EPA finalizes rule to limit science behind public health safeguards

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule to limit what research it can use to craft public health protections, a move opponents argue is aimed at crippling the agency’s ability to more aggressively regulate the nation’s air and water.

The “Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information” rule, which the administration began pursuing early in President Trump’s term, would require researchers to disclose the raw data involved in their public health studies before the agency could rely upon their conclusions. It will apply this new set of standards to “dose-response studies,” which evaluate how much a person’s exposure to a substance increases the risk of harm.

While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the final rule last week, he announced it Tuesday at a virtual session hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that advocates fewer federal regulations and disputes the idea that climate change poses a major threat to the United States.

NIST Awards Nearly $4 Million to Support Metals-Based Additive Manufacturing

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has awarded nearly $4 million in grants to help accelerate the adoption of new measurement methods and standards to advance U.S. competitiveness in metals-based additive manufacturing (AM). 

“NIST and the entire Department of Commerce are committed to providing American organizations the necessary resources to thrive and build upon their discoveries and innovations,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “I congratulate these grant awardees, whose contributions to metals-based additive manufacturing will certainly help America play a bigger role in the industry.”

“By addressing important measurement challenges, these projects will improve U.S. manufacturers’ ability to use metals-based additive manufacturing to make high-quality, innovative and complex products at high volume,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan. “We look forward to working with these organizations to further leverage NIST experience and expertise in this key area of advanced manufacturing.”

Additive manufacturing typically creates parts and components by building them layer by layer, based on a 3D computer model that is virtually sliced into many thin layers. Metals-based additive processes form parts by melting or sintering material in powder form. The process offers advantages such as reduced material waste, lower energy intensity, reduced time to market and just-in-time production.

Through its own research and with these grants, NIST is addressing barriers to adoption of additive manufacturing, including surface finish and quality issues, dimensional accuracy, fabrication speed, material properties and computational requirements.

The following organizations will receive NIST Metals-Based Additive Manufacturing Grants Program funding to be spent over two years:

Georgia Tech Research Corporation ($1 million)
This project will analyze detailed data gathered during a powder bed fusion process to both control the manufacturing and predict the final properties of the manufactured parts. The goal is to establish a comprehensive basis to qualify, verify and validate parts produced by this technique. The initial focus will be on an alloy of titanium that could see extensive applications in the health care and aerospace sectors.  

University of Texas at El Paso ($1 million)
This project will define a test artifact that will standardize the collection of data on the process inputs and performance of parts made via laser powder bed fusion, an important method of metals-based AM. Academic, government and industrial partners will replicate the artifact and collect data on the key inputs to the process and the resulting properties of the artifact for a data repository. The work will lead to a greater understanding of the AM process and will allow for greater confidence in final parts.  

Purdue University ($999,929)
Qualification of parts made by AM now requires an extensive set of tests. This project aims to reduce that burden by developing a standardized approach to predict key performance properties through measurements of material microstructures and the use of mathematical models. The work promises to create a streamlined method for industry to understand part performance with less testing than is currently required.  

Northeastern University ($999,464) 
This project aims to improve sensing approaches and create a suite of sensor technologies that will help optimize cold spray additive manufacturing. Cold spray AM processes have the potential to create parts that are more durable and stronger than those made with other AM processes. New sensors will help characterize the properties of the powder feedstock and the key parameters of the process, such as temperatures and part dimensions, and allow for better control of this promising technique.  

In addition to these awards, NIST anticipates funding additional projects as part of a second phase of awards in the first half of 2021.  

NIST, a nonregulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit NIST.gov.

Comparing coal phase-out pathways: The United Kingdom’s and Germany’s diverging transitions

Hanna Brauers, Pao-Yu Oei, Paula Walk (2020). “Comparing coal phase-out pathways: The United Kingdom’s and Germany’s diverging transitions.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 37, 238-253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2020.09.001

Abstract: Political decisions and trends regarding coal use for electricity generation developed differently in the UK and Germany, despite being subject to relatively similar climate protection targets and general political and economic conditions. The UK agreed on a coal phase-out by 2024. In Germany, a law schedules a coal phase-out by 2038 at the latest. This paper investigates reasons for the different developments and aims to identify main hurdles and drivers of coal phase-outs by using the Triple Embeddedness Framework.

The comparative case study approach reveals that policy outcomes regarding coal consumption are deeply influenced by several actor groups, namely, coal companies, unions, environmental NGOs, and the government. The most discussed aspects of a coal phase-out in both countries are energy security concerns, whether coal is mined domestically, (regional) economic dependence, as well as the relative power of actors with vested interests in coal consumption.

Bird poop and lake mud ‘time machine’ reveal dramatic seabird declines

Storm petrels are one of the world’s most abundant seabirds, but their numbers have plummeted in some places. (Shutterstock)

by Matthew Duda and John P. Smol (Queen’s University, Ontario)

When European settlers began arriving to eastern North America in the 16th century, they were met by staggering numbers of seabirds.

One of the world’s most abundant is the Leach’s storm petrel, which forages at sea during the day. At night, after the birds had returned to the breeding colony en masse, the settlers would likely have heard a cacophony of witch-like cackling.

In the French archipelago of St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the southern coast of what is now known as Newfoundland, these sailors noted an enormous colony of storm petrels. They described the vast flocks as “colombiers,” the French term for the pigeon houses common in Europe at the time, and named the island Grand Colombier.

Seabird colonies like these are especially vulnerable to human activities, and are thought to be in rapid decline today. But the scientists who are trying to conserve species at risk of being lost are often left asking, “How have these populations been changing?” and “What is natural?”

The situation is further complicated in that only about 19 per cent of seabird species have been adequately surveyed to reliably estimate recent population trends. For the storm petrels, lake mud — and bird poop — may provide answers.

Oily seabirds lighting the way

When the French settlers arrived, some tried harvesting the birds for food, but found they were disappointing menu items, calling them “worth nothing to eat.” Instead, these oily seabirds were sometimes used to make candles.

A Leach’s storm petrel chick. (Sabina Wilhelm)

Human interference with storm petrel colonies didn’t stop there. With industrialization and human expansion, storm petrels had to contend with a variety of other impacts causing their numbers to decline.

Anecdotal evidence notes that rats escaping from a nearby sunken ship reached Grand Colombier Island and had “a heyday among the hatching eggs and nesting birds”. These days, light pollution disrupts migratory routes and interactions with offshore oil platforms are other factors causing seabird numbers to dwindle.

By current estimates, the global storm petrel population has declined by over 30 per cent since the 1980s.

But because storm petrels weren’t surveyed before humans began to interfere with their environment, it’s impossible to know just how big the colonies once were. We had to find other ways to reconstruct past seabird populations.

Bird poop

Our lab looked to the sediments at the bottom of lakes that have been collecting feces and other debris left by nesting seabirds, layer by layer, for thousands of years.

Storm petrels are destructive house guests. When they breed, they build burrows for their chicks on remote islands. In their wake, they leave behind feces, uprooted vegetation, eggshells and feathers.

When it rains, this material is washed over the landscape, some of which drains into lakes and ponds. As such, the lake sediments archive a library of information tracking past seabird populations as they slowly accumulate, preserving an environmental history, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We knew the waste of storm petrels was acidic, rich in nutrients and very high in cadmium and zinc. We reasoned that if the storm petrel colony increased in size, the environment — and by extension the sediments — would contain evidence of higher acidity, nutrients and metals. If the colony size were to decline, we would expect the opposite trend. Using these principles, we could use sediments as a time machine going back in time to understand past seabird population trends.

The cackling island

To be successful, our work had two prerequisites: lots of seabirds and a lake near the colony. We decided on Grand Colombier Island. Based on limited monitoring data, we believed this colony was stable, with about 300,000 storm petrels in 2011. Most other colonies in the world are declining.

So, what makes Grand Colombier different? Why is this colony stable when others are in decline? By going back in time, we hoped to find clues that would help conserve storm petrels here and elsewhere.

Armed with a boat and sediment corer, our team made their way to the seabird’s islands to access our time machine.

Hiking to a pond on St. Pierre Island. (Susie Rance)

A not-so-stable population

To say that we were surprised by the results would be an understatement.

From the 5,800-year sediment record that we recovered, it was clear the storm petrel population was not always stable. In fact, the colony naturally fluctuated, with distinct peaks in size about 2,700 years ago and again about 740 years ago. Clearly, large seabird colonies have fluctuated in size, even before humans interfered.

More strikingly, the population crashed at the start of the 19th century, coinciding with European settlement — and the onset of seabird candle-making, rat infestations and increasing boating traffic. Although, on the surface, the colony appeared to have been stable since the 1980s, it is now only 16 per cent of what it may have been before European arrival.

The Leach’s storm petrel trends on Grand Colombier Island. The rapid population decline is evident after permanent European settlement in 1816. The years are shown in years before present (BP), where 0 BP is 1950. (Authors)

What about other species?

Realizing that the current population of storm petrels is only a fraction of its past size addresses a systemic issue in conservation biology, namely something scientists call “shifting baselines syndrome.” Specifically, how do we set realistic conservation goals if we don’t know the size of natural populations before humans had a significant impact on their size?

When setting conservation goals, it’s important to consider any available long-term data, whether that’s with lake sediments, whole-genome sequencing or traditional knowledge.

There is a long road ahead to reverse species declines, but an important first step is to have a better understanding of the temporal context of past changes, as well as the magnitude and timing of any modern declines.

Matthew Duda, PhD Candidate, Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Laboratory, Queen’s University, Ontario and John P. Smol, Distinguished University Professor and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Patenting and business outcomes for cleantech startups funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy

Goldstein, A., Doblinger, C., Baker, E. et al. “Patenting and business outcomes for cleantech startups funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.” Nature Energy 5, 803–810 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-020-00683-8

Abstract: Innovation to reduce the cost of clean technologies has large environmental and societal benefits. Governments can play an important role in helping cleantech startups innovate and overcome risks involved in technology development. Here we examine the impact of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on two outcomes for startup companies: innovation (measured by patenting activity) and business success (measured by venture capital funding raised, survival, and acquisition or initial public offering). We compare 25 startups funded by ARPA-E in 2010 to rejected ARPA-E applicants, startups funded by a related government programme and other comparable cleantech startups. We find that ARPA-E awardees have a strong innovation advantage over all the comparison groups. However, while we find that ARPA-E awardees performed better than rejected applicants in terms of post-award business success, we do not detect significant differences compared to other cleantech startups. These findings suggest that ARPA-E was not able to fully address the ‘valley of death’ for cleantech startups within 10–15 yr after founding.

GE, Veolia agree US blade recycling pact

Read the full story at Renews.biz.

GE Renewable Energy has reached an agreement with Veolia North America to recycle blades removed from its US-based onshore turbines during upgrades and repowering projects.

Veolia will process the blades, which are mainly made of fibreglass, for use as a raw material for cement, using a cement kiln co-processing technology.

The Issue with Tissue: How the Tree-to-Toilet Pipeline Fuels Our CLimate Crisis

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The Issue With Tissue 2.0 updates the 2019 report to incorporate new scientific information and changes in the tissue market. It includes breakthrough findings regarding climate, biodiversity, and the health of Canada’s boreal forest, all of which further underscore the need for tissue companies to act with urgency. The reissued scorecard also integrates new brands, new data, and an updated methodology that reflects new dynamics in the tissue supply chain.

2020 Sustainable Energy in America Fact Book

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The 2020 edition of the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook – produced for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by BloombergNEF, looks at the U.S. energy transformation of the past decade (2010 – 2019) and provides the annual update on the progress of energy efficiency, natural gas and renewable energy sectors in 2019 in America.

Entrepreneurship and the sustainable bioeconomy transformation

Andreas Kuckertz, Elisabeth S.C. Berger, Leif Brändle (2020). “Entrepreneurship and the sustainable bioeconomy transformation.” Environmental Innovation and Societal Transition 37, 332-344. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eist.2020.10.003

Abstract: Governments worldwide have formulated visions of a transition toward a bio-based economy (bioeconomy). These visions to move beyond the exploitation of fossil resources complement the United Nation’s sustainability goals such as climate change mitigation. Different factors will shape and foster the successful transition to a knowledge-based bioeconomy; among those factors, entrepreneurial activity is especially promising. Therefore, this study examines the enabling and transformational role of entrepreneurship by conducting a structured literature review and thematic analysis to elicit the implicit views on entrepreneurs and their ventures found in the bioeconomy literature. The review identifies three major entrepreneurial themes addressed in the literature that are included in a holistic framework comprising entrepreneurial activity on the micro level, entrepreneurial ecosystems (or clusters and innovation systems) on the meso level, and governmental vision and support on the macro level. Suggestions for further research on the interface of entrepreneurship and the bioeconomy are also provided.

The surprising connection between West Coast fires and the volatile chemicals tainting America’s drinking water

Read the full story at Ensia.

Editor’s note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. View related stories here.

Manufactured substances known as volatile organic compounds contaminate drinking water around the U.S. — and recent wildfires are making the situation worse.