Company pioneers plant-based plastic bottles

New bottles made from corn, wheat and beets to replace plastic bottles starting in 2023.

Avantium, a renewable chemicals company based in the Netherlands, announced it has developed plastic bottles made solely from plant products and that Coca Cola, world food producer Danone, and Carlsberg, a beer-making company, plan to use the new bottles.

Tom van Aken, Avantium CEO, plans to reveal partnerships with additional food and beverage distribution companies this summer and is seeking major investment into the new product by year’s end.

The new bio-plastic, which is strong enough to hold carbonated beverages, will be made via sugars from corn, beets, and wheat. While the company will initially produce 5,000 tons of the plastic each year, that amount is expected to increase with growing demand.

Carlsberg plans to sell its pilsner beer in cardboard bottles lined with plant plastic.

Eventually, Avantium hopes to make the plastic from sustainably sourced bio-waste, to prevent the harm depletion of plants would do to the global food chain.

Van Aken said development of the plant plastic is not being slowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Plastic pollution has caused major damage to ocean life, and it is produced using fossil fuels, which worsen climate change. Currently, approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year.

“This plastic has very attractive sustainability credentials because it uses no fossil fuels, and can be recycled–but would also degrade in nature much faster than normal plastics do,” he said.

In contrast to fossil fuel-based microplastics, which take several hundred years to completely decompose, plant plastic decomposes in just one year with use of a composter and only several more years without one, Van Akers stated.

Unlike most standard plastics, which are not recycled, Van Akers said he hopes most plant plastic products will be recycled.

The bio-plastic will be made by breaking down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical formations that can be manipulated into a plastic form without use of fossil fuels, he explained.

Current expectation is that the new plastic will be fully in use by 2023.

Carbon capture is key to meeting climate goals

Large-scale underground storage of carbon dioxide could help thwart the worst effects of global warming.

Capturing and storing just 2,700 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide underground would make it possible for the world to keep global warming below the critical threshold of two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels by 2100.

That is the finding of a new study conducted by scientists at the Imperial College in London and published in the latest edition of the journal Energy and Environmental Science.

The current rate of carbon capture and storage, known as CCS, is on track to meet the goal of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to hold the line to less than two degrees warming over pre-industrial levels by century’s end.

Previously, scientists had overestimated the amount of carbon storage needed to meet the above goal, citing the need to sequester 10,000 Gt of carbon dioxide to hold the line on global warming.

Carbon capture works by trapping carbon dioxide in the location where it is emitted and storing it underground where it cannot be released into the atmosphere.

In order to meet the goal of holding the line on global temperature increase to prevent catastrophic climate change, the current rate at which carbon dioxide is being stored must be upheld without delays, the study warns. Research to identify additional underground locations where carbon dioxide can be stored must actively continue.

According to Christopher Zahasky of Imperial’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the world’s capacity to store carbon dioxide underground has increased 8.6 percent over the last 20 years.

If carbon capture is conducted at this rate alongside other methods of emission reductions, such as increased use of renewable forms of energy, more energy efficiency, and powering public transportation electrically, the world could meet the crucial IPCC target, something many doubted as being attainable.

“Nearly all IPCC pathways to limit warming to two degrees Celsius require tens of gigatons of CO2 stored per year by mid-century. However, until now, we didn’t know if these targets were achievable given historic data, or how these targets related to subsurface storage space requirements,” Zahasky said.

“We found that even the most ambitious scenarios are unlikely to need more than 2,700 Gt of CO2 storage resource globally, much less than the 10,000 Gt of storage resource that leading reports suggest is possible. Our study shows that if climate change targets are not met by 2100, it won’t be for a lack of carbon capture and storage space.”

Global warming causing more powerful hurricanes

The number of hurricanes are increasing and global warming is to blame, say scientists.

Hurricanes are getting stronger as the world gets warmer, according to a new analysis.

Studying how hurricanes have changed over decades is difficult. The technological tools scientists use to study them changes constantly, making comparisons from different time periods hard to correlate. While research has generally suggested that global warming would result in more powerful and erratic hurricanes, it has been difficult to document with any degree of scientific certainty. Until now, that is.

A new study of hurricanes published May 18, 2020 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covers a period of 39 years from 1979 to 2017. Looking at the entire four-decade span and normalizing the data, researchers found a clear trend: storms are getting stronger and major tropical cyclones are occurring more frequently.

The 39-year period of the study overlaps a period when climate change has dramatically accelerated, according to reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The earth’s temperature has increased each year in the past 39 years, including eight of the 10 warmest ever recorded. 2018 and 2019, too recent to be included in the study, were also the warmest on record.

“The main hurdle we have for finding trends is that the data are collected using the best technology at the time,” James Kossin, a NOAA scientist and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, said in a statement. “Every year the data are a bit different than last year, each new satellite has new tools and captures data in different ways, so in the end we have a patchwork quilt of all the satellite data that have been woven together.”

To create a consistent record, researchers removed the edges from newer, sharper tropical cyclone images to fit an older standard: images where each pixel represents a 5 square mile area (8 sq/km), taken once every three hours. They also excluded newer satellite images of storms using angles not available in 1998. The remaining dataset includes roughly 225,000 similar-quality images of some 4,000 global tropical cyclones stretching back to the 1980s.

Using the images of tropical cyclones to estimate wind intensity, measured in kilotons, researchers found that the chances of a tropical cyclone becoming a hurricane (sustained winds of 74 mph/119 km/h or higher) have increased significantly over the past 40 years. In addition, the odds of major hurricanes (100-knot storms) have gone up by about 15%, with most of that increase occurring in the last 19 years of the 39-year study period.

Earth has a second (tiny) moon, astronomers say

The asteroid, dubbed 2020 CD3, measures just 6 feet across and 11 feet long.

Our planet got a new moon in the last few years, albeit a very small one, according to astronomers at the University of Arizona. The researchers said that they caught sight earlier this month of an asteroid circling the Earth and that it appears to have been orbiting Earth continuously since brushing by our planet three years ago.

The asteroid, dubbed 2020 CD3, measures just 6 feet across and 11 feet long. Kacper Wierzchos, a researcher with the university’s Catalina Sky Survey, tweeted that he and Catalina Sky Survey teammate Teddy Pruyne spotted the asteroid the night of Feb. 15

While the asteroid may not sound like much size-wise, Wierzchos said that the discovery is a “big deal” in astronomy history: This is “just the second asteroid known to orbit Earth.”

The first asteroid to get caught in Earth’s orbit is 2006 RH120, also discovered by the Catalina Sky Survey. This asteroid passes by Earth every few decades but drew close enough to be captured by Earth’s gravitational field in June 2006. It stayed in orbit until September 2007, when it resumed its orbital path through the solar system.

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, which collects data on asteroids, comets, and moons in our solar system, officially catalogued the asteroid and said that observations “indicate that this object is temporarily bound to Earth.”

There are no firm estimates of how long this new asteroid will be in Earth’s grasp, but more observations of it will continue in the coming weeks and months, the Catalina Sky Survey announced. The survey is funded by NASA and aims to search space in order to track near-Earth objects, particularly those that could pose a threat to Earth.

Scientists unearth evidence of ancient human ‘ghost population’

Around 124,000 years ago, this population bred with the ancestors of modern west Africans.

An unknown ancient population of early humans that vanished without leaving any traceable fossils may be the source of some of our present-day DNA, according to California geologists. The geologists, using software analyses of human genomes, have identified much of modern west African humans’ genes as coming from a “ghost population” that lived in western Africa around 500,000 years ago.

This ghost population would have mingled and bred with other human populations and given rise to the hominids that became the modern humans of western Africa, the geologists suggest. They compare it to similar hypothesized interbreeding that may have occurred among Neanderthals and ancient hominids in Europe tens of thousands of years ago.

The researchers analyzed genomes of present-day west Africans and found that as much as a fifth of their DNA may have come from this ghost populations. There were no traceable fossils to study, but the researchers traced the population from gene sequences that appeared in the modern-day genomes and differed from modern genes.

“In the west Africans we looked at, all have ancestry from this unknown archaic population,” said Sriram Sankararaman, a computational biologist who led the research at the University of California in Los Angeles. “They seem to have made a pretty substantial impact on the genomes of the present day individuals we studied.”

Sankararaman and colleagues think that this ghost population split from ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans between 1 million and 360,000 years ago. Then around 124,000 years ago, this population bred with the ancestors of modern west Africans.

Massive Earthquake Knocks Out Puerto Rico’s Electric Grid Again

Puerto Rico lost power again this week due to an earthquake.

Puerto Rico is facing an island-wide blackout again, this time due to an earthquake, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said Tuesday. The agency reported that an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude struck the island between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., and that it comes on the coattails of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that already hit the island Monday and caused power outages to all of the island’s southern areas.

“The magnitude 6.4 earthquake was widely felt,” states a USGS press release, which adds that “strong to very strong shaking occurred across parts of Southern Puerto Rico closest to the event and moderate shaking occurred across the rest of the island.”

More aftershocks may continue in days to come, the agency warned.

This power outage took place two years after Hurricane Maria, which caused months of power outages across the island. Some areas continue to cope with damage caused by this hurricane.

Eight homes in the municipality of Yauco were destroyed, and the town of Guanica suffered mild damage. Several power plants across the island also incurred damage, but the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said that it plans to have power restored by this afternoon.

Puerto Rico is at risk of earthquakes as it is squeezed between two large tectonic plates–the North America and Caribbean plates–according to USGS. The agency reported that hundreds of small earthquakes had taken place within the region, leading up to the major Tuesday earthquake.

The island has not had an earthquake with a magnitude topping 6 in more than 40 years, however, since a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that hit the island in 1970. This earthquake is also the second-worst in the island’s history: The record goes to a 7.7 quake in 1943.

Archaeologists unearth long-lost Aztec tower of skulls

The tower was described in contemporary accounts of the Spanish conquistadores when they captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which later became Mexico City.

Archaeologists digging in Mexico City have unearthed the long-fabled Huey Tzompantli — a tower of human skulls thought to measure about 200 feet in diameter.

The tower was described in contemporary accounts of the Spanish conquistadores when they captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which later became Mexico City.

The tower is located at the edge of the Templo Mayor, an edifice dedicated to the Aztec god of sun, war, and human sacrifice, according to a report by The Atlantic.

In the account of Andres de Tapia, a Spanish follower of Hernan Cortes during his conquest of Mexico in 1521, the tower was constructed of tens of thousands of skulls “placed on a very large theater made of lime and stone, and on the steps of it were many heads of the dead stuck in the lime with the teeth facing outward.”

What the archaeologists did not expect to find were so many skulls belonging to women and children. Researchers previously believed that young male warriors were mostly chosen as sacrificial victims. As a result, the discovery is raising new questions about the Aztec Empire’s culture of human sacrifice.

“We were expecting just men,” said Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist working on the dig, in a report by Reuters, adding, “Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”

So far, researchers have discovered more than 650 skulls that were covered in lime to cement them together. Only a quarter of the excavation is completed.

100-year-old fruitcake found in Antarctica in ‘excellent condition’

Conservators with the Antarctic Heritage Trust, based in New Zealand, recently found the fruitcake in a hut at Cape Adare, the oldest building in Antarctica.

A team excavating Cape Adare in Antarctica, where British explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s party took shelter during their 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition, has stumbled on a century-old fruitcake in such good condition that it looks and smells almost edible.

Conservators with the Antarctic Heritage Trust, based in New Zealand, recently found the fruitcake in a hut at Cape Adare — the oldest building in Antarctica.

Although the tin the cake came in, manufactured by British biscuit company Huntley & Palmers, was in poor condition, the cake itself seemed almost as if it had been bought yesterday.

“With just two weeks to go on the conservation of the Cape Adare artifacts, finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake in amongst the last handful of unidentified and severely corroded tins was quite a surprise,” said Programme Manager-Artefacts Lizzie Meeks, in a statement. “It’s an ideal high-energy food for Antarctic conditions, and is still a favorite on modern trips to the Ice.”

Scott and his four-person team arrived at the South Pole in 1912, but all died while returning to their base camp on Cape Evans, according to National Geographic.

Conservators have been excavating artifacts at Cape Adare since 2016. The hut where they found the fruitcake was built by Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink’s team in 1899.

“Fruitcake is not something that people usually get excited about, but this discovery shows what a spectacular environment for historic preservation the Antarctic is,” wrote Stephanie Barczewski, a historian at Clemson University, in an email to National Geographic.

‘Snowball Earth’ may have helped give rise to Earth’s first animals

Those new conditions perfectly allowed algae to spread across the globe. That then created the burst of energy needed for more complex organisms to thrive.

A group of researchers led by scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have shed light on the mystery of how animals first appeared on Earth, a recent study published in the journal Nature reports.

The team began their researcher after uncovering ancient sedimentary rocks in central Australia. While researchers had previously been aware of such formations, new technology helped them look into the stones in a way that was not possible in the past. After looking into the rocks, scientists crushed them into powder and took molecules from the long-dead organisms inside them. This analysis revealed algae first began to rise some 650 million years ago.

That finding is important because, not only does it give a more concrete timeline of when multi-celled organisms first appeared on Earth, but it also sheds light on one of the most important ecological revolutions in the history of the world. In fact, without that event modern animals — including humans — would not exist today.

“Before all of this happened, there was a dramatic event 50 million years earlier called Snowball Earth,” said lead author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at the Australian National University, according to Phys.org. “The Earth was frozen over for 50 million years. Huge glaciers ground entire mountain ranges to powder that released nutrients, and when the snow melted during an extreme global heating event rivers washed torrents of nutrients into the ocean.”

Those new conditions perfectly allowed algae to spread across the globe. That then created the burst of energy needed for more complex organisms to thrive. It was also the first time the oceans were dominated by life other than bacteria.

This discovery is the first evidence that Snowball Earth was directly evolved in the evolution of large and complex life. Researchers hope it will lead to further research into the origins of animals and spur other studies on one of the world’s oldest mysteries.

“The reason why [the timeline] is so exciting is it is just before animals appeared and also exciting because it happened after the biggest climatic catastrophe in Earth’s history,” added Brocks, according to ABC Online.

The findings will be presented this week at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris, France.

99-million-year-old baby bird found trapped in amber

The fossilized hatchling was a member of the bird group known as enantiornithes, which disappeared along with dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

About a 100 million years ago, a newly hatched baby bird fell into a puddle of tree sap. Now, scientists say the specimen is the most complete fossil ever found preserved in Burmese amber.

The discovery is detailed in the journal Gondwana Research.

“It’s the most complete and detailed view we’ve ever had,” said co-author Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, in a report by New Scientist. “Seeing something this complete is amazing. It’s just stunning.”

The fossilized hatchling was a member of the bird group known as enantiornithes, which disappeared along with dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.

About half of the hatchling’s body is preserved in the three-inch chunk of amber, including its head, skin, wings, and feathers, according to National Geographic. A clawed foot also is visible.

Although the baby bird had a complete set of flight feathers on its wings, the plumage on its body was sparse and resembles therapod dinosaur feathers, scientists say. Nevertheless, the presence of flight feathers suggests that enantiornithes had the ability to fly from birth and so were less dependent on their parent than modern birds.

CT imaging of the specimen revealed its extraordinary preservation, according to research team co-leader Lida Xing of the China University of Geosciences, who said she originally thought they had just some feathers and a pair of feet.

“The surprise continued when we started examining the distribution of feathers and realized that here were translucent sheets of skin that connected many of the body regions appearing in the CT scan data,” said McKellar in the National Geographic report.