Today’s Solutions: May 27, 2022

US injects $3.5 billion into carbon removal technologies

in Climate Action industrial skyline at dusk or dawn with lots of carbon emissions in the air

The US has ambitious goals to reach and maintain a net-zero economy by 2050. To get the nation closer to this objective, the US Department of Energy (DOE) is accelerating its Carbon Negative Shot initiative to facilitate the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also driving down the cost of the technology. 

To support this effort, the Biden administration pledged to inject $3.5 billion in funding for a set of regional direct air capture hubs.

Unprecedented boost of carbon capture tech

Leading up to this massive financial move is a string of smaller investments that started with $22 million in 2020 followed by $24 million in funding last year. Both those investments went toward advancing research into carbon capture technology.

The Carbon Negative Shot effort is part of the bigger Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) that was signed by President Biden in November 2021. The aim is to deploy carbon capture technologies on a gigaton scale by 2050 by driving down the cost of carbon capture and storage to $100 per ton.

For some perspective, a gigaton is equal to one billion metric tons—and right now the world’s largest direct air capture plant collects around 4,000 tons of CO2 annually. The human species generates a whopping 30 billion tons of CO2 each year. A single gigaton would cover about the amount of CO2 generated annually by the US’s light-duty vehicle fleet.

“The UN’s latest climate report made clear that removing legacy carbon pollution from the air through direct air capture and safely storing it is an essential weapon in our fight against the climate crisis,” states US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is funding new technologies that will not only make our carbon-free future a reality but will help position the US as a net-zero leader while creating good-paying jobs for a transitioning clean energy workforce.”


Pennsylvania schools doubled their solar power in the last two years

in Business Solar panels installed on public school in the US

Renewable energy production is taking off in the Keystone State. A new report from the nonprofit Generation180 reveals that Pennsylvania schools doubled their solar power capacity over the last two years of the Pandemic. This not only helped the planet but also the schools’ bottom line and education.

This increase in solar capacity is spread across 108 Pennsylvania schools that serve over 88,000 students. This brought the solar power production of Pennsylvania schools to 28.8 megawatts by the beginning of this year. The increased solar capacity of these schools is enough to offset the pollution of 5,000 gas-powered cars.

According to Generation180’s director, Shannon Crooker, Pennsylvania could reach 50 megawatts of solar capacity in the next five years if it stays on this path. “It’s a really great time to go solar in Pennsylvania,” she told The Grist Beacon

What was it, though, that made purchasing solar panel installations so affordable for schools in the last two years? 

Power purchase agreement 

This solar growth has been largely attributed to power purchase agreements (PPAs), a third-party ownership model that is growing in popularity. How it works is that a third-party solar developer benefits from the tax credit to install and maintain a solar system. Meanwhile, schools are ineligible for the tax credit, so they pay the solar developer for the energy produced and usually wind up spending less than they would with a normal utility company. This lasts for the duration of the agreement, usually about five years. 

Almost 75 percent of Pennsylvania schools’ solar systems were obtained via a PPA. These agreements offer the schools huge savings which are then passed on to the children’s education. It also provides about 95 percent of the schools’ energy and will save approximately $95 million over the next 40 years. 

Additionally, these solar panel systems give children an excellent STEM-learning opportunity, gaining education in renewable resources, and clean-jobs training

Recycled old tires could make roads last twice as long

in Business Highway in Chile's Atacama desert with bright blues skies

Prolonged sun exposure is one of the main contributors to asphalt cracking. That’s because the heat from the sun dries up the road’s moisture content, making it brittle and prone to wear. A team of scientists has found that adding rubber from old tires to asphalt can help roads last twice as long before developing cracks.

Addressing two environmental problems at once

The team of researchers at Australia’s RMIT University has come up with an eco-friendly solution that can protect roads from the harsh rays of the sun. The method involves adding crumb rubber from scrap tires to the road recipe — addressing both the environmental impacts of road maintenance and the waste problem of discarded tires.

As part of the study, the team tested the protective effects of crumb rubber by adding it to the top layer of asphalt in three different concentrations — 7.5 percent, 15 percent, and 22.5 percent.

The researchers then accelerated the aging process of the three road samples by exposing them to high levels of UV light for a month and a half — the equivalent of what roads would withstand over 12 months. The final stage involved measuring and comparing the changes in physical and chemical properties of all three road samples.

Rubber sunblock 

The team found that the sample with the highest concentration of crumb rubber showed the highest resistance to wear. With that said, going beyond 22.5 percent might start interfering with the road’s endurance to mechanical damage.

“We found adding between 18 percent and 22 percent of crumb rubber generates an ideal balance in terms of improving rut and fatigue resistance to traffic loads while resisting UV aging,” said study lead author Filippo Giustozzi. “This acts so effectively as a sunscreen for roads that it actually makes the surface last twice as long as regular bitumen. We knew that UV would be a factor in road degradation, but not by what degree or how to protect against it, as nobody has really been looking at this aspect.”

Source study: Journal of Cleaner Production Exposure of crumb rubber modified bitumen to UV radiation: A waste-based sunscreen for roads

Germany slashes public transportation costs to reduce fossil fuel dependence

in Business Berlin public transportation

In the energy standoff between Europe and Russia, Germany has taken many measures to accelerate the phasing out of oil and gas. It has resolved to make energy cheaper for homes and businesses. It has pushed plans to put solar panels on every public building by 2025. 

Now, Germany has cut train, tram, and bus costs to just nine euros ($9.56) a month for the whole summer to encourage people to get off of gas. 

This price reduction means a 90 percent cut from the regular monthly cost of public transportation in Berlin. The new price will be available to German commuters starting at the beginning of June.

The War in Ukraine has shown how dependent Germany is on Russian gas, and the European Union’s largest economy is now under heavy pressure to cut energy ties with Vladimir Putin’s regime. Germany’s government has stepped up, though, to reduce energy consumption while also fast-tracking new renewable means of energy production. 

This summer’s greatly reduced public transportation costs will apply to citizens across the country, using local and inter-regional buses and trains. This will help the country cut down on its energy consumption and benefit lower-income Germans. 

“This eases the burden not just for those who already travel a lot with local public transport,” said Katharina Droege, co-leader of the Green Party parliamentary caucus. “It is also an invitation for those who want to try out the bus and train for work, vacation, or visiting friends.”

Want to keep sharks and beachgoers safe? There’s an app for that

in Conservation view of shark fin protruding out of the blue water against blue sky

Sharks, as top predators, are a keystone species. This means the balance of whole marine ecosystems relies heavily on sharks’ well-being. Protecting and conserving sharks is of the utmost importance, especially since they already face many threats to their survival such as the illegal shark fin trade and global warming.

That said, if you were swimming in the ocean and got into a tussle with a shark, chances are your instincts would tell you to fight for your life. While shark attacks are quite rare (beach injuries from rip currents or drowning being more likely), it’s best to steer clear of them and their natural habitats to protect both them and us—but don’t worry, doing this is made much easier by a new app.

An app to keep both beachgoers and sharks safe

Sharkitivity is an app developed by the New England Aquarium and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. It’s been used since 2016 by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to track shark whereabouts via data on shark sightings, but it will not be expanded for public use.

“We have so many people who are out on the water, out on the coast here,” explained Cynthia Wigeon, CEO and co-founder of the conservancy, to AP news. “It really just adds to the collective knowledge. And it’s being provided right back to the public.”

Sightings are sent to the New England Aquarium and once verified, the app will display different icons to warn beachgoers of a potential shark presence. Some icons can track tagged sharks in real-time, up to an hour old, or at the end of a season.

For unconfirmed shark sightings, users will see an orange fin icon. Blue fin icons represent confirmed shark sightings, and a red icon alerts users of sharks that have been seen near a public beach.

Designed to also educate beachgoers about sharks

While this app contributes to the safety of both sharks and humans, John Chisholm, an expert on sharks from the New England Aquarium, also plans to educate beachgoers about the many shark species that are spotted and reported through the app, a good number of which aren’t harmful to humans.

“We have an interest in educating the public about the other shark species that live in local waters,” adds Nick Whitney, senior scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the aquarium. “For most of them, it’s not the impact they have on humans, it’s the impact humans have on them.”

New gel film pulls drinking water from the air in even the driest places

in Business Hydrogel

Getting water to drought-stricken areas is an increasing concern for scientists. In the future, desalination systems will become simpler and more accessible to get water to those who need it, but another solution could be to just pull water right out of the air. 

Engineers from the University of Texas in Austin have developed a low-cost gel that absorbs water from the air of even very arid climates. 

Giving anyone anywhere access to water

Desalination systems can be difficult to maintain, and they necessitate the presence of a body of water. This new gel not only pulls water straight from the air but is also made from very common materials. The team made it out of renewable cellulose and gum from konjac, a kind of root vegetable, that provides a hydrophilic (water-attracting) structure. To release water from the gel, the researchers added thermo-responsive cellulose which becomes hydrophobic (water repellant) when heated. It doesn’t need so much heat, though, that the water evaporates in the process. 

These materials only cost about two dollars per 2.2 pounds, and this amount is enough to absorb 1.5 gallons of water a day in areas of 15 percent humidity. With more humidity, even more, water is absorbed, with 30 percent humidity yielding 3.4 gallons a day. 

“This new work is about practical solutions that people can use to get water in the hottest, driest places on Earth,” says Guihua Yu, professor of materials science and mechanical engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. “This could allow millions of people without consistent access to drinking water to have simple, water generating devices at home that they can easily operate.”

Other methods of pulling water from humid air are typically energy-intensive and don’t absorb much water. This simple gel film can be scaled and improved to absorb more water with varying levels of thickness, and the team hopes people will be able to buy it at hardware stores or make it themselves. 

This gel is flexible and making it only requires the premade mix which can be poured into a mold. “The gel takes two minutes to set simply. Then, it just needs to be freeze-dried, and it can be peeled off the mold and used immediately after that,” says Weixin Guan, a doctoral student on Yu’s team and a lead researcher of the work. 

Source Study: Nature CommunicationsScalable super hygroscopic polymer films for sustainable moisture harvesting in arid environments | Nature Communications

Scientists use diabetes medication to treat heart disease

in Health Cardiogram report, red decorative heart, and stethoscope on table.

Our bodies have to regulate many processes daily: temperature, hydration, mineral balance, sugar levels, and many more. When these regulating processes get out of whack, this can lead to diseases and other serious health complications. This is exactly what happens in diabetes, where specialized cells in our bodies lose their ability to sense blood sugar levels and how to adjust them.

Drugs, such as SGLT2 inhibitors, are prescribed to treat diabetes, helping the body decrease the amount of glucose in the blood. A research team from the University of Missouri School of Medicine may have just found another way this medication can be utilized to protect against one of the world’s biggest killers: heart disease.

“Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death in older adults in the U.S.,” said Camila Manrique-Acevedo, MD, associate professor of medicine. “Weight loss, physical activity, antihypertensive therapy, and lipid-lowering drugs have shown variable effectiveness at improving blood vessel function and reducing arterial stiffness. But additional approaches are needed to improve vascular health in older adults.”

Blood vessels and aging

The team set out to evaluate blood vessel function and stiffness in 18 healthy human patients, ranging from 18 to 61. They found that the older patients had impaired endothelial function and increased aortic stiffness when compared to the younger patients.

“Our findings in young and older adults confirm previous clinical data demonstrating the impact of aging on blood vessel function and arterial stiffness,” Manrique-Acevedo said. “Importantly, we were able to replicate this data in a rodent model.”

How do SGLT2 inhibitors improve vascular health? 

To test the potential impact of SGLT2 inhibitors, the team looked at the difference in vascular aging in mice whose diet was enriched in the drug and one that was not. After six weeks, the different groups were analyzed and it was found the mice with the drug added to their diet experienced improved blood vessel function, reduced arterial stiffness, and other vascular benefits.

As this is the first study to examine the role of SGLT2 inhibition in vascular aging, the group wants to conduct further clinical investigations to fully determine its impact. However, this study is a great start in finding an effective and needed treatment against heart disease.

Source study: GeroScienceSGLT2 inhibition attenuates arterial dysfunction and decreases vascular F-actin content and expression of proteins associated with oxidative stress in aged mice

Urban greenery could have saved how many lives?

in Environment Chicago skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape bird's view from park, Illinois, USA.

Boston University has recently released a series of papers revealing the benefits of greenery on mental and physical health. Previous studies have concluded that spending time in greenery reduces the risk of dementia and boosts cognitive function.

Their most recent study is focussing on how increasing green vegetation in urban areas may substantially reduce mortality rates. Based on data from 2000 to 2019, the group found that around 34,000-38,000 deaths could have been prevented in large metropolitan areas if more green spaces were provided.

The group utilized publicly available population data from the US Census, mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control WONDER system, and greenness data from NASA’s Landsat satellites. By comparing mortality with the amount of greenery, they found a correlation between more green spaces and lower death rates.

“We’ve known that living in greener areas can have a positive impact on our physical and mental health, but there is a lack of data on how changes in greenness distribution can affect death rates across the country,” says study lead author Paige Brochu.

They continued: “Our study quantifies the impact of greenness expansion in urban areas and shows how increasing green vegetation could potentially add to a person’s life expectancy. Policymakers and urban planners can use this information to support local climate action plans and ensure that those plans include greening initiatives.”

The study also showed that green space is on the rise, with overall greenness in metro areas increasing in the past 20 years by nearly 3 percent between 2000-2010 and 11 percent between 2010-2019. Hopefully, studies like this will continue to inspire local governments to introduce more vegetation in urban areas and improve the health of those living there.

Source study: Frontiers in Public HealthBenefits of Increasing Greenness on All-Cause Mortality in the Largest Metropolitan Areas of the United States Within the Past Two Decades

7 sustainable strategies to keep rabbits out of your garden

in Education rabbit eating lettuce in garden

Most will agree that rabbits are adorable. However, if you’re into gardening as much as we are here at The Optimist Daily, and you live in a region with a thriving rabbit population, your feelings toward these cute furry rodents might be… complicated.

Rabbits, mice, squirrels, and other rodents have a way of getting into gardens and snacking away at your beloved flower beds and plants. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly which one of these critters is dining in your garden, but here are some tips for figuring out if they’re rabbits:

  • Rabbits tend to be more active around dawn and dusk, so sit quietly in your garden during these times and take note of who arrives for a snack.
  • Ask a local greenhouse, garden center, or university extension service if rabbits are known to live and thrive in your area.
  • Inspect your leaves. Insects will leave holes in plants whereas rabbits will nibble on the edge, leaving your plants looking clean-cut rather than ragged.
  • Check your garden for the round or oval, brown fecal pellets rabbits are notorious for leaving behind. You might also find a tuft of rabbit hair or fur caught on branches.
Keeping rabbits out of your garden

Once you’ve determined that rabbits are your uninvited dinner guests, there are many eco-friendly and sustainable ways that you can keep them at bay. The best strategy is to be proactive by creating and maintaining a rabbit-deterrent garden.

Place a rabbit fence

Erecting a rabbit fence is the best method of keeping rabbits out of your property long-term. Use heavy-duty galvanized steel mesh and ensure that the fence stands at least four feet tall, with the bottom foot sunk below ground level and the lowest six inches bent outward to keep rabbits from burrowing under it. The mesh should be narrower than three inches.

Protect garden beds

To save your garden beds, use chicken netting over the foods the rabbits seem to like best. It’s worth keeping in mind that rabbits are talented diggers, so you should bury hardware cloth around the base perimeter of your garden beds to deter rabbits from burrowing under the chicken netting.

Surround young trees and shrubs

Protect the vulnerable young trees and shrubs with a half-inch mesh hardware cloth or one-inch chicken netting. To hold it upright, form a cylinder with the hardware cloth/chicken netting and work it into the ground.

Set up repellents

If rabbits are your main problem, then you can use putrescent whole-egg solids to repel them. However, other pests might be attracted to the decaying organic matter.

Another option is to distribute a pouch or spray a liquid mix of any combination of garlic, red pepper, strong-smelling soap, or other strong odors around the perimeter of your garden and at the base of trees and shrubs.

Remove potential hiding places

Rabbits steer clear from exposed areas where they’d be visible and vulnerable to predators. Clear brush piles, weed patches, rock piles, and other debris from your garden to limit the hiding places available to rabbits in your garden. 

Create disturbance

Rabbits don’t like surprises, so anything new will be perceived as a threat. Make harmless disturbances with unfamiliar sounds or low-maintenance solar-powered LED lights flashing at timed intervals. You can also set up a motion-activated water sprinkler to startle rabbits away from your yard or invest in some wind chimes or spinning pinwheels.

Grow food that rabbits don’t eat

Once rabbits discover a yummy food source, they’ll come back again and again until it’s been exhausted. Rabbits love beans, carrots, lettuce, parsley, peas, and spinach, but don’t enjoy plants with fuzzy leaves, milky sap, thorns, and strong scents, as well as any member of the nightshade family because of their toxins. That said, when rabbits are hungry enough, they’re not that picky.

Can you humanely trap a rabbit?

We wouldn’t advise trapping a rabbit unless it’s your absolute last resort because doing so would risk harming or traumatizing the poor rabbit. It’s also not a very effective way of eradicating the source of the problem as it only removes single rabbits.

Do these things today to save you from stress tomorrow

in Homelife Rear view of a couple relaxing on a sofa at home and looking outside a green background through the window of the living room.

When it comes to reducing stress, sometimes implementing some practical strategies beats self-care practices. With a few small actions, you can create a future for yourself that is guaranteed to be a little less stressful. Here are five things you can do that might save you from stress tomorrow.

Buy a spare

There’s never a good time for items to break, run out, or get lost. What’s an item you only have one of that, if you lost it, or it reached the end of its life, it would be inconvenient without a spare? Perhaps it’s a battery? A key? A tire? Whatever it may be, having a spare can give you some peace of mind.

Learn how to do something you currently can’t

Instead of turning to the person you always ask when you need some help, try learning a specific task. Learning how to do it yourself will save you the stress of having to rely on someone else’s availability and potentially the relationship stress of asking them to do it.

Boost your retirement fund by any small amount

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but lack of money is certainly a huge stressor, as are guilt and regret over behaviors you know you should be doing but aren’t. Many folks feel completely overwhelmed by retirement investing, but the more you do it, the easier it gets to do. Start small, work your way toward a higher number, and don’t forget to see it as a little investment into a less stressful future.

Systematize a process

Checklists are one easy type of simple system that can help you not forget items and minimize mistakes, especially in situations in which you’re likely to be stressed or fatigued.  

Brainstorm ideas for a future-likely situation

It often doesn’t make sense to over-prepare for situations that might not occur, but some situations are likely to occur from time to time, and when they do, you might not have the mental space to think up ideas on the spot. It could be ideas for what to do on a rainy day or meal ideas for vegetarian dinner guests. Whatever it is, there’s nothing bad about being prepared.