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Engineering Climate

How technology can help the planet.

The United Nations-sponsored Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, went into effect in more than 130 countries in February. Nonetheless, climate experts predict that the average global temperature will climb between 1.4°C and 5.8°C during this century. Researchers around the world are working on a wide variety of technologies – from new sources of energy to microbes that could help livestock pass less methane – aimed at mitigating and coping with climate change.

Use the following map as a key for locations where each topic is being mentioned (below):

1. Coal: FutureGen, a U.S.-based collaboration of public and private organizations, is a 10-year, $1-billion effort to build a coal-based, zero-emission hydrogen and electricity plant.

2. Carbon Sequestration: The J. Craig Venter Institute is analyzing water samples from the Sargasso Sea, employing the same high-throughput sequencing technologies used to sequence the human genome. The institute has discovered 1,800 new species of microbes and over 1.2 million new genes. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes such studies will enable scientists to find organisms and biochemical pathways that could be used to pull excess carbon out of the atmosphere and to provide clean sources of energy.

3. Renewables: Costa Rica derives 92 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

4. Biodiesel: Brazilian gas stations are now permitted to add 2 percent “biodiesel,” a cleaner-burning diesel derived from vegetable oils, to diesel made from petroleum. The government has authorized stations to increase the proportion of vegetable diesel in diesel fuel to 5 percent or more by 2010.

5. Wind: Germany generates one-third of the world’s wind-powered electricity and plans to approximately triple its capacity by 2030.

6. Forecasting: The United Kingdom’s Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling is using one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to produce more-reliable long-term weather predictions in order to help nations prepare for the impact of climate change. The “Earth Simulator,” located in Yokohama, Japan, is capable of sustained performance of 35.86 teraflops, has a main memory of 10 terabytes and is housed in a building the size of four tennis courts.

Hydrogen: Tokyo Gas launched the world’s first residential fuel-cell system in early February. In this pilot project, a homeowner can lease a unit that extracts hydrogen from natural gas and uses it to generate enough electricity to meet about 60 percent of the demand of a typical four-person household. Each unit will reduce a home’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions by approximately 40 percent. The 10-year lease will cost 1 million yen ($9,607), and savings from reduced energy usage will not entirely cover the cost of the lease; the shortfall is about 40,000 yen ($384) per home per year.

7. Methane Reduction: Livestock, which belch and otherwise generate great amounts of methane, account for more than half of New Zealand’s greenhouse-gas emissions. The Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium funds research aimed at reducing methane production from grazing animals; its projects include the development of new feed formulations and the identification of viruses that could selectively kill gas-producing bacteria in livestock’s rumens.

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