Cleaner jet fuel, city bees and more of the latest environmental news
The world as we know it is rapidly changing and it’s up to us to find greener solutions to ensure that planet Earth will remain liveable for generations to come. In this issue of Green Beat, we explore clean jet fuel alternatives, the impact of microplastics and other ways we as a society can help combat climate change.
Cleaner jet fuel
Air travel accounts for about 2 per cent of human carbon emissions. Biofuels are being researched as the way to power air travel into the future. Now a new study suggests that a plant known as pennycress or stinkweed (botanical name Thlaspi arvense) could make a greener jet fuel with fewer production-related environmental impacts than other biofuels. The study involved researchers estimating the environmental impact of growing pennycress, transporting it to a biorefinery and converting it to usable jet fuel. The environmental costs include fertiliser use, pesticide use, water consumption and energy costs required to harvest and transport the plant. The modelling showed that pennycress required half as much energy to produce jet fuel as do other sources such as canola and sunflower. The added advantage is that pennycress is a winter crop that can be grown between seasons of other crops so it does not divert use of agricultural land.
Green Beat Source: Applied Energy
Bee populations are currently threatened by a range of stressors including habitat loss, climate change, pesticides and invasive species. In a new study researchers sought to establish whether converting urban lots into green spaces to improve neighbourhoods might also benefit bees. The research encompassed community farms, gardens and green areas studied over three years. The results showed that urban green spaces surrounded by six or more connected hectares of green space and flowering fields created conditions most conducive to the conservation of native bees and wasps. These insects are important for pollination and pest control, two ecosystem services that benefit both rural farmland and the booming urban agricultural industry. Enhancing living conditions for bees in the city could help offset threats to their survival. This could be a viable land use for “legacy cities” where former industrial hubs have changed dramatically due to lost manufacturing industry and depopulation.
Green Beat Source: Conservation Biology
Cockatoos learn socially
Human children are proficient at learning socially; they copy skills from each other and adults. Animals tend to do less social learning, with most of their behaviour determined by genetics. However, in a new study researchers have found that sulphur-crested cockatoos do learn socially. Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country and cockatoos have been seen opening those bins to access the contents within. Researchers launched an online survey across Sydney to establish where this behaviour had been observed. The survey ran for two years and showed that bin-opening behaviour had spread rapidly. Results showed that the behaviour spread more rapidly to suburbs nearby than to those farther away. Additionally, birds in one suburb did all open the bins in the same way but the method differed from suburb to suburb. This suggests that the behaviour is learned by observing others and confirms that cockatoos are social learners.
Microplastic is megaproblem
Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5mm in size. Primary microplastics are added to things like personal care products, but larger plastic items like plastic bags can be broken down into microplastics. Until now, studies to test the impact of microplastics on marine life have mainly used clean, virgin plastics. However, in the marine environment microbes actually colonise the plastic that is present. In this new study researchers examined how much clean plastic would be ingested by oysters compared to plastic with an E. coli biofilm coating. The results showed that oysters contained 10 times more microplastics when exposed to plastics with the biofilm coating. This would be because it appears more like food to the oysters. According to the researchers this means that our food chain could contain more microplastic than previously estimated. That is bad news for the organisms ingesting the plastic and also for humans who ingest the organisms.
Source: Science of the Total Environment