Environment

Clean energy from paper waste, Office buildings are notorious for wasting paper, but not so with the heritage-listed Legion House. Australian architectural practice Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp designed a multipurpose energy-efficient development in Sydney that includes a commercial tower, retail space and an ambitious green refurbishment. The architects designed two new levels for the 1902 Legion House and deployed state-of-the-art technology that converts paper waste into a combustible gas used to generate electricity. The new technology has converted the tower into a carbon neutral building.

The turn-of-the-century Legion House is located in the heart of Sydney CBD and has operated as a women’s hostel for the last 60 years. Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp was commissioned to redevelop a larger area that includes the building, which has been converted into a zero carbon structure that received the 6-Star Green Star Office certification. Because of the building’s location, which receives almost no sun during the day, the architects decided to opt for biomass gasification technology in order to create renewable energy on site.

Legion House can use commercial paper waste generated from the adjacent office tower through shredding and compressing this waste to form paper briquettes, which can be used in the gasification plant. Surplus power created by its independent system is to be supplied to the 50-storey commercial office tower on the site.

Consideration of the site’s rich history led to the authentic juxtaposition of new and heritage elements. Restoring and redeveloping Legion House enhanced its overall utility and environmental performance. With a 6-Star Green Star- Office v3 Design rating, the six-storey ‘Autonomous Zero Carbon Life Cycle Building’ generates renewable electricity on site resulting in zero net carbon emissions.

While traditional gasification plants utilize standard wood chips or briquettes made from compressed waste sawdust, Legion House uses paper waste. According to the architects, it is the first time this type of technology used in a large scale commercial office. The building also features chilled beam technology and rainwater harvesting and recycling systems.

Location: Sydney, Australia

Architects: Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp

Project Team: Richard Francis-Jones, Jeff Morehen, Sean McPeake, Richard Desgrand, Johnathan Redman, Joseph Pirrello, David Caleo, Jason Veale, James Kral, Barbara Flynn, Mark Relf, Ben White, Brendan Bennett, Sandro Razzi, James Phillips, Susan Freeman, Grahame Barnes, Ian Hanna

Area: 57,000 sqm of commercial NLA

Year: 2014

LEGO bricks turned into scientific tool to study plant growth. Engineers are using LEGO bricks to build controlled environments to study how variations in climate and soil affect plant growth. They say LEGO bricks “are highly convenient and versatile building blocks” for the studies. While looking for a way to study plant and root growth that was simple, inexpensive and flexible — something that allowed experiments to be reproduced all over the world, even in labs without the latest technologies or the infrastructure required for plant science or agronomy research — researchers thought of LEGO bricks. And it worked.

Ludovico Cademartiri had what seemed like an impossibly demanding list of requirements for his lab equipment.

The Iowa State University assistant professor of materials science and engineering wants to understand environmental effects on plant growth, specifically how variations in climate and soil characteristics affect root growth. That requires highly controlled environments that expose whole plants to environmental effects such as nutrients, water, oxygen gradients as well as physical obstacles for the roots.

Greenhouses can create fairly controlled environments for whole plants, but they’re homogeneous. And microfluidic technologies can create highly controlled micron-scale environments, but they’re expensive, relatively complex and not easy to scale up.

Cademartiri was looking for a way to study plant and root growth that was simple, inexpensive and flexible, something that allowed experiments to be reproduced all over the world, even in labs without the latest technologies or the infrastructure required for plant science or agronomy research.

He was looking for something modular, scalable and structurally precise. He wanted something simple, reproducible, affordable and capable of many simultaneous experiments. He was looking for something transparent, autoclavable, three-dimensional, chemically inert and compatible with existing plant growth experiments.

And he thought of the perfect something from the toy aisle: LEGO bricks.

“Forget for a minute that they’re used as toys,” Cademartiri said. “They’re actually pieces of high-quality plastic, built to extraordinary standards of precision, that you can use to build stuff.”

They’re also “a good example of how something simple can solve a complex design problem,” he said.

Cademartiri and his research group report their use of LEGO bricks to successfully build engineered environments for plant and root studies in a paper just published by the peer-reviewed, online journal PLOS ONE.

The paper’s authors include Cademartiri; Kara Lind, an Iowa State doctoral student in materials science and engineering; Saida Benomar, a former postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory; Anthony Miller, a former Iowa State undergraduate in agronomy; and Tom Sizmur, formerly a postdoctoral research associate at Iowa State and the Ames Lab, now of Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, England.

Lind said her primary role with the project was figuring out how to configure transparent LEGO bricks to hold gel or other soil substitutes for germinating and growing plants. She also experimented with ways to make the LEGO environments bigger to accommodate growing plants. And she developed techniques to create controlled chemical gradients in the LEGO environments with the intent of testing plant response to nutrients and toxins.

“When I started this research program, there was a lack of tools for the creation of highly controlled and yet frugal environments capable of holding an entire plant,” Cademartiri said. “The first objective we focused on was building a library of tools that would be accessible to everybody and allow them — and us — to proceed to scientific experiments.”

The researchers accomplished their objective: “We here demonstrate that LEGO bricks are highly convenient and versatile building blocks for building centimeter-scale engineered environments for plant roots,” they wrote in their paper.

Will the paper have other researchers visiting the toy aisle?

“We do believe it could be useful,” Cademartiri said.

The researchers wrote in their paper that they’ll continue to develop this library of tools for “the fabrication of frugal but sophisticated” environments for studies of plants and other organisms.

Some 6 million to 10 million gallons of oil from the BP oil spill are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta, researchers have discovered.

Ater 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it.

Now, a new study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton finds that some 6 million to 10 million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.
“This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come,” Chanton said. “Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It’s a conduit for contamination into the food web.”
The article, published in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, details how oil caused particles in the Gulf to clump together and sink to the ocean floor.

The researchers used carbon 14, a radioactive isotope as an inverse tracer to determine where oil might have settled on the floor. Oil does not have carbon 14, so sediment that contained oil would immediately stand out.
Chanton then collaborated with Tingting Zhao, associate professor of geography at Florida State, to use geographic information system mapping to create a map of the oiled sediment distribution on the sea floor.
Chanton said in the short term, the oil sinking to the sea floor might have seemed like a good thing because the water was clarified, and the oil was removed from the water. But, in the long term, it’s a problem, he said.
Less oxygen exists on the sea floor relative to the water column, so the oiled particles are more likely to become hypoxic, meaning they experience less oxygen. Once that happens, it becomes much more difficult for bacteria to attack the oil and cause it to decompose, Chanton said.

Chanton’s research is supported by the Florida State University-headquartered Deep-C Consortium as well as the Ecogig consortium, centered at the University of Mississippi. The work was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Institute created to allocate the money made available to support scientific research by BP.
His previous research examined how methane-derived carbon from the oil spill entered the food web.

Source: Florida State University research

After a forest fire, logging companies often follow to do what is called salvage logging–salvaging the timber that has not been completely destroyed by the fire. The economic benefit is clear. But the ecological effects are unknown, experts say.

It sounds like a good idea, since even the timber from burned trees can be used for lumber. Economic benefit can come from otherwise devastated land. Even the name has a warm, fuzzy ring to it: salvage logging.

The only problem is, the ecological effects are unknown.

Actually, that’s not quite true. For over a decade, Joseph Wagenbrenner, assistant professor in Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, has been examining salvage logging at four forest fire sites in Montana, Colorado and Washington. He and his research team studied the effects of salvage logging on the ground cover, soil compaction, sediment in water runoff and regrowth of vegetation, compared to control plots that were not logged after a fire.

Specifically, they looked at the impact of various salvage logging practices, including the trails made by the most commonly used equipment: feller bunchers — heavy machines that drive uphill, cutting and piling up trees — and skidders, which pick up the piles of trees and drag them back downhill.

They found that the amount of sediment in runoff water increased measurably on the smaller plots, but the increase was not consistent on larger tracts of land. The amount of sediment running downhill and the compaction of the ground was greater where the feller bunchers and skidders were used. The more firmly compacted ground becomes, the less water can soak in and the more runoff and erosion can occur.

Wagenbrenner and colleagues published results of the US Forest Service-funded study in the January 2015 issue of the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

Why is sediment an issue? It can cause flooding, when streams and reservoirs get clogged. At one of the study sites, where the Hayman fire burned 140,000 acres of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest in central Colorado, the sediment runoff was so bad that one of the main reservoirs serving Denver had to be dredged.

Sediment can also damage fish habitat, raising water temperature and killing food sources. And it fills pools and streams with organic matter that is hard for water treatment plants to process, Wagenbrenner explains.

Sometimes salvage logging operations leave the small branches and treetops on the ground. This material, called slash, helped ameliorate the erosion and sediment problem, the researchers found.

His team’s recommendations for best management practices for salvage logging include: Leave slash on the ground Break up long feller-buncher and skidder trails with “water bars” — mounds of dirt that slow and divert runoff. Decompact the soil after heavy equipment is used. Consider replanting vegetation, which works better than slash because it roots in the soil.

Source: Michigan Technological University

Thailand’s electricity generation has so far kept pace with rising demand, up 44% in the last decade. Some 70% of it is from imported natural gas. To reduce this dependence, officials have been pushing green energy. The goal is to derive a fourth of its power from renewable sources by 2021, up from 9% currently.

With his Wind Energy Holdings operating two wind farms situated in the northern province of Nakhon Ratchasima, generating a combined 207 megawatts, and seven more projects with a total capacity of close to 650 megawatts being developed, Nopporn “Nick” Suppipat, 43, occupies a green sweet spot. Helped by generous government subsidies, Wind Energy is already profitable, notching up net profit of $25 million in 2013.

Suppipat is mulling an IPO next year to fund a regional expansion, possibly through acquisitions. In March a private placement of Wind Energy’s shares valued the firm at an eye-popping $1.2 billion. The deal propelled Suppipat, who holds a 65% stake, along with his key backer, Pradej Kitti-itsaranon (with 24%), into the ranks of the nation’s richest.

The son of dentists who sent him to high school in the U.S., Suppipat started dabbling in the stock market after his return. By age 21 he’d made his first $1 million and bought his first Ferrari but went on to lose it all. Selling his toys, he invested in a power project but had to unload it after the 1997 financial crisis. His next venture in magazine publishing fared no better, running up losses. In 2005 he decided to go back to power but this time latched on to wind energy.

Renewable energy firms have caught investors’ fancy and are lately enjoying a run on the Thai stock market. Shares of solar producer Energy Absolute have more than doubled since its IPO last year, boosting the net worth of founder Somphote Ahunai. Others are piling on; WHA Corporation, a warehousing firm founded by Somyos and Jareeporn Anantaprayoon, has announced a solar joint venture. Concretemaker Superblock, where Suppipat’s partner, Pradej, is an investor, is also diversifying into solar.

By Naazaneen Karmali
Source: Forbes

A worker blows snow during a snow storm March 3, 2014 in Washington, DC (Photographer-Karen Bleier-AFP via Getty Images)

The severe snowstorms that battered much of the U.S. and the U.K.’s wettest winter in almost 250 years were at least partially caused by rising greenhouse-gas emissions, a University of Oxford researcher said.

Rising sea temperatures in the tropical Western Pacific also exacerbated last year’s typhoon season including Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 people in the Philippines, and heat waves in Australia, said Tim Palmer, a professor of climate physics whose findings appear today in the journal Science.

As the climate warms, more heat is trapped in the ocean, Palmer said. This leads to additional moisture in the region’s air ending up in the jet stream, which moves from west to east and dumped more snow and rain on North America and Europe.

“The sea temperatures in that crucial region of the west Pacific, which are some of the warmest ocean temperatures anywhere in the world, have reached these all-time record warmings through an additional effect, which is man-made climate change,” Palmer said in a telephone interview. “The water’s already warm there, and it’s just taken it over the brink to create conditions last winter and into this spring that were unprecedented.”

Palmer’s research builds on work that he began almost 30 years ago that examined how climate trends affected weather patterns in the Eastern U.S.

“There are various links in a long chain, and part of my message is that climate is a complex system,” Palmer said. “Interaction between natural climate variability and man-made climate change are coming together in a perfect storm.”

By Justin Doom
Source: Bloomberg

Morning mist surrounds GDF Suez Australian Energy’s Hazelwood coal-fired power station in Morwell, Australia (Photographer-Carla Gottgens-Bloomberg)

Australia’s program to rein in pollution is losing momentum, the latest in a series of setbacks for the international effort to tackle global warming.

With the highest per-capita fossil fuel emissions among industrial countries, Australia’s participation in United Nations-led climate talks is seen as crucial to sway China and India to step up pollution controls even as developed nations backslide. Now, Australia’s environmental stance is undergoing an about-face as the country’s new government and its political opponents haggle over the best way to dismantle earlier regulations.

The shift in Australia comes just ahead of a series of global climate talks set for later this year. The UN is aiming to craft an agreement in 2015 that would include 190 nations. That pact would limit emissions in both industrialized and developing nations for the first time. Yet China and India have signaled their reluctance to join without broad participation from richer industrial nations, including Australia.

“It feels like a 180-degree turn for Australia,” said Jake Schmidt, director of international climate policy at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s the hardest thing for the international community to take.”

Closer to home, environmentalists worry that the new government’s stance will set back years of effort to rein in pollution.

‘Fundamental Challenge’

“There is a likelihood of Australia becoming a climate policy wasteland,” said John Connor, chief executive officer of The Climate Institute in Sydney. The country’s unforeseen budget crunch, leading to proposed spending cuts and a levy on higher incomes, is hurting the goverment’s popularity, he said. “The budget drama is significantly diminishing the authority of

the goverment and emboldening opponents across the spectrum.”

The Australian government sees things differently. Yes, it wants to do away with world’s highest priced carbon permits, which allow companies to emit greenhouse gases. The A$24.15-a-ton ($22.28) fee is levied on more than 300 companies from Chevron Corp. to Rio Tinto Group (RIO) and is almost four times the charge for allowances in Europe.

Yet Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fulfilling a campaign promise, has vowed to replace the levy with an alternative that he says would still effectively reduce emissions. His plan, though, is under attack by Clive Palmer, the mining magnate turned politician who controls three critical seats in Australia’s senate. While Palmer also wants to do away with the carbon levy, he is opposing Abbott’s program, arguing it’s a waste of money.

Carbon Vote

“Uncertainty about the carbon price is increasing as we get closer to the new Senate being seated in July,” said Martijn Wilder, head of the climate-change practice at Baker & McKenzie in Sydney. “Palmer and others will use this as a bargaining chip, when there really should be a serious debate about Australia’s fundamental climate policy.”

Abbott’s alternative to the carbon price, called Direct Action, consists mainly of taxpayer funded grants to companies and projects that reduce emissions. Greg Hunt, Abbott’s environment minister, sees the plan as a cost-effective way to meet Australia’s promised 5 percent reduction in emissions by 2020. The government has budgeted funds to start Direct Action on July 1, Hunt said in an e-mail.

“We won’t stop until the carbon tax is repealed and Direct Action is implemented,” Hunt said.

While companies have questions about how Direct Action would work and whether it will be approved, many will consider applying for funds, said Peter Castellas, CEO for the Carbon Market Institute in Melbourne, a group with about 60 members seeking market-based solutions.

Global Effort

At an information forum this month in Melbourne, all six company representatives on one panel said they will consider participating in the Emissions Reduction Fund that would be set up under Direct Action, Castellas said.

“Australia is expected by the UN and its trading partners to be proactive in climate negotiation,” said Castellas. “That has raised expectations that Australia will actually be contributing to the global effort. There will definitely be scrutiny.”

Scientists warn that the Earth is on track to warm more than 2 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution, the fastest shift since the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago. Japan and Canada have renounced greenhouse gas limits under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which applied to only industrial countries. Countries such as Germany and Poland are burning more of the dirtiest form of coal.

Now the push is on to get global climate change policy back on track. Abbott’s plan is in the spotlight because he’s hosting meetings of the Group of 20 nations this year. The November G-20 leaders summit in Brisbane comes two weeks before envoys from around the world gather in Peru for the annual UN climate talks.

G-20 Agenda

The U.S. has encouraged Abbott to include climate change on the G-20 agenda. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked world leaders to bring plans for action on climate to a summit in New York in September. The U.S. and China, the world’s two biggest polluters, have started diplomatic coordination on the issue, and Europe is expanding the world’s biggest carbon market.

“Australia risks being embarrassed by global leaders who are determined to take action, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama,” said Kobad Bhavnagri, the Sydney-based head for Australia research at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Even some prominent members of Australia’s business community are urging Abbott to stay the course on tough greenhouse gas emission standards.

“Australia is now being positioned very definitely on the wrong side of history,” said Ian Dunlop, former chairman of the Australian Coal Association and former CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. “Paying polluters to reduce their emissions is morally and ethically flawed.”

By Mike Anderson

Source: Bloomberg

Night School uses a smartphone app to let riders know when buses are coming. Riders can also suggest new routes for the company via the app.

A new service called Night School will start carrying people across between Oakland and San Francisco in school buses on Friday and Saturday nights after BART has stopped running.

The shuttle service, which costs $10 a month for unlimited rides — for now — begins May 23.

Alex Kaufman and Seth Capron, who started the business, have been friends since they were six, and rode a school bus together as children in New Hampshire.

Kaufman, 34, lives in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood, and was frustrated about not being able to get across the Bay Bridge at night cheaply and safely.

“I realized we could use some of the thousands of school buses that sit empty every night,” said Capron.

Starting with two buses and with union drivers — both from school bus service First Student — Night School will make just one stop on each side of the bay, at 17th Street and Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland and at 18th and Valencia streets in San Francisco’s Mission District.

A smartphone app will give riders updates on where the bus is and when it will arrive at their stop, so they won’t have to wait around in a sketchy area in the dark.

Each bus will also have a “conductor” to supervise boarding and generally keep order while the driver pays attention to the road, said Kaufman. Though First Student is providing the union drivers as part of the deal, Night School itself will hire the conductors.

“At first, in fact, it will be me,” said Kaufman.

Night School got “a little bit” of funding, Kaufman said. “But it’s a low cost model. We’re not buying the buses. Our main cost has really been developing the app.” He said four engineers worked on the software, which was done partly in house and partly by outsiders.

The app not only lets the bus conductor know a rider has paid for the service, but it also lets riders vote on where the service should expand. “We hopefully will scale up pretty quickly,” Kaufman said.

Capron and Kaufman haven’t yet decided when the introductory $10 monthly fee will end, nor how much they are likely to charge after that.

Night School plans to donate 5 percent of its profits to a program that supports teacher recruitment and training in Oakland.

by Steven E.F. Brown

Source: Upstart Bizjournals