Building the World

June 16, 2022
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WATER and ENERGY: Beyond a Drought

June 2022: an early heat wave intensifies drought. Image: “Heat Wave in United States June 13-19, 2021,” by NOAA. Public Domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation to NOAA.

Is it climate change, or just a heat wave? Maybe the former is intensifying the latter. This week, 60 million people in the United States are enduring extreme heat. Texas broke a heat record on June 12 as the electrical grid strained with the number of people turning on air conditioners. Families noted unusual new residents as outdoor insects crawled into any available shelter to escape sweltering heat. Wildfires sparked: more than 30 recent conflagrations burned one million American acres.

Drought may impact hydroelectricity. Image: “Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, – 2007” by photographer Waycool27, and dedicated to the public domain by the photographer. Included with appreciation.

Heat waves add to concern about drought, an ongoing challenge. Lake Mead, the nation’s largest water reservoir, recently marked its lowest level on record since 1930. The Colorado River, source of Lake Mead’s water, recently reported historic new water shortages, triggering enforced reductions along the Upper and Lower Basin states. Now 143 feet below the target full level, Lake Mead’s drop is as deep as the Statue of Liberty is high. That water drop threatens the water supply of millions of residents, farmers, industrial operations, and others. At 36% capacity, if the water in Lake Mead continues to fall (it has been losing more than 1,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools – every day – for the last 22 years), the hydropower capability of the Hoover Dam (which formed Lake Mead) will also be threatened. Engineers and scientists are watching: if Lake Mead drops another 175 feet, the Hoover Dam will reach “dead pool” (895 feet) and the great dam will fall silent. Because 90% of Las Vegas water comes from Lake Mead, that city will not only have less electricity but very little water. (Ramirez et al., 2021)

“Tennessee Valley Authority” Image 2977 by TVA, 2018. This image is the public domain and included with appreciation.

It’s not just Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam that are of concern due to heat and drought. The Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s first hydroelectric major achievements, warned customers both residential and commercial to turn off the lights. Nashville Electric Service asked people to turn down air conditioning. Itaipú, harnessing the Paraná River, has similarly found drought threatening its hydroelectric capability.

“Talbingo Dam of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric.” There are 16 dams in the system. Photograph by AYArktos, dedicated to the public domain, creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Hydroelectricity, as the term indicates, is dependent upon water. Australia recently announced Snowy Hydro 2.0, in an effort to double electrical output of Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric. But the snowy part is problematic now that climate change is threatening snowmelt. Further concern is that 35% percent of the “Australian Alps” have seen wetland loss. Now, snow cover may reduce by 20% to as much as 60%.

What happens if water becomes non-renewable? Image: “Dry riverbed in California,” by NOAA, 2009. Included with appreciation.

Drought has serious consequences for agriculture, habitation, and now hydroelectricity. Hydroelectric power is one of the earliest and most widely applied methods of generating electricity from renewable sources. What happens if or when water becomes non-renewable?

Daley, Beth et al., “Snowy hydro scheme will be left high and dry unless we look after the mountains.” 22 March 2017. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/snowy-hydro-scheme-will-be-left-high-and-dry-unless-we-look-after-the-mountains-74830

David, Molly. “Nashville Electric Service asks customers to help lessen energy use during high temperatures.” The Tennessean. 13 June 2022. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2022/06/13/heat-wave-tennessee-2022-nashville-electric-service-customers-conserve-power/7613867001/

Ramirez, Rachel, Pedram Javaheri, Drew Kann. “The shocking numbers behind the Lake Mead drought crisis.” 17 June 2021. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/cnn-climate

Spang, Edward, William Moomaw, Kelly Gallagher, Paul Kirshen, David H. Marks. “The water consumption of energy production: An international comparison.” 2014. Environmental Research Letters. 9. 105002. 10.1088/1748-9326/9/10/105002 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266620784_The_water_consumption_of_energy_production_An_international_comparison

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

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May 28, 2022
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TRANSPORT: Highways and Wildflowers

“Balsamroot and lupine wildflowers near Tom McCall Preserve along the highway.” by photographer Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives, 2014. CC 3.0. Included with appreciation.

On Memorial Day weekend, 34 million Americans will travel by car. It’s the first long weekend of spring: a time of flowers, especially wildflowers. Parks play a role, and so do household and campus lawns participating in No Mow May. But highways can also provide miles of sustenance for spring pollinators like bees.

Highways will be an area of innovation in climate change. “Interstate 80, Eastshore,” by photographer Minesweeper 30. CC3.0. Included with appreciation.

Concrete is efficient, but highways could be improved. In 1965, the United States passed the Highway Beautification Act, providing funding for planting and protection of wildflowers along median and shoulder strips of American highways. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill into law, stating “We have placed a wall of civilization between us and the beauty of the countryside. Beauty belongs to all the people.” (Johnson, 1965) Encouraged by his wife, Lady Bird Johnson who advocated the program to beautify American roads. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also honors her vision.

“Highways UK-EI.” by SPUI, dedicated to the public domain. Image: wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

In the United Kingdom (UK), the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) launched the “Big Biodiversity Challenge” with Highways England. Realizing that the UK has lost 97% of its wildflower meadows since 1930, road construction crews finish highways by preparing a side strip or verge for wildflower planting. Highways England plants the flowers. Recently, a section of the A38 from Ashburton to Ivybridge in Devon won the Biodiversity Pollinator Award. France places stormwater ponds every two kilometers along major roads: a recent survey found the ponds have welcomed many amphibian species. Across the UK, B-Lines have mapped a kind of bug highway across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Belt and Road Initiative. “One-belt-one-road,” by Lommes. Creative Commons 4.0 International. Included with appreciation.

As the world builds more roads, including space for wildflowers and wildlife is an opportunity to be noted. Will China’s Belt and Road Initiative  (BRI) connecting China, Central and West Africa, parts of Europe, Indian sub-continent, Indo-China, Mongolia, and Pakistan may be the largest road building project in history. Now, as 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) of roads are designed and built, would offer an un-precedented chance for environmental inclusion. Should environmental provisions be stipulated by banks, including multilateral development banks and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), funding and overseeing the BRI? What of the roads of India? Africa? The Pan-American Highway?

“Wild-flower” by photographer Anilmahajan19, 2017, in Nagpur, India. GNU license. Included with appreciation.

It has been the practice of some highway systems to seed the median strip between divided highways with grass. But grass can be thirsty, and yet yields relatively sparse benefits. In fact, some states in the Colorado River Compact are outlawing non-functional turf due to the shrinking of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, water reservoirs for the river that supplies both drinking water and electricity to 40 million people. Drought in the area is causing water shortages and also wildfires.

“Lake Mead and Hoover Dam with water intake towers, seen from Arizona side of Hoover Dam,” by photographer Cmpxchg8b, 2010. Generously dedicated to the public domain by the photographer.Image: wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Should highways be planted, instead, with wildflowers? If you hit the road this weekend, take a look at the wildflowers along highways and also country roads. It’s a natural resource, not often noticed, but increasingly important to the future of climate and environment.

What if all highways and roads hosted wildflowers? Could the world look like this? “Bitterwater Road Wildflowers,” by photographer Alan Schmierer, generously dedicated to the public domain CC1.0. Wikimedia. Included with appreciation.

Conniff, Richard. “Green Highways: New Strategies To Manage Roadsides as Habitat.” 10 June 2013. Yale Environmental 360, Yale University School of the Environment.

Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA).  https://www.ciria.org

Forman, Richard T.T., et al., Road Ecology: Science and Solutions. Island Press, 2003. ISBN: 1559629326 and 1559639334.

Highways England. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/highways-england/

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. https://www.wildflower.org

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Global Trade, Investment, and Finance Landscape.” OECD Business and Finance Outlook 2018. https://www.oecd.org/finance/Chinas-Belt-and-Road-Initiative-in-the-global-trade-investment-and-finance-landscape.pdf

United States Highway Beautification Act of 1965. Public Law 89-285, 22 October 1965. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-79/pdf/STATUTE-79-Pg1028.pdf

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May 18, 2022
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WATER: Mapping YOUR Climate Risk

What is your climate risk? Animation created by SaVi software from Geometry Center, University of Minnesota by Grand DixenceWikipedia for view of Iridium coverage. Image animation edicated to the public domain (CC1.0) by its creator, and included here with appreciation.

Climate change brings risk. For some, it is water: floods, storms, and sea-rise. For others, it is drought: water shortages, crop losses, and wildfires. Floods killed 920 people in Belgium and Germany, 192 in India, 113 in Afghanistan, and 99 in China – in one month (July) of 2021. Deaths from floods and related landslides took the lives of people in Bangladesh, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, and Yemen that same year. (Davies 2021)

“Flooding in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA.” Photographed by Don Becker, USGS, 2008. Dedicated to the public domain (CC1.0) by United States Geological Survey and included here with appreciation.

Previous data from weather sources tracked flood risk, resulting in flood insurance for many properties (and denial of such insurance for locations too vulnerable to merit rebuilding). Water damage will only increase with climate warming, as storms grow more powerful. Rising sea levels will escalate floods and coastal inundations. Those who live in the territories of the Colorado River know well another risk related to water: drought. Water scarcity has ravaged crops, parched residential landscapes, reduced drinking water supplies, and now threatens hydropower created by the Hoover Dam. Australia, the most arid continent on Earth, is vulnerable crop loss, and electricity reduction in facilities like Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Power.

California Fires in 2021. “Erber Fire in Thousand Oaks,” by Venture County Fire Department Public Information Office. Dedicated to the public domain (CC1.0) and included here with appreciation.

Drought also brings another danger: wild fire. Fire risk is growing with climate warming. In 1980, fire damage in the United States tallied $10 billion; in 2021, costs reached $300 billion. Worldwide, fire affects 1.5 million square miles (four million square kilometers) of Earth – each year. To picture that, the area would measure one-half of the continental United States, or more than the entirety of India. Using data from satellites like the Copernicus Sentinel-3, and the European Space Agency (ESA). the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters tracked 470 wildfire disasters (incidents affecting more than 100 people) since 1911, totaling $120 billion in damages. The 2021 Dixie Fire in California devoured 626,751 acres (253,647 hectares); that same year, in Siberia, wildfires destroyed 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) to become the largest wildfire in documented history. In 2022, the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire in New Mexico continues burning over 270,00 acres and is still (at this writing) only 29% contained. The cumulonimbus flammagenitus cloud ( or CbFg or pyroCb) from the fire could be seen from space on NASA’s Aqua satellite via MODIS.

What’s your property’s climate risk? Photography by Antan0, 2010. Image of magnifying glass. CC4.0; included here with appreciation.

Would you like to know what the future looks like in your area? Now, a new mapping technology from the First Street Foundation can help you determine your risk. If you live in the United States, enter your street address, or your zip code, and you will see if you are one of 30 million properties vulnerable to flooding or wildfire. To assess your own property’s risk, click here.

Aqua Mission. Earth Observing System, NASA. https://aqua.nasa.gov/content/aqua-earth-observing-satellite-mission

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. https://www.cred.be

Copernicus Sentinel-3. “Measuring Earth’s oceans, land, ice, and atmosphere to monitor and understand global dynamics.” European Space Agency (ESA). https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-3

Davies, Richard. “Worldwide – Over 920 People Killed in Floods and Landslides in July 2021.” 2 August 2021. Floodlist. https://floodlist.com/asia/world-floods-july-2021

First Street Foundation. “Make climate risk accessible, easy to understand, and actionable for individuals, governments, and industry.” https://firststreet.org/mission/

Haddad, Mohammed and Mohammed Hussein. “Mapping Wildfires around the World.” 19 August 2021. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/8/19/mapping-wildfires-around-the-world-interactive

Risk Factor. “A property’s flood or fire factor.” https://riskfactor.com

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May 12, 2022
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CITIES: Fast Forward Food

“Noodle Bowl for Lunch” by Tran Mau Tri Tam, 2016. Wikimedia/Unsplash: CC0 1.0. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer. Included with appreciation.

Cities are known for fast food: the drive-through, the grab and go, the snack stop, pop-up restaurants, food trucks, street cafes and food stalls. Fast food can also be found on shelves of urban convenience and grocery stores. One of the world’s favorite quick treats is the instant noodle. In 2020, 116 billion servings of instant noodles were enjoyed. (Cairns 2022)

“Singapore Skyline at Night with Blue Sky.” Merlion444, 2009. Wikimedia Creative Commons 1.0 public domain. Dedicated to the public domain by the photographer, Included here with appreciation.

Singapore, a city created with trade and diversity as founding principles, is home to the launch of new kind of instant noodle  –  good for taste and for the environment, too. Based in Singapore, WhatIF Foods has introduced a noodle made from the Bambara Groundnut.

“Vigna subterranea” as illustrated by A. Engler in Die Pflanzenwelt Ostafrikas und der nachbargebiete. Volume 2, 1895. This work is the public domain and is included with appreciation.

Bambara (Vigna subterranea) is in the legume family and grows underground (like peanuts): it originated in West Africa and is now grown across the world. It’s what is known, nutritionally, as a complete food: offering protein, carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. WhatIF Foods produces “BamNut” flour made into noodles. The noodles are a bit pricier than the cheapest brands, but many people may value their superior nutrition.

Map of West Africa by Mondo Magic, 2009. Dedicated by the artist to the public domain (CC 1.0) and included here with appreciation.

Bambara Groundnut, or Vigna subterranea, currently comprises a very small part of food supply market (production in Africa is 0.3 million tons) versus the more traditional noodle dough made from wheat (776.6 million metric tons per year globally). But that may change – because Bambara is drought-tolerant. Many areas of the world already suffering drought (from states served by the Colorado River in the United States, to African and Australian areas experiencing drought and expecting more due to climate change and warming). Crops that can survive in dry soil will be in demand. Recent figures from the United Nations reveal that dry soil chokes 40% of agricultural land, and 56 acres (23 hectares) of arable land are lost to drought EVERY MINUTE.

“Corn shows the effects of drought in Texas,” by USDA’s Bob Nichols, 20 August 2013. This photo is the public domain and included here with appreciation to USDA and Bob Nichols.

There are 300,000 edible plant species, but just three (rice, maize, wheat) comprise 86% of all exports. According to Professor Victoria Jideani of Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa, governments should subsidize agricultural diversity, such as the bambara groundnut, that can resist drought, support food security, and broaden the plant-based dietary options for a future-forward table. By 2050, 68% of the world’s people will live in cities. Land is limited, not only by population growth demands but also by agricultural needs. Optimal use of arable land will be one of the factors in balancing population, food security, and environment.

Bangkok, Thailand is a global megacity offering some of the tastiest food in the world, including legendary noodles. Image: “Food Stalls Bangkok,” by Ian Grattan, 2012. Wikimedia CC2.0. Included here with appreciation to Ian Grattan and Bangkok.

WhatIF Foods are currently sold in Singapore and produced in factories located in Australia and Malaysia, are sold in Asia, and in the regulatory approval process in the European Union. Privately financed, the company is now attracting investors. In the United States, you can purchase WhatIF products (noodles are just one of the products) online. Looking for instant noodle recipes? Here’s eight from eight countries.

Adetokunboh, Adeola, Anthony Obilana, Victoria Jideani. “Enzyme and Antioxidant Activities of Malted Bambara Groundnut as Affected by Steeping and Sprouting Time.” March 2022. Foods 11 (6): 783. DOI:10.3390/foods11060783

Cairns, Rebecca. “This Singaporean startup has reinvented the instant noodle.” 9 May 2022. CNN Business. https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/08/business/whatif-bamnut-sustainable-instant-noodles-climate-hnk-intl-spc/index.html

Cheetham, Peter and Christoph Langwallner, co-founders of WhatIF Foods. https://whatif-foods.com/

Jideani, Victoria. Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Victoria-Jideani

United Nations Environment Programme. “#FridayFact: Every minute, we lose 23 hectares of arable land worldwide to drought and desertification.” 12 February 2018. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/fridayfact-every-minute-we-lose-23-hectares-arable-land-worldwide-drought

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May 4, 2022
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CITIES: No Mow May

NO MOW MAY. This month, let your lawn grow with wildflowers to feed seasonal pollinators like bees. Photo: “Wildflowers” by Richard Croft, 2007. Wikimedia CC 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Public parks like Boston’s Greenway or New York City’s Central Park might be the lungs of the city, but urban and suburban yards may be the pop-up restaurants for seasonal pollinators like bees that will help the world through climate change. American lawns occupy 40 million acres, and may be the largest irrigated “crop” in the United States – three times more than irrigated corn. (Milesi, University of Montana and NOAA National Geophysical Data Center)

“Automaton Lawn Mower by Ransomes, Sims & Jeffries of Ipswich, England,” advertisement circa 1867. Public Domain.

No Mow May is an organization in the United Kingdom advocating the absence of lawn mowing, letting lawns grow wild, for this month, offering a spring habitat and feeding ground of wildflowers and clover critical for emerging bees and early pollinators. In addition to homes, colleges are included: Lawrence University recently joined the organization Bee City, USA, and its affiliate: Bee Campus USA.

Fewer lawns, more bees. “Abeille” by Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin, 2010. Wikimedia, CC 2.0. Included with appreciation.

Yards, and campuses, participating in No Mow May noted three times more bee species abundance and five times more bee attendance than in lawn areas.

Another benefit of No Mow May? Water retention. People water lawns. In an era of drought and water scarcity, lawns may be phased out. That what happened in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Lake Mead, water reservoir of the Colorado River, supplies Las Vegas with water. A new law by the Southern Nevada Water Authority prohibits lawns, and watering of nonfunctional turf, in response to drought conditions on the Colorado River. Image: “Lake Mead” by Kjkolb, public domain. Included with appreciation.

A new law, related to water shortages in the Colorado River, enacted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, decreed first-ever permanent prohibition of non-functional turf (soccer fields are functional, household lawns are not). Residents are digging up grass and replacing it with rocks and cactus, creating xeriscapes, a kind of landscaping reducing or eliminating need for irrigation.

Do you have grass in your yard or on your campus? Participate in No Mow May: for a printable yard sign, click here

Bee City USA. https://beecityusa.org

Bee Campus USA. https://beecityusa.org/current-bee-campus-use-affiliates

Del Toro, Israel and Relena R. Ribbons. “No Mow May lawns have higher pollinator richness and abundances: An engaged community provides floral resources for pollinators” 22 September 2020. National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10021

Milesi, Cristina. “More Lawns than Irrigated Corn.” 8 November 2005. Earth Observatory, NASA.gov. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Law/lawn2.php

No Mow May. Plantlife.  https://www.plantlife.org.uk

Osann, Ed. “Toward Sustainable Landscapes: Restoring the Right NOT to Mow.” 6 May 2016. Natural Resources Defense Council. https://www.nrdc.org/resources/toward-sustainable-landscapes-restoring-right-not-mow

Southern Nevada Water Authority. “An Act relating to water; prohibiting, with certain exceptions, the use of water from the Colorado River to irrigate nonfunctional turf on certain properties.” Assembly Bill No. 356, 22 March 2021. https://www.leg.state.nv.us/Session/81st2021/Bills/AB/AB356_R1.pdf

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March 22, 2022
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World Water Day – Making the Invisible Visible

World Water Day 2022. “Splash!” by José Manuel Suárez, 2008. Image: Wikimedia CC 2.0 creative commons. Included with appreciation.

Today is World Water Day, begun by the United Nations as an international day of observance. This year’s theme is “Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible.” Did you know that groundwater is the largest source of freshwater on earth? How can we sustain and renew this essential element?

Vista nocturna del Río Bravo, frontera El Paso – Ciudad Juárez.” By Iose, 2007. Dedicated by the photographer to the public domain and included here with thanks. Image: Wikimedia.

Groundwater is transnational. Rivers, above-ground water resources, are often boundary lines separating countries. An example is the Rio Grande (called Río Bravo in México), a river that separates what is now known as the United States and México. Another US/México river whose resources are apportioned, and sometimes disputed, is the Colorado River. But the groundwater beneath both nations is also noteworthy: there are as many as twenty  transboundary aquifers shared by México and the United States.

“Groundwater Withdrawals 2010.” by Herbert and Doell, 2019.  Image: CC 4.0 wikimedia. With appreciation.

Transboundary aquifers demand cooperation. Because groundwater is critically important as a freshwater source, and because so many nations share underground aquifers, groundwater may become one of the most important areas of cooperation  –  and perhaps serve as the water of peace.

Interested to know more about world water, and how we can sustain and renew the Water Planet? You might like to explore this new book: Renewing the World: Water.

Renewing the World: Water explores the future of the water planet. Image: “The Earth seen from Apollo 17.” Photo by nasa.gov. public domain. Included here with appreciation.

Brooke, K. Lusk. Renewing the World: Waterhttps://renewingtheworld.com

Eckstein, Gabriel. “Buried Treasure or buried Hope? The Status of Mexico-US Transboundary Aquifers under International Law.” International Community Law Review 13 (2011): 273-290. https://scholarship.law.tamu.edu/facscholar/129/

International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC). “Transboundary Aquifers of the World” https://www.un.igrac.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/TBAmap_2015.pdf

Herbert, Claudia and Petra Doell. “Global assessment of current and future groundwater stress with a focus on transboundary aquifers.” Water Resources Research,  55(3), 4760-4784. DOI:10.1029/2018WR023321.

UN-Water. www.unwater.org

United States Bureau of Reclamation. “Environmental Flows in the Rio Grande-Río Bravo Basin.” 1 February 2022. Drought Adaptation Webinar Series. VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I-prBCOjTs

World Water Day. https://www.worldwaterday.org/

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August 2, 2021
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WATER: Microplastic Filter Innovations

Microplastics in four rivers – Image. “Microplastics in freshwater ecosystems: what we know and what we need to know.” by Martin Wagner, et al., Environmental Sciences Europe. 26, 2014. doi: 10:1186/s12302-014-0012.7

Did you know that 35% of the plastic in our water is microfibers? Those microfibers come from our clothing, released into the water supply during laundering. Microfibers are too small (0.5mm) to be captured by traditional filters. Currently, 2/3rds of clothing contains some percentage of synthetic materials. A typical washload of polyester clothing may shed 9,000,000 microfibres with every wash. Now there is something we can do to stop this problem: attaching a filter to washing machines to catch the microfibers. While the origin of microfibers in clothing is the garment industry, a major source of plastic microfibers is the effluence of laundry water. PlanetCare is expanding their product to a larger version for commercial laundries. 

“SEM picture of a bend in a high-surface area polyester fiber with a seven-lobed cross section” by Pschemp, 2000. Image Wikimedia.

Other companies are developing microfiber filters for washing machines. Environmental Enhancements offers the Lint LUV-R. Xeros Technologies produces the XFiltra. Filtrol makes a similar product. Cora Ball and Guppyfriend use a different technology: devices that collect microfibers inside the washing machine during the laundry cycle. While attached filters catch more fibers (87%), these tend to be the longest ones; Cora Ball inserts and Guppyfriend washing bags capture 26%, mainly the smallest fibers. Using both approaches would increase success.

Fast Company “G-Star Raw x Planetcare collab to flight microfibre pollution.” 8 October 2019. https://www.fastcompany.co.za/business/g-star-raw-x-planetcare-collab-to-fight-microfibre-pollution

Kart, Jeff. “Science says laundry balls and filters are effective in keeping microfibers out of waterways.” 2019. Forbes.https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkart/2019/02/01/science-says-laundry-balls-and-filters-are-effective-in-removing-microfibers/?sh=208899e6e07a

Rabinovich, Ben. “World Oceans Day: Check out these amazing inventions currently cleaning our oceans.” 4 June 2019. Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-7104173/World-Oceans-Day-Check-amazing-inventions-currently-cleaning-oceans.html

Tuttan, Mark and Katie Pisa. “Washing your clothes is causing plastic pollution, but a simple filter could help.” 14 November 2019. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/14/world/microfiber-filter-plastic-pollution-int/index.html

Zupan, Mojca.  2019 YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD7iTYhAC_U

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March 22, 2021
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WATER: World Water Day 2021

“Water Drop” by José Manuel Suárez, photographer, 2008. Image: wikimedia.

World Water Day, begun in 1993, calls us to honor and preserve the world’s freshwater supply. Water, in the form of drinking water and safe sanitation, is the #6 Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations.  Environmental historians observe that human history can be traced by innovations in water systems. Aqueducts built by the Romans brought fresh spring water to a growing city when the Tiber river became threatened. In England, the New River was one of the world’s first built watercourses, bringing potable water to the burgeoning city of London. The Colorado River Compact defined the rights and use of water for the American states of the Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico) and Lower Basin (California, Arizona, Nevada); sovereign peoples of the Navajo, Havasupai, Walapai, and several others; and México.  Rights of the Whanganui River of New Zealand established legal personhood in 2017, confirming a growing awareness of the rights of nature. Today’s World Water Day 2021 is dedicated to our personal use of water. While 71% of the world has access to safe drinking water, only 45% have use of safe sanitation. To access the country data where you live, the United Nations invites you to explore the world water database here. To tell your own story about how you experience water, record your views here.

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February 18, 2021
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ENERGY: Genie in a Bottle

“Genie in a Bottle,” from Stripped Tour, Christina Aguilera Image: wikimedia.

February 18, 2021. It’s National Battery Day. What is this genie in a bottle that we call a battery?

Lithium-ion batteries are making news. It’s a technology popularized in 1991, when rechargeable lithium-ion batteries were first used in hand-held camcorders. A decade later, Apple began using these batteries in smartphones. When electric cars entered the market (Edison worked on one, before Henry Ford invented the gasoline-driven automobile), batteries became the way to power the future. SEMATECH introduced a new industry, and now two new semiconductor materials – gallium nitride (GaN) and silicon carbide (SIC) are now being used in EV batteries. With General Motors (GM) pledging a full transition from gas and diesel to electric vehicles by 2035 (Ford, Tesla, Volkswagen and others in similar quests), the race is on.

“Tesla Model S at a Supercharger station.” Image: wikimedia.

Who’s Who (a partial list) in Electric-Vehicle Batteries:

CATL or Contemporary Amperex Technology Col, Limited, founded in 2011 in China, announced an increased investment of $4.5 billion on 4 February 2021. CATL will open a new plant in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, upgrade a plant in Yibin, Sichuan Province, and expand a joint venture plant with automaker China FAW Group. A new plant in Germany is also under construction. (300750:CH)

LG Chem in South Korea, world’s biggest EV battery manufacturer, just announced its battery division would now be a stand-alone business. LG counts GM, Geely Automotive Holdings Shanghai Maple Guorun Automobile Co., Hyundai Motor Group, and Tesla among its customers. Tentative name for the new business: LG Energy Solutions. (LGCLF)

Nissan Motor Co. and American Electric Power are competitors with a different strategy: reusing old EV batteries with a technology to extend lithium-ion battery life by over 30%. The experiment uses Nissan Leaf expired-batteries with a method developed by Melbourne-based Relectrify. BMW AG and Toyota are also reusing cells in EV charging. (NSANY)

Novonix is working with Dalhousie University on battery material research, noting new deals with Tesla on synthetic graphite. (NVNXF)

Panasonic. Tesla is in talks with Indonesia to build a battery cell factory with Panasonic. (PCRFY)

QuantumScape is introducing solid-state batteries lithium-metal batteries, offering a faster charge, longer life, and increased safety. The San Jose, California company filed with the SEC for a new development on 1 February 2021. (QS)

Tesla. Bringing battery production in-house has been a goal for Elon Musk who introduced a ‘tab-less’ battery called 4680 that will produce a 16% increase in range for the company’s electric vehicles. They new cells measure 46 millimeters by 80 millimeters. (TSLA)

Zinc Copper Voltaic Pile. Image: wikimedia.

The oldest battery known to history was found in Baghdad: a clay pot containing a metal tube and rod. But when Alessandro Volta discovered that zinc and coper, placed in a saline or acid solution, could transform zinc into a negative pole and copper into a positive pole, the action began. Chevrolet named one of its early EV models a “Volt.”

Will batteries advance hydroelectric power? Image: Hoover Dam, wikimedia.

Battery storage may transform hydroelectric power In Chile, a 50 megawatt-hour (MWh) battery energy storage project (think the equivalent of 5 million iPhones) will be paired with a hydroelectric facility, to store generated energy without need to construct a dam or reservoir. Will the Hoover Dam explore this technology, with consideration to drought affecting Lake Mead? It was hydroelectric power that first fascinated Nikola Tesla who, looking at a photo of Niagara Falls, said: “Someday I’ll harness that power.”

Battery Council International. “It’s national battery day.” www.batterycouncil.org

Hareyan, Armen. “Rumor says Tesla may have completed 1st round of Indonesia battery talks involving Panasonic.” 12 February 2021. Torque News. https://www.torquenews.com/1/rumor-says-tesla-may-have-completed-1st round-indonesia-battery-talks-involving-panasonic

Hawkins, Andrew J. “Tesla announces ‘tabless’ battery cells that will improve the range of its electric cars.” 22 September 2020. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/22/21449238/tesla-electric-car-battery-tabless-cells-day-elon-musk

Kawakami, Takashi. “EV-battery giant CATL to boost capacity with $4.5bn investment.” 4 February 2021. NikkeiAsia.com. https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Automobiles/EV-battery-giant-CATL-to-boost-capacity-with-4.5bn-investment

Kubik, Marek. “Adding Giant Batteries To This Hydro Project Creates A ‘Virtual Dam’ with Less Environmental Impact.” 23 May 2019. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marekkubik/2019/05/23/adding-giant-batteries-to-this-hydro-project-creates-a-virtual-dam-with-less-environmental-impact

Schmidt, Bridie. “EV battery material firm Novonix strengthen ties with Dalhousie University.” 15 February 2021. The Driven. https://thedriven.io/2021/02/15/ev-battery-material-firm-novonix-strengthen-ties-with-dalhousie-university

Semiconductor Review. “How Semiconductor Advancements Impact EV Batteries.” 26 October 2020. Semiconductor Review. https://www.semiconductorreview.com/news/how-semiconductor-advancements-impact-ev-batteries-nwid-124.html

Stringer, David and Kyunghee Park. “Top Electric-Car Battery Maker Wins Approval for Company Split.” 30 October 2020. Bloomberg News and Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles-top-electric-car-battery-maker-wins-approval-company-split

Stringer, David. “Companies Explore Using Old Electric Car Batteries to Cut Costs.” 24 January 2020. Transport Topics. https://www.ttnews.com/articles/companies-explore-using-old-electric-car-batteries-cut-costs

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

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December 31, 2020
by buildingtheworld
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ENERGY: 2020 by the Numbers

The year 2020 will go down in history for many reasons, including climate change. Temperatures were 1.08 degrees Fahrenheit (0.6 Celsius) warmer than the 1981-2010 average and 2.25 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 Celsius) above pre-industrial times. Rising temperatures have consequences. In January of 2020, Australia suffered wildfires burning an area bigger than Florida. In summer, Atlantic hurricane season brought 30 named storms, carrying more water (warming oceans produce more water, higher waves, increased flooding). Western United States areas like California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington witnessed fires that destroyed 10.3 million acres. In the Arctic, data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service showed the region is warming faster than feared, more than twice the pace as the rest of the globe, with 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius). Environmental scientists noted that 2020 set a record for carbon dioxide concentrations, rising to 413 ppm (parts per million) in May of 2020, even with Covid-19 lockdowns. (Kann and Miller, 2021)

“Wildfire in Santa Clarita, California.” Image: wikimedia.

Price tag? $95 billion. And that’s just for U.S. climate-related damage, according to Munich Re, insurance company to other insurance firms that covered damage from Atlantic storms and California wildfires. Chief climate scientist of Munich Re Ernst Rauch warned that building in high-risk areas added to losses. Hurricanes  were significant in damage, causing $43 billion in losses. Convective storms (like hailstorms and tornadoes) caused $40 billion. Wildfires added up to $7 billion including destruction of crops, endangering food security. Residential and business properties sustained damage and claimed insurance losses, over 4000 properties in Oregon and many more in California. According to Donald L. Griffin of American Property Casualty Insurance Association, “We can’t, as an industry, continue to just collect more and more money, and rebuild and rebuild and rebuild in the same way.” (Flavelle, 2021) Beyond the United States, the numbers are just as dire. Cyclone Amphan struck Bangladesh and India in May, resulting in $14 billion in damage. Asia sustained $67 billion in losses from natural disasters.

Cyclone Amphan May 2020. Image: wikimedia commons.

What does this mean for 2021? Following the money and perhaps led by the insurance industry, new ways to rebuild may lead us into the New Year. We’ll take a look at some hopeful trends, next.

American Property Casualty Insurance Association. https://www.apci.org

Flavelle, Christopher. “U.S. Disaster Costs Doubled in 2020, Reflecting Costs of Climate Change.” 7 January 2021. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/07/climate/2020-disaster-costs.html?referringSource=articleShare

Kann, Drew and Brandon Miller. “2020 was tied for the hottest year ever recorded — but the disasters field by climate change set it apart.” 8 January 2021. CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/08/weather/2020-global-temperatures-tied-for-warmest-on-record-copernicus/index.html

Munich Re. https://www.munichre.com/en.html

Thanks to Jason W. Lusk for editorial guidance and suggestions.

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

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