Day: May 23, 2012

Run Up to SB’12 – An Interview with Hunter Lovins

Read the full story at Sustainable Brands.

In our first piece from the “Run up to SB’12” series, Hunter Lovins answers our questions around the economic implications of climate change, how organizations can use sustainability as an innovation platform, and how the business community can collaborate to create positive change.

Debunking ‘Green Living’: Combatting Climate Change Requires Lifestyle Changes, Not Organic Products

Read the full post at GOOD.

When I first heard that the Union of Concerned Scientists was creating a research-based guide to green living, I was ecstatic. How brilliant, I thought, to finally have the answer to the question of which of the seemingly infinite “green” actions make the most difference. Should I obsess about turning the lights off before I left the house? Was composting worth the effort after all? UCS, which has a well-deserved reputation for accuracy and fact-based advocacy, seemed equipped to answer these conundrums once and for all.

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living came out this week. And true to its promise, it uses research to determine which green actions make the most difference. I’m disappointed in the answers they came up with, though—not because they’re wrong or overly complicated, but because they’re not.

After two years of research, UCS found that the most important strategies for reducing a person’s carbon footprint are to change “what and how you drive, the energy you use at home, and what you eat.”

Improved lubrication without oil

Metalworking plays a key role in industry. Drilling, milling, turning and grinding operations all use lubricants to prevent work pieces and tools from overheating and from excess wear. Standard lubricants today are based on mineral oil. This has drawbacks: fossil mineral oils come from finite resources, transport relatively little heat away from the work piece, are harmful to health and are flammable. All of this calls for extreme technical efforts, for occupational safety, fire safety and disposal, for example. So there’s a need for alternative lubricants.

The idea hatched by Andreas Malberg, Dr. Peter Eisner and Dr. Michael Menner from the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising sounds simple as well as surprising: lubricate with water, not oil. “At IVV here in Freising, we have been looking at the issue of cooling lubricants for some considerable time”, explains Michael Menner. “In two projects supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, we have successfully replaced oil with water. One surprising thing we found was that water is no worse a lubricant than oil, the key to it all being the additives.” Adding natural polymers to water can dramatically improve its lubricating properties. The Freising-based researchers set about testing renewable raw materials such as celluloses, starches or bacterial polysaccharides and improving their use as lubricant additives. Their aim: to make water more viscous by adding biopolymers, so it lubricates better.

For the idea to become a marketable product, other partners were brought on board: the Institute for Machine Tool Engineering and Production Technology at the University of Braunschweig, and Carl Bechem GmbH – a lubricant manufacturer from Hagen, Germany. The basic fluid made by the IVV, the viscous water, was improved by adding water-soluble additives so it could be used as an anti-corrosion agent, for example. That’s how it meets the requirements during processing: withstanding high temperatures and shearing stresses.

In addition to the significantly lower impact on the environment and the high raw material efficiency, the new lubricant also offers technological benefits. It reduces wear and prolongs tool life, for example. The processed components are also easier to clean. This cuts costs and improves the cost-efficiency of the entire production process. Converting to the new lubricant is very easy for companies to carry out”, explains Peter Eisner. “In principle, once thoroughly cleaned, the same machine tool circulation systems can be used.” In addition, the use of the aqueous lubricant improves occupational health and safety and hygiene: no formation of oil mists, addition of fewer biocides, it smells better and is gentler on the skin.

For the mineral oil-free lubricant made of aqueous biopolymer solutions for use in metalworking applications, Dr. Peter Eisner, Dipl.-Ing. Andreas Malberg and Dr. Michael Menner will receive one of the 2012 Joseph-von-Fraunhofer awards. The newly developed lubricant is already being distributed by Carl Bechem GmbH under the product name of BERUFLUID and is in use in various metalworking companies in the manufacturing of tools, mechanical engineering, in the automotive and aviation industry and in medical technology.


USF study: Common fungicide wreaks havoc on freshwater ecosystems

Chlorothalonil, one of the world’s most common fungicides used pervasively on food crops and golf courses, was lethal to a wide variety of freshwater organisms in a new study, University of South Florida researchers said Wednesday.

Biologists Taegan McMahon and Jason Rohr, co-authors of the study published in the journal Ecology Letters, report that chlorothalonil killed amphibians, snails, zooplankton, algae, and aquatic plants below estimated environmental concentrations previously deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The loss of these herbivores and plants freed the algae from predation and competition, which eventually resulted in algal blooms that were similar to the effects of eutrophication.

“Some species were able to recover from the chemical assault, but the ecosystem was fundamentally changed after its exposure to chlorothalonil,” Rohr said.

The four-week study was conducted in a series of 300-gallon tanks used to mimic pond conditions. It follows a 2011 laboratory study conducted by McMahon and Rohr that found that ecologically-relevant concentrations of chlorothalonil killed four species of amphibians.

“Although our new study is the only reported community- and ecosystem-level experiment on chlorothalonil, our results are consistent with several direct toxicity studies conducted in the laboratory and with observations in the field,” McMahon said.

Chlorothalonil kills molds and fungus by disrupting cellular respiration, an essential process for most multicellular organisms on the planet. Like the infamous DDT, chlorothalonil is a member of the organochlorine chemical family.

Fifty years after the book “Silent Spring” led to a ban on most forms of the pesticide DDT, chlorothalonil is one of a few organochlorine pesticides still registered for use in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

“In addition, to reducing biodiversity and altering ecosystem functions, chlorothalonil reduced the decomposition of waste, an important service that freshwater ecosystems provide to humans,” McMahon added.

“Interest in the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functions stems at least partly from the concern that anthropogenically-driven declines in biodiversity will reduce or alter the benefits offered by ecosystems,” Rohr said. “Surprisingly, however, this is one of the first studies to actually manipulate an anthropogenic factor and link it to changes in ecosystem functions mediated by declines in biodiversity.”

“This is important because many species in ecosystems might contribute little to ecosystem functions or are functionally redundant with other species, and thus declines in biodiversity do not always affect the functions and services of ecosystems,” Rohr said.

McMahon and Rohr encourage further research on effects of anthropogenic factors on ecosystem functions in systems with complex food webs and the re-evaluation of the safety of chlorothalonil.

Funding for the project was provided by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The impacts of endocrine disrupters on wildlife, people and their environments – The Weybridge+15 (1996–2011) report

Download the document.

Rates of endocrine diseases and disorders, such as some reproductive and developmental harm in human populations, have changed in line with the growth of the chemical industry, leading to concerns that these factors may be linked. For example, the current status of semen quality in the few European countries where studies have been systematically conducted, is very poor: fertility in approximately 40 % of men is impaired. There is also evidence of reproductive and developmental harm linked to impairments in endocrine function in a number of wildlife species, particularly in environments that are contaminated by cocktails of chemicals that are in everyday use. Based on the human and wildlife evidence, many scientists are concerned about chemical pollutants being able to interfere with the normal functioning of hormones, so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), that could play a causative role in these diseases and disorders. If this holds true, then these ‘early warnings’ signal a failure in environmental protection that should be addressed.

Alternatives Assessment for Nonylphenol Ethoxylates

On May 9, 2012, EPA released a final Alternatives Assessment for Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) (27pp, 397K) identifying eight safer alternatives to NPEs.

NPEs are widely used in industry as surfactants and wetting agents for detergents, cleaners, carriers, and other commercial uses. When released into the environment, NPEs, and NPE degradates (chemicals to which NPEs break down), can degrade slowly and be highly toxic to aquatic organisms.

The NPE alternative assessment, which profiles NPEs and structurally related octylphenol ethoxylates, was released as part EPA’s Nonylphenol (NP) and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPE) Action Plan (PDF) (13pp, 120K). The action plan was issued in August 2010 to address concerns about potential ecological and other effects from the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, and uses of NP and NPEs. Read about alternative assessments.

The Agency anticipates that the NPE Alternatives Assessment will help industries that use NPEs—such as manufacturers of cleaners and detergents, textiles, pulp and paper, and pest control agents for agriculture—find safer substitutes.

DfE requested comments on the draft Alternatives for Nonylphenol Ethoxylates from September 28 to November 30, 2011, and summarized and addressed the comments in a Response to Comments document (PDF) (8pp, 265K). Most commenters, who represented a spectrum of interests, found the assessment very helpful and agreed with the DfE approach to comparing alternatives. The commenters felt that the assessment will serve as a useful resource for those working on the manufacture of safer surfactants and cleaning products, as well as on advancement in the use of safer chemicals and products in general. Read the original comments (PDF) (27pp, 394KB).

The Alternatives Assessment highlights and builds on the DfE Program’s extensive work on surfactants and alternatives to NPEs, which include:

DfE’s Work To Identify Safer Surfactants Used in the Assessment
DfE has worked in collaboration with diverse stakeholder groups to:

  • Develop its Criteria for Safer Surfactants,
  • Ensure the use of safer surfactants in its Safer Product Labeling Program,
  • List safer surfactants on the CleanGredients database, and
  • Recognize companies through the SDSI program that exclusively use safer surfactants.

DfE routinely applies its safer surfactant criteria in evaluating products that are candidates to carry the DfE label, and has researched and evaluated hundreds of surfactants, including the ones highlighted in this Alternatives Assessment.

Through SDSI, EPA recognizes product manufacturers who are formulating with safer surfactants in lieu of NPEs across entire product lines.

The Alternatives Assessment includes ideas for ways to expand progress in the use of safer surfactants.

Green Roofs in Big Cities Bring Relief From Above

Read the full opinion piece in the New York Times.

It’s spring — time to plant your roof. Roofs, like coffee, used to be black tar. Now both have gone gourmet:  for roofs, the choices are white, green, blue and solar-panel black.

Beer makers research new uses for brewery waste

Read the full story at Great Lakes Echo.

A popular beer company is working on top-secret technology to turn leftover beer grain into – something.

They just won’t say exactly what that is.

Anheuser-Busch, which has breweries in New York and Ohio, has joined forces with Blue Marble Biomaterials to turn leftover grain into chemicals that will create an array of consumer products.

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