Day: August 2, 2011

A New Catalyst for Ethanol Made from Biomass

Read the news release.

Researchers in the Pacific Northwest have developed a new catalyst material that could replace chemicals currently derived from petroleum and be the basis for more environmentally friendly products including octane-boosting gas and fuel additives, bio-based rubber for tires and a safer solvent for the chemicals industry.

Full citation for the paper: Junming Sun, Kake Zhu, Feng Gao, Chongmin Wang, Jun Liu, Charles H.F. Peden, Yong Wang, “Direct Conversion of Bio-ethanol to Isobutene on Nanosized ZnxZryOz Mixed Oxides with Balanced Acid-Base Sites”, Journal of the American Chemical Society, July 21, 2011, DOI 10.1021/ja204235v.

Abstract: We report the design and synthesis of nanosized ZnxZryOz mixed oxides for direct and high-yield conversion of bio-ethanol to isobutene (83%). ZnO is addded to ZrO2 to selectively passivate zirconia’s strong Lewis acidic sites and weaken Brnsted acidic sites, while simultaneously introducing basicity. As a result, the undesired reactions of bio-ethanol dehydration and acetone polymerization/coking are suppressed. Instead, a surface basic site-catalyzed ethanol dehydrogenation to acetaldehyde, acetaldehyde to acetone conversion via a complex pathway including aldol-condensation/dehydrogenation, and a Brnsted acidic site-catalyzed acetone-to-isobutene reaction pathway dominates on the nanosized ZnxZryOz mixed oxide catalyst, leading to a highly selective process for direct conversion of bio-ethanol to isobutene.

Aerosols Affect Climate More than Satellite Estimates Predict

Read the news release.

Aerosol particles, including soot and sulfur dioxide from burning fossil fuels, essentially mask the effects of greenhouse gases and are at the heart of the biggest uncertainty in climate change prediction. New research from the University of Michigan shows that satellite-based projections of aerosols’ effect on Earth’s climate significantly underestimate their impacts.

The findings will be published online the week of Aug. 1 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full citation for the paper: Joyce E. Penner, Li Xu, and Minghuai Wang (2011). “Satellite methods underestimate indirect climate forcing by aerosols.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Published online before print August 1, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018526108.

Abstract: Satellite-based estimates of the aerosol indirect effect (AIE) are consistently smaller than the estimates from global aerosol models, and, partly as a result of these differences, the assessment of this climate forcing includes large uncertainties. Satellite estimates typically use the present-day (PD) relationship between observed cloud drop number concentrations (Nc) and aerosol optical depths (AODs) to determine the preindustrial (PI) values of Nc. These values are then used to determine the PD and PI cloud albedos and, thus, the effect of anthropogenic aerosols on top of the atmosphere radiative fluxes. Here, we use a model with realistic aerosol and cloud processes to show that empirical relationships for ln(Nc) versus ln(AOD) derived from PD results do not represent the atmospheric perturbation caused by the addition of anthropogenic aerosols to the preindustrial atmosphere. As a result, the model estimates based on satellite methods of the AIE are between a factor of 3 to more than a factor of 6 smaller than model estimates based on actual PD and PI values for Nc. Using ln(Nc) versus ln(AI) (Aerosol Index, or the optical depth times angstrom exponent) to estimate preindustrial values for Nc provides estimates for Nc and forcing that are closer to the values predicted by the model. Nevertheless, the AIE using ln(Nc) versus ln(AI) may be substantially incorrect on a regional basis and may underestimate or overestimate the global average forcing by 25 to 35%.


UPS Reduces Per Package Fuel Consumption

Read the full post at Triple Pundit.

Most people probably don’t give an awful lot of thought to how the things they buy actually get to them. But the reality is, pretty much everything we consume is touched in some way by a global and interconnected logistics industry that is truly behemoth. We are aware of package delivery trucks running about, but their presence is just the tip of an industry that by some estimates, constitutes as much as 10% of global GDP.

So, when you ponder that such a huge industry must use energy each time it moves goods around the planet, it is no surprise that businesses in the logistics game are keenly aware that efficiency and sustainability are not just factors of corporate responsibility, but business imperatives – the multiplier of small energy efficiency gains are just so tremendous.

UPS is certainly aware of this business imperative, which is clear from their 2010 sustainability report. The scale of the Atlanta-based company is quite impressive – in the process of moving 3.94 billion packages across more than 220 countries in 2010, they employed 400,600 people, operated 99,795 ground vehicles and 216 aircraft. While bringing in net revenues of $49.6 billion for the year, it seems everything they do, both operationally, and technologically, is to to chip away at inefficiency. So, where do they find incremental improvements?


Sustainability and the U.S. EPA

The National Research Council released the report Sustainability and the U.S. EPA on August 2. The report is be available for free as a pdf download from the National Academies Press website and for purchase as a paperback. You can check the STS website for updates

[H/T to Rick Yoder of P2RIC for the link]

Climatic Benefits from Carbon Sequestration Are Largely Offset by Increased Nitrous Oxide Emissions, Study Finds

Read the full story at Science Daily.

Recent studies have shown that human nitrogen additions to terrestrial ecosystems increase the terrestrial carbon dioxide uptake from the atmosphere. A new study published online in Nature Geoscience reports now that the climatic benefits from carbon sequestration are largely offset by increased nitrous oxide emissions, a further side-effect of human nitrogen additions to terrestrial ecosystems.

Renewable Jet Fuels From Sugarcane?

Read the full story in Environmental Protection.

Boeing, Embraer and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) will jointly fund a sustainability analysis of producing renewable jet fuel sourced from Brazilian sugarcane. The groundbreaking study will evaluate environmental and market conditions associated with the use of renewable jet fuel produced by Amyris, and World Wildlife Fund will serve as an independent reviewer and advisor.

How Light-colored Roads, Rooftops Can Help Cool the Planet

Read the full story in Environmental Protection.

While cool roofs and pavements have been found to cool the planet by preventing energy from being radiated back into the atmosphere, previous studies have not accounted for atmospheric feedbacks that may result from changing the surface reflectivity of urban areas. A new study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory breaks new ground by using a high-resolution model of the continental United States that incorporates land-surface feedback to probe the effects of deploying light-colored roads and rooftops.

Full citation for the original article: Dev Millstein and Surabi Menon (2011). “Regional climate consequences of large-scale cool roof and photovoltaic array deployment,” Environmental Research Letters 6 034001. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/6/3/034001

Abstract: Modifications to the surface albedo through the deployment of cool roofs and pavements (reflective materials) and photovoltaic arrays (low reflection) have the potential to change radiative forcing, surface temperatures, and regional weather patterns. In this work we investigate the regional climate and radiative effects of modifying surface albedo to mimic massive deployment of cool surfaces (roofs and pavements) and, separately, photovoltaic arrays across the United States. We use a fully coupled regional climate model, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, to investigate feedbacks between surface albedo changes, surface temperature, precipitation and average cloud cover. With the adoption of cool roofs and pavements, domain-wide annual average outgoing radiation increased by 0.16 ± 0.03 W m − 2 (mean ± 95% C.I.) and afternoon summertime temperature in urban locations was reduced by 0.11–0.53 °C, although some urban areas showed no statistically significant temperature changes. In response to increased urban albedo, some rural locations showed summer afternoon temperature increases of up to + 0.27 °C and these regions were correlated with less cloud cover and lower precipitation. The emissions offset obtained by this increase in outgoing radiation is calculated to be 3.3 ± 0.5 Gt CO2 (mean ± 95% C.I.). The hypothetical solar arrays were designed to be able to produce one terawatt of peak energy and were located in the Mojave Desert of California. To simulate the arrays, the desert surface albedo was darkened, causing local afternoon temperature increases of up to + 0.4 °C. Due to the solar arrays, local and regional wind patterns within a 300 km radius were affected. Statistically significant but lower magnitude changes to temperature and radiation could be seen across the domain due to the introduction of the solar arrays. The addition of photovoltaic arrays caused no significant change to summertime outgoing radiation when averaged over the full domain, as interannual variation across the continent obscured more consistent local forcing.

Thirsty for Answers: Preparing for the Water-related Impacts of Climate Change in American Cities

Download the report.

Cities across the United States should anticipate significant water-related vulnerabilities based on current carbon emission trends because of climate change, ranging from water shortages to more intense storms and floods to sea level rise. To help cities become more resilient to the rising threats of climate change, NRDC reviewed more than 75 scientific studies and other reports to summarize the water-related vulnerabilities in 12 cities across the United States. Although there may still be some uncertainty about what particular impacts threaten cities and how quickly or severely they might occur, action at the local level is the most effective method of reducing, mitigating, and preventing the negative effects of water-related climate change.

“Print A Forest” Turns Your Printer into a Tree-Planting Machine

Read the full story at Good Magazine.

Joe Miller wants to put an ad on the bottom of every page you print, from your work to your school library. He’s even eyeing your own personal inkjet for a media buy.

“This is starting with something small, like a piece of paper, and turning it into something large, like a tree,” Joe Miller says, explaining the concept of his brand new startup Print A Forest. He sells banner ads that his software slaps onto the bottom of your printed page, and then he puts the money toward reforestation projects. For every 100 pages you print with his ads at the bottom, he’ll plant a tree.

EPA Seeks Comments regarding MSW and Sustainable Materials Management Measurement

EPA is requesting written comments regarding the Agency’s role in the measurement of materials in the following waste streams:  municipal solid waste (MSW), construction and demolition materials, and non-hazardous industrial materials; and the sustainable management of these materials through recycling, waste minimization and source reduction.
The Agency has issued a Federal Register notice asking for comments on these aspects of measurement.  All comments must be received by 4:30 pm EST August 31, 2011.
To learn more, including how to submit comments, please visit

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