Tuesday, May 03, 2022



Plastic waste could be a thing of the past: Engineers develop an enzyme that can break it down in hours rather than centuries if left alone

So no more cause for panic

Plastic waste dumped in landfill could be cleared sooner than expected, after engineers developed an enzyme that can break it down in just a few hours.

Millions of tons of plastic is left abandoned every year, pilling up in landfills and pollution the land and waterways - typically taking centuries to degrade.

A team from the University of Texas in Austin created a new enzyme variant that can supercharge recycling on a large scale, reducing the impact of plastic pollution.

The work focusing on PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is a polymer found in most consumer plastic including bottles, packaging and some textiles.

The enzyme was able to complete a 'circular process' of breaking down the plastic into smaller parts and chemically putting it back together in as little as 24 hours.

They've called it FAST-PETase (functional, active, stable, and tolerant PETase), developed from a natural PETase that allows bacteria to degrade and modify plastic.

It is able to operate in ambient temperatures, rather than extreme heat or cold, making it a viable option for tackling plastic already in landfill sites, the team said.

The enzyme has the potential to supercharge recycling on a large scale that would allow major industries to reduce their environmental impact by recovering and reusing plastics at the molecular level.

'The possibilities are endless across industries to leverage this leading-edge recycling process,' said Hal Alper, professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering at UT Austin.

'Beyond the obvious waste management industry, this also provides corporations from every sector the opportunity to take a lead in recycling their products.

'Through these more sustainable enzyme approaches, we can begin to envision a true circular plastics economy.'

The project focuses on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most commonly used plastic polymers in consumer goods, making up 12 per cent of global waste.

The enzyme acted on the PET by breaking down the plastic into smaller parts, a process known as depolymerization, before chemically putting it back together again in the reverse process called repolymerization.

In some instances they were able to fully break down some plastics to monomers, the small mostly organic molecules, that make up the plastic, in under 24 hours.

Microplastic particles are now so rife that we breathe in up to 7,000 every day, shocking research shows.

The total was 100 times higher than expected – posing a potential health threat that could rank alongside asbestos or tobacco, experts said.

The study used highly sensitive equipment to count tiny particles less than 10 microns in size – just a tenth of the width of a human hair.

The highest concentration was in the room of an eight-year-old girl because her bedding, carpet and soft toys were all made from synthetic materials.

Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences used a machine learning to generate mutations to the naturally occurring PETase.

The model predicts which mutations in these enzymes would accomplish the goal of quickly depolymerizing post-consumer waste plastic at low temperatures.

Through this process, which included studying 51 different post-consumer plastic containers, five different polyester fibers and fabrics and water bottles all made from PET, the researchers proved the effectiveness of the enzyme.

'This work really demonstrates the power of bringing together different disciplines, from synthetic biology to chemical engineering to artificial intelligence,' said Andrew Ellington, who led the development of the machine learning model.

Recycling is the most obvious way to cut down on plastic waste, but globally less than 10 per cent of all plastic has been recycled, the rest ends up thrown on landfill and eventually burnt - which is energy intensive and highly polluting.

Biological solutions, including having bacteria break down the plastic, take much less energy and enzyme research has advanced significantly over the past 15 years.

However, until now, no one had been able to figure out how to make enzymes that could operate efficiently at low temperatures.

This is essential to operate at scale, and to make them both portable and affordable at large industrial scale.

FAST-PETase can perform the process at between 86 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

The team now plan to start work on scaling up the enzyme production, to prepare it for industrial and environmental application on real world plastic waste.

The researchers have filed a patent application for the technology and are eying several different uses, with cleaning up landfills and greening high waste-producing industries the most obvious.

But another key potential use is environmental remediation, with the hope that in future the enzymes could be sent out into the field to clean up polluted sites.

'When considering environmental cleanup applications, you need an enzyme that can work in the environment at ambient temperature. This requirement is where our tech has a huge advantage in the future,' Alper said.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

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Green hydrogen is coming of age

It's the only reasonably feasible method of large-scale energy storage -- but cost will be a big issue

Green hydrogen is expected to be a massive industry of its own in the next decade, used to generate electricity, fuel vehicles, and produce chemicals and heat, but how far do we have to go before we see this coming into play?

A convergence of political, technological, economic and climate factors have propelled the clean fuel to the forefront of net-zero solutions around the globe, including in Australia, where interest has been growing since the release of the National Hydrogen Strategy in 2019.

In countries such as Germany, the UK, China, and America, tens of billions of dollars have been invested by their governments to accelerate the production of green hydrogen, which is created from electrolysis powered by renewable electricity, such as wind and solar.

The electrolyser is the capital kit or equipment which converts green electricity and water into hydrogen, with industry experts flagging the sequential doubling in installed electrolyser capacity as proof its adoption is accelerating faster than even most bulls would have expected.

For example, the largest electrolyser in the world by install capacity doubled to 10MW in Japan back in 2020, before doubling again in 2021 to 20MW at the B├ęcancour project in Quebec, Canada.

As green hydrogen continues its trajectory from cottage industry to mainstream manufacturing, we will likely see a ramping-up in electrolyser capacity installed – with more GW capacity coming online.

In hard-to-abate sectors like long distance transport, chemical manufacturing, and iron and steel production, green hydrogen’s deployment is recognised as a key transition pillar to reach net zero emissions.

Australia has made much about its green hydrogen ambitions but has committed little actual funding.

Instead, the Morrison Government has shown its support by investing in various things such as a network of hydrogen technology clusters in major cities and regional towns across Australia.

With funding awarded by National Energy Resources Australia (NERA), the idea is each cluster will establish a thriving green hydrogen industry and identify supply chain investments.

The Government has also entered into a series of partnerships with Germany, South Korea, and Japan to explore the possibility of future hydrogen exports.

There has also been an abundance of non-binding announcements coming in thick and fast by companies looking to play a part.

One such company is Fortescue Future Industries, whose latest agreement with European utility business E-ON has been described by experts as representing a ‘seismic shift’ in the commercial scaling up of green hydrogen.

The two companies plan to work together to replace one-third of Germany’s Russian gas imports with 5 million tonnes per annum of renewable green hydrogen.

However, the market is still quite nascent with the majority of the current 90 or so projects currently in the feasibility and demonstration stages though the industry has not only scaled up in terms of the number of projects in the pipeline but also in terms of the average size.

Several ‘gigawatt’ scale projects have been announced in Australia, though they are still subject to final investment decisions and would come into operation from 2025 onwards.

Only a handful of projects have moved beyond the trial phase – such as with AGIG’s Hydrogen Park in South Australia, which has been operational since mid 2021.

Experts in the field say there is broad recognition across the Australian market that to capitalise on the hydrogen opportunity, partnerships/JVs need to be established across the hydrogen value chain.

And ultimately, to accelerate investment, a ‘renewable gas/hydrogen’ target would need to be established in Australia.

With supply chain and energy security being more important than ever, thanks to rampant fossil fuel inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is no doubt momentum for decarbonisation will continue.

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It’s time for transparency of the embedded costs of going “green”

The worldwide movement toward the electrification of everything, from intermittent electricity by industrial wind and solar farms, to more electric vehicles, the political actions are supportive of jumping onto the green train, most-likely not knowing there is a darker side of green technology, associated with environmental degradation, humanity atrocities, and other embedded costs for materials.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes: “A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car and an onshore wind plant requires nine times more mineral resources than a gas-fired plant”.

Nickel: A major component of the EV batteries, is found just below the topsoil in the Rainforests of Indonesia and the Philippines. As a result, the nickel is extracted using horizontal surface mining that results in extensive environmental degradation: deforestation and removal of the top layer of soil.

Lithium: Over half of the world’s Lithium reserves are found in three South American countries that border the Andes Mountains: Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. These countries are collectively known as the “Lithium Triangle”.

Cobalt: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) produces 70% of the world’s Cobalt. While there is no shortage of environmental issues with its Cobalt mining, the overriding problem here is human rights: dangerous working conditions and the use of child labor. Cobalt is a toxic metal. Prolonged exposure and inhalation of Cobalt dust can lead to health issues of the eyes, skin, and lungs.

Copper: Chile is the leading producer of the world’s Copper. Most of the Chile’s Copper comes from open pit/strip mines. This type of mining negatively affects vegetation, topsoil, wildlife habitats, and groundwater. The next three largest producers of copper are Peru, China, and the infamous Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For the last few decades, policy has been dominated by ideological pipe dreamers that the world can survive and prosper with intermittent and unreliable electricity generated from breezes and sunshine, and to-date they have succeeded in wrecking livelihoods inflicting shortages, inflation, and undermining national security. It’s time to look again at fracking, at nuclear, and focus on conservations, improving efficiencies, and adaptation. It’s time to get serious about climate and electricity.

The non-existing transparency of human rights abuses and environmental degradation occurring in developing countries with yellow, brown, and black skinned people are obscured from most of the world’s population. Both human rights abuses and environmental degradation are directly connected to the mining for the exotic minerals and metals that are required to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels, and EV batteries.

An electric vehicle battery does not “make” electricity – it only stores electricity produced elsewhere, primarily by coal, uranium, natural gas-powered plants, and occasionally by intermittent breezes and sunshine. So, to say an EV is a zero-emission vehicle is not at all valid as 80 percent of the electricity generated to charge the batteries is from coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

Since twenty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S is from coal-fired plants, it follows that twenty percent of the EVs on the road are coal-powered.

Since forty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S is from natural gas, it follows that forty percent of the EVs on the road are natural gas-powered.

Since twenty percent of the electricity generated in the U.S is from nuclear, it follows that twenty percent of the EVs on the road are nuclear-powered.

To make the embedded costs of going “green” transparent to the world, the book highlights how Asians and Africans, many of them children from the poorer and less healthy countries, are being enslaved and are dying in mines and factories to obtain the exotic minerals and metals required for the green energy technologies for the construction of EV batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and utility-scale storage batteries.

America could promote sustainable mining in those developing countries to restoring the land to a healthy ecosystem after the mine closes and by leaving surrounding communities with more wealth, education, health care, and infrastructure that they had before the mine went into production. Like the mining in America, the mining in developing countries must be the objective of corporate social responsibilities and the outcome of the successful ecological restoration of landscapes.

America’s obsession for green electricity to reduce emissions must be ethical and should not thrive off human rights and environmental abuses in the foreign countries providing the exotic minerals and metals to support America’s green passion. And before we get rid of crude oil, the greenies need to identify the replacement or clone for crude oil, to keep today’s societies and economies running with the more than 6,000 products now made with manufactured derivatives from crude oil, along with the fuels to move the heavy-weight and long-range needs of more than 50,000 jets and more than 50,000 merchant ships, and the military and space programs.

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The Coming Green-Energy Inflation

If you think inflation is bad, wait until the rest of the commodity markets really heat up. Although prices for basic materials like copper, aluminum, nickel and steel—used to build everything—have already inflated, they haven’t yet escalated as much as fuels and energy-driven commodities like food. But they will if European and U.S. policy makers have their way. Buckle up.

On both sides of the Atlantic, leaders promise that more green energy—solar, wind and electric vehicles—will cure Western overreliance on volatile oil and natural gas and further isolate Russia. But that cure would be far worse than the disease because green energy’s staggering use of basic minerals will fuel inflation.

Just as inflated prices for oil and natural gas rip through the economy, so do the costs of basic minerals, which are needed to build every class of product from appliances and houses to computers and cars. And while materials have for most of recent history constituted a minor share of the final cost of products, that share becomes major if mineral prices balloon.

Producing energy from wind and solar machines, and especially from batteries, requires an enormous increase in supplies of copper, nickel, aluminum, graphite, lithium and other minerals. Each electric vehicle contains about 400 pounds more aluminum and about 150 pounds more copper than a conventional car. That’s really going to add up at the proposed levels of production. The same goes for the suite of minerals necessary to build the tens of thousands of wind turbines and millions of solar modules needed for green plans. Unfortunately, as the International Energy Agency and others have pointed out, supply of critical minerals isn’t expanding apace. Not even close. That’s an incendiary formula for inflation.

To wit: In Paris on March 24, the IEA convened a summit of member nations to strategize on replacing Russian oil and gas supplies while also reaffirming “decarbonization” goals. Attendees issued a declaration to “accelerate” as a “top priority” the green-energy transition to replace hydrocarbons. President Biden and the president of the European Union both reinforced the theme of a green-energy “double down.”

On the face of it, that seems logical. Huge increases in the use of solar and wind power, and electric vehicles, could displace enough fossil-fuel use to bring down prices of natural gas and oil. Or it could insulate markets from inflation triggered by the loss of, or sanctions against, of Russian supplies. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said as much when opening that Paris summit.

Whether realistic or not, the mere pursuit of such a strategy is inflationary. And it would last longer than food or fuel inflation. International Monetary Fund economists last year looked at mineral commodity data going back to 1879. They calculated the inflationary impact from trying to meet mineral demands to build enough machinery for a green double-down.

Metal prices would reach historical peaks, they wrote, “for an unprecedented, sustained period of roughly a decade.” The IMF also pointed out that the “integrated assessment models” for the energy transition “do not include the . . . potential rise in costs.”

Epic escalation in the costs of minerals would create powerful headwinds for the Federal Reserve’s efforts to tame inflation. Evidence supporting the IMF’s warning is already at hand.

Lithium—now well-known because of car and grid batteries—has seen prices soar nearly 1,000% in the past two years. Prices of copper and nickel, more widely used, are up 200% and 300% respectively over the same period. Aluminum, the second-most-used metal on earth after iron ore, is up 200% and trading at a 30-year high.

While metals historically have constituted a minor share of the fabrication cost of most products, the picture changes with stratospheric input prices. A doubling of aluminum prices would add input costs that wipe out nearly the entire profit margin for U.S. manufacturers of heavy vehicles, according to a 2020 United States Geological Survey paper. Higher prices for cars and trucks are inevitable.

Commodity materials inflation has already ended the long-run decrease in battery, solar-module and wind-turbine costs. That’s because minerals alone constitute over half the cost of fabricating batteries and solar modules, and about 20% for wind turbines. Well before the latest mineral escalations, forecasters saw cost rises in 2022 of 5% for batteries, 10% for wind machines and 25% for solar modules. The biggest Chinese and U.S. electric-vehicle makers, BYD and Tesla, recently announced price increases.

The potential for greater inflationary pressure should be obvious. Despite fast growth, the world still gets only 3% of its energy from wind and solar. Less than 1% of all cars on global roads are battery-electric. ING determined in late 2021 that a double-down on electric-vehicle goals would alone soak up about half of all current aluminum and copper production and about 80% of global nickel output.

Polls show that consumers believe increasing oil and natural-gas production reduces inflation. We’ve seen genuflections to that reality on both sides of the Atlantic: Europeans petitioning for more fuel from Algeria and Qatar, and the Biden administration releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But no one in Europe or the U.S. is talking about a surge in mining capacity, nor is a Strategic Energy Minerals Reserve even possible.

Mining is like anything else. Eventually high prices stimulate more production. But the slow real-world expansion capabilities of mining explains the IMF’s forecast that mineral inflation would last “roughly a decade” until supply catches up.

Most analysts focus on where the gigatons of new minerals will come from, and the derivative geopolitical impacts of the new supply chains. It would shift Europe’s dominant dependency from Russia to China; for America, from domestic industries to China. But policy makers are going to be hit first by the fast and furious inflationary effects of chasing minerals.

Policy makers do have a tool they’re familiar with to conquer more minerals inflation: Use President Obama’s famous “I have a pen and a phone” logic to repeal green mandates that inflate demand. As Ms. Granholm told the IEA summit, the “decisions we make today . . . will shape the energy landscape of tomorrow.”

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My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)

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