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NRES 439 Environment and Sustainable Development

Welcome to the blog of NRES 439 Environment and Sustainable Development in Fall 2021! When a student in NRES 439 encounters an article, podcast, film, advertisement, and other artifacts related to sustainability, they may choose to write a post about it, explaining it in the context of the course and tying it to course concepts. 

blog posts

  • Leather Alternatives in a Circular Economy

    Agricultural waste products can be implemented as a novel leather alternative. 

  • Moving Towards a Circular Fashion Economy

    This article discusses how wasteful Americans are with their clothing. It then goes into how bad fast fashion really is, and how we need to have a more circular clothing industry. this relates to class because we discussed how impactful a circular economy is, so in turn, a circular fashion industry would be helpful as well!

  • Lomi, the Kitchen Composter

    Made by Pela, the Lomi home kitchen composter presents a unique angle on waste reduction and circularity.

  • The Sixth Mass Extinction

    The earth is in its sixth mass extinction. The last one took out the dinosaurs. 

  • Sustainable Packaging Research

    I came across the company MetGen when researching developments in sustainable packaging. Packaging is something that has always bothered me, whether it be amazon boxes or plastic bags, I have always thought packaging was an area with huge growth potential sustainability-wise. MetGen is a biotechnology company based in Southern Finland. They have been studying a mix of enzymes from wood and bark in hopes to replace oil-based materials in packaging. A dependence on oil is devastating to our environment and economy. In addition to moving away from dependence on oil for packaging, the wood and bark enzymes make the packaging biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable. This could mean major progress in eliminating waste from landfills. MetGen won the “Innovation Radar Prize” in 2021, and received a European Commission funding grant of 13 million euros. The prize is awarded to the most innovative companies within the EU, and are based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. With much recognition and continued funding, MetGen is sure to be a company to watch in making advancements to benefit the environment and have positive implications far beyond our waste footprint. The company is currently operating in  Europe, but has listed on their website that they have plans in place to expand to North America, and South America + Asia to soon follow. 

  • Vehicle Regulations in China Briefly Explained

    Vehicle Regulations in China Briefly Explained

  • United Airlines operates 100% sustainable fuel commercial flight for the first time in history.

    When it comes to transportation in the United States, few cities are of greater importance than Chicago. The city is a hub for rail transit, water transit through the Great Lakes, and for air travel at its O’Hare and Midway airports. As it currently stands, air travel is a favorite for many Americans due to its speed and price when compared to driving or taking a train, such as Amtrak. It should be no surprise that commercial aviation is incredibly harsh on the environment, from the enormous quantities of materials needed for construction to the associated emissions with the production and consumption of jet fuel. There seem to be two apparent routes for the future in order to make commercial aviation more sustainable: electric airplanes, or sustainable biofuels. This past Wednesday, 1 December 2021, Chicago-based United Airlines made history in the field of renewable aviation, operating the first commercial flight with 100% sustainable fuel. The flight operated from Chicago’s O’Hare airport and Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan airport carrying 100 passengers including the CEO of United Airlines. United Airlines has been a frontrunner in the push for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF’s) for some time now, and has regularly been mixing sustainable fuels into their conventional fuels since 2016. I think this action by United Airlines is admirable for the attempts they’re making at changing the current regulations regarding SAF’s. Currently, up to 50% of an aircraft’s fuel can be derived from SAF’s, but United hopes to challenge this notion by demonstrating no operational difference between conventional and sustainable fuels. 

    These actions by United Airlines help to demonstrate their commitment to circular principles and incorporate them into their business in several ways. First, the opportunity provides the opportunity for American investors to enter the business industry as sustainable fuels will continue to grow in demand. Using plant-derived sustainable fuels also allows for United Airlines to recycle and add potential waste back into the manufacturing process, helping to lessen the massive carbon footprint of this essential industry.

  • Lithium Extraction: A Potential Powerhouse Industry for the United States

    Electrical vehicles seem to be all the rage these days, with more car companies committing to their development and charging stations popping up all over the country. Much of the conversation around electric vehicles revolves around one key component: the battery. This is not for nothing, as the battery is the sole component that will determine the viability of electric vehicles on such a large scale. The future of batteries for electric vehicles is currently reliant on a stable supply of lithium, which is the most popular choice due to its remarkable properties. Lithium is an incredibly lightweight metal, but also has a very high electrochemical potential, meaning it is an excellent material for the use in anodes or cathodes in batteries (in this case, anodes). Currently, the vast majority of lithium in the United States is imported from other countries and is not very recyclable. President Biden, however, has looked to make the United States a world leader in the production and recycling of lithium. The President and his administration are currently looking at the recycling of lithium from California’s geothermal power plants, including a $30 million investment into the development of the technology.. Simply put, geothermal power is derived from the steam generated from boiling water using the heat of the earth’s core. The wastewater from this process, however, presents a unique opportunity for recycling that could produce as much as 600,000 tons of lithium annually for the state. The brine-like wastewater contains various metals and compounds, including lithium, that could be extracted from the water and recycled for battery production. The 600,000 tons produced would not only bring $7 billion to the State of California annually, but the annual production would exceed current annual consumption, allowing for the surplus to be exported and generate additional revenue for the state. 

    This particular article touches upon many of the concepts we learned in class, but I thought this article highlighted the principles of the circular economy rather well. Minimizing waste and promoting recycling are core principles of the circular economy, and this initiative aims to incorporate those ideals into a blossoming industry that the United States could pioneer. Domestically sourced lithium could also offset significant emissions that would otherwise be emitted using conventional production methods. Not only this, but the initiative provides an excellent opportunity for capital growth in the state. Not only in the extraction of the lithium, but the refining of the lithium as well as the development and construction of batteries provide the opportunity for investors and capital to flow into new technologies. 

    With electric vehicles only increasing in popularity, the need for sustainably sourced electric vehicles will only continue to grow as well. The United States was blessed with a vast array of resources at our disposal, and I think it would be a poor decision not to capitalize on them, lithium included.

  • Sustainable Development in the Beverages Industry

    It is easy to see that public pressure on industries to commit to sustainable future development has steadily grown, and some industries seem to be greater recipients of this pressure than others. Industries like oil and gas, agriculture, and car manufacturing seem to be some of the greatest recipients of this pressure, but not many people think of the luxuries industry. High-end alcohol brand Moet-Hennessy, part of the luxuries conglomerate LVMH, however, has committed to securing environmental certifications for all of its suppliers by the year 2025, as well as regenerative agriculture certifications by 2030. Moet-Hennessy is one of the largest alcoholic beverage producers in the world, with brands like Belvedere, Dom Perignon, and Moet & Chandon in their portfolio, presenting a tremendous opportunity for a large corporation to make huge changes in regard to their sustainability. The company owns several high-end Champagne brands as well, which is regarded for its intense effects on the environment. Since Champagne can only be produced in that region, it is of special importance to the company that their production be sustainable. The company has already banned the use of pesticides in its vineyards, and is currently exploring further options to increase their sustainability. Mentioned in the article are rows of trees to serve as “ecological corridors” through their vineyards as well as working with glass producers to develop more sustainable glass production methods. Not only this, but Moet-Hennesy has also established a research institute in the Champagne region to develop more sustainable winemaking practices. While sustainable development goals need to be adopted by more corporations, it is refreshing to see a less common industry willingly commit themselves to sustainable goals that are in line with the United Nations’ goals. Moet-Hennesy also adopted the same 1.5℃ goal put forward by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

  • Continued - The Grid Capacity Challege

    The Orkney Islands case now with a video explaining how too much renewable energy is causing problems. How the US is experiencing the same issues and what we should expect the future of renewable energy to be.