its carbon intensity per unit of gross domestic product by 33% – 35% by 2030 compared to its levels of intensity shown in 2005. This is tied to its commitment to source 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources consisting largely of renewables and other low-carbon sources by 2030. This commitment will be achieved after it receives $2.5 trillion from the developed countries over the next 15 years. This $2.5 trillion is their estimate of the amount of money they will have to spend to change their energy infrastructure and plans in order to hit their targets.

So the biggest question that remains is “Is there still time?” This is the most difficult question we have. If you look at our average temperature rise we are halfway to our two degree Celsius limit. Should we be looking to the Paris conference to settle all issues or should we be looking at more decades of questioning?

The answer will probably be that there will be more questioning. There are reasons however to be hopeful. We may be seeing tipping points that are good news and should give us optimism that people will do the right thing to save our planet over the long haul ahead.

The Pew Research Center released its November 2015 World Survey of 40 countries (45,435 respondents) that shows a clear majority response to the question ‘Do you support or oppose your country limiting its greenhouse gas emissions as part of an agreement at the 2015 Paris conference?’ All nations of the world (except Pakistan) responded with their majority support for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The majorities were not small across the countries. Most were greater than 65%. Only Poland, Turkey, Palestinian territory, Indonesia, and South Africa had majorities less that 65%.

In addition, in order to reduce the ozone hole, countries that were parties to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 agreed to take under management the reduction of substitutes for CFCs or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are ozone friendly replacements that are used as refrigerants. Unfortunately, many of the HFC replacements are also very powerful greenhouse gases.

The use of these powerful greenhouse gases has risen as the world replaces the ozone killing CFCs with HFCs. The agreement of the Montreal Protocol countries to extend their management to include HFCs is a boon to fighting climate change. This is in addition to continuing their efforts to reduce the ozone hole. So far these countries have proven effective and tireless at attempting to shrink the ozone hole.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it has adopted new rules for the use and management of HFCs. The Department of Defense also has announced plans to use alternate chemicals at some facilities and on its ships. Both of these efforts will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

There is also a report that President Obama has 81 U.S. large companies that have signed a pledge committing at least $180 billion to fight climate change. These companies include Intel, Johnson and Johnson, The Hershey Company, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Siemens.

These are all encouraging events that we hope are positive tipping points that indicate more progress in the future. Where human beings are involved, there will always be a good chance that we will do what is right. No matter what happens at the 2015 Paris Climate conference there are hopeful developments that indicate trends that should increase our optimism. We must continue our pressure to make progress on climate change. We cannot afford to give ground and must succeed if we want planet Earth to be a livable habitat.

Use the following links to obtain more information or see the original source documents used to prepare this article. (scroll to second item) (access pdf of entire report)

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What Can You Do With Air? Suck Carbon?

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Jerry

One way to control climate change is not to put more carbon dioxide into the air but rather to take it out. Numerous firms and researchers are trying to develop cost effective ways of sucking carbon dioxide from our polluted air and turning it into salable products. Stuart Licht, a Professor of Chemistry at George Washington University in Washington D. C, leads researchers attempting to exploit this opportunity.

Licht begins with a solar cell that is a concentrated photovoltaic. He uses it to focus sunlight to a semiconductor panel that converts about 40% of the energy into electricity at a high voltage. An article in the September 11, 2015 issue of Science magazine goes on to state, “The electricity is shunted to electrodes in two electrochemical cells: one that splits water molecules and another that splits CO2. Meanwhile, much of the remaining energy in the sunlight is captured as heat and used to preheat the two cells to hundreds of degrees, a step that lowers the amount of electricity needed to split water and CO2 molecules by roughly 25%.”

The problem that all researchers have run into is the absence of government funding which they originally believed was possible. The question they then have to confront is how to monetize what they do; have someone else pay them to remove CO2 for example from coal plant exhaust, from the air or turn it into a product that they can sell.

Licht’s team from George Washington University had earlier solved this problem by turning the extracted CO2 to carbon nanoscale fibers. Appearing in the August 19, 2015 MIT Technology Review, the article states that assuming there would be great growth in demand Professor Licht believes “the material’s properties, especially the fact that it is so lightweight and also very strong, will spur greater and greater use as the cost comes down.”

The team is taking CO2 and cooks it in molten carbonates. Surrounding air is added with a current of electricity from steel and nickel electrodes. Carbon nanofibers begin to grow on the steel electrode. The article continues as Dr. Licht is quoted as saying, “Imagine that carbon fiber composites eventually replace steel, aluminum, and even concrete as a building material…at that point, there could be sufficient use of this that it’s actually acting as a significant repository of carbon…We have found a way to use atmosphere CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers.”

Another company that has built a demonstration machine in British Columbia, Canada, is Carbon Engineering out of Calgary. David Keith is executive chairman of the firm and is also a climate physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His company is partially funded by Bill Gates. They recently opened a facility at Squamish, British Columbia, that processes about a ton of CO2 per day.

An article in the October 15, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “The plant uses fans to push air through towers containing potassium hydroxide solution, which reacts with CO2 to form potassium carbonate; the remaining air now containing less CO2, is released. Further treatment of the solution separates out the captured CO2, regenerating the capture solution for reuse.” Carbon Engineering additionally announced a deal with the province of British Columbia to assess the feasibility of turning the CO2 into fuel to power local buses.

There are other startups including one that has as its largest investor Edgar Bronfman Jr., former chairman and CEO of Warner Music. Another startup is working with Audi. These startups are looking to sell CO2 to be pumped into greenhouses to increase crop yields. In addition, they would like to remove carbon dioxide at the behest of a U.S. energy company.

This is not to say that any of the aforementioned companies will succeed or dominate a thriving business. They are trying however to develop a technology that will obviously benefit those of us that are concerned about climate change. This is the type of entrepreneurial effort that we need to be encouraging and saluting. Let us all hope for great success for these entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that are funding them.

Use the following links to access additional information or look at the original source documents used for this article.

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Nanoparticles: Would You Rather Have Smooth Skin or Oxygen?

Posted on 03 November 2015 by Jerry

Opportunities draw a crowd. More researchers are attracted to upside opportunity than testing for safety. Unfortunately, products are rushed to market for product advantage. Once again products are out before safety is assured. Such is the case with nanoparticles.

Multiple developments have now been proven to be harmful, one taking years to withdraw from the market even though substitutes are available. Another threatens the production of oxygen on earth. One of which is a direct problem to its users. Another is a less direct problem but has more serious and long-term implications.

It has been known for sometime that plastic particles in the oceans are collecting inside the bodies of creatures of the sea that ingest them and are consequently harmed by them. It has now been discovered that “Tiny particles used in sunscreens and other consumer products may harm marine creatures by disabling the defense mechanisms that protect their embryos.” So says a May 14, 2015 article published by the National Geographic.

This unique problem is that many of the facial crèmes and body scrubs that are washed down the drain contain exfoliators, nanoparticle plastic beads, that are too small to filter out during wastewater treatment.  Consequently, they go into the ocean and lakes. Here they are eaten by marine fauna especially those that are filter feeders, e.g. mussels, causing circulatory and digestive blocking, malnutrition, and starvation.

Fortunately alternatives are readily available, e.g. crushed walnuts, strawberry seeds or bamboo, and many businesses in the beauty industry have announced they will phase out the use of plastic beads in their products over the next few years. This is true for conglomerates such as Unilever, Beierdsorf, L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Johnson and Johnson, and Proctor and Gamble. We are lucky there are alternatives or the beauty industry might have fought this substitution.

Of even more concern was a study that was summarized by Kriti Gaur in the AJAS Environmental Science 2015 Annual AAAS Meeting held from February 12th to 16th of 2015. The Abstract of the recent study explained that the purpose of the study was to ascertain the effect of nanoparticle pollution and how it might alter the chemistry of the ocean.

It observed that nanoparticles are being used in many products in the world and that these particles are being released into the environment as pollutants. This includes contamination from nanoparticles composed of silver, gold, zinc, copper, and magnesium in various concentrations. These ingredients were studied in concentrations of 5%, 10%, and 15%.

Specifically, the objects of the study were two very common species of algae. As the abstract explained, “Algae is an extremely important marine organism, since it produces 70-80% of the oxygen on Earth, and can be used as a potential energy resource for the future, to make biofuels.”

Researchers found that, “as the concentration of the nanoparticles increased, the growth rates decreased (cells per drop and cell counts)…meaning that the algae were not converting as much CO2 to oxygen, hindering their rates of photosynthesis.” The Abstract continued as follows “It was concluded that the algae were impacted negatively by metal nanoparticles in their environment, and were poisoned by them, severely impacting the biological functioning of the algae. As a result they die off faster, and could not adapt to the conditions of toxicity in their environment.”

As stated in an earlier article on this blog, see “To Know Nano is to Say Whoa to Nano,” published in February 2013, nanoparticles are so small normal bodily barriers do not confine them. Nanoparticles penetrate the skin, are breathed into the lungs etc. and move in the circulatory system aggregating as substances in the organs of the body.

The previous article stated, “While most often composed of various metals such as silver, gold, titanium dioxide, and carbon, particles of this size can be created of almost anything.  One major problem is that these materials often act in surprising and distressing ways at this size.   They do not conform to the norms established at their usual scale in our environment.  They are often unpredictable.”

The article continued, “As witnessed in so many other technical breakthroughs, there is a virtual land rush of companies seeking competitive advantage by including nanoparticles in almost everything they make.  Today nanoparticles are added, without our knowledge, to such products as food, clothing, medicines, shampoos, suntan lotions, cosmetics, vitamins, and toothpaste.” This all today remains true.

Now the impacts of much of these nanoparticles that become pollutants are being felt around the world. While it is true we cannot pollute the vast oceans very fast, the effect of this pollution is that the algae will die and with it the production of the oxygen we all breathe will cease. Again these developments cannot continue without stringent and close regulation.

The effects of these nanoparticles must be known before they are allowed to go to market in products around the world. Once again we are allowing the profit motive to overwhelm the public’s safety. We cannot have our companies pollute the environment and threaten life’s very existence.

Use the following links to access additional information or see the articles used as the sources of this article.—a-drop-in-the-ocean-for-the-beauty-industry/6420

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