Day: January 23, 2015

BPA Exposure May Change Stem Cells, Lower Sperm Production

Read the full story in Environmental Health News

BPA and other estrogenic compounds hamper development of the stem cells responsible for producing sperm in mice, which suggests such exposure could contribute to declining sperm counts in men, according to a new study.

The study, published online today in PLoS Genetics, is the first to suggest that low, brief exposures to bisphenol-A, or other estrogens such as those used in birth control but found as water contaminants, early in life can alter the stem cells responsible for producing sperm later in life.

Investment Fund Pours Cash Into Cleaner, Greener Fish Farming

Read the full story from NPR.

Enter Aqua-Spark, an investment firm headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands. It wants to lend a hand to the small-and-medium sized businesses committed to producing safe and environmentally conscious farmed fish. When it launched in December with $10 million ready to deploy, Aqua-Spark became the world’s first investment fund focused on sustainable aquaculture. The money comes from 35 investors in seven countries — one is institutional, the rest are private individuals — who see an opportunity to make money farming fish in new, responsible ways.

How ‘Warmest Ever’ Headlines and Debates Can Obscure What Matters About Climate Change

Read the full post at Dot Earth.

If you track developments related to human-driven global warming, my guess is you’re aware that the federal agencies that analyze climate conditions released the final word on 2014’s climate on Friday.

Both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration firmly concluded that last year beat out 2010 and 2005, the previous years that had held the title of warmest since methodical record-keeping began in 1880…

Ever since, there’ve been salvos from critics decrying the definitiveness with which both agencies summarized the 2014 findings (each agency had a distinct methodology and slightly different conclusions).

I talked about this yesterday on Brian Lehrer’s radio show, making the point that it’s a distraction to focus on records — as the media and elected officials tend to do — given how year-to-year differences in global temperature are measured in a few hundredths of a degree Fahrenheit, and given the implicit uncertainty in such measurements. You can listen here.

Polling Shows Americans Support Environmental Enforcement And Clean Energy

Read the full story in CleanTechnica.

The US Natural Resources Defense Council has released the results of a new “bipartisan” poll of five key states that sought “Views on Environmental Regulations,” which clearly show Americans are not only in favor of existing environmental protections — and in some cases favor tougher enforcement — but also support President Obama’s climate and clean energy initiatives.

The polling results are labelled as “bipartisan” due to the combined efforts of Democratic pollsters Hart Research Associates, and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint.

Together, the two firms — which conducted a survey of 2016 likely voters in Colorado, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, and Virginia — found that “there is no appetite” for the “weakening of environmental regulations,” adding that “most respondents in these states believe that enforcement of environmental regulations is not tough enough.”

Egg Company Locally Laid Turns Complaint Letter Into Lesson About Sustainable Agriculture

Read the full story in Consumerist.

Having received our fair share of complaint letters over the years, we know how tempting it can be to fire back at critics with negativity — but because that doesn’t solve anything, we’ve learned it’s always better to catch those flies with honey when possible. And in that vein, egg company Locally Laid took a shopper’s complaint about its high prices and sexual innuendos and turned the whole thing into a positive lesson about sustainable agriculture, while offering up an apology for causing offense.

Webinar: Identifying Safer Solvents Using Hansen Solubility Parameters

February 5, 2015 9-10 am CST
Register at

Understanding solubility is fundamental to dealing with the safety implications of chemicals and their replacements. A safe plasticiser is no use if it is not compatible with the polymer. A safe solvent replacement is no use if its solubility properties are very different. A safe dispersing agent is no use if it cannot compatabilise. The Hansen Solubility Parameter approach to all such problems is tried and tested and using the HSPiP software package it is easy to address complex solubility problems for safety and formulation purposes. TURI has invited Prof Steven Abbott, one of the authors of HSPiP, to give a webinar using the software live to quickly show some of the basics of HSP then to address common applications for the software like finding a solvent blend to replace a current solvent, identifying plasticisers that are more compatible with a given polymer, using smart “read-across” between chemicals and making rational choices about protective gloves. There will be time for an on-line Q&A session.

The low-down on crumb rubber turfs

Read the full post from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.

We recently blogged about concerns surrounding artificial turfs (with Gifs!), and a particular type of artificial turf has raised quite a few concerns- crumb rubber. Developed in the mid-1960s, synthetic turfs began popping up in stadiums and fields for professional teams. Now synthetic turfs have become more widespread, being used in parks, golf courses, playgrounds, and even cruise ships.

But with high levels of lead being found in some crumb rubber turfs, concerns are valid. Made from recycled tires, several different brands of tires can be found in one field. The EPA indicated that mercury, lead, benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic, and other heavy metals and carcinogens, to name a few, have been found in tires.

This Combination Wind And Solar System Perches On the Edge Of A Building’s Roof

Read the full post at Fast Company.

Wind turbines often don’t work well on top of buildings. With all the other structures in the way in urban areas, the wind speeds aren’t fast enough, and the blades fail to turn. You sometimes get the feeling the developer put the thing there not to generate power, but to make some kind of environmental statement.

The WindRail is different because it was designed specifically for buildings and takes advantage of its air flows. Developed in Zurich, it’s a combination wind turbine and solar system that sits between a building’s facade and the roof edge. It could be a way of generating power on buildings that aren’t suitable for conventional solar panels or turbines, which is plenty of them.

Are legumes better than fertiliser in developing countries?

Read the full story at EnvironmentalResearchWeb.

Many developing parts of the world – including China, India and Pakistan, as well as much of Central America and North Africa – can’t expect greater agricultural yields from increased nitrogen fertilization without a “disproportionate” cost to the environment. That’s the conclusion of researchers in France and Italy, who say that nitrogen fixation by legumes can be much more efficient on large scales.

Recent biochar research articles

Liang, Yuan; Cao, Xinde; Zhao, Ling; Xu, Xiaoyun; Harris, Willie (2014). “Phosphorus Release from Dairy Manure, the Manure-Derived Biochar, and Their Amended Soil: Effects of Phosphorus Nature and Soil Property.” Journal of Environmental Quality 43:1504–1509. DOI: 10.2134/jeq2014.01.0021

Abstract: Land application of animal manure often risks excessive phosphorus (P) release into the surrounding water. The aim of this study was to convert the dairy manure into biochar, followed by their application into soil, and then to investigate P release from the manure and its derived biochar as well as from the manure- and biochar-amended soil. The results showed that P release was reduced when the manure was converted into biochar due to formation of less-soluble whitlockite [(Ca, Mg)3(PO4)2]. The cumulative P released from biochar over 240 h was 0.26 g kg−1, a 76% reduction of that from the manure (1.07 g kg−1). The kinetic release of P from the manure was determined by the fast desorption process and was better fitted to Elovich equation, whereas P release from biochar was initially controlled by the diffusion process and then by slow but steady dissolution of (Ca,Mg)3(PO4)2, following the parabolic diffusion and linear models, respectively. When the manure or biochar was incorporated into the soil, P release in the CaCl2 and simulated acid rain water extraction from biochar-amended soil was consistently lower than that from the manure-amended soil during 210-d incubation. The lower P release in the biochar-amended soil was determined by stable P form (Ca, Mg)3(PO4)2 in the biochar itself, but less from the soil property effect. Results indicated that initial high P release from manure can be mitigated by converting the manure into biochar.

Eykelbosh AJ, Johnson MS, Santos de Queiroz E, Dalmagro HJ, Guimarães Couto E (2014). Biochar from Sugarcane Filtercake Reduces Soil CO2 Emissions Relative to Raw Residue and Improves Water Retention and Nutrient Availability in a Highly-Weathered Tropical Soil. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98523. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098523

Abstract: In Brazil, the degradation of nutrient-poor Ferralsols limits productivity and drives agricultural expansion into pristine areas. However, returning agricultural residues to the soil in a stabilized form may offer opportunities for maintaining or improving soil quality, even under conditions that typically promote carbon loss. We examined the use of biochar made from filtercake (a byproduct of sugarcane processing) on the physicochemical properties of a cultivated tropical soil. Filtercake was pyrolyzed at 575°C for 3 h yielding a biochar with increased surface area and porosity compared to the raw filtercake. Filtercake biochar was primarily composed of aromatic carbon, with some residual cellulose and hemicellulose. In a three-week laboratory incubation, CO2 effluxes from a highly weathered Ferralsol soil amended with 5% biochar (dry weight, d.w.) were roughly four-fold higher than the soil-only control, but 23-fold lower than CO2 effluxes from soil amended with 5% (d.w.) raw filtercake. We also applied vinasse, a carbon-rich liquid waste from bioethanol production typically utilized as a fertilizer on sugarcane soils, to filtercake- and biochar-amended soils. Total CO2 efflux from the biochar-amended soil in response to vinasse application was only 5% of the efflux when vinasse was applied to soil amended with raw filtercake. Furthermore, mixtures of 5 or 10% biochar (d.w.) in this highly weathered tropical soil significantly increased water retention within the plant-available range and also improved nutrient availability. Accordingly, application of sugarcane filtercake as biochar, with or without vinasse application, may better satisfy soil management objectives than filtercake applied to soils in its raw form, and may help to build soil carbon stocks in sugarcane-cultivating regions.
Hao Sun, Catherine Elizabeth Brewer, Caroline A. Masiello, and Kyriacos Zygourakis (2015). “Nutrient Transport in Soils Amended with Biochar: A transient model with two stationary phases and intraparticle diffusion. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research Just Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1021/ie503893t

Abstract: We present the development of a rate model that simulates nutrient transport in soils amended with biochar. The model considers two stationary adsorbent phases (biochar and soil), axial dispersion, interphase mass transfer and intraparticle diffusion. Langmuir isotherms govern the local equilibria between the solute diffusing in the liquid-filled pores and adsorbed on the pore surfaces of biochar and soil particles. We demonstrate that addition of biochar can effectively slow nutrient transport through the soil if the biochar/soil ratio and crucial biochar properties (like its adsorption capacity and affinity to the sorbate) are carefully matched to the soil properties (water velocity, soil type) and the amount of rainfall or irrigation. Simulations can also track the spatial and temporal evolution of nutrient concentration profiles, information that is essential for analyzing and interpreting experimental data. The new model can be a valuable tool for fine-tuning the production and use of biochar.

Zhang Q-z, Dijkstra FA, Liu X-r, Wang Y-d, Huang J, et al. (2014) Effects of Biochar on Soil Microbial Biomass after Four Years of Consecutive Application in the North China Plain. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102062. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102062

Abstract: The long term effect of biochar application on soil microbial biomass is not well understood. We measured soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and nitrogen (MBN) in a field experiment during a winter wheat growing season after four consecutive years of no (CK), 4.5 (B4.5) and 9.0 t biochar ha−1 yr−1 (B9.0) applied. For comparison, a treatment with wheat straw residue incorporation (SR) was also included. Results showed that biochar application increased soil MBC significantly compared to the CK treatment, and that the effect size increased with biochar application rate. The B9.0 treatment showed the same effect on MBC as the SR treatment. Treatments effects on soil MBN were less strong than for MBC. The microbial biomass C:N ratio was significantly increased by biochar. Biochar might decrease the fraction of biomass N mineralized (KN), which would make the soil MBN for biochar treatments underestimated, and microbial biomass C:N ratios overestimated. Seasonal fluctuation in MBC was less for biochar amended soils than for CK and SR treatments, suggesting that biochar induced a less extreme environment for microorganisms throughout the season. There was a significant positive correlation between MBC and soil water content (SWC), but there was no significant correlation between MBC and soil temperature. Biochar amendments may therefore reduce temporal variability in environmental conditions for microbial growth in this system thereby reducing temporal fluctuations in C and N dynamics.

Keith Jones, Girish Ramakrishnan, Minori Uchimiya, and Alexander Orlov (2015). “New Applications of X-ray Tomography in Pyrolysis of Biomass: Biochar Imaging.” Energy & Fuels Just Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1021/ef5027604.

Abstract: We report on the first ever use of non-destructive micrometer-scale synchrotron-computed microtomography (CMT) for biochar material characterization as a function of pyrolysis temperature. This innovative approach demonstrated an increase in micron-sized marcropore fraction of the Cotton Hull (CH) sample, resulting in up to 29% sample porosity. We have also found that initial porosity development occurred at low temperatures (below 350°C) of pyrolysis, consistent with chemical composition of CH. This innovative technique can be highly complementary to traditional BET measurements, considering that Barrett-Joyner-Halenda (BJH) analysis of pore size distribution cannot detect these macropores. Such information can be of substantial relevance to environmental applications, given that water retention by biochars added to soils is controlled by macropore characteristic among the other factors. Complementing our data with SEM, EDX and XRF characterization techniques allowed us to develop a better understanding of evolution of biochar properties during its production, such presence of metals and initial morphological features of biochar before pyrolysis. These results have significant implications for using biochar as a soil additive and for clarifying the mechanisms of biofuel production by pyrolysis.

%d bloggers like this: