Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Wax worm saliva rapidly breaks down plastic bags, scientists discover

So is that panic over?

Enzymes that rapidly break down plastic bags have been discovered in the saliva of wax worms, which are moth larvae that infest beehives.

The enzymes are the first reported to break down polyethylene within hours at room temperature and could lead to cost-effective ways of recycling the plastic.

The discovery came after one scientist, an amateur beekeeper, cleaned out an infested hive and found the larvae started eating holes in a plastic refuse bag. The researchers said the study showed insect saliva may be “a depository of degrading enzymes which could revolutionise [the cleanup of polluting waste]”.

Polyethylene makes up 30% of all plastic production and is used in bags and other packaging that make up a significant part of worldwide plastic pollution. The only recycling at scale today uses mechanical processes and creates lower-value products.

Chemical breakdown could create valuable chemicals or, with some further processing, new plastic, thereby avoiding the need for new virgin plastic made from oil. The enzymes can be easily synthesised and overcome a bottleneck in plastic degradation, the researchers said, which is the initial breaking of the polymer chains. That usually requires a lot of heating, but the enzymes work at normal temperatures, in water and at neutral pH.

“My beehives were plagued with wax worms, so I started cleaning them, putting the worms in a plastic bag,” said Dr Federica Bertocchini, at the Biological Research Centre in Madrid. “After a while, I noticed lots of holes and we found it wasn’t only chewing, it was [chemical breakdown], so that was the beginning of the story.”

In terms of commercial application, it is early days, the researchers say. “We need to do a lot of research and think about how to develop this new strategy to deal with plastic waste,” said Dr Clemente Arias, also at the Spanish research centre. As well as large recycling plants, the scientists said it might one day be possible to have kits in homes to recycle plastic bags into useful products. Other scientists are currently investigating beetles and butterfly larvae for their plastic-eating potential.

Previous discoveries of useful enzymes have been in microbes, with a 2021 study indicating that bacteria in oceans and soils across the globe are evolving to eat plastic. It found 30,000 different enzymes that might degrade 10 different types of plastic.

A super-enzyme that quickly breaks down plastic drink bottles, usually made from PET plastic, was revealed in 2020, inspired by a bug found in a waste dump in Japan and accidentally tweaked to increase its potency. An enzyme that breaks down PET has also been produced from bacteria in leaf compost, while another bug from a waste dump can eat polyurethane, a plastic that is widely used but rarely recycled.

Millions of tonnes of plastic are dumped every year, and the pollution pervades the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. Reducing the amount of plastic used is vital, as is the proper collection and treatment of waste, and full recycling could cut new plastic production.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, identified 200 proteins in the wax worm saliva and narrowed down the two that had the plastic-eating effect. “This study suggests insect saliva might [be] a depository of degrading enzymes which could revolutionise the bioremediation field,” the researchers said.,lead%20to%20cost-effective%20ways%20of%20recycling%20the%20plastic.


It's no surprise eco zealots targeted Captain Tom

What drives someone to do something as morally depraved as throw human faeces on a monument to Captain Sir Tom Moore? The video allegedly showing a climate-change campaigner dousing a likeness of Sir Tom, in what was reportedly a mixture of urine and excrement, is deeply chilling.

The person in the video is part of a pressure group called End UK Private Jets. The woman allegedly executed the vile stunt in order to raise awareness about the polluting impact of private jets. Quite how defiling a monument to a national treasure in such an appalling way is going to raise the public’s eco-awareness is anyone’s guess. It’s far more likely to make people feel sick, and angry.

Call me an old-fashioned moralist, but my view is that you shouldn’t throw crap at any monument. Least of all Sir Tom’s. A British army officer who became globally famous in his 99th year of life for raising millions of pounds for the NHS – he’s hardly Edward Colston, is he?

Perhaps it should go without saying but pouring piss and poo on a public monument to a late, much-loved elderly man is not normal behaviour. So it seems to me there are two possible explanations for this wicked act. First, perhaps this protester has ‘issues’, to use modern parlance. Perhaps she’s a troubled individual. If so, let us hope she gets the help she needs.

Or perhaps this foul act is yet another expression of the misanthropy that lurks at the heart of so much modern green campaigning. Perhaps this speaks to radical greens’ lowly view of humankind in general.

There is unquestionably an arrogance and a dogmatism in a great deal of green agitation today. And it isn’t hard to see why. It’s because these people genuinely believe they are saving the planet from mankind’s monstrous and toxic impact. The more eco-activists convince themselves that the end of the world is nigh – and that only they, the enlightened ones, have the intellect and wherewithal to do something about it – the more they will believe that any kind of action is justified to achieve their urgent ends.

There’s a direct link between the End of Days mindset of modern greens and their increasingly haughty and irritating forms of protest.

Whether it’s Extinction Rebellion occupying central London for days on end, or Insulate Britain blocking motorways and preventing people from getting to work, going on holiday or visiting loved ones, eco-agitators clearly think little of disrupting daily life.

And that’s because they’ve convinced themselves that the apocalypse is just around the corner. And you can’t be doing with niceties, can you, when you have an extinction-level calamity to hold at bay?

There is a religious, cult-like feel to eco-activists’ conviction that they must do everything they can – including disrupting oil production, holding up ambulances and even throwing excrement around – to stave off the doomsday they’ve been having feverish nightmares about for yonks.

Some have said the horrible befoulment of Sir Tom’s likeness will not convince anyone of the need to take environmental action. That’s true, but it somewhat misses the point. It might have been the aim of traditional forms of political activism to persuade people, to try to bring us on board. But eco-protesting has an altogether different goal. Its object is to save us, not convince us; to hector us, not persuade us; to punish us, not help us.

As George Monbiot once said, climate-change activism is ‘a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but against ourselves.’

He’s right. Environmentalism is, at root, a campaign against people. That’s why it has an undeniable streak of contempt in it. Perhaps the alleged vandalism of Sir Tom’s likeness was that contempt taken to its most despicable level yet.


The Brink of Darkness: Blackout fear in UK as gas supply to gas power plants and industry could be cut

Britain is at “significant risk” of gas shortages this winter because of Russia’s war in Ukraine and undersupply in Europe, the energy regulator said.

Ofgem said there was a possibility that Britain could enter a “gas supply emergency” in which supplies to some gas-fired power plants could be cut off, stopping them generating electricity.

The admission is likely to increase fears of blackouts because the UK relies on gas plants for the biggest share of its electricity supplies.

Industry rules mean power stations that do have their gas cut off could then have to pay huge charges that effectively penalise them for failing to deliver promised electricity supplies.

Ofgem says this risks the “potential insolvency of gas-fired generators” and the issue must be addressed urgently to prevent a “significant impact on the safety and security of the electricity and/or gas systems”.

The regulator was responding to a request from SSE, which owns several gas power stations and is calling for the rules to be changed.

SSE and RWE, another gas plant owner, say generators are so concerned about the potential penalties if their gas supplies are cut off that they are limiting advance sales of electricity, and that in turn is pushing up prices.

Russia has curtailed gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for sanctions over Ukraine, leaving countries braced for shortages and raising doubts about whether the UK will be able to get enough gas imports.

Wholesale gas prices have fallen from record highs in the summer but rose last week after sabotage on two gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, which raised fears that other gas infrastructure could be attacked.

National Grid, which is responsible for keeping the lights on and gas flowing, has issued a tender for more back-up gas supplies to help manage any short-term disruption this winter, in a move reported by the Sunday Telegraph.

It is due to publish its outlook for gas and electricity supplies this week, but concern is growing in the industry.

SSE said there was a “credible risk” of “one or more gas emergency scenarios this winter”. Industry rules mean that if power plants fail to deliver electricity they’ve promised, they must cover the costs National Grid’s electricity control room incurs to deal with the resulting shortfall, such as paying for back-up power plants.

Generators would incur such charges even if the cause of non-delivery was National Grid’s gas division cutting their supplies.

SSE estimates that an average gas-fired power plant could incur penalties of up to £276 million for every day it is unable to generate, or £475 million for the biggest plants, “potentially causing them to become insolvent”.

The risk will force generators to reduce their advance sales, “raising costs for electricity consumers”, it warned.

Tom Glover, UK chairman of RWE, said it was worried about “severe financial exposure under current rules” and that this was “one of the many reasons why many gas generators are reducing their forward sales”.

Ofgem said it expected “this winter to be more challenging than last year” and was taking “reasonable regulatory steps to mitigate and reduce the risks”.


Australia: Energy aspirations all well and good but unrealistic

Cheap electricity forever and cities filled with electric vehicles gliding silently along emission-free streets – the future has never looked brighter. This green-tinged nirvana is of course a target or more prosaically, an aspiration.

Aspirations are fine. You can aspire to lose weight, drink less and be nice to idiots but the likelihood of achieving any of these is dubious. This is not to say that they are unworthy, but that they are unrealistic.

Aspirations have been very much in vogue these past weeks as our leaders race to be the first to grasp the Holy Grail of environmental politics, net zero emissions!

The Queensland government put on an impressive burst of speed by lifting the state’s target from 70 per cent renewable energy generation by 2032 to 80 per cent by 2035. A quick reference to your mobile phone’s calculator will reveal that this is 13 years away.

Anyone who can confidently predict what our world will be like in 13 years’ time is possessed of powers more usually attributed to a higher being yet federal and state politicians, some of whom it could be easily argued are not the sharpest shovels in the shed, trot out these statistics with absolute certainty to what they hope is a gullible electorate.

To reinforce these incredulous flights of fancy, they rely on modelling, easily the most discredited science in the universe.

It doesn’t matter that, like your determination to achieve a sylph-like figure by Christmas, the target is unachievable because by 2032 or 2035 – pick a number, any number – the current crop of politicians will be long gone and enjoying second careers as overseas trade commissioners, foreign diplomats or resting their feet up on the boardroom tables of union-controlled super funds.

Queensland has embraced pumped hydro as its path to lowering emissions from electricity generation.

Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said that, after researching about 1000 sites, one west of Mackay had been found to be “simply the best”.

Within 24 hours of this revelation, it was revealed that “simply the best” was actually simply not quite the best and that simply put, the government was now looking for another site that could provide the massive areas of land required for water storage for the upper and lower dams without significantly damaging the environment, a site that could be connected to the grid to supply the power necessary to pump the water and transmit the power generated.

How much will this cost when they find simply the best placed to build it?  The figure is $12bn, with the total cost of achieving that mirage-like figure of 80 per cent shimmering on the 2035 horizon, being $62bn.

Where will the money come from? Tricky one, that. The federal government and private infrastructure funds will be relied upon to bring this wondrous scheme to fruition.  How much has been committed thus far? Not a cent.

It is worth noting that Snowy Hydro 2.0, the result of a Malcolm Turnbull thought bubble, was budgeted to cost $5.1bn.  That now looks like blowing out by a further $2.1bn and is beset by problems.

Meanwhile, if you are leasing a servo, it might be good time to start looking for an exit strategy because, according to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s pre-election policies, by 2030, 89 per cent of new vehicle sales in Australia will be electric vehicles.

How did the Labor Party arrive at this incredibly precise figure? You guessed it – modelling. What percentage of new car sales were electric in Australia last year? Two per cent.

Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen has been talking about getting tough on vehicle emissions. I don’t envy him the task of telling the nation’s tradies that they’ll have to give up their treasured four-wheel-drive utes and buy something more environmentally friendly.

He might also get a less than warm reception from the caravanning community who will have to say goodbye to their Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols and park their vans in the yard because electric vehicles are incapable of towing heavy loads over long distances.

There will come a time when electric vehicles will be practical in this vast country and when renewable power will replace that generated by fossil fuels but it will be determined by technological advances and not grandstanding politicians with both eyes fixed firmly, not on the well being of the next generation but the next election.

And that sylph-like figure by Christmas? Good luck with that.




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