CLOSE
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

Portugal Ran on Only Renewable Energy for Four Days

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images

Portugal just passed a major milestone toward carbon neutrality. Between May 7 and May 11, the country ran its electric grid entirely on renewable energy, as reported by The Guardian and picked up by Gizmodo. Using just hydro, wind, and solar power, the country kept its grid up and running. 

Portugal has invested heavily in wind power over the last few years, with turbines providing 22 percent of the country’s electricity in 2015. Renewables on the whole provided 48 percent of the country’s power last year.

Previously, Portugal reported that it had used renewable energy for 70 percent of its energy needs in the first three months of 2013. Portugal isn’t the only country making major strides toward replacing its gas, oil, and coal use with renewables (though the most ambitious carbon-neutral plans have come from individual cities such as Copenhagen, which has plans to be carbon neutral by 2025). Countries like the UK and Sweden have already pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner, and the Netherlands recently introduced a plan to make all roads emissions-free by 2025. Germany ran its grid for a day using almost entirely renewable energy just a few days ago

However, some reports of carbon-neutrality progress have been overblown. Most recently, Costa Rica was lauded for running on 99 percent renewable energy in 2015. But that figure actually only applied to electricity generation, which makes up only 18 percent of the country’s energy use. Without getting rid of gas-guzzling vehicles and coal, it’s hard to really call a country carbon neutral. 

[h/t Gizmodo]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Scientists Accidentally Make Plastic-Eating Bacteria Even More Efficient
iStock
iStock

In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered a type of bacteria that eats non-biodegradable plastic. The organism, named Ideonella sakaiensis, can break down a thumbnail-sized flake of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the type of plastic used for beverage bottles, in just six weeks. Now, The Guardian reports that an international team of scientists has engineered a mutant version of the plastic-munching bacteria that's 20 percent more efficient.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Portsmouth in the UK didn't originally set out to produce a super-powered version of the bacteria. Rather, they just wanted a better understanding of how it evolved. PET started appearing in landfills only within the last 80 years, which means that I. sakaiensis must have evolved very recently.

The microbe uses an enzyme called PETase to break down the plastic it consumes. The structure of the enzyme is similar to the one used by some bacteria to digest cutin, a natural protective coating that grows on plants. As the scientists write in their study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they hoped to get a clearer picture of how the new mechanism evolved by tweaking the enzyme in the lab.

What they got instead was a mutant enzyme that degrades plastic even faster than the naturally occurring one. The improvement isn't especially dramatic—the enzyme still takes a few days to start the digestion process—but it shows that I. sakaiensis holds even more potential than previously expected.

"What we've learned is that PETase is not yet fully optimized to degrade PET—and now that we've shown this, it's time to apply the tools of protein engineering and evolution to continue to improve it," study coauthor Gregg Beckham said in a press statement.

The planet's plastic problem is only growing worse. According to a study published in 2017, humans have produced a total of 9 billion tons of plastic in less than a century. Of that number, only 9 percent of it is recycled, 12 percent is incinerated, and 79 percent is sent to landfills. By 2050, scientists predict that we'll have created 13 billion tons of plastic waste.

When left alone, PET takes centuries to break down, but the plastic-eating microbes could be the key to ridding it from the environment in a quick and safe way. The researchers believe that PETase could be turned into super-fast enzymes that thrives in extreme temperatures where plastic softens and become easier to break down. They've already filed a patent for the first mutant version of the enzyme.

[h/t The Guardian]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Moak Studio
arrow
Design
Coin-Operated Lamp Drives Home the Cost of Energy Consumption
Moak Studio
Moak Studio

You consume energy every time you switch on a light, and that ends up costing you, your power company, and the planet. This cost is easy to ignore when just a few minutes of light adds only cents to your electric bill, but over time, all that usage adds up. A new conceptual product spotted by Co.Design visualizes our energy consumption in a creative way.

Moak Studio presented their coin-operated Dina lamp at the Promote Design DIN Exhibition for Milan Design Week. To turn it on, users must first insert a medium-sized coin into a slot on the shade, whether it's a nickel, a quarter, or a euro. The coin fills in a gap in the lamp's circuitry, providing the conductive metal needed to light it. After switching the lamp off, users can flip a knob on the base to retrieve their coin.

The Dina lamp isn't meant to solve our global energy problems singlehandedly; rather, it's designed to get people to pause and think about the impact of their daily choices before they make them. But other strategies, like paying people to conserve energy rather than making them pay to use it, may be more effective when it comes to spurring real change.

Dina Lamp from MOAK Studio on Vimeo.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios