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Babassu oil and plasma torches

February 11, 2011

After a long winter break we devote the first post of the year to renewable fuels. In this article in the Economist, the challenges of converting to biofuels in the aviation industry are pointed out. In a test flight in 2008, a Boeing 747 flew across the Atlantic with one of four engines powered by a fuel mix with 20% babassu (a palm) and coconut oil. After the test Greenpeace complained that those 20% were the equivalent of 150,000 coconuts and that the use of biofuels in aviation would encourage land clearance and push up food prices.

The versatility of fossil fuels is also very hard to match as they remain liquid at -50C, have a high energy content, are very efficient and are readily available around the world. To bring the share of biofuels in aviation up to 6% would require investments of $15-20 billion, and this would reduce green house emissions down by 4%, or 20 million tonnes.  

Extracting fuel from already existing waste certainly seems a lot less controversial. An electric arc is used to vaporise the shredded waste and turn it into syngas and slag, where the slag can be used to make bricks or pave roads. Early version of these plasma torches, as they are called, were very expensive to run. Now companies in America and Australia have manage to bring down the costs to reasonable levels and one plant in Florida creates enough syngas from household waste to make electricity for 20,000 homes .

Debris machines now ready

October 28, 2010

In the case you wondered what happened to those vacuum cleaners we wrote about a few months ago, made from plastic debris taken from the ocean, well here the are. They’re looking rather nice actually and come in five different editions depending on where the plastic debris was collected.

Dumping to be banned

October 5, 2010

 The International Maritime Organization (IMO) passed a resolution on Friday banning the dumping of waste water in the Baltic Sea. It will apply to new ships as of 2013 and as of 2018 to all ships. Now work has to begin to equip ports with the facilities needed handle the waste. The IMO is working on the criteria. The ban will stop 113 tonnes of Nitrogen and 38 tonnes of Phosphor from being dumped in the Baltic and will also reduce emissions of bacteria, pathogens, virus and heavy metals.

Foul play in the Baltic

September 24, 2010

Being caught dumping toilet water in the seas ought to be embarrassing for any cruise company striving to be perceived as “eco” or “environmentally friendly”. One wonders of course why this behavior is still legal but it seems legislation is on the way as the area has been made a priority the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. Legal or not, there are several options to avoid dumping waste water in the sea. In our research we have found interesting solutions to both processing the waste onboard and offloading it in ports. For other areas, look here, and also keep a lookout for some early results from our research. We will post it here.

Inventing the 21st Century

September 6, 2010

The British Library is hosting an exhibition showing the work behind 15 of the most ingenious British inventions from the first decade of the 21st century, from idea to finished product. During the exhibition the Library’s Business & IP Centre holds events on the innovation process and intellectual property to help aspire inventors to turn their ideas into reality. I guess one could say that this exhibition is a miniature version of the Sea of Invention project. The BBC has put together a slide show with some of the inventions.

Strained, with harder times to come

August 31, 2010

In Future Trends in the Baltic Sea, the WWF looks at how uncontrolled growth could affect the sea in the next 20 years. Before 2030 shipping is expected to double, the wind energy sector is expected to grow by 6,000%, passenger arrivals in our ports have grown 21% in the last 10 year and a similar future growth would put the number at 160 million by 2030. The organisation urges leaders to adopt a more holistic approach in their leadership. Failing to do so would jeopardise the opportunity to improve the state of the sea. Also, planning each sector separately would look cheaper in the short term but increase long-term costs by billions. The future trend of each sector can be view in this interactive map.

Toxic soup

August 24, 2010

A short follow-up on the plastic gyres in the oceans posted on earlier. Researchers have now found a similar gyre in the Baltic Sea, HBL reports. Although a lot smaller than those in the Pacific and the Atlantic, it shows how plastic and chemical concentrate in patches in our oceans. Researchers have also discovered that although the amount of plastic being dumped in the oceans every year is increasing, the gyres don’t grow. This means that the plastic particles end up in other places. It seems the decomposition of plastic is quicker than previously thought and that the tiny particles can accumulate toxins. The fate of these particles is still unknown and in Japan researchers have asked the public for help. 98% of the birds in the Procellariidae family (petrels, shearwaters, albatrosses) have been found that have plastic in their stomachs and as a lot of fish also ingest the particles it’s not unreasonable to assume that the toxins find their way onto our dinner plates. Bon appétit!