Clean and abundant water is the most essential need for all human societies and the supply of it is threatened by increasing populations and volatile climate patterns. The quality of water is threatened by a host of contaminants, most of our own making.
Mosquito-borne diseases pose a growing risk to public health in urban areas. Asian tiger mosquitoes are a vector of high concern as they thrive in cities, live in close association with people, and can reproduce in very small pools of water.
We’ve discussed the problem of microplastics polluting our oceans at great lengths on this program before. Much of the small plastic particles result from the breakdown of plastic litter, such as plastic bags, packaging, and other materials. Another source is microbeads, which are often found in health products such as face scrubs and even some toothpastes. But there is a another source of microplastic pollution that is quite troubling: dirty laundry.
A recent study has shown that septic systems in the U.S. routinely discharge pharmaceuticals, consumer product chemicals and other potentially hazardous substances into the environment. The comprehensive study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, raises health concerns since these chemicals can end up in groundwater and drinking water supplies.
Clean water supplies are dwindling around the world. As a result, the use of untreated wastewater on farms for crop irrigation is on the rise.
Most gas stations in the U.S. sell a blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol. Mandated by legislation, the 14 billion gallons of ethanol consumed annually by American drivers is mostly made from fermented corn. Producing this ethanol requires millions of acres of farmland.
It’s estimated that five to thirteen million tons of plastic enters our oceans annually, where much of it can linger for hundreds of years. According to a report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, scientists estimate that there is 165 million tons of plastic swirling about in the oceans right now. And we are on pace to have more plastic than fish (by weight) in the world’s oceans by 2050. That’s some scary stuff.
The world’s largest floating solar power plant is now operational and connected to the electric grid in China. It is a 40-megawatt facility and floats in water 13 to 30 feet deep in a lake that was created by a former mining operation.
The Pitcairn Islands are a group of four volcanic islands in the South Pacific, mostly known from the famed mutiny on the British ship Bounty. Pitcairn Island itself is where many of the mutineers settled and where some of their descendants live today. That small island, with a population of 57, is the only one of the group that is inhabited.
Researchers in Belgium have engineered a device that uses sunlight to purify polluted air and, in the process, produces hydrogen gas that can be stored and used for power. Two teams of researchers separately investigating processes for air purification and hydrogen production combined their efforts to create the new device.
There are an estimated 84,000 dams in the United States which impound 600,000 miles of river, or about 17% of the rivers in the country. Within the next 15 years, more than 90% of the world’s rivers will be fragmented by at least one dam.
The amount of solar energy striking the surface of the earth in two hours is enough to supply all of humankind’s needs for an entire year. For this reason, it is widely thought that solar energy should be our primary source of electricity. If this is to happen, however, there must be cost-effective ways to obtain solar electricity regardless of the time of day, weather, or seasonal changes. Essentially, there must be ways to store the energy from the sun to use it when we need it.
The problems caused by plastics in the environment continue to mount. Major companies around the world are endorsing and promoting efforts to combat the problem including the New Plastics Economy Initiative which aims to have 70% of plastic packaging reused and recycled globally, which is five times more than the current percentage.
The frozen landscape of Antarctica is getting greener. Researchers drilling into layers of moss that have been accumulating in Antarctica over the last 150 years have found that the growth rate of the moss has been speeding up over the past 50 years.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built into a hillside in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard far above the Arctic Circle, is often described as humanity’s last hope against extinction after some global crisis. While there are more than 1,700 gene banks around the world that keep collections of seeds, all of them are vulnerable to war, natural disasters, equipment malfunctions, and other problems. Except the Svalbard vault – or so we thought. It has been dubbed the “Noah’s Ark” of seeds and a last chance for the world to regenerate if the worst should come to pass. It’s mission is to keep the world’s seeds safe.
The transition to sustainable energy sources faces many challenges. One important one is to make those sources as reliable as conventional energy systems. For technologies like solar and wind power, which can’t operate around the clock, an enabling element is effective energy storage. Energy storage is critical for both the electricity grid and for transportation.
It seems like something out of a science fiction movie, but a nearly silent train that glides along its tracks emitting nothing but water is a reality. In March, Germany conducted successful tests of the world’s first “Hydrail,” which is a hydrogen-powered, zero-emission train.
Renewable energy may be under attack by the federal government these days, but one federal agency is making great progress on using the sun’s energy to split hydrogen from water. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, located in Golden, Colorado, recently highlighted two initiatives aimed at the production of renewable hydrogen.