October 14, 2019
A new material that can selectively capture carbon dioxide (CO2
) molecules and efficiently convert them into useful organic materials has been developed by researchers at Kyoto University, along with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and Jiangsu Normal University in China. They described the material in the journal Nature Communications
Human consumption of fossil fuels has resulted in rising global CO2 emissions, leading to serious problems associated with global warming and climate change. One possible way to counteract this is to capture and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, but current methods are highly energy intensive. The low reactivity of CO2 makes it difficult to capture and convert it efficiently.
“We have successfully designed a porous material which has a high affinity towards CO2 molecules and can quickly and effectively convert it into useful organic materials,” says Ken-ichi Otake, Kyoto University materials chemist from the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS).
The material is a porous coordination polymer (PCP, also known as MOF; metal-organic framework), a framework consisting of zinc metal ions. The researchers tested their material using X-ray structural analysis and found that it can selectively capture only CO2 molecules with ten times more efficiency than other PCPs.
The material has an organic component with a propeller-like molecular structure, and as CO2 molecules approach the structure, they rotate and rearrange to permit C02 trapping, resulting in slight changes to the molecular channels within the PCP – this allows it to act as molecular sieve that can recognize molecules by size and shape. The PCP is also recyclable; the efficiency of the catalyst did not decrease even after 10 reaction cycles.
“One of the greenest approaches to carbon capture is to recycle the carbon dioxide into high-value chemicals, such as cyclic carbonates which can be used in petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals,” says Susumu Kitagawa
, materials chemist at Kyoto University.
After capturing the carbon, the converted material can be used to make polyurethane, a material with a wide variety of applications including clothing, domestic appliances and packaging.
This work highlights the potential of porous coordination polymers for trapping carbon dioxide and converting into useful materials, opening up an avenue for future research into carbon capture materials.
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UNSW Scientists Design Graphene Filter to Purify Methane from Biogas
UNSW scientists that developed a graphene filter to improve the quality of drinking water have discovered a new application for the very thin form of carbon – the ability for graphene to purify methane from biogas produced in wastewater plants.
The research team, led by Dr. Rakesh Joshi of the UNSW School of Materials Science and Engineering, has demonstrated at lab-scale that graphene membranes can be used to extract methane present in biogas generated during the breakdown of organic materials in wastewater plants.
The research indicates that it is possible to purify methane from biogas in a wastewater treatment plant environment, creating a potential source of renewable energy. Biogas, a mixture of methane and other impurities, is produced during anaerobic digestion in wastewater treatment – the process of bacteria separating biodegradable material.
“We are working in close collaboration with Sydney Water to convert these findings into a retrofittable technology for wastewater treatment plants,” Dr. Joshi said. “Graphene, a thin sheet of carbon atoms that forms in a honeycomb pattern, is considered a wonder material which is stronger than steel. Our team focuses graphene research to generate innovative solutions that industry can use.”
UNSW’s Graphene Team, in partnership with Sydney Water, has already successfully demonstrated a graphene-based, laboratory-scale filter that can remove more than 99% of the ubiquitous natural organic matter left behind during conventional treatment of drinking water.
“Our group’s latest research indicates that it is possible to use graphene to extract and refine methane to be recycled and reused as a source of energy,” Dr. Joshi said.
Dr. Heri Bustamante, Principal Scientist in Treatment at Sydney Water, said there was a need to develop more cost effective and easier to operate technologies to purify the valuable methane in biogas.
“Sydney Water currently uses biogas produced in the wastewater treatment process to generate energy. The use of graphene will enable increased capture of methane to expand potential uses beyond the requirements of Sydney Water. Production of methane to fuel buses could be a potential future use, for example,” said Dr Bustamante. “This would contribute to the potential of creating a circular economy at Sydney Water.”
Dr. Joshi said, “This is positive news for the wastewater and the renewable energy industries as it will be possible to use the purified methane for other applications. The graphene-based membranes show the removal of carbon dioxide from the mixture of gases.”
In 2018, the team conducted tests on samples
from Sydney Water’s Nepean Water Filtration Plant in Western Sydney with results removing almost 100% of natural organic matter while maintaining high water flow at atmospheric pressure. Each day, Sydney Water supplies 1.5 billion litres of drinking water which is treated at one of nine water filtration plants, or the desalination plant.
Dr. Joshi’s team have been working with Sydney Water for the past four years to develop a graphene membrane design that is now being scaled up for commercialization. It is expected the graphene membranes will be ready for plant trials at Sydney Water within the next five years.
Court Ruled that 4 Efficiency Standards Illegally Delayed
A federal appeals court ruled
the U.S. Department of Energy illegally stalled four energy efficiency standards that could save U.S. households and businesses at least $8 billion and avoid 100 million tons of carbon pollution -- the latest in a string of legal defeats for the Trump administration. The ruling was a victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, other public interest groups, 11 states, and the City of New York, which argued the now more than 2.5-year delay was unwarranted.
“This ruling just saved Americans $8.4 billion on their energy bills and avoids up to 100 million extra tons of carbon pollution over the next three decades. By refusing to allow the Trump administration to block these commonsense efficiency standards, the court prevented an incredibly successful, and bipartisan, energy-saving program from becoming a political issue that an administration can change on a whim. Today’s decision is good news for our climate future, and for the rule of law,” said Kit Kennedy, senior director of the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco involves delayed U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) standards for portable air conditioners
, uninterruptible power supplies
(the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), air compressors
used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, and packaged boilers
that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space. The DOE estimated that together they could save U.S. consumers $8.4 billion and avoid a whopping 99 million metric tons of carbon pollution over the next 30 years – equal to powering 10.6 million U.S. homes annually.
The four contested efficiency standards were finalized and signed in December 2016 but not immediately published in the Federal Register–the final step required for them to go into effect--because DOE rules require a 45-day “error correction” period to address any minor typographic or computational errors. That period ended in early 2017, but the signed, final rules were not published. The only corrections requested were for the commercial boiler standard, but the DOE still had a legal duty to publish the standard, along with any necessary corrections.
NRDC and Earthjustice--representing the Sierra Club, the Consumer Federation of America, and Texas Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy–filed suit
in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on June 13, 2017. A separate lawsuit was filed by the attorneys general for California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the City of New York.
Liquid Metal Discovery to Make Toxic Water Safe and Drinkable
UNSW SHARP Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh and his former colleagues at RMIT showed that nano-filters made of aluminium oxide could be cheaply produced using virtually no energy from a fixed amount of liquid metal gallium.
In a paper published in Advanced Functional Materials
, lead author Dr Ali Zavabeti (RMIT) and Professor Kalantar-zadeh explained that when a chunk of aluminium is added to the core of liquid gallium at room temperature, layers of aluminium oxide are quickly produced at the surface of the gallium.
The authors discovered that these aluminium oxide nano-sheets were highly porous and went on to prove they were suitable for filtering both heavy metal ions and oil contamination at unprecedented, ultra-fast rates.
Professor Kalantar-zadeh, who was recently awarded an ARC Australian Laureate Fellowship
soon after joining UNSW's School of Chemical Engineering, said that low cost and portable filters produced by this new liquid metal based manufacturing process could be used by people without access to clean drinking water to remove substances like lead and other toxic metals in a matter of minutes.
“Because it's super porous, water passes through very rapidly,” Professor Kalantar-zadeh said.
Lead and other heavy metals have a very high affinity to aluminium oxide. As the water passes through billions of layers, each one of these lead ions get attracted to one of these aluminum oxide sheets. But at the same time, it's very safe because with repeated use, the water flow cannot detach the heavy metal ions from the aluminium oxide.
Professor Kalantar-zadeh believes the technology could be put to good use in Africa and Asia in places where heavy metal ions in the water are at levels well beyond safe human consumption. It is estimated that 790 million people, or one in 10 of the Earth’s population, do not have access to clean water.
“If you've got bad quality water, you just take a gadget with one of these filters with you,” he said.
“You pour the contaminated water in the top of a flask with the aluminium oxide filter. Wait two minutes and the water that passes through the filter is now very clean water, completely drinkable. And the good thing is, this filter is cheap.”
There are portable filtration products available that do remove heavy metals from water, but they are comparatively expensive, often costing more than $100.
By contrast, aluminum oxide filters produced from liquid gallium could be produced for as little as 10 cents, making them attractive to prospective manufacturers.
“Up until now, to produce aluminum oxide, you need to process aluminum at above 1000 degrees or use other energy intensive processes,” Professor Kalantar-zadeh said. “It would normally consume so much energy to make anything like this filter, making it hugely expensive. Now we're talking about something you can do even under the sun in summer at 35 degrees.”
While aluminum is a plentiful and cheap metal, gallium is relatively expensive. But what makes gallium the hero in the process is the fact that it remains pure and unchanged after each production of aluminum oxide.
“You just add aluminum to the gallium and out comes aluminum oxide when its surface is exposed to water. You can use gallium again and again. Gallium never participates in the reaction,” Professor Kalanter-zadeh said.
Professor Kalantar-zadeh said the manufacture process is so cheap and requiring such low expenditure of energy, these filters could even be made out of a kitchen. “We are publishing this concept and releasing it to the public domain, so people around the world can use the idea for free and implement it for enhancing the quality of their lives,” he said.
“This is all about a new paradigm. We haven’t even begun to explore how we can use liquid metals as a base for manufacturing things that are cheap, green and safe for humans.”
EPA and North Dakota DEQ Establish Procedures and Policies for Administration of State's Self-Audit Law
EPA and the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality (NDDEQ) entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (Agreement) to establish procedures and policies for administration of the North Dakota Environmental Audits Law (self-audit law).
Under this Agreement, EPA recognizes that North Dakota’s self-audit law and policy encourages greater compliance with laws and rules protecting public health and the environment.
According to Dave Glatt, NDDEQ Director, the purpose of an environmental self-audit
is for companies, as the regulated entity, to identify and correct noncompliance, and improve future compliance.
“The environmental audit process is another compliance tool that may be utilized by the regulated community to reduce noncompliance and achieve environmental and health benefits for North Dakota and its citizens,” said Glatt.
“EPA and NDDEQ share a joint mission of securing environmental compliance,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin. “This Agreement provides assurance to the regulated community that if they use the State self-audit law they will be dealing with NDDEQ without micromanaging from EPA. This will improve participation in and the efficiency of our self-audit efforts and deliver environmental benefits for the people of North Dakota.”
- improving public health and environmental protection through pollution reduction;
- expediting corrective action which leads to more timely pollution reductions;
- providing future benefits by preventing re-occurrence of noncompliance;
- saving agency resources by allowing inspectors to focus on non-compliance at other facilities;
- correcting non-compliance, thereby providing for a level playing field;
- verifying current compliance for companies; and
- reducing operating costs through improvements in the production or energy-saving processes.
StarKist Required to Improve Chemical Safety
EPA announced a settlement with StarKist Samoa Co. (StarKist) to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act’s chemical safety requirements at the StarKist-leased, Samoa Tuna Processors’ facility. The facility is used to refrigerate tuna in Pago Pago.
“Ensuring facilities reduce the risk of releases of hazardous substances is critical,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker. “We’re pleased that Starkist will invest in making the Samoa Tuna Processor’s facility safer as a result of this agreement.”
A 2016 EPA inspection found StarKist violated the Clean Air Act’s General Duty Clause by failing to safely manage anhydrous ammonia, a toxic chemical highly corrosive to skin, eyes and lungs. At the time of the inspections, conditions revealed the ammonia refrigeration system was not designed to meet safety standards. The inspection found several deficiencies, including:
- Failure to identify hazards that could cause accidental releases of anhydrous ammonia.
- Inadequate documentation that the facility’s refrigeration system was designed to prevent releases of anhydrous ammonia.
- Failure to develop an emergency plan to minimize the consequences of accidental releases.
- An insufficient operation and maintenance program for the refrigeration system.
The agreement requires Starkist to implement a series of corrective actions to make the facility safe and prevent releases of anhydrous ammonia.
DTSC Scorecard for California’s 78 Hazardous Waste Facilities
California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has released its first statewide hazardous waste facility scorecard ranking the 78 operating permitted facilities in California that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste. The provisional scores reflect a facility’s history of compliance with hazardous waste laws and will be used as a factor to approve or deny an operating permit.
“The new Violations Scoring Procedure provides a transparent way to evaluate compliance with California’s hazardous waste laws. It helps us keep the public informed about facilities in their communities; it deters violations; and ultimately it protects communities from environmental harm,” said Meredith Williams, Acting Director of DTSC. “This scoring process is one in a series of progressive steps to systematically improve our permitting process, strengthen permitting regulations, and hold facility operators accountable.”
The Violations Scoring Procedure (VSP) highlights a facility’s most significant compliance issues and repeat hazardous waste law violations over a 10-year period. Depending on the VSP score, DTSC will require facilities to implement enhanced protections or will initiate permit denial, suspension or revocation actions.
The Facility VSP score and compliance tier assignment for each facility will be updated each year to include new inspection results and will reflect the previous 10-year calendar period. The VSP fulfills a mandate in Senate Bill 673 to enhance transparency and consistency in DTSC’s permitting decisions.
To calculate a facility’s score, DTSC reviewed the results of all DTSC inspections over a 10-year period. Each violation was given a numerical value based on its significance and potential for harm to people or the environment.
Types of violations scored include storing hazardous waste in containers in poor condition, storing ignitable hazardous waste within 50 feet of the property line, making false statements on a hazardous waste manifest, storing incompatible wastes together, not managing hazardous waste to reduce the possibility of a fire or release, and improperly labelling containers of hazardous waste.
Based on the VSP score, DTSC assigned facilities to one of three compliance tiers: Acceptable, Conditionally Acceptable and Unacceptable. Acceptable facilities are those with a score of less than 20. Conditionally Acceptable facilities are those with a score from 20 to less than 40. Unacceptable facilities are those with a score of 40 or more.
The following facilities received an Unacceptable tier assignment: California Oil Transfer in Riverbank; GEM in Rancho Cordova; Hazmat TSDF in San Bernardino County; HGST Inc. in San Jose; and Rho-Chem Corporation in Inglewood. These facilities have the opportunity to dispute their scores. After the dispute process, if the facilities remain in the Unacceptable tier, DTSC will start the process of suspending, revoking, or denying permits for these facilities.
Facilities in the Conditionally Acceptable tier must correct compliance problems and may be subject to additional operating restrictions. Facilities that fall into the Acceptable tier are not subject to additional requirements under the VSP regulations.
DTSC’s VSP score does not assess health and safety issues in other parts of a facility’s operation that are unrelated to the treatment, storage, or disposal of hazardous waste. Hazardous waste facilities are also regulated by other local, state, and federal agencies for compliance with laws protecting air and water quality and worker safety. At some facilities – refineries, for example – hazardous waste activities constitute a small portion of the entire operation.
Facility VSP scores are based on provisional inspection scores and are not yet final. Facilities may dispute any provisional inspection scores within 60 days. Once the dispute is received and reviewed, DTSC’s dispute resolution official will issue a written decision granting or denying, in whole or in part, the facility’s dispute. The dispute resolution official’s decision is final. A provisional inspection violation score becomes final if the facility does not file a dispute within 60 days.
An interactive map
showing locations and compliance history for each facility is also available online.
DTSC will hold two informational webinars – one in the daytime and one in the evening – to explain the VSP scores to interested groups and answer any questions.
DTSC protects California’s people and environment by regulating the generation, storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste.
PA DEP Reaches Settlement with CNX on Abandoned Wells
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a Consent Order and Agreement
(COA) with CNX Gas Company, LLC (CNX) for well plugging violations in four southwestern Pennsylvania counties.
The settlement requires CNX to post a $1.48 million performance bond and provides an extended schedule for CNX to plug the wells and restore the well sites. The 141 conventional coalbed methane and gas wells and five unconventional gas wells included in the settlement are located in Allegheny, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland counties.
“These settlements represent a major victory for Pennsylvania’s citizens and our environment, today and into the future,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
The Oil and Gas Act requires owners and operators to plug wells upon abandonment. A well is considered abandoned if it “has not been used to produce, extract or inject any gas, petroleum or other liquid within the preceding 12 months.” In July 2018, DEP issued orders
to oil and gas operators to plug over 1,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the state — based on required self-reporting of well production data for 2017 — and held pending transfers of said wells. The order to CNX covered 327 wells.
Alliance, XTO, and CNX appealed DEP’s orders to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board (EHB). Alliance, its parent company Diversified Gas & Oil Corporation, and Diversified Oil & Gas, LLC were issued a separate COA in March 2019
. Diversified withdrew its appeal of the order upon execution of the March 2019 COA, which included all wells on the XTO order. As a result, XTO withdrew its appeal.
The wells included in the 2018 order to CNX but not in this COA are no longer owned or operated by CNX; they are now owned by Alliance/Diversified and covered under the March 2019 COA. With this settlement, CNX has agreed to withdraw its appeal to the EHB.
“Unfortunately, bonding — in particular, blanket bonding — amounts prescribed under state law are woefully inadequate to actually plug an abandoned oil or gas well,” explained McDonnell. “If a conventional well owner walks away, they’ve put up just pennies on the dollar and the commonwealth is forced to cover the rest. DEP’s compliance and legal staff were diligent in preventing that shift of liability and securing safeguards more reflective of true costs.”
In 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly set bonding amounts for conventional wells at $2,500 per well or a blanket bond of $25,000 for all wells owned by an operator. However, plugging abandoned wells typically cost many times more than the statutory bond amount of $2,500 per well, and that figure can balloon to well over $100,000 depending on several factors including the condition of the well and well site.
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