07 Jul 2015:
Self-Driving Taxis Could Spur
Major Cuts in Carbon Emissions, Study Says
By 2030, self-driving electric taxis could cut greenhouse gas emissions from car travel in the U.S. by up to 94 percent, if they were
Prototype of a small, self-driving electric taxi
to replace conventional personal vehicles, according to
an analysis published in the journal Nature Climate Change
. Autonomous taxis are projected to cut carbon emissions primarily through a process known as "right-sizing," or deploying a car that is specifically tailored to match occupancy needs of each particular trip. Right-sizing is cost-effective for both the fleet owner and for passengers, the researchers say, and companies and research groups are currently exploring how to efficiently manufacture small one- and two-seat vehicles. Optimal routing, smoother acceleration and braking, and a cleaner electric grid in 2030 would also contribute to lower carbon emissions. Autonomous taxis are projected to reduce emissions by 63 to 82 percent compared to hybrid cars likely to be on the road in 2030, and by 94 percent over a 2014 gasoline-powered model, the study found.
02 Jul 2015:
Water Usage for Fracking
Has Increased Dramatically, Study Shows
Oil and natural gas fracking requires 28 times more water now than it did 15 years ago, according to a study
by the U.S.
Water use in fracking operations in the U.S.
Geological Survey. The increased water demand is attributed to the development of new, water-intensive technologies that target fossil fuels in complicated geological formations, the researchers say. The amount of water used varies greatly
with location, the study found. A fracking operation in southern Illinois, for example, can use as little as 2,600 gallons of water each time an oil or gas well is fracked. That figure jumps to more than 9 million gallons in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and south and eastern Texas. Fracking is often concentrated in arid regions and could exacerbate existing water shortages, especially as water requirements for fracking continue to increase. Most of the water used for fracking is disposed deep underground, removing it from the water cycle.
01 Jul 2015:
Church of England Divests from
Oil Firm Exploring Virunga National Park
The Church of England has divested its holdings
in the British oil and gas company Soco International, citing ethical concerns over Soco's attempts to
Mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park
drill for oil in Congo's Virunga National Park. The national park, Africa's oldest, is home to the largest surviving populations of endangered mountain gorillas and hippos
. The Church of England's investment fund is valued at roughly $10.5 billion, and $2.5 million of that had been invested in Soco International. The move marks only the third time in recent years that the church has divested from a company on ethical grounds. In 2012 it sold its holdings in News Corporation to protest the phone-hacking scandal, and in 2010 it divested from a mining corporation over human rights violations associated with its operations in India.
30 Jun 2015:
Residential Solar Panels Are
Net Win for Utility Companies, Analysis Says
Households and businesses with solar panels deliver greater benefits to utility companies than they receive through programs
Installing rooftop solar panels
like net metering, according to an analysis
of 11 case studies from across the U.S. by the advocacy group Environment New York. Net metering programs credit solar panel owners at a fixed rate — equal to or less than the retail price of electricity — for providing the excess power they generate to the grid. Utility companies have been fighting those credits in recent years, saying that solar panel owners don't pay a fair share of grid maintenance and other overhead costs. However, all 11 studies showed that solar panel owners provide net benefits to their respective utility systems, Environment New York says, including reduced capital investment costs, lower energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. The median value of solar power across all 11 studies was roughly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents.
26 Jun 2015:
Fuels from Canadian Oil Sands
Have Larger Carbon Footprint, Analysis Says
Gasoline and diesel refined from Canadian oil sands have a significantly larger carbon footprint and climate impact than
Oil sands extraction in Alberta, Canada
fuels from conventional crude sources, according to an analysis
by the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory. Oil sands-derived fuels will release on average 20 percent more carbon into the atmosphere over their lifetime — and possibly up to 24 percent more — depending on how they are extracted and refined, the study says. Methane emissions from tailing ponds and carbon emissions from land disturbance and field operations also contribute to the higher carbon footprint. "This is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity," said Hao Cai, the Argonne researcher who led the study. Roughly 9 percent of the total crude processed in U.S. refineries in 2013 came from the Canadian oil sands, and that percentage is projected to rise to 14 percent by 2020.
22 Jun 2015:
Researchers Look to Design of
Owl Wings to Make Quieter Wind Turbines
A new type of coating for wind turbines inspired by the shape of owl wings may dramatically cut noise associated with onshore
Australian masked owl in flight
wind farms, according to
research from the University of Cambridge. The scientists found that an owl's flight feathers have a microscopic down-like covering and numerous other intricate design details that smooth the passage of air over the wing, scattering sound as the owl flies. To replicate the structure, the researchers looked at designing a covering that would scatter the sound generated by a turbine blade in the same way. Early tests of their prototype material, a 3D-printed plastic coating, demonstrated that it could significantly quiet wind turbines without any appreciable impact on aerodynamics. Since wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimize noise, the new technology could mean that turbines could spin at much higher speeds, producing more energy while making less noise.
18 Jun 2015:
Pope Calls for Global Action on
Climate Change and Environmental Problems
Pope Francis released today
his highly anticipated encyclical, which is largely focused on halting climate change and
environmental degradation and emphasizes the importance of protecting impoverished communities from the worst effects. This is the first such letter from a leader of the Catholic Church to address environmental issues, analysts say. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political,” Pope Francis wrote. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” Industrialized countries are responsible for most of the damage, he said, and are obligated to help developing nations cope with the looming crisis. Within the document, he delves deeply
into both climate science and economic development policies, and chides climate change skeptics for their "denial."
17 Jun 2015:
Harnessing Evaporation Could
Yield More Power than Wind, Study Shows
Using the energy produced by evaporating water, researchers at Columbia University have shown
that they can
A miniature car driven by evaporation.
power a small toy car and a flashing light — the first step, they say, in harnessing an immense energy source that could rival power production from wind and waves. The devices they built use bacterial spores that can absorb humidity and, in doing so, expand and contract with enough force to push and pull pistons and drive a rotary engine. The spores pack more energy, pound for pound, than other materials used in engineering for moving objects, said researcher Ozgur Sahin, who co-authored the study published in Nature Communication
. When evaporation energy is scaled up, he says, it could one day produce electricity from giant floating power generators that sit on bays or reservoirs or rotating machines like wind turbines that sit above water.
12 Jun 2015:
National Renewable Energy
Targets Quadrupled Since 2005, Study Says
The number of nations with renewable energy targets on the books has quadrupled in the past decade, rising from 43 countries
Nations with renewable energy targets in 2015.
in 2005 to 164 countries today, according to a report
from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Developing and emerging economies account for an overwhelming majority of those renewable energy targets — 131 — and two additional countries, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, have set targets at provincial or regional levels. Most national targets are aimed at the electricity sector — 150 countries have renewable electricity targets — but transportation targets have more than doubled, from 27 to 59 nations, and heating and cooling commitments have increased from two countries in 2005 to 47 today, the report says.
10 Jun 2015:
Jet Fuel from Sugarcane
Cuts Aviation Carbon Emissions, Study Says
Converting sugarcane to jet fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from air travel by up to 80 percent and the process could be scaled up to produce commercially viable amounts
of fuel, say researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. The new technique they developed, which is described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, relies on complex chemical reactions involving sugars and waste biomass from sugarcane. That crop, unlike the sugar beet, can be grown on marginal lands so it does not displace food production — a major concern that has tempered enthusiasm for biofuels in general. Jet fuel, which is responsible for roughly 2 percent of all carbon emissions, has been difficult to synthesize from biomass because of its stringent quality requirements. Biofuels were approved for commercial aviation as recently as 2011, and researchers have been seeking a viable production method for nearly a decade.
09 Jun 2015:
Record Level of Residential Solar
Installed in U.S. in First Quarter of 2015
U.S. homeowners installed more solar power systems in the first three months of this year than in any other previous quarter,
Rooftop solar panels
according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association
(SEIA), a trade group for the U.S. solar sector. The first quarter of any given year typically sees the fewest solar installations because of winter weather, the group notes, but the period from January through March of this year saw a solid increase over last quarter — 11 percent — and a 76 percent increase over the same period last year. The average cost for a residential solar system is now $3.48 per watt, or 10 percent lower than this time last year, the SEIA report says. It also notes that, cumulatively through the first quarter of 2015, nearly one-fourth of all residential solar installations have now come on-line without any state incentives.
08 Jun 2015:
Reforming Mobile Phone Industry
Helps Profits and Environment, Study Says
Mobile phone manufacturers and the environment would both benefit from producing less-complex phones that
Millions of unused phones are discarded each year.
use "the cloud" — a network of remote servers connected to the Internet — to carry out power-intensive tasks, researchers say
. The current business model encourages consumers to upgrade devices frequently with little incentive to recycle them, researchers write in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
. There are roughly 85 million unused phones in the U.K. alone, the researchers note, and replacing the gold they contain — not to mention copper, silver, and other rare metals
— would cost nearly $170 million and release an equivalent of 84,000 tons of CO2. Moving to a "cloud-based" system where heavy computing is done on remote servers would allow manufacturers to produce less-complex phones that are designed to last longer and require fewer valuable metals, the analysis found.
01 Jun 2015:
Six Major Fossil Fuel Companies
Call for Governments to Set Carbon Price
Six leading oil and gas companies have called on
governments to enact a carbon-pricing system, saying this would be the most effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The chief executives of Total, Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell, BG Group, BP, and Eni, in a joint letter to the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that governments should use regulatory measures to discourage carbon-intensive energy options and to level the playing field for all energy sources, both renewables and fossil fuels. The executives said the companies are willing to do their part, but that governments need to provide a clear, stable, and long-term policy framework. Total chief Patrick Pouyanne said in a news conference that a carbon price of roughly $40 per ton is needed to spur the replacement of coal-fired power stations, which produce twice as much CO2 as those that use natural gas. And a price of $80 to $100 per ton, he said, would justify investing in carbon capture and storage systems.
20 May 2015:
Many Wind Turbines Installed
In Critical Bird Habitat, Group Says
More than 30,000 wind turbines in the U.S. have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally protected birds and
an additional 50,000 turbines are planned for similar areas, according to
the advocacy group American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Those figures include 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the rare whooping crane and nearly 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for greater sage grouse
, a species that has already declined by up to 80 percent in recent decades due to habitat loss, ABC says. The group is asking the federal government to regulate the wind industry with regard to its impacts on birds. Areas of "critical importance," where federally protected birds face the highest levels of risk, comprise just 9 percent of the land area of the U.S. and should be avoided in wind development, ABC says.
14 May 2015:
Biologically Inspired Coating
Will Improve Solar Panels, Researchers Say
Key characteristics of moths’ eyes, which are anti-reflective, and lotus leaves, which are water-repellant, inspired a new type of glass coating that could significantly improve the efficiency of solar panels, say researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
. The extremely durable coating can be customized to be fog-resistant, anti-reflective, and superhydrophobic — meaning it repels water drops so efficiently that they barely make contact with the solar panel surface, literally bouncing off and carrying away dirt and dust that hamper performance. The key component is a nanostructured layer of glass film that, under a microscope, has a porous texture resembling coral, which helps the solar cells absorb more light, the researchers say. Reflecting less sunlight means a 3 to 6 percent increase in light-to-electricity conversion efficiency and power output, studies show. The coating can be fabricated using standard industry techniques, the researchers say, making it easy and inexpensive to scale up and incorporate in current products.
13 May 2015:
Car Travel Is Six Times
More Expensive Than Bicycling, Study Finds
Traveling by car costs society and individuals six times more than traveling by bicycle, according to a study
Bicycles parked in downtown Copenhagen
transportation trends in Copenhagen, one of the planet's most heavily bicycled cities. The analysis considered how much cars cost society and how they compare to bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, public health, and congestion in Copenhagen. If the costs to society and the costs to private individuals are added together, the study found, the economic impact of a car is 0.50 euros per kilometer, whereas the cost of a bicycle is 0.08 euros per kilometer. Looking only at costs and benefits to society, one kilometer by car costs 0.15 euros, whereas society earns
0.16 euros on every kilometer cycled because of improvements in the public's health.
08 May 2015:
Idle Electronics and Appliances
Waste $19 Billion Annually, Study Says
Roughly $19 billion worth of electricity — an amount equal to the output of 50 large power plants — is devoured annually in
the U.S. by household electronics and appliances when their owners are not actively using them, according to a study
by the Natural Resources Defense Council. These always-on but inactive devices account for nearly 23 percent of home electricity use in California, the researchers found after analyzing data from 70,000 residential smart meters. The cost of this so-called "vampire" energy drain, which provides little benefit to consumers, averages $165 per household per year, but it can be as high as $440 in areas with high electricity prices, the study says. Appliances that consume a lot of power when in use, such as heating and cooling systems and refrigerators, accounted for just 15 percent of the vampire consumption. The majority — 51 percent — is drawn by consumer electronics such as televisions, computers, printers, and game consoles.
07 May 2015:
Ethanol Refineries May Emit More
Smog-Forming Compounds Than Expected
Refineries that produce ethanol fuel may be releasing much larger amounts of smog-forming compounds than researchers and government agencies had suspected, according to a new study
in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.
Airborne measurements downwind from an ethanol refinery in Illinois show that, compared to government estimates, ethanol emissions are 30 times higher and emissions of all volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include ethanol, are five times higher. Producing one kilogram of the fuel at the Illinois refinery emits 170 times more ethanol than what comes out of a vehicle burning the same amount, the study says. Along with nitrogen oxides, VOCs can react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Renewable fuel standards mandate that gasoline burned in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol — an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum imports while boosting the renewable fuels sector.
Interview: How British Columbia
Gained by Putting Price on Carbon
Earlier this month, Ontario announced it will join the carbon cap-and trade-program that Quebec and California participate in.
British Columbia, in 2008, became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt an economy-wide carbon tax. Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at University of Ottawa, has analyzed the results of that tax and describes them as “remarkable.” In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Elgie says the tax has significantly reduced British Columbia’s fossil fuel use without harming its economy. Citing the lack of support for a carbon tax at the federal level in Canada as well as in the U.S., Elgie warns that “we’re moving toward a global economy that will reward low-carbon, innovative, resource-efficient production. And if we don’t prepare ourselves for that, other countries are going to eat our lunch.”
Read the interview.
28 Apr 2015:
World Is Poised for Major
Surge in Air Conditioner Use, Research Finds
The world is on track for dramatic increases in the use of air conditioning over the next few decades, which will place even
Air conditioners in Chinese apartment complex.
more stress on power grids and energy prices than scientists had previously thought, according to
research from the University of California, Berkeley. Looking at households throughout Mexico, the researchers found that, in the warm areas, air conditioning use increases steadily with income — 2.7 percent per $1,000 of annual household income. The team used those findings, along with population, climate, and household income projections, to model future growth in air conditioner use across the globe. Conservatively, they say, the model predicts near-universal saturation of air conditioning in all warm areas within just a few decades. That will place enormous stress on the energy infrastructure of some nations — India, for example, is already experiencing blackouts during surges in power use — and will drive up energy costs worldwide.
Interview: Oklahoma’s Clear Link
Between Earthquakes and Energy
In recent years, Oklahoma has experienced a stunning increase in the number of earthquakes. Yet despite numerous
studies to the contrary, state officials have remained skeptical of the link between this seismic boom and oil and gas activity. That ended last month with the announcement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that oil and gas wastewater injection wells were, indeed, the “likely” cause of “the majority” of that state’s earthquakes. Oklahoma geologist Todd Halihan, who has examined this issue, welcomed the announcement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Halihan outlines some ways that the abnormal seismic activity in Oklahoma might be tamped down. But he also explains why he believes the problem has no quick or easy fixes.
Read the interview.
22 Apr 2015:
Yale Plans to Charge University
Departments for Their Carbon Emissions
Yale University has announced
that it will enact a novel carbon-pricing mechanism in the next academic year in hopes of curbing its greenhouse gas emissions. Devised by a committee led by economist William Nordhaus — an expert on the intersection of climate change and economic policy — the program will operate in a pilot phase for three years before possibly going into full effect, the university said. According to the committee's report, departments within the university would be charged based on how much their carbon emissions deviated from average levels in the past. The report recommends a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is based on current federal legislation and the government's estimates for the social cost of carbon. "We didn't see anything like this" when reviewing other institutions' carbon-pricing schemes, Nordhaus told E&E News
, saying he believes Yale's program is the first and most comprehensive of its kind.
21 Apr 2015:
Australia Could Attain
100 Percent Renewables by 2050, Study Says
Australia could reduce its greenhouse emissions significantly and transition to an economy
Windy Hill wind farm in Queensland, Australia.
predominantly fueled by renewable energy for very little cost, according to
an analysis by the Australian National University and WWF. The country could generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables and have zero net emissions by 2050 because wind and solar technologies have fallen rapidly in price in recent years and Australia is the world's sunniest and windiest continent. Any progress, however, will depend on the government's willingness to set clear, long-term policies and regulations encouraging renewable energy use, the authors note. Under conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia's current climate action plan calls for only a five percent cut in emissions from 2000 levels over the next five years.
17 Apr 2015:
New Mapping Tool Could
Lower Cost of Finding Geothermal Energy
A new online mapping tool could help governments and investors evaluate the geothermal energy potential for locations around
the globe through satellite measurements, lowering the risks and costs involved in developing this clean energy source, its creators say. The tool
uses gravity measurements from European Space Agency (ESA) satellites to look for certain characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones, and young magmatic activity. This helps determine which locations are most likely to possess geothermal energy potential, narrowing the search — and cost — for prospectors. The project, which is a partnership between the ESA and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), will "help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before,” said a director at IRENA.
15 Apr 2015:
Entries Invited for e360
Contest For Best Environmental Videos
The second annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, two runners-up will each receive $500, and all winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. The deadline for entries is June 15, 2015.
15 Apr 2015:
Japan Emissions Hit Near-Record
High After Nuclear Power Plant Closings
Japan's carbon dioxide emissions reached their highest levels since 2007 last year, according to a government analysis of data
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Japan.
for the year ending in March 2014. Greenhouse gas emissions had been on a downward trend as the country replaced coal and natural gas power stations with nuclear plants. However, all 48 of Japan's nuclear power reactors have been offline since September 2013 — the result of rigorous safety checks enacted after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Reuters reports
. The country has increased natural gas and coal consumption to fill the void left by nuclear power, which had accounted for 26 percent of its electricity generation. Reports say the country is considering committing to a 20 percent decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030 as part of the upcoming Paris climate negotiations.
13 Apr 2015:
Public Transportation Spending
Varies With Income and Geography in the U.S.
Households in different regions of the United States spend similar amounts on transportation, but how those costs break down
Transportation spending trends in the U.S.
between gasoline and public transportation varies widely, according to
data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the South, where the average household owns 2.1 vehicles, spending on gasoline is higher and public transportation spending is lower than in any other region. In contrast, households in the Northeast — which own an average of 1.6 vehicles per household — spend the least on gasoline and the most on public transportation of any region in the U.S. The spending breakdown also varies with income. Households in the highest income bracket spend more than $1,400 annually on public transportation — nearly three times the national average of $537 and eight times the $163 spent by lowest-income households.
10 Apr 2015:
Coal Power Plant Closings
To Spur Large CO2 Cut in U.S. in 2015
Thanks to the closing of a record number of coal-fired power plants, emissions from the U.S. power sector in 2015 are expected to fall 15 percent below 2005 levels
, according to an analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The report said that seven percent of the U.S.’s coal-fired power capacity will be shut down this year, and that on the basis of emissions per-unit-of-power-generated, 2015 will be the cleanest year in more than 60 years. The loss of coal-fired power is being made up by cleaner natural gas-fired plants and by rapid growth of renewable energy, Bloomberg noted. U.S. solar power installations are expected to hit a record 9.1 gigawatts, led by California, and wind power installations should hit 8.7 gigawatts, led by Texas. “In 2015 we’ll take a giant, permanent step towards decarbonizing our entire fleet of power plants,” said analyst William Nelson.
08 Apr 2015:
Clay Shows Promise in
Capturing CO2 from Power Plants
Common clay can be just as effective as more advanced materials in capturing carbon dioxide emissions
from power plants, according to research by Norwegian and Slovak scientists. One particular type of clay mineral, known as smectite, was especially effective in absorbing CO2 emissions, the researchers said in the journal Scientific Reports.
One possible use for clay would be to incorporate it into filters or scrubbers in smokestacks at power plants, the scientists said. They said their research into clay’s CO2-absorbing capabilities is preliminary and would not be available for commercial use anytime soon. But the scientists said clay offers many benefits compared to some other expensive and potentially toxic CO2-scrubbing materials.
07 Apr 2015:
Nationwide Vehicle Emissions
Database Could Help Cities Curb CO2
Researchers at Boston University have created a nationwide database
for determining how much carbon dioxide
Nationwide CO2 emissions from vehicle travel
is produced by vehicle travel in U.S. cities and suburbs — an essential part of greenhouse gas reduction efforts, they say. Encompassing 33 years of data, the system provides kilometer-by-kilometer views of vehicle emission trends from roads across the country. Those emissions account for 28 percent of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the U.S., the researchers note. The data highlight the ongoing shift in the U.S. toward urban traffic and emissions. For example, cities have been responsible for 80 percent of the growth in vehicle CO2 emissions since 1980 and for 63 percent of total vehicle CO2 in 2012. Emission levels and trends can vary dramatically across different cities, however. Population density hasn't changed much in Salt Lake City since the 1980s, but the per-capita emissions have soared because the suburb and exurb populations are growing, the data indicate.