Carbon dioxideThe global development of industry, technology, and the transportation sector has resulted in massive consumption of fossil fuels. As these fuels are burned, emissions are released—namely carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, combustion of petroleum-based products resulted in 6,587 million metric tons of carbon dioxide released into the environment in 2015. But what if we could capture the greenhouse gas and not only convert it, but potentially make a huge profit?

That’s exactly what ECS member Stuart Licht is looking to do.

In a new study, Licht and his team demonstrate using carbon dioxide and solar thermal energy to produce high yields of millimeter-lengths carbon nanotube (CNT) wool at a cost of $660 per ton. According to marketplace vales, these CNTs, which have applications ranging from textiles to cement, could then be sold for up to $400,000 per ton.

“We have introduced a new class of materials called ‘Carbon Nanotube Wool,’ which are the first CNTs that can be directly woven into a cloth, as they are of macroscopic length and are cheap to produce,” Licht, a chemistry professor at George Washington University, tells Phys.org. “The sole reactant to produce the CNT wools is the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.”

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Electric vehicleAround the world, the transportation sector is evolving. Globally, electric vehicle (EV) sales have more than doubled, showing a 72 percent increase in 2015, followed by 41 percent global increase in EV sales in 2016. Now, France is committing to a greener transportation sector by vowing to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040, further pledging to become a carbon neutral country by 2050.

Currently, 95.2 percent of new car fleets in France are represented by gasoline and diesel vehicles. According to France’s Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot, initiatives by automakers such as Volvo to go all electric in the coming years will help France start to phase out gasoline and diesel vehicles.

In order to become carbon neutral by 2050, France will also need to devote energy to ending the use of fossil fuels across the board, which includes ending hydrocarbon licenses in the country and stopping coal production by 2022.

While France’s goals are admirable, organizations such as Greenpeace believe that the measure falls short in terms of concrete measures.

“We are left wanting, on how these objectives will be achieved,” Greenpeace campaigner Cyrille Cormier said in a statement. “The goal to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040 sends out a strong signal, but we would really like to know what are the first steps achieve this, and how to make this ambition something other than a disappointment.”

By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Renewable grideScience is messy, but it doesn’t have to be dirty.

On June 19, a group of respected energy researchers released a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that critiqued a widely cited study on how to power the U.S. using only renewable energy sources. This new paper, authored by former NOAA researcher Christopher Clack and a small army of academics, said that the initial 2015 study had “errors, inappropriate methods and implausible assumptions,” about using only the sun, wind and water to fuel the U.S.

What followed was a storm of debate as energy wonks of all stripes weighed in on the merits of the PNAS analysis. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor who was the lead author of the 2015 study, shot back with detailed rebuttals, in one calling his fellow researchers “fossil fuel and nuclear supporters.”

Why the big kerfuffle? As an energy researcher who studies the technologies and policies for modernizing our energy system, I will try to explain.

In general, getting to a clean energy system – even if it’s 80 percent renewable – is a well agreed-upon goal and one that can be achieved; it’s that last 20 percent – and how to get there – that forms the main point of contention here.

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Assuming that the deployment of carbon removal technology will outpace emissions and conquer global climate change is a poor substitute for taking action now, say researchers.

With the current pace of renewable energy deployment and emissions reductions efforts, the world is unlikely to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This trend puts in doubt efforts to keep climate change damages from sea level rise, heat waves, drought, and flooding in check. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, also known as “negative emissions,” has been thought of as a potential method of fighting climate change.

In their new perspective published in the journal Science, however, researchers from Stanford University explain the risks of assuming carbon removal technologies can be deployed at a massive scale relatively quickly with low costs and limited side effects—with the future of the planet at stake.

“For any temperature limit, we’ve got a finite budget of how much heat-trapping gases we can put into the atmosphere. Relying on big future deployments of carbon removal technologies is like eating lots of dessert today, with great hopes for liposuction tomorrow,” says Chris Field, professor of biology and of earth system science and director of Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

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Climate changeAfter an unusually intense heat wave, downpour, or drought, Noah Diffenbaugh and his research group inevitably get phone calls and emails asking whether human-caused climate change played a role.

A new framework will help them respond.

“The question is being asked by the general public and by people trying to make decisions about how to manage the risks of a changing climate,” says Diffenbaugh, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

“Getting an accurate answer is important for everything from farming to insurance premiums, to international supply chains, to infrastructure planning.”

In the past, scientists typically avoided linking individual weather events to climate change, citing the challenges of teasing apart human influence from the natural variability of the weather. But that’s changing.

“Over the past decade, there’s been an explosion of research, to the point that we are seeing results released within a few weeks of a major event,” says Diffenbaugh, who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Four steps

In a new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Diffenbaugh and colleagues outline a four-step “framework” for testing whether global warming has contributed to record-setting weather events. The new paper is the latest in a burgeoning field of climate science called “extreme event attribution,” which combines statistical analyses of climate observations with increasingly powerful computer models to study the influence of climate change on individual extreme weather events.

In order to avoid inappropriately attributing an event to climate change, the authors began with the assumption that global warming had played no role, and then used statistical analyses to test whether that assumption was valid. “Our approach is very conservative,” Diffenbaugh says. “It’s like the presumption of innocence in our legal system: The default is that the weather event was just bad luck, and a really high burden of proof is required to assign blame to global warming.”

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Scientists studying climate change have long debated exactly how much hotter Earth will become given certain amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Models predicting this “climate sensitivity” number may be closer to the observed reality than some previously thought, according to a new study.

Observations in the past decade seemed to suggest a value lower than predicted by models. But the new study shows that two leading methods for calculating how hot the planet will get are not as far apart as they have appeared.

In climate science, the climate sensitivity is how much the surface air temperature will increase if you double carbon dioxide from pre-Industrial levels and then wait a very long time for the Earth’s temperature to fully adjust. Recent observations predicted that the climate sensitivity might be less than that suggested by models.

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By: Tom Solomon, Bucknell University

Darwin“The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring.” “Climate change is real, is serious and has been influenced by anthropogenic activity.” “The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and is a growing threat to society.” The Conversation

As these scientific societies’ position statements reflect, there is a clear scientific consensus on the reality of climate change. But although public acceptance of climate theory is improving, many of our elected leaders still express skepticism about the science. The theory of evolution also shows a mismatch: Whereas there is virtually universal agreement among scientists about the validity of the theory, only 33 percent of the public accepts it in full. For both climate change and evolution, skeptics sometimes sow doubt by saying that it is just a “theory.”

How does a scientific theory gain widespread acceptance in the scientific community? Why should the public and elected officials be expected to accept something that is “only a theory”? And how can we know if the science behind a particular theory is “settled,” anyway?

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GridA new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicts that as climate change continues to accelerate average temperatures, electrical grids may be unable to meet peak energy needs by the end of the century.

The electrical grid is the central component of energy distribution and consumption. In order to upgrade this massive infrastructure to meet increasing demands, the researchers behind the study estimate nearly $180 billion would have to be invested in the U.S. grid.

This from the study:

As the electricity grid is built to endure maximum load, our findings have significant implications for the construction of costly peak generating capacity.

Read the full paper.

On top of acknowledging the correlation between increasingly hot days and higher demand for electricity (i.e. increased use of air conditioners and other cooling units), the study also acknowledges how the grid could react to this extra demand for electricity during peak hours of the day.

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EnergyBill Gates is taking climate change head on with his newly formed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund. Gates is leading the fund along with a network of investors worth $170 billion, including Virgin’s Richard Branson and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

BEV will donate more than $1 billion into clean energy innovation projects over the next 20 years, focusing on its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates says.

This move by Gates comes after his commitment last year to personally invest an additional $1 billion into clean energy.

However, this move will shift Gates away from his home turf of information technology.

“People think you can just put $50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got,” Gates says. “In this energy space, that’s not true at all.”

A driving force behind the fund is to take innovative new technologies from the lab to the marketplace. Currently, the federal government funds a huge percentage of fundamental research efforts in fields such as energy storage, which are the subsequently commercialized by private investors.

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By: Blair Trewin, World Meteorological Organization

Global temperature anomalies (difference from 1961-90 average) for 1950 to 2016, showing strong El Niño and La Niña years, and years when climate was affected by volcanoes. Image: World Meteorological Organization

Global temperature anomalies (difference from 1961-90 average) for 1950 to 2016, showing strong El Niño and La Niña years, and years when climate was affected by volcanoes. (Click to enlarge.)
Image: World Meteorological Organization

2016 is set to be the world’s hottest year on record. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s preliminary statement on the global climate for 2016, global temperatures for January to September were 0.88°C above the long-term (1961-90) average, 0.11°C above the record set last year, and about 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels.

While the year is not yet over, the final weeks of 2016 would need to be the coldest of the 21st century for 2016’s final number to drop below last year’s.

Record-setting temperatures in 2016 came as no real surprise. Global temperatures continue to rise at a rate of 0.10-0.15°C per decade, and over the five years from 2011 to 2015 they averaged 0.59°C above the 1961-1990 average.

Giving temperatures a further boost this year was the very strong El Niño event of 2015−16. As we saw in 1998, global temperatures in years where the year starts with a strong El Niño are typically 0.1-0.2°C warmer than the years either side of them, and 2016 is following the same script.

Almost everywhere was warm

Warmth covered almost the entire world in 2016, but was most significant in high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. Some parts of the Russian Arctic have been a remarkable 6-7°C above average for the year, while Alaska is having its warmest year on record by more than a degree.

Almost the whole Northern Hemisphere north of the tropics has been at least 1°C above average. North America and Asia are both having their warmest year on record, with Africa, Europe and Oceania close to record levels. The only significant land areas which are having a cooler-than-normal year are northern and central Argentina, and parts of southern Western Australia.

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