Cookies help us run our site more efficiently.

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information or to customize your cookie preferences.

These curious experiments are finding new ways to tackle pollution

News Feed
Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Purple-B projectLuigi Avantaggiato 2024 THESE curious experiments are products of the Green Propulsion Laboratory in Venice, Italy: a publicly owned research centre exploring new ways to rehabilitate the environment and generate energy. An unusual mix of scientists, engineers and psychologists at the lab have created prototypes that harness natural organisms to do useful jobs, often taking on a sculptural aspect as a side effect that attracts resident artists. “Despite being objects of science, there is beauty,” says photographer Luigi Avantaggiato. He spent time cataloguing devices such as Purple-B (shown above), which uses a bacterium called Rhodopseudomonas palustris, commonly found in the Venice lagoon, to convert human waste into useful hydrogen. The experiment has been funded by the European Space Agency as it could provide a way to process astronauts’ waste in orbit and create usable fuel, but it could be of use on Earth’s surface too. The main laboratory of the Green Propulsion Lab of the Veritas GroupLuigi Avantaggiato 2024 The bright green contents of several tanks in the lab (pictured above) are what is known as the Liquid Forest, a project in which tiny algae, such as Chlorella, capture the carbon dioxide that is warming our planet. Each tank contains 250 litres, and every cubic centimetre of that can hold around a billion algae. Researcher at work in one of the GPLabs laboratories.Luigi Avantaggiato 2024 Another shot (pictured above) shows a geodesic dome in which environmental engineers from a start-up called 9-Tech are working on new ways to recover silicon from obsolete solar panels. The whole lab site was created by Veritas, which handles the waste and water supply for around a million residents and 50 million tourists in Venice and Treviso.

At the Green Propulsion Laboratory in Italy, scientists are trying to harness natural organisms to rehabilitate the environment. Photographer Luigi Avantaggiato explores

The Purple-B project

Luigi Avantaggiato 2024

THESE curious experiments are products of the Green Propulsion Laboratory in Venice, Italy: a publicly owned research centre exploring new ways to rehabilitate the environment and generate energy. An unusual mix of scientists, engineers and psychologists at the lab have created prototypes that harness natural organisms to do useful jobs, often taking on a sculptural aspect as a side effect that attracts resident artists.

“Despite being objects of science, there is beauty,” says photographer Luigi Avantaggiato. He spent time cataloguing devices such as Purple-B (shown above), which uses a bacterium called Rhodopseudomonas palustris, commonly found in the Venice lagoon, to convert human waste into useful hydrogen. The experiment has been funded by the European Space Agency as it could provide a way to process astronauts’ waste in orbit and create usable fuel, but it could be of use on Earth’s surface too.

The main laboratory of the Green Propulsion Lab of the Veritas Group

Luigi Avantaggiato 2024

The bright green contents of several tanks in the lab (pictured above) are what is known as the Liquid Forest, a project in which tiny algae, such as Chlorella, capture the carbon dioxide that is warming our planet. Each tank contains 250 litres, and every cubic centimetre of that can hold around a billion algae.

Researcher at work in one of the GPLabs laboratories.

Luigi Avantaggiato 2024

Another shot (pictured above) shows a geodesic dome in which environmental engineers from a start-up called 9-Tech are working on new ways to recover silicon from obsolete solar panels.

The whole lab site was created by Veritas, which handles the waste and water supply for around a million residents and 50 million tourists in Venice and Treviso.

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Ships could store their CO2 emissions in the ocean

Researchers have designed a new system to capture carbon dioxide from shipping exhaust after studying how limestone naturally dissolves in the ocean

A start-up is testing a new system to capture carbon dioxide from shipping exhaust and discharge it into the oceanCalcarea Ships could capture their own carbon dioxide emissions by bubbling exhaust through seawater and limestone, then pouring the water back into the ocean. This could save space and energy compared with other systems, but it is unclear what the environmental impacts might be. The system takes advantage of a natural reaction between CO2 and calcium carbonate, also known as limestone. “The ocean has been running exactly this reaction for billions of years,” says Jess Adkins at Calcarea, the start-up behind the technique. When seawater absorbs CO2, it becomes acidic enough to break down limestone. The dissolved rock then reacts with CO2 in the water to form bicarbonate minerals, which can remain stable in the ocean for millennia. This is one of the primary ways the planet removes CO2 from the atmosphere over long timescales. For decades, Adkins and his colleagues studied how this dynamic affects organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium, like corals, as the oceans become more acidic due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2. They realised that speeding up the rate at which limestone dissolved would transform more CO2 into stable bicarbonate – and one way to do this was to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide exposed to limestone. “You can make [the reaction] go an order of magnitude faster if you use pure CO2,” says Adkins. The researchers have now designed a way to use this process to capture carbon from ships, which are responsible for about 3 per cent of all human-caused CO2 emissions and have limited options to reduce their footprint. Adkins says tests in California demonstrated that two prototypes can convert at least 30 per cent of the CO2 in diesel engine exhaust into bicarbonate. They are now working with the research arm of Lomar Shipping, a global shipping company, to test the system on a ship. The on-board test would involve compressing exhaust, then bubbling it through large volumes of seawater, using the movement of the ship as a water pump to save on energy. The more acidic water would then flow over crushed limestone to form bicarbonate, before being discharged back into the ocean. Adkins says this technique doesn’t use up as much space and is more flexible than other approaches, which require storing captured emissions on board and offloading them at specialised ports. Still, he estimates the Calcarea system would take up about 4 per cent of the space on a large bulk carrier ship sailing on a long voyage. Phil Renforth at Heriot-Watt University in the UK says the idea is interesting but could face a few problems. For one, he says the approach is unlikely to ever capture all the CO2 from the exhaust without impractically large reactors. As more options for low-emissions shipping fuels become available, that may prove to be a better option than capturing emissions. “We also need to know a lot about the consequences of scaling this up,” he says. Discharging bicarbonates into the ocean wouldn’t be a concern because they are abundant in seawater, but he says other compounds in the exhaust could have negative effects on ecosystems. Many ships already use systems that discharge sulphur pollution from exhaust into the ocean. But the agencies that regulate global shipping and international waters remain divided on how to address schemes to store CO2 in the sea.

Methane emissions from gas flaring being hidden from satellite monitors

Use of enclosed combustors leaves regulators heavily reliant on oil and gas companies’ own flaring dataOil and gas equipment intended to cut methane emissions is preventing scientists from accurately detecting greenhouse gases and pollutants, a satellite image investigation has revealed.Energy companies operating in countries such as the US, UK, Germany and Norway appear to have installed technology that could stop researchers from identifying methane, carbon dioxide emissions and pollutants at industrial facilities involved in the disposal of unprofitable natural gas, known in the industry as flaring. Continue reading...

Oil and gas equipment intended to cut methane emissions is preventing scientists from accurately detecting greenhouse gases and pollutants, a satellite image investigation has revealed.Energy companies operating in countries such as the US, UK, Germany and Norway appear to have installed technology that could stop researchers from identifying methane, carbon dioxide emissions and pollutants at industrial facilities involved in the disposal of unprofitable natural gas, known in the industry as flaring.Flares are used by fossil fuel companies when capturing the natural gas would cost more than they can make by selling it. They release carbon dioxide and toxic pollutants when they burn as well as cancer-causing chemicals.Despite the health risks, regulators sometimes prefer flaring to releasing natural gas – which is 90% methane – directly into the atmosphere, known as “venting”.The World Bank, alongside the EU and other regulators, have been using satellites for years to find and document gas flares, asking energy companies to find ways of capturing the gas instead of burning or venting it.The bank set up the Zero Routine Flaring 2030 initiative at the Paris Peace conference to eradicate unnecessary flaring, and its latest report stated that flaring decreased by 3% globally from 2021 to 2022.But since the initiative, “enclosed combustors” have begun appearing in the same countries that promised to end flaring. Experts say enclosed combustors are functionally the same as flares, except the flame is hidden.Tim Doty, a former regulator at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said: “Enclosed combustors are basically a flare with an internal flare tip that you don’t see. Enclosed flaring is still flaring. It’s just different infrastructure that they’re allowing.“Enclosed flaring is, in truth, probably less efficient than a typical flare. It’s better than venting, but going from a flare to an enclosed flare or a vapour combustor is not an improvement in reducing emissions.”The only method of detecting flaring globally is by using satellite-mounted tools called Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite of detectors (VIIRS), which find flares by comparing heat signatures with bright spots of light visible from space.But when researchers tried to replicate the database, they saw that the satellites were not picking up the enclosed flares.Eric Kort, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, said: “The VIIRS satellite database is still the standard product that scientists use globally. It’s the best, most consistent product we currently have.“If you enclose the flare, people don’t see it, so they don’t complain about it. But it also means it’s not visible from space by most of the methods used to track flare volumes.”Without the satellite data, countries were forced to rely mostly on self-disclosed reporting from oil and gas companies, researchers said. Environmentalists fear the research community’s ability to understand pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector could be jeopardised.Colorado became the first and only US state to ban routine flaring in 2021. But Maxar satellite imagery shows enclosed flares replacing open-lit flares in the run-up to the Colorado ban on flaring, which provided a carve-out clause for enclosed flaring devices.Google Earth satellite images shows a lit flare at the Fulcrum Energy site in Colorado, United States, between 2018-2019 Photograph: Google EarthGoogle Earth historical images of one site in Jackson County, Colorado, show a lit flame disappearing and being replaced with an enclosed flaring device. Because the flaring within the site is not detectable, it is difficult for researchers to determine when it is burning and for what purpose.At the same Fulcrum Energy site, a device resembling an enclosed flare appeared in the place of the lit flare, following a ban on routine flaring by the state of Colorado. Photograph: Google EarthThe NGO Earthworks, with an optical gas-imaging camera usually used by industry specialists looking for emissions leaks, recorded footage showing invisible pollutants coming from the device. However, the site’s owner, Fulcrum Energy Capital Funds, told the Guardian it had eliminated flaring from its facilities.Earthworks, an environmental NGO, took camera footage of the enclosed flare at the Colorado site in Jackson County, using a thermal optical imaging camera, used to detect emissions. The thermal footage shows a heat signature at the top of the enclosed part of the flare, suggesting that flaring is going on inside the cylinder. Fulcrum confirmed the device was an enclosed flare, but says it does not breach regulations and that it does not release emissionsMethane and carbon dioxide plumes were seen coming from enclosed flaring devices in the Four Corners region of New Mexico, according to satellite data from CarbonMapper, which provides publicly accessible data on greenhouse gases.A methane plume was spotted emitting from an enclosed flares in New Mexico, left, alongside a plume of CO2 emissions from the same site, pictured right. CarbonMapper, a site dedicated to documenting emissions using satellite data, documented the greenhouse gases from the enclosed flare Photograph: Carbon MapperIn November 2023, the EU announced a plan to phase out routine flaring as part of legislation designed to tackle methane emissions. But enclosed flares have started to appear in the EU, with information from oil and gas equipment supplier websites suggesting the devices are being sold in multiple member states.Satellite images show enclosed flares at Ineos facilities in Grangemouth, Scotland, and the Ineos Rafnes refinery in Norway. In Germany, enclosed flares can be seen at facilities owned by the steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal.An enclosed flare was observed in operation at the Rafnes refinery in Norway, owned by Ineos. Photograph: Google EarthAn Ineos spokesperson said the enclosed flare “leads to significantly less noise being emitted and much lower luminosity”, adding that these things were important for communities living and working close to its sites.Enclosed flares can be observed on Google Earth Pro images being installed at facilities owned by ArcelorMittal, a steel manufacturer in Germany. The lit flare can be observed in 2016, and the enclosed flare started being built in 2018An ArcelorMittal spokesperson said: “We installed an enclosed flaring device as a precautionary measure, so that the flare is not visible from a distance if gas had to be flared at night.” The device had a 100% combustion rate andno measurable emissions, the company added.Zubin Bamji, the programme manager of the World Bank’s Global Flaring and Methane Reduction Partnership, said volumes from enclosed flares were “very small and are unlikely to have a significant impact on flare volume estimates at a regional, country or global level”, but confirmed that VIIRS did not classify enclosed flaring devices as flares.A source with knowledge of upcoming EU methane legislation said it “covers all flares, not just those detectable by satellite”, and added that flaring in emergency situations would still be allowed.It was not immediately clear how the EU would determine whether flaring inside enclosed flares was routine or for emergency situations.

The World's Fourth Mass Coral Bleaching Event Is Underway—and It Could Become the Worst One Yet

The impacted reefs represent 54 percent of the planet's total, and that figure is currently increasing by 1 percent each week, NOAA scientists say

Bleached corals in the Great Barrier Reef during a previous mass bleaching event. Brett Monroe Garner via Getty Images Reefs and coastlines around the world are losing their color, as the fourth global coral bleaching event in recorded history is now underway, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Watch announced this week. The event further endangers the world’s already at-risk corals and the communities that live with them. On the heels of ten consecutive record-breaking months of global air temperature, ocean heat is hitting alarming extremes in 2024. And when it comes to sea surface temperature, not a single day this year has been cooler compared to the 2023 calendar, which easily broke records. Among the most vulnerable organisms to this change are the world’s corals. When faced with heat stress, they expel the colorful, photosynthetic algae they need to survive, turning a ghostly white in a process known as bleaching. In this state, corals are more vulnerable to starvation, disease and death, though bleaching can be undone if environmental extremes quickly return to normal. The grave concern today: conditions are getting worse, experts say. “I do get depressed sometimes, because the feeling is like, ‘My God, this is happening,’” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a climatologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, tells the New York Times’ Catrin Einhorn. “Now we’re at the point where we’re in the disaster movie.” Since February 2023, more than 54 percent of the world’s coral reefs have experienced heat-induced bleaching—and this figure is currently increasing by about 1 percent each week, as Derek Manzello, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, tells the New York Times. The previous three mass coral bleachings occurred in 1998, 2010 and between 2014 and 2017. During these events, respectively, 20 percent, 35 percent and 56 percent of the world’s reefs were affected, writes the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn. If current trends continue, the new bleaching event could become the largest ever. Coral bleaching has been documented across at least 53 countries and territories in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans and across both hemispheres. Some of the world’s largest and most precious reefs are being hit the hardest. For the first time ever, all three areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park—for which this is the fifth mass bleaching event since 2016—are experiencing high levels of bleaching simultaneously, reports BBC News’ Georgina Rannard. And scientists at coastlines in Florida, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Kenya, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and Indonesia—among many other places—are observing corals lose their color. “A realistic interpretation is that we have crossed the tipping point for coral reefs,” David Obura, an ecologist who leads CORDIO East Africa, a coral reef research and conservation organization, tells Reuters’ Gloria Dickie and Alison Withers. “They’re going into a decline that we cannot stop, unless we really stop carbon dioxide emissions.” A bleached coral, with a healthier coral behind it. Currently, corals in at least 53 countries and territories have experienced mass bleaching since February 2023. Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 3.0 The decline of reefs constitutes not only an environmental and cultural loss, but a financial one as well. Coral reefs help drive a $2.7 trillion global economy by supporting tourism, fisheries and coastal protections against storms. Reefs’ disappearance would have profound effects on tens of millions of people who rely on the ecosystems for their livelihoods. Since 1950, Earth has lost half of its coral reefs. And if global air temperatures reach 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming compared to pre-industrial levels, scientists project a 99 percent decline in the world’s coral. Under a high-emissions scenario, this point is expected to be reached by 2050 or sooner. “If given a chance, coral are actually resilient and can recover,” Emma Camp, a marine biologist at the University of Technology Sydney, tells BBC News. “But as bleaching becomes more frequent and stronger in intensity, we’re really narrowing that window.” Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.

EV adoption has brought modest, but measurable, declines in Bay Area emissions: Study

The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) across the Bay Area has brought a small but steady decrease in carbon dioxide emissions to the region, a new study has found. Using an air quality monitoring network set up in the area more than a decade ago, scientists documented a 2.6 percent annual decline in vehicle emissions...

The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) across the Bay Area has brought a small but steady decrease in carbon dioxide emissions to the region, a new study has found. Using an air quality monitoring network set up in the area more than a decade ago, scientists documented a 2.6 percent annual decline in vehicle emissions rates over a five-year period. They published their results Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The researchers amassed their data by using a network of air pollution monitoring sensors first set up in 2012 by Ronald Cohen, a University of California, Berkeley chemistry professor, who is also the senior author of the study. Today, the Berkeley Environmental Air Quality and CO2 Network (BEACO2N) has expanded to more than 80 stations, including seven in San Francisco and on the East Bay, stretching from Sonoma County through Vallejo and San Leandro, Calif. Combing through data from 2018 to 2022, the researchers found that 57 of the 80 sensors recorded a modest but meaningful decrease in carbon dioxide emissions — or about 1.8 percent annually. When factoring in California data for EV adoption rates, that drop translated into a 2.6 percent yearly plunge in vehicle emissions rates, according to the study.  "That's 2.6 percent less CO2 per mile driven each year," lead author Naomi Asimow, a graduate student in the department of Darth and planetary science, said in a statement. While this decline is generally good news, it's a far cry from the yearly decrease that the Bay Area and the rest of California would need to exhibit in order to meet long-term climate goals. "The state of California has set this goal for net zero emissions by 2045, and the goal is for 85 percent of the reduction to come from actual reduction of emissions, as opposed to direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere," Asimow said. "What we report is around half as fast as we need to go to get to net zero emissions by 2045," she added. The annual rate of decline in overall emissions needs to be 3.7 percent, rather than 1.8 percent, Asimow explained. Although carbon dioxide releases are usually estimated based on known sources of carbon — such as how much gas is used in heating or fuel consumption and efficiency in registered vehicles — the authors said that taking such an approach did not indicate the emissions decline that they identified. Their approach, instead, involved combining direct carbon dioxide measurements from the network sensors with meteorological data to calculate ground-level emissions. Advocating for the installation of such sensors in other cities, Cohen said that they are inexpensive enough — less than $10,000 per sensor — that major metropolitan areas could deploy such a network and gain a clearer perception of their air pollution burden and the sources of those plumes. "This is cost-effective and translatable and easily accessible to the public in a way that nothing else is," Cohen said.

Suggested Viewing

Join us to forge
a sustainable future

Our team is always growing.
Become a partner, volunteer, sponsor, or intern today.
Let us know how you would like to get involved!

CONTACT US

sign up for our mailing list to stay informed on the latest films and environmental headlines.

Subscribers receive a free day pass for streaming Cinema Verde.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.