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

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

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.

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

solar power csp EU Sustainable Energy Awards

The best European clean energy projects and leaders received top recognition at the EU Sustainable Energy Awards ceremony. Five winners took home awards in their respective categories – Engagement, Innovation, Woman in Energy, Young Energy Trailblazer – and the Citizens’ Award. An expert jury selected the winners in the Engagement and Innovation categories while European citizens chose the others via a public vote. European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, was on hand to congratulate the winners at the online awards ceremony which kicked off Day 1 of the EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW).

Commissioner Simson praised all five EU Sustainable Energy Awards winners commenting, “The projects and individuals that are being recognised today are not only leaders in transforming Europe’s energy landscape, they are role models. Their work is a testament to the importance of citizen engagement in making the European Green Deal a reality. We’ve been working hard to develop policy instruments, which guide and support action on the ground, and it is truly inspiring to see this vision at work. Together, we are bringing Europe closer to its climate goals.“ 

EnergyNeighbourhoods

EnergyNeighbourhoods took home the Engagement award for its green lifestyle programme that empowers citizens to save energy in Hungary

The Engagement award recognises activities with high social acceptance potential, that inspire and motivate citizens to change their energy usage habits.

“The EnergyNeighbourhoods programme helps citizens take action against climate change without any investment but by changing their everyday behavior,“ says Edina Vadovics, Scientific Director at GreenDependent Institute, the programme’s coordinator.  “We help people change their lifestyles, save energy and reduce their carbon footprint, thus reducing their contribution to climate change.“ 

Read more about EnergyNeighbourhoods in English or Hungarian.

LIFE-DIADEME

LIFE-DIADEME won the Innovation award for its innovative public lighting scheme which reduces emissions and improves pedestrian safety

The Innovation award recognises outstanding EU-funded activities that show an original and innovative path toward the clean energy transition.

“We have installed almost 800 sensors on light posts in the two pilot areas in Rome, and an additional 200 in Rimini and Piacenza,” says Linda Meleo, Councillor for Infrastructure Development in Rome’s Department of Infrastructure. “It is an energy-saving technology but it also promotes pedestrian safety. Many municipalities are reluctant to implement adaptive lighting technologies for fear of lighting dimming when the conditions are unsafe, but the real-time aspect of LIFE-DIADEME overcomes this.”

Read more about LIFE-DIADEME in English or Italian.

Woman in Energy award

Birgit Hansen, Mayor of Frederikshavn, won the Woman in Energy award for her local leadership in climate planning

The Woman in Energy award recognises outstanding activities led by women that, if replicated, help to advance the clean energy transition in Europe and contribute to the European energy and climate targets.

“My role as a mayor and as a leader is to motivate people to act on this agenda. I need to be at the forefront and bring together industry, citizens and the municipality to make things happen. We made partnerships within the municipality, so all actors who want to get involved in our green transformation can do so,” explains Birgit when discussing the role of leadership and climate action.

Read more about Birgit Hansen in English or Danish.

Young Energy Trailblazer

 Koprčina scooped the Young Energy Trailblazer award for democratising solar energy ownership

The Young Energy Trailblazer award recognises outstanding activities carried out by young people (under 35) which advance the clean energy transition in Europe and inspire ambitious climate and energy action.

“I wanted to show that the choice between making money and having a positive impact on the environment is a false dichotomy,” says Filip, “citizens who invest in these solar projects can expect greater returns than they would receive if their money was in a bank. The amount of energy we will save from the investments committed to date is equal to charging 17.5 million smartphones.” 

Read more about Filip Koprčina in English or Croatian.

Citizens’ Award

RenOnBill took the Citizens’ Award for bringing financial institutions and utilities together to increase renovation uptake

The Citizens’ Award recognises initiatives and individuals working on innovative and engaging ways to reinvent Europe’s energy landscape. The six projects competing in the Engagement and Innovation categories were up for consideration for this award, determined by public vote.

“Together with financial institutions, utility companies cover the initial investment of a building renovation. The resulting savings that homeowners eventually see on their energy bills is used to pay back the utility, appearing as a line item on the customer’s energy bills,” explains Paolo Michele Sonvilla, RenOnBill Project Coordinator from Creara, Spain. “On-bill financing can reduce the upfront costs of energy renovations to zero.” 

Read more about RenOnBill in English, Spanish or Italian.

About the EU Sustainable Energy Awards 

Twelve outstanding individuals and projects are highlighted at the EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) 2021 for their innovation in energy efficiency and renewables. Finalists were chosen from a list of the year’s most successful projects for clean, secure and efficient energy. The EU Sustainable Energy Awards have four categories – Engagement, Innovation, Woman in Energy and Young Energy Trailblazer – as well as the Citizen’s Award. Prizes were awarded by an expert jury (for Engagement and Innovation), and by citizens via a public vote.

EUSEW 2021

EUSEW 2021 runs from 25 to 29 October 2021, under the theme ‘Towards 2030: Reshaping the European Energy System’. Taking place ahead of the decisive COP 26, the event brings together energy policy experts, industry leaders, academia and civil society representatives to discuss how forward-looking policies for decarbonisation, energy efficiency, climate mitigation, and many others comprising the European Green Deal, can help rebuild a better and more resilient society and economy.

Photo: Mike McBey 

wind power

The production of renewable energy from solar and wind power is increasing every year. But after analysing the growth rates of solar and wind power in 60 countries, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and Lund University in Sweden and Central European University in Vienna, Austria, conclude that virtually no country is moving sufficiently fast to avoid global warming of 1.5°C or even 2°C.

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sharing cities sweden

The national program Sharing Cities Sweden closed at the end of August 2021. The program has been an important element of Viable Cities, the strategic innovation program for smart and sustainable cities. The program has placed much focus on how city governments can facilitate the sharing of things, services, places and mobility.

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prince william earthshot prize

With the international awards ceremony coming to the US in 2022, innovators there believe Earthshot 2021 in London has shown the world the importance of backing, inspiring and acting on breakthrough environmental solutions.

And global coverage of the inaugural Earthshot Prize awards ceremony at the Alexandra Palace this week added further weight to the campaign, launched last year by Prince William Duke of Cambridge and legendary nature TV presenter Sir David Attenborough to accelerate solutions to environmental problems within ten years.

Speaking directly to the younger generation at the event, the Duke said: “For too long, we haven’t done enough to protect the planet for your future – but Earthshot is for you.”

“In the next ten years, we are going to act. We are going to find the solutions to repair our planet.”

The Prince and Sir David featured throughout the prize evening (Sunday 17 October), with awards presented by celebrities Emma Thompson, Emma Watson, Mo Salah, and other high-profile names, plus performances including Coldplay and Ed Sheeran.

The winners

Winners included Costa Rica for its tree saving programme, Indian social enterprise Takachar, that won the clean air award for its technology that converts crop residue into saleable bioproducts, saving farmers from burning unused crop residue, reducing smoke emissions by 98% and improving life expectancy by up to five years, and the City of Milan for its innovative food waste recovering hubs. All five winners each received £1 million from the Royal Foundation towards their efforts.

The campaign has been lauded by the environmental innovation community, including Michael Jansen, CEO and Founder of pioneering Digital Twin technology company Cityzenith, which uses its SmartWorldOS Digital Twin platform to slash carbon emissions between 50-100%, as well as cut operating costs in buildings by 35% and boost productivity by 20%.

Jansen said: “Urban Digital Twins can be linked to carbon offsets so that building asset owners as well as agriculture and forests can be monitored in real time, delivering benefits and rewards within a global Digital Twin ecosystem.

“Globally recognised awards and events like Earthshot can show how cumulative climate protection innovations and discoveries like ours will make a huge difference, thereby encouraging investment and adoption in many more climate-friendly technologies over the next decade.

“Significantly, Earthshot also takes its cue from President John F Kennedy’s Moonshot declaration, 60 years ago in 1961, when he challenged America to land a man on the Moon within 10 years – it showed what can be achieved by dedicated effort.”

Earthshot Prize next year in the US

Cityzenith’s own Clean Cities – Clean Future international initiative offers its Digital Twin technology to major polluting cities for free to help cut emissions drastically – New York and Las Vegas signed up recently with other major US and international cities expected to follow this year. Earthshot has motivated companies such as Cityzenith to transform the global environment and re-shape the future of sustainability and life longevity.

Jansen added: “Earthshot came just a little too early for Clean Cities – Clean Future, but we have been inspired and hope to add to the impetus of next year’s event when it comes to the US and follows up on US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry’s good work this year, in reversing government efforts back towards fighting Climate Change.”

In a message to the Earthshot awards event, Mr Kerry said: “I’m very proud to invite the Earthshot Prize to the United States in 2022, and to join you all in celebrating and supporting next year’s breakthrough solutions from around the world.

Others, like Richard Heinberg, have less faith in tech solutions for the climate crisis.