London has reached its yearly pollution limit in just 8 days

  At 7am on Friday, London officially breached the pollution limits set by the European Union for the entirety of 2016, making this the fifth year in a row that the city has significantly overshot the stipulated limits for toxic nitrogen-dioxide gas (NO2) pollution. The fact that London used up its yearly pollution limit in a week isn’t just bad news for the environment. Regularly inhaling NO2 pollution – much of which comes from diesel fuels – has been linked to respiratory and heart problems, and according to a report by King’s College London for the local mayor’s office, it contributed to 5,900 premature deaths in London in 2010. “This is exactly why we are taking the Government back to court,” said Alan Andrews, a lawyer for UK environmental law group, Client Earth. “Its failure to deal with illegal levels of air pollution, which causes thousands of early deaths in London every year, is a scandal.” Under EU law, various sites in London are given an hourly limit of 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air, and they’re only permitted to breach those limits 18 times in a year. But, as Adam Vaughan at The Guardian reports, Putney High Street in West London breached its hourly limit for the 19th time on Friday morning, with Chelsea and Kensington following close behind. “Oxford Street has almost certainly also broken the limit already, having breached the hourly level a thousand times last year, but the monitoring station has malfunctioned,” Vaughan writes. Altogether, 291 square kilometres of London reached their annual limit for NO2 pollution in a week, which means some... read more

Denmark just installed environmentally friendly traffic lights that give priority to bikes and buses

  You might not think much about it during your daily commute, but the timings of traffic lights play a big role in how quickly you get from A to B, and in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, authorities have shifted things in favor of buses and bicycles. Their new programmable, ‘smart’ traffic lights are now giving automatic priority to these more environmentally friendly modes of transport. It’s officially called the Intelligent Transport Systems Action Plan, and the aim is obvious: making your journey quicker if you’re on public transport or a bike. If the local government can tempt more people out of their cars, they’ll be well on their way to meeting their target of making Copenhagen a carbon-neutral city by 2025. All the installed lights will be connected to the Web, collecting and analyzing data and feeding it back to a central dashboard. An upgrade is well overdue too. The existing traffic lights have been in place for 35 years, and they’re about to be replaced by 380 intelligent signals across the metropolis. It’s part of a 47 million kroner (about US$7 million) overhaul that should benefit car passengers as well, because of smoother traffic flow – just not as much as bus travellers or cyclists. Bus passengers should see a 5 to 20 percent reduction in their travel times, according to city officials, while cyclists can expect to complete their journeys 10 percent quicker, on average. What’s more, Copenhagen buses are going to be reporting back their position to the main grid, so the lights know where each vehicle is and can make adjustments accordingly (if your... read more

Spanish researchers are developing bladeless wind turbines

  A Spanish company called Vortex Bladeless has come up with bladeless wind turbine technology that seeks to provide more energy for less, and address the criticisms aimed at traditional wind farms – particularly where wildlife is concerned. With blades that spin at speeds of more than 320 km/h (200 miles/hour), wind turbines haven’t been the best news for the birds that live around them. While for the most part, the damage is fairly minimal, one wind farm in particular, Altamont Pass in California, US, has drawn the ire of local residents because of the 1,300 birds of prey – including eagles, falcons, hawks – that are killed each year as they try to migrate through it. And keeping all those heavy blades spinning that fast indefinitely? Well, it’s no easy task, and certainly not cheap, energy-wise. According to Vortex Bladeless, just by ditching the blades – and all moving parts, in fact – they will save around 40 percent of the energy cost of regular wind turbines, largely by cutting down on maintenance costs. “Since the Vortex doesn’t have moving parts or gears, it should last longer and it won’t require periodic lubrication,” Dante D’Orazio from The Verge reports. “The simpler design also means that manufacturing costs are about half that of a traditional wind turbine.” D’Orazio adds that the bladeless turbines are estimated to harvest approximately 30 percent less energy, but because they’re basically just sticks now, you can cram a whole lot more of them into the space of a regular wind turbine. Plus these things are completely silent, so no one can claim instances of... read more

Scientists are developing the world’s biggest wind turbine

While other technologies are getting smaller and smaller with each passing day, wind turbines are going in the opposite direction, because in order for them to make enough power, they need to harness more wind. Following this logic, researchers are taking turbines to a seemingly impossible scale by giving them blades that are 200 metres (656 feet) long. As Rob Nikolewski reports for the LA Times, the new turbine will reach 479 metres (1,574 feet) into the sky – a height that’s 30 metres (100 feet) taller than the Empire State Building. To keep it stable, the structure would have a diameter of roughly 400 metres (1,312) feet. This is the type of stuff that Don Quixote has nightmares about. According to the team, the size of the turbine isn’t the only thing that separates their design from past models. One of the biggest differences is that this new turbine wouldn’t face the wind. Instead, it would face downwind to allow easier flow. Which makes total sense – why fight against the energy you’re harvesting? The 200-metre blades, which are almost too large to conceive of, would have segments that can spread out in light wind and tighten up in strong winds. Besides collecting more wind at all times, the segmented design, dubbed Segmented Ultralight Morphing Rotors, makes building and transporting the blades way easier than single-framed blades. Imagine trying to transport a blade that’s roughly two football fields long – not an easy task. If everything goes the way they plan, the turbine could generate up to 50 megawatts of electricity – 25 times more energy than a traditional wind... read more