Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Dutch Designers Want to Turn Algae Into Greener Consumer Products

Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Brendan Landis, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

For the past several decades, plastic—often made from carbon dioxide-producing fossil fuels—has dominated our stores, homes, and landfills. Two Dutch designers propose a green alternative that can be found growing in your local pond. As Dezeen reports, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros believe their algae-derived biopolymer could one day replace petroleum-based plastic all together.

The pair developed the material after studying algae at various institutions in the Netherlands for three years. Following that period, they founded an open research and algae production lab at the Luma Foundation in Arles, France.

Once they cultivate the living algae, the designers then dry it and process it to make the moldable material. The polymer can be fed into special 3D printers that use it to churn out items like bowls and vases. Klarenbeek and Dros envision a future where communities have access to a network of these biopolymer 3D printers, which they call “the 3D Bakery.” Instead of purchasing goods that have been shipped across the world, consumers could stop into a store and “bake” their purchases from the algae-stocked 3D printer on site. They claim that dishware, trash cans, and shampoo bottles can be made this way.

The algae lab does more than eliminate the harmful CO2 byproducts from plastic production—it also purifies the air of existing CO2. Algae consumes the gas from the water and atmosphere as it grows while expelling clean oxygen. The result is a process that goes one step beyond zero emissions.

Klarenbeek and Dros aren’t the first people to think to replace plastic with organic algae. Designer Ari Jónsson successfully used the plant to make water bottles that biodegrade over time. The products coming out of the algae lab, on the other hand, are made to last longer. The design duo plans to start supplying their biopolymer to restaurants and catering companies within the city of Arles. To see how they harvest the raw algae used to make their products, check out the video below.

[h/t Dezeen]

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Air Quality in American National Parks and Big Cities Is Roughly the Same
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iStock

National parks usually have more vegetation, wildlife, and open spaces than urban areas, but the two don't look much different when it comes to air quality. As City Lab reports, a new study published in Science Advances found that U.S. national parks and the nation's largest cities have comparable ozone levels.

For their research, scientists from Iowa State University and Cornell University looked at air pollution data collected over 24 years from 33 national parks and the 20 most populous metro areas in the U.S. Their results show that average ozone concentrations were "statistically indistinguishable" between the two groups from 1990 to 2014.

On their own, the statistics look grim for America's protected areas, but they're actually a sign that environmental protection measures are working. Prior to the 1990s, major cities had higher ozone concentrations than national parks. At the start of the decade, the federal government passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in an effort to fight urban air pollution, and ozone levels have been declining ever since.

The average ozone in national parks did increase in the 1990s, but then in 1999 the EPA enacted the Regional Haze Rule, which specifically aims to improve air quality and visibility in national parks. Ozone levels in national parks are now back to the levels they were at in 1990.

Ground-level ozone doesn't just make America's national parks harder to see: It can also damage plants and make it difficult for human visitors to breathe. Vehicles, especially gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, are some of the biggest producers of the pollutant.

[h/t City Lab]

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India's Supreme Court Demands That the Taj Mahal Be Restored or Demolished
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iStock

The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognizable monuments on Earth, but over the years it's started to look less like its old self. Smog and insect droppings are staining the once pure-white marble exterior an unseemly shade of yellow. Now, The Art Newspaper reports that India's Supreme Court has set an ultimatum: It's threatening to shut down or demolish the building if it's not restored to its former glory.

Agra, the town where the Taj Mahal is located, has a notorious pollution problem. Automobile traffic, factory smoke, and the open burning of municipal waste have all contributed to the landmark's increasing discoloration. Insects and acid rain also pose a threat to the facade, which is already crumbling away in some parts.

India's highest court now says the country's central government must seek foreign assistance to restore the UNESCO World Heritage Site if it's to remain open. Agra's state of Uttar Pradesh has taken some steps to reduce pollution in recent years, such us banning the burning of cow dung, which produces heavy brown carbon. In 2015, India's Supreme Court ordered all wood-burning crematoriums near the Taj Mahal to be swapped for electric ones.

But the measures haven't done enough to preserve the building. A committee led by the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpu reportedly plans to investigate the exact sources of pollution in the area, a process that will take about four months. The Supreme Court plans check in on the status of site every day from July 31.

Air pollution isn't the only factor damaging the Taj Mahal. It was constructed near the Yamuna River in the 17th century, and as the water gradual dries up, the ground beneath the structure is shifting. If the trend continues it could lead to the building's total collapse.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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