How we can turn plastic waste into green energy

File 20181001 195282 u8z9ln.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shutterstock.

Anh Phan, Newcastle University

In the adventure classic Back to the Future, Emmett “Doc” Brown uses energy generated from rubbish to power his DeLorean time machine. But while a time machine may still be some way off, the prospect of using rubbish for fuel isn’t too far from reality. Plastics, in particular, contain mainly carbon and hydrogen, with similar energy content to conventional fuels such as diesel.

Plastics are among the most valuable waste materials – although with the way people discard them, you probably wouldn’t know it. It’s possible to convert all plastics directly into useful forms of energy and chemicals for industry, using a process called “cold plasma pyrolysis”.

Pyrolysis is a method of heating, which decomposes organic materials at temperatures between 400℃ and 650℃, in an environment with limited oxygen. Pyrolysis is normally used to generate energy in the form of heat, electricity or fuels, but it could be even more beneficial if cold plasma was incorporated into the process, to help recover other chemicals and materials. Continue reading

Interlinkages of culture and government policy in tackling global challenges: A story from Indonesian fisheries

Fishermen unloading buckets of fish from their boats in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. (Photo: Asian Development Bank/Flickr)

Livia Putradjaja

Indonesia, an archipelago in Southeast Asia, is situated strategically between the Indian and Pacific Ocean and made up of more than 17,000 islands. Fisheries become one of the Indonesians’ main occupations. The country’s local media, Tirto, reported that Indonesia was the second largest producer of the world’s marine fisheries after China in 2014. Last report from FAO stated that Indonesia is included as one of the world’s biggest shrimp export suppliers – along with China, Vietnam, India and Ecuador.

However, recent research has found a lack of sustainable implementation in the Indonesian fisheries sector. The question of sustainable fishing in Indonesia and other parts of the world includes challenges that are economic, political, technical and cultural.

Indonesian fisheries’ products are desired by both the local and international market. Ensuring the steady supply of the demand therefore becomes the major focus. It is known that most Indonesian fishermen use small fishing boats with relatively low-level technology for their daily, small-scale fisheries operation. Most of them operate near the coastline which leads to overfishing and the decrease of fish stocks in coastal areas.

This becomes a problem for the local fishers. Although most of them admit that overfishing would impact fish stocks and put sustainable livelihoods at risk, economic pressure is primarily why this practice continues. As international concern regarding the source of fishery products is on the rise, the challenge for the Indonesian government is to ensure that their seafood products are sustainable, and come from responsible fishing practices in order to be accepted by international standards. Continue reading

Universities, academics and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Dr Graham Long

Universities, globally, have a unique place in accelerating implementation of the SDGs, even as they face uneven contexts and challenges. They can play a key role in engaging youth as a force for change, and in helping to generate the knowledge, analysis and expertise needed to understand and implement the SDGs as a universal and interlinked agenda. Some recent resources and initiatives have been launched to guide universities in these areas – notably the Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) Guide for Universities, and the SDG Accord, an initiative to encourage universities and academics (and institutions of further education too) to publicly commit to the SDGs. Universities are talking about SDGs, too – from the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) event on the final day of the 2017 High Level Political Forum, to my own university’s conference on this two weeks ago.

Much has been said about universities and the SDGs, but there is little research around what role academics see for themselves. To address this gap here, I draw on the preliminary findings of research I recently conducted with the help of Ana Flamind, Louise Luxton, and Dani Morgan at Newcastle University. We contacted 400 academics in developing countries to ask them about the SDGs in the context of their countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) this summer, receiving 87 responses. In this blog I want to highlight three key messages around SDGs and academics, linking the findings from this specific research to the wider picture around the role of universities.

Continue reading

Climate scientists and farmers working together to tackle water security in South Asia

Dr Lisa Bunclark

working_in_the_rice_paddy

World Water Day is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis and ensuring adequate water for food production is another important aspect of water security. Researchers at Newcastle University are currently working on a project that will help to ensure that small holder farmers in South Asia have enough water for their crops into the future.

The work of Professor Hayley Fowler and Dr Nathan Forsythe, builds upon multiple collaborative initiatives with research institutes in South Asia, and focuses on finding grassroots-scale solutions to mitigate drought impacts on local communities and build resilience to climate change impacts. The project looks at ways to mainstream climate adaptation in three countries across South Asia with case study villages in contexts such as the rural areas of Nainital district in Uttarakhand state, India. Similar focus areas will be selected in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The project focuses on translation of sophisticated climate model outputs into pragmatically useful “climate services” that help communities prepare for climate change, and understand its effects on crop yields at the local level. Cropping simulations generated from large-scale regional climate models will be refined based on information generated by the smallholder farmers themselves.

Continue reading

Partnerships essential for the UN SDGs to transform lives

Dr Alison Vipond & Brett Cherry

01_tgg_grid_icon_color

“To successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must swiftly move from commitments to action. To do that, we need strong, inclusive and integrated partnerships at all levels”. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon

Partnerships are vital to making the UN Sustainable Development Goals a reality for everyone across the world. This requires developed and developing nations working together on all 17 Goals, spanning environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development.  The Goals are universal applying to all countries, including the UK, which has provided leadership in helping to make the Goals an agreed global vision of what the future of our world should look like.

Newcastle University’s Institute for Sustainability recently joined the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, (UKSSD): a network of businesses, civil society and academic organisations who are working to advance sustainable development in the UK. UKSSD’s mission is to help transform the UK into a sustainable society, by generating new partnerships, innovative solutions and providing thought leadership to achieve the Goals. The UKSSD second annual conference on 1st March 2017, focussed on the question of how we translate the ambition of the Goals into transformative action in the UK. Dr Graham Long provided an insightful introduction to how the UK is faring on the Goals – there is still a long way to go.

Continue reading

Calling all guest bloggers!

We are on the lookout for guest bloggers! We want the blog site to have a range of opinions and discussion points about sustainability-related topics, and we are particularly interested in posts that are topical; we’re not averse to controversial viewpoints, all in the interests of getting a good, healthy debate started!

We are looking for posts that could be used as either a single post or as a mini-series, so if you think you have something suitable please get in touch by e-mailing sustainability@ncl.ac.uk. We look forward to receiving your contributions!