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Showing posts from March, 2018

Bombs in Our Backyard

How would you feel about explosives packed with chemical weapons being disposed of near where you live?  This is a question facing many as the US continues to try and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, and not surprisingly the answer is often "not in my backyard".  We have seen this yet again as the US Army struggles to find a way to dispose of old sulfur mustard munitions at the troubled Pueblo depot in Colorado.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, brought into force in 1997 and administered by the OPCW, bans the mass production and stockpiling of chemical weapons by its member states.  Importantly, it also requires that signatories destroy their existing stockpiles, which for the USA and Russia in particular has proven to be a gargantuan and on-going task.  Gone are the days when you could just dump your surplus nerve and blister agents into the sea (yes, that used to happen).

Nowadays, chemical weapons are destroyed either through high temperature incineration, or by a…

Fake Plastic Tree Refuses to Die

Just like that cheap plastic Christmas tree that mum trots out every year, stories about the scientifically questionable CityTree refuse to die.  This press release masquerading as news has been rehashed and reprinted with little scientific analysis by Wired, Forbes, Dezeen, CNN - and - so -  many - others that it made me throw up in my mouth a little and I had to stop googling it.

As I wrote the other day, these CityTrees make almost impossible claims to purify air of nearly every pollutant, all the way from particulate matter down to carbon dioxide.  This last one is the most challenging to accept, as it has been reported that each fake plastic tree "has the air purifying power of 275 normal trees". That is a direct quote from once-respected newspaper The Independent. Yes, that The Independent.

It is claimed that each one of these devices removes 240,000 kg of carbon dioxide from the air every year, equivalent to a small forest.  This means, however, that about one tonne (o…

Too Many Steps Back

The US EPA's resident supervillain* Scott Pruitt has been brutally efficient at winding back clean air and water provisions.  Journalist Marianne Lavelle does a great job of dissecting just how he has done this to America's air pollution rules in a detailed article over at Inside Climate News.
I don't want to be all doom-and-gloom here, because our planet has actually made tremendous progress in battling air pollution.  There have been steady gains in much of the developed world and growing public and political awareness in many developing nations.  Frustratingly, though, it is often a case of three steps forward, two steps back.  Now Scott Pruitt appears to be orchestrating perhaps the greatest leap back of all time.
The great air quality success story of recent decades has actually been the USA.  Their progress was empowered by the Clean Air Act and driven by the EPA, in work that was supported at its base by fundamental science and engineering.  Major gains were made i…

Battery Storage Coming to Victoria

The Australian Federal Government have announced support for two new battery storage facilities in Victoria.  Importantly, these batteries are slated to be online for summer, and will plug into local renewable energy generators in the west of the state.

Here in Victoria we have an old and unreliable electricity network, fed largely by failure-prone coal fired power stations.  Burning moist, brown coal, these are also some of the world's dirtiest generators, and are in the process of being phased out.  The other thing we have here is hot summers, and when temperatures soar so does energy demand. And then the grid goes down.

In 2017 the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) stepped in very late in the year to bolster the state's electricity supplies for summer, in a move that included contracts to bring in air and noise polluting diesel generators to the LaTrobe Valley.  The move was so close to summer that battery power wasn't thought feasible.  Local residents were con…

Fake Plastic Trees

Air pollution is a big deal - it kills millions annually - but we aren't going to make progress in dealing with it by planting fake plastic trees in the middle of the world's cities.
When you attempt to reduce air pollution it is much easier to do it at the concentrated source - and easier yet to stop these compounds being formed all together - than it is to do once they've been released and diluted to one part per million or billion.  But yet again we see another story / press release about a tech startup trying to do just this.

The Crown Estate claim to have planted a small number of their CityTrees in several first world cities - cities with air quality issues, yes, but not on the level of their counterparts in the developing world.  These devices, like many others out there, are designed to suck in dirty air and purify it. They then release clean air to mix back in with the urban plume, where it can modestly dilute the remaining pollutants.  When you try and picture t…

Another Dirty Side to Coal

Coal is dirty and it can't be cleaned.
We just saw another facet of this problem when particulate matter reached hazardous levels across much of the Hunter Valley on Monday.  Specifically, PM10 levels (the concentration in air of particles 10 micrometers and smaller) were reported to have exceeded national air quality standards at all nine monitoring stations in the coal mining hub of the Upper Hunter.  The cause, not surprisingly, looks to be coal mining.
Although carbon dioxide is the pollutant of most concern from coal, there are a range of air quality issues that arise from the mining, transport, and burning of this fossil fuel.  Even if we do manage to remove CO2 from the emissions of coal fired power stations we can't guarantee that other pollution sources will be eliminated, and this is why "clean coal" is a fallacy.  The mining and transportation of coal, as we saw on Monday, releases dangerous particles into the air.  These particles have both acute and chr…

Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here!

I'm an academic working in environmental science and engineering, mostly dealing with the chemistry of air pollution, and I'm going to try and start blogging.  Why?  Well, after seeing news stories every day in my field - stories with varying degrees of scientific accuracy - I've come to realise that I probably can and should contribute to the conversation about these crucial issues that affect us all.  We all breathe, and we all have the right to breathe safe, clean air.  This is something I'm passionate about and something I hope I can help raise the public's understanding of.
So, this is going to be a blog not about me and my work but about the daily news in air quality, environmental pollution, and clean energy science and technology.  This is one of the reasons for the name of the blog: I'm planning to share something - anything - every day.
Having just said that this is not about me, let me tell you a little about me.  My work is at the interface of chem…