Saturday, April 29, 2017

Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Mean Safer, Lighter Cars and Smartphones

A grey bumpy surface (Image Credit: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory) Click to Enlarge.
Rechargeable zinc-based batteries could not only store as much energy as lithium-ion batteries but also be safer, cheaper, smaller and lighter, new research finds. The results suggest zinc batteries could find use in mild hybrids (microhybrids), electric vehicles, electric bicycles, and eventually perhaps smartphones and power grid storage.

The researchers are now aggressively testing these batteries and exploring scaling up this technology.  “We feel we can have a battery ready for the market by the end of 2019,” says Michael Burz, CEO of energy technology firm EnZinc in San Anselmo, Calif., which helped engineer the new batteries.

When it comes to electric vehicles, the new batteries will “be 30 to 50 percent cheaper than comparable lithium-ion systems,” Burz says.

Lithium-ion batteries have become notorious for safety incidents resulting from overheating, at times bursting into flames and even exploding.  The U.S. Navy was researching alternative technologies because “there's a Navy and a broader military concern with the safety of lithium-ion batteries—on soldiers, on sailors, on platforms,” says Debra Rolison, head of the advanced electrochemical materials section at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., and one of the researchers involved in the zinc breakthrough.

Zinc-based batteries do not pose the same fire risk linked with lithium-ion batteries, and can in principle match or surpass them in terms of specific energy (energy per unit mass), as well as energy density (energy per unit volume).  Moreover, zinc is cheap and widely available.  All these features help explain why zinc-based batteries “are the go-to global battery for single-use applications,” Rolison says.

Read more at Zinc Battery Breakthrough Could Mean Safer, Lighter Cars and Smartphones

Trump Moves to Lift Arctic Offshore Drilling Ban, but It Might Not Be So Easy

There is no legal precedent for Trump to undo Obama's order of permanent protection from drilling, and action by Congress would take years.

Shell made the first attempt at offshore drilling in American Arctic waters in 2015, but its exploratory well didn’t produce enough oil or gas. Because of that and falling oil prices, many large companies abandoned plans for the region. (Credit: Tim Aubry/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Friday aimed at resurrecting offshore drilling in the Arctic—an area that Barack Obama had protected in one of his final moves as president.

It comes during a flurry of executive orders issued this week as Trump nears his 100th day in office, and is among several administration actions designed to unleash unfettered fossil fuel production on public lands and waterways.  But when it comes to drilling in the Arctic, it's not clear just how much Trump can legally accomplish, and any attempt to overturn existing protections will likely face a protracted legal battle from environmental advocates.

When Obama ordered the permanent protection of nearly 120 million acres of Arctic and Atlantic waters from drilling just a month before he left office, many wondered just how "permanent" that would be.

The area in question includes the entirety of the Chukchi Sea and most of the Beaufort Sea off Alaska, as well as a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to Virginia.  Obama's executive order relied on his powers under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953 (OCSLA), which allows a president to withdraw certain areas from drilling.

Trump's order, called the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to lift the ban in some of the areas Obama had sought to protect.  It also directs Zinke to review the current five-year plan, which dictates which federal waters can be leased and does not include the banned areas.

The executive order also instructs regulators to reexamine their policy on seismic testing in areas where it is currently not allowed, and it instructs Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to review marine monuments and sanctuaries created or expanded in the past 10 years, while refraining from designating any news ones.
Legally, Trump may be on shaky ground when it comes to overturning Obama's withdrawal, though.  The legal underpinning of Obama's move—OCSLA—states that "The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf."

So Obama clearly had the authority to issue the ban, said David Uhlmann, the director of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the University of Michigan Law School.  "The more difficult question is whether a subsequent president can alter that withdrawal, or whether it is truly permanent," he said.

Those defending the ban will likely argue that because the act does not explicitly say that subsequent presidents can undo a withdrawal, it should stand.

"No prior presidents have ever purported to undo a permanent withdrawal once it's been put in place," said Erik Grafe, an attorney with Earthjustice.  "It'd be an unprecedented action and, we think, unlawful."

Read more at Trump Moves to Lift Arctic Offshore Drilling Ban, but It Might Not Be So Easy

Trump's EPA Wins Advantage in Campaign to Dismantle Clean Power Plan

An appeals court agreed to delay ruling on the Obama plan to rein in global warming emissions.

The Clean Power Plan, designed by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, is the centerpiece of U.S. pledges to cut emissions in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement. (Credit: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A federal appeals court on Friday temporarily granted the Trump administration's request to defer ruling on the validity of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, and said it would next consider handing the far-reaching climate rules back to the Environmental Protection Agency to be overhauled or even dismantled.

It was a significant tactical advance for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who on President Donald Trump's orders is working to undo the CPP, which would regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and is critical to meeting U.S. pledges  under the Paris climate agreement.

But the court did not give Pruitt all he wanted.  He had sought an indefinite hiatus—or "abeyance," in legal jargon—for as long as it took for him to decide what to do about controlling carbon dioxide emissions, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly found to be EPA's mandate under the Clean Air Act.

Instead, the appeals court granted an abeyance for just 60 days.  It asked the adversaries who have been fighting in court ever since the rules were proposed to submit briefs in just over two weeks on whether the painstakingly devised regulations should be "remanded"—basically sent back to EPA's drawing board.

If that happens, electric power plants, especially those burning coal, which have long produced a major proportion of U.S. greenhouse gases, would be allowed indefinitely to continue doing so largely unfettered by federal constraints.  They would be mitigated only by market forces, state and local laws, and rules governing other pollutions.

David Doniger, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the ruling disappointing, but not devastating.  He noted that if the rule is remanded to Trump's EPA, the Supreme Court stay could be lifted and the Obama version could remain in force, pending its reconsideration.

Even if the appeals court ultimately decides not to cede the field entirely to the Trump-Pruitt EPA, it's hard to see at this point how anything but delay and uncertainty lies ahead for the next few years.

Read more at Trump's EPA Wins Advantage in Campaign to Dismantle Clean Power Plan

Trump Orders Review of Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

The Ocean Star offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. (Credit: Katie Haugland Bowen/flickr)
President Trump on Friday called for the review of a five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing that the Obama administration put in place to keep large swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic off-limits to fossil fuel development.

Trump signed an executive order calling for the review during a ceremony at the White House.  It comes just before the symbolic 100-day mark of his administration and instructs the Commerce Department to also review all marine sanctuaries created or expanded in the past 10 years. The order echoes another signed earlier this week for a review of all large national monuments established since 1996 and recommending ways for Congress to shrink or abolish them.

The latest order is part of a concerted effort to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations — such as the Clean Power Plan and a moratorium on federal coal leasing — put in place in part to curb the greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels.  Those emissions are raising global temperatures and sea levels, as well as impacting weather patterns and the health of ecosystems.

Trump and officials in his administration, many of whom have connections to the oil and gas industry, have decried those regulations as “job killing” and preventing economic growth.  They have also cited them as a threat to national security.  Trump promised during his campaign to roll them back and bolster America’s declining coal industry as well as fully exploit the country’s fossil fuel reserves.

“This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to job-creating, energy exploration,” Trump said in remarks before the signing.  “It reverses the previous administration’s Arctic leasing ban and directs Secretary Zinke to allow responsible development of offshore areas that will bring revenue to our treasury and jobs to our workers.”

The new order “puts us on track for American energy independence,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Thursday evening.

Zinke is charged with carrying out the review of the current five-year offshore leasing plan over the next couple of years.  In the meantime, that plan “remains in existence; there is no immediate change,” Zinke said.

Under the current leasing plan, 3.8 million acres of the Atlantic and 115 million acres of the Arctic under U.S. jurisdiction are placed off-limits for leasing.  Offshore leasing accounts for about 16 percent of U.S. oil production and 5 percent of natural gas production, with about 97 percent of that activity occurring in the western Gulf of Mexico.  The plan did allow for leasing in 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea off of Alaska.

Read more at Trump Orders Review of Obama Offshore Drilling Plan

Friday, April 28, 2017

  Friday, Apr 28

Global surface temperature relative to 1880-1920 based on GISTEMP analysis (mostly NOAA data sources, as described by Hansen, J., R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, 2010: Global surface temperature change. Rev. Geophys., 48, RG4004.  We suggest in an upcoming paper that the temperature in 1940-45 is exaggerated because of data inhomogeneity in WW II. Linear-fit to temperature since 1970 yields present temperature of 1.06°C, which is perhaps our best estimate of warming since the preindustrial period.

Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

Five US coral reefs are sinking beneath the waves due to the erosion of the sea floor, robbing coastal communities of their natural storm barrier.

Antler coral at the Molokini crater, near the Hawaiian island of Maui, where the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments. (Image Credit: Yury Velikanau via Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The world’s coral reefs are not just in hot water and under threat from acid attack; they may even be getting out of their depth.  New research around five US coral reefs shows that even as sea levels rise, the sea floor around the reefs is being eroded.

And coral growth simply may not be fast enough to keep up, which means that coastal communities in Florida, the Caribbean, and Hawaii could become increasingly at risk from storms, waves and erosion.

The news comes close after revelations that great tracts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, like other coral colonies, have been devastated by bleaching, as ocean temperatures rise above the levels that corals – animals that live in symbiosis with algae – can tolerate, and researchers have warned that this could soon be happening to reefs almost everywhere, every year.

Coral under threat
There is already widespread alarm among marine scientists as the seas become measurably more acidic due to an increase in levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and this too poses a threat to corals everywhere.

But while researchers in the tropics had monitored the living reefs of the surface waters, hardly anybody had paid attention to the sea floor around the reefs.

Now, scientists of the US Geological Survey report in Biogeosciences that – possibly as a consequence of the degradation of the reefs of the Florida Keys, the US Virgin Islands, and the Hawaiian island of Maui – the sea floor is being scoured of sand and sediments, just as sea levels continue to creep to a predicted rise of up to a meter by 2100.

Around Maui, they report, they measured the loss enough sand, rock and shell to fill the Empire State Building in New York 81 times over.

This means that the seas along those coasts have become unexpectedly deep.  Since tropical corals depend for nourishment on light photosynthesized by their algal partners at the surface, this raises yet another hazard:  if the sea floor is falling at the same time as the seawater ceiling is going up, can corals grow fast enough to keep up?

“Our measurements show that seafloor erosion has already caused water depths to increase to levels not predicted to occur until near the year 2100,” says Kimberly Yates, a biogeochemist at the USGS’s St Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center, who led the research.

“At current rates, by 2100 sea floor erosion could increase water depths by two to eight times more than what has been predicted from sea level rise alone.”

Healthy coral reefs are among the richest and most diverse habitats on the planet.  They represent an immediate asset to human communities:  they underwrite tourism and fisheries, and they deliver protection against storm surge and tsunami for around 200 million people in low-lying coastal communities.

Sea level rise presents a threat to communities along the coasts of all the inhabited continents, and coastal flooding could by 2100 be costing the world $100 trillion a year.

One group has calculated that money spent on protecting and restoring reefs would represent a bargain, at about one-twentieth the cost of artificial breakwaters.

Read more at Sea Floor Erosion Causes Coral Reefs to Sink

The Next March Is All About Climate Change

Hundreds of thousands turned out for the People's Climate March in New York, held in September 2014. (Credit: Climate Action Network/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
For the second weekend in a row, Washington, D.C. will be home to people clamoring for policies based on science.  But unlike the March for Science, this weekend’s People’s Climate March will be overtly political and put a sharp focus on climate change and justice.

The march builds on a 2014 landmark event that drew hundreds of thousands to the streets around the globe.  Then, the push was for the world to deliver a climate deal, a goal achieved a year later in Paris.

The climate action landscape has changed a lot since then, most notably by the election of President Trump.  While some of his policies may be driving people to the streets on Saturday, Paul Getsos, the national march coordinator, said he wasn’t the initial impetus for the march.

“We were ready to be active with the next administration when we thought it was Hillary Clinton,” Getsos said.  “Our steering committee was working together (last year) to figure out how to make the next president, who we thought was going to be Clinton, be bigger and bolder on climate.”

Nonetheless, Trump’s election has changed the focus a bit.  Organizers and other climate advocates are now trying to prevent the U.S. from backsliding on its recent climate action progress.

The Trump administration has walked back a number of climate policies enacted under President Obama and proposed cutting the budget of a number of climate and energy programs.  A number of cabinet members have also expressed views far outside established climate science.

The march is slated for Trump’s 100th day in office.  Organizers chose the date because the first 100 days is a measuring stick for the president’s priorities.  Executive orders aiming to roll back climate policies are among the few tangible goals Trump can point to.

Read more at The Next March Is All About Climate Change