Supercharged soil could pull carbon right out of the air

A simple seed treatment could drastically increase the amount of atmospheric carbon captured by crops, and store it underground for longer

By DELLE CHAN

Fundamentally, two of the world’s most pressing challenges, climate change and soil degradation, boil down to a simple imbalance: there is too much carbon in the air, and not enough in the ground. And for Guy Hudson and Tegan Nock, the solution is patently obvious.

The duo are the co-founders of Soil Carbon Co, an Australian agritech startup specialising in what it terms “microbe-mediated carbon sequestration” ­– a method of removing carbon from the atmosphere via microbial fungi and bacteria. The technology in question? A biological treatment applied to seeds that converts atmospheric carbon into a more stable compound which can then be stored deep in the ground – potentially for centuries.

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In a world-first, Australian University builds its own solar farm to offset 100% of its electricity use

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LIMITING GLOBAL WARMING to well below 2℃ this century requires carbon emissions to reach net-zero by around 2050. Australian households have done much to support the transition via rooftop solar investments. Now it’s time for organizations to take a more serious role.

The University of Queensland’s efforts to reduce its electricity emissions provides one blueprint. Last week UQ opened a 64-megawatt solar farm at Warwick in the state’s southeast. It’s the first major university in the world to offset 100% of its electricity use with renewable power produced from its own assets. In fact, UQ will generate more renewable electricity than it uses.

The Warwick Solar farm shows businesses and other organizations that the renewables transition is doable, and makes economic sense.

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The future of energy is being shaped in Asia

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China now accounts for almost three-quarters of global solar panel production.

A Frenchman is credited with being the first to discover the photovoltaic effect that produces electricity from sunlight. The first solar panel was built in the US. But when Abu Dhabi decided to build the world’s largest individual solar power project, they looked east for help.

The country partnered with Chinese and Japanese companies to construct a facility, which opened this year, with a peak capacity of 1.18 gigawatts generated by 3.2 million solar panels. That’s because Asia, more than any other region on the planet, and China, more than any other nation, currently represent the future of solar energy, and are at the heart of the ensuing industrywide transformation from fossil fuels to renewable and nuclear energy.

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Scientists used loudspeakers to make dead coral reefs sound healthy. Fish flocked to them.

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A mass coral spawning on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on Nov. 16. Derek Hawkins

The desperate search for ways to help the world’s coral reefs rebound from the devastating effects of climate change has given rise to some radical solutions.

In the Caribbean, researchers are cultivating coral “nurseries” so they can reimplant fresh coral on degraded reefs. And in Hawaii, scientists are trying to specially breed corals to be more resilient against rising ocean temperatures.

On Friday, British and Australian researchers rolled out another unorthodox strategy they say could help restoration efforts: broadcasting the sounds of healthy reefs in dying ones.

In a six-week field experiment, researchers placed underwater loudspeakers in patches of dead coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and played audio recordings taken from healthy reefs. The goal was to see whether they could lure back the diverse communities of fish that are essential to counteracting reef degradation.

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Wildfire science: computer models, drones and laser scanning help fan the flames and prevent widespread devastation

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Experts believe that with drier, hotter weather becoming the norm, even more wildfires could rage in the future. That’s why scientists are using the latest technology to monitor intentionally ignited fires.

At past midnight on a Thursday night in June, researchers in Utah are still sending excited emails, updating each other on the day’s action. The team has just finished following a huge fire that has ripped through a remote area of the Fishlake National Forest in the south of the state. And they’re still buzzing.

This was no wildfire. It was intentionally set. Early in the afternoon, ignition helicopters were sent in to start the burn. Utah University atmospheric scientist, Adam Kochanski, watched the flames unfold.

“There were two helicopters with so-called heli-torches – kind of like flame-throwers – just suspended beneath,” he recalls. “They were flying back and forth, and on top of that there were some ground crews with handheld torches and they also started fires on the ground.”

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Scientists cook up new recipes for taking salt out of seawater

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As populations boom and chronic droughts persist, coastal cities like Carlsbad in Southern California have increasingly turned to ocean desalination to supplement a dwindling fresh water supply. Now scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) investigating how to make desalination less expensive have hit on promising design rules for making so-called “thermally responsive” ionic liquids to separate water from salt.

Ionic liquids are a liquid salt that binds to water, making them useful in forward osmosis to separate contaminants from water. (See Berkeley Lab Q&A, “Moving Forward on Desalination”) Even better are thermally responsive ionic liquids as they use thermal energy rather than electricity, which is required by conventional reverse osmosis (RO) desalination for the separation. The new Berkeley Lab study, published recently in the journal Nature Communications Chemistry, studied the chemical structures of several types of ionic liquid/water to determine what “recipe” would work best.

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‘LarvalBot’ underwater drone will reseed coral reefs damaged by climate change

 

Since August 2018, the Great Barrier Reef in the ocean off Australia has had a special protector — an autonomous underwater drone called RangerBot that has monitored the status of the reef and protected the corals from the predatory crown-of-thorns starfish. But now researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia have announced that the RangerBot has a new mission: it is to be rechristened “LarvalBot” and will be repurposed to spread coral babies.

Scientists have collected hundreds of millions of coral spawn from the surviving corals of the Great Barrier Reef which have not yet succumbed to coral bleaching. These spawn are then reared into baby corals in special floating enclosures, and once they have grown large enough to survive on their own, they are delivered by the LarvalBot to a designated location in the reef. If necessary, many coral larvae can be distributed at once in a “larval cloud” that can blanket an entire damaged area of a reef. This technique is called larval restoration and may be reef’s best hope for the future.

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Scientists create artificial wood that is water – and fire resistant

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The synthetic material is faster to make than natural wood.

A new lightweight substance is as strong as wood yet lacks its standard vulnerabilities to fire and water.

To create the synthetic wood, scientists took a solution of polymer resin and added a pinch of chitosan, a sugar polymer derived from the shells of shrimp and crabs. They freeze-dried the solution, yielding a structure filled with tiny pores and channels supported by the chitosan. Then they heated the resin to temperatures as high as 200 degrees Celsius to cure it, forging strong chemical bonds.

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How a team of innovators overcame the odds to create water from thin air

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Today, 790 million people — 11 percent of the world’s population — live without access to clean water.

Two years ago, XPrize, an international nonprofit organization, announced a global competition enticing innovators to find a sustainable and affordable way to bring potable water to those who aren’t privileged enough to have it now.

Skeptics told the competition organizers that it was impossible.

Nearly 100 submissions later, and XPrize found precisely what they were looking for — entrepreneurs who could design a minimalistic device that could reliably extract 2,000 liters of water from the atmosphere per day for no more than two cents per liter all using 100 percent renewable energy.

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2 gonzo ideas for slowing down a hurricane that might actually work

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Scientists are looking into ways to weaken hurricanes early on.

Hurricane Michael is expected to bring life-threatening winds and storm surge to Florida’s Gulf Coast.

As heavy winds from Hurricane Michael begin to lash Florida’s Gulf Coast, forecasters are urging residents of the panhandle, Big Bend, and Nature Coast to prepare for life-threatening storm surge and flooding.

With so much potential devastation, one may wonder whether anything can be done to stop Michael in its tracks.

It’s quite a daunting challenge, given that the average hurricane’s wind energy equals about half of the world’s electricity production in a year. The energy it releases as it forms clouds is 200 times the world’s annual electricity use.

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This super-reflective coating keeps buildings cool so we don’t need as much AC

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Buildings are already being painted white to help keep them cool. As temperatures increase, this new addition to the paint could help lower our massive air conditioning energy use.

One of the ironies of climate change is that as heat waves become more common, people use more air conditioning–and those air conditioners help drive more climate change, and make things hotter. By the middle of the century, as more people around the world can afford air conditioners, the number of units could more than triple and end up using as much electricity as China uses today for its entire economy.

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