A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Systems are designed to handle spikes in demand, but the wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.

The SEC is Poised to Take Climate Action Policy Seriously

Read the full story at Triple Pundit.

One agency that is aboard the Joe Biden climate action plan is the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which for years either avoided or has not been resourced with the tools it needs to lean on companies to take climate change risks more seriously.

Two weeks in, however, the SEC is poised to change its tone and respond to investors who insist that companies be more forthcoming about their ESG (environmental, social and governance) performance, especially when it comes to their analyses of climate change risks that could affect their financial performance in the long term.

This new direction is evident with the announcement that Satyam Khanna will join the SEC as a senior policy advisor for climate and ESG. For now, he will report to the agency’s acting chair and advise the agency and its various offices and departments on all matters related to ESG.

DSM talks reducing emissions from livestock: ‘We are helping industry improve its environmental credentials and image’

Read the full story at Food Navigator.

Intensive farming of livestock for meat production is often criticised by environmentalists for its heavy carbon footprint. Royal DSM is working to reduce livestock emissions through a new platform it says helps improve poultry, swine, and ruminant operations.

How These Scrap Wood Startups Could Help Colorado Fight Wildfires

Read the full story from CPR News.

If there’s a piece of wood out there, James Gaspard will probably take it. 

The 17 acres his company owns in Berthoud, Colo., is stacked with rejected trees from across the state. The beetle-kill branches and fire-scarred trunks wait to be fed into 100 massive kilns, which look like a fleet of rusty UFOs landing in the farmland below Longs Peak. 

His company, Biochar Now, uses the contraptions to convert wood into biochar, a carbon-rich charcoal that can help soil retain water and nutrients.

Gaspard said the cannabis industry has been an early and loyal customer, but he sees vast possibilities beyond agriculture. In his office, he showed off newer product ideas: cat litter, animal feed, water filters, plastic, soap — all made from wood usually treated as trash. 

“We’re making a market for stuff that had no market,” Gaspard said. 

As Colorado recovers from its worst wildfire season in recorded history, many foresters see entrepreneurs like Gaspard as essential. Products like biochar could provide the financial motivation for fire mitigation products, which reduce fuels but also creates massive piles of unwanted timber. 

Proposed model shows potential for circular practices in construction steel

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

Contrary to popular belief, a profitable business model for reused construction steel is not nearly as impossible as one may believe.

Steelmakers have almost perfected the “recycle” element of the four hierarchical elements of the circular economy — reduce, reuse, remanufacture and recycle — with steel recycling rates of almost 90 percent.

Despite the recycling success, however, the steel industry is increasingly facing pressure to decarbonize. Recycling steel is still both energy- and cost-intensive, and both steelmakers and their customers must go further to reduce environmental impacts. One way to do this is to shift to a reuse model.

To make less-harmful road salts, we’re studying natural antifreezes produced by fish

Deicing salts keep winter roads passable but do a lot of harm in the process. Gregory Rec/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

by Monika Bleszynski (University of Denver)

Many people associate a fresh snowfall with pleasures like hot chocolate and winter sports. But for city dwellers, it can also mean caked-on salt that sticks to shoes, clothing hems and cars. That’s because as soon as the mercury dips below freezing and precipitation is in the forecast, local governments start spreading de-icing salts to keep roads from freezing over.

These salts are typically a less-refined form of table salt, or sodium chloride, but can also include other compounds, such as magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. They work by lowering the freezing point of water.

De-icing salts also do extensive damage to autos, infrastructure and the environment. And cities use them in enormous quantities – nearly 20 million tons per year in the U.S. Snowbelt cities in Canada, Europe and Japan also use de-icing salts heavily.

But new options are in the works. I am a materials scientist seeking solutions for our overly salted sidewalks by analyzing ways in which the natural world deals with ice. Fish, insects and even some plants have learned to adapt to cold climates over hundreds of thousands of years by making their own antifreeze agents to survive subfreezing temperatures. By taking a page from nature, my colleagues and I hope to develop effective but more benign antifreeze compounds.

Harmful impacts of salt

As many drivers know too well, road salt reduces cars’ lives by speeding up the rusting process. A 2010 study estimated that the use of de-icing salts costs U.S. drivers US$23.4 billion dollars nationwide yearly in vehicle damage due to corrosion.

Road salts also damage the surfaces we drive on. They contain chlorine ions – atoms with a negative charge – that alter the chemistry of water and make it more corrosive when it comes in contact with materials like concrete and steel.

As a result, road salts increase existing strains on aging structures. De-icing salts have contributed to bridge failures and cause cracking and other forms of weathering in highway surfaces.

De-icing salts have widespread effects in nature too. If you drive along a forested road after a long snowy winter, you may notice that trees next to the road look a little more brown than the others. That’s because road salts displace minerals in soil and groundwater, creating a condition known as physiological drought.

This means that trees cannot take up water through their roots even if it is freely available in the soil. When natural drought conditions already exist, in such places as Colorado, physiological drought can increase the risk of wildfires by making plants more prone to ignition.

Streams, rivers and lakes are especially vulnerable to water runoff that contains de-icing salts. Chlorine from the salt can inhibit fish from spawning and reduce dissolved oxygen levels in the water, which harms fish and other aquatic life. Salt-laden runoff can also promote the growth of dangerous cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. Some forms of blue-green algae produce toxins that can sicken humans or animals that consume them in drinking water. https://www.youtube.com/embed/oTK-TE2MNDU?wmode=transparent&start=0 Salting roads is an efficient and economic way to keep roads clear in winter, but de-icing salts move easily into soil, streams and groundwater. Scientists are working to understand their effects in nature.

Natural antifreezes

An alternative de-icing option should be nontoxic and break down into benign components – but not too quickly, or its effects won’t last. To see why this is important, consider propyplene glycol, which is used to de-ice aircraft.

Propylene glycol is preferred for this purpose because it is less toxic than the ethylene glycol that keeps your car radiator from freezing up. But propylene glycol’s effects are short-lived, so aircraft typically can wait for only a limited period between de-icing and takeoff. This is also why propylene glycol is rarely sprayed on roadways and surfaces. Furthermore, although it is generally classified as safe for humans, it can still be deadly for aquatic life.

Antarctic toothfish underwater in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
The Antarctic toothfish swims in the coldest waters on Earth, thanks to natural antifreeze proteins in its tissues. Paul Cziko/Wikipedia, CC BY

What about natural alternatives? Scientists have found insects and spiders in Alaska that create antifreeze proteins in their bodies that lower the freezing point of water by a few degrees. And some fish, like the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), create antifreeze glycoproteins that prevent the blood in their veins from freezing in the coldest waters on Earth.

Most of these glycoproteins are delicate structures that break down quickly in the harsh outside world. But my colleagues and I are learning how to make our own antifreeze compounds through imitation. Our first challenge is to learn how the natural versions work so we can re-create them.

While there’s still much we don’t understand, we are using advanced computer modeling to see how antifreeze proteins interact with water molecules. Other scientists have discovered that fish antifreeze glycoproteins contain two main segments, and that certain sections are more essential than others.

Specifically, small compounds called hydroxyl groups, which consist of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, do most of the work. These small compounds lock into place with water molecules, like a key in a lock, to prevent ice from forming. They are also part of most critical sections of the proteins that bind to the surface of any developing ice crystals and prevent them from getting bigger.

Diagrams of antifreeze protein molecules produced by fish and insects
Antifreeze proteins produced by (left to right) the ocean pout, winter flounder, yellow mealworm beetle, spruce budworm moth and snow flea. The lighter-blue portions bind to the surface of ice crystals and slow or prevent them from growing. Protein Data Bank

Antifreeze proteins are natural polymers – enormous long molecules consisting of smaller repeating molecules, like links in a chain. Re-creating these compounds is no easy task, but we can create our own synthetic versions in a lab, starting with polyvinyl alcohol, or PVA. This is a simple, inexpensive compound that is nontoxic to humans and aquatic life and is a common ingredient in many everyday personal care products.

PVA contains the same hydroxyl groups as those found in fish antifreeze proteins. Using a bit of chemical engineering, we can change where those hydroxyls are located in the polymer structure, making it more like the compounds that fish produce. In the future, we may be able to change PVA from an everyday compound into an ice-fighting substance that can be used just about anywhere.

Because PVA doesn’t degrade too quickly, it has the potential to work on surfaces that need to stay ice-free, such as roads, sidewalks and handrails. Its long chemical structure makes it suitable for shaping and adapting into sprays or coatings. Someday cities may rely in winter on nontoxic spray-on antifreezes that won’t stain your clothes or corrode your car.

Monika Bleszynski, Research Scientist and Adjunct Professor, University of Denver

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

Hope And Skepticism As Biden Promises To Address Environmental Racism

Read the full story from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

People of color experience more air and water pollution than white people and suffer the health impacts. It has long been an underaddressed issue in the federal government.

2021 Better Buildings, Better Plants Summit

The U.S. Department of Energy’s next Better Buildings, Better Plants Summit will take place May 17-20, 2021. This will be a virtual, no-cost event featuring engaging and interactive sessions, as well as opportunities for attendees to network with their fellow industry peers and experts.

Learn more here.

Indiana Republicans want to regulate universities’ clean energy investments

Read the full story at Energy News Network.

The proposal was attached to legislation to block cities from adopting policies to transition from natural gas heating.

This acquisition could help make sustainable packaging the norm

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

In Manteca, California, a small company is pioneering the creation and production of paper bottles for brands such as L’Oreal and Seventh Generation. Across the U.S. in St. Petersburg, Florida, a manufacturing giant is strategizing on design, development and packaging services for the likes of Apple, Cisco Systems and HP Inc.

Now, the two companies are combining forces to scale paper packaging made from recycled cardboard boxes and newspaper. Earlier this month, Jabil, the company in Florida, acquired Ecologic Brands, which will become part of its Packaging Solutions division. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.