Selecting the right house plant could improve indoor air

Indoor air pollution is an important environmental threat to human health, leading to symptoms of "sick building syndrome." But researchers report that surrounding oneself with certain house plants could combat the potentially harmful effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a main category of these pollutants. Interestingly, they found that certain plants are better at removing particular harmful compounds from the air, suggesting that, with the right plant, indoor air could become cleaner and safer. The researchers are presenting their work today at the 252nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world's largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics. A brand-new animation on the research is available at"Buildings, whether new or old, can have high levels of VOCs in them, sometimes so high that you can smell them," says Vadoud Niri, Ph.D., leader of the study. 

Smoke Waves Are the Next Climate Change Problem

In the hills near Los Angeles, the Blue Cut Fire just ripped through 36,000 acres, taking dozens of homes along with it, spurring a major evacuation, and even requiring temporary highway closures. But the merciless flames of the Blue Cut Fire almost pale in comparison with the flood of wildfires across the Golden State, and the West at large, in an era when the wildfire season is growing longer and more aggressive every year. Climate change is the reason why, and researchers are discovering that the cost of wildfires may be bigger than we imagined: They’re tracking deadly “smoke waves” that sweep the landscape, causing serious respiratory health problems.

New class of fuel cells offer increased flexibility, lower cost

A new class of fuel cells based on a newly discovered polymer-based material could bridge the gap between the operating temperature ranges of two existing types of polymer fuel cells, a breakthrough with the potential to accelerate the commercialization of low-cost fuel cells for automotive and stationary applications.A Los Alamos National Laboratory team, in collaboration with Yoong-Kee Choe at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan and Cy Fujimoto of Sandia National Laboratories, has discovered that fuel cells made from phosphate-quaternary ammonium ion-pair can be operated between 80°C and 200°C with and without water, enhancing the fuel cells usability in a range of conditions. The research is published in the journal Nature Energy.

Nanofur for oil spill cleanup

Some water ferns can absorb large volumes of oil within a short time, because their leaves are strongly water-repellent and, at the same time, highly oil-absorbing. Researchers of KIT, together with colleagues of Bonn University, have found that the oil-binding capacity of the water plant results from the hairy microstructure of its leaves. It is now used as a model to further develop the new Nanofur material for the environmentally friendly cleanup of oil spills. (DOI: 10.1088/1748-3190/11/5/056003)Damaged pipelines, oil tanker disasters, and accidents on oil drilling and production platforms may result in pollutions of water with crude or mineral oil. Conventional methods to clean up the oil spill are associated with specific drawbacks. 

NASA Monitors the 'New Normal' of Sea Ice

This year’s melt season in the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas started with a bang, with a record low maximum extent in March and relatively rapid ice loss through May. The melt slowed down in June, however, making it highly unlikely that this year’s summertime sea ice minimum extent will set a new record.

Researchers reduce expensive noble metals for fuel cell reactions

Washington State University researchers have developed a novel nanomaterial that could improve the performance and lower the costs of fuel cells by using fewer precious metals like platinum or palladium.Led by Yuehe Lin, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the researchers used inexpensive metal to make a super low density material, called an aerogel, to reduce the amount of precious metals required for fuel cell reactions. They also sped up the time to make the aerogels, which makes them more viable for large-scale production.

Study measures methane release from Arctic permafrost

A University of Alaska Fairbanks-led research project has provided the first modern evidence of a landscape-level permafrost carbon feedback, in which thawing permafrost releases ancient carbon as climate-warming greenhouse gases.The study was published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.The project, led by UAF researcher Katey Walter Anthony, studied lakes in Alaska, Canada, Sweden and Siberia where permafrost thaw surrounding lakes led to lake shoreline expansion during the past 60 years. Using historical aerial photo analysis, soil and methane sampling, and radiocarbon dating, the project quantified for the first time the strength of the present-day permafrost carbon feedback to climate warming. Although a large permafrost carbon emission is expected to occur imminently, the results of this study show nearly no sign that it has begun.

Investing in Walkable Neighborhoods

According to Redfin, several American cities – some the usual progressive suspects, but others quite surprising – are making moves to build more homes in walkable neighborhoods. Other, however, are stuck in the past, building more of the distant suburbs.Why do we need more walkable cities? Quite simply because walkable cities are, by definition, sustainable cities. Transportation remains a major source of greenhouse gas pollution, and, unlike electricity or agriculture, the United States remains firmly stuck on a fossil-fuel dependent transport infrastructure. When we live in spread out suburbs, far from work, shopping, schools, and cultural centers, we have to drive. Often, we drive inefficient, single-occupancy vehicles, burning more fossil fuels, and creating more traffic.

Fixing America's Waste Problem

America’s massive, growing landfills are the result of many decades of bad policies and decisions. And it will take a concerted, society-wide effort to solve this problem. Let’s dive deeper into just how big our landfill waste problem is and how we can begin to shift toward a circular economy.

New Study Challenges Assumption of Asbestos' Ability to Move in Soil

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego scientist Jane Willenbring challenges the long-held belief that asbestos fibers cannot move through soil. The findings have important implications for current remediation strategies aimed at capping asbestos-laden soils to prevent human exposure of the cancer-causing material.Willenbring, along with University of Pennsylvania postdoctoral researcher Sanjay Mohanty, and colleagues tested the idea that once capped by soil, asbestos waste piles are locked in place. Instead they found that dissolved organic matter contained within the soil sticks to the asbestos particles, creating a change of the electric charge on the outside of the particle that allows it to easily move through the soil.