Category: Publications

DOE Report Highlights Innovative Breakthroughs in Energy-Efficient Technologies for Buildings

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a new report showcasing numerous energy-saving products and technologies, made possible through DOE research and development, which are currently available in the market or projected to enter the marketplace in the future. Because buildings consume roughly 40% of the nation’s energy, more than transportation or the industrial sector, improving buildings with energy-saving products is one of the most beneficial ways to reduce energy waste and greenhouse gas emissions. The report, titled Buildings R&D Breakthroughs: Technologies and Products Supported by the Building Technologies Program (BTP), informs government professionals, architects, designers, manufacturers, and energy efficiency advocates about DOE project successes and next-generation innovations.

DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) authored the report, which investigates 190 research and development projects sponsored by the Department from fiscal year 2005 to 2009. The technologies detailed in the report are organized in four critical areas: building envelope, HVAC and water heating, lighting, and windows. The report highlights:

  • 11 commercially available products
  • 41 emerging technologies projected to enter the market within the next three years
  • 68 technologies being researched for potential market introduction

Innovative products highlighted in the report include water heaters, LEDs, rooftop heating and cooling units, and windows.

The report also shows the proportion of breakthroughs resulting from DOE-funded projects at private companies, universities, and national laboratories. Private companies made the most breakthroughs, delivering 73% of commercially available products and emerging technologies and 56% of potential new technologies.

How to successfully implement extended producer responsibility: considerations from an economic point of view

Hans Wiesmeth and Dennis Häckl (2011). “How to successfully implement extended producer responsibility: considerations from an economic point of view.” Waste Management and Research, Published online before print June 24, 2011. doi: 10.1177/0734242X11413333 [free to subscribers. Request a copy through your local library’s interlibrary loan service]

Abstract: This paper investigates the concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR) from an economic point of view. Particular importance will be placed on the concept of ‘economic feasibility’ of an EPR policy, which should guide decision-making in this context. Moreover, the importance of the core EPR principle of ‘integrating signals throughout the product chain’ into the incentive structure will be demonstrated with experiences from Germany. These examples refer to sales packaging consumption, refillable drinks packages and waste electrical and electronic equipment collection. As a general conclusion, the interaction between economic principles and technological development needs to be observed carefully when designing incentive-compatible EPR policies.

Doubling Down on the Single Bottom Line

Read the full post at Triple Pundit.

Daniel Altman and Jonathan Berman’s recent paper,The Single Bottom Line, caused a stir in sustainability circles last week, partially fueled by coverage in the New York Times.

The paper argues that focusing on profit—the single bottom line—is a more efficient and sustainable way to promote social benefit than emerging frameworks like the triple bottom line, corporate social responsibility, and Creating Shared Value.  Altman and Berman say the latter are organizational distractions whose claimed benefits are too idiosyncratic to support principled business practice.

State of the Climate in 2010

Blunden, J., D. S. Arndt, and M. O. Baringer, Eds., 2010: State of the Climate in 2010. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 92 (6), S1–S266. Online at

Abstract: Several large-scale climate patterns influenced climate conditions and weather patterns across the globe during 2010. The transition from a warm El Niño phase at the beginning of the year to a cool La Niña phase by July contributed to many notable events, ranging from record wetness across much of Australia to historically low Eastern Pacific basin and near-record high North Atlantic basin hurricane activity. The remaining five main hurricane basins experienced below- to well-below-normal tropical cyclone activity. The negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation was a major driver of Northern Hemisphere temperature patterns during 2009/10 winter and again in late 2010. It contributed to record snowfall and unusually low temperatures over much of northern Eurasia and parts of the United States, while bringing above-normal temperatures to the high northern latitudes. The February Arctic Oscillation Index value was the most negative since records began in 1950.

The 2010 average global land and ocean surface temperature was among the two warmest years on record. The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate of lower latitudes. The eastern and tropical Pacific Ocean cooled about 1°C from 2009 to 2010, reflecting the transition from the 2009/10 El Niño to the 2010/11 La Niña. Ocean heat fluxes contributed to warm sea surface temperature anomalies in the North Atlantic and the tropical Indian and western Pacific Oceans. Global integrals of upper ocean heat content for the past several years have reached values consistently higher than for all prior times in the record, demonstrating the dominant role of the ocean in the Earth’s energy budget. Deep and abyssal waters of Antarctic origin have also trended warmer on average since the early 1990s. Lower tropospheric temperatures typically lag ENSO surface fluctuations
by two to four months, thus the 2010 temperature was dominated by the warm phase El Niño conditions that
occurred during the latter half of 2009 and early 2010 and was second warmest on record. The stratosphere
continued to be anomalously cool.

Annual global precipitation over land areas was about five percent above normal. Precipitation over the ocean was drier than normal after a wet year in 2009. Overall, saltier (higher evaporation) regions of the ocean surface continue to be anomalously salty, and fresher (higher precipitation) regions continue to be anomalously fresh. This salinity pattern, which has held since at least 2004, suggests an increase in the hydrological cycle.

Sea ice conditions in the Arctic were significantly different than those in the Antarctic during the year. The annual minimum ice extent in the Arctic – reached in September — was the third lowest on record since 1979. In the Antarctic, zonally averaged sea ice extent reached an all-time record  maximum from mid-June through late August and again from mid-November through early December. Corresponding record positive Southern Hemisphere Annular Mode Indices influenced the Antarctic sea ice extents.

Greenland glaciers lost more mass than any other year in the decade-long record. The Greenland Ice Sheet lost a record amount of mass, as the melt rate was the highest since at least 1958, and the area and duration of the melting was greater than any year since at least 1978. High summer air temperatures and a  longer melt season also caused a continued increase in the rate of ice mass loss from small glaciers and ice caps in the Canadian Arctic. Coastal sites in Alaska show continuous permafrost warming and sites in Alaska, Canada, and Russia indicate more significant warming in relatively cold permafrost than in warm permafrost in the same geographical area. With regional differences, permafrost temperatures are now up to 2°C warmer than they were 20 to 30 years ago. Preliminary data indicate there is a high probability that 2010 will be the 20th consecutive year that alpine glaciers have lost mass.

Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continued to rise and ozone depleting substances continued to decrease. Carbon dioxide increased by 2.60 ppm in 2010, a rate above both the 2009 and the 1980–2010 average rates. The global ocean carbon dioxide uptake for the 2009 transition period from La Niña to El Niño conditions, the most recent period for which analyzed data are available, is estimated to be similar to the long-term average. The 2010 Antarctic ozone hole was among the lowest 20% compared with other years since 1990, a result of warmer-than-average temperatures in the Antarctic stratosphere during austral winter between mid-July and early September.

Climate Change Makes Some Chemicals More Toxic to Aquatic Life

Read the news release.

Some areas of the southern United States are suffering from the longest dry spell since 1887 and a new Baylor University study shows that could prove problematic for aquatic organisms.

The Baylor study found that drought conditions make some chemicals in the environment more toxic to fish and other aquatic life. Specifically, the study found that drought conditions exacerbate the magnitudes of the natural pH shifts in the water. This is important, the researchers said, because some contaminants in the water, such as ammonia, are more toxic to aquatic life depending on the pH level. Also, more than 75 percent of the essential drugs described by the World Health Organization and approximately one-third of modern pesticides have ionizable groups of compounds. These “weak base” compounds when dispersed in the environment can become more toxic to fish when surface pH levels are high.

The findings appear on-line in the journal Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management.

The full citation for the article is:

Theodore W Valenti, Jason M Taylor, Jeffrey A Back, Ryan S King, Bryan W. Brooks (2011). “Influence of drought and total phosphorus on diel pH in wadeable streams: Implications for ecological risk assessment of ionizable contaminants.” Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, published online before print. doi: 10.1002/ieam.202

Study: BPA Makes Male Mice Less Masculine

Update 3:05 pm: Newsy has produced a video on the study. Watch it at

Read the full story from PBS Newshour.

A new study released Monday shows that exposure to a common ingredient in plastic bottles and packaging can cause male mice to act like females. The lead author of the study discusses its significance for humans.

The full citation for the article, which is open access, is:

Eldin Jašarević, Paizlee T. Sieli, Erin E. Twellman, Thomas H. Welsh, Jr, Todd R. Schachtman, R. Michael Roberts, David C. Geary, and Cheryl S. Rosenfeld. (2011). “Disruption of adult expression of sexually selected traits by developmental exposure to bisphenol A.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Published online before print June 27, 2011. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1107958108.

Abstract: Exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs), such as bisphenol A (BPA), may cause adverse health effects in wildlife and humans, but controversy remains as to what traits are most sensitive to EDCs and might serve as barometers of exposure. Expression of sexually selected traits that have evolved through intrasexual competition for mates and intersexual choice of mating partner are more dependent on developmental and physical condition of an animal than naturally selected traits and thus might be particularly vulnerable to disruption by developmental exposure to EDCs. We have used the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) as a model to test this hypothesis. Adult male–male competition for mates in this species is supported by enhanced spatial navigational and exploratory abilities, which enable males to search for prospective, widely dispersed females. Male deer mice exposed to BPA or ethinyl estradiol (EE) through maternal diet showed no changes in external phenotype, sensory development, or adult circulating concentrations of testosterone and corticosterone, but spatial learning abilities and exploratory behaviors were severely compromised compared with control males. Because these traits are not sexually selected in females, BPA exposure predictably had no effect, although EE-exposed females demonstrated enhanced spatial navigational abilities. Both BPA-exposed and control females preferred control males to BPA-exposed males. Our demonstration that developmental exposure to BPA compromises cognitive abilities and behaviors essential for males to reproduce successfully has broad implications for other species, including our own. Thus, sexually selected traits might provide useful biomarkers to assess risk of environmental contamination in animal and human populations.

Greenhouse-gas emissions from energy use in the water sector

Sabrina G. S. A. Rothausen & Declan Conway (2011). “Greenhouse-gas emissions from energy use in the water sector.” Nature Climate Change 1, 210–219. doi:10.1038/nclimate1147

Abstract: Water management faces great challenges over the coming decades. Pressures include stricter water-quality standards, increasing demand for water and the need to adapt to climate change, while reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The processes of abstraction, conveyance and treatment of fresh water and wastewater all demand energy. Energy use in the water sector is growing, yet its importance is under-recognized, and gaps remain in our knowledge. Here we define the need to integrate energy use further into water resource management and identify opportunities for the water sector to understand and describe more effectively its role in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Researcher Argues that Climate Change Disasters Are Predictable

Read the full story in Environmental Protection.

Climate change disasters, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, dieback of the Amazon rainforest, or collapse of the Atlantic overturning circulation, could be predicted according to University of Exeter research.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, professor Tim Lenton of the University of Exeter shows that the “tipping points” that trigger these disasters could be anticipated by looking for changes in climate behaviour.

The citation for the full article is:

Lenton, Timothy. (2011). “Early warning of climate tipping points.” Nature Climate Change 1, 201–209. doi:10.1038/nclimate1143.
A climate ‘tipping point’ occurs when a small change in forcing triggers a strongly nonlinear response in the internal dynamics of part of the climate system, qualitatively changing its future state. Human-induced climate change could push several large-scale ‘tipping elements’ past a tipping point. Candidates include irreversible melt of the Greenland ice sheet, dieback of the Amazon rainforest and shift of the West African monsoon. Recent assessments give an increased probability of future tipping events, and the corresponding impacts are estimated to be large, making them significant risks. Recent work shows that early warning of an approaching climate tipping point is possible in principle, and could have considerable value in reducing the risk that they pose.


2011 State of States: Fuel Cells in America Report Issued

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Program has issued the second annual 2011 State of the States: Fuel Cells in America report. The report, written by Fuel Cells 2000, details fuel cell and hydrogen activity and policy in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and includes an analysis of new policies and funding, recent and planned fuel cell and hydrogen installations, and activity by industry and academia.

The report highlights growth in the deployment of fuel cells, including the increase in primary power and combined heat and power fuel cell system sales to grocery stores, local governments, municipalities, and private companies across the country.

Poor efficacy of herbicides in biochar-amended soils as affected by their chemistry and mode of action.

Nag SK, Kookana R, Smith L, Krull E, Macdonald LM, Gill G. “Poor efficacy of herbicides in biochar-amended soils as affected by their chemistry and mode of action.” Chemosphere, E-pub ahead of print. [doi:10.1016/j.chemosphere.2011.05.052]

Abstract: We evaluated wheat straw biochar produced at 450°C for its ability to influence bioavailability and persistence of two commonly used herbicides (atrazine and trifluralin) with different modes of action (photosynthesis versus root tip mitosis inhibitors) in two contrasting soils. The biochar was added to soils at 0%, 0.5% and 1.0% (w/w) and the herbicides were applied to those soil-biochar mixes at nil, half, full, two times, and four times, the recommended dosage (H(4)). Annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum) was grown in biochar amended soils for 1month. Biochar had a positive impact on ryegrass survival rate and above-ground biomass at most of the application rates, and particularly at H(4). Within any given biochar treatment, increasing herbicide application decreased the survival rate and fresh weight of above-ground biomass. Biomass production across the biochar treatment gradient significantly differed (p<0.01) and was more pronounced in the case of atrazine than trifluralin. For example, the dose-response analysis showed that in the presence of 1% biochar in soil, the value of GR(50) (i.e. the dose required to reduce weed biomass by 50%) for atrazine increased by 3.5 times, whereas it increased only by a factor of 1.6 in the case of trifluralin. The combination of the chemical properties and the mode of action governed the extent of biochar-induced reduction in bioavailability of herbicides. The greater biomass of ryegrass in the soil containing the highest biochar (despite having the highest herbicide residues) demonstrates decreased bioavailability of the chemicals caused by the wheat straw biochar. This work clearly demonstrates decreased efficacy of herbicides in biochar amended soils. The role played by herbicide chemistry and mode of action will have major implications in choosing the appropriate application rates for biochar amended soils.

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