Building a Better Battery

If you want to make something dirt-cheap, make it out of dirt.”
—Prof. Donald Sadoway, John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

I love innovation. I love when people think outside the box. Too often I hear comments like “the battery capability isn’t there,” or “the grid can’t handle the intermittency of renewable sources of energy.”

But I don’t think that means we have to continue to work within our current framework and squeeze out every drop of oil from beneath the ocean floor or from the tar sands in Alberta. Nor do we need to dig out every nugget of coal from every mountaintop that we’re tearing down. What we should be striving toward instead is to change the infrastructure so it can deal with these newer developing technologies.

One inspiring individual who thinks outside the box is Professor Donald Sadoway from MIT. Although he has research interests in many areas of chemistry and metallurgy, one area he has focused on has been to produce more efficient batteries, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially within the industry sectors. His research has often been driven by his desire to reduce carbon pollution output by various industries.

Professor Sadoway has previously posted a TED talk on a more efficient battery he and his research team have been working on. I found his video particularly inspiring. If you have fifteen minutes, I strongly recommend you watch this informative and enlightening piece of education.

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Scientists Say We Can’t Develop Tar Sands and Fight Climate Change at the Same Time

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
Albert Einstein

More than 100 Canadian and American scientists have come together with an argument that a moratorium on the development of Canada’s tar sands is necessary until a plan to reduce carbon pollution, protect biodiversity and human health, and respect treaty rights has been implemented. They recognize that no one scientist works in a field of research that comprises the expertise that spans all of climate change. But by coming together and discussing the issue, they were able to come to the following conclusion:

Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, we offer a unified voice calling for a moratorium on new oil sands projects. No new oil sands or related infrastructure projects should proceed unless consistent with an implemented plan to rapidly reduce carbon pollution, safeguard biodiversity, protect human health, and respect treaty rights.

The list includes Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada, Members of the U.S. National Academy of Science, recipients of the Order of Canada, and one Nobel Prize winner. They offer ten reasons based on scientific understanding to back up their strong statement: Continue reading

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Climate Change: Rick Santorum vs. The Pope

Since I often post videos on Fridays, I thought I’d share this little nugget from last Sunday. Chris Wallace from Fox News Sunday interviewed former Pennsylvania senator (and current Republican presidential candidate) Rick Santorum. Interestingly, Santorum offered reasons why he’s more qualified to discuss global warming and climate change than Pope Francis. As Santorum had stated prior to the interview, the Pope should “leave science to the scientists.” His job should be to focus on “theology and morality” instead.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Chris Wallace starts to grill him on this point—and if a Republican can’t get a little love from Fox News, where can he get it? As Wallace put it:

If [the Pope's] not a scientist—and in fact, he does have a degree in chemistry—neither are you? So, I guess the question would be, if he shouldn’t talk about it, should you?

Santorum’s answer is that since politicians have to make decisions that affect public policy, they need to talk about it. But not a Pope with a degree in science. It’s as if our main vocation in life precludes us from discussing things like global warming and climate change. By that right, I shouldn’t discuss anything but cardiology. (So I guess Santorum really meant “leave science to the politicians.” It’s all becoming much more clear.)

Even though Santorum suggested leaving science to the scientists, he doesn’t accept their comments or recommendations either. Wallace points out that 80 to 90 percent of scientists agree that we’re contributing to climate change—the statistic is actually closer to 98 percent—but Santorum then falls back on the old GOP standby: “the science isn’t settled.” True, science is never completely settled, but the certainty of us contributing to climate change is about the same level of certainty that cigarettes cause cancer. So at what point does it become silly and stupid to ignore the scientists we’re supposed to be leaving the science to?

Watch the video for yourself and see what you think. Since climate change is a global problem, I think every global citizen has a right to speak up about it. Frankly I’d much rather hear what Pope Francis has to say about it than a denying Republican any day.

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Solar Panels at Home: Are They the Right Decision?

So you’ve decided to do the right thing and consider using green energy. People you know have put solar panels on their homes and you’re wondering if that’s the way to go. But you worry about the economic sense of shelling out so much money and worry that it may never pay itself off. So how do you make the right decision?

The folks at SolarEnergy.com can help. They have a solar calculator that helps you to figure out the annual savings you would achieve by installing a photovoltaic solar panel system for your home. You get to see the money solar panels can save you over the next 25 years compared with your typical electrical bill with its monthly fluctuations. And given that gas and electric bills are likely to continue to climb in the years to come, generating your own solar power makes even more sense with time and is likely cheaper than you think. This solar calculator is a great way to know for sure.

Solar power has many advantages over fossil fuels. It’s renewable and doesn’t generate greenhouse gas emissions. Solar panels are also very durable; they’re thick and able to resist the elements over time. And since there are no moving parts, the chances of power interruptions due to mechanical breakdowns is almost zero. And due to feed-in tariffs, excess power you generate can be paid to you by your utility company. Even if you need to occasionally use electricity from the electric company, it’s still going to be a much lower monthly electricity bill, and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that you generate.

Go ahead and check out the calculator to see what your long-term savings will be. If you’re planning to stay in your home for years to come, it makes a lot of sense.

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The Heat is On… And It’s Going to Speed Up

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?”
Steven Wright

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has reported that global temperatures are predicted to accelerate in the coming years in a new study. NOAA scientists have found “that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century.”

Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, explains an acceleration in global temperatures this way:

Considering all the short-term factors identified by the scientific community that acted to slow the rate of global warming over the past two decades (volcanoes, ocean heat uptake, solar decreases, predominance of La Niñas, etc.), it is likely the temperature increase would have accelerated in comparison to the late 20th Century increases. Once these factors play out, and they may have already, global temperatures could rise more rapidly than what we have seen so far.

If this prediction is correct, a dramatic rise in global temperatures is going to happen and soon. It’s hard to know by just how much, but climatologist Kevin Trenberth says it could be up to 0.5°F. As 2015 is already on schedule to be the hottest year we’ve ever recorded, it’s very possible that the rise has already begun. Continue reading

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