Prince Charles teaches farming in Scotland, plus palm tree-inspired wind turbines. Using satellites to spy on methane emitters, and preserving the Congo’s peatland.
Prince Charles Teaches Farming in Scotland, Palm Tree-Inspired Wind Turbines, Satellites Spy on Methane Emitters, Preserving Congo’s Peatland
PALM TREE-INSPIRED WIND TURBINES
The U.S. upped its environmental sustainability game last year. According to the Energy Information Administration, it got 11% of its energy from renewable sources. That’s good, but scientists say that percentage has to go way up if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
That’s the challenge Eric Loth, professor and Chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Virginia, had when he went looking for a new project. Eric Loth is an aeronautical engineer by training. Loth and his team have designed an offshore wind turbine inspired by the palm tree, using what’s called biomimicry. Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges.
Typical wind turbines, like those seen in fields, produce about 5 MW of power each. To meet the energy needs, humans would need to construct turbines as large as 50 MWs. A turbine producing 50 MWs would be enough to power a small city. But a wind turbine that size would be about the size of the Empire State Building, conventionally-built.
That’s costly to build, in time and materials. Says, Loth, “Mass is money so we have to think about lightweight materials. The palm tree is inspirational.” The palm tree can also withstand the massive thrashing from hurricane-force winds. Increasing winds are a by-product of climate change.
The blade design is angled and faces away from the wind–like a pinwheel–so the blades move with the wind. Hinged turbine blades fold to reduce the load of heavy wind, which means they can be made lighter and longer while creating more energy.
Why does this newly designed offshore turbine matter to us? Thinking outside of the box is key to advancing wind technology.
The three-year program to investigate the viability of an ultralight segmented morphing rotor for a 50-MW wind turbine, is backed by $3.56-million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
PRINCE CHARLES’S FARMING SCHOOL IN SCOTLAND
HRH The Prince of Wales recently received the go-ahead to launch a new school for farming in Scotland. The farm/educational center is to be located at Home Farm, a 2,000-acre Scottish estate operated by the Prince’s Foundation. It’s in the southwest of Scotland about 25 minutes from the coast.
The principal aim of the school is to engage people who have no connection to agriculture to learn traditional skills like hedgelaying. Hedgelaying is a method of cutting and bending the hedge. The practice done as far back as Julius Caesar’s time is for the purpose of extending the life of the hedge which helps it to regenerate. In Britain, hedgerows are a common landscape feature, and apparently, hedgelaying is a private passion of Prince Charles.
He says, “Their ability to sequester carbon, help prevent flooding and soil erosion whilst providing stock control, shelter, green corridors and an abundance of food and protection for wildlife, make our hedgerows as precious a natural asset to our planet as any other I have experienced.”
The goal of Home Farm is for about 1,800 teenagers and adult learners looking for a career change to attend the school yearly. Why does the Prince’s Farming School matter to us? Innovative ideas to sequester carbon are important but the school reminds us that natural solutions are the quickest to scale.
USING SATELLITES TO SPY ON METHANE EMITTERS!
Sentinel 5P is a European satellite launched in October 2017 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Union (EU). It’s part of a group of satellites that observe Earth. Ilse Aben, senior scientist at the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), heads a team of scientists who monitor an instrument called Tropomi (short for TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument) that collects unreported methane emissions data from around the world.
Aben says, “We measure methane concentrations in the total column from the top of the atmosphere down to the surface.” Once they identify the signal that methane is being released, they measure it and send the location data to a Canadian company called Greenhouse Gas Satellite – Demonstrator (GHGSat). GHGSat pinpoints the exact spot where the methane is being released, whether it’s coming from gas pipelines, oil wells, fossil fuel processing plants or landfills.
A U.S. company called MethaneSAT, an Earth-observation company called Planet and even NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California all have plans to get involved in the methane detection and satellite imaging effort.
Why do satellites detecting methane matter to us? Findings show that most of the methane leaks are responsible for a significant portion of total methane emissions. Collecting the data and partnering with companies like Curtis Shuck’s Well Done Foundation to cap those leaks could accelerate capping leaking wells and mitigating the worst effects of climate change.
UN REDD PROGRAM AND SAVING CONGO’S PEATLAND
On The Climate Daily, we’ve reported on peatlands from Russia, Ukraine and Scotland, and the efforts of those countries to restore them. Peatlands were once revered by farmers for their rich soil, and heavily farmed for it. However, in the last few decades, scientists have discovered tilling peat releases methane, a super GHG. That’s why we now know it’s important to keep the enormous carbon stores in peatlands, in the ground.
In 2017, scientists from the Republic of Congo and the U.K. located a massive peatland the size of England in the Congo Basin. This particular peatland is estimated to contain 30 billion metric tons of carbon. According to the US Geological Survey, that’s equivalent to six times the US output of carbon emissions annually.
This gigantic peatland, located in the Congo River Basin, in an area called the Cuvette Centrale, is also an area of real poverty. Mining the peatland could provide a real livelihood, including the ability to grow valuable commodities. The presence of the carbon rich peat is also a motivation to deforest the region for agriculture. Oh, and one more thing: peatlands of this size are also an indication of possible fossil fuels in the area–like coal, oil and natural gas.
The challenge is to protect the region from agriculture, oil and gas exploration while also allowing the citizens of Cuvette Centrale a way to earn a living. Currently, one of the strategies gaining traction for protecting the peatlands in Cuvette Centrale is the United Nations’ REDD+ program, which stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries.
The goal of UN REDD is to pay countries to avoid development that’s potentially destructive to forests. The money would ideally go to economic development programs for communities on the front line of protecting the forests. Why does promoting UN REDD’s aims and protecting the Congo’s Peatland matter to us? It’s a matter of life and breath.