European Clean Energy Innovators to Get €100 Million

From left: Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union; billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Bill Gates; European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, October 17, 2018 Brussels, Belgium (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

From left: Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union; billionaire co-founder of Microsoft and chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Bill Gates; European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, October 17, 2018 Brussels, Belgium (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 18, 2018 ( News) – Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates knows that €100 million can fund a lot of climate-friendly, clean energy research by European innovators, so as founding chairman of a new investment fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Gates is collaborating with the European Commission to provide that support.

Under Gates’ leadership, Breakthrough Energy and the European Commission Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish Breakthrough Energy Europe (BEE), a joint investment fund to help innovative European companies develop and bring “radically new clean energy technologies” to market.

Breakthrough Energy Europe links public funding with long-term risk capital so that clean energy research and innovation can be brought to market more quickly and efficiently.

With a capitalization of €100 million (US$115.2 million), the fund will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy efficiency in the areas of electricity, transport, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.

Gates said in Brussels, where he met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, “We need new technologies to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Europe has demonstrated valuable leadership by making impressive investments in R&D.”

“The scientists and entrepreneurs who are developing innovations to address climate change need capital to build companies that can deliver those innovations to the global market,” said Gates. “Breakthrough Energy Europe is designed to provide that capital.”

Breakthrough Energy Europe is expected to be operational in 2019. Half the equity will come from Breakthrough Energy and the other half from InnovFin, risk-sharing financial instruments funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s current research and innovation program.

InnovFin, EU Finance for Innovators, is a joint financing initiative launched by the European Investment Bank Group with the European Commission under Horizon 2020.

The agreement signed Wednesday supports the Commission’s desire to lead the fight against climate change and to deliver on the Paris Agreement, giving a strong signal to capital markets and investors that the global transition to a modern, clean economy is here to stay.

President Juncker said, “Europe must continue to take the lead in tackling climate change head on, at home and across the world. We must push for the modernization of Europe’s economy and industry in order to meet the ambitious targets put in place to protect our planet.”

“Pooling public and private investment in new, innovative clean energy technology is key to enabling long-term solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Juncker. “If Europe is to have a future that can guarantee the well-being of all its citizens, it will need to be climate-friendly and sustainable.”

The EU views itself as playing a decisive role in building the coalition of ambition making the adoption of the Paris Agreement possible in December 2015. is a global leader on climate action.

The Commission has already brought forward all legislative proposals to deliver on the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions in the European Union by at least 40 percent by 2030.

Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the Commission for the Energy Union, said, “The scale and speed of what is needed to reach our climate goals require innovative thinking and bold action. Not only is this new public-private investment vehicle being set up in record time, it will also serve as an example of us joining forces to accelerate breakthrough innovation in Europe.”

Beyond updating and strengthening its energy and climate legislation, the EU is developing enabling measures that will stimulate investment, create jobs, empower and modernize industries.

The Commission is currently working on a long-term strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gases. The proposal will be published in November, ahead of the UN’s annual climate summit in Katowice, Poland.

Carlos Moedas, commissioner for research, science and innovation, observed, “We are delivering on our commitment to stimulate public-private cooperation in financing clean energy innovation. The €100 million fund will target EU innovators and companies with the potential to achieve significant and lasting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

On the margins of the COP21 climate conference in Paris in 2015, Mission Innovation was launched as an international partnership to accelerate clean energy innovation and provide a long-term global response to climate challenge.

By joining Mission Innovation, 23 countries and the European Commission, on behalf of the EU, pledged to double their clean energy research and innovation funding to about $30 billion a year by 2021.

Also at the Paris summit, from which the Paris Agreement on climate emerged, a group of investors from 10 countries announced their intention to drive innovation from laboratories to the market by investing long-term capital at unprecedented levels in early-stage technology development in Mission Innovation participating countries. It was the genesis of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Featured Image: Renault’s electric car, the Zoe, in Sicily. Renault is supplying 200 Renault ZOEs for the rental fleet of Sicily by Car, a leading Italian car-hire firm. 2017 (Photo courtesy Renault) Posted for media 

What Makes a City Smart?

The outlines of an autonomous car, 2017 (Photo by Automobile Italia) Creative Commons License via Flickr.

The outlines of an autonomous car, 2017 (Photo by Automobile Italia) Creative Commons License via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, October 2, 2018 ( News) – By 2050 cities are forecast to be inhabited by 6.5 billion people, and making cities smarter to accommodate the population boom is on the minds of transportation experts around the world.

Intelligent traffic management systems, connected and autonomous electric vehicles, ride-hailing services, parking apps and all-electric public transit and commercial fleets promise benefits such as less congestion, improved access to transit and better air quality.

Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) will serve as the foundation for vehicles to communicate with each other and everything around them, providing 360º non-line-of-sight awareness and a higher level of predictability for enhanced road safety and autonomous driving.

Smart City creation is dependent on the same technologies underlying the Internet of Things (Iot).

The IoT is expected to transform mobility with more ride-sharing, less road congestion and greater mobility for the disabled. Commercial fleets can run at non-peak hours, and autonomous vehicles operating through the IoT will use roads more efficiently, giving commuters more free time.

“Code is the new concrete for 21st century cities and we need a digital infrastructure to share data and create safer and more sustainable streets,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation in the Bloomberg administration, and an advisor on transportation and urban issues.

Sadik-Khan supports the SharedStreets platform first funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and developed by the National Association of City Transportation Officials and the Open Transport Partnership.

SharedStreets is a neutral, anonymous clearinghouse for data collected by transportation providers, private companies and government agencies. It is a hub for data analysis, traffic planning, street design and development of new technologies for a smarter future.

“The SharedStreets platform offers cities and private sector players a powerful new data sharing tool to make that future possible,” says Sadik-Khan.

C40 Cities estimates that the global smart city market is expected to grow to $1.6 trillion within the next three years. But it will take citizen engagement, data sharing, and collaborations of all kinds, whether city-city, city-state, city-federal or public-private.

From Australia, Zoe Eather, host of The Smart City Podcast  and founding member of Smart Cities Council Emerging Innovators, says, “Smart will look different in different places, different projects and from different perspectives, but essentially we need to co-create a shared vision. A vision that is Smart, a vision where we focus on what the community wants/needs/desires and a vision where we utilize the most relevant and appropriate technology to enable this. We do this to make cities, spaces and places more accessible, livable and just cool places to be.”

Smart City Events This Fall Worldwide

  • Smart Cities Week is happening October 2-4 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, organized by the Smart Cities Council.

This year’s theme is Collaboration: the cornerstone of the smart city.

Tracks this year include: Re-imagining transportation, Enlightened financing, The smart workforce, Data for civic good, and Smart infrastructure. All five tracks include sessions highlighting collaborations between city and city, city and state, city and federal, and public-private.

Jesse Berst, founder and chairman, Smart Cities Council, has explained smart cities this way, “You’re not really a Smart City until you’ve made all the aspects of urban life smart and you’ve interconnected them all. We’re not there yet; in each of those individual silos there are wonderful examples, but we haven’t put it all together. It’ll be 20 or 30 years and it’ll be an ongoing journey.”

Washington is not the only Smart Cities Week the Council is hosting. Smart Cities Week Silicon Valley took place May 7-9 in Santa Clara, California, attended by mayors from across the USA. A workshop on using the science of wellbeing to guide the evolution of a smart city was one of the most popular as participants learned how cities can leverage the power of data to improve livability, workability and sustainability.

  • On October 3-4 the TU-Automotive West Coast Conference is scheduled for San Jose, California in Silicon Valley. The event is organized by KNect365, a division of Informa, a multinational events and publishing company based in London, UK.

Public-private data partnerships are on the agenda, as is a workshop titled, Edge v Cloud: Processing the Data Hoard, which focuses on the transfer of data to make real-time decisions in connected and autonomous vehicles.

There’s a lot of interest in a workshop called, Blockchain: From Hype to Application, which will explore what Blockchain is and what this technology brings when applied to connected cars and mobility solutions.

Participants will learn how Blockchain allows the creation of digital ledgers with un-tamperable data, increasing transparency, security and preventing counterfeits by techniques such as putting tags in products.

They will learn to use Blockchain’s decentralization properties, how a network of nodes opens up to third parties and new services, and the benefits of running in totally decentralized ways.

  • On October 16-17, the ADAS and Autonomous Vehicles USA Conference is taking place at the Suburban Collection Showplace, a convention and expo center in Novi, Michigan, 20 miles west-northwest of Metro Detroit.

ADAS stands for advanced driver-assistance systems, and the event will focus on “the here and now of self-driving technology,” organizers say.

  • At the end of October, for three days, October 29-31, the Smart Cities Council is hosting Smart Cities Week Australia, in Sydney. The event will be filled with boardroom discussions on the smart state, cybersecurity, digital built environment and innovation districts; masterclasses on building your IoT strategy, creating public places and spaces of the future and engaging in next generation utilities; a showcase stage for innovators; and a research forum bringing government, academia and industry together to explore the role of research in accelerating smart cities.
  •  Smart Cities Summit is planned for October 29-30 in Atlanta, Georgia. This event, too, is organized by KNect365.

For the first time, Smart Cities Summit will be co-located with Internet of Things (IoT) events – both Industrial IoT World and the IoT Blockchain Summit, to provide more opportunities for shared learning and networking.

The Summit will explore 10 steps to smart city readiness; public-private partnerships, sustainable infrastructure, 5G, and ecomobility. Speakers will share insights on new disruptive technologies, innovation procurement and bringing together small and large cities to build on collaboration.

The event will focus on what makes a city more livable, sustainable, resilient, inclusive and smarter with a focus on people. It is intended to reinforce the smart community all over the world.

Five main topics are on the agenda: Digital Transformation, Urban Environment, Mobility, Governance and Finance, and Inclusive and Sharing Cities.

The Smart Mobility Congress, the International Integrated Water Cycle Show (Iwater), the Circular Economy European Summit and the Sharing Cities Summit will be held in parallel to the SCEWC, creating synergies between the co-located events.

“It’s the place to find ways together with cities to accelerate the deployment of smart city projects,” says Ralf Nejedl, senior vice president B2B Europe, Deutsche Telekom.

Smart City Explorations

“With the emergence of shared autonomous mobility, connected infrastructure, and smart city technologies, the prospects for an urban intermodal transportation ecosystem that is faster, cheaper, cleaner, and safer appear to be just over the horizon,” writes Doug Peeples, a Portland, Oregon-based writer, on the Smart Cities Council website.

Cities throughout the world have many approaches to integrated mobility:

In September 2016, New York City advanced to phases 2 and 3 of the Connected Vehicle Pilot program managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, a national effort to deploy, test, and activate mobile and roadside technologies and enable multiple connected vehicle applications.

Phase 2 was a 20-month period to design, build, and test the wireless in-vehicle, mobile device, and roadside technologies. Phase 3 is an 18-month evaluation period where the effectiveness of the deployment will be tested. Both phases are being carried out on a $18.6 million award from the U.S. DOT under the Obama Administration.

Columbus, Ohio, winner of the U.S. DOT’s Smart City Challenge, will build a Smart Columbus Operating System to provide near-real-time data on traffic conditions throughout the city. The city will later expand the system to all smart city operations and services.

Singapore’s Intelligent Transport System keeps tabs on traffic congestion charges and electronic road pricing and monitors traffic with road sensors and GPS apps in taxis, and sends the information to a control center that relays that information to travelers.

Residents of Helsinki, Finland can use Whim, a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) app, that allows them to plan their trips and pay for their rides – be it a bike, train, taxi, bus or car share.

The city of Cascais, Portugal, a popular travel destination, offers a similar service for residents and visitors. Several cities and private sector operators are looking at ways to adopt MaaS to their unique circumstances.

The city of Olympia, Washington, in April launched new parking management software and technology to make it easier for citizens to pay for parking permits and apply for them. The city is phasing in a Pay-by-Phone system that will allow payment by smart phone at city parking meters and notify users when the meter is about to expire so they can add time remotely.

The city of Dallas, Texas, is exploring ways to integrate smart technologies into street rehabilitation projects that could include smart-powered lanes to provide in-road charging for electric vehicles. Other options are traffic controls that regulate traffic lights according to traffic flow and LED street lights equipped with multiple sensors.

Chicago and AT&T have been working together on approaches and technologies to make the city more connected, smarter, livable and manageable. Chicago was one of the first cities selected for the smart cities program the company launched last year.

AT&T and Chicago will field test smart transit shelters that include free WiFi, digital displays that track and update bus arrival times and intelligent lighting. Smart kiosks will offer USB charging ports and touch screens that provide travel, weather and public safety information. For the pilot, three bus shelters and five kiosks will be installed around the city.

RUGGEDISED is a smart city project funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. It brings together three lighthouse cities: Rotterdam, Netherlands; Glasgow, Scotland; and Umeå, Sweden and three follower cities: Brno, Czech Republic; Gdansk, Poland; and Parma, Italy to test, implement and accelerate the smart city model across Europe.

Working in partnership with businesses and research centers, these six cities will demonstrate how to combine  information and communications technology (ICT), ecomobility and energy solutions to design smart, resilient cities.

“In order for urban data platforms to progress, cities must bridge this gap and have a clear vision about how to take the platform beyond just making data sources available, by connecting data sources with app developers and enabling the creation and exchange of value on the platform,” says Dr. Haydee Sheombar, research consultant and coach at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

Data from 34 European cities’ urban data platforms have been gathered and analyzed on the stage of development, the vision behind these platforms, the design of business and technology, implementation barriers and accelerators, and the platforms’ use and impact.

Each urban data platform exploits modern digital technologies to integrate data flows within and across city systems. They make data resources accessible to participants in a city’s ecosystem.

“Both technical and social contracts are crucial,” says RSM MSc student Denis Ceric, who researched citizen engagement in urban platforms in Rotterdam, Munich, and Barcelona. He says that before cities can encourage citizen engagement, their urban data platforms must first define the role of citizens and their understanding of ideas such as data ownership and privacy.

Connected vehicles communicate with each other and everything around them such as traffic lights, road signs and wearables. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Transportation) Public domain.

Connected vehicles communicate with each other and everything around them such as traffic lights, road signs and wearables. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Transportation) Public domain.

Mobility Providers Share Critical Data

Ford Motor Company and the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have made an unprecedented commitment to SharedStreets, a new data platform that makes it easier for the private sector to work with cities and leverage data to improve urban mobility.

The data sets pledged by the companies will provide the public and private sectors with new tools to manage curb space in order to reduce congestion and emissions that cause climate change; improve the efficiency of city streets by making it easier for everyone to get around; and save lives by preventing traffic crashes.

The public-private partnership is the result of a collaboration with NACTO, the Open Transport Partnership and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the consortium behind the innovative SharedStreets data platform.

This collaborative effort to build 21st-century streets was announced by Jim Hackett, Ford CEO; Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, and John Zimmer, Co-founder and President of Lyft, on September 26 at the second annual Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City.

The partnership gives mayors unparalleled access to road traffic data, allowing them to make better planning and investment decisions as shared and autonomous mobility arrive in their cities.

The agreement also fills a long-missing link for mobility companies by providing a common standard for sharing data across all cities, where local requirements vary widely.

Launched earlier this year with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, SharedStreets is a universal data language for sharing information about city streets and a launching pad for public-private collaboration to manage streets, reduce traffic deaths, and prepare cities for the unprecedented technological advancement emerging in cities.

Already operating in over 30 cities around the world, the SharedStreets platform and this new partnership will provide city leaders with far-reaching new instruments for managing transportation networks.

Under the new partnership, Uber and Lyft will release vehicle speed data from cities around the world. With this data, cities can identify exactly where people are speeding or driving dangerously, so that they can redesign streets and save lives.

Uber will include this speed data in an update of its open-source tool, providing cities everywhere with innovative new tools for data visualization and information sharing.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for business and government to work together to rethink transportation,” said Hackett. “Collaborating through initiatives such as Shared Streets will enable us to use vehicles, road systems and data together to create a new roadmap for mobility. We are working toward a future where all cities are smart and curb space is actively managed, increasing efficiency and safety, while reducing driver stress and pollution.”

For the first time, the SharedStreets platform overcomes long-standing legal, regulatory and technological barriers between the public and private sectors by converting today’s ad hoc, disparate transportation data sources into a mutually readable, shared, global standard.

“The private and public sectors need to come together and collaborate on ways to create smarter, safer and more efficient transportation systems,” said Uber’s Khosrowshahi. “It’s the responsibility of companies like ours to step up and support cities in every way we can – whether that’s through data sharing, urban planning research, funding for nonprofits, or even through the introduction of new and more efficient forms of transportation like electric bicycles.”

“Lyft is in a unique position to drive positive change within our cities, and we take that responsibility seriously” said Lyft’s Zimmer. “We look forward to collaborating with regulators to expand affordable mobility options, taking cars off the road and reducing congestion, and ultimately reshaping cities around people – not cars.”

In addition to launching the new tools and partnerships, NACTO, representing 74 cities and transit agencies across North America, and global cities from Paris to Melbourne, formally endorsed the data sharing policies of SharedStreets, committing to working collaboratively with the private sector.

Michael Bloomberg said, “Ride-share and auto companies have been gathering an enormous amount of data on transportation and traffic. Now, cities will be able use it to find new ways to manage congestion, reduce carbon emissions, prevent traffic crashes, and prepare for the arrival of autonomous vehicles.”

5G, the Key to Smart Cities

Fast download speeds are the start; the fifth-generation wireless network can put smart city transformation into overdrive.

The next big leap in telecommunications, 5G performance targets include high data rate, reduced latency, energy saving, cost reduction, higher system capacity and massive device connectivity.

T-Mobile US has plans to build 5G networks in 30 cities this year and launch those commercially in 2019.

In Sweden, the RUGGEDISED Lighthouse city of Umeå has been chosen as the country’s first 5G city. Erasmus University will be the first 5G university in Europe.

5G technology can manage large amounts of data in new and more advanced ways. It gives extremely fast connections with very low delay and improved security compared to what current networks can offer, at a lower cost with reduced energy consumption.

“5G is a big leap in wireless communications that will open up a world in which everything can communicate with each other,” says Channa Seneviratne, executive director of network infrastructure engineering at Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company.

Seneviratne says 5G is fundamental to autonomous vehicles because, “AVs will be able to connect with everything around them such as traffic lights, road signs and wearables, and make better safety decisions as a result.”

Seneviratne says 5G networks will “bring the smart city to life.”


Getting Comfortable With Soft Robotics

New Robotic Skins technology developed by Yale researchers allows users to turn everyday objects into robots. (Photo courtesy Yale University)

New Robotic Skins technology developed by Yale researchers allows users to turn everyday objects into robots. (Photo courtesy Yale University)

By Sunny Lewis

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, September 20, 2018 ( News) – Search-and-rescue robots that act without risk to first responders, a robotic gripper that grasps and moves objects – these applications and many more just moved closer to reality with the development of a new technology in a Yale University lab.

Called Robotic Skins, the technology lets users turn everyday soft objects into robots and design their own robotic systems.

The Robotic Skins were created in the lab of Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale.

The skins are made from elastic sheets embedded with sensors and actuators. Placed on a soft object such as a stuffed animal or a foam tube, the skins animate it from the surface.

The robots can do different tasks depending on the properties of the soft objects and how the skins are applied.


“We can take the skins and wrap them around one object to perform a task, locomotion, for example, and then take them off and put them on a different object to perform a different task, such as grasping and moving an object,” explained Kramer-Bottiglio.

“We can then take those same skins off that object and put them on a shirt to make an active wearable device,” she said.

With the robotic skins on board, said the Yale scientist, anything from a balloon to a ball of crumpled paper could potentially be made into a robot with a purpose.

In the past, robots have been built to serve a single purpose.

Now the robotic skins allow users to create multi-functional robots on the fly. Kramer-Bottiglio says that means they can be used in settings that hadn’t even been considered when they were designed.

Piling on the skins in layers allows for more complex movements and different types of motion.

“Now we can get combined modes of actuation – for example, simultaneous compression and bending,” Kramer-Bottiglio said.

To demonstrate the robotic skins in action, the researchers created prototypes – foam cylinders that move like an inchworm, a shirt-like wearable device designed to correct poor posture, and a device with a gripper that can grasp and move objects.

Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale, 2018 (Screengrab from video courtesy Yale University)

Rebecca Kramer-Bottiglio, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Yale, 2018 (Screengrab from video courtesy Yale University)

Kramer-Bottiglio said she came up with the idea for the devices a few years ago when the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a call for soft robotic systems.

The technology was designed in partnership with NASA.

The multifunctional and reusable nature could allow astronauts to accomplish an array of tasks with the same reconfigurable material.

The same skins used to make a robotic arm out of a piece of foam could be removed and reapplied to create a soft Mars rover that could roll over rough terrain.

“One of the main things I considered was the importance of multifunctionality, especially for deep space exploration where the environment is unpredictable,” said Kramer-Bottiglio. “The question is: How do you prepare for the unknown unknowns?”

The team’s work was published Wednesday in the journal “Science Robotics.”

Next, said Kramer-Bottiglio, her lab will work on streamlining the devices and will explore the possibility of 3D printing the components.

In other soft robotics research, Kramer-Bottiglio is planning “to realize deployable self-constructing robots (bagbots) based on robotic skins that ingest and manipulate material.”

“Bagbots are optimal for exploration of unknown environments, which directly contributes to NASA’s strategic goal to expand human knowledge through scientific discoveries,” she writes.

A bagbot can be transported as a lightweight system, but later can self-construct a body made from clay or other surface materials.

For her work with soft robotics, Kramer-Bottiglio was in May part of a group of researchers awarded a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, as part of its Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program.

Titled “Soft Robotics to Broaden the STEM Pipeline,” this project aims to increase female interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers through the emerging field of soft robotics.

“Soft robotics are different from other robotics in that they leverage materials science (understanding how materials stretch and deform), chemistry (polymer synthesis), and biology (bio-inspired design) to provide aids for human needs,” write the four co-authors in their summary of the project.

The focus is an eight-hour unit within a high school freshman engineering course that is taught in over 270 school districts across 23 states to about 100,000 students annually.

The project will test the idea that soft robot design experiences improve learning, motivation, engineering self-efficacy and interest in engineering careers as compared to traditional robot design experiences.

For this project, Kramer-Bottiglio is joined by Nathan Mentzer, associate professor Engineering/Technology Education at Purdue University, and two others. Together they will develop and test curriculum that has the potential to broaden female participation in robotics in 11 classrooms, a total of 660 students in Maryland’s Carroll County Public Schools.

Once it is complete, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association STEM Center for Teaching and Learning will distribute the curriculum to 50,000 students every year.

Vote for 2018 Young Champions of the Earth

A healthy reef in Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge, located 1,305 nautical miles south of Honolulu. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) Public domain.

A healthy reef in Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge, located 1,305 nautical miles south of Honolulu. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

NAIROBI, Kenya, June 21, 2018 (  News) – Mohamed Abdirahman, 29, of Hargeisa, Somaliland established his own tree-planting program in 2015, the same year he graduated from the University of Hargeisa with a degree in Environmental Science. He is now one of 35 finalists worldwide in the contest for the 2018 Young Champions of the Earth prize.

“My big idea is to plant trees in cities while educating youth in schools and universities about the importance of forests and mobilizing them to participate in a nationwide reforestation program,” said Abdirahman. “This will build on work that I have already undertaken to promote tree-planting at weddings, graduation ceremonies, and schools. My goal is to bring back the forests of Somaliland and foster a national culture in which caring for the environment is recognized by everyone as their moral responsibility.”

Now in its second year, Young Champions of the Earth is a global competition that seeks out entrepreneurs and innovators with big ideas to secure a sustainable future. All of the finalists’ ideas address urgent environmental issues in innovative ways.

Their proposals range from land-based coral farms to replenish the dying coral reefs around the world and a plan for breeding fatty insects as a source of biofuel, to be used as an alternative for palm oil.

There are educational initiatives involving board games, music and digital platforms to raise environmental awareness; tackling plastic pollution through recycling and upcycling into bricks and urinals, and an integrated system of wildfire detectors that could prevent destructive fires.

Mohamed Abdirahman, 29, of Somaliland is one of five finalists from Africa in the 2018 Young Champions of the Earth competition. (Photo courtesy UNEP) Posted for media use

Mohamed Abdirahman, 29, of Somaliland is one of five finalists from Africa in the 2018 Young Champions of the Earth competition. (Photo courtesy UNEP) Posted for media use

“The Young Champions of the Earth prize is highlighting exactly how creative, dedicated and driven young people can be when it comes to the future of our environment,” said UN Environment chief Erik Solheim. “These regional finalists are an inspiration to all of us, that hard work and a positive outlook are a powerful way to reach a goal, even one as ambitious as a sustainable world for all.”

Seven final winners will each receive the prestigious prize along with US$15,000 in seed funding, mentorship from industry leaders and access to a wide network of influencers to bring their ideas into fruition.

Members of the public can view and rate the 35 proposals here. The non-binding public vote will close at 4 pm Eastern Africa Time, three hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), on Monday, June 25.

The public online vote will inform a global jury that will select the winning 2018 Young Champions in September.

Here are some of the big ideas that have attracted attention in the online voting.


Maria Sousa, 25, a systems engineer from Portugal, is a finalist in the Young Champions contest. Her big idea centers on early fire detection through remote sensing using artificial intelligence.

A research fellow at the Center of Intelligent Systems at IDMEC-Institute of Mechanical Engineering in Lisbon, Sousa’s big idea is to have a dynamic network of sensors that can relay real-time data when there are forecasts of increased fire risk. Her system relies on static sensors as well as mobile aerial platforms such as drones and high-altitude balloons for extensive area coverage.

Asia & the Pacific

Natalie Kyriacou, 30, of Australia, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit My Green World, the Creator of World of the Wild mobile game app, and the Australian Director of Sri Lankan-based NGO, Dogstar Foundation, is a sitting member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper  and a Forbes 30 Under 30  honoree. She is also a finalist in the 2018 Young Champions of the Earth competition.

Kyriacou’s big idea is Kids’ Corner, a digital classroom inspiring children and educators to participate in wildlife and environmental conservation and sciences through workshop-based environmental programs, animation videos, fact sheets, infographics, reading materials, teachers’ notes, games and home activities. “Kids’ Corner breaks down complex issues into easy, fun, positive and actionable concepts that can be used in any setting,” she says. Kids’ Corner will be available online and offline, and in homes, schools and hospitals.

North America

This Majik Water proof of concept prototype "hacks" existing technology to generate 10 liters of water per day from the air using solar technology. (Photo courtesy Majik Water) Posted for media use

This Majik Water proof of concept prototype “hacks” existing technology to generate 10 liters of water per day from the air using solar technology. (Photo courtesy Majik Water) Posted for media use

Anastasia Kaschenko, 23, of Canada, has already founded three sustainability ventures, raising more than $60,000 to seed those projects. She was on a finalist team competing in the $20 million Carbon XPRIZE. Kaschenko was recently selected as a Singularity University Fellow, at NASA Ames Research Center  in MountainView, California. There, she launched Majik Water, which harvests clean drinking water from air. Majik Water received the MIT Water Innovation Award and was recognized by “Financial Times” as one of 50 Ideas to Change the World.

Majik Water uses novel technology combined with locally-adapted design to harvest clean drinking water from the air and deliver it to people and communities in the world’s driest places, starting in Kenya.

Majik technology uses solar thermal energy and abundantly available, non-toxic, sponge-like desiccant materials, to generate 10 liters of water per day from the air, making it possible to get water in a low cost, energy efficient way.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Gator Halpern, 27, of the Bahamas, spent time as a teenager living with indigenous Mayan communities, where he learned that he wanted to devote his life “to protecting the environment from the forces threatening their livelihoods.”

Halpern calls his big idea Coral Vita, the creation of land-based coral farms to restore and sustain the world’s coral reefs.

“Over 30 percent of global coral reefs are dead, and more than 75 percent are projected to die by 2050. This is an ecological tragedy and a serious socio-economic problem, as reefs sustain one-third of all marine life, support some one billion people globally, and generate US$30 billion annually through tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection,” says Halpern.

Coral Vita is creating a global network of innovative land-based coral farms, using breakthrough methods developed at the Mote Marine Lab and the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology to grow corals up to 50 times faster while strengthening their resiliency to climate change. The land-based farms are scalable, potentially growing millions of corals from a single site. Coral Vita’s business model can support restoration at unprecedented scales. By taking a community-based approach, locals are engaged to promote long-term reef stewardship.

West Asia

Karim Shrayedeh, 29, of Jordan, is the current Project Proposals Writer of The Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, the largest and oldest nonprofit organization in Jordan.

Shrayedeh’s big idea is the Protection of Water Dams in Jordan that aims to protect the environment by increasing vegetation coverage in the catchment areas of two dams that supply Jordan’s capital city Amman and Al-Karak with water.

“Both the Wadi Almujab and Wadi Al-Karak dams are facing increased accumulation of sand and other sediments. This has diminished their storage capacities, threatening vital supplies of water to agriculture. Without the dam water, farmers will be forced to tap precious limited groundwater resources, an unsustainable scenario,” says Sharayedeh.

Jordanians and Syrian refugees will be employed for a total of 75,000 working days to increase vegetation coverage in the catchment areas, creating new job opportunities, enhancing social inclusion and fostering a sense of shared responsibility for the maintenance of the dams and their catchment areas.

The 35 finalists were selected from a pool of 760 submitted project ideas across a wide spectrum of impact areas.

The review of applications was conducted by a global team of 20 UN Environment staff in conjunction with representatives and affiliates of CoalitionWILD.

The Young Champions competition is supported by Covestro, one of the world’s largest polymer companies. Covestro CEO Dr. Markus Steilemann said, “As one of the world’s leading contributors of materials for sustainable development, we’re honored to partner with UN Environment to inspire and motivate young people across the world to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”


10 New Energy Pioneers Driving Our Future

Löfbergs coffee roasting house in Karlstad, Sweden is home to the world’s first large-scale testing facility with SaltX salt-technology solar panels for heating and cooling on the roof of the roasting house. (Photo courtesy SaltX) Posted for media use

Löfbergs coffee roasting house in Karlstad, Sweden is home to the world’s first large-scale testing facility with SaltX salt-technology solar panels for heating and cooling on the roof of the roasting house. (Photo courtesy SaltX) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, April 17, 2018 ( News) – The top 10 innovators revolutionizing the energy, transport, and technology sectors were unveiled April 9 at Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Future of Energy Summit in New York City .

The 2018 New Energy Pioneers, as they are known, are responding to changes and disruption in the energy system, and are pursuing new opportunities in storage, EV charging, digitalization, heat recovery, and blockchain.

By recognizing innovators, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) aims to highlight and accelerate the transition that is underway in today’s new energy economy, towards new business models, technologies, market structures and commercial opportunities.

An independent panel of industry experts, assisted by BNEF’s analysts and technology specialists, selected the 10 winners from more than 160 applicants from 47 countries.

Each candidate was assessed on three criteria: technology or business model innovation, and what novelty it brings to the market; evidence of substantive progress in the form of strong commercial partnerships, the distribution channels in place and sales growth; and the potential to scale and have a global impact.

The 2018 New Energy Pioneers are:

  • Advanced Microgrid Solutions (U.S.) designs, develops, and manages portfolios of distributed energy resources providing dynamic grid management and value to wholesale markets.

“Being recognized as a New Energy Pioneer is a great honor for AMS,” said Susan Kennedy, CEO, Advanced Microgrid Solutions. “This award really is a signal that the era of trans-active energy management has arrived.”

  • Bidgely (U.S.) is a load disaggregation company that uses machine learning and data analytics to process smart meter data and provide its users with insights about their energy consumption.

“Bidgely leverages Artificial Intelligence to help utilities personalize the energy experience for consumers around the world,” said Abhay Gupta, CEO, Bidgely. “We celebrate becoming a Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer, an honor which recognizes our ability to solve real-world utility business challenges like digital transformation and a rapidly evolving energy landscape.”

  • BURN (Kenya) has designed and manufactured over 370,000 clean cook stoves, improving both air quality and access to power for low-income households.

Peter Scott, CEO, BURN, said, “To win an award from an organization I admire so much is humbling. Recognition as a Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer means that BURN is able to share its story with the world. It gives a boost to our mission of saving forests and lives in the developing world through improved cooking solutions.”

  • Climeon (Sweden) has commercialized the extraction of electricity from low-temperature heat (70-120 degrees Celsius), used in the context of waste heat or geothermal power.

“Climeon’s vision is to become the Number 1 climate solver. To reach this we have to be true pioneers. Becoming a Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer confirms that we are on the right path and it really makes us very proud,” said Climeon CEO Thomas Ostrom.

  • Enbala (U.S.) operates a real-time energy-balancing platform creating controllable and dispatchable energy resources from flexible loads, energy storage and renewable energy sources.

Said Arthur (Bud) Vos, CEO and President, Enbala, “We exist for one reason: to create an energy future that’s sustainable and balanced. It’s gratifying to me personally and to everyone who works at Enbala to have our energy balancing technology recognized by such a prestigious and well-respected organization.”

  • Greenlots (U.S.) is a hardware-agnostic provider of electric vehicle network management software and services. These give utilities, cities, communities and automakers the ability to control grid loads through smart charging and demand response.

“At Greenlots, we’re dedicated to delivering cutting-edge technology to our customers, allowing them to optimize and manage their EV charging infrastructure, and provide drivers a seamless, reliable charging experience, said Greenlots CEO Brett Hauser. “This recognition from Bloomberg New Energy Finance is a key indicator of the significance of our work to make EVs a part of everyday life across the globe, while creating new market opportunities at the grid edge.”

  • Limejump (U.K.) is an energy tech company that connects data capabilities and renewable energy generation to the national grid, optimizing assets’ value and supporting sustainability using proprietary software to aggregate and manage a distributed fleet of flexible assets.

“We see Bloomberg as a key ally in providing our customers with insight and information which is needed to ensure we all build this new energy market bottom up,” said Erik Nygard, CEO, Limejump.

  • LO3 Energy  (U.S.) is an early mover in peer-to-peer energy trading using blockchain technology, and is developing other applications for its blockchain platform.

“A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network,” according to Wikipedia. “The result is a robust workflow where participants’ uncertainty regarding data security is marginal.”

“Making energy is about one of the dirtiest things we do on the planet. It puts more toxins and pollution in the air than just about any other industry,” said Lawrence Orsini, CEO, LO3 Energy. “We are honored that BNEF chose to recognize the impact LO3 Energy is making today with its blockchain technology. Empowering prosumers and bringing choice to consumers, together we are making fundamental changes that will affect the energy sector’s advancement in clean energy forever.”

  • SaltX (Sweden) is an innovator in storing heat chemically, using a proprietary salt-based technology. This uses a nano coating and graphene to prevent salt crystals from growing when energy is stored, greatly improving the number of storage cycles whilst also reducing corrosion.

“Being a BNEF New Energy Pioneer means of course a great honor and helps putting SaltX on the map, but it also means a great responsibility for making the sustainable energy revolution happen,” said Karl Bohman, CEO, SaltX. “We at SaltX promise to work tirelessly – and we will not stop – until our low-cost, scalable and natural energy storage technology is used on a global basis.”

  • WiTricty (U.S.) has developed wireless charging through magnetic resonance technology, allowing high-efficiency power transfer for the electric vehicle industry.

WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen said, “WiTricity is the pioneer in developing wireless charging for electric vehicles that is as fast and efficient as plugging in. Global automakers are accelerating development of EV platforms, and WiTricity is focused on improving the ownership experience—no more cables, no mess, and no worry about remembering to charge. We also recognize that the future of mobility is electrified, autonomous and shared, and wireless charging is an essential enabler for fleets of robotaxis where there is no driver to plug in.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance is an industry research firm focused on helping energy professionals generate opportunities. With a team of 200 experts spread across six continents, BNEF provides independent analysis and insight, enabling decision-makers to navigate change in an evolving energy economy.

Michael Wilshire, selection committee chair and head of strategy at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said, “We have seen a sharp uptick in the number of applicants that use digital technologies and software to help make the electricity system more resilient, flexible and efficient – all critical elements of a more decentralized and renewable energy system.”

“Emerging technologies such as machine learning and blockchain are being used to improve decision making and to make operations more efficient, as well as to create new capabilities, such as peer-to-peer energy trading and the ability to manage complex sets of distributed assets,” he said.

“Transport is being transformed, with two of this year’s Pioneers developing infrastructure, software, and services to support the rollout of electric vehicles,” said Wilshire. “We are very encouraged by the innovation, determination and creativity shown by these Pioneers and by the potential that they have to help transform the energy and transport systems.

Featured Image: In summer 2016, California State University enlisted Advanced Microgrid Solutions to install the first fleet of Hybrid Electric Buildings® at an educational institution. Hybrid Electric Buildings® store energy when it is cleaner and more plentiful, and shift building loads from the electric grid to battery power when demand is high. (Photo courtesy Advanced Microgrid Solutions) Posted for media use

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Bacterium Makes Tasty Meals of Nasty Oil Spills

The burning oil tanker Sanchi emits smoke and flames as it burns at sea off the coast of eastern China, January 2018 (Photo credit IRNA)

The burning oil tanker Sanchi emits smoke and flames as it burns at sea off the coast of eastern China, January 2018 (Photo credit IRNA)

By Sunny Lewis

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec, Canada, April 10, 2018 ( News) – An enzyme derived from bacteria has been found to clean soil or water contaminated by oil spills in an effective, simple and eco-friendly way.

Scientists at Quebec City’s Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique (INRS) have been testing enzymes produced by Alcanivorax borkumensis, a bacterium that feeds on hydrocarbons.

Oil spills from pipelines and tankers, oil wells and drilling platforms and the devastating impact they have on the environment worry scientists, insurers and environmental activists alike.

One of the worst recent ongoing spills is going into its fourth month and is still not cleaned up.

The Sanchi oil tanker collision and sinking in the East China Sea occurred on January 6, 2018. The Panamanian-flagged, Iranian-owned tanker Sanchi, with a full natural-gas condensate cargo of 136,000 tonnes (960,000 barrels), was sailing from Iran to South Korea, when it collided with the Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship CF Crystal 160 nautical miles (300 km) off Shanghai, China.

The Sanchi caught fire shortly after the collision. After burning and drifting for over a week, it sank on January 14.

A slick 13 kilometres long by 11 kilometres wide formed on the sea surface, pushed toward Japan by high winds, and efforts to contain it were begun by ships surrounding the spill.

Condensate is a volatile, highly toxic material harmful to the environment. In addition to the slick on the water’s surface, the sinking of the Sanchi means that as the remaining condensate cargo and an estimated 2,000 tonnes of bunker oil, a heavier form of fuel oil, are emanating from the wreck, contaminating the ocean depths.

The part of the East China Sea affected by the spill is where edible fish spawn at that time of year, and is a migration path for whales.

This incident was compared in magnitude with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in March 1989, but is smaller in size than the world’s largest oil spill, the three-month-long Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Oil spill disasters occur far too frequently, posing decontamination challenges that require massive investments of time and resources.

Widespread and serious though the damage may be, the solution could be microscopic – Alcanivorax borkumensis, a rod-shaped bacterium that feeds on hydrocarbons such as natural-gas condensate.

Professor Satinder Kaur Brar in her laboratory at the Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique, Quebec City, Canada. (Photo courtesy Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique) Posted for media use

Professor Satinder Kaur Brar in her laboratory at the Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique, Quebec City, Canada. (Photo courtesy Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique) Posted for media use

Professor Satinder Kaur Brar and her team at the Institut National de la Recharche Scientifique (INRS) have done lab tests showing the effectiveness of enzymes produced by A. borkumensis in degrading petroleum products whether in soil or in water.

Their results, published in the current issue of “Biochemical Engineering Journal” offer hope for an effective, environmentally harmless method of decontaminating water and soil at oil spill sites.

Scientists from Brown University and the University of Rhode Island have also investigated A. borkumensis, a dominate bacterium in marine environments that contain high hydrocarbon levels. This team is exploring how the bacterium can be supported to naturally and effectively degrade spilled oil.

In 2015, the Brown-URI team conducted laboratory experiments across oil-water interfaces to observe the responses of A. borkumensis to the presence and absence of nitrogen.

They found that A. borkumensis grew faster when the oil-water interface was supplemented with dissolved organic nitrogen. Nitrogen reduced the time it took bacteria to enter an exponential growth phase and increased bacteria’s growth rate and oil degradation rate.

In recent years, researchers have sequenced the genomes of thousands of bacteria from various sources, seeking the perfect candidate for the difficult task of cleaning up oil spills.

INRS research associate Dr. Tarek Rouissi pored over technical data sheets for many bacterial strains. He focused on the enzymes the bacteria produce and the conditions in which they evolve.

A. borkumensis, a non-pathogenic marine bacterium, aroused his curiosity. The microorganism’s genome contains the codes of a number of interesting enzymes and it is classified as “hydrocarbonoclastic,” a bacterium that uses hydrocarbons as a source of energy.

A. borkumensis is present in all oceans and drifts with the current, multiplying rapidly in areas where the concentration of oil compounds is high, which partly explains the natural degradation observed after some spills.

But its remedial potential needed more investigation.

“I had a hunch,” Rouissi said, “and the characterization of the enzymes produced by the bacterium seems to have proven me right!”

During its evolution, A. borkumensis has accumulated specific enzymes that degrade almost everything found in oil. Among these, the bacteria’s enzymes known as hydroxylases stand out from those found in other species.

Researchers found they are far more effective, more versatile and resistant to chemical conditions.

To test the microscopic cleaner, the INRS research team purified a few of the enzymes and used them to treat samples of contaminated soil.

“The degradation of hydrocarbons using the crude enzyme extract is really encouraging and reached over 80 percent for various compounds,” said Professor Brar.

“The process is effective in removing benzene, toluene, and xylene, and has been tested under a number of different conditions to show that it is a powerful way to clean up polluted land and marine environments,” she explained.

Next, Brar’s team will investigate how these bacteria metabolize hydrocarbons and explore their potential for decontaminating sites.

One of the advantages of the approach developed at INRS is its application in tough-to-access environments, which present a major challenge during oil spill cleanup efforts.

This research was funded by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and Techno-Rem Inc, a Quebec company that provides engineering services for groundwater management, characterization and environmental restoration.

Featured image: Mixed images of Alcanivorax borkumensis. (Photo by Shivam Kumar) Posted for media use.  Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is eaten by the microscopic bacteria Alcanivorax borkumensis. (Photo by SkyTruth, public access by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Public domain.

Training-of-trainers in Waste Management

Bees With Backpacks

A researcher from Vale Institute of Technology tags one of the sensor-carrying honey bees. Brazil, 2017 (Screengrab from video by Vale Institute of Technology) Posted for media use

A researcher from Vale Institute of Technology tags one of the sensor-carrying honey bees. Brazil, 2017 (Screen grab from video by Vale Institute of Technology) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

SYDNEY, Australia, March 15, 2018 (  News) – Thousands of honey bees are flying around Australia and Brazil with mini sensors on their backs as part of a world-first research program to monitor their movements.

The point is to capture and analyze swarm sensing data so that farmers and fruit growers can maximize the benefit they receive from this free pollination service, courtesy of the bees.

And it will allow beekeepers and farmers to monitor for any biosecurity risks.

The tiny backpacks are just a quarter of a centimeter square. The tiny radio frequency identification sensor works by recording whenever a bee carrying one passes a particular checkpoint.

The information is then sent remotely to a central location and the researchers in Australia and Brazil can build a comprehensive three-dimensional model and visualize how the bees move through their environment.

“We have already attached the micro-sensors to the backs of thousands of bees in Tasmania and the Amazon and we’re using the same surveillance technologies to monitor what each bee is doing, giving us a new view on bees and how they interact with their environment,” said CSIRO‘s Paulo de Souza.

“Once we have captured this information, we’ll be able to model it,” he said. “This will help us understand how to manage our landscapes in order to benefit insects like bees, as they play such a key role in our lives.”

Bees are the world’s most prolific pollinators of food crops. Because roughly one-third of all human food relies on pollination, bees contribute billions every year to the global economy. Healthy bees are a sign of a healthy agricultural industry.

But honey bee populations in many parts of the world are at risk from interacting factors such as agriculture intensification, bee pathogens, changes in bee food supplements and pesticides.

Of great biosecurity importance is the dreaded Varroa mite, a parasite that feeds on the blood of bees and transmits pathogens that kill off bee populations.

While Varroa mites have not appeared in Australia, there is a very real risk, now that Varroa mites have spread to Australia’s neighbors in New Zealand and Indonesia.

The international team from Australia and Brazil fitting the bees with sensors and managing the data that results, includes researchers from Brazil’s Vale Institute of Technology and Australia’s CSIRO, the agency of the Australian federal government responsible for scientific research in Australia.

Thousands of bees in Australia’s island state of Tasmania are already tagged with the mini sensors developed by CSIRO.

CSIRO’s Swarm Sensing Project is a partnership with the University of Tasmania and receives funding from Vale, a global mining company.

Working with their partners at the Vale Institute of Technology in Brazil, CSIRO has taken the technology to the Amazon, allowing the team to monitor and compare behavior between bee colonies in the two regions.

The CSIRO sensors, which one day may be used on fruit flies and mosquitoes, will be able to capture information about our world with unprecedented density and in locations not previously accessible.

The sensors are 2.5mm x 2.5mm in size and weigh about five milligrams each. A new generation as small as 1.5mm x 1.5mm is being designed. Smaller sensors will interfere less with the insect’s behavior.

The next generation of sensors will be even more advanced, says CSIRO. It will be able to generate power from insect movement and store the energy in batteries. It might even have tracking capability that will follow an insect’s movement in real-time.

Bees return to the same point time and again on a very predictable schedule. Any change in their behavior indicates a change in their environment.

If they can model the movements, the research team says it can recognize quickly when their activity shows variation and identify the cause.

In Brazil, Gustavo Pessim of Vale explained via video, “Basically, what we have is an electronic tag that we stick on the bee’s thorax.”

“Every time a bee passes through a system of antennas that we have here, a reading of this movement is made. This way we can keep track of each bee and is doing on any particular day and also what its life expectancy is.”

Pessim said, “We have a computer that controls RFID tags reading antennaeas. It’s a radio frequency technology. It’s a lot like the badge system we have for getting in and out of the company.”

Besides controlling the antennaes, the Vale system stores all information on the behavior of the bees. “Eventually,” said Pessim, “when we do data analysis we bring in another computer and collect the information with a network cable.”

The Amazon region has more than 200 species of bees with great variation in size, body shape and floral visitation patterns.

They marked them with microsensors and released them in the field to study their behavior. How far they fly, how they return.

Pessim calls this technology innovative “in the sense that a similar technology did not exist in terms of size and cost.”

“I am very proud to be part of this project because it combines science and technological innovations both in terms of electronic and biological development,” said Pessim. “We can put them together to improve the life of small local producers who will have an income improvement when we get the results of this experiment.”

Featured Image: Bee fitted with a tiny sensor less than a quarter of a centimeter square explores flowers. (Photo courtesy CSIRO) Posted for media use


EU Planes, Ships Struggle With Emissions

Container ships in the Port of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, May 19, 2017 (Photo by Frans Berkelaar) Creative commons license via Flickr

Container ships in the Port of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, May 19, 2017 (Photo by Frans Berkelaar) Creative commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, February 20, 2018 ( News) – Aircraft made today are 80 percent more fuel efficient per passenger kilometer than those produced in the 1960s. But improving fuel efficiency to cut emissions and other gradual measures won’t be enough for the aviation and shipping sectors to meet European sustainability targets, finds a new report from the European Environment Agency.

Instead, a major shift in consumer behavior and the adoption of more innovative, ambitious green technologies to power aircraft and sea-faring cargo ships is needed to reduce their long-term carbon footprint, says the EEA in its “Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism (TERM)” report, TERM 2017 

The two sectors have seen tremendous growth over the past few years amid a general surge in economic growth,  stimulating international trade and travel.

As they have grown, these sectors have come under increased scrutiny from regulators due to their rising emissions and questions over whether they can meet European Union decarbonization goals.

Air transport now represents two to three percent of global human-made CO2 emissions.

By 2050, global aviation and shipping together are forecast to spew out almost 40 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions unless actions are taken to curb them.

Transport, including aviation and shipping, contributes to air pollution and a host of other environmental pressures on ecosystems and is the main source of environmental noise in Europe.

The industries are not deaf to calls for change.

At the International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly in 2016, ICAO’s Member States adopted a global carbon offsetting plan for international aviation – the first global scheme covering an entire industrial sector.

ICAO’s Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is a global market mechanism for reducing air transport CO2 emissions.

CORSIA is set to begin with a five-year voluntary period (2021-2026) after which it will become mandatory.

By the end of the ICAO Assembly, 65 states had volunteered to implement the scheme from its outset, covering about 80 percent of the expected CO2 growth in 2021-2035.

Individual airlines, too, are acting to cut emissions.

Last December at the World Efficiency Fair, one year after the ICAO’s adoption of the historic agreement to create a global market mechanism for cutting air transport CO2 emissions, Air France presented what the company calls an Engagement for Green Growth (ECV).

Officials from three French ministries joined the presentation along with reps of four other French industrial groups: Airbus, Safran, Suez and Total.

Their ECV aims to promote the emergence of sustainable aviation biofuel industries, in economically viable conditions that integrate circular economy principles. The plan is to rapidly create the conditions for establishing these industries in France.

Sustainable aviation biofuel has been identified as one of the most promising ways to meet the ambitious targets of stabilizing CO2 emissions generated by global air transport as soon as 2020.

Jean-Marc Janaillac, chairman and CEO of Air France-KLM and Chairman of the Air France Board of Directors, said, “Every day, Air France is committed to building the travel experience of the future. We want the experience to be enjoyable, innovative and responsible. I am very pleased to announce the signature of this ECV which confirms our commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of our activities and our active contribution to the air transport industry of the future.”

ICAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations for aviation. Its sister organization, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), does the same for shipping.

Shipping Industry Recognizes Sustainable Development Goals

Last year’s IMO Assembly in late November was the largest-ever gathering at IMO Headquarters in London, attended by 1,400 participants, including 56 ministers, from 165 Member States.

The Assembly adopted its strategic plan for 2018-2023, placing the IMO on the path to supporting the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

One of the seven strategic directions in that plan is, “Respond to climate change – developing appropriate, ambitious and realistic solutions to minimize shipping’s contribution to air pollution and its impact on climate change.”

For the first time, the IMO declared a vision statement, which includes recognition of “the need to meet the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

Big shippers are getting on the sustainability bandwagon too. Philips Lighting and Maersk Line, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, were awarded the “Business to Business Partnership of the Year” at the Responsible Business Awards 2017.

Maersk Line expects to reduce carbon emissions related to containers shipped for Philips Lighting by 20 percent before 2020.

Kaisa Helena Tikk, Maersk’s Global Sustainability Advisor in Transport & Logistics, said, “We discuss customers’ sustainability challenges and identify actions to jointly work on, as well as look at trading patterns and developments in our fleet to suggest how to reduce carbon footprint five years from now.”

Yet, despite their good intentions, the aviation and shipping industries face complex challenges in reducing their environmental impacts. Both are locked into established ways of operating that can be tough to change, the EEA report points out.

Past investments in conventional airport and seaport infrastructure delay the uptake of more sustainable technologies and alternative cleaner modes of transport.

The long lifespan of airplanes and vessels blocks a faster shift to cleaner technologies.

The international aviation and maritime sectors benefit from tax exemptions on fossil fuels, which also can act as a barrier to change. There is little research on cleaner fuels.

Yet something needs to be done quickly to curb aviation and shipping emissions, the EEA urges.

Emissions from the sector have increased over each of the past four years (2013-2016), at an average rate of almost two percent each year, the EEA calculates.

Greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping in the EU’s 28 Member States have increased by 22 percent since 1990, the highest increase of any sector except international aviation.

The EEA’s TERM 2017 report stresses the key role of governments in supporting investment in research, product standards and subsidies for new emerging technologies and to spur the sharing of data and information on the viability of new technologies.

In the long term, efforts to promote debate on sustainable travel and consumer behavior and changes to lifestyles and transport habits can also help reduce CO2 emissions and other environmental impacts associated with aviation and shipping.

The EEA says measures to reduce transport’s future impacts on the environment now must be designed with a holistic perspective in mind by considering how demand for conventional transport services can be managed while adhering to the principles of sustainable development.

Featured Image: Air France Boeing 747-400 creates a smokescreen on landing. Montreal International Airport, May 2009 (Photo by Patrick Cardinal) Creative commons license via Flickr

Waste Mgt

Zayed Future Energy Prize Rewards Pioneers

 Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, Jordan's Crown Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II and the President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz present the Small and Medium Enterprise award to Thomas Samuel, CEO of Sunna Design, Jan. 23, 2018, Abu Dhabi, UAE (Photo courtesy Sunna Design via Twitter) Posted for media use

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II and the President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz present the Small and Medium Enterprise award to Thomas Samuel, CEO of Sunna Design, Jan. 23, 2018, Abu Dhabi, UAE (Photo courtesy Sunna Design via Twitter) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates, February 8, 2018 ( News) – “Driving the Global Energy Transformation” was the theme of the largest sustainability gathering in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week held in January, and highlighted by the presentation of the Zayed Future Energy Prize awards, worth US$4 million.

Now in its 10th year, the Zayed Future Energy Prize jury chooses its winners through a rigorous evaluation process. The jury includes former heads of state, energy experts and well-known personalities committed to accelerating the adoption of renewable energy and advocating sustainable development.

“The Zayed Future Energy Prize has helped to transform lives in some of our poorest communities through its winners, while promoting innovation, education, new policies and other best practices in sustainability and renewable energy elsewhere on the global stage,” said Chair of the Zayed Future Energy Prize Jury and Former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

“The positive international dialogue encouraged through the prize is essential if we are to maintain the global consensus on the need for proactive action to mitigate climate change and to adopt more sustainable forms of energy,” said Grímsson.

He added, “I would like to thank the leadership of the UAE for their support and the role they played in the success of the Prize that was inspired by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nahyan.”

The Prize fund comes from the Abu Dhabi Government as a way to honor and continue the legacy of the late founding father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, manages the Zayed Future Energy Prize.

The awards were presented by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, assisted by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah II and the President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

The Lifetime Achievement Award winner Shuji Nakamura, professor of materials and electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a pioneer in the development of white LED lights. (Photo courtesy University of California, Santa Barbara) Posted for media use

The Lifetime Achievement Award winner Shuji Nakamura, professor of materials and electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a pioneer in the development of white LED lights. (Photo courtesy University of California, Santa Barbara) Posted for media use

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner: Shuji Nakamura

This year, the Lifetime Achievement Award, a prize of $500,000, went to Shuji Nakamura, professor of materials and electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for pioneering the development of white LED lights.

A winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics, Nakamura is one of three individuals credited for creating the highly valued bright-blue LED. His research on blue lasers and LEDs has been integral to the creation of Blu-ray discs, and to enhancements now commonplace in TVs, mobile phones, and movie projectors.

That advance paved the way for the white LED technology that now enables energy-efficient interior and exterior lighting, displays and automotive headlamps. The use of LED lights has revolutionized energy savings, making it possible to reduce fossil fuel use and carbon footprints.

LED lights have avoided the emission of some 880,000 tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in Africa alone while extending energy access to millions of people.

“The 2018 Zayed Future Energy Award recognizes the global impact of solid-state lighting technology on both the climate and the citizens of our planet, and I am honored that my work in this field is again being highlighted,” Nakamura said.

Small and Medium Enterprise Award Winner: Sunna Design

The 2018 winner in the Small and Medium Enterprise category, Sunna Design, received the US$1.5 million prize for its work in solar-powered street lighting, which has improved security, quality of life and socio-economic opportunities in isolated villages and refugee camps in developing countries.

Based in Bordeaux, France, Sunna designs and manufactures innovative solar street lighting suited for extreme climate conditions; they can sustain harsh desert conditions for up to 15 years. Just eight years old, the company has installed over 8,000 projects in more than 20 countries.

A battery is required to store solar energy during the day for use at night; energy storage is critical. Most systems use heat-sensitive lead-acid batteries with a short lifespan of two to four years. Sunna has chosen to use an innovative technology – reliable nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries.

These small batteries are integrated into the streetlight at the top of the mast, which simplifies installation. No battery has to be buried in the ground, there’s no electrical connection to make through the mast. The also limits vandalism.

On receiving the US$1.5 million award, Sunna tweeted a statement saying, “This award provides, once again, a proof of the reliability of our technology. We now take this award as a sincere encouragement in our future projects. Thus, we fully realize the scope of our responsibilities as a winner and seek to positively impact the global economy.”

Non-profit Award Winner: The SELCO Foundation

The SELCO Foundation, winner in this year’s Non-profit category, also was presented with a US$ 1.5 million prize. The foundation offers micro-loans to extend energy access in impoverished communities, and education programs aimed at raising awareness of the benefits of sustainability and renewable energy.

Started in 2010 as an open source, not-for-profit, public charitable trust, the SELCO Foundation is based in Bangalore, Karnataka, India.

It recognizes India as a microcosm of world’s disparities, with nearly 25 percent of its population, 300 million without electricity and more than 70 percent, 700 million who rely on polluting wood and charcoal cook-stoves.

SELCO Foundation seeks to become a library of field tested solutions that can formulate decentralized low carbon pathways for the poor across geographies and contexts.

Large Corporation winner: Google

Google was named Large Corporation winner for 2018 for its leadership in implementing renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. There is no monetary prize that goes with this prestigious award.

Based in California, in 2016, Google marked 10 years of operating as a carbon neutral company and announced that it will reach 100 percent renewable energy for its global operations in 2017.

Google’s expertise in data analysis and digital innovation has led to the development of the smart thermostat and the utilization of machine learning to optimize the integration of renewables into electricity grids.

Five Global High School Winners: One for Each Region

The Global High Schools category of the Zayed Future Energy Prize was established in 2012 to help cultivate tomorrow’s energy leaders and sustainability advocates.

Each of this year’s school winners, representing a total of five world regions, received a US$500,000 prize. Each demonstrated exceptional initiative in promoting sustainability and renewable energy in the local community.

The 2018 recipients are Aouda Saadia High School representing Africa; Centro Educativo Mbaracayu for the Americas; Bahrain Bayan School for Asia; Vladimir Nazor School for Europe; and Motufoua Secondary School representing Oceania.

Youth-supported sustainability projects have flourished due to the Global High Schools winners, generating an estimated three million kilowatt hours of renewable energy and displacing 2,372 tonnes of carbon dioxide in total, according to Zayed Future Energy Prize officials.

Held from January 12-21, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week welcomed tens of thousands of attendees, including: heads of state, government ministers and international trade delegations, local communities, and young people passionately engaged in energy and sustainability issues.

The week’s anchor event, the World Future Energy Summit hosted more than 600 companies from 40 countries.

The Climate Innovation Exchange (CLIX)

The Climate Innovation Exchange (CLIX), held under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment for the United Arab Emirates, provides emerging entrepreneurs and innovators with the chance to forge partnerships with leading global investors.

CLIX enabled US$17.5 million in investment intent for 16 start-ups at World Future Energy Summit 2018 during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

Dr. Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, said that the CLIX forum was one of the key platforms at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

CLIX provides a competitive environment that brings together investors and innovative entrepreneurs in an effort to boost partnerships and innovation, as well as transform creative ideas into reality.

“Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week reinforces the country’s strong position in the clean energy, climate and environment sectors,” the minister said, “and highlights its efforts to develop local talent and attract global expertise to find effective solutions to the most important challenges facing the international community.”


Innovative Cars for a Better World

An artist's rendition of how the Ford connected car of the future will use Qualcomm technology to connected with everything. (Image courtesy Ford Motor Company Inc. (Posted for media use)

An artist’s rendition of how the Ford connected car of the future will use Qualcomm technology to connected with everything. (Image courtesy Ford Motor Company Inc. (Posted for media use)

By Sunny Lewis

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, January 11, 2018 ( News) – With cars that can read a driver’s mind, and cars equipped with Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology, automakers from around the world are not waiting for this year’s auto shows to roll out their latest high-tech advances. They’re showcasing the technology behind their connected, electric vehicles at the first big show of 2018, the Consumer Electronics Show, now known as CES.

Nissan, Ford and Kia are among the automakers recognized for breakthrough technologies at CES in Las Vegas, the four-day exhibition, January 9-12, which has attracted more than 184,000 industry professionals, including more than 58,000 from outside the United States.

CES aspires to jump-start the future of innovation. The show features technologies from more than 3,900 companies, including some 900 startups, that organizers say will change the lives of people around the world.

The 2018 electric Nissan LEAF was named one of 30 “Best of Innovation” winners at this year’s CES, presented by the Consumer Technology Association.

The 2018 LEAF won the CES Best of Innovation award for Vehicle Intelligence and Self-Driving Technology and is also a CES honoree for Tech for a Better World.

Judged by a panel of independent industrial designers, engineers and members of the trade media, the CES Innovation Award entries are selected for outstanding design and engineering in consumer electronics products across 28 categories. They are evaluated on their engineering, aesthetic and design qualities, intended use and user value, unique or novel features and how the design and innovation of the product compares to other products in the marketplace.

“This award recognizes products and technologies that benefit people and the planet, so it is fitting that the new LEAF has been honored,” said Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice president for global marketing and sales, zero-emission vehicles and battery business.

“It is more than just a car. It is the icon of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, our vision to move people to a better world,” he said.

With technology that reads a driver’s brain waves, Nissan is giving visitors to CES 2018 a glimpse of its vision for the future of mobility – more autonomy, more electrification and more connectivity.

Nissan’s pioneering Brain-to-Vehicle (B2V) technology interprets signals from the driver’s brain to assist with driving and to help the vehicle’s autonomous and manual systems learn from the driver. Nissan says the technology offers shorter reaction times and systems that adapt to maximize driving pleasure.

Nissan's award-winning 2018 electric LEAF in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo courtesy Nissan) Posted for media use

Nissan’s award-winning 2018 electric LEAF in Las Vegas, Nevada (Photo courtesy Nissan) Posted for media use

The 2018 LEAF combines the excitement of 100 percent electric driving with advanced technologies such as ProPILOT Assist, e-Pedal and enhanced connectivity.

ProPILOT Assist is the foundation for the autonomous vehicles of the future, helping drivers maintain lane control, navigate stop-and-go traffic, maintain a set vehicle speed and maintain a set distance to the vehicle ahead – all with simple two-button operation.

“Nissan continues to democratize technology, bringing our most advanced systems to our highest volume models, rather than reserving them for our most expensive vehicles,” said Michael Bunce, vice president, Product Planning, Nissan North America, Inc.

Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett took the CES stage for the opening keynote to share his ideas for creating “the living street” and promoted a human-centered path for smartening our cities.

“It’s not about cities getting smarter, it’s about humans having a better day,” he said.

Ford introduced its new Transformation Mobility Cloud, an open platform designed to simplify the flow of data in support of transportation systems from vehicles and bicycles to mass transit.

As the automotive industry prepares for advancements towards 5G, Ford and Qualcomm Technologies plan to explore a next-generation telematics platform featuring Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology.

Using direct communication mode, C-V2X is designed to allow vehicles to directly communicate with other vehicles, pedestrian devices, and roadside infrastructure, such as traffic signs and construction zones, without the involvement of a cellular network, or cellular network subscription, facilitating the development and delivery of smart, connected transportation throughout the world.

“This relationship with Ford is part of a leading effort in the automotive industry in accelerating the adoption of Cellular-V2X into production vehicles and provide for enhanced safety, driver assistance and support for autonomous driving,” said Nakul Duggal, vice president of product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. “Connectivity is the cornerstone for innovation in vehicles.”

For Mercedes-Benz, Las Vegas was the final stop of the “Intelligent World Drive,” with which the German automaker tested automated drive functions on all five continents.

On the last stages in California and Nevada, the Mercedes-Benz test vehicle collected U.S.-specific information for the further development of its driver assistance systems. The automated test drives in the greater Los Angeles area, and then to CES, focused on the assessment of driving behavior in dense city traffic and on highways.

The Mercedes-Benz stand at CES offers the world premiere of the intuitive and intelligent multimedia system MBUX – Mercedes-Benz User Experience. This system can learn, can be individualized and adapts to suit the user.

“With the new MBUX generation, we are transporting our user interface design into the digital world,” says Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Mercedes-Benz parent company, Daimler AG. “We are thus transferring intelligent technology into an emotional overall experience.”

The Korean automaker Kia is showcasing interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience Kia’s developing autonomous drive technologies through a Virtual Reality simulator, while experiencing a Vehicle to Everything (V2X) diorama demonstrating how cars could connect with other vehicles and the urban environment.

At CES, Kia is debuting the Niro EV Concept, powered by a next-generation electric vehicle powertrain with a real-time connection established between Las Vegas and Seoul, Korea. The 5G connection enables users to stream contents reliably into the car, linked to the exhibit’s infotainment system.

Dr. Woong-chul Yang, vice chairman and head of Kia’s R&D Center, said, “Boundless for all is Kia’s future vision – where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the infinite value that future mobility will bring. This is Kia’s manifesto for its role as a mass mobility provider in the future.”

Kia plans to commercialize Level 4 autonomous driving technology, with ‘Smart City’ autonomous vehicle testing due to begin in 2021.

By 2025, Dr. Yang says Kia will adopt connected car technologies across every vehicle segment, and aims to make every single model a connected car by 2030.

Kia will introduce 16 new advanced powertrain vehicles by 2025, including a range of new hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, as well as a new fuel-cell electric vehicle in 2020.

An automotive-related award-winning innovation is the world’s first touchscreen with a 3D surface, by the German automotive manufacturing company Continental AG.

The company won the CES 2018 Best of Innovation Award in the “In-Vehicle Audio/Video” for its state of the art design and breakthrough technology.

The innovative 3D touch surface display can be operated intuitively, increasing safety. The 3D elements allow  finger guidance that users can actually feel.

“Our latest display solution combines three elements: design, safety and user experience. The 3D surface not only allows for exciting design, but it also ensures that drivers can operate the various functions without having to take their eyes off the road,” said Dr. Frank Rabe, head of the Instrumentation & Driver HMI business unit at Continental.

“The CES Innovation Awards honor technologies for the very highest standards of design and engineering prowess, so we are absolutely delighted to have received this award,” said Rabe.

But other breakthrough technologies also are being recognized as CES Innovation Award winners , such as: Siren Diabetic Socks made with miniature temperature sensors embedded into the fabric to help people with diabetes know when their feet are injured; the Samsung’s consumer micro LED TV; Aipoly’s Autonomous Store Platform, an automated convenience store; BUDDY, the first companion robot for the whole family; a 3D camera; Dell’s Ocean-Bound Plastics Packaging Program; NUVIZ, the first integrated head-up display for motorcyclists; and the EZVIZ Lookout Smart Door Viewer, that provides secure viewing of who is knocking at your door from anywhere through an app rather than having to physically walk up to the door to see who’s there.


Trending Discovery Clears CO2, Creates Energy

At the University of Central Florida, Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo's blue LED photoreactor breaks down CO2. (Photo by Bernard Wilchusky / UCF) Posted for media use

At the University of Central Florida, Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo’s blue LED photoreactor breaks down CO2. (Photo by Bernard Wilchusky / UCF) Posted for media use

ORLANDO, Florida, January 9, 2018 ( News) – The work of a chemistry professor in Florida who discovered a way to turn greenhouse gas into clean air and produce energy at the same time has attracted the most attention of all the thousands of science news items posted last year on EurekAlert! the online, global information service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The process, which triggers photosynthesis in a synthetic material, has great potential for creating a technology that could reduce greenhouse gases linked to climate change, while also creating a clean way to produce energy.

Attracting 898,848 views since April, the University of Central Florida release and video about the research of Assistant Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo is also the most-visited in the science-news service’s 21-year history and surpassed its 2016 predecessor by 116 percent.

“This work is a breakthrough,” said Uribe-Romo. “Tailoring materials that will absorb a specific color of light is very difficult from the scientific point of view, but from the societal point of view we are contributing to the development of a technology that can help reduce greenhouse gases.”

The findings of his research are published in the “Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

Uribe-Romo and his team of students created a way to trigger a chemical reaction in a synthetic material called metal-organic frameworks that breaks down the most abundant greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into harmless organic materials.

The artificial photosynthesis process is similar to the way plants convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and sunlight into food. But instead of producing food, Uribe-Romo’s method produces solar fuel.

Scientists around the world have been seeking a way to do this for years, but the challenge has been finding a way for visible light to trigger the chemical transformation.

Ultraviolet rays have enough energy to allow the reaction in common materials such as titanium dioxide, but UVs make up only about four percent of the light Earth receives from the Sun.

The visible range – the violet to red wavelengths – represent the majority of the Sun’s rays, but there are few materials that pick up these light colors to create the chemical reaction that transforms CO2 into fuel.

Researchers have tried it with a variety of materials, but the ones that can absorb visible light tend to be rare and expensive materials such as platinum, rhenium and iridium that make the process cost-prohibitive.

Uribe-Romo used titanium, a common nontoxic metal, and added organic molecules that act as light-harvesting antennae to see if that configuration would work.

The light harvesting antenna molecules, called N-alkyl-2-aminoterephthalates, can be designed to absorb specific colors of light when incorporated in the metal-organic frameworks.

In his lab, Uribe-Romo synchronized it for the color blue.

His team assembled a blue LED photoreactor to test out the hypothesis. Measured amounts of CO2 were slowly fed into the photoreactor – a glowing blue cylinder – to see if the reaction would occur. The glowing blue light comes from strips of LED lights inside the chamber of the cylinder and mimics the Sun’s blue wavelength.

It worked. The chemical reaction transformed the CO2 into two reduced forms of carbon, formate and formamides – two kinds of solar fuel. In the process the air was cleaned of the greenhouse gas.

“The goal is to continue to fine tune the approach so we can create greater amounts of reduced carbon so it is more efficient,” Uribe-Romo said.

To see Uribe-Romo explain the process in his own words, click here.

He wants to see if the other wavelengths of visible light may also trigger the reaction with adjustments to the synthetic material. If they do, the process could become an important way to help reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

“The idea would be to set up stations that capture large amounts of CO2, like next to a power plant,” explained Uribe-Romo. “The gas would be sucked into the station, go through the process and recycle the greenhouse gases while producing energy that would be put back into the power plant.”

Homeowners of the future may be able to buy rooftop shingles made of the material, which would clean the air in their neighborhoods while producing energy that could be used to power their homes.

“That would take new technology and infrastructure to happen,” Uribe-Romo said. “But it may be possible.”

Eurekalert! officials paid tribute to the information officers at universities who write the press releases explaining some highly technical research.

Brian Lin, director of editorial content strategy at EurekAlert!, said, “Several of this year’s trending releases – including our all-time record-breaker – were based on very technical scientific papers which, without the efforts of public information officers, may have attracted little public attention.”

The 10 most popular news releases on EurekAlert! in 2017 were:

  1.  Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air (898,848 views) University of Central Florida, Journal of Materials Chemistry A
  2. Migratory birds bumped off schedule as climate change shifts spring (484,976) Florida Museum of Natural History, Scientific Reports
  3.  Gene therapy treats muscle-wasting disease in dogs (339,099) University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine, Molecular Therapy
  4. America’s youngest children most likely to live in poor economic conditions (333,716) Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health
  5. New research helps organizations deliver stronger diversity training (288,700) University at Buffalo, Psychological Bulletin
  6. In young bilingual children two languages develop simultaneously but independently (268,129) Florida Atlantic University, Developmental Science
  7. Watching birds near your home is good for your mental health – official (247,763) University of Exeter, BioScience
  8. Fruits and vegetables’ latest superpower? Lowering blood pressure (140,145) University of Southern California – Health Sciences, American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism
  9. Are we being watched? Tens of other worlds could spot the Earth (134,271) Royal Astronomical Society, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
  10.  Scientists find key to regenerating blood vessels (132,145) Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Nature Communications

Featured image : Professor Fernando Uribe-Romo and his team have triggered a chemical reaction in a synthetic material that breaks down carbon dioxide into harmless organic materials and produces solar fuel. (Photo by Bernard Wilchusky / UCF) Posted for media use

EU Pours Millions Into Circular, Low-carbon Economy


A building integrated solar array at the Gare de Perpignan, Southern France. Part of the railway station was decorated in the style of Salvador Dalí, who proclaimed it to be the “Center of the Universe” after experiencing a vision of cosmogonic ecstasy there in 1963. (Photo by Issolsa via Wikipedia) Creative Commons license.

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 10, 2017 (  News) – Integrating solar panels into the glass facades of buildings could improve their energy performance to meet EU targets, as the buildings become a whole new source of renewable energy. A demonstration project will generate clean energy through building integrated photovoltaic facades fitted on refurbished and new buildings in Belgium and Spain, the final stage before market launch of the technology.

This is just one of 139 projects (Europa Press Release) soon to be funded by the European Commission as part of an investment package of €222 million to support Europe’s transition to more sustainable and low-carbon future under the LIFE programme for the Environment and Climate Action.

LIFE experts expect the solar panels to reduce the buildings’ carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 34 percent. The project will be coordinated by AGC Glass Europe, based in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Besides being a nice chunk of change all by itself, the EU funding will mobilize additional investments leading to a total of €379 million going to fund 139 new projects in 20 EU Member States.

“In its 25th year, the LIFE program continues to invest in innovative projects with high added value for people, businesses and nature. I am delighted to see that the program transforms close-to-market technologies into new, green businesses,” said Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

The newly approved funds will go towards financing a circular and low-carbon future. For instance, €181.9 million will go to projects in the fields of environment and resource efficiency, nature and biodiversity, and environmental governance and information.

In line with the European Commission’s circular economy package, projects will help Member States in their transition to a more circular economy.

Circular economy projects newly funded by LIFE include: testing an Italian prototype that could cost-effectively convert petrol cars into hybrid vehicles; creating bio-based products from wastewater sludge in the Netherlands; and applying a new biological treatment to remove pesticides and nitrates from water in southern Spain.

A LIFE Environment & Resource Efficiency project funded at €2.3 million will explore new road surfaces to reduce noise and urban heat.

Some 37 million Europeans are exposed to transport noise at levels dangerous for their health, according to LIFE. Most of them live in cities, where the health impacts of heatwaves also are more pronounced. Changes to road surfaces could easeboth problems.

With the new funding, the City of Paris is leading a LIFE project to devise durable asphalt surfaces with phonic and thermal properties that will reduce noise pollution and mitigate the urban heat island effect.

The measurable impact at three pilot sites is expected to be a two decibel reduction in noise experienced by neighboring residents and a 0.5°C to 1.5°C reduction in the urban heat island effect.  due to lighter road surfaces and increased water retention

Other funded projects will support the implementation of the Action Plan for Nature, in particular the management of Nature 2000 sites.

Species protection is another focus, such as in the Slovenian cross-border project to help the survival of a highly endangered Alpine lynx species.

The Danube river in western Bulgaria is one of Europe’s most important areas for the conservation of priority bird species, such as the white stork. But birds in Natura 2000 network sites here struggle with nearby urban and industrial centers, transport corridors, and hundreds of kilometres of encircling bird-unsafe overhead power lines.

In western Bulgaria, nesting white storks like this one are at risk from power lines. (Photo by aneye4apicture) Creative Commons license via Flickr

In western Bulgaria, nesting white storks like this one are at risk from power lines. (Photo by aneye4apicture) Creative Commons license via Flickr

A newly funded project will identify the power lines posing the most serious hazard for western Bulgaria’s wild birds in a GIS database, mapping areas of potential conflict and producing a detailed report.

The project will stop unnatural mortality among wild birds caused by electrocution on electricity pylons by retrofitting 4,000 pin-type pylons, 1,200 metal frame pylons and 200 switch towers. Project workers will install 120 km of aerial conductors marked with “bird diverters” to reduce bird-collisions by 90 percent in priority areas.

In the area of climate action, the EU will invest €40.2 million to support climate change adaptation, mitigation and governance and information projects.

Selected projects support the EU’s target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Hungary, for instance, is forecast to suffer a greater than average impact from climate change, including water scarcity and extreme, unpredictable floods. A €2.5 million LIFE project will build capacity among Hungary’s 3,000+ municipalities through demonstration actions, smart online tools, training and support networks.

The project will focus on promoting ecosystem-based natural water retention measures to manage and mitigate flooding caused by climate change in Hungary.

By applying the Paris Agreement Capital Transition Assessment (PACTA) model, one project in France will give financial regulators and policy-makers the ability to assess EU insurance companies and pension fund assets against global climate goals. This will help them better assess the risks of investments under a range of different decarbonisation scenarios.

At least 200 EU financial institutions are expected to adopt the PACTA model within three years of the project’s completion. The project is expected to contribute to the broader goal of standardizing climate-related accounting.

LIFE funding will also help improve the resilience of one of Europe’s busiest waterways, the Scheldt Estuary in Belgium, anddevelop tools to forecast desert dust storms.

Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said, “The historic Paris Agreement on climate change has added wind to the sails of already accelerating climate-smart investments. With these projects, we use limited public finance in a catalytic way: we unlock private finance to protect the environment, fight climate change and provide cleaner energy to our citizens. These kinds of investments are of critical importance if we are to move from aspirations to action.”


Automated Cars Are Coming, Ready or Not

Non-expert driver takes the wheel of a PSA self-driving car for the first time in Europe at Velizy, France, the PSA Group's Technical Center. March 28, 2017 (Screengrab from video courtesy PSA) posted for media use

Non-expert driver takes the wheel of a PSA self-driving car for the first time in Europe at Velizy, France, the PSA Group’s Technical Center. March 28, 2017 (Screengrab from video courtesy PSA) posted for media use














by Sunny Lewis

AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, August 15, 2017 ( News) – Deep learning, an advanced form of artificial intelligence and a dynamic way of computerized decision-making, are driving change for autonomous cars and for the entire automotive and transportation industry, finds a report published by the international professional services company KMPG earlier this year.

The KPMG report projects that by 2030 a new mobility services segment, including products and services related to autonomy, mobility, and connectivity, will be worth over US$1 trillion globally.

Deep learning is a critical enabler of building a self-driving vehicle that can operate without human intervention. Autonomous vehicles must see, think, drive, and learn, much as humans do.

The report titled, “I see. I think. I drive. (I Learn),” forecasts that the direct impacts of deep learning will revolutionize the nature of doing business for automakers.

“Deep learning is accelerating autonomy faster than anyone could’ve imagined, and it has far-reaching implications for the industry and societal mobility as a whole,” said Gary Silberg, KPMG’s national automotive leader. “If a car can’t learn, then it’s still reliant on millions and millions of lines of code, with such complexity and ambiguity, that full autonomy wouldn’t be achievable for many years to come.”

But cars are learning quickly, much more quickly than the people who will eventually use them for transportation.

“Advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and ultra-low latency cellular are accelerating the development of fully autonomous vehicles,” says the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations that coordinates telecommunication operations and services throughout the world.

Drivers considering buying an autonomous car may hesitate over security issues.

That concern could be eased by the outcomes of an ITU Workshop on Security Aspects of Intelligent Transport Systems in Geneva on August 28. There, experts will analyze the security demands of the communications technologies underlying connected, automated driving. Participation in the workshop is free of charge and open to all.

ITU standardization work is supporting the increasing integration of ICTs in vehicles with road safety and data security as its top priorities. Security and data protection will factor considerably into the reliability and safety of intelligent transport systems and their success in gaining users’ trust.

Yes, but what do vehicle users and owners actually think about autonomous vehicles?

New research from analysts at London-based IHS Markit on consumer preferences for full autonomy in new vehicles finds the technology is not yet popular among a broad audience.

Yet, the same audience ranked it among the features they would be willing to pay the most for in their next new vehicle purchase.

Responses from more than 5,000 vehicle owners intending to purchase a new vehicle within the next 36 months were reviewed in the survey, representing five key automotive markets – the United States, Canada, China, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Just 44 percent of all respondents indicated that full autonomy would be a desirable feature on their next car, the lowest rank of all of the technologies included in this subsection of the survey.

Yet full autonomy also showed up as the technology that consumers would be most willing to pay for.

Price points varied by country, but German respondents indicated they would be willing to pay $1,016 for full autonomy, nearly 20 percent more than the U.S. respondents, who averaged $780.

Car buyers in China are most likely to choose full autonomy in their next vehicle, with 72 percent of respondents reporting the desire for full autonomy as a feature in their next new vehicle. Many also were interested in related technologies, such as blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, highway autopilot and autonomous co-pilot.

“In terms of ADAS safety features like automatic emergency braking and blind spot detection, consumers wanted to see these features standard across the board,” said Colin Bird, senior automotive technology analyst for IHS Markit and co-author of the report.

“There is a large subset of consumers who are willing to pay for full autonomy features demonstrating that consumers see this more as a value-add rather than a necessary safety component, at least for now,” said Bird.

Younger survey respondents were more comfortable with full autonomy than older drivers. Around 61 percent of Millennials and Generation Z respondents across all regions said it was a feature of interest in their next new vehicle.

Older generations are less comfortable with the idea, despite the fact that fully autonomous vehicles could revolutionize mobility for elderly people who can no longer qualify for a driver’s license.

So, while the technology is advancing, much more needs to be done to educate the market and achieve closer integration with other markets such as insurance.

If vehicle insurance rates were based on how often consumers used self-driving features, consumers felt differently about it.

In China, 70 percent of respondents indicated they would be more open to self-driving features. Respondents in Germany were least likely, with just 32 percent reporting it would have an impact for them.

“Among new car intenders, ride-hailing services aren’t used as often as a daily commuting option. Instead, the research found that ride-hailing is used more often for weekend trips, errands, and vacations,” Bird said. “Interestingly, new car intenders are more likely to be drivers for hailing service companies like Uber and DiDi than they are to be passengers. This is particularly the case in the UK, Germany and Canada, which suggests there could be a lucrative sales model in these markets for automakers.”

Self-Driving Cars Try Out on Public Roads

Based on a study by Navigant Research a list of the top companies working on autonomous cars includes:

  • Ford, a Detroit-based automaker
  • General Motors, a Detroit-based automaker
  • Renault-Nissan Alliance, the French-Japanese partnership
  • Daimler, a German automaker
  • Volkswagen Group, a German car manufacturer
  • BMW, the German automaker
  • Waymo, Google’s self-driving-car project, partnered with Fiat Chrysler
  • Volvo, the Swedish automaker
  • Delphi, an auto electronics supplier
  • Hyundai Motor Group
  • PSA, the second-largest car manufacturer in Europe offers three brands: Peugeot, Citroën and DS
  • Tesla, the California electric automaker
  • Toyota, the Japanese automaker
  • ZF, German supplier of driveline, chassis and safety technology
  • Honda, the Japanese automaker
  • Uber, the ride-hailing company, with trials in Pennsylvania and Arizona
  • NuTonomy, a Boston-based startup out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Baidu, a Chinese internet company

Featured Image: Waymo’s fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan on the street in Chandler City, Arizona (Photo courtesy Waymo) Posted for media use.


The Cancer Risk of Carbon Capture

The International Energy Agency hosted a CCS meeting in June: From left: Jim Carr, Minister of Energy, Canada; Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology, China; Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency; Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, USA; Terje Søviknes, Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Norway (Photo courtesy IEA) Posted for media use

The International Energy Agency hosted a CCS meeting in June: From left: Jim Carr, Minister of Energy, Canada; Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology, China; Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency; Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, USA; Terje Søviknes, Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Norway (Photo courtesy IEA) Posted for media use.





By Sunny Lewis

OSLO, Norway, August 3, 2017 ( News) – China has decided to develop and implement carbon capture and storage (CCS) on a massive scale. But there is a problem. The process of capturing carbon can lead to the formation of carcinogenic chemicals.

To resolve this issue, Chinese researchers are collaborating with Norwegian scientists from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oslo (UiO) and the Norwegian Technology Centre Mongstad (TCM), the world’s largest facility for testing and developing CO2 capture technologies.

“China is now the world’s most progressive nation when it comes to research on CCS, and they also have the most comprehensive plans for implementation,” says Professor Claus Jørgen Nielsen at the UiO Department of Chemistry.

“They have in fact decided that China is going to be the first nation in the world to implement CCS on a large scale. The reason is of course that CCS is one of the technologies that have the potential to save the global climate,” said Nielsen.

Current short-term, medium-term and long-term projections for global energy demand still point to fossil fuels being burned in quantities incompatible with levels required to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at safe levels in the atmosphere, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA defines carbon capture and storage as, “…a family of technologies and techniques that enable the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes, the transport of CO2 via ships or pipelines, and its storage underground, in depleted oil and gas fields and deep saline formations.”

“CCS can have a unique and vital role to play in the global transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy, in both power generation and industry,” the IEA says.

Still, the capturing part of the technology comes with a problem that has not been much studied in China, and certainly not in the United States, but where Norway is at the forefront of research.

“The problem is that the process for capturing carbon can give rise to carcinogenic chemicals in the environment. This is a problem that we Norwegians can help the Chinese to avoid, and at the same time we are making an important contribution towards reducing global climate problems,” said Nielsen.

Earlier this year, Nielsen was part of a Norwegian delegation to China that included UiO Senior Executive Officer Kari Kveseth and researcher Liang Zhu from the Amine Research and Monitoring project (ARM).

“China is today the world’s largest investor in research and development overall. The USA remains in the lead of R&D investments per capita, but China is in second place and is still growing. China has developed a remarkable policy with leaders who are convinced that research is going to lead to a renewed nation, and they are thus on the road to becoming the world’s leading R&D nation,” said Kveseth.

CCS falls into two parts. First, carbon in the form of CO2 gas must be captured or separated from the exhaust flue gases produced by combustion in, for example, fossil fueled power stations. After separation, the gas must be stored in a safe and permanent manner, so that it does not escape into the atmosphere.

The Sino-Norwegian cooperation is all about reducing the environmental impact of the technology for capture.

“The common way to capture CO2 from gases makes use of an old technology where amines, which are chemical bases, capture the acidic CO2 gas. When used to capture CO2 from exhaust in a chimney, some of the amines are emitted into the air,” explains Professor Rolf David Vogt, one of the pioneers in the Norwegian-Chinese research collaboration.

But in 2008, Nielsen and colleagues pointed out that amines emitted to air from CO2 capture plants can be broken down into nitroamines and nitrosamines.

The nitrosamines are known for being carcinogenic but short-lived, so they should not be released into the air in densely populated areas. The nitramines are more stable, and little is known about their effects on human health – but there is a risk that they are as bad as the nitrosamines.

The persistence of the nitramines makes it necessary to map their presence in the environment around CCS plants. Where do they end up? Are they stored in soils, so that they can affect the bacterial flora – or are they washed out so that they may be bio-accumulated in the aquatic food chain?

Are there other important sources for nitramines and nitrosamines in the environment?

The Norwegian researchers agree that these questions must be answered before choosing the best technology for capturing CO2.

“If we are to reach the IPCC target of only 2 ºC global warming the CCS technology must account for roughly 30 % of the solution. Then we are going to need qualified researchers, who are going to be educated both in Norway and China in a joint program,” says Nielsen.

The Sino-Norwegian cooperation is already underway. UiO researchers have collaborated with Chinese environmental research institutions for almost 30 years, with projects on acid rain, mercury and water quality. But the collaboration ground to a halt when the late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. By the end of 2016, relations between China and Norway were normalized after Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende visited China.

The largest Chinese partners in the renewed cooperation are the Air Pollution Control Division at Tsinghua University; Huaneng Power International, which is China’s largest energy producer; and the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics (IET) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences .

Tsinghua holds a leading role in research on air pollution, especially in Beijing and northern China. During the summer of 2017, their instrument park will be supplemented with measuring instruments from the Department of Chemistry in Oslo. Dr. Liang Zhu will contribute to this in Beijing.

But Norway is not the only country working with China on capturing and storing carbon.

The energy ministers of Canada, China, Norway, and the United States, as well as heads of delegation from Australia and the European Commission, along with leaders from the industry and key organizations, were invited by the International Energy Agency and China to review how to increase collaboration in order to drive further deployment of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS).

The meeting was held in June ahead of the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial, in Beijing. Ministers and panellists discussed the factors that have attracted investment to current CCUS projects and highlighted the importance of identifying where these factors could converge to replicate recent success with CCUS projects.

The discussion centred on the vital role of CCUS in reducing carbon dioxide emissions while ensuring energy security. Participants acknowledged the importance of revenue streams, such as from CO2 utilisation, available transport and storage options, and political leadership in securing investment in CCUS projects.

Hosting the event, IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol said the IEA would undertake detailed analysis of the conditions and factors that have led to the investment in existing CCUS projects, and how they may be replicated.

The countries represented in the discussion host 19 of the 22 projects currently in operation or construction globally.

China, the host of the 8th Clean Energy Ministerial, recently announced the beginning of construction on the country’s first large-scale CCUS project in Shaanxi Province. China’s Minister for Science and Technology Wan Gang, co-hosted the discussion.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said, “I don’t believe you can have a real conversation about clean energy without including CCUS. The United States understands the importance of this clean technology and its vital role in the future of energy production.”

“We have already seen the success of projects like Petra Nova in Texas, which is the world’s largest post-combustion carbon-capture system,” Perry said. “Our experience with CCUS proves that you can do the right thing for the environment and the economy too.”

The system at Petra Nova can capture 1.6 million tons of CO2 each year from an existing coal-fired power plant unit, a capture rate of up to 90 percent from a supplied slipstream of flue gas. By using CO2 captured from the plant, oil production at West Ranch oilfield is expected to increase from around 500 barrels per day to up to 15,000 barrels per day.

Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr said, “Carbon capture, use and storage holds enormous potential to enable economic growth and create jobs, while ensuring the environment is protected.”

“Canada hopes to continue working with domestic and international partners — including through the Clean Energy Ministerial and Mission Innovation — to help us all address the technical and policy challenges around wide scale implementation of this important technology.”

The IEA has consistently highlighted the importance of CCUS in low carbon energy systems. “Our analysis consistently shows that CCUS is a critical part of a complete clean energy technology portfolio that provides a sustainable path for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring energy security,” said Dr. Birol.

“Investment has flowed to CCUS projects where there is a confluence of factors which constitute a viable business case,” he said. “We need to find more such opportunities, where a commercial case for CCS can be built with reasonably modest, well targeted public interventions.”


 Featured Image: View of rooftops and smokestacks, China. (Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Cryptocurrencies and the Clean Energy Revolution


Worker installs solar panels on a roof in Oregon. (Photo courtesy Oregon Dept. of Transportation) Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

CYBERSPACE, July 27, 2017 ( News) – Innovative financial technologies, from cryptocurrencies to crowdfunding, are offering new ways for citizens to become involved in clean energy projects, and to reap the benefits of the clean power they produce.

Today, cryptocurrencies, virtual means of payment, are in use as alternatives to existing currencies – the dollar, the euro, the rupee, the peso.

Among them is SolarCoin (§), a solar electricity reward program. SolarCoins are digital assets created to reward solar energy producers and to give an incentive to anyone considering installing solar panels.

Anyone who produces solar energy, on a rooftop or in a solar park, can submit meter readings of their energy production and receive these digital coins as a reward – to the tune of one SolarCoin per megawatt-hour (1§ per MWh).

§1 SolarCoin represents 1 megawatt hour (MWh) of solar electricity generation.

As a verified solar electricity producer you can get SolarCoins for free. The supply of SolarCoin is designed to last 40 years, delivering incentives for generating 97,500 TWh of solar electricity.

SolarCoin can be traded on online exchanges and monetized in everyday currencies. As the network increases and the currency is adopted by merchants and participants, SolarCoin will increase in value, developers hope.

Like all cryptocurrencies, this digital coin is based on blockchain technology.

Traditionally, individual account details and financial transactions have been centralized in private databases, such as those maintained by banks.

By contrast, the blockchain is an open database spread across a vast network of computers that publicly records an ever-growing list of transactions, each called a block.

François Sonnet, co-founder of ElectriCChain, the blockchain underpinning SolarCoin, says, “We use SolarCoin to incentivise people to produce solar power, but we need market awareness and education about blockchain. Getting recognition from governments and large institutions like the UN would help establish trust.”

Sonnet says ElectriCChain helps government institutions, the solar industry and “Prosumers” to deliver cheap and clean solar energy for future generations.

One organization that has embraced the solar cryptocurrency is the French crowdfunding platform Lumo. To date, Lumo has raised around €3 million for around 30 projects, including an €800,000 investment in a French solar park.

“Most investors are local citizens who want to see their money work,” says Lumo co-founder Alex Raguet. “Every year you receive three to seven percent interest,” he explains, “and you get the capital back at the end.”

In 2016, Lumo adopted the virtual coins to reward investors in solar projects and to demonstrate the green credentials of the investment.

“Our crowdfunders get the SolarCoins that their money is helping to produce,” says Raguet. “The coins, which can be traded freely, are currently worth around €0.20 but the value could increase if carbon taxes are introduced.”

But not all cryptocurrencies are green. Bitcoin, the first and best known cryptocurrency, is notoriously energy greedy.

Bitcoin uses massive amounts of computer power to solve the puzzles, or algorithms, to “mine” coins, and was estimated to have the same energy consumption as the Republic of Ireland in 2014.

Still, Bitcoin is open-source; its design is public, nobody owns or controls Bitcoin and everyone can take part.

SolarCoin only uses three to five percent of the energy of Bitcoin, says Sonnet. “You don’t need to buy servers to mine the cryptocurrency.”

SolarCoin could be even fairer, according to Michele Andrea Kipiel, a self-taught blockchain expert and blogger in Rome.

“The 1 MWh production target is fixed and too high to attain for a normal family house with solar panels on the roof,” he says.

This favors mass producers. The digital coin could be made more accessible by replacing the fixed production target of 1 MWh with dynamic production targets personalized to each producer, explains Kipiel.

For fintech tools like cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms to move from the niche to the mainstream, regulation needs to catch up with innovation.

“We had to do a lot of lobbying to create a framework for Lumo to operate in,” says Raguet, saying that they became operationally functional only in 2014, when regulations had been put in place.

Now, Lumo and the Regional Center for Renewable Energies, based in La Crèche near Niort, are joining forces to develop participatory financing for solar photovoltaic projects on buildings belonging to local communities.

France wasn’t the only country in Europe with a lack of framework for such projects.

“For the energy transition to be successful it has to be at the European level,” says Raguet.

In this context, the CrowdFundRes project, in which the French platform is involved, aims to improve the regulatory framework and public understanding of crowdfunding for renewable energy projects.

Featured Image: SolarCoin reward symbols. No physical solar coins exist. (Photo courtesy Posted for media use.


Record Year Ahead for Consumer Tech Industry


At CES 2017, people crowd the LG OLED TV display with its curved screen, voted Best of CES 2017. Revolutionary self-lighting pixels, each controlled to achieve perfect black and infinite contrast, support an expanded color palette virtually identical to today’s digital cinemas, Las Vegas, Nevada, January 6, 2017 (Photo by LG) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

LAS VEGAS, Nevada, January 10, 2017 ( News) – White-hot consumer enthusiasm for the Internet of Things and quick adoption of emerging technologies will drive the U.S. consumer tech industry to $292 billion in retail revenues ($228 billion wholesale) in 2017, finds new research from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™.

The latest edition of CTA’s semi-annual industry report, “U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts,” was released ahead of last week’s CES® 2017, the annual consumer electronics show of shows.


REPORT: U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts (July 2016)

The CTA consensus forecast reflects U.S. factory sales-to-dealers for more than 300 consumer tech products.

The report projects that sales of emerging tech products such as smart home devices, wearables and 4K Ultra HD televisions will help produce 1.5 percent year-over-year growth in industry revenues.

U.S. sales of connected devices are projected to reach 600 million units in 2017 – a record high total and five percent year-over-year increase from 2016.

Our forecast reinforces our belief that connectivity is going to be one of the driving trends of our time,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association.

More and more consumers are discovering the remarkable benefits connected products deliver, providing anytime/anywhere access to information, entertainment and each other,” said Shapiro. “Consumers recognize that connected innovations are changing our lives for the better – offering us more control and personalization while helping us lead safer, healthier and happier lives.

As the nation’s largest tech trade association, CTA’s semi-annual report serves as a benchmark for the consumer technology industry.

The report charts the size and growth of product categories. Among the categories tracked by Consumer Technology Association forecasts:

Smart Home: This is evolving as consumers’ most popular means of IoT engagement, says CTA. The report predicts that the smart home category, including: smart thermostats, smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, IP/Wi-Fi cameras, smart locks and doorbells, smart home systems, and smart switches, dimmers and outlets – to reach sales of 29 million units in 2017, a 63 percent increase over 2016. At that rate the category will earn $3.5 billion, a 57 percent increase over 2016.

Digital Assistant Devices: These products present an opportunity to understand how home tech products will integrate artificial intelligence over time. 2017 unit sales projections for voice-controlled, stand-alone digital assistant devices with a cloud-based operating system – including Amaz, 36 percent increase, according to the CTA report.

4K Ultra High-Definition (4K UHD): 4K UHD TVs are one of the industry’s fastest growing segments, driven in part by next-generation technologies such as high dynamic range and wide color gamut.

Growth of the 4K UHD market significantly outpaces the transition to high-definition television, with just three years since introduction; cumulative sales of 4K UHD displays are forecast to hit 18.6 million units, while sales of HDTVs reached 4.2 million units in their first three years on the market.

CTA projects shipments of 4K UHD displays to reach 15.6 million units in 2017, a 51 percent increase over last year, and earn $14.6 billion in revenue, a 38 percent increase.


Intel demonstrates Virtual Reality technology and applications at its CES 2017 press conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, January 5, 2017 (Photo by Vernon Chan) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): Among the tech sector’s overwhelming leaders in year-over-year growth in 2017, VR headset unit sales are projected to reach 2.5 million units, a 79 percent increase, and $660 million in revenues, a 43 percent increase.

CTA explains that its AR/VR Working Group has just finalized a set of industry definitions to better explain the spectrum of experiences in this category.

Drones: Total drone sales are expected to reach new heights in 2017, topping 3.4 million units, a 40 percent increase over last year, and $1 billion in revenue for the first time, a 46 percent increase.

CTA’s forecast also delineates U.S. drone sales for units below and above 250 grams, the Federal Aviation Administration’s division for mandatory drone registration: Drones below 250 grams are expected to reach 2 million units, and drones above 250 grams will sell 1.3 million units.

Wearables: Again driven by the popularity of fitness activity trackers, the total wearables market in 2017, including other health and fitness devices, hearables and smartwatches, is expected to reach 48 million unit sales, a 14 percent increase, and earn $5.5 billion in revenue, a three percent increase.

The CTA’s chief economist Shawn DuBravac, Ph.D. says, “2016 was an important year of transition – with potentially game changing products including VR headsets and digital assistant devices gaining steam within mass consumer markets. I expect 2017 to be a year where many of these emerging tech categories find their footing and really take off.

We’ve had more progress in voice-activated digital assistants in the last 30 months than in the first 30 years,” said Dubravac.

Word recognition accuracy has improved from nearly zero percent in the 1990s to 75 percent in 2013 to about 95 percent today – enabling these devices to enjoy immense consumer adoption,” he said. “While still in a period of massive experimentation, we’re increasingly moving away from what is technologically possible and focusing on what is technologically meaningful.

The automotive sector is another hotbed of innovation. Factory-installed technologies, from entertainment systems to driver-assist features, make up an estimated 50 percent of the collective value in new vehicles, up from about 25 percent just 10 years ago.

CTA estimates factory-installed automotive technologies will contribute nearly $17 billion to industry sales in 2017.

The five largest revenue drivers are maturing technologies that will contribute almost half of total industry revenue in 2017:

Smartphones: Unit volume will grow three percent to reach 185 million smartphones sold in 2017, with revenues expected to reach $55.6 billion, a two percent increase. Unit volume will taper off by 2020, as hardware better meets the average user’s computing demands and replacement cycles lengthen.

Televisions: While LCD television unit shipments enjoyed their best year yet in 2016, 2017 will initiate a period of slight declines with unit volume at 39 million units, a two percent decrease, and $17.8 billion in revenue, a two percent decrease, CTA projects. Future category growth will be driven by 4K UHD upgrades.

Tablets: While tablets remain one of the best performing categories in terms of total volume, after momentous adoption of tablets over the past five years, near-term adoption has leveled off and replacement cycles have slowed. Tablet sales will decline in 2017, as CTA expects sales of 59 million units, a five percent decrease, and revenues of $16 billion, an eight percent decrease.

Laptops: In 2017, the laptop market will sell 27 million units, holding steady with last year, and earn $15.6 billion in revenue, a three percent decrease. Future growth in the laptop market will come from convertible models, CTA predicts.

Desktops: The desktop market will continue to see structural declines, with projected unit sales of 6.7 million, a seven percent decrease, and revenue of $3.9 billion, an eight percent decrease.

Despite revenue declines across some of the largest categories, CTA reports that unit shipment increases demonstrate continued resilience in these categories.

Continued revenue growth in the U.S. consumer technology sector is critical to overall U.S. economic growth,” commented Shapiro. “Our sector supports more than 15 million jobs across the nation, directly, indirectly and induced, and accounts for more than 10 percent of total U.S. GDP, per a recent CTA economic study.

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Africa Investment Forum Debuts at GITEX


Akinwumi Adesina, center with trademark bow tie, with the African Development Bank Board of Directors at his investiture ceremony, Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, Sept. 1, 2015 (Photo courtesy Office of the AfDB President)

By Sunny Lewis

ABIDJAN, Côte d’Ivoire, October 25, 2016 ( News) – The African Development Bank has launched the Africa Investment Forum as a meeting place for social impact investors who wish to transact business and deploy funds in Africa. The Forum will showcase bankable projects, attract financing, and provide platforms for investing across multiple countries.

Approved by the Board of Directors of the regional multilateral development financial institution on October 7, the Africa Investment Forum’s initial outing just 10 days later was a juicy one – a featured spot at GITEX Technology Week in Dubai.

GITEX, the Gulf Information Technology Exhibition, is a fast-growing annual consumer computer and electronics trade show, exhibition, and conference held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.


African attendees at GITEX Technology Week 2016, Dubai, UAE (Photo courtesy Government of Nigeria)

 GITEX 2016 hosted 600 exhibiting companies from 60 countries at the largest technology exchange and marketplace for the Middle East and Africa.

On October 17, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) of Nigeria co-managed the Africa Investment Forum with the Dubai World Trade Centre as one of the conference highlights.

The Forum focused on technology investments and how African countries could increase the value ICT to help develop their economies, particularly in the fields of business startups, education, cybersecurity, retail, energy, healthcare, and finance.

Dr. Vincent Olatunji, acting director-general of Dubai’s National Information Technology Development Agency, said, “The ICT sector is no longer marginal in Nigeria and many African countries. Investment in ICT has in the last decade become profound in both social and economic terms.”

In the context of the ‘information economy,’ Africa has gained significantly as ICT virtually drives a huge portion of national economies,” Dr. Olatunji said.

 The Africa Investment Forum gathered major economic and technology influencers, business leaders and political decision makers to help put in achievable context what’s next for the continent’s ICT sector.

“In Nigeria,” said Olatunji, “this sector is already deemed the most viable non-oil sector and the Nigerian government is further energizing this sector to bring more benefits.”

The Board of the African Development Bank views the Forum as a broad avenue for connecting investors with both public and private sector projects throughout the continent.

President Akinwumi Adesina, Chairman of the AfDB Board said, “I commend the immense support and encouragement by Board members. The new structures are well thought out and will enable the Bank to achieve its transformation objectives.

 Adesina, formerly Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development, said, “The African Investment Forum is a transformational instrument that will make it possible to crowd in investments to garner the huge financing required in critical areas, with the private sector playing a crucial role.

Senior Vice President Dr. Frannie Leautier said, “The AIF will coordinate with other Africa investment fora and work to strengthen collaborative efforts to crowd-in necessary investment, and attract social impact financing to Africa.

She said, “It will support AfDB regional member countries and potential investors through the provision of rigorous, authoritative and robust, business intelligence and analytical work on African’s competitiveness.

 At the same October 7 meeting, the Board created two new environmentally-related departments within the African Development Bank.

They established a Water, Human and Social Development Department as well as an Infrastructure, Cities, and Urban Development Department.

These are refinements to the institution’s new Development and Business Delivery Model, approved by the AfDB Board of Directors on Earth Day, April 22, 2016.

The Development and Business Delivery Model aims to streamline business processes to improve efficiency, enhance financial performance; increase development impact, and move the bank’s operations closer to its clients to improve delivery of services.

The new structure, which will be rolled out in phases over the 2016-2018 time period, is designed to ensure the successful implementation of the Bank’s Ten Year Strategy and its five scaled-up core development priorities for the continent, nicknamed the High 5s:

Light Up and Power Africa
Feed Africa
Industrialise Africa
Integrate Africa
Improve the Quality of life of the People of Africa

African development is no longer just about agriculture, although food production is still key to most African economies. The African Development Bank is moving forward on the industrial side with its most recent appointment. On October 24, Amadou Hott of Senegal was named vice-president, power, energy, climate and green growth.

Hott was the founder and chief executive officer of the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Senegal, where he spearheaded major infrastructure investments and integrated energy solutions for clients, including structured financing for power and utilities, oil and gas, metals and mining, as well as renewable energy projects.

The AfDB was founded following an agreement signed by member states on August 14, 1963, in Khartoum, Sudan, which became effective on September 10, 1964. The AfDB includes three entities: the African Development Bank, the African Development Fund and the Nigeria Trust Fund.

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Sustainability Takes Flight


Airplanes on the tarmac at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, June 30, 2016 (Photo by Caribb) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, August 16, 2016 ( – Every day around the world, more than 100,000 civil aviation flights take off and land – safely for the most part. Now, the global agency responsible for overseeing civil aviation is working to improve the industry’s sustainability.

Sustainability for Civilian Aircraft,” an environmental report released in late July by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), presents the work of more than 600 experts who deal with noise, air quality, climate change, aircraft end-of-life, recycling and climate change adaptation.

This report from ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection, titled “On Board a Sustainable Future,” summarizes the progress made over the last three years across key areas of the agency’s environmental protection activities and serves as the reference document for international aviation and the environment.

The ICAO Environmental report is a crucial step that allows aviation to produce policies that lead to peaking emissions in the industry. This report allows for informed policy decisions based on sound science,” said Christina Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The report will provide a strong focus on sustainability as ICAO hosts its 191 member states and industry groups at the ICAO Assembly September 27 to October 7 in Montreal.

ICAO gathers its members in an Assembly at least once every three years. The scenarios presented for the consideration of the Assembly reflect the inputs of: aircraft and engine manufacturers, airlines, air navigation service providers and non-governmental organizations. Panels of independent experts provide unbiased input related to noise, emissions, and operational changes. The effects of traffic growth, fleet turnover, technology improvement, and operational enhancements are captured.

Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu of Nigeria, president of the ICAO Council, wrote in his introduction to the report that three years ago the ICAO Assembly, “…reaffirmed the collective aspirational goals of two percent fuel efficiency improvement annually, and carbon neutral growth from 2020.

To progress towards these goals, ICAO is advising member states to employ innovative aircraft technologies, more efficient operations, sustainable alternative fuels, and market-based measures for mitigation of climate changing emissions from the air transport industry.

ICAO’s own market-based measure is still a work in progress.

Meanwhile, wrote Aliu, “ICAO’s leadership role on the environment relies in part on our historic ability to guide and assist those who wish to act to protect the environment, but who may not have the means to do so. In the spirit of our ongoing No Country Left Behind initiative, we will continue to pursue capacity-building and assistance measures towards the more effective implementation of ICAO’s global Standards and Policies, a critical enabler of our broader environmental goals.” 

ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu of China wrote in her introduction, “Delivering on an ambitious environmental agenda in response to the mandate received from its Member States, ICAO has evolved its environmental activities into a broader, truly global vision for greener air transport. Sustainable development is at the heart of our strategy…

Turning this vision into action,” wrote Dr. Liu, “ICAO’s current Strategic Objectives contribute to 13 out of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), and our environmental work programme alone contributes to 10 of them. Adopted by world leaders in September 2015, the UN SDGs are our common roadmap to transform our world beyond 2030, and global air transport connectivity is an essential enabler for many of them.

Now for the practical side – making the vision work.

When the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection met in February in Montreal, the 200 participants agreed on a comprehensive set of 17 recommendations that will help ICAO fulfill its mandate on aviation environmental protection.

The set of environmental aircraft design standards cover noise, five pollutants that affect local air quality, and CO2 emissions to protect the global climate.

For the first time the Committee recommended two completely new standards in one meeting:

  • an agreement on a new airplane carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standard
  • an agreement on a new non-volatile Particulate Matter engine emission standard

 The Committee tabled updated trends for CO2, noise and engine emissions and reviewed the technical work to date on a Global Market Based Measure.

They recommended a new publication on “Community Engagement on Aviation Environmental Management,” and established priorities and work programs for the next work cycle in the years 2016-2019.

In the report, Jane Hupe, secretary to the Committee, explained, “The recommended Aeroplane CO2 Emissions Certification Standard is a technology standard with the aim of encouraging more fuel efficient technologies into aeroplane designs. This technology-based approach is similar to the current ICAO engine emissions standards for Local Air Quality and the aircraft noise standards.

The CO2 standard will apply to subsonic jet and turboprop aeroplanes that are new type designs from 2020, as well as to those aeroplane type designs that are in-production in 2023 and undergo a change,” wrote Hupe.

In 2028, there is a production cut-off. Planes that do not meet the standard can no longer be produced from 2028, unless the designs are modified to comply with the standard.

The Committee’s report identifies these trends. “The CO2 emissions that affect the global climate, and emissions that affect local air quality are expected to increase through 2050, but at a rate slower than aviation demand.

Under an advanced aircraft technology and moderate operational improvement scenario, from 2030, aircraft noise exposure may no longer increase with an increase in traffic.

 “International aviation fuel efficiency is expected to improve through 2050, but measures in addition to those considered in this analysis will be required to achieve ICAO’s two percent annual fuel efficiency aspirational goal.

 “Sustainable alternative fuels have the potential to make a significant contribution, but sufficient data are not available to confidently predict their availability over the long term. Also, considering only aircraft technology and operational improvements, additional measures will be needed to achieve carbon neutral growth relative to 2020,” the Committee projects.

Dr. Boubacar Djibo of Niger, director of ICAO’s Air Transport Bureau, wrote in the report, “Alternative fuels are essential to ICAO’s environmental strategy and are an integral part of airlines’ environmental strategies. Indeed, sustainable alternative drop-in fuels are the only practical renewable energy option available for aircraft today. While the technical feasibility, environmental impacts and safety of biofuels have been well-demonstrated, integrated thinking is now required to accompany their large-scale deployment.

The current ICAO Carbon Calculator for passenger air travel emissions is one of the most popular tools developed by ICAO. It allows passengers to estimate the emissions attributed to their air travel on the ICAO website and on mobile applications. It is simple to use and only requires a limited amount of information from the user.

To complement the ICAO Carbon Calculator for passenger air travel emissions, a method for quantifying air cargo CO2 emissions was recommended by the Committee. This new methodology will predict the CO2 emissions from cargo shipped on board both passenger and dedicated cargo aircraft. This tool will only require information such as origin and destination.

ICAO is a UN specialized agency, established by countries in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, known as the Chicago Convention.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon complimented the Committee on its 2016 report, saying, “This edition of the ICAO Environmental Report shows how air transport is well on its way to carrying out forward-looking solutions – and sets out the strategic path for even greater progress.

Featured image:Plane Silhouette,December 20, 2009 (Photo by David Spinks) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Events: Women in Technology

Web Summit Women

Web Summit 2016, will be held in Lisbon this year and has become Europe’s Largest Technology Marketplace with over 50,000 attendees, 20,000 plus companies from over 150 countries.

The Summit has grown exponentially since it’s creation 6 years ago, which is perhaps a reflection of the general growth rate within the technology sector.

Though the number of companies and advancements in technology and clean technologies are increasing rapidly, the same can not be said for the number of women in technology fields.

Women have been in advanced technology since Hedy Lamarr played a key role in the invention of spread-spectrum technology (radio guidance technology) yet their numbers have never been more than an underrepresented small percent.

In January this year Elena Kvochko wrote for Forbes “Why There Are Still Few Women Leaders in Tech” the following is a section of the article that suggests that there is actually a decline in women in technology and computing sectors.

The role of women in technology has significantly stalled and, in some cases, even declined. In 2008, women on average held 25% of IT-related jobs in the US, a drop from the 36% occupied in 1991. Also, women between 25 and 34 are reporting increasing dissatisfaction with their tech careers. 56% leave their jobs at the highlight of their career, which is twice the quit rate for men. According to a Reuters study, 30% of 450 technology executives stated that their groups had no women in leadership positions. Women are becoming increasingly invisible in the thriving technology and computing sector, one of the top U.S industries and one of the fastest-growing professional occupations among U.S workers with an estimated 1.8 million jobs in computing by 2018, according to the U.S Department of Labor.

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) released “Women in IT: By the Numbers“a single page overview of compelling statistics on women’s participation in IT.

Women in IT_By the Numbers

It states that 25% of professional computing occupations in the U.S, and only 17% of Fortune 500 Chief (CIO) positions were held by women in 2015.

When you look at technology industry events you find around 25% of speakers at tech events are women.

Women speakers made up around 2% of Web Summit’s past keynote speakers, though there are hopes that the percentage will increase this year.

In fact Web Summit is offering a €45 discount to female attendees to encourage more women within tech to take part in their upcoming technology conference.

If interested use the code: WSREM51815u to get tickets before Friday, July 15

There is hope for 2016 as AWS Public Sector Summit 2016  featured keynote speakers consisted mainly of women.  Panelist Beth Bergsmark, deputy CIO of Georgetown University was quote saying “If you are a woman in tech … be out there and let them see you,”  by Samantha Ehlinger in her recent article “Women in technology say it’s time to speak up, engage others

For more up coming events in various sectors including technology see the Maximpact Blog Events Page

Bird Feathers Inspire ‘Structural’ Colors


By Sunny Lewis

SAN DIEGO, California, April 18, 2016 ( News) – Imagine a colorful T-shirt that never fades with washing, or a car that never needs a new coat of paint. Biomimicry already translated into nanomaterials in the lab could bring such marvels to market in the future.

Inspired by iridescent bird feathers that play with light, scientists at two American universities have created thin films of nanomaterials in a wide range of pure colors determined by physical structure rather than pigments or dyes.

Color determined by structure would never diminish in hue and could potentially be altered to satisfy anyone’s preference.

This research is among the first steps into the fledgling field of biomimicry, where scientists look for ways to improve human life by imitating the success of natural designs, processes and methods.

Here, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Akron in Ohio sought to recreate structural color patterns found in bird feathers to generate color without the use of pigments and dyes.

They identified melanosomes, tiny packets of melanin in the feathers, skin and fur of many animals, that can produce structural color when packed into solid layers, as they are in the feathers of some birds.


Melanin is a broad term for a group of natural pigments found in most organisms. In humans, melanin is the primary determinant of skin color. It is also found in hair and the pigmented tissue underlying the iris of the eye.

Melanins have diverse roles and functions in various organisms. The black feathers of birds owe their color to melanin; they are less readily degraded by bacteria than white feathers, or those containing other pigments.

A form of melanin makes up the ink used by many cephalopods, such as the ink that squids expel as a defense against predators.

Melanins also protect microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, against stresses that involve cell damage such as UV radiation from the sun.

Melanin protects against damage from high temperatures, chemical stresses, such as heavy metals and oxidizing agents, and biochemical threats, such as host defenses against invading microbes.

Structural color occurs through the interaction of light with materials that have patterns on a tiny scale reflecting light to make some wavelengths brighter and others darker.

In their laboratories these researchers get tiny packets of synthetic melanin to produce structural color, as in a bird’s feather, when they are packed into layers.

“We synthesized and assembled nanoparticles of a synthetic version of melanin to mimic the natural structures found in bird feathers,” said Nathan Gianneschi, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego.

Gianneschi’s work focuses on nanoparticles that can sense and respond to the environment.

“We want to understand how nature uses materials like this, then to develop function that goes beyond what is possible in nature,” he said.

Gianneschi proposed the research project after hearing Dr. Matthew Shawkey, a biology professor at the University of Akron, describe his work on the structural color in bird feathers at a conference.

Shawkey details the benefits of structural color, saying, “Pigments are both financially and environmentally costly, and can only change color by fading. Structural colors can, in theory, be produced from more common, environmentally friendly materials and could potentially be changed depending on the environment or your whims.”

As for practical uses of this biomimetic discovery, the scientists are thinking about applications of these nanomaterials as sensors, photo-protectors, and the creation of a wide range of colors without using pigments.

Featured Image: The iridescent black feathers of birds such as this African starling are leading scientists to make nanomaterials of structural colors. (Photo by Steve Slater) Creative commons license via Flickr

Main image: The iridescent colors of peacock feathers hold clues to the creation of structural colors. (Photo by Mike Leary) Creative commons license via Flickr

Image 01: Male wood duck with iridescent feathers of many colors. (Photo by Cliffords Photography) Creative commons license via Flickr


Always On: Living with the Internet of Things

InternetOfThingsTumituBy Sunny Lewis

CYBERSPACE, March 10, 2016 ( News) – Billions of physical objects – devices, vehicles, buildings – embedded with electronics, software and sensors and connected to the Internet, are continuously and automatically collecting and exchanging information about human activities right now. It’s the emerging Internet of Things (IoT).

Companies have a big appetite for this form of data that needs no human intervention to gather, yet can produce enormous business value, so analysts see nearly unlimited opportunities as the Internet of Things grows. Yet there are risks, as hackers, too, see opportunities.

“Corporate IoT use is surging. It is projected that more than 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet within five years,” writes Evan Sinar, PhD, who serves as director for the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research and chief scientist at Development Dimensions International (DDI), a multi-national corporation based in Pennsylvania.

Anyone with a Fitbit on their wrist or a Nest Thermostat in their home is using an IoT device, explains Dr. Sinar, who says that “outside the home, many systems track and communicate about our daily activities without our knowledge.”

IoT devices range from front door locks, garage door openers, thermostats, webcams, baby monitors and coffee makers to security systems, medical devices such as heart monitors, smart TVs and refrigerators, lighting controls, office equipment and vehicle fuel monitoring systems.

Connecting a car can be accomplished easily using the OBD-II port to install a small device that will bring in WiFi and connected apps. Every car made in the United States since 1996 has been required to have an OBD-II port, usually located under the dash near the steering wheel.

A new device can be plugged into this port to connect a car to the Internet. This enables drivers to monitor their cars’ locations anywhere, anytime, and download trip history, maintenance alerts, engine diagnostics and driving insights to a smartphone.

A burgeoning network of business connections supporting the Internet of Things is emerging.

For instance, in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Actility, the industry leader in Low Power Wide Area networks, announced a collaboration with information technology giant Cisco to accelerate digital transformation and the development of new business models based on the Internet of Things.

Actility’s ThingPark provides long-range network connectivity for low-power sensors used in multiple applications such as smart cities, facility management and asset tracking.

The Cisco IoT gateways and Cisco Field Network Director tools provide the vital link between the low power, long range radio connections to sensors and devices, and the global Internet or private customer network.

Actility and Cisco are both members of the LoRa Alliance, a non-profit organization that aims to drive the global success of the LoRa protocol (LoRaWAN) by sharing knowledge and experience for interoperability among operators in one open global standard.

The Massachusetts-based global provider of market intelligence International Data Corporation (IDC) has been doing research on the rapid growth of the Internet of Things and what it will take to succeed in this new field.

David Tapper, vice president of outsourcing, managed and offshore services at IDC, said last August, “According to a recent IDC survey, while U.S. consumers are showing interest in procuring managed IoT and home automation services in areas such as energy management, security, appliances and housewares, and home environmental monitoring, there are a broad range of requirements and needs that providers of these services need to meet in order to penetrate this emerging market.”

Success for those seeking to compete in the managed IoT and home automation services market requires that many factors be brought to bear.

Tapper listed the requirements as: “justifying investing in managed home automation services, understanding the housing market and household needs and requirements for home automation services; viewing consumers from a market basket of IoT needs; identifying first adopters of managed home automation services; leveraging the success of the outsourcing-managed services business model; developing a marketing strategy that addresses key elements such as price, product, promotion, place, and packaging; and establishing a clear position within the ecosystem of vendors, while creating a new ecosystem of partners.”

Not only will the IoT change how we run our in-home electronics, it will transform health care services, says Nino Giguashvili, a senior research analyst with IDC Health Insights.

She believes that IoT-driven digital transformation will contribute to major improvements in the performance of healthcare systems across Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa (CEMA).

“The Internet of health is gaining momentum fast in the CEMA region, and the innovation-accelerating impact of IoT on CEMA healthcare markets will be massive,” writes Giguashvili in a March 2015 IDC report.

Giguashvili concludes that the Internet of Things will act as an accelerator of digital transformation in CEMA healthcare in eight ways.

  1. Medical care will be more accessible
  2. Hospitals will become safer and smarter
  3. Plenty of health-relevant data will become available, but gaps in analytics and security will widen
  4. Patients will become true partners with their caregivers and care managers
  5. Diagnostics will become more preventative
  6. Treatments will become more personalized
  7. Medical care will follow the patients
  8. Patients will be happier and so will their families and friends

Baby monitors like this one are part of the Internet of Things, convenient but hackable. (Photo by NYC Media Lab) creative commons license via Flickr

But despite the many benefits flowing from the Internet of Things, there are also risks and dangers.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warns of potential security risks of using interconnected devices such as smart light bulbs, smart fridges, wearables, home security systems, network connected printers, connected cars and fuel monitoring systems.

The FBI warns that cybercriminals can take advantage of system and human vulnerabilities by exploiting the IoT’s deficient security capabilities and patching difficulties.

The FBI said that the lack of consumer awareness can open windows of opportunities for attackers to not only execute online attacks, but threaten the physical safety of consumers as well.

“Since the conception of IoT, we’ve seen several incidents that involved attacks on smart home systems and devices, and the prevalent smartification process could only mean new security challenges,” warned the FBI in a statement. “With the new developments in public-facing technologies, risks and actual attacks aren’t limited to IoT devices, and are becoming widespread among public utilities as well.”

Car hacking through new built-in automotive smart systems has become a reality.

German security specialist Dieter Spaar points to vulnerabilities in the BMW ConnectedDrive technology that could allow attackers to gain control of vehicles and enable them to remotely access function apps.

And last July, automotive security researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller demonstrated how a Jeep Cherokee’s brakes and other systems can be remotely controlled by anyone with an Internet connection. Working with “Wired” writer Andy Greenberg, they showed how a hacker could take control of Greenberg’s vehicle by sending data to its interconnected entertainment system and navigation system via a mobile phone network.

In response, Chrysler announced the recall of 1.4 million vehicles that may be affected by the security issue, and Uber hired Valasek and Miller.

More recently, computer security researcher Troy Hunt was doing a February workshop in Norway when he learned that Nissan’s electric Leaf app could be used to remotely hack any of the Leaf’s systems. A workshop attendee who owns a Leaf discovered was that not only could he connect to his Leaf over the Internet and control features independently of the way Nissan had designed the app, he could control other people’s Leafs as well.

The FBI warns that once cyber criminals find a way into your home or business through cyberspace, “they can move laterally and compromise your network devices, including routers, laptops, phones, tablets, and hard drives to steal your personally identifiable information, identify bank account logins and credit card numbers, send malicious and spam e-mails, abscond with proprietary business information, interfere with business transactions, engage in digital eavesdropping, etc.”

Consumers can minimize these risks. The FBI advises:

  • Understand your IoT devices. Many come with default passwords or open WiFi connections, so change to a strong password and only allow the device to operate on a network with a secured WiFi router.
  • Protect your Wi-Fi networks. Set up firewalls and use strong, complex passwords, and consider using media access control address filtering to limit the devices able to access your network.
  • Many routers give you the option to set up more than one network. If yours does, separate your computing devices from your IoT devices and spread them throughout several different networks. That way, if cyber criminals break into one network, the damage they do will only be limited to the devices on that one network.
  • Disable the Universal Plug and Play protocol (UPnP) on your router. UPnP can be exploited to access many IoT devices.
  • Purchase IoT devices from manufacturers with a track record of providing secure devices, and set your devices for automatic updates when available.

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: Representation of the Internet of Things as the Greek legend Medusa, with each of her hairs representing a link to other connected objects. (Image by Tumitu Design) creative commons license via Flickr

WEF16: Promises and Perils of the Hi-Tech Revolution

Welcoming Remarks and Special Address: Handshake: Joseph R. Biden JR and Klaus SchwabBy Sunny Lewis

DAVOS-KLOSTERS, Switzerland, January 25, 2016 ( News) – At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, 2,500 business, government and civil society leaders from over 100 countries visualized a future rich with technological advances as they addressed the forum’s theme, “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

On January 20, at the opening of the four-day meeting, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, hammered home the critical importance of that theme.

“We must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural, and human environments,” said Schwab. “There has never been a time of greater promise, or greater peril.”

The peril is real, as Pierre Nanterme, CEO of the Dublin-based international management consulting services company Accenture explained in Davos, warning, “Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.”

On a Accenture-sponsored panel on People, Machines and the Digital Era, Andrew McAfee co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, said that while that not everyone is benefiting equally from automation and digital technologies, consumers and workers alike are becoming more comfortable with them.

On the side of promise, new research from Accenture shows that 60 percent of the employees polled see technology as improving their own jobs, and half said they believe digital technologies will create new job opportunities.

To avoid the perils of rapid technological change, the time to prepare for the next industrial revolution is now, urged Yale University Economics Professor Robert Shiller, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics.

“You cannot wait until a house burns down to buy fire insurance on it,” Shiller said. “We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The promise is also real, as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized on the Forum’s opening day. “We don’t want technology simply because it’s dazzling,” he said. “We want it, create it and support it because it improves people’s lives.”

In his keynote address, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden defined the forum’s theme as “change fueled by a digital revolution, technologies emerging and intersecting at exponential speed and scale, dramatically increasing and improving productivity and economic growth and creating, God willing, new jobs and entirely new industries.”

“Will this revolution actually transform the global economy? And if it does will it be for the better or for the worse for humanity as a whole?” asked Biden, voicing questions on the minds of all participants.

“Some say the new technologies advances we see are impressive but inconsequential to the overall economy. Some argue that for developed countries sluggish economic growth is the new normal, so get used to it,” Biden said. “But I think we are already seeing that digital advances are consequential.”

Asked by President Barack Obama earlier this month to lead a “moonshot” to eliminate cancer, Biden said, “We are on the cusp of many new and anticipated breakthroughs in cancer treatment.” He mentioned vaccines to prevent cancer and personalized life-saving treatments.

Biden said, “I believe on balance these changes are for the good for people around the world. But they come with real peril, and they require us to be proactive.”

It wasn’t just technology that was on the participants’ minds in Davos. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focused on what it will take to ensure “a future of decency and peace.”

“As usual, as we gather here in Davos in 2016, it’s obvious from my comments and your own discussions and everything we know about the world today, we face gigantic challenges. But please, we should remember that compared to any earlier generation, we have tremendous advantages,” said Kerry.

The U.S. chief diplomat struck a positive note despite acknowledging “savage terrorist crimes, populations racked by sectarian violence, social media marred by eruptions of hate, and millions of refugees risking everything to cross dangerous waters to reach freedom, to reach for a better life.”

And that better life is already happening, Kerry said, citing World Bank data that shows the world’s extreme poverty rate has fallen below 10 percent for the first time in history.

“Compared to 1987, when the World Economic Forum first met, the number of democracies has doubled and the number of nuclear weapons has fallen by two-thirds,” Kerry told WEF participants.

“A child today is more likely than ever before in history to be born healthy, more likely to be adequately fed, more likely to get the necessary vaccinations, more likely to attend school, and more likely to actually live a long life,” Kerry said. “Individuals and companies around the world thrive on new technologies that have made possible incredible breakthroughs in communications, education, health care, and economic growth.”

“All of this isn’t because any one country did something or because of what governments alone have done. It’s what happens when people, writ broadly, in faith-based groups, NGOs, governments, private sector, business all come together valuing skills and valuing dignity, respect the rights of each other, and when they believe in the possibilities of progress no matter how many setbacks are confronted along the way,” said Kerry.

A World Economic Forum initiative, the Global Shapers, is working to engage young people in creating the kind of progress Kerry was talking about.

The Global Shapers Community is a network of 454 Hubs developed and led by 5,548 young people in countries throughout the world.

The “Adopt a Goal” event held in Port Louis, the capital city of Mauritius, on January 19, the eve of the Forum, shows the power of these young Global Shapers’ belief in progress.

With the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals having officially come into force this month, the Port Louis Hub was keen to “bring it to the masses” and launch a wide-scale adoption of the 17 goals at individual levels.

Adopt a Goal aims to ensure that youth buy into the SDGs agenda and understand their critical role in making the agenda a reality by 2030. Over the next two months young people in Port Louis aim to collect 100 pledges of action from individuals, students, business leaders, NGOs and government officials.

The Port Louis Hub has more events and participants that any of the others. It was one of four Hubs connecting to Davos on the topic of Sustainability on January 21 with live-streaming video. This Hub proposed its own pledge: going plastic free, taking short showers and buying no clothes in 2016.

These goals may advance sustainability, but they may not advance world trade, at least in the packaging and garment sectors.

Still, in Davos, World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevêdo welcomed the positive mood about the WTO’s work. “People are optimistic about the WTO, and excited to work more closely with the organization. This was clear throughout my exchanges with governments and businesses in Davos.”

At an informal ministerial gathering on WTO issues hosted by the Swiss government on January 23, Azevêdo said, “We will need to see openness and flexibility on both substance and process if we are to make further progress.”

“This conversation must be inclusive,” he urged. “The private sector is very keen to get engaged. This is very welcome but again it should be inclusive. We should seek to hear from businesses of all sizes from both developed and developing countries, as well as from other areas of civil society.”

In the view of General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, who also served as WEF 2016 co-chair, driving yourself to work in a petrol-powered car will soon be history.

“Technological change rarely advances smoothly. It advances in pulses. In revolutions,” Barra wrote in an article for the WEF 2016 audience.

“This pattern holds true in virtually every field, and each pulse opens the door to new innovations that revolutionize industries and, sometimes, society itself,” she wrote.

“Today, we are at the start of just such a revolution in the auto industry. It is part of the larger ‘fourth industrial revolution’ that is the theme and focus of this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum,” Barra wrote.

“In the auto industry, the revolution is being driven by the convergence of connectivity, electrification and changing customer needs. It is allowing automakers like GM to develop dramatically cleaner, safer, smarter and more energy-efficient vehicles for customers in every market around the world,” she explained.

“We are moving from an industry that, for 100 years, has relied on vehicles that are stand-alone, mechanically controlled and petroleum-fueled to ones that will soon be interconnected, electronically controlled and fueled by a range of energy sources.”

“I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50,” wrote Barra, “and this gives us the opportunity to make cars more capable, more sustainable and more exciting than ever before.”

All these challenges are interlinked, said Professor Schwab, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will require a holistic style of leadership, which views today’s global challenges as inherently connected.”

If a serious business meeting could be said to have a mascot at all, the Dancing Robot is the mascot for World Economic forum 2016.

If a serious business meeting could be said to have a mascot at all, the Dancing Robot is the mascot for World Economic forum 2016.

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Main image: DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 20JAN16 -Joseph R. Biden Jr (L), Vice-President of the United States of America shakes hands with Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum at the special addresse at the Annual Meeting 2016 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 20, 2016. (Creative commons license via Flickr – World Economic Forum)
Image 01: (Photo by Generation Grundeinkommen) creative commons license via Flickr