Equilibrium/Sustainability — Powering medical devices with paper batteries

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A team of scientists has proven that it’s possible to make simple, disposable batteries out of paper.

Such devices could enable the creation of “a wide range of low-power, single-use disposable electronics,” from smart labels to medical diagnostic devices, the team wrote in a statement.

The paper “cells” are printed with inks carrying charged metal particles that replicate the positive and negative ends of a battery, according to a design published in Scientific Reports.

Scientists activated the cells by dropping water onto them — allowing electrons to flow from negative to positive side and creating an electric current that continued until the paper dried out.

The team was able to power a clock-radio display using the energy from a fingertip-sized paper-cell — producing about as much voltage as a standard double-A battery.

But unlike a metal battery, disposing of the paper cells offers far fewer environmental concerns, the researchers noted.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Send us tips and feedback. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll look at the sudden reversal in federal climate policy offered by the Senate’s new spending deal. Then we’ll see why scientists are calling for clinicians to offer blood tests to patients exposed to “forever chemicals.”

Surprise deal boosts clean energy, fossil fuels

Solar stocks rose on Thursday in response to the surprising news that leading Senate Democrats had reached a budget deal that included sweeping new climate provisions.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and longtime holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Thursday announced a package of tax credits and direct spending — the Inflation Reduction Act — that Democrats say would get the United States the majority of the way toward the Biden administration’s climate goals.

But while many environmentalists were optimistic, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that it also contains a dangerous “poison pill” of fossil fuel expansion that threatens to undercut those very goals.

A pivotal deal: The deal contains $370 billion in programs aimed at bolstering a broad suite of U.S. renewable energy supply chains, our colleagues Rachel Frazin and Aris Foley reported for The Hill.

The climate and energy provisions constitute the majority of the nearly $700 billion energy and health care deal announced Wednesday evening, as Alexander Bolton wrote for The Hill.

  • These provisions would increase access to electric vehicles (EVs) and the contribution of wind, solar and nuclear power to the grid. 

  • But the deal’s tax credits are also aimed at scaling-up emerging — and still prohibitively expensive — technologies like hydrogen fuels and carbon capture to the point that they are viable mainstream options, The New York Times reported.

Last week Manchin expressed his desire for government to help the hydrogen industry — which can be manufactured from natural gas — as we reported.

What next? Schumer urged Democrats to pass the bill before August recess, CNBC reported.

BREAKING DOWN THE DEAL

The Manchin-Schumer deal also resurrects and reforms a number of clean energy tax credits seen as crucial to the U.S. climate goals.

Boosting wind and solar: Stocks for solar energy producers and installers shot up following news of the deal, CNBC reported.

  • The deal would provide a 10-year extension to federal tax credits for wind and solar industries that were set to decrease at the end of the year, CNBC noted.

  • That decade-long lifetime offers a big advantage over the one to two year tax credits generally offered by legislation — which cause the industry to “bust” every time they lapse, according to the Times.

EV extension: The deal would expand current EV tax credits for most Americans.

  • It offers $7,500 in tax credits available for new EVs and $4,000 for used ones, the Journal reported. 

  • These credits would be available to any individuals making less than $150,000 and any married couples making less than $300,000, according to the Journal.

That stands to benefit Tesla, Toyota and General Motors, all of whom have run through their quotas, Bloomberg reported.

Banking on low-carbon: There is also $27 billion for a “green bank” to make low-interest loans for clean energy projects, The Times reported.

  • Advocates of such strategies argue that such a bank is essential to fund the community-level adaptations that constitute much of the energy transition, as we previously reported. 

  • Development banks help close the funding gap between projects too small for commercial banks to bother with, but too expensive for many neighborhoods and communities to afford on their own.

A similar proposal introduced last year by three Democratic congressional members estimated that a public bank could unleash nearly ten times as much private funding.

Fossil fuel price: The price for this expansion in clean energy spending is a tit-for-tat expansion in fossil fuel development on federal lands and waters, Bloomberg reported.

How serious is that? Depends who you ask. Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center, called this potential fossil fuel expansion — which could lock in oil and gas production into the 2030s — a “climate suicide pact.”

Others disagree: Even with the fossil fuel provisions, “the bill is still absolutely worth it for climate change,” University of Santa Barabara environmental policy professor Leah Stokes told the Times.

PFAS blood tests needed for exposed patients

Blood tests for the presence of “forever chemicals” should be available to patients who have a history of exposure to these substances, environmental health experts have determined.

Clinicians should offer tests to patients who have been exposed to these cancer-linked compounds — whether through working or living in contaminated settings, the experts argued in a 300-page report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Changes in federal guidance necessary: The report calls upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update its clinical guidance regarding blood testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

These so-called forever chemicals are linked to a variety of illnesses, such as thyroid cancer, testicular cancer and kidney disease.

Tests plus monitoring: If testing then reveals PFAS levels associated with an increased risk of adverse effects, patients should receive regular screenings and monitoring for these health impacts, according to the report.

“We are going to need robust and effective collaboration between local communities, states, and federal agencies in order to respond to the challenge of PFAS exposure,” Ned Calonge, of the University of Colorado, Denver, and report committee chair, said in a statement.

Who should be offered testing? Patients eligible for blood testing, according to the authors, should include those who:

  • Have been exposed to PFAS at work 

  • Have lived in communities with documented contamination 

  • Have lived in locations where contamination likely occurred

What types of places might be contaminated? Some such areas include residences near commercial airports and military bases — which often house PFAS-laden firefighting foam, the report stated.

Also of concern are regions near wastewater treatment plants, farms that have used sewage sludge and landfills or incinerators that received waste containing PFAS, according to the authors.

Action plan: The authors advised clinicians to take specific actions if PFAS levels reach specific threshold concentrations in a patient’s serum or plasma.

To read about these recommendations in more detail, please click here to read the full story.

West Virginia bans banks that don’t back coal

West Virginia announced on Thursday that five major financial institutions would be prohibited from doing business with the state because they no longer back the coal sector.

This decision, announced by West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore, marks the first time that a state has cut ties with major banks due to their lack of support for fossil fuel industries, according to the Times.

Which banks were banned? Moore determined that BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo are not eligible to enter into banking contracts with the state.

“Any institution with policies aimed at weakening our energy industries, tax base and job market has a clear conflict of interest in handling taxpayer dollars,” Moore said.

How is this possible? West Virginia passed a law this year backed by Moore that authorized him to bar financial institutions from engaging in business with the state if they were identified as “boycotting” fossil fuels, The New York Times reported.

  • Moore sent letters to six banks last month, notifying them that they could be forbidden from doing business with the state and gave them 45 days to reply, according to the Times.  

  • Of the six institutions, only U.S. Bancorp escaped the ban on Thursday, the Times reported.

Fossil fuels and West Virginia’s economy: The West Virginia Treasurers Office manages about $18 billion in state government receipts on a yearly basis, according to West Virginia MetroNews.

The state’s electricity supply is about 90-percent derived from coal, according to a U.S. Energy Information Agency fact sheet.

Moore has cited the critical role fossil fuels play in West Virginia’s economy as the driving factor behind the state law, MetroNews reported.

Thursday Threats

Kenya’s elephants are at greater risk from climate change than poaching, scaly invaders cost the world billions and a deadly soil bacteria shows up in the U.S.

Elephants suffering more from climate change than from poaching

  • Kenya’s ongoing drought crisis is killing 20 times more elephants than poaching, The Washington Post reported, citing local officials. While adult elephants consume 300 pounds of food and more than 50 gallons of water daily, rivers, soil and grasslands are all disappearing, according to the Post.

Amphibian, reptile invasions cost the world $17B from 1986-2020: study

  • Invasions by amphibians and reptiles beyond their native territories have cost the global economy at least $17 billion from 1986-2020, a study in Scientific Reports has found. Such invasions can cause damages such as the displacement or extinction of other species, as well as disease spread and crop losses, the authors said in a statement.   

Harmful soil bacteria found in U.S. for the first time 

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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