Category: Technology

MIT Engineers Create Concept Hybrid-Electric Plane to Address Aviation Pollution

by Arun

According to MIT news, engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently come up with “a concept for airplane propulsion that they estimate would eliminate 95 percent of aviation’s NOx emissions, and thereby reduce the number of associated early deaths by 92 percent.”

The aviation industry has had a strong history of pollution, with the rise only slated to continue. Scientists estimate that aviation, left unchecked,  will generate approximately 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions through 2050. Furthermore, according to WorldWildLife, if air pollution was a nation, it would be one of the top 10 carbon-pollution nations on the planet. With the world shifting to renewable and alternative forms of energy in other methods of transportation such as automobiles, scooters, and even trains, it was inevitable a shift would soon come to the ever-growing aviation industry. 

So what have the researchers come up with?

The researchers have developed a unique hybrid-electric design where a plane’s conventional gas turbine would be integrated within the plane’s cargo hold. This would allow it so that “rather than directly powering propellers or fans, the gas turbine would drive a generator also in the hold, to produce electricity, which would then electrically power the plane’s wing-mounted, electrically driven propellers or fans.” As a result, the gas-produced emissions would clean the exhaust before ejecting it into the atmosphere. In this regard, the plane would be able to be more fuel efficient and be more eco-friendly.

Steven Barrett, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT cautions that “this would still be a tremendous engineering challenge,” yet still is very optimistic about the viability of the project. Assuming the system will be widely accepted, the engineers estimate that about 92 percent of pollution-related aviation deaths would be effectively eliminated.

As technology advances and renewable energy becomes more widespread, economized, and accepted, the future looks bright as industries start shifting towards greener alternatives, with the possibilities growing endlessly.

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Nuclear Fusion: Solution to the Climate Crisis?

by Arun

President-elect Joe Biden has a vision for the United States that sees the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2035, as a result of the wide-spread adoption of the economization of renewable energy from the wind and sun. Recent findings from researchers may speed up this timeline, as they found promising results that nuclear fusion may be a possible solution to the climate crisis.

The researchers are developing promising technology that generates more energy than it consumes. Though there is no prototype yet and the reactor is still in development, scientists behind what is called the “Sparc,” believe it will be capable of producing electricity for the grid by 2030. In an interview, one of the project’s senior scientists built on the optimism by saying that “fusion seems like one of the possible solutions to get ourselves out of our impending climate disaster.” 

What is Nuclear Fusion?

By definition, nuclear fusion is “a nuclear reaction in which atomic nuclei of low atomic number fuse to form a heavier nucleus with the release of a large amount of energy.” The scientists hope that by harnessing this large release of energy, they will be able to produce large amounts of energy that will supplement daily electricity usage. But what is actually the challenge of this project is actually harnessing the energy, in addition to nuclear fusion being equally very dangerous and powerful. It is more promising than the nuclear fission reactors that we see today, as fusion produces no greenhouse gases or carbon, and does not have risks of a meltdown.

The science behind the device is far more complicated, and to learn more about the MIT-based team, projects, and ventures, follow this link:

The initial results of the project seem promising, yet being able to scale the project and effectively being able to harness the energy without letting any escape and causing related catastrophes are yet to be nailed down. The exploratory project, however, seems to be very exciting and met with a lot of optimism and it seems to be a feasible alternative to scaling renewable energy and promoting a greener world.

Next-Gen Gaming Could Have Serious Environmental Impacts

by Arun

In the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, many have been ordered to shelter in their homes, causing them to seek other forms of entertainment. For many, this entertainment has come in the form of video games. However, with the increase in business from gaming companies comes some dangerous environmental implications in the form of e-waste. Moreover, with the release of futuristic Next-Gen hardware (highlighted by the release of Sony’s Playstation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X) that promise an unparalleled gaming experience with updated hardware, comes an even more magnified risk of environmental consequences.

Though gaming companies have made significant moves to reduce e-waste by offering free recycling and reducing their carbon footprint through manufacturing in environmentally-friendly manners, there seems to be an unrealized effect as a result of a sharp increase in gaming. According to WIRED, US gaming platforms “represent 34 terawatt-hours in energy usage, associated with carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to over 5 million cars.” Additionally, with the development of gaming ecosystems, specifically in the lines of the product vision of Microsoft, gaming hardware purchases seem to be on the rise – and could be increasingly common in US households.

The hardware that comes with these new Next-Gen consoles come with a large consumer upgrade market. With the large volume, the consoles – which consist of chips, circuit boards, and plastic – will have a large impact on the e-waste that will eventually end up in a landfill. The chips in the next-gen consoles will be smaller but will require much more energy. Additionally, with standard shipping and chemical treatments, the energy used by the consoles will be tremendous, ultimately leading to a large carbon footprint.

Though these consoles appear to have negative implications for the environment, it seems that the companies behind the product are committed to environmental sustainability. Both Microsoft and Sony have set goals to be carbon neutral and carbon negative, respectively, in the near future. This is in hopes of advancements of technology that will enable such outcomes, though there doesn’t seem to be a current solution to the problem.

Ultimately, the production and usage of next-gen consoles for the average consumer will not have a great bearing on the environment. However, like anything, these additions add up. Though as consumers, we are at the mercy of manufacturers, only time will tell whether manufacturers will be able to become carbon neutral and eliminate their impact on the environment in a way that benefits our planet and the consumer.


Tech Industry Plays Growing Role in Fight Against Climate Change

by Anshul Dash

The tech industry has played a significant role in the fight against climate change through many actions, such as following zero-carbon footprints and pushing for use of data to encourage efficiency of energy.

The tech industry has a huge influence on most people. It currently dominates areas in politics, the economy, and culture. Because of this, the industry’s role in climate change could have huge, positive impacts. Big tech giants such as Amazon and Shopify have recently invested $2 billion and 5$ billion, respectively, into environmental companies such as CarbonCure Technologies, which stores CO2 in concrete, and Pachama, which uses artificial intelligence to save and preserve forests. Through these investments, tech giants are earning credibility for contributing to the fight against climate change.

However, big tech companies are receiving criticism from the public regarding their own carbon footprints, which are very high numbers. Tech giants are also receiving backlash for partnering with major oil and gas companies, which contributes to the overall carbon footprint through the extraction of fossil fuels. Based on the criticism, many of these companies are reforming their policies. For example, Microsoft partnered up with oil company BP to reduce its oil/gas emission. Google proclaimed that it aims to run all of its data centers on carbon-free power by 2030. 

Out of the fight against climate change, an association called the Digital Climate Alliance was formed. The Alliance aims to include digital solutions as a part of climate policy. The Alliance, led by Johnson Controls and Intel, will try to negotiate with Congress to add a digital title into their developing climate policy. According to the organizers of the group, at least one oil company is likely to join. 

One way that the tech industry is planning to become environmentally friendly is to shift web searches and data centers to places where electricity is wasted. It also plans to further assess emissions up close by studying specific fossil fuels and buildings. Digitizing data can have a hugely positive effect on cutting carbon emissions.

Zero-Emission Trucks to Dominate Californian Landscape by 2050

by Saarang Kashyap

On Thursday, June 25, California adopted a landmark rule requiring more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035, a move that is expected to improve local air quality, rein in greenhouse gas emissions, and sharply curtail the state’s dependence on oil.

The rule, as stated by Independent, is “the first in the United States, represents a victory for communities that have long suffered from truck emissions — particularly pollution from the diesel trucks that feed the sprawling hubs that serve the state’s booming e-commerce industry. On one freeway in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, near the nation’s largest concentration of Amazon warehouses, a community group recently counted almost 1,200 delivery trucks passing in one hour.”

It’s a bold move that should help curb one of the worst-polluting sectors of the transportation industry. Despite making up only 7 percent of vehicles on the road in California, diesel trucks account for 70 percent of the state’s smog-causing pollution and 80 percent of diesel soot emitted, according to CARB. As mentioned in The Verge, “California’s new rule could have much broader consequences, too, thanks to its role as a standard-bearer for clean air regulations. Fourteen other states have adopted its progressive ZEV program for passenger vehicles, which was launched in the early 1990s and has spurred automakers into developing hybrid and fully electric cars. Last year, in the face of the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era fuel economy standard meant to fight the climate crisis, California developed its own rule that Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda have signed onto.”

“For decades, while the automobile has grown cleaner and more efficient, the other half of our transportation system has barely moved the needle on clean air,” Mary Nichols, the head of CARB, said in a statement. “Diesel vehicles are the workhorses of the economy, and we need them to be part of the solution to persistent pockets of dirty air in some of our most disadvantaged communities.” In order to improve our current climate change crisis, we need other states to accept California’s progressive ideas with regards to transportation to mitigate pollution as best as possible.

NASA Finishes Testing with Sentinel-6 Satellite That Can Help Learn More about Preventing Global Warming

by Anshul Dash

NASA has recently finished testing the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite, which is set to launch in November. The satellite’s purpose is to find out more about global warming’s effects on the oceans, coastlines, and weather by collecting accurate data on sea level. Rigorous testing was done to ensure that the satellite can perform well in the harsh conditions of space.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was built as a part of the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS (Continuity of Service) mission. The mission is an effort by the US and Europe to launch two identical satellites five years apart. The satellite will join an already existing set of satellites called the Copernicus Constellation of Satellites. This set of satellites represents the European Union’s Observation Program. Once the satellites reach orbit, they will start collecting sea level data for almost all of the world’s oceans, at 90%. The data collected will be added to a 30-year-old database created by the US and the European Union. In addition to collecting sea level data, the satellite will measure the temperature and humidity of Earth’s atmosphere, which in turn provides useful information for hurricane predictions and weather forecasts in general. Scientists’ strong belief in the connection between the ocean and the atmosphere is the main reason behind collecting this data. Heat causes sea levels to rise since seawater expands in higher temperatures.

The first test that the engineers performed was the vibration test. They replicated the shaking movement of the satellite to simulate its condition when attached to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket during its blast into orbit. The satellite was then placed in a big vacuum chamber and exposed to extreme temperatures that it could encounter in space, from 65 to minus 180 degrees Celsius (149 to minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit). The second test was the acoustics test, which was conducted to make the satellite could withstand loud noises that might occur during the launch. The engineers tested this by placing the satellite in a chamber with enormous speakers. They then blasted the speakers with four 1 minute intervals of sound, with the loudest interval going to 140 decibels. The final test performed was the electromagnetic compatibility test. This test ensured that the electronics and sensors on the satellite wouldn’t interfere with each other while collecting data. This test was done differently than planned due to social distancing rules being enforced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the tests were being conducted in Germany, the engineers in California worked during the night, from midnight to 10 AM. They communicated with their colleagues from Germany with phone calls, video conferences, chat rooms, and text messages. However, the test was still a success despite the inconveniences.

Since the Copernicus Sentinel-6/Jason-CS mission is a US-European Union joint mission, many space agencies are taking part in this mission. NASA is contributing to this mission by equipping each of the Sentinel-6 satellites with three science instrumental payloads: the Global Navigation Satellite System – Radio Occultation, the Advanced Microwave Radiometer, and the Laser Reflector Array. In addition to providing these payloads, NASA is also providing launch services for these satellites, ground control services, science data processors for these instruments, and general support for the international Ocean Surface Topography Science Team.

The Hidden Carbon Footprint Behind Cryptocurrency

by Suraj Gangaram

Due to the market meltdown in early March, the price of a cryptocurrency referred to as Bitcoin dropped by $1000 within less than a day. As a result of Bitcoin’s extensive power consumption and carbon footprint, people adhering to the ESG (environmental, social, and governance) criteria have sparked debate over the practicality of it in today’s day and age. The presence of the coronavirus situation especially begs the question:

How are cryptocurrencies in general going to move forward?

Believe it or not, Bitcoin, a type of cryptocurrency which operates independently of a central bank, has a giant carbon footprint associated with producing it. The digital currency offers relative anonymity, does not charge sales tax and is free from bank and government interferences. Transactions are digitally stored as “blocks” in a chain as opposed to a traditional centralized location as in banks; the “winner” is given the right to add another block of data to the chain, and is rewarded with a new Bitcoin. Bitcoin, currently sitting at a value of around $7000, is infamous for its energy consumption, demanding a plethora of tailor-made computers to carry out its arduous mining process which requires complex mathematical computing. As part of an attempt to save on their expenditures, mining companies have relocated their computers, known as ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits), to warehouses with access to cheap electricity. Currently, over 50% of all mining occurs in China’s Sichuan province, which has a superabundant capacity for hydropower. Seemingly just another financial trading tool, it consumes as much electricity as the country Chile, with nearly 19 million inhabitants. Researchers calculated that the Bitcoin network consumed 31.3 Terawatt-hours (1 TWh = 3.6*10^15 J) of electricity and 17.3 megatons (17.3 million tons of TNT) of CO2 in 2018 alone.

Companies are cognizant of the impact of crypto-currency production on climate change as it works its way into becoming the currency of the future. A Canadian company, Upstream Data, has invented a method of diminishing the amount of methane vented into the atmosphere from oil wells through utilizing the fuels as a generator for mining computers. Steve Barbour, the company’s founder, has described the venture as one of “a low capital…for an oil company.” Looking to set the path forward for ESG-minded individuals, mining companies are looking to reconfigure the processes of producing crypto-currency, before climate change demands them to do so.

NASA’s New 3D Picture of Methane Can Track Sources and Movement Around Globe

by Anshul Dash

NASA has developed a 3-dimensional picture of the Earth with methane concentrations. This picture shows the numerous sources of methane on the ground and its behavior as it moves through the atmosphere. NASA has combined multiple data sets from emissions inventories, including fossil fuel, agricultural, biomass burning and biofuels, and simulations of wetland sources into a high-resolution computer model.

Methane is the second-most influential greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, responsible for 20-30% of Earth’s rising temperatures. Methane concentrations have more than doubled since the Industrial Revolution, accelerating the increase in global temperatures. Methane is more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide; however, the lifetime of a methane molecule is shorter than that of carbon dioxide, which is why carbon dioxide is still the most prominent contributor to global warming.

In addition to fossil fuel activities, sources of methane also include the ocean, flooded soils in vegetated wetlands along rivers and lakes, agriculture, such as rice cultivation, and the stomachs of ruminant livestock, including cattle. It is estimated that up to 60% of methane emission is the result of human activity. As human populations continue to grow, changes in energy use, agriculture and rice cultivation, livestock raising will influence methane emissions.

NASA’s 3D model can estimate methane emissions based on known processes for certain land-cover types, such as wetlands. The model can also simulate the atmospheric chemistry that breaks down methane and removes it from the air. It also shows that once methane emissions are lofted up into the atmosphere, high-altitude winds can transport it far beyond their sources.

The model shows several locations that stand out. In South America, the Amazon River basin and its adjacent wetlands flood seasonally, creating an oxygen-deprived environment that is a significant source of methane. In India, rice cultivation and livestock are the two driving sources of methane. China’s economic expansion and large population drive the high demand for oil, gas and coal exploration for industry as well as agriculture production, which are its underlying sources of methane.

The modeling of methane concentrations around the globe also helps NASA plan future field and satellite missions. One of the satellites that NASA is planning to launch in 2023 is called GeoCarb. The satellite will provide space-based observations of methane in the atmosphere over much of the western hemisphere.

Overall, with a more detailed understanding of methane concentrations worldwide, the doubts scientists had previously can be cleared by giving a qualitative understanding of how methane moves around the atmosphere and where it’s produced. By predicting where methane will end up in the atmosphere and where its sources are located, scientists can mitigate methane emissions, thus slowing down the effects of climate change.

The Battle Against Misinformation on Climate Change

by Kaushal Kumar

The fight against climate change is one that our world is going to have to fight against for years, and it is essential that people have an honest understanding about what climate change is and its implications so they can understand the severity of the issue. This is why it is so important that when people are exposed to the topic of climate change, the information that they are exposed to must be logical and factually correct.

Recently a nonprofit called “Greenpeace” has called out YouTube for promoting ads that deny climate change or promote misinformation about climate change on their videos. The nonprofit claims that not only are the ads misleading, but YouTube is drawing revenue by displaying the ads, and are in turn making money off of the spread of untrue claims surrounding climate change (NBC).

But the ads are not the only place where climate change deniers go to spread misinformation. According to Time, when searching “Global Warming” on YouTube more than 15% of the top 100 video responses are some form of climate change denial, or attack against the idea of climate change.

So What?

These ads and videos have a bigger impact than a company generating revenue off of lies, and that is the effect that they may be having on the audiences of the videos. 81% of parents say that they let their children watch videos on Youtube. This means that there is a large audience of impressionable kids who cannot discern between the lies that these advertisers are spreading and the truth about these topics. By exposing children, and even unknowing adults to this misinformation, YouTube is helping fuel these fraudulent campaigns, making it harder and harder for our world to win its fight against climate change, one that we cannot afford to lose.

Can Carbon Capture Stop Climate Change?

by Kunaal Venugopal

Carbon Capturing is the process of capturing Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and storing it where it cannot get out, typically deep underground. However, the CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) movement has not gained much traction, even with the first CCS projects dating back to 1996 in Norway. The International Energy Agency set a goal that 23,500 million tons of CO2 should be captured and stored by the end of the decade, but just 2 percent of this goal has been reached thus far.

Why has Carbon Capturing and Storage not been readily adopted across the world?

A major concern with Carbon Capture is the substantial cost it has in the short-term. In the long-term, CO2 that is stored deep underground may eventually leak, which would lead to a plethora of problems, including the question of who would have to pay to fix the leaks. Furthermore, the risks of leaks are exaggerated by those who fear fossil fuels and believe that CCS is not a viable solution to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Many also relate CCS to fracking due to the underground aspect. Fracking has a much higher risk than CCS, as it can lead to earthquakes and oil spills, while CCS leaks could only put CO2 in the atmosphere that would have been there without CCS.

Ultimately, when considering solutions to greenhouse gas emissions, we must consider the most effective yet feasible option. For industrial plants, for example, CCS is the only solution to reducing emissions. When taking into account a cost-benefit analysis of CCS, the potential of reducing a significant amount of emissions with the risk of leaks outweighs the option of allowing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without mitigation attempts. However, with the exponential rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the world, we must ask ourselves if Carbon Capturing and Storage is the solution.