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Giant Water Battery Cuts University's Energy Costs by $100 Million Over Next 25 Years

Renewable Energy
Giant Water Battery Cuts University's Energy Costs by $100 Million Over Next 25 Years
We've installed 6,000 solar panels across the roofs and carparks of the University. Youtube screenshot

A giant water battery that stands three-stories high will help The University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia reach its goal to be carbon neutral by 2025.


The Queensland university's ambitious target date got a boon from the success of the experimental battery, which was turned on in September and now generates enough power to power the campus' air conditioning system, reducing dependence on the grid by 40 percent, as New Atlas reported.

The giant battery harnesses power from over 6,000 solar panels that line the rooftops of the campus's buildings. It then uses that power to cool water, which is then used in the school's air conditioning system. The battery is expected to save $100 million electricity costs over the next 25 years and to prevent 100,000 tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The University of the Sunshine Coast partnered with the resource management company Veolia to create the enormous battery. Veolia, a French transnational company that specializes in water and energy management funded and engineered the battery. Veolia and the university wanted to take advantage of the regions abundant sunshine and to cut down on the air conditioning systems' outsized reliance on the grid, as New Atlas reported.

The project was awarded the Out of the Box category of the Global District Energy Climate Awards last week, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"The University of the Sunshine Coast has a plan to be completely carbon neutral by 2025, which is a challenge to any budget because it requires significant changes to the way energy is captured and consumed," said Chief Operating Officer Scott Snyder, in a university press release. "So, we really did have to think out of the box, and by forming a partnership with Veolia, we were able to negotiate a 10-year plan that suited us both and delivered major energy savings to the University.

According to Veolia, the system, which is essentially a huge thermal energy storage tank, is reducing the carbon footprint of the university by 42 percent, as New Atlas reported.

"Universities have a very large energy footprint and we wanted to tackle that and reduce that expense," said Dennis Frost, the university's infrastructure and energy manager, who received the award in Iceland. He added that the project provides great fodder for teaching students about using solar power, since it is a real world example of a renewable energy source cutting down on emissions and saving money. "I think it is exciting because we have the opportunity to teach the younger generation that the environmental challenges that are faced by the planet can be solved," he said, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Queensland, in the northeast corner of Australia and home to the Great Barrier Reef, has ramped up its production of solar power. Last month, the Queensland Energy Minister Anthony Lynham said that solar panels in Queensland generated twice as much energy as the state's biggest power station.

Queensland has 30 solar farms. Their power coupled with solar panels on homes and businesses produced 4,000 megawatts of power. By contrast, the region's largest power plant produced 1,680 megawatts of power, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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