Friday, May 30, 2008

Loss of Biodiversity Threatens Livelihoods of World's Poorest


Mass extinctions of plants and animals could have a severe impact on the living standards of the poorest people on the planet and cost up to £40bn a year, the first major report into the economic impact of biodiversity loss has found.

Scientists say biodiversity is facing its greatest threat in millions of years, with three species dying out every hour. Now, the economic cost of such destruction has been assessed.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) review analyses the financial impact of the loss of natural life. It is hoped that, like the Stern Review of Climate Change, which revolutionised the way countries looked at the economics of global warming, this report will galvanise government support for tackling the problem. Mankind is causing almost £40bn-worth of damage to land ecosystems each year, which is directly responsible for crises such as rocketing food prices.

"Urgent remedial action is essential because species loss and ecosystem degradation are inextricably linked to human well-being," said the report's author Pavan Sukhdev.

The Earth could lose 11 per cent of its natural areas by 2050 if we fail to combat loss of species diversity. Agriculture, the expansion of infrastructure and climate change would all contribute to this decline. "The loss of biodiversity and ecosystems is a threat to the functioning of our planet, our economy and society," the study, funded by the EU and the German government, warns.

Environmentalists welcomed the report's "Stern-like" recognition of biodiversity. The subject has failed to draw the same funding and interest as climate change despite links between the issues. "Biodiversity is not just a green issue - it is life support, providing food, fuel, fibre, medicines, pollination, soil fertility and water, said Gordon Shepherd, WWF International's director of international policy.

"We have to integrate biodiversity in all policies. The loss of biodiversity is now affecting the economy through the depletion of fish stocks from overfishing and illegal fishing to agricultural activities polluting river basins. The Teeb report recognises the economic value of biodiversity for the millions of people directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods."

Overfishing is one of the key areas explored in the study, which says all of the world's fisheries are likely to have collapsed within 50 years if current trends are not reversed. For the billion people who rely on fish protein, this would have a devastating impact.

Deforestation, by those seeking a profit from the woodlands, also causes a decline in species by destroying their habitats. It makes the ground less productive for cultivation and fewer trees results in less CO2 being absorbed, thus aiding global warming. This week, 60 countries meeting in Bonn pledged to halt net deforestation by 2020.

Earlier, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, in a lecture at King's College London, called for "nothing short of a green revolution" to tackle the effects of climate change. He said: "We need action to tackle the immediate food crisis and the long-term impact climate change will have on food supplies."


Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Feather in Your Bottle Cap


Researchers aim to turn animal waste into plastic

File this under "ew": Researchers in New Zealand have developed a process to convert animal protein waste -- that'd be blood and feathers -- into plastic. "The material we can produce has the strength of polyethylene, the plastic used in milk bottles and plastic supermarket bags, but it's fully biodegradable," says Dr. Johan Verbeek, adding, "Plant proteins have successfully been used to make bioplastics, but animal protein has always ended up gumming up the extruder." Mmm -- pass that milk bottle! The bioplastic would actually likely end up as agricultural sheeting, seedling trays, plant pots, and the like. Says Verbeek: "The aim is to stay away from any food packaging." That's probably for the best.

sources: The Engineer, Indo-Asian News Service, ABC Rural


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nano Vent-Skin of Micro-Wind Turbines


building clad in nano vent-skin photo

Some think big when it comes to wind turbines; designer Agustin Otegui thinks very small, at the nano scale, with his idea for Nano Vent-Skin, the ultimate green wall.

"Using nano-manufacturing with bioengineered organisms as a production method, NVS merges different kinds of micro organisms that work together to absorb and transform natural energy from the environment. What comes out of this merging of living organisms is a skin that transforms two of the most abundant sources of green energy on earth: Sunlight and Wind. There is another advantage of using living organisms: the absorption of CO2 from the air."

The outer skin of the structure absorbs sunlight through an organic photovoltaic skin and transfers it to the nano-fibers inside the nano-wires which then is sent to storage units at the end of each panel.

Each turbine on the panel generates energy by chemical reactions on each end where it makes contact with the structure. Polarized organisms are responsible for this process on every turbine's turn.

The inner skin of each turbine works as a filter absorbing CO2 from the environment as wind passes through it.

The fact of using nano-bioengineering and nano-manufacturing as means of production is to achieve an efficient zero emission material which uses the right kind and amount of material where needed.

These micro organisms have not been genetically altered; they work as a trained colony where each member has a specific task in this symbiotic process. For example, an ant or a bee colony, where the queen knows what has to be done and distributes the tasks between the members.

Imagine NVS as the human skin. When we suffer a cut, our brain sends signals and resources to this specific region to get it restored as soon as possible.


NVS works in the same way. Every panel has a sensor on each corner with a material reservoir. When one of the turbines has a failure or breaks, a signal is sent through the nano-wires to the central system and building material (microorganisms) is sent through the central tube in order to regenerate this area with a self assembly process."


USDA Cuts Pesticide-Use Data Reports


Photo credits: treehunger

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Citing budget pressures, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week that it had published the last of its annual Agricultural Chemical Usage reports, which track the amount of pesticides applied farmlands nationwide.

The report has been published annually since 1990, although it has faced significant cutbacks in recent years: First the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) began reporting chemical applications every other year for selected crops, and then last year reported statistics only for cotton, apples and organic apples. Finally, as of last week, the reporting has been put on hold until at least 2010, owing to the $8 million drain on NASS's $160 million budget from the reporting process.

The move has drawn criticism from across the spectrum: environmental- and social-justice groups have decried the significant health and ecosystem threats from chemical applications, and a spokesman for the American Farm Bureau told the Associated Press that ending the reports "will mean farmers will be subjected to conjecture and allegations about their use of chemicals and fertilizer."

In our 2008 State of Green Business report, issued earlier this year, GreenBiz editors found that pesticide use on the four biggest crops in the U.S. was holding steady from year to year, with small variations from year to year but no significant improvement overall.

Over at Grist's blog, Tom Philpott uses as an example of the importance of the reports data on applications of methyl bromide in strawberry fields: Despite the chemical being banned by international treaties, Philpott found by searching the NASS database that methyl bromide use continued to grow from 2000 to 2006 as a result of the U.S. government seeking exemptions from the global ban.

In advance of the announcement, a coalition of nearly 50 farm and environmental groups sent an open letter [PDF] to USDA chief Ed Schafer urging him to reinstate the reporting. The letter cites the high cost of alternative data-gathering methods: reports from for-profit enterprises like Doane or Crop Data Management Systems can cost $500,000 or more, whereas the federal government's data is both of higher quality and free to everyone.

Don Lipton, the American Farm Bureau spokesman, told the AP: "Given the historic concern about chemical use by consumers, regulators, activist groups and farmers, it's probably not an area where lack of data is a good idea."


Cellulosic Ethanol Becomes a Reality

A cellulosic ethanol biorefinery built to produce 1.4 million gallons of ethanol a year from biomass (agricultural waste, wood chips, recycled paper) will open tomorrow in Jennings, LA. Built by Verenium, based in Cambridge, MA, the plant will make ethanol from agricultural waste left over from processing sugarcane.

While 1.4 million gallons per year is a nice start, this is a proof-of-concept demonstration plant. When Verenium works the bugs out at this scale they will begin construction on a commercial scale plant that will run continuously and produce 20 – 30 million gallons of ethanol per year. The scheduled opening of the Verenium full scale plant is 2009.

The great advantage of cellulosic ethanol is that it doesn’t consume food crops and it doesn’t require agricultural land to produce the feedstock. Food prices are on the increase and people are starving due in part to crops being diverted from the food supply to fuel.

From Technology Review:

Until now, technology for converting nonfood feedstocks into ethanol has been limited to the lab and to small-scale pilot plants that can produce thousands of gallons of ethanol a year. Since these don’t operate continuously, they don’t give an accurate idea of how much it will ultimately cost to produce cellulosic ethanol in a commercial-scale facility.

Almost all ethanol biofuel in the United States is currently made from corn kernels. But the need for cellulosic feedstocks of ethanol has been underscored recently as food prices worldwide have risen sharply, in part because of the use of corn as a source of biofuels. At the same time, the rising cost of corn and gas have begun to make cellulosic ethanol more commercially attractive, says Wallace Tyner, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University. A new Renewable Fuels Standard, part of an energy bill that became law late last year, mandates the use of 100 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2010, and 16 billion by 2022.

Via: Technology Review


Coca-Cola to Deploy 100K HFC-Free Coolers

The Coca-Cola Co. plans by 2010 to have 100,000 hydrofluorocarbon-free refrigerators and vending machines operating around the world. The announcement came from CEO Neville Isdell at a Greenpeace-organized conference in Beijing this week, according to Cox News Service.

The machines will be cooled with compressed carbon dioxide instead of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are more potent than CO2 in terms of trapping heat. Coca-Cola operates about 10 million vending machines and coolers worldwide.

Coca-Cola has spent about $40 million researching cleaner cooling technology, and has deployed HFC-free vending machines at major events in recent years.

For the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics, Coca-Cola, along with Unilever, McDonald's, Greenpeace and the United Nations Environment Program, created the Refrigerants Naturally coalition to eliminate the use of HFCs.

Coca-Cola used HFC-free machines for the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2006 World Cup. The company has committed to using only HFC-free coolers for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. For the event, Coca-Cola will deploy more than 6,300 units that have HFC-free insulation and refrigerant along with technology to make them 35 percent more energy efficient than previous vending machines.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

U.S. Climate Change Science Program Releases Report on the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land and Water Resources and Biodiversity


WASHINGTON, May 27, 2008 -- The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) today released "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." The CCSP integrates the federal research efforts of 13 agencies on climate and global change. Today's report is one of the most extensive examinations of climate impacts on U.S. ecosystems. USDA is the lead agency for this report and coordinated its production as part of its commitment to CCSP.

"The report issued today provides practical information that will help land owners and resource managers make better decisions to address the risks of climate change," said Agriculture Chief Economist Joe Glauber.

The report was written by 38 authors from the universities, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations, and federal service. The report underwent expert peer review by 14 scientists through a Federal Advisory Committee formed by the USDA. The National Center for Atmospheric Research also coordinated in the production of the report. It is posted on the CCSP Web site at: .

The report finds that climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so. Specific findings include:

  • Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.
  • Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.
  • Forests in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.
  • Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.
  • Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
  • There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.
  • Horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion, and fruit) are more sensitive to climate change than grains and oilseed crops.
  • Young forests on fertile soils will achieve higher productivity from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures will increase productivity in other types of forests where water is available.
  • Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increased fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.
  • A continuation of the trend toward increased water use efficiency could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources.
  • The growing season has increased by 10 to 14 days over the last 19 years across the temperate latitudes. Species' distributions have also shifted.
  • The rapid rates of warming in the Arctic observed in recent decades, and projected for at least the next century, are dramatically reducing the snow and ice covers that provide denning and foraging habitat for polar bears.

USDA agencies are responding to the risks of climate change. For example, the Forest Service is incorporating climate change risks into National Forest Management Plans and is providing guidance to forest managers on how to respond and adapt to climate change. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency are encouraging actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration through conservation programs. USDA's Risk Management Agency has prepared tools to manage drought risks and is conducting an assessment of the risks of climate change on the crop insurance program.

For more information, please visit: .


Sunday, May 25, 2008

The New Ethanol?

Enthusiasm for an alternative fuel called biobutanol is heating up. Recent studies by DuPont and BP show it can safely be blended at a higher level than ethanol.
Biobutanol has a slightly longer hydrocarbon chain, which means it is more similar to gasoline than ethanol. The difference from ethanol production is primarily in the fermentation and distillation process - which has made it more costly to produce than ethanol in the past. Biobutanol is made using the same feedstocks (sugar cane, corn, straw, wheat and other energy crops) as ethanol.

Studies show biobutanol could be safely blended at 16% concentrationThe study indicates biobutanol could be safely blended at 16% concentration without compromising performance and without alteration to conventional vehicle engines. By contrast, ethanol is generally blended at a 10% concentration, the maximum level at which major automakers warranty its use.

"On the basis of the vehicle test results we are now sharing, we believe that high octane butanol offers a way to break through the 10 percent constraint with ethanol in the current vehicle fleet," says BP Biofuels Business Technology Manager Ian Dobson.

Biobutanol has received increasing attention in recent months as the high cost of feedstocks for ethanol and biodiesel have reduced margins for biofuels producers.

DuPont is partnering with BP to produce biobutanol for use as a biofuel. Butanol is currently used as a chemical feedstock but high production costs have limited its use as a transport fuel. DuPont, a science-based products and services company, is targeting metabolic pathways to move butanol closer to realization as an economic biofuel.

In this partnership, DuPont and BP, one of the world's largest energy companies, hope to deliver by 2010 a superior biobutanol manufacturing process with economics equivalent to ethanol.


MIT CreatesNnew Material for Fuel Cells

MIT engineers have improved the power output of one type of fuel cell by more than 50 percent through technology that could help these environmentally friendly energy storage devices find a much broader market, particularly in portable electronics.

The new material key to the work is also considerably less expensive than its conventional industrial counterpart, among other advantages.

“Our goal is to replace traditional fuel-cell membranes with these cost-effective, highly tunable and better-performing materials,” said Paula T. Hammond, Bayer Professor of Chemical Engineering and leader of the research team. She noted that the new material also has potential for use in other electrochemical systems such as batteries.

The work was reported in a recent issue of Advanced Materials by Hammond, Avni A. Argun and J. Nathan Ashcraft. Argun is a postdoctoral associate in chemical engineering; Ashcraft is a graduate student in the same department.

Like a battery, a fuel cell has three principal parts: two electrodes (a cathode and anode) separated by an electrolyte. Chemical reactions at the electrodes produce an electronic current that can be made to flow through an appliance connected to the battery or fuel cell. The principal difference between the two? Fuel cells get their energy from an external source of hydrogen fuel, while conventional batteries draw from a finite source in a contained system.

The MIT team focused on direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), in which the methanol is directly used as the fuel and reforming of alcohol down to hydrogen is not required. Such a fuel cell is attractive because the only waste products are water and carbon dioxide (the latter produced in small quantities). Also, because methanol is a liquid, it is easier to store and transport than hydrogen gas, and is safer (it won't explode). Methanol also has a high energy density-a little goes a long way, making it especially interesting for portable devices.

The DMFCs currently on the market, however, have limitations. For example, the material currently used for the electrolyte sandwiched between the electrodes is expensive. Even more important: that material, known as Nafion, is permeable to methanol, allowing some of the fuel to seep across the center of the fuel cell. Among other disadvantages, this wastes fuel-and lowers the efficiency of the cell-because the fuel isn't available for the reactions that generate electricity.

Using a relatively new technique known as layer-by-layer assembly, the MIT researchers created an alternative to Nafion. “We were able to tune the structure of [our] film a few nanometers at a time,” Hammond said, getting around some of the problems associated with other approaches. The result is a thin film that is two orders of magnitude less permeable to methanol but compares favorably to Nafion in proton conductivity.

To test their creation, the engineers coated a Nafion membrane with the new film and incorporated the whole into a direct methanol fuel cell. The result was an increase in power output of more than 50 percent.

The team is now exploring whether the new film could be used by itself, completely replacing Nafion. To that end, they have been generating thin films that stand alone, with a consistency much like plastic wrap.

This work was supported by the DuPont-MIT Alliance through 2007. It is currently supported by the National Science Foundation.

In addition, Hammond and colleagues have begun exploring the new material's potential use in photovoltaics. That work is funded by the MIT Energy Initiative. This Institute-wide initiative includes research, education, campus energy management and outreach activities, an interdisciplinary approach that covers all areas of energy supply and demand, security and environmental impact. For more information, please visit


Friday, May 23, 2008

Compression could reduce data center energy use by 95%


By Peg Fong

"Data center" and "sexy" don't seem to quite work in the same sentence. But "greener data centers"? Ooh, we've got chills now.

U.S. business servers and data centers suck up the energy equivalent of all the electricity consumed by color televisions. The industry uses about the same amount of electricity as 5.8 million average American households. How to green such a massive sector? Start with better data compression technologies, which is already widely used in backup and secondary storage to decrease the capacity needed for these functions.

Broaden out that concept and apply compression to primary data, such as application servers, email or databases and that will radically reduce data center energy usage. Storwize Inc., a San Jose, CA, tech company, has a process to reduce data center energy usage up to 95 percent. This means on a 100 TB database, Storwize can compress that to less than 10 TB of physical disk.

Real-time data compression reduces the amount of data written to storage devices and thus reduces CPU, disk, memory, and network utlilization on the storage system. It can do this through its patent-pending algorithms that allow write and read operations from any location within the file while avoiding the need to decompress the whole file.

Compressed data doesn't just save energy use, it reduces the real estate required to house the data centres, the energy needed to cool down the space, and all the other trappings of physical space that adds up to a heavier footprint on the environment.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Solar Canopies For Parking Lots

Solar Canopies For Parking Lots


A start-up company called Envision Solar has begun installing solar canopies in the parking lots of shopping centers. These lots, usually barren, heat-producing landscapes, can now provide shade for customers, while generating up to a half-megawatt of electricity. Envision’s “Solar Groves” incorporate lights that turn on automatically at night, while blocking skyward light pollution.

Here are some more photos from Envision Solar:




Link: Envision Solar

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

New World Record For Efficiency For Solar Cells; Inexpensive To Manufacture

Physicist Bram Hoex and colleagues at Eindhoven University of Technology, together with the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, have improved the efficiency of an important type of solar cell from 21.9 to 23.2 percent (a relative improvement of 6 per cent). This new world record is being presented on Wednesday May 14 at a major solar energy conference in San Diego.

The efficiency improvement is achieved by the use of an ultra-thin aluminum oxide layer at the front of the cell, and it brings a breakthrough in the use of solar energy a step closer.

An improvement of more than 1 per cent (in absolute terms) may at first glance appear modest, but it can enable solar cell manufacturers to greatly increase the performance of their products. This is because higher efficiency is a very effective way of reducing the cost price of solar energy. The costs of applying the thin layer of aluminum oxide are expected to be relatively low. This will mean a significant reduction in the cost of producing solar electricity.


Hoex was able to achieve the increase in efficiency by depositing an ultra-thin layer (approximately 30 nanometer) of aluminum oxide on the front of a crystalline silicon solar cell. This layer has an unprecedented high level of built-in negative charges, through which the -- normally significant -- energy losses at the surface are almost entirely eliminated. Of all sunlight falling on these cells, 23.2 per cent is now converted into electrical energy. This was formerly 21.9 per cent, which means a 6 per cent improvement in relative terms.

Dutch company OTB Solar

Hoex gained his PhD last week at the Applied Physics department of the TU/e with this research project. He was supported in the Plasma & Materials Processing (PMP) research group by professor Richard van de Sanden and associate professor Erwin Kessels. This group specializes in plasma deposition of extremely thin layers. The Dutch company OTB Solar has been a licensee of one of these processes since 2001, which it is using in its solar cell production lines. Numerous solar cell manufacturers around the world use equipment supplied by OTB Solar.

The ultra-thin aluminum oxide layer developed in the PMP group may lead to a technology innovation in the solar cell world. A number of major solar cell manufacturers have already shown interest.


Solar cells have for years looked like a highly promising way to partly solve the energy problem. The sun rises day after day, and solar cells can conveniently be installed on surfaces with no other useful purpose. Solar energy also offers opportunities for use in developing countries, many of which have high levels of sunshine. Within ten to fifteen years the price of electricity generated by solar cells is expected to be comparable to that of 'conventional' electricity from fossil fuels.

This technology breakthrough now brings the industrial application of this type of high-efficiency solar cell closer.

Part of Hoex's PhD research project was paid for by three Dutch ministries: Economic Affairs; Education, Culture and Science; and Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fighting Pests And Diseases Organically With Help From Wild Cocoa Trees In French Guiana

In every production zone worldwide, cocoa trees are faced with pests and diseases that can wipe out entire harvests. To protect their crops, farmers often use costly, polluting chemicals or labour-intensive manual techniques. However, there are now clean, ecological methods, for instance using sources of natural resistance. In this respect, a highly specific group of cocoa trees, the wild trees found in French Guiana, looks very promising. A new project, called "Dicacao", coordinated by CIRAD, has been set up to conduct more in-depth research on these trees over the next three years.

Cocoa was domesticated in central America by the Mayas, discovered by Europeans at the very start of the 16th century, and introduced by them in tropical zones on every continent. Cocoa improvement is still largely dependent on wild genetic resources, particularly in terms of disease control. CIRAD has thus been studying the wild cocoa trees of French Guiana since the mid-1980s. At Sinnamary, in French Guiana, it has a reference collection of local wild material with more than 350 accessions, including almost 200 clones.

This genetic material has many assets. In addition to their agronomic and processing performance, which is often better than that of cultivated varieties, wild cocoa trees have high natural resistance to diseases. They are particularly resistant to black pod disease, which is primarily caused by the fungus Phytophthora palmivora, and to witches' broom disease, caused by Moniliophthora perniciosa.

Detecting clones that are resistant to the main three cocoa diseases

The Dicacao project, which has just been launched with EU funding attributed by the French Guiana Regional Council–ERDF Convergence Programme–will enable further studies and surveys of this exceptional wild material. CIRAD has already carried out three surveys, in 1987, 1990 and 1995. The worthwhile material found was cloned, after being studied individually for several years, to make up a core collection of 185 wild cocoa tree clones.

Tests in several countries of some of those clones, for their resistance to diseases or to bugs of the family Miridae, gave very promising results: many clones proved to be resistant to Phytophthora palmivora and Phytophthora megakarya. The latter fungus, which is only found in Africa, is the more dangerous. Under the Dicacao project, researchers intend to test all the clones in the French Guiana core collection in relation to local strains of the main three cocoa diseases.

In particular, the results obtained with regard to Phytophthora palmivora will have to be confirmed, and the aim is also to identify clones that are resistant to Ceratocystis wilt, a disease caused by Ceratocystis fimbriata, and to witches' broom, if not to all three diseases at the same time. This is the first planned line of research under the project, centring on genetic control, and should make it possible to offer Guianan farmers interested in organic farming resistant clones tested for local disease strains.

Cocoa endophytes: hope for biological control

Another line of research will be looking into biological control of the main cocoa diseases, using beneficials. Researchers will be studying the existence and properties of microscopic fungi that live on cocoa trees: endophytes. Endophytes live in symbiosis with cocoa trees, but are generally lost during the domestication process. In some cases, after being introduced into plantings, they have been known to boost protection against diseases. This phenomenon has been seen in Ecuador and Panama in particular. Preliminary data from the upper Amazon Basin show that the endophyte groups found in the region are radically different from those found in Panama.

Moreover, they include species from groups not usually known as endophytes. However, the available knowledge of the endophyte groups found on wild cocoa trees is still sketchy. During the second part of the project, the aim will be to identify the endophytes associated with cocoa trees in French Guiana, and to compare them with those from other parts of the Americas. It is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will be in charge of laboratory operations (taxonomy and biological tests).

The aims include the discovery and identification of endophytes found on leaves (for instance of the genera Colletotrichum and Botryosphaeria), trunks and branches (notably of the genera Trichoderma and Clonostachys) that could be used for biological control. There are high hopes: in Brazil, a Trichoderma is already the active ingredient in a patented product sold to control witches' broom. If the results obtained in Petri dishes are positive, they could then be confirmed in full-scale field trials in French Guiana, by CIRAD and any interested local partners.

The main two cocoa diseases worldwide

Black pod disease, which is pantropical, is caused by several fungi of the genus Phytophthora (for instance P. palmivora, P. megakarya, P. capsici). The fungi attack various organs of cocoa trees, particularly the pods, causing brown patches that gradually cover the surface, before spreading to the inside of the fruit. New, more resistant cocoa varieties are gradually being distributed to growers. However, the most common way of controlling the disease is still to use chemicals (which pollute), which very few cocoa growers have the means to purchase.

Witches' broom is a disease of American origin, also caused by a fungus: Moniliophthora perniciosa (formerly Crinipellis perniciosa). The fungus attacks not only the pods, but also the floral cushions and buds. Affected trees no longer produce real pods, but "chirimoyas", and shoots grow anarchically, leading to the characteristic "witches' brooms". The only ways of controlling the disease are to cut out any contaminated tissue or to practise genetic control via resistant varieties.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Flour Build World's Largest Offshore Wind Farm


Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR) announced today that it signed a contract with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to design and construct the 500 megawatt (MW) Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm. The venture is the world's largest offshore wind farm project to move into the construction phase and will be built approximately 25 kilometers off the Suffolk coast of the United Kingdom (UK). The new award will be booked in the company's second quarter of 2008 and is worth approximately $1.8 billion (GBP 900 million).

It will be the first UK offshore wind farm to be built outside territorial waters and will provide carbon neutral, renewable electricity for more than 415,000 homes, equivalent to the approximate domestic demand of Suffolk.

The Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm Project has been developed by a 50:50 joint venture between Fluor International Limited and Airtricity (acquired by SSE in February 2008). Having successfully completed the development phase and signed the construction contract, Fluor has sold its 50 percent stake in Greater Gabbard Offshore Winds Ltd to SSE for approximately $80 million (GBP 40 million).

Prior to receiving the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, Fluor's development responsibilities included the management of environmental studies, site surveys and engineering that culminated in the submission of an Environmental Impact Statement. Fluor also leveraged its supply chain knowledge and experience to support the joint venture in securing the project's connection to the UK's National Grid, the supply of offshore wind turbines, heavy steel structures and other critical supply chain elements required for timely construction.

Fluor and Airtricity worked closely with the local authorities, community and conservation bodies in the development of the project and in particular the siting of the onshore substation. Fluor recognizes and appreciates the communications, support and cooperation of the local communities and intends to maintain a high level of engagement throughout the construction phase.

The Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm Project will feature 140 wind turbines each having a rated capacity of 3.6 MW. The turbines will be supplied by Siemens Wind Power A/S under a separate contract with SSE. Fluor will be responsible for the installation of the turbines which will be mounted on steel monopiles and transition pieces in water depths between 24 and 34 meters. A new electricity substation will be built near Sizewell, Suffolk, UK.

Construction work is scheduled to commence for the offshore site in summer 2009, with work to prepare the site for the onshore substation already underway. The wind farm will be commissioned in two phases, with the entire construction scheduled to be completed in 2011.

"This investment in Greater Gabbard is very welcome and a prime example of the increasing number of renewable projects that are now taking place across the UK," said John Hutton, UK Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. "The massive potential of the UK shoreline coupled with the right market conditions mean the UK is one of the most attractive places in the world to invest in offshore technology.

"Through the Energy Bill we are providing more financial support to offshore projects, and in the summer we will be setting out our plans to increase renewables further. Tackling climate change and securing future energy supplies is of the utmost importance and a vast expansion of both onshore and offshore wind will be central to this," said Hutton.

"This project demonstrates Fluor's capability of working closely and in partnership with our clients in developing projects from concept through to realization," said Patrick Flaherty, senior vice president of Fluor. "We are extremely proud to be the first of the UK's round two offshore wind farm projects awarded by The Crown Estate to move into the construction phase. Greater Gabbard will make a meaningful contribution to the UK Government's renewable energy targets."

"The success of the Greater Gabbard Wind Farm will clearly establish Fluor as a leader in the rapidly growing market to develop and construct large-scale offshore wind farms," said Stephen Dobbs, senior group president of Fluor. "Wind farms represent just one aspect of Fluor's strategy of applying our expertise and resources to assist clients in making meaningful reductions in carbon emissions and providing significant amounts of new, clean and renewable energy."

Fluor Corporation (NYSE: FLR) provides services on a global basis in the fields of engineering, procurement, construction, operations, maintenance and project management. Headquartered in Irving, Texas, Fluor is a FORTUNE 500 company with revenues of $16.7 billion in 2007. For more information, visit


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

New PepsiCo Bottle Uses 20 Percent Less Plastic


PURCHASE, N.Y. -- In a drive to reduce the packaging of its products, PepsiCo. will unveil a new bottle this month that will be made with 20 percent less plastic and sport a trimmed label size.

The announcement comes as the beverage sector battles a backlash over the waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with its products. For example, some cities, such as San Francisco, have banned the purchase of bottled water with municipal funds.

In Pepsi’s case, the new 500 ml bottles will be used in 12-packs and 24-packs of non-carbonated products, such as Lipton Iced Tea, Tropicana juice drinks, Aquafina Alive and Aquafina FlavorSplash. The multi-packs also will require 5 percent less shrink wrap film.

"The challenge was to deliver significantly lighter packaging that would provide the same shelf life as the heavier bottle, withstand the manufacturing and distribution process yet not compromise aesthetics," said Robert Lewis, vice president of PepsiCo’s worldwide beverage packaging and equipment development. "After a full year of hard work from multiple corners of the company, we hit the trifecta -- a bottle that satisfied the needs of our system, our consumers and the environment.”

The packaging effort is part of the company’s “Performance with Purpose” mission to fuel sustainable growth through supporting its employees and communities and reducing environmental impacts related to water, energy and packaging.


QuantumSphere Speaks of Homemade Hydrogen


QuantumSphere speaks of homemade hydrogen

We'll be honest, we're not getting ourselves all riled up about this just yet -- after all, it's not like QuantumSphere is the first (nor the last) company to teeter on announcing a legitimate "solution" to ditching gasoline. Nevertheless, said startup has reportedly figured out a way to "make hydrogen at home from distilled water and ultimately bring the cost of hydrogen fuel cells in line with that of fossil fuels." More specifically, the outfit claims to have "perfected the manufacture of highly reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings that could up the efficiency of electrolysis, the technique that generates hydrogen from water." Unbelievable though that may sound, it's still looking to unveil a battery using its own technology later this year, so we'll just wait and see what becomes of that initiative before bidding gas stations adieu for good.

[Via Autoblog, thanks Sean]


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

China's huge self-sustaining solar LED wall



It’s called the GreenPix Zero Energy Media Wall, and with 2,292 individual color LEDs, comparable to a 24,000 sq. ft. monitor screen, it’s said to be the largest color LED display in the world. The wall is solar-powered too — photovoltaics are integrated into the wall’s glass curtain, and it harvests power during the day, to illuminate the display at night.


Designed by, Simone Giostra & Partners Architects, the GreenPix wall is part of the Xicui Entertainment Complex in Beijing, near the site of the 2008 Olympics.

The polycrystalline photovoltaic cells are laminated within the glass of the curtain wall and placed with changing density on the entire building’s skin. The density pattern increases building’s performance, allowing natural light when required by interior program, while reducing heat gain and transforming excessive solar radiation into energy for the media wall.

The building will open to the public in June 2008, with a specially commissioned program of video installations and live performances by artists.

More photos here.


Square Piston Engine

Today in my NASA Tech Briefs I found an article about a new internal combustion engine. I shouldn’t like this engine for two reasons - first, its an internal combustion engine. I think the green future we all want doesn’t have internal combustion engines (or they run on hydrogen). Second, this is a two stroke engine, you know, like a chain saw engine. Think lots of blue smoke.

The Square Piston Engine (SPEC) doesn’t blow blue smoke and it represents a big improvement over current 2 stroke designs.

With millions of 2 stroke engines being produced every year, this real improvement is very welcome.

From NASA Tech Briefs:

In essence, the SPEC has a superior power to weight ratio compared to exsiting two-stroke engines. However, more importantly, it has significantly reduced emissions achieved by more complete combustion and a closed loop oiling system. The engine is also modular in design, which provides significant manufacturing flexibility.

The SPEC engine provides a number of benefits over existing engine design. These include:

The engine is two-stroke by design, providing a superior power to weight ratio over comparable four-stroke engines. It leverages existing engine technologies but eliminates the inherent disadvantages of current two-stroke engines.

The engine has just 3 moving parts. This means it has a low cost to manufacture and is simple to maintain.

The engine is modular. Multi-cylinder engines are made up by simply bolting together with a common crankshaft. This feature provides flexibility and a lower cost manufacture.

Check out the very cool and short video: SPEC Engine

More at: NASA


Monday, May 5, 2008

Cheap Plentiful Solar Electricity

The last few years have seen dozens of new solar photovoltaic improvements including thin film solar, new wiring, nano technologies and direct printing of photovoltaic panels on an aluminum foil substrate. However even with all these developments that should reduce costs and improve performance, the cost of solar panels has stayed about the same or has possibly gone up.

Until now.

From Technology Review:

Solar electricity is about to get much cheaper, industry analysts predict, because a shortage of the silicon used in solar panels is almost over. That could lead to a sharp drop in prices over the next couple of years, making solar electricity comparable to power from the grid… Solar power cost about $4 a watt in the early 2000s, but silicon shortages, which began in 2005, have pushed up prices to more than $4.80 per watt, according to Solarbuzz

A report from Michael Rogol, an analyst at Photon Consulting, says that demand for solar panels will quickly rise in response to even slightly cheaper prices, holding the price drop between 2007 and 2010 to a mere 20 percent. …

Regardless of the growth in demand,.. over the next couple of years, production of solar panels will double each year.

Via: Technology Review


Algae BioFuel Breakthrough

AlgaeLink has developed a new method of oil extraction for the production of algae oil without the use of any expensive or dangerous chemicals, centrifuge, dryer or oil press

AlgaeLink, a European leader in alternative energy production, announced today that they have developed a new way to extract oil out of wet algae paste. With this new method the algae paste is collected from the AlgaeLink reactor through filtering or centrifugation and directly, without any drying, processed in AlgaeLink?s newly developed oil extraction system for which patent is pending. This production process saves a lot of time and energy. This system not only makes the use of algae oil eco-friendly but also the production of it. Total power consumption used in a 45m³ per hour oil extraction process is just 26 kW to turn 50% of the algae paste into oil.

AlgaeLink is engaged in research and development of algae cultivation as an energy source for the production of biodiesel, as an economically feasible and eco-friendly alternative to dinosaur-based fuels. Micro-algae have a high potential yield compared to vegetable oil crops. Moreover, algae based biofuel doesn’t use valuable crop land. Some species of algae are ideally suited for biofuel production due to their high oil content, some as much as 50%, and their extremely fast growth rate.

Via: Algaelink


Thursday, May 1, 2008

OptiSolar Planning World's Largest Photovoltaic Plant


Written by Hank Green

Utility-scale, thin-film solar manufacturer OptiSolar just released plans to create the largest solar photovoltaic farm in the world. The farm would be built in San Luis Obispo County, California, and would, at peak production, produce about 500 MW of solar power. This is roughly the same amount as a coal-fired power plant, enough to power some 190,000 homes.

The largest photovoltaic farm in America at Nellis Air Force Base (pictured) is 40x smaller than this project would be.

OptiSolar uses thin-film, amorphous silicon technology. Their panels use a tiny amount of non-crystaline silicon, allowing them to be far cheaper than traditional crystalline solar panels. The trade-off is that the panels themselves are far less efficient than traditional panels.

The solar farm will take advantage of incentives from the state and county, which both have aggressive renewable energy goals. OptiSolar hopes to begin construction in 2010 with full capacity coming online before 2013. But hurdles remain...the state will have to approve the project, and OptiSolar will have to secure the funding for it, before we'll know for sure if this will take the title of world's largest photovoltaic farm.

Via Good Clean Tech, OptiSolar and BusinessGreen