Publications

Getting the salt out

Read the full story from MIT.

The boom in oil and gas produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is seen as a boon for meeting U.S. energy needs. But one byproduct of the process is millions of gallons of water that’s much saltier than seawater, after leaching salts from rocks deep below the surface.

Now researchers at MIT and in Saudi Arabia say they have found an economical solution for removing the salt from this water. The new analysis appears this week in the journal Applied Energy, in a paper co-authored by MIT professor John Lienhard, postdoc Ronan McGovern, and four others.

Facetless crystals that mimic starfish shells could advance 3D-printing pills

Read the full story from the University of Michigan.

In a design that mimics a hard-to-duplicate texture of starfish shells, University of Michigan engineers have made rounded crystals that have no facets.

“We call them nanolobes. They look like little hot air balloons that are rising from the surface,” said Olga Shalev, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering who worked on the project.

Both the nanolobes’ shape and the way they’re made have promising applications, the researchers say. The geometry could potentially be useful to guide light in advanced LEDs, solar cells and nonreflective surfaces…

The study is titled “Growth and modelling of spherical crystalline morphologies of molecular materials.” The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences as part of the Center for Solar and Thermal Energy Conversion. Support also came from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Defense Department integrates climate change into all operations

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Climate change may not be treated as an emergency in news reports of late, as is Ebola or ISIS, but it deserves to be. For many climate change still seems like a distant threat. Yet while no one disputes the existence of Ebola or ISIS, politicians confuse the public about the threat of climate change every single day.

The Pentagon isn’t confused however. It explicitly says it is integrating climate change threats into all “plans, operations, and training” across the entire agency.

EPA Finds Neonicotinoid Seed Treatments of Little or No Benefit to U.S. Soybean Production

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released an analysis of the benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments for insect control in soybeans. Neonicotinoid pesticides are a class of insecticides widely used on U.S. crops that EPA is reviewing with particular emphasis for their impact on pollinators. The analysis concluded that there is little or no increase in soybean yields using most neonicotinoid seed treatments when compared to using no pest control at all. A Federal Register notice inviting the public to comment on the analysis will publish in the near future.

“We have made the review of neonicotinoid pesticides a high priority,” said Jim Jones, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “In our analysis of the economic benefits of this use we concluded that, on a national scale, U.S. soybean farmers see little or no benefit from neonicotinoid seed treatments.”

During the review of the neonicotinoids, EPA found that many scientific publications claim that treating soybean seeds has little value. Part of our assessment examined the effectiveness of these seed treatments for pest control and estimated the impacts on crop yields and quality, as well as financial losses and gains. The law requires EPA to consider the benefits of using pesticides as well as the risks.

The analysis concluded that:

  • There is no increase in soybean yield using most neonicotinoid seed treatments when compared to using no pest control at all.
  • Alternative insecticides applied as sprays are available and effective.
  • All major alternatives are comparable in cost.
  • Neonicotinoid seed treatment could provide an insurance benefit against sporadic and unpredictable insect pests, but this potential benefit is not likely to be large or widespread throughout the United States.

This analysis is an important part of the science EPA will use to move forward with the assessment of the risks and benefits under registration review for the neonicotinoid pesticides. Registration review — the periodic re-evaluation of pesticides to determine if they continue to meet the safety standard — can result in EPA discontinuing certain uses, placing limits on the pesticide registration, and requiring other label changes.

Sign up for pesticide program updates to be notified by email when the EPA opens the docket and invites comment on its analysis of the benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments on soybeans.

The Last Climate Frontier: Leveraging the Arctic Council to make Progress on Black Carbon and Methane

Download the document.

Impacts from climate change are threatening the Arctic environment and way of life. Warming in the Arctic is happening twice as fast as at lower latitudes. Sea ice is retreating and vast frozen areas are melting, leading to a variety of adverse effects for ecosystems and communities. Sea level rise, melting permafrost, and the decline in snow cover create feedbacks that can accelerate these adverse impacts. The implications of a melting Arctic are not limited to the region, but affect communities worldwide. The Arctic is now “ground-zero” in the struggle against climate change and failure to protect it adequately could doom other climate mitigation efforts.

Of particular importance, in-Arctic and near-Arctic emissions of short-lived climate forcing pollutants i.e., black carbon and methane have a disproportionate impact on increasing Arctic temperatures and melting. Arctic sources of black carbon have been estimated to have a 10-100 times greater impact on Arctic warming than black carbon from mid-latitude sources. Black carbon deposits darken snow and ice, accelerating melting. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with over eighty times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the nearterm. Methane emissions from oil & gas development in the Arctic are projected to rise as development increases over the next few years. So, actions to reduce these emissions will provide a disproportionate benefit to the region. Importantly, most of the sources of these pollutants are within the jurisdiction of the nations that make up the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council is the international body charged with fostering cooperation among Arctic nations and indigenous peoples. Made up of the littoral Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States), the Council is able to address regional issues of shared interest that extend beyond the borders of individual nations. Because of its mission, geographic focus, and membership, the Council is uniquely positioned to address regional emissions of short-lived climate pollutants. Protecting the Arctic is an important part of the Council’s mission, but the direct threat that climate change poses to the region presents the opportunity for this intergovernmental body to take a lead role in addressing the threat.

As the United States prepares to take over the chairmanship of the Council in 2015, we congratulate the Obama Administration for making climate change a central theme of its tenure and encourage the Administration to identify the links between global warming and all other critical Arctic issues. Moreover, in this report, we identify four specific ways that, under U.S. leadership, the Arctic Council can seize the opportunity to curb emissions of black carbon and methane and help buy the Arctic environment precious time as global measures to check greenhouse gas emissions are developed and implemented.

For decades, Arctic nations have cooperated on a variety of issues, primarily related to environmental protection, through the Arctic Council. In addition to the United States, China and India are now official observers, meaning that the world’s largest emitter nations are now engaged with the Arctic Council process. The Arctic Council has already made some progress on the issue of black carbon and methane emissions and there exists a strong foundation for expanding efforts to reduce emissions. In recent years, the Council has established the administrative capacity, organization, and reporting systems necessary for joint work on these pollutants. Previous consultation between the member states, scientific experts, permanent participants, and non-governmental organizations has produced studies and assessments that lay the groundwork for action. Now, it is time for the Council to move forward with the steps necessary to achieve reductions in these key pollutants.

Iowa Waste Reduction Center published results of compressed air leak management pilot project

How much money and energy is wasted through air leaks?

Funded by a state energy grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, that is the question the Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC) aimed to answer through this 2014 pilot project. Equipped with ultrasonic detection equipment, IWRC environmental specialists conducted 25 audits at small businesses – auto body and manufacturing facilities – throughout Iowa.

IWRC specialists identified and tagged compressed air leaks throughout each facility, documented energy loss and cost savings associated with the leaks and provided corrective action recommendations.

Available documents include an overview and results of the pilot project; a checklist of tips and most common air leak sources; and full results from all 25 businesses.

The Boston Safe Shops Model: An Integrated Approach to Community Environmental and Occupational Health

Cora Roelofs, Paul Shoemaker, Tiffany Skogstrom, Persio Acevedo, Jumaane Kendrick, and Nancie Nguyen. The Boston Safe Shops Model: An Integrated Approach to Community Environmental and Occupational Health. American Journal of Public Health: April 2010, Vol. 100, No. S1, pp. S52-S55. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2009.176511

Abstract: Small, immigrant-owned businesses, such as auto repair shops and nail salons, often face barriers to environmental and occupational health compliance and may be a source of neighborhood pollution complaints. The Boston Public Health Commission established the Safe Shops Project to improve safety and environmental practices in such businesses using a community partnership model that incorporates enforcement inspection findings, worker training, technical assistance, and referral to health care and business resources. This integrated technical assistance approach has led to improved occupational health and environmental conditions, adoption of pollution prevention technologies, novel problem-solving, and dozens of health screenings and insurance referrals for workers and their neighbors.