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Cadmium chloride is a nasty chemical. If it gets on the skin, it releases cadmium, which has been linked to cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease. And yet the expensive, dangerous compound has long been used as a coating for thin-film solar cells because it increases the efficiency of converting sunlight to energy. During manufacturing, chemists have to don protective gear and use fume hoods and other precautions to apply the coating, then carefully dispose of the dissolved cadmium waste.

Physicist Jon Major of the University of Liverpool in England and his team set out to find a replacement. They tested numerous alternative salts, including sodium chloride (table salt) and potassium chloride, and found that magnesium chloride yielded comparable efficiency. “We got cells as good as, if not better than, anything we ever got with cadmium chloride,” Major says.

Magnesium chloride is also nontoxic, abundant and costs about 300 times less than cadmium chloride. It can even be applied with a cheap spray coater purchased on the Web. The team published its research online in June in Nature. (Scientific Americanis part of Nature Publishing Group.)

The new material applies to those solar cells that are made of cadmium telluride, the second most abundant type of solar cell in the worldwide market. Some experts are skeptical that the swap will yield big cost savings because the largest expense varies between manufacturers. Alessio Bosio, a physicist at the University of Parma in Italy, estimates savings will be “minimal,” at about 15 percent. Still, physicist Julian Perrenoud of Switzerland’s Empa, a materials science institute, who was not involved in the study, is optimistic. Using magnesium chloride, he says, “will reduce not only the health risks but also the production costs because the raw material is cheaper and much easier to dispose of.”

How You Can Help This Japan Dolphins Day

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Just as another months-long dolphin drive is set to begin in Taiji, Japan, dolphin advocates will be taking part in Japan Dolphins Day on September 1 as part of an international effort to raise awareness about their plight and encourage a future where this slaughter no longer takes place.

The award-winning documentary The Cove brought Taiji’s annual dolphin drives into the spotlight and raised international outrage over the cruel practice of rounding up thousands of dolphins and killing them for their meat every year. It also brought attention to the relationship between the slaughter and the practice of taking and selling some of these cetaceans to marine parks around the world where they’re exploited for entertainment.

The especially heartbreaking case of Angel, a rare albino calf who made headlines after she was torn from her mother’s side and taken by fishermen during a violent roundup last January, led to international outrage over the captures and helped raise the profile of the ways the captures are helping to perpetuate these drives even further.

Sadly, the slaughter and captures continue. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), nearly 850 dolphins of mixed species were killed last season, while more than 150 were taken alive for captivity. The outlook for this year isn’t looking much better:

Quotas have been set for the 2014-15 season, and allow for 1,938 dolphins to be taken in the drive hunts in Taiji alone. Of this total, nearly 1,000 bottlenose and striped dolphins may be killed, along with hundreds of other spotted, Risso’s, Pacific white-sided dolphins, false killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales.

The good news is that this year their advocates will be back at events being held around the world on Japan Dolphins Day to campaign on their behalf and help end the demand for captive dolphins. According to the Dolphin Project, last year more than 16,000 people participated at nearly 117 events and organizers expect record numbers this year.

Ric O’Barry, Campaign Director for the Earth Island Institute’s Save Japan Dolphins and founder of Japan Dolphins Day events, stated:

“The last Taiji hunting season was a brutal one. Across the globe, members of the public reacted to international headlines when hundreds of bottlenose dolphins were herded into the Cove in Taiji. One of those dolphins, Angel, became a symbol of the brutality of the hunts and helped to build and galvanize worldwide opposition to the inhumane captures. We plan to highlight the plight of Angel this year, along with our new slogan: Liberate, then Celebrate: A New Era for Dolphin Compassion.”

As the Dolphin Project notes, this day is not about attacking Japan – most Japanese people don’t know about the hunts and are appalled when they learn about it – it’s about continuing to educate everyone about what’s happening and about the dangers associated with eating mercury-laden dolphin meat, in addition to working with the government to end the slaughter.

We can’t all be there in Taiji to help, but there are a lot of other things we can do to help support efforts to end these dolphin drives this Japan Dolphins Day.

Attend an Event

Dolphin advocates will be attending events taking place around the world at embassies, aquariums and other public places to help educate the people about the drives in Taiji and how captivity plays a role in the continued roundups of dolphins. To find an event near you, visit the Dolphin Project’s map.

Write Letters and Sign Petitions

Dolphin advocates are being urged to send a letter to the Japanese Embassy in your country and the U.S. Embassy in Japan to voice concerns over the continued dolphin drives. You can also send a letter to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums urging it to stop supporting facilities that take dolphins from drive hunts.

Already more than 482,000 people have signed the Care2 petition urging the Obama administration to address this issue, but there there are also plenty of other petitions that are circulating to help these dolphins. You can still sign the ones asking SeaWorld to abandon its plans to import a Pacific white-sided dolphin that was taken from a drive hunt and another one asking Taiji not to open its own marine park.

Support Organizations Working to Save Dolphins

For more information on ways to help organizations working to protect cetaceans and end dolphin drives, visit the Dolphin ProjectSea Shepherd’s Cove GuardiansSave Japan Dolphins and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Just Stay Home

One of the easiest ways to help is by simply not visiting aquariums and marine parks that keep dolphins (or whales). The profits raked in from the sale of dolphins captured during these drives is largely subsidizing them, and the money these facilities make from visitors helps support the demand for more. Please also continue to spread the word about these drives and why captivity is bad for cetaceans.

This video was created by Megan Rose Taylor, who writes in the description that she hopes to inspire others to give their voice to these dolphins. If you don’t want to see graphic images, close your eyes and listen to her powerful words.

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