Living Building Challenge Aims to
Revolutionize Green Architecture
In the world of green architecture, no project has more stringent design criteria than the Living Building Challenge
, a rigorous certification system that requires that structures follow 20 design “imperatives” across seven categories, from water and energy use to social
Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab
equity and beauty. While the better-known LEED standards pre-certify buildings based on conformance of design specifications with best practices, the Living Building Challenge also judges buildings on actual performance, requiring a documented 12-month occupancy phase. Projects must also prove that they exclude 14 banned materials
, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC plastics, through supplier audits for every product used in construction. Since its inception in 2006,the challenge has fully certified only three buildings
and partially certified two others, raising questions of whether it will have real-world impact. But program director Amanda Sturgeon says the project’s standards are already pushing architecture and design to be more progressive, sustainable, and accountable. “When teams start to ask their suppliers for every ingredient of every product, the message moves up the chain,” she says.
28 Jun 2012:
Cities in U.S. Northwest
Adopt Aggressive Recycling Programs
Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore., have all adopted stringent recycling programs that have generally been embraced by citizens in these progressive cities and have significantly reduced the amount of garbage going to landfills
. The New York Times
reports that Portland has cut the amount of garbage going to landfills by 44 percent by recycling a wide range of materials, including food scraps, and collecting garbage only twice a month. San Francisco, which has adopted even more aggressive recycling initiatives, now reuses 78 percent of what enters its waste stream, compared with the national average of 34 percent. This summer, Seattle is opening a mammoth new waste transfer station that will enable it to sort through and recycle a large portion of its garbage, the Times
reports. With citizens in these relatively small cities — all with populations under 800,000 — pushing for a zero-waste policy, Seattle says that by 2018 it will even provide some neighborhoods with containers to recycle dog and cat waste, turning the excrement into power using anaerobic digests.
27 Jun 2012:
Foreign ‘Land Grabs’
Scooping up Key Agricultural Lands
From 2000 to 2010, foreign investors bought or leased roughly 270,000 square miles of prime agricultural land
, most of it in the developing world, according to a report by the Worldwatch Institute. Half of the land was
in Africa, acquired by investors from China, the Middle East, and other countries and regions, Worldwatch said. Although the pace of what Worldwatch called “land grabs” has slowed somewhat in the last several years, private investors and state-owned companies are still buying and leasing land in the developing world to ensure ample food supplies for citizens of land-poor countries.
Worldwatch said the land deals generally took two forms: “South-South regionalism,” in which emerging economies invest in nearby countries, and North-South deals in which wealthy countries with little arable land buy up land in low-income nations. The report said the land deals usually resulted in the displacement of small-scale agriculture for industrial agriculture operations that have more serious environmental impacts.
22 Jun 2012:
Rio+20 Summit Ends, With
Little Faith Seen in Government Solutions
Twenty years after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro promised an era of aggressive action on biodiversity loss and global warming, the United Nations Rio+20 sustainability summit ended Friday with recriminations and a growing sense that international institutions will play an increasingly diminished role in solving environmental problems.
World leaders — with the notable absence of the heads of the U.S., U.K, Germany, and Russia — approved an agreement that lacked specifics, commitments, and measurable targets on how to promote sustainable economic development. Numerous conservationists and officials said that cities, local governments, the private sector, and environmental groups will now have to play the key role in fostering sustainable economic growth, slowing climate change, and preserving biodiversity. “The greening of our economies will have to happen without the blessing of world leaders,” said Lasse Gustavson, executive director of the World Wildlife Fund.
21 Jun 2012:
A Tepid Agreement
Takes Shape at Rio+20 Summit
World leaders attending the UN’s Rio+20 sustainability summit appear prepared to rubber-stamp an agreement that has been widely criticized
by environmental groups and some government officials as ineffectual. As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other leaders arrived in Rio, participants at the conference seemed resigned to approving an agreement that fails to set concrete goals, timetables, or methods of financing for ensuring environmentally sustainable economic growth, particularly in the developing world. “Let me be frank — our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in opening remarks
. “Nature does not wait. Nature does not negotiate with human beings.” Government officials and diplomats said that the host country, Brazil, was determined to avoid the chaos that surrounded the failed climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. As a result, delegates from 193 countries drafted a non-committal agreement that heads of state are expected to sign with few changes on Friday.
19 Jun 2012:
Major World Cities
Cite Progress in CO2-Reduction Effort
Speaking at the Rio+20 sustainability summit, the mayors of New York City and Rio de Janeiro will announce that 48 of the world’s largest cities are taking steps to cut 248 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020
, the equivalent of removing 44 million cars from the road for a year. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said that four-dozen cities in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
are reducing emissions by launching energy efficiency programs, capturing methane in landfills, installing more efficient street lighting, and other initiatives. They cite the CO2 reductions as proof that cities can make significant progress on slashing greenhouse gases even in the absence of a global agreement on cutting carbon emissions. “We’re not arguing with each other about emissions targets,” Bloomberg told reporters in a teleconference. “What we’re doing is going out and making progress.” Bloomberg and Paes said that 59 cities have committed to cut their carbon emissions by a total of 1 billion tons by 2030, equivalent to the combined greenhouse gas emissions of Canada and Mexico.
18 Jun 2012:
Japan Feed-in Tariffs Approved
As Government Restarts 2 Nuclear Plants
Japan’s struggle over its energy future was on display over the last two days as the government okayed restarting operations at two nuclear power plants
while also approving an ambitious renewable energy feed-in tariff
in which utilities will pay a premium for electricity generated by solar, wind, and geothermal power. After shutting down the country’s 50 nuclear power plants following the Fukushima nuclear power meltdown, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Saturday gave the green light to bring two nuclear reactors in western Japan back online. Despite public unease and a large street protest in Tokyo, the government said that post-Fukushima reforms had rendered the plants safe. Meanwhile, the government approved generous green energy feed-in tariffs as part of a drive to significantly expand renewable power generation.
Under the feed-in tariffs, utilities will pay 42 yen (53 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity and 23 yen per kilowatt hour for wind-generated electricity.
15 Jun 2012:
Sharp Divisions Emerge
As Rio+20 Negotiators Seek Consensus
With the United Nations Rio+20 summit on sustainable development set to open next Wednesday, negotiators from developing nations walked out of a key working group
over disagreements with wealthier nations about funding environmentally responsible development and the transfer of green technology. As negotiators attempted to forge an agreement, the G77 bloc of developing nations, led by China, proposed that wealthy countries finance a global fund for sustainable development with an initial annual budget of $30 billion. But European Union nations said they were unable to afford that because most EU states faced an economic crisis. Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, of the Brazilian Foreign Ministry, rejected that argument, saying, “We cannot be held hostage to the retraction resulting from financial crises in rich countries.” As 130 world leaders (with the notable absence of the leaders of the U.S., Britain, and Germany) prepared to arrive, a top Brazilian diplomat lamented the summit’s disparate blocs
, saying the traditional north-south divide was only one of many divisions.
07 Jun 2012:
Environmental Tipping Point
Is Nearing, International Study Says
The rapid warming of the planet, a soaring human population, the steady loss of biodiversity, over-exploitation of energy resources, and the degradation of the world’s oceans are driving the world toward an ecological tipping point,
according to a new study in Nature
. Twenty-two scientists from five nations compared the major changes taking place today with previous ecological shifts — such as the end of the last Ice Age 14,000 to 18,000 years ago — that triggered mass extinctions of some species, expansions of others, and the creation of new global ecosystems. The paper said that while there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether the world is now approaching such a “state shift,” many signs point to a future of ecological upheaval. “Given all the pressures we are putting on the world, if we do nothing different, I believe we are looking at a time scale of a century or even a few decades for a tipping point to arrive,” lead author Anthony Barnosky
, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, said in an interview.
01 Jun 2012:
Japan Forced to Reconsider
Climate Targets Without Nuclear Power
Japanese officials say they may have to scrap long-term targets for carbon emissions reductions as a consequence of moving away from nuclear power in the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima disaster. According to the Japan Times
, government officials this week conceded that goals to cut carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels were “to a fair degree” predicated on the use of nuclear power. “I have no doubt that an overall review will be necessary,” deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada said. Last month the nation shut down its last working nuclear plant more than a year after the Fukushima disaster made nuclear power unacceptable to many Japanese residents
. But considering that nuclear power provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity before the 2011 disaster, many predict the idled nuclear plants will trigger a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from an increased use of fossil fuels. A report released earlier this week said that the combined electricity produced from natural gas, oil, and coal-powered plants from January to April was up 40 percent
compared with the same period in 2011.
30 May 2012:
Water Depletion Threatens
Future U.S. Food Supplies, Study Says
The rapid depletion of groundwater resources in key U.S. agricultural regions could portend future vulnerabilities in growing the nation’s food
, according to a new study. In an assessment of water supplies in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. — which runs from northwest Texas to southern Wyoming and South Dakota — University of Texas researchers found that in many places water is being used faster than it can be replenished, and that some regions may be unfit for agriculture within decades. According to their findings, farmers in California’s Central Valley, a region known as the nation’s “fruit and vegetable basket,” used enough water during a 2006-2009 drought to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. In the High Plains, a major grain-growing region, about one-third of groundwater depletion occurs in just 4 percent of the land area. At current rates of water depletion, some parts of the High Plains, including the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to support irrigated agriculture within a few decades, according to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
25 May 2012:
Marine Reserves Replenish
Commercial Fisheries, DNA Tests Show
DNA testing has shown that the creation of marine reserves where no fishing is allowed helps to replenish fish stocks outside the reserve boundaries
. In a study conducted at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, researchers collected tissue samples from two species of commercially popular fish — including 466 samples of adult coral trout and 1,154 samples from stripey snapper — located within three reserve areas. After collecting juveniles of both species in protected and unprotected areas over the next 15 months, the researchers found that about half of the juveniles were offspring of fish found in the reserve areas, even though the reserves accounted for just 28 percent of the study area. In other words, fish found in the reserves “punch above their weight in replenishing fishery stocks
,” said Garry Russ, a researcher from James Cook University and one of the authors of the study, published online in the journal Current Biology
23 May 2012:
Papuans Paid a Pittance
For Palm Oil Land, Investigation Says
A major palm oil company has paid indigenous residents of Indonesian Papua $0.65 per hectare for forested land that will be worth $5,000 a hectare once cultivated
, according to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency
(EIA). The EIA said that Moi
Palm oil concession in Klawana, Sorong
indigenous landowners agreed to the land sale — at a price 7,000 times less than the land will eventually be worth — after pressure from company representatives and local officials and after being told they would receive new housing and free education for their children. But the Moi said these promises were never kept
, and that only a few children were offered the chance to study at a polytechnic school in Java for three years — and only under the condition that the students return and work for seven years for the palm oil company, PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP). The Noble Group, a global commodities trading giant, has a majority stake in PT HIP. The Norwegian government, which has been funding programs to reduce deforestation, has invested nearly $50 million in Noble Group through Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, EIA says.
18 May 2012:
Apple’s Main Data Center
Will Use Only Green Power by 2013
Apple Inc. has received approval to build two solar power installations at its main data center
in North Carolina, allowing the technology giant to run the center entirely with renewable energy by next year. The two solar farms, which will cover 250 acres near its core data center in Maiden, N.C., will utilize high-efficiency solar cells and an advanced solar-tracking system provided by SunPower Corp and startup Bloom Energy. The solar arrays will generate 84 million kWh of electricity per year. Apple, which produces the popular iPhone and iPad, says that all three of its main data centers ultimately will be powered by coal-free electricity. “I’m not aware of any other company producing energy onsite at this scale,” Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer told Reuters
. The company
is also developing a 5-megawatt fuel cell facility on the Maiden site. A recent Greenpeace report cited Apple
, whose data centers require an ever-expanding amount of power, for lagging behind in efforts to use clean energy.
18 May 2012:
EU Fisheries Observers
Are Intimidated, Bribed by Crews
Observers placed on European Union fishing boats to reduce the amount of illegal and unreported catches are often subject to threats, intimidation, and bribes
when they try to do their jobs, according to a report in the Guardian
. After interviewing more than 20 former and current fisheries observers and examining EU records, the newspaper said that the threats and harassment are common on Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats, which are notorious for egregious overfishing. The observers told the Guardian
that crew members would steal their records of fishing violations, threaten them with an “accident” at sea, kick their cabin doors to keep them awake at night, and take elaborate steps — including making illegal hauls while observers were eating — to conceal the extent of overfishing. Independent observers are placed aboard every vessel operating in the Northwest Atlantic Fishery Organization. But because of fishing industry pressure, observers who spot violations are only allowed to summon an inspector on board, but cannot provide the inspector with any details or records of infractions.
16 May 2012:
Wildlife in Tropical Regions
Has Declined 60 Percent Since 1970
Wildlife populations in the world’s tropical regions have fallen by more than 60 percent during the last four decades
, according to the latest version of the Living Planet Index. The Index — which tracks populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in tropical and temperate regions worldwide — found that species abundance in the tropics declined by about 44 percent on land, 62 percent in the oceans, and 70 percent in freshwater ecosystems from 1970 to 2008. Cumulatively, species abundance declined by about 1.25 percent annually every year compared with a 1970 baseline, according to the report, which is published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. Wildlife populations declined by 38 percent in Africa during that period; about 50 percent in Central and South America; and 64 percent in Indo-Pacific regions. Overall, the global index dropped almost 30 percent during the same period. These steep population declines are the result of many factors related to human activities, including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
15 May 2012:
Record Number of Fish Stocks
‘Rebuilt’ in 2011, NOAA Study Says
U.S. officials say a record number of fish stocks recovered to healthy population numbers
in 2011 while a declining number of species were subject to overfishing. In a report
to Congress, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) declared that six species have been “rebuilt,” including the Bering Sea snow crab, the summer flounder found on the mid-Atlantic coast, the haddock in the Gulf of Maine, the Chinook salmon on the northern California coast, the Coho salmon on the Washington coast, and the Widow rockfish on the Pacific coast. Meanwhile, the number of stocks subject to overfishing decreased by four, and overfished stocks declined by three compared with the 2010 report. Samuel D. Rauch III, a NOAA deputy assistant administrator, said the findings underscore the fact that fisheries management — including sometimes unpopular catch limits — has been effective.
15 May 2012:
U.S. Companies Use Steel Linked
To Amazon Destruction, Greenpeace Finds
U.S. car makers such as General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are purchasing steel made from pig iron that is smelted using large amounts of illegally logged timber from the Amazon rainforest
, according to a two-year investigation by Greenpeace
. The environmental group also said that the pig iron smelting, fueled by charcoal produced from tropical forest trees, has resulted in virtual slave labor and illegal logging of indigenous lands in northeastern Brazil. The Greenpeace investigation said that Brazil’s Carajas region — where three-quarters of the forests have been cleared, mainly for charcoal production — is home to 43 blast furnaces used by 18 different companies. Two of the major companies, Viena and Sidepar, sell pig iron to a U.S. steel mill operated by Severstal, Greenpeace said. That mill sells steel to General Motors, Nissan, BMW, and Mercedes, according to Greenpeace. As illegal charcoal operations have decimated the forests in Carajas, loggers have entered conservation areas belonging to indigenous tribes, who have lost 30 percent of their lands to illegal loggers, Greenpeace said.
11 May 2012:
Study Calls Selective Logging
Most Realistic Conservation Strategy
A new study says that well-managed selective logging may be the only realistic solution to conserving tropical forests
in the face of a rapacious global demand for timber resources. In an analysis of more than 100 studies, researchers at the University of Florida found that while even selective logging has a significant impact on biodiversity in tropical forests and carbon storage capacity, those impacts are “survivable and reversible to a degree” if the forests are given time to recover. In fact, the researchers found that, on average, 85 to 100 percent of animal and plant species present before initial logging were still around after selective logging and that forests retained about 75 percent of their carbon after initial harvest. By contrast, the researchers say, forest loss for the planting of rubber or palm oil plantations is permanent. “We’re not advocates for logging,” said Jack Putz, a professor of biology and lead author of the study published in Conservation Letters
. “We’re just acknowledging that it is a reality — and that within that reality, there is a way forward.”
09 May 2012:
Groundwater Pumping Emerges
As a Factor in Sea Level Rise, Study Says
The vast amounts of water pumped out of the ground for irrigation, drinking water, and industrial uses will increasingly contribute to global sea level rise
in the coming decades, according to a new study. According to researchers at Utrecht University, humans pumped about 204 cubic kilometers (49 cubic miles) of groundwater in 2000, much of which evaporated into the atmosphere before ultimately entering rivers, canals and, eventually, the world’s oceans. While in earlier decades the rise in sea level caused by groundwater removal was canceled out by the construction of dams, that changed by the 1990s as humans pumped more groundwater and built fewer dams. By 2000, groundwater extraction resulted in a sea level rise of about 0.57 millimeters annually — compared with about 0.035 millimeters in 1990. According to the study, published in Geophysical Research Letters
, by 2050 the pumping of groundwater worldwide could cause sea levels to rise about 0.8 millimeters annually.
04 May 2012:
Japan Goes Nuclear-Free
For the First Time in Four Decades
Japan will shut down its last working nuclear power station this weekend
, culminating — at least for now — a national shift away from nuclear energy in the aftermath of last year’s Fukushima disaster. The shutdown of the No. 3 Tomari reactor in Hokkaido will leave the country without nuclear power for the first time since 1970. Given public concerns about nuclear safety, it may become difficult to switch the plants back on if the country makes it through the summer months without power shortages or blackouts. “Can it be the end of nuclear power [in Japan]? It could be,” Andrew DeWitt, a professor of energy and policy at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, told Reuters
. Before the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors provided nearly 30 percent of the nation’s electricity. While Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has suggested the country cannot afford to go without nuclear power for the long term, the government has no timetable to switch the plants back on and the country has yet to develop a long-term, nuclear-free energy policy.
27 Apr 2012:
Pacific Shark Survey Shows
90 Percent Decline Near Human Populatons
A comprehensive census of Pacific reef shark populations has found that shark abundance has plummeted by roughly 90 percent
in waters located near islands inhabited by humans. Using underwater surveys
Gray reef sharks at Hawaii’s Kure Atoll
conducted by divers across 46 U.S. Pacific islands and atolls, researchers found that shark numbers near human populations were consistently depressed, regardless of location or ocean conditions, compared with pristine reef areas located farther away from humans. In fact, the researchers estimated that shark populations are less than 10 percent of historically peak numbers in these areas, said Marc Nadon, a University of Hawaii scientist and lead author of the study, published in Conservation Biology
. “In short, people and sharks don’t mix,” he said. Researchers say the data helps quantify how human activities, including overfishing and the controversial practice of shark-finning, are decimating shark numbers.
26 Apr 2012:
Borneo Oil Palm Plantations
Threaten Surge in Emissions, Study Says
A new study warns that the continued expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations in Indonesian Borneo, particularly on the island’s peatlands, will became a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions
without stricter forest protections. According to researchers from Yale and Stanford universities, about two-thirds of unprotected lands in the Ketapang District of West Kalimantan are now leased to agribusinesses. If those lands are converted to oil palm plantations at current expansion rates, palm stands will cover more than one-third of regional lands by 2020, and intact forests will decrease to about 5 percent, compared with 15 percent in 2008. In addition, researchers found that about half of oil palm development through last year occurred on peatlands, a process that involves draining and burning of peat soils — a major source of CO2 emissions. According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, if current trends persist, about 90 percent of emissions associated with oil palm development will come from peatlands by 2020.
17 Apr 2012:
New Solar Panel System
Could Double as a Tinted Window
A German startup has developed a new type of lightweight solar panel its developers say can be integrated into the design of buildings and even used in electricity-producing tinted windows
. Designed by Dresden-based Heliatek, the technology utilizes small, organic molecules in the production of the solar cells. While such organic solar cells have become commonplace, this technology uses molecules called oligomers. They are more stable than the commonly used polymers, which developers say will make the cells more efficient and longer-lived. Because they are lighter and have greater flexibility than most panels, the company hopes they can be integrated into building construction as a cheaper alternative to mounted panels, according to MIT’s Technology Review.
The company also is working with a manufacturer to use the semi-transparent panels as windows.
06 Apr 2012:
Natural Wastewater Treatment
Gains Favor in Nepal, With Nearly 30 Plants
Wastewater managers in Nepal are increasingly turning to natural, decentralized wastewater treatment to prevent the mass discharge of raw sewage into urban water bodies and rivers. Almost 30 systems have been constructed in the last 15 years, and recent efforts to institutionalize decentralized treatment may see these numbers rise. The pervasive plant design in Nepal is a constructed wetland — a shallow bed of gravel, stone, and specialized reeds that filter contaminants. Some of the treated wastewater is reused for toilet flushing, and the dried sludge applied as fertilizer on land. More recently, biogas reactors affixed to treatment plants have provided additional energy recovery. The plants can serve communities of up to 2,000 people. Experts with the Asian Development Bank say decentralized systems are well suited for developing countries that often cannot afford larger, centralized sewage treatment plants, but note that the natural treatment wetlands require sizeable amounts of land and may not be suitable for densely populated urban areas.
20 Mar 2012:
Local Fisheries Management
Helps Prevent Overfishing, Study Says
A new study says that co-management of fisheries at the local level is an effective strategy for curbing overfishing
and preserving the world’s dwindling marine resources. In an analysis of 42 coral reef sites where the fisheries are managed by a partnership of local governments, conservation groups, and fishers, an international team of scientists found that co-management has been largely successful in sustaining fisheries and improving livelihoods. According to their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, more than half of the fishers surveyed said the strategy was “positive” for their livelihoods (compared with 9 percent who said it has a “negative” effect), and co-managed reefs were half as likely to be heavily overfished. But if the sites are located near large markets, the study said, the fisheries are far more likely to be overharvested. The researchers studied local fisheries in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.
15 Mar 2012:
Young People Showing
Less Interest in Green Issues, Study Says
A new study says that young people have become increasingly less interested in the environment
and conservation issues over the last four decades. In an analysis of two longstanding surveys of U.S. high school seniors and college freshmen, researchers found that today’s generation of so-called Millennials are less likely to be concerned with the government or think about social problems, particularly related to environmental issues. According to their findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, only 21 percent of young people today say they find it important to become personally involved in efforts to clean up the environment, compared with about 33 percent of younger Baby Boomers and about 25 percent of Generation Xers, the group of Americans born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s. About 15 percent of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 5 percent of young Boomers and 8 percent of Gen Xers. “We have the perception that we’re getting through to people. But at least compared to previous eras, we’re not,” said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and an author of the study.
14 Mar 2012:
China’s Wind Energy Capacity
Reached Record Levels in 2011
China installed a record 18,000 megawatts of new wind energy in 2011
, boosting its total capacity to nearly 63,000 megawatts and widening its lead in the global wind energy sector, according to the Earth Policy Institute (EPI). The U.S., which was passed by China for total wind capacity, installed about 6,800 megawatts, increasing its total capacity to 47,000 megawatts, or enough to power 10 million homes. Worldwide, energy developers installed 41,000 megawatts of capacity during the year, increasing the global total to 283,000 megawatts — enough to provide electricity to 380 million people at European levels of consumption. China is expected to widen its lead as the global leader in wind energy, with a series of mega-complexes planned in the nation’s northern provinces that could boost total capacity to 140,000 megawatts by 2020, which would surpass the total global capacity at the end of 2008. However, many turbines now stand idle in remote parts of the country as upgrades to the electric grid and transmission lines lag behind turbine construction, according to EPI. As a result, Chinese regulators have capped the allowed new wind capacity at 15,000 to 20,000 megawatts.
13 Mar 2012:
Thinner Silicon Wafers
Could Cut Solar Cell Costs in Half
A U.S. company has developed a new manufacturing technique that it says could cut the cost of producing solar cells in half by producing silicon wafers that are about one-tenth as thick as conventional wafers. Twin Creeks Technologies
, a San Jose-based company, says it can produce crystalline silicon wafers that are only 20 microns thin — or about one-fifth the thickness of a layer of paint
— compared with the 200-micron wafers commonly used in solar cells. While the conventional technologies use diamond saws to cut blocks of silicon — a process that wastes about half of the silicon — the new process essentially embeds protons at a desired depth within a block of silicon and heats the protons so that they occupy more space. Eventually the company is able to crack off the thin, 20-micron wafers, after which they are affixed to a thin metal backing
that makes them durable enough to withstand the rest of the production process. The company has raised $93 million in venture capital, some of which will be used to build a solar factory in Mississippi.
12 Mar 2012:
Scientists Use Ancient Gene
To Create Salt-Tolerant Wheat Variety
Australian scientists have crossed a popular variety of wheat with an ancient species, producing a salt-tolerant variety they say could help reduce food shortages
in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions. Using a genetic variation that had been lost in plants due to domestication before it was rediscovered a decade ago, the researchers say they were able to boost yields of durum wheat by 25 percent in salty soils. The gene, which was isolated from an ancestral cousin of modern-day wheat, Triticum monococcum
, is believed to help prevent salt from traveling up the plant’s shoots, where it can cause damage, lead researcher Matthew Gilliham of the University of Adelaide
, told Reuters
. “Salty soils are a major problem because if soldium starts to build up in the leaves it will affect important processes such as photosynthesis,” he said. The findings could have an important impact on wheat yields worldwide, where salinity already affects more than 20 percent of soils, Gilliham said. The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology