What is Taking Algae Biofuels So Long?

Producing biofuels from algae is a concept dating back to the oil shocks of the 1970s. At the time, the US Government created an algae research program which analyzed the thousands of strains of algae in hope of offsetting the shortage of fossil fuels. In 1996, the Department of Energy shut down the program, concluding that algal biofuels could not compete with fossil fuels in cost. One decade later, President Bush declared that the US was addicted to oil. After that, the algae research program was started again, and capital began flowing into dozens of algae startups. So where is all the algae biofuel? Where is the "green crude" that was hyped up with so much potential? The answer is the same now as it was in 1996. Algae biofuel is expensive to produce and fossil fuel prices are still sufficiently low-cost.

Australian Carbon Trading Scheme Commences: All Emissions Are Not Local

Australian carbon trading took another step forward last month when the first carbon credits under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme were issued. The national carbon trading program has been in the works for six years, politically supported by a Labor-Green coalition government; the first three to five years of the program will see a government-fixed price for carbon, to transition to a market-derived price later.

Lunar Wind and Water

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time. These particles can escape the Sun's gravity because of their high kinetic energy and the high temperature of the corona. Three years ago University of Tennessee, Knoxville, researchers helped to discover water on the surface of the moon. Now, they are piecing together the origin of that water: solar wind. A new study published in this month’s Nature Geoscience confirms solar wind as a source for water embedded in the lunar surface.

Fall Colors and the natural Carbon Cycle

As Fall turns leaves to colorful displays, starting in northern New England, and moving ever southward as Fall progresses, we think of the approaching Winter. We might also think of all the carbon that the once green leaves contain that will be released to the atmosphere as they decay. In the springtime, leaves soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting the gas into organic carbon compounds. Come autumn, trees shed their leaves, leaving them to decompose in the soil as they are eaten by microbes. Over time, decaying leaves release carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In fact, the natural decay of organic carbon contributes more than 90 percent of the yearly carbon dioxide released into Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Understanding the rate at which leaves decay can help scientists predict this global flux of carbon dioxide, and develop better models for climate change. But this is a thorny problem: A single leaf may undergo different rates of decay depending on a number of variables: local climate, soil, microbes and a leaf's composition. Differentiating the decay rates among various species, let alone forests, is a monumental task.

Planets with a 4 Star System

Our world orbits one star. There are many multiple star systems and some binary stars have been found with planets. Now how about a star system with four suns and some planets? For the first time a planet has been found that orbits one pair of stars and has a second pair of stars revolving around it – so that four stars illuminate its skies. The discovery was made by volunteers using the planethunters.org website alongside a team led by astronomers from Oxford University, Yale University, and Adler Planetarium. Whilst binary stars – systems with pairs of stars – are not uncommon, out of the thousands of planets discovered outside our solar system until now only six* had been found orbiting binary stars (circumbinary planets) and none of these are known to have another pair of stars circling them until now.

The Science of Distraction Revealed

It is the bane of all college students and workers who are struggling to finish a report or a project. Sometimes, one simply cannot help their mind from wandering from the task at hand to often trivial and pointless things. Example: It is clear that I need to finish this essay by tomorrow, but the Yankees are playing later tonight. Also, I'm going to be hungry in a few hours and don't know I want for dinner. And, oh yeah, this is a great song that is playing and I really should listen to it. Letting distractions take over is obviously counterproductive and even debilitating. However, according to new research studies, mind wandering is not always a bad thing. It is, in fact, related to a cognitive process involved in working memory and executive control.

Turning Trash into Art

When you think of the words "garbage dump," the first thoughts or images that spring forth from your mind probably aren't related to art. But if you were to visit the Recology collection center in San Francisco, you would be seeing—and thinking about—trash in a whole new way. What you would witness is not only the incredible amount of debris that comes in every day, but also the artists who thrive on it. Twice a year, Recology SF brings in new artists to its Artist in Residence Program, a one-of-a-kind program that utilizes the center as inspiration, as a studio, and as an art supply closet.

A Strange Martian Rock

A rock is a rock. Unless it is Martian. The first Martian rock NASA's Curiosity rover has reached out to touch presents a more varied composition than expected from previous missions. The rock also resembles some unusual rocks from Earth's interior. The rover team used two instruments on Curiosity to study the chemical makeup of the football-size rock called "Jake Matijevic". The results support some surprising recent measurements and provide an example of why identifying rocks' composition is such a major emphasis of the mission. Rock compositions tell stories about unseen environments and planetary processes. "This rock is a close match in chemical composition to an unusual but well-known type of igneous rock found in many volcanic provinces on Earth," said Edward Stolper of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a Curiosity co-investigator. "With only one Martian rock of this type, it is difficult to know whether the same processes were involved, but it is a reasonable place to start thinking about its origin."

Increased Rainfall Causes Drop in Sea Level?

Current perception of climate change leads us to believe that sea levels are constantly rising due to thermal expansion and melting ice caps. However, from the beginning of 2010 until mid-2011, the average level of the world's oceans dropped by 0.2 inches. According to a recent study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, this sea level decline was due to an increase in the amount of rainfall in Australia, northern South America and Southeast Asia.

Banana fibre can fix marine oil spills, says study

Fibre from the stem of the banana plant can efficiently absorb oil spills that pollute coasts and threaten marine life says a new study by Indian researchers. Banana fibre, when treated with certain chemicals, can absorb up to 18 times their weight of oil, according to the study published last month (16 September) in the online journal, Carbohydrate Polymers.