Monday, 26 April 2021 10:46

Clean Water Abundance

Today, 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water. And waterborne diseases claim 830,000 lives a year, most of them children.

Nearly half the globe already experiences water scarcity at least one month per year. And by 2050, according to the UN, this number could reach up to 5.7 billion people. Yet climate change, our rapidly ballooning population, and consistently poor resource management aren’t helping matters.

The annual World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report highlights the top threats humanity will face over the next decade. In the 2021 edition, extreme weather and climate action failure were among the highest likelihood risks. In terms of impact, infectious disease, climate action failure, and environmental risks ranked highest.

In this blog, we'll examine how technology is helping us tackle the WEF’s heavily featured specter of water-related crises. But ours is not a techno-utopian argument. Solving our planet’s ecological woes requires technology, for certain, but it also demands one of the largest cooperative efforts in history.

If we can learn to work together like never before, we like our chances. And in light of these recent reports, sooner rather than later.

Let’s dive in.


Dean Kamen is a kind of geek superhero, a nerd Batman in a denim work shirt.

For starters, he lives in a secret lair—an island fortress complete with hidden rooms, helicopter launchpads, and after peacefully seceding from the United States, its own constitution. His resume includes over 1,000 different patents, including insulin pumps, robotic prosthetics, and all-terrain wheelchairs.

Because so many of his inventions have had such an impact, in 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Kamen the highest honour awarded to inventors, the National Medal of Technology.

To turn the tide of water scarcity, however, Kamen designed the Slingshot, a vapor compression distillation system powered by a Stirling engine—or, a water purifier the size of a mini-fridge capable of running off any combustible fuel source, including dried cow dung.

Using less electricity than required to power a hairdryer, the Slingshot can purify water from any source: polluted groundwater, salt water, sewage, urine, take your pick. One machine provides clean drinking water for three hundred people a day; a hundred thousand machines—now that’s the kind of cooperative effort we’re talking about.

Back in 2012, the Slingshot had just completed a round of beta testing, successfully providing a couple months of clean drinking water to a number of remote African villages.

Simultaneously, Kamen had just made a handshake deal with Coca-Cola. The inventor agreed to build the soft drink behemoth a better soda fountain, and in return, Coke agreed to use their global distribution network to get the Slingshot into water-starved countries.

Both kept their word. Kamen helped design the “Freestyle Fountain Beverage Dispenser,” which uses “micro-dose technology” to mix over 150 different beverages on demand (talk about choice paralysis).

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, teamed up with ten other international organizations and began distributing the Slingshot in 2013, a core feature of their “Ekocenter” kiosks.

Part general store and part community centre, Ekocenters are solar-powered shipping containers that provide remote, low-income communities with safe drinking water, internet access, nonperishables (like mosquito repellant), first-aid supplies, and, of course, Coca-Cola products for sale.

By 2017, there were 150 Ekocenters operating in eight countries, most of them run sustainably, by local female entrepreneurs, distributing 78.1 million litres of safe drinking water a year—not bad for a handshake deal.

Yet the Slingshot is not the only deal in town.



Technology has begun converging on our water woes, with thousands of players working on an enormous range of approaches.

There are high-tech nanotechnology-infused desalination plants and medium-tech solar-powered groundwater pumps and low-tech fog capture methods.

To offer another example, Kamen’s Slingshot even has competition from the Bill Gates-backed Omni Processor, which turns human faeces into potable drinking water, while simultaneously producing electricity for power, and ash for fertilizer.

There’s also California-based Skysource, winner of the $1.5 million Water Abundance XPRIZE, whose technology extracts two thousand litres of water per day from the atmosphere—or enough for two hundred people.

Relying on renewable energy for its drinkable water output, Skysource achieves its daily production at a cost of no more than 2 cents per litre.

As daily water needs for a planet of nearly 8 billion stands around 15 billion gallons a day, using technologies like Skysource to tap the more than 12 quadrillion gallons contained in the atmosphere at any one time might be the only way to quench that thirst.

Or consider the “smart grid for water,” which is what happens when exponential technologies converge on the farm. The smart grid allows for everything from precise soil monitoring and crop watering to the early detection of insects and disease. Estimates vary, but most studies find the smart grid capable of saving us trillions of gallons a year—which is the point.

We’re not lacking in technological know-how. We are water-wise, but execution-dumb, attacking a biosphere-wide problem with a piecemeal approach.


Yet this is also the typical developmental curve for exponentials.

Water technologies are moving out of the deceptive and into the disruptive phase, stitching these piecemeal efforts together into the global solutions we actually need.

One reason we can say this with confidence is that water technologies appear to be about five years behind energy technologies, which—as we’ll soon see—are scaling up into a worldwide force for tackling the range of our ecological woes.

By Peter Diamandis (

Friday, 23 April 2021 10:20

Robots monitor ocean health

After years of studying the icy waters of the Southern Ocean with floating robotic monitors, a consortium of oceanographers and other researchers is deploying them across the planet, from the north Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

The project is known as the Global Ocean Biogeochemistry Array, or GO-BGC, started in March with the launch of the first of 500 new floating robotic monitors containing computers, hydraulics, batteries and an array of sensors scientists say will relay a more comprehensive picture of the ocean and its health.

"The ocean is extremely important to the climate, to the sustainability of the earth, its supply of food, protein to enormous numbers of people. We don't monitor it very well," said Ken Johnson, GO-BGC's project director and a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, California.

Johnson said the sensors help survey a larger portion of the ocean more consistently than people collecting samples on ships, adding, "The goal is to be able to monitor the health of the ocean in places where people only go once a decade."

At the MBARI lab, team members have been busy calibrating each of the sensors, which will measure acidity, or pH levels, salinity, temperature, pressure, oxygen and nitrate.

The measurements will be taken at a depth of 3,280 feet (1,000m), where the float will drift in weaker currents for a little over a week. The float will then descend to 6,500 feet before surfacing and transmitting its data to shore via satellite. The entire trip will take about 10 days.

That data will be made available to research institutions and schools for free, and will help lead to better oceanic modelling, said George Matsumoto, a senior education and research specialist at MBARI.

"Over the years as all the data starts to accumulate, we're learning more and more about the oceans," he said.

By Nathan Frandino (Reuters)

Tuesday, 20 April 2021 16:06

Sunlight to solve water crisis

Researchers at UniSA have developed a cost-effective technique that could deliver safe drinking water to millions of vulnerable people using cheap, sustainable materials and sunlight.

Less than 3 per cent of the world's water is fresh, and due to the pressures of climate change, pollution, and shifting population patterns, in many areas this already scarce resource is becoming scarcer.

Currently, 1.42 billion people -- including 450 million children -- live in areas of high, or extremely high, water vulnerability, and that figure is expected to grow in coming decades.

Researchers at UniSA's Future Industries Institute have developed a promising new process that could eliminate water stress for millions of people, including those living in many of the planet's most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

A team led by Associate Professor Haolan Xu has refined a technique to derive fresh water from seawater, brackish water, or contaminated water, through highly efficient solar evaporation, delivering enough daily fresh drinking water for a family of four from just one square metre of source water.

"In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on using solar evaporation to create fresh drinking water, but previous techniques have been too inefficient to be practically useful," Assoc Prof Xu says.

"We have overcome those inefficiencies, and our technology can now deliver enough fresh water to support many practical needs at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies like reverse osmosis."

At the heart of the system is a highly efficient photothermal structure that sits on the surface of a water source and converts sunlight to heat, focusing energy precisely on the surface to rapidly evaporate the uppermost portion of the liquid.

While other researchers have explored similar technology, previous efforts have been hampered by energy loss, with heat passing into the source water and dissipating into the air above.

"Previously many of the experimental photothermal evaporators were basically two dimensional; they were just a flat surface, and they could lose 10 to 20 per cent of solar energy to the bulk water and the surrounding environment," Dr Xu says.

"We have developed a technique that not only prevents any loss of solar energy but actually draws additional energy from the bulk water and surrounding environment, meaning the system operates at 100 per cent efficiency for the solar input and draws up to another 170 per cent energy from the water and environment."

In contrast to the two-dimensional structures used by other researchers, Assoc Prof Xu and his team developed a three-dimensional, fin-shaped, heatsink-like evaporator.

Their design shifts surplus heat away from the evaporator's top surfaces (i.e. solar evaporation surface), distributing heat to the fin surface for water evaporation, thus cooling the top evaporation surface and realising zero energy loss during solar evaporation.

This heatsink technique means all surfaces of the evaporator remain at a lower temperature than the surrounding water and air, so additional energy flows from the higher-energy external environment into the lower-energy evaporator.

"We are the first researchers in the world to extract energy from the bulk water during solar evaporation and use it for evaporation, and this has helped our process become efficient enough to deliver between 10 and 20 litres of freshwater per square metre per day."

In addition to its efficiency, the practicality of the system is enhanced by the fact it is built entirely from simple, everyday materials that are low cost, sustainable and easily obtainable.

"One of the main aims with our research was to deliver for practical applications, so the materials we used were just sourced from the hardware store or supermarket," Assoc Prof Xu says.

"The only exception is the photothermal materials, but even there we are using a very simple and cost-effective process, and the real advances we have made are with the system design and energy nexus optimisation, not the materials."

In addition to being easy to construct and easy to deploy, the system is also very easy to maintain, as the design of the photothermal structure prevents salt and other contaminants from building up on the evaporator surface.

Together, the low cost and easy upkeep mean the system developed by Assoc Prof Xu and his team could be deployed in situations where other desalination and purification systems would be financially and operationally unviable.
"For instance, in remote communities with small populations, the infrastructure cost of systems like reverse osmosis is simply too great to ever justify, but our technique could deliver a very low-cost alternative that would be easy to set up and basically free to run," Assoc Prof Xu says.

"Also, because it is so simple and requires virtually no maintenance, there is no technical expertise needed to keep it running and upkeep costs are minimal.
"This technology really has the potential to provide a long-term clean water solution to people and communities who can't afford other options, and these are the places such solutions are most needed."

In addition to drinking water applications, Assoc Prof Xu says his team is currently exploring a range of other uses for the technology, including treating wastewater in industrial operations.

"There are a lot of potential ways to adapt the same technology, so we are really at the beginning of a very exciting journey," he says.

Story Source: University of South Australia

Monday, 19 April 2021 12:10

Kill to Save?!

Botswana and South Africa are encouraging limited hunting of species nearing extinction ... to rescue them. Sound crazy?

They’ve concluded that banning hunting altogether leaves poor local communities vulnerable to bribes from poachers. Instead, they’re allowing strictly regulated trophy hunting and game farming. That creates a local economy that benefits communities situated next to wildlife-rich regions, giving them an incentive to ensure endangered species survive. It’s an approach that’s worked with Botswana’s elephants and South Africa’s roan antelope. Could it also work with other endangered species, from Brazil’s jaguars to India’s lions?

Lab Frogs

They’re not frogging around. Scientists at sustainable bio-commerce company Wikiri are breeding Ecuador’s rare frog species in a lab to target the illegal pet market. The argument? As long as there’s a demand for Ecuador’s wild frogs, trafficking won't stop, and it’s better to feed that appetite with lab-grown croakers, leaving the wild ones safe. But some critics worry that legalizing trade in lab frogs could provide a cover for trafficking in the wild species too.

Shepherds Who Rescue Wolves

For centuries, shepherds along the India-China border in the region of Ladakh have battled wolves and snow leopards that target their yaks. Now conservationists are using Buddhism’s tenets of coexistence and respect for all living creatures to convince villagers to dismantle their wolf traps and set up special enclaves where the predators can find prey other than yaks. If successful, it could offer a spiritual basis for resolving human-animal conflict elsewhere.

Gambian Gamble Pays Off

Farms vs. forests. It’s the classic conundrum that has long confronted resource management as humanity tries to scale up agriculture. But the West African nation of Gambia is upending the antagonistic presumption. Over the past quarter-century, it has increased land under cultivation, halved its undernourished population and increased forest cover by 10 per cent. Its solution? Handing over ownership of forests to local communities with a rich regional history will ensure the green cover stays intact and keeps growing.


Thursday, 15 April 2021 06:04

Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine

By Wania C.R.B. Paranaiba and Adriano C. Paranaiba

1. Cannabis and Cannabidiol

Cultivated almost globally due to its easy adaptation, Cannabis sativa plants hold over one hundred identified compounds called cannabinoids. However, it is not the only species of the Cannabis genus. There are also Cannabis indica, a species with a low concentration of the psychoactive substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), and Cannabis ruderalis, with no psychoactive properties.1
Phytocannabinoid compounds are natural. They are plant-derived compounds. Endocannabinoids are also natural compounds, but these are not plant-derived. Both act on the endocannabinoid system, producing physiological stimuli.2 Apart from THC, another essential cannabinoid extracted from cannabis is cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychoactive effects. Both act on the endocannabinoid system; therefore, they have many pharmacological uses.3
Even though Cannabis sativa is a plant with well-known, long-recorded therapeutic effects, it is only now, with the recent discovery of cannabinoid receptors and the endocannabinoid system, that it is being prescribed more, mainly for pain treatment. The endocannabinoid system is complex and involves many pharmacological effects. Some of these effects are cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, noncannabinoid receptors such as vanilloids (TRPV1) and serotonergic receptors (5-HT). Such complexity yields a large number of pharmacological effects.4
CBD acts in a myriad of ways.5 There are indications of its usefulness in the central nervous system as an analgesic, and also to control spasms, seizures, and anxiety; as an appetite stimulant; a bronchodilator; and as a treatment for glaucoma. It even acts on inflammatory responses, the immune system, and the thermoregulatory system.6

2. Interventionism: Prohibition

The first lawsuit to prohibit the sale and use of cannabis in the West took place in Brazil, in 1830, and was brought by the Rio de Janeiro town council.7 According to the council, at that time, several studies established effects such as aggressive behavior, delusions, and uncontrolled sexual impulses after its use. The lawsuit also classified users as compulsive drug addicts, placing marijuana in the opioid group. From 1934 on, they were penalized. But as Mark Thornton notes,
Interventionism, like the temperance organizations, was unable to establish total abstinence in society. After each failure, temperance groups would advocate more stringent policies.8

To Rothbard,9 prohibition is a sort of intervention he defined as “triangular intervention,” in which the state interferes in trades that people want to make among themselves. The state imposes or forbids the trade of goods and services among companies and consumers. Rothbard points out that triangular intervention can be divided into “price control” and “product control.”
Guilherme Resende Oliveira notes that
[m]ost illicit drug-associated deaths result from the illegal nature of the market (especially connected to violence and low quality) and not from the use in and of itself. For example, Cannabis does not kill by overdose, but the impurities in the “Paraguayan pressed weed” cause more significant damage to health than natural marijuana would. Before allocating further resources to fight the offer, the government should carefully evaluate the (evidence-based) consequences and tilt resources to the demand.10

In the 1950s, marijuana users started to be labeled as “potheads,” “troublemakers,” “thugs,” and “outlaws,” relating them to lower social classes. In the 1960s, with the “cultural revolution,” usage moved up to the middle class. These users became associated with a youth rebellion, which was always connected to criminalization. In this scenario, the use was not related to the plant’s psychopharmacological properties.

Drug prohibition has a negligible impact on demand across the board because it doesn’t interfere with the consumers’ choice. Thus, its result is an increase in price, which also indirectly raises crime rates since users might commit theft to maintain their vice or replace it with more dangerous substances.11

It is essential to point out that intervention via product control will alter price levels: the restriction of certain products will cause their scarcity and raise their prices. This scenario makes illegal activities financially viable.

3. Importance of Cannabinoids to Veterinary Medicine

There is still a scarcity of studies on the clinical use of cannabinoids in veterinary medicine once available data is limited to experimental findings in preclinical studies of human medicine. The development of research upon several species, not only laboratory guinea pigs, is necessary. Such reviews are essential to understand the effects of and adverse responses to cannabinoid substances.12
Animals are often diagnosed late with cancer, which makes tumor staging more difficult and contributes to an unfavorable diagnosis—the chances of metastasis and recurrence become higher, accompanied by pain.13 Pain during oncological treatment worsens prognoses and animals’ quality of life.14 Thus, oncological treatment for animals must be based on adopting effective analgesic protocols to ensure the quality of life and on prioritizing patients’ well-being.15
In veterinary medicine, opioids are the drugs of choice to treat pain in small animals, due to their easy availability, high efficacy, and the possibility of reversing their effects.16 However, studies with modified cannabinoids indicate that their analgesic potency is more elevated than that of morphine, for example, by two hundred to six thousand times.17 Besides, opioids are associated with adverse effects such as sedation, anorexia, nausea, and depression of the respiratory system.18
Also, in veterinary medicine, it is necessary to broaden research on the efficacy of cannabinoids. Still, authors like Carmela Valastro et al.19 report the use of synthetic agonists to treat dogs with joint disease.
Final Remarks
We miss chances to explore research opportunities to produce new medication scientifically. Many human-use medicines are first developed within veterinary medicine—animal research is an essential step in the medical research cycle.
Cannabinoid- and CBD-based medicines are already being commercialized for humane treatment. In veterinary medicine, available products are limited to phytocannabinoid-based treatments and are considered merely food supplements with no therapeutic purposes. This scenario happens because of the lack of studies, limiting practical applicability, as well as legal issues, and social stigma.20
Many veterinarians have oriented animal owners who have benefited from using cannabis-based medicines toward using them on their pets; however, this practice has no law to forbid, allow, or regulate its use.21 Depending on the state, they are considered outside the law.


Adriano C. Paranaiba
Adriano C. Paranaiba is an undersecretary for competitiveness and regulatory improvement at the Brazilian Ministry of Economy. Economist, master’s degree in agribusiness, and Ph.D. in transportation. Professor and researcher of economics at Federal Institution of Education, Science and Technology, Goiás (IFG). Chief editor MISES: Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, Law, and Economics.

Wania C.R.B. Paranaiba
Wania C.R.B. Paranaiba is a veterinarian specialist in general surgery and anesthesiology. Professor at Anhanguera University.

Published on MisesInstitute (

• 1.Cristiane Ribeiro de Carvalho, Pedro Leite Costa Franco, Ingrid Eidt, Alexandre Ademar Hoeller, and Roger Walz, “Canabinoides e epilepsia: Potencial terapêutico do canabidiol.” Vittalle: Revista de ciências da Saúde 29, no. 1 (2017): 54–63,
• 2.Marcos Adriano Lessa, Ismar Lima Cavalcanti, and Nubia Verçosa Figueiredo, “Derivados canabinóides e o tratamento farmacológico da dor,” Revista dor 17, no. 1 (January/March 2016): 47–51,
• 3.Alexandre Rafael de Mello Schier, Natalia Pinho de Oliveira RibeiroI, Adriana Cardoso de Oliveira e Silva, Jaime Eduardo Cecílio Hallak, José Alexandre S. Crippa, Antonio E. Nardi, and Antonio Waldo Zuardi, “Cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa Constituent, as an Anxiolytic Drug,” Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry 34, no. 1 (2012): 104–10.
• 4.L. Landa, A. Sulcova, and P. Gbelec, “The Use of Cannabinoids in Animals and Therapeutic Implications for Veterinary Medicine: A Review,” Veterinarni Medicina 61, no. 3 (2016).
• 5.Schier, RibeiroI, Oliveira e Silva, Hallak, Crippa, Nardi, and Zuardi, “Cannabidiol, a Cannabis sativa Constituent, as an Anxiolytic Drug.”
• 6.Káthia Maria Honório, Agnaldo Arroio, and Albérico Borges Ferreira da Silva, “Aspectos terapêuticos de compostos da planta Cannabis sativa,” Química nova, 29, no. 2 (2006): 318–25.
• 7.Edward MacRae and Júlio Assis Simões. (2000). Rodas de fumo: O uso da maconha entre camadas médias. (Salvador, Brazil: Editora da Universidade Federal da Bahia, 2000),
• 8.Mark Thornton, Economics of Prohibition (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1991).
• 9.Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State, with Power and Market, 2d scholar’s ed. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009).
• 10.Guilherme Resende Oliveira, “Reflexões econômicas contra a proibição das Drogas,” MISES: Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy, Law and Economics 6, no. 3 (2018),
• 11.Ibidem.
• 12.Landa, Sulcova, Gbelec, “The Use of Cannabinoids in Animals and Therapeutic Implications for Veterinary Medicine: A Review.”
• 13.Thaís Rezende Mendes, Rafaela Peres Boaventura, Marielly Cunha Castro, and Maria Angélica Oliveira Mendonça, “Ocorrência da dor nos pacientes oncológicos em cuidado paliativo,” Acta Paulista de Enfermagem 27, no. 4 (August 2014): 356–61,
• 14.Teresinha Luiza Martins, “Controle da dor e cuidados paliativos em cães e gatos com câncer. É possível? / Control of Pain and Palliative Care in Dogs and Cats with Cancer. Is It possible? / Control del dolor y cuidados paliativos en perros y gatos con cáncer. Es posible?,” Clínica Veterinária, 20, no. 115 (2015): 76–91.
• 15.Timothy M. Fan, “Pain Management in Veterinary Patients with Cancer,” Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice, 44, no. 5 (2014): 989–1001.
• 16.B.T. Simon and P.V. Steagall, “The Present and Future of Opioid Analgesics in Small Animal Practice,” Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics 40, no. 4 (2017): 315–26.
• 17.Honório, Arroio, Silva, “Aspectos terapêuticos de compostos da planta Cannabis sativa,” Química nova 29, no. 2 (2006): 318–25.
• 18.Jaseena Elikottil, Pankaj Gupta, and Kalpna Gupta, “The Analgesic Potential of Cannabinoids,” Journal of Opioid Management 5, no. 6 (2009): 341–57. Correction published in Journal of Opioid Management 6: 14.
• 19.Carmela Valastro, Debora Campanile, Mariarosaria Marinaro, Delia Franchini, Fabiana Piscitelli, Roberta Verde, Vincenzo Di Marzo, and Antonio Di Bello, “Characterization of Endocannabinoids and Related Acylethanolamides in the Synovial Fluid of Dogs with Osteoarthritis: A Pilot Study,” BMC Veterinary Research 13, no. 309 (2017): 1–5,
• 20.Maíra Barrios Escobar, O potencial do canabidiol na terapêutica veterinária: Revisão de literatura (Boa Vista, Brazil, 2018),
• 21.Caroline Apple, “No limbo da lei, veterinários prescrevem cannabis medicinal a animais doentes,” Sechat, Feb. 2, 2020,

Wednesday, 14 April 2021 08:11

Vaccination: YES!

Rotary International Message on COVID-19 Vaccination: The answer is yes!

In these difficult days, we are so heartened to receive such uplifting reports on the unrelenting efforts of our Rotary members who have responded in their communities against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, the single question we hear time and again is, “Are we getting involved with COVID vaccination?”

The answer is yes.

This does not mean we will deviate from our commitment to eradicating polio, which remains our highest priority and continues to be our only corporate program. Polio vaccinations must continue unabated, as must our effort to raise $50 million per year for this effort.

But now, COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available around the world, and our members have an important role to play.

We ask you to encourage your club to:

- Use Rotary’s knowledge of vaccine safety and efficacy based on our polio eradication experience to support vaccination efforts in your communities. This will need to be tailored to local contexts to address unique cultural and regional needs.

- As vaccine distribution begins in your country, partner with local organizations or health authorities to offer your club’s support with vaccination efforts as required.

- Help combat the powerful, growing force of vaccine resistance and misinformation. Advocacy in our communities is critical — we need to spread the message about the power of vaccines to protect lives.

- Stop the spread of COVID-19 by continuing to engage in projects supporting mask-wearing, distancing, proper hygiene practices, and donations of personal protective equipment — before and after vaccination.

We look forward to learning how your club is working to support vaccination efforts in order to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end.

Thank you.

Holger Knaack
President, Rotary International
K.R. Ravindran
Chair, The Rotary Foundation

Thursday, 08 April 2021 05:29

China: Mining vs. climate

China powers nearly 80% of the global cryptocurrencies trade, but the energy required could jeopardize its pledge to peak carbon emissions by 2030

China’s electricity-hungry bitcoin mines that power nearly 80% of the global trade in cryptocurrencies risk undercutting the country’s climate goals, a study in the journal Nature has said.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies rely on “blockchain” technology, which is a shared database of transactions, with entries that must be confirmed and encrypted. The network is secured by individuals called “miners” who use high-powered computers to verify transactions, with bitcoins offered as a reward. Those computers consume enormous amounts of electricity.

About 40% of China’s bitcoin mines are powered with coal, while the rest use renewables, the study said. However, the coal plants are so large they could end up undermining Beijing’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, it warned.

The Nature study on Tuesday found that unchecked, China’s bitcoin mines will generate 130.5m metric tons of carbon emissions by 2024 – close to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Italy or oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Chinese companies with access to cheap electricity and hardware handled 78.89% of global bitcoin blockchain operations as of April 2020, the study said. This involves minting new coins and keeping track of cryptocurrency transactions.

Co-author Wang Shouyang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said: “The intensive bitcoin blockchain operation in China can quickly grow as a threat that could potentially undermine the emission reduction effort.”

The government should focus on upgrading the power grid to ensure a stable supply from renewable sources, Wang said. “Since energy prices in clean-energy regions of China are lower than that in coal-powered regions … miners would then have more incentives to move to regions with clean energy.”

This year the crypto-mining industry is expected to use 0.6% of the world’s total electricity production, or more than the annual use of Norway, according to Cambridge University’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.

The price of a bitcoin has surged fivefold in the past year, reaching a record high of over $61,000 in March, and is now hovering just below the $60,000 mark.

Given the profits available, Wang said imposing carbon taxes was not enough to determiners.

China banned trading in cryptocurrencies in 2019 to prevent money laundering, but mining is permitted.

Coal-rich regions are now pushing out bitcoin miners as they struggle to curb emissions. Last month, Inner Mongolia announced plans to end the power-hungry practice of cryptocurrency mining by the end of April after the region failed to meet annual energy consumption targets.

The region accounted for 8% of the computing power needed to run the global blockchain – the set of online ledgers that record bitcoin transactions. That is more than the amount of computing power dedicated to blockchain in the US.

Nasdaq-listed Bitmain, which operates one of the biggest cryptocurrency mining pools in the world, said it was shifting operations in Inner Mongolia to areas with more hydropower such as Yunnan.


Thursday, 08 April 2021 05:28

First Solar SUV

The Humble One Concept SUV is over 5 metres long, longer in fact than some of the premium sedans out there and it weighs just 1814 kilograms.

California is becoming a hub for innovation when it comes to transportation, may it be electric vehicles or software. The adoption of EVs is helping this electric vehicle ecosystem grow and of course, the development of these cars is now reaching new heights. California-based electric vehicle startup, Humble Motors, has revealed its concept SUV called Humble One. It is the first SUV in the world to be powered by solar energy.

Instead of a glass roof, the Humble One has over 80 square feet of engineered photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight and transform it into energy. This generates enough electrical power to increase driving range by nearly 96 kilometres a day. According to the company though you can get a 805 km range on the car and the maximum output from the Humble One is 1020 horses. The photos give us an idea about how aerodynamic it is and it boasts of a 0.25 drag coefficient.

The Humble One Concept SUV is over 5 metres long, longer in fact than some of the premium sedans out there and it weighs just 1814 kilograms. So, it's lightweight and can seat 4 people. So, are people interested in buying it? Well the company says that it has more than $20 million in reserved pre-orders and its US reservations increased 426 per cent last month. 

How do you charge it? Well, you don't have to. As long as there's the sun shining above, you won't need to wait to charge. The company of course has not provided any details on the time taken to charge from 0 to 100 per cent and we wait to know more about it. 

Humble's team draws from a broad mix of physicists, engineers, and designers from automotive manufacturers including Ferrari, Piaggio, Formula One, and Ford. Humble founder Dima Steesy said "We think solar is the future of mobility and that solar-powered electric vehicles are the clear next step to tackling carbon neutrality in the transportation ecosystem."

Edited by Ameya Naik,

Thursday, 08 April 2021 05:27

America, our internet stinks

And it’s time to try a different approach to fixing it.

Millions of Americans don’t have modern internet service. It’s a symptom of our internet dysfunction that we don’t even know how many. The unreliable number from internet providers is 14.5 million households. Or maybe it’s 157 million people. Even for people who have reliable access, Americans generally pay more for worse internet service than our counterparts in most other rich countries.

The White House’s new infrastructure plan includes a proposal to spend $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home. Its central premise is a powerful one: To achieve the internet that we all deserve, the federal government must be more involved — but not too much.

The Biden administration’s plan is short of details, and a big spending bill will be tough to pass. But let me explain why the White House’s plan could be the shakeout we need.

First, how it works now:

We currently have the worst aspects of free market capitalism and heavy handed government. Taxpayer money is poured into internet service, but the money is often spent in shortsighted ways. A system that promises light regulation actually has many rules — often encouraged by companies protecting their interests — but the regulations are often misguided or poorly enforced.

The government now hands over a lot of money and authority to internet companies. The result is that Americans are forking over many billions of dollars each year to help build internet networks in places like rural towns and to subsidize the cost of service for schools, libraries and households.

But the funds often help maintain AOL-era internet pipelines. And money is spent on short-term solutions. Schools, for example, get help paying internet providers for Wi-Fi hot spots when they would be better off having fast internet pipelines that they control.

“That’s not to say that the investments haven’t gotten communities online. They have,” said Kathryn de Wit, who manages the internet access project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. But, she told me, “The time has come for the federal government to take a more active role.”

What’s in the White House’s internet plan:

The administration this week set out high-level goals: High-quality internet pipelines should reach every American home, and soon. Taxpayer money shouldn’t help finance outdated internet technology. And we should pay less for internet service.

Those principles sound simple but are deceptively revolutionary. The plan is essentially a statement that what we’re doing now is not working, and the government shouldn’t sit by and let the system continue.

As de Wit told me, the role for the government should be to make everyone involved in the internet system laser focused on a mission: Build fast, 21st-century internet pipelines to reach everyone, and make sure that the public rather than internet companies are the first and last word on our internet system.

When the federal government should get out of the way:

The Biden administration set out principles, but it proposes leaving wiggle room for communities, states and companies to come up with tailored internet technologies and policies built for their needs.

My colleague Cecilia Kang wrote this week about community activists in Maryland who jury-rigged a system of antennas and routers to get internet service to low-income families. The White House wants to back more community-based internet providers like that one, as well as government-affiliated networks like the one in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The White House’s support for alternative internet providers is a message that big internet companies like Comcast and AT&T can be part of the solution, but they’re not the only answer. Not surprisingly, the big internet companies aren’t warmly embracing the Biden plan.

A trade group that represents Comcast and others said that America’s internet plumbing was in good shape and that the government shouldn’t micromanage internet networks or prioritize government-owned networks. Here’s more on why the internet providers aren’t happy.

The challenges and opportunities ahead:

I don’t want to downplay the difficulties in fixing America’s internet system. It will be hard to build internet networks that reach all Americans, particularly in sparsely populated areas. It’s not clear how the White House plans to make service affordable for everyone.

But let me stress what’s exciting about the White House plan. It identifies the right problems, declares a worthy mission and demands fewer roadblocks to bridge the best of government with the best of capitalism.

If the White House plan works, our internet system could be both less expensive and more effective for all of us.

By Shira Ovide,

Thursday, 08 April 2021 05:25

We’ve got carbon capture all wrong

Carbon capture is viewed by many as a last resort. But in the race to tackle the climate crisis, intelligently taking advantage of natural processes will be key

We’re transitioning to renewables; we are using the energy we generate with extraordinary efficiency; our industries are innovating with clean, green methods; we’re recycling, reusing and reclaiming. Our greenhouse gas emissions are slowing. But perhaps it’s not enough.

There is another final – some might say ‘last resort’ – set of tools in the decarbonisation toolkit: ‘negative emissions technologies’ – technologies that store or sequester more greenhouse gas emissions than they produce. These come in two main forms: nature-based solutions such as reforestation and afforestation, and more technological solutions such as direct air carbon capture and storage, enhanced weathering, biochar, and soil carbon sequestration.

As a 2020 report from the International Energy Agency argues, carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies are a critical part of ‘net-zero’ goals because they enable key sectors to reduce their emissions directly, but also help to balance some of the more intractable emissions.

But carbon capture is a twin challenge. First, you have to capture the carbon dioxide, either directly from the atmosphere or from emissions sources. Then you have to put it somewhere that will store it securely for as long as possible.

The good news is this is already happening naturally. Around half of the excess carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere by human activity – the combustion of fossil fuels – is ‘drawn down’ again by natural processes: half by land-based processes – mainly plants – and half by the oceans. We can’t – and shouldn’t – seek to control these natural processes. But we can take advantage of them.

Ironically, higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can actually increase plant growth; a phenomenon called carbon dioxide fertilisation. There is evidence that plants are already putting out more leaves during their growing season in response to increasing carbon dioxide availability. However, plants eventually adapt to the higher concentration of carbon dioxide, so the effect is limited. And as climate change brings warmer temperatures and more rainfall to some parts of the world, that could increase the length of the growing season there. But in others, higher temperatures and decreased rainfall could have the opposite effect.

The fact remains, though, that trees are carbon guzzlers. Around half the mass of a single tree is pure carbon. Given that forests cover 31 per cent of global land area – around 4 billion hectares – that’s a lot of stored carbon.

The problem is scientists don’t know exactly how much. At the moment, forest cover is mapped from space using satellites that can tell the difference between surfaces such as forest, grasslands and desert, for example. But they don’t show whether a tree in a forest is ten metres tall or 100 metres tall, and that is a critical piece of climate information. “If we don’t know how much carbon is even stored in the Earth’s forests, let alone how it’s changing with deforestation and whatnot, that’s a massive uncertainty for those climate models,” says remote sensing scientist Laura Duncanson from the University of Maryland.

This uncertainty has significant implications for how we assess the impact of ongoing deforestation, how we plan reforestation or what’s called avoided deforestation – not chopping down existing forests – and how we calculate the emissions credits associated with that reforestation or avoided deforestation. It’s knowledge that is critical to the concept of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (also known as REDD+).

Which is where GEDI – Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation – comes in. This Nasa project uses a technology called LiDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging: a pulsed laser shot from the International Space Station to measure the height of objects like trees. A beam, with a footprint measuring around 25 metres in diameter, is painted billions of times across the Earth’s surface, and the open-source data from those billions of samples can then be translated into a map of the Earth’s forests that will allow scientists to calculate forest carbon with far greater accuracy than ever before. “Instead of just saying, ‘Yes, we know there’s trees there,’ we actually have measurements of the physical structure of those trees that we can turn into estimates of carbon,” says Duncanson.

There are already numerous initiatives underway around the world to plant trees. For example, the Bonn Challenge aims to reforest 350 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes by 2030, and has already achieved 150 million hectares of reforestation in countries such as Brazil, Burkina Faso, India and Cameroon. One study has estimated that 0.9 billion more hectares of forests could be grown on existing viable land that isn’t already occupied by forests, agriculture or urban areas, and that these could store 205 gigatonnes of carbon – the equivalent of around one-quarter of the carbon dioxide currently in the Earth’s atmosphere.

But planting trees isn’t quite the straightforward solution that it appears. “It’s this great concept: you plant a tree, you save the planet from climate change and it’s actionable, it’s super-easy to integrate into economic solutions, and we all love trees,” Duncanson says. “But the reality is that it absolutely cannot solve the entire problem.”

For starters, the magnitude of that carbon draw-down is uncertain: Duncanson says some papers have based their calculations on the maximum theoretical amount rather than an average. Trees can’t be planted just anywhere, and not all those areas earmarked for possible reforestation will prove to be suitable. Regional climate or soil conditions may be unfavourable, with the result that tree planting in a particular place, far from helping the environment, will fail or will have a negative impact on local ecosystems. In practical terms, there’s the question of where the seeds and seedlings for such a massive reforestation effort will come from, whether there is enough genetic diversity, and how many of those seeds can be harvested without compromising the survival of existing forests. Finally, trees take a long time to grow and larger trees, which are also the ones storing the most carbon, can take decades to reach maturity – decades we probably don’t have.

Despite these concerns and limitations, given the incredible number of ecosystem services that trees provide to humanity – clear air, water, soil stability, oxygen, shelter, food and building materials – reforestation can only improve our environmental conundrum, not worsen it.

Traditionally, reforestation and agriculture have not sat well together, both requiring land that has sufficient nutrients, rainfall and temperatures conducive to growth. And agriculture, of course, poses its own environmental challenges, being responsible (along with forestry and other land use) for around 23 per cent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (particularly methane and nitrous oxide). But the two activities are not mutually exclusive. Agriculture can work with reforestation to play a vital role in climate change mitigation – sequestering carbon – while delivering the added benefit of more nutrient-rich soils, less fertiliser use, less water use, increased production and better food and economic security.

One farming approach that delivers climate change mitigation, food security and economic security is agroforestry. “Agroforestry is basically mixing trees together with other crops in an integrated system,” says Delphine Clara Zemp, a researcher in the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen in Germany. For example, timber trees can be planted alongside coffee or tea bushes, fruit trees alongside turmeric, a banana plantation intermingled with sweet potato, oil palms alongside coconut palms.

Growing trees and crops alongside each other can benefit crops by stabilising the local microclimate, providing shading, and buffering crops against extreme drought events. The trees can also enhance biodiversity by creating buffer zones around areas of natural vegetation. Some trees increase nutrient levels in the soil, for example by fixing nitrogen, which in turn increases the yields from nearby crops. Agroforestry also offers greater financial resilience for farmers who, instead of relying on one cash crop that may fail or plummet in price, have a range of crops that are harvested at different times. But while the local benefits of agroforestry are well attested, not much research has been done on the climate change mitigation impact of agroforestry – something Zemp would like to see change. “That’s why we only now start to quantify this and try to understand the potential.”

Low-carbon agricultural methods are also attracting interest because of what’s called ‘carbon farming’, whereby farmers can earn carbon credits by adopting methods that reduce emissions or sequester carbon, and then selling those carbon credits to others. Louisa Kiely, a farmer and head of Carbon Farmers of Australia, says that at least half of the farmers who contact her for advice about carbon farming are already looking at improving their soil health through regenerative farming techniques, but want to find out if there’s a way to make some money from it at the same time.

One of the most popular methods of carbon farming in Australia is “human-induced regeneration of a permanent even-aged native forest”, which essentially means allowing native trees to return. This can be achieved by keeping livestock out of areas of native forests, or by managing the timing and extent of their grazing so as to allow the native trees to regrow. It’s also about managing non-native plants, and ceasing to use any kind of chemical or physical methods of destroying native regrowth.

Another way to increase soil carbon is to change how the soil is handled. Ploughing or tilling, which cuts up and turns over the top 15–25 centimetres of soil, breaks apart and releases much of the soil’s stored carbon into the air, as well as killing many of the important soil micro- organisms. With growing awareness of the consequences of these methods both for soil fertility and for greenhouse gas emissions, many farmers are moving to low-till or no-till methods of farming, where seeds or seedlings are planted directly into the soil without disturbing it as much. In addition, these methods deliberately leave more crop waste on the soil surface, which not only returns those nutrients to the soil but also reduces both the release of carbon into the air and erosion from wind and rain. No-till agriculture also uses around one-third the fuel of conventional tilling, and improves water storage in the soil.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. The amount of carbon sequestration is influenced by soil type and climate, and one analysis has suggested no-till methods may store less carbon in cool, dry climates, for example. However, in the Canadian prairies, the area of agricultural land farmed with no-till methods increased from five per cent in 1991 to nearly 50 per cent in 2006, and no-till cropping is now practised across 21 per cent of all cropland in the US.

A mangrove forest at low tide is a magical place. This ever-changing buffer between land and sea is a place of strange creatures and plants that have evolved to thrive in the extremes of wet and dry. The surface is a rich ooze of fine dark mud that bubbles and crawls with life, marine snails map their journey on its canvas, and shellfish cluster on every inch of exposed rock.

This is the home of blue carbon. Mangrove forests, along with seagrass meadows and tidal salt marshes, grow on hundreds, even thousands, of years of stored carbon. In this wet, salty, low-oxygen environment, organic matter such as leaves breaks down slowly into the carbon-rich sediment. Because those sediments are water-logged or underwater most of the time, the carbon is sequestered for far longer than in a terrestrial ecosystem, where exposure to air means a much greater proportion of the carbon is returned to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Blue carbon is sometimes described as ‘boutique carbon’. Mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows provide a host of vital ecosystem services from which humanity has benefited enormously. They limit coastal erosion, protect against extreme events such as storm surges and tsunamis, improve water quality, support tourism, and are habitat and nursery for many of the seafood species that humans eat. Preserving them brings a host of benefits beyond simple carbon sequestration.

In blue carbon environments, carbon is almost entirely stored in sediments rather than within the structure of a plant, which means the carbon storage capacity over these coastal ecosystems is almost limitless. Sediment cores taken from seagrass meadows in the Mediterranean found some sediments were more than 3,000 years old, while other studies have dated sediments in seagrass meadows at more than 6,000 years old. In contrast, the turnover of carbon in a terrestrial forest might be measured in decades, and occasionally centuries.

The idea that coastal ecosystems might be sequestering significant amounts of carbon was first floated in 1981, in a paper that suggested these carbon sinks might represent a significant and unaccounted-for element in global carbon budgets. Today, blue carbon is recognised as one of the most intense carbon sinks on the planet: around half of all the carbon sequestered in ocean sediments despite covering less than two per cent of ocean area.

The problem is that coastal ecosystems are being decimated. Mangroves are disappearing at a rate of around 2 per cent per year – their loss accounts for around ten per cent of emissions from global deforestation. The global area of tidal marsh has halved, and around 30 per cent of seagrasses have been lost. Blue carbon is under threat.

At Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, PhD student Cristian Salinas has been modelling the impact of the loss of Australia’s coastal seagrass meadows that has taken place since the 1950s. He has calculated that the destruction of around 161,150 hectares of seagrass has released the equivalent of five million cars’ worth of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for around a two per cent increase in the annual carbon dioxide emissions associated with land use change in Australia. “It’s not just that you are losing all the carbon that was buried there, it’s that’s also you are losing the capacity that these seagrasses were providing to sequester new carbon,” Salinas says.

The challenge is therefore to protect what is left, and to create new blue carbon ecosystems. Fortunately, interest in this boutique carbon has grown considerably in recent years, and it has been discussed with increasing intensity at successive UN climate change conferences since 2015. That there is now real money to be made in blue carbon suddenly makes it more attractive, says Salinas. “This is a way to protect and restore these ecosystems.”

Efforts to incorporate blue carbon into carbon inventories are under way in countries including Madagascar, Costa Rica, Australia and Indonesia. Blue carbon has even attracted the attention of technology giant Apple, which is working with Conservation International to restore a mangrove forest in Colombia that is expected to draw down around 1 million tonnes of carbon during its lifetime. That said, it’s a race against time to save and restore these precious coastal ecosystems while we can.

The term ‘synthetic forest’ might suggest some science fiction-inspired vista of metallic or translucent trees topped with mechanically waving silicon leaves, tended by an army of sterile-suited workers, the whisper and rustle of wind through foliage replaced with a mechanical hum.

It’s a futuristic aesthetic but, unfortunately for artists and dreamers, nothing like the real thing. A synthetic forest will mostly likely be row after row of long, narrow, rectangular constructions, their surfaces pocked with rows of giant fans that pull air through as fast as possible to find those 400 or so molecules of carbon dioxide in every million molecules of atmosphere.

Just as trees make use of the carbon in carbon dioxide to build their structure, so too can humans. Ever since carbon dioxide became Climate Enemy Number One, scientists have therefore been trying to work out how to make the most of the excess. When conversations started about the idea of capturing carbon from the atmosphere, the focus was on how to use that process to take care of the emissions generated by burning coal, to create so-called ‘clean coal’. “It’s a terrible phrase,” says Jennifer Wilcox, professor of chemical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. But now, as the coal industry staggers towards its demise, carbon capture has taken on a new meaning. “So we have this view of carbon capture being a 2.0 version, where it’s not about decarbonising coal, it’s really looking at deep decarbonisation or carbon capture and storage,” Wilcox says. It’s about not just capturing carbon from existing processes, such as steel or cement manufacture, but actively removing it from the atmosphere and either storing it or putting it to use.

The first challenge is how to capture it in such a way that we don’t create more environmental problems than we started with. Direct air capture of carbon dioxide can be done in a number of ways, but the basic principle is that the carbon dioxide is brought into contact with a solid or liquid material – potassium hydroxide, for example – that it binds to chemically. That material is then processed, usually with high levels of heat, to extract the captured carbon dioxide and purify it. This last step takes a lot of energy, which ideally is sourced from renewable sources so that few or no additional emissions are created by the process. There are already several companies that have developed direct air carbon capture technologies, such as Carbon Engineering in Canada, Climeworks in Switzerland and Global Thermostat in the United States.

Once that carbon dioxide is captured and purified, what can be done with it? It can be buried, and the best place to do that is in rocks that are very good at absorbing carbon dioxide, such as those high in magnesium. In Iceland, for example, CarbFix has developed a method for injecting carbonated water into underground seams of basalt rock, where the carbon dioxide reacts with the basalt and is literally turned to stone. Unfortunately, burying carbon isn’t necessarily profitable. One estimate is that the cost of direct air capture on a commercial scale is around $600 per tonne, although that may come down to around $200–$300 per tonne in the next few years. Another issue, if the direct air capture plant isn’t co-located with these mineral resources, is that the liquid carbon has to be transported there. “There’s plenty of storage in the Earth,” says Wilcox. “It’s just that it’s not everywhere. And so the question is, how much are you willing to pay for the transportation costs?” Burying the carbon, while it achieves the end goal of removing it permanently from circulation – at least on a geologic time frame – can’t necessarily be a profitable venture unless the carbon credits are priced highly enough to make it worthwhile.

But carbon dioxide and carbon are useful materials, and a growing number of companies are looking at how to make money from them. Carbon can be used in carbonated beverage production, for example, to create synthetic liquid fuels such as syngas or make plastics such as ethylene. It can be used to make carbon-negative concrete: for example, injecting carbon dioxide – captured from industrial processes – into wet cement as it is curing can improve its strength and sequester carbon dioxide at the same time. A form of cement manufactured from magnesium oxychloride – which is made from byproducts of magnesium mining – mixed with fly ash from coal combustion is not only stronger and more fast-setting than conventional cement, but the magnesium oxychloride also actively absorbs carbon dioxide. Even the aggregate – the sand, gravel and rock that is bound together by the cement – can be replaced by rocks made from sequestered carbon dioxide captured from industrial processes.

Carbon capture doesn’t have to involve technology or even organic processes. Enhanced weathering is the low-tech speeding-up of the natural chemical interaction between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and surface minerals, which has been sequestering carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere long before humans, or even life, emerged on the planet. That process can be accelerated by making more of those surface minerals – particularly those rich in calcium and magnesium – exposed to the atmosphere; for example, by digging them up or crushing them finely. One industry where that process happens all the time is mining.

In the early 2000s, the waste heap of an old asbestos mine in Quebec was found to be sequestering significant amounts of carbon dioxide, as the magnesium-rich minerals in the waste heap reacted chemically with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to produce magnesium carbonate. One study estimated that that single mine heap was sequestering around 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, roughly equivalent to the emissions from 118 passenger cars in one year.

Magnesium-rich mineral waste is a byproduct not only of asbestos mines, but also of diamond, platinum and nickel mines. Those waste heaps could therefore represent a huge, untapped carbon sequestration potential. “If we get enough of those reactions occurring, then we can sequester the amount of CO2 that’s being emitted by the mine or in some cases sequester even more potentially than the mine is emitting,” says Anna Harrison, an environmental geochemist and assistant professor at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. For example, one assessment of the Mount Keith nickel mine in Western Australia found the amount of carbon dioxide being sequestered by the mine tailings represented around 11 per cent of the mine’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s taking advantage of a naturally occurring process that normally happens on geologic timescales. But in a mine waste heap, the rock is ground up into rubble, so much more surface area of the magnesium-rich rock is exposed to air, and the reaction happens much faster. And once the carbon dioxide is locked up in the carbonate minerals, it’s there for a very, very long time. It’s also possible that the reaction could be speeded up even more, because the main rate-limiting factor is the supply of carbon dioxide getting to the rock. “They’re just deposited as this big mass of fine-grain material that’s partially filled with water, and then the CO2 from the atmosphere only seems to react with maybe the upper ten to 15 centimetres of that tailings pile,” Harrison says.

Carbonated minerals can also be used in agriculture as a way of returning carbon to the soil and also helping to balance the acidity of agriculture soils. One study estimated that enhanced weathering used in this manner could sequester about the same amount of carbon as agricultural soil carbon sequestration methods.

Carbon mineralisation could deliver carbon-neutral, or even carbon-negative, mines. The diamond company DeBeers is already trialling it at some of its mine sites because kimberlite, which diamonds are often found in, is high in magnesium, making it well suited to carbonisa- tion. So well suited, in fact, that a typical diamond mine could produce enough kimberlite to offset ten times its own emissions.

“Carbon removal is an opportunity to go back,” says Jennifer Wilcox. That doesn’t mean back to pre-Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide levels, or even pre-1970 levels, because we’ve gone too far for that now. We are beyond the point where negative emissions technologies alone, without any other reductions in carbon emissions, could save us. But these technologies and practices can buy us time to get our backs off the 412-parts-per-million wall.

“We’ve got to take that back out, if we want to get back down to reasonable levels of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere,” says Wilcox, but we also have the rates at which we keep dumping today and in the future. We need to remove the carbon, and we also need to avoid putting more up there in the first place: “We’ve got to do it all.”


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