GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – JANUARY 2020

Brilliant New “Cats’ Eyes” Collect Vehicle Emissions

 Vehicle pollution will be sucked out of the road under plans to install cat’s eye-style filters at the most toxic junctions.

Technology has been developed that uses low-energy fans between lanes to pull in exhaust fumes before treating the pollution at the roadside. Initial tests suggest that it can remove an average of 30 per cent of dangerous pollutants, including fine particles from brakes and tyres as well as nitrogen oxides generated by engines.

The pollution extractor has been developed by Pollution Solution, a Hertfordshire-based company that plans to sign deals with highways contractors to use it in high-pollution areas.

It is negotiating with a local authority to initially install it in east London, where it would target areas where vehicles sit with idling engines, such as outside schools or at traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and busy junctions.

Will Passenger Planes Fly In Formation In The Future?

 The aviation industry is planning to test whether mimicking the way birds fly in formation can significantly reduce fuel use, in an effort to cut emissions.

Plane manufacturer Airbus will run two demonstrator flights in the first half of next year. The idea, inspired by the v-formation that geese migrate in, is for one plane to take off soon after another, following closely and precisely enough to take advantage of the air vortex produced in the first plane’s wake. It could cut fuel use by 5-10 per cent per trip, says Airbus.

If initial tests go well, the firm will then try the technique with a real passenger plane following an Airbus demonstrator flight, says Sandra Bour Schaeffer at Airbus. The company is already working with two airlines on the project, she says, for a test in 2021. Bour Schaeffer says that if challenges can be overcome, the technique could be used on normal flights by 2025.

A New Way Of Making Hydrogen Could Boost Its Potential

 Australian scientists claim they’ve worked out a much cheaper, more efficient way to split hydrogen out of water, using easily sourced iron and nickel catalysts instead of expensive, rare ruthenium, platinum and iridium catalysts favoured by current large-scale hydrogen producers, which are literally thousands of times more expensive.

Much is being made of the developing “hydrogen economy” idea, in which compressed hydrogen fuels will become an energy source as common as gasoline, and fuel cell cars will take a place alongside combustion engines and electric vehicles in the transport mix.

The “clean energy” hydrogen pie, particularly in Japan and Korea, is estimated to be worth trillions of dollars in the coming decades, so plenty of prospectors are smelling massive energy exporting opportunities, but realistically, until the math starts to stack up on greener ways of producing hydrogen, the environmental costs of producing this stuff in bulk could be overwhelming.

The “green” way to make hydrogen is to split it out of water using electrolysis by placing water in a container with a pair of electrodes in it, and apply power. Oxygen gathers at the anode, hydrogen at the cathode, and if the electricity put into this process was sustainably generated, green hydrogen is produced.

Nano-coating Creates Smog-Eating Concrete

 A team of engineers has combined graphene and titanium dioxide nanoparticles to create a new solar-powered catalyst that can pluck pollutants out of the air, much more efficiently than others. The catalyst could be coated onto building or street surfaces to improve air quality in cities.

While carbon dioxide often hogs the headlines about atmospheric pollution, it’s far from the only villain. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds are emitted by vehicle exhausts and industrial processes, contributing to smog and harming human health.

In the last few years, researchers have experimented with using titanium dioxide nanoparticles – also known as titania – to clean up this kind of air pollution. Titania works as a photocatalyst, meaning once it’s activated by light it breaks down pollutants. This has been put to work in air-purifying concrete and aluminum building panels, as well as water filters.

In past work, titania surfaces have been shown to have efficiencies of up to 45 percent at converting atmospheric NOx into harmless nitrate. For the new study, the team managed to boost this up to 70 percent. The secret ingredient? Graphene.

The researchers used liquid phase exfoliation to peel layers of graphene off of the base material graphite, but with one new tweak to this common process – they added titanium dioxide nanoparticles to the mix. This allowed them to create a new graphene-titania nanocomposite material.

Would You Buy Shares In A Bright Student?

 Investors in the USA are being invited to consider a new asset class — human beings, or more precisely, students. Investors chip in a lump sum to pay the student’s university fees today in exchange for an agreed percentage of their earnings for a period after they graduate, typically five or ten years.

It’s not entirely different from buying a stake in a person. If the student completes their degree, gets a good job and a large pay cheque, the investor reaps a strong return. If the student drops out, chooses a low-paid career or fails to find a job at all, the investor takes the hit and the student avoids years of debt misery.

Some investment bankers are pitching the idea as a useful addition to an investment portfolio — alongside bonds and shares and property. One New York firm, Edly, which matches investors with students, is advertising “target returns” of between 12 and 17 per cent for investors prepared to pay the tuition fees of students going on computer coding courses. Investors buy into “pools” of students to diversify their risk.

AI “Nanny-Cam” Will Keep An Eye On Baby

 Caring for a baby is a full-time job, but it’s impossible to keep an eye on your bundle of joy around the clock – or is it? SimCam Baby is a smart baby monitor that uses artificial intelligence to give parents a helping hand and keep a watchful eye on baby 24/7 – even in the dark.

It wasn’t too long ago that baby monitors were audio only, but more compact and economical cameras have brought video into the mix, and wireless technology now allows parents to have an eye and an ear on baby at all times, even if they’re away from home. SimCam Baby boasts those capabilities but takes things even further, packing a built-in algorithm that acts as a kind of AI nanny.

Instead of just being a dumb camera that can be pointed in baby’s direction, SimCam Baby’s AI-powered geofencing technology means parents will receive alerts on their phone if baby is looking to make an escape from their crib or wander outside a designated safe play area.

Japan’s Elderly Wear Exoskeletons To Keep On Working

 Older people in Japan are strapping on exoskeletons to help meet the physical demands of their jobs and remain in the workforce longer.

Japan’s population is rapidly ageing, with a record 28 per cent of people aged 65 or older. This has led to a shortage of workers, particularly in manual labour industries such as construction, manufacturing and farming.

To encourage older people to stay in or move into these industries, several tech companies in Japan have developed exoskeleton suits that make it easier to lift and carry heavy objects. “We have no option – elderly people need to stay at the workplace,” says Daigo Orihara at Innophys, which makes one model called The Every Muscle Suit.

Turning Waste Plastic Into Hydrogen Fuel Cells

Research at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has produced research successfully converting consumer plastic into a chemical used to to produce electricity in hydrogen fuel cells by exposing it to sunlight.

The key to the breakthrough was the introduction of a new kind of photocatalyst, which is a material that harnesses light energy to power chemical reactions.

In search of new ways to convert plastic waste into useful chemicals, the NTU team turned to a type of affordable, biocompatible metal called vanadium. This commonly forms part of the steel and aluminum alloys used in cars and aircraft, but the scientists found it might play a role in plastics recycling, too.

By adding the vanadium-based catalyst to a solution containing consumer plastics, heating it to 85° C (185° F) and then exposing it all to artificial sunlight, the team was able to break down key bonds within the plastic in the space of six days. Breaking apart these carbon-carbon bonds typically involves high temperatures, which is energy-intensive, but by harnessing sunlight instead the scientists may have found a greener way forward.

UK Leads Developed World With Lowest C02 Emissions Per Capita

Emissions of CO2 have fallen in the US and EU at the same rate this year despite their leaders having starkly different positions on the need to tackle climate change.

The closure of coal-fired power stations was the main reason for both achieving a 1.7 per cent cut, showing that the US is still playing its part in the global effort to cut emissions despite President Trump’s climate scepticism.

Trump came to power with a promise to revive the US coal industry but the country’s coal-based emissions fell by 10 per cent last year and about 25 coal power plants closed. They were unable to compete with cheaper gas, which produces about half the emissions of coal per unit of energy.

But of all developed nations, the UK has the lowest carbon output per capita.

 

 

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