Tagged: Oz

Breakthrough in cost and efficiency in “artificial leaf” technology


Only symbolism, folks – but, you get the idea :)

New research out of Melbourne has broken records and brought emission-less hydrogen energy a step closer to commercial production. Thom Mitchell reports.

Researchers at Monash University have published a breakthrough paper detailing their success in creating hydrogen and oxygen from water and sunlight in a process which artificially mimics photosynthesis, the source of most of the world’s energy, including the fossil fuels that currently dominate energy markets.

The research represents a new level of efficiency in this so-called ‘artificial leaf’ technology which scientists say could become commercially viable within a few years because researchers have managed to produce a record-high level of hydrogen using nickel as a type of conductor, rather than more expensive precious metals.

“The reason this technology has not been at the forefront [of the discussion around renewable energy] is that it’s not that efficient,” said Professor Douglas MacFarlane, one of the researchers behind the paper…“There are better catalysts and materials that people have been working on for probably 10 or 15 years, but what we’ve done is show that you can actually do this with cheaper materials that are [still, and in this case particularly, efficient ].”

The process the researchers followed involves taking water, sunlight, and some conventional wiring, and using them to produce oxygen and the hydrogen that can then be converted into a range of fuels, including electricity, and stored with relative ease…

“The idea of making a fuel directly from sunlight is rapidly becoming practical at a household and petrol station level, and even at the solar farm level.”…

‘Artificial leaf’ devices are considered to be effective if 10 per cent of the solar energy captured is converted into hydrogen and earlier efforts had resulted in a conversion rate of around 18 per cent.

However they required more expensive and rarer metals for use as catalysts, whereas the Monash researchers were able to achieve a conversion rate of solar energy to hydrogen of around 22 per cent using nickel instead.

And hydrogen is a simple clean-burning gas. Storable, usable in fuel cells, a replacement for fossil fuels and absent the storage questions required of direct conversion of solar energy to electricity.

The kind of Green Science bound to piss off fossil fuel-reactionaries like the Koch Brothers even more than the EPA or James Hansen do.

Thanks, Honeyman

Brick-laying robot can build the structure of a full-sized house in two days

As robots get smarter, cheaper and more versatile, they’re taking on a growing number of challenges – and bricklaying can now be added to the list. Engineers in Perth, Australia, have created a fully working house-building machine that can create the brick framework of a property in just two days, working about 20 times faster than a human bricklayer.

Named Hadrian (after Hadrian’s Wall in the UK), the robot has a top laying speed of 1,000 bricks per hour, which works out as the equivalent of about 150 homes a year. Of course there’s no need for the machine to sleep, eat or take tea breaks either, giving it another advantage over manual laborers…

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac told Gizmag. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed…”

“The machine will fill the void that exists due to shrinking numbers of available bricklayers, whose average age is now nearly 50 in Australia,” he says. “[Hadrian] should attract young people back to bricklaying, as robotics is seen as an attractive technology.”

Surely beats the crap out of the romance of making adobes. :)

How a cancer-fake hustler fooled folks – with lots of helpers


Belle Gibson, founder of The Whole Pantry app, and son Oliviersaid the caption at news.com.au

Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has a powerful post up about the news that Belle Gibson, a popular young Australian wellness blogger, has admitted to lying about having cancer. Gibson had convinced many people that she had “cured her terminal brain cancer by avoiding gluten and sugar,” as Jardin puts it — a claim that deserves to be treated with about as much merit as a report of a unicorn sighting. Gibson had used her story to help drum up her media profile and push her nutrition app, the Whole Pantry (the planned Apple Watch version of which disappeared from the app store about a month ago).

As Jardin, who has herself battled breast cancer, points out, we’ve entered the mass-shaming part of the story, with the predictable torrents of internet anger. It’s an understandable response, but it leaves out the complicity of many media outlets that should have known better.

Because sure, Gibson was embraced by many of the usual suspects — small health and wellness blogs with shaky-at-best understandings of science and bones to pick with processed foods and “Western medicine” — but a bigger part of the reason she was able to carve out a successful niche in the wellness world was that that mainstream outlets, particularly in her native Australia, offered her fawning coverage.

“The Whole Pantry founder inspires in the face of terminal cancer,” enthused a headline on news.com.au, a major outlet. “The Whole Pantry came out of Gibson’s determination not to be crushed by her illness and to find a way to help people like herself,” wrote the IT columnist at another. “The 25-year-old has turned her cancer diagnosis into a positive, believe it or not,” gushed an Australian Yahoo! TV host. Australian Women’s Health called her a “health game changer.” Thanks in part to all this attention, Gibson was able to expand her popularity to the States. As Jardin points out, Cosmopolitan even gave her a Fun Fearless Female award in the social media category.

It’s not reasonable to expect every single employee at every single outlet to be completely up to date on all the latest nutritional science, of course. But outlets do have at least some responsibility to not mislead their audiences. Gibson’s claims were, on their face, so outlandish that offering them a megaphone did real harm to readers and viewers: not just by encouraging them to follow a charlatan, but by potentially nudging them away from real, established treatments for diseases that can frequently be fatal. Gibson’s a liar, but she was only able to become a successful liar because so many people amplified her story without checking it first.

Bringing the question back to one we often confront: money-making journalism – the real deal – professionals who don’t do the rigorous fact-checking that is supposed to be required. Part incompetence; but, part laziness.

A PR release drops into your email inbox. Written well enough, the journalist and editor do their bit of tidying up and off it goes. I realize they’re conditioned by a fawning relationship with government and corporate overlords; but, that ain’t good enough. Cripes, at least look around, ask around online.

My mate in Oz traded in his Tiger for a KTM

In motorcycle speak, that means he went from a Triumph motorcycle to one from KTM – with more power, advanced suspension. He can scare himself even easier, now.

The video reminds me much of the southern Rockies – especially here in the dry end in New Mexico.

Helmet camera is a Drift Ghost S.

When he’s not blogging about environmental and other political issues in Australia, he finds time to work for a living – and play outdoors. His blog is listed over there on the right of the page – Blog that should not be.

I wouldn’t care to be the guy setting a record for the biggest insect removed from inside a human ear

Hendrik Helmer has taken out the unofficial title of having the largest cockroach removed from a human ear in Darwin.

He says dislodging the 2cm giant at Royal Darwin Hospital caused him agonising pain.

The cockroach took about 10 minutes to die after it was removed from his ear.

Mr Helmer, from the Darwin suburb of Karama, said his ordeal began early on Wednesday morning when he was woken up at about 2:30am by a sharp pain in his right ear.

He immediately thought some type of insect may have crawled into it while he slept…He said the pain was intense and despite a few bouts of relief began to get worse.

“I was hoping it was not a poisonous spider … I was hoping it didn’t bite me,” he said.

After trying to suck the insect out with a vacuum cleaner, he tried squirting water from a tap into his ear to flush it out…

“Whatever was in my ear didn’t like it at all,” he said.

As his pain increased, Mr Helmer, who works as a supervisor at a warehouse, roused his flatmate to take him to Royal Darwin Hospital, where he was quickly seen by a doctor.

Mr Helmer said the doctor put oil down the ear canal, which forced the still-unidentified insect to crawl in deeper but eventually it began to die.

“Near the 10 minute mark … somewhere about there, he started to stop burrowing but he was still in the throes of death twitching,” he said.

At that point the doctor put forceps into his ear and pulled out the cockroach…

“She said they had never pulled an insect this large out of someone’s ear,” Mr Helmer said.

Helmer says he’s not changing anything in his lifestyle – or sleepstyle; but, when some of his friends were asked for an opinion, they said they’ve started sleeping with headphones on or earbuds in their ears.

Eeoouugh!

Coppers in Oz free naked man stuck in washing machine


Some washing machines are more dangerous than others

Police in Australia have rescued a naked man who got stuck inside a washing machine while playing a game of hide-and-seek.

The man reportedly hid inside the top-loading machine so he could surprise his partner.

But he became stuck and it took 20 minutes for rescuers to dislodge him using olive oil as a lubricant…

The incident took place on Saturday in Mooroopna town, north of Melbourne, in Victoria state.

Few details were revealed about the man, with some reports saying he was 20 years old.

Sergeant Michelle De Araugo said “it was just a game gone wrong”, according to Agence-France Presse news agency…

Another officer cautioned against misusing household equipment…”My advice would be for people not to climb into appliances – obviously that [can] cause a number of issues, as we’ve seen on the weekend,” said First Constable Luke Ingram.

I emailed a mate of mine in Melbourne just to be certain it wasn’t him. After all, the coppers didn’t give out the lad’s name. He replied that he “has too much respect for appliances to do anything like this.”

I thought about teasing him about being a Spurs fan and that being sufficient reason to suspect his sanity. But, we all know it takes a proper Gooner to try a stunt like this.

Mini-kidney grown from stem cells

Instead of having to wait for one of the limited number of available donor kidneys, patients in need of a transplant may eventually be able to have a new kidney custom-grown for them. That possibility recently took one step closer to reality, as scientists at Australia’s University of Queensland successfully grew a “mini-kidney” from stem cells.

The researchers created a proprietary new protocol, that prompts stem cells in a petri dish to self-organize into a miniature kidney. “During self-organization, different types of cells arrange themselves with respect to each other to create the complex structures that exist within an organ, in this case, the kidney,” says project leader Prof. Melissa Little…

Little points out that while the work is indeed promising, human trials with full-size lab-grown kidneys are not likely to be happening anytime soon. In the meantime, however, the mini-kidneys could be used to test drug candidates without exposing human test subjects to harmful side effects.

Earlier this year, scientists at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Regenerative Medicine created a functioning rat kidney. In their case, however, they did so by stripping the cells from an existing kidney, then “reseeding” the resulting collagen scaffold with endothelial cells.

Additionally, a team from Italy’s Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research has created kidney-like “organoids” that perform the same functions as kidneys when implanted in rats.

We’re getting better and better, closer and closer to being able to grow replacement organs. Maybe I’ll get to live as long as some sci-fi writers think we can?

I like the approach from the Mario Negri Institute best of all. Just because we’re at a certain point in the evolution of organs that mature inside this meat machine we inhabit doesn’t mean it’s the most advanced, best design possible. I like the idea of throwing new design muscle at a task like this – and perhaps coming up with better function and durability.

Huge freshwater reserves discovered beneath the ocean floor

earth oceans

Scientists in Australia have reported the discovery of huge freshwater reserves preserved in aquifers under the world’s oceans. The water has remained shielded from seawater thanks to the accumulation of a protective layer of sediment and clay. And it’s not a local phenomenon. Such reserves are to be found under continental shelves off Australia, China, North America and South Africa.

The discovery was made by researchers at the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training (NCGRT) and the School of the Environment at Flinders University. The scientists estimate there is around half a million cubic kilometers of what they describe as “low salinity” water, which means it could be processed into fresh, potable water economically.

The reserves formed when ocean levels were lower and rainwater made its way into the ground in land areas that were not covered until the ice caps melted 20,000 years ago, causing sea levels to rise…

To access these non-renewable water reserves, it would be necessary to drill into the seabed from man-made, offshore platforms or from the mainland or nearby islands. Despite the high costs involved, the water would require less energy to desalinate than it does to desalinate sea water, although a careful assessment of the economics, sustainability and environmental impact of the exploration of such water reserves would be necessary.

Our history as a species is characterized by the quest for scarce goods. When these are the stuff of life – rather than baubles for princes, pundits and priests – conflict often is the result. One must hope that when technology is sufficiently advanced for economic access to these reserves our politics and ethics are equal to humane distribution.