Algae, the Fuel of the Future

Earth2tech

Earth2tech

Biofuels that come from corn, palm, sugar cane or soy are responsible for deforestation and an increase in food prices.

This is not the case of a  biofuel that was first considered in the seventies, and is now getting much deserved attention: algae.

Algae transform carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy so efficiently that they can double their weight several times a day, and can generate 30 times more oil per hectare than other plant based biofuels. Algae can grow in salt water, freshwater or even contaminated water, at sea or in ponds, and on land not suitable for food production.

Its production doesn’t require massive amounts of land like other plant based fuels.

On top of those advantages, algae grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas),  and on contaminated water bodies. By collecting algae we could produce biofuel while cleaning up other problems at the same time.

Various algae contain different levels of oil, and they can also be genetically modified to produce more oil. Most scientists argue that the algae found in pond scum is best suited for biodiesel.

Also, pressing algae creates a few more useful byproducts such as fertilizer and feedstock without depleting other food sources.

Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined, mixed with an alcohol (such as methanol), and a few more steps will bring algae biodiesel fuel.

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

Polluted lake-Algal bloom

But the most exciting part of algae biodiesel is the great productivity at low cost (economic and environmental). Biodiesel makers claim they’ll be able to produce more than 800 gallons of algae oil per ha per year.

Algae production has the potential to outperform other potential biodiesel products such as palm or corn. For example, a 50 ha algae biodiesel plant could potentially produce 10 million gallons of biodiesel in a single year. Experts estimate it will take 140 billion gallons of algae biodiesel to replace petroleum-based products each year. To reach this goal, algae biodiesel companies will only need about 40 million ha of land to build biodiesel plants, compared to billions of hectares for other biodiesel products. Since algae can be grown anywhere indoors, it’s a promising element in the race to produce a new fuel.

For now algae based biofuel is still in the R&D stage, but we’ll hopefully  run our cars on this uber green fuel in our lifetime.

Some interesting Algae Biodiesel Start-ups:

GreenFuel

Aurora

BFS

Saphire

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Less than 50 years to say goodbye to Sushi

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 75 % of the world’s fisheries are now either over-exploited, fully exploited or significantly depleted. A study published in Nature concluded that 90 % of the “big” fish (tuna, swordfish, and marlin) are already gone.

Scientists agree that if we continue to fish at our current rates, all commercial fish species will disappear in the next 50 years.

Government subsidies to the fishing sector, totaling approximately $20 billion annually, represent one of the principal forces behind the overfishing crisis. But the biggest force behind this crisis are the world’s industrial fishing fleets which are destroying the ocean at an alarming rate.

If all the fish we ate was caught old school using a simple fishing rod the oceans would be in much better shape. Small fishermen are trying to shift to sustainable practices, because they are realizing that overfishing is not only destroying the ocean, but also destroying their livelihood, leaving them with no fish left  to catch.

But unfortunately most of the fish that we consume doesn’t come from sustainable sources, it comes from large industrial boats that use highly destructive fishing methods and harvest massive amounts of fish at an unsustainable rate.

Following are some of the most destructive and also most common fishing practices. This is how the fish we consume gets harvested from our oceans and ends in our kitchen and restaurant tables:

Bottom Trawling:

Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, coral, sponges, plants, and all kids of sea life. It literally scraps the ocean floor clean of life.

It is used to fish cod, haddock, squid, shrimp and crustaceans among other commercial fish.

If allowed to continue, the bottom trawlers will destroy deep sea species before we have even discovered much of what is out there. What we are doing to our deep oceans by allowing trawling is like driving a huge bulldozer through an unexplored, lush and richly populated forest leaving a flat and lifeless desert.

This practice is so widespread and damaging that it can even be seen from space:

bottom-trawling-from-space

Bottom Trawling from Space

Botom Trawling

Bottom Trawling

Bottom Trawler

Bottom Trawler (Greenpeace)

spanish_trawler

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Ocean Floor Before and After Trawling

Long lines:

Long-lining is one of the most widespread methods of fishing. The lines are up to 130 km long (80 miles) and have hundreds of thousands of baited hooks at a time. The hooks are dragged behind the boat at varying depths or are kept afloat by buoys and left overnight.

This method is used to catch mainly tuna and swordfish, but it also kills millions of sea birds, dolphins turtles, and other marine life every year.

pelagic_longline

Oceana

turtle__fishing_line

Turtle killed by a long line

Gillnets:

Gill nets hang like massive curtains in the oceans, drifting with the currents. Ranging from 3.5 to 10 km in length, gill nets are weighted at the bottom and held upright by floats at the top, creating what some have deemed “walls of death.”

Fish are unable to see the netting, and unless the mesh size is larger than the fish, they get stuck. When they try to back out, the netting catches them by their gills or fins and they get stuck.

In many occasions they are left to drift for days an many of them get lost (become ghost nets) killing thousands of untargeted marine life- specially dolphins, turtles and seals.

Gilnet (By Oceana)

Gilnet (By Oceana)

ww1994-gillnet

Sea Lion killed by Gillnet

Purse Seines:

This is the primary fishing method for tuna fish. Tuna swim at the same level as dolphins, and fishermen usually track dolphin pods in order to locate tuna.

The dolphin schools are then chased by small high-speed boats or even helicopters that accompany the fishing boats. When the dolphins begin to tire, the fishermen encircle the school with huge nylon nets that are up to 5 km long and 100 m deep. When both the dolphins and the tuna have been completely surrounded, the bottom of the net is pulled closed, much like a drawstring purse, hence the name purse-seining. Purse-seining has proven to be an extremely effective method of catching fish. Entire schools of tuna are able to be scooped up without a single fish escaping. Unfortunately, many dolphins are also killed in the process, as they become entangled in the nets and drown, or are crushed as the nets are pursed and hauled in.

pursesiene

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Dolphins and Tuna trapped in a Purse Seine Net

Solutions:

  • Only 0.8% of the ocean is protected, we need to make more ocean sanctuaries where fishing is prohibited.
  • We need to ban these destructive fishing practices which are not only damaging the oceans, but also endangering the only protein source of millions of people and endangering the livelihood of many small fishermen.
  • Shifting to sustainable  fishing practices,  having stricter quotas and regulations could aid the recovery of most commercial fisheries.
  • Demand and support safer fishing alternatives, it is possible and it must be done soon!
  • Aquaculture can be an alternative, but it also has many negative consequences if not properly managed. There are sustainable aquaculture farms, but it depends on the fish you want to grow (some species are more suitable than others) and the methods used.

Guide to sustainable Sea Food :

Most Sustainable Fish : Anchovies, Sardines, Salmon (Wild), Mussels, Mackerel (Atlantic), Oysters (Farmed), Trout, Clams (Farmed), Lobster, Halibut, Crab.

Least Sustainable: Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna, Grouper, Cod, Swordfish, Shrimp, Salmon (Farmed), Octopus, Monk fish, Mahimahi (Imported), Snapper (Imported).

—————————————————————————————————————————

(Spanish)

Guia para comer pescado/marisco:

Mejores opciones: Anchoas/Boquerones, Sardinas, Salmon (Salvaje), Mejillones, Cavalla, Ostras (Cultivadas), Trucha, Almejas (Cultivadas), Langosta, Cangrejo.

Marisco menos sostenible:  Atun, Bacalao, Pez Espada/Emperador, Gambas (importadas), Salmon (piscifactoria), Lubina (Importada de Chile/Asia), Pulpo, Rape, Dorada (Asia o Sur America)

SOURCES:

Oceana

Greenpeace

WWF

Environmental Defense Fund

Sea Level Rise will be worse than anticipated

Sea level rise is one of the most feared consequences of global warming.

Polar ice caps and mountain glaciers are melting at such an alarming rate, that scientists don’t seem to agree how many meters the sea level will rise and how fast it will happen.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change worst case scenario predictions were of less than 1 m of sea level rise by the end of the century, but apparently they were way too optimistic. Recent studies suggest that the IPCC global sea level rise predictions were seriously underestimated.

The two major ice sheets that will most likely cause sea level rise (when melted) are Greenland and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But the amount of ice that will melt and the time it will take it’s still unknown.

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with an area of over 2 million square kilometers. Most of the island is covered by an ice cap that can reach thicknesses of 3 kilometers

Data from a NASA satellite shows that the melting rate has dramatically accelerated since 2000.

If the ice cap were to completely disappear, global sea levels would rise by 6.5m.

Estimated monthly changes in the mass of Greenland’s ice sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of about 239 cubic kilometres per year. Most scientists agree that the melting won’t be gradual, there will be a tipping point when the melting will abruptly accelerate. When will this happen is still unknown.

greenland_melting

National Snow and Ice Data Centre

 

We have known about Greenland’s dangerous warming for a while, but we recently learned that Antarctica is no longer immune to global warming.

A very recent study (Mann, et. al) published in Nature magazine, shows the increased and abrupt warming of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Mann explains that “a larger part of West Antarctica is melting than previously thought”.

In stark contrast, a large part of the continent — the East Antarctic Ice Sheet — was found to be getting colder. The cooling was linked to another anthropogenic (human-caused) effect: ozone depletion.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) is 1,800 meters above sea level and holds approximately 2.2 million cubic kilometers of ice, about the same amount of ice contained in the Greenland Ice Sheet.

 

NASA

NASA

Jerry Mitrovica, co-author of a new and groundbreaking study (published in Science) explains that “The West Antarctic is fringed by ice shelves, which act to stabilize the ice sheet — these shelves are sensitive to global warming, and if they break up, the ice sheet will have a lot less impediment to collapse”.

Whether or when this ice sheet might collapse and melt is still very uncertain, but even a partial melt would have a bigger impact on some coastal areas than others.

Sea level rise will not happen uniformly around the globe. When physical and gravitational factors are applied to projections of sea level rise, the impact on coastal areas is dramatically worse in some parts of the world than predicted so far.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that a full collapse of the WAIS would raise sea levels by 5 meters globally.
Mitrovica explains that this is an oversimplification, and that sea level rise will be higher than expected, and greater in some places than in others (such as North America).

This study shows three important factors that the IPCC overlooked:

  • Gravity: Huge ice sheets exert a gravitational pull on the nearby ocean, drawing water toward it. If an ice sheet melted, that pull would be gone, and water would move away. In the case of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the water would move away from the south towards northern latitudes.

  • Rebound: The WAIS is called a marine-based ice sheet because the weight of all that ice has depressed the bedrock underneath to the point that most of it sits below sea level. If all, or even some, of that ice melts, the bedrock will rebound, pushing some of the water on top of it out into the ocean, further contributing to sea level rise.

  • Earth’s rotation: A collapse of the WAIS would also shift the South Pole location of the earth’s rotation axis from its present location. This would shift water from the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans northward toward North America and the southern Indian Ocean.

Mitrovica explains that “The net effect of all of these processes is that if the West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapses, the rise in sea levels around many coastal regions will be as much as 25 % more than expected, for a total of between 6 and 7 meters if the whole ice sheet melts,”. That’s a lot of additional water, particularly around such highly populated areas as Washington, D.C., New York City, and the California coastline.

“We aren’t suggesting that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is imminent,” said study co-author Peter Clark of Oregon State University. “But these findings do suggest that if you are planning for sea level rise, you had better plan a little higher.”

 

Click here for a great interview with the researchers of this amazing study.

If you want to see different scenarios of sea level rise in your area go to Google Flood Maps, select 5-7 m and zoom in your home town to see if in the next 100 years your home will be under water!

 

 

“Environmental Economics: Towards Sustainability” at Boston Green Scene

Boston GreenScene is a great new site promoting green living in the Boston area.

I wrote an environmental economics article for the launch, check it out by clicking on the picture:

forestprice

Global Warming: Faster than Predicted

Our current CO2 emissions are already above the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) projections. (IPCC report)

We are headed towards a future which is even more dangerous than the report’s most pessimistic scenarios.

This figure shows the past and current global warming,  showing clear evidence of the man caused temperature increase.

Different surface warming scenarios are also shown, red representing the worst case scenario:

IPCC

IPCC

The following figure from a recent study shows that we are currently above the worst case scenario projections (A1FI-red line).

A1FI (high) projections were of +2.7% increase of Co2 emissions per year, but the actual growth is at +3.5% per year (from 2000-2007).

coemissions

Raupach et al., PNAS, 2007

This means that our temperature will increase more than 5 °C   by the end of the century. How many degrees and how fast our temperatures will rise is still uncertain, but we will see the impacts of global warming in our lifetime, that’s almost guaranteed.

Following is a summary of some of the consequences of climate change:

impactsclimatechange

Stern review on the economics of climate change, 2006

The Amazon at “Steak”

25beef-span-6001

The cattle industry is responsible for 80% of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon according to a recent report by Greenpeace : “Amazon Cattle Footprint”.

Brazil has rapidly become the world’s largest beef exporter:


USDA

USDA

Over the last ten years more that 10 million hectares of forest (an area about the size of Iceland) has been cleared for cattle ranching. And the figures are rapidly increasing; the Brazilian government wants to double the beef production by 60% , and most of this expansion will take place in the Amazon, where land is cheap and available.

Greenpeace

Greenpeace

Industrial agriculture is also a large contributor to the Amazon deforestation, soy plantations are on the rise, mainly for bio-diesel and cattle feed production. Both cattle farmers and agribusiness are very powerful in Brazil, many of the country’s most influential politicians are linked to the industry.

A lot of money is being made at the expense of the Amazon, but the value of this ecosystem is far greater than what we are destroying it for.  It’s terrifying to know that we’ll probably find out it’s real value when it’s too late.

The Amazon rain forest is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, being the home of at least 40,000 different plant, 430 mammal, 1399 bird, 500 amphibians and 3,000 fish species, and many others that we haven’t discovered yet (and could be potential cures for human diseases).

Deforestation causes over 20% of global carbon emission, more than the world’s entire transport sector. The Amazon is estimated to store over 120 billion tonnes of carbon, which would be equal to over 50 years of current US carbon emissions if destroyed.

Cattle ranching in the Amazon also has social impacts on the region, including the highest rates of slave labor in Brazil. In 2008, 3005 rural workers who were kept in slavery were freed from cattle ranches in the Amazon.

The Amazon is also home to over 300,000 indigenous people who depend on the forest for their food, shelter, tools and medicines.


deforestation1

Greenpeace believes that Brazil can reach zero deforestation by 2015 through stronger enforcement of its existing environmental laws such as asking landowners to keep 80 % of their land forested,  promote sustainable development programs, increasing funding for monitoring and law enforcement, etc.

We as consumers can also do our part by reducing our carbon footprint. Some ways of doing so include reducing the quantity of meat that we consume, and checking its origin and how it was produced.

The greenhouse gas emissions from beef are 13 kilograms of CO2  per kg. This means that eating a kilogram of beef represents roughly the same greenhouse emissions as flying 100 kilometers of a flight, per passenger.

To know more about your carbon footprint go to this site.

Stop Flushing Ancient Forests Down the Toilet

WWF-Kurt Prinz

WWF-Kurt Prinz

We hear it in the news, we see it everywhere, forests are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Most of us are aware that deforestation is one of the most serious problems of the century, but we continue to flush old growth forests down our toilets.

Most people are extremely surprised when they learn that the two largest manufacturers of tissue products in the world still use virgin fiber from old growth forest to make toilet paper. It seems like a bad nightmare, but it’s a reality!

Kimberly-Clark (Kleenex, Scott, Scottex and Cottonelle) and Procter & Gamble (Bounty) sell millions of tons of tissue products in over 150 countries annually, making each over 14 billion US dollars of profit every year.

Their toilet papers are made with virgin fiber that comes from old growth boreal forests located in Canada, Russia and the Balkans. They also use virgin pulp from tropical forests located in Asia and Latin America.

WWF published in a recent report that “Every day, about 270,000 trees are flushed down the drain or end up as garbage all over the world”.

This is clearly unnecessary and it needs to stop!

You as the consumer have the power. Buying 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper is a very easy way to protect some of the last old growth forest left in the world.

Yes, recycled toilet paper is not as soft , but it’s a very small sacrifice that can save millions of trees!

And anyways, how soft do you really need your toilet paper to be? You only use it a few seconds a day!

According to the NRDC, “ If every household in the United States replaced just one roll of virgin fiber toilet paper with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees”.

There are tons of recycled toilet paper alternatives out there, these are just a few…

In the US: Seventh Generation, 365 (Whole Foods), Earth First and Green Forest . And Naturelle, Ecotopia and Essential in Europe among others.

Also note that the whiter the tissue, the more likely it is to contain high levels of virgin fibers and huge amounts of bleaching, which also has very negative impacts in the environment.

So from now on try to buy recycled toilet paper, and if your supermarket doesn’t carry it ask for it!

The consumer has the power. Vote with your money!

You can also ask Kimberly-Clark to stop using old growth forest here.


Sources:

NRDC

WWF

Greenpeace-Kleercut Campaign