Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050

The world could be powered almost entirely by clean, renewable energy sources in the space of a few decades, and two engineers in the US say they’ve have figured out exactly how it can be done.

Blueprints for 139 countries around the world, including the US, Japan, and Australia, break down exactly how many wind turbines, solar farms, hydroelectric dams, and other facilities are required to cover each nation’s personal, business, industry, agriculture, and transport power needs, and how much it would cost. They’ll be presented to leaders of 195 nations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris, starting on November 30, where a binding and universal agreement on climate will be set.

The people there are just not aware of what’s possible,” one of the researchers, Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer at Stanford University, told Mark Fischetti at Scientific American. Jacobson has been granted two opportunities to speak at the conference, which will run from November 30 to December 11, and plans to get on-on-one time with as many world leaders as possible during that time with his colleague, engineer Mark Delucchi from the University of California, Davis.

The purpose of the blueprints is to show that 100 percent renewable energy isn’t just a green pipe dream – it’s technically and economically feasible. And it won’t only save countries a significant amount of cash – Jacobson and Delucchi have figured out how many jobs it could create and lives it could save, and it’s a whole lot.

As Fischetti reports for Scientific American, if all 139 countries followed their plans for permanently ditching fossil fuels, it would open up 24 million construction jobs and 26.5 million operational jobs, each with a 35-year lifespan, which more than covers the 28.4 million jobs that would be lost in collapsed fossil fuel industries.

The change would also lead to considerably cleaner air, which the engineers have estimated will prevent the 3.3 to 4.6 million premature deaths that occur every year due to atmospheric pollution. Right now, these deaths cost around 3 percent of the global GDP to mitigate.

And that’s not the only saving that a fossil fuel-free world can bring. Wind is now the cheapest source of electricity in the US, costing around half as much as natural gas – and that’s unsubsidised. And the cost of solar is not far behind.

As Ramez Naam reports over at Energy Post, if the technology continues to grow in efficiency at the current rate, by the time solar capacity triples to 600GW – predicted by around 2020 or 2021 – the unsubsidised price for solar power will be roughly 4.5 cents per kWh in places that get a lot of sunlight, such as the the US southwest, the Middle East, and Australia. For moderately sunny places, such as India and China, this price will hit 6.5 cent per kWh.

Not bad, when you consider coal-fired electricity can cost anywhere from 6.6 to 15.1 cents per kWh and it’s 6 to 8 cents for natural gas. And that’s not including all the associated health costs mentioned above.

“People who are trying to prevent this change would argue that it’s too expensive, or there’s just not enough power, or they try to say that it’s unreliable, that it will take too much land area or resources,” Jacobson told Adele Peters at Fast Company. “What this shows is that all these claims are mythical.”

The timeline states that countries could stop building new natural gas, coal, and nuclear plants, by 2020 and all gas-fired home appliances would be shifted to electric. Over the next five years, governments and industry leaders could work on getting large ships, trains, and buses off fossil fuels to run on electric power instead, followed by all cars and trucks over the next five years. By 2050, everything that currently guzzles fossil fuels could feasibly be switched over to renewable power sources.

Of course, not everyone is convinced, says Fischetti, reporting that the plans “have been heralded as transformational, and criticised as starry eyed or even nutty”, but the beauty of what Jacobson and Delucchi have put together is that everything is there for you to read through and analyse yourself, so you can make up your own mind.

Source: Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050

Here’s how 139 countries could run on 100% wind, solar, and hydro power by 2050

How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

The solar wind has made Mars a cold desert, and a tougher environment for would-be colonists. Alan Duffy explains the latest research.

 

Four billion years ago, Mars and Earth were like twins. Water flowed on the Martian surface beneath an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and water vapour. Today the Martian atmosphere is vanishingly thin, just a hundredth the density of Earth’s, and its surface water has disappeared.

Where did it all go? To find out NASA sent MAVEN – the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft – all decked out with sensitive new instruments. It’s been orbiting the planet since last September and this November it finally answered the riddle. The solar wind blew away the Martian atmosphere. This result was the highlight of a landslide of papers published in November using data collected by MAVEN – four inScience and 40 in Geophysical Research Letters.

The first hints water used to flow on Mars came from NASA’s Viking missions in the 1970s. The orbiters beamed back pictures of valleys that looked like they’d been carved by ancient rivers. More recent landers showed fossilised ripples of lakebeds and streams known as mudstone. And just in September, instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected the signatures of hydrated salts streaking down crater edges. The briny residue showed water may still be found occasionally on the surface of Mars. But it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the bodies of water that resided in the ancient lakes some four billion years ago.

Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water – a critical ingredient for life. This animation shows what Mars might have looked like at the time, before transitioning to the dusty red planet we see today.

So where did the water go? Some thought it was locked away in subsurface ice deposits. And as for the atmosphere, carbon dioxide and other gases might have chemically reacted with rocks over hundreds of millions of years, and become locked away inside Mars’ geology – similar to the way carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere can get locked away as limestone.

The other possibility was that both had been lost to space: first the atmosphere, then the water, which in the thin air would simply have evaporated away. If this theory was right, the real question was, why did the atmosphere vanish in the first place? It shouldn’t have: Mars’ gravity, a third of Earth’s, is sufficiently strong to keep its atmosphere.

“Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day,

the loss becomes significant over time”

First off, MAVEN established that the Martian atmosphere was indeed vanishing into space. Dipping in and out of the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, it detected wisps of ionised air escaping at the rate of about 100 grams each second. “Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time,” says Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

MAVEN was also present when a solar storm hit Mars in March 2015.

The rate of atmospheric loss increased up to 20-fold when the storm struck. The storm was the result of a coronal mass ejection by the Sun, which hurled billions of tonnes of superhot material into space. Unlike the constant, steady stream of particles of the solar wind, these events are far more energetic and damaging. With each direct hit, more of the Martian atmosphere is lost.

The Sun had been caught in the act of planetary vandalism. MAVEN’s data showed the long suspected culprit, the solar wind (and its sometime partner in crime, solar storms), was easily capable of removing an atmosphere. While the Sun is still at work shearing away the Martian atmosphere today, four billion years ago a youthful Sun was even more tempestuous with storms that were more frequent and powerful than those of today.

So why was Earth spared this fate? Our planet is blessed with a magnetic shield that deflects the charged solar particles; Mars is not. A magnetic shield is created by a churning liquid iron core, which Earth has. Mars once had a molten core too but around four billion years ago, it cooled and solidified. Just why we have been spared this fate is not entirely understood – perhaps it is simply because Mars is smaller and lost heat more quickly. The same fate undoubtedly awaits Earth too, but not for many millions (if not billions) of years yet.

Without a liquid iron core, Mars’ magnetic field faded away. The solar wind then ripped away most of the atmosphere, leaving the oceans to evaporate into space. But the removal of its atmosphere would have taken place over a few hundred million years, so any life that existed had time to adapt to living underground; the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation would be fatal to life on the surface.

For the first time, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has observed the solar winds in action stripping away Mars’ atmosphere. This video shows a simulation of the solar wind striking Mars, then adds a colourful overlay of Mars’ atmosphere being removed (the new measurements taken by MAVEN).

This is good news for scientists hoping to find life on Mars, but bad news for human colonists.

Some had hoped the gases that made up the atmosphere might still be present beneath the surface, awaiting our arrival to unlock all that carbon dioxide, begin to grow plants and terraform the Red Planet. Not so: at least as far as the atmosphere goes, colonisers will need to bring their own.

Source: How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

How the Sun stole Mars’ atmosphere

New Principles to Help Accelerate the Growing Global Momentum for Carbon Pricing

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New report shows the number of implemented or planned carbon pricing schemes around the world has almost doubled since 2012, with existing schemes now worth about $50 billion.
  • About 40 nations and 23 cities, states or regions are using a carbon price. This represents the equivalent of about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • And new report lays out six key principles to put a price on carbon – the FASTER principles – for putting a price on carbon based on economic principles and experience of what is already working around the world

The spotlight is on New York now with the upcoming United Nations meeting on the new Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Week New York, and in about two months, global leaders will meet again in Paris for COP 21.

The decisions made in New York and Paris will set the course for development for years to come. But while these are top level, pivotal meetings, actors around the world are not waiting for a global agreement to act. They are already putting a price on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to drive clean investment. This includes the private sector. And we’ve seen companies from the oil and gas industry – calling for widespread carbon pricing. Today, over 400 businesses worldwide are using an internal price on carbon to guide their investments.


” The world needs to find effective ways to reduce carbon pollution. We must design the best ways to price carbon in order to help cut pollution, improve people’s health, and provide governments with a pool of funds to drive investment in a cleaner future and to protect poor people. “

Jim Yong Kim

World Bank Group President


Image

Around the world, about 40 national and 23 city, states and regions are using carbon pricing schemes, like emissions trading systems (ETS) or carbon taxes. These represent about 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 12% of global greenhouse emissions, a threefold increase over the past decade.

To help countries navigate the waters, the World Bank Group, together with the OECDand with input from the IMF, also released a report today on the FASTER Principles, which helps governments and business develop efficient and cost-effective instruments to put a price on the social costs of emissions.

The FASTER principles are: F for fairness; A for alignment of policies and objectives; S for stability and predictability; T for transparency; E for efficiency and cost-effectiveness and R for reliability and environmental integrity.

With COP21 fast approaching, the need for meaningful carbon policies is more important than ever. Carbon pricing is central to the quest for a cost-effective transition towards zero net emissions in the second half of the century. These principles will help governments to incorporate carbon pricing as a key part of their policy toolkit,” said Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD.

The research draws on over a decade of experiences with carbon pricing initiatives around the world, such as emissions trading systems and taxes in places like the European Union, British Columbia, Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. It points to what’s been learnt to date: well-designed carbon pricing schemes are a powerful and flexible tool that can cut emissions that cause climate change and if adequately designed and implemented can play a key role in enhancing innovation and smoothing the transition to a prosperous, low-carbon global economy.

“Carbon pricing is effective in reducing emissions that cause climate change, is straightforward to administer, can raise valuable revenues for broader fiscal reforms, and can help address local pollution as well as global climate change. We welcome the opportunity to continue collaborating with the World Bank, OECD, and others on this critical policy tool,” said Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

There is growing momentum: Since 2012, the number of implemented or scheduled carbon pricing instruments nearly doubled, from 20 to 38, and they are now worth about $50 billion. This progress is described in a new report, launched by the World Bank and Ecofys called the State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2015 report.

Some examples:  

  • Last year, Chile approved a national carbon tax to start in 2017.
  • In January of this year, the Republic of Korea launched an ambitious carbon market.
  • Today, the EU ETS is the largest carbon instrument in terms of value, followed by the trading systems in Korea and California.
  • Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, announced in April that it is joining California and Quebec’s emissions trading systems. And the EU and South Korea announced plans this week to explore linkage between their emissions trading systems.
  • The US and China – the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters – host the two largest national carbon pricing initiatives in terms of volume covered, driven by initiatives in their states and provinces. In China, the carbon initiatives cover the equivalent of 1 billion tons of CO2, while in the US, they cover the equivalent of 0.5 billion tons of CO2.
  • China, which already has seven pilot carbon markets operating in major cities and provinces, announced plans to launch a national system in 2016.

And it was just announced on Wednesday last week that more than two dozen cities in China and the US are making new pledges to lower emissions. This is welcome news. But the ambition and coverage of pricing needs to accelerate significantly for the world to meet international climate goals. Overall, these experiences with carbon pricing show little negative impact on economic growth but have a significant impact on energy intensity and diversification (or “greening”) of the energy mix.

There have been concerns that carbon pricing will affect international competitiveness of some industries and lead them to move production, or even whole factories, to other countries or jurisdictions where emission costs are lower, a phenomenon called “carbon leakage”. The report notes that ex-post analysis of the EU ETS, the biggest cap-and-trade system in place today, shows that so far, the carbon leakage has not materialized on any significant scale.

In the future, the risk of carbon leakage is real as long as carbon price signals are strong and differ significantly between jurisdictions. Also, this risk tends to only affect a limited number of exposed sectors and can be effectively mitigated through policy design.

The State and Trends report also discusses the enormous savings that can be made through – cooperation between countries. Compared to domestic action alone, cooperation and linking of carbon pricing instruments across borders could significantly lower the cost of achieving a 2°C stabilization goal, because countries have more flexibility in choosing who undertakes emission reductions, and who pays for them.

Analysing several studies made over the years, the State and Trends report shows that this cooperation can mobilize resources and transfers between countries and investors, and result in net annual flows of financial resources of up to $400 billion by 2030 and up to $2.2 trillion by 2050.

The report also says that carbon prices that converge have a positive impact on competitiveness by favouring more efficient and cleaner sectors, leading to a more efficient economy.

Source: New Principles to Help Accelerate the Growing Global Momentum for Carbon Pricing

New Principles to Help Accelerate the Growing Global Momentum for Carbon Pricing

Construction Begins On Europe’s Largest Floating Solar Plant

Construction has begun on what will end up being Europe’s largest floating solar plant, atop Godley Reservoir in the UK.

Godley-1

The project developer, and the UK’s largest listed water company, announced this week that the installation of Europe’s biggest floating solar power system had begun construction, on the Godley Reservoir in the town of Hyde in Greater Manchester, UK. The entire project will consist of 12,000 solar panels, covering an area of 45,5000 square meters of the reservoir’s total 60,000 square meters. Once completed, the project will provide the utility with 2.7 GWh of electricity per year, for use directly onsite.

With construction already under way, United Utilities is hoping construction, testing, and full operation will all be completed by Christmas, 2015.

“We have a target to generate 35 per cent of our power requirements by 2020 and this project will make a significant contribution to that aim,” explained Chris Stubbs, head of renewable energy at United Utilities. “As part of United Utilities’ energy strategy to generate more power we identified the Godley reservoir as a suitable site to install a floating solar array to provide the water treatment works with approximately 33 per cent of its energy requirements.

“While floating solar has been deployed elsewhere around the world, most notably in Japan, it is a new technology to the UK. Installations such as the Godley solar scheme will help us to keep energy costs and water customers’ bills low.”

Floating solar is by no means a new idea, with a bevy of such projects in development or in operation all around the world. The new Godley Reservoir plant will dwarf the UK’s only other site, an 800-panel pilot project in Berkshire (whose construction is seen below).

Japanese multinational manufacturer Kyocera is currently the developer and manufacturer behind a number of projects trending for largest floating solar power plant. In November 2014the company announced that it would be developing a 7.5 MW solar power plant atop the Umenokifurukori reservoir in Japan, which was followed a month later by an announcement for a 13.4 MW floating solar power plant atop the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

In May alone, Kyocera completed two separate floating solar projects in Japan — the first, two projects totaling 2.9 MW at Nishihira Pond and Higashihira Pond in Kato City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan; the second, a 2.3 MW project in Hyogo Prefecture.

Japan isn’t the only country moving forward with floating solar, however. Brazil announced earlier this year a phenomenal 350 MW pilot project planned for the Balbina hydroelectric plant. Australia saw the installation of a $9.5 million, 4 MW PV system atop a wastewater at a treatment facility in South Australia, India had plans for a 50 MW floating solar project, as did the US.
Source: Construction Begins On Europe’s Largest Floating Solar Plant

Construction Begins On Europe’s Largest Floating Solar Plant

Catastrophic ice shelf collapse would see oceans rise for millennia, say experts

With the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference set to commence next month with the objective of securing a binding, universal agreement to limit global temperature increase, there’s never been a more dramatically opportune moment for world leaders to take a meaningful stand against rising sea levels.

And we don’t have any time to lose. New research published this week suggests that if temperatures rise just 1.5°C to 2°C above present levels it will result in a catastrophic collapse in Antarctic ice sheets, ensuring sea levels will rise for not hundreds of years – but potentially thousands.

“The long reaction time of the Antarctic ice-sheet – which can take thousands of years to fully manifest its response to changes in environmental conditions – coupled with the fact that CO₂ lingers in the atmosphere for a very long time, means that the warming we generate now will affect the ice sheet in ways that will be incredibly hard to undo,” said Nicholas Golledge, a senior research fellow from the Antarctic Research Centre at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Together with researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, Golledge used computer modelling to simulate ice sheet responses to a warming climate based on a number of different emissions scenarios.

In all but one of the projections – which would require significantly reduced emissions to begin as soon as 2020 – the collapse of the major Antarctic ice shelves triggers what the researchers call “a centennial- to millennial-scale response” in the Antarctic ice sheet, with enhanced viscous flow producing an effectively unstoppable contribution to rising seas.

The findings contradict a 2013 projection on rising sea levels issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that suggested rising seas would peak at 5 centimetres this century. But the researchers, one of whom was involved with the previous estimation, acknowledge that we now know significantly more about the science of ice sheet melting – and the new insights afford a drastic view.

“Our new models include processes that take place when ice sheets come into contact with the ocean,” said Golledge. “Around 93 percent of the heat from anthropogenic [pollutant-based] global warming has gone into the ocean, and these warming ocean waters are now coming into contact with the floating margins of the Antarctic ice sheet, known as ice shelves. If we lose these ice shelves, the Antarctic contribution to sea-level rise by 2100 will be nearer 40 centimetres.”

It’s not the first time scientists have warned that previous estimates of the impact of global warming were too modest. A report issued earlier in the year by former NASA physicist James Hansen said revised modelling of glacier melting indicated that coastal cities could be uninhabitable within 50 years.

In light of these new estimations, the researchers emphasise that humanity has the power to control this situation – or at least to temper it on behalf of future societies.

“It becomes an issue of whether we choose to mitigate now for the benefit of future generations or adapt to a world in which shorelines are significantly re-drawn,” said Golledge. “In all likelihood we’re going to have to do both, because we are already committed to 25 centimetres by 2050, and at least 50 centimetres of sea-level rise by 2100.”

source: The findings are published in Nature.

Catastrophic ice shelf collapse would see oceans rise for millennia, say experts

PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

Pluto’s blue haze

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

After New Horizons sped past Pluto in July, the spacecraft turned around to look at the dwarf planet’s silhouette against the sun. The backlighting gave New Horizons some insight into the planetoid’s atmosphere, and now the first color images of the haze has revealed that Pluto’s skies are partially blue.

If you were standing on Pluto, the sky would probably actually look reddish gray, though Miriam Kramer at Mashable reports that sunrise and sunset on Pluto could have a blue hue. The way the atmospheric particles are scattering blue light is a surprise to the New Horizons scientists. It also tells them a thing or two about the composition of the atmosphere.

“That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles,” said New Horizons’ Carly Howett in a press release. “A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger–but still relatively small–soot-like particles we call tholins.”

Tholins are simple organic molecules. Scientists think Pluto’s tholins come from ultraviolet light breaking up the methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere. Those reactive particles then combine together into complex molecules. Volatile gases condense on the molecules, making them heavy enough to rain down on Pluto. This is where Pluto gets its reddish-brown tint.

A second image, released today, shows the distribution of water ice across part of Pluto’s surface. Water ice in itself is not a surprise–scientists suspected the planetoid’s mountain ranges are made of ice. Still, there are only a few places where Pluto’s water ice isn’t buried in more volatile ices, such as those made from nitrogen and methane.

Map of exposed ice on Pluto’s surface

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

What’s more, these water ices seem to be reddish in color, based on color maps from New Horizons.

“I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” says Silvia Protopapa, another New Horizons team member. “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto’s surface.”

Source: PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

PLUTO HAS RED ICE AND BLUE SKIES

Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

It’s not every day that we have permission to throw “Aliens?” out there in relation to a confounding astronomical discovery – in fact, I don’t think we ever have. But the discovery of a strange pattern of light surrounding a distant star called KIC 8462852 has seen even the most sensible astronomers throw their arms up with a, “Sure, why not?” arguing that the possibility of advanced alien technology can’t reasonably be ignored.

“Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilisation to build,” Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University in the US, told The Atlantic.

First up, though, a little about the star in question: KIC 8462852. Located about 1,500 light-years away between the Cygnus and Lyre constellations of our Milky Way galaxy, KIC 8462852 is brighter, hotter, and more massive than the Sun.

It was first discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope in 2009, and scientists have been tracking the light it emits ever since, along with the light of another 150,000 or so newly discovered stars. They do this because it’s the best way to locate distant planets – slight, periodic dips in a star’s brightness signal the fact that it might have one or more large objects orbiting it in a regular fashion.

These brightness dips are usually very slight, with the stars dimming by less than 1 percent every few days, weeks, or months, depending on the size of the planet’s orbit, says astronomer Phil Plait at Slate.

What makes KIC 8462852 such a strange star to study is that not only are there way more dips of brightness than expected, these dips are highly irregular. There’s no periodic orbiting going on here, just a bunch of strange, light-blocking shapes with no discernible pattern to them.

And these dimming effects are significant. Scientists are reporting that at one point, the amount of starlight dropped by 15 percent, and then at another, 22 percent. And this tells us a whole lot, says Plait:

“Straight away, we know we’re not dealing with a planet here. Even a Jupiter-sized planet only blocks roughly 1 percent of this kind of star’s light, and that’s about as big as a planet gets. It can’t be due to a star, either; we’d see it if it were. And the lack of a regular, repeating signal belies both of these as well. Whatever is blocking the star is big, though, up to half the width of the star itself!”

The most obvious explanation for hundreds of irregular dimming events is that KIC 8462852 has a mass of space junk – all kinds of rocks and dust of varying shapes and sizes – circling it in tight formation, says Ross Andersen at The Atlantic. The only problem is that this only occurs when a star is young, and the evidence points to KIC 8462852 being mature. “If it were young, it would be surrounded by dust that would give off extra infrared light,” says Andersen. “There doesn’t seem to be an excess of infrared light around this star.”

“We’d never seen anything like this star,” one of the researchers, Tabetha Boyajian from Yale University in the US, told him. “It was really weird.”

So what’s going on here? There are a number of reasonable possibilities to consider, and yep, aliens is actually one of them. First off, the scientists have already ruled out the possibility that the information they’re working with is faulty. “We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out,” says Boyajian.

The best explanation we have is that at one point, another star passed into KIC 8462852’s system and the disturbance of gravity caused a huge mess of comets to be pulled in towards it before being expelled again. And there just so happens to be another star close enough to KIC 8462852 to make this a possibility.

“But that would be an extraordinary coincidence, if that happened so recently, only a few millennia before humans developed the tech to loft a telescope into space. That’s a narrow band of time, cosmically speaking,” says Andersen.

And then there’s the question of the 22 percent dimming. Could a mass of comets really block that much light? When astronomer Jason Wright from Penn State got a look at the data, he said we need to consider that perhaps we’ve caught an advanced alien civilisation in the process of building something massive near KIC 8462852.

Plait points to the so-called Dyson Sphere from several science fiction stories: a gigantic sphere made of solar panels that completely encircles a star. And he’s not opposed to the idea:

“I actually kinda like it. I’m not saying it’s right, mind you, just that it’s interesting. Wright isn’t some wild-eyed crackpot; he’s a professional astronomer with a solid background. As he told me when I talked to him over the phone, there’s ‘a need to hypothesise, but we should also approach it skeptically’ (paraphrasing a tweet by another astronomer, David Grinspoon), with which I wholeheartedly agree.”

What does that mean? It means we’re allowed to get a little bit excited! Not because aliens are a likely possibility, but because we’re in the middle of an awesome mystery the likes of which we haven’t seen before in the history of space exploration. Word is that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute scientists are considering devoting their time to it, and hopefully more research teams will get involved too. We seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with.

Source: Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

Scientists can’t explain what huge object is blocking the light from this distant star

A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets

A pilot project to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into pellets that can either be used as fuel or stored underground for later has been launched by a Calgary-based start-up called Carbon Engineering.

While the test facility has so far only extracted 10 tonnes of CO2 since its launch back in June, its operations will help inform the construction of a $200 million commercial plant in 2017, which is expected to extract 1 million tonnes per day – the equivalent of taking 100 cars off the road every year. It plans to start selling CO2-based synthetic fuels by 2018.

“It’s now possible to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, and use it as a feed stock, with hydrogen, to produce net zero emission fuels,” company chief executive Adrian Corless told the AFP.

Funded by private investors, including billionaires Bill Gates and oil sands financier Murray Edwards, Carbon Engineering is not the only company in the world intent on solving our carbon dioxide problems, but it claims to be the first to demonstrate how its technology can be scaled up to have both an actual environmental impact and commercial potential.

Instead of tackling the CO2 that pours out of factory smokestacks – because there are existing machines that do this pretty well – the Carbon Engineering ‘direct air capture plant’ will deal with everyday carbon emissions from buildings, transportation, and agriculture. “Emissions from sources you just can’t otherwise capture,” Corless says.

“It’s still a pilot-scale plant,” he told CBC News. “But it’s very important, because it’s the first time that anyone’s demonstrated a technology that captures CO2 that has the potential to be scaled up to be large enough to be relevant from an environmental or climate point of view.”

As we reported back at the time of the test plant launch, direct air capture works just like these new solar cells that split water into a hydrogen fuel – the CO2 recycling plant extracts CO2 from the air using a giant complex of fans, and combines this with liquid hydrogen split from water. This mixture can then be converted into solid pellets of calcium carbonate, and either heated to between 800 and 900 degrees Celsius to release pure carbon for use as fuel, or stored for later.

CEProcessCarbon Engineering


According to CBC News,
the larger plant should be able to produce up to 400 litres of gasoline or diesel per day using this method. One of the main things it has going for it is that because it turns the CO2 into fuel, no change in infrastructure will be needed to power big fuel-guzzlers such as ships, planes, and long-haulage trucks. Even existing petrol pumps can work with the fuel. A major limitation of solar and wind technologies, on the other hand, is that they require specific technologies to capture and disperse energy.

“The nice thing about the technology is that there are no real limitations for it to ultimately, in theory, displace all of the existing fossil-based transportation fuels,”Corless said.

Going forward, the most important thing for Carbon Engineering to figure out is how to be commercially viable. As Kesavan Unnikrishnan points out at Digital Journal, carbon can cost anything from $1/tonne (Mexico and Poland) to $130/tonne (Sweden) around the world, and Carbon Engineering will need to sell its product at around $100/tonne to support itself commercially.

We’ll have to wait and see how things go for direct air capture in the future, but we’re so excited by its potential. Watch the video below to find out more about how it works:

Source: A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets

A Canadian start-up is removing CO2 from the air and turning it into pellets