Archive for the ‘Earth’ Category
A house sits undamaged in the aftermath of the Black Forest wildfire in Black Forest, Colorado, June 13, 2013.
The trend of Chinese conglomerates snapping up venture capital-backed cleantech startups on the cheap continues. This week a subsidiary of Chinese LED and solar manufacturing company San’an Optoelectronics announced that it has acquired LED startup: Luminus Devices. According to LED News (hat tip Greentech Media) the deal was done for $22 million…
All in all it wasn’t the biggest loss investors have seen during this trend of Chinese companies buying up struggling cleantech assets. Solar startup Miasole was sold to Chinese clean power company Hanergy for $30 million, after having raised between $400 million and $500 million over its lifetime. Chinese auto tech giant Wanxiang bought up battery maker A123 Systems out of its bankruptcy, made a barebones offer for electric car company Fisker Automotive, and has made equity investments in other cleantech startups as well.
Chinese companies flush with cash have enough capital to continue to invest in some of these infrastructure-heavy innovations that are requiring longer timelines and more money than the venture capital community expected. At the same time, the Chinese government has been creating markets for energy efficient and clean power technologies through strong incentives — it’s done this with LEDs, electric cars and solar technology.
Other cleantech startups are finding sunnier opportunities partnering with Chinese companies on manufacturing. Five-year-old EcoMotors, which is backed by Bill Gates and Khosla Ventures, is finally commercializing its efficient engine technology with a $200 million plant being built by Chinese auto giant Zhongding Power.
If all you know about China’s economy comes from Cold Warriors, if all you know about global economics is “Us versus Them” – you may as well skip this little news article from Katie Fehrenbacher and GigaOm.
If you have an interest in nations and enterprises experimenting in commercial partnerships – especially when our government is cowed by conservatives prating about the Red Peril of the East – then you should read on. In fact, click the link at the top of the original and wander through more of Katie’s journalism. It’s all focused on the nitty-gritty of getting Clean and Green Technology off the ground and into reality.
In our increasingly connected world, isn’t it about time the humble street sign received a high-tech upgrade? That’s certainly the thinking behind Points, the newest project from Breakfast, a New York-based design group. Points is an internet-connected directional sign that pulls data from social media and spins its arms up to 360 degrees to aim in the direction of a location or event.
At a glance, Points looks like any other directional sign, with three arrows pointing toward designated spots. Once a person makes a selection on the menu near its base though, the signs rotate toward the three nearest places that match the chosen criteria. At the same time, the LED displays on each one will change to show the name of the location along with pertinent information…
Points connects to the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to pull current information from a wide range of sources, including Twitter, Foursquare, RSS feeds, and transportation APIs. Using this data, the system can determine if any special events are happening nearby, find the most popular landmarks for tourists, or pick out the highest rated restaurants and stores in the area…
The design team built a custom system of gears and motors that could fit inside a slim pole and provide smooth motion to each arm. The sign uses rotary electrical interfaces to move the arms 360 degrees in either direction without tangling any wires…Each sign contains an array of 16,000 LEDs to display locations and info…
For now though, anyone can visit the Points official website and send a tweet to a prototype to watch it spin toward their location in real-time.
Tourist-centered areas are a natural for something like this. I will pass this post along to the Santa Fe City Council. Got to be a hit!
BTW, I tried the livestream via Twitter and it worked perfectly. Took a minute or two, be patient.
Is the net effect of the internet on the Earth’s environment positive or negative?
That’s the million dollar question that a group of about 100 people, including Vice President Al Gore and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, tackled at a Google event this week. It’s also the question that I’ve spent about six years thinking about as I’ve written about the evolution of cleantech innovation and how digital technologies can drive efficiency.
The rub of the internet is that it is a collection of data centers filled with computing gear, networks that weave across continents, and a growing amount of battery-powered devices; all of these things need energy to operate. The disturbing part is that the energy consumption of the internet will only grow as the population hits 9 billion in 2050, and all of these people get connected to the internet.
But on the flip side of that energy suck is the idea that the internet can make processes and systems significantly more energy efficient, from transportation to shopping to the electricity network itself. Sustainability wonks call that dematerialization, or replacing atoms with bits. A study called Climate 2020 found that information and communications technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of the economy, below business-as-usual growth, by 15 percent.
Other than that seminal report, there’s been a trickle of research that has reached conclusions along the lines of the notion that buying digital music online is a lot more energy efficient than driving to the store and buying a CD. Data center energy guru Jonathan Koomey, who’s a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and Stanford University, has led a bunch of this research, particularly around how the trend toward cloud computing has increased the energy efficiency of the internet. The web sharing economy is another much talked about trend that is indirectly making the use of goods (like cars and apartments) more efficient…
Then there’s the soft effects of the internet on the planet that don’t have to do with energy consumption at all. The high level visionary speakers — both Gore and Schmidt — focused more on the internet’s ability to open up access to information and organize people, which could be used for environmental, and climate-fighting, causes. Gore said that the digital revolution and the explosion of data are some of the most powerful tools that can be used to help solve the climate crisis. It’s hard to quantify such soft effects, but they could still be very powerful.
The main issue now will be as internet access grows, mobile phones connected to the web proliferate and internet companies build ever more data centers, how does the industry maintain sustainable growth so that the equation doesn’t flip, and so that the internet doesn’t start to have a negative effect on the environment? There’s going to be 9 billion people on the planet by 2050 that could have a handful of connected devices each, and some of them will be spending their lives immersed in digital data 24/7…
Going forward, I’d like to see a hub grow at a university or research center that can act as a collection point to draw together this type of research, and also to help validate it. I’d also like to see more mainstream attention on this topic of the intersection of the Internet and the environment. At the Google event, it was invite-only and had about 100 people that had been thinking about these topics for years. This topic is important enough that is needs more mainstream attention and discussion.
This is why Katie Fehrenbacher is one of the core attractions at GigaOm. Though best known as an analyst and writer on subjects environmental, she has sufficient command of social and scientific matters to bring all the pieces together.
Or in this case, ask the right questions about how to bring them together.
Malnutrition is the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children, accounting for 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five and stunting growth among a further 165 million, according to a set of reports released ahead of a nutrition summit in London.
The shocking figures, published in the Lancet on Thursday, emerged as world leaders prepare to meet on Saturday to pledge extra money for nutrition, ahead of the G8 summit of industrialised countries on 17 June…
Aid for basic nutrition came to $418 million in 2011, only 0.4% of total official development assistance. Similarly, nutrition has been a low government priority in Africa.
Saturday’s nutrition summit, co-hosted by the UK, Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), is expected to see financial pledges from rich governments and declarations of commitments from poor countries.
Aid campaigners, who see the summit as the biggest opportunity in a decade to secure financial and political commitments on nutrition, expect pledges that will take the overall figure for nutrition to between $600m and $800m a year. Enough Food For Everyone IF, a coalition of more than 200 NGOs and faith groups, which is holding a rally in Hyde Park on Saturday to coincide with the summit, is calling for $1bn a year by 2015.
Even if the summit comes up with more money, it will fall far short of the $9.6bn a year the Lancet says is needed to reduce the number of deaths from malnutrition among under-fives by 1 million. The money would be targeted at 34 countries with high malnutrition rates, supporting interventions identified in the 2008 Lancet series as cost-effective. These include exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate, healthy foods for infants; providing mothers and children with sufficient vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and zinc supplements, iodised salt, and other micronutrient powders and fortified foods; and the prevention and treatment of cases of acute, severe malnutrition…
Brazil has been one of the success stories in reducing malnutrition. Daniel Silva Balaban, a director at the UN World Food Programme who was involved in Brazil’s nutrition policy, emphasised that hunger and malnutrition was a political problem, not an economic one.
Balaban pointed out that the success of a school feeding programme key to Brazil’s success in tackling malnutrition involved not just the ministry of education but also the co-operation of the education, health, social development and finance ministries.
It also helps if you’e not one of the nations whose military assumes a much higher priority than ordinary citizens – or their children.
A study conducted at Columbia University has revealed that even when stitched together from much smaller fragments, large sheets of graphene still retain much of their mechanical properties. The discovery may be a crucial step forward in the mass-production of carbon nanotubes that could be used to manufacture flexible electronics, ultra-light and strong materials, and perhaps even the first space elevator.
In its purest form, graphene is quite remarkable: it is the strongest material known to man, a great conductor of heat and electricity, and is both very stiff and very ductile. Graphene is also exquisitely light: at a mere 0.77 mg per square meter, a giant sheet covering the whole of the Unites States would weigh less than four space shuttles at launch…
Researchers see in graphene a promising avenue to flexible electronics technology, leading to smart clothing, Harry Potter-style newspapers that can play videos on demand, and smartphones that unfold into full-sized tablets, to name a few. Graphene could also create high-performance composites to replace carbon fiber or, some researchers speculate, even a space elevator that could tether an artificial satellite to Earth (carbon nanotubes, which are rolled-up sheets of graphene, are the only known material with a strength-to-weight ratio high enough to pull off such a feat…)
The researchers will now focus on studying other two-dimensional materials and how they are affected by the presence of grains. “Our work shows that grain boundaries in 2D materials can be much more sensitive to processing than in 3D materials,” says Kisar. “This is because all the atoms in graphene are surface atoms, so surface damage can completely destroy the strength of these materials. However with appropriate processing that avoids surface damage, grain boundaries in 2D materials can be nearly as strong as the perfect, defect-free structure.”
I want graphene hiking shoes.
Since the American-led invasion of 2003, Iraq has become one of the world’s top oil producers, and China is now its biggest customer.
China already buys nearly half the oil that Iraq produces, nearly 1.5 million barrels a day, and is angling for an even bigger share, bidding for a stake now owned by Exxon Mobil in one of Iraq’s largest oil fields…
Before the invasion, Iraq’s oil industry was sputtering, largely walled off from world markets by international sanctions against the government of Saddam Hussein, so his overthrow always carried the promise of renewed access to the country’s immense reserves. Chinese state-owned companies seized the opportunity, pouring more than $2 billion a year and hundreds of workers into Iraq, and just as important, showing a willingness to play by the new Iraqi government’s rules and to accept lower profits to win contracts.
“We lost out,” said Michael Makovsky, a former Defense Department official in the Bush administration who worked on Iraq oil policy. “The Chinese had nothing to do with the war, but from an economic standpoint they are benefiting from it, and our Fifth Fleet and air forces are helping to assure their supply…”
Notably, what the Chinese are not doing is complaining. Unlike the executives of Western oil giants like Exxon Mobil, the Chinese happily accept the strict terms of Iraq’s oil contracts, which yield only minimal profits. China is more interested in energy to fuel its economy than profits to enrich its oil giants…
The Iraqi government needs the investment, and oil remains at the heart of its political and economic future. Currently OPEC’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi government depends on oil revenues to finance its military and social programs. Iraq estimates that its oil fields, pipelines and refineries need $30 billion in annual investments to reach production targets that will make it one of the world’s premier energy powers for decades to come…
But the kind of investment that is necessary has required contracting the services of foreign oil companies that are not always enthusiastic about Iraq’s nationalistic, tightfisted terms or the unstable security situation that can put employees in danger. Some like Statoil of Norway have left or curtailed their operations.
But the Chinese, frequently as partners with other European companies like BP and Turkish Petroleum, have filled the vacuum. And they have been happy to focus on oil without interfering in other local issues. “The Chinese are very simple people,” said an Iraqi Oil Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the news media. “They are practical people. They don’t have anything to do with politics or religion. They just work and eat and sleep.”
Just as the Chinese arriving in Iran speak Farsi with an Iranian accent, the managers of China’s enterprises in Iraq speak Arabic with an Iraqi accent. Getting along with commercial partners isn’t as difficult as Congress tries to make it. If you watch the world news on a Chinese channel like CCTV9 you’re as likely to hear American-accented English as a British [or actually Hong Kong] accent. It all depends on the focus.
The Chinese decided long ago their commercial policies didn’t have to depend on politics. Good, bad or indifferent as your own analysis may be – China’s business partners appreciate the difference. That’s been pretty much maintained as policy by private/shareholder-owned enterprise as state-owned. Even though state-owned business is now the minority of Chinese commerce.
But, I have to think Dick Cheney didn’t plan it this way.
What will future civilizations think of Manhattan Island when they dig it up and find a carefully laid out network of streets and avenues? Surely the grid would be presumed to have astronomical significance, just as we have found for the pre-historic circle of large vertical rocks known as Stonehenge, in the Salisbury Plain of England. For Stonehenge, the special day is the summer solstice, when the Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones, signaling the change of season.
For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year. For 2013 they fall on May 28th, and July 13th, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid. A rare and beautiful sight. These two days happen to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball’s All Star break. Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves Americans worshiped War and Baseball.
Neil deGrasse Tyson rocks! This is the view from the East River.