Tag: Environment

TAU Initiates Model for Carbon Neutrality

Climate change efforts among University’s top priorities.

Against the backdrop of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, and following a comprehensive series of tests, TAU prepares to formulate a strategic plan for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions generated by its activities and promoting more efficient use of resources and renewable energy. The university places great importance on reducing its environmental footprint by using sustainable energy, recycling water and materials, reducing use of paper, introducing green purchasing procedures and other activities designed to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually attain carbon neutrality.

Inspecting Footprints

To this end, a team of academic and administrative experts appointed by TAU’s Green Campus Committee headed by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat, launched a comprehensive inspection to assess the overall carbon footprint (in terms of CO2 equivalent) and water footprint of all TAU activities both on and off campus. The analysis, which began approximately a year ago, included assessment of the following:

  • energy consumption from various sources on campus
  • water consumption
  • transportation to and on campus
  • construction inputs
  • pruning and gardening
  • waste production and food consumption
  • serving utensils and packaging at cafes and kiosks on campus, and more

The team will soon complete their mission and submit their findings to the Green Campus Committee and TAU’s senior management. Based on their report, TAU will formulate a strategic plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus and reaching carbon neutrality.

“It Can Be Done, And We Will Do It”

TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat: “As a leading academic research and teaching institution in the fields of ecology and environmental science, committed to addressing the climate crisis, TAU established an ‘initiative for carbon neutrality’ about a year ago – the first of its kind at an Israeli university. Currently we are completing the initial inspection, and its findings will serve as a foundation for a strategic plan that will significantly reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and eventually bring us as close as possible to carbon neutrality. As a leading public university, it is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus. We hope that other institutions will join us. Time is running out and we must act immediately.”

“It is our duty to lead the efforts for addressing the climate crisis on and beyond our campus,” says TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat.

Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the School of Plant Sciences and Food Security at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, co-leader of TAU’s carbon neutrality initiative, added: “I am proud to be part of the team leading an historical move toward reducing TAU’s carbon footprint and turning it into a sustainable institution. The current climate crisis leaves no room for inaction. As a teaching and research institution, we can show the government and society the way to reducing the environmental footprint and ensuring a better world for future generations. It can be done, and we will do it.

Lior Hazan, Chair of TAU’s Student Union, added: “The climate crisis is spreading and intensifying, causing great concern. It is no longer something occurring far away, it is happening right here and now. We, the young people, have the power to change and work for a better future, in face of the gravest crisis of the 21st century, and academia is an excellent place to begin. Students must become leading ambassadors of this cause, since they are the future of society, industry, and leadership, and to this end, we must change and introduce change for the benefit of our planet. The Student Union takes an active part in TAU’s plan to attain carbon neutrality and continues to work for the rapid reduction of environmental damage.”

Ofer Lugassi, Vice President for Construction & Maintenance at TAU emphasized that the mapping of the university’s carbon and water footprints was carried out by a specialized external company, which made a great effort to include all activities on campus. 

Featured image: Students enjoying a moment on the increasingly greener TAU campus (Photo: Rafael Ben-Menashe)

Fighting Pollution With Seaweed

Coastal seaweed farms can help fight environmental damage.

Nitrogen is a common fertilizer for agriculture, but it comes with an environmental and financial price tag. Once nitrogen reaches the ocean, it disperses randomly, damaging various ecosystems. As a result, the state local authorities spend a great deal of money on reducing nitrogen concentrations in water, including in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study by Tel Aviv University and University of California, Berkeley suggests that establishing seaweed farms in areas where freshwater rivers or streams meet the oceans, or so-called “river estuaries”, significantly reduces nitrogen concentrations and prevents pollution in marine environments.

As part of the study, the researchers built a large seaweed farm model for growing the ulva sp. green macroalgae in the Alexander River estuary, hundreds of meters from the open sea. The Alexander River was chosen because the river discharges polluting nitrogen from nearby upstream fields and towns into the Mediterranean Sea. Data for the model were collected over two years from controlled cultivation studies.

The study was headed by doctoral student Meiron Zollmann, under the joint supervision of Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of Environmental and Earth Sciences and Prof. Alexander Liberzon of the School of Mechanical Engineering at The Iby and Aladar Fleischman Faculty of Engineering, Tel Aviv University, and was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Boris Rubinsky of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at UC Berkeley. It was published in the prestigious journal Communications Biology.

“My laboratory researches basic processes and develops technologies for aquaculture,” explains Prof. Golberg. “We are developing technologies for growing seaweed in the ocean in order to offset carbon and extract various substances, such as proteins and starches, to offer a marine alternative to terrestrial agricultural production. In this study, we showed that if seaweed is grown according to the model we developed, in rivers’ estuaries, they can absorb the nitrogen to conform to environmental standards and prevent its dispersal in water and thus neutralize environmental pollution. This way, we actually produce a kind of ‘natural decontamination facility’ with significant ecological and economic value, as seaweed can be sold as biomass for human use.”

Profitable and Environmentally Friendly

“Our model allows marine farmers, as well as government and environmental bodies, to know in advance what the impact will be and what the products of a large seaweed farm will be – before setting up the actual farm,” adds Meiron Zollmann. “Thanks to mathematics, we know how to make the adjustments also concerning large agricultural farms and maximize environmental benefits, including producing the agriculturally desired protein quantities.”

“The whole world is moving towards green energy, and seaweed can be a significant source,” adds Prof. Liberzon, “and yet today, there is no single farm with the proven technological and scientific capability. The barriers are also scientific: We do not really know what the impact of a huge farm will be on the marine environment. It is like transitioning from a vegetable garden outside the house to endless fields of industrial farming. Our model provides some of the answers, hoping to convince decision-makers that such farms will be profitable and environmentally friendly. Furthermore, one can imagine even more far-reaching scenarios. For example, green energy: If we knew how to utilize the growth rates for energy in better percentages, it would be possible to embark on a one-year cruise with a kilogram of seaweed, with no additional fuel beyond the production of biomass in a marine environment.”

“The interesting connection we offer here is growing seaweed at the expense of nitrogen treatment,” concludes Prof. Golberg. “In fact, we have developed a planning tool for setting up seaweed farms in estuaries to address the environmental issue while producing economic benefit. We offer the design of seaweed farms in river estuaries containing large quantities of agriculturally related nitrogen residues to rehabilitate the estuary and prevent nitrogen from reaching the ocean while growing the seaweed itself for food. In this way, aquaculture complements terrestrial agriculture.”

Featured image: The cultivation reactor that was used as the base of the model

Diminishing at the Edges

TAU study reveals: overfishing severely harms marine protected areas around the world

A new study by Tel Aviv University reveals significant ecological damage to many marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. A strong “edge effect” was observed, resulting in a 60% reduction in the fish population living on their outer edges (1-1.5 km), compared to the core areas. The “edge effect” significantly diminishes the effective size of those areas, and largely stems from human pressures, first and foremost overfishing at their borders.

Marine protected areas were designed to preserve marine ecosystems, and help to conserve and restore fish populations and marine invertebrates whose numbers are increasingly dwindling due to overfishing. The effectiveness of the protected areas has been proven in thousands of studies conducted worldwide. At the same time, most studies sample only their “inside” and “outside”, and there still is a knowledge gap about what happens in the space between their core and areas around them that are open for fishing.

The study was conducted by Sarah Ohayon, a doctoral student at the laboratory of Prof. Yoni Belmaker, School of Zoology, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The study was recently published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal.

 

The “Edge Effect”

When a protected area functions properly, the expectation is that the recovery of the marine populations within it will result in a spillover, a process where fish and marine invertebrates migrate outside its borders. In this way, the protected area can contribute not only to the conservation of marine nature, but also to the renewal of fish populations surrounding it that have dwindled due to overfishing.

To identify the dominant spatial pattern of marine populations from within the protected areas to the surrounding areas (that are open for fishing), the researchers analyzed marine populations from dozens of protected areas located in different parts of the oceans. 

“When I saw the results, I immediately understood that we are looking at a pattern of edge effect”, says Ohayon. “The edge effect is a well-studied phenomenon in terrestrial protected areas, but surprisingly it has not yet been studied empirically in MPAs. “This phenomenon occurs when there are human disturbances and pressures around the protected area, such as hunting/fishing, noise or light pollution that reduce the size of natural populations within the protected areas, close to their borders”.

 

No-Take Marine Protected Areas Are Too Small

The researchers found that 40% of the no-take MPAs (areas where fishing activity is completed prohibited) around the world are less than 1 km2, which means that entire area is likely to experience an edge effect. In total, 64% of all no-take MPAs in the world are smaller than 10 km2 and may hold only about half (45-56%) of the expected population size in their area compared to a situation without an edge effect. These findings indicate that the global effectiveness of existing no-take areas is far less than previously thought.

It should be emphasized that the edge effect pattern does not eliminate the possibility of fish spillover, and it is quite plausible that fishers still enjoy large fish coming from within the protected areas. This is evidenced by the concentration of fishing activity at their borders. At the same time, the edge effect makes it clear to us that marine populations near the borders of the protected areas are declining at a faster rate than the recovery of the populations surrounding them.

 

Buffer, Enlarge and Enforce

The study findings also show that in protected areas with buffer zones around them, no edge effect patterns were recorded, but rather a pattern consistent with fish spillover outside their borders. Additionally, a smaller edge effect was observed in well-enforced protected areas than in those where illegal fishing was reported.

“These findings are encouraging, as they signify that by putting buffer zones in place, managing fishing activity around marine protected areas and improving enforcement, we can increase the effectiveness of the existing protected areas and most probably also increase the benefits they can provide through fish spillover”, adds Ohayon.

“When planning new marine protected areas, apart from the implementation of regulated buffer zones, we recommend that the no-take MPAs targeted for protection be at least 10 km2 and that their shape be as round as possible. These measures will reduce the edge effect. Our research findings provide practical guidelines for improving the planning and management of marine protected areas, so that we can do a better job of protecting our oceans.” 

Featured image: Photo credit Dr. Shevy Rothman

He’s Bringing Plastic Back

TAU alumnus Tal Cohen and his company “Plastic Back” converts plastic waste back to its original form.

We use plastic in almost every aspect of our lives. It is cheap in production, durable and can be reused multiple times. The problem is, though, that 350M tons of plastic waste is produced annually, out of which only 8% is recycled. To counter the environmental hazard, laws and regulations, are implemented towards reducing landfill and increasing recycling. The EU has pledged to reduce landfilling to 10% of its current capacity by 2030. We spoke with Tal Cohen, a TAU alumnus with an MBA from the Coller School of Management and founder of a startup company called “Plastic Back”, who may have found the perfect solution.

The Big Savior Becomes the Big Offender

When plastic was originally introduced, 70 years ago, it was commonly believed that it would contribute to save the environment. “When plastic was first introduced, it was actually thought to be the big savior of the future environment, replacing the use of ivory, tortoise shell and corals. While petroleum came to the relief of the whale, plastic has given the elephant, the tortoise and the coral a respite in their native haunts,” says Tal. With time, however, it went from being the big savior to instead becoming recognized as a major environmental hazard,” Tal muses. Over the past 70 years since its invention, 8.3 billion tons of plastic waste has been accumulated worldwide.

And how is plastic produced? “After developing over millions of years underground, crude oil is drilled out and extracted. It is then sent to be refined by the petrochemical industry, after which it can be used for various purposes, such as fuel for cars and… plastic production,” explains Tal. Plastic is, in other words, produced from oil, a non-renewable source of energy.  

Tal is well acquainted with plastic. After earning his B.Sc. in Marine Sciences and Environment at the Ruppin Academic Center, Tal Cohen worked as a marine biologist. Three kilometers offshore, surrounded by fish and – you guessed it – plastic, he would research, work in the lab and dive. After a few years, he went on to study for an MBA at Tel Aviv University: “I wanted to learn how to develop technologies and businesses that are focused on ecological solutions. While studying ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation Technology Management’ at TAU, I was also working at a venture capital fund, handling portfolios of ten renewable energy companies. It taught me a lot about the needs of startups in the renewables field.”

 

Plastic Back’s technology offers waste handlers to help treat their waste streams and create profit, as an alternative to landfill

Bring it Back: A Chemical Solution

Tal Cohen and his Israeli based startup company “Plastic Back” offers an interesting solution: “By way of ‘reverse engineering’, we are able to convert plastic waste back to its original, valuable form of oils, waxes and other valuable chemicals. With unique chemicals, ratios and timing, our technology breaks down the carbon-to-carbon bonds of the plastic polymer to liquid fractions that can be (re)used by the petrochemical industry.” Brilliant, isn’t it?

“While transforming plastic back to oil through burning is already done, that requires very high temperatures, between 600-1000 degrees Celsius, which constitutes an environmental and financial burden. The real innovation here, is that we manage to convert the plastic to oil by chemical means only, and at room temperature. So there’s an environmental advantage which is expressed financially, and it is also advantageous energy-wise. The goal is to offer an alternative to the traditional drilling for additional non-renewable oil.”

The idea, Tal got while he was working with one of the aforementioned portfolio companies: “Once I felt like I had learnt enough about the startup world and what setting up a startup entailed, I went on a mission to find technologies. At The Hebrew University, they had a technology in place from 2016-17. It spoke to me, as it was related to plastic, which I was intimately familiar with from my time working underwater as a marine biologist, and I also knew that the renewables field is evolving.”

“The technology was in place, and so I decided to find out if there was any business interest for it. In 2019, I attended Shell’s competition in Holland, which is the largest energy competition in the EU, where more than 250 companies competed during 10 days of business and technological validation. We ended up in 2nd place. We knew then that there was demand for the crude oil which we were able to convert the plastic back to. Shell was willing to invest and to pay some money up front, so we had some starting capital. I went ahead and founded the company. We have since found an angel investor who invested a certain amount, have received recognition from the European Commission and are taking part in the EU accelerator program.”

Making Waste Vanish and Renewing Non-renewables

Who are the winners with this initiative? “Plastic Back enables a shift from a linear to a circular economy, by closing the loop between the petrochemical industry (including companies such as Shell), which is currently dependent of crude oil drilling and operating under increasingly heavy regulation and pressure, and the waste handlers who receive millions of tons of plastic waste from waste manufacturers, such as agriculture, factories and hospitals and medical devices, most of which goes to landfill. The waste handlers are seeking alternatives, especially as there’s been a fivefold increase in landfill price since 2019. The waste manufacturers, on their side, would gain the ability to treat their waste on site/close by, save expenses on removal and treatment fee and even create profits from their plastic waste.”

Tal is not planning to rest in the coming years, “The research and development phase of our project is completed for the most part. Last year, we successfully proved that there is demand for what we are offering. We have received a grant from the Ministry of Energy to set up our first pilot facility together with an industrial partner in the South of Israel in 2022. A year and a half after that, we would like to set up our first facilities. In five years from now, we should have two or three active facilities, hopefully one of them here in Israel and the rest in Europe.”

 

Tal Cohen presenting his startup at TAU’s Coller $100,000 Startup Competition in July 2021

Featured image: By way of ‘reverse engineering’, Tal’s team is able to convert plastic waste back to its original form.

Our Planet in the Hands of Academia

TAU to launch a multidisciplinary research center on climate change with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis.

Tel Aviv University will soon launch the multidisciplinary Center for Climate Change Action, with the aim of finding practical solutions to the global crisis. The new center, the first of its kind in Israel, will operate in the framework of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, and will cover the subject from all angles, utilizing the knowledge, resources and capabilities of all faculties on campus (engineering, medicine, the exact sciences, life sciences and earth sciences, law, the social sciences, humanities, and the arts). The center will collaborate with representatives from industry, academia and government, in Israel and around the world, in an effort to develop technological solutions, raise public awareness, promote legislation and regulations, and more. Furthermore, the center will support the development of new and existing projects, award scholarships to students, develop a fellowship program, fund mentorships and advanced training programs, and launch an accelerator in collaboration with industry representatives. In addition, the center will publish annual position papers and organize international conferences.

“The time has come to find solutions”

Prof. Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University: “Tel Aviv University is a partner in the need for all humankind to deal with the dangers of global warming and climate change. Confronting this challenge requires a view from many perspectives: technological, social, moral, economic, sociological, legal and more. The huge variety of disciplines at Tel Aviv University allows for such a broad view. This new multidisciplinary center that will deal with climate change joins the several multidisciplinary centers we have established in the last two years at the university, including the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Science, the Center for Combating Pandemics, and the Center for Quantum Science and Technology.” The center will be headed by Prof. Colin Price, Head of the university’s Department of Environmental Studies, who explains that “Basic research is important, but since we already know that there is a problem with global warming, and we know what causes the problem, the time has come to find solutions, from every perspective and every discipline. There are technological solutions that will come from engineering and the exact sciences, but there are also solutions that will come from regulation, public policy, and even psychology. After all, you don’t need modern technology to mobilize public support for action, and without this support, technological solutions will not be implemented. The Center for Climate Change Action will be a cross-campus collaboration, with partners in high-tech, industry, government and civil society.” According to Prof. Price, the main goal of the research center, and of humanity in general, is to first and foremost address the source of the problem, namely the greenhouse gases that humans emit into the atmosphere, and to meet the target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as defined by the UN. “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve,” adds Prof. Price. ”A good example of this is solar energy. It’s cheaper to generate electricity from solar energy today  than from a power plant that uses fuel, coal or even natural gas, but the solar energy must be transported to people’s homes, the electricity generated must be stored at night, that is, in batteries, and you need infrastructure to carry the energy to population centers. We need to invest in finding practical solutions today, in order to avoid the gloomy forecasts of tomorrow.” Prof. Colin Price: “We have a total of 30 years to find solutions and reach a global balance, and there are still a lot of problems to solve.”

Prince of Monaco to TAU: Together, We Can Fix Environment

Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution but one example of productive ties between TAU and Monaco, says Albert II, during webinar

Tel Aviv University held an online meeting on September 24 with the Prince of Monaco, Albert II, together with entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Aaron G. Frenkel, Prof. Colin Price, Head of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and Head of the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution, and Mr. Nico Rosberg, a sustainability entrepreneur and Formula One World Champion. The meeting, which addressed environmental issues and sustainability development, was also attended by TAU President Prof. Ariel Porat and Prof. Francois Heilbronn, President of the French Friends of Tel Aviv University, who acted as moderator.

Years of collaboration

The Prince has actively promoted environmental causes for many years, leading quite a number of environmental initiatives, both local and international. In 2006, he established the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation which advances environmental protection and sustainable development, supporting studies and research on environmental issues, technological innovation and social awareness practices. TAU and Monaco have been collaborating for several years. In December 2017, a delegation from TAU participated in a gala event focusing on the environment, smart cities and ecology, in collaboration with the Foundation. In June 2018, Prince Albert II received an Honorary Doctorate from TAU, in recognition of his deep commitment to preserving the environment for future generations, while promoting collaborations for finding solutions to problems of climate, water and ecosystem diversity. Last September in Monaco TAU launched the Frenkel Initiative for Combating Pollution, supported by Aaron Frenkel. This initiative is a continuation of the joint agreement for combating pollution signed during Albert II’s visit to TAU in June 2018. “Many organizations in Monaco are now connected with scientists from Tel Aviv university, working on different projects for combating pollution,” Frenkel says. “I hope others will join me, and we could create a momentum of projects bettering our places and the world as such.” The joint initiative will support applied research at the Department of Environmental Studies and the Department of Geography and Human Environment at TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. Research will focus on solutions for problems of air pollution, while also supporting Monaco’s activities in the fields of energy efficiency and renewable energy. “In the Porter School of Environment, we are trying for the last six years to promote innovative startup companies in the field of smart abilities. We just recruited a new round of startups last week thanks to the generous support of Mr. Frenkel and the collaborations with Monaco,” says Prof. Price. Featured image: Top left clockwise: Prince of Monaco, Albert II, Aaron G. Frenkel, Prof. Colin Price and Mr. Nico Rosberg

Turning vapor into electricity?

Electricity generated by interactions between water molecules and metals may be turned into a source of energy, Tel Aviv University research reveals

The search for renewal energy sources, which include wind, solar, hydroelectric dams, geothermal, and biomass, has preoccupied scientists and policymakers alike, due to their enormous potential in the fight against climate change. A new Tel Aviv University study finds that water vapor in the atmosphere may serve as a potential renewable energy source in the future. The research, led by Prof. Colin Price in collaboration with Prof. Hadas Saaroni and doctoral student Judi Lax, all of TAU’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, is based on the discovery that electricity materializes in the interaction between water molecules and metal surfaces. “We sought to capitalize on a naturally occurring phenomenon: electricity from water,” explains Prof. Price. “Electricity in thunderstorms is generated only by water in its different phases – water vapor, water droplets, and ice. Twenty minutes of cloud development is how we get from water droplets to huge electric discharges – lightning – some half a mile in length.” The researchers set out to try to produce a tiny low-voltage battery that only works on humidity in the air, building on the findings of earlier discoveries. In the nineteenth century, for example, English physicist Michael Faraday discovered that water droplets could charge metal surfaces due to friction between the two. A much more recent study showed that certain metals spontaneously build up an electrical charge when exposed to humidity,

Voltage in the air

The scientists conducted a laboratory experiment to determine the voltage between two different metals exposed to high relative humidity, while one is grounded. “We found that there was no voltage between them when the air was dry,” Prof. Price explains. “But once the relative humidity rose above 60%, a voltage began to develop between the two isolated metal surfaces. When we lowered the humidity level to below 60%, the voltage disappeared. When we carried out the experiment outside in natural conditions, we saw the same results.” “Water is a very special molecule that during molecular collisions can transfer an electrical charge from one to the other. Through friction, it can build up a kind of static electricity,” says Prof. Price. “We tried to reproduce electricity in the lab and found that different isolated metal surfaces will build up different amounts of charge from water vapor in the atmosphere, but only if the air relative humidity is above 60%. This occurs nearly every day in the summer in Israel and every day in most tropical countries.” According to Prof. Price, this study challenges established ideas about humidity and its potential as an energy source.  “While people know that dry air results in static electricity and you sometimes get ‘shocks’ you when you touch a metal door handle, water is normally thought of as a good conductor of electricity, not something that can build up charge on a surface, however, it seems that things are different once the relative humidity exceeds a certain threshold” he says. The researchers, however, showed that humid air may be a source of charging surfaces to voltages of around 1 Volt.  “If a AA battery is 1.5V, there may be a practical application in the future: to develop batteries that can be charged from water vapor in the air,” adds Prof. Price. “The results may be particularly important as a renewable source of energy in developing countries, where many communities still do not have access to electricity, but the humidity is constantly about 60%,” concludes Prof. Price.

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