All Dutch Trains Now Run 100% On Wind Power

Electric trains have always been a relatively sustainable mode of transport, with much lower emissions than cars, but as of the 1st of January, 2017, all electric train rides in the Netherlands have become even greener. They are now entirely powered by clean, renewable, wind energy.

Dutch railway companies, of which NS is by far the largest, teamed up with energy company Eneco in 2015 to cut train ride emissions drastically. Originally, 2018 was set as the target for changing to 100% renewable power sources. After having reached 75% in 2016, though, the 100% transition was completed one year ahead of schedule.

The NS alone transports 600,000 people per day, for which it needs 1.2 billion kWh of electricity a year.

— source cleantechnica.com

Solar panel researchers investigate powering trains by bypassing grid

Imperial College London has partnered with the climate change charity 10:10 to investigate the use of track-side solar panels to power trains, the two organisations announced yesterday. The renewable traction power project will see university researchers look at connecting solar panels directly to the lines that provide power to trains, a move that would bypass the electricity grid in order to more efficiently manage power demand from trains.

— source theguardian.com

Aviation biofuels: debunking the greenwash

In the space of a few paragraphs, the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s web page about Alternative Fuels uses the word ‘sustainable’ ten times. IATA lists biofuels ‘derived from sustainable oil crops such as jatropha, camelina and algae or from wood and waste biomass.’ The majority of these aviation biofuels that are in use, and approaching commercialisation, are made from edible crops, depleting food supplies. Biofuels made from inedible feedstocks are only produced in small volumes, and, if production is scaled up, vast swathes of ecosystems will be destroyed.

The first crop on IATA’s list, jatropha, is an inedible shrub. Hyped as a potential alternative to biofuel from edible crops, jatropha wasplanted as a biofuel crop in many African and Asian countries, but failed to provide viable yields on infertile land. Smallholders who had been persuaded, or coerced, into growing jatropha on farmland did not make an income from it; others were forcibly evicted to make way for plantations.

Next on IATA’s list of biofuels is camelina, a nutritious oilseed crop high in Omega 3 fatty acids. The EU supports feeding planes with this edible crop. €10 million has been allocated to the ITAKA (Initiative Towards sustAinable Kerosene for Aviation), to establish an aviation biofuel supply chain using camelina grown in Europe, primarily in Spain. In May, as part of the ITAKA project, KLM began the longest ever series of biofuel demonstration flights. Initial flights are to be powered by used cooking oil, but subsequent flights are expected to use camelina.

IATA fails to mention aviation biofuels made from other edible feedstocks. California based Byogy Renewables, in partnership with Avianca Brasil, a Brazilian airline, seeks to commercialise aviation biofuel made from sugarcane. An industry article anticipated that it will be years before other agricultural feedstocks become cost effective. Another Brazilian airline, GOL, will begin commercial flights using sugarcane biofuel, made by Amyris-Total, at the end of July. The Chinese government has approved use of aviation biofuel made from palm oil and used cooking oil. Palm oil is edible. The mention of ‘used cooking oil’ sounds reassuring, but supplies are dwarfed by the volumes required to fill planes’ fuel tanks. A study by the Oakland Institute showed that, in the US, a year’s supply of used cooking oil would only be sufficient to keep the nation’s fleet in the air for three days. Also, diversion of used cooking oil to fuel supplies impacts on the food chain, as it is used in animal feed.

Algae grows on water, so has been seized on as a biofuel feedstock which will not displace food crops. In 2007, Boeing gave credence to a wildly optimistic yield projection – that an area the size of Belgium would be sufficient to fuel the world’s current fleet of aircraft. Seven years later, minute quantities of algal biofuels have been produced. Boeing says that algae biofuel will not be cost competitive until the mid-2020s at the earliest, if ever, and is hailing another supposed miracle biofuel: halophytes, saltwater plants. Cultivation of a test plot covering a mere two hectares will commence in 2015, so halophytes will not be supplying a meaningful proportion of the world’s jet fuel use any time soon. If the envisioned 500 hectare plot materialises, it will displace existing coastal ecosystems.

There are several initiatives aiming to produce jet fuel from wood, but the volumes required would lead to deforestation, as evidenced by use of wood in power stations in Europe: demand for ‘residues’ outpaces production, leading to use of logs and whole trees. The world’s first facility for converting landfill waste into jet fuel will soon be constructed to the east of London, in Thurrock, at the ‘GreenSky’ plant, a partnership between British Airways (BA) and bioenergy firm Solena. Producing biofuel from waste also raises the alarm over the sheer volumes required. Initially utilising half a million tonnes of ‘waste’ annually, the plant is expected to provide just 2 per cent of BA’s fuel use. Furthermore, consigning vast amounts of organic matter to the waste stream for processing into biofuel precludes all kinds of possibilities for re-use, or recycling: wood could be re-used, some food waste could be used as animal feed, many types of organic matter could be composted to nourish crops.

As yet, there is no sign of technological advances that could achieve sustainable aviation biofuels. And burning vast amounts of biomass will only provide a small percentage of global jet fuel use, which stands at 5 million barrels per day. As recently as March, Boeing’s Sustainable Biofuel Strategy Director, Darrin Morgan stated: ‘It would be a significant milestone if we can get biofuels to one per cent of the total jet fuel demand.’ There must be an indefinite moratorium on aviation biofuels. In our resource constrained world, we must prioritise feeding people and conserving ecosystems.

Rose Bridger is the author of Plane Truth: Aviation’s Real Impact on People and the Environment, published by Pluto Press.

— source globaljustice.org.uk

First UPS U.S. Delivery eBike Debuts In Portland, Ore

UPS today announced its first eBike in the U.S. This new electrically-assisted tricycle began delivering packages in Portland, Ore., on November 21. UPS anticipates this eBike prototype could become a component of its delivery capabilities in some other cities across the country. The deployment of the eBike is part of UPS’s ongoing commitment to reduce carbon emissions as city populations and e-commerce grow, and traffic, noise and air quality challenges continue to rise.

— source pressroom.ups.com

Uber knows where you go, even after ride is over

As promised, Uber is now tracking you even when your ride is over. The ride-hailing service said the surveillance—even when riders close the app—will improve its service.

The company now tracks customers from when they request a ride until five minutes after the ride has ended. According to Uber, the move will help drivers locate riders without having to call them, and it will also allow Uber to analyze whether people are being dropped off and picked up properly—like on the correct side of the street.

Uber announced that it would make the change last year to allow surveillance in the app’s background, prompting a Federal Trade Commission complaint. (PDF) The Electronic Privacy Information Center said at the time that “this collection of user’s information far exceeds what customers expect from the transportation service. Users would not expect the company to collect location information when customers are not actively using the app.” The complaint went nowhere.

— source arstechnica.com

‘Traffic Jam’ in Brain Linked to Common Cognitive Disorder

Brain MRI could help improve the diagnosis of people with a common type of cognitive disorder, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.

Vascular cognitive disorder is caused by disease of the vessels supplying blood to the brain. Strokes and transient ischemic attacks, or ministrokes, are risk factors. The resulting loss of healthy brain tissue adversely affects concentration and decision making and leads to problems with planning and organizing. Prevalence of vascular cognitive disorder is increasing in the elderly, and it can be challenging to diagnose and differentiate from other forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease.

“If vascular cognitive disorder follows a major stroke, the cognitive impairment typically develops suddenly, and can thus be well recognized,” said study co-author Dewen Meng, M.Sc., from the University of Nottingham in Nottingham, England. “In the majority of cases such a clear association is lacking, explaining why the detection of vascular cognitive disorder remains challenging.”

A biomarker that could predict and track vascular cognitive disorder on imaging exams has yet to be found, although MRI measurements of the brain’s signal-carrying white matter are a promising area of research. Damage to the white matter can be assessed with diffusion tensor imaging, an MRI technique that provides two important measures of microscopic brain damage: mean diffusivity and fractional anisotropy. Increased mean diffusivity, which measures the movement of water through tissue, is particularly sensitive to the breakdown of nerve fibers in the brain and the protective coating around them.

For the new study, researchers assessed brain MRI and cognitive examination results from 108 patients with symptomatic carotid artery disease, a risk factor for vascular cognitive disorder. Of the 108 patients, 53 were cognitively impaired. Further analysis showed a clear correlation between cognitive performance and the presence of chronic vascular disease-related lesions within certain white matter tracts of the brain. White matter tract skeleton mean diffusivity showed the closest correlation with impaired cognitive performance, making it a promising tool for improved diagnostic accuracy of vascular cognitive disorder.

“Using standard clinical brain MRI, we found that microscopic damage of main white matter tracts allowed us to distinguish patients with symptomatic carotid artery disease and cognitive impairment from those who were cognitively intact,” said the study’s senior author, Dorothee P. Auer, Ph.D., from the University of Nottingham. “Our findings mean that a simple MRI test might improve the diagnostic work-up of people with suspected vascular cognitive disorder, and holds further promise to track progression of the disorder.”

The results suggest that a key mechanism of vascular cognitive disorder is subcortical disconnection, a kind of breakdown of communication within the large-scale cognitive neural networks.

Dr. Auer explained that the brain is functionally organized into networks that require efficient communication across specific brain regions. This communication depends on the information flow between the network nodes, not unlike the flow of passenger traffic through an extensive urban subway system. Subcortical disconnection suggests a disruption in connections between such cognitive nodes, impairing information flow and thus network coordination.

“The analogy would be a construction site at one of the main subway lines causing traffic disruptions,” Dr. Auer said.

The researchers plan to expand their studies and look at changes in patients over time to see if they can track the progression of subcortical disconnection.

“This will be a critical step in the quest for prevention of vascular dementia, by helping to identify those at risk, and by enabling imaging studies to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions,” Meng said.

The data used in the study is funded by National Institute for Health Research.

— source rsna.org