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Under-Estimate

A recent study at the University of Innsbruck has found that we may be underestimating our levels of traffic-related nitrogren oxide output – by a factor of four!

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Innsburck’s Institute of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences. These researchers used a special technique, known as the eddy-covariance method, to monitor trace gases in the air, allowing them to determine air quality in urban environments. This could be particularly useful in Europe’s metropolitan areas, where nitrogen oxide levels consistently exceed the permissible maximum.

Classified as a hazardous air pollutant, nitrogen oxide is linked to respiratory problems, damage to lung tissue, and loss of lung function. Industrial exposure can even cause vomiting, unconsciousness, mental confusion, genetic mutations, and is linked to infertility in women, as well as causing harm to children in the womb. You can learn more about the lovely things nitrogen oxide does to ruin you life at Tox Town.

“We continuously measure the concentration of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds at our urban observatory in Innsbruck. We record 36,000 data points per hour,” says Thomas Karl, who headed the team at Brunswick. Emissions can be inferred for a perimeter of up to 1km from each data point using this data.

Nitrogen oxide, also called nitrous oxide, is naturally occurring in the atmosphere as part of earth’s nitrogen cycle, but is also produced via vehicle emissions, agricultural and industrial activity, and a number of other now commonplace activities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 40% of nitrogen oxide is a result of human activity.

With the advent of electric vehicles, the world’s nitrogen oxide production will not automatically be destroyed – the wider advent of clean energy will be required to even halve anthropogenic production – but it will be a step towards cleaning it up. Consolidating the world’s power sources, away from individually owned fossil-fuel powered engines, and towards all existing electricity plants, would the have the worst-case effect of moving harmful emissions away from major population centers.

The trend, however, says something different is happening; instead of switching to electric and using grid power, more and more people are installing solar panels on their roofs, and reaping the benefits of it. This means that energy in countries that use coal is shifting more towards clean energy, if not as a result of government programs and incentives, then as a result of people taking initiative. Their motivations may be entirely selfish, but what they are doing is helping to clean up the world.

China, the world’s current manufacturing powerhouse and one of the world’s most polluted countries, is also taking action. This could mean lowered cost of purchase for existing solar technologies, and thus accelerated uptake. Although with recent developments in Fremont, it looks like solar is already cheaper than a standard roof. Tesla’s Solar Roof, in typical Tesla fashion, is already sold out until the middle of 2018. That company really knows how to sell…

Anyway, looking at something a little bit weirder, Taiwanese inventor Mr. Hon Gi Teng reportedly developed a power multiplier, which was later sold to Ukrainian company DP Verano. I am doubtful of the authenticity, as I recently heard that a group in Pakistan had developed a similar technology, but was able to find no real evidence for that claim. So despite my misgivings about the product, it is fascinating nonetheless. Of course, if it is true, then it will have huge implications for the energy industry.

So what will the future look like? Do you think we are underestimating our nitrogen oxide emissions, or are the researchers absolutely wrong? Will solar energy take off and save the world, or will it be lost to scrapheap of wasted ideas? And is the far-fetched power multiplier actually possible?

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