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Ships that eat plastic. Electric planes are ready. Are gas stations killing us?

Stories from a Blue Planet: Bob Kihslinger

photo of the manta ship that harvests sea plastics
Manta at sea

Ships that eat plastic

I have a couple of videos for you that you will enjoy. I did. The first shows an ocean-going vessel that creates its own fuel from ocean waste it picks up and recycles the rest. It’s called the Manta and is a truly an example of recycling innovation and ingenuity.

It roams they ocean sucking up trash on a conveyor belt separating the metal and plastics. It immediately converts the plastics to fuel that powers the ship and stores the metals for recycling when it gets back to shore. You must see it to appreciate the whole concept.

Then, there is the river version of plastic eating ships. It’s called an “interceptor” and cruises the river autonomously sucking up river trash and depositing into six large bins that are removed each night. The idea is to capture all the waste before it hits the ocean. If you are looking to invest some money, they are looking for partners.

electric air plane in flight
Electric Airplane

When will you fly in your first electric plane?

Nova produced a marvelous segment on the future of airplanes in the age of climate change. I think you would find it fascinating. Let me give you the short, down and dirty version of the conclusions they reached.

Cars and Taxis: There are dozens of companies racing to get approval for their drone-like flying machines designed to transport people around town. These are not concepts for the future. They exist today. They have been built and tested and are awaiting FDA approval to go into production. The goal is to compete with the car you buy and the taxi you use. Expect to see them in the next year or two.

Short haul aircraft: For short trips of two hundred miles or less you will be flying in battery powered, electric engine airplanes. Again, there are dozens of companies racing to get FDA approval for their products. The advantages of electric flight are compelling. They are quiet, less costly to operate and maintain, and extremely reliable. They will be here and operating by the thousands in this decade.

Medium flight airliners: For flights between 200 and 2,000 miles that carry 100 to 150 people the challenge is more robust. The weight of batteries makes it unrealistic to fly such an airplane electrically. Hydrogen is an answer but while hydrogen provides immense power and can perform well over great distances, it doesn’t provide the immediate energy surge required for takeoff. The answer is a hybrid. Planes are being developed that use electric engines for takeoff and hydrogen powered engines during flight and landings. While these prototypes are being built it may take a bit longer to get into production than smaller planes.

For trips longer than 2,000 miles we will have to wait. However, the fact that electric and hydrogen planes appear to be less costly to produce, fly and maintain means they are sure as hell going to get built.

The name of the NOVA program is called The Great Electric Plane Race and is available on PBS.

lonely gas station
Ethan Cull - Unsplash

How hazardous are gas stations?

Here’s something I never thought about. Are gas stations hazardous to your health? Then I bumped into a wonderful little podcast about that very thing. The podcast series is called “People, Places, Planet” and is produced by the Environmental Law Institute out of Washington D.C.

What started out as a study on gasoline by the non-profit Coltura turned into an examination of gas stations the “tentacles” of the oil industry. Unlike pipelines that garner most of the environmentalist ire, gas pumps are open to the atmosphere and spewing toxic fumes 24/7. There are between 115,000 and 125,000 gas stations in the US depending on who is counting. Yet, they largely go unnoticed.

Little is written about the environmental impact of gas stations and the law is sparce as well. However, the threat to health is clear. The vapor from gasoline at the pump contains the carcinogen Benzene and it has been measured up to 160 meters from the station. Underground storage tanks have a life of 20 to 35 years before they start leaking. Those few drops you leak when you pump gas can add up to 70 to 2,000 gallons a year depending on the size of the station. Add to that the piping and fixtures that could go bad and you have a formula for contaminated ground water.

In some of our cities half the emissions are from gasoline. I guess there is more than one reason to wear a mask now a days.

Here is a link to the 20 minute podcast.


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