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Elements in the news

24 August 2019 - News roundup

oxygen budget Huang 2018.JPGNew segment on this blog. Elements in the news. What have they been up to lately?

Tantalum and other metals have been discovered inside millions of discarded phones and laptops just waiting to be mined / recycled the BBC reports (link). Interesting use here of the phrase "endangered metals". Chemists stick to "rare".

Carbon has been making headlines recently with the discovery of a new allotrope. What we have learned is that we need a more strict definition of "allotrope" (Nature news, DOI). Twelve molecules of cyclo(18)carbon (think hoops and think alkynes) were conceived on a slab of sodium chloride by chemical manipulation of a precursor in a set of atomic-force microscope operations. In a new definition of an allotrope, it must exist as at least more than 12 molecules.

It is possible to get politicians depressed when you mention the word nitrogen? In the Netherlands you can, if you can believe the media nitrogen threatens to grind to a halt the Dutch economy. Nitrogen containing compounds ammonia and nitrogen oxide pollute the environment. Twenty years ago new legislation demanded that new building and infrastructure projects (cause of nitrogen-compound emissions) were only allowed to take place if the environment was compensated in terms of reduction in nitrogen compound emissions. Since then building continued as before and empty emission-reduction promises were made until this year when the countries highest legislative body decided it was enough. From now on for large projects new building permits are denied unless provisions are made for the environment.So no new cities, no new highways or no new airports. Builders depressed, politicians depressed. In the debate "nitrogen" is isolated as the cause of all evil. More precise alternatives exist: nutrient pollution or reactive nitrogen. NOx is frequently encounted in air pollution discussions but it does not include ammonia. How about the introduction of NXx as a catch-all for all environmentally adverse nitrogen compounds?

Ever since eliminating sulfur emissions from factories in the combat against acid rain elemental sulfur is stockpiling in vast quantities, just waiting for useful applications. One of them could be the production of sulfur concrete (DOI) as reported by a group of researchers from Kazan National Research Technological University. Just mix in aluminum chloride and there is no such thing as too much concrete.

Is Brazil stealing our oxygen? According to French president Macron The Amazon fires are an international crisis as The Amazon is producing 20% of the planets oxygen (TheGuardian link). Is there such a thing as oxygen production by country and do countries exist that have to import oxygen to accomodate all their mammals? A Chinese study published last September (DOI) is doing some of the math. Humans are depleting the planet's oxygen supply. A fair amount of oxygen is produced by oceans (and phytoplanktons do not carry passports) but the bulk is made on land. By far the largest consumer of oxygen is fossil fuel combustion, followed by fire, human respiration and livestock respiration. The authors are gloomy: "This O2 inventory is strongly threatened by humans aggressive activities. Increasing amounts of O2 are being consumed by increasing fossil fuel combustion along with population growth, and accelerated deforestation" and " It is foreseeable that life on Earth will inevitably suffer from hypoxia in the future if we continue these extravagant activities". By the way, for fires Macron should look at equatorial Africa and not The Amazon.