25 Apr 2013:
Metal Demand Could Increase
Nine-Fold as Developing Economies Grow
Global demand for metals could increase nine-fold in the coming years
as the world’s developing economies continue to grow, a trend that could have profound negative environmental impacts, a new UN report says. As populations in these countries continue to adopt modern technologies, and nations increasingly construct metal-intensive renewable energy projects, the need for raw metal materials will likely be three to nine times larger than the current global demand, said Achim Steiner
, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). While the current demand is typically met by mining for more metals, large-scale mining operations can have adverse environmental consequences, and the supply of some rare earth metals is running low. Saying that there is an urgent need for a more sophisticated approach to recycling the planet's increasingly sophisticated products, the UN suggested
that mining companies be enlisted to help sort out valuable metals when the products reach the end of their usefulness.
17 Apr 2013:
Outdated Management, Drought
Threaten Colorado River, Report Says
Drought, mismanagement, and over-exploitation of its waters have made the Colorado River — the lifeblood of the arid Southwest and drinking water source for 36 million people — among the most vulnerable rivers in
the U.S., according to the group American Rivers. In its annual report on “America’s Most Endangered Rivers
,” the organization placed the 1,400-mile Colorado at the top of the list of threatened rivers, saying the iconic river “is so dammed, diverted, and drained that it dries to a trickle before reaching the sea.” Proposals to remove more than 300,000 acre-feet of new water from the river and its tributaries, coupled with a projected reduction in its flow of 10 to 30 percent because of global warming, will add further stress to the Colorado system
. According to the report, outdated water management systems also threaten the Flint River in Georgia, the San Saba River in Texas, and the Little Plover River in Wisconsin. In the U.S. Southeast, storage ponds for coal ash pose a threat to the Catawba River, a major source of drinking water for parts of North Carolina and South Carolina.
Interview: Using Citizen Power
To Fund a U.S. Solar Revolution
Billy Parish is the president of Mosaic
, an Internet “crowdfunding” service that lets individual investors put their money into commercial solar projects and earn a rate of return that
currently beats anything offered by a bank. This month, California regulators authorized Mosaic to offer up to $100 million in loans for solar projects. Its first loan under that authorization, $157,750 to install a 114-kilowatt array on the Ronald McDonald House in San Diego, was funded within six hours by 171 investors. Parish, 31, a co-founder of the Energy Action Coalition
, decided after the failure of the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen that the best way to drive a clean energy transition was to dive into the renewable energy business. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Parish talks about why his generation has pursued environmental goals through entrepreneurship, how crowdfunding can fuel the solar revolution, and how he discovered “that sweet spot where making money and doing good overlap.” Read the interview
26 Mar 2013:
China’s Utility Giants
Vulnerable to Water Scarcity, Report Says
China’s five largest power utilities, which depend on water-intensive, coal-fired stations to generate electricity, are vulnerable to water supply disruptions because they are centered in the country’s water-scarce northern regions, a new report says. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance
, the five power generators — Huaneng, Datang, Huadian, Guodian, and China Power Investment — operate hundreds of gigawatts of thermal plants in the industrial northeast, where water resources are increasingly strained. Eighty-five percent of China’s power-generating capacity is in water scarce regions, said Maxime Serrano Bardisa, one of the report’s coauthors. The report said that major technical and policy shifts will be required to avert serious disruptions, including the addition of systems that use less water, such as closed-cycle or air-cooled systems. Such improvements could cost the utilities $20 billion in retrofit costs, the report said.
01 Mar 2013:
Loss of Wild Pollinators
Affecting Global Crop Production
Research data from 600 fields in 20 countries shows that wild bees and insects are more effective pollinators than domesticated honey bees, suggesting that the continuing loss of wild insects in many agricultural
landscapes has negative consequences for crop harvests.
Reporting in Science
, an international team of 50 scientists analyzed data from 41 crop systems around the world. They found that widespread development and modern agricultural techniques that use every available hectare of land decrease the number of key pollinators, such as wild bees, butterflies, and beetles. As the numbers and diversity of these pollinators decreases, flowering plants receive fewer visits from these insects, resulting in lower production of important crops such as tomatoes, melons, and coffee. The researchers said that using domesticated or managed honey bees did not make up for the loss of wild bees and insects. The study suggests new practices to preserve natural or semi-natural areas to support wild pollinators.
28 Feb 2013:
Earth Unlikely to Face
An Ecological Tipping Point, Study Says
A team of international scientists has rejected the idea that the planet could face a sudden and irreversible ecological shift as a result of largely human-driven pressures, suggesting that such global transformations are more likely to occur over a long period of time. While earlier studies have warned that ecological pressures — including climate change, biodiversity loss, and over-exploitation of resources — could drive the planet toward a dangerous “tipping point,” the new paper says the ecosystems of different continents are not sufficiently interconnected for such a global shift to occur
. And while as much as 80 percent of the biosphere includes ecosystems that have been affected by human activities, major ecological shifts driven by these human pressures “depend on local circumstances and will therefore differ between localities,” said Erle Ellis, a scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and co-author of the paper, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution
19 Feb 2013:
New Global Standard Aims
To Reduce Water Waste by Businesses
The UK-based Carbon Trust has introduced what it calls the first global standard on water management and reduction
in hopes of encouraging more sustainable water use by businesses. The new standard, created by members of the group along with four early-adopting companies, including Coca-Cola Enterprises, will require businesses to show that they are measuring their water use and reducing consumption on a year-to-year basis, Carbon Trust executive Tom Delay told BBC News
. “We look at the various water supply methods: mains, surface water abstraction, groundwater, and rainwater collection,” he said. The Carbon Trust, which already helps business and governments reduce energy use and carbon emissions, decided to expand into water issues since freshwater scarcity is closely linked with climate change. According to a 2009 report
, global freshwater demand will outpace currently available supplies by 40 percent by 2030. In a survey of 475 companies in the U.S., UK, China, and Brazil, the Carbon Trust found that just one out of seven businesses have set targets for water reduction and report their performances publicly.
12 Feb 2013:
Norwegian Retrofit Seeks
To Create ‘Energy-Positive’ Office Buildings
Two office buildings in Norway are being retrofitted so they will generate more power than they use
when the project is completed next year. The three- and four-story buildings, in the town of Sandvika, near Oslo, will generate geothermal and solar energy on site, making the buildings “energy positive,” according to the project's backers. The retrofit will use a heat-retaining black façade, top-quality insulation to reduce energy use by up to 90 percent, and an interior design that will allow air to circulate without fans. “We believe this is the first time in the world that a normal office block is being renovated to such strict standards,” Svein Brandtzaeg, chief executive of Norsk Hydro, one of the project’s partners, told Reuters. According to the UN Environment Programme, the building industry has the greatest potential of any economic sector for large cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Interview: Probing Impact of
Warming on World Food Supply
It has long been thought that climate change could enhance crop growth through the fertilizing effects of carbon dioxide.
University of Illinois
But recent research conducted by Stephen Long, a professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, indicates that any gains from CO2 fertilization will be offset by damage to plants from higher temperatures, increases in atmospheric ozone, and the greater efficiency of crop pests in a CO2-enriched world. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Long, who recently received a $25 million research grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, talks about the impacts of climate change on some of the world’s key crops, the challenge of boosting crop yields to meet the demands of a burgeoning human population, and how tinkering with the genes involved in photosynthesis may provide the solution scientists are seeking. Read the interview
31 Jan 2013:
Massive UK Wind Turbines
Are a Sign of ‘Super-sizing’ of Wind Power
Two of the world’s largest wind turbines, with blades 60 meters (196 feet) long, have been installed off the Yorkshire coast, a sign of a growing trend toward producing colossal wind turbines to boost generating capacity.
The 6-megawatt turbines, manufactured by Siemens, are so large that they had to be installed using a specially built ship
, Siemens said. The pair of turbines is being erected on an experimental basis to gauge how they perform, but the operator of the offshore wind farm, the Denmark-based DONG energy group, has plans to install dozens more so that production will reach 210 megawatts at the site, located about five miles offshore. DONG says it intends to eventually install 300 of the massive turbines by 2017 at various offshore locations in the U.K., including some in deeper waters. Energy analysts say the 60-meter Siemens turbines reflect growing interest among wind energy companies to deploy ever-larger turbines, with plans in the works to manufacture turbines 100 meters long.
Interview: Charting a New Course
For America and the Environment
magazine once called him the “ultimate insider,” and indeed Gus Speth has had a long career as an establishment environmentalist. And so it might be
surprising that his latest book, America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy
, offers a bleak picture of what U.S. environmentalism has accomplished and calls for an overhaul of the nation’s political economy. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Speth, now a professor at Vermont Law School, discusses the evolution of his own thinking on how to address environmental problems and his frustration with continued inaction on climate change. He also talks about the links he sees between economic fairness and environmental health; why he is encouraged by new movements and lifestyles emerging in local communities; and why he rejects what he calls America’s “growth fetish.” “The first thing about growth is it doesn’t deliver,” Speth says, “and it detracts us and deflects us from investing in the things that really do need to grow — like jobs, like education, like green energy technology.” Read the interview
10 Jan 2013:
Up to 50 Percent of Food
Is Wasted Worldwide, Report Says
As much as half of the food produced globally is wasted
each year as a result of inefficient agricultural practices, inadequate storage facilities and transportation systems, and wasteful consumer habits, a new report says. While the world community produces about 4 billion metric tons of food annually, roughly 1.2 to 2 billion metric tons of that food — or 30 to 50 percent — is never consumed, according to the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers
. The causes of waste vary from region to region, the report says. In developing nations, much of the waste occurs at the local level as a result of inefficient harvesting, lack of transportation, and poor infrastructure and storage. In richer nations, the waste is often triggered by customer and retail behavior. For example, as much as 30 percent of UK vegetables are never harvested because their appearance doesn’t meet consumer standards. “This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands,” the report says.
08 Jan 2013:
Using Fireflies As a Model,
Scientists Boost Efficiency of LED Lights
Drawing inspiration from the structure of a firefly, scientists say they have improved the efficiency of a light-emitting diode (LED) by 55 percent
. While studying the insects, the researchers noticed that
LED inspired by fireflies
a pattern of sharp, jagged scales on the fireflies’ bodies enhanced the amount of light emitted by the fireflies’ lantern, an abdominal organ that creates the flashes of light to attract mates. After mimicking that structure in the production of a LED design, the researchers found that the amount of light extracted was significantly increased. Light-emitting diodes are made from semi-conductors and represent a major advance in lighting efficiency over traditional incandescent bulbs and compact fluorescent bulbs. “The most important aspect of this work is that it shows how much we can learn by carefully observing nature,” said Annick Bay, a Ph. D. student at the University of Namur in Belgium and one of the authors of a paper published in the journal Optics Express
04 Jan 2013:
Starbucks Targets Reduction
In Paper Waste with $1 Reusable Cups
Starbucks, the world’s largest chain of coffee shops, this week started selling $1 reusable plastic cups
at its stores
A reusable plastic cup
in the U.S. and Canada, an initiative the company hopes will drastically reduce the amount of paper waste that ends up in landfills. The company, which has more than 11,000 stores in the U.S., tested the reusable cups at 600 stores in the Pacific Northwest in October, and within a month found that the use of reusable cups increased 26 percent compared with a year earlier. While Starbucks says nearly 2 percent of drinks sold in 2011 were served in personal tumblers brought in by customers
— a 55-percent increase in three years — the company is now targeting 5 percent use of reusable cups by 2015. Five years ago, the company had set a goal of serving 25 percent of its coffee drinks in reusable cups. Starbucks uses about 4 billion disposable cups
17 Dec 2012:
‘Peak Farmland’ Reached, as
Yields Rise and Growth Slows, Report Says
The amount of agricultural land needed to feed the world’s population has reached its peak as a result of improved crop yields
and slower population growth, and as much as 10 percent of the land currently used for farming could be “restored to Nature” within 50 years, a team of experts says. In an analysis published in the journal Population and Development Review
, three researchers from Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment
(PHE) predict that the 1.53 billion hectares (3.78 billion) acres of arable land and farming areas that existed in 2009 could drop to 1.38 billion hectares (3.41 billion acres) by 2060. “Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many have feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers,” said Jesse Ausubel
, director of the PHE and lead author of the report. The PHE study stands in stark contrast to a recent UN report, which predicted that by 2050 another 70 million hectares of land would have to be cultivated to feed a growing population.
12 Dec 2012:
Large Cellulosic Biorefinery
Will Convert Corn Stalks into Biofuel
Chemical giant DuPont has started construction of a large-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery in Iowa capable of converting corn stalks and leaves into
Corn stover in bales
a biofuel that could be used in place of fossil fuels at some power plants. The $200 million facility, which will be among the first and largest of its kind in the world
, will produce more than 30 million gallons of ethanol annually
using so-called corn stover, the remains of corn plants after the harvest, DuPont says. The company plans to collect the stover from more than 500 local farmers within a 30-mile radius, and the plant could be operational as soon as mid-2014. DuPont plans to license the production system internationally and work on designs that will expand this aspect of the biofuel industry.
Interview: Designing Green Cities
To Meet 21st Century Challenges
Landscape architect Martha Schwartz is a passionate believer in the role that landscape can play in urban sustainability. Great landscape design, she says, can
Martha Schwartz Partners
moderate extreme heat, recycle water, reduce energy use, lower carbon emissions, and attract people to urban areas. Following these principles, her London-based firm, Martha Schwartz Partners
, has designed such projects as Dublin’s Grand Canal Square; Exchange Square, in Manchester, England; and Abu Dhabi’s Corniche beachfront area. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Schwartz, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, talks about the importance of incorporating cultural values in urban design, explains why the design of streets and parking lots is as important as the design of parks, and discusses why the U.S. lags behind many other nations in the greening of its cities. Read the interview
29 Nov 2012:
China is Largest Importer
Of Illegally Harvested Timber, Report Says
China has become the world’s leading importer of illegally harvested timber, even as the growing economic giant has made strides in protecting its own forests, according to a new report
. Drawing on its own investigative research and the work of Interpol, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates that China now imports about $4 billion in illegal timber
annually to meet rising demand for construction materials and furniture. According to the report, more than half of China’s raw timber imports are now coming from nations with “a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance,” including Cambodia, Laos, and Madagascar. Meanwhile, the report said, the Chinese government has taken critical steps in preserving and re-growing its own forests. “China is now effectively exporting deforestation around the world,” said EIA's Faith Doherty.
14 Nov 2012:
Algal Biofuel Blend
Reaches Market at California Gas Stations
A U.S. company this week began pumping a mix of an algae-based biofuel and gasoline at gas stations in California
, a pilot project the company hopes will be a first step in providing a large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.
The fuel, known as Biodiesel B20, contains 80 percent petroleum and 20 percent algae grown by San Francisco-based Solazyme. The fuel is produced in a fermentation process at Solazyme’s Illinois plant that combines sugar with an organism company officials will not identify. According to the company, the new fuel blend produces 30 percent fewer particulates, 20 percent less carbon monoxide, and 10 percent fewer hydrocarbons than other biodiesel fuels. So far, the fuel is being sold for diesel vehicles at four gas stations in the Bay Area for $4.25 per gallon, which is also the average price right now for diesel fuel in California. But Propel Fuels, which is providing the infrastructure for the fuel delivery, hopes to make the fuel available at hundreds of California stations, said Matt Horton, Propel’s CEO.
12 Oct 2012:
New Disney Paper Policy
Promises Responsible Use and Sourcing
The Walt Disney Co., the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, has announced a dramatic shift in how the company will use and source paper
, vowing to minimize the amount of paper it uses overall and eliminate its purchase of irresponsibly harvested timber products. In an announcement, the multinational media company, which had been under pressure from forest activists, said it would increase its use of recycled paper and paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and will avoid products coming from what it called “high conservation-value” and “high carbon-value” forests. In addition, executives say they will work with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and other groups to identify "regions with poor forest management and high rates of deforestation,” including Indonesia, where rampant deforestation for pulp and paper products is decimating rainforests. The policy shift comes two years after RAN launched a campaign against Disney, citing evidence that its publishing arm, which produces 50 million books and 30 million magazines annually, was using hardwood pulp likely sourced in Indonesia rainforests
28 Sep 2012:
Decline in Fisheries
Can Still be Reversed, Study Says
Although the majority of global fisheries remain in decline, they can still rebound if managed sustainably
, according to a new study. In a comprehensive statistical analysis of the world’s 10,000 fish stocks, nearly 80 percent of which are not regulated, a team of U.S. scientists found that the world’s smaller, managed fisheries are in far worse shape than larger, regulated ones. But while those smaller fisheries, such as those for snapper, are in steep decline, “they’re not yet collapsed,” said Christopher Costello, an economist at the University of California at Santa Barbara and lead author of the study, published in the journal Science
. According to the analysis, effective management of unregulated fisheries could boost global fish abundance by 56 percent. “If we turn things around now, we can recover them in a matter of years, not decades, and that has big implications for conservation and food security,” Costello said. According to the study, major gains have been made in large fisheries, such as skipjack and albacore tuna, where strong science-based management policies have been enacted
, including the closing of some areas to let stocks recover.
21 Sep 2012:
U.S. Fishing Catch Reached
17-Year High in 2011, NOAA Says
U.S. commercial fishermen landed more than 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2011, a 17-year high attributed in part to policies aimed at rebuilding fisheries nationwide, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
. The annual catch was 22.6 percent greater than 2010 and, with a value of $5.3 billion, a 17-percent increase in value compared with a year earlier. Officials say catch increases are evidence that fish populations are increasing due to better fisheries management. While all nine of NOAA’s fishing regions saw an increase in catch volume and value, much of the overall increase was a result of increased catches of Gulf of Mexico menhaden, Alaskan pollock, and Pacific hake. NOAA said key fisheries remain at risk
, with disasters declared for the cod fishery in New England, oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi, and Chinook salmon in Alaska’s Yukon and Kukokwin rivers.
14 Sep 2012:
Japanese Set Goal
To Phase Out Nuclear Power by 2040
The Japanese government says it will seek to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2040
, although officials suggested that the target remains flexible. The new energy strategy, which places a 40-year lifespan on nuclear reactors and limits construction of new plants, would continue a national shift away from nuclear power following last year’s disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power station. Earlier this year Japan suspended operations at the last of its 50 nuclear power stations
over public safety concerns. Most of the plants remain off-line. In announcing the new plan, Motohisa Furukawa, Japan’s minister of state for national policy, left open the possibility that five reactors that will be younger than 40 at the end of the 2030s will be allowed to remain in operation. In addition, Furukawa indicated that the central government would ultimately bow to a newly formed nuclear panel over such policy questions, the New York Times
reported. Nuclear power provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity before the 2011 disaster, and many have questioned whether the country can meet its power needs without a nuclear sector.
12 Sep 2012:
U.S. Big-Box Retail Stores
Lead Surge in Solar Power Installations
A growing number of major U.S. companies, led by the nation’s largest big-box retailers, are installing rooftop solar power systems to help cut energy costs and increase profits, a new report says
. According to the report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar Initiative, more than 3,600 non-residential systems were activated
in the U.S. during the first half of 2012, led by retail giants such as Walmart, Costco, and Kohl’s department stores, all of which have sharply increased their solar power installations in recent months. Among the top 20 U.S. companies
by solar capacity, almost half are big-box retailers, according to the report. “Five or six years ago, you probably would have read about a pledge in an annual report about what they’re doing for the environment,” Rhone Resch, SEIA’s chief executive, told the New York Times
. “Now what you’re seeing is it’s a smart investment that they’re making for their shareholders, and this is a standard business practice.”
11 Sep 2012:
Small Forage Fish Species
Worth 20 Percent of Global Fisheries
The world’s forage fish species — small, schooling fish such as herring and sardines that play a key role in the food web in marine ecosystems — represent about 20 percent of the global values of all marine fisheries
, according to a new study. In a comprehensive analysis of dozens of food web models from around the planet, scientists from the State University of New York at Stony Brook calculated that these small fish contribute $16.9 billion to global fisheries each year, either as direct catch or as food for larger fish. According to their findings, the direct catch value for forage fish worldwide is $5.6 billion — with the largest market being the Peruvian anchoveta fishery — while the value of fisheries depending on these small fish is about $11.3 billion. “In addition to their value to commercial fishing and other industries that depend on them for their products, forage fish play valuable roles in global ecosystems while they are still in the water,” said Ellen K. Pikitch, co-lead author of the study, published in the journal Fish and Fisheries
30 Aug 2012:
Better Use of Fertilizer, Water
Can Feed Growing Population, Study Says
A new study suggests that the the world can meet the surging demand for food in the coming decades without rampant deforestation if farmers make better use of fertilizer and water resources
. In an analysis of management practices and yield data for 17 major crops worldwide, researchers from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota estimated that yields for most crops can be increased 45 to 70 percent on lands already used for agriculture through more efficient fertilizer application and irrigation. Writing in the journal Nature
, the scientists found that the deployment of best-practice farming could boost global yields of corn, wheat, and rice by 64 percent, 71 percent, and 47 percent
, respectively. In some parts of the world, including the U.S., China, and Western Europe, the study found that far more fertilizer is used than necessary, with much of it ultimately washing into waterways. Through more efficient use of that fertilizer, nutrients could be made available for use in Eastern Europe and Western Africa without adversely affecting communities in the U.S. and China.
29 Aug 2012:
India Approves $4 Billion Plan
To Add 6 Million Green Vehicles by 2020
The government of India has approved a 230-billion rupee strategy ($4.13 billion) to spur increased production of electric and hybrid vehicles
over the next eight years, setting a target of 6 million green vehicles by 2020. The new plan, designed to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and cut carbon emissions, would attempt to close the gap between the costs of producing green vehicles in India and what consumers can afford to pay. The country’s nascent electric and hybrid car sector slowed dramatically earlier this year when the government removed subsidies of up to 100,000 rupees per vehicle, Reuters reports. According to sources, the new plan would likely include cash subsidies for consumers, increased funding for research and development, and the creation of a charging network, sources said. While specific plans remain to be worked out, S. Sundareshan, the secretary of India’s Heavy Industries ministry, said the government would provide 130 to 140 billion rupees, while private corporations would cover the rest.
27 Aug 2012:
Desalination Sector Surges as
Technology Improves, Demand Grows
A new report predicts that global investment in water desalination projects will triple over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016
, driven by improvements in technology and a surge in companies entering the sector. According to Global Water Intelligence, investments in desalination plant installations will grow from $5 billion last year to $8.9 billion this year; by 2016, the report says, the sector could reach $17 billion. A critical factor has been the emergence of technologies that require less energy to make potable water from seawater, including a process called forward osmosis that uses less heat and power than existing reverse osmosis plants and could cut the cost of desalination by as much as 30 percent. Also driving this surge is growing demand in developing nations already facing water shortages, including China and India. “Those huge economies will not be able to step forward without a solution to water scarcity, and one of the solutions is going to be desalination,” Avshalom Felber, CEO of Israel-based IDE Technologies, told Bloomberg News.
22 Aug 2012:
Solar Shingles Made from
Common Metals Offer Cheaper Energy Option
U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elements
rather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar
energy cheaper and more sustainable. Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, a team of researchers described advances in solar cells made with abundant metals, such as copper and zinc. While the market already offers solar shingles that convert the sun’s energy into electricity, producers typically must use elements that are scarce and expensive, such as indium and gallium. According to Harry A. Atwater, a physicist at the California Institute of Technology, recent tests suggest that materials like zinc phosphide and copper oxide could be capable of producing electricity at prices competitive with coal-fired power plants within two decades. With China accounting for more than 90 percent of the world’s rare-earth supplies, companies and nations are racing to find new sources of rare earth minerals, which are used in everything from solar panels to smart phones.
20 Aug 2012:
Process Turns Starbucks’ Waste
Into Ingredients for Consumer Products
A team of scientists is working with the Starbucks coffee chain to develop a bio-refinery process that would convert the company’s discarded coffee grounds and day-old bakery goods into a key ingredient for making plastics and other products. The process, which will be described at a meeting of the American Chemical Society
, builds on existing technology that converts corn, sugar cane, and other plant-based products into the ingredients for biofuels and other consumer products. According to researchers, the process involves blending the bakery waste with a mixture of fungi that breaks down carbohydrates in the food into simple sugars. They are ultimately converted into succinic acid, a material that can be used to make a range of products, including plastics, detergents, and medicines. While most experts say using crops for such purposes would not be sustainable, targeting food waste is an attractive alternative, said Carol S. K. Lin, of the City University of Hong Kong, who was leader of the research team.