Archive for September, 2012

September 20, 2012

Biodiversity and Our Health

Do you think that the loss of biodiversity, the extinction of animals or the disappearance of plants won’t affect our everyday life significantly? Have you thought about how many things we use on a daily basis actually depend on these? Did you know that for example the most important everyday medicines are derived from plants, so you may not be able to get an aspirin if they disappear?

About 50,000 to 70,000 plant species are used for both traditional and modern medicine, and according to some sources half of all synthetic drugs are of natural origin. There are currently about 120 chemical substances from plants, which are used in various important drugs. Modern medicine made from plants are used for the treatment of diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions, with about 42 per cent of anti-cancer ones coming from natural sources. Some common drugs derived from plants include aspirin, atropine, digoxin, ephedrine, morphine, and
quinine – amongst many others.

Traditional medicine is still used by about 60 per cent of the world’s population and it’s very significant in many local healthcare systems, like in China.

As an example, the drug zinconotide is developed from the peptides of cone snails, who live in the endangered South Asian coral reefs. This medicine is great for treating cancer patients’ pain, for whom the generally used opium is not effective any more. With the disappearance of their habitat, the coral reefs, these animals may also be in danger and so is the medicine.

The Australian southern gastric brooding frogs on the other hand have already become extinct. They would have been very useful for the research into stomach ulcer, as the female frogs raised their babies inside their stomach, but this opportunity is now gone.

And not only the frogs and cone snails but also many other animals, even bears, sharks, horseshoe crabs are threatened by the loss of biodiversity, which might hold secrets for combating various diseases.

Understanding what serious consequences biodiversity loss could hold for us may help us realise that we should take care of all plants and animals, as they may eventually save our lives.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

September 10, 2012

A New Way to ‘Recycle’ Paper

Traditional paper recycling may take weeks including collection, delivery to the plant as well as the process itself. Would it not be easier if we could just recycle the paper in our homes or in the office directly?

Researchers at Cambridge University are now investigating the options to erase ink from printed paper, so they can be re-used immediately on the spot. They have tested several lasers at removing or rather vapourising toner from the paper and successfully managed to do so without damaging the paper. What’s more, a paper can be used up to five times.

‘Unprinting’ can thus not only save time and money but also save fresh water, electricity and reduce carbon emissions, which would be generated by the recycling industry.

While the Cambridge-based scientists used conventional paper with conventional ink, Toshiba developed its erasable toner system in 2003, which may soon come to Europe. The e-Blue ink fades if heated to above 130 Celsius degrees, but is currently only available in blue. Japanese companies who already able to test the solution managed to save about 40-60 per cent on paper usage. According to some data it takes about two hours to erase about 200 pages with this system. Due to issues with high power consumption and being very expensive, Toshiba is now working on more favourable successors.

Disappearing ink has already been tested as well. A few years ago, Xerox was working on an ink that would disappear after 16-24 hours, which could be ideal for industries, where printed materials are not needed for longer than this. One of the best applications may be the printed daily menus of restaurants.

With so many different research projects on how to avoid the lengthy and energy-intensive process of paper recycling, hopefully in the near future we will be able to easily recycle our own paper. The best solution however still may be to think before printing.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

September 1, 2012

Should We Be Burning Our Nuclear Waste?

GE-Hitachi have recently announced their plan to build a so-called Prism fast reactor, which could help in the disposal of nuclear waste – by burning it.

According to some statistics there are a hundred tonnes of plutonium waste in the UK, which is currently converted into mixed-oxide fuel (Mox). This fuel is burnt afterwards in a water-cooled reactor, this process is a bit more complicated and less efficient. Mox is widely used in France but the factory in Sellafield, UK, was ordered to close down last year.

The PRISM-type fast-breeder reactors were considered to only be available in the distant future, but GE-Hitachi have already drawn up a feasibility study, which is being reviewed right now. According to company experts, it could be ready in only five years after licensing, and this solution allows the extraction of rather large amounts of energy from the nuclear waste, and it’s cheaper than the Mox technology. Furthermore, this type of disposal would mean that there is no need to bury it deep underground.

Radioactive waste is created in many industries, and its treatment varies based on its half life. Some only need to be stored for hours or days but some have thousands of years of half life, thus it is important to find a good solution for their storage. Throughout the years there have been several options and ideas, which may not be appropriate any more. Many countries used to dispose of nuclear waste in oceans, which is now forbidden, but there were suggestions to keep them in the ice sheets or in outer space, as well.

Promising solutions, like the PRISM reactor, may help the treatment of dangerous nuclear waste but the question and controversy regarding nuclear energy still remains.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse 

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