The Big Blue Files | Episode 19

[As featured in Episode 19]

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Australia is about to build a football-sized battery that will help stabilize a part of it’s energy grid.

The installation is a partnership with Tesla and uses that company’s technology for lithium-ion batteries. It will be located in the state of Victoria, Australia’s second most populous region, a region that relies heavily on coal-powered plants. The project is part of the overall goal to generate 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by the end of this decade.

Australian officials see the move to a modernized power generator and storage system as critical. The effort will help meet growing demands that are overwhelming older power grids that have suffered numerous blackouts in recent years.  The mega battery is expected to have the capacity to power half a million homes for one hour.  While the Victorian “Big Battery” is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, even larger battery projects are scheduled for installation in the United Stated in both New York and California.

Air Pollution and COVID-19

Some preliminary research has found that air pollution may contribute to an increase in deaths from COVID-19. The connection of heart and lung disease due to inhaling dirty air over time is widely accepted, but this new research is sounding alarm bells on how air pollution can make infections from illnesses, like coronavirus, worse. 

The new research is published in the journal Science Advances. The study investigated the impact of long-term exposure to fine particulate matter on COVID-19 mortality rates in over 3,000 counties in the US and covered 98 per cent of the population.  It found that each extra microgram of tiny particulate matter, per cubic metre of air, over the long-term increases the COVID-19 mortality rate by 11 per cent. That puts the mortality risk in COVID-19 patients and air pollution roughly on a par with the link between coronavirus patients and smoking.

Although further studies will need to conducted, this raises the prospect of air pollution data being used to forecast which areas may need the most help treating people with the illness.

Could Hemp Help Build Cities?

The uses for the hemp plant are extensive with everything from makeup, to carpet and fuel and now, more than ever, in construction. Like its namesake concrete, hempcrete is a material mixed with a binder that hardens it into solid blocks or panels. Made from the dried woody core of hemp stalks and a lime-based binder, hempcrete can be cast just like concrete, but unlike concrete, hempcrete actually sequesters carbon dioxide (CO2).

In one study, researchers found that hempcrete can sequester 307 kilograms of CO2 per cubic meter, which is 19 pounds per cubic foot, roughly the equivalent of the annual carbon emissions of three refrigerators. “While we’re growing it and building hempcrete, it’s sucking CO2 the whole time and encapsulating the CO2 in the structure,” says Eric McKee, founder of the U.S. Hemp Building Association. 

A Canadian Company, Just BioFiber, based in Alberta, produces a similar product with production advancements. Their hemp bricks improves air quality because they regulate humidity ensuring that mould cannot grow and it serves as a significant insulator. Terry Radford, Just BioFiber CEO says, “it works really well in hot climates, without the need for air conditioning, and the same in cold environments.” Radford adds, “The product is sustainable, carbon negative and a quicker build than using concrete.”

Photo: Just Bio Fiber

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