Brazilian prisoners produce energy to reduce sentences

Convicted criminals are not generally known for ‘giving something back to the community’, but an innovative new programme at a Brazilian prison is set to change that, for the benefit of prisoners and the environment.

On the suggestion of a local judge, Brazil’s Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison has installed electricity-generating stationary bikes, allowing them to keep active while producing energy to power city streetlights, thereby enriching the community for everyone.

Their incentive? For every 16 hours spent pedalling, prisoners can shave a day off their sentences.

The initiative isn’t mandatory, but has proven so popular that the prison is adding eight new bikes. The total 10 bikes will produce enough energy to illuminate an entire avenue in the city centre.

New poll finds climate change is not a big issue for Americans

In news that will neither shock nor surprise, a poll has found that Americans don’t care as much about global warming as they used to.

The survey, snappily titled “Every single climate poll done since that Al Gore movie came out”, conducted by the Washington Post and Stanford University, found that climate change is no longer the top concern for Americans, and now ranks second to air and water pollution as the planet’s biggest environmental worry.

Just 18 percent named climate change as their top concern, compared to 33 percent in 2007.

Nonetheless, Americans do see the issue as a threat: three-quarters say they believe the Earth is getting warmer and will continue to do so if nothing is done.

Findings from the poll indicate that Washington’s decision to can action on climate policy means that the issue has receded from the public consciousness. Similarly, President Obama has slowed down on pushing a bill that would limit greenhouse gas emissions, after the proposal stalled in the Senate in 2010.

Spray-on batteries could turn any surface into energy

Battery technology is seeing some exciting developments at the moment; liquid solar cells and current-generating paint are both examples of inventions set to revolutionise the clunky AA mainstay. And now scientists have added something new to the mix: spray-on batteries.

Developed by researchers at Rice University, this new technology allows any surface to become a battery, which could have pretty big implications for traditional energy storage and solar power generation. More on the science of the creation here.

Lead author of the team’s report Neelam Singh said: “Spray painting is already an industrial process, so it will be very easy to incorporate this into industry. We really do consider this a paradigm changer.”

However, there are some drawbacks, namely the spray-paint’s sensitivity to moisture and oxygen given its toxic, flammable and corrosive properties. Eliminating these issues through further research could see the paint being used at a large scale in industrial environments.

Check it out:

Electric car breaks backwards speed record

Electric cars aren’t the fastest vehicles on the road, but because their direct drive electric motor means that – in theory – they can travel as fast backwards as they can forwards, very few traditional motors can match them in reverse.

This claim was put to the test at the Goodwood Festival of speed, where Nissan – to promote its new all-electric LEAF model – hired pro driver Terry Grant to attempt a new record for the fastest car to travel a mile in reverse.

Terry hurtled into the Guinness World Records after covering a mile of uphill bends and 90 degree corners in just 1 minute 37.02 seconds.

“There were times I wasn’t sure I was coming or going,” said Terry. “However, thanks to the Leaf’s low centre of gravity – the batteries are an integral part of the car’s floor – the car is extremely stable, no matter which direction it’s travelling. The only complaint I have is slight neck ache from constantly looking over my shoulder.”

Considering how many people struggle to simply parallel park, Terry’s skills should be highly commended.

Check out Nissan’s promo for the impressive attempt:

‘Rubber roads’ kinder to ears and the environment

Loud neighbours, barking dogs, air traffic… noise pollution is a tediously inevitable part of urban living. According to the World Health Organisation it can also lead to serious health problems, too – namely stress and sleep issues.

Unfortunately there’s not much to be done to quieten the neighbour’s screaming kids, but now street traffic could be given a big shush thanks to new developments by engineers aiming to reduce road racket.

By adding recycled rubber crumbs from old tyres to the bitumen used to make asphalt, roads are ‘softer’, cutting traffic noise by 25 percent while offering greater durability than regular road asphalt.

According to The Economist:

Pores between the stones in standard asphalt must be small, because if the gaps are too big the bitumen binding cannot do its job properly. Adding rubber thickens the bitumen. That allows bigger pores, which help to trap and disperse sound waves. The rubberised bitumen itself is flexible and slightly springy, which enables it to absorb more unwanted sonic energy.

Not only are the roads quieter, more durable and cheaper than traditional roads, but they’re also kinder to the environment. The rubber comes from recycled tyres (and there’s enough of those kicking about), and can partially replace bitumen, which is derived from oil.

Carbon cakes: Skyonic turns CO2 into baking soda

CO2 is a problem, so wouldn’t it be great to turn it all into something else? Something useful? How about baking soda?

Texas-based start-up Skyonic plans to do just that by capturing and mineralising CO2 from industrial waste streams with a technology that can also be retro-fitted to existing emitters.

The company has already designed and built a  pilot project at Capitol Aggregrates Inc’s cement plant in San Antonio, and now thanks to massive investment from BP, ConocoPhillips and PVS Chemicals, plans to develop a $125 million commercial-scale project in the same location.

The facility will be capable of capturing 83,000 short tons of CO2 a year and turning it into 157,000 tonnes of bicarbonate.

It will cost around $45 a ton to capture and convert the carbon initially, but planners say that continued research and development could drive the cost down to below $20 per ton.

Construction of the new project will begin this summer.

Animal lovers encouraged to save the planet for their pets

Tinned pet food – a bit gross, isn’t it? Just slop it out, toss the can and let Rover get on with it. Easy.

But did you know that recycling a 400g steel pet food can could save enough energy to power a fridge for over two and a half hours? This is just one of the messages pet care company PURINA is touting in its new campaign ‘Together We Can’.

The Nestle-owned brand surveyed more than 1,000 dog and cat owners and found that the recycling rate for pet food tins falls below the rate for other waste materials, with just 66 percent of respondents saying they always recycled their tins. Curiously, though, a third of those that claim to recycle their cans say they do so to protect the environment for their pets.

PURINA’s Regional Marketing Director Antal Van Hout said: “We know the special bonds between pet owners and their pets mean that many will go out of their way to make their pets’ lives happy and healthy.

“We also know that the environment we all live in is as important to our pets as it is to our own health and wellbeing and we want to encourage British pet owners to help make a difference to all our pets’ futures by recycling their steel pet food cans.”

The brand’s new campaign encourages pet owners to pledge to recycle their pet food cans, and offers them the chance to win a whopping £2,000 off their energy bills. Check it out here.