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Tasty Tech Eye Candy of the Week - Earth Day
By Tracy Staedter,
Discovery News, 19 April 2015.

Happy 45th Anniversary Earth Day. April 22 marks more than four decades of activism meant to raise awareness of the well-being of our planet. In honour of that day, founded by senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin back in 1970, the Tasty Tech Eye Candy slideshow will feature 10 innovations working hard to make Earth a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable place to live.

1. Preserving Natural Habitats

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Satellites overhead are constantly orbiting the planet. Powerful imagers can spot landscape changes down to the size of a baseball diamond. This tool is important for analyzing, among many things, deforestation. Here, an image of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra (left) and Kalimantan (right), reveal patches of land cleared for palm oil production.

What's the deal with palm oil? Found in everything from ice cream to crackers to detergents and cosmetics, palm oil - derived from the pulping fruit of oil palms - is the world’s leading cause of rainforest destruction and is wiping out the habitat of endangered animals, including the Asian elephant, tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and the orangutan.

In the map, blue areas indicate industrial palm oil plantations. Magenta tones show cleared forest followed by newly grown palm estates. With the help of satellite images, scientists can pinpoint illegal plantations and provide governments with sound evidence that could help preserve natural habitats.

2. Sharing Economy

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London cycle hire docking station. Credit: Stephen Craven/Wikimedia Commons.

One of the biggest problems facing the planet is rising global temperatures. We know that reducing pollution and CO2 emissions will help mitigate it, and the sharing economy is one way to do that. Websites and phone apps from companies such as Zipcar, CityBike (London), Uber and AirBnb make it possible for people to share cars, share public bicycles, get a lift and rent an apartment. This means you don't have to buy your own car or your own bicycle. Hotels don't need to be built and now it's possible to hail a cab in towns or neighbourhoods where taxi service was previously non-existent.

3. Crowdsourcing Conservation

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There are also several websites and phone apps that allow everyday people to participate in big-scale animal conservation. Wildbook for Whale Sharks, for example, collects reports of sightings, photographs and videos submitted by people who serendipitously encounter these magnificent animals in the wild.

Other examples include Bat Detective, which allows citizen scientists to identify bat calls; iNaturalist, which collects observations from a range of plant and animal sightings and makes them available to researchers; and Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, which has a handful of projects non-scientists can participate in to contribute to a better understanding of birds.

4. Net-Zero Skyscrapers

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Namaste Tower in Mumbai, via eVolo.

Already we have homes and office buildings that produce more energy than they use. And soon we'll have the world's first net-zero energy skyscraper. In Jakarta, Indonesia, the 99-story Pertamina Energy Tower is being erected to serve as the headquarters for Pertamina, a national energy company.

The building will rely on geothermal energy for power and produce 25 percent of its electricity from vertical wind turbines housed in the top of the tower. Its curved façade will mitigate the heating-up effect of the equatorial sun and two sides of the building will have semi-mobile curtains that automatically allow daylight to enter while shielding direct sun and glare. Solar panels on a covered walkway will also feed into the building's electrical system.

Construction of Pertamina is expected to be completed in 2019.

5. Cleaning Up the Oceans

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The oceans are a mess. In just a few decades, millions of tons of plastic have made its way into five rotating currents, called gyres, where it is damaging ecosystems and killing sea life. An enormous clean-up effort is currently underway, launched by Boyan Slat of The Netherlands. Nineteen years old at the time, Slat pulled together a team of researchers and compiled a 530-page feasibility report and raised US$2 million to construct a large-scale pilot project to test his Ocean Clean Up idea.

The concept relies on natural ocean currents and winds to passively carry plastic toward a platform, where solid floating barriers would be used to collect plastic without entangling sea life. In tens years time, Slat estimates that almost half of the plastic within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the biggest of the five gyres, could be removed.

6. Large-Scale Renewable Energy

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Credit: Ivanpah

The world needs more and bigger sources of renewable energy. In California, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert is doing its part. It opened on February 13, 2014, and is currently the world's largest solar thermal power station. Designed to generate 392 Megawatts of renewable energy, the plant will power 140,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by 400,000 tons per year.

7. Utility Scale Storage

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Large-scale renewable energy requires large-scale energy storage. That's because wind and solar are intermittent and can't be relied upon consistently like fossil fuels. Southern California Edison power company has taken the lead in this area by building the largest energy storage project of its kind in North America.

Located in southern California between the Mojave Desert and the San Joaquin Valley is the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project (above pic), an experiment in storing wind power in giant lithium-ion batteries. Over the next two years, researchers will investigate the best way for storing energy, while supplying 8 megawatts of electricity to 1,600 nearby homes.

8. Vertical Farms

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Credit: Plantagon

Factory farms generate tons of CO2, require huge swaths of land, millions of gallons of water and produce millions of pounds of waste. One solution gaining traction, at least for the production of vegetables and leafy greens, is the vertical farm. As its name implies, a farm is built vertically in a building and can be located in the middle of an urban area, where fresh food is oftentimes scarce. The vertical structure reduces land use - for example at Vancouver-based VertiCrop, a 50' x 75' area produces as many crops as a 16-acre farm. The farms rely on low-energy LED lighting and hydroponics, which require only 8 percent of the normal water consumption used to irrigate field crops.

9. Clean Drinking Water

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The Omniprocessor S200. Credit: Janicki Bioenergy.

Billions of people in the world have no access to clean drinking water. And in these same populations, people relieve themselves in bathroom facilities that aren’t properly drained. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to change that. They've invested in the Omniprocessor, a machine designed and built by the Washington-based engineering firm Janicki Bioenergy to turn sludge into energy and at the same time produce clean water.

Here's how it works: Sewer sludge is boiled to remove the liquid and in the process, the steam created is captured as water vapour, which is heavily processed, making it suitable to drink. The solid waste is burned in an incinerator and the heat is funnelled to a steam engine that fuels a generator.

10. Electric Cars

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Image via Car And Driver

Just a few years ago, the only electric car we saw with any regularity was the Toyota Prius. Now, everyone and their uncle is making an electric car. And last year, Tesla Motors announced it was giving up its patents to "the open source movement," to help spur electric vehicle technology. As car batteries get better at holding more charge and extending the range of these vehicles, we can only hope that a decade from now, all-electric vehicles will be more common than gas-powered.

[Source: Discovery News. Edited. Some images and links added.]

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