On April 22, more than one billion people in 192 countries will participate in activities to celebrate the 51st annual Earth Day—a timely reminder of the urgent need to leverage scientific research and data to safeguard the environment.
Globally, the decade ending in 2020 was the hottest 10-year period recorded since 1880, and our atmosphere’s current carbon dioxide levels are higher than they've been at any point in the last 3.6 million years. Earth’s rising temperatures have led to an uptick in hurricanes, wildfires, floods and other natural disasters and the Arctic is heating up more than twice as quickly than any other region. To address and mitigate the negative effects of our changing climate, it’s imperative that we understand what’s happening and why.
Collecting Vital Ecological Data
To understand how the climate at the Earth’s poles is changing and what those shifts mean for the rest of the globe, Battelle’s Arctic Research Operations is providing infrastructure and logistics support to academic researchers conducting National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded studies in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and other Arctic areas. Through collaboration with universities, governments and regional stakeholders, we are enabling researchers to efficiently, effectively and safely study an area that is critically important to the global research community and the future of our planet.
Battelle is also involved in vital long-term research through the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), comprising 81 observation sites throughout the U.S. that are generating comprehensive ecological data and measuring change over a 30-year period. Sponsored by NSF and operated by Battelle, the NEON program is enabling researchers to address critical questions and gain a deeper understanding of ecosystem changes over time, allowing them to tackle pressing problems at a scale that was previously not possible. This information will be used to inform important natural resource and land management decisions and improve ecological forecasting. NEON’s high-quality, consistent, standardized data are freely available to anyone who needs them.
NEON recently announced its first data release, a thoroughly reviewed compilation of all the data collected by the observation sites in the last year. It is the first of many, and it (and all subsequent annual data releases) will be available to the public, enabling more robust research, while supporting better tracking of NEON data usage overall.
Advancing Technologies to Mitigate Carbon Emissions
Greenhouse gas emissions are driving earth’s rising temperature, so in addition to conducting comprehensive climate research, we must reduce carbon emissions using every means available. As the world strives to achieve carbon neutrality along with affordable and reliable energy supply and gradually transitions to the use of renewable energy, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies can be employed to sequester carbon dioxide emissions deep within the earth, preventing them from entering our atmosphere. Carbon dioxide storage in geologic formations primarily includes oil and gas reservoirs and deep saline reservoirs—structures that have stored crude oil, natural gas, brine and carbon dioxide over millions of years. For power generation and other carbon-intensive industries like oil, gas, cement and fertilizer, CCUS acts as a bridge technology that enables them to reduce their emissions while energy storage and renewables ramp up to meet demand.
For more than 25 years, Battelle’s geoscience and engineering experts have been researching, developing, and designing, advanced, economically viable CCUS technologies that reduce emissions. Safely capturing and storing CO2 several thousand feet underground can be technically and financially complicated, so it’s essential that we understand the geology of different locations where carbon dioxide can be stored to adhere to rigorous project safety and compliance standards and meet long-term business objectives. The United States Department of Energy supports research and development of tools to assess the environmental fitness and safety and potential future capacity within proposed geologic storage sites. Battelle is leveraging its expertise in geological science and engineering to ensure that CCUS projects are both safe and viable, as well as economic, so this important technology can be advanced and more widely used.
Destroying Resilient ‘Forever Chemicals’
Scrutiny of the natural resources in our communities continues to intensify and increase awareness of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as more concerns about widespread contamination, environmental risks and human health implications have been raised. PFAS have been widely used in a variety of applications, from cookware and food packaging to stain repellants and firefighting foam, and have earned the moniker “forever chemicals,” because of their ability to stay intact and accumulate in the environment and the human body over time.
The current presidential administration’s Environmental Justice Plan is addressing PFAS pollution with an intention to take action by “designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS.” In anticipation of federal regulatory action, innovative technology solutions for removing these substances from our environment also are coming forward. There are currently several available PFAS water treatment technologies, but many generate concentrated PFAS waste that must be disposed of in a landfill or via incineration (neither of which destroys them). These persistent man-made chemicals need to be totally eradicated at the source. That’s why Battelle’s environmental scientists have been working hard to pioneer new solutions that not only remove PFAS but destroy them as well.
As we slowly but surely recover from the pandemic, there’s no time to waste in turning our attention to humanity’s other looming crisis — the health of our planet and its precious natural resources.