Solar farms could make fertile habitats for bees and butterflies

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

The buzz about the puzzling mass demise of honey bees, monarch butterflies and other crucial pollinators has prompted plenty of personal protection pledges. Now, a movement is afoot to plant these “gardens” at a much larger scale.

The campaign, advocated by Minnesota-based non-profit Fresh Energy, encourages developers of utility-scale solar projects to plant their land with wildflowers, native grasses and other beneficial vegetation rather than gravel or dirt.

Its pitch: Using just one 2,500-acre solar field for this purpose is like planning 750,000 12-foot by 12-foot backyard pollinator gardens — such as the ones advocated by the Xerces Society.

McConnell: Chemical reform could get a vote in the fall

Read the full story in The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that an overhaul of federal chemical safety laws could come up for a vote when lawmakers return from their summer recess.

A Senate panel passed a bipartisan update of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in April, and McConnell said in June that the bill could hit the floor this summer. But lawmakers never considered it before they left town on Wednesday for a five-week recess.

Bio-inspired robots: A force for good or evil?

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

Whether for good or ill, robotics has been a prime application venue for bio-inspired design. More organic devices are being developed at an increasing rate because of progress in our ability to process information, make things smaller and use new materials with novel properties.

This pattern undoubtedly will continue, and it is part of a larger technological trend of integrating machine and human interfaces. Our machines will look more and more lifelike — and, perhaps, we will look more and more like machines (witness Google Glass).

Snakeskin: A design breakthrough for robots and race cars?

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

Even though a snake’s skin is dry as a bone, we often think of it as wet and slick. There’s a good reason for that — the animals have evolved a coating of scales that helps them slide seemingly without effort across any surface.

Nature’s design is actually more complex than just making a supersmooth skin, though: Each scale overlaps the one behind it to diminish friction in the forward direction while creating enough on the rear of the scale to let the snake propel forward. Each scale is also built to maximize resistance against wear.

Expert friction control and durability make snake and lizard skin very interesting to engineers who want to build those characteristics into machines.

Eventually, replica reptile materials could find a use in high-end automotive engineering, such as Formula One racecars, or in the coming generation of search-and-rescue and exploration robots modeled off snakes.

Lost jobs and the collateral damage of climate change

Read the full post at GreenBiz.

The following is an excerpt from the book “Decent Work, Green Jobs and the Sustainable Economy.”

Environmental challenges and social challenges are inextricably linked. Economic growth, job creation and incomes depend on — and can degrade — natural resources and systems. However, they can also restore and enhance environmental sustainability.

Given the scale and the urgency of these challenges, it is clear that the world will have neither the resources nor the time to tackle them separately or consecutively. They need to be addressed together, in a comprehensive and complementary manner.

The questions are, then, whether and how an environmentally sustainable economy can offer opportunities to create decent work and improve social inclusion.

Green Surfactants Close to Surface

Read the full story in R&D Magazine.

From cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to agricultural products and paint, surfactants are ubiquitous in consumer and industrial areas. The compounds make up a multi-billion-dollar market, according to the NSF.

Taking cues from surfactants made by common bacteria, the Univ. of Arizona research team is exploring new biosurfactants based on sugars generally referred to as glycolipids. The sugar structure ensure the surfactants are biodegradable.

Detroit wildlife refuge could be model for urban conservation

Read the full story at WKAR.

When you think of wildlife refuges, Detroit probably isn’t the first place that pops to mind. But conservation scientists are paying increasing attention to the potential of urban spaces. Current State’s April Van Buren talks with John H. Hartig, who manages the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, about his new book “Bringing Conservation to Cities.”

What is the Gulf of Mexico ‘Dead Zone’ and how can it be reduced?

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

Millions of acres of farm fields, city streets and wastewater treatment plants leach nutrients – in the form ­­­of nitrogen and phosphorous – into the Mississippi River. This “nutrient pollution” travels to the Gulf of Mexico from as far away as Wisconsin, contributing to a vast “Dead Zone” in the Gulf that is starved of oxygen. Illinois is one of 12 states tasked with reducing its contribution to the dead zone. In an interview, Brian Miller, the director of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and of the Illinois Water Resources Center, explains how the newly released Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy will work. News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates interviewed Miller about the plan.

NOAA Climate Program Office: Outreach and Education

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2015.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office hosts an information-packed Outreach and Education website. Here readers may find up-to-date information on climate change, including many interesting articles. Within Educational Resources, readers will find an especially interesting resource, Ten Signs of a Warming World. This interactive web page allows users to explore the evidence for climate change themselves, such as warming air temperature over land, air temperature over ocean, arctic sea ice, glaciers, and other indicators of world wide climate change. In addition, the Adopt a Drifter program has been a favorite of K-16 educators since its inception in 2004. In this program, students “adopt” a meteorological buoy that is then released into the ocean. They may then access information from their buoy, track its progress, and learn how it is contributing to the overall data gathering in the world’s oceans. [CNH]

Meet the companies trying to break our plastic addiction

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The fate of the world’s oceans may rest inside a stainless steel tank not quite the size of a small beer keg. Inside, genetically modified bacteria turn corn syrup into a churning mass of polymers that can be used to produce a wide variety of common plastics.

“It’s a bit like making yogurt,” said Oliver Peoples, chief scientific officer of Metabolix, Inc.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts–based company where bioplastics take shape in laboratory-scale fermentation chambers is one of a growing number of businesses and institutions working to develop cost-competitive, more environmentally friendly replacements for conventional plastics, which are made from fossil fuels, fail to decompose and are turning our oceans into seas of floating plastic.