Study Shows Ethanol Produces More CO2 Emissions Than Gasoline
A Northwestern University study by an economist and a chemist reports that when fuel prices drove residents of São Paulo, Brazil, to mostly switch from ethanol to gasoline in their flexible-fuel vehicles, local ozone levels dropped 20 percent. At the same time, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide concentrations tended to go up.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The four-year study is the first real-world trial looking at the effects of human behavior at the pump on urban air pollution. This empirical analysis of atmospheric pollutants, traffic congestion, consumer choice of fuel and meteorological conditions provides an important tool for studying other large cities, such as Chicago, New York, London and Beijing. Previous studies mainly have consisted of computer simulations of atmospheric chemical reactions based on tailpipe emissions studies.
“Individuals often don’t realize it, but in the aggregate, you can have a real impact on the environment,” said Alberto Salvo, formerly with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and now an associate professor of economics at the National University of Singapore. “In São Paulo, there were more than a million cars switching from ethanol to gasoline in the same season, and we found that ozone levels went down. We didn’t expect this, but it is a precise result.”
Salvo teamed up with chemist Franz M. Geiger to help him tease the air quality picture out of the highly complex chemistry using statistical methods. The results of their study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Salvo and Geiger used fuel sales data and 14,000 consumer surveys to predict the magnitude of the fuel shift from ethanol to gasoline and back over the course of 30 months. They next determined the change in pollutant concentrations based on the predicted fuel mix, meteorology data and traffic levels across 600 miles of roads and discovered that ozone levels decreased significantly relative to the rise of gasoline usage.
Having lived in São Paulo, Salvo realized the city offered the best possible “natural laboratory”—a real-life situation as opposed to hypothetical—to study consumer behavior and its impact on air quality using big data. The air-monitoring network in the megacity is superb, and the weather is moderate, with temperatures fluctuating little throughout the year.
During two episodes of high sugar prices in 2010 and again in 2011, the price of ethanol increased, causing consumers to switch their fuel usage to gasoline. (Brazil is a big producer of sugar, and the country’s ethanol is made from sugar cane.) These two episodes provided the perfect situation for Salvo and Geiger’s study.
“São Paulo was the place to do this initial study because consumers can and do switch between fuels for reasons unrelated to air quality, roads are gridlocked, and there is so much good data available to researchers,” Salvo said.
São Paulo has the world’s largest flexible-fuel vehicle fleet, with cars that can run on all gasoline, all ethanol or some mix of the two. Gasoline prices in Brazil are controlled by the government, and the domestic sugar price—and therefore the domestic price of ethanol—is determined by the world sugar price.
Scientific studies using big data can help take policymakers a long way in figuring out how to mitigate air pollution given local conditions, the researchers said. Effects of fuel usage will depend on local atmospheric composition, such as fine particle pollutants.
“Ozone and nitric oxide are both contributors to urban smog, so depending on how well a city is able to mitigate air pollution, ethanol may not be the ‘green fuel’ that it is often called,” said Geiger, professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He and Salvo are now analyzing how the concentration of other air pollutants in São Paulo, specifically fine particles, change in response to the choices of motorists in the city.
Geiger cautioned that their results are valid only for the subtropical city of São Paulo, but the researchers’ interdisciplinary approach can be used to examine more complicated city situations. Their study shows how pollution control requires a team that bridges atmospheric science and engineering, economics and statistics.
“This work allows us to start thinking about the urban metabolism of Chicago, which is an emerging megacity surrounded by ‘corn country,’” Geiger said. “Ethanol from corn is a particularly intriguing option for future, possibly more competitive, energy markets. It’s an area we need to watch.”
“It is a credit to the interdisciplinary process that Franz now is talking like an economist,” Salvo said with a grin.
A grant for high-risk research from the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) got Salvo started with his work, but it was when Mark Ratner, ISEN co-director and a chemist, introduced Salvo to Geiger that the study was really underway. The unusual study needed both a social scientist and a chemist to be successful.
“Without ISEN, this work would never have happened—no way,” Geiger said.
Geiger and Salvo plan to collaborate with Aaron Packman, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, on studying urban metabolites in Chicago. Specifically, the group plans to use Cook County’s air monitoring network, traffic data and meteorological data to learn how the concentration of air pollutants in the city may change under future—and most likely more congested—traffic scenarios.
In addition to ISEN, the National Science Foundation and the Dean’s Office at the Kellogg School of Management supported the research.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.
Tropical Storm Josephine Also No Threat to Land<p>Meanwhile, the season's record-earliest tenth named storm, Tropical Storm Josephine, was also struggling with high wind shear as it traced out a path over the open ocean.</p><p>At 5 a.m. EDT Saturday, Josephine was located about 310 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving west-northwest at 15 mph with top sustained winds at 45 mph. Josephine is expected to bring one to three inches of rain over portions of the northern Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico over the weekend. Josephine will encounter steadily rising wind shear through Monday, peaking at a very high 30 – 35 knots. This high shear is likely to destroy Josephine's circulation by Monday, before the storm can affect any other land areas.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/08/tropical-storm-kyle-forms-unlikely-to-affect-land/" target="_blank">Yale Climate Connections</a>. </em><em></em></p>
By Ute Eberle
In May 2017, shells started washing up along the Ligurian coast in Italy. They were small and purple and belonged to a snail called Janthina pallida that is rarely seen on land. But the snails kept coming — so many that entire stretches of the beach turned pastel.
The Ligurian coast has been swept by snails turning its color pastel.
A World Between Worlds<p>The neuston comprises a multitude of weird and wonderful creatures. </p><p>Many, like the Portuguese man-of-war, which paralyzes its prey with venomous tentacles up to 30 meters long, are colored an electric shade of blue, possibly to protect themselves against the sun's UV rays, or as camouflages against predators.</p><p>There are also by-the-wind sailors, flattish creatures that raise chitin shields from the water like sails; slugs known as sea dragons that cling to the water's surface from below with webbed appendages; barnacles that build bubble rafts as big as dinner plates; and the world's only marine insects, a relation of the pond skater.</p><p>They live "between the worlds" of the sea and sky, as Federico Betti, a marine biologist at the University of Genoa, puts it. From below, predators lurk. From above, the sun burns. Winds and waves toss them about. Depending on the weather, their environment may be warm or cool, salty or less so.</p>
Sea snails can make up the neuston.
Velella velella jellyfish living on the surface of the ocean.<p>But now, they face another — manmade — threat from nets designed to catch trash. A project called <a href="https://theoceancleanup.com/" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a>, run by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, has raised millions of dollars in donations and sponsorship to deploy long barriers with nets that will drift across the ocean in open loops to sweep up floating garbage. </p>
Collecting With the Current<p>"Plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050. To us, that future is unacceptable," <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/green-entrepreneur-sets-sights-on-great-pacific-garbage-patch/a-38855785" target="_blank">The Ocean Cleanup</a> declares on its website.</p><p>But Rebecca Helm, a marine biologist at the University of North Carolina, and one of the few scientists to study this ecosystem, fears that The Ocean Cleanup's proposal to remove 90% of the plastic trash from the water could also virtually wipe out the neuston.</p><p>One focus of Helm's studies is where these organisms congregate. "There are places that are very, very concentrated and areas of little concentration, and we're trying to figure out why," says Helm.</p><p>One factor is that the neuston floats with ocean currents, and Helm worries that it might collect in the exact same spots as marine plastic pollution. "Our initial data show that regions with high concentrations of plastic are also regions with high concentrations of life."</p>
Waste collection in the Pacific Ocean heralded by The Ocean Cleanup.<p>The Ocean Cleanup says Helm's concerns are based on "misguided assumptions."</p><p>"It's true that neustonic organisms will be trapped in the barriers," says Gerhard Herndl, professor of Aquatic Biology at the University of Vienna and one of project's scientific advisors. "But these organisms have dangerous lives. They're adapted to high losses because they get washed ashore in storms and they have high reproductive rates. If they didn't, they'd already be extinct."</p><p>Helm says they just don't know how quickly these creatures reproduce, and in any case recovering from passing storm is very different from surviving The Ocean Clean Up's systems which could be in place for years.</p>
Communication Breakdown<p>The Ocean Cleanup invited Helm to a symposium on the topic in December, where both sides presented their points of views and didn't seem to find much common ground. Since then, direct communication between them has stopped, says Helm. "They're not interested in talking to me anymore."</p><p>Both sides agree that much is still unknown about the neuston. But one thing that has been established is that most of the oceans' fish spend part of their lifecycle in the neuston. "More than 90% of marine fish species produce floating eggs that persist on the surface until hatching," Betti says.</p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has undertaken one of the few studies into this ecosystem, collecting data on the neuston on the relative abundance of neuston and floating plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Ocean during a 2019 expedition to the Pacific Garbage Patch, an area where plastic pollution has accumulated on a vast scale. But it is not yet sharing what it has found. The information was being prepared for publication in an as of yet unspecified journal, probably some time next year, an Ocean Cleanup spokesperson said. </p>
Inshore Solution?<p>Helm believes the best way to tackle the marine plastic problem would be to position the barriers closer to land — across river mouths and bays — to catch garbage before it reaches the sea.</p><p>"Stopping the flow of plastic into the ocean is the most cost-effective — and literally effective — way to ensure that it's not entering our environment," she says. </p><p>As for the plastic already floating in open waters, she does not believe it is worth sacrificing parts of neuston and wants to see more research first. </p><p>The Ocean Cleanup has made barriers across rivers a part of its mission. But it is also going ahead with its original vision of pulling trash from the open water. In late 2018, the project deployed a 600-meter, u-shaped prototype net into the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Great Pacific Garbage Patch</a>. </p><p>The system ran into difficulties, failing to retain plastic as hoped, and needing to be brought shore for repairs and a design upgrade, after which Ocean Cleanup says it gathered haul of plastic that it will recycle and resell to help fund future operations.</p><p>Over the next two years, the project hopes to deploy up to 60 such barriers to collect drifting flotsam. Helm isn't the only one concerned about these plans.</p><p><span></span>"We should think twice about every action we take in the sea," Betti says. "In nature, nothing is as easy as we think, and often, we've done a lot of damage while trying to do a good thing."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/environment-conservation-plastic-oceans/a-54436603" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.<a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2646992655#/" target="_self"></a></em><em></em></p>
By Hope Dickens
Molly Craig's day begins with feeding hungry baby birds at 6 a.m. The birds need to be fed every 15 minutes until 7 at night. If she's not feeding them, other staff at the Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn, Illinois take turns helping the hungry orphans.
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.
- Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Log in America's Largest ... ›
- Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate ... ›
- 17 States Sue to Stop Trump Admin Attack on Endangered Species ... ›
A professional cycling race in Australia is under attack for its connections to a major oil and gas producer, the Guardian reports.
- Burning All Fossil Fuels Would Lead to a 17 C Rise in Arctic ... ›
- All Renewables Will Be Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels by 2020 ... ›
- G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels ... ›
- People Eat 50,000+ Microplastics Every Year, New Study Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Sharks Are Polluted With Plastic, New Study Shows - EcoWatch ›
- 73% of Deep-Sea Fish Have Ingested Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Launch Groundbreaking Study on Health Risks of ... ›
- 25% of Fish Sold at Markets Contain Plastic or Man-Made Debris ... ›