By: Gunnar W. Schade, Texas A&M University

FrackingUrban air pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing near continuously since the 1970s.

Federal regulations, notably the Clean Air Act passed by President Nixon, to reduce toxic air pollutants such as benzene, a hydrocarbon, and ozone, a strong oxidant, effectively lowered their abundance in ambient air with steady progress.

But about 10 years ago, the picture on air pollutants in the U.S. started to change. The “fracking boom” in several different parts of the nation led to a new source of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere, affecting abundances of both toxic benzene and ozone, including in areas that were not previously affected much by such air pollution.

As a result, in recent years there has been a spike of research to determine what the extent of emissions are from fracked oil and gas wells – called “unconventional” sources in the industry. While much discussion has surrounded methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, less attention has been paid to air toxics.

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Electrochemistry Tackles Air Quality

Researchers from Cambridge University have developed low-cost pollution detectors to help combat the world’s largest environmental health risk.

“To work out the factors we should be worried about, and how we can intervene, we need to rethink how we measure what’s going on,” said atmospheric scientists Professor Rod Jones.

While pollution detectors do exist, their network is currently limited due to the high cost of the devices. Jones and his team have set out to develop a small, low-cost pollution detector that is sensitive enough to track air changes and quality on a street-by-street basis.

The team based their work on an electrochemical sensor that is industrially safe and can detect toxins at the parts-per-billion level.

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Controlling Car Pollution at the Quantum Level

Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan have reviewed research that might be leading the way towards a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.Image: Bertel Schmitt/CC

Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan have reviewed research that might be leading the way towards a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.
Image: Bertel Schmitt/CC

Soon we may be able to better control pollution created by cars at the quantum level.

Researchers from the Toyota Central R&D Labs are conducting research that may lead toward a new generation of automotive catalytic converters.

The new catalytic converters differ from the typical toxic fuel filtering systems due to the new catalyst’s focus on metal clusters, which allows it to be controlled at the quantum-level.

“We can expect an extreme reduction of precious metal using in automotive exhaust catalysts and/or fuel cells,” says Dr. Yoshihide Wantanabe, chief researcher at the Toyota Central R&D Labs in Japan.

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Chemical Sponge to Lessen Carbon Footprint

A new chemical sponge out of the University of Nottingham has the potential to lessen the carbon footprint of the oil industry.

Professor Martin Schröder and Dr. Sihai Yang of the University of Nottingham led a multi-disciplinary team from various institutions, which resulted in the discovery of this novel chemical sponge that separates a number of important gases from mixtures generated during crude oil refinement.

Crude oil has many uses – from fueling cars and heating homes to creating polymers and other useful materials. However, the existing process for producing this fuel has not been as efficient as it could possibly be.

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Adequate Sanitation Is a Basic Human Right

The lack of adequate sanitation facilities accounts for 4,100 preventable deaths every day.Credit: Kofi Opoku, West Virginia University

The lack of adequate sanitation facilities accounts for 4,100 preventable deaths every day.
Credit: Kofi Opoku, West Virginia University

With our Energy and Water Summit right around the corner, we’ve only got one thing on our mind: poop.

Forty percent of the world’s population – 2.5 billion people – practice open defecation or lack adequate sanitation facilities, and the consequences can be devastating for human health as well as the environment.

The Electrochemical Society and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation know there is no easy solution to this problem, but we are dedicated to finding and funding innovative research to reinvent the sanitation infrastructure.

In Francis de los Reyes’ TEDTalk entitled, “Sanitation is a basic human right,” the environmental engineer and sanitation activist makes his case for the total reinvention of the sanitation landscape as we know it.

“For the past 14-years, I’ve been teaching crap,” Reyes says.

And that he has. Reyes has dedicated his time to studying and researching human waste. The problem is especially relevant in India, where open deification is putting citizens at major health risks.


This from Reuters:

Less than a third of India’s 1.2 billion people have access to sanitation and more than 186,000 children under five die every year from diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, according to the charity WaterAid.

The United Nations said in May half of India’s people defecate outside – putting people at risk of cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

Read the full article here.

With India accounting for 818 million of the 2.5 billion people who lack adequate sanitation, most of the country’s rivers and lakes are polluted with sewage and industrial effluents.

So why can’t we just build western style flush-toilets in countries such as India?

“It’s just not possible,” Reyes says.

In these developing worlds, there is often time not enough water or energy to take on such a feat. Also, laying out sewer lines would cost governments tens of trillions of dollars.

Through our partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we hope to help solve these issues.