Bird's-eye View - Oct. 31

Decisions and innovations from around the world that affect the way Hoosiers live.
October 31, 2018
Scientists from South Africa's University of Cape Town made the world's first bio-brick made out of human urine.


South African researchers may have changed the way the world thinks about waste.

Scientists from the University of Cape Town discovered how to turn urine into an efficient, environmentally friendly construction material called “bio-bricks.”

Bio-bricks are created through a zero-waste natural process called microbial carbonate precipitation. Initially, the bricks are as strong as a 40 percent limestone brick, but can be as strong as construction demands require. The bio-bricks also solidify at room temperature, eliminating the need for traditional baking process that produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.

The researchers introduced bacteria into loose sand to create an enzyme that breaks down an organic compound in urine called urea. That chemical reaction produces calcium carbonate, which allowed the scientists to shape the sand into a building brick.

The bio-brick creation process also creates nitrogen and potassium byproducts, which are important components in commercial fertilizers.

You can read more about bio-bricks at the University of Cape Town news site.


General Motors, one of the world’s largest automakers, is asking the Trump administration to set a national gas mileage standard that includes a mandatory percentage of zero-emissions vehicles.

The Clean Air Act empowers the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set national vehicle emissions standards. It also allows California to set its own standards as long as it receives a waiver from the EPA. States are also allowed to choose to follow California’s standards.

At the end of the Obama administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that by 2025 new automobiles would have to get 36 miles per gallon. The Trump administration says it plans to freeze efficiency requirements at current 26 miles per gallon standards starting in 2021.

California, though, has set more demanding standards and plans to abide by them until the expiration of its current waiver in 2026. The Trump administration has threatened to revoke the EPA waiver. California has threatened to sue if that happens.

GM says it is against the freeze, but wants a national standard to bring down production and design costs. It also wants the government to mandate that a certain percentage of nationwide sales be made up of vehicles that run on electricity or hydrogen fuel cells.

You can read more about GM’s proposal in the Washington Post.


Nations have failed so badly in their goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that the only way to prevent catastrophic global warming is to scrub the sky clean.

According to a United Nations report released in early October, standard efforts like reducing the use of fossil fuels and moving to clean energy sources will not be enough to stop prevent global warming. To meet Paris Agreement goals for minimizing climate change impact, governments need to remove large chunks of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere by mid century.

Scientists from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have written a report detailing how that might be done. Some of the ideas being kicked around are planting a lot more trees, adopting no-till agriculture on a massive scale or using chemical agents to scrub trace amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and sell the gas.

You can read more about the proposals and drawbacks in the New York Times.

Bird's-eye View - Oct. 31