The Blue Page


Leave a comment

Electric East: India sets to make all cars electric by 2032

India’s most influential government think tank has unveiled a radical blueprint policy aimed at electrifying all of the country’s cars within the next 15 years.

What are electric cars and are they better for the environment?

Electric cars are cars that run at least partially on electricity powered by batteries or a fuel cell. Hybrid cars offer a petrol/diesel engine and a rechargeable battery. Other EVs rely on battery power only. A third, rarer class of EVs power the electric motor by converting hydrogen gas (hydrogen fuel cell vehicles).

Whilst certainly better than conventional cars in terms of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, just how much better EVs are tor the environment depends on the source of electricity. Battery engine EVs powered by the cleanest electricity sources produce net greenhouse gas emissions comparable to a car doing over 100 miles per gallon.

When charged by renewable sources, such as electricity produced by wind, solar or hydro energy, EVs can be nearly emission free.

Details of the Niti Aayog policy report

The report, issued on May 12th by Niti Aayog, the PM-led planning body, proposes lower taxes and loan interest rates on electric vehicles (EVs) whilst simultaneously putting a cap on the sale of traditional petrol and diesel models.

A new unified tax regime set to come into effect from July 1st also plans to impose a higher tax rate on hybrid vehicles in comparison to their electric counterparts in what is likely to be the third largest passenger car market in the next decade.

Although the plans are yet to be adopted, government sources have said the report would form the basis of a new green cars policy, echoing moves in China to push green vehicle technologies.

The previous policy plans, announced in 2015, addressed both, EVs and hybrid models (cars combining electric power and fossil fuels). By re-focusing on electric-only powered cars India is signifying a major shift in policy focus that will affect both, companies’ product offerings and consumer demands.

What is stopping EV progress?

The hindrances to the spreading electric vehicle use are likely to be same as elsewhere where EVs are looking to make an impact: prohibitively high battery costs, low electric battery mileage yield and poor infrastructure to make EV travel possible and painless.

India itself has only one electric car maker: the Mahindra Group. Sales have struggled due to low customer uptake and lack of infrastructure to make EV travel possible. According to journal OIPscience, the cost of setting up a charging station is anything from $500-25,000, depending on speed of charge.

The policy proposes funding the proposals through tax revenues from petrol and diesel vehicle sales but remains unclear about final figures or the amount of spend the government would have to contribute to cover any shortfall.

What happens next?

Currently, most automakers have focused on selling hybrid models as a stepping-stone to EVs, with Toyota recently launching its hybrid Prius in India and Hyundai looking for its Ioniq model to enter the market next year.

Now, however, car manufacturers are demanding more clarity before developing further release or manufacturing plans.

The world’s number two manufacturer by auto sales, Toyota, had planned a hybrid model for all its vehicles in India, but Indian subsidiary vice chairman has stated that the planned launches will now depend on the new policy. The sentiments have been echoed by Nissan, who have said they are looking to wait for further government steer before bringing electric cars to India.

So, how likely are these ambitious plans to pass? Much depends on the government being clear and transparent in its messaging to companies about what its 15 year vision looks like. It depends on how quickly India can improve infrastructure to make travel via EVs a real possibility rather than a cross between a motor show and The Amazing Race . And then there’s the money.

Further Reading:

How do hybrid cars and trucks work?

Cost-effective electric vehicle charging infrastructure siting for Delhi

India’s electric vehicles push likely to benefit Chinese car makers

Are electric vehicles better for the environment than gas-powered ones?

Is driving a Tesla better for the environment? It depends…

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Plastic fantastic: can eco plastics save the world?

From food packaging to toys to airplanes… plastic is definitely one of the world’s most versatile, universal and, arguably, necessary materials. But – it comes at a cost. Made from synthetic carbon-based polymers made mostly from petroleum, plastic is a material that, once processed, does not easily integrate back into nature.

Yes, that bottle of water, in the hand for an average of 12 minutes, will remain on this earth for hundreds, if not thousands, of years if left to decompose of its own accord. Therein comes the plastic dilemma: disposable, dispensable and ubiquitous products of a material engineered to last forever (well, almost).

Plastic disposal creates pollution and leads to a catalogue of environmental disasters, such as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Getting rid of plastic is extremely difficult. Burning it releases toxic fumes. Recycling is complicated due to the many and various types of plastics all requiring different processes.

In an attempt to address our plastic addiction, a new wave of ‘environmentally friendly’ plastics are now hitting the scene. These plastics can be broadly divided into three types:

  1. Bioplastics: made from natural materials such as corn starch
  2. Biodegradable plastics: still made from petrochemicals but designed to break down faster
  3. Eco/recycled plastics: made from recycled plastics

Let’s take a look at them in turn.

Bioplastics are made on the principle that if we make plastic from kinder material to begin with they’ll break down more easily when we are done with them. Commonly made from corn, they often look indistinguishable from traditional plastic products. In addition to using less energy to produce, bioplastics also produce 70% less greenhouse gases when they degrade in landfills. (Read more on NatureWorks.) Products made from this type of plastic are surprisingly wide-ranging, in use for everything from 3D printing to beauty and household.

Biodegradable plastics are something you may have noticed if you are in the habit of reading supermarket bags. These plastics contain additives that will cause them to break down faster in the presence of light and oxygen (‘oxo-degradable’). Unlike their bioplastic counterparts, these plastics contain all the usual suspects of petrochemical base materials, may not degrade in landfill conditions and will leave a toxic residue when decomposed, making them unsuitable for composting.

Recycled plastics are one solution to turn old waste materials into new products – and that doesn’t just mean more plastic bottles. Plastics can, in fact, be recycled into everything from new shoes to building materials to clothes. It is more difficult to judge the benefit of recycled plastic for the environment, given that we must consider any potential saving in water and energy it takes to collect, process and transform old material versus simply making it anew.

However, the benefits of rubbish elimination and environmental transformation can be significant. An exemplary example of this is Haiti, where the lack of a formal rubbish collection system has led citizens to take control of their environment, establishing The Plastic Bank:

3 Problems with ‘eco’ plastics.

Unfortunately, saving the world is never as easy as one may hope. As with most things, the new ways to manage plastics face limits and complications. Three of the fundamental problems with the new plastics are:

  1. Even bio plastic takes its time to die. Biodegradable plastics and bio plastics do not decompose that easily. They need moisture and heat and good conditions and the process can take many years and then, still, leave behind a nasty residue.
  2. Recycling dilemma. Biodegradable plastics and bio plastics are not easy to recycle. The mix up of these plastics with traditional plastic products can wreak havoc on recycling management programmes, undermining years of effort. Companies need to be more clean in how to properly dispose of their products.
  3. The jargon. Many people thing terms like ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’ and ‘bioplastic’ are interchangeable, whilst they all signify a variety of different production and waste processes. This can hinder efforts to bring the products to market and consumers are a long way from being clear in their choice.

So, what’s the verdict on the earth credentials of eco plastics?

Whilst it is encouraging to see the progress made to solve the issue with traditional plastics, it is clear we are far off a perfect solution. Biodegradable plastics are, in particular, in the spotlight for misleading with the environmental promise given the length of time they take to decompose and their inherent toxic consistency. Bioplastics are in the line of fire for using GM crops and confusing recycling systems. Plastic recycling, in the meantime, does not eliminate the need for production of new products in the first instance.

As usual, in the end it’s just down to you. Some tips for assisting the plastic problem are:

  1. That canvas / reusable bag you have hanging around – put a few in the car and carry one around in your jacket pocket or handbag
  2. Collect loose fruit and vegetables from the supermarket isle rather than buying them prepackaged
  3. Invest in longer lasting items with replaceable parts rather than disposable items – e.g. drinking bottles, razor blades, pens, reusable coffee cups etc.
  4. Think about what you are buying. The heart trembles at the idea of how much empty space in the world is filled with unwanted Kinder Surprise toys.
  5. Dispose of your plastic properly. We know now that it matters.

Further Reading:

Biodegradable plastics: are they better for the environment?

Greenwash: Biodegradable bags carry more ecological harm than good.

Biodegradable plastic: ‘false solution’ for ocean waste problem

The difference between degradable, biodegradable and compostable

The New Plastic Economy: Catalyzing Action


Leave a comment

The Sun King of China: did he dream too big?

 

I don’t like [the sun king], the king often be killed” says China’s solar entrepreneur, Huang Ming. “I’d rather be called the world number one solar crazy guy”.

Huang Ming’s vision was to build a solar valley to demonstrate the power of solar. A way of life that he believes should be for everyone.

The valley includes a low emission hotel and conference center, a solar museum and solar houses. Solar architecture is integrated into the design.

Although his dream was to build a replicable example to be built across other Chinese cities, this has not transpired, mostly on account of technology being too expensive.

“When people ask me ‘Are you proud of Solar Valley?’ I would say that not really”.

“The purpose was to promote, to copy that. And now, there is only one solar valley in China, in the world”, says the entrepreneur.

When asked whether he dreamed too big he answers, ” a little bit”.

“But I don’t regret”.


Leave a comment

Fairphone: a better phone is a phone made better

I don’t feel 100% good about the fact that I have an iPhone. Yes, I love the smartphone functionality, FaceTime, free international iMessaging and the idea that my phone can be the window to the world for everything, from hailing a taxi to booking restaurants and accommodation to being my mobile cinema.

However, ignorance is bliss when it comes to its components.

Not that there is much excuse for ignorance any more. Apple have been in the press for using child labour, overworking staff and causing devastating pollution on their factory sites (Read here, here and here).

It is hard to ignore at least the suspicion that big companies are turning a blind eye to human and environmental abuses to feed demand for products in the West, where the appetite for questioning is abated with marketing and offers of regular updates.

Welcome, Fairphone. Hailing from Amsterdam, the magic spring for all things cool, innovative and desirable, Fairphone is attempting to change the game when it comes to smartphones tech so that we don’t have to choose between our appetite for gadgets and our conscience.

Aiming to create a positive social and environmental impact, Fairphone is out to achieve the following:

  • Long-lasting design eliminating the irritating treadmill of planned obsolescence and never-ending upgrades
  • Fair materials
  • Good working conditions
  • Reuse and recycling

By opening up its supply chain, Fairphone is starting a long-overdue discussion about the story behind the products because, you know, products don’t really just come from malls.

Attracting big time media attention worldwide, Fairphone is well on the way to achieving its mission of using business as a drive for social change.

And I really want one.

Read more:

Can an ethical smartphone change the world?

How was your smartphone made? Nobody really knows.

Smart covers, new cameras: where the world’s most ethical smartphone goes next.


Leave a comment

Living off the… Lab. What should we think about engineered meat?

What can’t you get from a test tube these days? Organs, diseases and cures, animals – and even human offspring are popping out of labs like DIY creation ovens.

Now, the figure in a white coat serving up your freshly cooked steak may not be a friendly chef – but another lab technician. Welcome to a new generation of meat sourced not a New Zealand pasture, Yorkshire dales or a questionable third world slaughterhouse – but a standard, clinical petridish.

So, what is cultured meat? Known otherwise as synthetic meat, cell-cultured meat, engineered meat, vitro meat or ‘clean meat’, it is a cell-cultured product grown in a lab rather than barn or pasture. It is, for all intends and purposes, the same steaming slab of animal muscle cells as traditional meat without, as every animal rights activist will tell you, the antibiotics, the climate change impact, the transportation, or the slaughter.

One of the first to forecast the invention of engineered meat was the ever-precocious British national treasure, Winston Churchill.  In 1931, he already suggested “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium…The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.” (Read more on from the great man here).

As early as 1971, muscle fibers have been cultivated in vitrio by Russell Ross who observed the ability of cells of guinea pig aorta to synthesize. The research progressed with NASA, who in 2001 produced meat from turkey cells and goldfish which could, in principle, be cooked and consumed to feed astronauts on long-distance space missions.

The first patents for engineered meat for human consumption were filed by American Jon F. Vein in 1998 (US) and a Dutch dermatologist, doctor and businessman triumvirate in 2001 (worldwide). In 2008, PETA offered $1m to the first company to bring lab meat to consumers and, from then on, corporate and governmental interest in engineered meat production has only gathered pace, with Time magazine declaring it one of the top 50 breakthrough ideas for the future in 2009.

Today, tissue engineering for consumption is rapidly developing along other, less appetizing biotechnology topics such as tissue regeneration, organ transplants and regenerative medicine. The recipe starts with stems cells, developed muscle cells, myosatellite cells or myoblasts. In a world of consumers growing wary of unrecognizable  alien ingredients, the hard sell for lab meat starts here.

The starter cells are then coated in protein, placed in a bio reactor and stretched on a scaffold that is periodically moved to simulate natural tissue growth. In ideal conditions, this type of meat fabrication is claimed to yield up to 50,000 tons of pork meat from 10 pork muscle cells in just two months (Read all about it).

Although this material is biochemically identical to ‘real meat’, many stomachs may automatically churn at the thought of dinner having relating to the insalubrious topic of molecular cell extraction. However, given that the essential building materials of the product are one and the same – minus the antibiotics, hormones and other foreign bodies used to treat live animals – is our aversion to lab meat anything other than cosmetic?

The engineered meat industry currently suffers from the disadvantages of high costs and lack of commercial capacity. However, if it is ever to go to market with success, its main problem may be something much more difficult to overcome than money or manufacturing. Its main problem may be a basic question of perception and demand. What do you do to turn engineered tissue into a succulent dinner option? What would it take to normalize lab meat?

Oddly enough, without realizing it or not, today’s consumer is absolutely comfortable with a healthy serving of the artificial, including plenty in our food. Sweeteners, chemical substitutes, additives, colorants, preservatives, E numbers, flavourings and flavour enhancers and well-known nasties like MSG are all a permanent feature in our diet. Depending on hunger (or alcohol…) levels and stage of on/off flirtation with the vegan plan diet, concern over what we are putting in our mouth tends to waver and change. However, no one is panicking about their gum having something in common with petroleum. As long as our food isn’t of a living, beating heart with eyes variety, we don’t mind the chemical levels here any more than we question any other substance we clean, moisturise or treat ourselves with.

So, is our problem with the ‘artificial’ bit of artificial meat?

It could be argued that the lab meat industry suffers from one problem the livestock industry tends not to have – transparency. We know how just how engineered meat is sourced, grown and treated. On the other hand, few abattoirs are throwing open their doors to the general public to witness the culling and treatment of carcasses. Packets of bargain chicken are put into trolley baskets without much thought of how a bird can be hatched, reared, slaughtered, transported and prepped for less than the price of a shop coffee. Free range eggs may be a modern badge of virtue, but not many know that, free range or caged, live male chicks at egg farms are gassed in the UK within a day of hatching for their lack of capacity to lay further eggs. In other countries, they are thrown alive into a meat grinder. It doesn’t automatically make buying eggs wrong. It is just a fact about eggs.

Raise an issue of this type with company at a dinner party and conversation is extinguished faster than a tea light candle at high seas. It is hard to say anything about the meat industry without automatically being perceived as a lunatic of the henna-ed hair and bad hemp trousers variety. An innocuous comment in normal, conversational tones tends to be perceiving as a preachy, guilt-inducing, emotional, hair-tearing dig at a human being’s god-given right to a juicy rack of lamb. Many of the facts of the meat industry are upsetting and, given that the world is upsetting enough, most people just don’t want to invite an unsettling conversation that leads to the conclusion that something about them or their life choices is wrong.

Ultimately, real animals in the meat production cycle are no different to their artificial meat counterparts. They are a product for consumption. The opinions on what is real and natural can quickly become blurred with a little research.

In short, engineered meat is set to rattle a lot of convention beyond our simple idea that meat comes from a moving, conscious creature that is born and dies. On the surface, it may get the thumbs up for reducing the environmental impact of livestock rearing, avoiding growth hormones, eliminating animal meat borne diseases and avoiding GM animal feed. However, given that some animal cells are used, is the product really vegetarian? Can fiddling about with the cells of living beings really count as ‘ethical’? Are scientists playing God again? With no fat or bone, is it a true meat substitute? Is it kosher? Is it halal?

Millions may already dig into meat substitute like Quorn, but whilst we know that Quorn is a fermented fungal microprotein that we have grown comfortable with, maybe engineered meat is actually too close to the real thing for comfort. Yes, maybe s*** just got too real.

So, Frankenmeat or green meat? There is a long way to go until lab meat is being stocked into the supermarket. Until then, there is plenty of time to think.

Further Reading:

The Future Will Be Full of Lab Grown Meat

Artificial chicken grown from cells gets a taste test – but who will regulate it?

Should I be nervous about lab grown meat?

Lab-grown meat gives food for thought

Make your own meat with open source cells – no animals necessary


Leave a comment

The Great Green Wall of Africa

Growing a world wonder… an 8,000 km green wall across the entire width of Africa.

Apart from growing the symbolic architectural wonder of green, the incredible project aims to provide food security, improve fertile land, provide income and entrepreneurial opportunities to families across the 20 partner countries.

Once complete, the Great Green Wall will be the largest living structure on Earth and a new Wonder of the World.

Read more: http://www.greatgreenwall.org

 


Leave a comment

VOCs: what you need to know

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) have been getting a lot of attention lately.

At the local home center, you may have noticed a lot more low or no VOC proclamations. It seems that the seal on VOCs has officially be broken, and the discussion on what they are, where they are used and why we should avoid them is now on.

VOCs often get emitted into the air as the paint (or varnish, or adhesive, or cleaning product etc.) dries and are at their most potent during and shortly after application. Essentially, VOCs are gases that are emitted from certain liquids and solids and can be harmful to health to varying degrees.

In fact, hundreds – if not thousands – of products emit VOCs. Common cleaning, decorating, disinfecting, cosmetic and hobby products can all be counted among the culprits, explaining why the concentration of VOCs is up to ten times higher indoors than out. During certain activities, such as paint stripping, the indoor levels may be up to 1000x outdoor background levels.

Paints, paint stripped and other solvents may have got a lot of attention for VOC release lately, but other products to be aware of include items as diverse as nail varnish, hair dye, aerosol sprays, wood preservatives, glue, permanent marker, office printers and copiers, carpet, flooring and dry cleaned clothing. Even common air freshers release high amounts of VOCs.

Should we be panicking about VOCs?

It is hard to imagine sleeping in a freshly painted room with the windows closed without suffering at least some degree of malaise.

The immediate health effects of limited VOC exposure may include skin, eye or throat irritation, nausea, headache, dizziness and fatigue, visual disorders and skin reaction. Effects of more severe and/or prolonged exposure include damage to liver, kidneys and central nervous system,allergies, respiratory problems and, possibly, cancer.

As with all polluting substances, there are a number of factors affecting risk levels. Considerations such as age and length and intensity of exposure greatly affect the degree of impact. Painting interiors is, for example, frequently not recommended if living with newborns or young infants, due to increased risk of respiratory problems.

Limiting the risk

  • Ventilate the room when using products containing VOCs.
  • If possible, vacate the house when renovating expensively with paint, varnish etc. to allow the chemicals to settle for 2-3 days, when exposure would be the greatest.
  • Gases can leak even from closed containers. Dispose of half-full or empty containers or unnecessary chemicals in accordance with local toxic household waste procedures.
  • Store spare chemicals in a well-ventilated space and away from any possibility of contact with children.
  • Wear a fume mask when doing household renovating work.
  • Don’t expose skin when taking on household repairs. Wear long pants and sleeved tops, use gloves and, if necessary, wear a hair cover.
  • Where possible, go chemical-free. Ask yourself if VOC exposure is necessary or if you are happy to go with alternatives – e.g. fitting a VOC cocktail of plywood, underlay and carpet flooring versus simple natural hardwood flooring.
  • Use water-based, low or no VOC paints and decorating materials.
  • Avoid using synthetic air fresheners in the car or home.
  • Clean green.
  • Read warning and hazard labels. If a product comes with a toxicity warning to marine life, for example, are you sure you want it in your home?

Further Reading:

Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals

Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality

Tox Town: Volatile Organic Compounds

Greenguard Air Quality

Envirovent: What are VOCs?