Day: November 9, 2012

Sweet New Approach Discovered to Help Produce Metal Casting Parts, Reduce Toxicity

Read the full story from Oregon State University.

Based on a new discovery by researchers at Oregon State University, the world’s multi-billion dollar foundry industry may soon develop a sweet tooth.

This industry, that produces metal castings used in everything from water pumps and jet engines to railroad and automobile parts, dates back thousands of years to before Greek and Roman times. It was important in the advance of human civilization, but still continues to evolve.

Some modern technologies use various types of “binders” to essentially glue together sands and other materials to form sophisticated molds, into which molten metals are injected to create products with complex shapes. Existing approaches work, but some materials used today, such as furan resins and phenol formaldehyde resins, can emit toxic fumes during the process.

However, experts in adhesion science in the OSU College of Forestry have discovered and applied for a patent on a new use of a compound that appears to also work surprisingly well for this purpose. They say it should cost less than existing binders, is completely renewable and should be environmentally benign.

It’s called sugar.

An RTI International Technology that Uses a Coconut Waste Product Improves Wastewater Treatment

Read the full story from RTI International.

A technology using a waste product from the coconut processing industry, called cocopeat, improves wastewater treatment in poor countries, according to testing conducted by researchers at RTI International.

RTI International, with funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative, developed and tested low cost secondary wastewater treatment systems using cocopeat. The system takes up less space than other technologies, is easy to assemble and is inexpensive to operate.

Researchers Develop Effective Thermal Energy Storage System

Read the full story from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have developed a thermal energy storage system that will work as a viable alternative to current methods used for storing energy collected from solar panels. Incorporating the researchers’ design into the operation of a concentrated solar power plant will dramatically increase annual energy production while significantly decreasing production costs.

Current storage methods use molten salts, oils or beds of packed rock as media to conduct heat inside thermal energy storage tanks. Although these methods do not lose much of the energy collected by the panels, they are either expensive or cause damage to tanks. Specifically, the use of a packed rock, currently the most efficient and least expensive method, leads to thermal “ratcheting,” which is the stress caused to tank walls because of the expansion and contraction of storage tanks due to thermal cycling.

Threatened Corals Use Chemical 911 to Summon Help

Read the full story from the Georgia Institute of Technology. See also a related blog post from Scientific American.

Corals under attack by toxic seaweed do what anyone might do when threatened – they call for help. A study to be reported this week in the journal Science shows that threatened corals send signals to fish “bodyguards” that quickly respond to trim back the noxious alga – which can kill the coral if not promptly removed.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found evidence that these “mutualistic” fish respond to chemical signals from the coral like a 911 emergency call – in a matter of minutes. The inch-long fish – known as gobies – spend their entire lives in the crevices of specific corals, receiving protection from their own predators while removing threats to the corals.

Full citation: Danielle L. Dixson and Mark E. Hay (2012). “Corals chemically signal mutualistic fishes to remove competing seaweeds.” Science 338(6108), 804-807. DOI: 10.1126/science.1225748.

Abstract: Corals in the genus Acropora generate much of the structural complexity upon which coral reefs depend, but they are susceptible to damage from toxic seaweeds. Acropora nasuta minimizes this damage by chemically cuing symbiotic goby fishes (Gobiodon histrio or Paragobiodon echinocephalus) to remove the toxic seaweed Chlorodesmis fastigiata. Within minutes of seaweed contact, or contact from only seaweed chemical extract, the coral releases an odor that recruits gobies to trim the seaweed and dramatically reduce coral damage that would otherwise occur. In turn, chemically defended gobies become more toxic after consumption of this noxious alga. Mutualistic gobies and corals appear to represent a marine parallel to terrestrial ant-plants, in that the host provides shelter and food in return for protection from natural enemies.

Future Warming Likely to Be on High Side of Climate Projections, Analysis Finds

Read the full story from National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature are likely to prove more accurate than those showing a lesser rise, according to a new analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The findings, published in this week’s issue of Science, could provide a breakthrough in the longstanding quest to narrow the range of global warming expected in coming decades and beyond.

NCAR scientists John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth, who co-authored the study, reached their conclusions by analyzing how well sophisticated climate models reproduce observed relative humidity in the tropics and subtropics.

Full citation for the article: John T. Fasullo; Kevin E. Trenberth (2012). “A Less Cloudy Future: The Role of Subtropical Subsidence in Climate Sensitivity.” Science 338(6108), 792-794. DOI: 10.1126/science.1227465.

Abstract: An observable constraint on climate sensitivity, based on variations in mid-tropospheric relative humidity (RH) and their impact on clouds, is proposed. We show that the tropics and subtropics are linked by teleconnections that induce seasonal RH variations that relate strongly to albedo (via clouds), and that this covariability is mimicked in a warming climate. A present-day analog for future trends is thus identified whereby the intensity of subtropical dry zones in models associated with the boreal monsoon is strongly linked to projected cloud trends, reflected solar radiation, and model sensitivity. Many models, particularly those with low climate sensitivity, fail to adequately resolve these teleconnections and hence are identifiably biased. Improving model fidelity in matching observed variations provides a viable path forward for better predicting future climate.

Sustainability hearts cities

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

As I look ahead to joining VERGE at Greenbuild in San Francisco November 12-13, and begin to get my head around a brief One Great Idea presentation patterned on the ways my colleagues and I believe cities are vital to the future of sustainability, I have something to admit: Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. Ever. And its 1982-era vision of Los Angeles 2019 — a dark, rainy, violent, morally rudderless, cultural mash-up — is not well-suited to imagining and nurturing the sustainable city of the future that I truly think possible.

But maybe that’s the challenge we all face. We know a sustainable economy will demand enormous personal and institutional change, perhaps especially related to how and what we consume, but knowing that and shifting the very structures and institutions that shape our world are two different things. We have to overcome the inertia.

If we look carefully, we find cities revealing early glimpses of how they might evolve to be sustainable. If we can understand today’s tentative, experimental steps, we might determine how we can support further transformation, speeding change in leading metropolises and encouraging replication elsewhere. Blade Runner be damned — let’s do this!

What sustainability metrics can learn from school reform

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Editor’s note: This is the first part in a multi-part series examining the pitfalls of sustainability measurements that draws on examples from outside the business world. Part 2 will offer examples from criminal justice and financial services, and future installments will bring in other fields.

It’s a great irony that the best-intended measurement programs can create perverse incentives or unintended consequences, like cheating scandals born from school testing initiatives.

Deloitte recently reported that two-thirds of CFOs now are driving sustainability activities, putting quantifiable metrics reporting front and center. While we (mostly) support expanding sustainable business measures and work like GRI’s new G4 framework guidelines, we also caution against increased risks of reaching incomplete or only partially correct conclusions.

Why the “hazards ahead” sign? Mainly because recent history shows us that rational, objective measurement designs are significantly challenged by pervasive human idiosyncrasies, biases and blind spots.

In this series, we’ll look at some of these measurement pitfalls from largely outside the business world. By taking a meta-look at the “metrics” of metrics, we can learn from these examples to avoid or course-correct problems on the way to improved sustainable business measurements.

We start off with a major pitfall from education.