Waste Powers Autonomous Robots

Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos, Professor John Greenman, Professor Chris Melhuish, and other researchers from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) in the UK are responsible for a succession of experiments undertaken with EcoBots I, II and III.

Their unique approach has been to create an artificial digestion system for the robot. This “gut” is designed around novel microbial fuel cell (MFC) technology, which draws on bacterial cultures to break down “food” in order to generate power.

“Over the years we have fed our MFCs with rotten fruit, grass clippings, prawn shells and dead flies in an attempt to investigate different waste materials to use as a food source for the MFCs,” said Dr Ieropoulos. “We have focused on finding the best waste materials that create the most energy.”

Access to energy is one of the greatest obstacles to widespread use of autonomous robots, particularly in remote areas. The scientists believe that for a robot to be truly autonomous it must not only use its energy wisely but also generate this energy from its own surroundings. This means being able to search, collect and digest waste materials to replenish its energy reserves. This, in turn, has the potential to contribute significantly to the waste management issue.

The latest challenge that underlies the team’s current undertaking is to use urine for MFCs. Dr Ieropoulos explained that urine is rich in nitrogen and possesses chloride, potassium, bilirubin and other compounds – all of which make it ideal for MFCs. Preliminary tests have already shown it to be a very effective waste material.

The first step for the researchers is to enable MFCs to work together in a series of cells that are linked under a continuous flow system known as a ‘stack’. A stack of linked MFCs are both more efficient and produce more energy than the same quantity of individual MFCs.

The team is working towards producing a prototype portable urinal that would use urine to create power from fuel cells. Although the project is in its initial stages, the scientists believe that a machine of this type could be used at outdoor events such as musical festivals.

In fact, the researchers have already secured interest from the UK-based waterless urinal company Ecoprod Technique. Ecoprod’s Marcus Rose said the collaboration is both interesting and valuable for the company: “We have talked to the researchers who say this product is the only type totally suited to complement this research. We are looking forward to helping with this unique project.”

As part of the EcoBot project, the researchers are concurrently looking into the possibility of using MFC power generation technology underwater. The apparatus would act as an artificial gill, where organic matter would be used as the biomass fuel for the bacteria and oxygen.

“Advances in this area could provide a significant contribution to the challenges we currently face in terms of energy production and waste clean-up,” concluded Dr Ieropoulos. “We hope this research will help change the way we think about energy and human waste.”

EcoBot-I and EcoBot-II were developed in 2002 and 2004 respectively.

Climate Scientists In Race To Predict Where Natural Disaster Will Strike Next

The world’s leading climate scientists will gather this week in the United States to hammer out plans to set up an early warning system that would predict future meteorological disasters caused by global warming.

The meeting, in Boulder, Colorado, has been arranged at diplomatic level amid fears that storms, hurricanes, droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events now threaten to trigger widespread devastation in coming decades. A series of meteorological catastrophes have dominated headlines in recent weeks, while scientists have warned that figures so far for this year suggest 2010 will be the hottest on record.

Recent events include a record-breaking heatwave that has seen Moscow blanketed with smog from burning peatlands, the splintering of a giant island of ice from the Greenland ice cap, and floods in Pakistan that have claimed the lives of at least 1,600 people and left 20 million homeless.

Scientists say events like these will become more severe and more frequent over the rest of the century as rising greenhouse gas emissions trap the sun’s heat in the lower atmosphere and bring change to Earth’s climate and weather systems. However, their ability to pinpoint exactly where and when the worst devastation will occur is still limited. The aim of the Colorado meeting is to develop more precise predictive techniques to help pinpoint the location and severity of droughts, floods, and heatwaves before they happen and so save thousands of lives.

“The events in Moscow and Pakistan are going to focus our minds very carefully when we meet in Colorado,” said Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the UK Met Office. “On both sides of the Atlantic we have been monitoring what has been going on with the aim of understanding their precise causes so that we can provide better warnings of future disasters.”

The meeting in Boulder will be the first full session of Ace, the Attribution of Climate-related Events, which has been set up by scientists from the world’s three leading meteorological organisations: the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the UK Met Office and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The aim, said Stott, would be to develop a modelling package that would allow scientists to forecast the kind of events that the world has been witnessing over the past few weeks – before they struck. The fact that the Foreign Office has been closely involved in setting up Ace reveals how seriously the issue is taken by politicians.

Meteorologists have developed remarkably effective techniques for predicting global climate changes caused by greenhouse gases. One paper, by Stott and Myles Allen of Oxford University, predicted in 1999, using temperature data from 1946 to 1996, that by 2010 global temperatures would rise by 0.8C from their second world war level. This is precisely what has happened.

But although meteorologists have developed powerful techniques for forecasting general climatic trends – which indicate that weather patterns will be warmer and wetter in many areas – their ability to predict specific outcomes remains limited. It is this problem that will be tackled, as a matter of urgency, at the Ace meeting in Boulder.

An example of the complexity that faces meteorologists is provided by the weather system that scorched Moscow, said Stott. “Moscow has a stable high pressure system over it, much like the one that brought a heatwave to Europe in 2003. However, for a while the land around the city acted as a natural air conditioner, keeping the air cool through evaporation of moisture from the ground. But the land eventually dried out and there was no more cooling. Hence the soaring temperatures.”

To forecast an event like that, scientists need to be able to quantify all the variables involved and also develop a very precise model of the land surface, added Stott.

These are the sorts of things we need to understand. We need to be able to forecast events weeks or months ahead of their occurrence so people can mitigate their worst impacts. We also need to consider the longer-term context and see if we need to build better sea defences at a particular location and assess how high dykes or walls need to be. Certainly, one thing is clear: there is no time to waste. The effects of global warming are already upon us.

Three Nests In Finikounda

Three sea turtle nests have been found on the beach of Finikounda this summer. The first one was found on July 10, and the other two on July 22. All three were found after beach visitors saw sea turtle tracks in the morning and notified ARCHELON, the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.

Volunteers from the project of Koroni, where about 40 nests are protected every summer, could travel to Finikounda with the assistance of individuals who offered to help with their car. Thus all three nests were protected with a special grid against predation by foxes and dogs and marked to avoid accidental damage from humans.

The three nests are located near Camping “Ammos”, where the beach is dark and quiet in the night. So when the hatchlings come out of the nest, they will not be at risk of losing their way to the sea. But the mother turtles are at risk by the many speedboats used in this area.

To learn more about loggerhead sea turtles, what we do to protect them, and how you can help us, come and see us at the information station of Koroni or another information station of ARCHELON.