wrdforwrd

green and sustainable business

Ready for the circular economy?

leave a comment »


And intelligent assets? A report from the World Economic Forum says the rapid and pervasive development of digital technologies, along with an understanding of circular economy principles, will drastically change life for the average urban citizen much sooner than we think.

smartcities1WEF’s report, “Intelligent Assets: Unlocking the Circular Economy Potential,” defines the circular economy as a concept in which materials and products are kept at their highest possible value at all times. It’s all about connectivity: “The exponential growth of connectivity has had a sweeping impact on our society in the last decade. It is widely understood that this increased connectivity between people, products and systems can create significant new sources of value for citizens and economies,” the report says.

“As we look to the next decade, the prevalence of connectivity, through the Internet of Things and the creation of ‘intelligent assets’ will accelerate,” so the question is, how to harness technological advances to enable smarter economic growth, resource and food security, and an improved infrastructure.

The impending digital transformation the WEF envisions has the potential to redefine the very basis of the materials-reliant industrial economy, the report’s Executive Summary continues. “Enabled by intelligent assets, a new model of development gradually gaining independence from finite resource extraction is emerging. Can pervasive connectivity become the new infrastructure enabling effective material flows, keeping products, components and materials at their highest value at all times, thus enabling the coming of age of the circular economy? Such a system would generate, on top of business advantages, multiple benefits for users and society as a whole.

“It would be a system where shared and multimodal transport help citizens to quickly and safely navigate to their destination, even during rush hour. A system where assets are able to signal the need for maintenance before breaking down, and in which local farmers can monitor and regenerate the areas of their land at risk of degradation, while at the same time providing abundant and fresh produce.”

The rapid increase in the number of intelligent assets is “reshaping” the economy. “The number of connected devices is expected to grow to 25–50 billion by 2020, from around 10 billion today. A growing body of research indicates that this Internet of Things (IoT) offers a trillion dollar opportunity, brought about by improved production and distribution processes and, perhaps more importantly, a significant shift in the way products are utilized.” The surge in intelligent assets is expected to “irreversibly transform industries and societies, and when paired with circular economy principles, this transformation has the potential to unlock tremendous value opportunities.”

This circular economy would help “decouple economic value creation from resource consumption.” It encompasses four value drivers – extending the use cycle length of an asset, increasing utilization of an asset or resource, looping or cascading an asset through additional use cycles, and regeneration of natural capital – that can be “combined with one (or several) of the three main intelligent assets value drivers – knowledge of the location, condition, and availability of an asset.”

What’s at stake “is not incremental change or a gradual digitization of the system as we know it, but a reboot: pervasive connectivity rolled out at scale has the power to redefine value generation, whilst helping emerging economies bypass heavy upfront investments and material-intensive solutions.”

For example, WEF posits an ecosystem of intelligent assets-enabled services that could jointly “open widespread access to reliable, grid-free renewable energy. Solar panels could be provided as a service to individuals and businesses without access to the capital to buy solar panels themselves, through weekly online payments.”

It’s a rethinking of value creation and logistics delivery from a straight line to a digitalized circular perspective, a brave new world of extreme connectivity.

Singularity here we come.

Image: From the WEF and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Written by William DiBenedetto

21 March, 2016 at 7:30 am

United Airlines’ biofuel initiative

leave a comment »


9461144263_590dedf9f5_zUnited Airlines has launched an initiative that will use biofuel to help power flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And according to a Washington Post report, United eventually plans to expand its use of biofuels to all flights operating out of LAX. It’s a pretty big deal because while biofuel has been tested by several airlines, it’s the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations.

The renewable fuel used to power United’s aircraft is supplied by an LA refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP. In 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

14 March, 2016 at 6:00 am

Eat more stuff – we need the fuel

with one comment


And while we’re at it let’s get goats into the act.

But first, UCLA researchers are studying the use of the human feces as biofuels to power cars. David Wernick, graduate student of UCLA, notes that poop is an untapped resource that only gets flushed in toilets.

In the US, just counting animal manure, more than 1 billion tons of poop are produced yearly. But Wernick and his colleagues are also trying other materials to produce new kinds of biofuels such as sewage waste, plant matter, cellulosic matter and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Gizmodo reported

The UCLA team plans to engineer the bacteria in human waste by breaking down the proteins in excrement and other waste rich in protein such as wastewater algae and byproducts from the fermentation of beer, ethanol and wine. Wernick believes that the re-engineered bacteria, when it uses the protein to produce poo-based biofuels, would result is the vehicle running without a need to adjust its automotive parts.

BBC recently reported that fungi found in goat and sheep stomachs can break down vegetation in a way that may be useful for biofuel production. Most biofuel in the United States comes from crops such as corn, but growing corn takes a lot of land, and using it for biofuels may drive up food prices. So the industry is increasingly looking toward nonfood sources of biomass like grass and wood. In a study published in Science, researchers show that fungi isolated from the feces of goats and sheep can break down wood better than the standard processes in place. Plus, these fungi can change which digestive enzymes they produce in response to what they are eating, making them more flexible than traditional methods.

Renewable energy is all about looking at everything in new ways, including our own poop…oh, and goats.

Update on lithium ion batteries:

Starting on April 1, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will ban shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo on passenger aircraft due safety concerns. According to Lloyd’s Loading List.com, the decision is “binding on all (191) ICAO Member States and therefore the airlines which operate in those States.”

This is the latest in a national and international efforts to restrict shipments of lithium-ion batteries as cargo. Last month I posted that the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “safety alert” urging U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct “a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.” The FAA also issued a guidance to its own inspectors to help them determine whether airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo.

Written by William DiBenedetto

7 March, 2016 at 6:00 am

Airlines alerted to assess lithium battery risks

with one comment


batteries_bitslammerA few days after my most recent post on safe battery technology, Safe battery tech prevents “thermal runaway”, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a “safety alert” urging U.S. and foreign commercial passenger and cargo airlines to conduct “a safety risk assessment to manage the risks associated with transporting lithium batteries as cargo.”

The FAA also is issued a guidance to its own inspectors to help them determine whether airlines have adequately assessed the risk of handling and carrying lithium batteries as cargo.

FAA said in press release that battery fire testing has “highlighted the potential risk of a catastrophic aircraft loss due to damage resulting from a lithium battery fire or explosion. Current cargo fire suppression systems cannot effectively control a lithium battery fire. As a result of those tests, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus have advised airlines about the dangers associated with carrying lithium batteries as cargo and also have encouraged them to conduct safety risk assessments.”

The agency noted that hazardous materials rules currently ban passenger airlines from carrying lithium-metal batteries as cargo. Also, a number of large commercial passenger airlines voluntarily decided not to carry rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries.

“The safety risk assessment process is designed to identify and mitigate risks for the airlines that still carry lithium batteries and to help those that don’t carry them from inadvertently accepting them for transport,” FAA said.

The Safety Alert For Operators (SAFO) encourages airlines that previously conducted safety assessments to reevaluate them in light of new evidence from the agency’s recent lithium battery fire tests.

So…FAA, meet Stanford—and vice versa.

Image: batteries by bitslammer via Flickr


Written by William DiBenedetto

15 February, 2016 at 6:30 am

Safe battery tech prevents “thermal runaway”

with 2 comments


150108-stanford-battery-1-100637348-largeIf it gets too hot, get out of the battery! Researchers at Stanford University have developed a lithium-ion battery that shuts down automatically as it begins to overheat.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in nearly all portable electronics. They’re light, can store a lot of energy and are easily recharged, but they are also susceptible to overheating if damaged. A short circuit in the battery often leads to fire. A recent article in Nature Energy by a team of Stanford researchers reveals a safe battery design that features “a fast and reversible thermoresponsive polymer switching material that can be incorporated inside batteries to prevent thermal runaway.”

The new Stanford battery uses a polyethylene film that has embedded particles of nickel with nanoscale spikes. Researchers coated the spikes with graphene, a conducting material, so that electricity can flow over the surface. When the temperature rises the film expands, and at about 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) the conducting spikes no longer touch each other, breaking the circuit – causing the battery to shut down.

Once the battery shuts down, the runaway thermal reaction is avoided and the battery cools; eventually the nickel spikes are brought back into contact and the electricity flow resumes.

“We can even tune the temperature higher or lower depending on how many particles we put in or what type of polymer materials we choose,” said Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford and a member of the research team.

The Nature Energy article [Nature Energy 1, Article number: 15009 (2016) doi:10.1038/nenergy.2015.9] says: “Batteries with this self-regulating material built in the electrode can rapidly shut down under abnormal conditions such as overheating and shorting, and are able to resume their normal function without performance compromise or detrimental thermal runaway. Our approach offers 103–104 times higher sensitivity to temperature changes than previous switching devices.”

This has the potential of averting the catastrophic fires seen in hoverboards, laptops and aircraft.

The article was written by the researchers Zheng Chen, Po-Chun Hsu, Jeffrey Lopez, Yuzhang Li, John W. F. To, Nan Liu, Chao Wang, Sean C. Andrews, Jia Liu, Yi Cui and Zhenan Bao.

Image: Stanford researchers use a polyethylene film in lithium-ion batteries to shut down the battery if it gets too hot. Credit: Stanford University/IDGNS

Written by William DiBenedetto

9 February, 2016 at 5:30 am

The sordid whack-a-mole nature of climate change denial

leave a comment »


It’s all about doubt when it comes to climate change, no matter what the science is telling us. The playbook is tried and true as illustrated in the 2014 film, Merchants of Doubt—if you can create enough doubt about the science and the harmful effects of tobacco, asbestos or fossil fuels, basically you’re home free. Instead of solving an obvious problem, companies in those industries can obscure and obstruct, and continue to make truckloads of money.

And it’s still happening. In a report from the Desmog Blog this month, “Study Finds The ‘Era of Climate Science Denial Is Not Over,'”  Graham Readfearn writes: “Conservative think tanks in the United States are a sort of ‘ground zero’ for the production of doubt about the links between fossil fuel burning and dangerous climate change.

“These think tanks produce reports, hold conferences, write books, go on television, produce columns and blogs and generally and liberally splatter the public discourse with talking points.

“You’ll have heard their manufactured doubt everywhere. ‘CO2 is great for the planet… fossil fuels are good… climate scientists are wrong… the world has been hotter in the past… cutting emissions will kill the economy.’ That sort of thing.”

He points to a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change that says, “the era of climate science denial is not over.”

Dr. Travis Coan, of the University of Exeter, and Dr Constantine Boussalis, of Trinity College Dublin, analyzed 16,000 articles, reports, transcripts, letters, reviews and press releases from the websites of 19 conservative think tanks, mainly based in the U.S, who work on climate change.

In the study, Boussalis and Coan discuss how commentators had been speculating about an end of climate science denial for more than a decade. But analyzing documents from 1998 until mid-2013, Boussalis and Coan found that think tanks had in recent years been focusing less on policy and more on attacking the science.

Why change the playbook if it works so well?

Republican Bob Inglis a conservative former South Carolina congressman, lost a bid for re-election in 2010 after telling a radio host that he believed humans were contributing to climate change. “The most enduring heresy that I committed was saying the climate change is real,” he told PBS’ FRONTLINE.

Inglis saw through the thick fog machines of doubt and denial, to his cost. He closed the Merchants of Doubt, with moving and spot analysis of why it so hard to embrace the reality of climate change:

He’s a hero.

Written by William DiBenedetto

25 January, 2016 at 6:00 am

COP21 a cop-out or an opt-in?

leave a comment »


COP ParisIt’s been awhile, but in the great scheme of things not that long, and my absence here lately is of no great import. Things have changed in the past few months, including an engagement, a time-consuming book project and a re-think of my assocoation with TriplePundit. It’s all great-to-good-to-exhausting, but without getting into details, the gist is that I’ll concentrate more on this blog space in the future. Maybe.

First, some venting about the climate change summit that concluded in December, COP21. Remember? It already seems like a long time ago! The results were better than expected and encouraging, but still probably too little too late. Coverage and punditry was mixed, which is better than saying the effort failed. Time will tell on that. Yes, it’s a climate accord among a slew of nations, but unenforceable.

Here’s Bill Mckibben, founder of 350.org, the global grass-roots climate campaign, writing in the New York Times: “In the hot, sodden mess that is our planet as 2015 drags to a close, the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995, when the first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Berlin.

“Under its provisions, nations have made voluntary pledges to begin reducing their carbon emissions. These are modest — the United States, for instance, plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 2025 by 12 to 19 percent from their levels in 1990. As the scrupulous scorekeepers at Climate Action Tracker, a nongovernment organization, put it, that’s a ‘medium’ goal ‘at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution.'”

If all parties keep their promises, and if you expect that to happen I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you can buy, the planet will warm by an estimated 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 3.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels. “That is way, way too much,” McKibben says. “We are set to pass the 1 degree Celsius mark this year, and that’s already enough to melt ice caps and push the sea level threateningly higher.”

The irony is, he continues, an agreement like this adopted at the first climate conference in 1995 “might have worked.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

11 January, 2016 at 8:00 am

%d bloggers like this: