Building the World

June 20, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY/WATER: Summer – Full Steam Ahead

Steam is needed to brew beer. Image” “THAT is what I like,” by photographer Alan Levine, 2012. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Today is the solstice. It’s summer – in some parts of the world – perfect weather for enjoying a cold drink on a hot day. Chances are that beverage, and its glass, were brought to you by steam. Brewing craft beer, sterilizing dental or medical instruments, cooking, heating – all these activities require steam. Fossil fuels power 73% of energy in the United States: 40% is used to make steam. Usually produced by boilers, powered by coal, gas, or oil, the industry standard could soon change.

Beer brewing may be the same, but steam is changing. Image: “Beer at the bottom of a glass” by photographer Specious, 2009. Creative Commons. Included with appreciation.

Transitioning to a new energy source often requires installing new, expensive infrastructure – think electric vehicles and charging stations. But if the same infrastructure could be used, phasing out and phasing in could be seamless. That is the case with emerging technology of green steam, A similar advantage can be found in biofuels for aviation: sustainable aviation fuels can be pumped into jet aircraft now using fossil-based kerosene. Saving costs of building new infrastructure, saving costs of removing old systems, saving jobs by keeping the same personnel, and saving energy – it is a win worth getting steamed up about.

Aeolipile – from Knight’s American Mechanical Dictionary, 1876. Image: Public Domain.

The first steam engine, called the aeolipile was described by Vitruvius who also wrote about the Roman Aqueducts. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen, said by some to be the progenitor of the Industrial Revolution, invented an atmospheric engine powered by steam – it pumped water out of coal mines, thus advancing the use of coal for energy. Since Newcomen, steam has been made by burning coal, or other fossil carbon-based fuels.

How coal powers steam. Image: “Coal-fired power plant diagram,” by Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), 2013. Public Domain.

Enter Spirax Sarco. The UK-based powerhouse is testing a zero-carbon boiler for a food manufacturer. The food and beverage industry produces 11% of the world’s greenhouse gases – same as the total emissions for Belgium. The food and beverage industry contributes $412 billion to the U.S. economy. In the EU, the industry employs 4 million people. Developing zero carbon steam technologies for this industry will help to meet global climate goals.

Steam is a natural phenomenon. Image: “Grand Prismatic Spring with steam rising from Excelsior Geyser.” by Frank Kovalcheck, 2008. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Steam didn’t need to be invented. It has been a product of the Earth longer than humans have been on the planet. Visit Iceland and you’ll see steam rising from the geysers. Steam uses water: in a drought-threatened world, more efficient steam can save water and reuse this critical resource. Beer brewing is one example of using water and steam, with a few other ingredients. The beverage is so traditional it is made by the monks of the Abbey of Our Lady of Saint-Remy, Belgium, a Cistercian Order of Strict Observance. You can’t enter the monastery, but you can toast with their beer, made by traditional processes.

“Brewery in the Abbey of Our Lady of Saint-Remy, Belgium, of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance.” By photographer, Luca Galuzzi. Creative Commons 2.5. Included with appreciaiton.

Enter AtmosZero. The US-based start-up company that just received Series A funding by Engine Ventures along with backing by Constellation Energy Corporation, Energy Impact Partners, Starlight Ventures, and AENU, is developing a boiler driven by heat pump technology. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded AtmosZero a $3 million grant for Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization. The innovative Boiler 2.0 is a “drop-in” system that can replace carbon fossil-fueled equipment. The system generates two times more heat than its energy input. An early adopter and beta-tester: New Belgium Brewing, a craft beer company in Colorado. Cheers!

Can green steam decarbonize the beverage industry? Image: “Absinthe Robetter” by Privat-Livemont, 1896. U.S. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

More:

AENU. https://www.aenu.com

AtmosZero. https://atmoszero.energy

Brooke, K. Lusk. “TRANSPORT: New ‘Wingprint’ for Aviation.” 29 November 2023. Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2023/11/29/transport-new-wingprint-for-aviation/

Constellation Energy Corporation. https://www.constellationenergy.com

Energy Impact Partners. https://www.energyimpactpartners.com

Engine Ventures. https://engineventures.com

National Museums Scotland. “Thomas Newcomen’s Steam Engine.” https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/stories/science-and-technology/newcomen-engine/

New Belgium Brewing. https://www.newbelgium.com

SpiraxSarco. https:spiraxsarco.com

Starlight Ventures. https://starlight.vc

Vitruvius. De Architectura. https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Ronan/Texts/Vitruvius/home,html

Winrow, Michael. “Why green steam is a hot issue for business.” 25 April 2024. BBC.com. https//www.bbc.com/news/business-68687140

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June 8, 2024
by Building The World
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WATER: World Oceans Day

World Ocean Map by Quizimodo, 2007. Dedicated to the public domain by the artist and included with appreciation.

June 8 is World Oceans Day, launched in 2016 by its Youth Advisory Council, and supporting this year’s 2024 theme: “Catalyzing Action for Our Ocean & Climate” highlighting the message of one ocean, one climate, one future – together.” Here are three ways you can participate:

Protect the ocean and all who live within our blue commons. Image: “Florescent Coral” by Erin Rod, 2019. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Protect the High Seas – did you know that not every country has ratified the High Seas Treaty? Areas beyond national jurisdiction belong to the whole world – including you. If your country has yet to act, contact leaders to urge signing now. Related to the High Seas Treaty is the initiative to protect 30% of ocean habitat by 2030. Check who’s on board here.

The deep seabed contains minerals: should we permit mining? Now is the time to become involved in this decision. The deep seabed belongs to all – including you. Image: “Deep Sea Mining Possible Zonex” by NOAA, 2011. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Defend the Deep – ironically, signatories of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are also those who may apply to the International Seabed Authority for contracts permitting deep seabed mining. This summer, decisions will be made regarding mining the seabed for minerals like cobalt. The argument for is that renewable energy requires battery storage powered by these minerals, now becoming depleted on land but abundant in the deep seabed. The argument against is that mining the deep seabed will surely be environmentally dangerous and very difficult to remediate. According to studies verified by Sir David Attenborough and hundreds of scientists, metals and minerals like cobalt are 100% recyclable. We do not need to mine the sea to power the future. Voice your opinion here.

Pathway of plastic to ocean. How can you support the Global Plastics Treaty? Image: Our World in Data, CC4.0. included with appreciation.

Support the Global Plastics Treaty – how many times have you spotted plastic litter on a beach, or seen a photo of the tragic consequences of plastic for marine life? In Nairobi, the UN Environment Assembly agreed to an international legally binding agreement to address the plastic production cycle from design to disposal. Support the world’s development of a global plastics treaty here.

Celebrate and support World Ocean Day. Image: “Person standing near ocean wave in Porto Covo, Portugal” by photographer Alvesgaspar, 2013. CC4.0. Included with appreciation.

Celebrate and share World Oceans Day. A social media toolkit to help you and your community share the message is available here.

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Speedo Diplomacy – Deep Seabed Mining and Marine Preservation.” Pages 56 – 67.” Renewing the World: Casebook for Leadership in Water. ISBN: 979-8-9850359-5-7. https://renewingtheworld.com

Brooke, K. Lusk and Zoë G. Quinn. “Deep Seabed Mining.” 13 July 2023. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2023/07/13/water-energy-deep-seabed-mining-part-2/

International Seabed Authority. https://isa.org.jm

Leape, J., et al., (2020) Technology, data and new models for sustainably managing ocean resources.” World Resources Institute Blue Paper. https://www.oceanpanel.org/blue-papers/technology-data-and-new-models-sustainably managing ocean resources

NASA. “Video of Ocean in celebration of Earth Day 50th anniversary,” 2020. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Earth_Day_2020_-_Gulf_Stream_ocean_current_pull_out_to_Earth_observing_fleet.webm

Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. https://profiles.stanford.edu/59063

United Nations. “Oceans and Law of the Sea – United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).” 1982. https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreement/texts/unclos/UNCLOS-TOC.htm

United Nations. “Resolution to end plastic pollution.” 2 March 2022. UNEP/EA.5/.

World Wildlife Fund. “Future mineral demand can be met without deep seabed mining as innovative technology can cut mineral use by 58%.” 28 November 2022. https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?7087466/Future-mineral-demand-can-be-met-without-deep-seabed-mining-as-innovative-technology-can-cut-mineral-use-by-58

World Wildlife Fund. “Global Plastics Treaty.” https://wwf.panda.org/act/plastic_pollution_treaty/

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U

 

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May 3, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Maximizing Minerals, Part 2 – Nickel

Nickel is critical to the renewable energy revolution. Image: “Section of pure nickel accretion,” by Images of Elements, 2009. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

It’s driving the electric vehicle and renewable energy revolution, but nickel has vexed miners and chemists since the earliest days. In fact, nickel got its name because of its difficult nature. Nickel – from German “Kupfernickel” or “Old Nick’s Copper.” Miners who discovered nickel thought it was copper but were never able to extract copper from it. They named it after their term for the devil: “Old Nick.” In a side note, nickel’s etymology also gives us a favorite bread: “Pumpernickel,” perhaps because the devil enjoyed this dark loaf.

“Old Nick – the Devil” by Florian Rokita, 1936. From National Gallery of Art, acquisition 1943.8.16361, public domain. Included with appreciation.

.Nickel is valuable for its ferromagnetic properties: it is one of four with such powers. The others are cobalt, gadolinium, and iron. Over 60% of world nickel production makes its way to becoming stainless steel.

 

Nickel is used in making stainless steel. Image: Stainless Steel Seamless Pipe & Tube” by photographer Jatinsanghvi. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

When such steel is  no longer serviceable, it can be scrapped and recycled, turning the nickel back into use for more stainless steel, or – increasingly – batteries including nickel-cadmium or NiCad batteries.

Nickel is used in rechargeable batteries. Image: “NiCad batteries” by photography Boffy. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Presently, only 4% of the world’s nickel is used in rechargeable batteries, but with electric vehicles that market is growing, accelerating demand. Another developing use for nickel – wind turbine blades, where nickel is used as a superalloy.

Swiss coin made of 100% nickel. “5 scheizer Franken hinten” by photographer Manuel Anastácio, 2000. Public Domain by Article 5 of Swiss Copyright Act. Included with appreciation.

Nickel was at one time so abundant that in 1881, a coin in Swiss currency was made from pure nickel. In the United States, the coin called the “nickel” was introduced in 1857, but it was made with nickel alloyed with copper.

Jefferson Nickel, designed by sculptor Felix Schlag (1892-1974) who was paid $1,000 for the work, was made of only part nickel, alloyed with copper. Image: U.S. Historical Library, 1938. Public Domain: included with appreciation.

Despite its name as an American coin (the origin of the term is actually German), there is not much nickel found in the United States, although there is a mine in Riddle, Oregon that produced 15,000 tons (in 1996). That same year, Russian nickel mines yielded 230,000 tons, followed by Canada (183,000 tons), Australia (113,000 tons), and Indonesia (90,000 tons).Trading as a commodity, nickel’s pricing per ton ranged from 15,614 to 25, 076 in 2024. Metals like nickel are traded on the London Metal Exchange (LME).

Nickel is traded on the London Metal Exchange (LME). Image by photographer Kreepin Deth, 2009. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Like cobalt, nickel can be found in the deep seabed. In fact, exchange prices – like those on the London Metal Exchange – for nickel and cobalt, are influenced by estimates of deposits located in the seabed. In particular, cobalt and nickel are inter-related, often found together. On land, their mining is known, although not often enough followed by recycling and re-use. Under leagues of water, the process is not tested, and is also contested.

Nickel and cobalt are both targeted for deep seabed mining: contracts are soon to be defined. You can vote your opinion here. Image: “Deep seabed mining schematic” by G. Mannearts. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Another place nickel may be found is in the sky. Asteroids, especially those categorized as M-type or M-class, contain iron and nickel. But the search will be long: only 8% of asteroids, like Lutetia (see in image below) are M-type.

M-Type asteroids like Lutetia may contain nickel. Image: NASA/JPL-CalTech/JAXA/ESA, 2011. Creative Commons0 1.0, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Cobalt, nickel, and other minerals and metals that are critical for use in renewable energy are recyclable and reusable. Yet, the International Seabed Authority is reviewing contracts for nickel mining. Asteroid mining companies are also in the race. But nickel recycling may be a better bet and more certain investment. Nickel recycling has been expensive and difficult, requiring high heat and releasing toxic fumes. In former times, it may have seemed easier to obtain primary nickel (mined) than to pay for secondary nickel (recycled). Tax credits and rebates could help.

Nickel is 100% recyclable. Image: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” by photographer Nadine3013. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

But innovation-leading companies including Aqua Metals in Reno, Nevada, USA, and ABTC, as well as the Nevada Center for Applied Research (NCAR) at the University of Nevada, Reno and Greentown Labs, may change the way we use – and reuse – nickel. Presently 68% of all nickel already mined is recycled, but 17% is still dumped in landfills. Will the recent Declaration of Metals Industry Recycling Principles help to make mineral and metal recycling the industry standard?

Pure nickel by photographer Jurii, 2009. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

While fossil fuels are used up when combusted (leaving greenhouse gases), minerals and metals are not depleted because they only conduct and store energy. Minerals and metals can be recycled and reused. Have a nickel in your pocket? Be the change.

Aqua Metals. https://aquametals.com

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Maximizing Minerals, Part 1, Cobalt.” https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2024/04/17/energy-water-maximizing-minerals/

Liberman, Anatoly. “Multifarious Devils: Pumpernickel, Nickel, and Old Nick,” 12 June 2013. Oxford University Press Blog. https://blog.oup.com/2013/06/pumpernickel-etymology-word-origin/

Nevada Center for Applied Research, University of Nevada, Reno. https://unr.edu/ncar

Nickel Institute. “Nickel.” https://nickelinstitute.org

United States Geological Survey (USGS). Mineral Resources Program. https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2011/3081/pdf/fs2011-3081.pdf

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April 17, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY/WATER: Maximizing Minerals

Cobalt is essential for supporting renewable energy. Land-based cobalt mining is difficult, and sea-based is dangerous. Cobalt is 100% recyclable and reusable. How can we maximize minerals? Image: “Cobalt Mineral” by Bhavss1214. Creative Commons 4.0 Included with appreciation.

International Energy Agency predicts 500% increase in demand for minerals like cobalt by 2050. Cobalt is generally associated with mining, and more than half of land-based global cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Kamoto mine in Katanga and the Metalkol RTE run by Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) are noteworthy; ERG joined the Responsible Minerals Assurance Process as part of the Responsible Minerals Initiative that prohibits certain labor practices in the DRC mining industry. But do we need a Responsible Minerals Initiative for the sea?

Land-based mines can inflict environmental damage and scars: what would ocean mining do? “Kalgoorlie: “The Big Pit” by Brian Voon Yee Yap, 2005. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Land-based mining is running out of minerals like cobalt. So, attention is now turning to the deep seabed, especially the mineral-rich Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). To get an idea of the size of the CCZ, it is as wide as the continental United States, and stretches across the Pacific from Mexico to Hawaii. Here may be found polymetallic nodules containing manganese, sulfide deposits, and ferromanganese crusts with cobalt, manganese, nickel, titanium – even gold. The gold alone is worth $150 trillion. Polymetallic nodules in the deep seabed contain more key metals than the entire world’s land-based reserves.

“Polymetallic nodules on the seabed of CCZ” by Rov Kiel 6000, Geomar Bilddatenbank, 2015. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Some mineral deposits lie within national exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of coastal countries who have rights to their waters (and seabed minerals) within 200 nautical miles/230 land miles (370 km). Everything beyond belongs to everyone, even landlocked countries. This is the blue commons. It is related to the diplomatic peace principle of the Suez Canal – “open to all nations in times of war and peace.” The principle was first defined by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) in the Latin phrase mare liberum (sea + free).

Can we find peace in the blue commons? “Mare Liberum” by Hugo Grotius, 1609. This image is from the archives of the Peace Palace, The Hague, Netherlands. Creative Commons0. 1.0, public domain. Included with appreciation.

The deep seabed is governed by the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a United Nations agency authorized as part of the Law of the Sea. Any signatory nation of the Law of the Sea may apply for a contract authorizing exploration of the seabed. After a number of exploration years, that country may apply to move towards exploitation – mining. Private partners are allowed, so some very small countries like Nauru have thus exercised their rights with some very big partners like The Metals Company.

Where is Nauru? Image: “Nauru on the globe” by graphic artist TUBS. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

But there is more in the deep sea than minerals. Research ship James Cook just completed a study of marine species in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone. As many as 5,000 never-yet-named species may be living in the CCZ. Some of species thrive in symbiotic exchange with polymetallic nodules. It takes millions of years to build a polymetallic nodule of just 8 inches (20 centimeters). Imagine the disruption and environmental damage if an autonomous robotic bulldozer were to rake up the nodules. And, while mineral mining on land can result in accidents and environmental damage, imagine what that would look like undersea  –  using explosives and heavy machinery. Will the UN Convention on Biological Diversity protect the CCZ?

Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ)” by NOAA, 2011. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Some believe mining deep seabed minerals is the only way we can get to a fully renewable energy future; other science and technology experts state we can optimize present use of metals and minerals by more than 50%, and not need to invade the seabed. And, it is critical to note that the minerals like cobalt, lithium, and nickel – essential for renewable energy conductivity and storage – are recyclable and reusable.

Cobalt, Lithium, and Nickel are recyclable and reusable. We can do more – before we do more damage. How can you help to maximize minerals? Image: “Universal Recycling Symbol” Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

ISA is nearing approval of deep seabed mining contracts for exploitation. Environmental advocates like Sir David Attenborough, Dr. Sylvia Earle, and Lewis Pugh have joined hundreds of scientists who recommend a moratorium on decisions to advance deep seabed mining. The UK-based James Cook voyage is part of the Seabed Mining and Resilience to Experimental Impact (SMARTEX). If you would like to convey your opinions and recommendations, you may contact the ISA here. Other options are to communicate with SMARTEX here.

Marine life in the CCZ needs your vote. Image: “Opisthoteuthis agassizii” by NOAA, 2019. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

BBC and Natural History Museum. “New Life Forms Discovered in CCZ.” VIDEO. https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p0fsyh1g/the-alien-lifeforms-discovered-in-the-deep-ocean

Bhujbal, Prajakta. “10 minerals that can be recycled.” 5 February 2022. Recycling. https://blog.mywastesolution.com/10-minerals-that-can-be-recycled/

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Speedo Diplomacy: Deep Sea Mining and Marine Protected Areas,” pages 55-66, Renewing the World: Casebook for Leadership in Water. 2024. ISBN: 979-8-9850359-5-7. Available on Amazon and at https://renewingtheworld.com

Hunt, Katie. “Deep-sea expedition captures stunning images of creatures in Pacific mining zone.” 3 April 2024. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2024/04/02/world/new-species-pacific-deep-sea-mining-zone-scn?cid-ios.app

Earle, Sylvia. Mission Blue/The Sylvia Earle Alliance. https://missionblue.org

Hein, James R. and Kira Miel, USGS. Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. “Deep-ocean polymetallic nodules and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts in the global ocean: New sources for critical metals.” 21 April 2022. http://www.usgs.gov/publications/deep-ocean-polymetallic-noduules-and-cobalt-rich-ferromanganese-crusts-global-ocean-new

International Seabed Authority (ISA) https://www.isa.org.jm

Lewis Pugh Foundation. https://lewispughfoundation.org

Miller, K.A., et al., “Challenging the need for deep seabed mining from the perspective of metal demand, biodiversity, ecosystems services, and benefit sharing.” Frontiers, Marine Ecosystem Ecology, Volume 8 – 2021. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2021.706161

Ostrum, Elinor. Governing the Commons. ISBN: 97800-521-40599-7

The Metals Company. https://metals.co

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). “Deep Seabed Mining” VIDEO https://youtu.be/Lwq1j3nOODA?si=ZJkqNLmcNcsGicwT

Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI). https://www.responsiblemineralsinitiative.org

SMARTEX. https://smartexccz.org

United Nations. “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.” https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_3.pdf

United Nations. “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.” Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, CBD/COP/DEC/15/4, 19 December 2022. https://www.cbd.int/doc/decisions/cop-15/cop-15-dec-04-en.pdf

Vox. “The race to mine the bottom of the ocean.” 2023. VOX https://youtu.be/pf1GvrUqeIA?si=CXneRsA77m4_f

Whittaker, Bill, et al., “National security leaders worry about U.S. failure to ratify Law of the Sea treaty.” 24 March 2024. CBS News. Includes VIDEO. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/national-security-economic-concerns-us-law-of-the-sea-treaty-60-minutes/

World Wildlife Fund. “Future mineral demand can be met without deep seabed mining as innovative technology can cut mineral use by 58%.” 28 November 2022. https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?7087466/Future-mineral-demand-can-be-met-without-deep-seabed-mining-as-innovative-technology-can-cut-mineral-use-by-58

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April 3, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Pipe Dream or Nightmare?

Fossil fuels like oil and gas are carried around the world by pipelines. Image: “Vortex street animation gif” by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira, 2006. Dedicated to the public domain, Creative Commons0 1.0, by the designer and included with appreciation.

Pipelines carry energy in a distribution system that is one of the most complex in the history of civilization. But the energy pipeline had humble beginnings. In 1821, William Hart of Fredonia, New York, saw something bubbling on the surface of Canadaway Creek. He ran home, grabbed his wife’s washtub, placed it over the bubbling area, drilled a small hole in the tub, stuck a barrel from an old gun (disconnected) and let the gas rise up. He’d seen kids playing around with the bubbles and lighting them on fire. So, when the gas bubbled out of his make-shift tube, he lit it: it burned.

William Hart discovered natural gas bubbling up from Canadaway Creek. He dug nearby and fashioned what may be one of the first energy pipelines. Image: “Canadaway Creek in New York” by photographer Schetm, 2022. This image is dedicated to the public domain, Creative Commons0 1.0. It is included with appreciation.

Realizing that this substance was a kind of fuel, Hart dug nearby, rewarded by a modest flow. Looking around for a few hollow logs that he could bind with rags and tar, Hart built a primitive pipeline and sold the energy source to a local tavern, perhaps giving new meaning to the bar quip “fire water.”

Image: “HDPE Pipeline in Australia” by photographer GordonJ86, 2013. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0. It is included with appreciation.

Globally, there are so many energy pipelines that, if laid end to end, they could circle the globe 30 times. In the United States, there may be over 190,000 miles (approximately 305,000 kilometers) carrying crude oil from field to refinery to terminal. There are even more natural gas pipelines: 2.4 million miles (3.8 million kilometers). With all that volatile fuel coursing night and day, what could go wrong?

Image: “Pipeline Leak” photograph by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1972. Image is from National Archives NWDNS-412-DA-3515. Public Domain and included with appreciation.

Fatigue can wear us all down: even more so for pipelines that never get to sleep or take a vacation. In April 2023, Canada’s TC Energy spilled 14,000 barrels of oil in Kansas, USA, because of a fatigue crack that began as a construction imperfection and gradually worsened until it spilled. As a result, the whole pipeline, normally conveying 622,000 barrels-per-day, shut down for three weeks. Mill Creek in Kansas suffered longer.

Nigeria suffered over 600 pipeline leaks in 2020. Image: “Nigeria as seen from space” by NASA, 2015. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 and is included with appreciation.

Unfortunately, pipeline leaks are not unusual. Nigeria suffered over 600 pipeline leaks in 2020. Every leak is deadly to wildlife, harmful to land and water, and costly. In four years (2015-2019), energy pipeline failures cost over $1 billion in property damage. What’s the remedy? While fossil fuel pipelines are still in use, detection and repair remain critical: half of the failures are due to corrosion.

Smart pigs are robotic devices traveling pipelines to detect cracks or leaks. Image: “Ancient drawing by unknown artist.” This fascinating image is in the public domain and included with appreciation.

Enter the “smart pig.” Invented in 1961 by Shell Development, this early form of mobile AI robotic devices launched commercially three years later by Tuboscope. How did “smart pigs” get their whimsical name? When first sent on a test mission, gears on the devices made a squealing sound that sounded like baby pigs. It is known that pigs are intelligent, and these devices certainly were, and are, smart.

Trans-Alaska Pipeline used smart pigs. Image: “Trans-Alaska Pipeline International” is licensed under Creative Commons 2.5 and is included with appreciation.

When Canada and the United States built the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, smart pigs were inserted into the infrastructure to measure flow and detect problems. Magnetic flux tools track metal loss: ultrasonic tools measure pipe wall thickness and look for cracks. Smart pigs enter via a “pig launcher” that then closes to let the pipe’s normal pressure carry it along, measuring and checking for problems, before arriving at a receiving station where it can be retrieved for data download. Pigs are not an afterthought to be deployed upon presentation of a problem: pipelines must be built to accommodate pigs before the energy system begins operation.

Line 5 affects the Chippewa, other Tribal nations who hold sacred the environment the pipeline traverses. Will the Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy guide the way? The U.S. States of Michigan and Wisconsin are also affected, and the lawsuits also Canada’s Enbridge. Image: “Flag of the Sokaogon Chippewa” by graphic designer Xasartha, 2014. Creative Commons 3.0, and included with appreciation.

Even when pipelines do not have technical problems, they cause legal problems. Transboundary issues are common: by definition, pipelines go the distance. For example, in the United States, “Line 5” traverses the lake bed of the Straits of Mackinac, a water passage connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Michigan, Wisconsin, and more than 20 Tribal Nations are affected. And then there’s Canada, where Enbridge, pipeline owner, receives 540,000 barrels of crude oil and natural (should we change the name to “methane gas?”) gas. The Tribal Nations raised concern bout their environment. The Wisconsin Chippewa filed a suit challenging the trespass on their land. Michigan opened a law suit concerning the section of Line 5 that traverses the Straits. There is now a judgement requiring Enbridge to reroute the pipeline and pay a $5 million fine (an appeal is in progress). Claiming Canadian rights granted by a 1977 treaty, Enbridge countered with an appeal and a proposal: they want to invade the Strait even more by building a tunnel made of concrete below the lake bed. While a pipeline may be difficult to remove, even more so a concrete tunnel.

How can we bridge a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy? Image: “Nénuphars et Pont japonais,” by Claude Monet 1899. This image is in the public domain and included with appreciation.

As we phase out coal, the world may continue to taper off oil and then, gas. In that transition, there are many issues of justice, environment, resource management, and transition strategy. Some energy advisors advocate keeping at least some fossil energy options available, as a bridge. Then, if a renewable energy source failed, and back-up energy storage also failed, we could “open the tap.” As Professor Emily Grubert warned, during a presentation at the Harvard Kennedy School in April 2024, in order to keep a system reliable, it has to be run periodically even when not needed. And, while we have tested the maximum flow volume for energy pipelines, have we yet tested the minimum? What is the right way to balance transition to renewable technology while still making sure there is backup? Phasing out fossil fuels may need more planning.

What can we do with all those pipelines? Image: “Animation of a capacitor using flow analogy in a pipe” by KDS4444, 2014. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0, and included with appreciation.

As we free transition from fossil fuel sources, what will we do with all those pipelines: above ground, buried beneath, and those snaking lake and sea floor? Do you have ideas for reusing or repurposing pipeline infrastructure?

Alliance for Tribal Clean Energy. https://tribalcleanenergy.org

Baker, Michael Jr. Inc. and Raymond R. Fessler. “Pipeline Corrosion,” November 2009. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Office of Pipeline Safety, U.S. Department of Transportation. https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/sites/phmsa.dot.gov/files/docs/technical-resources/pipeline/gas-transmission-integrity-management/65341/finalreportpipelinecorrosion.pdf

Davidson, Frank P. and K. Lusk Brooke. “Trans-Alaska Pipeline,” Building the World, Volume Two, pages 681 – 709. Greenwood: 2006. ISBN: 0313333742. Note: contains the original contract for the pipeline.

Grubert, Emily. “Planning the Mid-transition for Just and Sustainable Decarbonization.” 1 April 2024. Harvard Kennedy School. Please see recording on Belfer Center YouTube.

Grubert, E and S. Hastings-Simon. 2022. “Designing the mid-transition: A review of medium-term challenges for coordinated decarbonization in the United States. WIRE’s Climate Change. https://wires.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/wcc.768

Halleck, Rebecca and Dionne Searcey.  “A Great Lakes Pipeline Tangles Politics in Two Battleground States.” 27 March 2024. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/27/climate/line-5-pipeline-michigan-wisconsin-swing-stage.html

Hussein, Mohammed. “Mapping the world’s oil and gas pipelines.” 16 December 2021. Al Jazerra. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/12/16/mapping-world-oil-gas-pipelines-interactive

Lacroix, Karine, et al., “Should it be called ‘natural gas’ or ‘methane’?” 1 December 2020. Climate Communication, Yale University. https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/should-it-be-called-natural-gas-or-methane/

Lindner, Jannik. “Pipeline leak statistics.” 20 December 2023. https://gitnux.org/pipeline-leak-statistics/

Tuboscope. https://www.nov.com/about/our-business-units/tuboscope

Williams, Nia. “TC Energy says Keystone oil spill caused by fatigue crack,” 21 April 2023. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/tc-energy-receives-findings-root-cause-keystone-pipeline-oil-spill-2023-04-21/

U.S. Congress and Government of Canada. “Agreement Concerning Transit Pipelines,” 1977. https://www.congress.gov/treaty-document/95th-congress/6?s=1&r=22

U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, “Fact sheet: Inspections (smart pigs).” https://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/factsheets/fssmartpig.htm

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March 27, 2024
by Building The World
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TRANSPORT: Bridges

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge disaster is a tragedy. You can help here and here. Image: ‘Cable stayed suspension bridge” by Wikideas1, 2024. Pubic Domain CC0 1.0. Included with appreciation to the artist and support for Baltimore’s families who have suffered loss.

The tragedy of the Francis Scott Key Bridge brings deep sorrow for those lost and injured, as the search for those still missing continued after the accident. The Baltimore bridge was slammed by cargo vessel Dali after the 984 foot (299 meters) ship lost power and could not avoid collision. A MayDay call was sent, but it was too late. Citizens in the area rushed to help, forming a human blockade to prevent oncoming traffic from entering the bridge access.

“Francis Scott Key Bridge and Cargo Ship Dali” tragic accident photograph by NTSBgov, March 2024. This image is in the public domain.

While using waterways for transport is an ancient idea, and has recently been championed by European transport experts as more environmentally beneficial, the size of cargo ships must be considered. Europe has 23,000 miles (37,014 kilometers) of waterways: using canals and rivers for cargo transport could reduce emissions from trucks. Presently, 6.5 million trucks deliver goods across Europe, while rail carries just 5% and rivers 2%. European port operator Haropa proposed rivers and canals as a means of cargo delivery. But when European canals, as well the American Erie Canal were built, and the bridges that span these waterways, cargo vessels carrying goods were smaller.

The Ever Given cargo ship, stuck in the Suez Canal in 2021, was so large it could be seen from the International Space Station. Photo: NASA/ISS 27 March 2021. Public Domain.

Now, the size of the average cargo ship is considerably larger. Ships that have problems can cause major trouble, like the container ship Ever Given that got stuck in the Suez Canal. In the first three months of 2024, cargo ships have hit bridges in Argentina, China, and the United States. Some would question if waterways, and bridges, are ready for the size of cargo vessels now used. The Port of Baltimore is the 11th largest in the United States. It is an important transport center, but what are the limits of the ships that traverse its waters? What safety measures need to be in place in the world’s ports? Coastal cities around the world are some of the most important ports. Baltimore is one; Boston is another. Will sea level rise threaten the safety of ports?

Zakim Bridge in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, completed in 2002, named to honor Leonard P. Zakim. It is the largest asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge in the world. Photograph by Eric Vance, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2019. Public Domain Creative Cpmmons0 1.0. Included with appreciation.

While the Francis Scott Key bridge was not structurally deficient (although there has been comment on its structural redundancy, a term for extra support that can compensate for damage preventing collapse, as well as pier protection) and was certified as completely up-to-code, too many of our spans are in need of strengthening. Bridges last about 50 years before showing problems. The age of the average bridge in the United States is 42. A study by the American Road and Transport Builders Association (ARTBA) revealed that 36% of U.S. bridges – 222,000 – are in need of repair. The total cost? $319 billion. How much is currently allocated? $3.2 billion.

Roman aqueducts and bridges utilized the famous Roman Arch. Image: “Roman Aqueduct in Tarragona, Spain” by Cruccone. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Bridges were once, and remain, so important to city planning and security that in ancient Rome, only the Pope and a small cadre of bishops had the right to authorize a bridge. From that historic beginning, we get our word “pontiff” (Latin “pontifex” from “pons” (bridge) + “facere” (to do or make). Only the Pontiff of Rome could issue a bridge permit. In olden days of China, there was a bridge over which only the Emperor could walk.

“London Bridge” by Claes Van Visscher, 1616. This image, in the public domain, was offered by Mahagaja. It is included with appreciation.

Many transport historians might mark stages of civilization by connections formed via bridges. London Bridge changed the commerce of the city. Its span was the location of what may be one of the first shopping malls: retail stalls built along the structure paid rent that helped support bridge repairs. London Bridge is significant, too, for what was perhaps the first worker’s compensation plan, according to King John’s document of authorization to the Lord Mayor of London.

“Brooklyn Bridge, originally the Great East River Suspension Bridge” by Currier and Ives, 1883. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Bridges can raise the spirit: the Brooklyn Bridge has inspired more poetry than any other bridge in history. Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge,“offers reflections upon the span. The bridge is also connected to philosophy: it began in the mind of John Roebling who contemplated teachings of his professor at the Royal Polytechnic in Berlin: the philosopher Hegel. It was one of Hegel’s theories that gave Roebling the idea: it came to him in a flash during a hike in Bamberg. He sat down on a rock and sketched what would become the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Hammersmith Bridge” by photographer Alex Muller, 2008. This image is licensed by Creative Commons 3.0. It is included with appreciation to Alex Mulller.

British spans were recently studied: 17 were found to be in danger of collapse and 37 were on the watch list. The Hammersmith Bridge across the Thames River showed cracks in the 100+ year-old structure, causing the banning of vehicles since 2019.

“Morandi Bridge” by photographer Davide Papalini, 2010. This image is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0. It is included with appreciation to Davide Papalini.

European Union bridges tend to be on the older side: many were built as part of the Marshall Plan, just after World War II in the mid 1940s. Germany’s Leverkusen Bridge developed concrete cracks and was closed to heavy vehicles in 2012. In 2018, Italy’s Morandi Bridge connecting Genoa to France collapsed in a drenching rain storm. Built with only one pair of cable stays to support each section, vulnerability may have been inherent in the design.

Will bridges, many built in earlier times for different conditions, withstand the stronger storms of climate change? Britain’s Tay Rail Bridge washed out and collapsed in a strong storm in 1879. Image: Tay Bridge Catastrophe, 1879. Image origin: public domain, author unknown.

Climate change and attendant extreme weather, including intense winds and storms creating waves and floods, may affect bridges. In areas with drought subject to wildfire, bridges might need protection in parts of the span that may contain fiberoptic cable. Concrete may seem strong, but it cracks at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and melts at 2,500 degrees. Innovations like “First Line Fire Blankets” can be applied to bridges, power cables, and even gas pipelines. Make of E-glass fiber that resists thermal conductivity, “fire blankets” can be retrofitted to protect critical infrastructure.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is building many new bridges. Are there opportunities for innovation that can respond to climate change?  The Mohammed VI Bridge, Morocco, was a BRI project. Image courtesy of Ministry of Equipment and Transport, Morocco, 2016. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Older bridges may be supported by vigilance and retrofitting. Newer construction has opportunities for innovation. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, connecting Asia all the way to Africa and Europe, may tally $8 trillion. Financed in part by loans to countries that agree to the building of bridges, ports, roads, railways, China’s debts-owed increased 20% since 2013 when the project launched. More than 68 countries have signed on to participate in the project that will involve 65% of the world’s entire population. Bridges in the plan include the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, Maputo Bay Bridges in Mozambique, Mohammed VI Bridge in Morocco, and the Peljesac Bridge in Croatia. Decisions made about bridge design, strength, maintenance, and technology may determine the future of the much of the world’s connectivity over water, and also over terrain needing aerial bypass. What are some ways bridges can be improved?

A view of Baltimore’s Key Bridge in 2011 by photographer Sarnold17. This image is licensed in Creative Commons 3.0.

Meanwhile, Baltimore mourns. If you would like to help those affected, you may help here and here.

ARTBA. “2023 Bridge Report: 222,000 U.S. Bridges Need Major Repairs.” 18 August 2023. https://www.artba.org/news/artba-2023-bridge-report-222000-u-s-bridges-need-major-repairs/

Bridge Masters, Inc (BMI). “First Line Fire Blankets: Superior Bridge Utility Protection.” 15 September 2017. https://bridgemastersinc.com/first-line-fire-blankets-superior-under-bridge-utility-protection/

Brooke, K. Lusk. “Brooklyn Bridge.” Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/bridges/1480-2/

Brooke, K. Lusk. “TRANSPORT: Suez Canal.” 31 March 2021. Building the World Blog. https://blogs.umb.edu/buildingtheworld/2021/03/31/transport-suez-canal/

Jester, Julia. et al., “At least 6 people unaccounted for after cargo ship crash levels Baltimore bridge.” 26 March 2024. NBC News. https://www.mbcnews.com/news/us-news-maryland-bridge-collapse-francis-scott-key-bridge-boat-baltimore-rcna145047

McBridge, James, et al., “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative.” 2 February 2023. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative

Topham, Gwyn. “More than 3,200 UK bridges need repair, local authorities say.” The Guardian. 25 March 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/25/more-than-3200-uk-bridges-need-repair-local-authorities-say

Yeung, Jessie. “Three ships have hit bridges in different countries – in just three months. Should we be worried?” 27 March 2024. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2024/03/27/world/bridge-accident-dangers-baltimore-collapse-intl-hnk?cid=ios_app

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March 22, 2024
by Building The World
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WATER: Peace and Water

World Water Day 2024: Water and Peace. Image: “Peace Dove and Olive Branch at Flight.” by Nevit. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

WATER: It is our natural shared element. Earth is 70% water. Our bodies are 68% water; plants as much as 90%. Water is one of our most important shared resources. Can what is shared be a passage to peace?

Civilization has advanced by sharing water. Image: “Xvolks Canal des Deux Mers (or Canal du Midi)” by Xvolks, 2005. Creative Commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Throughout history, civilization advanced by sharing water. China’s Grand Canal carried water, and food, from the south to the northern capital. Italy’s Aqueducts brought fresh spring water from surrounding hills to the city of Rome. France joined the Atlantic to the Mediterranean via the Canal des Deux Mers. The Colorado River, water source for 40 million people, shares water with the United States, many original American tribal nations, and Mexico, while providing hydroelectric power. The Tennessee Valley Authority harnessed water to provide electricity with its guiding motto: “Power for All.” Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric is now building Snowy 2.0 that will re-use and recirculate water for pumped hydro energy. The Suez Canal has, in its founding firman, assurance that the waterway must be open to all nations in times of war and peace.

March 22, 2024 World Water Day: Water and Peace. Image: “Peace” by photographer Lindsay Ensing, 2011. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation.

This year, the United Nations, convener of World Water Day adopted in 1992, offers the theme of Water and Peace. How fortunate we are that water is a renewable resource, if its wise use is designed to follow its natural system dynamics. In our time of climate change, when drought may cause water scarcity, respecting and honoring ways to sustain, renew, and share water may inspire peace. How will you honor water and peace?

How will you help the world honor water and peace? Image: “The World of Water” by photographer Snap. Creative Commons 2.0. Included with appreciation,

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Casebook for LEADERSHIP in WATER. 2024. Amazon and  https://renewingtheworld.com

Snowy Hydro 2.0. https://www.snowyhydro.com.au/snowy-20/

United Nations. “Water and Peace.” https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-and-peace

United Nations. “Water for cooperation: transboundary and international water cooperation, cross-sectoral cooperation, including scientific cooperation, and water across the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” 22-24 March 2024. hrrps://documents.un.org/doc/undoc/gen/n23/029/39/pdf/n2302939.pdf?token=W6ZMHooSJ2lgATSDBA&fe=true

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March 18, 2024
by Building The World
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SPACE: Methane EYE in the SKY

MethaneSAT: New Eye in the Sky. Image: “Eye in the Sky” book cover design circa 1957 by Ed Valigursky. This image is in the public domain,CC0 1.0, and included with appreciation.

It’s odorless, colorless, but not harmless. Methane, found in land and under the seabed (where the Earth’s largest reservoir is located in the form of methane clathrates), can severely damage the planet when it escapes into the air. Atmospheric methane increased 170% since the Industrial Revolution. Methane is powerful: it causes 30% of global warming, and is more potent than carbon dioxide (one ton of methane = 82.5 tons of carbon dioxide).

More than 155 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions. Now we have the technology to take action. Image: “Global Methane Initiative logo.” Creative Commons Fair Use with appreciation.

Methane may be both the greatest danger and the greatest hope to save the Earth. That’s why those at COP26 in Glasgow cheered when 155 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, signing the Global Methane Pledge.

MethaneSAT will circle the Earth 15 times per day, spotting methane emitters and then making the data public. Image: “Animation of GPS Satellite 2015-2018, based on JPL/NASA data.” by Phoenix7777. Creative commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

Look through the eyes, and instruments, of Steven Wofsy, Harvard Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, principal investigator, and Steven Hamburg, Environmental Defense Fund chief scientist, who along with Harvard’s Kelly Chance, Daniel Jacob, and Xiong Liu, designed an innovative technology with an academic, commercial,  scientific, and philanthropic communal effort that takes a cue from COMSAT. Partners include BAE, Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Canyon Technologies, Google, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Center for Astrophysics IO Aerospace, New Zealand Space Agency (NZSA), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and SpaceX. MethaneSAT will circle the planet 15 times each day, pinpointing methane emitters so exactly that the actual facility leaking or venting the gas can be identified and revealed: data will be public. Liu commented: “MethaneSAT is not simply collecting data; we’re putting data into action.” (Powell 2023) MethaneSAT will be not only an eye in the sky but a finger pointing to specific polluters.

Coal and methane wells – turning a problem into an opportunity. Image: “CBM Well” by U.S. Department of Energy, 2013. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Once called on the celestial carpet, polluters will have a chance to mitigate methane emissions, perhaps even finding a profit in doing so.  Here’s an example: coal mining releases methane that is hidden in the micropores of coal and the seams of a mine. If MethaneSAT detects strong emissions in a mining operation, that gas can be captured before it is released. But it not just an expense: methane can be used as an energy source. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Coal Mine Methane Project Cash Flow Model tool to coach mine operators on turning a problem into a profit center. Captured methane can be used as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). Natural gas, still a fossil fuel but less polluting than coal, is 97% methane. When gas is burned for energy generation, it releases carbon dioxide, still a problem but better than releasing more potent methane as waste.

Oil and gas industry: major methane emitter. Image: “Gas from Oselvar moduke on Ula Platform 2012” by photographer Varodrig. CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

The gas and oil sector produced 40% of the world’s methane emissions in 2021. All together, methane leaks contribute 24% of global methane emissions. Capturing methane and then burning it turns methane into carbon dioxide and water: not ideal but less polluting. Coal, gas, and oil are not the only sources of methane emissions: the gas leaks from cut peatlands, landfills and wastewater treatment plants, farming, especially rice, and also animal agriculture. Biofuels that use crop or forest waste to produce electricity use methane. Some of these methods may qualify for carbon credits. It is true that turning methane from an atmospheric emission to a carbon-dioxide-emitting fuel is not exactly a climate solution, but it is better than just releasing atmospheric methane, accelerating the crisis.

“Cesium CM1 Satellites” by CesiumAstro1. Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

MethaneSAT is not the first satellite to monitor the greenhouse gas. It was preceded by, and still linked to, MethaneAIR: both are part of a progression developing from the realization that addressing methane must be the first step in phasing out fossil fuels. Other methane-tracking satellites include:

Carbon Mapper  –  https://carbonmapper.org

EMIThttps://earth.jpl.nasa.gov/data/data-portal/Greenhouse-Gases

FENGYUNhttps://satellite.nsmc.org.cn

Gaofenhttps://eoportal.org

GHGSat  –  https://www.ghgsat.com

Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT)https://www.satnav.jaxa.jp

Tropomihttps://www.tropomi.eu

Limiting methane emissions can reduce global warming, change the course of the climate crisis, prevent 255,00 early deaths and 775,000 hospitalizations due to air pollution. and give us time to figure out the next challenge of limiting the damage by carbon dioxide that lasts longer. Methane is a low-hanging fruit. Now we have the right tools to identify (and fix) methane leaks and emissions, slowing acceleration of climate change.

Acting now on methane could be the first big leap to saving the Earth from accelerating climate change. Image: “Rotating Earth” by Goddard/NASA. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “This is the Methane Moment.” VIDEO https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQiwTPDkKaE

Global Methane Pledge. https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/resources/global-methane-pledge

International Energy Agency (IEA), UNEP, and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). “The Imperative of Cutting Methane from Fossil Fuels.” 23 November 2023. https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023-11/The%20Imperative%20of%20cutting%20methane%20from%20fossil%20fuels.pdf

Jacob, Daniel and Steven Wofsy with Jim Stock. “Satellite Detection of Methane Emissions.” Harvard Speaks on Climate Change, Salata Institute. VIDEO: https://youtu.be/rkRarcKgMmQ?si=3rsqyxVy86a-FrB_

Maguire, Yael. “How satellites, algorithms and AI can help map and trace methane sources.” 14 February 2024. Google Blog. AUDIO option. https://blog.google/outreach-initiatives/sustainability/how-satellites-algorithms-and-ai-can-help-map-and-trace-methane-sources/

Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.o). https:/ogmpartnership.com

MethaneSAT. “In Orbit.” 4 March 2024. https://www.methanesat.org/project-updates/methanesat-is-launching-today-on-groundbreaking-mission-to-protect-the-climate/

Powell, Alvin. “Buying crucial time in climate change flight.” The Harvard Gazette. 24 March 2023. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2023/03/methane-tracking-satellite-may-be-fastest-way-to-slow-climate-change

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “CMM Cash Flow Model.” https://www.epa.gov/cmop/cmm-cash-flow-model

Werner, Debra. “Not Invisible Anymore: Satellites reveal sources of atmospheric methane.” Space News. 25 January 2024. https://spacenews.com/satellites-reveal-sources-of-atmospheric-methane/

Wofsy, Steven C. “HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO): fine-grained, global-scale measurements of climatically important atmospheric gases and aerosols.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, Volume 369, Issue 1943, 2011. https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1//30761051/21300274.pdf?sequence=1

Wofsy, Steven C. with Matt Goisman. “Steven Wofsy: Recently launched MethaneSAT emissions satellite.” 5 March 2024. Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. VIDEO. https://seas.harvard.edu/news/2024/03/cutting-edge-methane-monitor

World Bank. “Global Flaring and Methane Reduction Partnership (GFMR). 2024. https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/gasflaringreduction/methane-explained

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March 8, 2024
by Building The World
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ENERGY: Would you give 3% to get 30%?

Peatlands occupy just 3% of Earth yet contain 30% of land-based carbon – more than all the world’s forests combined. Image: “North Liscups, Firth above old peat banks” by photographer John Comloquoy, 2005. CC2.0. Included with appreciation.

Just 3% of global land but holding 30% of its carbon, peatlands sequester more than all the world’s forests. Yet peatlands don’t often make news, and can go by many local names: bogs, fens, marshes, moors, swamps. By any name, they are part of our climate future.

Peat is home to microorganisms that help to generate more peat, and to sequester even more carbon. Image: “Testate amoebae common in peat bogs” by Katarzyna Marcisz, et al., in doi.10.3389/fevo.2020.575966. CC4.0. Included with appreciation.

Peat grows in wetlands. When plants wither, the watery environment prevents them from decomposing completely. They become home to microorganisms that produce – more peat. Peat is very valuable to our future because it can regenerate, retain increasingly scarce water, serve as wildlife habitat, and hold carbon.

Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney wrote about Ireland’s peat bogs. Listen to the poet read “Bogland.” Image: Seamus Heaney in 1982 by photographer Goffryd Bernard. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate in Poetry, wrote: “They’ll never dig coal here/Only the waterlogged trunks of great firs, soft as pulp.” (Heaney, “Bog,” 1969.) There are two hemispheric types of peat: northern and tropical. In northern climes, especially in lands without coal or oil, like Ireland or Finland, peat was cut for use as fuel. All that carbon flames cheerily in a hearth. But peat burns less efficiently than coal while releasing higher carbon dioxide emissions. In tropical locations like Indonesia and Malaysia, peatlands may be cut to clear land for agriculture, especially palm oil, or to meet food shortages by growing rice.

GLOBAL PEATMAP by Jiren Xu, et al., https://doi.org/10.5518/252. Creative commons 4.0 Included with appreciation

But harvesting peat does more than reduce peatlands. Cut peat leaves holes in connected peatlands, triggering a process in which peat dries and becomes vulnerable to wildfires that pollute the atmosphere, devastate habitat (in some locations, as many as 900 species call peat bogs home), and release greenhouse gases that drive climate change.

When cut, peat dries out the surrounding bog that is then vulnerable to fire. Image: “Borneo fires and smoke from burning peatland, 2002.” by Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team of NASA/GSFC. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Peatlands are only 3% of the landmass on Earth yet hold 30% of land-based carbon. Can we find ways to keep these climate-essential treasures undisturbed, and restore those that have been damaged? Irelands’s Bord na Móna, owner of vast expanses of peatlands, began a transition strategy in 2020 called “Brown to Green” to move from a peat-based business to a climate solutions enterprise with a strategy to store 100 million tons of carbon in perpetuity. England’s Paludiculture (term for wetland agriculture) Exploration Fund) launched CANAPE (Creating a New Approach to Peatland Ecosystems) in the North Sea region. Cumbrian Bogs LIFE aims to regenerate peat bogs in a short time frame.

Scotland’s estate manor houses may host eco-tourism that preserves peatlands. “Taymouth Castle” by James Norie, 1733. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

In Scotland, Anders Holch Polvsen bought up 200,000 acres of peatlands near noble estates to welcome eco-tourists who will sip tea in the manor house while watching the fields of peat bloom undisturbed. The program is part of Polvsen’s company Wildland; one of the  grand hotel homes is Glenfeshie, familiar to Netflix viewers as site of “The Crown.” Japan’s Suntory whiskey brand acquired Jim Beam and set up peat restoration projects as part of a strategic plan to use peat sustainably to flavor spirits while regrowing the same amount to achieve a modern-day equivalent to the Biblical “ever-normal” granary.

Peatlands can yield carbon credits. Image: “Euro coins and backnotes” by Avij, 2023. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

Peatlands hold carbon; they can provide carbon credits. That’s why some countries like Scotland and the Netherlands are offering carbon credits. 80% of the cost of rewetting and regenerating peat may be reimbursed. When the regeneration process is verified, carbon credits are issued. Germany’s Moor Futures was the first carbon credit exchange for peatland rewetting. CarePeat and CarbonConnects are other trading systems. While some worry that carbon credits will slow progress on climate response, peatlands may benefit.

Fenway Park reminds us that Boston was built on fens. Image: Fenway by photographer Kelly , 2013. CC2.0. Included with appreciation.

Fenway Park reminds us that Boston’s heralded fens, preserved by Frederick Law Olmsted whose “Emerald Necklace” surrounds the city with parks now extended by the Central Artery’s Greenway, may be part of a trend. While usually rural, peatlands can be restored in some cities, too. Peatlands may help us reach our climate goals: that is a home run.

Born na Móna. “Bord na Móna announce formal end to all peat harvesting on its lands.” https://www.bordnamona.ie

Creating a New Approach to Peatland Ecosystems (CANAPE). “Intereg North Sea Region.” European Regional Development Fund. https://northsearegion.eu/canape/

Cumbrian Bogs LIFE. https://youtube.com/watch?v=m45HYe_cxkM&feature=shared

Global Peatlands Initiative. “COP28 Virtual Peatlands Pavillion.” 2023 https://storage.net-fs.com/hosting/61470bb/18/

Heaney, Seamus. “Bogland.” Listen to audio while reading the poem at https://www.ibiblio.org/ipa/poems/heaney/bogland.php

In Defense of Plants.com “Saving Bornean Peatlands is a Must for Conservation.” 5 February 2018. https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2018/1/29/saving-bornean-peatlands-is-a-must-for-conservation-1

International Peatland Society (IPS) https://peatlands.org

O’Grady Cathleen. “Scotland’s billionaires are turning climate change into a trophy game.” 20 May 2022. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2022/o5/scotland-climate-change-land-use/629835/

Segal, David. “The Climate Profit Buried in Scotland’s Bogs.” 5 May 2022. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/05/05/headway/scotland-peatlands-climate-change.html

United Nations. “Convention on wetlands of international importance.” 2 February 1971. https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%20996/volume-996-I-14583-English.pdf

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “Global Peatlands Assessment: The State of the World’s Peatlands.” 12 November 2022. https://www.unep.org/resources/global-peatlands-assessment-2022

WildLand Limited. https://wildland.scot

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U

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February 29, 2024
by Building The World
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WATER: Clocks, Time, and Leap Day

Ancient clocks used water to measure time. Image: “Escapement animation” uploaded by Jacopo Werther, 2004. Creative commons 3.0. Included with appreciation.

Prometheus may have stolen fire, but ancient Greeks also believed that water stole time. Early clocks used water, acquiring the technical term, clepsydra, from ancient Greek  “klepto or steal” and “hydor or water.” Water clocks measure time by regulating and measuring the drip rate into a vessel.

Clepsyrda or water clock, circa 1753. Donated to wikimedia by Käyttäjä Oh1qt for public domain. Included with appreciation.

Popular across the world from China, Egypt, and Persia, the clepsydra was one of the first ways in which humans measured time in exact increments. Water clocks became so sophisticated and complex that they were able to adjust rates of water flow for solar and lunar orbits.

Al-Jazari’s water clock, 12th century is consider by some to be the first analog computer. Image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, acquisition 14.533. Public domain and included with appreciation.

Water clocks could adjust and measure seasonal length of daylight to regulate agricultural cycles. Al-Jazari’s castle clock is said by some to be the world’s first programmable analog computer.

Water clocks were prized in Madinat as-Salam, City of Peace, now known as Baghdad. Here, water clock from Zibad, Gonabad Province, Iran, by photographer Maahmaah, 2012, dedicated to the public domain. Included with appreciation.

Water clocks were technological possessions prized by those who ruled and managed. When Caliph al-Mansur founded a new capital of Persia, Madinat as-Salam, “City of Peace” in the Islamic calendar year 145 (ce 762). The city, now known as Baghdad, flourished. When fifth Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ruler from 786 to 809 ce) of The Arabian Nights came to power, the city was reputed to be the wealthiest of the world. It was known for a balance of commerce and agriculture, the latter advanced by use of the water clock regulating drawing of water by farmers. The device was entrusted to and managed by an appointed elder who kept irrigation timetables. Caliph Harun al-Rashid visited Roman Emperor Charlemagne, bringing gifts including a water clock so delicate that it had to be conveyed in parts and assembled on site, prior to a live demonstration of this new technology of time.

Charlemagne received by Pope Adrian. Image from art by Antoine Vérard, 1493. Public domain: included with appreciation.

For Charlemagne, who surrounded his court with scholars and teachers including Alcuin, and who is often credited with founding the earliest universities, the water clock was a revelation so important it was recorded in the Royal Frankish Annals.

Charlemagne, as king of the Franks and emperor of Rome, was part of a lineage that valued precise measurements of time. But these measurements were of the year. It was Julius Caesar who, on 1 January 45 (bce) refined the Roman calendar to be more consistent with the solar cycle. The Julian Calendar had three years of 365 days, followed by a fourth with a leap day as the final in February. The succeeding Gregorian calendar fine-tuned the system that much of the world follows today.

Stamp from Germany celebrating 400 years of Gregorian calendar that codified Leap Day.400 Jahre Gregorianischer Kalendar, 1982.” Image scanned by NobbiP, public domain. Included with appreciation.

Since then, leap day has inspired traditions. Brigid of Kildare commented to  Patrick of Ireland (both canonized and now addressed as Saints), in the 5th century ce, that women’s rights were not equal to men’s, as evidenced by the tradition that men propose marriage yet the union required true partnership. Patrick agreed that women could and should propose, but limited that freedom to one day per year, on leap year.

St. Brigid of Kildare conferred with St. Patrick of Ireland concerning women’s equal rights including proposing marriage – on Leap Day. Image: “St. Patrick and St. Brigid” by Catherine O’Brien, 2023. Posted by Spideoglasper, Creative Commons 4.0. Included with appreciation.

France, home of the Eiffel Tower where many marriage proposals are initiated and photographed, took another direction. In 1980, Jacques Debuisson and Christian Bailly launched a tradition of publishing a satirical newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur just once a year, on Leap Day. Only 200,000 copies are printed: there is no digital edition.

La Bougie du Sapeur is published in France on Leap Day. Image: Logo, 2016. Public Domain. Included with appreciation.

How do you celebrate Leap Day? What leap of faith – or frolic – will you take?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G. Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 U

 

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