UW-led group awarded $4 million to convert natural gas into diesel fuel

A UW-led research group may soon play a major role in reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, thanks to a $4 million award in early January from a government research agency called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The group is composed of four partners and several UW graduate and undergraduate students, working on a project to develop a genetically-modified microbe that will transform methane, the main component in natural gas, into liquid fuel for transportation.

Ecological Avatars Predict Species Invasions

Predicting species invasions is hard enough, but how can we accomplish this for non-native species with little history of misbehaving? New research published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography by Eric Larson and Julian Olden from the University of Washington suggests that borrowing the experience of a known invasive species – an ‘avatar’ species – may be useful in identifying where emerging invaders can establish.

Energy Dept. funds UW project to turn wasted natural gas into diesel

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded a group led by the University of Washington $4 million to develop bacteria that can turn the methane in natural gas into diesel fuel for transportation.

“The product that we’re shooting for will have the same fuel characteristics as diesel,” said principal investigator Mary Lidstrom, a UW professor of chemical engineering and microbiology. “It can be used in trucks, boats, buses, cars, tractors – anything that diesel does now.”

Greenland ice sheet carries evidence of increased atmospheric acidity

Research has shown a decrease in levels of the isotope nitrogen-15 in core samples from Greenland ice starting around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The decrease has been attributed to a corresponding increase in nitrates associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

However, new University of Washington research suggests that the decline in nitrogen-15 is more directly related to increased acidity in the atmosphere.

UW researchers monitor bees in local gardens

Nov. 29, 2012

In Seattle, the native bumblebee, Bombus occidentalis, is endangered. To monitor the survival of these bees, a group of graduate students in the UW Department of Biology developed the Urban Pollination Project (UPP) earlier this year.

Because of the connection between bees and food production, Susan Waters, a Ph.D. candidate in the UW Department of Biology and a researcher for UPP, said this research affects humans as well. One-third of the food humans consume could not be produced without bees.

International study provides more solid measure of shrinking in polar ice sheets

The planet’s two largest ice sheets have been losing ice faster during the past decade, causing widespread confusion and concern. A new international study provides a firmer read on the state of continental ice sheets and how much they are contributing to sea-level rise.

Dozens of climate scientists have reconciled their measurements of ice sheet changes in Antarctica and Greenland during the past two decades. The results, published Nov. 29 in the journal Science, roughly halve the uncertainty and discard some conflicting observations.

UW to work with state agencies to reduce ocean acidification

Gov. Christine Gregoire announced Tuesday that state agencies will be taking action to combat the problem of ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest, including the potential opening of a research center at the UW, as an executive order.

The Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, appointed by Gregoire to review the subject, recommended Gregoire take steps to reduce harm on marine wildlife from ocean acidification. When pH levels drop in seawater, the water becomes acidic. The effects of this on shellfish and marine life are detrimental.

Recycling wood waste

November 25, 2012

A team of UW researchers recently developed a new method of recycling wood waste, utilizing the technology as the basis for a company. The startup, entitled Carbon Cultures, generates charcoal from recycling wood waste and sells it to farmers, gardeners, or any other customer looking to improve their soil.

“We needed to get some value from the forest and thought of wood waste,” said Jenny Knoth, CEO of Carbon Cultures and Ph.D. candidate in environmental and forest sciences. “So why not do the disposal on-site?”

Beached bird program makes everyone a scientist

November 19, 2012

When it comes to bird research, one organization at the UW found that assistance from volunteers was crucial to help its program take flight.

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) is an organization that monitors the fluctuation of bird populations on beaches along the West Coast. Started in the late ’90s by Dr. Julia Parrish, professor at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, the group does monthly surveys of beaches looking for beached seabirds.