In Kenya, a carport can do more than just shade cars; it can produce electricity

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solar carport1

credit: Reuters

Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy is setting good examples for smaller economies in the region. The country is at the forefront of renewable energy in East Africa exploiting all available sources from wind to water (hydropower), nuclear to geothermal and also the large round red ball. Kenyans, are the world leader in the number of solar power systems installed per capita. More Kenyans are turning to solar power every year despite the government’s ambitious plan to increase power output. This is because the cost of connecting to the national grid discourages poor Kenyans who have a cheaper alternative in solar energy.

Thus, solar panels are becoming very common in Kenya nowadays. Everywhere you go, you see solar panels, even at carports.

The uppermost storey of a car park at Garden City Mall, part of the new 32-acre integrated residential, retail park, hotel and office development on Nairobi’s Thika Superhighway is fitted with a solar carport, which has been described as Africa’s largest. Solarcentury and Solar Africa renewable energy organisations that collaborated in the construction of the installation said it will cut carbon emissions from power generation through non-renewable energy by 745 tonnes annually.

A total of 3,300 solar panels capable of generating 1256 MWh annually were used.

“We are incredibly proud to be bringing our second dual-mode solar system to Kenya, this time to build East Africa’s largest rooftop system,” Dr Dan Davies, the Director for Solarcentury in East Africa said in 2014 during the commissioning of the project.

Situated on the topmost floor of the Garden City Mall along the Thika Superhighway, the carport will not only shade cars, it will also provide solar energy to reduce consumption from the power grid.

Way to go, Kenya!

solar carport solar carport2 Solar carport3


Can you drink water made from poo? Bill Gates did

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Early January, a video clip featuring Bill Gates started making the rounds on the Internet. But he wasn’t delivering one of his inspiring speeches about vaccines or getting drenched in ice water to raise awareness about ALS. He was just drinking a glass of water.

Sounds boring, right? The catch: five minutes before Gates took his first sip, that water had been human waste pumped in from a local sewage facility. That’s right: Bill Gates drank poop water to entertain an audience on the Internet.

Well, sort of. Gates was using the apparent publicity stunt to unveil the OmniProcessor—a low-cost waste treatment plant that combines a steam power plant, an incinerator, and a water filtration system into a machine capable of converting 14 tons of sewage into potable water and electricity each day. I’ve tried the water myself; not only is it drinkable, it’s actually indistinguishable from tap water or bottled water.

The contraption, about the size of two school buses placed side by side, was engineered from scratch by a small, family-run company called Janicki Bioenergy; its two-year development was funded by The Gates Foundation as part of its Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.

When it was first revealed to the world, the OmniProcessor sat in an open lot in small-town Washington behind other Janicki buildings where workers built machine parts for aerospace, marine, space, and transportation operations. But once most of the kinks were worked out of the prototype—Gates personally inspected the machine late last year—the Janicki team wanted to see how the OmniProcessor worked for real. They took the machine apart and in February traveled to Dakar, Senegal, to rebuild the high-tech waste plant in the city to see if it could live up to its promise. By May, the OmniProcessor was up and running—and it turns out, as usual, that the real world isn’t as simple.

Garbage In, Water Out

So far, Gates says, the Janicki is working “as predicted,”though that doesn’t necessarily mean the test is going without a hitch.

“The real world introduces lots of variables,” Gates writes in a blog post today. “For example, you have to find the right personnel to run the machine. You have to work with local and national governments and gauge the public’s reaction.”

Gates says the OmniProcessor team is thinking about how to tweak the OmniProcessor’s design and working out a business plan.

“The next version of the machine will burn most types of garbage in addition to human waste, and it will be easier to maintain,” Gates says. The Janicki team is looking to sell the first $1.5 million OmniProcessor unit to a Sengalese city and is in talks to sell other units to potential buyers in wealthier countries, too.

It’s tempting, Gates says, to focus on the flashier part of the OmniProcessor. Poop water that’s actually drinkable?!? But ultimately, the goal isn’t for the OmniProcessor to produce water, according to Gates. It’s to dramatically improve sanitation for cities in poor countries.

Affordable Sanitation

Today, at least 2 billion people still use toilet facilities that aren’t properly drained, and disease caused by poor sanitation kills 700,000 children a year. Rich-world solutions don’t work in developing countries, either—the infrastructure is too expensive. The whole point of the OmniProcessor, Gates says, is to make sanitation affordable for low-income communities.

In the city of Dakar alone, 1.2 million people aren’t connected to a sewage line. Instead, they have their own pits where people dump fecal waste. To deal with the waste, members of the community often empty the pits manually, filling buckets by hand and transferring sludge to holes in the ground that they’ve dug themselves. It’s a truly dangerous business—because of the rapid spread of pathogens, these people risk getting seriously ill from the work.

A better way to deal with the waste is to mechanically transfer fecal sludge via trucks and tubes to treatment plants. In Dakar, those plants have now been partially replaced by the OmniProcessor. According to Mbaye Mbéguéré, program coordinator at the National Institute of Sanitation, about one-third of the sludge in Dakar is now processed by these machines, turning human waste not only into drinkable water but producing electricity and ash for use in activities like construction.

Clean Tech

That’s not an insignificant accomplishment for the OmniProcessor. The hope is that other entrepreneurs in Africa, seeing the machine’s success in Dakar—that is, not just proving feasibility, but actually succeeding as a business model—will push them to invest in sanitation, as well.

“Why hasn’t anyone built one before now?” Gates asks. “Because the people who understood the technology weren’t getting sick or dying from contaminated water, and they didn’t know anyone who was. Nor was it clear how they could make a profit by working on the problem.”

Whether or not the OmniProcessor will see real success, the Gates Foundation’s effort to move sanitation research forward—not exactly the sexiest science there is—is laudable. As Mark van Loosdrecht, a professor of environmental biotechnology at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, pointed out in January, having support from a philanthropic organization—especially one with pockets as deep as the Gates Foundation—is an advantage for researchers and developers of sanitation tech. “They don’t need to worry about the support,” he said. “I like the long-term vision instead of the usual program with short-term gains.”

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9 interesting facts about pangolins

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The pangolin, also known as scaly anteater, is a mammal of the order Pholidota (means a horny scale in Greek). Two of its genera Phataginus and Smutsia, living in Africa comprises two species each.

The name Pangolin comes from the Malay word “pengguling”, meaning “something that rolls up”.

Here are some interesting facts about the animal.

  • They are the only known mammal with protective keratin (the same material of which human fingernails are made) scales covering their skin
  • The lion plays with pangolins
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  • They are very choosy, tending to consume only one or two species of insects, even when many species are available to them
  • A pangolin’s tongue is longer than its body when extended
  • pangolin tongue
  • Their diet consist of mainly ants and termites
  • They are solitary animals, meeting only to mate
  • They are the most trafficked mammal in the world
  • All eight pangolin species are listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species
  • It curls up into a ball when threatened
Coat made from Pangolin scales on display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds. Photo: Gaius Cornelius

Coat made from Pangolin scales on display at the Royal Armouries, Leeds.
Photo: Gaius Cornelius

Climate Change: How to decouple economic growth from emission of greenhouse gases

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It has often been said that with economic growth comes more pollution. A classic example is China, with 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. The Chinese economy grew at an average of 10 percent over the past three decades, but so did its pollution. Several African nations growing at an impressive rate have also seen pollution rise.

With Climate change threatening to exacerbate poverty and hurt economic growth there must be a way to “decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions” if the world will end the development challenges it faces.
“We have to keep the economy growing – there is no turning back on growth,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim told the student audience at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on March 18. He offers insight into how we can divorce growth from carbon emissions, suggesting five things that need to be done to achieve this.

Put a price on carbon

Cutting emissions starts with clear policy signals.

Carbon pricing systems – such as emissions trading systems that cap emissions or carbon taxes that charge per ton – send a long-term signal to companies by creating an incentive to reduce polluting behaviors and to invest in cleaner energy choices and low-carbon innovation.

Close to 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces now have or are preparing to implement carbon pricing through emissions trading systems or carbon taxes, and their numbers are growing. Korea launched the newest carbon market in January. China, with seven pilot carbon markets in cities and provinces, saw its emissions drop last year and plans to launch a national emissions trading system as early as 2016.

“A price on carbon is the single most important thing we have to get out of a Paris agreement. It will unleash market forces,” President Kim said when asked about expectations for the international climate agreement expected in December 2015 in Paris.

End fossil fuel subsidies

Fossil fuel subsidies send a different signal – one that can encourage waste and discourage low-carbon growth. By phasing out harmful fossil fuel subsidies, countries can reallocate their spending to where it is most needed and most effective, including proving targeted support for the poor.

Nearly $550 billion went into direct fossil fuel subsidies worldwide in 2013, taking up large percentages of some countries’ GDP to artificially lower energy prices. Yet, “the evidence shows that fossil fuel subsidies are not at all about protecting the poor,” President Kim said. Studies show the wealthiest 20 percent of the population captures six times the benefit from fossil fuel subsidies as the poorest 20 percent.

Reforming subsidies is never easy. Often, the population is unaware of the true costs of energy, and support for the poor must be phased in as the subsidies are phased out. The World Bank is providing support for fossil fuel subsidies reform through a $20 million facility that will help countries design and implement subsidy reform and accompanying social protection systems.

Build low-carbon, resilient cities

Getting prices right is one part of the equation. Another piece is building a sustainable future, because all development happens in the context of climate change.

There will be more infrastructure built in the next 20 years than in the past 6,000, the president told the audience. Cities are growing fast, particularly in the developing world. Just over half the global population is urban today; by 2050, cities are expected to hold two-thirds of the world population.

With careful planning of transportation and land use, and the establishment of energy efficiency standards, cities can build in ways that avoid locking in unsustainable patterns. They can open up access to jobs and opportunity for the poor and reduce damaging air pollution.

Financing that growth to be sustainable can be a challenge, though. Data show that only about 4 percent of the 500 largest developing countries cities are deemed creditworthy in international markets. The World Bank Group is helping cities improve their strategic planning and fix the financial fundamentals that can prevent them from accessing finance.

Increase energy efficiency and use of renewable energy

When we talk about energy, we have to talk about access. Worldwide, about 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity and 2.8 billion rely on solid fuels for cooking, such as wood, charcoal, and coal, which cause harmful indoor air pollution.

Through the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the World Bank Group supports three goals for 2030: to achieve universal access to modern energy, double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Energy efficiency improvements are crucial. Every gigawatt saved is a gigawatt that didn’t have to be produced. Globally, energy use is about one-third lower today than it would have been without the past 20 years of energy efficiency improvements.

Renewable energy, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly affordable as prices fall. In many countries, developing utility-scale renewable energy is now cheaper than or on par with fossil fuel plants.

Implement climate-smart agriculture and nurture forest landscapes

The fifth area for action takes in both mitigation and adaptation. Climate-smart agriculture techniques help farmers increase their farms’ productivity and resilience to the impacts of climate change, such as droughts, while also creating carbon sinks that help reduce net emissions. Forests, too, are valuable carbon sinks that absorb carbon and store it in soils, trees, and foliage.

climate change

Attacking climate change in all that we do

Global efforts to reduce emissions are having an effect. Last week, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency announced that global CO2 emissions had been flat in 2014 for the first time in four decades without an accompanying economic downturn, while the global economy grew by 3 percent.

“Is this the beginning of decoupling carbon emissions from growth? We sure hope so,” President Kim said.

Even if we do all of this successfully, we will still see changes, the president said. Scientists believe that about 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is already locked in through the amount of greenhouse gas emitted and expected in the coming years, so the world will have to adapt while bringing down emissions.

That means building resilience into all development and increasing financial support for preparedness and prevention.

As a major provider of finance, the World Bank Group invests in disaster preparedness, renewable energy, energy efficiency, city planning and development, and providing decision-makers with the tools and data they need to make informed decisions. It tracking financial commitments for climate mitigation adaptation co-benefits, screens for disaster and climate risk, and uses greenhouse gas accounting and a price on carbon.

“What we really want to do is see how we can attack this problem in just about everything we do,” the president said.


The World Bank Group

They make no friends, even with family members; meet one of the world’s strangest fishes

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You might have seen several strange animals. I can bet you haven’t seen the hairy dogfish.

The hairy dogfish (Antennarius striatus) is a marine fish belonging to the family Antennariidae.

Just like other members of its family, the hairy dogfish has a rounded, extensible body, and a soft skin covered with irregularly-arranged dermal spinules resembling hairs.

The fish has a large mouth that could be extended forward. This allows it to swallow prey as large as itself. The voracious carnivore will devour all right-sized prey that pass within reach, usually other fish, but sometimes even its own kind.

You can’t be sure of the colour you’d see even if you ever come across the hairy dogfish because it tends to match its environment. Frogfishes have the capacity to change colouration and pigment pattern, taking only a few weeks to adapt. However, some colours are dominant; they vary from yellow to brownish-orange, passing through a range of shades, but it can also be green, gray, brown, almost white, or even completely black without any pattern. Body and fins can be marked with roughly parallel dark stripes or elongated blotches, some with rays radiating outward from the eye.

You would find them in Lagos if they lived anywhere close to the shore but they are bottom dwellers (benthic). Average average occurrence recorded is a depth of 40m. They are found in the tropical and subtropical waters from the Indian Ocean to the center of the Pacific Ocean, and in the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Africa. They are also found on New Jersey coast to the southern Brazilian coast including the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

They make no friends, even with family members. The only thing that brings their family together is mating. Once fertilization is over, they do not tolerate each other any longer and could become the other’s prey in no time. Strange, you’d agree!

Here’s a video you will fancy on the hairy dogfish:

Business way to the grave

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Igbo was spoken freely and the menu at most restaurants was dominated by Nsala and Oha soup (predominantly Igbo dishes). Even the names being called around were Chinedu, Chigozie and other Igbo names that I have never heard. This is not Enugu, nor is it Onitsha, it’s a spare parts market in Lagos where 89 percent of the dealers are Igbo.

As we drove into Otto market where imported Honda parts are retailed in cubicle-like shops that barely allowed their owners enough space to put a chair, we discussed how industrious people from Nigeria’s southeast are. But beneath this was a people who cared less about their environment once business is fine.

In his paper, The Igbo Entrepreneur in the political economy of Nigeria Professor of Sociology, Olutayo Olanrewaju writes that “the Igbo, when compared to the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are in the forefront of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the informal sector”. The investments of Ndigbo (Igbo word for Igbo people) transcends ethnic and religious lines. Statistics show that Igbos have more than N300 trillion investment in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.

While we discussed the business acumen of the Igbo people with deep admiration, my scientific mind would not stop bringing up a question about death, and it wasn’t about business folding up.

Life expectancy in Nigeria is 52 years. All things being equal, an average Igbo man will live at least 52 years. Sadly, despite their hard work, the Igbo men in this market may not live that long and it’s their fault.

Power in Nigeria is very poor, with just 40 percent of people in the country having access to the available epileptic supply. Businesses therefore rely on generators. Every shop at market had at least a power generating set. “Na everybody get. Some shops get two sef. You may want to charge your phone. Even if you no use am during the day, we stay late and we have to on the generator to see when e dark,” said Stanley, an apprentice at Eze Ventures.

According to Stanley, the noise is sometimes deafening but people at the market are now used to it. Noise pollution can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance. At one time or the other, several traders at the market have experienced this, but few have traced it to noise pollution.

Uchenna is a friend of Stanley’s but he is not an apprentice. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics. He decided to open a shop at the market with a loan from his uncle after two years of unfruitful job search. He understands the health effects of most of the things that have become the market norms but like the other traders, he has to be present where he earns a living.

“I used to cover my ears with muffs to filter the noise a little because I know how it can affect me but do you honestly think anyone can keep that up for long?” Uchenna, who says he does not like his name shortened to Uche, told me.

I was happy that I had finally met someone who understands what I was trying to preach. My message was simple; ‘I love your entrepreneurial spirit, guys. In fact, I have a lot to learn from you business-wise, but why don’t you try out environmentally friendly means of getting power. These generators aren’t too good for your health.’ Maybe it came out the wrong way, but the owner of the last shop I visited before Uchenna had some bitter words for me. It’s good that I was quick to forget his name but his words still sting.

You people always think you know everything. You are here telling us to find alternative. If government give us light, we go dey use gen? I buy N1,500 fuel every day, you think say e sweet me? Instead of telling the government that they are not working, you lazy people will be looking for easy story to write for market. Your mates abroad dey tackle government, but all you journalists know here is to collect bribe from them and say power is better. Since you enter this market, you don see light?

He continued talking until a customer showed up to ask for Honda Flywheel for Civic 2008 model. “E dey jare, my brother,” he said, ignoring me.

I left thinking about everything he said, they were true. But I am not one of the “you people” he talked about.

The discussion with Uchenna has eroded every pain I felt from the previous interview. I had someone who understood the effects of noise pollution, and not only that, he knew they (dealers at the market) may all be dying from the effects of carbon monoxide pollution caused by excessive use of generators.

“I try my best to minimise the use of generators. If I need power just to illuminate my shop, I use rechargeable LED lights. They work just fine,” said Uchenna. “We read stories of people killed by carbon monoxide poisoning every day, but no one really thinks deeply about it here. I do.”

Uchenna said the concentration of carbon monoxide in the market could be in excess of 1000 parts per million (PPM). I agreed. Undiluted warm car exhaust without a catalytic converter gives off carbon monoxide with a concentration of 7,000 PPM. The concentration of CO from genertaors could be worse. Note that it only takes continuous exposure to CO concentration of 6400 PPM for a man to die. explains what Parts Per Million (PPM) means using an example:100 PPM CO means that for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of CO. In addition to measuring the current level of CO concentration, another measurement used is the Time-Weighted Average (TWA). This measures your average exposure to CO over time, and is also measured in PPM. For example, if you were exposed to a large dose of CO in the begining of the day, but none afterwards, your TWA for the day would be low, since for most of the day you had no exposure. If, however, you are continually exposed to 20 PPM CO throughout the day, your TWA for the day will be 20 PPM.

While we agreed that the health effects may happen only in the long term as none of the traders gets holed up in a CO-polluted room, Uchenna added that exhaust from a wood fire used in making akara (bean cake) and boiled corn by some women who sold at the market, adds to the pollution.

My discussion with Uchenna ended with a call for action but while he loves the idea, he doubts if he would be able to take up the burden.

“If I could advise them to reduce the use of generators, it will be nice. More so, we do not sell products that need to be tested with electricity. They can all use lights like mine if it’s just to illuminate their shops,” Uchenna said.

“Business is good at Otto spare parts market,” the traders told me but they must be careful about how their activities affect them and the environment for their sakes and the future of their businesses.

4D Scan Show Foetuses Yawn In The Womb

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Growing into a fully formed human being is a long process, and scientists have found that unborn babies not only hiccup, swallow and stretch in the womb, they yawn too.

Researchers who studied 4D scans of 15 healthy foetuses also said they think yawning is a developmental process which could potentially give doctors a new way to check on a baby’s health.

While some scientists have previously suggested that foetuses yawn, others disagree and say it is nothing more than a developing baby opening and stretching its mouth.

But writing in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday, British researchers said their study was able to clearly distinguish yawning from “non-yawn mouth opening” based on how long the mouth was open.

The researchers did this by using 4D video footage to examine all the times when fetuses opened their mouths.

Nadja Reissland of Durham University’s department of Psychology, who led the study, said the function and importance of yawning in foetuses is still unknown, but the findings suggest it may be linked to foetal development and could provide a further indication of the health of the unborn baby.

“Unlike us, foetuses do not yawn contagiously, nor do they yawn because they are sleepy,” she said. “Instead, the frequency of yawning in the womb may be linked to the maturing of the brain early in gestation.”

The study was carried out on eight female and seven male foetuses from 24 to 36 weeks gestation. The researchers found that yawning declined from 28 weeks and that there was no significant difference in how often boys and girls yawned. [Reuters]

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