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Archive for June, 2012

China plant resources need additional protections

Washington DC (SPX)
Sep 13, 2011

China needs to change where it sites its nature reserves and steer people out of remote rural villages toward cities to protect its valuable but threatened wild plant resources, according to an article published in the September issue of BioScience.

The article, by Weiguo Sang and Keping Ma of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Botany and Jan C. Axmacher of University College, London, lists seven strategic steps that are needed to secure the future of China’s wild plants, which the authors say are not effectively conserved by the country’s existing protected areas.

Many of those areas exist only on paper and are located far from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, where rare species are found in the largest numbers, according to Sang and his coauthors.

Protected area managers in many cases currently lack basic data about which plant species are present on their reserves and even the exact area and extent of the reserves. Consequently, the effects of China’s rapid economic development, the related spread of invasive species, and the growth of tourism could drive to extinction species that could be sources of future crops and medicine.

Apart from creating well-enforced reserves in appropriate areas and encouraging the rural poor, who often overexploit plant resources, to move into cities, China should develop accurate data on threats to its plant species, develop specific management and monitoring plans for the most threatened, and encourage sustainable eco-tourism that does not damage plants, the BioScience authors argue.

The country should also consider temporary protection of very rare species in botanical gardens and expand funding and training for traditional taxonomy, as well as experimental ecosystem laboratories and management.

Source: Seed Daily.
Link: http://www.seeddaily.com/reports/China_plant_resources_need_additional_protections_999.html.

Polymer from algae may improve battery performance

Clemson SC (SPX)
Sep 13, 2011

By looking to Mother Nature for solutions, researchers have identified a promising new binder material for lithium-ion battery electrodes that not only could boost energy storage, but also eliminate the use of toxic compounds now used to manufacture the components.

Known as alginate, the material is extracted from common, fast-growing brown algae. In tests so far, it has helped boost energy storage and output for both graphite-based electrodes used in existing batteries and silicon-based electrodes being developed for future generations of batteries.

The research, the result of collaboration between scientists and engineers at Clemson University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, will be reported Sept. 8 in Science Express, an online-only publication of the journal Science that publishes selected papers in advance of the journal. The project was supported by the two universities as well as by a Honda Initiation Grant and a grant from NASA.

“Making less-expensive batteries that can store more energy and last longer with the help of alginate could provide a large and long-lasting impact on the community,” said Gleb Yushin, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering.

“These batteries could contribute to building a more energy-efficient economy with extended-range electric cars, as well as cell phones and notebook computers that run longer on battery power – all with environmentally friendly manufacturing technologies.”

Working with Igor Luzinov at Clemson University, the scientists looked at ways to improve binder materials in batteries. The binder is a critical component that suspends the silicon or graphite particles that actively interact with the electrolyte that provides battery power.

“We specifically looked at materials that had evolved in natural systems, such as aquatic plants which grow in saltwater with a high concentration of ions,” said Luzinov, a professor in Clemson’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “Since electrodes in batteries are immersed in a liquid electrolyte, we felt that aquatic plants – in particular, plants growing in such an aggressive environment as saltwater – would be excellent candidates for natural binders.”

Finding just the right material is an important step toward improving the performance of lithium-ion batteries, which are essential to a broad range of applications, from cars to cell phones. The popular and lightweight batteries work by transferring lithium ions between two electrodes – a cathode and an anode – through a liquid electrolyte. The more efficiently the lithium ions can enter the two electrodes during charge and discharge cycles, the larger the battery’s capacity will be.

Existing lithium-ion batteries rely on anodes made from graphite, a form of carbon. Silicon-based anodes theoretically offer as much as a tenfold capacity improvement over graphite anodes, but silicon-based anodes so far have not been stable enough for practical use.

Among the challenges for binder materials are that anodes to be used in future batteries must allow for the expansion and contraction of the silicon nanoparticles and that existing electrodes use a polyvinylidene fluoride binder manufactured using a toxic solvent.

Alginates – low-cost materials that already are used in foods, pharmaceutical products, paper and other applications – are attractive because of their uniformly distributed carboxylic groups. Other materials, such as carboxymethyl cellulose, can be processed to include the carboxylic groups, but that adds to their cost and does not provide the natural uniform distribution of alginates.

The alginate is extracted from the seaweed through a simple soda-based (Na2CO3) process that generates a uniform material. The anodes then can be produced through an environmentally friendly process that uses a water-based slurry to suspend the silicon or graphite nanoparticles. The new alginate electrodes are compatible with existing production techniques and can be integrated into existing battery designs, Yushin said.

Use of the alginate may help address one of the most difficult problems limiting the use of high-energy silicon anodes. When batteries begin operating, decomposition of the lithium-ion electrolyte forms a solid electrolyte interface on the surface of the anode. The interface must be stable and allow lithium ions to pass through it, yet restrict the flow of fresh electrolyte.

With graphite particles, whose volume does not change, the interface remains stable. However, because the volume of silicon nanoparticles changes during operation of the battery, cracks can form and allow additional electrolyte decomposition until the pores that allow ion flow become clogged, causing battery failure. Alginate not only binds silicon nanoparticles to each other and to the metal foil of the anode, but they also coat the silicon nanoparticles themselves and provide a strong support for the interface, preventing degradation.

Thus far, the researchers have demonstrated that the alginate can produce battery anodes with reversible capacity eight times greater than that of today’s best graphite electrodes. The anode also demonstrates a coulombic efficiency approaching 100 percent and has been operated through more than 1,000 charge-discharge cycles without failure.

For the future, the researchers – who, in addition to Yushin and Luzinov, included Igor Kovalenko, Alexandre Magasinski, Benjamin Hertzberg and Zoran Milicev from Georgia Tech; and Bogdan Zdyrko and Ruslan Burtovyy from Clemson – hope to explore other alginates, boost performance of their electrodes and better understand how the material works.

Alginates are natural polysaccharides that help give brown algae the ability to produce strong stalks as much as 60 meters long. The seaweed grows in vast forests in the ocean and also can be farmed in wastewater ponds.

“Brown algae is rich in alginates and is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet,” said Luzinov, who also is a member of Clemson’s Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET). “This is a case in which we found all the necessary attributes in one place: a material that not only will improve battery performance, but also is relatively fast and inexpensive to produce and is considerably more safe than the some of the materials that are being used now.”

Source: Energy-Daily.
Link: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/Polymer_from_algae_may_improve_battery_performance_999.html.

Iran Inaugurates Controversial Nuclear Plant

By Jack Phillips
September 12, 2011

The launching of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant was inaugurated by Iranian officials on Monday, according to local media reports.

The plant was connected to Iran’s national grid earlier this month after several years of delays and officials told Tehran Times that it is generating around 40 percent of its power capacity. The plant will reach full capacity by the end of the year, officials said.

Iran coordinated a ceremony that was attended by local as well as Russian officials.

“The launch of Bushehr nuclear power plant is one of the most important events over the past three decades,” said Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Russia-based Rosatom company, according to IRNA.

However, International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano expressed concerns on Monday regarding Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

“Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran,” he said.

If the Islamic Republic cannot provide more transparency, it is not possible to “conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” Amano added.

Source: The Epoch Times.
Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/iran-inaugurates-controversial-nuclear-plant-61514.html.

Turkish PM Arrives in Egypt Amid Tense Environment

By Genevieve Long Belmaker & Aron Lamm
September 12, 2011

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Egypt as part of his “Arab Spring” tour of several countries. His visit comes on the heels of a deadly mass protest on Friday that led to the Israel’s entire diplomatic staff, including the ambassador, leaving Egypt. The mob, of which three died and about 1,000 were injured, broke into the Israeli embassy and an Egyptian police station in Cairo.

Erdogan’s last visit to Egypt was in January 2009, when he was there to consult over an Israeli military assault on Gaza. In the same year, then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited Istanbul. There had not been any other substantive high-level meetings the allies until this week.

The current visit also comes under the shadow of Turkey’s recent break in diplomatic relations with Israel over the death of nine Turkish passengers aboard a ship that was part of a flotilla bound for Gaza in mid-2010. Turkey wanted an apology and reparations for the families of the deceased.

Both Western and Arab journalists posted several messages on Twitter late Monday about Erdogan’s arrival in Cairo, reporting that a crowd of over 1,000 had gathered to welcome him.

Ivan Watson, an Istanbul-based CNN correspondent, Tweeted that “Crowd of 1000+ cheering Egyptians from Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo airport to greet Turkish PM Erdogan,” and “Cairo airport crowd holding signs saying ‘Muslim Brotherhood welcomes Erdogan.’”

Turkey has emphasized foreign relations in recent years under its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who has advocated for the country to play a more central role in the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus.

U.S.-based author and historian Srdja Trifkovic believes Turkey, a NATO member and currently negotiating European Union membership, is consciously but carefully navigating away from the West with the ultimate goal of forging its own power base.

“[Turkey’s] objective is to build up and cement [its] role as a regional power in its own right, fully independent of Washington and Brussels but always willing to act ‘multilaterally’ if Washington and Brussels go along with Ankara’s agenda,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Epoch Times.

Trifkovic argues that Turkey is no longer the compliant ally that NATO and the West believe it to be. While Turkey is playing along for now, “this is only postponing the day of reckoning … and the reigning team in Ankara is in my opinion fully reconciled to that.”

Source: The Epoch Times.
Link: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/world/turkish-pm-arrives-in-egypt-amid-tense-environment-61527.html.

Mauritania census spurs protests

2011-09-12

Police and demonstrators clashed Saturday in Nouakchott at a rally against the national census under way in Mauritania, Pana reported on Sunday (September 11th). Mauritanian human rights organizations AVOMM and OCVIDH are among the census opponents that claim it excludes the country’s black population. Expatriates also rallied against the census in Paris on Saturday. Protestors carried banners with the slogans “Stop Racism in Mauritania” and “Hands Off My Nationality”.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2011/09/12/newsbrief-05.

Mass grave discovered in Tripoli

2011-09-12

A mass grave was discovered Sunday (September 11th) on the ring road around Tripoli’s Souk al-Juma. Dr. Mohammed al-Tarhuni of the Libyan Interior Ministry’s forensic laboratory said there were up to 17 bodies buried within a “close distance”.

The Kadhafi regime forbade the burial of revolutionaries in known cemeteries. Witnesses said the bodies were buried on August 21st, one day after the liberation of Tripoli.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2011/09/12/newsbrief-01.

Latest Exoplanet Haul Includes Super Earth At Habitat Zone Edge

Geneva, Austria (SPX)
Sep 13, 2011

The HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile is the world’s most successful planet finder. The HARPS team, led by Michel Mayor (University of Geneva, Switzerland), has announced the discovery of more than 50 new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, including sixteen super-Earths.

This is the largest number of such planets ever announced at one time. The new findings are being presented at a conference on Extreme Solar Systems where 350 exoplanet experts are meeting in Wyoming, USA.

“The harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our Sun. And even better – the new results show that the pace of discovery is accelerating,” says Mayor.

In the eight years since it started surveying stars like the Sun using the radial velocity technique HARPS has been used to discover more than 150 new planets. About two thirds of all the known exoplanets with masses less than that of Neptune were discovered by HARPS. These exceptional results are the fruit of several hundred nights of HARPS observations.

Working with HARPS observations of 376 Sun-like stars, astronomers have now also much improved the estimate of how likely it is that a star like the Sun is host to low-mass planets (as opposed to gaseous giants). They find that about 40% of such stars have at least one planet less massive than Saturn. The majority of exoplanets of Neptune mass or less appear to be in systems with multiple planets.

With upgrades to both hardware and software systems in progress, HARPS is being pushed to the next level of stability and sensitivity to search for rocky planets that could support life. Ten nearby stars similar to the Sun were selected for a new survey. These stars had already been observed by HARPS and are known to be suitable for extremely precise radial velocity measurements. After two years of work, the team of astronomers has discovered five new planets with masses less than five times that of Earth.

“These planets will be among the best targets for future space telescopes to look for signs of life in the planet’s atmosphere by looking for chemical signatures such as evidence of oxygen,” explains Francesco Pepe (Geneva Observatory, Switzerland), the lead author of one of the recent papers.

One of the recently announced newly discovered planets, HD 85512 b, is estimated to be only 3.6 times the mass of the Earth and is located at the edge of the habitable zone – a narrow zone around a star in which water may be present in liquid form if conditions are right.

“This is the lowest-mass confirmed planet discovered by the radial velocity method that potentially lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the second low-mass planet discovered by HARPS inside the habitable zone,” adds Lisa Kaltenegger (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Boston, USA), who is an expert on the habitability of exoplanets.

The increasing precision of the new HARPS survey now allows the detection of planets under two Earth masses. HARPS is now so sensitive that it can detect radial velocity amplitudes of significantly less than 4 km/hour – less than walking speed.

“The detection of HD 85512 b is far from the limit of HARPS and demonstrates the possibility of discovering other super-Earths in the habitable zones around stars similar to the Sun,” adds Mayor.

These results make astronomers confident that they are close to discovering other small rocky habitable planets around stars similar to our Sun. New instruments are planned to further this search.

These include a copy of HARPS to be installed on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo in the Canary Islands, to survey stars in the northern sky, as well as a new and more powerful planet-finder, called ESPRESSO, to be installed on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in 2016. Looking further into the future also the CODEX instrument on the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will push this technique to a higher level.

“In the coming ten to twenty years we should have the first list of potentially habitable planets in the Sun’s neighborhood. Making such a list is essential before future experiments can search for possible spectroscopic signatures of life in the exoplanet atmospheres,” concludes Michel Mayor, who discovered the first-ever exoplanet around a normal star in 1995.

HARPS measures the radial velocity of a star with extraordinary precision. A planet in orbit around a star causes the star to regularly move towards and away from a distant observer on Earth.

Due to the Doppler effect, this radial velocity change induces a shift of the star’s spectrum towards longer wavelengths as it moves away (called a redshift) and a blueshift (towards shorter wavelengths) as it approaches. This tiny shift of the star’s spectrum can be measured with a high-precision spectrograph such as HARPS and used to infer the presence of a planet.

The results are being presented on 12 September 2011 at the conference on Extreme Solar Systems held at the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, USA.

A summary is presented in the following paper (in preparation): “The HARPS search for southern extra-solar planets, XXXIV – Occurrence, mass distribution and orbital properties of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets” to appear in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Latest_Exoplanet_Haul_Includes_Super_Earth_At_Habitat_Zone_Edge_999.html.

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