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Researchers use graphene for converting waste to energy sources

Researchers use graphene for converting waste to energy sources

We have been concerned about the news of eruption of methane from the floor of the Arctic Ocean, however, the quantities released so far are relatively smaller than what comes out from our waste and landfills. A part of this is captured and burned for clean electricity, however, now graphene might be able to do more than that. 

Methane which is produced by anaerobic bacteria breaks down organic material in a lack of oxygen. The most suitable environment for this is the wastewater treatment plants in cities which produce more than 25 million tonnes every year. 

Methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so capturing and burning it helps from not reaching the atmosphere. We can displace fossil fuels if we are able to fully use the energy generated. Normally the biogas that is collected from waste facilities is impure so it cannot be used on a wide scale. 

Dr. Rakesh Joshi, University of New South Wales demonstrated that graphene membranes are more effective in separating methane than the systems currently in use, thus making use of waste methane viable where it is not currently present. Joshi was initially trying to use graphene for helping Sydney Water to improve the water purification process, to remove organic matter from the wastewater to make it fit for drinking. Graphene can remove 99 percent of the impurities which are not detected by other water purifying techniques. 

Graphene also helped in the filtering of biogas and it was used for powering the operations of Sydney Water. Graphene membranes are also cheaper than the other options. On burning, methane produces carbon dioxide but it is produced from wastewater by breaking down plants that draw the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere. This makes it a greenhouse neutral energy source that can balance the renewable electricity grids in low sun and wind conditions. 

The demonstration has been mainly effective in the scale of the laboratory till now. Dr. Heri Bustamante, Sydney Water said that using graphene will help in the increased capture of methane thus expanding its uses. Methane can ultimately be produced for fuelling buses in the near future.

Researchers are hopeful to ramp up the scale of its use. A near goal in the future is to capture the gases that are produced by natural wetlands and separate methane.

Google contributes large sums to climate change denying organisations

Google contributes large sums to climate change denying organizations

As per the online documents released by The Guardian, internet giant Google has made large donations to some of the most influential and powerful groups which are connected to the denial of climate change. A transparency document from Google reveals that the tech giant has contributed to several organizations, think tanks, lobby groups that deny climate change and campaign against laws to stop climate change. However, the exact figure donated to these organizations was not revealed. 

Competitive Enterprise Institute(CEI) is one of the organizations to receive donations from Google. It is a libertarian think tank that questions the alarmism surrounding global warming. It has played a role in many campaigns which doubt the consensus of the scientific community around global warming, downplaying climate change. Besides this, they have also been instrumental in convincing the American President Donald Trump to cancel the Paris agreement. 

Google has also contributed to the Cato Institute, a think tank opposing legislation related to climate change and American Conservative Union, a conservative think tank having several climate change deniers on the board. 

Google has always promoted itself as an environment-friendly company that takes climate change and global warming very seriously. Since 2007, the company has been carbon-neutral and supports several initiatives related to climate change. It has also recently made the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in history. 

Along with some other organizations, Google has also pledged to support the Paris Agreement abiding by the goals of the climate pact, irrespective of the decision taken by President Trump to cancel the support of the United States from the agreement. 

Responding to the accusations, a spokesperson from Google said that they are not the only major company that contributes to the organisations although disagreeing with them on their policies related to climate change. It has also made clear that collaboration or sponsoring a third-party organization does not mean in any way that it supports their entire agenda, events nor does it advocate the views of its leadership or members. Google sponsors several organizations across the entire spectrum which advocates for better policies related to technology. 

Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic Senator criticized Google’s action as he mentioned that corporate America should not support any trade organization or lobby group that interferes with climate. 

CEI has not answered any questions related to Google as it respects the privacy of donors. A spokesperson of the organization said that the core value of the organization is to make energy accessible to the most vulnerable sections of the society. 

Reference: The Guardian

Diamond discovered in Siberia contains another diamond inside it

Diamond discovered in Siberia contains another diamond inside it

Diamonds have been mined for a very long time. However, a diamond found in Russia might be the first of its kind. It itself is hollow with another diamond moving inside it. The diamond discovered in a mine in Siberia is named the Matryoshka Diamond after the matryoshka dolls. 

It is common to find diamonds with some type of flaw or inclusion. Most diamonds have some defect or a mineral trapped inside. Some rare materials have been obtained underneath the Earth’s surface as it had been trapped in diamonds. But according to the Russian diamond mining group ALROSA, it is very new to find a diamond within a diamond. 

The Matryoshka Diamond weighs only 0.62 carats or 0.124 grams. Its dimensions are 4.8*4.9*2.8 millimeters. The inner diamond only weighs 0.02 carats with its dimensions being only 1.9*2.1*0.6 millimeters. During the sorting process, something unusual was noticed about it and then it was sent to the Research and Development Geological Enterprise of ALROSA for further assessment. Here the diamond was subjected to several processes namely Raman and infrared spectroscopies, X-ray microtomography. 

Oleg Kovalchuk from ALROSA said that the most intriguing aspect was to understand the formation of the air space between the formation of inner and outer diamonds. Scientists have some thoughts on the processes involved in the mantle of the Earth leading to this creation. 

 According to their hypotheses, due to rapid growth, a layer of polycrystalline diamond material was formed inside the diamond was ultimately dissolved due to the mantle processes. This dissolved layer allowed a diamond to move inside another freely similar to a matryoshka nesting doll. 

The age of the diamond is estimated to be around 800 million years but this is yet to be verified. As per a Bloomberg report, it is to be sent to the Gemological Institute for America for more in-depth analysis. It is difficult to estimate the worth of it since it is so rare. 

Kovalchuk said that no such diamond has ever been obtained in the entire history of the global mining of diamonds. This is a very unique creation by the natural forces as a vacuum is not really favored by nature. Normally in such a situation, the minerals would be replaced by other substances avoiding the formation of a cavity. 

 

For the first time, meat has been grown in space

For the first time, meat has been grown in space

Technology has changed almost every aspect of our lives and now it is also influencing the way astronauts eat food. The first astronauts took their meals from tubes similar to the kinds of toothpaste, however, now the astronauts can have fruits and ice cream with a seasoning of liquid pepper and salt on their meals. Although there are restrictions to food, for example, any food leaving crumbs are considered dangerous as these particles can clog the electrical systems or air filters of the spacecraft. 

The foods also need to last for longer time periods if the resupply missions go wrong somehow. As a result, tech companies are trying new techniques to grow food in the spacecraft itself. Aleph Farms, an Israeli food-startup oversaw meat growth in space for the first time by using a 3D printer. It is not a fully new experiment as the company has cooked lab-grown steaks from December 2018 suggesting meat growth in different kinds of environment. 

Aleph Farms extracts cells from a cow by using biopsy which is then kept in a broth of nutrients. It simulates the environment inside the body of a cow and then they are grown into steak pieces. The taste is not exactly the same but it resembles the flavor and texture of regular beef. 

CEO and co-founder, Didier Toubia said that they are the only company to grow fully-textured meat which has all the muscle fibers and blood vessels needed for the tissues. For growing meat in space, the company had to tweak their process a bit. The cow cells along with nutrient broth were placed in closed vials. They were loaded to the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft in Kazakhstan. It took off for the Russian end of the International Space Station on September 25, orbiting 400 kilometers from the surface of the earth. 

On arrival at the station, the vials were inserted into a magnetic printer from 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian company. Cells were replicated by the printer for producing muscle tissues. They returned to Earth without any consumption by the astronauts. It was a conceptual experiment and the company hopes to provide sources of protein in missions to deep space, moon, and Mars in the future.

In 2015, romaine lettuce was grown by astronauts in the International Space Station. NASA is creating a “space garden” for making lettuce, carrots and other fruits on Gateway, a space station proposed to orbit Moon.  

Meat printing suggests the companies can pursue this in the harsh environments where there is a scarcity of land or water. It takes almost 5200 gallons of water to produce a kilogram of steak. Cultured meat, on the other hand, uses 10 times less land and water than normal livestock agriculture. It also quicker to cook. Aleph Farms calls its meat, “minute steak” as it only takes a few minutes to cook. 

We have to find ways to produce food while conserving the natural resources as the resources for the food industry lead to 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Aleph Farms said that their experiment was a response to such issues and the Americans, Russians, Israelis, and Arabs need to unite for addressing the climate and food security concerns. 

More than half of the trees native to Europe are at risk of dying

More than half of the trees native to Europe are at risk of dying

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has reported that more than half of the known trees in Europe are at the risk of getting extinct. Few of these trees have been in existence before the previous ice age but the perennial woods of Europe are in more danger than the birds, bees, butterflies in the sixth mass extinction. 

According to the European Red List of the IUCN, only freshwater mollusks and leafy plants have more risk of extinction than the trees. Thus they are a highly endangered group of species. After the evaluation of the 454 tree species native to Europe, analysts identified that 42 percent of the species face regional extinction threats. More than half of the endemic trees existing in Europe are in danger of dying out while 15 percent are in the category of critically endangered species. What’s alarming is that even among the trees in the safe zone, a dozen are on the edge of shifting to the threatened category while there is no data on 13 percent of the species. 

Luc Bas, Director of the European Office of the IUCN said that human-led activities have resulted in the decline of the population and increased the extinction risk for several important species all across Europe. This report reveals the status of several species that have been overlooked while they are an integral part of the ecosystems of Europe, contributing to a better planet. 

The number of known plant extinctions has quadrupled since the 18th century. A study published in June reveals that an average of three plant species has disappeared every year since 1900. This rate of extinction is 500 times faster than the natural expectations and twice the number of extinctions faced by mammals, birds, and amphibians. As per the report of IUCN, 38 percent of the examined species in Europe face danger from invasive species. This is followed by wood harvesting, deforestation, development of cities along with climate change, fires and land management. 

In the analysis, it was found that three-quarters of the tree species in the Sorbus genus such as Mountain Ash, were assessed to be threatened and a third to be critically endangered. 22 species were unable to get assessed due to a lack of proper information. Tim Rich, taxonomist who was involved in the study said that he has been quite worried as along with saplings, big ash trees have been affected to a large extent. He found a dead ash tree every five to ten meters in the Pembrokeshire area while driving there. 

The positive side is almost 80 percent of the native species of trees are identified in at least one protected area, while many are present in arboreta and botanic gardens. Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of Red List Unit of IUCN said that European trees with their diversity are an important source for food and shelter for several animals also with an important economic role. We should be taking care of our trees unless it gets too late. 

Increase in global temperatures by 2°C could result in melting of Antarctic ice sheets increasing the sea levels by 20 meters

Increase in global temperatures by 2°C could result in melting of Antarctic ice sheets increasing the sea level by 20 meters

During the Pliocene geological epoch, three million years ago, Earth faced a rise in temperature. The latest research funded by the Marsden Fund involving researchers from the Antarctic Research Centre, Waikato University and other nations has found that one-third of the ice sheet melted in Antarctica during this period causes a rise in current sea level by 20 meters in the centuries to come. 

Past changes in sea level were measured by drilling of cores at the Whanganui Basin in New Zealand. It contains marine sediments of the highest resolution in the entire planet. Then a record of worldwide change in the sea-level was constructed with much more precision than previously estimated.

During the Pliocene period, the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were more than 400 ppm and the temperature of Earth was two Celsius higher than pre-industrial times. Warming exceeding two celsius might lead to widespread melting in Antarctica dragging the future of the planet back to three million years before. 

Worldwide protests under the hashtag #FridaysForFuture were organized under the leadership of Greta Thunberg as people have realized the urgency to keep the levels of global warming below that of the target of two degrees Celsius set by the Paris Agreement. She criticized the United Nations for not acting on the evidence provided by the scientific community. 

The current rate of worldwide emissions might take us back to the Pliocene period within 2030 thereby passing the target of the Paris Agreement. A pressing question is how fast would the sea levels rise. As per a special report on oceans and cryosphere by  IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) polar ice caps and glaciers are losing mass at an alarming rate, making it difficult to constrain the contribution of Antarctic ice sheets to a future rise in sea level. Following the current trend of emissions, the global sea level is likely to rise by 1.2 meters by the end of the century with an upper limit of two meters. 

In 2015, sediment cores deposited during the Pliocene, preserved under Whanganui Basin were drilled. Timothy Naish, working for 30 years in this area detected more than 50 fluctuations in the worldwide sea level in the last 3.5 million years in the history of the planet. Sea levels changed in response to the climate cycles also known as Milankovitch cycles. These are caused due to long-term changes in the orbit of the Earth every 20,000, 40,000 and 100,000 years. 

Sea levels are estimated to have been varied by several meters but the exact number has been difficult to obtain due to the deformation processes of Earth and the cycles’ incomplete nature. In the research, a theoretical relationship between particle size carried by waves on the continental shelf and the depth till seabed were used. This was then applied to 800 meters of drill core and outcrop that represented sediment sequences spanning a period of 2.5 to 3.3 million years before. 

Fluctuations in the global sea level in the Pliocene were between five to twenty-five meters. This figure is adjusted to the local tectonic land movements and regional changes in the sea level due to gravitational and crustal changes also termed as PlioSeaNZ sea-level record. 

During the Pliocene period, the geography of the continents, oceans, and size of polar ice sheets was similar to the present times, with an ice sheet on Greenland in the warmest times. Melting of this ice sheet would lead from five to 25 meters of the rise in sea level at the Whanganui Basin. 90 percent of heat from global warming has gone to the ocean, mainly to the Southern Ocean on the margins of the ice sheet at Antarctica. 

Deepwater upwelling in addition to entering ice shelf cavities is observed around Antarctica now. The ice sheet is thinning the fastest around the Amundsen Sea of West Antarctica, where maximum ocean heating is observed. One-third of the ice sheet of Antarctica equalling nearly 20 meters of the rise in sea level is situated below the sea level which can collapse from ocean heating. 

Thus if global temperatures are allowed to rise more than two degrees celsius, huge portions of the ice sheet could get melted in the coming times, changing the entire shoreline of the world. 

Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

In 2013, Boyan Slat started The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit for removing the plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled vortex which is bigger than two times of Texas combined. This group developed a device for passive collection of plastic in its fold. 

However, it faced some difficulties including a manufacturing and design flaw. The plastic spilled back to the ocean as a consequence. The plastic also began to flow over the cork line meant to stabilize the system. But the Ocean Cleanup announced that it fixed this problem and thus the device can resume the plastic collection in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has managed to collect plastic objects such as cartons, crates and fishing nets. The organization announced that it was surprised by the ability of the system to capture microplastics. 

Previous research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup suggested microplastics are collected at the ocean’s bottom hence they are unlikely to stay at the surface. So it has focused on the removal of large plastic objects from the Garbage Patch. A lot of the debris collected by the device is quite broken down and old. Thick plastic fragments are mainly found instead of plastic straws or bags. In addition to this, the device can also retain different types of plastic due to a new parachute system. 

The U shaped plastic collection mechanism of the Ocean Cleanup collects trash from the patch passively with the help of the ocean currents by the creation of a coastline. A 2000 foot pipe of the device is its most visible portion which is made of high-density polyethylene plastic. It is attached to a screen about 10 feet below the surface for catching the debris. Initially, it was attached to the pipe’s bottom which created stress at the junction of pipe and the screen. A crack at the pipe’s bottom led to a fracture and the 59-foot end section detached from the array. To fix this, the Ocean Cleanup moved the screen ahead of the pipe connected with slings. A cork line was also installed for keeping it tight. 

A new version of the device was launched in June named System 001/B. Researchers wanted to know if the device could move at a consistent pace. A parachute anchor was used for deceleration and the device was turned in the opposite direction with the attachment of inflatable bags for towing it faster than plastic. It was found to be the “winning concept”. However, it was found in August that the plastic spilled over the cork line hence calling for the requirement of a taller one to prevent overtopping. Slat announced that there was very minimal overtopping thus proving it a success. 

The next target of the organization is to create a larger version of the device to capture more plastic. One of the main hurdles for it is to demonstrate that the device can retain plastic for more than a year. This is to ensure that it can survive the harsh winter. The next goal is to create a fleet of devices. A ship could be used to tow the debris collected by the array by visiting the garbage patch at regular intervals. The main target is to capture 15,000 tons of plastic every year. Slat hopes to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and observe the debris collection in person. 

Iceberg breaks off in Antarctic from unexpected location

Iceberg breaks off in the Antarctic from an unexpected location

Researchers observed a “loose tooth” of ice dangle from the edge of the Antarctic ice sheet for 20 years, waiting to be detached. However, the wrong portion was observed as a nearby sheet of ice along with the same rift system, larger than its wobbling neighbor has broken off the Amery ice board according to the Australian Antarctic Division.

The massive iceberg known as D28 covering 1,636 square kilometers (632 square miles) with a depth of nearly 210 meters deep (689 feet) is approximately the size of urban Sydney. It is the largest iceberg weighing about 315 billion tonnes formed by the Amery ice shelf in more than fifty years.

Helen Fricker, a researcher from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said that it is the molar compared to a baby tooth. Fricker says that the disintegration of the ice shelf from its edges is a natural phenomenon known as calving. It is to make space for new streams of ice and snow. Each individual ice sheet undergoes a different rate of calving which varies across seasons and takes more than decades to complete since it is an important way to balance masses of ice sheets around the world.

Researchers were unable to predict the location and timeline of calving in this case as all these parameters make it difficult to anticipate from beforehand. Fricker said that they anticipated a huge iceberg would break off between 2010 and 2015 when they first observed a split at the front of the ice board in the early 2000s. The event ultimately occurred after all these years however not at the location predicted by the researchers.

Amery ice shelf produced an iceberg like this covering an area of 9000 square kilometers in 1963. This ice shelf is normally expected to undergo one major calving event every six or seven decades, and so far two have been observed in the cycle. Hence this is not related to the global change of climate, although this is not the situation always.

For example, instead of every six years, the calving rate of Pine Glacier situated in Western Antarctica has accelerated, spreading deeper and shedding huge icebergs in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018 which is clearly not as per its normal timeline.

Sue Cook from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) said that she expects the calving rate to increase because of climate change. She explained that icebergs will start becoming thinner as waters around Antarctica warm-up making them more vulnerable to breaking up.

Researchers come up with battery models powering more than a million miles

Researchers come up with battery models powering more than a million miles

Jeffrey Dahn and his research group from Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia has filed for a new patent on lithium battery technology which can power more than a million miles. Dahn holds an exclusive agreement with Tesla and his team has published the testing results on new batteries which according to them can be used as benchmarks for other scientists dealing with similar technologies. The report can be found in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

The most innovative section of the battery used by Dahn’s team is the cathode. Different batteries use different types of lithium compounds for achieving good characteristics. Dahn’s team has been investigating on NMC –  lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide. This material has been used by several other electric vehicle makers in the past such as Nissan and Chevrolet but not Tesla. Dahn uses synthetic graphite for anode with the electrode being a blend of lithium salts and several other ionic compounds. These components do not differ much in compositions used by other makers however Dahn’s team used a different technique for the NMC cathode’s structure. The team used large single crystals replacing smaller ones which would develop lesser cracks as the battery goes through charged and discharged states. 

Battery research has been mostly focused on increasing the range that can be powered in a single charge. Dahn, on the other hand, has focused on improving the battery’s overall lifetime making it suitable for self-driving taxis and electric trucks that are expected to go through several charges and discharge cycles. The current Tesla battery pack lasts for 300,000 to 500,000 miles which is not enough. On the other hand, batteries in this paper are expected to last 4000 charges – four times more than the present commercial batteries. 

Since the paper has been categorized for “benchmarking”, it implies that the batteries mentioned in the paper would not be used by Tesla in its vehicles. Dahn mentioned that these batteries are capable of powering an electric vehicle for more than a million miles while lasting two decades in grid energy storage. 

Tesla and Dahn were awarded the patent for a single crystal NMC battery with an additive named ODTO, similar to the description in the paper, which has been described by Dahn’s team in another paper last year. There is still room for improvement in the batteries described in the current paper as the specific energy density of mentioned batteries is lesser than the maximum ability of advanced Li-ion batteries. There is a possibility of Li-ion batteries powering more than 500kms in a single charge.

Reference: Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

Researchers find answers behind the strange location of Machu Picchu

Researchers find answers behind the strange location of Machu Picchu

The Machu Picchu is a beautiful site to visit but it is not quite convenient to reach. Being so high up in the Andes makes one wonder the reason for its strange location. The researchers feel they might have found an answer to this. Deep beneath the city, there are faults where the tectonic plates meet. For more than a million years, the faults produced enough stones to provide the Incas the building materials needed for their several purposes. The findings have been presented at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. 

In some of the buildings at Machu Picchu, there are no gaps present in the joins even in the absence of mortar. It would have taken less time to produce the stones due to the location of the site. Rualdo Menegat, a geologist at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil said that the location of Machu Picchu is not a coincidence. Constructing the site at this height would have not been possible unless there were fractures in the substrate. The research team mapped out the fractures below the ancient citadel with the help of field measurements and satellite imagery. Scientists identified some faults to stretch up to 175 km in length. 

The location of Machu Picchu is at the intersection of the fractures running northwest-southeast and northeast-southwest. Many other Incan cities such as Pisac, Cusco are also located at such intersections. The architecture of Machu Picchu also reflects the architecture beneath the city to an extent. Besides the construction materials, the stones were also excellent sources of building drainage systems. This helped in preventing the dangerous floods during the thunderstorms along with its excellent preservation after so many years, the reasons for which it still attracts more than one and a half million visitors every year. 

Despite these findings, we still do not know a lot about the Inca civilisation including its origins and its expansion across South America during the 13th and 16th centuries. What we know for sure is that they were master architects similar to the Egyptian civilisation. The buildings constructed by them are a rich source of knowledge about architecture and construction even to this date. By understanding the geology beneath the city, we have been able to know some of the reasons behind Machu Picchu’s location, an advantage which the Incas used to the fullest.

Menegat said that these findings show that the Incan civilization was the empire of the fractures.