Category Archives: Environment

New Battery Produces Energy in Plain Old Seawater

I found an article called New Battery Produces Energy Using the Ions in Plain Old Seawater. Like my article on banana peels removing toxic metals from water, it seems as though I am interested in things that use natural things to do things that we need.

This news article explores the science behind rechargeable battery, which uses a a combination of seawater and freshwater to generate usable electricity. This concept, like our HIV paper that we researched, is not feasible in real life – such as if we install a rechargeable battery into every ocean-discharging river in the world, simply does not make sense. If, however, we allowed our imagination to run wild, we would be able to produce 2 terawatts of electricity, which is 13% of worldwide electricity use. Researchers claim that this sort of technology is “ simple to fabricate and could contribute significantly to renewable energy in the future.”

So how does it work exactly?

There is a gadget that generates current by bridging the difference between the salinity in the seawater and freshwater. In the beginning, the fresh water is funneled into the batter, which has positive and negative electrodes. Once it is charged by an external energy sources, there is an exchange between the freshwater and seawater, which adds ions to increase the electrical potential, or voltage, between the two electrodes. According to Stanford News, it makes it possible to extract more electrical energy than the energy it takes to charge the battery itself.

Scientist, Larry Kostiuk from the University of Alberta claims that the first way to generate sustainable electricity was a 160 years, when scientists created electrical currents by pumping water through glass micro channels. This new discovery seems to me to be a vast improvement.

I believe that we need to do more research into green technology, I feel as though humans have evolved to a point where it’s unacceptable to not include the whole picture (as in keeping it green) when inventing something new. I would, however, enjoy reading articles as such and hearing that they actually implemented it rather than simply discovering it and stating that it doesn’t work in reality.

Laser to zap space garbage

To get you started thinking about space junk:

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NASA space scientist James Mason and his team of NASA Ames Research Center and  the University of Space Research Association in California have recently proposed a new theory to deal with the pieces of debris in the low Earth orbit (LEO) that are colliding with each other to create more pieces. They discovered a possible method of using a laser beam to change the velocity of the junk’s orbit by focusing the beam on it to slow it down and change its orbit. This can stop the debris from colliding with communications satellites or the International Space Station.

Satellites and space junk in orbit around Earth CREDIT: ESA

The scientists mention that continual evaluation of the chances of a collision between two space debris of 5 cm or more in diameter would be needed using radar data from the US Space Surveillance Network. The junks on the path of collision would then be tracked by an optical telescope. One of them will be locked on and the release of the laser beam will occur. Just by using 5-10 kilowatts commercially available lasers mounted on 1.5 meter telescopes placed close to the poles, the risk of more than half of potential space junk collisions could be significantly reduced. The total cost of the scheme would be no more than $10m, making it a much cheaper alternative than other ideas such as direct removal of space debris.

The new paper could give insight into how we can avoid the Kessler syndrome, where if more and more space junk are be created and colliding with each other, the generations of debris could ultimately render space exploration and satellite launches impossible. This prediction was done by a NASA scientist in 1978 and new solutions have been presented since then a lot with multiple complications and high price tags. Moreover, other countries involved in space exploration saw the proposed methods as threats to their functional satellites.

Although a feasible theory, the scientists speculate whether this method could actually do the trick remains a topic of debate. Team member William Marshall points out that there are a lot of uncertainties in the model and space-debris models need to be run to be certain that the theory will be effective in the long term.

Tree Rings Give Scientists Insight to Earthquake History

It’s something we’ve all probably heard through the grapevine – the ‘looming’ earthquake that is going to hit the Vancouver region. After the recent devastation on Japan, one may be led to wonder, how are the effects seen down the road? Will the anguish still be prevalent hundreds, or even thousands of years from now?

In a recent conversation with Tom Balakshin (a friend and avid geologist) about the earthquake history in the Pacific Northwest, he enlightened me on how scientists track the history of seismic activity – specifically noting an earthquake that occurred in Northwest Washington approximately 1000 years ago. Though physical traits such as an abrupt uplift in shorelines, and evidence of a deposition from a tsunami, one of the most fascinating discoveries looks past the land formations, and to the vegetation of the surrounding land.

Prehistoric rock avalanches (believed to be the product of forceful seismic activity) in the Olympic Mountains between 1000 and 1300 years ago caused surrounding trees and plants to be completely submerged in water – trapping them in by rock dams. Scientists were able to determine the trees that drowned during the avalanche by observing tree rings. Trees that were underwater showed patterns uncharacteristic of those in normal conditions, such as diminished wood quality and varying ring spacing due to the death of outer layers. Analysis of the dead wood allowed scientists to determine that the avalanche predated the last ring about 100 years, as well as also indicating which season the trees died in.

Who would’ve thought that the rings of a tree could not only tell age, but also the environmental conditions that were present at that time? Even though the memories of those victimized through these devastations never fade, this just goes to show the Earth itself has its own way of keeping track of these natural catastrophes.

Check out this brief video on how scientists actually use the rings to reveal the tree’s history!

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The Gulf of Mexico Still Far From Recovery

A video of the BP Spill Explained: YouTube Preview Image

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, also known as the BP Spill occurred on April 20, 2010 is known as the largest accidental marine oil spill in history[1]. The cleanup was done by burning the oil, and using chemical dispersant as well as oil-eating microbes. Microbes are small unicellular organisms. Alcanivorax borkumensis use oil as food[2]. By August 2010, most of the oil on the surface of the ocean was dissipated[3], but about 79% of the oil was still under the surface[4]. The BP (British Petroleum) compensation czar claimed that the Gulf would be recovered by 2012, however, research conducted by marine biologist Dr. Joye demonstrated that the oil is not degrading fast enough[5].

Joye’s research included 5 expeditions using deep-dives into the Gulf of Mexico near the oil spill to collect 250 samples from the ocean-floor and water columns. Her study found that much of the oil spill on the ocean floor and the water columns were from the BP spill. This was done by chemically fingerprinting the oil, and testing the samples in labs.

According to Joye’s findings, the oil-eating microbes that were thought to degrade most of the oil spill consumed about 10% of the oil spill. The rest are dispersed throughout the Gulf as small droplets, which can’t be seen on the surface, but a large amount of the oil droplets sank to the ocean-floor. Moreover, the mucous secretion from the oil-eating microbes which also contain oil sank to the bottom, on top of many bottom-dwelling sea creatures, such as starfish and crabs. Joye’s estimate of the total amount of oil leaked into the ocean is equivalent to 1.5 and 3 million barrels, and she thinks that the recovery will be much slower than what the BP czar claimed.

Oil on Floor

A wall of methane ice on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico - Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The damage done by this accident propose a much long-term effect on the fragile marine ecosystem as well as the marsh in Louisiana. Before reading about Joye’s research, I used to believe that the oil spill was recovering fast, mostly by the oil-munching microbes. However, the pictures and the data collected from the bottom of the ocean by Joye changed my opinion, that under the turquoise-blue surface of the ocean, the sea-floor is still struggling to recover.

The long-term public health implications from this spill is unknown, and still needs to be studied.

An Interview with Dr. Samantha Joye at the UGA Oil Spill Symposium on 26th of January 2011:

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Banana Peel Can Remove Toxic Metals From Water!

Scientists from Brazil have discovered that minced banana peels are very efficient in removing toxic metals from wastewater. This was found to be 20 times more effective than conventional water treatment methods. The same bunch of peels could be used up to 11 times, as they are efficient metal collectors in their natural state.

The research was done in San Paolo Research Foundation, where they found that banana peels could remove copper and lead from water better than conventional methods such as Na-bentonite, AMP- modified silica gel, expanded perlite and modified peanut husk. The research was conducted in part of green chemistry movement, which aims to development more sustainable water treatment equipment like the new age nano-engineered ceramic water filters.

Bananas are affordable and readily available, this makes a very cheap alternative for large purification plants. You would probably need a lot of it in order to run a plant, but when the finance for treatment plans are slow, they could run on much smaller scales. Although, silica is one material that is really efficient in purifying water, before using it, it needs to be treated with costly toxic materials, and thus makes it seem like a loser when compared to banana peels.

I recently attended a seminar about the banana farm industry in Ecuador, and apparently, all of our bananas come from there! It is also guaranteed that anyone in the world has eaten Ecuadorian bananas at least once in their lifetime. The problem we were discussing in the seminar was not how great Ecuadorian banana’s are, but rather how the pesticides in the banana farms have detrimental effects on the health of the farmers. Banana farms have loads of bugs, worms, flies, anything you name it they got it! So, to get rid of them they spray pesticides in the air (to kill flies), on the bananas (to kill bugs eating the bananas) and deep into the ground (to kill the worms). The toxicity of these pesticide’s are extremely high, and they have severely affected the health of the farmers who work in close proximity with the pesticides over long periods of time. The reason these chemicals do not harm us is because bananas are washed thoroughly before they are exported. However, with the sheer volume of pesticides going on top of the banana peels, I wonder how much of it can actually be washed away?

Video on Banana Pesticides

My thoughts on this issue are, if the discovery of banana peels being efficient purifying agents has anything to do with pesticides that are sprayed onto the bananas. The article does not go in-depth about the chemical reactions that occur on the surface of the banana peel with water, which might suggest that there is something else going on. More research should be done to confirm the science behind the claim. My prediction is that banana peels are good purifying agents because of the combination of low-dose-pesticide-contaminated banana peels with wastewater.