Monthly Archives: August 2016

Battery technology set to break barriers

Battery technology set to break barriers

 
Wind farm
Once renewable energy can be stored for use on demand, Britain could become self-sufficient in its energy usage CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM/REX SHUTTERSTOCK 

The world’s next energy revolution is probably no more than five or ten years away. Cutting-edge research into cheap and clean forms of electricity storage is moving so fast that we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point.

The US Energy Department is funding 75 projects developing electricity storage, mobilizing teams of scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the elite Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs in a bid for what it calls the ‘Holy Grail’ of energy policy.

You can track what they are doing at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). There are plans for hydrogen bromide, or zinc-air batteries, or storage in molten glass, or next-generation flywheels, many claiming “drastic improvements” that can slash storage costs by 80pc to 90pc and reach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour in relatively short order.

“Storage is a huge deal,” says Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary and himself a nuclear physicist. He is now confident that the US grid and power system will be completely “decarbonised” by the middle of the century.

The technology is poised to overcome the curse of ‘intermittency’ that has long bedevilled wind and solar. Surges of excess power will be stored for use later at times when the sun sets, and consumption peaks in the early evening.

This transforms the calculus of energy policy. The question for the British government as it designs a strategy fit for the 21st Century – and wrestles with an exorbitant commitment to Hinkley Point – is no longer whether this form of back-up power will ever be commercially viable, but whether the inflection point arrives in the early-2020s or in the late 2020s.

One front-runner – a Washington favourite – is an organic flow battery at Harvard that uses quinones from cheap and abundant sources such as rhubarb or oil waste. It is much cheaper and less toxic than current flow batteries based on the rare metal vanadium. Its reactions are 1,000 times faster.

Energy
Harvard professor Michael Aziz working on his revolutionary ‘rhubarb battery’ CREDIT: HARVARD

Professor Michael Aziz, leader of the Harvard project, said there are still problems to sort out with the “calendar life” of storage chemicals but the basic design is essentially proven.

“We have a fighting chance of bringing down the capital cost to $100 a kilowatt hour, and that will change the world. It could complement wind and solar on a very large scale,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

The latest refinement is to replace toxic bromine with harmless ferrocyanide – used in food additives. The battery cannot catch fire. It is safe and clean. “This is chemistry I’d be happy to put in my basement,” he said.

The design is delightfully simple. It uses a tank of water. You could have one at home in Los Angeles, Lagos, Buenos Aires, Delhi, or Guangzhou, storing solar power in the day to drive your air-conditioning at night. It could be scaled up for a 500 megawatt wind farm.

energy
The Harvard organic flow battery. It can run off rhubarb CREDIT: US ENERGY DEPARTMENT

Italy’s Green Energy Storage has the European licence. It is building a prototype with the Kessler Foundation at Trento University, backed by EU funds. “We have a chemistry that is ten times cheaper than anything on the market,” said Salvatore Pinto, the chairman.

“We are speaking to three utilities in Europe and we will install our first battery as a field test next year,” he said.

It is a race. Tim Grejtak, an energy expert at Lux Research, said Lockheed Martin and Pacific Northwest labs are both working on their own organic flow batteries, while others are developing variants with designed molecules.

I do not wish to single out this particular technology. I cite it as an example of how fast the picture is evolving as the world’s scientific superpower mobilizes in earnest, and investors start to chase the immense prize. Consultants Mckinsey estimate that the energy storage market will grow a hundredfold to $90bn a year by 2025.

Once storage costs approach $100 per kilowatt hour, there ceases to be much point in building costly ‘baseload’ power plants such as Hinkley Point. Nuclear reactors cannot be switched on and off as need demands – unlike gas plants. They are useless as a back-up for the decentralized grid of the future, when wind, solar, hydro, and other renewables will dominate the power supply.

I will be writing about the economics of offshore wind in coming days but bear in mind that renewables generated 18pc of UK power last year, and this is expected to double by the late 2020s as wind and solar capacity reach 50 gigawatts (GW). Once the power can be stored for overnight use, there will be extended periods in the summer when no base-load is needed whatsoever.

Perhaps the Hinkley project still made sense in 2013 before the collapse in global energy prices and before the latest leap forward in renewable technology. It is madness today.

The latest report by the National Audit Office shows that the estimated subsidy for these two reactors has already jumped from £6bn to near £30bn. Hinkley Point locks Britain into a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour – adjusted for inflation, already £97 – and that is guaranteed for 35 years.

That is double the current market price of electricity. The NAO’s figures show that solar will be nearer £60 per megawatt hour by 2025. Dong Energy has already agreed to an offshore wind contract in Holland at less than £75.

Michael Liebreich from Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the Hinkley Point saga will be taught for generations as a case study in how not to run a procurement process. “The obvious question is why this train-wreck of a project was not killed long ago,” he said.

enery
All the extra power capacity added since the mid-1990s in Europe has been renewableCREDIT: EWEA

Theresa May has inherited a poisonous dossier, left with the invidious choice of either offending China or persisting with a venture that no longer makes any economic sense. She may have to offend China – as tactfully as possible, let us hope –  for the scale of the folly has become crushingly obvious.

Every big decision on energy strategy by the British government or any other government must henceforth be based on the working premise that cheap energy storage will soon be a reality.

This country can achieve total self-sufficiency in power at viable cost from our own sun, wind, and waters within a generation. Once we shift to electric vehicles as well, we will no longer need to import much oil either. Rejoice.

 

Autodesk Just Gave Every Fab Lab Access to $25,000 in Design Software

Autodesk Just Gave Every Fab Lab Access to $25,000 in Design Software

 

Last year Autodesk granted Fab Labs, a global network of workshops and makerspaces connected through the Fab Foundation, access to Tinkercad, 123D Circuits, and Fusion 360 Labs, but that was just the beginning. Earlier this year, Autodesk expanded their generosity to the Fab Foundation’s Fab Academy (which is the foundation’s training initiative) by offering them access to their entire Product Design Collection, and today Autodesk announced that they will be offering all registered Fab Labs in the Fab Foundation’s network 10 licenses to the Product Design Collection.

product-design-collection-badge-1024

The Autodesk suite of software is a reliable favorite of professionals and hobbyists alike, and having access to these tools is invaluable to a student or part-time inventor who might not otherwise be able to get their ideas off the ground.

The Product Design Collection includes the 14 software programs and would cost a person $2,460 a year to buy all of them as a collection, but individually purchasing the software would be even more expensive (Inventor Professional alone would be $1,890 and AutoCAD another $1,680). This means that each Fab Lab stands to gain $24,600 worth of software and that (given the fact the network includes over 1000 Fab Labs) there’s $24,600,000 in software available to the Fab Foundation’s members.

This offer is part of Autodesk’s extensive efforts to support the global maker movement through free software to students, educators, non-profits and educational institutions (like the Fab Foundation), theirEntrepreneur Impact Program for start-ups and hobbyists, and by open-sourcing design files for our 3D printer Ember.

Speaking about their partnership with the Fab Foundation specifically, Autodesk’s Rama Dunayevich, Senior Manager of Brand Partnerships, speaking about the partnership with the Fab Foundation specifically “At each step of the way, we are learning more about how best to support Fab Labs so we can improve and deepen our relationship. We are using an initial one-year renewable subscription term to collect feedback and data to be in a better position to consider further expansions, refinements and customization based on that data.”

The details of Autodesk’s offer are as follows:

Participating Fab Labs will receive a grant that includes 10 subscriptions to the Autodesk Product Design Collection for the Fab Lab which can be used on or off-site by its members. The subscription includes the professional-grade 3D design tools needed to succeed in the changing landscape for product makers, hobbyists and manufacturers including Fusion 360, Inventor Professional, AutoCAD, ReCap 360 Pro, 3ds Max, 25 gigabytes of cloud storage and more.

The Product Design Collection includes:

·         Inventor Professional

·         AutoCAD

·         AutoCAD Architecture

·         AutoCAD Electrical

·         AutoCAD Mechanical

·         AutoCAD 360 Pro

·         Cloud storage (25 GB)

·         Factory Design Utilities

·         Fusion 360

·         Navisworks Manage

·         ReCap 360 Pro

·         Rendering in A360

·         Vault Basic

·         3ds Max

Fab Labs registered as part of the Fab Foundation’s network of global Fab Labs can apply for the grant now. There is no limit to the number of grants Autodesk is willing to fulfill and no additional requirements besides being a registered Fab Lab.

To become a registered Fab Lab your space must have 5 different types of fabrication tools (CNC machining, 3D Printing, microelectronics workstations, etc.); it must be free and open to the public (for at least some portion of time if operated out of a private school or university); abide by the Fab Lab Charter; and participate in your community.  You can register here. There is no licensing fee and someone from your region will confirm that you meet the qualifications.

This announcement is being made now to coincide with the Fab 12 conference being held in Shenzhen. This conference is a gathering of Fab Labs members to discuss the future of community led, education-focused workspaces and participate in workshops centered on different fabrication projects.

Muslim doctor: My patient refused to let me treat her because of my religion

 

 

Muslim doctor: My patient refused to let me treat her because of my religion

 
 
 
 
 August 10

Making my rounds in the hospital one day, I put my stethoscope to a patient’s chest while she kept her eyes fixed on the television screen over my shoulder.

Hours before, bombs had torn through an airport and a train station in Brussels. My 65-year-old patient watched a flurry of images on Fox News showing unfathomable carnage, and I went through the all-too-familiar ritual of hoping that the perpetrators would not be identified as Muslim, that members of my faith would not be considered guilty by inexplicable association.

The sounds of my patient’s voice rose, eclipsing the thump of her heartbeat that I was painstakingly trying to hear.

She sounded distressed, anguished even, about the loss of the innocent lives on the TV screen. “These foreign people only come here to kill and ruin things,” she said. Then she said Donald Trump is right: America should ban all Muslims from immigrating here.

And then perhaps she noticed the subtle change in my facial expression. “I’m sorry, but your people and people who look like you make me uncomfortable,“ she said.

She refused to let me treat her.

I stood aghast at the bedside, wondering how my humanity and years of medical training had been negated by the acts of a sinister few an ocean away. With her words, the ascendant xenophobia of our time infiltrated the sacred patient-doctor relationship.

I had understood, in the abstract, the threat of Trump’s demagoguery and petulance. But until that moment, the bile he spewed seemed confined to Twitter and to rallies in faraway places. I didn’t think it would ever reach me, a physician, born here in the United States.

I should have known better.

Medicine is not practiced in a vacuum. It’s subject to the same influences affecting the rest of our society. In our current political environment, the toxic, Islamophobic rhetoric intended to incite and galvanize voters is of course seeping into hospitals and clinics.

A study published last year in AJOB Empirical Bioethics of Muslim doctors, who comprise 5 percent of U.S. physicians, found that 1 in 10 of these doctors has had a patient refuse their medical care because they are Muslim. Clearly my experience was not isolated.

That day, I deferred to my medical students to hastily complete the patient’s physical exam while I stepped aside and observed from the periphery. My impulses wrestled with my discretion, trying to suppress my desire to respond. Anger would only further alienate the patient, I knew.

I wondered what my responsibilities to the patient were in the face of this bigotry. Did any remain?

As a physician, I thought first of the Hippocratic oath, a doctor’s steadfast commitment to a patient. We doctors heal the affluent or the dispossessed. We heal regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion or race. This oath compels us to invariably protect the patient from our biases and darkest demons. But it offers little wisdom when the physician is the one subjected to intolerance.

I needed more. And as I attempted to reconcile my desire to preserve my wounded personal dignity with the principles enshrined in the Hippocratic oath, I found my Islam.

Clarity arrived as I remembered one of my favorite verses from the Koran: “Believers, stand firm for God, be witnesses for justice. Never allow the hatred of people to prevent you from being just. Be just, for this is closest to righteousness.”

The concept of justice captured in this verse animated Muslims during the nascent stages of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad’s unprecedented message of egalitarianism threatened the entrenched social order and thus provoked considerable malice at the time. Yet this early Muslim community endured the ridicule and persecution because it was inspired by something far greater than itself.

Retreating into cynicism and rage was too tempting in the aftermath of my experience with the patient, but it would be an affront to the legacy and sacrifice of those that came before me.

In the end, this was all part of my personal inner jihad, which literally means “a struggle.” For a Muslim, jihad means the struggle of the soul to topple the barriers which prevent the realization of a divinely inspired life, a life that promotes the virtues of compassion, understanding and justice. A selfish focus on my own damaged ego detracted from this purpose.

My decision to work as a physician in the public setting of a hospital meant that I was an ambassador for my faith, whether I wanted to be or not. That’s an important role: the Pew Research Center has found that Americans are more likely to have a favorable opinion of Muslims if they know one.

As I reflected on the conversation with my patient that had gone awry, I realized the value in the seemingly mundane conversations I share daily with other patients. Perhaps the exchanges about their lives and mine are transformative. Our interactions allow us to see our common hopes and fears in each other.

Trump and others of his ilk have sought to sow division by stripping groups like Muslims, African Americans, Mexicans and women of their common humanity. His candidacy has brought long-hidden rancor into the open, even into our hospitals.

The finest and noblest traditions of medicine, however, are transcendent. My personal faith subsumes the Hippocratic oath and preaches mutual respect and tolerance. These are the sources of my continued dignity.

And they allowed me to knock on the same patient’s door again the next day.

Jalal Baig is an oncologist and a writer in Chicago.

%d bloggers like this: