tropomi methane in Australia

A Dutch group of scientists has used the space instrument TROPOMI to calculate methane emissions from six Australian coal mines. Together these account for 7% of the national coal production, but turn out to emit around 55% of what Australia reports for their total coal mining methane emissions.

Australia is in the top-5 coal producing countries in the world. It reports coal mining methane emissions of a million tons per year. ‘It is hard to believe that 7% of coal production is responsible for 55% of coal mining methane emissions,’ says Prof. Ilse Aben (SRON/VU), leading the team of researchers. ‘So in reality, Australia’s coal mining methane emissions are likely much higher than reported. More importantly, knowing which mines have such large emissions is critical in focusing efforts for mitigation.’

The research team observed five underground mines and one surface mine. Especially the emissions from the surface mine, called Hail Creek, stand out. It is one of 73 surface mines in Australia, but accounts for 88% of Australia’s total reported surface coal mine emissions.

First author Pankaj Sadavarte (SRON/TNO): ‘The most remarkable finding is that the emissions from the surface mine are so much higher than expected and by far the largest we see in the TROPOMI data over the coal mine area in Queensland: on its own, it accounts for 40% of emissions for all six observed mines. Common understanding is that surface mines emit much less methane than underground mines. And to be quite honest, we still don’t understand why this mine is emitting so much methane.’

Methane has been recognized as crucial to mitigate climate change in the short term. At the COP26 in Glasgow, over a hundred countries signed the global methane pledge initiative from the US and the EU to reduce methane emissions by 30%—relative to 2020—by 2030. A few major methane emitting countries, including Australia, have not signed the pledge.

TROPOMI methane observations on two different days showing large signals from three coal mine locations. The most Northern location is the surface mine, while the other locations are underground mines. Northern: Hail Creek. Middle: Broadmeadow, Moranbah North, Grosvenor. Southern: Grasstree, Oaky North.

Publication

Pankaj Sadavarte, Sudhanshu Pandey, Joannes D. Maasakkers, Alba Lorente, Tobias Borsdorff, Hugo Denier van der Gon, Sander Houweling, Ilse Aben, ‘Methane Emissions from Super-emitting Coal Mines in Australia quantified using TROPOMI Satellite Observations’, Environmental Science & Technology

hyperloop transport system

De realisatie van een hyperloop netwerk voor goederen tussen de provincies Noord- en Zuid-Holland in Nederland zorgt voor een vermindering van de CO2-uitstoot met één miljoen ton en kan leiden tot een aanzienlijke verbetering van de luchtkwaliteit. Dit is een van de belangrijkste conclusies van het onderzoek dat Hardt Hyperloop heeft uitgevoerd.

Het vervoer van goederen per hyperloop heeft ook een positief economisch effect op de logistieke sector en zorgt voor een betere benutting en vrijkomende capaciteit van de huidige infrastructuur.

Hardt Hyperloop, dat werkt aan de ontwikkeling van de hyperloop, ziet grote kansen voor de logistieke sector om gebruik te maken van deze duurzame en snelle manier van transport. Eerst op regionaal niveau en later op nationaal en Europees niveau. Dominik Härtl van Hardt Hyperloop, die het onderzoek Cargo-hyperloop Holland leidde, legt uit: “We hebben dit onderzoek anders benaderd dan eerder uitgevoerde hyperloopstudies door de toekomstige gebruikers van het systeem en andere belangrijke belanghebbenden er rechtstreeks bij te betrekken. Voor dit project hebben we een samenwerkingsverband opgezet van 35 stakeholders uit de private en publieke sector, waaronder enkele van de grootste Nederlandse exporteurs uit de tuinbouw- en versindustrie.

1.100 vrachtwagens per dag minder op de A4 tussen Rotterdam en Amsterdam in 2030

Zij leverden niet alleen cruciale input voor de producteisen, maar droegen ook bij aan de keuze van de locaties van de hubs en het tracé. Het project volgt grotendeels de A4, die steden als Amsterdam, Den Haag en Rotterdam met elkaar verbindt. De A4 is van cruciaal belang voor de economische prestaties van deze regio. De snelweg behoort echter ook tot de meest overbelaste van Nederland. De momenteel voorgestelde oplossingen zullen dit probleem slechts gedeeltelijk oplossen. Hyperloop zou capaciteit kunnen toevoegen en daarmee de congestie op de bestaande infrastructuur kunnen verlichten en tegelijkertijd de connectiviteit en productiviteit kunnen verhogen.”

Vraag naar duurzame oplossingen

Een zeer belangrijke uitkomst van het onderzoek is dat de realisatie van Cargo-hyperloop Holland bijdraagt aan een substantiële vermindering van de CO2-uitstoot. Dominik Härtl licht toe: “In de berekeningen hebben we rekening gehouden met de aanleg van de infrastructuur en de bijbehorende hubs. Zelfs dan kunnen we een groot netto positief effect bereiken van 0,6 miljoen ton CO2 na 30 jaar exploitatie. De hyperloop is daarmee hét antwoord op de groeiende vraag naar duurzame oplossingen voor (hogesnelheids)goederenvervoer, terwijl er in de nabije toekomst ook een systeem voor personenvervoer kan worden gerealiseerd.”

Minder ongelukken, lawaai en files

Uit het onderzoek blijkt ook dat het aanleggen van een hyperloopnetwerk voor vracht bijdraagt aan het verminderen van veel van de negatieve neveneffecten die met de logistieke sector worden geassocieerd. “Denk aan minder ongelukken, minder lawaai en minder files op een moment dat niet al het vrachtvervoer meer via de snelweg hoeft te verlopen”, legt Härtl uit. Alleen al door de realisatie van de corridor zou het in 2030 al kunnen betekenen dat er dagelijks bijna 1.100 vrachtwagens minder gebruik hoeven te maken van de A4. Bij verdere uitbreiding van het hyperloopnetwerk in Europa zou de hyperloop in 2050 dagelijks meer dan 2.500 vrachtwagens kunnen vervangen en een duurzaam alternatief kunnen bieden voor vluchten binnen Europa.

Een investering die rendeert

De aanleg van een hyperloopnetwerk vergt een forse investering. Härtl: “De kosten voor het project worden geraamd op ongeveer 1,5 miljard euro. Dat is veel minder dan de weginvesteringen die in het recente verleden voor de regio zijn gedaan en gepland. Daar staat tegenover dat de economische winst aanzienlijk is. Zo geeft het de industrie een impuls en biedt het werkgelegenheid aan ten minste 13.000 mensen. Samen met de CO2-besparing en verbeteringen in transporttijd en betrouwbaarheid die kunnen worden bereikt, is het een zeer goede investering.”

Route tussen de Greenports als potentiële pilot

Om het volledige potentieel aan economische voordelen te benutten, wordt de implementatie van de gehele Cargo-hyperloop Holland-corridor aanbevolen. Door het optimaliseren van logistieke processen en het introduceren van hyperloop transportdiensten kan het project baten genereren van ongeveer 3,2 miljard euro. Uit een vergelijking van de baten en kosten blijkt dat het project een netto contante waarde oplevert van bijna 2 miljard euro en een Baten/Kostenverhouding heeft van 2,62. Dit kan als zeer hoog worden beschouwd voor vervoersinfrastructuurprojecten. Die baten zouden nog hoger kunnen uitvallen wanneer binnen dezelfde infrastructuur passagiers worden vervoerd.

In de studie zijn ook verschillende delen van de corridor afzonderlijk onderzocht om de levensvatbaarheid ervan als proefproject te beoordelen. De verbinding tussen de Greenports is hier bijzonder veelbelovend en laat zelfs als op zichzelf staande route sterke economische prestaties zien. Härtl: “Een Greenport-route zou als technologie demonstratie kunnen dienen en laten zien hoe een hyperloop bij commerciële exploitatie zou functioneren. Op zijn beurt zou deze route kunnen helpen om draagvlak te creëren bij het publiek en ook mensen kunnen aanmoedigen om met de hyperloop te reizen door de veilige werking ervan te demonstreren.”

Ambitie

Het onderzoek toont aan dat de investering duurzaam en economisch is en bijdraagt tot groenere steden. Dominik Härtl concludeert: “De resultaten van dit onderzoek zijn veelbelovend en onze aanbeveling is om te beginnen met een haalbaarheidsstudie, die een gedetailleerdere beoordeling van alle voor dit project relevante aspecten mogelijk zou maken alvorens verder te gaan met de uitvoering.

Het Nederlandse MIRT-programma zou kunnen dienen als de juiste omgeving waarlangs dit project naar de volgende fase kan worden gebracht. Het is onze ambitie om tegen het einde van dit decennium de eerste route operationeel te hebben en dit project zou wel eens een van de eerste hyperlooproutes wereldwijd kunnen zijn.”

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lightyear one

Lightyear, the solar electric vehicle pioneer, has achieved a major technology performance milestone by driving 710 km of range with its prototype car. Never before has an electric vehicle driven such a long-range on a relatively small battery.

“After four years of hard work and in-house development, this is a very important engineering and technological milestone. It validates the performance of our patented technology and truly shows that we are able to deliver on our promise to introduce the most efficient electric vehicle. This prototype has over 710 km of range with an energy consumption of only 85 Wh/km at 85 km per hour. Even the most efficient electric cars in the market today consume around 50% more energy at this relatively low speed”, says Lex Hoefsloot, CEO and co-founder of Lightyear.

“This milestone is a great confirmation of the scalability of our business model. We are confident that in the coming months, we will be able to reach a similar level of energy consumption at highway speed. Lowering the energy consumption per mile of an EV means that you can provide a lot of range on a small battery. Because batteries are the most expensive part of an EV, you can lower the purchase price of the car and achieve affordable electric cars with a lot of range that don’t need a lot of charging. Low-energy consuming cars can also benefit a lot more from adding solar cells to the car and gain about 72 km of charge on a sunny day.”

The prototype car was put to the test at the Aldenhoven Testing Center in Germany, to drive a full drive cycle at a speed of 85 km per hour on a single battery charge of 60 kWh. The integral test ranged from the yield of the solar panels, the battery performance, the energy consumption of the cooling system, all the way to the functioning of the in-wheel motors and the software operating the solar car.

The conducted full drive cycle test is a crucial step to verify and validate all the assumptions of the vehicle’s performance. Beyond the validation of the technical performance of the car, other upcoming tests are related to the homologation process such as the crash tests and an official WLTP drive cycle test.

Lightyear is on a mission to make clean mobility available to everyone, everywhere, and is gearing up for the industrialisation and manufacturing of Lightyear One. The concept of a long-range solar car represents a huge opportunity to change mobility, so you can drive for months without charging. An exclusive series of 946 Lightyear One’s will go into production in the first half of 2022. Lightyear wants to address the mass market starting from 2024.

Lightyear

Lightyear is on a mission to make clean mobility available to everyone, everywhere and aims to eliminate the two biggest concerns for an electric car – charging and range – with an energy-efficient design and integrated solar cells. This allows motorists, depending on the climate, to drive up to twenty thousand kilometres per year on the power of the sun. The fast-growing company was founded in 2016 and currently employs more than two hundred employees. The team is made up of a mix of young talent and experience from the automotive industry, including former employees of Tesla, Jaguar, Landrover, Audi, McLaren and Ferrari. In 2019, Lightyear received the Horizon 2020 grant from the European Commission under grant agreement number 848620. In the summer of 2019, Lightyear launched its first driving prototype, Lightyear One, and opened a new office. The prestigious TIME Magazine acknowledged Lightyear One as one of the ‘100 best inventions’ of 2019. In 2020, Lightyear won the ‘Rising Star’ and ‘Most Disruptive Innovator’ Award of the Technology Fast 50 program organized by Deloitte. The first model of Lightyear One will go into production in 2022 as an exclusive series of 946 cars.

www.lightyear.one

shein fashion

Today’s hippest teen-brand Shein fashion is growing rapidly – and its internet-based recipe for success is top secret. Still, Chinese researchers working on behalf of Public Eye managed to visit some of Shein’s suppliers in Guangzhou, where conditions of production violate numerous state labor laws. Our trip inside the ultra-fast fashion leader also takes us to the European logistics center in Belgium, where precarious working conditions are also a daily occurrence.

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climate change COP26

Following the publication of COP26’s final agreement, Molly Scott Cato, former Green MEP and now Professor of Economics at the University of Roehampton, says the event has failed in what history will see as our last chance to protect the world from disastrous over-heating.

“The fundamental purpose of COP26 was to ensure that our climate does not heat up by more than 1.5 degrees – by that measure, it has failed disastrously.

Nations know they have to cut emissions deeper and faster. Yet despite a limited increase in ambition, the majority of countries have failed to strengthen the promises they made in Paris in 2015, leading well-respected Carbon Action Tracker, to put the world on track for a calamitous 2.4 degrees of warming.

While the difference between 1.5 and 2.4 might not seem like very much, it is the difference between a liveable climate and one where thousands die from heat shock in Europe and millions are faced with starvation in Africa due to drought. It is the difference between the loss of all the coral in the world and having any chance of saving them. It is the difference between the Maldives or the Marshall Islands existing or simply disappearing under rising seas.

The absence of leaders from Russia and China, two of the world’s largest carbon emitters, and the last-minute intervention by India and China to water down the language on coal, have been pivotal to the event’s shortcomings. This is a diplomatic failure of the last few decades during which geopolitical maneuvering and self-interest have shamelessly dominated the climate crisis.

The countries that have signed up to the agreement cannot escape blame, with the majority putting self-interest above the common project of saving the climate. The need to remove fossil fuels from our global economy has been held up by many of the most powerful countries sheltering their fossil fuel interests, including the UK and US.  The UK presidency lost focus on the global diplomacy at the heart of COP with its desire to tout for sustainable finance business for The City.

Meanwhile, the failure of the wealthy nations that are responsible for historic emissions to put money on the table to repair Loss-and-Damage made it impossible for Alok Sharma, in spite of his best efforts, to maintain a unity of purpose.

While this is a gloomy picture, there are some individual rays of light, with deals on methane and forests helping to reduce the burden on the atmosphere. And the acceptance of the need to phase out fossil fuels by countries responsible for the vast majority of the world’s economic activity can only be welcomed.

Yet in reality, COP26 has been a political and diplomatic failure. History will judge Glasgow as the last opportunity to protect civilization against the ravages of an over-heating climate and, another year of delay until COP27 in Egypt, means that opportunity has been missed.”

However, where politics failed to deliver, businesses made their mark which, for now, also mainly consists of promises, could indeed make a significant contribution in reducing emissions and conserving nature. As the Financial Review put it:

Something has shifted in the business world. The capital is flowing into the energy transition; investors are holding companies to account for their environmental, social and governance performance; and the risks and costs of going green are shifting in the climate’s favor.

Nevertheless, another year is wasted by moving decisions ahead again, to COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. Ironically, it’s much warmer there than in Glasgow. Maybe that will put the heat on results a bit more.

carbon tunnel vision

With the UN climate change conference COP26, it’s obvious that there is consensus among a majority of world leaders and key stakeholders that much more needs to be done ( and avoid carbon tunnel vision ) if the ambition of keeping global warming to a 1.5-degree increase is to have any chance of being met. Yet talk, as they say, is cheap. Or, in the words of Greta: too much “blah, blah, blah” and not enough action.

Responding to the global climate crisis demands a global response, with public commitments backed up by resources and collaboration. We cannot have countries or organizations working in silos. And we cannot de-couple climate considerations from the broader sustainability agenda, as exemplified by the Sustainable Development Goals – and SDG 13 (climate action), in particular.

Widening perspectives to understand all impacts

carbon tunnel visionLately, a catch-phrase doing the rounds on social media, coined by Jan Konietzko of Cognizant, is ‘carbon tunnel vision’. A clever play on words, yes, but beyond that, it is a highly pertinent observation. If we achieve net-zero emissions yet overlook human rights, or fail to safeguard biodiversity, what will this mean for the wellbeing of people and the planet?

At the heart of this is strengthening and highlighting the synergies between the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. It will only be through concerted and connected action on these commitments, informed by evidence and data, that we can seize the opportunities for an inclusive and sustainable future for all.

Collaboration between public and private sectors

Alongside transnational coordination between governments, we need to further engage the private sector as a key partner in realizing and implementing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Working closely with the UN Global Compact and other international organizations, GRI strives to highlight and increase the importance of corporate sustainability reporting for the SDGs.

Encouragingly, the Climate Confidence Barometer, published in September by WBCSD and FREUDS, highlights that 98% of companies surveyed reported confidence that they will meet net-zero targets by 2050. In addition, 55% are confident that the global business community will do so as well.

However, the transition does not stop at emissions; as identified in a recent report from the Future of Sustainable Data Alliance, there is an ‘ESG data hole’ when it comes to biodiversity and nature. KPMG research from December 2020 also found that less than a quarter of large companies at risk from biodiversity loss disclose the topic. In this context, GRI’s plans to launch a new Biodiversity Standard in 2022 are timely and much needed, while October’s UN Biodiversity Conference set the stage for work to resume next year to adopt a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.

Action that delivers tangible results

It is encouraging as well, that over 100 countries (representing over 85% of the world’s forests) have signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to work collectively to halt and reverse forestry loss and land degradation by 2030, while promoting an inclusive rural transformation. This is a commendable vision and helps to prevent carbon tunnel vision – but we need to hold all parties to these commitments.

The action needs to start today to secure tangible results – from safeguarding the environment to wider progress on the sustainability agenda. It cannot become a carte blanche to maintain ‘business as usual until 2030. Regular and comprehensive reporting on sustainability impacts, with accountability from all organizations with an involvement, is essential to measure progress.

Effective sustainability reporting offers a unique perspective on the role of the private sector, helping countries to work towards the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.   While a multi-faceted approach is needed to reach these goals, we should by no means downplay the significance of reaching net-zero. It is not a matter of either/or – we need to dramatically cut emissions and secure broader sustainable development in the process to prevent carbon tunnel vision.

It’s time for true leadership

There are strong signs that business is already convinced of the urgency of the situation – and is pressing governments to do much more. The We Mean Business Coalition call to action urges the G20 to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5°C. It has been signed so far by 778 business leaders – representing US$2.7 trillion in annual revenue. Furthermore, one-in-five companies around the world have set net-zero targets.

Last week, WBCSD launched a manifesto that calls for a new ‘Corporate Determined Contributions’ mechanism to measure the private sector’s role in global climate recovery. With a core focus on the imperatives to reduce, remove and report GHG emissions, this reflects a growing and welcome trend of responsible companies pressing for greater influence in support of climate action.

As COP26 draws to a close, GRI calls on all stakeholders to raise their ambitions, act now on their commitments, and work together to deliver a holistic approach to the challenges of climate change. One that takes account of the environment and society – cutting emissions while also securing sustainable development. Failure on either front will mean tragic consequences for all.

Tina Nybo Jensen, International Policy Manager, GRI

Tina Nybo Jensen is International Policy Manager at GRI. She leads on the development, management, and implementation of GRI’s Sustainable Development Program, with a special focus on the SDGs and engagement with multilateral organizations, against carbon tunnel vision.

hyperloop transport system

The realization of a hyperloop network for goods between the provinces of North and South Holland in the Netherlands will cause a one-million-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions and could lead to a significant improvement in air quality. This is one of the main conclusions of the research conducted by Hardt Hyperloop. Transporting goods by hyperloop also has a positive economic impact on the logistics sector and allows for better utilization and freed up capacity of the current infrastructure.

Hardt Hyperloop, which is working on the development of the hyperloop, sees great opportunities for the logistics sector to make use of this sustainable and rapid means of transport. First at a regional level and later at a national and European level. Dominik Härtl of Hardt Hyperloop who led the Cargo-hyperloop Holland study explains: “We approached this research differently from previously performed hyperloop studies by directly involving the future users of the system as well as other key stakeholders. For this project, we established a collaboration of 35 stakeholders from the private and public sectors, including some of the largest Dutch exporters from the horticultural and fresh food industry.

1,100 fewer trucks on the A4 motorway every day in 2030 between Rotterdam and Amsterdam

They not only provided crucial input to the product requirements but also contributed to selecting the locations of the hubs as well as the route alignment. The project largely follows the A4 motorway, which connects cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. The A4 is crucial to the economic performance of this region. However, it also ranks among the most congested in The Netherlands. Currently proposed solutions will only partially solve this issue. Hyperloop could add capacity and therefore ease congestion on existing infrastructure while also increasing connectivity and productivity.”

Demand for sustainable solutions

A very important result of the research is that the realization of Cargo-hyperloop Holland contributes to a substantial reduction of CO2 emissions. Dominik Härtl elaborates: “In the calculations, we took into account the construction of the infrastructure and the associated hubs. Even then, we can achieve a large net positive effect of 0.6 million tonnes CO2 after 30 years of operations. The hyperloop is, therefore, the answer to the growing demand for sustainable solutions for (high-speed) transport of goods while also being able to create a system for transporting people in the near future.”

Fewer accidents, noise and traffic jams

The research also shows that building a hyperloop network for freight contributes to reducing many of the negative side effects associated with the logistics sector. “Think of fewer accidents, less noise, and less congestion at a time when not all freight transportation will have to be carried via the highway,” Härtl explains. In 2030, by only realising the corridor, it could already mean that almost 1,100 fewer trucks would need to use the A4 every day. With further expansion of the hyperloop network in Europe, hyperloop could replace over 2,500 trucks daily in 2050 and offer a sustainable alternative to flights within Europe.

An investment that pays off

The construction of a hyperloop network requires a substantial investment. Härtl: “The costs for the project are estimated at approximately EUR 1.5 billion. This is far less than the road investments made and planned for the region in the recent past. In return, the economic gains are significant. For example, it gives the industry a boost and provides employment for at least 13,000 people. Together with the CO2 savings and improvements in transportation time and reliability that can be achieved, it makes a very good investment.”

Route between the Greenports as a potential pilot

To leverage the full potential of economic benefits, the implementation of the entire Cargo-hyperloop Holland corridor is recommended. By optimizing logistic processes and introducing hyperloop transport services, the project can generate benefits of about EUR 3.2 billion. Comparing the benefits and costs with each other shows that the project delivers a net present value of almost EUR 2 billion and has a Benefit to Cost Ratio of 2.62. This can be considered as very high for transport infrastructure projects. Those benefits could be even higher when transporting passengers within the same infrastructure.

The study also examined various sections of the corridor individually to assess their viability as a pilot. Here, the connection between the Greenports is particularly promising and shows strong economic performance even as a stand-alone route. Härtl: ” A Greenport route could serve as a technology demonstrator and show how hyperloop would function during commercial operations. In turn, this route could help to create public support and also encourage people to travel by hyperloop by demonstrating its safe operation.”

Ambition

The research shows that the investment is sustainable and economic and contributes to greener cities. Dominik Härtl concludes: “The results of this study are promising and our recommendation is to start with a feasibility study, which would allow for a more detailed assessment of all the aspects relevant to this project before progressing towards implementation. The Dutch MIRT program could serve as the right environment through which this project could be brought to the next stage. Our ambition is to have the first route operational by the end of this decade and this project could very well be one of the first hyperloop routes globally.”

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crops and crop growth under climate change

Climate change may affect the production of crops like maize (corn) and wheat by 2030 if current trends continue, according to a new international study that included researchers from IIASA, NASA, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Maize crop yields are projected to decline by 24%, while wheat could potentially see growth of about 17%.

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urban greenhouse challenge

The Urban Greenhouse Challenge will kick off on 3 November. This is the third time Wageningen University & Research organizes their international student competition in search of ideas for local, urban food production that can feed cities in a sustainable way. This ‘Social Impact Edition’ challenges competitors to think beyond food to look at urban farming as a catalyst for social change.

This year’s Urban Greenhouse Challenge will look at all the ways in which an urban farming site can tackle problems like poverty, unemployment, and the lack of access to affordable and nutritious food. In short, this edition is all about social impact.

The competitor’s final entry will focus on the East Capitol Urban Farm in Washington, D.C., a food hub in one of the most diverse lower-income neighborhoods of the capital of the United States. This year’s challengers are asked to create a comprehensive plan that develops the site to not just produce food year-round, robustly, and resiliently, but also that fosters social equity through a new food economy.

Introducing local food systems

To kick off this Social Impact Edition of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, on 3 November Dr Sabine O’Hara from the University of the District of Columbia will present a keynote focusing on igniting community empowerment through local food systems. This year’s challenge is actually, in a way, a continuation of O’Hara’s collaboration with Wageningen University & Research’s own Dr Marian Stuiver, head of the Green Cities program. They worked together on developing an outlook for circular and nature-based food hubs.

O’Hara’s presentation will be followed by a round table discussion with Tiffany Tsui of the Vertical Farm Institute and Dr Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, a researcher at the Wageningen University & Research. Discussion topics will include food as part of culture and heritage and urban farming as part of greening the city. These subjects are intended to inspire the students, who will develop food hub concepts that celebrate local history and integrate all the health benefits of a green living environment (for instance, cooling down extreme heat).

Students from all over the world

The registration for the Challenge is open until 14 November. Students who want to participate have to form an interdisciplinary team that together will create a complete development plan, which will not just take knowledge of agri- and horticulture, but also architecture and business. Together they will start out on a journey that will take the best of them to a digital site viewing, expert consultations and eventually a Grand Finale in which the best ten development plans will potentially serve as prototypes for a real, affordable, and sustainable urban farm.

Would you like to watch the opening event of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge? Learn more and register here.

fertilizer from bioplastic

Japanese scientists produced fertilizer from bioplastic. Bioplastics can be chemically recycled into nitrogen-rich fertilizers in a facile and environmentally friendly way, as recently demonstrated by scientists from Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech). Their findings pave the way towards sustainable circular systems that simultaneously address issues such as plastic pollution, petrochemical resource depletion, and world hunger.

Plastics have taken the world by storm over the last century, finding applications in virtually every aspect of our lives. However, the rise of these synthetic polymers, which form the basis of plastics, has contributed to many serious environmental issues. The worst of these is the excessive use of petrochemical compounds and the disposal of non-biodegradable materials without recycling; only 14% of all plastic waste is recycled, which hardly puts a dent in the problem.

Fertilizer from bioplastic a circular process

To solve the plastic conundrum, we need to develop “circular” systems, in which the source materials used to produce the plastics come full circle after disposal and recycling. At Tokyo Institute of Technology, a team of scientists led by Assistant Professor Daisuke Aoki and Professor Hideyuki Otsuka is pioneering a novel concept. In their new environmentally friendly process, plastics produced using biomass (bioplastics) are chemically recycled back into fertilizers. This study will be published in Green Chemistry, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry focusing on innovative research on sustainable and eco-friendly technologies.

The team focused on poly (isosorbide carbonate), or “PIC,” a type of bio-based polycarbonate that has garnered much attention as an alternative to petroleum-based polycarbonates. PIC is produced using a non-toxic material derived from glucose called isosorbide (ISB) as a monomer. The interesting part is that the carbonate links that join the ISB units can be severed using ammonia (NH3) in a process known as ‘ammonolysis’. The process produces urea, a nitrogen-rich molecule that is widely used as a fertilizer. While this chemical reaction was no secret to science, few studies on polymer degradation have focused on the potential uses of all the degradation products instead of only the monomers.

First, the scientists investigated how well the complete ammonolysis of PIC could be conducted in water at mild conditions (30°C and atmospheric pressure). The rationale behind this decision was to avoid the use of organic solvents and excessive amounts of energy. The team carefully analyzed all the reaction products through various means, including nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, and gel permeation chromatography.

Although they managed to produce urea in this way, the degradation of PIC was not complete even after 24 hours, with many ISB derivatives still present. Therefore, the researchers tried increasing the temperature and found that complete degradation could be achieved in about six hours at 90°C! Dr. Aoki highlights the benefits of this approach, “The reaction occurs without any catalyst, demonstrating that the ammonolysis of PIC can be easily performed using aqueous ammonia and heating. Thus, this procedure is operationally simple and environmentally friendly from the viewpoint of chemical recycling.”

Finally, as a proof-of-concept that all PIC degradation products can be directly used as a fertilizer, the team conducted plant growth experiments with Arabidopsis thaliana, a model organism. They found that plants treated with all PIC degradation products grew better than plants treated with just urea.

The overall results of this study showcase the feasibility of developing fertilizer-from-plastics systems (Figure 1). The systems can not only help fight off pollution and resource depletion but also contribute to meeting the world’s increasing food demands. Dr. Aoki concludes on a high note, “We are convinced that our work represents a milestone toward developing sustainable and recyclable polymer materials in the near future. The era of ‘bread from plastics’ is just around the corner!”

plastic to fertilizer

Figure 1. A fertilizer-from-plastics circular system
Using the degradation products of PIC as a nitrogen-rich fertilizer closes a sustainable loop that makes bioplastics a much more attractive option for addressing the environmental issues posed by conventional petroleum-based plastics.
Image credit: Daisuke Aoki from Tokyo Institute of Technology